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Friday, November 07, 2014


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Hi Bill,

Very good post.

With respect to ad hoc, my impression based on extremely limited study in the domain is that in the philosophy of science, it is granted that scientific theories are "improved" and changed in largely ad hoc ways, and that it is not easy to demonstrate that this is wrong in some way. If that is so, then it need not be bad for orthodox Christian theology that it makes apparently ad hoc revisions to the Aristotelian metaphysical apparatus.

But I wonder whether the revisionist use is not adequately motivated. The bishops at Nicaea and Chalcedon, etc., were convinced that the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation were necessary to secure the soteriology of the Christian religion. Christ and the Holy Spirit were supposed to deify us and make us like God the Father; hence they must be consubstantial with him. Christ must take our human nature, broken and fallen and sick as it is, and deify it and transform it; hence he must have a human nature like ours in addition to a divine nature, so that when we are united with him, our human nature is likewise transformed and deified through this union. Moreover they thought it was evident, reading through the New Testament scriptures, that the one person in Christ's humanity was the Logos, and not some distinct person being affected by the Logos; for instance, consider Christ's language about himself as Son in John.

My point in all of this is to say: the bishops thought they had good reason to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity as precisely as they did, so as to preserve the ostensible distinction of persons while maintaining their inherited Jewish monotheism; and likewise with the doctrine of the Incarnation. Now if they found themselves confronted by a phenomenon which, under careful examination, seems best to be characterized in the precise terms they use -- granting even that they seem to be stretched beyond ordinary usage -- this is not bad method. If anything it's good empirical method, since it is a refusal to mutilate and force the encountered phenomenon to fit a conceptual schema which may be inadequate.

Bill, I'll be re-reading that post a few times and really look forward to the rest of your approach.
Before we go any further, can you help me with the concept of 'nature' as used in 'human nature' and 'divine nature' - a concept I've struggled with; the struggle is whether we are reifying the concept; that is, are we giving 'nature' or as it is in the N.T., "phusis" , stature as an accident or an essence when it may be nothing more than a useful trope?

A (minor) point to keep in mind: 'Christ' (ancient Greek 'Christos', meaning 'anointed')is a translation of the Hebrew 'Māšîaḥ' which of course is translated 'messiah'.
Thus 'Christ' is 'Jesus the Christ' or 'Jesus of Nazareth, the messiah'. My only point being that 'Christ' and 'messiah' are terms for the 'office' - such as Barack Obama, 'president'. As long as we understand that the word 'Christ' is a kind of shorthand for the term 'Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah' we'll be less tempted to use the word 'Christ' in an alien context.


You are right: 'Christ' names an office in the same way that 'Buddha' does. 'Jesus' and 'Jesus of Nazareth' do not name offices. They name the man who, according to Xians, is the unique occupant of the office in question.

Since 'Jesus' and 'Christ' are coreferential for Xians, they can be used interchangeably salva veritate.

Now what about 'Jesus' and 'Logos'? In the actual world they are coreferential. There are no possible worlds in which the Logos does not exist -- the Logos is a necessary being -- but I should think that 'Jesus' has a referent in only some possible worlds. This is because Jesus is a man, and no man is a necessary being.

One puzzle is this: How can Jesus and the Logos be identical if only one of them is a necessary being?


As for natures, there is no reification. We are assuming that there really are natures out there in the world. We are operating at the moment with a broadly Aristotelian ontological framework. It is problematic in various ways, but it makes a good deal of sense. Tthe nature of Socrates is what he is. What is he? A man. What is a man? A rational animal. Socrates is a particular nature; Plato is a numerically different particular nature. The same goes for Jesus. Except that in his case there are two natures in one person.

How is that possible? One problem as I argued earlier is that the two natures exclude each other. The other is the one we are discussing right now. If there are two individual natures and each is a rational substance, then there are two persons, not one!

So what Nestorius said makes perfect sense. There are two natures and two persons. The orthodox line, however, is that there are two natures but only one person.

The issue is this: Is the orthodox position one that can be understood rationally, or not? On the face of it, it is unintelligible. It is intelligible why people would want to hold it, as Steven explains, but the doctrine itself is either unintelligible or not obviously intelligible.


