Saturday, May 17, 2008

Another analogy for the Trinity?

A couple of months back, Ross Cameron offered a really nice example in favor of relative identity. I want to adapt Cameron's story, and use it as a putative analogy for the Trinity. So, Bob decides to make a non-representational statue out of clay, the statue being in the shape of a dodecahedron. Sara then makes a statue of Bob's statue. She makes her statue out of a lump of clay, and is so true to her subject that her statue is intrinsically just like Bob's. But of course her statue differs in representational properties from Bob's: Bob's statue is non-representational while Sara's statue represents Bob's statue.

Jacob decides to get all the fame, and notes that Bob and Sara's statues look exactly the same so one can save some clay. So he takes a single lump of clay and simultaneously makes three statues, each being made out of the whole lump: Statue1 is a beautiful non-representational dodecahedron, Statue2 is a statue of Statue1 and Statue3 is a statue of what Statue1 and Statue2 have in common. Physically, what we have is one dodecahedral lump of clay. But there are three statues that this lump of clay is: it is a non-representational dodecahedral statue, a representational statue of the non-representational statue, and a more abstract representational statue of what the first two statues have in common. They differ precisely in representational properties (and in the aesthetic properties that depend on these).

This analogy seems to work moderately well as an illustration of the Trinity. It really does seem that Statue1 is the whole lump, that Statue2 is also the whole lump, and that so is Statue3, but that they are nonetheless the same statue. What's kind of neat about this example is that the distinctions between the three statues are grounded precisely in the mutual relations in which they stand—in this case, the representational relations. It is even the case that in some sense these relations are origination relations and yet they do not imply any temporal priority, again just as in the case of the Trinity.

On my own view of material constitution, this is an impossible example. For I think there really is at most one object made out of a lump of matter, and artifacts don't exist except in special cases (a hammock could be both an artifact and a snake[note 1], in which case the artifact exists because it is a snake). So on my view there is neither a lump, nor three statues. However, the analogy is still a useful one. For it analogizes the Trinity to what Jacob's work of art would be on metaphysical theories that support the above analysis. And one can do that even if one rejects these metaphysical theories, as long as one thinks that they are not flagrantly self-contradictory. (Moreover, I am partial to the view that something like relative identity holds in the case of God but only the case of God, for Thomistic reasons that are not, I think, ad hoc.)


Anonymous said...

I just don't understand how there can be analogy between anything material, or our ideas or conceptions of anything material, and the Creator of the universe. Perhaps you can argue that God gave us the ability to know of Him, but I don't see why we should assume that we can understand Him or His true nature on any level. Certainly, there's no good reason to suspect that how we think about things should relate to how He really is.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Arguably, the meaningfulness of all talk about God involves an analogy between God and creation, since our language is tied to creation.

This is because the apophatic doctrine that all talk of God is purely negative fails. For even the statement "We cannot understand God" is partly a positive statement. Why? Because it presupposes the existence of God. We do not mean "We cannot understand God" in the sense in which we cannot understand non-existent beings (we cannot understand them because they are not there to be understood), but in the sense in which we cannot understand an existent being. So existence is presupposed. But this existence has to be understood analogically.

We could say that when we say that God exists, we are simply denying that God fails to exist. But this double negation move endangers the apophatic doctrine, since any positive statement can be rephrased as a double negation. (Unless intuitionistic logic holds. It would be interesting to see a defense of apophatic theology based on intuitionistic logic.)

Emiliano said...

Hi, interesting example. Just a brief comment. Doesn't the example presuppose that the statue(s) possess (or do not possess) representational properties intrinsically?

Whether THE statue (the physical entity) IS Statue1, Statue2, or Statue3, is not something that could depend on some intrinsic property of it alone. Arguably, Statue1 is such in vertue (also) of its relations (causal?, teleological?... it doesn't matter) to Bob. Similarly for Statue2 and Statue3.

So what we have is that one single entity bears some (set of) relations to Bob, some other relations to Sara, and a third, distinct set of relations to Jacob.

It is not enough to point out that the same person (Jacob) can bear all three sets of relations to THE statue; for, arguably, it is not the same "part" of jacob (the same neural properties of jacob, if you whant), that contributes to instantiating these relations.

In sum. Jacob's statue instanciates three different (sets of) relational properties, which is quite different from saying that it IS three distinct individual substances at the same time.

