Chapter 9 of Idealism and Christian Theology is “Jonathan Edwards Dynamic Idealism and Cosmic Christology” by Seng-Kong Tan. The article addresses the relevance of Edwards’ idealism to his accounts of the two central mysteries of the Christian faith, the Trinity and the Incarnation. Whereas most of the articles in this volume are primarily philosophical and deal with Christian theological commitments only at a rather basic level, this essay dives deep into the theology. Anyone not steeped in the history of these doctrines is likely to find it difficult to follow. I found it quite challenging myself, and will here only attempt to summarize the picture of Edwards’ Christology presented by Tan.
Orthodox Christology involves a sort of two-stage model. As the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed has it, Christ was “begotten of the Father before all worlds” but, at a particular, identifiable point in history, “came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” Thus our Christology must address two distinct points: the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, was eternally begotten of the Father, and subsequently became incarnate forming (as the tradition has it) a hypostatic union with a complete human nature, so that there was one individual person who was at once divine and human.
Tan argues that Edwards’ accounts of both stages are intimately connected to his idealism. Edwards, according to Tan, adopts two Augustinian analogies: he speaks of the Son as the divine intellect and the Spirit as the divine will, and he also speaks of the Spirit as identified with the mutual love between the Father and the Son. The relevance of idealism here is that the Son and the Spirit are, like everything in Edwards’ system, identified as ideas. The Son is ‘begotten’ through the Father’s self-contemplation. As on the Thomistic picture, God is thought to know all possible creatures by knowing Godself (to know what creatures are possible is to know what God can create). This idea that God has of Godself is the Son, begotten in an eternal act of self-contemplation. The Holy Spirit is the act or operation of mutual love between the Father and the Son which arises necessarily and eternally from the act of self-contemplation whereby the Son is begotten. Thus the Son is intellect, knowledge, contemplation, while the Spirit is act or will (178).
For Edwards (according to Tan), creation is a Trinitarian act of the continual communication of ideas. These ideas are ultimately to be found in the Logos, the Son, and communicated by the Spirit. This amounts to a continuous creation. (I’m not totally clear on what’s meant by ‘communication’ here—in fact I’ve had some confusion about that in some previous chapters as well.) A feature of Edwards’ particular brand of continuous creation that is important to the understanding of the Incarnation is that the identity of objects over time is effectively a matter of divine fiat (183). It apparently follows from this that a created human nature can be united with the Logos by mere fiat, without any fancy metaphysics (185). Edwards has more to say about the kind of communion or indwelling that exists between Christ’s human nature and the Logos but curiously it seems that, at least on Tan’s telling, this isn’t really required for hypostatic union, since unity/identity are in general created by arbitrary divine fiat. On the other hand, as Tan is at pains to emphasize (183-4), the fiat is not arbitrary in the sense of capricious, but only in the sense of being a free choice shaped only by divine wisdom, so Edwards may think it would have been somehow unfitting for God to decree such unity in the absence of communication or indwelling.
(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)
A few years ago, I had a student with Cerebral Palsy. He was one of those students that I connected with outside of the regular classroom. One day while we were talking about theological matters at our favorite local coffee shop, he told me that he’d be “really pissed off” if he didn’t have CP in heaven. The reason he gave for this claim was that his disability is part of his identity.
I confess that his claim struck me as odd at the time. Like many individuals, I had the thought “but why wouldn’t you want to not be disabled if that’s possible?” But over the past year and a half as I’ve begun immersing myself in various disability literatures, I’ve come to learn that my student’s thought is common among many people who have disabilities. Some members of the Deaf community think that they’ll be deaf and speak in sign language in the eschaton, just as others expect to speak in their own linguistic communities. (Just as I would like to be able to speak and understand Farsi in heaven, should I get there, I hope that I’ll be able to communicate in ASL.) And theologian Amos Young, in his well-known Theology and Down Syndrome, argues that his brother will still have Trisomy 21 in the eschaton.
