Dale Tuggy

Dale Tuggy is Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he teaches courses in analytic theology, philosophy of religion, religious studies, and the history of philosophy.


  1. John B
    October 9, 2015 @ 7:53 am

    “In standard formulations of trinitarian theology nowadays, one says that there is (only) one God “in three Persons.” But what does this mean? We can ask about how these “Persons” relate individually or collectively to the one God. How exactly are they “in” him? ”

    Dale, is the Trinitarian claim reversible? In your opening statement here it is reversed, passing from
    a) one God in three persons
    b) three persons in one God

    I may be wrong, but I think the Trinitarian tends more to a) than b), which would make sense if we understood GOD as roughly synonymous with the divine OUSIA.

    However, in boldly guarding this language, Trinitarians also seem to have some work cut out around IN. http://biblehub.com/john/17-23.htm. If we are IN Christ, the Father is IN Christ, and God is IN Father, Son/Christ and Holy Spirit, then the scope of this preposition could do with some serious re-clarification. But certainly the reversibility of the language might then be possible, although would it necessarily be synonymous?

  2. Miguel de Servet
    October 1, 2015 @ 6:46 pm


    He [Augustine] [i]s talking about the difficulty in selecting a term that expresses the theological doctrine of the Trinity from the available options: hypostasis, prosopa, and ousia.

    It is highly misleading and confusing to refer to hypostasis, prosopa, and ousia as “available options”. The whole point about the doctrine of the “trinity” (at least as it was eventually settled by the Cappadocian scoundrels) is to oppose hypostasis (and, subordinately, prosopon) to ousia in the formula “one ousia in three hypostaseis“.

  3. Thomas
    October 1, 2015 @ 3:03 pm

    Augustine is clearly not saying that the theological content of the notion of trinitarian person is basically nothing. He’s talking about the difficulty in selecting a term that expresses the theological doctrine of the Trinity from the available options: hypostasis, prosopa, and ousia.

    In other words, he’s talking about creating a technical vocabulary when language is inadequate to express theological content; he’s not at all saying the notion of a Trinitarian person is basically contentless. The result is that this post misses the mark entirely on Augustine’s view of a trinitarian person is.

    • Dale Tuggy
      October 1, 2015 @ 4:53 pm

      Having read quite a lot by Augustine on this, but by no means all, in my view he does think that “Person” here is lacking in content. He thinks there is no metaphysical model of the Trinity we can grasp, and that we’re left to making analogies with things we experience. But all such are *bad* analogies. So we just pile on analogies which seem contrary to one another, and hope this leads us to have enough understanding of it to think it is a good thing, this traditional Trinity-language. I think people tend to neglect the start and end of his De Trinitate, preferring to cherry-pick analogies that he uses and almost discards. At the start, he makes clear that he’s going to defend the traditional language no matter what, and that he feels rather put out to defend it. In the end, he hits strong negative mysterian notes. In any case, feel free to tell us what, in your view, a “Person” is for Augustine.

      • Thomas
        October 1, 2015 @ 5:52 pm


        That’s clearly not the case in this passage. Augustine is dealing with the problem of rendering the Greek hypostasis/ousia distinction into Latin, since the correlates are substance and essence. It’s a recurring discussion through De Trinitate. He’s talking about the poverty of “our language” (i.e., Latin) to express a technical distinction made originally in Greek. In a discussion of the same issue a few chapters earlier, Augustine says:

        “Because the usage of our language [i.e., Latin] has already decided that the same thing is to be understood when we say essence, as when we say substance, we do not venture to use the formula one essence and three substances, but rather one essence or substance and three persons.”

        The silence he’s talking about is not an apophatic silence; he’s just saying that if you don’t take certain Latin terms outside their ordinary usage, then Latin speaking people won’t have any words to the doctrine of the Trinity as originally formulated in Greek.

        It would indeed be bizarre for someone who wrote so much and with such care about what the term person means in the context of Trinitiarian doctrine to say that theologians don’t mean much of anything when they talk about the Trinitiarian persons. Trinitarian theology of the period, particularly Augustine’s, is much discussed and well understood in contemporary secondary literature.

        • Dale Tuggy
          October 3, 2015 @ 9:32 am

          “don’t mean much of anything” I meant poor in content, not wholly lacking any content. Still, you haven’t said what Aug thinks the “Persons” are, in your view.

          • Thomas
            October 3, 2015 @ 5:09 pm

            “I meant poor in content, not wholly lacking any content.” That is why I characterized you as claiming that Augustine “doesn’t mean much of anything” rather than “doesn’t mean anything at all.”

