Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Modal metaphysics

1. There are different kinds of theistic arguments. One line of argument is the argument from abstract objects. These are a priori, metaphysical arguments. There are different kinds of abstract objects, so you have the argument from logic, numbers, properties, propositions, and counterfactuals. 

2. Here's an argument for possible worlds: 

I believe that there are possible worlds other than the one we happen to inhabit. If an argument is wanted, it is this. It is uncontroversially true that things might be otherwise than they are. I believe, and so do you, that things could have been different in countless ways...I therefore believe in the existence of entities that might be called ‘ways things could have been’. I prefer to call them ‘possible worlds’, D. Lewis, Counterfactuals (Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd ed., 2001), 84.

I agree with Lewis up to a point. However, his argument is too facile. It need to be qualified. Humans imagine how things could be different because we imagine discrete changes. Compartmentalized changes. But we lack the intelligence and foresight to consider all the adjustments that must be made to accommodate changing a particular variable. So in many cases, what we imagine could be different couldn't realistically be different because, in a case/effect world, every change must be consistent with every impacted event. 

Which is not to deny that things could be different in countless ways, but we need to be cautious about that. 

And even an omnipotent agent's field of action is restricted to some degree insofar as he chooses to operate by means of finite media. That's a self-imposed limitation.

Moreover, while God can generally bypass intervening mechanisms to produce an outcome directly, there are second-order relations that can't be produced directly. 

For instance, take atheists who harp on the alleged problem of animal suffering. An omnipotent God could just create a world without any death. Any predators, parasites, or pathogens. 

First off, I don't know if that's even true. It may well be the case that organic life is naturally impossible without organic death of some sort. 

But even if true, a world without any predators, parasites, and pathogens is so unrecognizably dissimilar to our experience that atheists have no idea what such a world would look like. There's no comparative frame of reference. 

3. Apropos (2), let's consider a potential objection to the argument from counterfactuals:

Now, per impossibile counterfactuals are rather troubling…it is not clear that they have well-defined truth values….Nevertheless, some per impossibile counterfactuals make perfect sense. Let "Gnosticism" stand for the thesis that there necessarily exists a necessarily perfectly morally good God and a necessarily perfectly morally evil God. Let us agree that Gnosticism is necessarily false. Then, the following per impossibile counterfactuals are non-trivially true…WEre Gnosticism true, then Christianity would be necessarily false. A. Pruss, Actuality, Possibility and Worlds (Continuum 2011), 141-2. 

So what's the truthmaker for the evil god of Gnostic dualism? One explanation might be that it's a composite idea. We're mentally (and verbally) combining various ideas, each of which have truthmakers, even if the entire idea, as an artificial construct, lacks a truthmaker.

Pruss also talks about the truthmaker, if any, for unicorns. Two possible explanations:

i) Unlike the evil Gnostic god, unicorns are possible. It's just a horse with a horn. There can be possible worlds with unicorns. Heck, there could be an actual world in a multiverse with real unicorns.

ii) From our standpoint, unicorns are fictional entities. A figment of the human imagination. But in that regard they are composite ideas. So even if unicorns lack a truthmaker, the individual elements have truthmakers.

4. Another issue is the ancient debate over universals. What's the basis for attribute-agreement? What makes two particulars red? 

i) Is the traditional Platonic distinction between abstract universals and concrete particulars is the best paradigm? Consider a theistic paradigm: a particular physical object has a shade of red that matches a particular shade of red in God's mind, and God created that object to instantiate that specific shade of red.

ii) That doesn't create a discrepancy between one generic color red and physical objects which reflect varying shades of red. Which "approximate" one generic color. 

In Platonism, red balls approximate an abstract universal of redness. A generic pure color. 

However, that fails to explain attribute-agreement since it's just an approximation. "Red" balls comes in different shades of red. 

iii) But God isn't operating with the concept of a generic pure color. Rather, God visualizes balls with varying shades of red. Each physical ball corresponds to a specific divine idea of a particular ball. So there's an exact match between the shade of the ball and the shade of God's exemplary idea of that particular ball. 

iv) Both Alfred Hitchcock and I possess the property of knowing Psycho. However, my knowledge of Psycho merely exemplifies the property (because my recollection is a mental copy of the original), whereas Hitchcock's knowledge is the mental blueprint or exemplar. 

By the same token, Bernini and I see the same slab of marble. But in addition, Bernini superimposes an image onto the raw marble. A mental projection. He then carves the marble to correspond to what he sees in his mind's eye. Take Apollo and Daphne.

My concept of the statue is an exemplification of the statue whereas the sculpture is an exemplification of the sculptor's formative concept. His idea is the blueprint. My idea is a copy. 

v) So what if the basis for attribute agreement isn't a common property but a common (divine) idea? Two objects are the same in X respect because the both exemplify God's idea of what they were meant to be like. They are instances of the same idea. 

v) Apropos, if it's possible for a mental image/representation of red to be immaterial, then in principle God can visualize colors. So God has a concept of a red ball. Not just a colorless idea of color, but a mental image of a red object. God creates a physical world containing a red ball that corresponds to his mental image. The red ball is a physical, concrete exemplification of God's immaterial idea. 


  1. I will be returning to this post. We may have talked about this before, but I forget: is your position (exemplarism?) on divine metaphysics significantly different from theistic conceptual realism as outlined by Welty, and, if so, how?

    1. I don't believe so. They dovetail.

      BTW, just this week, Welty, Craig, and Inwagen debated the status of abstract objects at the eastern division of the APA.

    2. Do you have a link to this debate ?

    3. I'd be interested in the debate too, though I don't know if it'll be publicly available.

      In the meantime, these might be useful?

    4. Ryan,

      I believe Welty recommends this monograph: Gregory Doolan. Aquinas on the Divine Ideas as Exemplar Causes. Catholic Univ. of America Press, 2008.