Why might it be important to take seriously this line of thought? I think because of the substantial history of harms that have been done against those with disabilities, both in general but also more specifically by denying their voice when they speak of their own experiences. In her wonderful The Minority Body, Elizabeth Barnes talks about the tendency to downplay such testimony from those with disabilities as a kind of epistemic injustice, namely testimonial injustice. According to Miranda Fricker, testimonial injustice “occurs when prejudice causes a hearer to dive a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word”(Epistemic Injustice, p. 1). (As an illustration of some of the difficulties facing individuals with disabilities and the denial of their voice, I highly recommend people read Harriet McBride Johnson’s “Unspeakable Conversations.”).
Now, I don’t think that the need to take such testimony seriously means that it’s always veridical. (Neither does Barnes.) But it should make us pause and think before speaking. In what follows, I especially encourage those with disabilities to weigh in. And I encourage those of us that don’t have disabilities to take their reports seriously.
So what of the question, “will people have their disabilities in the eschaton?” Obviously, on one sense of the term ‘identity’, if a disability is part of a person’s identity then they will. Here I’m thinking of specifically numeric identity. But I also think that there are compelling reasons to think that not all disabilities are part of a person’s identity in this sense. (I’m inclined toward the view that there’s not a single thing that is disability, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I think that not all disabilities are similar in the relevant respect.) Disabilities that are acquired later in life—e.g., dementia or disabilities which result from a traumatic brain injury (TBI)—aren’t essential to a person’s numeric identity. If a person exists prior to having a disability, then it is possible for that person to exist without that disability. And if Christianity is true, it’s also possible for those born with a disability to no longer have it. The blind are given sight; the lame walk.
But this doesn’t mean that all disabilities are like that. It may be that chromosomal abnormalities (e.g., Trisomies 18 and 21, 2p15-16.1 Microdeletion Syndrome) as well as other kinds of disabilities are not separable from one’s numeric identity in this sense. I confess I don’t know what to think about these kinds of cases. But I think we have some (though certainly defeasible) reasons for thinking that these disabilities will be present in the eschaton because they are tied to a person’s numeric identity.
There’s another—a weaker—sense of identity where I think it makes sense to say that disabilities are part of a person’s identity, and that’s the “self-understanding and narrative” sense of the term. This is, I think, what many people mean when they say that being disabled is part of their identity. It is, for instance, what I think is present in the following passage from Simi Linton:
While retaining the word disability, despite its medical origins, a premise of most of the literature in disability studies is that disability is best understood as a marker of identity. As such, it has been used to build a coalition of people with significant impairments, people with behavioral or anatomical characteristics marked as deviant, and people who have or are suspected of having targets of discrimination…. When disability is redefined as a social/political category, people with a variety of conditions are identified as people with disabilities or disabled people, a group bound by common social and political experience. (Claiming Disability, 12)
A similar approach to one’s identity as disabled can also be found in Harilyn Rousso’s Don’t Call Me Inspirational. For many people with disabilities, their disability has so shaped their self-understanding that they cannot understand what it would be like for them not to have those disabilities (even if it is metaphysically possible for them to exist without those disabilities).
There are other aspects of one’s identity, so construed, that might also be understood in a similar way. Being a parent isn’t part of my numeric identity (since I was still me prior to being a parent), but it is a significant part of my own self-understanding and who I’ve become. And this is also true more specifically of being a parent of a disabled child. Even if I am no longer a parent at some point in the future (that thought is horrific to me!) or still a parent but not of a child with disabilities, the ways that those experiences have shaped my life are, I think, marks that I shall always bear in the future. And it’s hard, if not impossible, to know what these marks will be like prior to having them. Such marks are, in Laurie Paul’s term, transformative experiences.
Answers to the question depend on lots of philosophical questions (e.g., What is the nature of disability? What is the correct account of human nature? What kinds of goods and diversity will be realized in the heavenly kingdom? What experiences are compatible with the beatific vision?). It is my hope that in the future there will be more interaction between philosophy of religion and disability studies.
