Monday, September 3, 2007

The divine essence, quidditative properties, and natural kinds

Scotus thinks the divine essence is a quidditative property. What exactly does that mean? A quidditative property is a 'whatness' property, a property that explains what kind of thing something is. Here I've explained 'quiddity' with the notions of 'what' and 'kind'. Does that clarify anything? Not really. The notion of 'what' and 'kind' stand in need of just as much explanation as the notion of 'quiddity'. So what is it that makes a property quidditative?

Scotus often describes a quidditative property as being common to many. On this account, any property that can only occur in one individual at a time would fail to be a quidditative property, and everything else would be a quidditative property. Accordingly, properties like being human, being white, and even being matter or being a form would be quidditative properties.

Scotus certainly thinks that being human is a quidditative property, so in this sense, a quidditative property is much like a natural kind. But Scotus also thinks that matter and form have an essence, so presumably being matter and being a form also count as quidditative properties. Would the modern writer think these are natural kinds? Probably not. I also suspect that Scotus thinks being white counts as a quidditative property too, although many modern writers don't want to count colors as natural kinds.

All that said, though, what about the property being an individual? This property certainly can occur in many individuals, and in fact it should necessarily occur in every individual. But obviously this kind of property doesn't count as a natural kind. So trying to define quidditative properties in terms of commonality doesn't seem to be any more illuminating than 'quiddity', 'what', or 'kind'. The question stands: what exactly is it that makes a property common?

Scotus sometimes claims that common properties have less than numerical unity. Since they have less than numerical unity, they are not incompatible with entities that have numerical unity. The idea is that something with numerical unity is numerically one. Things that are numerically one are just that: they are one, not many. This might make us think that common properties are those that cannot be common to many. If this is right, then a quidditative property would be anything that's not numerically one.

But if that's what it means to be a quidditative property, it's not clear just how the divine essence could be a quidditative property. If lacking numerical unity is precisely what makes something common or quidditative, then the divine essence would not be quidditative because, for Scotus, it has numerical unity. Conversely, if having numerical unity is what makes something incapable of being common, then the divine essence would have precisely that property, namely numerical unity, which makes something incapable of being common.

So again, if having numerical unity is what is supposed to distinguish individual properties (haecceities) from quidditative properties, then again we don't explain very much. The divine essence has numerical unity, just like individual properties (haecceities), so having numerical unity is not enough to do the explanatory work we need here.

Scotus sometimes says that being an individual means being indivisible. However, for Scotus, the divine essence is individisible, but in the divine case, this is compatible with being shared. Some x could be individisible and still be shared, just so long as it is not divided by those who share it. The divine essence is 'common' in this sense. Although it is indivisible, it is shareable.

Indeed, Scotus thinks that although the divine essence is indivisible, it is also communicable. Again, the notion of 'communicable' or 'shareable' stands in need of just as much explanation as 'kind' or 'common'. What is it to be communicable? It won't help to appeal to less than numerical unity, commonality, and all the other options already mentioned, for all of these need explanation too.

As far as I can tell, Scotus can only say that the divine essence is 'common' in the sense that each divine person shares it. But this sort of commonality doesn't seem to answer any questions. Lots of things are commonly shared by many, but the shared items don't make various things belong to the same kind. A duvet, for example, can be shared by two people, but a duvet doesn't make two people belong to the same kind. Being a shareable property does not, in itself, seem to amount to being a quidditative property. [Or does it? If two people share a bed spread, then they'd both have the common property sharing a bedspread. Would the persons have a common property sharing the divine essence in a similar way? And is that sufficient for the divine essence to function as a quidditative property?]

Scotus is clearly trying to say that quidditative properties are kind-maker properties, for the divine essence is in this context a divine-maker property: any x that possesses the divine essence will be divine in virtue of possessing the divine essence. Of course, this definition does not explain much, since a 'kind' stands in need of explanation, but for now, let's just assume that a quidditative property can be defined as a kind-maker:

(PQ) A quidditative property =df a property K the exemplification of which by some x is a necessary and sufficient condition for x to belong to K-kind.

