This is another round in an ongoing discussion (via face-to-face conversations, podcasts, and weblog posts) with Dale Tuggy on whether or not God is best thought of as a being among beings, albeit the highest being (summum ens), or rather as self-subsistent Being itself (ipsum esse subsistens). In this entry I will respond to just a bit of Dale's first weblog response to my post. Dale writes,
God and I (and you) all exist. Does it follow that we all three of us exist in the same way? Well, we all satisfy the concept existing, but God also satisfies the concept necessarily existing, which is just to say that he exists, and it is absolutely impossible for him to not exist. (In the jargon which is so common: he exists “in all possible worlds.”) We all exist, yes, but God necessarily exists (which entails his existing). So I think it can be misleading to say that “God is in the same way that creatures are.” This suggests that God and creatures aren’t importantly different as respects their existence. But creatures can not exist, whereas God can’t not exist. That’s a big difference.
Let me first point out that what we have here is an intramural dispute among theists who agree about quite a bit. Thus we agree that God exists (in the sense in which naturalistic atheists* deny that God exists), has the standard omni-attributes, is unique, is in some sense a necessary being, is transcendent of creation, possesses aseity, and so on. But we differ on questions like these: how exactly are the divine necessity, the divine uniqueness, and the divine transcendence to be understood? To put it roughly, we who side with Thomas subscribe to a radical necessity, uniqueness, and transcendence, whereas those on Dale's side hold to less radical readings of these terms. For example, Dale thinks of God as transcendent, but not so transcendent as to prevent the univocal (not equivocal, not analogical) application of the predicate '___ is a person' to both God and Socrates. For Dale, God is transcendent all right, but not Maimonides-transcendent or Thomas-transcendent. (I trust my meaning is clear, or clear enough for now; I plan to blog further on these options later.)
A second preliminary observation is that in a discussion like this we cannot avoid the deepest questions of metaphysics. In the deepest depths of the deep lurks the question: What is existence? A question about which your humble correspondent wrote a book. One cannot adequately tackle the God question while just presupposing some theory of existence such as the Frege-Russell-Quine theory. To put it gnomically, no thin theory of existence for a thick God. What's more, one cannot just presuppose some general-metaphysical framework such as 'relation' versus 'constituent' ontology. (This terminology, from Wolterstorff, though current, leaves something to be desired.)
Let's now get down to the nuts and bolts.
Is Existence a Concept?
Dale says in effect that God and Socrates both "satisfy the concept existing." Right here I must object. I maintain that existence (existing) cannot be a concept, whether subjective or objective. Subjective concepts are mental items: no minds, no concepts. Of course, we can also speak of objective concepts, but I think Dale understands by 'concept' subjective concepts. Dispositionally viewed, subjective concepts are classificatory powers grounded in minds like ours: I have the concept triangle in that I have the power to classify items given in experience as either triangular or not triangular. Occurrently viewed, the concept triangle is the mind-dependent content of such a classificatory power. The main thing, though, is this: no minds, no (subjective) concepts.
Now existence is that which makes an existing item exist. It is that which determines it as existent. It is that without which a thing would be nothing at all. We assume pluralism: there are many existents. But they all have something in common: they exist. It follows that existence cannot be identified with existents either distributively or collectively. Existence is not identical to any one existent, nor to the whole lot of them. Existence is different from existents. Given the commonality of existence, and its difference from existents, one may be tempted to think of existence as a concept abstractly common to existing items or existents. Dale apparently succumbs to this temptation. He thinks of existence as common in the manner of an abstract concept. But this can't be right. Existence is not a concept. The existing of things is not their falling under any concept, not even the putative concept, existence.
Argument 1. Things existed long before there were concepts. Therefore, the existence of these things cannot be identified with their falling under any concept, let alone the putative concept, existence.
Note: if Dale wants a concept, existence, I'll give it to him. But then I will go on to show that this concept is not existence, that it is not the gen-u-ine article (stamp the foot, pound the lectern).
Argument 2. The modal analog of the foregoing temporal argument is this. Much of what exists now would have existed now had no concepts existed now. For example, the Moon would have existed now had no concept-users and concepts existed now. Therefore, the existence of these things cannot be identified with their falling under any concept, let alone the putative concept, existence.
Argument 3. Necessarily, if an individual x falls under a concept C, then both x and C exist. So it cannot be the case that x exists in virtue of falling under any concept, including the putative concept, existence. You move in an explanatory circular if you try to account for the existence of x by saying that x exists in virtue of falling under a concept when nothing falls under a concept unless it exists. Note that this third argument works for both subjective and objective concepts.
