Wednesday, January 12, 2011

God's limitations

Recently my attention has been drawn to the controversy over whether or not God is in time. Always having been a convinced Boethian on this topic, I've been interested to see what the arguments on the other side are. Some of them appear to stem from what are known as "A-series time" intuitions which I simply do not share--for example, that there is a "real now" that is objective, not relative to any individual or any particular object, and that really does "move," so that in some sense independent of my location in time or the location in time of any other finite being or entity it really is "after Christmas now" but really was "before Christmas three weeks ago." This just seems incorrect to me, so any argument that God must be in time that starts with this as a premise is not going to move me.

Another argument is that, if God is not in time, God cannot enjoy the experience of listening to music, and this would be a lack of some kind in God. (The music argument is given in one of these two interview parts, though at the moment I don't have time to listen to them again and figure out which one it's in.) The idea is that listening to music is irreducibly a temporally ordered experience. I'm willing to grant that that is true, though I would hesitate to define "listening to music" as being identical with "knowing music" or "understanding music." It seems to me entirely plausible that there could be some sort of "all at once" comprehension of music that would not require listening to it temporally. But I'll grant that the experience of listening to a song or a sonata is a temporal experience.

It seems to me that this argument proves too much. There are many pleasant and joyful experiences that we have as human beings that depend crucially on our limitations. The experience, for example, of not knowing what happens at the end of a story and of gradually figuring it out depends upon our not being omniscient. The experience of being surprised depends on a lack of omniscience. The experience of traveling along a road and seeing a gorgeous vista open gradually before one's eyes depends on the ability to travel in space, or at least to experience as-if traveling in space. (But those who believe that God is in time typically, as I understand it, agree that God is not in space.) The experience of normal sexual love between man and woman depends upon the limitation of being just one of these--either a man or a woman--and being limited to that unique set of feelings and experiences.

It would be entirely possible to respond to the argument that a Boethian God cannot know what it is like to listen to music by pointing out that the Christian God also, presumably, does not know what it is like to hate God, to sin, and the like. I would guess that the anti-Boethian would reply that these would be bad things to experience, but that the experience of listening to music is a good experience.

So I think the set of examples above provide an even better argument. One of the things about being human is that we have not only the sorrows but also the joys and pleasures we have because God has given us a unique human nature, and that unique nature depends upon our being limited. To say that God (not incarnate--I'll say something about the incarnation in a moment) must be missing some perfection because he does not share those experiences of ours that depend upon our being limited seems perverse. It seems that we will then have to insist upon lowering the divine nature to the level of our own in order to allow God to experience our distinctly human pleasures. If we can insist on this for temporal limitation and listening to music temporally, why not for any of the other things named? Would we not also have to insist that God must be able to suspend his omniscience in order to have the great pleasure of some wonderful surprise? (And some surprises are truly great and truly wonderful.) Or that God would have to be able to avoid "reading the end of the book" in order to have the pleasure of finding out what happens "for the first time" when he gets to the end of a book?

The pleasure of listening to music temporally involves, crucially, the limitation of not hearing some parts of the music while one is hearing others. Even if one has heard the piece before, so that the rest of the piece is not exactly a surprise, when one listens again the pleasure requires that one set aside, to some degree, the previous memory of what comes next, that one experience only part of the music at a time and see it unfold in order. This is obviously a pleasure of limitation. Interestingly, those who disagree with the Boethian view apparently do affirm divine omniscience, which makes it extremely difficult to know what it would be like for God, even on their view, to listen to music sequentially. It would seem that God as they conceive him cannot be simultaneously knowing what it is like to hear the second movement (or the second measure) while he is knowing what it is like to hear the first movement (or the first measure). How is this compatible with omniscience?

To a very large degree we who believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God must accept that we do not know what it is like to be God. This is true of Boethians and non-Boethians alike. Since it is true, and since there seems to be no principled reason to stop at requiring God to have some, but not all, of our limitations (such as being in time) in order to share our innocent and valuable pleasures, I do not see a good reason to start making such requirements in the first place, even for the sake of music.

It also seems to me that the music argument for placing God in time tends to downplay the importance of the incarnation. One of the points of the incarnation is that in it God took upon himself our human nature. By that means, it came to pass that God had our experiences of limitation and also many of our uniquely human experiences of enjoyment. (Though not all the particular ones, of course; Jesus never was married, never listened to Mozart, and so forth.) It seems to me that to a very great extent we are supposed to defer questions of "does God know exactly what it's like to feel x" (the wind on his face, the pleasure of sleep after fatigue, the experience of listening to music) to the incarnation and to say that sharing our nature in those ways was one of the reasons cur deus homo. Why anticipate that by making the divine nature temporal apart from the incarnation?

42 comments:

William Luse said...

So..what exactly is the Boethian position re 'God in time'?

Lydia McGrew said...

