Last Wednesday morning, just as Old Sol was peeping his ancient head over the magnificent and mysterious Superstition range, I embarked on a drive down old Arizona 79, past Florence, to a hash house near Oracle Junction where I had the pleasure of another nice long three and one half hour caffeine-fueled discussion with Dale Tuggy. For me, he is a perfect interlocutor: Dale is a serious truth-seeker, no mere academic gamesman, analytically sharp, historically well-informed, and personable. He also satisfies a necessary though not sufficient condition of fruitful dialog: he and I differ on some key points, but our differences play out over a wide field of agreement.
I incline toward the view that God is not a being among beings, but Being itself. Dale rejects this view as incoherent. In this entry I will take some steps toward clarifying the issues that divide us.
A Being Among Beings
First of all, what could it mean to say that God is a being among beings? As I see it, to say that God is a being among beings is to say that God is no exception to the logical and ontological principles (pertaining to properties, property-possession, existence, modality, etc.) that govern anything that can be said to exist. It is to say that God fits the ontological or general-metaphysical schema that everything else fits. It is to say that God is ontologically on a par with other beings despite the attributes (omniscience, etc.) that set him apart from other beings and indeed render him unique among beings. To spell it out:
a. Properties. Some properties are such that God and creatures share them. Consider the property of being a self. For present purposes we may accept Dale's definition: "a being capable of consciousness, with intelligence, will, and the ability to intentionally act." God is a self, but so is Socrates. Both are selves in the very same sense of 'self.' 'Self' is being used univocally (not equivocally and not analogically) in 'God is a self' and 'Socrates is a self' just as 'wise' is being used univocally in 'God is wise' and 'Socrates is wise,' and so on.
Dale is uncomfortable with talk of properties and seems to prefer talk of concepts. Well then, I can put my present point by saying that some concepts are such as to be common to both God and creatures, the concept self being one example.
b. Property-possession. God has properties in the same way that creatures do. My first point was that there are some properties that both God and creatures share; my present point is a different one about property-possession: the having of these shared properties is the same in the divine and creaturely cases. Both God and Socrates instantiate the property of being a self, where first-level instantiation is an asymmetrical relation or non-relational tie that connects individuals and properties construed as mind-independent universals.
The point could be put conceptualistically as follows. Both God and Socrates fall under the concept self, where falling under is an asymmetrical relation that connects individuals and concepts construed as mind-dependent universals.
c. Existence. God is in the same way that creatures are. Given that God exists and that Socrates exists, it does not follow that they exist in the same way. Or so I maintain. But part of what it means to say that God is a being among beings is to say that God and Socrates do exist in the very same way. Whatever it is for an item to exist, there is only one way for an item to exist, and God and Socrates exist in that very same way. For example, if what it is for x to exist is for x to be identical to some y, then this holds both for God and Socrates.
d. It follows from (a) and (b) taken together that God is really distinct from his properties, and that his properties are really distinct from one another. God is in this respect no different from Socrates. Really distinct: distinct in reality, apart from our mental operations. (What is really distinct need not be capable of separate existence.) And both items have their properties by instantiating them.
e. It follows from (c) that God is really distinct from his existence (just as Socrates is really distinct from his existence) and that God is really distinct from existence (just as Socrates is distinct from existence).
f. It follows from (d) and (e) taken together that God is not ontologically simple. Contrapositively, if God is ontologically simple, then God is not a being among beings as I am using this phrase. It is therefore no surprise that Dale rejects divine simplicity whereas I am inclined to accept it. See my SEP entry for more on this.
If I understand Dale's position, he maintains that God is a being among beings in the above sense. If he is right, then God cannot be Being itself. But he presumably has a more direct reason to think that God cannot be Being itself.
Suppose God is not a being among beings in the sense I have just explained. And suppose, as we have been all along, that God exists. Does it follow that God is Being itself? It depends on what 'Being itself' refers to. For Dale, if I understand him, it doesn't refer to anything, or at least not to anything mind-independently real. If so, then God, who we both believe exists, cannot be identical to Being itself. For God is mind-independently real. In conversation, Dale owned up to being a subscriber to what I call radical ontological pluralism:
ROP: In reality, Being (existence) divides without remainder into beings (existents).
What (ROP) says is that in reality outside the mind there is no such 'thing' as Being. There are only beings. Since in reality there are only beings, Being itself, Existence itself, does not exist. A partisan of (ROP) may admit a distinction between Being and beings, Sein und das Seiende, esse et ens, existence and existent, but he will go on to say that Being in its difference from beings is nothing real, but only something verbal or conceptual. Thus Dale granted in conversation that we can use 'existence' and 'Being' to refer collectively to existents or things that are, but he denied that 'existence itself' and 'Being itself' refer to anything that really exists other than these existents. There is no one item, distinct from each of them and from all of them, in virtue of which the many beings ARE. Thus there is no Platonic Form, Existence itself, or any other sort of universal or property or entity or stuff for 'Being itself' or "Existence itself' to refer to. These high-falutin' words, if they refer to anything, refer to concepts we excogitate. If this is right, then there just is no Being itself for God to be identical to. On Dale's scheme all we've got are beings; it is just that one of these beings is the omni-qualified God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Dale did not give the above argument, but it is available to him, given that he accepts (ROP). The argument is formidable and cannot be dismissed out of hand. In sum:
Existence itself does not exist;
God is not (identical to) existence itself.
