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.

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2 thoughts on “Divine Freedom – Transcending Modality and being Essentially Related to Creation

  1. Tom

    Things are beginning to escape me here. Not sure I’m tracking, but here goes:

    I like “possible worlds” talk. It can get out of hand, but in small doses it’s helpful. But you have to do a lot of redefining and denying of (what seems to me to be fundamental) intuitions to get rid of it and to get to a metaphysical account of modality that is exclusively *conceptual*. What it means to say we are free means we know not what other than that “we do what we do—period.” That’s just pure “observation,” not meaning-making, and surely there’s more to being a rational/personal being than going around ‘noting’ and ‘observing’ that what in fact occurs in fact occurs.

    At what point do you just stop trusting the basic categories that make meaningful talk possible? Are the laws of non-contradiction or of identity merely abstractions meant to distinguish between what we can and cannot imagine but which say nothing about “the way the world actually is”? If not the latter, then what laws inform the truth that what you’re described is in fact “the way the world [i.e., our perceiving and knowing] actually is”? In other words, I think exiling modality to the conceptual world of abstractions is self-defeating, for even the claim that modality is purely conceptual is a veiled claim about the way the world actually is – namely, the sort of thing our fundamental concepts (and you don’t get any more fundamental notions that those of ‘necessity’ and ‘contingency’) do not comprehend; i.e., metaphysical necessity and contingency say nothing about modes or ways of being.

    That’s a very high price to pay. What are you getting in exchange for it?

    Chris: It seems to me that God is essentially related to creation, even on your 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.”

    Tom: I don’t suppose God to be *just another* finite agent standing in causal relations to other finite causes and effects. But I don’t see how God’s “essential act of triune being” is “conditioned by creation” were God not to create. There’s no creation conditioning anthing.

    Chris: 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.

    Tom: God’s essentially related to the POSSIBILITY of creation – yes. I don’t that’s even controversial.

    That said, I don’t think God’s choice to create is “libertarian” in the sense that God deliberates the possibility and concludes with the choice to create. Presumably God’s ‘essentially’ being the ground of the very possibility of creation and its metaphysical contingency is what defines creation out of any ‘real’ (i.e., essentially self-constituting) relation to the divine plenitude; that is, God’s determination to create is not self-constituting on the order of the begetting of the Son and the proceeding of the Spirit. HOW the infinite and unconditioned can “get off the infinite, unconditioned dime” to do (viz., create) what it does not do essentially in constituting its own triune existence is beyond us I think. You think? I think! ;o) Don’t tell any of my friends, but my hunch is that there is in fact something to be said for a kind of playful, self-expressive, ecstatic (yes – arbitrary, from a point of view!) movement of the will which is not meaningless, aimless, or without purpose. On the contrary, I think teleology can meaningfully embrace spontaneity of choice that escapes the principle of sufficient reason. Am I saying that God just up and decided, “What the hell? Create? Yeah, let’s do this!”? In the best sense of a benevolent playfulness – yes.

    “As a possible example, consider my being faced with equally lovingly options relative to my wife; i.e., dinner out or a show on a particular evening (but not both). Flowers or chocolate on a particular occasion (but not both). Would spontaneity in this situation be a violation of freedom if the motivation remains love throughout? What else would a perfected creative liberty be but a certain species of playful spontaneity if God’s will for us terminates in a scope of beautiful possibilities and our truest freedom amounts to a creative choice among them? It seems to me that if our perfected wills can creatively express themselves in this sense, then spontaneity per se would be a fulfillment, not a violation, of our truest freedom. Perhaps there is a certain natural spontaneity to loving expression, i.e. God wills our improvisation. The wonderfully troubling question of course would be, Does God improvise? What must the divine freedom to create be if its reflection is us includes our capacity for indeterminate, creative, spontaneous expression?” (https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/freedom-as-creative-liberty-among-loving-options/)

    It’s arbitrary to analytic philosophers and mathematicians, but not to artists and musicians. But more importantly, it’s not morally arbitrary; it’s the playfulness of unconditional, triune love that defines and delimits all creative possibilities as (a) gratuitous (self-expressive and not self-constitutive), and as (b) not possibly out of the reach of the love that creates and sustains actualities. (Test Question. Fill in the blank: “So long I have to give an account in God for the possibility of irrevocable conscious torment, I will be ____________.”)

    Tom

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    1. Tom

      Rats. Typos. First paragraph: “What it means to say we are free means we know not what other than that “we do what we do—period” should be “What it means then to say we are free is to say nothing other than that ‘we do what we do’–period.”

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