Similarly, I can be 1 meter away from Bob, 2 meters away from Sara and 3 meters away from Jacob, without this entailing that I am unum et trinus.

(sorry if I have misuderstood your point)

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's one way of understanding the statue story, perhaps a better one. But another way of reading it is that there are three statues, with different representational and aesthetic properties.

But actually, it's not clear that the representational properties are relational. Statue1 represents a dodecahedron. I guess if you think there is an entity in the Platonic heaven, "the Form of the Dodecahedron", which the statue represents, then this representation property will be a relation to something else. But what if you don't think of it this way? Or what if it's a statue of an imaginary being? And Statue2 and Statue3 stand in the representation relation to Statue1, which is perhaps only a relation to something extrinsic to them if Statue1 is "outside" them.

Or maybe your objection is that all representation relations are relational, not to the represented entity, but to a mind or author that intends the representation. That is true of statues, and that weakens the analogy. But it can't be true of everything, at pain of a vicious regress.

Anonymous said...

"So existence is presupposed. But this existence has to be understood analogically."

We can only reach God through a mystical awareness of His existence. This is a mystical leap, it is not a logical one. Trying to reason to his existence, or reason based on "the fact" (I would say "awareness") of his existence, is futile. We have no "reason" to think we can know anything about Him, reason can't get us there, and reason can't carry us any further.

So I will change my language, and say that we can be aware of God, but not know Him.

Alexander R Pruss said...

When you say: "we can be aware of God, but not know Him", is this something you know?

Anonymous said...

"When you say: "we can be aware of God, but not know Him", is this something you know?"

I conclude (know) that by any standard of human knowledge I cannot know God. I cannot know *anything* about Him. There is no method of knowledge that I can use to know anything about God.

But I know through introspection that I am aware of him. I know my own awareness, I am conscious of it, or put another way, I can feel it.

Emiliano said...

Hi Alexander, yes, my objection is the second one you mention. If I understand well, your counterobjection is the following.

The rapresentational status of an item like the statue in question(the physical entity I mean) does not supervene on intrinsic properties of the statue itself, but on some relational properties that it bears to the brain of the mind/author that intends it that way. This much you concede.

But, you argue, not all representations can be mediated by
an author in this way, on pain of an infinite regress.

I agree that the regress must come to an end, and it is reasonable to expect that it would come to an end at the level of some neurological structure, or at the level of some functional analogous of a neurological structure.

Now, can we reproduce your example at this ultimate level of intrinsic representations?

So, the example would run as follows. We have Brain1, that represents nothing at all. Brain2 represents Brain1. Brain3, finally, represents what Brain1 and Brain2 have in common.

The difference with the case of the three statues is that now it is very counterintuitive to conjecture that Brain1, Brain2 and Brain3 are the very same brain.

This would be the case only if we dropped the assumption that mental properties supervene on physical ones. But if we do drop this assumption, then the inference that Brain1, Brain2 and Brain3 are three distinct substances is no longer forced upon us.

In either case, the analogy is weakened.

Anonymous said...

The 14th century monk Gregory Palamas distinguished between God's "energies" and "essence." God's essence is a mystery to everyone. It is unknowable. We can only grasp it by negatively discarding our misperceptions of it. But His energies are also a part of Him, and they are the part that we can directly see, as Moses did and as the disciples did at the Transfiguration.

This is why the Bible tends to be back and forth on whether we can "see" God or not. In some spots, it mentions that no one can see God (1 John 4:12 "No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.") or that no one can see God and live because of the overwhelming holiness. The thing is that we can directly perceive God through His involvement in the world by becoming united to God in Christ, who is the image of the Father who is otherwise unseen.

So, when talk about negative and positive theology, the negative is about the hidden part of God and the positive is about the revealed part of God.


Anonymous said...

Incidentally, my own thought is that analogizing God to a lump of clay doesn't really work, since God is not a thing among other things. God is beyond all things in the world. Indeed, God is beyond the categories of Being and Non-being as well. (That is, God is not simply Being or Goodness, but He is beyond that as well.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. The idea that God has parts is contrary to the simplicity of God, and so I reject it.

2. As for the claim that God is beyond being and cannot be considered by way of analogy with creatures, this claim seems self-undercutting. If God is beyond being and beyond analogy, how can it make sense to say that he "is beyond being"?