Your points about Xian soteriology are good.

The issue of ad-hocery is not easy to adjudicate. Here is my worry. If the only examples of alien supposition are theological (Incarnation, Trinity)then the modification of the background ontology to accommodate these putative realities is, well, ad hoc! Crafted for that specific purpose and to that extent ' fishy.' To remove the charge it would suffice to show that there are noncontroversial non-theological examples of alien supposition.

Good thread going here!
I would like to ask for an opinion on this: it is possible to 'save the appearances' and still not factually (is that the right word?) explain the phenomenon. Epicycles, for instance, 'saved the appearances' of retrograde motion observed in certain planets; Further study showed that theory to be incorrect.
Could it be that the divines of Chalcedon were doing much the same thing? Are we doing much the same thing in trying to save Chalcedon?

I think Bill is right on the money with his line of inquiry, which is not aimed at 'just' a plausible explanation, but whether, first, there is anything there to really explain. Good stuff.

Bill, I agree in addressing the first question first. What is the difference between an Aristotelian primary substance and a supposit? Is there a real distinction, in the Suarezian sense, between the two?

To answer this question, we need to know the common definition of "supposit" -- if there is one. What is a supposit? Is it merely an individual substance/property-bearer (i.e., an Aristotelian substance)? Is it a substance of a rational nature (i.e., a person)? Is it something else?

And what about the Moreland-Craig view? If correct, wouldn’t it dissolve the alien supposit problem? If correct, wouldn’t the limbs of the aporetic tetrad be consistent?


The problem here is that there is nothing obviously wrong or "fishy" about adjusting a theory to incorporate newly gathered data. Isn't that what a good theory should do? Shouldn't it be open to correction, if we are going to take a 'scientific' approach?

Regarding "saving" Chalcedon, here perhaps denominational differences will divide us, but I don't think the ecumenical councils have to be saved; they have to be affirmed, because they are the confirmation of the faith passed down. We're not going to reinvent Christianity in the 21st century; that would be gravely dishonoring to the countless generations before us who thought long and hard about these issues and gave us formulations that, by their lights, expressed adequately the mysteries of the faith. "Saving" Chalcedon is too philosophical and too autonomous; presumably here we are Christians and not Kantians, and the Christian doesn't autonomously evaluate the doctrines he's received from the fathers and apostles but he upholds them.

Assume abstract objects exist. (I believe they exist, but some deny them.) Can an abstract object be an alien supposit? Must substances and supposits be concrete entities? Do any of the following work as a non-theological example of something like alien supposition?

1) The relationship between a proposition and a sentence: a proposition is to its corresponding sentence as a *substance-as-its-own-supposit* is to its corresponding *substance-not-its-own-supposit*.

A “sentence” is a substance. It’s a culturally-relative concrete set of words used by persons to communicate. A sentence possesses properties. However, a sentence is supposited (substantiated or supported) by the abstract proposition that sub-stands and gives it meaning and sentence-properties. A sentence possesses properties (and a nature) in virtue of its propositional meaning. Without the proposition, a sentence would not be a sentence at all; it would be an incoherent string of noises or squiggles. But a sentence is not identical to a proposition. The two are really distinct in the Suarezian sense. The proposition brings its sentence properties (its archetypal sentence nature?) to the incoherent string of noises/squiggles, and in union with the string assumes a sentence with an individualized sentence nature.

2) If a set of words is not an individual object, then consider the relationship between a single word and its conceptual meaning. A word is to its conceptual meaning as a sentence is to its proposition. A “word” is a culturally-relative concrete linguistic entity used by persons to communicate. A word is substantiated by its conceptual meaning. A word is a property-bearer insofar as it has meaning. The meaning of a word comes from its corresponding concept, which serves as its alien supposit. Without its alien supposit (its conceptual meaning), a word is not a word at all, but merely an unintelligible noise or squiggle. A word is not identical to its meaning. A word is the vehicle of its meaning.

3) The relationship between a number and a numeral: a number is to its numeral as a proposition is to its sentence. A number is not identical to its numeral. A numeral is a sign of its number. The numeral is a numeral in virtue of being supported by its corresponding number. Otherwise, it’s a meaningless squiggle.