Briefly, that God (discarnate) is outside of time altogether.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Lydia,

Ad the first par. I am not sure the explication of A-theory of time goes to its essence. (I do not claim I have a clear concept of it either.) Further, arguments from the A-theory to negation of divine timelessness (and, by contraposition, from divine timelessness to B-theory) have never been compelling to me. Cf. the nice post by A. Rhoda on L. Zagzebski about both of these issues at www.alanrhoda.net/blog/2006/11/does-divine-timelessness-imply-b-theory.html

Ad the penultimate par. Do you just suggest there that God has all perfections even if for some perfections we have no idea how this is true? E.g., God does not have the particular perfection of being me (excuse the proximity to an ontological blasphemy); God does not know "I am not clever" _as_ entertained by a particular human who knows he is not clever; God cannot cause evil _intentionally_ (even if He can actualize it in some weaker way; like defended in Freddoso's and Flint's trenchant paper on omnipotence: www.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/mp.htm ); and God, _sans incarnation_, cannot feel the wind on his face, the pleasure of sleep after fatigue, the experience of listening to music. Nevertheless, He lacks no good. Somehow. X-how. Well, even _sans the Incarnation in Jesus_?, I would like to ask you. Speaking for myself, I believe so. How else would be God omniperfect? (The Incarnation would not add to Him perfections of human existence and actions, so to speak, but rather human existence and actions themselves.) But I must admit that, prima facie, this appeal to the X-how seems empty, and more importantly, even inconsistent. Secunda facie -- taking into account the evidence for omniperfect God -- it may seem so no more. For one seeming may beat another one (M. Huemer likes to talk about the balance of seemings). But to the extent that one takes the consistency of the concept of omniperfect God as problematic, one may well take as problematic the claim that there is any evidence for omniperfect God.

Cercatore said...

First off, I wanted to complement you on your blog. I found it the other week, and I've very much enjoyed it. Keep up the wonderful work.
Regarding divine timelessness, I think a more detailed examination of the nature of time raises some very interesting points. Time, as we perceive it, is measured by change. A second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom, i.e. when the electrons in a caesium 133 atom has undergone a set number of changes is inertia, velocity, and position, we call that a second. Without going to much farther into physics, you can redefine time as a derivative, imaginary dimension based on the underlying real dimensions of space and inertia. In this model, a timeless divinity would simply be one which could perceive every state of inertia, position, and velocity a particle will occupy for every particle in the universe. As you can see, in this model of reality, God's divine timelessness is a function of his omnipresence and omniscience, and allows a timelessness which can also experience the changes we perceive as time.
Additionally, this omnipresence in all states of existence allows for a divinity which can experience all states of being, much in the way that I experience being both on the ground with my feet and in the air with my head. Furthermore, one could argue that God is both imminent in reality and transcendent from it by his omnipresent nature, and therefore would have complete comprehension of all of reality even without the incarnation to proved a strictly human viewpoint.

Alex said...

Thinking about God under the aspect of eternity tends to send my brain into free fall.

The interesting point, as I understand it, about God's "experience" of a temporal event like listening to a piece of music seems to be in consideration of His omniscience. As William Blake wrote, "He, present, past, and future sees" (and all at the "same time"). But isn't any metaphysical difficulty here trumped by His omnipotence without involving impossibility?

Excuse the crassness of my observation.

Lydia McGrew said...

Vlastimil, I don't have any problem with the "X-how" idea you describe, because I have some further idea of how the answer might go.

Mind you, I called this "amateur" for a reason. I'm pretty certain that St. Thomas or some great scholastic has addressed all of this with far more sophistication.

But speaking as someone with toes in the water of philosophy of religion, it seems to me that the answer could go one of two possible ways:

Way #1 (which is what I'm inclined to think is right) is an answer rather similar to the answer one wd. give if someone said that you "lack the perfections" of a horse because you don't have the experience of being unable to think linguistically. It is precisely because man is a higher order of being that man is able to think linguistically, so it is no derogation of man to say that man (at least, man in a normal state of consciousness) does experience his thinking linguistically rather than without words. Similarly, God is a higher order of being than man, so it isn't some sort of attack on God's perfection to say that God lacks the experiences we're discussing--e.g., thinking "I am not clever" from the perspective of a person who is not clever, not knowing how a book ends, listening to music in a temporal fashion, etc.

I think that insofar as there are pleasures that arise from our limitations, we probably need to distinguish pleasures from perfections. God's not having our pleasures (except in the incarnation) doesn't mean that God is lacking some perfection. (Similarly, human beings do not have the pleasure that a horse has when it feels the saddle taken off after a long ride.)

Way #2, which Brian Leftow seems to be suggesting in the interviews I linked, involves imagining that God has a way of, as it were, simulating for himself what it's like to be a human being listening to music in time (or, I suppose, to be a bat :-)), without losing any of his actual perfections, including timelessness, omniscience, etc. This seems to me implausible, but it's not something I'm prepared to dismiss dogmatically.

So I don't view the whole thing as so far beyond the reach of imagination that all answers must be empty.

Lydia McGrew said...

Alex, I think from your answer that you may be leaning toward what I call "Way #2" of responding to the music question.

Tony said...

Vlastimil, it does not follow from being able to say that we are uncertain as to how a certain thing that we experience as relating to perfection is in God that this stands as evidence for some basis to disbelieve that God has the perfection that the experience relates to. A thousand uncertainties about how God manages do not constitute a basis for doubt that God manages. Mike Liccione made the case for this extensively on his blog a few months ago: we don't need to be able to explain God (or His goodness) in complete detail in order to accept the truth of His existence (or his goodness) - if He does exist then we know a-priori that we shall not ever explain Him entirely.