 I’d like to Michelle Panchuck, Scott Williams, and Hilary Yancey for discussions on these issues.
This is the nineteenth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with J. Aaron Simmons, Associate Professor in philosophy at Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
Currently, I am an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. I have been at Furman for five years and prior to coming here I held positions at Hendrix College, The University of the South (Sewanee), and Vanderbilt University.
Most of my work is in philosophy of religion and occurs in light of phenomenology and existentialism. That said, I have also done work in political philosophy, environmental philosophy, and the history of philosophy (especially focusing on the thought of Søren Kierkegaard, Emmanuel Levinas, and the “new phenomenology” of Michel Henry, Levinas, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Louis Chrétien, and Jean-Luc Marion).
In general, there are two questions that keep me up at night and continue to cause me to get up every morning and keep working. The first is “What are the possibilities for and the fate of determinate religious belief and identity in postmodernism?” The second is “How might philosophers stop calling for the overcoming of the so-called analytic/continental divide and simply do constructive work that no longer reinforces the divide?” Ultimately, these two questions dovetail together in my thinking and writing.more…
The End of Religion?
March 17 – 19, 2016
Gordon Graham (Princeton Theological Seminary)
Philip Jenkins (Baylor University)
The US is currently in the midst of what pundits are calling the ‘Great Decline’ in religiosity. Data suggest that the US is, in this respect, catching up to secular Europe and that within our lifetimes we may expect to see a world in which secularism is the norm in affluent countries, including the US, and where religious believers have become a small, shrinking, and increasingly marginalized minority.
- What is religiosity?
- What relation exists between identity and religiosity? And what are the implications of identifying as religious?
- How should we understand (epistemically, politically and sociologically) of the growing tendency to identify as ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’?
- What are the causes of decline in religious belief and affiliation? And, perhaps more importantly, what are the likely consequences?
We invite submissions exploring the current theme or any topic of interest to Christian philosophers. We welcome participation by individuals regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof as presenters and participants. Papers (no more than 3000 words) are due by January 15th 2016, Please include professional contact information and an abstract with your paper. Submit them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will notify those accepted by Feb 1, 2016.
Graduate and undergraduate students who wish to be considered for the SCP’s prize for the Best Graduate Student Paper or Best Undergraduate Student Paper must submit a final draft of their papers by January 1st, 2014. Each winner will receive a $500 award, which will be presented publicly at the conference. In your submission email, please indicate that you are a graduate student or undergraduate student.
Res Philosophica invites papers on the topic of transformative experiences for a special issue of the journal.
Deadline for Submission
October 1, 2014
Some potential experiences are transformative experiences: they will change us in broadly cognitive—and perhaps significant—ways, and yet the full nature of the phenomenal characters of these cognitive changes are epistemically inaccessible to us before we have the experiences.
Philosophers are familiar with some of these types of experiences from the literature on consciousness—for example, the “what it’s like” properties involved in the knowledge problem. When Mary sees color for the first time, her experience is transformed in a way that she could not have predicted: she could not know what it would be like for her to see red for the first time. Such experiences are transformative for an agent in the sense that they are radically unlike the agent’s previous experiences with regard to their phenomenal character, intensity, and overall cognitive significance.
These sorts of transformative experiences include seeing color for the first time, but may also involve other sorts of experiences that involve significant changes in the agent’s phenomenal point of view, such as converting to belief in God, becoming sighted for the first time or becoming a hearer for the first time, becoming paraplegic, becoming female (or male), going to the front in wartime, or having one’s first child. Contemporary psychological and sociological research suggests that one’s actual experiences are often very different from how we expect they will be.
