Monthly Archives: February 2017

Birth – Struggle – Victory

It comes to me.

From where I do not know.

A thought

a new feeling.

Or an old one

not felt for years.

Where were you?

If you were within me

how is it I did not try to bring you here?

If you were without me

how did you become so present

now closer to me

than my own flesh?

Birth – newness

a spontaneous mystery.

You, thought, come to me

ex nihilo.

I turn you over in my mind

to get a feel for you

and to see all your angles

like a figure which may on inspection

have a crack, or be perfectly smooth.

I try to encompass you

to assimilate you perfectly into me

so that you are seamlessly undifferentiated

from Truth.

For that would be most satisfying.

Yet a discord arises

a violence

a shriek against the universal harmony.

An incongruity rubs against the laws of metaphysics

like sandpaper

on the skin of an infant.

How can such a thought be?

How can it fit

into the ensemble of my life-mind?

I must digest it.

But how?

What is false cannot be true

and if true

then some overthrow it will have

on other Truths lodged fathoms deep

in me.

Yet to run would be the cowards way.

So I must face it.


if I stare long enough

it will come into focus.

Or maybe

it will lose its power

like the stars

which no longer hold captive the middle aged.

Obsession – mulling

chewing on the thought, like a piece of rubber

without nourishment

and no progress.

Denial – anger

cursing the practice of thinking.

For what good does it do

if you understand how the stomach works

but have no food to put into it.

Rebuttal – arising

laughing at former despair.

The very food I need is Truth

and so I cannot stop the search

even if I would.

Thus I must keep trying to find

a fitting place for the puzzle piece.


it is not the not-finding

(I may fail, after all)

but the not-trying-to-find

which is unacceptable

and leads to defeat

rather than



A Critique of Vallicella’s Critique of McCann

If one isn’t familiar with the issues from the title, feel free to skip this post.

Vallicella thinks McCann is wrong in holding that God transcends modality. He wrote a paper explaining why, titled “Hugh McCann on the Implications of Divine Sovereignty,” published in the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 88:1 (2014).

His main reasons (I’m sure he would accuse me of butchering his views) for thinking McCann is wrong are three. I’ll post them in his own words below.

“In closing, I suggest that divine sovereignty cannot extend as far as McCann would like to extend it. God cannot be absolutely sovereign because he himself is subject to modal constraints. First, God cannot create himself. Second, the divine aseity, pace McCann, entails both the divine de re metaphysical necessity and the de re metaphysical contingency of the created realm. Aseity is a modal notion: it implies the possibility that God exists without the world, and the impossibility that the world exist without God. Third, God’s being the best explanation of the world’s existence entails that the world needs and explanation, which is true only if the world is contingent – which it cannot be if McCann’s scheme is correct.”

Now, far be it from me to act like I can go toe to toe with a guy like Vallicella. Take this like a kitten bucking up to a grizzly bear. Meow.

It just seems to me Vallicella isn’t really grasping what McCann is suggesting, because all these objections can be met with the same response: namely that they are category mistakes. Let’s take his objections one by one.

a) Criticism: if it is impossible for God to create himself, God is therefore subject to “possibility” in a modal sense. Reply: not necessarily. Why not just say that the idea of a thing creating itself is meaningless, and therefore impossible to predicate of anything in the first place? If I say that it is true that Tuesday cannot gain 15 pounds, that does not mean that Tuesday is somehow limited by the notion of “pounds.” For when I’m making this statement I need not really be invoking some metaphysical criteria which delineates Tuesday. I can say all sorts of words and attach them to a subject – but that need not entail anything about the subject. In other words, to deny that A applies to X is not to affirm therefore that not A does in fact apply to it. For it may be that both A and not A are terms that are not predicable of X at all, either positively or negatively. The truth we are expressing when we say that God cannot create himself is really the truth that no being that exists in time can exist prior to itself – for that is a logical contradiction. But God, as not being a being in time, simply doesn’t even fall into the category in which “existing before” applies. Thus to say anything about him creating himself – whether you say its possible or impossible – is simply a meaningless predication.

(Also, remember, “impossibility” for McCann is a conceptual category; it is about PROPOSITIONS, not about God, which just is what he is.)

b) Criticism: aseity implies that God can exist without the world but that the world cannot exist without God. Response: again, this doesn’t necessarily follow. Aseity entails that God’s being comes from himself and that he does not depend on the world (it does not “happen to him”). But that need not imply ANYTHING about his ability to act otherwise. If God timelessly creates the world then he is a se insofar as he does not gain being from anything and that he neither could do differently nor necessarily does what he does. And that’s all you need. You don’t have to say that he “could” exist differently.

c) Criticism: the cosmological argument entails assuming the world is contingent and could have not existed, which is impossible if God’s act of creation is amodal. Response: the cosmological argument is really, at its core, an argument from the phenomenon of CHANGE and BECOMING – not contingency as a modal notion. All you need is an object undergoing succession to run Aristotle’s or Aquinas’ proof of a first moved mover. In short, you need the act/potency distinction, nor the contingent/necessary distinction. Vallicella’s point here fails to consider this fact.