When something exemplifies a quidditative property, this property makes that thing into the kind of thing it is. For example, the property being human is a quidditative property because any x that exemplifies the property being human is a human (belongs to human-kind) in virtue of possessing the property being human.

For Scotus, the divine essence is a quidditative property because it is a divine-maker: any x that exemplifies the divine essence is divine in virtue of exemplifying the divine essence. As Scotus puts it, the divine essence is that by which each person is divine, just as the property being human is that by which Socrates is human.

One caveat. Many medievals think the divine essence does not belong to a genus, so for someone of this persuasion, it's not exactly correct to say that the divine essence functions as a kind-maker, for there is no divine 'kind' (no divine genus). (However, Ockham thinks the divine essence can belong to a genus, so for him, it could be accurate to say that the divine persons belong to divine-kind.) But nothing philosophically significant seems to turn on this. Whether these cats say the divine essence belongs to a genus or not, it functions for everybody as a kind-maker property: it is the property in virtue of the possession of which the divine persons are divine.


Scott Williams said...

I wonder to what extent 'motion' plays into the definition of a 'communicable' essences for creatures? And if so, then this obviously is a disanalogy for the divine essence, which is not communicated to another based on any motion. I think this perhaps is an important aspect of 'communicable' b/c it would seem that 'motion' perhaps in part explains why a kind-maker can be instantiated in indefinitely many individuals that exemplify this kind-maker, whereas in the divine case, the divine essence is not communicable indefinitely, but definitely. Three and only three agents/persons exemplify the divine essence. So the question is, why just three divine persons? And thus, here begins Henry's and Scotu's employment of philosophical psychology as a model to explain this.

As an aside, I have a hunch, though not confirmed yet, that Henry's account of the Father's memory plays into, or explains why Henry thinks that notional acts are founded on essential acts. There's a lot of philosophical psychology to work through to show this connection; this at least, is a possible interpretation I'll be looking to see if there is confirmation as I get into the details in the coming weeks.

Scott Williams said...

Here's a question about quidditative divine properties: if a divine person has the divine essence does this person have divine wisdom qua wisdom, or does the person have divine wisdom in some mode? Henry seems to suggest that the principiative order of persons renders wisdom either as 'ungenerated wisdom of the E' (Father) or 'generated wisdom of the E' (Son) or 'wisdom not from another essence'. Scotus would seem to want to separate out essential and personal attributes, such that the F, S, and HS all have wisdom identically (w/o modal differentiation of 'wisdom'), whereas Henry seems to think that wisdom needs to be rendered in various modes, for him, wisdom is 'moded' (to use a 2nd grade vocabulary) in the situation where and how a person is 'moded'.

JT Paasch said...

I'm not sure I see how motion plays into communicability for Scotus. How do you figure?

As for three and only three, I don't think it's accurate to say the divine essence is communicable definitely rather than indefinitely. The essence could be communicated indefinitely. For Scotus, in the divine case, the divine essence is not 'used up' so that it can't be communicated any more, it's just that there's not another opportunity to be communicated.

As for modes, I assume that Scotus would see it like this. The persons would have wisdom in exactly the same way they have the divine essence. It would be wisdom qua wisdom in this sense: the wisdom they each have is not divided between them. The persons have the divine essence qua essence in exactly the same way. But the wisdom would also be concrete for each person in this sense: it is the wisdom contained in the individual 'this' that is the divine essence.

Scott Williams said...

Henry also holds that the divine essence has 'no further opportunity for other ad intra productions'. Still, the question remains, why is the divine essence 'shareable' by the three persons? The usual answer is the 'no opportunity thesis' [NOT]. But this doesn't quite answer the question as to why the essence is communicable 'when' there is an opportunity for ad intra production? NOT explains how a divine power can only do one ad intra productive act, but it does not explain why a divine power can in one instance be a power by which a divine person produces another divine person. Given that Scotus seems to be agnostic on the particular determination of the productive acts of the powers by a divine person, he doesn't explain why we must posit this production. If the divine intellect can perform a productive act, what precisely does it do to be productive. [This, I suppose, is the big question one of your examiners asked you in your MSt. Viva voce.]