The special issue, in broad outline, invites papers exploring the implications of the possibility that certain major life experiences are phenomenologically transformative: that is, they are relevantly just like Mary’s when she leaves her black and white room. The transformative nature of such experiences raises many questions. For example, if choosing to believe in God, choosing to have a cochlear implant, or choosing to have a child is a choice to undergo a phenomenologically transformative experience, how should agents evaluate the values of the outcomes of acts that bring about such experiences? Are there decision-theoretic implications? Since such choices, especially when they are irreversible, may also change the values and belief structure of the agent, how should agents assess the choice before having the experience, and how are they to reflect on whether having such an experience improves well-being? Papers that address these and related issues are welcome.
Selected papers will be included in a special issue of Res Philosophica along with invited papers from Elizabeth Barnes, Rachael Briggs, Ruth Chang, Elizabeth Harman, Rae Langton, and L. A. Paul.
Submissions will be triple anonymously reviewed. (First, authors do not know the identity of the referees, second, referees do not know the identity of the authors, and third, editors do not know the identity of the authors.) Please format your submission so that it is suitable for anonymous review. (Instructions are available here.)
Papers may be up to 12,000 words long (including footnotes).
We accept pdf and Microsoft Word documents. Papers may be submitted in any standard style, but authors of accepted papers will be required to edit their papers according to the journal’s style, which follows The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition). Style instructions are available here.
Please use the online submission form for submitting your essay, available here.
The University of California at Riverside, with the help of a very generous grant from The John Templeton Foundation and under the direction of John Martin Fischer, welcomes proposals to investigate, through philosophical and theological research, questions that concern personal immortality. Such questions are central existential concerns that know no geographical or cultural bounds.
We anticipate proposals that fall under one of the following six categories:
- Investigation into whether persons survive, or could survive, bodily death. Such investigation could take the form of philosophical or theological treatments of the relevant empirical evidence, philosophical challenges to post-mortem survival (e.g., challenges to the possibility of continuous pre-mortem and post-mortem personal identity) and responses to such challenges, and more besides.
- Exploration of some topic related to the issue of immortality, e.g., puzzles about the goodness of post-mortem survival, the rationality of desiring to survive, the implications of believing/not believing in post-mortem survival, “quantum immortality,” longevity and the postponement of bodily death, etc.
- . Exploration of the relationship between immortality and views about the meaningfulness of life, even finite life. (E.g., does reflection on the possibility of meaningfulness in an immortal life shed light on what makes even our finite lives meaningful?)
- Investigation into the nature of infinity, and our conceptual grasp of infinity, as these relate to immortality. (Sample questions here might include the following: Can we grasp the nature of infinity in a way that is adequate to envisaging an infinitely long life? Insofar as the mathematical nature of infinite magnitudes are different from finite magnitudes, does this make it difficult to grasp infinitely long life? How do the mathematical puzzles of infinity relate to the possibility of immortality?)
- Investigation of the relationship between the badness of death and the desirability of immortality. (E.g., if death is a bad thing for an individual, does it thereby follow that immortality is (or could be) desirable?)
- Investigation of one or more explicitly theological issues related to the topic of immortality, e.g., investigation into the nature of “the intermediate state” or purgatorial or post-resurrection existence carried out within a Christian theological framework, the nature of karma carried out within a Buddhist or Hindu framework, post-mortem survival and its place in theodicy, etc.
Full application information can be found on the project web site: http://www.sptimmortalityproject.com/rfps/
Last week, I had the great good pleasure of hosting Richard Cross for a number of events at Baylor. To my knowledge, he’s one of the few people willing to defend (not necessarily as his own view, but as a perfectly sensible position) Scotus’ thesis that there must be *some* univocal concepts involved in predications concerning God. This got me to thinking about religious language.
It’s been a decade since I studied this, but the following argument is one I find highly suggestive. It sides with Scotus and, as I recall, the followers of Cajetan, in arguing that religious language can’t be analogy “all the way down.” Here’s my simple (perhaps simplistic) reasoning.
