Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Truth supervenes on being

Truth supervenes on being (TSB) holds that any two worlds that differ in the truth of a proposition differ in what exists. Here's a fun thought: Suppose divine believings are entities, and that they essentially have the property of being divine believings and they essentially have the content they do. Suppose God exists necessarily. Then TSB holds trivially, because any two worlds that differ in the truth of a proposition also differ in what beliefs God has. It's hard to run this argument given divine simplicity, though.


Drew said...

I never understood why someone would believe in divine simplicity. I see no support for it in scripture, it seems irreconcilable with trinitarian monotheism, and wouldn't modal distinction within God collapse into a state where his knowledge is identical in all possible worlds, therefore all possible worlds are identical?

D. A. Armstrong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D. A. Armstrong said...

I think most believe in divine simplicity because you have a problem with parts and composition. I'm not certain how something can contain parts and yet not be composed by another. Either all the parts managed to exist at once or there was one thing that was previous. If there are multiple things that exist uncomposed there could be a possibility that God AND matter were uncomposed from the beginning. I think overall divine simplicity solves more problems than it creates, even while considering the trinity. I'm certain that Pruss could explain better than I divine simplicity and his reason for believing such a position.

One thing that really tweaked me in understanding divine simplicity is to understand it is ontological. In our minds we can distinguish between characteristics, attributes, etc even such if such distinctions do not actually exist.

FYI: My deleted post was simply this post editted for grammar and small content changes.

Drew said...

If all divine simplicity states is that God is homogeneous, and lacks physicality, then I would agree. I'm not sure how an unembodied mind can be physically divided in the first place, but that's not my understanding of simplicity.

A friend gave me an analogy of porridge, a homogeneous substance. A scoop of porridge at one side of the bowl is basically the same as a scoop from the other side of the bowl. Fine, but homogeneous mixtures do have separate properties. The mass of the porridge is not the same as its shape, is not its color, is not its consistency, is not its taste. One could conceivably alter one property without affecting others, so even a homogeneous substance can have distinct properties.

Yet scripture still doesn't commit us to any sort of homogeneous unity. We know God is one (echad), yet nowhere does it say that He is unity (Yachid). The tabernacle is composed of many distinct parts, and yet it is one (echad).

In fact, the idea of divine simplicity is a Jewish and Islamic polemic against Christianity, so how do you reconcile the trinity and incarnation with simplicity? How would I respond to such an objection?

Alexander R Pruss said...


The Christian tradition has accepted divine simplicity, including before the advent of Islam (which oddly enough ended up rejecting the full doctrine of divine simplicity, by holding that God is distinct from his attributes), and there is little reason to think it was due to Jewish influence (except via Old Testament monotheism). There are some simple arguments for divine simplicity.

1. God is the cause of everything other than God.
2. A proper part is distinct from the whole.
3. If God has proper parts, then he is the cause of each of them. (by 1 and 2)
4. Nothing that has proper parts can be the cause of all of its proper parts.
5. Therefore, God does not have proper parts.

Likewise, whenever there are parts, there is a question of why the parts are together. But God is the ultimate explainer--so there is no explanation prior to him.

As for the Trinity, the conflict would be there if the three persons were proper parts of God. But to say that the three persons are proper parts of God would entail that the three persons are not God. But that's heterodox. So a view of the Trinity that makes the divine persons be parts of God is heterodox in its implications.

Drew said...

I guess before I respond to the argument...could a Catholic like yourself deny divine simplicity without becoming heterodox? Are you personally committed to it and thereby forced to make it work?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It is Catholic dogma, and I do accept it.

Drew said...

Is this also why you are a B-theorist? It seems difficult to reconcile divine simplicity with any A-theory, especially presentism.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I used to think there was a conflict between A-theory, omniscience and immutability. I actually no longer think this. I just don't see any very good reason for believe the A-theory, and I see good reasons for not believing it. :-)

Drew said...

I guess I have one question on divine simplicity. How do you avoid the accusation of modalism? How is your view of God different than the unitarian view?

