Something for Nothing
October 1, 2006 — 18:24

Author: Tim Pawl  Category: Christian Theology  Tags: , ,   Comments: 8

I’ve been thinking for a while about metaphysical positions that bring with them — free, so to speak — theological claims. For a not-so-good example, think of Bradley’s metaphysic. According to F.H. Bradley, there is no such thing as time. If Bradley is right, and God exists, then God is atemporal. (I say this is a not-so-good example because Bradley’s argument for the unreality of time also gets him the unreality of space, and further, the claim that there cannot be more than one thing. So, if Bradley is right, and God exists, then pantheism is true.) The same is true for McTaggart — if McTaggart is right about time being an illusion, then God is atemporal.
Now, of course I know that just about every metaphysic entails something-or-other about theology. And I also know that some metaphysical positions have nothing at all to say to some theological claims. However, I’m wondering whether there are any contemporary metaphysics such that, adding a contentious theological claim doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t provide a difficulty not already resolved in the metaphysic? A concrete example, you ask? Why, sure.

I first started thinking about this last spring, during a conversation with Peter van Inwagen. We were talking about divine simplicity and theories of properties, and he claimed that whatever the church fathers meant when calling God simple, his metaphysic was completely consistent with it. I’ve thought about that, and though I’m not sure he’s right, I’m not positive he’s wrong either.
Simplicity is supposed to rule out complexity in God. One important form of complexity is having metaphysical parts, such as Smith’s courage being a metaphysical part of Smith. However, this sort of complexity requires a constituent ontology — where the properties a thing has are metaphysical constituents or parts of the thing. PvI affirms a relation ontology. So it isn’t the case that Smith’s courage is a constituent or part of Smith. Smith is courageous by being related to a certain thing (the form or universal Courage). So, on PvI’s view, Smith (and God) doesn’t have a metaphysical part for each property he has. For PvI, God isn’t metaphysically complex just in virtue of having properties.
However, relational ontologies are problematic for divine simplicity as well (or at least for divine aseity) since, for instance, God depends on the form of Justice in order for him to be just. God is just because he is related properly to the abstract object justice. PvI’s theory of properties may get around this problem as well. On PvI’s theory of properties (provided in his aptly named, “A Theory of Properties”) properties are assertables — that is, properties are things you can say about things. However, as far as I can tell, properties aren’t such that they make the things they are said about a particular way. For example, the property of blue is something such that it can be said of things. It isn’t something such that it makes things blue. It is just something such that it can be truly said of things that are blue. So, God doesn’t depend on the universal Justice in order to be just.
So, If I have PvI right, his theory of properties can get around composition in God (by denying constituent ontology) while also getting around the aseity objection (by denying that properties are the things that make things be particular ways).
So, to bring the example back to the question at hand: are there examples of metaphysics currently on offer that can take an additional, contentious theological claim at no cost? Is my PvI example one of them?

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    October 3, 2006 — 1:06
  • p. toner

    Mike Rea and Jeffrey Brower have a paper called “Material Constitution and the Trinity” in Faith and Philosophy that I think provides an example of what you’re looking for. Mike had already explained (without endorsing) the “numerical sameness without identity” view in an earlier paper (called, appropriately, “Sameness Without Identity,” from Ratio), on the grounds that the view solves the Problem of Material Constitution in a satisfying way without entailing any really crazy claims. In the more recent paper, Rea and Brower argue that the “sameness without identity” view solves the problem of the Trinity. So that’s a nice theological claim that comes along for free, and doesn’t provide a difficulty not already contained in the view.
    A related example would be the view that some version of the doctrine of relative identity solves the problem of the Trinity.

    October 3, 2006 — 9:43
  • Heath White

    This comment is not *much* to the point, but my understanding of divine simplicity is that it is what you get by combining three theses:
    1) the unity of the virtues (“excellences”/perfections)
    2) existence is a perfection
    3) God =df the maximally perfect being.
    I guess if you believed all three of those things, then you could get divine simplicity for free.

    October 3, 2006 — 11:03
  • Kevin Timpe

    This is a great question–I wish more people would comment. I’m been thinking about it some, and haven’t been able to come up with much.
    Even if one accepts your (1)-(3), does that in and of itself get you simplicity? Isnt’ the truth of (1)-(3) compatible with there being a difference between God’s nature and His existence (that is, the falsity of divine simplicity)?

    October 4, 2006 — 21:18
  • According to most definitions of supervenience, you get this trivial result that any necessary truth supervenes on any other truth. So you do get the following very interesting theological results:
    1.God’s existence supervenes on my existence
    2. God’s not being physical supervenes on the physical world
    3. God’s goodness supervenes on the first evil act
    4. God’s omniscience supervenes on my free choices
    5. God’s omnipotence supervenes on the last sneeze I underwent
    That’s not at all what I had in mind, but anything as irreverent-sounding as those statements above sure sounds like an interesting theological result, and you do get it for free on standard supervenience definitions (which aren’t even philosophical views, just definitions).

    October 4, 2006 — 22:37
  • Sorry, I meant that’s not at all what you had in mind.

    October 4, 2006 — 22:38
  • Tim Pawl

    Thanks for the comments!
    Heath and Patrick, I’ve already corresponded via email with you both concerning your comments, back when the comments feature was down. But, again, thanks for them.
    Kevin, thanks for the thoughts. Think harder 🙂
    Jeremy, you are right, that’s not what I had in mind. But, it is pretty neat, nevertheless and I’m glad you brought it up. Maybe my next post should be: what metaphysical doctrines are there that bring with them — free, so to speak — theological howlers. This stuff about supervenience would fit in for sure there.

    October 4, 2006 — 23:49
  • Heath White

    I think the essence/existence distinction gets eliminated by claiming that existence is a perfection and that, necessarily, God has all perfections, so necessarily God exists. But if all perfections are unified, so that there is no distinction among them, then in particular there is no distinction between existence and whatever else.
    Or we can do it negatively. Suppose there were a distinction between God’s existence and his nature. Then if existence is a perfection, and God’s nature is a bunch of perfections, the distinction requires that not all perfections are unified.
    That’s not rigorous, but you can see how it goes.

    October 6, 2006 — 14:02