To the extent that music is a "perfection" absolutely as such, both God and angels can encompass that perfection without being able to hear it in time. That man must hear it in time to encompass the perfection fully shows man being limited. The experiencing itself is not the perfection - it constitutes a sort of wholeness in man precisely because given man's limited human nature he cannot encompass the perfection of the music without the hearing of it: the experiencing of the music is perfective with respect to human nature precisely on account of its limitations, i.e. not absolutely but qualifiedly.

Lydia McGrew said...

Tony goes for Answer #1.

I think Vlastimil's point is this: If it seems prima facie that there is some incoherence in the notion of a God with all perfections, then just saying that it's "somehow" a possibility is not a good answer.

My response is that I don't think there even seems to be any contradiction. In fact, it seems to me rather confused to argue that God's omniscience is an imperfection (when it is usually taken to be a perfection) if it "prevents" him from having the pleasures that come only from lacking omniscience.

William Luse said...

That's a nifty way of putting it, Lydia.

I'm not sure I understand the concerns of those who seem worried that God can't enjoy listening to music. There is no sequence of musical notes of which he could not be aware since beauty is something that proceeds from Him, not into Him. He knows (I presume) every movement of your soul, e.g., the peace or joy you experience when listening to music, or the love that prompts an act of charity, but the experience is yours, uniquely, and I don't see how his knowing it without experiencing it in anyway diminishes Him, or requires His somehow participating in the temporal order. We can say that your act of love "pleases" Him, but that is just the limitations of language trying to say something meaningful about the divine way of knowing, which must be of such surpassing beauty that, if we had access to it, we might die from insignificance. I wonder also if this is not part of our hope of heaven, that one day (out of time) to the degree possible, we will be allowed to participate in it.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Lydia,

Your reply is nice. Maybe the worry of mine is too vague. But let me insist, for the moment.

Ad Way 1. Suppose, that man is of a higher order than horse in the sense it is of a higher value, in certain axiological sense. Nevertheless, being of a higher value does not guarantee having all perfections of the entity which is of a lower value. For instance, man, at least, does not know what it is like to be a horse --which presumably involves some phenomenological perfection. Thus man lacks a perfection (even if not a perfection he should have). Man also cannot run so fast. Now, of course, a reply could be given here that it is different with God: He is not only of a higher than, but also having all perfections of, all His creations. Well, what about these two properties?: (1) being me (or you, or any particular human) and (2) being free to want evil intentionally. There is something ontologically positive about them. Yet, how God could have it? Saying that He is infinitely more valuable, in some quantitative axiological sense, does not solve it by itself: infinitely many rabbits are maybe infinitely more valuable than one bird, but they still can't sing. One could reply: even if there are certain perfections of (1) and (2), they are somehow had by God -- maybe like in the case of a circle which has all the area of a square drawn within its boundaries. But the problem is that the perfections of (1) and (2) may well seem to be bounded with (1) and (2) in a way that including the area of a square is not bounded with having its shape.

Ad Way 2. Even if God simulated for Himself what it is like to be me or to sin, He would not be me, nor sin. And the problem of apparently unique perfections of (1) and (2) lurks again.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Bill,

Whence the idea that beatific vision or the final Kingdom of God is outside time? I do not see it in the Bible. I smell some heady and respectful commenter. Aquinas? Boethius? Maybe not. Anyway, the idea appears false even to the orthodox and informed Alex Pruss:

"... it does seem plausible that growth, progress and change are important aspects of human nature (that's one reason I don't like the account of heavenly life as timeless--another reason is the apparent nonsensicality of saying "after this temporal life, there will be a timeless existence"..."

(Discussed briefly on W4 in 2008, in the comments at www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2008/04/in_heaven_there_is_no_beer.html)

Lydia McGrew said...

Vlastimil, if I understand correctly the question you are raising, it seems, in brief, like a dilemma: Either accept pantheism or abandon the idea that God is omniperfect, for only if God _is_ all things (the horse with its swiftness, the man with his ability to sin, etc.) can God have the perfections of all things.

This seems to me a highly dubious argument. Again, I have a strong sense that Thomas must have discussed this sort of thing and of course done it much better than I could do. Is the ability to sin really a _perfection_?

Since God created, e.g., the horse with its swiftness, we say that God "gave" the horse its swiftness. It seems to me that this implies a) that God isn't a horse with its swiftness and b) that God has the true perfection that allows him to create a horse with its swiftness, which is all that is needed for God to be omniperfect.

My guess is that the problem with the argument lies in the concept of a perfection. Probably we should not lightly assume that "a property that has some ontological value" is the same thing as "a perfection."

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Lydia,

It is rather just: abandon the idea that God is omniperfect, otherwise you you end being a pantheist (which seems like an inconsistent position, too). (I do not endorse this line of thought! I am just consulting as a problem.)

I am no expert on Aquinas. He almost surely treats anything somewhere, though. Ed Feser, say, would be helpful WRT some reference.

The ability to sin does seem to me like a perfection. Surely it is not nothing (non-ens), right? And this ability makes us humans quite special, and it is a key element of human freedom, worth a drama of massive evil.

Anyway, being a particular human seems like a perfection, too.

"... that God has the true perfection that allows him to create a horse with its swiftness, which is all that is needed for God to be omniperfect."