As for the A-theory:

1. If there is an endless future, and the B-theory is correct, then there is an actually infinite number of events

2. If there is an actual infinite number of events, then the Grim Reaper paradox could happen

3. The Grim Reaper paradox can't happen

Conclusion: Either the B-theory is false or there is not an endless future.

Marc said...

Dr. Pruss:

May I raise--well, repeat--a question regarding your view of Trinitarianism? The question was first posed by Brian Leftow:

"Either the Trinity is a fourth case of the divine nature, in addition to the Persons, or it is not. If it is, we have too many cases of deity for orthodoxy. If it is not, and yet is divine, there are two ways to be divine—by being a case of deity, and by being a Trinity of such cases. If there is more than one way to be divine, Trinity monotheism becomes Plantingian Arianism. But if there is in fact only one way to be divine, then there are two alternatives. One is that only the Trinity is God, and God is composed of non-divine persons. The other is that the sum of all divine persons is somehow not divine. To accept this last claim would be to give up Trinity monotheism altogether."

Craig and Moreland embrace the notion that there are two ways to be divine, holding that the Trinity is divine and the sole, not the fourth, instance of the divine nature. The three persons are divine, they suggest, by virtue of the persons' being parts of the Trinity. I don't know about Moreland, but I know Craig is inclined to reject divine simplicity, so this particular Trinitarian posture appears available to him. How would (should) a proponent of divine simplicity respond to Leftow?

In your argument for divine simplicity above, suppose one were to revise premise (1) in the following manner (or something similar):

1*. God is the cause of everything not constitutive of God's identity.

Does that revision strike you as more objectionable or less plausible?

Thanks for your time.

-- Marc

Alexander R Pruss said...

1. I take a view I got from Aquinas, which is a relative identity view--except that there are only two kinds of identity, and in the case of creatures they normally coincide. There is hypostatic identity (being the very same individual substance) and identity of essence (having the numerically same essence). For this not to be a form of tritheism, it is crucial that among creatures, individual creatures have individual essences.

With that in view, let's consider the puzzle. First of all, it is not clear what "Trinity" means. Based on suggestions in S.Th. I 31 1, I would answer as follows. "Trinity" is to be analyzed as follows: "The divine nature, which is such that there are three persons of it." So, "Trinity", simply, is a term for the divine nature, but with an adjectival addition. It is, thus, like "The wise God".

So, the question whether the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Trinity make up four cases of the divine nature is now equivalent to the question whether the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and the divine nature make up four cases of the divine nature. (The "which is such that there are three persons of it" does not affect counting, just as we do not count the Son and the wise Son separately.) This is, of course, a classic question, one much discussed in the middle ages.

With that reduction of the question in view, I can try to answer (oddly I can't off-hand find Aquinas' answer to crib from). There are two ways of counting in God: counting by essence and counting by hypostasis.

If we count by essence, the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and divine nature are one case of the divine nature--for there is one essence there.

If we count by hypostasis, we either get nonsense or three. We get nonsense if we think of the divine nature as not a hypostasis. The question then is like: "How many persons are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Greece?" Or for the purposes of counting hypostases, one can stipulate that we count the divine nature as three--namely Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and then the question is like: "How many persons are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and Augustine?" The answer is: three.

2. Sure, you could weaken the premise. I assume you'd need "partly constitutive", or my argument still works (a proper part is presumably only partly constitutive of the identity of the whole--the other parts are needed, too). However, now you've weakened it too much, since you no longer rule out such views as:
a. pantheism
b. the existence of abstract entities apart from God, but upon which God's identity depends (maybe the Trinity depends on the number three)
c. immanentist views that make God necessarily create and necessarily depend on creation
d. essentially interdependent polytheism (the gods' identity depends on one another, like in the Trinity, but unlike in the Trinity, there is no numerically or even qualitatively one nature)
e. and maybe even: God being a creature (for the cause is partly constitutive of the identity of the effect, by essentiality of origins)