Monday, August 27, 2007

Divine persons and unity-making relations

Scott Williams has made some very helpful comments on a previous post.

One of the points that came up concerns why the divine essence and a personal property together count as a 'person'. Scott has pointed out that the features of the divine essence and the features of a personal property, when grouped together, satisfy the list of features required for something to be a person.

This is certainly right, but it raises a different question in my mind. It is true that all the features of the divine essence and the features of a personal property together satisfy the list of features required for something to be a person, but is this a sufficient reason to think that we should group the divine essence and a personal property together in the first place?

I think the answer is no. This situation here seems to be like this. Suppose that some x is an F if it exemplifies ten particular features. So something is an F if it exemplifies all ten of those features. Further, let's call the first five of those features 'feature-group A', and let's call the last five of those features 'feature-group B'. Thus, something will be an F if it exemplifies both feature-group A and feature-group B.

But now suppose that some x exemplifies feature-group A (but not feature-group B), while some y exemplifies feature-group B (but not feature-group A). If we group x and y together, then x + y together exemplify feature-group A and feature-group B. But does x + y then count as an F? I think the answer is no.

Let me try to explain with an example. Suppose that a chemist comes up with way to combine paper and gelatin to make gel-paper. This gel-paper would be a neat kind of paper that basically has all the features of paper, and all the features of gelatin. You can write on it and file it and so forth for all the things you do with paper, but you can also eat it and flavor it and so forth for all the things you do with gelatin.

But now suppose that I throw the following items into a pile: a piece of wadded up paper, an old glass marble, a brick, and a lump of gelatin. I could show you my pile, group the paper and gelatin together, and then say: 'look, that exemplifies all the features of paper, and all the features of gelatin, and that's the list of features required for something to be gel-paper. I have gel-paper!'

If I said that, you would probably look at me like I was crazy, and you might pull out a piece of gel-paper and show me the real stuff. When we compare the two, it becomes clear that even though my little heap of gelatin and paper exemplifies all the features required for something to be gel-paper, my heap is not gel-paper.

The reason is that in my pile, the paper and the gelatin are just grouped together in an arbitrary way. They are grouped together arbitrarily because I could just as easily group the brick and the gelatin, the brick and the marble, and so forth. In the pile, there is no reason that one constituent should be grouped with this constituent rather than that constituent, so any groupings are just arbitrary.

The only way I could legitimately group my paper and the gelatin together is if they were related to each other in a way stronger than they would be related to the other constituents of the pile. For example, if there were some kind of glue sticking between the paper and the gelatin but no glue sticking between the paper and the other constituents in the pile, then the paper would be related to the gelatin in a way stronger than it would be related to the other constituents.

But given that there is no such glue or anything like that in my pile, it is entirely arbitrary to group the paper and the gelatin. So in my pile, my 'gel-paper' is just an arbitrary grouping of paper-features and gelatin-features. By contrast, in the real gel-paper, the paper-features and the gelatin-features are not just arbitrarily grouped together. They have some stronger kind of relation holding them together.

So I cannot say some x and some y count as an F just because they jointly exemplify all the features required for something to be an F. My gelatin and my paper jointly exemplify all the features required for something to be gel-paper, but they are not gel-paper. I can only say that x and y count as an F if they are joined together in some way in the first place.

Likewise in the case of the trinity. Just because the divine essence and a personal property jointly exemplify all the features required to be a person, it does not follow that the divine essence + a personal property counts as a person, just as it does not follow that my piece of paper and lump of gelatin count as gel-paper. It is true that all the features of the divine essence and all the features of a personal property together exemplify the list of features required for something to be a person.

The fact that the divine essence and a personal property together exemplify all the features required for something to be a person is only relevant if the essence and property are joined or fused together in the first place. Otherwise, it's just two entities (neither entity needs to be a res or an object) that, when grouped together arbitrarily, exemplify feature-group A and feature-group B separately.

Obviously, the answer here is to establish a unity-making relation between the divine essence and a personal property. That's what Henry and Scotus need to do to get me past this little bump. But this is precisely the bit that I'm having trouble being persuaded of.

7 comments:

Scott Williams said...

A trick is not to posit three properties: a PP, E and a relation connecting these together. All Henry thinks you need is to posit a PP and the E. The next step is to explain Henry's account of relations and their foundations. For PPs are relations, and each has a foundation, E.

We should consult Henninger and Flores to help out in this matter. I'll get back to this soon.

Scott Williams said...

Richard reminded me of the quasi-matter & form to explain how Henry counts divine persons. It isn't just two things heaped together, but the form/matter model, which as we know form Aristotle have per se unity. So, it is per se unity b/c PP:form::E:matter.

Scott Williams said...

