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Wednesday, July 13, 2011


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The disagreement between us, I take it, is that I accept and you deny [1]. (When I asserted [1], I did of course mean [1b].) I found no argument for the denial of [1] that does not beg the question. But I wasn't owed an argument, for I offered none for [1]'s truth.

At this point, we are at a stand-off.

When I asserted [1], I did have an argument in mind. I'll give it, and then give the inevitable objection.

God is omniscient. This means that He knows all things His knowledge of which entails no impossibility. (I would not say that it means that He knows all things. God doesn't know what it's like to suffer just retribution, for if He did know that He must have suffered just retribution.)
Before God created the world, there was a fact of the matter about which individuals it would contain. Moreover, there is no impossibility entailed by God's knowledge of this.
Thus before God created the world, He knew which individuals it would contain.

Here's the inevitable objection. There simply was no fact of the matter about which individuals the world would contain before it was created. Thus God didn't know which individuals it would contain. The objector is likely to add that this does not impugn God's omniscience. (He'd be right about that, if nothing else.)

(One might wonder here about God's sovereignty. If God can't know which individuals He will get, He can't control which individuals He will get. I often find that theists worry most about God and His sovereignty. This was my impression of Plantinga.)

Let me up the ante. I'll actually give an argument for [1]. Here it is.

Individuals have identities, and this isn't something that can be reduced to the applicability of a pure description. (I take it that you accept this.)
Assume that, before some individual, call it V, came to be, there was no fact of the matter of precisely which individual it would be, though, let us say, there was a fact of the matter of which "pure" properties and relations that it instantiate.
It follows that V's identity does not supervene upon the "pure" properties and relations that it instantiates, and from this it follows that W might have come to be instead of V, though W and V are exactly similar.
Indeed it seems that, instead of V, there are an infinity of possible individuals that might have come to be instead, each exactly similar to V.
This is absurd. There just can't be this infinite realm of facts about identity that, as it were, floats free. It would be better to banish identity altogether than to embrace this.

Here's a second argument.

Before Socrates came to be, it was possible that he come to be.
But consider the proposition: it is possible for Socrates to come to be.
Quite clearly it is about Socrates. Let us ask how this is possible given that it was true before there was the man Socrates.
It must be able to latch onto one particular possible individual, and it can do this only if there are particular possible individuals.
But particular possible individuals are haecceities, etc.


I am grateful for your excellent comments.

I take it you concede that I successfully showed that your argument is not compelling. That was all I was attempting above with respect to your argument. (Whether I can give a compelling positive argument for my position is a separate question.) But my deeper concerns are with the nature of existence (whether it can be adequately treated in a Fregean manner, and the exact relation between existence and individuality/individuation) and with the nature of creation (whether creation is the actualization of pre-existent merely possible individuals, or whether individuality itself is created).

It is worth noting that the underlying general-metaphysical questions about existence and individuality are logically prior to any special-metaphysical questions about God and creation. The former questions arise for atheists as well as for theists.

I'll consider your second argument first. It begs the question in the way your original argument does. >>Before Socrates came to be, it was possible that he come to be.<< That is not obviously true. What's obviously true is that it is possible that someone come to be who satisfies the pure complete description which has as its components: philosopher, snubnosed, etc.

You are simply assuming haecceitism and therefore begging the question. I say that before a concrete individual comes to be, one cannot refer to IT or conceive of IT.

>>But consider the proposition: it is possible for Socrates to come to be.<<

But before S. came to be there were no propositions about him. But I concede that there is a proposition if you substitute for 'Socrates' a complete pure description.

As for your first argument, everything is just fine until you say: >>there are an infinity of possible individuals that might have come to be instead, each exactly similar to V.<< Here again you beg the question inasmuch as you assume that there are merely possible individuals. Since there are no merely possible individuals, there is no infinity of facts which you find absurd.

On my way of thinking there are no merely possible INDIVIDUALS. A bunch of pure properties becomes an individual only when it comes to exist.

And so I persist in my conviction that haecceities are 'creatures of darkness.' In plain English, there are no such properties. The nonqualitative thisness of an individual cannot exist prior to the existence of the individual of which it is the nonqualitative thisness.

Is it not self-evidently absurd to suppose that the property identity-with-Socrates can exist at times and in worlds at which S. does not exist? What content could that property have at those times and in those worlds?

>But until the individual comes into existence, he won't know which individual this will be.

What is the sense of 'know which', in which God 'knows which' individual has come into existence after it has come into existence, but doesn't know before? This seems crucial to the argument, but I have read through your post very carefully, and it is not clearly explained.

Suppose a prophet informs me that a baby will be born next year with such-and-such properties. And lo and behold the baby does appear next year with all and only the properties listed. Now would it be an intelligible question were I to ask the prophet: 'Was THIS -- and no other -- the baby you prophesied?'

This example is adapted from A. N. Prior, Papers on Time and Tense, p. 74. I'm sure you have it in your library.

