Thursday, June 6, 2019

God and analogy

According to Aquinas, whenever we correctly say something non-negative of God, we speak analogically.

It is correct to say that Socrates is wise and God is wise. But being humanly wise and divinely wise are different—the most fundamental difference being that, by divine simplicity, God doesn’t have his wisdom, but is his wisdom. But this leads to:

  1. The predicate “is humanly wise or is divinely wise” applies literally to both Socrates and God.

And yet this disjunctive predicate is not negative, so (1) seems to provide a counterexample to Aquinas’ theory.

But this is too fast. Claim (1) only provides a counterexample to Aquinas’ theory if:

  1. Applying analogically and applying literally are incompatible.

But I think Aquinas can, and should, say that (2) is false. If he does that, then he can affirm both (1) and:

  1. The predicate “is humanly wise or is divinely wise” applies analogically to both Socrates and God.

In fact, I think Aquinas can say that the relevant kind of analogical application of predicates is a special case of literal predication.

I think that Aquinas is not really making a claim about literal and non-literal use of words when he is talking of analogical predication. Instead, I think he is making a claim about grounding, somewhat like:

  1. The predicate “is F” is used analogically between entities x and y just in case the propositions that x is F and that y is F have a relevantly different grounding structure.

On this account, disjunctive predicates like “is a human or a dog” are used analogically: for the grounding structure of the proposition that Alice is a human or a dog is that it’s grounded in Alice being a human, while the grounding structure of the proposition that Fido is a human or a dog is that it’s grounded in Fido being a dog. And similarly, “is humanly wise or is divinely wise” is used analogically, since in the case of Socrates the grounds of applicability are Socrates having wisdom and in the case of God the grounds are God being (his) wisdom.

Notice that on this story, Aquinas’ claim about analogical predication is not so much a linguistic claim as a metaphysical claim about the truth grounds.

The story makes clear why negative predicates are not used analogically: for the grounding structure of the truth that God is not a bicycle and the truth that Alice is not a bicycle is relevantly the same—both are grounded in not being arranged bicycle-wise.

So far, our reconstruction of Aquinas’ theory of predication is:

  1. A predicate that applies to God is negative or is used analogically.

But that’s not quite right. Here is one counterexample: “is not a bicycle or is both a bicycle and a non-bicycle.” This predicate is not negative but disjunctive. But it applies to God and to Socrates in the same way—by both not being bicycles.

I think the issue here is this. Just as analogical predication is a metaphysical and not linguistic notion, so negative predication is a metaphysical and not linguistic notion. We might say something like this:

  1. The predicate “is F” is used negatively of entity x just in case what grounds x being F is the non-obtaining of some state of affairs.

Thus, “is not a bicycle or is both a bicycle and non-bicycle” is used negatively of both God and Socrates, because what grounds its application in both cases are respectively the non-obtaining of the states of affairs of God being arranged bicycle-wise and of Socrates beng arranged bicycle-wise. On the other hand, the disjunctive predicate “is Athenian or not Greek” is used negatively of God and non-negatively of Socrates. Interestingly, this case shows that the disjunction in (5) is not exclusive. For “is Athenian or not Greek” is used both negatively of God and is used analogically between Socrates and God, since the structure of the grounds of application is relevantly different.

The problems haven’t all gone away. A necessary condition for “is F” to be used analogically of God and a creature is that “is F” applies to God and a creature, and hence a predicate that applies only to God cannot be used analogically. But suppose that in fact no one other than God knows whether the Continuum Hypothesis is true. Then the predicate “knows whether the Continuum Hypothesis is true” is not used analogically, since it only applies to God. But then we have a counterexample to (5).

We could try to modalize (4): a predicate is used analogically provided that it could have one ground as applied to God and another as applied to something other than God. But, again, it’s not hard to come up with a counterexample: “knows that 2 + 2 and is not a creature.” For that predicate can only apply to God.

We could also weaken (5) to merely apply to those predicates that apply (or could apply) to both God and a creature. This may seem to be an undue weakening: now one can escape from Aquinas’ doctrine of analogical predication simply by saying things that only apply (or could only apply) to God. But perhaps one can supplement the weakened (5) with:

  1. Any predicate that applies to God is built out of predicates that apply both to God and to a creature.

I am not too happy about this.

10 comments:

Brandon said...

