Saturday, April 08, 2006

Defining our terms

uppityphilosophertype said:

ii) Perry is obsessed with the word “nature.”

This evidently triggers in his own mind a whole lot of conceptual baggage.

But the use of the word “nature” in discussing original sin need not carry so much ontological cargo.

a) The Bible uses picturesque metaphors like “tree” and “heart.”

“Nature” can simply be an abstract synonym for this colorful, concrete usage.

Of itself, “nature” does not denote any particular conceptual scheme.

b)”Nature” is just a linguistic placeholder, the way we use the word “gravity.”

This is an excellent point, especially in this context, since Perry appears to be conflating the various popular uses of this term throughout the course of his reasoning, burdening Evan with all sorts of specious puzzles. In discussions about the relation of humanity to sin, there are at least two uses of the term "nature" that need to be distinguished if one's exposition is to have any hope of avoiding the most absurd equivocations or incoherance.

The first is what we might call the *kind-property* view of natures. This account of natures answers the question: What *kind* of entity is the given individual? This account treats natures as *natural kind* properties, where properties are *abstract* objects of a certain sort. Among the important characteristics of such objects: (a) they have the property of possibly having instances, or possibly having individuals stand in the *exemplification relation* to them, and (b) the posited objects are causally inert. That is, the objects do not *cause* any object to be such-and-such, or thus-and-so.

The second is what could be called the "constituency" view of human natures, where human natures are (complex) dispositions (or in Evan's preferred terminology "predispositions"), inclinations, or similar entities; where each of these entities is a constituent, or a (mereological) *part* of some concrete individual, like a moral agent or a personal substance. This account of natures makes no attempt to tell us what *kind* of entity a given individual is, but rather, it attempts to tell us what constitutes a moral agent, and what relation his relevant constituent "parts" bear to his actions or behavior. The thing to note here is that the posited entities are *causal* entities of some sort (which alone should clue one in to the fact that this account of "nature" differs significantly from the kind-property view mentioned above).

Here are some important consequences to note about these two uses and their differences:

(1) when the kind-property account of natures is in view, it makes no *literal* sense to ask whether human nature or humanity *itself* is morally good or evil. Humanity and human nature are neither good nor evil. The reason why is obvious: only moral agents can be good or evil, and natural kind properties (or any properties at all for that matter) are not moral agents. They are causally inert, abstract objects. On this understanding of natures, it makes no more sense to say of humanity that it is morally good or evil than it makes sense to say of the number 8 that its morally good or evil.

(2) when the kind-property account of natures is in view, the claim that any morally significant action A performed by some individual was *determined* by the human nature of that individual is *false*, since no morally significant behavior or properties are *kind-essential* properties of humanity or human nature. At best, such moral qualities are *contingent* properties of humanity. This is evidenced by the moral goodness of prelapsarian humans like Adam and Eve (and Christ), as well as the postlapsarian sinfulness of humans like you and I. And this despite whatever Perry interprets Edwards as saying.

These two distinctions alone render much of Perry's exposition a wash. Here are some examples of his conflated usage from the thread with Evan:

"Persons are sinful, not natures since persons do acts and natures do nothing... persons subsist in a nature which is good, but insufficiently good such that it can will the good, but not in a way that pleases God."

In the first sentence, Perry seems to have the *kind-property* account of natures in view when he correctly notes that moral evil is a property of persons and not abstract objects like humanity or human nature, which are causally inert, or in his words - they can "do nothing". Unfortunately, he either contradicts himself, or equivocates in the sentence that immediately follows, where he appears to predicate of that same (?) abstract property "...which is good", the property of being insufficiently good to perform the act of willing, presumably meaning that its causal powers have been mitigated by some qualitative lack in its moral properties.

"Grace perfects nature and hence natural capacities, it doesn’t obliterate them."

Here's a more clear divergence in his usage of terminology. It makes little sense to say of some natural kind property like humanity that it gets "perfected" You can no more "perfect" humanity then you can "perfect" the property of being evenly divisible by 5. A property is what it is, and can't be made any better or worse than it is.

Maybe what he means is not that the natural kind *itself* gets perfected, but rather, the individuals who exemplify that nature kind get perfected. Or maybe he has the constituency model in mind where grace perfects some of the inhering parts or powers of human beings, rather than the abstract kind-property they exemplify. In either case, assuming he understands and acknowledges the distinctions that have been drawn here, the burden lies with him to clean up his prose and minimize the guesswork of his readers.

"I equate human nature after the fall with pre-lapsarian nature because they are the same. There aren’t two species of humans. On my view, after the fall human nature is intrinsically the same but is weakened-it lacks the divine power but it isn’t fundamentally different. It is the same kind, essence, ousia, pick your term."

While the first two sentences looks agreeable enough (his use of the term "species" signaling that he has the kind-property model of natures in view once again), what follows is another equivocation in his use of the term. He goes on to say of human nature that it now lacks certain causal powers or "divine power". But of course, on the kind-property account, natures don't have powers.

"If human nature is neither good nor evil in creation, what are we to make of the divine statements where God called creation very good?"

Here's a better question: if human nature is an abstract natural kind property that necessarily exists, what relevence does God's calling all of "creation" good have to do with Perry's infering that therefore human nature is good? Are necessary beings like properties part of "creation" on this view? Its far from obvious to me that they are. In anycase, he's still left to explain what it could mean to say of some abstract object like a property, that it is "good".

Then again, maybe he no longer has the kind-property account of natures in mind, but has switched back over to the constituency account, or perhaps some other view. Whatever he's trying to say, he isn't displaying much skill in saying it.

Isn’t there then a fundamental difference between the Son and the other members of the Trinity since they are not determined or necessitated to do anything and completely free whereas the Son is predestined and determined to do certain acts?

Here's a parallel equivocation on some more terms. For starters, its presumably *wills* that are relevantly "free", rather than persons simpliciter. This is obviously important given that Christ has two wills, and the properties had by one will might not be shared by the other.

In anycase, the sense in which Christ is "determined", "predestined" or "necessitated" in his actions or mission, is not at all the same sense in which the other members of the trinity are undetermined, or unnecessitated in their actions. Christ is just as "free" as the other trinitarian members in that respect, assuming we can meaningfully predicate freedom of persons rather than their wills. Conversely, the other Divine Persons are just as "necessitated" in Their actions as He is in His.

The preceeding should be sufficient to show that Perry's theological exposition is muddled. He seems to have an aversion to defining his use of terms, he doesn't blink when imputing the undefined usage to others, and generally feels comfortable reveling in the polysemy of the theological lexicon. This wouldn't be so bad if he was at least uniform in his use of the undefined terminology, but as shown above, this clearly isn't the case.

4/08/2006 7:48 AM  

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