The Pre-Socratics inaugurated the search for what they called the archē of all things, where the term “archē” originally connoted either a beginning point or a position of authority. An archē is a principle of order, and the search for the archē of all things is essentially the attempt to find an ultimate source and explanation for the order of the world. Anaximander’s predecessor Thales famously proposed water as the source from which all else derives. His view seemed to be that the ordinary objects of our experience are all water in various configurations. Perhaps he had in mind the idea that just as water can in everyday experience take on a liquid, solid, or gaseous form, so too the other objects of our experience are just further transformations of it (an idea analogous to Anaximenes’ later proposal that all things are air in various forms).
However, and Anaximenes notwithstanding, the tradition largely and quickly moved beyond such crudely materialistic models. Even those Pre-Socratics who took the archē to be in some way material came to see that it had to be radically unlike any of the objects of ordinary experience. And as Lloyd Gerson notes in his book God and Greek Philosophy, the trajectory of the Greek tradition was toward locating the ultimate explanation of things in a single archē that exists of necessity. The theistic implications of this line of thought are obvious, and some thinkers did indeed arrive at conceptions of the archē that would deeply influence the classical theist tradition – for example, Xenophanes’ non-anthropomorphic philosophical monotheism, Parmenides’ Being, Plato’s Form of the Good, Aristotle’s Prime Unmoved Mover, and Plotinus’s One.
Arguably we see something like a germ of classical theism already in Anaximander’s notion of the apeiron as the source from which all else derives. The apeiron is the “unbounded” or “unlimited.” The things of our experience are all bounded or limited in various ways – to being water and having the specific range of properties and powers distinctive of water, to being fire and having the properties and powers of fire, to being a tree with its characteristic properties and powers, or a dog with its properties and powers. The ultimate source of things must not be bounded or limited in any of these ways, or it could not be the ultimate source of things. For example, if it was limited to being water, then it could not be the explanation of things that are beyond the powers of water; if it was limited to being fire, it could not be the explanation of things that are beyond fire’s powers; and so on.
Anaximander took the apeiron to be unbounded or unlimited in duration as well. It cannot have a beginning, or it would have come from something else, in which case that other thing would be the true source of all things. It cannot have an end, for only things that are bounded or limited in some way can have that. For example, because of the properties and powers to which fire is limited, it can be put out by water; because of the properties and powers to which a tree is limited, it can be chopped down and burned; and so forth.
More could be said about the properties Anaximander attributes to the apeiron, and why he does so (though given the limited textual evidence, some of this would have to be speculative). But as Werner Jaeger emphasizes in The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers, these properties – being unbounded, beginningless and endless, immortal and indestructible, all-encompassing and all-governing, the source from which everything comes and to which everything returns – are precisely the sorts which the Greeks regarded as marks of the divine. Indeed, Aristotle tells us that Anaximander took the apeiron to be divine.
To be sure, the apeiron does not seem to be personal in nature. But in the Greek tradition, whether the source of all things was to be regarded as personal or impersonal is essentially treated as a question about the nature of God, not the existence of God. Aristotle, for one, treats the divine as personal, insofar as he attributes thought to the Prime Unmoved Mover. But that Anaximander does not make such an attribution to the apeiron does not by itself make of him any less a theist than Aristotle was. It just makes of him a theist of a different kind (even if one who, from the point of view of us Aristotelian-Thomists, understood the divine nature less well than Aristotle did).
We should note a couple of further points about Anaximander’s theism, if indeed we want to assign that label to his views. First, and as Jaeger notes, “his theology is a direct outgrowth from the germ of his new intuition of φύσις” (p. 23). That is to say, his theism was not incidental to or detachable from his work as a natural philosopher or physicist. On the contrary, he took the reality of the apeiron and its divine properties to be the inevitable conclusion of the search for a complete explanation of the natural order. Second, however, as David Roochnik points out in his excellent book on Greek philosophy, Retrieving the Ancients, Anaximander also thought that the search for the archē of all things required going beyond what was knowable by observation. He was in this sense engaged in a kind of rationalist metaphysics, rather than merely in empirical hypothesis formation.
I make these points and cite these experts on our topic because they are at odds with the impression the unwary reader would get from popularizations like Carlo Rovelli’s book Anaximander. When treating Anaximander’s views about the apeiron and the project of ultimate explanation, Rovelli seems to me to get things badly wrong. For one thing, he characterizes Anaximander’s notion of the apeiron as if it were different from or even at odds with a theological explanation – completely ignoring both the testimony of Aristotle that Anaximander regarded the apeiron as divine, and what actual experts on the Pre-Socratics’ views about religion such as Jaeger and Gerson have to say.
Why would Rovelli put forward such a view, and so matter-of-factly? For one thing, he seems to have the simplistic view of theology that too many scientists evince when they write popular works attempting to relate science and religion. Following Augustine, Gerson notes in God and Greek Philosophy that to understand the views of the ancients on matters of religion, we need to distinguish (1) civic theology, or the cultic practices of various ethnic and political groups, (2) mythical theology, such as stories about the Greek and Roman pantheons, and (3) natural theology, or rational argumentation concerning the existence and nature of God of the kind developed by philosophers.
Too many writers of pop science books treat all discourse about God as if it were of type (1) or (2), either ignoring (3) altogether or quickly dismissing it without serious examination as if it could only ever be a feeble attempt to prop up (1) or (2). This is a little like dismissing all of physics on the grounds that it can only ever be a feeble attempt to patch up the crude and failed theories of Thales and Anaximenes. Certainly it does not do justice to the arguments of a Xenophanes, an Aristotle, or a Plotinus. Those thinkers did not regard the crudities of mythical theology as a reason to give up theology, but rather as a reason to give up myth and replace it with a rational theology. (You might think that even if arguments of type (3) at one time had some plausibility, they have now been refuted by science or otherwise been shown to be no longer defensible or interesting. But as I have demonstrated at length elsewhere, nothing could be further from the truth.)
Rovelli seems to be of the mindset that cannot see beyond (1) and (2) to give a fair shake to (3). Because Pre-Socratic thinkers are clearly trying to move beyond myth as a way of making sense of the world, he appears to suppose that they must therefore be moving beyond theology as a way of making sense of it. Hence he does not consider the possibility that the notion of the apeiron might be a concept in natural philosophy and at the same time a theological concept. To be sure, it is only fair to note that Rovelli is admirably willing to think beyond clichés about the ancients in other contexts. Unfortunately, his imagination seems to fail him when theology is at issue.
A second problem is that Rovelli explicitly declines to consider exactly what Anaximander might have meant by the term “apeiron.” He tells us that this is no more important than determining the meaning of the term “quark,” which physicist Murray Gell-Mann borrowed more or less at random from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Modern particle physics would be no different if Gell-Mann had borrowed some other word instead, and Rovelli claims that “in the same fashion, had Anaximander called his principle something other than ‘infinite’ or ‘indistinct,’ the scientific relevance of his idea would have been strictly the same” (p. 66).
This is quite a bizarre claim. That Gell-Mann’s bit of terminology was picked more or less at random and could easily be exchanged with something else doesn’t entail that all terminology in physics or natural philosophy is like that. That is just a non sequitur. And Anaximander’s term “apeiron” was most definitely not chosen at random. Again, what he was trying to convey is the idea that the ultimate source of all things cannot be bounded or limited in any of the ways the things of our experience are, or it too would be in need of precisely the sort of explanation they require. It would in that case not be ultimate. To fail to see this is simply to miss Anaximander’s whole point.