I think a possible problem with this is that it looks like it conflates reference-to-one (a feature of analogy) with proper communicability (which is a slightly different issue). The predicate 'is divine', for instance, is in itself an incommunicable predicate, but applying it to a creature (like an idolator might) and applying it to God would still be analogical rather than equivocal. Likewise, even if only God knows whether the CH is true, the predicates in "God knows whether the CH is true" and "John knows whether the CH is true" are analogically related, even though, ex hypothesi, the former is true and the latter is false and a case of predicating it merely 'secundem opinionem', as Aquinas says. Likewise, the Tetragrammaton is perhaps the most properly incommunicable name of God, but if an idolator were to apply it to a rock, that would be an analogical use of the name.

Given that Aquinas allows 'secundem opinionem' cases, there are probably no predicates that can literally be applied only to God, as in its being literally impossible even for a wrong or confused person to apply it to creatures; but if there were such a predicate, I think the predicate could not be analogical, because for Aquinas 'analogical' is something that requires a comparison of two different application of a predicate. A single application of a predicate can't be analogical on its own, only relative to another application. (This is not always true of how later scholastics use the word, I think due to the influence of Henry of Ghent.)

Martin Cothran said...

What does (3) refer to in the paragraph after 2.? It appears to refer to something preceding it, but it's not clear what it is. Thanks.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Martin:

Fixed!

Brandon:

The idolater, surely, can apply "is divine" to a creature in exactly the sense in which we apply it to God. The idolater might believe that tree in front of his house is simple and pure actuality.

I can't make sense of the secundum opinionem. Consider this case. We have three people: Alice, Bob and Carl. Carl is an idolater who worships the tree in front of his house. Bob worships God. Alice doesn't actually know anything about Bob's or Carl's theology, and without epistemic justification she expresses her opinions:

1. The being whom Bob worships is divine.

2. The being whom Carl worships is divine.

Now, presumably (1) is true and (2) is false. But note that Alice is using "is divine" in the same sense in (1) and (2), since the information she has about Bob is exactly the same as what she has about Carl.

We can't distinguish (1) and (2) via grounding, since grounding only applies to truths, and (2) is false. We might try to ask about the grounding that the statements would have _if_ they were true. But that doesn't work. For if (2) were true, its grounding would be exactly the same as that of (1).

Brandon said...

The idolator cannot apply 'is divine' to a creature in the same sense in which we apply it to God; if he did, he would be committed to saying the creature is uncreated, infinite, immaterial, etc.

Given that Alice doesn't know anything about either theology, she is arguably indeed applying it univocally: she is attributing divinity to both subjects secundum opinionem -- she can mean very little more by it than what people call divine. But in that sense both (1) and (2) are true; if I, a Christian, say, "The sun is John's deity," I can't be using it in the same sense in which I would say, "The sun is not a deity", even though I can perfectly well say both, and be right in both cases. In order to recognize that (1) is true and (2) is false, you can't be applying the predicates the way Alice would, because (2) can't come out as false for Alice if Carl actually thinks the tree is divine.

Brandon said...

Actually, having thought it through a bit more, I'm not sure that (1) and (2) are univocal; because it seems that the 'opinion' in secundum opinionem could be indexed to the person or people whose opinion it is. I don't know if Aquinas considers this question at all anywhere. But it's still the case that secundum opinionem (1) is true and (2) is true, even if we are talking about different opinions.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Brandon:

"The idolator cannot apply 'is divine' to a creature in the same sense in which we apply it to God; if he did, he would be committed to saying the creature is uncreated, infinite, immaterial, etc."

But I thought that's pretty much what the idolator is committed to by saying that the tree is divine. One can be committed to all sorts of absurdities. Perhaps we were talking of different idolators, but the idolator I was thinking of is one who is precisely committed to saying that the tree is uncreated, infinite, immaterial, etc. Whether the idolator knows that they are committed to this is a different question (maybe they do know it but are a dialetheist; or maybe they don't know that that's what they are committed to).

For another example of such an idolator, imagine a heretic, Fred, who instead of thinking that Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God, thinks that Socrates is. Imagine, further, that Fred is philosophically a Thomist and has exactly the same theology of the Trinity and Incarnation as St Thomas, modulo a number of obvious changes. Fred attributes divinity to the person of Socrates, and does so in exactly the same sense in which Aquinas attributes it to the person of Jesus. Surely there is univocity here.

