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Wednesday, December 19, 2018


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Good post, Bill. Three comments:

First, you wrote “One who appreciates the limits of reason, and indeed the infirmity of reason as we find it in ourselves here below, cannot be fairly accused of misology. Otherwise, Kant would be a misologist.” I agree. Not only Kant, but Socrates, the very man who made the point about misology in Phaedo. (Well, technically Plato made the point as the author of that dialogue. But maybe the idea originated with Socrates.)

Second, you wrote “Characteristic of the mysterian of my stripe is the further claim that the structure of the discursive intellect makes it impossible for us to see that the contradiction is merely apparent.”

What might be the specific aspects of the structure of the discursive intellect that prevent our understanding of divine matters such as Simplicity and Incarnation?

I’ll make the third comment in another post.

Here’s my third comment:

Regarding the problem of evil, philosophers have used the term skeptical theism (ST) to refer to the claim that a theist should be skeptical of his ability to understand why God permits evil. Stephen Wykstra has characterized ST as follows:

1. If God exists, we humans should not expect to understand much about his purposes.
2. If (1) is true, much of what might seem to be strong evidence against God isn’t strong after all. (A Skeptical Theist View, in God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views, p. 109)

Wykstra elaborates on (1) with his disproportionality thesis:

“DISPRO: If such a being as God does exist, what our minds see and grasp and purpose in evaluating events in our universe will be vastly less than what this being’s mind sees and grasps and purposes.” (111)

Wykstra writes that *sensibly humble theism* is a better term than ST and that a denial of DISPRO might be called *insanely hubristic theism*. (111)

It seems to me that ST can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to our understanding of God’s nature.

One objection is that ST – applied to the discussion about DDS - might engender skepticism about the human ability to understand and use logic, just as ST might engender skepticism about moral knowledge when applied to the problem of evil.

Thanks, Elliot. No time now, but I will say that, yes, Socrates of *docta igorantia* fame is certainly no misologist while pointing out how little we really know.

More later.

"If he were Being (esse) but not a being (id quod est), he could not enter into causal relations. He could not do anything such as create the world, intervene in its operations, or interact with human persons. Such a God would be "religiously pernicious." (Stump 2016, 199) Indeed, if God were Being but not a being, then one could not sensibly maintain that God exists."

I suppose this is supposed to be self- evident, but I don't see how it follows at all. On the contrary, Existence Itself exists seems far more self-evident.

"For if Being is other than every being, then Being is not."

But Absolute Being is not "other than" every particular being in the sense of "outside being", as indeed the wording shows. He is other than finitised beings, because He is Unconditioned Being.

Also, if I may be permitted to use one of the neologisms from my thesis, finitised beings are in fact "be-eds" not be-ings, inasmuch as they themselves do not exist, if we take "exist" as an active verb in the proper sense. They are brought into and kept in existence from outside themselves, at a fundamental level. Whereas God, having aseity, can be said to exist in the proper, verbal, active sense.

So, God is not "a being" because He is "The Being", whereas for anything that we refer to as "a being" it is not "be-ing" at all, strictly speaking. Only God exists simpliciter, as Barry Miller put it, from memory. When we say God is "other than" "beings" then, we mean both there is no overlap of essence with them and that while He simply "is", they "are" only insofar as He causes them to be.

Elliot asks,

>>What might be the specific aspects of the structure of the discursive intellect that prevent our understanding of divine matters such as Simplicity and Incarnation?<<

Excellent question. Well, we think in opposites and we cannot think otherwise. To think is to judge. To judge is to combine representations in the unity of one consciousness (Kant). I judge that a is F. Three items to distinguish: subject, copula, predicate. I can't think the thought that Al is fat without distinguishing Al from fatness. But of course the thought is not a list: Al, fatness. Thus every judgment involves both an analysis and a synthesis brought about by the copula 'is.' The problem of the unity of the proposition is waiting in the wings: the thought cannot be got by adding 'is' to the list.

To discourse is to run (currere) from subject to predicate and back again. Hence discursive intellect. There are no simple propositions, pace Barry Miller. In the simplest judgment the thought is splayed out between subject and predicate.