I do not see how this follows. If someone replies her, (1) ex nihilo nihil fit, and (2) God exists and is The Creator of all creatures, so, (3) He has all perfections -- then he begs the question with (2).

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

"My guess is that the problem with the argument lies in the concept of a perfection."

I agree. And in the concept of omniperfection. And I think the problem is, paradoxically, both spiritually important and dizzily speculative. Because, isn't is the core of our view of God and the main reason for his being worthy of worship that He is, in some very strong sense, omniperfect?

A personal note on pantheism: From 14 to 19, I really liked Zen. The reason, I recall, was that the Zen concept of the Absolute appeared to me more full of perfection than the concept of God. E.g., God was morally good, but the Absolut could be, I thougt, good, bad, and neither good and not bad. Having contradictory properties, it seemed to me, was required for being really Absolute. Apperently, I disliked the principle of non-contradiction and the law of excluded middle at that time, and was thrilled that there was the logician named Graham Priest defending dialetheism and esteeming Zen. Further, being evil appeared to me like a perfection, too (I did not know the privation theory of evil). Fortunately, I've become more metaphysically sane since my teenage. But there is always something left to improve.

Lydia McGrew said...

"Because, isn't is the core of our view of God and the main reason for his being worthy of worship that He is, in some very strong sense, omniperfect?"

Wellll. As a matter of personal biography, I'm not sure. I think certain perfections definitely are part of this: God's omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, for sure. "Immortal, invisible, God only wise,/ in light inaccessible hid from our eyes./ Most blessed, most glorious, the ancient of days,/ almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise."

But God's being "omniperfect" is a kind of meta-concept: "Not only does God have the highest degree of perfection in all the areas I've thought of but also in all the areas I haven't thought of." That's pretty abstract. I don't know that it plays a part in my own sense of God's worthiness of worship beyond the perfections that one usually thinks of.

I do _strongly_ dissent from the view that it is a "perfection" that God "lacks" to be able to sin. God considered it valuable to create such creatures, to be sure. As you say, worth a whole drama of fall and redemption. But there definitely seems to be something out of whack with considering it to be a problem with omniperfection that God's nature is such that it is impossible for God to sin.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Lydia,

My saying that omniperfection is the core of being worthy of worship was badly put. I should have rather said it's rather the most honourable divine title (Nicholas of Cusa said something similar in one of his dialogues about viewing God as the Infinite). Or that it is a necessary condition of _utmost_ worship: if God is not omniperfect, He is less adorable, even He is still adorable.

To see a problem for divine omniperfection in God's not being me (or, say, you) sounds more whacky than to see it in His not being able to sin. But I guess it would be similarly strange to many people to hear that God has all perfections, including all perfections of all horses. And, in fact, I even believe ordinary people (including many religious of them) would find it whacky, on their first hearing, to listen to claims that not being able to sin means no lack of perfection whatsoever. The immediate reaction of many could be: how so?, if God can't sin, then I have a capacity which even God lacks. The change of the perspective on this issue requires considerable reflection, IMO.

I wish to repeat I believe God is omniperfect. Still, I am bothered by this: if being (ens) and good (bonum) converge (convertuntur), as scholastics (including Aquinas) say (and this adage appears true to my metaphysical guts), then how can something have all the perfection of all (possible) things when it is only one of them?

William Luse said...

I don't know what Vlastimil means by his persistent use of "omniperfect." God just is perfect, the perfect being, and the perfection in all other beings is merely derivative. This is true without God also having to be either me or a horse. And if it isn't true, then there is no perfect being.

And it's quite surprising to hear that "the ability to sin does seem to me like a perfection. Surely it is not nothing (non-ens), right?" I think it's pretty standard Christian theology that all sin is a movement away from the perfection of being. If it's not nothing, it certainly makes a man less than he ought to be, and the notion that God's inability to experience the negation of His very essence is also an imperfection is awfully hard to relate to.

You couldn't find the philosophical conclusion "that [the] beatific vision or the final Kingdom of God is outside time" in the Bible? Why would a philosopher expect such a thing? It may be that the world of time will be taken up into the final Kingdom, but if it is I suspect that will spell the end of time.

Lydia McGrew said...

Bill, one of my hesitations about holding that we will be literally outside time in heaven is the resurrection of the body. Aren't time and space pretty tightly connected? If we have bodies, it would seem that at least some of our activities in heaven have to be in time. I suppose it could be that some mental events, experiences that don't require interaction with our bodies, would take place in some sense outside of time.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Bill,

Everything omniperfect is perfect, but not vice versa. Think of a perfect human. He has all the perfections he should have. But he does not have all the perfection of all (possible) things. He does not have, at least, the perfection of the swiftness of the horse.

Even if sin is a privation, it does not follow that _ability_ to sin is a privation. Further, is being me (or being you) a privation? You can reply here that even if these two features are not privations, they are nevertheless moves from the fulness (omniperfection) of God. But the sheer consistency of this fulness is the issue of the worry I press here (not in order to doubt, but merely to clarify some fundamental matters).

I do _not_ expection the idea of the timeless final Kingdom to be found in the Bible explicitly expressed given the idea is true. But why, and from what, do you suspect the idea is true? That's it. If taking the world of time will spell the end of time, then why not to say, analogically, that the Son's return to heaven spelled the end of His humanity? Plus there are those two worries of Alex Pruss about the timeless final Kingdom which I cited above.