I don’t know if these work as non-theological examples of something like alien supposition, but I throw them out for discussion.


The problem is that that the datum in question, the Incarnation as formulated at Chalcedon, is prima facie self-contradictory. (It is not just that we ought not believe contradictions; there is a question as to what a contradictory doctrine even means.) The substance-supposit distinction is brought in for the sole purpose of removing the contradiction. The distinction, however, has no independent motivation. There are no non-theological examples of alien supposition. This is why the distinction is said to be ad hoc, 'to this.'

Note that there is a difference between the Incarnation as an event and its doctrinal formulation. The discussion concerns the latter.

The difference between the faithful upholding of what has been handed down and its autonomous evaluation is one of the deepest issues at the bottom of discussions like this.

"Shouldn't it be open to correction, if we are going to take a 'scientific' approach?"
-Steven - I agree with you on that. I also however think it is a principle we can apply to Chalcedon or other councils/fathers. I think there is a denominational difference at work here, and I'm certainly not going to push it, as it is far afield from Bill's argument, and I completely respect the ideas of thoughtful Xians of other stripes.

The substance/supposit question bears directly on the one person/two natures dogma. It MAY be that the dogma is unintelligible, being a fallible effort in good faith to save the appearances (the various data, scriptural, traditional) but not perhaps any 'truer' than the epicycles in Ptolemaic astronomy. I say MAY because, frankly, I don't know.
I do not want to challenge anyone's faith; but I do need to understand what I'm being asked to believe. Peace.

Bill; its one of the fine features of this blog that you ride these headier topics out a bit over consecutive posts. Food for much thought...

"As for natures, there is no reification. We are assuming that there really are natures out there in the world. We are operating at the moment with a broadly Aristotelian ontological framework. It is problematic in various ways, but it makes a good deal of sense."

This is a helpful reminder as it can get quite confusing reading christians from different theological and philosophical traditions talk past each other when it comes to interpreting or explaining shared creedal commitments.

The interpretation of christology in Aristotelian metaphysical categories has a broad historical pedigree, but I wonder if it doesn't make more trouble for itself then it needs to. In an ecumenical spirit, I wonder: to what extent is this framework required, or the best fit to make sense of what we might call *minimal christology*; say for example, the basic statements of scripture regarding Christ's humanity and divinity, plus a plain-jane reading of Chalcedon?

Here I think a platonist ontology of individuals, properties, and property exemplification can simplify matters considerably.

On this understanding, Jesus is a divine person (and not a human person) who exemplifies two natures, where a nature is not any sort of aristotelian part-stuff, but an abstract platonic property.

Jesus exemplifes these nature properties in just the same way that any object examplifies a platonic property. Jesus is divine because he examplifies the platonic property Divinity, which is conjunctive property consisting of all those (platonic) properties necessary and sufficient for divinity, and He is human because he exemplifies the platonic property of Humanity, which is a conjunctive property consisting of all those (platonic) properties necessary and sufficient for humanity.

Jesus is Divine because He exemplifies the platonic property of Divinity in just the same way that the Father and Holy Spirit do.

Jesus is human in just the same way that we are human, because He exemplifies the abstract property Humanity. Our only relevant difference with Him on this point is our *mode* of exemplifying this property. More on this in a moment.

On this interpretation, no real questions arise as to what degree a Divine person can be human, or whether a divine person really can be "fully human", since humanity and property exemplification doesn't come in degrees. A thing is human (and fully human) if it exemplifies the conunctive property that is humanity and not-human if it fails to exemplify that property.

As far as the coherance of the union goes, one point of difficulty to consider is whether all platonic natures are essential to the objects that exemplify them. In an earlier post you seem to accept the common view that that they are, but I think this universal requirement can be dispensed with in favor of a less extravagant one to the effect that for any nature(s) exemplified by an object, there is at least one kind-nature that is essential to it. This minimal requirement appears to meet the metaphysical needs for which natures are invoked; for individuating objects and accounting for identity through change.