That Rovelli does entirely miss it is clear from his suggestion that the atoms of Leucippus and Democritus “are the direct descendants of Anaximander’s apeiron. They are natural objects (nothing is particularly divine about atoms) that escape our direct perception but in terms of which we understand the constitution of matter” (p. 68). Rovelli also claims that Faraday’s notion of the field is similarly comparable to the apeiron.
In fact, these notions are in no way comparable to Anaximander’s. It is true that the atomists took the atoms to be the fundamental reality, but one of the difficulties with their position is that it is hard to see how anything having the properties attributed to the atoms could possibly be fundamental. An atom is extended, and thus could in principle be smaller than it actually is, in which case it is hard to see how it could be (as the atomists claimed it was) unbreakable in principle. It has a certain specific shape, speed, and trajectory, and all of these could in principle have been different. In short, the atoms are contingent in various respects, and they are so precisely because they are limited or bounded in various respects. Hence they are no more like Anaximander’s apeiron than the water of Thales’ natural philosophy is.
Analogous problems afflict the suggestion that Faraday’s notion of the field is in any interesting way like the apeiron. In general, if it is even intelligible to ask “Where did it come from?” or “Could it have been otherwise?” or any questions of a comparable sort, then we are not talking about the apeiron, because we are not talking about an ultimate explanation of things. Again, to fail to see this is to miss the whole point.
Now, when contemporary physicists make a stab at ultimate explanations, this typically involves positing some fundamental laws of nature. The trouble with this, as longtime readers of this blog know, is that laws of nature are simply not the kinds of thing that could possibly be fundamental, for reasons Aristotelian philosophers have set out (and which I survey at pp. 177-190 of Aristotle’s Revenge and in this talk). Hence they too cannot be the ultimate explanation of things, and thus cannot be the sort of thing Anaximander had in mind in putting forward the notion of the apeiron.
Indeed, you aren’t ever going to understand what Anaximander was up to if you interpret him as doing only natural science as that is understood today (even if that was, of course, part of what he was doing). And that brings us to a third problem with Rovelli’s treatment, which is precisely that this is how he (mis)interprets Anaximander. He essentially remakes Anaximander in the image of a contemporary academic scientist, and one whose views on matters of methodology and religion are apparently very similar to those of Rovelli. That Anaximander was no less a metaphysician and, as some scholars of Pre-Socratic philosophy argue, a natural theologian too, is thus lost on him.
I've typically heard of anaxagoras as the most theistic of the pre Socratics. Thanks for the intro to axanimanderReplyDelete
Yea, the idea that the pre-socratics where more interested in natural explanations that most people on their time is sometimes taken too far and one ends up failling to see the metaphysics presents on these guys thought.ReplyDelete
Besides Anaximander, Parmenides seems clearly a type of rationalistic metaphysician and maybe even a type of pantheist(a artistic mind he had). Heraclitus most clearly seems to be a type of pantheist, his Logos looks like the taoist Tao in his fragments.
Maybe this is because in the modern world there is this idea that science is all that reason is, the rest is faith or other thing of that sort. Since the pre-socratics did not bother with the mythical explanations, they had to reject metaphysics as such in favor of "reason". That it is normal to see God in terms of neo-classical theism also probably does not help.
The keen modern rationalist has no need of metaphysics, what with all the glittering screens to keep him occupied.Delete
Exactly, the greeks had no games nor animes so they had to find a way to not get bored.Delete
Looking back, their boredom sure helped us.
Do you mean the Greeks were not geeks?Delete
Is not every philosopher a nerd?Delete
No. "Nerd" is pejorative. It indicates the presence of some defect in personal development or whatever. Nerds might be better characterized by curiosity in the original sense.Delete
"Is not every philosopher a nerd?"Delete
It was just one of my (in)famous bad ancient Greek jokes.
Exactly, the greeks had no gamesDelete
What, no ... Olympic games?
I forget, where exactly is Mount Olympus?
What does unbounded mean? The apeiron lacks the properties and powers of water - it isn't water - so it seems the apeiron is not unbounded.ReplyDelete
I think unbounded in this case means unlimited power. Yes, the apeiron is not water. But, the apeiron has the power to explain water and its properties and powers, as well as everything else. On the other hand, water has the power to explain only some things (due to its limits).Delete
One way you can think of it is as meaning "undefined". A definition is a boundary that limits its subject to what is contained in the definition. Where is "does not include the effects of water" implied in what is meant by or imagined with the term "apeiron"?Delete
In my own view God has all the perfections of matter (whatever existence/being and power water has) without any of its limitations. Water itself is just a very limited kind of existence.Delete
So God really is unbounded like that. It is creatures that take God's properties (which in God are just one and absolute, really) in a limited manner. God just is all existence and power unbounded. So God has (or is) all the perfections you could find in a human being, a star, a cup of water, or even a pile of feces.
This is just to say that God is all maximal power. Whereas creation is limited acts of power and being.
Also, anything "bad" in things comes only from their limitations. Lack of power, knowledge, consciousness, life, etc. - it is from lacking that badness comes. God is that which is existence without lacking anything, hence no limitations, apeiron.Delete
I used to think it was implicit bias or well-intentioned but unfounded prejudice that prevented the adherent of scientism from seeing the distinctions outlined in this post. But now I think it’s just simple lack of imagination.ReplyDelete
“But in the Greek tradition, whether the source of all things was to be regarded as personal or impersonal is essentially treated as a question about the nature of God, not the existence of God.”
And, without exception it seems, internet atheist keyboard warriors are just incapable of understanding this. They ask for an argument for God’s existence, and when presented with one (say the Aristotelian proof), they completely ignore it and complain that such an argument doesn’t show that God could create a flood or be hung from a tree. Trying to explain the difference between arguments establishing the existence of God from the nature of God, is a completely fruitless endeavor.
The same lack of imagination occurs when adherents of scientism attempt ultimate explanations: continually appealing to smaller physical objects, or merely picking your favorite physical law and haphazardly calling it “ultimate” just because, is just silly. It must be exceedingly dull to be a two-dimensional stick figure.
“Mr. McCabe thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think Mr. McCabe a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies.” -- G.K. Chesterton
That is something that i noticed as well. The average internet materialist today seems to have a very hard time even conceiving of anything that it not their position.Delete
Try to explain, say, that the mind is immaterial and the guy will think of ectoplasm, which is literally just exotic matter. If you are a idealist, try to explain that everything is mental and the guy will think of solipsism. Try to explain that classical theism is true and the guy will think of a bearded man in the sky.
Besides the lack of imagination, i also thinks that usually there is a bit of sloth or maybe pride. Trying to get these new concepts is hard so eventually the guy just gives up and calls it word-salad or something of that sort.
Yes, exactly. And no matter how hard you try to make a connection, or you think to yourself "how can I say this another way", or "maybe I'm misunderstanding how he interprets this", nothing works.
