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Sunday, March 13, 2016


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>> Socrateity exists in every world, but is exemplified (instantiated) in only some worlds. What's more, Socrateity exists at every time in every world that is temporally qualified, whereas Socrates exist in only some worlds and only at some times in the worlds in which he exists.<<

I'm taking it that this is your interpretation of haecceitism, rather than an endorsement – correct? It is qualified by the ‘if’ that begins the paragraph (‘if there is a property of Socrates that is his haecceity’)?

>>The property of identity-with-Socrates is a nonqualitative haecceity that makes essential reference to Socrates. Surely it is absurd to suppose that that this 'property' exists at times and in possible worlds at which Socrates does not exist. <<

My emphasis. Right, this is the same claim which I summarised here, yes? You don’t give any argument for it except the emphasised ‘surely’ argument.

Answer to first comment: I am explaining haecceitism, not endorsing it, as the sequel makes clear. How could you be unclear about that given the exemplary precision and pellucidity of my writing [grin]? Not to mention the previous occasions on which we discussed this issue.

Answer to second comment: the whole post is the argument including such sentences as this: "Now if God has before his mind a complete pure description of the individual he wills to create then that description could apply to precisely one individual after creation without being restricted to any precise one."

The only actual argument I could spot was this one, which I paraphrase thus:

If God creates an individual out of nothing, then the haecceity of the individual cannot have existed before the individual was created. But if haecceity exists at all, it exists necessarily, ergo etc.

But in any case I agree with your thesis that haecceity properties do not exist. My claim is (a) that there can be individual concepts (b) that such concepts can only exist where the individual that they correspond to exists, or once existed.

I think this is about the fifth or sixth time I have said this.

Someone just pointed me to Aquinas, Q14 a11. “Unde, cum virtus activa Dei se extendat non solum ad formas, a quibus accipitur ratio universalis, sed etiam usque ad materiam… necesse est quod scientia Dei usque ad singularia se extendat, quae per materiam individuantur”. Hence, as the active power of God extends not only to forms, which are the ratio of the universal, but also to matter … the knowledge of God must extend to singular things, which are individualized by matter.

That just means that God knows created singulars. It does not mean that God knows any singulars (individual) that do not yet exist, that have not yet been created.

Do you agree?

The context suggests that Aquinas is thinking of things that have not yet been created. He first considers the knowledge of the astronomer who predicts the existence of a particular eclipse far in the future. Does this mean that God can know particular things through universal causes? No, he says this is not sufficient, because universals are not individualized except by individual matter. By contrast, God’s knowledge extends ‘as far as his causality extends’, which by implication must include the matter which God causes to come into existence.

So at the beginning of time, God could have knowledge not just of the universal causes which combine to produce the (repeatable) form of Socrates, but also of the individual (unrepeatable) matter which instantiates that form.

Hello Bill,

You argue against [1] on the basis that creation is the creation ex nihilo of a new individual – not some prior (pre-existent) individual essence that God instantiates. You say this is “creation understood Biblically.” It seems to me there are passages in the Bible that could be construed in such a way that undermine this.

Consider Jeremiah 1:5 (God is speaking), “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations (New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).”

On the face of it, God’s knowing Jeremiah seems to be more along the lines of [1]. Rather than the object of God’s knowing being some pure description, He specifically calls out Jeremiah (you) as the object of His knowing - a knowing that also includes a consecration and an appointment. There is a specificity here that seems to militate against your position. How would you construe Jeremiah 1:5?



That is an interesting passage. Thanks for pointing it out.

But surely 1:5 could be read as: "Before I formed you in the womb, I had before my mind an exact conception of the person you turned out to be."

Hi Bill,

Your reading of 1:5 is reasonable. The meaning of "know" is important. The Hebrew word in the passage is "yada," which can signify many different senses of knowing. (E.g., to comprehend, to understand, to be acquainted with, to endow, and to distinguish)



The idea of God knowing Jeremiah the individual as an individual before creating Jeremiah the individual, and thus before Jeremiah the individual existed, doesn't seem to make sense. As you wrote:

"Socrates' individuality and ... do not antedate (whether temporally or logically) his actual existence."


"No, and this for the simple reason that before the creative act that individual would not exist."

I suppose it's also possible to interpret 1:5 according to the middle knowledge/counterfactual knowledge model of God's omniscience.

Hello Elliot and Bill,

Of course, you are both correct. It is possible to construe Jeremiah 1:5 the way you mentioned. As Elliot pointed out, the meaning of ‘know’ is important.

NICOT makes the point that the Hebrew verb, ‘yada,’ many times carries a depth of meaning that goes beyond “mere intellectual knowledge,” and includes the idea of “personal commitment.” They reference Genesis 4:1 (“Now the man knew his wife, and she conceived…”) along with Amos 3:2, Hos. 4:1 and 6:6 as examples carrying this relational connotation. If God’s knowing Jeremiah is in this relational sense, then this seems problematic for the anti-haecceitist. A pure description just does not seem to be the kind of thing that can be known in this way.

If ‘knowing’ in Jeremiah 1:5 does carry this relational connotation, does this create the metaphysical problems you see with [1]? If not, why not? If so, is this a problem for the anti-haecceitist who is trying to be Biblical?

Thank you both for your consideration.


Good question, Brian. I suppose if ‘yada’ carries the relational connotation, one might try to interpret 1:5 as a reference to Jeremiah as a pre-existent soul. That interpretation might make sense of God knowing Jeremiah in a personal/relational manner prior to his formation in the womb. But there's a problem: the idea of pre-existent souls was deemed heretical (Second Council of Constantinople?). Substance dualism is orthodox, but pre-existent soul dualism is not. So, presumably, it would be heretical to interpret 1:5 as the soul of Jeremiah pre-existing his physical formation in the womb.

And even if one took that interpretation, the same question arises. Presumably, the soul of Jeremiah came into existence. Prior to that, in what sense did God know Jeremiah?

But perhaps ‘yada’ in 1:5 does not refer to personal/relational knowledge. In the next verse, ‘yada’ refers to “know how.”

"Alas, Sovereign LORD," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am too young." (Jeremiah 1:6, NIV)

Maybe 1:5 can be interpreted as:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew how to form you (or instead "I knew how to relate to you"), before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

This interpretation would seem to render the appeal to haecceity unnecessary. And I'm not sure that the appeal to haecceity would make sense of the personal/relational connotation, because in my view haecceity is not a person. So if God relates to the haecceity of Jeremiah, he is not relating to the person of Jeremiah.

Or maybe 1:5 means something like:

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew that if an individual such as you were to exist, then you would freely choose to work with me as my prophet to the nations. Since that free choice -- along with other relevant personal characteristics you would have -- fit my plan for the world, I chose to actualize you. I then consecrated you and appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

This would be an attempt at a divine middle knowledge interpretation which would seem to render the appeal to haecceity unnecessary.

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