Monday, May 24, 2010

Plurality of divine ideas

I've been suspicious of divine ideas, but now I like what St Thomas does in S. Th. I.15. St Thomas seems to be insisting that the sentence "There are many divine ideas" gets a semantics according to which it is made true not by some plurality in things, but by God's understanding himself in this way, and in that way, and so on, without these being separate acts of understanding. It is possible, I suspect, for an experienced physicist to understand light as a stream of particles and as a wave simultaneously and without there being two separate acts of understanding here. Likewise, then, God simultaneouosly, and without a multiplicity of acts of understanding, understands himself as something that can be participated in by a donkey, and as something that can be participated in by an oak tree, and as something that can be participated in by an angel, and he does this with a single indivisible (and the indivisibility may not be present in the physicist's case) act of understanding that suffices to make true all of these particular claims about what God understands. So the apparently quantified claim "There are many divine ideas" is made true by a single indivisible entity.

I see Aquinas' project here and in his discussion of the Trinity and the Incarnation as an attempt to provide a semantics compatible with divine simplicity for hard to avoid philosophical truths (this case) or orthodox theological doctrines (the other two cases). This semantics must make the right sentences true, and it must also be plausible.

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