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Monday, September 03, 2018


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Any attribute of God (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience) that has reference to creatures, or is somehow explicable by positing creatures, will fall victim to modal collapse. This is because since God's attributes are identical to the divine essence, if any of those attributes have referents other than simply God himself, then God himself will necessarily extend and include whatever referent is attached to said attribute.

Again, I would only point to my post on this, in which I defend a view of simplicity that avoids modal collapse by claiming that all attributes of God that include creatures or have them as referents in any way are not really attributes of God himself (and thus not identical to the divine essence.)

I'd be interested - and honored, frankly - if you gave it a perusal Bill, when you have the time, and told me what you think.


Hi Bill—two points in response:

1) An important part of Vetter's understanding of potentialities is that multi-track dispositions are more fundamental than single-track potentialities (the latter of which are best understood through fine-grained conditionals: "If the vase were struck with 8.65N, it would break"; a different conditional than "If the vase were struck with 8.66N, it would break"). If I read you rightly above, you're open to accepting that a multi-track potentiality is more fundamental than the single-track potentialities (if you're not, Vetter has arguments that this understanding accords better with natural laws). The potentiality is itself the truthmaker of truths of possibility—the vase's property of fragility makes possible all the many ways that the vase can break. And this is true even of potentialities that are actual: the actuality of the ballplayer's catching a baseball entails that the ballplayer possesses the potentiality to catch baseballs; and that potentiality makes true all the possibilities of her catching baseballs.

But if you're willing to accept that, then it seems I've got what I need to avoid modal collapse. The power analogically predicated of the divine life is the truthmaker for all the possibilities of how the world might have been. Even as one "track" of God's willing is eternally actual (God's willing to create the actual world), God's power nevertheless grounds the truths of possibility of all the ways God might have willed the divine good—ways that would lead to other worlds, or no world at all. While we must still predicate the diverse attributes of will and power to the simple God, that difficulty isn't different in kind than predicating omnipotence and omniscience, and I think there are good arguments suggesting how we might do that. As in the case of created powers, the actuality of the disposition is not exclusive of the power's grounding other possibilities. Thus we have true but not actual truths of possibility; no modal collapse.

2) This might seem like creation is still necessary to God—after all, God's will to create the actual world is eternally part of the simplicity of the divine life. It seems that the being of God is determining what God wills. But we only reach this conclusion if we take the being of God to be logically prior to God's willing. If divine simplicity is true, however, this sort of logical priority is inappropriate—the being and act of God are one in the incomprehensibility of the divine life, and one should not be considered more basic than the other. On my account, we certainly don't get a deliberative will or libertarian freedom in God, but we get what Thomas Joseph White has described as "something both like and unlike what we call free choice."


Thank you for the excellent response. I will respond later in the day.


Is a multi-track disposition/ability the same as a multiply realizable disposition/ability?

I can catch a ball, say a tennis ball, in different ways: with my right hand, or my left hand, or with a net held in my right hand, or in my left, etc. So that ability of mine can be said to be multiply realizable. But if the ability is realized/exercised, then it has to exercised in a specific way.

Is a multiply realizable ability more fundamental than a very specific ability such as the ability to catch a hard ball with my gloved right hand if the ball is tossed to me at a definite velocity, etc.? I would say No, but it depends on what you mean by 'fundamental.'

>>the vase's property of fragility makes possible all the many ways that the vase can break.<<

It is true that the vase can be broken in many ways: by being dropped, struck with a hammer, subjected to sound and vibration; and in each of these ways in different ways: dropped onto Saltillo tile, onto hardwood flooring, and from different heights. Or the vase can be thrown against a brick wall or a stucco wall or an earthen wall, with this velocity or that, etc etc.

Now if we speak of the vase's fragility or disposition to break we are abstracting from all of these specific or rather individual ways of breaking. It seems to me that if a particular vase in particular circumstances breaks, then that breakage is a manifestation of a particular, not a general disposition, for example, the disposition to break if hit laterally with a force of 8.65N.

Every manifestation in reality is a particular, determinate manifestation -- say with x number of distinct shards breaking off in definite directions -- of a particular determinate disposition.

I assume that a disposition and its manifestation need to be distinguished, and that a disposition can exist without ever being manifested being manifested.

So God's power to will his own goodness/glory is a mere abstraction from definite ways of willing. He has to either create or not create, and if he creates he has to create something maximally determinate such as our universe.

Right—I agree that on the understanding of dispositions that you've outlined (what Vetter calls the "standard conception of dispositions"), either we must surrender divine simplicity or the modal collapse goes through. Vetter, however, argues that there are good reasons to reject the standard conception, on which the single-track disposition is more fundamental than the multi-track one. (She tends to prefer the language of multi-track to multiply-realizable, though she uses the latter both in relation to the standard conception (Vetter (2015), 41) and, if I am reading her correctly, her own (114)).