Cheers,

V.

Lydia McGrew said...

Vlastimil, it seems to me that it could be argued that God has the conception of a being able to sin, a swift horse, of being you, and so forth. He must have that, in order to make it. In this sense, I think it could be argued that the ontologically valuable aspects of these things are "in God"--that is, in the mind of God the Creator as ideas, plans, and intentions.

That seems like enough for me. The perfection of the horse's swiftness has God as its source. We would have no swift and beautiful horses if God hadn't created them. Hence that perfection comes from God and can be "in" God without God's having to be a horse or even actually have the experiences of being a horse.

Tony said...

The "ability" to sin is being understood equivocally. In general, an "ability" represents a capacity that can be fulfilled, and is, therefore, a capacity for being (or becoming) perfect. But the true ability we have is to choose (freely) the proper good. This ability is a capacity toward perfection. The ability implies (as every potency implies) a correlative possibility that the capacity be NOT FULFILLED. the being not fulfilled is, inherently, not a perfection. There is no properly speaking "capacity to sin" where "to sin" is a fulfillment of the capacity. Every time a man sins, he suffers a defection of his capacity to choose freely the proper good. This is not a perfection.

At the same time, the potentiality to choose the not-good is, itself, a lack of perfection. This can be seen more clearly when we reflect on our choosing: even when we sin, we are choosing something under an aspect of "good", it is just that the aspect under which we choose it is not the proper good. Our wills are not constructed so as to be free to choose an evil precisely insofar as it is evil. That's not what is free in us. We have no choice about whether our will is inherently oriented toward good.

Now, in this life, all goods are perceived incompletely, so that they are not represented to the will as "that total completion of good beyond which nothing more can be wanted", or ultimate good. Therefore, the will can always defect away from any of the goods perceived in this life, in search of other good. But in the Beatific Vision, not only do we SEE God, but we see him under the aspect of the ultimate good - we see that it would be impossible to even imagine a good beyond. At that point, then, it is impossible for our will to defect away from God, not by a loss of "freedom", but by a so perfect filling up of capacity that our freedom to love the good is overwhelmed into absolute permanent satiety. Free will remains, but sin has no place to gain a foothold for there is no imaginable "more" good to want.

God's perfection of being is absolutely free but contains no potentiality for sin because it contains no potentiality for His will defecting from the proper good. This is not a defect in God's will.

Tony said...

I think that "time" after the Final Judgment is possibly a distraction from the central issue here, but is worthwhile in its own right.

I don't feel confident that anything in the Bible ought to be viewed as sufficient to solve the question, because the Bible (and Christ's Revelation to us in general) is to get us to heaven, not solve all problems.

Nevertheless, there are some hints, and it is not wrong to use them. First of all, the fact that we will have bodies suggests a kind of passage of change, but is very weak. God could arrange a situation where our bodies are totally overwhelmed in absolute satiety - static, without any change.

But (IMO) the fact there will be "a new heaven and a new earth" is more suggestive. The idea of a new order of non-intelligent being suggests that we use or at least interact with that order in some ongoing life that is not static.

My personal opinion is that the best view is a combination of eternal rest AND ongoing non-static life. How can this be? ST. Paul tells us that the we cannot imagine. But it is possible to posit (even without being able to clearly imagine it) a life in which our intellect and will are wholly absorbed in the Beatific Vision while at the same time we do and perform and construct praise of God and hold converse with each other. Certainly the image in the Bible of the angels singing before the throne of God is suggestive of an ongoing operation that refers to part coming after another part, even if the "singing" must be understood figuratively. And we suppose that the saints BOTH enjoy the Beatific Vision now, while also acting in time while the current age winds towards it completion.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Tony,

I have some scholastic backround, so I sympathize with your position. (Although I've never been an orthodox scholastic of any standard, single brand. Probably I am a scholastic simpliciter neither.)

I want to concede now that all you said above is true. Now, the more whacky worry. Does being me, in itself, lack perfection?

If your analysis of being (ens) is Thomistic (and that's my suspicion), you will likely respond in the affirmative. (Esp. if you esteem Gilson's sermons on the priority of existence over essence. Let me add not even all Thomists are of the existe existentialist type. Cf., e.g., Josef Seifert's study "Essence and Existence", published in 1977, in two parts, in a journal called Aletheia.) But I am no fan of this analysis. Not willing to go into details, I will let myself, if you permit, to proclaim merely that it seems to be that there is something ontologically positive _both_ about my individual essence, in itself, and about my individual existence, in itself.

Now, suppose one concedes this position of mine (I guess you shall not, though). What then WRT the whacky problem of God being omniperfect, but not me? The most promising reply, to my knowledge, is very simple: God has the perfection of being me somehow, X-how; I do not know how; but neither it seems to me it is inconsistent to say that He has it; I can concede the principle that being (ens) and good (bonum) converge -- but only in the sense that any being is, in itself, good and any good is, in itself, a being (or an ontologically positive aspect or a part of a being); but not in the sense that to have _all_ the good of a being it is necessary to _be_ (identical to) the being.