Henry, on the other hand, thinks there is a particular kind of intellectual act that counts as a productive act. Scotus of course makes fun of Henry for thinking that a reflexive act is a productive act, and for various reasons. Nonetheless, I don't think (perhaps) Scotus appreciated Henry's move to at least posit some sort of intellectual act that counts as productive, rather than just saying, 'productive'. it is as though Scotus the house-builder says, 'I built that house'. And Henry the house-builder says, 'I built that house _by_ nailing wood together'. They both indicate that a productive act happened, but Henry seems to want to say just what that productive act is.

You wrote that for Scotus all the divine persons 'have' the divine essence (and in turn some essential attribute, e.g. wisdom) in the same way. Is this entirely true? If they 'have' E in the same way, how are the persons distinguished? At least for Henry, a PP is 'a way of having the divine essence', or put differently, a PP is 'the divine essence in another way (mode)'. So, the Father has the E as (being) ungenerated; the Son has the E as (being) 'generated' and the HS has the E as (being) 'spirated'.

It seems that b/c Scotus inverts Henry, namely that PP's are akin to matter, and E is akin to form, that for Scotus essential properties (e.g. wisdom) does not also need to be modified in some way in each person; so, for Scotus, each divine person formally has wisdom in formally the same way; but for Henry it seems that each divine person has wisdom in formally the same way, but modally (i.e. in the principiative order) in diverse ways. So, here (again) is a place where Henry's claim that notional acts [NA] are founded on essential acts [EA] brings about its earthquakes. since for Scotus NAs have nothing to do with EAs, there is no need to postulate a modal distinction in how each divine person has formally identical properties (e.g. wisdom).

Scott Williams said...

In the last paragraph I wrote:
'so, for Scotus, each divine person formally has wisdom in formally the same way', I mistyped and it should read: 'so, for Scotus, each divine person formally has wisdom in modally the same way'. He'd probably say this same mode is '_perfect_ wisdom' or '_uncaused_ wisdom' or something like that.

JT Paasch said...

Yeah, I think you're right here. Scotus would say the persons have the divine essence (and hence wisdom) in modally the same way. Scotus would probably scoff at Henry's idea that the persons could have the divine essence (and any of its attributes) in modally different ways. His reasoning would probably go like this (I say 'probably' because I don't have time to look at it right now, but I think he actually argues this or something like it in Ord.

If each divine person can have the divine essence in some different way, then the divine essence must be different in some way in each person. But the divine essence would have no different properties in each divine person. Rather, it would have exactly the same properties in each divine person. Therefore, by Leibniz's Law, it would not be different in any way in each person.

Scott Williams said...

Thanks for that. I think that's how Scotus would approach it. I think this dispute here is based on their different account of foundations and their relations. Given Henry's acct. of the foundation of substance and its modes/relations, he 'can' say that each divine person is E in diverse ways, otherwise there wouldn't be really distinct persons. And taking this to the psychological acct., Henry would say there are different modes/relations of E b/c of different origins of having E. This would mean then, that e.g. the Son has two foundations, E simply, and E qua intellect; and likewise for the HS, a foundation on E and E qua will. Well, perhaps not quite, b/c it isn't just E and essential intellect as such which are the foundation of the Son (qua mode of the E or substance), but intellect as performed/acted by the Father's productive intellectual act.

Yeah, Scotus's account is starting to look 'smoother' than Henry's as far as this issue goes. After all, Scotus's rendering PP as matter and E as form makes it that F and S can have the identical form, just in different instantiations. What may be problematic with this, is that it would appear that they don't have the same foundation (quasi-matter). But heck, Scotus doesn't think of matter as 'the individuator', but individual forms (haecceities). So if there is one E, it just is instantiated in F, S, and HS. This seems to be a nicely refined version of Henry indeed. Although I'm not yet satisfied with how Scotus portrays (or doesn't) what productive acts are specifically.