Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eternalism and accidents without a subject

A classic objection to transubstatiation, famously pressed by Wycliffe, is that according to the Catholic understanding of the doctrine, the accidents of bread and wine persist even though the substance of bread and wine no longer exists. But in Aristotelian metaphysics, accidents are essentially dependent on their substance.

Eternalism—the view that past and future and present things all exist—provides a neat way for the Catholic to respond to Wycliffe. One can, if one so wishes, hold on to the idea that it is metaphysically necessary that a subject exists if an accident exists. But one denies that it is metaphysically necessary that the subject exists at the same time as the accident. The eternalist then holds that even if the bread and wine have perished at a time t1 after transubstantation, nonetheless it is true at t1 that the bread and wine exist, where the "exist" is tenseless. On this view, every accident has a subject in the same world but not always at the same time.


Anonymous said...

I think you can appreciate that this type of argument isn't a strong one to begin with. I mean if what is claimed is taken as true then we begin with the assumption that something different is going on than the norm to begin with (that's where we stand with burden of proof). Extending such reasoning to metaphysics isn't a big stretch i.e. to simply say y doesn't happen in everyday x but it does when God acts z. Z is a metaphysically possible exception to the standard operation of things. Thus Z is possible. You get the idea I'm sure anyway.

Anonymous said...

Its also not question begging - because if what Catholics claim is true, then Catholics are already claiming an exception to the normal operation of things. Someone would have to prove that 1) An exception is not metaphysically possible.
2) It is not logically possible (a self contradiction).

Alexander R Pruss said...

One may think, though, that it is a part of the very concept of an accident that it is an accident *of* something.

SMatthewStolte said...

I wrote what is below the *s on the assumption that you were suggesting that the accidents after transubstantiation inhere (in some tenseless way) in the substance. But I’m noticing now that you didn’t mention the word inherence. So I could be way off. I’m not altogether clear about how we should think of inherence, anyway.
I wonder if there is any sort of parallel between this inherence relation and what takes place in ordinary substantial change. If I die, then the corpse that follows me in time has certain properties that, in ordinary language, we would call mine. For example, we might say that the shape of my nose or the color of my skin survives my death (at least for a fraction of a second).

Obviously, speaking carefully, we wouldn’t want to say that the color of the corpse or the shape of the corpse-nose inheres in me (as you are suggesting would take place in transubstantiation). But there may still be a kind of relation that the new accidents bear to the old substance—a relation which would justify the common language practice, and which would be a kind of parallel to the post-transubstantiation inherence.

Anonymous said...

One may think, though, that it is a part of the very concept of an accident that it is an accident *of* something

Of course but again I bring up that in principle that doesn't even need to be argued for so long as it is sufficient that something apart from the ordinary is going own that is assumed by the very nature of transubstantiation then a Catholic can hand wave and say 'mystery'.

Of course I don't hold to such a position myself but I think you get where I am coming from in so far as this being a weaker argument.

In my opinion it should be sufficiently explained.

This is how I go about it - It is normal for an accident to continue to 'inhere' in the material cause after a change in the 'form' of a thing insofar as the form does not alter the material aspect to which said accidents are associated.

So I think in principle (in relation to transubstantiation it all boils down to the accidents continuing in the matter relative to our experiential observance).

I think a tenseless proposition is superfluous if some kind of Neo-Aristotelian metaphysics can do the job better.

[I might have to point out I am not an analytical philosopher of any distinction so we both start out from different philosophical commitments and could possibly fall into the trap of talking past each other.]

Just wondering if you were thinking anything else in relation to the Eucharist and being outside time? (now there would certainly be ground for some such thinking in this area).

Anonymous said...

Note I am using language loosely and did notice that typo.

Just curious as to see if anyone else gets what I am trying to say.

Anonymous said...
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Alexander R Pruss said...

I accidentally delete this comment: "My fundamental difficulty with the idea of Transubstantiation is: If after the consecration the accidents of bread and wine remain alone, without inhering in any substance, then there doesn’t seem to remain a real connection between these accidents and the substance of Christ. And thus there results no Real Presence. "

My apologies. It was a good contribution to the discussion but I clicked in the wrong place.

Alexander R Pruss said...

And now to respond. I think the difficulty here assumes that the substance of Christ is supposed to be present *by means* of the accidents. Aquinas did think that, and presumably had a story about how the connection worked (I'm too sleepy to try to figure it out now). But what if we don't think of the accidents as a means by which the substance of Christ is present? Rather, maybe the substance of Christ just is present, in its own right, not by means of the accidents of bread?