Take, for instance, electric charge. On the standard conception of dispositions, electric charge must be an infinite conjunction of single-track dispositions of the form: If x were at a distance of 5.3*10^-11 m from a charge of 1.6*10^19 C, then x would exert a repulsive force of 8*10^-8 N (Vetter (2015), 52). Fine: we can imagine such an infinite conjunction of dispositions.

And so we can imagine a version of Coulomb's Law holding across all such electric charges: (CL*) For all x, if x has charge e and is 5.3*10^-11 m from a charge of 1.6*10^19 C, then x would exert a repulsive force of 8*10^-8 N. (Vetter (2015), 56)

Vetter admits, "Laws of (CL*)'s ilk would explain an infinity of such regularities, one by one. But they would leave entirely unexplained and inexplicable the much more striking regularity that holds *between* those more specific regularities of behaviour: the regularity, that is, which consists in the exerted force's always standing in the same mathematical relation to the charges present and their distance from one another" (57).

In light of these considerations, she concludes that, to account for functional laws like Coulomb's Law, we should hold that the multi-track disposition of electric charge is more fundamental, and grounds all the single-track dispositions. And not only at the micro-physical level, but also at the level of dispositions like fragility. This multi-track disposition itself grounds the possibility of all the tracks along which it is possible for that disposition to be realized.

While I agree that "every manifestation in reality is a particular, determinate manifestation" (and so my account doesn't depend on God willing God's goodness "in general"—only on the multi-track power of willing God's goodness, which, as a maximal disposition, must be eternally realized along some particular track), if the actuality of some track entails possessing the disposition making possible that actuality (Vetter's axiom ACTUALITY, from (2015), 182), then that potentiality continues to serve as the truthmaker of the possibility of all the other tracks that might have been realized. So once again, I agree that God "has to either create or not create, and if he creates he has to create something maximally determinate such as our universe"—any indeterminacy in God's willing would require change in God or denial of God's omniscience. But I deny that this precludes God's power from serving as the truthmaker for truths about worldly contingencies.

I am certainly leaving myself open to the objection that I'm placing undue stress on one recent and controversial understanding of dispositional properties. In point of fact, however, it seems to me that Vetter is just arguing that present understandings of powers should be corrected in the direction of the Thomist/Aristotelian tradition (though there remain important differences between her position and Thomist accounts of powers).


That's helpful. Unfortunately, I don't have Vetter's book. My knowledge of her view is based on her 2013 article "'Can' Without Possible Worlds."

I'll think about it some more tomorrow.


I'd like you to consider the following modal argument, if you will. It cannot be objected to by reason of substitution in referentially opaque modal contexts (since necessity is the only modality we are using).

1. Necessarily, God exists.
2. Necessarily, God's essence is identical to His existence.
3. Necessarily, an act of creation by God (referring to what is intrinsic to God) is identical to the act of God.
4. Necessarily, the act of God is identical to the existence of God.
5. Therefore, necessarily, God's act of creation is identical to the existence of God.
6. Therefore, necessarily, God's act of creation is identical to the essence of God.
7. Therefore, God's act of creation is necessary.
8. Necessarily, God's act of creation entails what is created.
9. Therefore, what is created necessarily exists.
10. Necessarily, everything that exists that is not God is created.
11. Therefore, everything that exists exists necessarily.

Only one possible objection to validity could be made and that would be to say that "an act of creation by God" in 2. is not a strictly rigid designator - it does not refer to the exact same thing across all possible worlds. However, this objection is shown to be begging the question - conclusion 6. shows that it is in fact the same thing across all possible worlds, since God's essence is the same across all possible worlds, and the act of creation by God is identical to it in all possible worlds.

Now, since the argument is valid, but the conclusion is incorrect (modal collapse), one of the six premises (1, 2, 3, 4, 8, or 10) must be incorrect.

1. is demanded by Divine aseity.
2. is demanded by Divine simplicity (as well as aseity).
3. is demanded by Divine simplicity (there cannot be a multiplicity of acts in God).
4. is demanded by Divine simplicity (there is no distinction between what God is and what He does).
10. is demanded by God as First Cause (everything that is not God is caused to exist by Him).

The only way to avoid the conclusion is to deny 8. Which means that there is no pre-determination by God in the created universe, not even by way of "from eternity" - God's creation is non-determinative. (A similar argument holds if, instead of creation, other objects of God's willing are used, so we can conclude His causation is non-determinative.) To say the universe exists "because" God created it only means that the universe is ontologically dependent on God for its existence. It does not mean God pre-determined that this universe should be the one which exists, or that any particular thing in it happens. But, couldn't at least some things (even if not all) be entailed by God's act of creation? No, because any of those things would likewise exist necessarily, meaning God creates them in all possible worlds. Put simply, "God wills X to exist" has no real informational content beyond "God exists, and X exists".

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