The problem is not education, but lack thereof. Classical philosophers of various traditions understood that metaphysics is to be taught last of all other philosophies (a rule even which I have broken out of curiosity and it resulted in much trial and disaster). Mental activity requires something of a virtue in that one must develop the habitual power to pierce the object of study in sufficient depth as to arrive at the respective level of isolation. If you are an engineer, you must be able to quickly dive into the mathematically measurable properties of the materials you use isolate them from the other properties. The scholastics generally saw something of a hierarchy of study as such: physics, math, metaphysics. There are additional fields in there that I can’t recall at the moment. But the average internet interlocutor you encounter really hasn’t arrived at the ability to disentangle concepts from mental images or material objects, so he can’t even understand what you mean when you claim something exits, though immaterially. Frankly, he is utterly stupid in the subject of metaphysics but has grandiose assertions to make.Delete
So debate about metaphysics is pointless unless you can help him approach understanding metaphysical concepts, at least as far as common sense has encountered them in everyday experience. This is why, I believe, the Unmoved Mover and Kalam are the favoured arguments of St. Thomas and Dr. Craig when dealing with educated though not philosophically minded students. It is easy to think of either objects in motion or a series of events because they are familiar to the average Joe. And the causal principles are easy enough to grasp with nothing more than intuitive common sense. The De Ente argument requires much greater ability to mentally isolate the very being and essence of an object in order to grasp the premises. I would like to use that argument with atheists because I see it to be sound, however it will just fly over people’s heads.
Anaximander’s aperion seems to be similar to my favourite teen for the Ultimate Explanation of existence:ReplyDelete
johannes y k hui
No apostrophe in Finnegans Wake. From an Irishman who thinks James Joyce jumped the shark (or perhaps the quark) with Ulysses.ReplyDelete
Thanks for that correction, Maolsheachlann. I've fixed it.Delete
At one time, I planned to read Finnegans Wake without attempting in the slightest to understand it just to say that I had read it. I still have not managed to do it and may give up on that goal. In Star Trek II, the subquarkian particles are called snarks and boojums after Lewis Carrol's line "For the snark was a boojum you see."ReplyDelete
Douglas Adams spoke for many atheists when he said that the meaning of life is 42. An ionic abstraction that, ironically, describes their way of thinking perfectly.ReplyDelete
What book would you recommend I start reading on the pre-Socratic philosophers. The only book I've read on them is "Philosophy before Socrates" by Richard McKirahan.ReplyDelete
Should I start with one of the ones you mention above, or should I start with something else?
You could read the fragments as compiled in the recent Loeb Classical Library set edited by Andre Laks and Glenn Most. Even if you don't read Greek, you can read the fragments translated into English, and Laks/Most offer pretty good explanatory notes.Delete
"The Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the Major Presocratics" by Daniel Graham is a nice compilation (its pretty pricey tho, most translations are). Another good resource to look up potential sources would be to examine the bibliography of the "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy" page on Presocratics.Delete
I think, however, that it would be wrong to characterize Anaximander as a theist. Because from the relevance of the term today, it would be perfectly possible for an atheist to believe in the "apeiron" and it wouldn't make any difference to his life. So long as the ultimate origin of all things - the necessary being, we might say - is ignorant (as in, either totally impersonal or not knowing us) and doesn't care about us, a practical atheism follows.ReplyDelete
After all, an ignorant, uncaring thing that isn't even aware of us or our planet is nothing like Anselm's (axiologically) perfect being, and nothing like a being deserving of worship. It doesn't deserve worship or change our lives anymore than a powerful black hole far away in the universe does. That kind of "God" is really just an ultimate source of things with no further importance for our lives, and atheists wouldn't care about it.
Another who doesn't know the difference between Existence and Nature of God.Delete
Due to the impact of Christianity, I agree that it seems odd to think of God as impersonal. It’s difficult to say whether I’d consider myself an atheist if I believed in an ultimate supernatural cause of the universe. HmmDelete
It’s a common dodge. C. S. Lewis, before his conversion to Christianity, had reasoned as far as accepting what he called ‘The Absolute’, and he took considerable pains never to call it ‘God’. It was some time after that before he realized he had in fact become a theist without intending it.Delete
"... an ignorant, uncaring thing ..."Delete
Ignorance, lack of care, lack of love are limits. Hence, this "thing" is not the apeiron.
"Another who doesn't know the difference between Existence and Nature of God."Delete
I am just calling it into question. And I think it's a very relevant issue. If one accepts the anselmian definition of God, then an impersonal being really can't be called "God". I'd rather worship a fellow human than an unthinking black hole, for instance.
When *atheists* are okay accepting an entity that we call "God" then you know something weird is going on with our words.
Also I agree that the apeiron is most plausibly personal, caring, etc (I think these are perfections/real attributes and as such would be present in the apeiron), I'm just pointing out that I think personhood (being personal, as in, having intelligence and will) is essential to the God that divides theists and atheists nowadays.Delete
To be fair, this Absolute would still be what sustain us in being at all times and who is also eternal and perfect, so i could see people having a bit of gratitude, a few experiences of the sublime thinking about it etc. See how some naturalists talk of the universe and you see that it is hard to think that most people would be so dismissive.Delete
Of course, one can't try to do what it wants or use it as a guide for life, but i doubt that most can believe on something like that and ignore the Absolute completely. Only if one, like Schopenhauer, thinks that it did a crap job at creating.
"When *atheists* are okay accepting an entity that we call "God" then you know something weird is going on with our words."Delete
No, I know what I have always known, that "something weird is going on" with atheists.
Even if one does not attribute to the Absolute some kind of "caring", in order for it to be the foundational principle, and in order for intelligence to exist in the world of which it is the foundational principle, then it would have to have intelligence or something that EXCEEDS intelligence as some kind of transcendent aspect. Thus it could not be an "ignorant" being and be the Absolute of THIS universe.Delete
One could do a similar analysis of some of the other goods we think are wholly good, such as love. We would not have to then conclude that the Absolute "loves" us in the manner of personal beings, but it would be the SOURCE of love (and those other things that are wholly good).
This would make the Absolute worthy of - at least - honor and admiration, for being so excellent. Even if you did not call this "worship" because you didn't think of the Absolute as personal, it would not be a mere personal whim to hold it in this honor: any human being who would refuse to honor something so noble is objectively dishonorable. Thus "duty" of a kind would enter in: if not precisely duty TO the Absolute, then duty to our own nature, which includes intelligence and love of the good.
So, even without a personal Absolute, a "natural" moral order relating to the Absolute would arise.
All that is necessary to convert this whole thing into a natural religion proper is to recognize Boethius definition of "person": a subsistence of a rational nature. The only way the Absolute could evade being a "person" is if the Absolute transcends personhood by being even better. I doubt that atheists should be willing to take comfort in denying natural religion because the ultimate principle is even more excellent than a person who deserves our highest honor and admiration.
Tony. The Absolute, God, could not "evade" personhood because this is a divine attribute.Delete
Miguel, I know that personhood is a divine attribute. My comments were directed to a hypothetical opponent who admits there is an Absolute, but who does not admit the Absolute is personal.Delete
I can't see how you could even hypothetically postulate that something that thinks and loves is not a person.Delete
Pretty close to my own thoughts on the matter.
If all perfections necessarily exist in God (which they must) and if God is necessarily simple (which He is), then all of God's perfections are really identical.
