The following entry, first posted on February 20, 2011, is relevant to the question whether God is a being among beings. My rejection of this claim requires that there be modes of Being. If talk of modes of Being is unintelligible, or based on an obvious mistake, then the claim that God is not a being among beings, but Being itself, is unintelligible, or based on an obvious mistake. Herewith, something in defense of the MOB doctrine.
To ward off misunderstanding, I am not saying that the 'relation' of God to the world of creatures is the 'relation' of a substance to its accidents or modes. Creatures do not inhere in God. They are not accidents. They are derivative substances in their own right, difficult as it may be to make sense of this. Christian metaphysics must somehow navigate between the Scylla of Spinozism and Charybdis of the sort of radical ontological pluralism to which my friend Dale Tuggy 'succumbs' (to put it tendentiously).
On second thought, since Spinozism sucks everything into itself, I should have written 'Charybdis of Spinozism.' Charybdis was a sea nymph transmogrified by Zeus into a whirlpool.
In his History of Philosophy Hegel jokes that due to the all-consumptiveness of the Spinozistic Absolute, it is in some sense fitting that Spinoza should die of consumption. As the story goes, Spinoza the lens-grinder died of what used to be called consumption (tuberculosis) from breathing in the glass dust.
The 'thin' conception of Being or existence, lately explained, entails that there are no modes of Being. Most analytic philosophers accept the thin conception and reject modes of Being. Flying in the face of analytic orthodoxy, I maintain that the modes-of-Being doctrine is defensible. Indeed, I should like to say something stronger, namely, that it is indispensable for metaphysics.
My task in this series of posts is not to specify what the modes of Being are, but the preliminary one of defending the very idea of there being different modes of Being. So I plan to look at a range of examples without necessarily endorsing the modes of Being they involve. Against van Inwagen (see post linked above), I maintain that no mistake is made by partisans of the thick conception. They do not, pace van Inwagen, illicitly transfer what properly belongs to the nature of a thing to its existence.
This post focuses on substances and accidents and argues that an accident and a substance of which it is the accident differ in their very mode of Being, and not merely in their respective natures.
1. Intuitively, some items exist on their own while others are dependent in their existence on items that exist on their own. Smiles, grimaces, frowns, white caps, and carpet bulges are items that exist, but not on their own. They need -- as a matter of metaphysical necessity -- faces, waves, and carpets to exist in. This suggests some definitions:
D1. S is a (primary) substance =df S is metaphysically capable of independent existence.
D2. A is an accident =df A is not metaphysically capable of independent existence, but exists, if it exists, in a substance.
By 'metaphysically' I mean broadly logically in Plantinga's sense. So if a particular statue is a substance, then it is broadly logically possible that it exist even if nothing else exists. And if the smoothness or color of the statue are accidents, then it is broadly logically impossible that they exist (i) apart from some substance or other and indeed (ii) apart from the very substance of which they are the accidents.
The second point implies that accidents are particulars, not universals. Accidents cannot be shared. They are not 'repeatable' in the manner of universals. Nor can they 'migrate' from one substance to another. You can't catch my cold if my cold is an accident of me as substance. Your cold is your numerically distinct cold. Socrates' whiteness is his whiteness and is as such numerically distinct from Plato's whiteness. The connection between a substance and its accidents is a peculiarly intimate one.
2. Now suppose there is a substance S and an accident A of S. I do not deny that there is a sense of 'exist' according to which both S and A exist. There is a sense -- the quantificational sense -- in which both items exist and exist univocally: each is something and not nothing. Both are there to be talked about and referred to. We can write '(∃x)(x = S)' and '(∃x)(x = A)': 'Something is (identically) S' and 'Something is (identically) A.' The symbol for the particular quantifier -- '(∃x)(. . . x . . .)' -- has exactly the same sense in both occurrences.
3. The issue, however, is this: Does what I said in #2 exhaust what there is to be said about the Being or existence of S and A? On the thin conception, that is all there is to it. To be is to be something or other. If there are substances and accidents then both are in the same sense and in the same mode. ('Sense' is a semantic term; 'mode' is an ontological term.) Since S and A both exist in the same way on the thin conception, they are not distinguished by their mode of Being. They are distinguished by their respective natures alone.
4. In order to see what is wrong with the thin conception, let us ask how the two entities S and A are related. Indeed, can one speak of a relation at all? Traditionally, one speaks of inherence: A inheres in S. Inherence cannot be an external relation since if a and b are externally related, then a and b can each exist apart from the relation. But A cannot exist apart from the inherence 'relation' to S. The whiteness of Socrates cannot exist apart from Socrates. On the other hand, if S and A were internally related, then neither could exist without the other. But S can exist without A. Socrates' needn't be white. Since S can exist without A, but A cannot exist without S, A is existentially dependent on S, dependent on S for its very existence, while S is capable of independent existence. But this is just to say that A exists in a different way than S exists. Thus S and A differ in their modes of Being. One cannot make sense of inherence without distinguishing substantial and accidental modes of Being.
5. In sum: Talk of substances and their accidents is intelligible. But it is intelligible only if there are two modes of Being, substantial and accidental. Therefore, talk of modes of being is intelligible. Since the thin conception of Being entails that there cannot be modes of Being, because the very idea is unintelligible, the thin conception ought to be rejected.