Monday, April 30, 2012

More on Being and Essence

Here's a quick recap:

A thing's essence is what it is, e.g. a thing's nature.  A thing's being is that it is, e.g. a thing's existence.

For example, we can describe a unicorn's essence as a magical horse with a horn.  However, that does not mean we are committed to a unicorn's being/existence.

Following Parmenides (although I disagree with him on some implications), I argue that being is one.  For, to be distinct from being is to be non-being.  Since non-being is literally nothing, anything distinct from being is non-existent.  Things can still differ by essence, however, even if they share the same being.

One way of avoiding this conclusion is to postulate that there are different types of being, just as there are different types of essence.  The problem with this objection is that distinct entities would therefore be incapable of interacting with one another.  If they do not have essence in common, and they do not have being in common, then they have nothing in common.  Hence, they have no point of contact in which they are causally related.

I think the unicity of being and the plurality of essence allows us to affirm one of our most fundamental metaphysical beliefs: that existent things are diverse, yet connected.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Cosmological Argument and the Unity of Being

1. Entities that stand in causal relations exist. (Premise)

2. Necessarily, everything that stands in a causal relation is united. (Premise)

3. Necessarily, everything united has some entity E in common. (Premise)

4. Therefore, E exists. (From 1 - 3)

Regardless of whether causality is a universal property among existing entities, few of us will doubt that there are, in fact, causally related entities.  The laptop is being held up by my desk, for example.  Now, in order for these two entities to be causally related, they must have something in common.  If they were completely uncommon with one another, then where would they find the "point of contact," as it were?  Given that diverse objects are capable of having a causal influence over one another, they must find in themselves some unifying existent.  From this, we can continue the argument:

5. Necessarily, E is either corruptible or incorruptible. (Definition)

6. Necessarily, time entails causal relations. (Premise)

7. Necessarily, E exists at all causal relations. (Implied by 1 - 4)

8. Hence, E exists at all times. (From 6 and 7)

9. Therefore, E is incorruptible. (From 5 and 8)

If sound, this version of the cosmological argument establishes the existence of some ontologically necessary, but not necessarily logically necessary, entity.  For the sake of argument, there are possible worlds without any causally related entities. (I don't think this is really the case, since I believe God exists in all possible worlds, and God is a causal entity.)  Nevertheless, philosophers such as Richard Swinburne would be smiling at the argument's conclusion.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Strong Immutability and the Argument from Motion

The doctrine of immutability, in its weak version, states roughly that God cannot change in character. In contrast, the strong version states that God cannot change at all. Proponents of the strong version have traditionally appealed to either the perfection of God or the argument from motion to the existence of an Unmoved Mover in support of their view. The more I think about this, the more I'm persuaded that defenders of the weak doctrine can also affirm the argument from motion. First, let's think about what the argument entails:

1. Evident to the senses is motion. (Premise)

2. Everything in motion is moved by another. (Premise)

3. Either a first mover exists, or else there is an infinite regress of movers. (Premise)

4. There cannot be an infinite regress of movers. (Premise)

5. Therefore, a first mover exists. (From 3 and 4)

Defenders of the argument are quick to point out that the first mover must itself be unmoved, since otherwise it would be moved by another and wouldn't be first, which is contradictory.

The question is this: why couldn't the proponent of weak immutability affirm this argument and maintain that only a part of God is immutable? This would be especially fitting given that weak immutability is usually affirmed by those who also affirm the doctrine of divine simplicity in its weak form. While God is not composed of composite physical parts, his attributes are still distinct from one another.

This type of motion may be likened to one who is moved by the beauty of a painting. The painting does not have to change in order to move the viewer. (Of course, a painting does move in certain respects, e.g. at a molecular level.) The way this would work, then, is that God's will and his actions are moved by the beauty of his immutable character.

Now, the strong doctrine of simplicity entails strong immutability, so the truth of the former implies the truth of the latter. I won't go into that, though, since we're only talking about the coherence, and not necessarily the actuality, of weak immutability with the argument from motion.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Encouragement on Easter Sunday

I was thrilled to hear my church's pastor emphasize the physical nature of Jesus' resurrection, in contrast to a mere spiritual resurrection (a contradiction in terms to a first century Palestinian Jew). His resurrection is an archetype of our own: "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you." (Romans 8:11). Happy Easter!