But this seems to mean that intellect and will and personhood etc are ultimately the same thing. And that's nonsense, because to know and to will are radically different things. Apples and oranges. A category error.
So God must possess these different perfections in a super-eminent way that radically transcends the categories of these individual perfections.
But in that case it wouldn't make much sense to talk about God willing or knowing things or exercising any other of these perfections that we attribute to Him because His knowing and willing and loving and being etc are so unlike ours that they are literally the same thing!
So it makes far more sense to just say that God is *beyond* intellect, *beyond* willing, and *beyond* personhood, rather than saying He has an intellect, or wills things, or *is* a Person (or three!).
Of course, and to tie in with your point, such a Being (far from being uninteresting or irrelevant) is so much the more worthy of admiration and awe since He is that much more mysterious. Even if He has never made a Divine Revelation (if that's even a coherent thing for an Absolutely Simple Necessary Being).
Albinus. Indeed. St Thomas made the point a long time ago that all the qualities we say of God are true analogically. However, they are still true. For example, he said God was personal in the most perfect sense. If we limit ourselves to merely saying that God is a something beyond all human words (which is also true in a sense) we might as well shut up the philosophy and theology shop and become budhists. Human words and ideas are limited but true. A God that is not personal is not God!Delete
"So it makes far more sense to just say that God is *beyond* intellect, *beyond* willing, and *beyond* personhood, rather than saying He has an intellect, or wills things, or *is* a Person (or three!)."Delete
How do you see someone like Pseudo-Dionysius or Palamas? As someone who has seen Aquinas doctrine of analogy leading to confusion alot, i tend to be sympathetic to these more apophatic uses of language.
Not that Aquinas is wrong*, i suppose that you also would not say that, but these more apophatic uses of language are better to make evident our lack of knowledge of how God is and they truly make things seems more mysterious(and cooler!).
Talmid, I think we have to be careful with terms like "beyond intellect" etc. It can amount to a denial in practice. The Catholic approach of holding these qualities are what they are, yet infinite at the same time, makes these aspects identifiable and true, yet impossible for our finite minds to fully understand.Delete
Palamas and his school are not interested in precision in ideas because that might interfere with their intuitive religion. The via negativa ought not be the only way. The spirit of the Nicene creed is not apophatic. The limitations of human words do not make them untrue.
Yes, apophatic is the way. I like Dionysius. I don't know enough of Palamas though I'm sympathetic to the general "Orthodox" emphasis on mystery / ineffability. And no, I wouldn't say Aquinas is "wrong" here I just question how useful an analogy is when the analogates are so radically dissimilar.
I'm just trying to let the chips fall where they may. If that entails concluding that God isn't "personal" in any meaningful formal sense of the word, then so be it. It's a fallacy to let what is desired dictate to our premises the conclusions that follow therefrom. At any rate, it isn't true philosophy.
And nothing I've said means we can't have philosophy or theology...just that we need our philosophy/theology to be coherent.
Saying that "knowing" and "willing" and are ultimately the same formal thing is incoherent.
Saying that "knowing" and "willing" are ultimately traceable to some *other* ineffable category that transcends these, is not.
It may be difficult, from the standpoint solely of natural religion, to say anything worthwhile about what God is, other than THAT he is.Delete
But we also have God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. And even though that revelation is mysterious, it completely disrupts not being able to say anything worthwhile about God. For Christ is most assuredly not absolutely mysterious. One might say that this is WHY He came into the world (though, of course, not denying that He came to save us by redemption, certainly). The saints urge that "the plan" of divine providence included the Fall in order that Christ would enter into the world Incarnate.
Now, that is of course God revealing himself through concrete acts in history and in Person. My point is, though, that if Christ Incarnate makes it concretely possible to say something worthwhile about God, then it was never absolutely impossible - even in theory - to say something worthwhile about God.
It has been forever since I looked at Aquinas on analogy, so maybe I have forgotten what we need. But it seems to me that if we can say God "exists" without pure error, but only by analogy, what positive value resides in "God exists" (once you reject the definite errors) maybe cannot be cashed out in language PRECISELY because language (and concepts) are too imprecise / too imperfect, but also that THERE IS something left over after negating the errors. That ineffable "leftover" is positive, but cannot be reduced to specific language. Thus we cannot think that if only we "adjust" the analogy better, we can fully STATE that by which the analogy falls away from the perfect. The gap is ineffable but not non-existent. (Perhaps this is why faith takes supernatural grace, also).
Analogy is required for metaphysical reasons. While God isn't personal in the same manner we are - he transcends it -, all of our perfections of personhood, intellect, volition, etc. must be in God. Otherwise proportionality of causation would be destroyed.
If God were incapable of knowledge, consciousness, love, etc., he could not produce beings that are conscious, knowing, loving, etc. These powers would be coming from nothing. While a cause need not always be F in order to produce F, this is only in cases in which F is reducible to more basic perfections/powers/attributes. Intellect, consciousness, etc. are not reducible to anything non-intellectual or non-conscious however (except if you're a materialist, but then you'll have to face a number of philosophical problems). And it is just absurd to suggest that conscious, first-person properties could emerge from completely blind unconscious third-person properties; or that blind, unthinking acts could somehow produce anything like a rational thought or representation. God must be personal in a very real sense if he is to explain reality.
Also, arguably, as thinking and choosing are powers, a non-personal being is ceteris paribus less powerful than a personal being. A purely actual being, maximally powerful, should not be lacking in powers like that.
Analogy should tell us that God's intellect, will, etc. are very different from ours, but not to the point where it is undeserving of these names. The via negativa isn't the only way- there's also the way of analogy from observed effects and the way of eminence.
Infinity notwithstanding, I think we should still want to say that God is a lot more similar to (e.g.) a wise man than a black hole.
I agree that things like "beyond intellect" are very capable of confusing, maybe a term like "not limited in inteligence" would work better.
I agree also that we should use analogy as well, for, as you remembered, Our Lord choose to reveal His dogmas in this type of language. But on a pure philosophical level i see a lot of value on apophatism, even if it should not be used alone.
And i also found Palamas a bit more intuitive that he should sometimes when reading the Triads, somethings he could had explained better. But our eastern fathers and eastern catholic brothers do have a lot in common with Gregory, so we can treat him more lightly.
Yea, analogy is confusing sometimes on that level. But it does have its value in understanding. Even when its value is in saying "yea, you will not get this enough, man".
Albinus, authors like St. Thomas have produced volumes of coherent argument based on philosophy and theology that demonstrate that the chips cannot fall in any sense sense to the effect that God isn't personal or doesn't know or will. I don't think the Summa is just a load of wishful thinking. You need to show where it's wrong.Delete
In the meantime, any ineffable category that discounts the reality of God's personhood should be avoided. That path leads to endless agnosticism or a merging with the "forces of nature". As Tony points out, revelation is the circuit breaker that gives the human mind something definite to deal with. I'm afraid that non-personal ultimate causes are an incoherence that only results in practical atheism. Even if one wants to call this classical theism, no Christian philosopher could be associated with it.
Talmid, yes I agree that infinite, said of any divine attribute, is mysterious enough for us without asserting they are beyond any human term at all.
