To readers who aren’t philosophers – thanks for your patience! We philosophers feel compelled to pick through these things at a slow pace. Stay tuned for less exploratory and technical stuff.
In my last post, I tried to answer the quesion “What is modalism about the Trinity?” The basic idea is that there are things, and there are modes of things, or ways those things are. The upshot was that there are many possible kinds of modalism. The main questions any modalist has to answer, in order to disambiguate her position, are:
- Exactly which are modes of which? For example, do you hold that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three modes of God? Or do you hold that Son and Spirit are modes of the Father (the Father being identical to God)? Or what?
- Are the modes strictly sequential, or do they overlap? If they overlap, do they completely overlap, so that God is omnitemporally or eternally those ways?
- In grasping the different modes, are we merely understanding ways in which God appears to humans, or also, ways God really is?
I’m afraid, though, that that isn’t enough! A mode is a “way God is” – but what on earth is that? It seems that there are many possibilites. To make it easier, switch to the apple on my desk. What could it mean to talk about “ways it is”? For one thing, we might mean ways it merely appears, or ways it has the powers to appear to different observers. But we’ve already noted that issue, so let’s lay that aside. Just stick to the “noumenal” senses – we’re talking about the apple itself. What sorts of things might I mean by referring to “ways my apple is”?
- Intrinsic properties of the apple. (e.g. having a certain mass, having a bruise)
- Reflexive relations of the apple (e.g. being identical to itself, being the same size as itself)
- multi-place relations in which the apple stands – these could be causal relations, or not. (e.g. being to the left of my computer, or being between my computer and the wall, being from the tree in my yard, being cold from the refigerator, being the source of the fresh apple smell around my desk, exerting a certain downward force on the table, being “right side up”, facing me, etc.)
- Events or states of affairs of which the apple is a component (e.g. There being an apple on Dale’s desk at 11am on July 6, 2006.)
Have I left any out? I honestly don’t know. But let’s consider the claim that the Son is a mode of God, considering what this might mean.
- the Son is an intrinsic property of God, e.g. God’s lovingness, or God’s attribute of compassion. This option doesn’t seem too attractive, as it seems that properties aren’t subjects of consciousness, and don’t act, though the Son is supposed to be a conscious agent.
- the Son is a relflexive relation, e.g. God’s loving of himself, or the “speaking to” relation which God bears to himself. Same problem as above, I think.
- the Son is a multiplace relation, one relatum of which is God. e.g. The friend-and-savior relation that God bears to us. Again, it seems the Son shouldn’t be a relation.
- the Son is the event (or state of affairs) of which God is the component substance. e.g. The Son is the event of God’s relating to us as friend and savior. Or the Son is the event of God’s taking on flesh and living and dying to reveal the Father to humankind. Or the Son is the eternal, timeless event of God’s living in… a son-like way. Or the Son is the event of God’s loving himself (Augustine, anyone?).
The lesson I draw from these reflections is: serious modalists must mean this last type of thing. That is, when they say that, for example, the Son is a mode of God, what they really mean is, that the Son is identical to either a state of affairs or an event, the component substance of which is God. The Son, that is, just is God’s having a certain property, or being in a certain relation, at a time (or timelessly).
But if this is what they mean, difficulties loom. Can events (or states of affairs) be conscious? In a manner of speaking. One might say that the event of Dale’s being awake all day “is conscious”, in that it includes the feature of consciousness – it just is me being conscious in a certain way. To say that an event “is conscious” seems to be a roundabout way of saying that there’s an event which implies that a certain substance / entity is conscious. I’m assuming here that “consciousness” is not a thing, but is rather a feature or property which is always “in” or “had by” a thing.
Can events act (that is, intentionally do things)? I want to say that the answer is no – that’s a category mistake. Events can’t act any more than numbers can explode or mailboxes can be odd (in the sense that 3, 5, and 7 are odd). Of course, there are events which just are, or which imply, certain substances acting. There’s the event of my tying my shoe, for instance.
Can events be properly praised or blamed? It seems, no. Only a certain kind of substance, a person (personal being) can be morally responsible.
In sum, events can be thought of and spoken of as persons, or as having personal attributes, when they include one or more personal beings as component substances. But the sober truth seems to be that no person is an event and vice-versa.
One might ask what I mean by a “person”. A person is a thing / substance / entity which has at least these three features: (1) it is conscious, (2) it has or can have a mind (intelligence), (3) it can intentionally act. Humans are (at least typically) persons. If there was a being like E.T., it would be a person. Anything which is a god is by definition a person in this sense.
Next time: more on objecting to modalism.