Finally, to state merely where I currently diverge from Lydia, it does _not_ seem enough to me to say that God has all the perfection of all other beings in the sense that he has a complete idea of them. It seems to me some scholastics claim God is omniperfect in some stronger sense, and also that they are right. Further, I do not think I can grasp some idea of the way _how_ God could be omniperfect by mere pointing out He is of a higher order. For there are X's of a higher order than Y's, yet X's lack some perfection of Y's.

(Note: Neither I think I can gather the idea from geometrical examples of circles including squares, 3D objects including 2D objects, and the like. For the including geometrical objects do not seem to have _all_ the perfections of the included geometrical objects. However, Lydia herself did not suggest such analogies in the first place.)

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Tony,

I have some scholastic backround, so I sympathize with your position. (Although I've never been an orthodox scholastic of any standard, single brand. Probably I am a scholastic simpliciter neither.)

I want to concede now that all you said above is true. Now, the more whacky worry. Does being me, in itself, lack perfection?

If your analysis of being (ens) is Thomistic (and that's my suspicion), you will likely respond in the affirmative. (Esp. if you esteem Gilson's sermons on the priority of existence over essence. Let me add not even all Thomists are of the existe existentialist type. Cf., e.g., Josef Seifert's study "Essence and Existence", published in 1977, in two parts, in a journal called Aletheia.) But I am no fan of this analysis. Not willing to go into details, I will let myself, if you permit, to proclaim merely that it seems to be that there is something ontologically positive _both_ about my individual essence, in itself, and about my individual existence, in itself.

Now, suppose one concedes this position of mine (I guess you shall not, though). What then WRT the whacky problem of God being omniperfect, but not me? The most promising reply, to my knowledge, is very simple: God has the perfection of being me somehow, X-how; I do not know how; but neither it seems to me it is inconsistent to say that He has it; I can concede the principle that being (ens) and good (bonum) converge -- but only in the sense that any being is, in itself, good and any good is, in itself, a being (or an ontologically positive aspect or a part of a being); but not in the sense that to have _all_ the good of a being it is necessary to _be_ (identical to) the being.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Finally, to state merely where I currently diverge from Lydia, it does _not_ seem enough to me to say that God has all the perfection of all other beings in the sense that he has a complete idea of them. It seems to me some scholastics claim God is omniperfect in some stronger sense, and also that they are right. Further, I do not think I can grasp some idea of the way _how_ God could be omniperfect by mere pointing out He is of a higher order. For there are X's of a higher order than Y's, yet X's lack some perfection of Y's.

(Note: Neither I think I can gather the idea from geometrical examples of circles including squares, 3D objects including 2D objects, and the like. For the including geometrical objects do not seem to have _all_ the perfections of the included geometrical objects. However, Lydia herself did not suggest such analogies in the first place.)

Lydia McGrew said...

Tony, if we can't have Ed on this thread, you're a great Thomistic runner-up! (Intended as a compliment.)

Vlastimil, even as a non-Thomist, it seems to me that there's a sense in which "being me" entails "lacking some possible perfection." I also think that there is something positive about being me. I don't see why these should be incompatible. We can comfort our more egalitarian instincts by saying, truthfully enough, that when we are glorified we will be perfected qua human beings, but it doesn't follow that we will have all possible perfections that any being could have. That's why I'm not God.

Tony said...

Vlastimil,

I am no expert on the essence / existence distinctions, so I am not going to be able to answer you completely. But it seems obvious to me that anyone who isn't a pantheist is willing to admit that my perfections - those that are numerically my own being - are not God's own perfections. God is not me, and I don't become perfect by surrendering being as such.

But the whole point of things being the same in kind but numerically different in being is that this difference between the perfections of my own being and those of John, Adam, Lucifer, and Gabriel simply doesn't matter. Nobody who isn't a pantheist would mistake "omniperfect" to mean that God owns my own numerically separate perfections. He has the same kind of perfection without having my own. "Omniperfect" then refers to God having, in eminent manner, every possible kind of perfection that is a perfection absolutely speaking (not merely a perfection insofar as something has a limited nature).

This feature of God follows from the fact that He is the utter cause of all other being, and all other good. Intrinsically, the utter cause which reduces a being to a state of perfection must have that perfection (you can't give what you don't have). We can obscure this truth from ourselves because we are never the total, absolute, utter cause of anyone's good, so we don't have to harbor the perfection that they come to.

"Being me" , when "me" refers to a human, does lack perfection, because (a) I am not God, and (b) I am a limited human nature so that it is impossible for me to have certain perfections that cannot co-exist simultaneously in humans: I cannot both be a perfect male and a perfect female. (This just goes to show that neither male-ness nor female-ness is, itself, a kind of perfection absolutely speaking, but only relative to human nature. I cannot be perfect human without being one of them, but God can encompass all that is absolutely worthwhile of both of them.)

Tony said...

Lydia, thanks for the compliment. Ed can run rings around me, naturally since he's a professional and I am but an amateur. But he can't be everywhere (he's not - yet - omnipresent) so I fill in a few of the gaps left when I can, and hope I don't muddy the waters too much.

Lydia McGrew said...

"kind of perfection that is a perfection absolutely speaking (not merely a perfection insofar as something has a limited nature)."

This is the distinction I've been getting at.

And it even goes back to the original topic of the post: The experience of listening to music in temporal sequence may be related to a perfection that is not a perfection absolutely speaking.