Atheism, literally based on nothing, can be nothing more than a confused and inconsistent superstition. The apeiron, call it "without limit" can be a fundamentally theistic idea without Anaximander having thought it through sufficiently to know it himself, just as James Clerk Maxwell completed Maxwell's equations without having thought out that they predicted over-the-horizon radar.ReplyDelete
That many have the wrong idea, such as Anselm, has no bearing on the true implications of the apeiron.
However, if you think that there is no such thing as love or justice or the good, you could insist that the apeiron does not imply a god of love.
I do not believe that you think this way. The idea of an unlimited, overarching, cause directly implies that it is not limited by lacking love, intelligence, involvement, etc., so the apeiron must be a theistic god.
A note on a side note: since the presocratics appeared at roughly the same time that the Greeks started exploring other lands, and because they showed a certain level of awe for Egypt and Babylon, it is reasonable to assume that they were in large part inspired by Egyptian and Babylonian temple secrets. Also, there are known myths from Babylon and Egypt that the world came from water in some sense or another.ReplyDelete
So I speculate that Thales was inspired by these older myths, and that these myths were in turn inspired by one of the premier technologies of those societies: irrigation. At some point, someone must have theorized that the reason irrigation causes plants to grow is because water turns into plant. From there it is a small step to the theory that water turns into everything.
I am really amazed at how far one can stretch the meaning of a word.ReplyDelete
Theism, to me, is the idea that a personal being is the basis of everything.
If the basis of reality is non-personal, then I have no idea why this would amount to theism.
It would not be materialism, for sure, but to me, it wouldn't even count as supernatural.
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"... acts without limit ..."Delete
That was me.
"I am really amazed at how far one can stretch the meaning of a word."Delete
You mean like "conservation of momentum" (I know that's not _a_ word)? What is non personal about a God that knows without limit, loves without limit, and acts without limit?
How about pantheists like Spinoza or non-dualists like Shankara or whatever Plotinus was? Are they not part of the group?
Theism rather seems something like the belief that "there is something that is worthy of worship*" or something like that. Your definition fails to include the non-monotheistic guys that we usually put on the theistic team and i don't see that as very cool.
*maybe only worship in a intellectual sense like Spinoza saw his pantheistic god, dude was not bowing or offering sacrifices but he clearly saw knowledge of god as the highest good
The 'group' is so diverse that virtually everybody could be part of it.
I do 'admire' nature and everything in it, so in that respect you could also call me a theist, I guess, but my point is just like theism, the term atheism involves much more than just materialism.
Atheism is truly a diverse group as well. Besides the materialists, you got some substance dualists like jainists, more pessimistic idealists like Schopenhauer, monists who did not fit neither three like Bertrand Russell and people who could not care less about metaphysics like Nietzsche.Delete
Seeing the theism vs atheism debate as being monotheism vs physicalism is just a contemporany western phenomenon. Is what the debate usually is to us. That would be my problem with your definition of theism: is does not work well outside our context.
Talmid, I wouldn't call Jains atheists. To me atheism as it has come to be used in modern English implies a lack of any notion of a divine or sacred reality. Jains definitely believe in a sacred reality. Nontheists might be a better term.Delete
I agree that atheism is a diverse group as well, and that's kind of my point.Delete
There is no contradiction between atheism and believing a necessary being might exist.
It does depend on one defines theism. I'am defining it as something like "the idea that there is something worth of worship" because it can fit pantheists or similar thinkers. As i understand it, the jains do not find the liberted souls as literaly worshipable but use the rituals as a mean to think about their virtues. I could be wrong, of course, for i do not know they much.
I agree that atheists can believe in necessary beings. I guess that the diference between they and someone like Plotinus is that they would not call the necessary being divine.
That's true. I certainly wouldn't claim that Jains are theists. But I also don't think they fit the normal contemporary use of the word atheist. Jains belief in a sacred reality and divine attributes of souls who attain it. I would say that nontheist is a better label than atheist, to make it clear we aren't talking about anything like the Western materialism or naturalism that is usually meant by the term atheist.Delete
I agree completely that it is a bit dangerous to say they are atheists, at least if you do not make the term pretty clear before.Delete
But i also don't know if the nontheist label would be very good because to me it sounds like they are more indiferent to the question, which they sure where not. I guess that any term will have some dificults thanks to the jain belief being so diferent from the common here on the west, but some clear definition of the terms might help.
If Anaximander and others of his age came upon some attributes of God they also vitiated their insights from the point of view of religion by excluding other divine attributes. Indeed, one of the things that characterises most of the Greek philosophers is their unreligious attitude. Religion as those who worship God understand it was considered by them to be something vulgar and false, even if the social effect of such practices were desirable (their attitude is well-represented in modern times by that certain political tendency). One would have job to find even one instance where such views ever resulted in a case of organised natural religion anywhere in human society.ReplyDelete
The ability of men to infer the existence of God from his works is another matter. Probably most humans throughout history have done a better job in this respect than ancient Greek philosophers who were mostly true believers in ideologies like the perfectibility of man, which immediately made a religious posture almost impossible.
Fortunately, almost all humans have benefited from revelation, or corrupted memories of it. There is only one kind of revelation properly speaking. The use of reason to arrive at God's existence and some divine attributes can hardly be revelation, as what is involved is the autonomous action of men within the limits of their nature. If mere thought were to be considered revelation, we would be approaching something like Malbranche's nutty idea of human knowledge in God. Revelation is always "special".
The value of philosophers like Anaximander lies in their insights. Even if they did not really know what they were describing, they nevertheless provide angles which shed yet more light on what has been revealed by God.
For fun and edification, I looked up on Wikipeida the author of the Anaximander book mentioned by Dr F, Carlo Rovelli. Interesting blurb on his religious views: "Rovelli defines himself "serenely atheist". He discussed his religious views in several articles and in his book on Anaximander. He argues that the conflict between rational/scientific thinking and structured religion may find periods of truce ("there is no contradiction between solving Maxwell's equations and believing that God created Heaven and Earth"), but it is ultimately unsolvable because (most) religions demand the acceptance of some unquestionable truths while scientific thinking is based on the continuous questioning of any truth. Thus, for Rovelli, the source of the conflict is not the pretense of science to give answers – the universe, for Rovelli is full of mystery and a source of awe and emotions – but, on the contrary, the source of the conflict is the acceptance of our ignorance at the foundation of science, which clashes with religions' pretense to be depositories of certain knowledge."ReplyDelete
The words "religions demand the acceptance of some unquestionable truths" jumps out at me, especially the word "demand". It is true to say, for example, that fidelity to the definition of "Roman Catholic" or (in my case) "conservative Evangelical" does "demand" (say) theistic belief, but this is only in the sense of being honest to a label. I can't *honestly* say I'm RC (say) and deny classical theism.
But I don't think this is the sense in which "demands" is being used in the citation above. I think there is this idea or stereotype that we're told on authority just to accept something and leave it at that. God exists? Well OK, since you say so...
If I'm correct with this interpretation, this would contradict my own experiences in life, and probably all of the others here on the board, since we are all interested in basic foundational metaphysical questions (God's existence, God's nature, etc) and are questioning of thinking about such things often. So if I'm not being unfair to the sense of the word "demands" in the Wiki citation, and if that Wiki citation itself accurately summarizes Dr Rovelli's thought (and given Wikipedia, it may well not), it just seems blatantly false, and just more a demurral at a strawman caricature of thoughtful Xty in general.