So I say about existence what I say about God: neither can be a concept. It is clear, I hope, that God is not a concept. There is of course the concept, God, but this concept is not God. The concept God is no more God than the concept chair is a chair. One can sit on a chair; one cannot sit on a concept. Suppose there were no chairs. It would still be the case that the concept chair is not a chair. (And if all chairs were suddenly to cease to exist, they would not at that moment become concepts.) Likewise, even if there is no God, it is still the case that the concept God is not God. You haven't grasped the concept God if you think that God is a mind-dependent item or that God is abstract or that God can have items instantiating it or falling under it. To understand the concept God is to understand that whatever satisfies it, if anything, cannot be a concept.
Now if existence is not a concept, then necessary existence is not a concept either.
There is a way Dale might agree with part of the foregoing. He might say, "OK, existence in its difference from existents cannot be a concept. But I deny that there is in reality, outside the mind, anything called 'existence.' There are existents, but no existence. There is nothing different from existents that makes them exist. There is just the manifold of existents. In your jargon, I subscribe to radical ontological pluralism: (ROP) In reality, existence divides without remainder into existents."
This is not the place for a full-scale response, but I need to say something. There cannot, in reality, be a manifold of existents unless there is something in reality common to them all that makes them a manifold of existents, as opposed to a sheer manyness. When this is properly appreciated then it will be appreciated that existence cannot divide without remainder into existents. Outside the mind, the Existential Difference, the difference between existence and existents, remains.
Are Necessity and Contingency Ways of Existing?
For Dale, God is a being among beings in the sense I defined earlier. I infer from this that for Dale God is in the same way that creatures are. Dale seeks to block this inference by pointing out that God is a necessary being while creatures are contingent beings. This is of course a big difference as Dale says. But it needn't be taken to imply a difference in ways of existing, and it cannot be so taken unless Dale wants to abandon his scheme. For the difference between metaphysical necessity and metaphysical contingency is logically consistent with God and creatures existing in the very same way, as would not be the case if God is not a being among beings, but Being itself. So I hold to my claim that for Dale, God is in the same way that creatures are.
To appreciate this, note that 'exists' across the following two sentences is univocal in sense:
a. Necessarily, God exists.
b. It is not the case that necessarily, Socrates exists.
This univocity gives us no reason to think that God and Socrates differ in their way of existing. This becomes even clearer if we explicate (a) and (b) in 'possible worlds' terms:
a*. God exists in all possible worlds.
b*. Socrates exists in some but not all possible worlds.
This suggests that the difference between necessity and contingency is not a difference in ways of existing, but a difference in the number of worlds quantified over, whether all or some. So Dale by his own lights cannot maintain that the necessity-contingency difference is a difference in ways of existing. He fails to block my inference above.
Now suppose we ask: why does God exist in all worlds? Answer: because he is necessary; he cannot not exist. But why cannot he not exist? What is it about God that distinguishes him from Socrates in this respect? Why can't Socrates not exist? Is it just a brute fact that God exists in all worlds, but Socrates only in some? What is the ground of the divine metaphysical necessity? I say: the divine necessity is grounded in the divine simplicity. The latter accounts for the former. It is because God is (identical to) his existence, that he cannot not exist. And it is because Socrates is not (identical to) his existence that he can not exist. Now this answer does imply that there are different ways of existing. Thus:
a**. God exists-necessarily.
b**. Socrates exists-contingently.
Note that in this last pair there is no univocity on the side of the predicate as there is in the first two pairs.
I aim at clarity, not agreement. I aim to clarify our differences, not secure agreement with my views. Clarity is an attainable goal in a philosophical discussion; I rather doubt that agreement is.
I deny the analytic dogma according to which there are no modes of Being or ways of existing. (See my "Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis" in Novotny and Novak, eds. Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, Routledge, 2014, pp. 45-75) Dale apparently subscribes to the dogma. Thus for me the divine modal status, broadly logical or metaphysical necessity, is grounded in and accounted for by the divine simplicity, while for Dale the same modal status is left ungrounded and unaccounted for. Dale does not answer the question: Why is God such that he cannot not exist? Nor does he answer the question: Why is Socrates such that he can not exist?
This is equivalent to saying that for Dale, God and Socrates do not differ as to mode of Being or way of existing. For me, however, an ontologically simple being, one that is (identical to) its existence cannot be said to exist in the same way as one that is not (identical to) to its existence.
*I take a naturalistic atheist to be one whose atheism is a logical consequence of his naturalism. If one holds, as D. M. Armstrong does, that reality is exhausted by the space-time system, then it follows straightaway that there is no God as Dale and I are using 'God.'