Forgive the typo near the end of the second sentence 'which as we know FROM Aristotle...'

JT Paasch said...

As for the first comment: surely we do want to say E and PP are related. If they weren't related, well, then they wouldn't be related, and there'd be no reason we would even be trying to say that E and PP are together in a person. That relation needn't be a 'thing' or whatnot, but the E and PP do need to be related somehow.

You suggest one way they're related in this comment: E is the foundation for PP. If that's not a statement about how E and PP are related, then I'm afraid I'm not tracking with you at all here.

As for your second comment, yep, I agree. Henry very nicely explains how E + PP counts as one thing: E is like matter and PP is like form. That makes a per se unity (a composite). Scotus, however denies the matter-form analogy, so that leaves my question: how the hell do the E and PP come together to make one? (Answer: The intensive infinity of E swallows up the PP in such a way as to cause PP to be identical to E.)

Scott Williams said...

I think the worry that Henry would have to say that the PP and the E are related somehow is problematic b/c then a relation (PP) would be related to E, this would posit 2 relations. An regress could happen from this, PP is related to a relation which is related to a relation to the E, and on.

To clarify, some relations are 'real' and some are 'rational'. I think Henry would say that PP is related to E by a relation of reason, otherwise this would posit a real relation btwn. a real relation (PP) and the E (foundation). The Father isn't composed of 2 real relations, one to the Son and one to the E. Rather, there is a real relation to the Son, and a relation of reason to the E. And he'd identify this relation of reason along the lines of the per se unity of a PP and E.

So yeah, there is a relation btwn. a PP and E, it is just that it's a relation of reason and not 'real', otherwise this further relation would be another divine person (neither the Father, nor the Son, nor the holy Spirit).

This I think, is the concern here.

JT Paasch said...

Okay, I'm not sure what we're debating about here. I can read you in three ways here. Either (a) you're trying to say there's no real relation between E and PP which is over and above E and PP, or (b) you're saying that E and PP are not related, or (c) you're asking a deeper question: how is it possible that E and PP are really together in one person, but there's not a real relation between them?

If (a), then sure, I agree. But that's a trivial point. I don't think anybody would say there's a real relation between E and PP. That would mean a divine person consists of E, PP, and a relation R between E and PP, and nobody I can think of would suggest that. Besides, I'm not trying at all to suggest that there is a real R here, so I'm not sure why you'd be worried about this. I'm just asking about the manner in which E and PP are joined together so as to make up one person.

If (b), then that seems a pretty odd claim. If E and PP are not related at all, then why would we consider them together as one person? Are you saying that E and PP are in reality not related, but in our minds we group them together and call that grouping a person? Surely you want to say that E and PP are really connected in some extramental way to make up one person, or are you trying to deny this?

If (c), then that's part of the question I'm asking here. I reckon most of us would want to say that E and PP are, in fact, really and extramentally connected in such a way that they together make up one person. E and PP are not just together because we group them together in our minds. So we want to say that E and PP are really connected in one person (however we want to parse 'connected'). Aquinas, Henry, Scotus, everybody says that the persons are really identical to the divine essence. So whatever the connection, it's real. But on the other hand, we don't want to say there's a real relation R between them, because then each person would consist of E, PP, and R, and that could lead to certain problems (e.g., a Bradley regress?). So how do we reconcile the intuition that we want to say E and PP are really connected, but there's not a real relation between them? Compare with matter and form. Obviously we want to say that matter and form in a composite are really and extramentally connected in one composite, for if they weren't really related, then we'd just be grouping them together in our minds. But on the other hand, do we want to say there's a real relation R between matter and form? If so, then a composite is made up of matter, form, and R. Do we want to say that? Well, why not?

Scott Williams said...

I was actually speaking toward A, B and C. It seemed like saying PP and E are related somehow is to posit R btwn. them, which Henry et alii all deny (of course). It is this that I wanted to point out in order to deny.

PP and E are connected in some fashion, but how are we to talk about this connection? If as a (real) relation, then this to me seems to posit A, which we deny. So what is the nature of this connection? If there are 2 properties that are really related, then they are really distinct and also not really identical. But E and PP are not really related b/c they are really identical. Still, E is not conceptually the same as PP. So, perhaps Henry says E and PP are intentionally distinct (i.e. we need at least two concepts in order to understand the 'one really identical thing', i.e. the Father).

So, what is the answer to C? As we've said, it has something to do with his analogy to matter and form. We know that these are not really related (there is no relation that relates form to matter, and vice versa)-b/c they have per se unity. So, similarly, they are intentionally distinct, i.e. we need two concepts by which to understand the one really identical thing. (Aside: A Physical question arises from this though, how do we explain change in material substance?).

Does this clear it up?