So, pace the Maverick, a) impossibility applies to the conceptual order; b) aseity per se need not entail anything about the ability to do otherwise; and c) the cosmological argument needs only change, not contingency, to be a metaphysically “real” category.

Divine Freedom – Transcending Modality and being Essentially Related to Creation

I still think a majority of the problems posed by each question stem from applying created modalities to God’s essence. In particular, several (most?) of the seeming contradictions regarding God’s freedom result from imagining God as existing in other possible worlds. But this, again, is just to assume a priori that created modality applies to God’s act of being itself. If in fact such an assumption is incorrect, to imagine God existing in possible worlds is meaningless.

God’s freedom need not be thought of as his “ability to do otherwise.” Why not simply construe his freedom as the fact that all God’s act come from himself, without movement or dependence from some prior cause? This does not entail that God “had” to create; nor that he “could have” not created. (For these statements assume possible world metaphysics apply to God, and if McCann is right that’s incorrect or meaningless). Rather it just implies what all Thomists agree on: God’s act simply IS, period. Why is it so essential to think that God “could have” done other than he did, if the opposite – that God “had to” create – is also false?

Also, it seems to me that God is essentially related to creation, even on the view that modality applies to God. For even if this is correct, and it is a contingent fact that God decided to create the world (i.e. if God “could have done otherwise”) then it still follows that, had God not so decided, he would have still had some act of his being conditioned by creation, namely the fact that he “chose not to create the universe.” In other words, if you ascribe contingency to God’s act itself, you still have God “faced with the question” of whether or not he will create something. And even if he refrains from creating, you still have his essence defined by that very refrain itself: i.e. you still have God being essentially a “non-creator.” So long as there is even a possible referent to God’s action, and God can either act towards that referent or not, then you are positing an action of God that is defined only insofar as it is referred to that very referent. Thus, it seems to me, far from making God essentially unrelated to creatures, if you in fact put his act of being itself in the world of modality, then, in his very decision to refrain from creation, he is still essentially related to the potentially created world which he decides not to make. If you think of God existing “ad intra” contemplating only the contingent possibilities of creation, even not creating any world at all is still an example of God actualizing a state of affairs which is impossible – indescribable – without referent to a creation itself. In fact even the term “ad intra” – even conceiving of God in himself, apart from creation – necessarily supposes a creation over which to juxtapose God’s “aloneness.” In which case, it seems, God’s own self-constitutive definition as “existing without a creation” is essentially related to the possibility of a contingent creation itself – therefore, God is essentially related to creation.

In light of these issues it still seems to me best to view modality as such as part of the *conceptual* realm only. I.e. to view the difference in the Necessary and Contingent to be basically equivalent to the “Unimaginable” and the “Imaginable.” We say it is “necessary” that 1+1=2, but that is only because it is unimaginable to us that it could be otherwise. We don’t mean that, as considered in God’s changeless and immutable act of Pure Existence, which itself encompasses everything that exists, it makes sense to say 1+1=2 “could not have been otherwise.” There is no “otherwise” to speak of: there is nothing outside the Everything that is both God and his eternal action with which to compare things to.

Nor does this seem problematic for speaking about God’s essence. True, it would not be technically correct to say that God’s act of existence is “necessary.” But God’s existence could still be necessary in the sense that it is unimaginable that God not exist. Furthermore, it would not therefore be FALSE that God’s existence was necessary; it would just be meaningless, or, rather, less comprehensive to describe God using these words. The best thing to say would be that God essentially is all that he is and does; period. And one could still be led by the classic arguments to posit the necessary existence of a being like THAT; a being whose essence is simply the act of existing. That is, the statement “there exists a being whose essence is to exist” could be necessarily true, and it could still be false to say that “there is a being who necessarily exists.” Or so it seems to me.

Clarifying the “Ability to do otherwise”

Libertarian freedom is supposedly distinguished from compatibilism because it holds we have “the ability to do otherwise.” I am not necessarily endorsing compatibilism here, but I see a potential absurdity – or at least difficulty – in this claim, which is this. Just WHERE is the ability to do otherwise located, or WHEN is it actualized?

Pick any moment in time. At that moment, the person’s will is DOING something. Therefore they cannot AT THAT MOMENT be free to do otherwise. Therefore they must be free in the NEXT moment. But if that’s the case, how is that different from compatibilism, which could also hold that the will is, from one moment to the next, free to do what it does (i.e. that it can be different from one moment to the next)? Further, just what is it that gives rise to the particular act that could have been different, and could THAT thing, at THAT moment, be different? If it is what it is it cannot be different (for then it would be something else) – and in which case, how could what it gives rise to be different? If all things are equal the effect will be equal, unless the principle of sufficient reason is false. So there seems to be an infinite regress here, insofar as you must eventually posit something that just IS what it IS at a particular moment, which means that it cannot AT THAT MOMENT be otherwise.