Does my musing seem fair based on the wording?
"while scientific thinking is based on the continuous questioning of any truth."Delete
I doubt that a future scientist will get very far if he does not accept that the experiments he see in books and papers actually were made and have the results that are writed...
Yea, as i understand the quote he seems to be making the familiar village atheist dichotomy between science and faith. Boring. That is exactly the type of guy i was thinking about when i writed before abot these that could not see the presocratics as religious in any way because of their search of truth.
Usually, something like "religion is" or "all religions" is a warning that we are about to heard dumb thoughts. As Dr. Feser defended on a post sometime ago, the category "religion"as used today is very arbitrary, i doubt that there are good definitions of it.
"while scientific thinking is based on the continuous questioning of any truth."Delete
Scientists who rely on the scientific papers and peer review of their fellow scientists don't question whether their fellow scientists exist. Science would collapse entirely without the steady assumption of the scientific community.
There are numerous assumptions in scientific thinking.
but it is ultimately unsolvable because (most) religions demand the acceptance of some unquestionable truths...Delete
How about this: for his sake, we ditch any religion that "demands the acceptance of an unquestionable truth".
Which religions does this eliminate? It sure does not eliminate Christianity! Christians have been asking questions since Day 1. And they don't call the process of ASKING wrong - ever. Maybe some other religions do, I don't know. I haven't read up on all of them.
What's reproved is asking in the wrong way. And asking without being open to the truth. And (most interestingly) NOT staying open to a teaching being possibly true merely because you do not see it, yet. I.E. the Church disapproves NOT ASKING enough!
For those who have not BEEN a Christian, and who are seeking, Christianity has never, ever, EVER said "that question is off limits, you must not ask it." She might say "we don't know, yet". She might say "X", and if you cannot come to accept X, or at least STOP thinking definitively and with perfect confidence "not-X", then you cannot with honesty become a Christian. But that's most certainly not saying the question is off limits.
One thing the Church has always insisted on is that the truth-claims she makes as infallible never have a valid contradictory from natural science. There are no cases where science declares with formal, demonstrative proof, "Not-X" is and must be true, while the Church has declared "X" is infallibly true. But she never says "you must not ask questions about X". Ask away. Sometimes we have answers. Sometimes we don't, but we don't forbid the question.
"... while scientific thinking is based on the continuous questioning of any truth"ReplyDelete
A serenely atheist scientist sitting at a table writing a book may be involved in scientific research into the structure and properties of a table, but he does not question the particular truth that it's a table he is sitting at or that tables in general are tables, ... at least not if he is not being absurd (which, unfortunately, as an atheist, he often is).
I have to say, seeing the dance between "personal" and "non-personal" is funny. It's frustrating I think, for monotheists, since they can't claim God is an individual.ReplyDelete
I don't really understand "monotheists … can't claim God is an individual". What does this even mean? Of course to theists God is an individual: that is exactly what Divine Simplicity means. Is he also a person? Well, he is by definition the source of all personhood and of all qualities which could be considered necessary for personhood, so one would be hard pressed simply to deny that God is a person. Was all of this obvious to Anaximander? Probably not. Is it implicit in the idea of the apeiron? Probably so.ReplyDelete
"... they [monotheists] cannot claim God is an individual"ReplyDelete
If there were two "gods", they would have to differ in some way, or they would be one individual (just as your existence is necessarily a different existance from your neighbour's existence) ... which would be monotheism. If they differ, something necessarily would belong to one of them which did not belong to the other. The difference would necessarily be a privation of perfection or a perfection. If it was a privation the "god" would not be perfect and so would not be God, who is perfect. If it was a perfection, the *other* "god" would lack the perfection and so could not be "God". [paraphrase from the Summa - thanks Saint Thomas]
The "gods" of polytheism can only be creatures. "Polytheism" is a misnomer.
The only place a funny dance over the specific meaning of "personal" can occur is in a funny person's mind. Otherwise it is trivial.
If it was a perfection, the *other* "god" would lack the perfection and so could not be "God".Delete
Well stated, Tom.
The "gods" of polytheism can only be creatures. "Polytheism" is a misnomer.
This is true...now. That is to say, it is BECAUSE monotheistic Judaism and Christianity, (and then later Islam) took hold in the vast majority of the world, that the term "god" came to mean something like "the unique, ultimate being". Before that, the word "god" didn't mean that. It meant something like "a being greater than us, to be worshiped". These are clearly two different senses of the word "god", and thus we can run into a kind of equivocation if we ask "can there be more than one god": in the first sense (the unique, ultimate) the answer MUST be "no" from the meaning itself. But not if we mean the second sense.
And obviously, the newer sense of "god" comes in under the first sense: a being that is the "unique, ultimate" is clearly a being "greater than us, to be worshiped". Thus the newer sense doesn't oppose the older sense, it just narrows it down to a "subset" of the former. Angels are beings whose nature makes them greater than us: when angels visited men in ancient times, they repeatedly had to discourage men from worshiping them. (Bad angels, of course, didn't discourage this - which is WHY there were so many different "religions" with so many different "gods".)
So, "polytheism" is a term that simply depends on the older meaning of "god".
Anonymous, the way the Gods differ is by identity. As Mithras is Mithras, He cannot also be Zeus. As Zeus is Zeus, He also cannot be Guan Di. As I cannot in principle have the identity of any thing other than my own, it is not a privation for me to lack any of those other identities. In other words, I do not have the identity of Edward Feser or the identity of an apple as any potential, so I do not lack those identities by way of some privation. So no, Aquinas is wrong. It should be further pointed out that no chosen relation to ontology that a Deity has determines that Gods dignity, as the God would have to precede any ontological order that They so chose to participate in. Contingency itself is no way to determine which among Them is greater, as contingency need not be. If a God is "born" of another God, or brought about by some Deific act, this simply points out that the "born" or "created" Deity chooses to extend the work of the previous parent or creator further down the chain of Being. Nor does this diminish any sense of omnipotence, as omnipotence properly understood is simply the way each God is fully with each other Deity, and what one Deity is capable of, each Deity is capable of.ReplyDelete
My name is Tom, not Anonymous.
You are inconsistent, having begun by saying that a monotheist cannot claim that God is an individual and then producing many words about how many supposed "gods" are each individuals.
No, because for monotheists God must be the principle of individuation and also an example of individuation, such that He can be considered to be a unity. For polytheist Platonists, the principle of individuation is NOT an individual, because as we get in the Parmenides, the One is not, and is not one. (Parmenides 141b) As the One is not an individual, it does not cause the supra-essential Gods, but is commensurate with Them. And it's with this in mind that we can come to understand Plato when he says, “Each God is the most beautiful and the best thing possible” (Republic 381c).Delete
Richard, are you using "god" in the sense of, say, "something greater than man, and worthy of being worshiped"? Or in the sense of "the ultimate"? If in the latter, it would seem odd to consider both Zeus and Mithras "the ultimate", for the term seems to have room for only one.Delete
If you mean the former, i.e. "greater than us", it remains to be asked "what differentiates Zeus from Mithras". You seem to be offering, as that which differentiates, "Zeusness" and "Mithras-ness", which obviously they don't share. Let us ask, instead, "what makes them 'greater than us' and "what makes them fitting to be worshiped' "? Whatever it is, though, they seem to SHARE, for they both are greater than us, and to be worshiped. It would seem NOT to be, merely, the identity, i.e. of Zeusness or Mithras-ness, because if being DISTINGUISHED as an individual is it, then we too have it, for each of us have identities. I have Tony-ness. You have Richardness. So it is some OTHER thing than mere identity. Whatever X it is, then the question is: "who has X in the ultimate way"?
