Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My favorite Aquinas quote

Hence we must say that the distinction and multitude of things come from the intention of the first agent, who is God. For He brought things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because His goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, He produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided and hence the whole universe together participates the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better than any single creature whatever. (S.Th. I.47.1)


Malcolm said...

Interesting. I've read this quote many times. From it Aquinas goes on to reason that people must be punished (and, indeed, the damned in Hell must exist) so that God's justice might shine forth more brightly. Does that strike you as problematic?

There is also the problem of supposing how this "intention" could be in God and not be an accident in him. According to Aquinas, God could intend a different order or creatures, or no creatures at all. But then, the particular intention God has is accidental to him, since he could have had a different one or not one at all. But God cannot have accidents according to Aquinas. Does that strike you as problematic?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The intention must be partially constituted by what is external to God.

Malcolm said...

Do you feel you've given my two questions an honest intellectual response - one which, for instance, you would expect from someone you would be challenging or asking for clarification regarding seemingly problematic implications of their metaphysics?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It was shorthand. The question is a difficult one, and I've thought a lot about it, but frankly I don't have much more figured out than that sentence...

Malcolm said...

Thanks for the reply. I've thought about these two questions (predestination and how a timeless simple being cannot have accidents) a tremendous amount and have found no satisfying answers myself.

I guess my question now is more personal. How does one - and is it a courageous or even honest thing to do - deal with these perplexities? For all intents and purposes, we are saying that what is proposed to be believed (e.g. that God wills all to be saved or that he has no accidents) appears on our hardest thinking to be false. But how can one believe that something is true when their reason not only doesn't fully grasp the reality proposed but even sees what appears to be contradictory implications that arise?

Basically, why believe what appears to us on close examination to be false or impossible to affirm?

Alexander R Pruss said...

On accidents, I forgot that I did write a bit more. An early version is here: http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2017/10/bribes-and-conditional-intentions.html
A more polished version is in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, volume 1 (I can email you a copy if you don't have access).

The basic idea is that while in us an intention is needed as an intermediate cause between our deliberation and the action (physical movements, etc.), but what we are directly responsible for is the causing of the intention. The fact that the intention then typically causes the action is not relevant to direct responsibility--whether the intention causes the action or not, as soon as the intention is formed, we have responsibility. We can now imagine a being where this step of indirection is not present, where the deliberation directly causes the outcome, without an intention as an intermediate cause. This does not decrease responsibility, because just as you and I are directly responsible for the causing of the intention, that being is responsible directly for the causing of the outcome.

We can now say that the being doesn't have intentions, but that it nonetheless intends. It intends what it directly causes, but there is no such *thing* as an intention. (Compare how a strict nominalist will say that some people dance, but there are no such *things* as dances or dancings.)

I missed the hell question. Sorry! I don't like Aquinas' views on how God works with human free will. My own views are much closer to the Jesuit views. I don't want to say that some people are destined for damnation (I don't think in the end Aquinas does, either). I do agree that there is a good in God's justice being exhibited in punishing the wicked, but it seems to me to be a very minor part of God's reasons for allowing people to choose wrongly. The main reason is that without allowing people to choose wrongly, God couldn't allow them to freely choose rightly.

As for the close examination, well, there are many forms of evidence. What seems false or impossible is definitely evidence. But so is the testimony of Jesus to the existence of hell. So is the testimony of Jesus and Paul to the Church possessing the truth, and then the subsequent testimony of the Church regarding divine simplicity. So are the arguments for the existence of God and for divine simplicity. All this is evidence, needing to be weighed.

Of course, one can say: "If Jesus is God, then the Church teaches truth, and the Church teaches divine simplicity, but divine simplicity is false, so Jesus is not God."

If divine simplicity were evidently self-contradictory, that would have a fair amount of force. But it's not evidently *self* contradictory. It may contradict plausible principles, such as that agents act by the causal intermediation of intentions, but these plausible principles do not hold as a matter of logic--they are, simply, plausible principles.

And many plausible principles turn out not to be true. We learn this from paradoxes, since a paradox is typically just a way of showing a contradiction that arises from plausible principles, which therefore cannot all be true.

It can be quite rational, too, to deny something that seems evidently true on the basis of testimony. For instance, consider the Peano Axioms of Arithmetic. If you read them, they are all extremely plausible. But suppose that two really careful and smart mathematicians announce that they have just definitively proved a contradiction from the axioms. I think at that point it would be reasonable to at least suspend judgment about these axioms, on the testimony of these mathematicians. We know there are a number of cases where something seemed really plausible in mathematics, but it turned out to be false. (Think of Russell's Paradox and naive set theory. Or think of how plausible the denial of the Banach-Tarski Paradox is.)

Malcolm said...

Thanks for your thorough reply. I get a lot out of it.

What do you think about extrinsic models of divine knowing and willing? Specifically the idea that, God's knowledge of this particular world is really just the world in its contingency being present to God, and that God in himself is not actualized or impacted by this presence? Since God has the ideas of all possible being present to him necessarily and whether or not the world exists, the existence of any particular world or being would add no new actuality to God. When we talk of "knowledge" or "awareness" we describe a mental state which is actualized by the object known when that object is intellectually understood (in the case of knowledge) or when it is present to us (in the case of awareness.) Yet in God's case, the actual existence of the contingent objects known would not add anything to him in terms of knowledge, since he already knows how all finite being participates in him. Nor would it simply being present to him add anything to him. Its presence would really only describe the dependence and relation of the contingency on God (and be a relation of reason) rather than a real relation existing in God that God is actualized or brought to perfection by.

These extrinsic models, by the way, allow us - it seems to me - to hold the Jesuit/Molinist position better. For by having the ideas of all things in his mind necessarily God could have middle knowledge. And God's contingent or free knowledge need not imply any reduction or change in himself from a state of knowing what "could" or "would" happen to what "will" happen since that free knowledge is simply just the presence of a particular to God. Nor are we left with the problem of saying that the divine essence acts on itself (i.e. by its will causing its contingent knowledge) or is in potency and act in the same respect (i.e. could potentially know this possible world while also actually knowing some other).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yes, exactly (minus middle knowledge, I'd say). What I was giving was an extrinsic model. What constitutes God's intending p is partly intrinsic and partly extrinsic to God. And the same has to be true for God's knowledge of contingents. (According to Aquinas, the intending and the knowing are more or less the same, but I don't go there.)

Malcolm said...

Do you hold to middle knowledge?