I’ve been trying to work out what I think about God’s relationship to morality. Recently, I’ve been enjoying Philip Quinn’s nice article in the Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. One question is exactly how God’s commands relate to wrongness. He quotes Robert Adams: “My new divine command theory of the nature of ethical wrongness, then, is that ethical wrongness is (i.e., is identical with) the property of being contrary to the commands of a loving God.” (p. 69).
Quinn responds, “I do not find [Adams’ view] attractive because it is ruled out by fine-grained criteria of property identity of a sort I consider metaphysically plausible. An example is of the criterion that property P is identical with property Q only if whoever conceives of P conceives of Q and vice versa. According to this criterion, being ethically wrong is not identical with being contrary to the commands of a loving God, since many people, especially nontheists, typically conceive of being ethically wrong without conceiving of being contrary to the commands of a loving God.” (p. 69) Quinn goes on to express his friendliness to a view on which wrongness supervenes on or is causally dependent on or made wrong by God’s commands; identity is too strong.
So, I was wondering about this criterion: property P is identical with property Q only if whoever conceives of P conceives of Q. Does anybody happen to know of any arguments for this claim?
Also, is it a possibility that when nontheists conceive of wrongness, they are conceiving of being contrary to God’s commands, but they just don’t realize that that’s what their conceiving? Maybe this is straining the notion of conception, but then Adams’ identity view could meet Quinn’s criterion.
Anyway, these are some areas in metaphysics and philosophy of language that I’m not too strong in, so I’d like to receive some help and perhaps references to literature.
Pre-Script: Matt, thanks for all your hard work updating the site!
This is a *very* inchoate idea, but that should be what blogs are for. So I’ve been thinking about transubstantiation. I’m going to throw a bunch of stuff out there and then try to tie it together. It will be the most disorganized thing I’ve ever posted but I’ve still got a few MS deadlines (almost done for now tho!) and, again, this is a friendly blog (and I don’t think the post so hopeless as to be rude to post). It will largely consist in my affirming the possibility of various things, many of which might be pretty controversial in some quarters. Nevertheless, for those that share the affirmations there might be a way of understanding transubstantiation in the neighborhood.
Suppose you’re reading a novel and it says that a powerful wizard moved an object from one side of the planet to the other in an instant. You might worry about exactly what theory explains how that other object is the *same* object, but I don’t think there’s much reason to think the author has attributed the impossible to the magician. I don’t think even a philosopher with no off switch (me!) should be stopped in their tracks by such a story. I think it’s sufficient that it’s *that* object which the wizard decided to move *there*.
I think the same is true with time travel. Time travel stories involve no clear incoherencies. I think conceivability or apparent conceivability is defeasible evidence of possibility, and I’m aware of no clear arguments for the incoherence of time travel.
I think we need primitive thisness and primitive identity to solve various problems in metaphysics anyway (associated with Chisholm’s paradox) so I’m going to help myself to them if need be.
Finally, I think bilocation is possible (a species of multi-location where a usually one-one relation is one-many).
Finally finally, I think that the “accidents” or “secondary qualities” or whatever of substances are a result of the causal powers they have and that they have whatever causal powers God wills that they have at any given time.
So here’s the inchoate hunch/hope. God takes certain molecules of the body of Jesus and causes them to multi-locate across time and gives them new causal powers, one’s which mimic the normal causal powers of bread and wine.
I’m not claiming that this is original (maybe lots of people have already thought of something like this) or that it exhausts the doctrine (for example the “Soul and Divinity” part remains unexplained but I’m just trying to cover the material part). What I find interesting in this approach is that it seems to get us pretty close to the doctrine while making it clear what it commits us to and it’s surprisingly little (in my view since I hold all these views anyway, I get this view at *no* additional cost).
I have no doubt that Alex and Tim will let me know if I’ve run afoul of Catholic dogma (something I don’t want to do), but, again, I am not suggesting this as a definition of the doctrine but rather pointing out how far we can get towards it with such (relative) clarity and little cost.