Saturday, August 14, 2010

What are haecceities?

One of the major questions that I wonder about is this: what is the difference between haecceities and quiddities (or 'thisnesses' and 'suchnesses')?

One option is to say this: a suchness is qualitative, whereas a thisness is not. But what does that mean? My pre-theoretical intuitions are this: something that is qualitative has some sort of content, whereas something that is non-qualitative does not (it's more abstract -- whatever that means). 

But it's hard to come up with examples for that sort of distinction, and that tells me that my pre-theoretical intuitions are just confused.

Another option is to say this: a suchness is repeatable, whereas a thisness is not. That is, a suchness can be instantiated more than once, whereas a thisness cannot. There can only be one of any given thisness.

That is how most analytic philosophers these days distinguish 'qualitative' and 'non-qualitative' properties. Anything that is repeatable is qualitative, and anything that is not is non-qualitative.

But still, what are some examples? It's hard to come up with an example of a non-qualitative property or constituent. Any entity I can think of is the sort of thing that could be repeated: God could create another identical copy of it, for instance.

So why couldn't God create an identical copy of a haecceity? What makes it so unrepeatable?


Andrew M said...

Hi JTP, Am I right in thinking this question got something to do with the teleport dilemma?

JT Paasch said...

As in, Parfit's teleport dilemma?

There's definitely a lot of that stuff floating around here in the background, but maybe you could say more about what you're thinking?

Andrew M said...

But that would totally reveal my ignorance!

Alright. What I was wondering was whether a teleport clone (same memories, DNA etc) would have quiddity but not haecceity with the original person.

JT Paasch said...

That's a great question. I presume that anyone who wants to say that teleportation is possible would also want to say that our haecceity can be teleported along with our quiddity. Otherwise it wouldn't be me stepping out of the destination teleport booth.

But how exactly that is supposed to happen is not exactly clear, at least not to me anyway. Teleportation seems to work on the assumption that we can disassemble our bodies at one place, and then reassemble them at another place.

So my question would be: is simply reassembling my bits and particles in the right states sufficient to reconstitute my haecceity?

One could, I suppose, say that at the macro level we are individuated by the chunk of material that makes up our bodies, but at the micro level that chunk of material (or perhaps all its bits and particles) are individuated by a haecceity (or haecceities).

If that were right, then my chunk of material (or particles) would remain individuated/haecceitized as it is transported from the starting place to the destination place.

However, if teleportation works by destroying my material (or particles) at the starting point and then recreating it at the destination, then it's hard to see how that wouldn't be a new haecceity (and, in fact, a new me altogether).

But that's just me speculating. I suppose that at the most general level, I would say this: one could always say that it is possible for a haecceity to be teleported (along with the quiddity), so long as that does not result in a contradiction.

Andrew M said...

Tricky stuff this! Thankyou for your response - it is encouraging to know I'm not completely barking up the wrong tree.

I love (and am totally creeped out) by that idea that teleportation actually annihilates a person and makes a perfect copy – btw have you seen that movie "The Prestige" (eek)?

I am also puzzled when modern people gleefully imagine they will be able to "upload their consciousness" into a computer some day. How is that "them"?

This has lots of implications for Christian doctrine, doesn't it? If we want a non-dualist view of humanity (as seems increasingly popular) then how is the person who is resurrected not just a perfect copy (especially if all the physical material is rotted away).

Even more difficult, are the Logos and Jesus one in terms of haecceity? And how? Does Scotus help us here?

BTW your blog is misnamed :-) (or are you "boring down" into profundity or something?)

JT Paasch said...

It sure is tricky stuff!

Yeah, the resurrection of the human person is another case to consider here. How does God preserve (or re-constitute?) my haecceity when I'm resurrected. I don't know what Scotus thinks about that, but it would be interesting to look into that.

As for the Incarnation, I don't know what Scotus would say about that either, but my guess is this: he would say the divine nature is individual already (i.e., it needs no thisness because it is a thisness already), but the human nature of Jesus does have a haecceity, and that's what makes it Jesus' particular human nature rather than, say, Socrates' human nature. But the philosophical problem that Scotus grapples with there is not which human nature Jesus' is, but rather: is it identical to the hypostasis? To that, he says no. At, I posted a series of posts on this problem, starting here.

Andrew M said...

Nice stuff, JT!