So then Jesus is "a man" because He is a divine person and a necessary existent who contingently instantiates the platonic property of humanity (and all that it entails) just like I am "a man" because I am a non-divine person and a contingent existent who instantiates the platonic property of humanity, in just the same way that Jesus does.

The other thing to determine is if the conjunctive properties of humanity and divinity contain conjuncts that are (or entail) logical compliments of each other. Here I am not convinced we have any real difficulty. Most of the *proposed* incompatibilities, say for example Jesus omniscience vs. His apparent ignorance, are not really predicable of his person in a literal way, so much as different "parts" of his person (in this case, the divine consciousness vs his human cognition).

You did propose one property that would be problematic though. You suggest that its impossible that the property of humanity be exemplified by any non-contingent objects. But I can't really see why this should be so. True, its not how we normally think about human nature in our day to day musings with our fellow non-necessary neighbors, but its hard to see why contingency itself should be some deep feature of being properly human. Being both a necessary existent *and* necessarily exemplifying humanity does of course spell trouble, but if we can drop the requirement that *every* nature is essential to a thing that has it, this problem does not come up. Jesus does exemplify (at least) one kind-nature that is essential to Him: His divine nature. But he exemplifies human nature only contingently; though forever more.

Given these kinds of distinctions it would seem the platonist can give a consistent account of the union that isn't obviously heretical. Or rather, a consistent *minimal* account, since this platonic ontological framework would not go far towards making sense of what might be called "christology extended". Steven mentioned the eastern doctrine of theosis and the divinizing of human nature, which of couse has no clear sense on this platonist interpretation.

The property of humanity can no more be divinized than the properties of yellowness or triangularity.

Of course, much more can be said, but for a minimal christology, platonism looks like an appealing option in that it lends simplicity and clarity to what is often a set of vexing perplexities.

How useful it is simplifying other doctrines, such as the doctrine of God, is a different matter. But then, that doctrine is rife with difficulty no matter what interpretive apparatus we adopt.

Very good comments, John. As you well appreciate, much depends on the background ontology one uses to formulate and defend the theological doctrines. It could be that the problems with the Chalcedonian formulation are but artifacts of Aristotelian ontology -- a constituent ontology -- and that these problems disappear if we adopt a different ontology, a nonconstituent ontology, such as the 'platonic' one you suggest.

So on your scheme, properties are abstract; there are conjunctive properties; a nature is a conjunctive property. Exemplification is not a part-whole relation. First-order exemplifcation ties abtsract properties to concrete individuals. You allow that a concrete individual can exemplify an abstract nature without exemplifying it in every possible world in which the individual exists. So the Second Person, who exists in every world, exemplifies humanity only in some worlds.

But you also want to hold that some natures are essential to the individuals that exemplify them. Thus the Logos exemplifies divinity in every world in which it exists, and thus in every world, since it exists in every world.

I suspect that on your scheme it might be hard to uphold the essential/accidental distinction. I think you will be pushed in the direction of saying that every property (including conjunctive properties some of which are natures) is accidental. This is because the nexus of exemplification is an external relation. I would press you on the ground of the essentiality of certain properties to their bearers and would argue that saying that having a property in every world in which the bearer exists does not go deep enough and cannot serve as the ground. But it would take a separate post to argue this ot and make it clear.

>>Being both a necessary existent *and* necessarily exemplifying humanity does of course spell trouble, but if we can drop the requirement that *every* nature is essential to a thing that has it, this problem does not come up. Jesus does exemplify (at least) one kind-nature that is essential to Him: His divine nature. But he exemplifies human nature only contingently; though forever more.<<

What you say is defensible and no worse than what Aristotelians say.

Is human nature a kind-nature? If so, the sticking point might be that it is hard to understand how how x can be of kind-nature K without being (identically!) a K. How can the Logos be a case of the human kind without being (identically) a human being?

The underlying problem here has nothing to do with theology: it is a general-ontological problem about property-possession.

Bill et al.,

Bill said:

>> The problem is that that the datum in question, the Incarnation as
>> formulated at Chalcedon, is prima facie self-contradictory.

I think there is a dialectical problem here, because I took myself to have addressed this point already. The contradiction only arises if you insist on the metaphysics as independently formulated; but the Incarnation/Trinity are new data that suggest exceptions to what were previously considered exceptionless principles.

