Covers topics in the metaphysics of the Trinity, Incarnation, and personal identity.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Vallicella on the Lump/Statue Analogy

Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, has been writing about the Trinity since the beginning of the New Year. To be precise, he began December 31, 2004 with the post 'Does the Trinity entail Quaternity?'. This is my reply to one of his pieces on the Lump/Statue Analogy.

[This reply now appears in the Maverick Philosopher here.]

JJ: By the way, I think, as I expect you do as well, that dialetheism (i.e. some contradictions are true) and the sortal relativity of identity thesis (i.e. it can be that a is the same F as b, but not everything true of a is true of b) are beyond the pale, but that the former is worse than the latter.

I would put the initial problem like this. These three claims are apparently inconsistent:

(1) Every divine Person is God.
(2) There are three divine Persons.
(3) There is one God.

If we take in (1) the ‘is’ to be the is of identity and so ‘God’ to be a name, then (1) and (2) are inconsistent with each other and (1) and (3) entail there is at most one divine Person. If we take in (1) the ‘is’ to be the is of predication and so ‘God’ to be a noun, then (1) and (2) entail there are at least three Gods and (1) and (3) entail, again, there is at most one divine Person.


BV: Suppose you have a statue S made out for some lump L of material, whether marble, bronze, clay, or whatever. How is S related to L? It seems clear that L can exist without S existing. Thus one could melt the bronze down, or re-shape the clay. In either case, the statue would cease to exist, while the quantity of matter would continue to exist. It follows that S is not identical to L. They are not identical because something is true of L that is not true of S: it is true of L that it can exist without S existing, but it is not true of S that it can exist without S existing.

Although S is not identical to L, S is not wholly distinct, or wholly diverse, from L either. This is because S cannot exist unless L exists. This suggests the following analogy: The Father is to God as the statue is to the lump of matter out of which it is sculpted. And the same goes for the other Persons. Schematically, P is to G as S to L. The Persons are like hylomorphic compounds where the hyle in question is the divine substance. Thus the Persons are not each identical to God, which would have the consequence that they are identical to one another. Nor are the persons instances of divinity which would entail tri-theism. It is rather than the persons are composed of God as of a common material substance. Thus we avoid a unitarianism in which there is no room for distinctness of Persons, and we avoid tri-theism. So far, so good.

JJ: Some think that S and L can exist without each other. L can but S cannot survive radical change of shape. S can but L cannot survive radical change of parts. I think that if there are statues and lumps, then S and L are identical to each other, for I don’t think there could be coinciding objects that share the same proper parts. I don’t understand why you say that S overlaps L because S cannot exist without L. I cannot exist without God but I do not overlap God.

BV: Something like this approach is advocated by Jeffrey Brower and Michael Rea, here.

JJ: I would have to look at the paper again to confirm this. It does sound rather like Chris Hughes’ account of the Trinity, as given in his On a Complex Theory of a Simple God, which he develops from Anselm’s Nile analogy of the Trinity in his On the Incarnation of the Word. At a time each of the divine Persons does not have the same proper parts. But over time they do have the same proper parts because over time the parts flow from one to the other divine Person. God is the collection of proper parts out of which each divine Person is constituted over time.

BV: But does the statue/lump analogy avoid the problems we faced with the water analogy? Aren’t the two analogies so closely analogous that they share the same problems? Liquid, solid, and gaseous are states of water. Similarly, a statue is a state of a lump of matter. Modalism is not avoided. If the Persons are like states, then they are not sufficiently independent. But a statue is even worse off than a state of water. Water can be in one of its states whether or not we exist. But a hunk of matter cannot be a statue unless beings like us are on the scene to interpret it as a statue. Thus my little ceramic bust of Beethoven represents Beethoven only because we take it as representing the great composer. In a world without minds, it would not represent anything. The Persons of the Trinity, however, are in no way dependent on us for their being Persons of the Trinity.

JJ: What do you mean by a state? I don’t think that a statue is a state of a lump. A statue has shape, size, and mass, but a state of a lump doesn’t have such properties. If there is a statue that a lump of matter constitutes at a time, there is an organism that a lump of matter constitutes at a time, but an organism is not a state of a lump of matter, so why think a statue is a state of a lump of matter? And I don’t think that whether a statue exists depends on us to interpret it. A statue depend on us to make it. And whether a statue represents something depends on our intentions. But a statue can exist without representing anything.

BV: Connected with this is how God could be a hylomorphic compound, or any sort of compound, given the divine simplicity which rules out all composition in God.

JJ: Chris Hughes argues that Aquinas’ doctrine of divine simplicity is not consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity. I agree but I am not sure that the doctrine of divine simplicity is consistent with God having concepts of different things like the concept of a dog or a cat. So I say no great loss there. What do you mean by divine simplicity? If God has more than one state or more than one event happens to God or God performs more than one act or God has more than one property, do you say God is not simple?