Your posts make me ask. Is a person the same as a suppositum of a (rational) nature? Hmmm...? My gut says not quite - and I have a (vaaague) intuition that enhypostasis has a part to play. I would really want to say that it is the Logos himself that (somehow!) *becomes* one of us.

I read Aquinas on this a few weeks ago - darned if I understood it - but he seemed to have some reason for rejecting the idea that Christ is two supposita.

You know what made me laugh?
"It would seem that the answer is no." You've been reading a LOT of medieval theology, haven't you? :-)

btw - have you read John Owen on this? I think he thinks like you.

Andrew M said...

Sorry JT, just a further thought.
I think this Antiochene/Nestorian argument you make is really hard to respond to for an Alexandrian (like me :-) ) – at least without lapsing into some kind of Apollinarinism.
Maybe this is just the place where the concept of "haecceity" comes into its own – it gives us the terminology to declare *without explaining* that the eternal Son is the same as Jesus?
But I dunno.

JT Paasch said...

Ah, yes, I do read a lot of medieval philosophy. Every day. =)

You're right about Aquinas. He (and every other medieval theologian I've read) thinks there is just one suppositum/person in Christ, but two natures.

I agree that it's hard to respond to the Nestorian challenge. But I suppose that's what makes it fun. =)

As far as I can see, an Alexandrian could respond to the Nestorian challenge in two ways.

(1) One could agree with the Nestorian insight that an individual human nature necessarily brings along an individual human person (a claim which is, after all, very plausible), but argue that Christ's human person is identical to the divine person. I seem to remember Thomas Morris taking this line, though it's been a while since I read his book, and I suspect that Cyril takes this line too.

(2) Alternatively, one could deny the Nestorian insight that an individual nature necessarily brings along an individual person. This happens to be the line that most medievals (including Aquinas) took.

I haven't read Owen on this. Any particular bits I should look at?

Andrew M said...

Hi JT,

Sorry to take so long. 'got all distracted.

Re. John Owen. It's been a while since I read him (and this aspect wasn't my main interest at the time). But I do know that you can find the matter dissected pretty well in: A. Spence, "Christ's Humanity and Ours: John Owen" in Persons, Divine and Human: King's College essays in theological anthropology, ed. C. E. Gunton & C. Schwöbel (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1999).

I've been thinking about your two option. I'm not sure I understand your first one: it sounds like panentheism (the Son's eternal person is determined in space and time) but I doubt that's what you mean, is it?

The second I don't know about. I find the supposit=person pretty strong generally but NQR here. I guess that's the Aquinas point – this is an exception?

Another thought that occurred to me was that if person is simply a particularisation of nature, would we be able to account for free decisions? My intuition is that "person" must somehow be able to transcend nature – either to go against it (in fallen humanity) or to choose between the possibilities it affords (eg. for God – to create or not to create).

I suppose one possibility might be that the triune essence itself (as meta-agent) makes decisions which are then expressed individually by the hypostases. As I read Scotus: QQ 8.24 this seems to be kind of the case for him.

Is this what you think too?

JT Paasch said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the book reference. That's a great book, but it's been a while since I looked at it. I should have another look at the Spence piece.

As for the first option (the divine person is identical in some way to the human person), an advocate would want to work out a way that the divine Son can be the same (identical) person as the human Jesus, but also how certain properties (like divine and human ones) can be attributed to that person coherently. Hence, there would be a sense in which the incarnate person would be in space and time, though without 'determining' the Son. Thomas Morris has some great stuff on that in his book.

As for the second option (suppositum = person unless its assumed by another supposit), I completely agree, and yeah, the incarnation would be the exception. Many people (including myself) object that this is ad hoc solution. There's some stuff on this at Maverick Philosopher in some posts and comments a few months back.

As for the particularization of a nature, that phrase is short hand for a kind-nature + any individuating features. But that's enough to make an individual. Once you individuate a common nature to the point that you have a particular instance of it, then you have an individual member of that species. E.g., a particularized human nature would be a particular human. So that particular human would be capable of making free decisions (assuming a non-deterministic view).

As for the Scotus thing, I'm not sure. Scotus thinks there are cases where it is the persons (not the divine essence) who perform the actions (e.g., when the Father produces the Son), but he also seems to think there are other cases where the divine essence does perform an action (e.g., creating the world). But when he says the divine essence performs such actions, he might mean that the persons actually do the acting, but since they are identical to the divine essence, he can use the label "divine essence" to denominate the persons as the agents. But I'm not sure, I haven't worked it all out yet!