This argument, if sound, puts paid to any conception like that of Aquinas according to which Deus est ipsum esse subsistens, "God is self-subsistent Being." Framing the matter as I have shows that the fundamental issue is as much about the 'nature' of existence as it is about God.
Here is an antilogism or aporetic triad corresponding to the above syllogism:
Existence itself exists.
God is not (identical to) existence itself.
The limbs of this aporetic triad cannot all be true given the following assumptions that I believe Dale accepts. (A1) God is the source/ground of everything distinct from himself. (A2) Existence itself, if there is such a 'thing,' is the source/ground of the existing of what exists. The difference between Dale and me can now be put concisely as follows.
I accept the first two limbs and reject the third while Dale accepts the second two limbs and rejects the first. We agree on the second limb.
Five Possible Views
By my count there are five combinatorially possible views:
V1. God exists, Existence exists, and they are identical. (BV)
V2. God exists, but Existence does not exist. (DT)
V3. Existence exists, but God does not exist. (A version of non-naturalistic atheism)
V4. Both God and Existence exist, but they are different.
V5. Neither God nor Existence exists. (Naturalistic atheism)
You might think that no one holds (V4). You would be wrong. Theist J. P. Moreland insists that existence itself exists while holding that it is a special property, the property of having properties, and thus not identifiable with God. (Universals, McGill-Queen's UP, 2001, pp. 134-139.)
Why Should We Think that God is identical to Existence itself?
Classically, God is causa prima, the 'first cause,' where 'first' needn't be taken temporally. Now God cannot play the role of first cause unless he exists. There are five 'possibilities' regarding the divine existence. Either (P1) God causes himself to exist, or (P2) God is caused by another to exist, or (P3) God exists contingently as a matter of brute fact without cause or reason, or (P4) God is a necessary being, but nonetheless a being among beings really distinct from his existence and from Existence itself, or (P5) God is (identically) Existence itself.
Each of the first four possibilities can be excluded.
Nothing can cause itself to exist. For that would require a thing to exist 'before' it exists whether temporally or logically-ontologically. Since that is impossible, God cannot cause himself to exist. On the other hand, nothing other than God can cause God to exist -- else God would not be God, would not be the ultimate metaphysical ground of all else. God is the Absolute, and it is self-evident that the Absolute cannot depend for its existence or nature on anything 'higher up' or 'farther back.' Please note that one can accept this, and Dale will, even while holding that God is a being among beings as I explained this notion.
On (P3), the existence of God is a brute fact. But then God is a contingent being in which case, again, God is not God. God is the Absolute, and no absolute worth its salt is a contingent being. No absolute just happens to exist. It is built into the divine job description that God be a necessary being, and indeed one whose metaphysical necessity is from itself and not from another as the necessity of certain propositions is necessary from another if they are divine thoughts.
I think Dale will agree with my rejection of the first three possibilities. I expect him to opt for (P4) according to which God is a necessary being but nonetheless a being among beings, and not Being itself. But if God is a necessary being, what is the ground of his necessity if it is not the divine simplicity? We agree that God cannot not exist. But I ask: why not? If in both God and Socrates there is a real distinction between essence and existence, and if in Socrates his contingency is rooted in the real distinction, then God too will be contingent. Dale needs to supply a ground for the divine necessity, and the only plausible ground is the identity in God of essence and existence.
I hope it is obvious that existing in all possible worlds cannot be the ground of the divine necessity. For that puts the cart before the horse. God exists in all possible worlds because he is a necessary being; it is not the case that he is necessary because he exists in all possible worlds.
Now there are only the five 'possibilities' mentioned above. (Or can you think of a sixth?) Since the first four are eminently rejectable and herewith rejected, the fifth alone remains standing: God is (identically) his existence and Existence itself. If so, God is not a being among beings. He transcends the general-metaphysical framework to which all else must conform. God is self-existent Existence.
Is the Argument Rationally Compelling?
Unfortunately, it is not. I think Dale would be within his epistemic rights were he to object: "You have reasoned logically toward a conclusion that makes no logical sense. The discursive intellect simply cannot 'process' any such claim as that God is identical to self-existent Existence. And the same goes for all of the characteristic claims of the divine simplicity to which you are committed by your denial that God is a being among beings."
So we end this round with a stand-off at an impasse. I continue to insist that the divine necessity, transcendence and aseity require divine simplicity as underpinning while granting that simplicity cannot be formulated in a way that satisfies the exigencies of the discursive intellect.
I am disposed to say either that the problem is insoluble at the level of the discursive intellect, a genuine aporia, or that there may be a way forward via the analogia entis. But, like Dale, I find the latter exceedingly murky. Erich Pryzwara's recently translated (into English) and published Analogia Entis certainly hasn't helped. Nor have the reviews I have read of it. Rigor of thought and clarity of expression are not phrases I would use to describe most of the writers on this topic. But then there is more to philosophy than rigor of thought and clarity of expression.