"Given that Alice doesn't know anything about either theology, she is arguably indeed applying it univocally: she is attributing divinity to both subjects secundum opinionem -- she can mean very little more by it than what people call divine."

I wasn't clear. She means, I stipulate, by "divine" exactly what Aquinas means by it. Now, you wonder how she can do that without any information about Bob and Carl's theology. But I said that she holds her opinion "without epistemic justification". Perhaps she looked into a crystal ball and the crystal ball said: "Bob and Carl each worship God." And then she affirmed (1) and (2).

Brandon said...

I can't make any sense of your idolator's idolatry, or what it would mean for him to say that this tree is immaterial, infinite, etc., so I can't say anything about how the relevant predicate is actually being used. I suspect, though, that you are not distinguishing between univocal and analogical use of the predicate.

Likewise, I can make no sense of your heretic; St. Thomas's Trinitarian and Incarnational theology does not float free of the life of Christ, so Fred clearly doesn't have the same theology, and when Fred is using the predicate "Son of God", he is not using it in a way that could possibly be univocal with Aquinas's. It's analogically related, which is why the two positions are contradictory; but it's not the same sense applied the same way. In scholastic terms, if you took Fred's statements like "Socrates is the Son of God" and analyzed it in terms of its implicit middle terms, you'd get different middle terms that are not translatable into those implicit in Aquinas's "Jesus is the Son of God", which is at least an evidence that the mode of application cannot be the same in the two cases.

Epistemic justifications are in practice relevant to modes of predication, but if Alice is for whatever reason just assuming that Bob and Carl are both Thomists in their theology, her predicate is indeed univocal, but it's not, as far as I can see, relevant, since neither Bob's nor Carl's actual theology has anything at all to do with her use of the predicate.

Sean Killackey said...

Dr. Pruss, sorry to ask an off topic question, but have you commented at length on how the simple Godhead canhave three really distinct persons? Or speculated as to why three and only three? (Somewhat relatedly, have you ever heard of the Polytheist Steven Dillion and his defense of Polytheism where each God is supposed to be a simple who and the entire plurality of Gods is a plurality without composition? It sounds like Trinitarianism run amok, which is why I bring it up.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

Brandon:

"I can't make any sense of your idolator's idolatry, or what it would mean for him to say that this tree is immaterial, infinite, etc."

I am stipulating it would mean exactly the same thing for him to say this as it does for you to say it of God. He's just contradicting himself, that's all.

Here's another case. You have a sealed envelope with a piece of paper on it. You have very good evidence that on the piece of paper is written the word "God." You then assert: "The being referred to on the piece of paper is immaterial, infinite, etc."

Presumably, when you say this you mean "immaterial, infinite, etc." all in exactly the sense in which you apply them to God.

But suppose that in fact what it says on the piece of paper is "The tree in front of Fred's house." (I said you have "very good evidence" that it says "God" on the piece of paper. But very good evidence can still be mistaken.) Then you have applied immateriality, infinity, etc. to the being referred to on the piece of paper--namely, to the tree in front of Fred's house. And you have done so in the same sense in which you apply these predicates to God.

"St. Thomas's Trinitarian and Incarnational theology does not float free of the life of Christ, so Fred clearly doesn't have the same theology, and when Fred is using the predicate 'Son of God', he is not using it in a way that could possibly be univocal with Aquinas's."

Aquinas explicitly says that God could have become incarnate as multiple humans. And presumably the divine predicates would be used univocally between the cases of such incarnations. It's just that Fred happens to be mistaken in thinking that Socrates is such a case.

I don't know what you mean by the "middle terms" here. Can you be more specific?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Sean:

On the three and only three, Aquinas has some arguments. I am not completely confident of them, but there is something to them. Following Augustine, one thinks of the Son as the Father's self-knowledge, and the Holy Spirit as the love between the Father and the Son. If we see love as the deepest expression of the nature of God, then it makes sense that there would be two processions: one of love and one of knowledge, because knowledge is a prerequisite for perfect love. Each procession generates one person. That makes three.

As for how this is compatible with simplicity, I think it's that there are two different sense of identity according to Aquinas. There is numerical identity of natures and numerical identity of individuals. In ordinary creatures, the two are coextensive: you and I have numerically distinct (though qualitatively the same) natures and are numerically distinct individuals. In God there is numerical identity of natures, but numerical distinctness of individuals. In Christ there is numerical distinctness of natures, but numerical identity of individuals. Simplicity refers to identity of natures.