If there is someone who has X in the ultimate way, he would presumably have the "greater than" and "to be worshiped" in the ultimate way also, and then even Zeus and Mithras would own him worship.
because for monotheists God must be the principle of individuation and also an example of individuation
ummmm, no? That's not what Christians, at least, believe. Or, at least not what Thomists believe. God is not the "principle of individuation". It's matter. And God is not matter, nor material being.
"Richard, are you using "god" in the sense of, say, "something greater than man, and worthy of being worshiped"? Or in the sense of "the ultimate"? If in the latter, it would seem odd to consider both Zeus and Mithras "the ultimate", for the term seems to have room for only one."Delete
I am using the term "God" as whatever is absolutely Itself. It's not a question of what is greater-than, since without contingency there can be no claim to what is greater or lesser, and contingency cannot be NECESSARY to determine what is greater-than, since contingency is not NECESSARY.
When it comes to the question of what God "has" that determines his greatness for the monotheist, it's a question of His essence, which is fully cashed out in the terms of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. These terms are further understood by the monotheist to really be all the same, such that God fully knows and is present to any contingent thing that He causes to come into being via that essence. The problem is that this formulation requires the contingent effect to make sense of it's necessary cause. Without contingency, there is no way to make sense of God's essence.
The situation is different for the Platonic polytheist. Due to the principle of non-extension, each supra-essential God would "be" with each other God. Each would "know" each other God in a way completely beyond any discursive understanding, and from there comes Their omniscience, for that mutual sharing of non-extension provides the very condition for it. It should also be clear that omnipresence follows from this, as each God is present to each God. So too omnipotence, since each God could do any thing any other God could do, thanks to Their omnipresence and omniscience. This is what Plato is pointing to in the Symposium when he has the Demiurge beholding another God and creating as a result of Their mutual company.
If matter is the principle of individuation for Christians, then God is not an individual, and is therefore not a unity. And I won't worship something that doesn't exist, but will instead worship and pray to those who are actually beyond Being.
God is not an example of individuation such that he can be considered a unity. He is a unity because of simplicity. You can't get rid of contradictions by waving your arms and glibly specifying what that which is without limit must have as its limits. Do you know what specify means? Calling God by different names doesn't make him into multiple "gods" indistinguishable in effect from God who effects everything any more than calling you by more than one name makes you into several people distinguishable by your acts.
I don't want to spend my time in argumentation with you over such an obvious farrago of complex and inconsistent nonsense.
Be interesting, not arbitrary.
I am using the term "God" as whatever is absolutely Itself.Delete
Once you divinize identification, everything with an identity is a god. You have made yourself, and each other with identity, gods.
I don't want to spend my time in argumentation with you over such an obvious farrago of complex and inconsistent nonsense.
Precisely so. Thanks for saying it.
No, because no other thing than a God is simply an individual, an absolute Self, and anyone who would bother with a charitable interpretation would know that.Delete
When you say "divinize identification" am I correct that you take there to be no possible difference in a finite image of God (ie, an image that can be comprehensively beheld by a human mind) that would distinguish between so called "absolute divination" and "relative divination" of identification?
For if we take as an image of God an unbiased (not bound or limited by bias) and infinite random number there is no finite number that is not a subsequence of the unbiased infinite number, and therefore there is no distinction that can be comprehensively understood in a finite mind although it could be incoherently imagined that such a distinction is understood. Thus distinction between "absolute" and "relative" cannot be meaningful to us as anything more than aspects of God as we inadequately imagine them which are not coherent with God as He is in himself (which is why we call it a mystery).
Therefore there is little sense in participating in dialog with someone who speaks as if he has divine understanding himself.
"When you say "divinize identification" am I correct that you take there to be no possible difference in a finite image of God (ie, an image that can be comprehensively beheld by a human mind) that would distinguish between so called "absolute divination" and "relative divination" of identification?"Delete
No, not really. Where a God may choose any relation They so please, and so in a sense choose Their essence, which is always a relational category of Being, any given thing other than a Deity has it's essence chosen for it, and so cannot be strictly identified with any God AS that God per se. It's not that having an identity deifies each thing, but that existing as a pure Identity, an absolute Individual, is the hallmark of what we call a God. So I'm not suggesting that I, or this or that blade of grass, or any other contingent thing, just really is a deity because it has an identity. None of those things are, because each of them is a composite of identity and essence, and to be a God is not to be a composite but instead to simply exist as Oneself.
Nothing you have said tells us why a blade of grass does not have an absolute identity except that you assert that it cannot be so under your incoherent multiple God projection. You cannot sense anything of God except as composite and so could not distinguish a blade of grass god from its effects - which would be everything else you sense. This is indeed ridiculous and so nothing identifies your multiple gods which are only one God under different aspects or something less. You cannot know otherwise and no polytheistic tradition can provide illumination.
Tom, did you choose your essence or did your God do so for you?Delete
Richard, under the polytheism nonsense nothing anyone can say enlightens anyone - including you.Delete
I am using the term "God" as whatever is absolutely Itself.Delete
Where a God may choose any relation They so please, and so in a sense choose Their essence, which is always a relational category of Being, any given thing other than a Deity has it's essence chosen for it, and so cannot be strictly identified with any God AS that God per se. It's not that having an identity deifies each thing, but that existing as a pure Identity, an absolute Individual, is the hallmark of what we call a God.
This "pure Identity, an absolute Individual" that can "choose its own essence" is Pure Twaddle, absolute Oxymoron. I define God to be "the Pure Twaddle, an absolute Moron" would be a slightly more direct of getting to the same place.
Every reply you've had to the notion could be steel-manned in an effort to deny that the Incarnation would even be possible. Fascinating.Delete
Richard, for some reason you seem enamored of this "God = absolute Identity" business, but have given us absolutely no argument for it. And (at least some of is) are not equally enamored of it. Why should we consider it? No reason.Delete
If someone came along and claimed "no, God is 'whatever is absolutely good' ", and another came along and said "no, God is 'whatever is absolutely love' " and a third person came along and said "no, God is 'whatever is absolutely porcupine' ", and a final person said "no, God is 'whatever is absolutely fanderplitz' ", all four of these could assert the same comments you have about such a "God". The insertion of "absolutely" takes care of all the difficulties, for it allows (each of them) to divorce their "God" from anything that they don't like: "you forget, "absolutely" means this God isn't just a contingent porcupine, he is necessary.
Perhaps Dr. Feser can gin up a reprise of the scene in "What's Up Doc" where the villain keeps saying "I am [H]you" and convert it to: God A says "I am ME!". God B says "no, I am ME!" Little devotee asks, plaintively, "How do I tell you two apart, to know which one I am to worship?" Both of them answer simultaneously: "you can't, only we can tell us apart, because we are identical in all respects EXCEPT that of being ME! Only I am ME!." A third God speaks up and mentions "God is 'whatever is absolutely diverse'. I and I are diverse."