William Luse said...

Bill, one of my hesitations about holding that we will be literally outside time in heaven is the resurrection of the body.

Yes, I've thought of this. Heaven must be (as a commenter at my blog put it, on one of those dog posts I think) a place where "stuff" can exist, bodies and such. So heaven must be a thing made by Him. It doesn't bother me if someone says that something like time must be at work there. But when I said "spell the end of time" I was thinking of the obviously crucial distinction between a time which involves motion and change, in which things come into existence and pass out of it, and the kind in which they do not. Otherwise, what's the point of distinguishing between time and eternity? In any case, the concession that there might be some kind of time in heaven doesn't get us any closer to putting God into it. Anything subject to time is a thing that is made, and God is not that.

Lydia McGrew said...

Bill, yes, it's quite true that to the extent that "there is time in heaven" this must mean "heaven for us" or something like that. It doesn't explain our enhanced knowledge of God, the beatific vision, etc.

I'm not sure that I would want to ban all change. However one might talk about "unfading roses" as an image, there isn't actually anything bad about having one set of roses grow on a bush and eventually fall, making room for new rosebuds to grow. There's something almost monstrous about a rose bush that just gets bigger and bigger to grow new, eternal roses, or one that simply stops after growing its quota. At the level of plants and bacteria, etc., change and decay here on earth actually work pretty well to make room for more beauty and for a rotation of beauty. I think they were part of God's original design for physical nature. Even the possibility of eating (which I wouldn't want absolutely to rule out) presupposes the possibility of things' passing out of existence. Otherwise all fruit in heaven would be impossible to bite into.

Sorry to sound pedantic, but I actually find these speculations kind of interesting.

Tony said...

Lydia, I have the same intuitions. The fact that after the consummation of the world, when Christ comes a second time and all are judged with finality, (and thus there is no more room for choices for or against God) brings us to a new and supposedly final stage that may be referred to as "eternity" does not, itself, preclude all change. The mere fact of there being no more sin (nor, for that matter, meritorious choices) and the mere fact of entering in on a sort of existence that is "at rest" with God, does not preclude change. St. Thomas taught that Christ, even while on earth, in His human nature enjoyed the Beatific Vision his entire life. This obviously does not (at least for St. Thomas) prevent Christ in His human nature from acting, doing, making, and generally changing the world as He went along. We Catholics believe the same thing is true of the saints in heaven: while they enjoy the BV, they also listen to our pleas for help, and they intercede on our behalf with God for our benefit. Christians generally accept that the saints can make a visitation to us on Earth to warn us of something, or encourage us to pray and to live rightly - these actions again are possible while they have the BV.

Eternity in its most proper sense refers to the sort of existence that God enjoys, that is timeless in itself but has access to time in which the created order struggles. If, when we die, we adhere to God in glory, we may receive a sort of participated enjoyment of eternity. But this received share does not preclude a continuation of access to time. Therefore, at least in principle, there is nothing about eternity itself that requires us to believe that at after the Second Coming there cannot be time or change.

Tony said...

The biggest theoretical challenge to time after the parousia is the notion that change is for the sake of some perfection, and presumably once we have (collectively) all finished up with this life there is no further perfections to achieve, no lack or imperfections to make complete. I would posit that this, too, is a solvable "problem". St. Thomas taught that there is no such thing as "the best of all possible worlds" because there is an infinite gulf between God and any created being, or even between God and any created order. Therefore, (says he) there are infinitely many more created goods, and infinitely many higher orders of good, that can become than there is as of any moment. It is conceivable, then, that we will "spend" eternity seeing the addition of a new type of good or the new achievement of a sort of perfection, ad infinitum. This might suggest, upon each addition, that the prior state of creation was imperfect (and therefore unworthy of the final stage after the Final Judgment), but that is not necessary. The created order could be perfect insofar as the natures of all its creatures (so far) pertain - they are all fulfilled - and then the addition of a new sort of created being adds a new type of perfection without implying defect in any prior being.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Lydia and Tony,

First, in raising the whacky problem (is God omniperfect even in the sense entailing His having the perfection of being me?), I have assumed the distinction between having a perfection of some feature or being X _formally_ (i.e., having a perfection by having X or being X) and having a perfection of some feature or being X _eminently_ (i.e., not formally). The disctinction is _standard_ in scholasticism and some early modern philosophy. Descrates employs it in his Meditations on First Philosophy. (Ed Feser uses the distinction in his Last Superstition. Ed also suggests there, I recall, that /at least some/ causes have perfections of their effects. I do not think that suggestion solves the whacky problem.)

So, when I am suggesting that God is omniperfect in the sense of having all (possible) perfections (this is again embraced by some scholastics, I would even guess by their majority, and also by Descartes), I am not suggesting He has all perfections formally: i.e., by having all positive properties, essences, natures, forms, and the like (either individual or more general).

As already indicated, I've also assumed the idea of omniperfect God (God having all /possible/ perfections, formally or eminently) is respectful and worth a consideration.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

I, of course, accept that being me entails _not_ having some (possible) perfection. I've been asking: how can God have the perfection of being me _eminently_ (i.e., without being me)?

