I admire Dale Tuggy's resolve to continue this difficult discussion despite the manifold demands on his time and energy. (This Gen-X dude is no slacker! If one of us is a slacker, it's this Boomer. Or, if you prefer, I am a man of leisure, otium liberale, in the classical sense.) The core question, you will recall, is whether God is best thought of as a being among beings, or as Being itself. The best way to push forward, I think, is via very short exchanges. In Part 2, near the top, we read:
“Being itself,” I take it, is something like a universal property, an abstract and not a concrete object. (Or at least, it’s not supposed to be concrete; maybe he thinks that it is neither abstract nor concrete.) I’m not sure if Bill would accept those characterizations, but if not, I invite him to say a little more about what he means by “Being itself.” The “itself,” I assume, entails not being a self. But God – that is, the God of Christianity, or of biblical monotheism – is a god, and a god is, analytically, a self. I’m pretty sure that no self can be “Being itself” in the way that Bill means it, but again, I invite him to say more about what it is to be “Being itself.”
1. First a comment on 'itself' in 'Being itself.' I don't understand why Dale thinks that 'itself' entails not being a self or person. In expressions of the form 'X itself,' the 'itself' in typical instances functions as a device to focus attention on X in its difference from items with which it could be conflated or confused. In a Platonic dialogue Socrates might say to an interlocutor: "You gave me an instance of a just act, but I want to know what justice itself is." Justice itself is justice as distinct from just acts whether the latter are taken distributively or collectively. The same goes for knowledge itself, virtue itself, piety itself. Piety itself is not any given pious act or the collection of pious acts, but that in virtue of which pious acts are pious. It is that which 'makes' pious acts pious. 'Itself' in these constructions is a device of emphasis. It is a form of pleonasm that serves a sort of underlining function. Compare the sentence, 'Obama himself called for transparency in government.' 'Himself' adds a nuance absent without it. It serves to insure that the reader appreciates that it is Obama and not some other person who made the call for transparency; Obama, that very man, who is not known for his contributions to transparency.
Similarly with Being itself and Existence itself. When I speak of Being/Existence itself, I speak of Being/Existence in its difference from beings/existents. I am making it clear that I intend Being as other than each being and from the whole lot of beings. I am emphasizing the difference between Being and beings. I am warning against their conflation or confusion or (thoughtless) identification. I am implying, among other things, that Being does not divide without remainder into beings. Or rather, I am raising this as a question. For after investigation we may decide that Being does, in the end, divide without remainder into beings. But note that to make this assertion one has to have distinguished Being from beings. Otherwise, the assertion would be a miserable tautology along the lines of: beings are beings.
2. Now does 'Being itself' imply that Being is not a self? 'Self' has a narrow use and a wide use. In the narrow use, a self is a person. Now suppose it were said that God himself is a person. Would that imply that God is not a person? Of course not. In the wide use, a self is anything that has what Buddhists call self-nature or own-being. The Buddhist anatta doctrine amounts to the claim that nothing has self-nature, that nothing is a self in the broad sense. This could be interpreted to mean that nothing is a substance in the Aristotelian sense. (Cf. T. R. V. Murti) A mark of substance in this sense is independence: X is a substance iff x is logically capable of independent existence. Now God is either a substance or analogous to a substance. If God is a self in the broad sense, than this is consistent with God's being a person either univocally or analogically.
3. Can an abstract object be a person? No! On this point I am confident that Dale and I will rejoice in agreement. Here is a quick argument. Persons are agents. Agents do things. No abstract object does anything: abstracta are causally inert. They cannot act or be acted upon. Therefore, no person is an abstract object.
Dale operates within a certain general-metaphysical scheme common to most analytic philosophers, a scheme that he does not question and that perhaps seems obvious to him. On this scheme, every object or being is either abstract or concrete, no object is both, and no object is neither. For Dale, then, persons are concrete objects; God is a person; hence God is a concrete object.
On this understanding of 'concrete,' a concretum is anything that is either capable of being causally active or capable of being causally passive. And this, whether or not the item is a denizen of space and time. For Dale, God is not in space or time without prejudice to his being concrete. I don't know whether Dale thinks of God as impassible, and I rather doubt that he does; but one could hold that God is impassible while also holding that God is concrete given the definition above. On some conceptions, God acts but cannot be acted upon.
4. But is Being an abstract object? No! First of all, I question Dale's general-metaphysical scheme according to which everything is either abstract or concrete, nothing is neither, and nothing is both. So I don't feel any dialectical pressure to cram Being or Existence into this scheme. Being is not a being among beings; therefore, it is not an abstract being or a concrete being.
Being is that which makes beings be: outside their causes, outside the mind, outside language and its logic, outside of nothing. Being is that without which beings are nothing at all.
5. Is Being a property of beings? No. But this denial does not give aid and comfort to the Fregean view that Being or existence is a property of properties. There is a clear sense in which Being belongs to beings: one cannot kick it upstairs in the Fressellian manner. But while Being belongs to beings, it is not a property of them in any standard sense of 'property.' Suppose we agree with this definition that I got from Roderick Chisholm:
P is a property =df P is possibly such that it is instantiated.
Accordingly, every property is an instantiable item, and every instantiable item is a property. The question whether Being is a property of beings then becomes the question whether Being is instantiated by beings. In simpler terms, are beings instances of Being in the way Max and Manny are instances of felinity? I argue against this in my existence book. Being (existence) does not and cannot have instances or examples. Max is an instance of felinity, an example of cat; he is not an instance or example of Being.
Here is one consideration among several. If x, y are instances of F-ness, then x, y are not numerically distinct just in virtue of being instances of F-ness. Qua instances of F-ness, x, y are identical and interchangeable. Whatever it is that makes x, y two and not one has nothing to do with their being instances of F-ness. Max and Manny, for example, are numerically distinct, but not numerically distinct as cats, i.e., as instances of felinity. But they are numerically distinct as existents. Therefore, existents are not instances of existence. If you think otherwise, you are thinking of existence as a quidditative determination, a highest what-property. But existence pertains not to what a thing is, but to its very Being. Two cats are not numerically different as cats, but they are numerically different as existents: existence enters into their numerical diversity. For this reason, existence is not common to existents in the manner of a property or essence or quiddity or what-determination or concept.
Here is a second argument. First-level instantiation is a dyadic relation that connects an individual to a property. Now it is a necessary truth about relations that if a relation holds between or among two or more items, then all of these items exist. For example, Socrates cannot be an instance of the property of being a philosopher, as he is, unless he exists and unless the property exists. But then it should be clear that nothing exists in virtue of being an instance of a property, including the putative property of existence.
6. Is Being universal? Yes. It is common to every being, and in that sense universal. But it is not universal in the manner of a property or concept. If existence itself is God, then existence is common to existents in the manner of a common metaphysical cause, or as I prefer to say, common metaphysical ground. (I reserve 'cause' for so-called 'secondary causes.')
7. I suspect the above won't make much sense to Dale. It is very difficult to get analytically-trained philosophers to 'think outside the box.' They (the vast majority of them anyway) are boxed in by dogmas that they never question such as that "existence is what existential quantification expresses" (Quine); that there are no modes of existence; that properties are 'abstract objects,' and others.