Anselmian Motivations for God’s Simplicity

June 28, 2007

I posted this a while back at Metaphysical Frameworks and I thought I’d include it here at Summa:

I want to suggest what I think are two of Anselms motivations for his insistence that God is metaphysically simple and see what everyone thinks of them.  He says in the Monologion:

It would seem, then, that the supremely good substance is called ‘just’ by its participating in a quality (in this case, justice), rather than through itself.

But this is contrary to the already ascertained truth.  The supreme nature is what it is–good, great, existing–precisely through itself and nothing else.  So then, it is just through justice and it is just through itself.  And if so, then what is more necesarily and clearly the case than that the supreme nature is justice itself?…And so if you ask ‘what is this supreme nature we are talking about?’, you my answer ‘justice.’  What could be truer?

Monologion 16

Here, I think we find one of Anselm’s motivation, namely, his notion that God cannot be what He is through any other than Himself.  I think Anselm might see this in the suggestion that God exists a se.  According to the aseity thesis, God is completely self-sufficient and requires nothing for His being.  Since His existence is entirely of Himself, there cannot be anything that causes Him to be.  But if this is true, then His essence (that is, His essential attributes or properties) cannot be what they are through any other existing thing either.  For consider the matter that ‘God is just’:  The statement attributes some real thing–justice–to God.  But if God is just, then because of his aseity, He cannot be just through justice (in Platonist talk), or He cannot be just by exemplifying the property justice (in contemporary essentialist talk). 

So if Anselm is right, God does not stand in the “subject-exemplifiable” realtion to justice as other just persons do (Abraham, Moses, Mother Teresa), and since He doesn’t instance justice, and yet He is just, we must surmise that He just is justice.

Here is another principle I think that motivates Anslem:

So the supreme nature is many good things.  Is it then a composite of these many good things?  or is it not rather one good tihng, signified by many names?

Monologion 17

The question is pertinent for Anslem because he wants to mantain that if God is a composite, then He cannot be a perfect being.

One might conceive of a composite either as a heap or an organisation of proper parts.  A heap seems to have all its parts essentially while an organisation of proper parts can admit of accidental as well as essential parts.  In either case however, it seems that a composite depends on its (essential) parts.  In this sense, the essential parts of a composite, are more fundamental than the composite itself.  For while the composite C depends on its parts x, y, and z for its existence and character, it doesn’t seem that x, y, and z depend on C for the same. 

Now if God is not simple, then it appears He exists in an asymmetrical realtion of dependency with His parts.  Accordingly, His essential properties such as omnipotence are more fundamental than He.  But how can this be true of a perfect being?

Consider further: if God is composed of metaphysical parts then it seems that He is conceivably corruptible.  For like other material composites, His parts can be divided up and separated.  Of course, He isn’t a material being so there are no material parts to be separated, but He would be at least separable in intellectu.

But a greater being is conceivable.  That is, one who is such that it is not even possible that He be divided up metaphysically and separated.  And that of course could only be a simple being.

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Schellenberg Reviews _The Cambridge Companion to Atheism_

June 27, 2007

The review is here, at the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews site. The book is edited by outspoken atheist Michael Martin. J. L. Schellenberg, also an atheist, is a professor of philosophy at Mount Saint Vincent University.

HT: Johnny Dee


Grounding Counterfactuals

June 20, 2007

Many Molinists remain unmoved by the objections to their theory, but for some, the dreaded grounding objection can cause a little discomfort.  The metaphysics of grounding can be seen a species of the metaphysics of Truth-making-a theory with considerable intuitive appeal concerning the relationship of the world and truths about it.  According to the truth-maker thesis, truth and being are co-extensive.  Propositions function as truth bearers, but not because truth or falsity are in them as such.  Rather truth or falsity are ascribed to a proposition in virtue of something else-a truth-maker.

It is suggested that truth-makers are needed so that truths don’t merely “float in a void”-that is, in order to preserve the intuition that propositions have their truth value because of something and not simply as a brute fact.  But what would qualify as a truth-maker?  Various responses have been offered but more commonly, truth-makers are usually taken to be certain facts or states of affairs that correspond to propositions. 

Now the Molinist argues that propositions of the kind:

(1) If David were to remain in Keilah, Saul would (freely) besiege the city,

have a truth value, namely, they are true.  God, by virtue of a most profound and inscrutable comprehension, knows what each person would freely choose in whatever circumstance they might be in.  So antecedent to any creative act–to any other existing state of affairs–there are a whole host of true propositions.  But then if the truth-maker thesis is correct, what would make these propositions true?  Let us suppose that the following counterfactual were true:

(2) If Wittgenstein had struck Popper, Russell would have risen to his defense.

Well truth-maker theorists would insist that (2) is true if and only if there is a state of affairs where Ludwig Wittgenstein strikes Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell then jumps to defend him from Popper’s fists.  But of course, (2) is a counterfactual and states of affairs that are counterfactual never actually obtain.  There seems to be no metaphysical basis for insisting that (2) is true then. 

As best as I can tell, there is only one good response to this objection (but then again I’m a novice).  The response goes as follows:

It is true that states of affairs that are counterfactual never actually obtain.  But it isn’t true that they never obtain.  For David Lewis might be right: the world we are part of is but one of a plurality of worlds, and there are inhabitants in each of these worlds.  There is the actual world of course, and this is the world that we inhabit.  But Lewis argues that possible worlds are on the same ontological status as our world-the actual world.  That is, there are no ontologically privileged worlds-not even ours, the actual world, for actuality is an indexical concept (like “now” or “here”); for any individual x, the world that x inhabits is actual for x

It is easy to see then that the grounding objection is harmless to the Molinist if he were to grant this theory.  What makes a counterfactual conditional true is that there is a world significantly similar to ours in which a certain state of affairs obtains even though it does not obtain in ours.  So what grounds the truth of (2) then is that there really is possible world where the counterparts of Wittgenstein, Popper, and Russell act in the way (2) says they did. 

But are Molinists prepared to live with the metaphysical consequences of such a theory…


More Woes for the Untrustworthy Wikipedia

June 19, 2007

See here.

Related: The Hits Just Keep Coming

More on Why Wikipedia Cannot be Trusted

More Defects at Wikipedia

UPDATE: Wikipedia Scanner reveals the ugly truth about the reliability of Wiki editing.


Richard Rorty’s Passing

June 10, 2007

Richard Rorty, the famous American pragmatist philosopher, has passed away. See here for the story.


Geach Quote

June 7, 2007

Here’s a quote of Peter Geach, husband of Elizabeth Anscombe, as found in Victor Reppert’s C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea:

When we hear of some new attempt to explain reasoning or language or choice naturalistically, we ought to react as if we were told that someone had squared the circle or proved the square root of 2 to be rational. Only the mildest curiosity is in order–how well has the fallacy been concealed?


Playing the Links

June 6, 2007

Here are a few posts around the blogosphere worth checking out:

Johnny-Dee has an interesting post titled “Can you have faith in something you know?”

Just in case you don’t already know, William Lane Craig’s new website is up. In addition to both scholarly and popular articles, there you can find his monthly newsletter and podcasts of some of his lectures.

Joseph Long of the Florida Student Philosophy Blog recently wrote on “Sam Harris’s Reasons for Belief Argument.”

Steve Cowan has a post assessing “Eskeptic on the Evolutionary Basis of Religion.”