Ad absolute perfections. If having all absolute perfections (formally) entails having all (possible) perfections (formally or eminently), then how is the consequent here (i.e., something having all /possible/ perfections, formally or eminently) possible? That's the question. If it does not entail that, then is God omniperfect at all? If yes, then, again, how is that possible? If not, then the (majority of) classical theists were wrong.

I've commented already (see above ad "ex nihilo nihil fit") on the reply that the utter cause must have all perfection of all its effects. But this does not solve the whacky problem. (Unless it is _self-evident_ that the utter cause /God/ exists /by a self-evident deductive proof or extraordinary mystical experience/.) Tony argues: If there is a God, he has all perfections of all creatures (for He could not give what He does not have); there is a God; ergo. But by the first premise and claiming insolubility of the whacky problem, you could argue for atheism: If there is a God, he has all perfections of all creatures (for He could not give what He does not have); but it is not possible for God to have the perfection of being me (we have no idea how He could have it, and it positively seems that no X has _all_ perfection of all Y's); ergo. It's fashionable, so let me repeat it: One's modus ponens is another's modus tollens.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Lydia,

Addendum ad the compatibility of: (i) the positivity of being me and (ii) being me entailing lack of some perfection.

Saying that both my essence and existence are positive (given these ontological principles of being /ens/ have some sense or ground at all), I was alluding to the ontological analysis of being (ens) preferred by the existentialist ontology of some Thomists (like Étienne Gilson or Emerich Coreth): every non-divine being has two different ontological principles: essence (the principle of _what_ it is) and existence (the principle of that it _is_); whereas essence is the negative principle because it merely delimits the infinite existence of God to constitute a finite, limited being (a creature). If one favours this position of existentialist Thomistic ontology, then maybe one could have an answer to the whacky problem: being me refers to my essence -- but this essence is merely a negative, limiting principle, delimiting the fulness of God's existence; so there is no perfection of being me for God to have (eminently). (But I've found Gilson's and Coreth's ontology of essence unpersuasive.)

Tony said...

Vlastimil, I had not posed my comments about an ultimate and utter cause within the context of a proof for the existence of God, or (more generally) in the context where the existence of God is part of the debate. For those comments God's existence is a given. I do not suppose "If there is a God, then..." I argue that "given that God is the cause of all other being..."

For your concern, you would, perhaps, need to be more particular about what, exactly, is the perfection of "being me" that we are trying to discern whether God can have. St. Thomas defines a person as a subsistence of a rational nature. Given this, a person is, as such, unrepeatable. Therefore, I would accept that there is something of "being me" that God does not harbor - or else "I" would be repeatable. But that something is not a perfection simply.

Speaking strictly as a far from well-educated amateur, it seems to me that the "me" that we are discussing is a composite of being and essence. God does not harbor - pre-eminently or otherwise - composition. But He has, or is, in a pre-eminent manner both existence and essence. Similarly He has in a pre-eminent manner intelligence and subsistence. There is nothing about "me" that is, on the one hand, strictly speaking specific to me alone, and (on the other hand) is a perfection absolutely speaking. The composite limited "me" that is unrepeatable refers to "me" precisely by distinguishing "me" by way of that which is not a perfection as such.

I cannot speak to the theories of Gilson or Maritain or Lonergan, since I have not read them significantly. I might wish I had the time, but then I would spend it reading St. Thomas more thoroughly anyway.

Kristor said...

Tony,

The notion of heaven that you suggest, that it may consist in the endless addition of newly realized perfections to the collection of those already achieved, is reminiscent of Origen, who taught that every soul may traverse an endless course of development of its capacity for the BV, post-mortem. The addition of some utterly novel form of joy to beauties already achieved is indeed undertaken in pursuit of an aesthetic objective, but in no sense does this sort of change suggest that there is any defect in what came before. To return to Lydia's original question about music, we don't argue that Classical music was some sort of correction of a defect in the Baroque. It was just a new thing, a new florescence. Or say that the world champion fencer was interested in golf, and took it up; no one would say that he started golfing to fix his fencing. Heaven could be like that: first, perfect your performance and understanding of everything written during the Baroque era; then, move on to Classical. I could live with that – although I would start a bit earlier, with the Ars Antiqua.

Then too there is the fact that a single piece of music can have apparently limitless depths. With each new performance of Tallis’ Lamentations of Jeremiah, I discover new and yet more plangent beauties. There is no end to the exploration of even one good piece of music, no way to finish the expression of the beauty it contains (this is why sublime performance so often makes us sad). Something of the same sort happens with the liturgy, and of course also with Scripture, and great art in general. And this is true of things generally. There is no bottom to the depth in things. This is a corollary of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, no?

Yet so long as we experience any changes that are related to each other in orderly fashion, we will be in a sort of everlasting time, rather than eternity. Duration is, I have come to think, a sort of participation in eternity; but still a participation in eternity is not eternity itself. So there will have to be some sort of economy in Heaven; even in Heaven, we won’t be able to have our cake and eat it too. We’ll have to put off Tallis until after the fencing.

Lydia McGrew said...

I believe the state Tony and Kristor are suggesting is called "aeviternity" (sp?).

Kristor said...

Aeviternity is the angelic perspective on time. It isn't possible to embodied beings.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...

T. Flint nicely on divine perfections and limitations:
www.closertotruth.com/video-profile/Is-God-All-Powerful-Thomas-P-Flint-/1333