>>Now would it be an intelligible question were I to ask the prophet: 'Was THIS -- and no other -- the baby you prophesied?'

Would an appropriate answer be "Yes, for this baby indeed has such and such properties"? If not, why not? Is your 'and no other' significant?

(This week I became a 'Socratist' and will in future only be asking questions, and making no statements, apart from this statement).

I have a question for you, Bill. You seem to believe that the identity of a thing, Socrates' identity say, is non-qualitative. If this is so, then on one side we have the pure properties and relations exemplified by Socrates and on the other we have his identity.

But what is a non-qualitative identity if not a haecceity? Even if we grant that it only comes to be with Socrates and so does not precede him, isn't it still a haecceity?

I suggest then that if, as you say, a haecceity is a creature of darkness, then we must reject non-qualitative identity. The issue here isn't really about when they come to be. Instead it is whether there could ever be such a thing, and it seems that you should say that there couldn't.

At this point, we seem to have two options. (1) We could embrace a Leibnizian account of identity on which the pure properties of a thing together constitute its identity. (In my view not a bad thing at all. On some days, I think that he was the greatest philosopher ever to put pen to paper.) To be Socrates, for instance, is to be human, male, snub-nosed, . . .. (Include all and only those pure properties that he exemplified.) Essential to this account is the Identity of Indiscernibles. (My pugilist professor used to scold me about this name. He'd tell me that if we have identity, we have only one thing and thus don't have indiscernibles (plural). He'd tell me to call it the Non-Identity of Discernibles. Imagine my annoyance.) (2) We could also seek to eliminate all talk of identity from philosophy. (Let non-philosophers do as they please, but we the enlightened ones know better.)It would take a true philosophical hero to take on such a task. Isn't it just obvious that Socrates is identical to Socrates but not to Plato?

Here's a second thought. If there is no such thing as Socrates' identity before he came to be, it would seem that there's no such thing as his identity after he ceases to be. If we need the man Socrates if we are to speak about him, then we can't do so either before or after he exists. But clearly we can now speak of Socrates though he is long since dead. Thus we don't need the man to speak of the man, and so whatever reason we had to deny the existence of haecceities that predate the things to which they attach collapses.


Bear in mind that what we were discussing was whether or not there are any Plantingian haecceities. I gave a careful definition at the top of my post. My thesis is that there are no Plantingian haecceities. For that reason one cannot provide an adequate Fregean analysis of 'Socrates exists' using such haecceity properties.

But of course from the fact, if it is a fact, that there are no Plantingian haecceities, it does not follow that existing individuals do not have haecceity (thisness). I say they do! And I say that that haecceity is nonqualitative, i.e., not constructible by logical operations from pure properties and relations.

What I find absurd is the notion that the nonqualitative haecceity of an individual can exist at times and in worlds in which the individual does not exist.

Are we on the same page now?

That pugilist was one hell of a pedant. (I won't ask who he is.) Now I understand better your sensitivity. I once pointed out to you that 'conceivability' is not the right term when what you intend is 'conceivability without contradiction.' You seemed slightly annoyed.

Reverting to standard usage, my position entails the rejection of the Identity of Indiscernibles.

Gotcha. But I have to admit that I've lost the intuition that would lead one to embrace non-qualitative haecceities but claim that they cannot preexist those things of which they are the haecceities. Upon reflection, I think that this is what I was (clumsily) after.

But however that turns out, my second thought still seems relevant.

Here's a question: are there worlds qualitatively indistinguishable from one another (worlds with precisely the same distribution of pure properties and relations)that yet contain different individuals? I wonder whether the existence of non-qualitative haecceities would imply that there are such sets of worlds. (I find the existence of such sets of worlds bizarre. Arguments that I've already offered attempt to get at this implication of the existence of non-qualitative haecceities.)

Your second thought is an interesting objection that needs a separate post.


The appropriate answer is 'No.' It makes no sense to ask the prophet whether THIS baby is the one he prophesied since what he prophesied was the coming of some baby -- albeit only one -- that instantiates the relevant properties. If there is a baby that instantiates the property then that's got to be the one.

>>The appropriate answer is 'No.' It makes no sense to ask the prophet whether THIS baby is the one he prophesied since what he prophesied was the coming of some baby -- albeit only one -- that instantiates the relevant properties. If there is a baby that instantiates the property then that's got to be the one.

So what is it that the prophet would have to have prophesied in order that the question make sense, and the answer be appropriate? Is it perhaps that the prophet would have had to have made some "identifying reference"? So that, if the baby were not the subjct of the identifying reference, the appropriate answer is 'no', otherwise 'yes'?

A thought: if we can make an identifying reference for items that exist now ('this baby here'), and items that existed in the past ('Caesar'), why can't we make identifying references in the future? Isn't the 'he' below such a future identifying reference? Does it require a haecceity existing when Isaiah made the prophesy? Why? Why can't the reference reach over the future centuries in order to identify the yet-to-be-born Jesus?

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, 
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

The short answer is that only what exists and what did exist has identity, individuality, thisness.

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