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Tuesday, May 26, 2015


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"Can you think of any non-divine ontologically simple items other than tropes?"

Many think souls are simple (cf. Descartes' argument to that effect). I don't know if you'd consider such Cartesian substances divine. Or how about Leibnizian monads? Are those divine? Or can the naturalist just say "I don't know what the most basic stuff of reality is, but there's got to be mereological simples at bottom"?

You appear to be equivocating on 'simple.'

In discussions of the simplicity of the soul, the thesis of the simplicity of the soul is the thesis that the soul is a substance, but not one compounded of substances. This does not require that a simple soul be such that its existence and nature are identical, or that it and its properties are identical, or that there is no distinction between potency and act in it. For Descartes, a res cogitans is a simple substance but not identical to any of its cogitationes.

If God creates a res cogitans, then that res is simple even though there is a real distinction in it between essence and existence.

There are two senses of 'simple' in play here.

Yes, we might do well to distinguish different notions of ‘simple’ at play here. Bonaventure distinguished quantitative simplicity from constitutive simplicity, the former being absence of quantitative parts (i.e., what philosophers nowadays call ‘mereological simples’) and the latter being absence of constitutive parts (where by “constitutive parts” I think it is meant something like “any conceptually distinct element.” So an entity, like a human soul, whose existence is distinct from its essence might be quantitatively but not constitutively simple.

At any rate, here’s an argument against God as a constitutive simple that isn’t Plantingian in spirit.

That in virtue of which something is valuable is organic unity, the unification—in more or less degrees of tightness—of a diversity of elements. When multiple things come together to form a coherent, structured, and harmonious whole, a necessary condition for value is met. Robert Nozick gives a thorough defense, and documents the impressive historical pedigree of this view in Philosophical Explanations. So we have the following argument:

(1) If x is valuable, x is an organic unity.
(2) God is valuable.
(3) Therefore, God is an organic unity.
(4) If God is constitutively simple, then God is not an organic unity.
(5) Therefore, God is not constitutively simple.

The main premise is clearly (1). Here’s a quick and dirty Nozickian defense. A good painting unites a diversity of form, textures, colors, tones, etc. into a single, beautiful image. A musical symphony does the same, unifying across time a diversity of sounds into a single, beautiful score. A good novel will tie together various themes, plots, and characters into a single, meaningful narrative. In fact, as Robert Nozick points out “the English word ‘good’ stems from a root, ‘Ghedh’, meaning ‘to unite, join, fit, to bring together’”. But the intrinsic goodness of certain imagines, sounds, and narratives doesn’t come from their being mere collections of arbitrary elements; particular elements are united in a particular way that achieves harmony, which is a function of the degree of unity brought to the degree of diversity found in the thing. Value increases when more diversity is brought into a tighter unity. Theories that unify a diversity of phenomena in their explanations have a high degree of theoretical value; they are often described as elegant and beautiful. So are friendships and romantic relationships, where we see distinct personal narratives join in intimate ways to create shared experience. Such is also the value of knowledge and understanding. Beliefs that just happen to be true are of little intrinsic value. We value knowledge for its own sake, where justification or warrant brings truth and belief into a proper unity; the deeper the truth known, the deeper under-standing one has.

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