Category Archives: modality

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.

Advertisements

The Contingent and the Necessary As Not Mutually Exclusive

There is a worry that if God is both necessary and contingent (in certain respects) he cannot be simple, since this would entail he is either composed (of a necessary “part” and contingent “part”) or that there are accidents in him (something can “accrue” to him that need not be there, such as his knowledge of the contingent creation.) This has led some thinkers to deny that any contingent properties exist in God. Hence they are driven to say things like God’s knowledge with respect to creation is something that exists outside of or “extrinsic” to God (Matthews Grant is one such thinker.)

But I’m not convinced we have to say this. Anyone who has ever held the doctrine of simplicity has also held the doctrine of analogy: i.e. that what we predicate of God, even if the predicates are different from our perspective, nevertheless point to some single reality in God too big for our single predicate to comprehend. This is how we can say that all the divine attributes point to a single being or substance. Now, this normally poses no problems because although all such attributes are different (wisdom, power, love, etc.) they are nevertheless not contradictory. For if that were the case either one or the other would not be able to be predicated, but both couldn’t be (e.g. God cannot be all knowing and not all knowing.) Thus the problem with reconciling contingency and necessity in God is that these properties are mutually exclusive, and therefore they cannot both be said of God, even in his singular, simple being.

But ARE they mutually exclusive?

The more I think about it the less sure I am. One example sticks out quite shockingly. Our free choices themselves are both necessary and contingent, insofar as we necessarily will our own happiness (it is impossible not to will it) and insofar as we will it either this way or that way (eating this dessert or that dessert).

Now, if we can possess both contingent and necessary aspects of being/will/choice, why can’t God? In fact if God just is the supreme instance of purely personal act, then would he not essentially just be an instance of necessarily willing his own good AND ALSO freely willing it in whatever way he chose?

Resistible and Irresistible Grace and Omnicausality

“Properly speaking “necessary” and “contingent” are consequent upon being, as such. Hence the mode both of necessity and of contingency falls under the foresight of God, who provides universally for all being.” Aquinas, Summa Theologica

This post will be short.

When thinking about God’s created effects, on the doctrine of omnicausality (given by classical theists) God as the first and timeless cause creates not only a particular effect, but even the modality of the effect. Hence when God creates something that is in potential – say a seed that could possibly become a tree – he creates not only the seed itself but even the very possibility that inheres in its being able to become a tree. What this means is that possibility inheres in an object at a particular time. That is, even if the seed never in fact becomes a tree, it could still be the case that at time 1 it stood in a potential relation to actually becoming a tree. What I’m pointing out is that it is not necessary for a thing to actually become what it is in potentiality of becoming in order for that thing to actually be in potentiality towards whatever it could become. I.e. a trillion acorns could all never in fact become trees (say the earth is incinerated by a comet), and yet it could still be the case that, prior to the comet, every single one of those acorns had within itself a real potential to become a tree.

Imagine then all moments of time, spread out on a line. Now imagine God creating, at each moment, not only every particular effect at each moment of time, but also each modality that inheres in each effect. This would include free will acts themselves. Not only their existence in act at each particular moment, but also their potentiality to be in other acts as well.

Alfred Freddosso has a great article that sort of goes into this “Dominican” position here: http://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/freedom%20and%20God.pdf

Now, if this view is right, and that the very modalities of “contingent” and “necessary” as they relate to free willed acts themselves are things created by God, then perhaps we can get a better idea about how to understand God’s irresistible and resistible graces.

Irresistible grace is just such a grace that cannot be resisted, for that “cannot” is the very modality that God has created in the grace itself. Resistible grace, on the other hand, “can” be resisted, and in fact will be, if God does not supply additional irresistible grace, for that is the very modality that God has brought about when creating resistible grace; i.e. whether it actually moves from a “can” to a “will” depends on further divine acts of God.

Much more could be said about that last paragraph. My point in this post is simply that something can still be “possible” even if God has ordained that in fact said possibility will never be actualized.

 

On Modality

“I suspect it is really a meaningless question. The difference between Freedom & Necessity is fairly clear on the bodily level: we know the difference between making our teeth chatter on purpose & just finding them chattering with cold… When we carry it up to relations between God & Man, has the distinction perhaps become nonsensical?” CSL Letters, Vol 3

Modality is an abstract and scary word. There is, however, no reason to be intimidated by it. I take it simply to mean “the modes of being which are either contingent or necessary.” In other words, there is this distinction in things between what we think could have been otherwise and with what we think could not have been otherwise. For instance, it is contingent that Obama is president; and it is necessary that 1+1=2. In the first case there is a fact that is possibly different. In the second there is a fact that could not be otherwise. Thus we have two examples of contingent and necessary things. But notice that contingent and necessary things presuppose the Contingent and Necessary as such. Now, insofar as we are talking about the Contingent and Necessary as such, we are talking about modality. And this modality will be the subject of this post.

For reasons I have stated elsewhere, it seems to me reasonable to say that these terms – Contingent and Necessary – do not actually apply to God’s action. For to suppose they do is to imagine God as a temporal object who is “faced” with a set of possible worlds over and against himself. But for God there can be no possible worlds – no possibilities at all – which do not spring from his own creative mind and nature. How could God be faced with a reality that he did not create? In other words, things are only possible insofar as God has first made them possible. Therefore (to horribly condense the argument), it is God’s very creative action itself which imparts possibility to the things themselves, rather than vice versa.

What this amounts to is that it is meaningless to talk about God’s action using Contingent and Necessary language. We can rightly describe what God makes in these terms; but God’s very act in making them is not either contingent or necessary. It simply is what it is, and that’s all there is to say about it.

This may sound like an abstract and unnecessary point, but to me it is crucial, for two reasons. First, without this in place God’s sovereignty and creativity are limited. For insofar as God is faced with these metaphysical laws of the necessary and the contingent “out there” apart from his own creative will, he must therefore work with and around them. But again, if God is the First Cause and source of all being whatsoever, there can exist no such laws or limits of reality independent of his creative action. Second of all, with this distinction in mind (that the necessary and contingent do not apply to God’s creative act or essence itself), we can better explain how God knows future free (i.e. contingent) acts. If God himself has created the free acts or if he will create them in their very contingency, then he can know them simply on the basis of his knowledge of his own will to create them. However, if God himself is, as it were, subject in his very being and knowledge to the contingencies of the free acts themselves “out there”, then his being and his knowledge would be determined by the contingencies themselves which exist independently of his will. They would exist outside God and so therefore determine him. Since they are over and against him his knowledge would become what it was based on their own reality. Thus, he could not know  contingent free choices until they came to pass and determined his knowledge.

In light of these issues it 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 (since he eternally causes all that exists) – we don’t imagine that viewed from this angle 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. There is really only one universe and one history and future. There is nothing else to set it against. For “anything else” could only exist were God to will it to exist, in which case it would itself be part of the Everything that we are now talking about, which God has always and eternally caused to be.

Now, the conclusion that modality does not apply to God’s essence does not imply that God was fated to create nor that he spontaneously created for no reason. Both conceptions really just smuggle in the idea of modality and attach it to God’s own action, rather than the things which God’s action produces. To say that God “had to” create is meaningless. And to say that God “could have refrained” from creating is also meaningless. The truth is, God simply IS and DOES; and what he IS is a creator and what he DOES is create. Period.

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? 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?