There are two ways to go about this.

(1) Take the metaphysical principles as granted, and try to reformulate the doctrine of the Incarnation in more palatable terms.

(2) Take the doctrine of the Incarnation as granted, and grant exceptions to the metaphysical principles in light of this unique event.

I am insisting on (2); you and Dave both seem to be stuck on (1). There seems no going forward from this juncture, however, at least not thus far.

Here perhaps we have differences of method. I'm a Christian before I am a philosopher, if I am a philosopher at all, so Philosophia plays the role of ancilla theologiae. This seems to me necessarily to be the order of priorities, too, if a person is going to be a Christian at all.

In any case, I am going to press the point: how do any of you know that the doctrine of the Incarnation as stated in Chalcedon is contradictory or impossible? All that you have going for your conviction is a metaphysical schema developed upon reflection on the ordinary "medium-sized dry goods" of nature, which are obviously not the same sort of things as the Incarnate Logos is supposed to be, and anyway is not even an analysis that everyone grants.

Steven - take it for granted? Really? I find that I cannot do that for the simple reason that I don't even understand it. The 'fathers' who developed the doctrine did so because THEY needed understanding, and this is the solution they came up with, given the data they had.
Far from dismissing it, I want desperately to understand it.
A man first; a Xian second; a (fill-in : Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, what-have-you) third; the order of priorities imo.
There is no attack on religion here; unless by 'attack' is meant any search for understanding that must scrutinize given dogma. I settled it in my mind long ago that the Father is not dismissive of earnest questioning.
I look forward to Bill continuing his line of investigation.

The discussion about what is and isn’t ad hoc is interesting and important. However, it seems to me that to define “supposit” and to determine whether or not there is a real distinction between “primary substance” and “supposit” is logically prior to examining ad-hocness.

These questions may help:

What does it mean for a primary substance (an individual property-bearer) to be supposited, either by itself or by something else? What does it mean for a substance to be sub-standed, either by itself or by something else?

It seems that, for any primary substance, one can ask at least three questions. How does it have an essence (a set of essential, “sine qua non” properties or what Aristotle called a “secondary substance”)? How does it have an ontological ground or support? How does it have an ontological bound or individuation?

Does “to be supposited” mean “to be ontologically grounded”? If so, it seems that the majority of primary substances are not their own supposits. Rather, they are grounded by something else.

Does “to be supposited” mean “to be ontologically grounded plus invested with essential properties"? plus individuated”?

Socrates is a primary substance. However, Socrates does not ground himself, nor does he bear his properties self-sufficiently, nor does he individuate himself a se. He lacks aseity. He is a property-bearer in virtue of being grounded, supplied, and individuated by something else. Ditto for his donkey and for most other beings.

Now we approach one of the most difficult of all problems: the nature of existence.

Elliot - if you would, please provide a short explanation of what is meant by 'ground' as you used it above? Thanks.

Hello, Dave. By ground, I mean metaphysical ground: that which explains or sustains the existence of something. I mean something like what a truth-maker is to a truth-bearer. Ground is to grounded thing as truth-maker is to truth-bearer.

By the way, here are a couple of academic resources on “hypostasis”.

Hypostasis: That substance (ultimate ground, subsistent principle, essential nature, self-subsistent reality, subject) (a) in which attributes inhere and/or (b) which supports a subsisting personality. (Peter A. Angeles, Dictionary of Philosophy, 1981, p. 117)

Hypostasis: 1. (in the metaphysics of Plotinus) One of the three orders or realms of incorporeal reality. Literally, the Greek word indicates something that underlies other things and serves as a support. 2. A substance (Latin: substantia or suppositum). (Anthony Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy, 1979, p. 146)

** The Angeles dictionary provides a rich, 5-page account of the different senses of “substance”.

Thanks Elliott - I've got Flew's dictionary around here somewhere, a good reminder to find it.
Aha! Found it, and under the same pile of dust found the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. From that source:
-hypostasis: same basic def as Flew, but additionally: "this is a concept subject to repeated fatal criticism, and repeated resurrection."

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