Hugh McCann has an interesting take on freedom which has to do with de re modality. He thinks that the terms “necessary” and “contingent” apply on to the conceptual realm – i.e. they essentially equate to what we cannot imagine and what we can imagine. But they don’t impose some sort of tight metaphysical structure onto reality itself whereby things fall into the category of “has to be this” and “may be that.” That is just how our finite, ignorant minds work. We, being less than all knowing, imagine various things, and this ability makes us think things MAY or MAY NOT be other than they are. But in reality, McCann holds, things just ARE the way they are. It’s not that they are necessary or that they are contingent – they just ARE. Thus, it is not the case that humans HAVE to have the power of seeing, nor that we could not exist without it. It is just that as a matter of fact we DO have this ability. And there’s the end of the matter.

Perhaps we should think of the will like this, not as having to do what it does (i.e. determined by some metaphysically antecedent mode of being called “necessity”), nor that it just contingently is what it is, but it could have been different. Rather, perhaps we should think of it as simply doing what it does and being what it is: i.e. the “definition” of free will is just what in fact occurs and is willed by us.

Divine Subconscious as Grounds for God’s Changing Conscious States

Question – how did the idea of create ever come into God’s mind in the first place? He couldn’t have eternally had it, or creation ex nihilo doesn’t seem possible. Yet if it just popped in there “one day” that seems rather arbitrary.

I have a potential solution and was wondering your thoughts.

God’s conscious experience, insofar as it is an expression of the fullness he eternally and necessarily has as Trinity, may well possibly be eternally becoming and changing. Hence the Father could be constantly experiencing new, lovely, creative emotions and thoughts towards the Son. Yet back behind God’s conscious experiences (his experiential becoming) lies his changeless nature or being. Could it not be that this being functions as it were as a kind of actus purus or unmoved mover insofar it throws up into God’s consciousness various existential experiences? This could help explain how the idea of creation “came into God’s mind.” For on an open view of God, it seems there must be something in God that is at least like our “subconsciousness” – some source of creativity, some reality or beingness that throws various thoughts into his mind which his mind THEN does something with. God cannot be at all times consciously willing in such a way where there is no element of experiencing new thoughts. His nature or unconscious being may be purely active, insofar as nothing is acting on IT or moving IT, but God’s conscious experience cannot be immovable in that sense, or it could not be going through a process of becoming, thinking, choosing, creating, relating to a changing world, moving from one moment to the next.

So, for example, do you think the following is possible. You have God existing alone, in Triune relation. And all of a sudden he gets the idea to create a world. This is something he’s never thought about before – literally it had never entered his conscious experience. How is this possible? Well, why can’t we say that God’s unchanging nature – which functions as a first mover – actualizes this particular potency in God’s mind? In anthropomorphic terms: the thought comes into God’s conscious mind by an instance of divine creativity, from his subconscious mind/being.

Thus all the seemingly arbitrary emotional states in God (in the sense that such states are not themselves consciously chosen – emotions are never consciously chosen) could be grounded in the changeless divine subconsciousness.

If Jesus really is God there is no such thing as being TOO anthropomorphic, is there?

Divine Mathematics: Molinism’s Three Logical Moments and Divine Timelessness

God has three “logical moments” in his knowledge according to Molinism: knowledge of what could occur, what would occur, and what will occur. Now, this last moment (God’s “free knowledge”) seems to require that God be temporal. But Molina could not have thought this, since he was a Catholic (I think timelessness was de fide in the 16th century?)

Anyway, maybe he could have said this.

The three logical moments of knowledge in God exist simultaneously, as sort of three premises that he deduces in one timeless act. If this is true, it seems God’s free knowledge of what “will” occur would more correctly be called his knowledge of what “is occurring at such and such a time.” For “will” occur imports temporal passage into God’s knowledge, which wouldn’t exist if he were timeless.

Or you could look the creation of the world like an equation. 1 + 2 = 3, where 1 is God’s natural knowledge, 2 is his middle, and 3 his free. Now, God being timelessly omniscient could know all possible permutations and equations, and he could timelessly choose to actualize whichever equation he thought best. Thus God timelessly contemplates a particular equation as actually existing, and timelessly contemplates an infinite number of other equations as not existing, but as possibly able to exist were he to will their existence.

Maybe I should buy part IV of the Concordia and see if he addresses this issue specifically.

An Inconsistency in Aquinas

Aquinas held God did not have to create (i.e. it was possible that he didn’t.) He also held God’s essence was identical to Goodness as such. Yet, in explaining why the world exists (and why some are damned), he often says things like this:

“To each things, that is befitting which belongs to it by reason of its very nature; thus, to reason befits man, since this belongs to him because he is of a rational nature. But the very nature of God is goodness, as is clear from Dionysius (Div. Nom. i). Hence, what belongs to the essence of goodness befits God. But it belongs to the essence of goodness to communicate itself to others, as is plain from Dionysius (Div. Nom. iv). Hence it belongs to the essence of the highest good to communicate itself in the highest manner to the creature.”

Thus if God is his own nature and his nature is goodness and it is the nature of goodness to diffuse itself, God necessarily creates and Aquinas is inconsistent.