Al is fat iff fat Al exists. But 'fat Al,' I would argue, involves a copulative element. So here too there is a synthesis even if you hold that 'exists' is not a first-level predicate.

DDS entails that in God, essence (nature) = existence. Can we attach a thought (proposition) to this verbal formulation? It is a structural feature of the discursive intellect that we think in opposites. Essence and existence are opposites. The what and the that/whether. Essence is not existence. Essence taken by itself does not exist, and existence taken by itself has no nature. So what could it mean to say, as DDS implies, that there is something whose nature is (identically) existence? If the verbal formulation expresses a proposition, it is not one that the discursive intellect finds intelligible. What the DI finds are contradictions and category mistakes.

Thanks for the push back, Fr. Kirby. Our disagreement appears to go deep, and what you say does not change my view. I honestly don't see how you could reasonably disagree with what you quoted me as saying.

I suppose we will agree that what is wanted is a via media between the Scylla of negative theology according to which nothing can be truly said or known about God and the Charybdis of an anthropomorphic theology according to which ". . . God's properties are merely human ones, albeit extended to the maximum degree possible." (Miller, 1996, 3)

And it seems that to tread this middle path requires that we think of God not as esse alone or something that is (id quod est) alone, but as both together. We can express this using your phrase above: Existence itself exists. Or Being itself is. Or Being itself is a being. Or, defying Heidegger: Das Sein selbst ist ein Seiendes.

But now notice the difference between (a) God is Being itself in its prime instance, and (b) God is Being itself in its sole instance. From your final paragraph you seem to be opting for (b). You say: >> God is not "a being" because He is "The Being" . . .<< So you are not denying that God is; you are denying that anything other than God is. You are saying that God is not a being among beings, but the only being. You are saying that God is an ens, but not an ens among entia.

You seem dangerously close to a monism according to which Being itself is, and alone is.

I have no idea what you mean by 'be-eds.'

Thanks for your helpful response, Bill.

“We think in opposites.” Good point. I remember J. P. Moreland saying in a talk somewhere that it might be the case that human beings are born with innate knowledge of sameness and difference. Without such knowledge, we couldn’t begin to think.

“We cannot think otherwise.” If this is true, it seems Swinburne’s metaphilosophical claim - namely that although we haven’t solved all the problems of philosophy yet, given enough time we might do so in the future - doesn’t work, at least not concerning the DDS.

Our thinking in terms of opposites seems to refer to propositional knowledge. Does it also refer to knowledge by acquaintance? If not, perhaps we can know by direct experience whether or not God’s essence = God’s existence. The beatific vision?

"Be-ed" is simply a way of signalling that creatures' existences are received and so ontologically their "act of being" should be rendered by a passive rather than active verb form, because it is not, strictly speaking and at the root, their act. Another way of expressing this is to say that they are all "actualiseds", while only God is Pure Act.

BTW, I am not denying in an absolute sense that anything other than God is, but denying that anything other than God is actively in and of itself be-ing. For this reason I deny that the term "being" applies in an unqualified or proper sense to any other than God.


Sameness-difference may well be the most fundamental pair of opposites.

Knowledge by direct mystical insight is non-discursive. 'God is simple' is a mystical saying. If it expresses a proposition, the prop. it express is unintelligible to the discursive intellect. The very form of the sentence 'contradicts' the proposition the sentence is 'trying' to express.

Do you catch my meaning?

Bill, I think I catch your meaning. Your point occurred to me as I was writing my previous post. Knowledge by direct insight is non-discursive. Such knowledge can't be adequately expressed in language. Yet we try, often by using analogies.

On a second look at what you said Bill, I see I responded to the English words "a being", interpreting them as meaning "a being among other beings (conceptually)" or "a being such as other existents are beings". I am still happy with what I said on that basis.

But when I look at the Latin, "id quod est", translating it as "that which is", I feel that the correct response is to say that there is no real difference between it and "ipsum esse", strictly speaking, thus there is no need to say God is both. I say this for reasons already outlined above. Only God is "that which is", simpliciter, unconditionally, as truly his own act. Everything else is "that which is as this, contingently", conditioned by a limiting essence and conditional upon causation by Absolute Being.

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