            As to what Augustine thinks the persons of the Trinity are, as I said, treatments of the subject are thick on the ground. I’d recommend Lewis Ayres’ “Augustine and the Trinity” for a good overview. Obviously I cannot spell out Augustine’s doctrine of the Trinitarian persons in the comment of a blog, but I can at least indicate the elements that it would be necessary to include: a) Augustine’s insistence that the persons are neither separate instantiations of a more general nature nor b) mere appearances of one and the same being (as the Latin term persona tends to suggest). Rather, c) to each person belongs the fullness of divinity (indeed, the same divinity). d) The persons are then distinguished by their relation to each other–by begetting and being begotten, or spirating and being spirated, etc. e) In light of divine simplicity, the persons are not distinct from the essence of God, though they are from each other.

            To say that there is little content to Augustine’s notion of divine persons when in fact that notion sweeps in so much–the perfections of divinity, the simplicity of God, a reconfiguration of classical metaphysics, the notion of subsistent relations, meditations on Scripture, reflections on how best to translate natively Greek theological concepts to Latin, the ways in which the persons of Trinity are reflected in triadic structure of creation etc.–is controverted by the volumes and volumes Augustine actually wrote on the subject.

            • Miguel de Servet
              October 3, 2015 @ 5:25 pm

              In light of divine simplicity, the persons are not distinct from the essence of God, though they are from each other.

              To affirm the “simplicity” of something/someone which/who accommodates for three “persons” (whatever the meaning of the word in this special case) is rather mysterian, no?

              … the ways in which the persons of Trinity are reflected in triadic structure of creation …

              Is this claim supposed to be evident to the rational mind?

              • Thomas
                October 3, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

                The divine simplicity affirmed by classical theists does not exclude relation; it does exclude composition between act and potency (and thus substance/accident, matter/form, and essence/existence composition). See e.g., http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1028.htm

                • Miguel de Servet
                  October 3, 2015 @ 6:21 pm

                  Are you seriously affirming that EITHER one espouses Thomism, OR one shouldn’t even try to deal with these … er … sublime concepts?

                  • Thomas
                    October 3, 2015 @ 6:55 pm


  4. Chad McIntosh
    October 1, 2015 @ 2:18 pm

    Whether there is a universal, cross-cultural concept of a “self” is an
    empirical question primarily for anthropologists and historians. The
    anthropological and historical evidence I’m aware of simply doesn’t
    support your claim that there is such a universal concept, at least how
    you define it. Look into anthropologist Harry Triandis’ work on this, as
    well as NT historian Bruce Malina’s.

    • Dale Tuggy
      October 1, 2015 @ 4:59 pm

      My claim is that this concept is naturally and easily formed by all humans, and that this belief in multiple selves is natural to us. But this doesn’t mean that the belief is universal. Many things are natural to us in this way, e.g. moral realism, but can be eradicated (or confused) by cultural influences. In the post I cite certain Buddhists and Hindus who official line is that there are not multiple selves – but I would wager that most such people in fact believe in them. I’m glad to hear what anthropologists and historians say about this. Is this the Triandis paper you have in mind? http://www.gelfand.umd.edu/Individualism%20and%20Collectivism.pdf Malina? Yeah, I had that book assigned in college. But surely, he’s going to say that they weren’t “individualistic”, but in ways consistent with believing in selves, right? (Just not “separate” ones.)

    • Dale Tuggy
      October 3, 2015 @ 9:34 am

      One more thought: it is very hard to imagine a group of humans with no self-concept, and with no belief in multiple human selves. They would be unable to use personal pronouns, I think, or even to think things like “I’m going hunting next Tuesday.”

  5. Miguel de Servet
    September 30, 2015 @ 5:54 pm

    But even worms, probably, are conscious.

    Probably? How about amoebas? How about viruses?

    Besides, I seriously doubt that Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel would agree with the definition of “self” as a generalization of the notion of “person” …

    • Dale Tuggy
      October 1, 2015 @ 5:00 pm

      I’m not sure about the worm claim. I would say that we should attribute mental states only when it seems necessary to explain behavior. Rats, surely yes. Worms – I would say, unclear.

      • Miguel de Servet
        October 2, 2015 @ 3:59 am


        I would say that we should attribute mental states only when it seems necessary to explain behavior.

        The setting of the “boundary” will inevitably be rather arbitrary, wouldn’t you agree? Think of an animist. Think of Descartes, for that matter …

        • Dale Tuggy
          October 3, 2015 @ 9:36 am

          I’m happy to admit that the boundary will be vague. But I wouldn’t say it’s wholly arbitrary, no. Extreme views like those you mention don’t show that common sense for humans is attributing mental states only to “higher” animals.

          • Miguel de Servet
            October 3, 2015 @ 1:34 pm

            Rather than suggesting that (at least some) lower life forms “are conscious”, isn’t it much more “common sense” to affirm that life, in its complexity, involves a gradual process of “conscience” (e.g. vegetative, sensitive, appetitive, affective, conscious, self-conscious)?