Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Tightening the nous

Acolyte4236 said:

“The idea of the divine ideas is still platonic. It just collapses Nous and the One, as Augustine and a few other late Platonists did.”

No, what you’re doing is to treat the history of ideas as if it were symmetrical, so that you can just collapse a later development or synthesis into an earlier stage.

In conventional jargon, platonic ontology asserts the existence of three different domains: mind, matter, and abstract universals.

Augustine, with a hat-tip to Philo, reduces this to two domains: mind and matter.

His synthesis is not reducible to Platonism in the original sense, while Neoplatonism is, itself, subject to Christian influence, viz. Plotinus.

Moreover, his synthesis is more than a minor variant on Platonism. Augustine’s doctrine of God furnishes him with a metaphysical resource unavailable to Plato.

So this is not a linear development of Platonism, as if the Christian contribution made no independent contribution to the overall construct.

“If God is simple though one is going to have a hard time showing how some ideas can be uninstantiated and others can be if God is a fully actual being. If God is simple and fully actual, then all his ideas will be necessarily instantiated and POOF!-a necessary world. Goodbye Christianity. Hello Plotinus.”

i) You and Perry have a real hang-up when it comes to divine simplicity. What’s the problem? Were you bottle-fed instead of breast-fed?

I have never committed myself to the Scholastic doctrine of divine simplicity. Indeed, I’m wary of that refinement. Perry and I have been over this same old ground several times in the past.

Why do you keep barking up the wrong tree? Why don’t you at least find a tree that is committed to divine simplicity, and bark up that tree instead of mine?

ii) I’m also not quite sure what you mean here. I agree that God is fully actual, but are you saying that divine ideas are instantiated in God?

If so, I demur. A divine idea is not an abstract property over and above God himself which is instantiated in God. God is the exemplar, not the exemplum.

His exemplary ideas are exemplified in nature, not in himself. Hence, we can draw a distinction between exemplified and unexemplified universals.

iii) And let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that I do subscribe to divine simplicity. What version of that particular doctrine are you attacking, and what is your own frame of reference? Here I’m reminded of some comments by Bill Vallicella:

“It is easy to see that Plantinga-style objections will not appear decisive to those who reject his ontological framework. Plantinga, along with many other philosophers, thinks of individuals and properties as belonging to radically disjoint realms despite the fact that individuals exemplify properties. Individuals are causally efficacious concreta whereas properties are casually impotent abstracta. Such an approach to ontology renders the divine simplicity inconceivable from the outset. For if God is a concrete individual and his nature (conceived perhaps as the conjunction of his omni-attributes) is an abstract property, then the general ontology rules out an identity of God with his nature. Any such identity would violate the separateness of the two realms. To identify an unexemplifiable concretum with an exemplifiable abstractum would amount to an ontological category-mistake. At most, a Plantinga-style approach allows for God’s exemplification of his nature where the (first-level) exemplification relation, unlike the identity relation, is asymmetrical and irreflexive and so enforces the non-identity of its relata. In short, if God exemplifies his nature, then God is distinct from his nature.”

Moving along:

“And idealism doesn't entail that all truths are necessary truths. Take Berekley for example, as an empiricist and an idealist, some truths were contingent-they had to be, because God could have willed things differently and he doesn't will the perception of a specific sensible object for all times. I perceived this then, but not now.”

i) In context, the discussion was concerned with idealistic influences on Van Til. That has reference to 19C and early 20C idealism, not Berkeley.

I have in mind guys like Bradley, McTaggart and Blanshard (a student of Bradley’s).

ii) Conventions notwithstanding, I’ve never found it very illuminating to classify Berkeley as an empiricist. The fact that he was influenced by Locke doesn’t make him an empiricist in the usual sense of the word. This necessitates a highly qualified and idiosyncratic use of the word.

Berkeley could just as well be classified as a rationalist, and a coherence theory of truth is clearly a better fit for his ontology.

iii) Does Berkeley say that God could have willed things differently, or is that what you say? Are you getting this from Berkeley, or your own theology?

iv)Even if that’s what Berkeley says, is this essential to his objective idealism, or an incidental feature that carries over from his theology?

v) To say that God could have willed things differently and to say that he doesn’t will us to perceive the same thing all the time are hardly convertible propositions.

This is just a semantic ruse which depends on where you place the negation.

It is not a case of God, at different times, willing something or another, but rather, of God willing something to happen at different times.

Properly speaking, the negation doesn’t qualify the divine will, but the object of his will.

“As for coherence theory and correspondence theory, the former does not necessarily pair off with truths of fact. Of the defenders of coherence theory left man of them are empiricists, not rationalists.”

i) You have exactly mismatched what I originally said: I didn’t pair off the coherence theory with truths of fact.

ii) You are also dropping my explicit caveat: “roughly”

Are you trying to misrepresent what I wrote?

iii) In addition, I was offering a normative statement, not a descriptive statement, that a certain ontology logically selects for a certain epistemology, and vice versa.

iv) It is, however, admittedly interesting that radical empiricism generally begins with direct realism, and then gravitates to indirect realism, phenomenalism, and idealism.

“For Van Til and Idealism, see his Christianity and Idealism.”

For Van Til and Idealism, read what’s between the covers and not the title alone. In this collection of essays, Van Til expressly distances himself from idealism in many respects.

“For contemporary theories of truth, try
Kirkham, Theories of Truth-for a nice overview.
William Alston's A Realist Conception of Truth
Michael Lynch's Truth in Context-for a defense of contemporary alethic relativism.
Lynch has a nice anthology, The Nature of Truth when read in tandem with Kirkham.

Richard Fumerton has a thoughtful defense of Correspondence Theory in his, Realism and the Correspondence Theory of Truth.

Jonathan Kvanvig has some helpful papers on his website on truth as well. And Horwich's, Truth, is a significant defense of a deflationary theory of truth.”

Yes, there are various theories of truth.

At issue, though, was my theory of truth as well as Van Til’s theory of truth.


  1. FYI...Perry is Acolyte.

    What Perry means here by Augustine collapsing the One in the Nous is this: In the One there are no distinctions whatsoever, as John Rist says, everything is "wholly indistinguishable" all distinctions are other than the One, although the One is beyond any category whatsoever (although in some place Plotinus doesn't seem consistent with this where he himself seems to collapse the One into Nous). The Nous is on the level of Being. God for Augustine, is on the level of Nous or Intellect. The difference here is that where there is a distinction between the One and Nous with Plotinus, in Augustine they are collapsed and discarding part of the other. The One as Beyond Being is discarded and the The One as having no distinctions is kept. The Nous as having one distinction is discared while the Nous as Being is maintained. The two are now wedded together. This creates a few problems since God (One/Nous) has no distinctions (to be is the same to be great is the same to be the same to be a person(!) ) and He (It!) is Be-ing. He is what he has. With this understanding, God now becomes the object of dialectical discourse. Augustine's speculation in De Trinitate here is a 'God in general,' not the Personal God in revelation. The system of Augustinism (as the accepted Hellenization of dogma) now reverses the Patristic ordo theologiae from Persons, Energies, and Essence now becomes an essence (God in general), the essence is defined as simple, the essence stands over and above the many (it's attributes), the dialectic is overcome by no distinction in the essence (the attributes are collapsed back into the essence), and then the category of a special attribute is then considered (person or relation).



    Here you go, Perry reponded over on our blog.


  3. I'm disappointed to learn that Perry is only an acolyte. Not even deacon? :-)

    As for the rest, thanks for the background info.