Friday, December 08, 2017

Pruss on God's simplicity

Some modern-day Calvinists are touting Thomistic simplicity. I'd like to partially interact with a sophisticated defense of divine simplicity:

The Fourth Lateran Council teaches that God is a “substantia seu natura simplex omnino”—an “altogether simple substance or nature”—and the First Vatican Council reiterated the teaching. 

So faithful Catholics have to defend divine simplicity. Good thing Protestants aren't saddled with that precommitment.  

The doctrine of divine simplicity had better not say that mercy and justice, in general, are one and the same property. For that would make meaningless a claim that a friend of ours had exhibited more mercy than justice in some situation.  

i) I agree. However, it's hard to see how Pruss's denial in this regard differentiates his position from critics of simplicity like Frame, Craig, Plantinga, and Feinberg. Although he's defending simplicity, what he says here is consistent with what critics say.

ii) His position seems to be different from how simplicity is typically formulated by exponents. From what I've read, it's, in part, an inference. They infer that if God is identical with his attributes, then his attributes are mutually identical. The inference seems to be that if B is identical with A, and C is identical with A, then B is identical with C. 

Pruss is at liberty to dissent from that inference or formulation and strike out on his own, but in that respect he appears to be defending simplicity by taking issue with how that's typically expounded.  

Rather, the claim is that God’s mercy and God’s justice are the same ontologically. What makes it be true that Socrates is just? Surely it is something about Socrates, something that we might reasonably denote by “Socrates’ justice”, id est “that in virtue of which Socrates is just”. Socrates’ justice is not the same as Plato’s justice, because if they were the same, then the same thing would make it be true that Socrates is just as would make it be true that Plato is just. But if that were so, then it would follow that, necessarily, if Socrates is just, then that in virtue of which Plato is just exists, and hence Plato is just. 

The claim that God’s being merciful and God’s being just are identical is, I take it, the claim that the ontological basis of God’s being merciful is identical with the ontological basis of God’s being just. Or, in the above terminology, it is simply the claim that God’s justice is identical with God’s mercy. This does not entail that Cato’s justice is identical with Mother Teresa’s mercy, or even that Mother Teresa’s justice is identical with Mother Teresa’s mercy.

i) That's a coherent distinction. However, critics of simplicity could draw the same distinction. So I don't see how his distinction differentiates his position from those who deny simplicity. His explanation appears to be equally consonant with denying simplicity. 

ii) In fact, I don't see how his distinction is even related to the claim that "there is no ontological composition in God of any sort, whether of matter and form, or of essence and accident, or of this attribute and that attribute considered as ontologically distinct."

Even if his distinction is consistent with divine simplicity, how is that relevant to the question at hand? After all, his own analogy involves comparing attribute-agreement in and between composite beings: Plato and Socrates, Cato and Mother Teresa. How does his distinction demarcate an incomposite God from a composite God like Zeus? Couldn't a Greek polytheist say Zeus's justice is not the same as Cato's justice? 

If Curley freely chooses to take the bribe, then there is some time at which it was causally possible that he not take the bribe if offered it. Moreover, there is a time after which this is no longer causally possible—the choice has been made. Let t be the earliest time with the property that after t it is no longer causally possible that Curley take the bribe.  There is such a time. Before this time, Curley’s rejection of the bribe is causally open and after this time it is causally closed. Moreover, I will assume that this time t is associated with Curley’s decision to take the bribe. The decision happens at t. This is an assumption that might not hold, for it might be that at t Curley made some earlier libertarian-free decision, for example a decision to do whatever it takes to get ahead financially, which causally necessitated that he eventually make a causally determined decision to take the bribe.  In that case, the bribe-taking arguably inherits its freedom from the freedom of that earlier decision. But if we are to avoid a vicious regress, we will come to some decision with the property that the decision is made precisely at a time t such that after that time some deed is causally determined as far as Curley is concerned and before it it was not. This might not in fact be the decision to accept the bribe, but for simplicity I will assume it is.

Thus, at t there was a branching. Before t it was possible for Curley still to reject the bribe and after t this was no longer possible. There are now two models of free will. On the first model, one accepted by Nuel Belnap among others, at t the branching has not yet happened: it is still causally possible for Curley to reject the bribe.  It is only at t+d (for any d>0) that this is no longer possible. The time t is the last time at which matters are still open. On the second model, at t the branching has already happened: t is the first time at which matters are no longer open. I could give the argument for both cases, but that would make this talk unduly long. Instead, I will assume the first version to be correct, and for the purposes of making the talk self contained, I will say that for aught that we know, the first version is correct, and that should be all I need for my conclusions.  Anyway, similar arguments apply in the second case, but are more complicated.

Thus, at t Curley is deciding, but it is not yet true that he has decided. Let S be Curley’s state at t, i.e., the conjunction of all of Curley’s purely intrinsic properties at t (or, if we wish, the conjunction of all purely intrinsic properties occurrent up to and including time t). This state S occurs both in the actual world where Curley takes the bribe and in a possible world where he refuses it—I will call such a world “the alternate world”. Now, at any moment of time after t, the actual and the alternate worlds have already diverged.  Curley has already done something: something he is morally responsible for. Perhaps his hand has not yet reached out for the money; maybe his enraged voice has not begun to refuse the bribe. But he is now in a state such that he is set to take or is set to refuse the bribe. (I am simplifying of course by assuming he can’t also temporize.)  A deed has been done: his will has set into motion a causal chain leading up to the taking or the refusing of the bribe. Now the important thing to note is that the cause of the two different causal chains, the one in the actual world and the one in the alternate world, is the same as concerns intrinsic properties. Or the cause is Curley at t in state S.  Since this state contains all of Curley’s intrinsic properties at t, and these are the same in the actual and the alternate world, it follows that we have one and the same person in one and the same intrinsic state being in one world responsible for setting into motion one causal chain and in another, another.

But this seems to severely undercut the objection to divine simplicity based on the contingency of what God chooses. For we now see that one and the same person in one the same state could be in a position to initiate either of two incompatible causal chains. Moreover, note that Curley’s actual deciding was at t.  During the deciding itself there was no difference in his intrinsic properties between the actual and the alternate worlds. The difference only appeared extrinsically to the decision, though as a result of the decision.

While his analysis is interesting in its own right, I don't see how that solves the problem. Doesn't a different result require a differential will? So we have to take the explanation back a step. 

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