If someone came along and claimed "no, God is 'whatever is absolutely good' ", and another came along and said "no, God is 'whatever is absolutely love' " and a third person came along and said "no, God is 'whatever is absolutely porcupine' ", and a final person said "no, God is 'whatever is absolutely fanderplitz' ", all four of these could assert the same comments you have about such a "God".Delete
My reply: "Due to the principle of non-extension, each supra-essential God would "be" with each other God. Each would "know" each other God in a way completely beyond any discursive understanding, and from there comes Their omniscience, for that mutual sharing of non-extension provides the very condition for it. It should also be clear that omnipresence follows from this, as each God is present to each God. So too omnipotence, since each God could do any thing any other God could do, thanks to Their omnipresence and omniscience. This is what Plato is pointing to in the Symposium when he has the Demiurge beholding another God and creating as a result of Their mutual company." Since each God is simply Themselves and not an instance of a kind, then each God is utterly simple and an absolute unity. As it is completely good to be simple and without parts, each God is wholly Good. As each God is with each God, in a way previous to extension, then we can see what divine love precedes from. It's incredibly easy to unpack the same divine attributes from Platonic polytheism that we supposedly see in Thomism, and the added bonus is that it doesn't require contingency to ground out it's intelligibility as Thomism does.
So far as it goes for "telling the Gods apart", that's easy and I can do it now. Zeus. Hades. Aphrodite. Tyr. Odin. Bes. And on and on. See how simple that is, referencing Who They are? Easy peasy.
So far as it goes for "telling the Gods apart", that's easy and I can do it now. Zeus. Hades. Aphrodite. Tyr. Odin. Bes.Delete
Oh, I get it: Zeus, who is different from Jupiter, because one has 4 letters in his name, and the other has 7.
But they have one letter of overlap, so they are only mostly distinct.
No. It is the distinct Individual that provides a name to us, whereas the distinction They enjoy amongst Themselves is previous to any name so given.Delete
Jonathan: If God is an individual, He is not the principle of individuation, as He is an example of individuation Himself. If the principle of individuation is not God, then there are any number of Deities and that number cannot be reduced by what is less than Them in dignity, such as any contingent state of affairs.ReplyDelete
The classical theistic arguments lead to a purely actual actualizer. One can then argue that there is but one purely actual actualizer. One can then argue that this purely actual actualizer has things that, by analogy, we would call "will", "intellect", and so on. One can then argue that this purely actual actualizer is not composite, and cannot nor should not be viewed as a being who happens to have a bunch of extra properties like omniscience, omnipotence, etc. Furthermore, the God of classical theism cannot really be viewed as an "instance of a kind" either --- he is uniquely unique. In other words, we can't consider the class of "ultra powerful beings" (which includes as members Superman, Thanos, Galactus, etc), and say that God is just the maximal member of this class. At least that is my understanding of things. (I am a student of these things, nothing more. I make no claims to expertise apart from reading a few books and thinking about this over the years.)Delete
If one accepts the chain of argumentation, this would seem to sidestep the objection you raise (provided I'm understanding your objection properly).
BTW, I personally find the arguments that get one to divine simplicity compelling. But my experience is that, having gotten to simplicity, some of the implications really puzzle me and are difficult to visualize or make analogies for. Then the discussion gets really deep, and I'm not quite tall enough yet to go on that ride. As the younger people say: YMMV when it comes to these arguments.
Identity is simply the first actuality there is, since individuation is utterly primal. As I noted before, there is no way that any individual can have the identity of another, which follows from identity being actual for each thing. Each God, being an absolute self, can only be "classed" via this quality, that is, an individual Who is absolutely Themselves.Delete
So it's not a question of Deities participating in some genus or species.
You are reifying individuation.Delete
There is at most one God/Necessary Being because it is impossible for there to be more than one without violating PII. If there were two necessary beings X and Y, they'd share a common nature or essential property of Necessary Existence (N), but then they would have to have some essential difference between each other such that there could be any multiplicity: THIS necessary being and THAT necessary being. What essential property could make them different, however? We'd have NX and NY, but no explanation for why NX has X instead of Y on top of N, and no explanation for why NX has Y instead of X on top of N. In creatures or dependent beings, the differentiae can be contingent (since they do not exist a se) and explicable by external causes, but no such thing is available for the necessary First Cause.
The Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles isn't violated, since They are distinct from one another by identity alone. That this isn't what we see in regards to contingent things shouldn't come as a surprise, as They are not contingent but are necessarily Themselves. It's also not a question of essence, since existence and essence aren't commensurate with one another in any way. Individuation just is existence, while essence, as a complete subject, is individuated and exists. This is highlighted by the fact that existence for any given thing is always actual in a way that is appropriate for it, while essence admits of both actuality and potentiality. They cannot in any way be the same. Moreover, whatever is Necessity Itself is not quite what is necessary for contingency, as whatever is utterly Itself needn't cause anything at all. Again, contingency cannot even in principle be used to reduce what comes before it. So then the question in regards to what is Divine isn't just in regards to "cause" or "first cause" at all but is instead a question of, "Who is most Themselves?"Delete
Some monotheists like Pseudo-Dionysius would defend actually that God is beyond being or non-being because of their knowledge of the puzzles that guys like Plato saw. Even between thomists i saw sometimes the idea that God transcends the particular/universal distinction. A monotheist can defend that God is a individual in the sense that there are not two gods, but that not on our sense of being a instance of a kind, language is not very helpful here.
There has been some tentative suggestions that pseudo-Dionysius might have actually been Proclus, putting his philosophy down in such a way that it could survive and be unpacked from it's monotheist wrapper, as it were.Delete
That is a discussion way above my level. Being christian or not, Dionysius was a pretty big help to us. Anyway, thanks to his platonic background he did mention that terms like "exist" do not make sense when afirmed of God, so he probably would not agree with God being a individual or not being a individual.Delete
Aquinas would agree until here but he disagree in how to say what Dionysius was saying.
Im waiting for someone to bring up Zeno's ParadoxesReplyDelete
Okay, as someone who was disappointed when did found out that most "polytheists", even the ones from here, actually believed in one divine being that had several manifestation or in a divine being who had some subordinated creatures doing the rituals and stuff*, this discussion here is very interesting. As someone who do not know the polytheist side very well, it is cool to see.ReplyDelete
*both are not the case with neoplatonists, of course, but hindus, guaranis, yorubas, perennialists etc, these are more "light" polytheists
Richard says, "So far as it goes for 'telling the Gods apart', that's easy and I can do it now. Zeus. Hades. [...] Odin. Bes. See how simple that is, referencing Who They are? Easy peasy."
Tony, as human beings, neither Richard nor anyone else, including Plato, etc, has or ever had the power to know that these are not a single lying power with more than one name, or whether they are various agents of some single God hating force.
*That alone* is sufficient to demonstrate that Richard is irrational - that he cannot know this.
He therefore cannot follow reason and that by itself is sufficient cause to not try to reason with him. You cannot defeat delusion with logic. If he doesn't want to give it to you, you will not be able to settle it with a last word, either directly with Richard or indirectly through me.
Therefore, stop talking to him and let him have his last, unsound, word. Its raving nature will not escape anyone.