Dialogue with the Maverick Philosopher: God is a being, not Being itself – part 4

May 15, 2015

Socrates of Athens, the famous ancient philosopher, teacher of PlatoLast time we ended with this argument by Bill.

But if God is a necessary being, what is the ground of his necessity if it is not the divine simplicity? We agree that God cannot not exist. But I ask: why not? If in both God and Socrates there is a real distinction between essence and existence, and if in Socrates his contingency is rooted in the real distinction, then God too will be contingent. Dale needs to supply a ground for the divine necessity, and the only plausible ground is the identity in God of essence and existence.

There’s a lot going on here. Yes, we agree that God exists, and that it is not metaphysically possible (i.e. it is impossible no matter what) for God to not exist.

But now, the questions start yapping at us:

  • It seems a perfectly good question, if God is a necessary being, to ask why it is so. Why is it impossible that God doesn’t exist?
  • A further issue is: is there a distinction, in a typical thing, between its essence and its existence?
  • And if so, does this explain why such things exist contingently and not necessarily (i.e. it is metaphysically possible that they don’t exist)?
  • And a further issue is: assuming yes to the previous two questions, should we think that God is an (or the only) exception to the rule? In other words, should we think that in God, essence and existence are one and the same, that there is no distinction between them?
  • And finally, if this is so, does this explain what it is necessary that God exists?

About the last four questions, I want to say, in order: yes, yes, no, and no.

About the first, I will try to pony up an answer in the next post. Again, as this is heavy lifting, I’m chopping matters up, to have mercy on those who would read this. I will have to set aside the fourth in this post too.

Why do I say “yes” to the second question? Take Socrates, and to simplify matters, imagine that he exists now. His existing is one fact, and his having a certain essence (i.e. being certain ways which he must be, so long as he exists) is another fact. Suppose we stipulate that his essence is: being a human. His existence is one fact, and his being human is another fact. Arguably, those facts require each other: if this Socrates exists, he must be human. And if his is human, then of course he must exist.

Likewise, if we want to talk the language of properties rather than facts (or events), we can say that his humanity is one property (one way he is), and his existence is another property (another way he is). We would all say (again, assuming for simplicity that Socrates exists now) that we and Socrates “share” these properties. Bill and I too, happily, exist and are human. The realist about universals, like Bill, will take this as literally one and the same abstract entity (the universal humanity) bearing some “instantiation” relation to each of us, whereas the non-realist (“nominalist”) about universals, like me, will think merely than the three of us are similar in certain respects, in that we are human (we all are such as to satisfy the concept of a human).

We just about all think that Socrates is a contingent being. (At least, those of us who think there are real beings like human beings; some Buddhist and Hindu philosophers may aver.) Even if you think that souls go on forever, you probably will agree with just about everyone else that there was a time before Socrates existed, e.g. 5000 BC. But anything which can conceivably come into existence or go out of existence is a contingent being. Many will think, of course, that Socrates has gone out of existence now. Now does this difference between his existence and his essence explain why, e.g. Socrates is contingent, i.e. a being such that he can fail to exist? In other words, is this liability or potentiality to not exist – is it explained by there being a difference between Socrates’ existing and his being human?

I don’t think so. Why?

  • Imagine that there’s a necessary being, a self, with vast powers of intentional action.
  • Now imagine that this being has an overwhelmingly strong motive to create another being, and no motives to not create such a being, and that nothing else exists which is able to thwart or prevent such an action.
  • It follows that this other being, this creature, will exist no matter what, of necessity. It’ll be impossible, on our assumptions, for this creature to fail to exist, even if there is a difference between its essence and its existence. It looks conceivable that such a being could be necessary even while it’s existence ain’t its essence. If so, then as best we can tell, such a difference isn’t sufficient for being contingent. Such a creature may exist “in all possible words” because of the creator being; in all such “worlds,” so to speak, he creates the second.
  • Is it even necessary? That is, does contingently existing require that there’s a difference between a thing’s essence and its existence? We can doubt it. Just add to this scenario above two facts: first, that the creature is such as to have no difference between its existence and its essence. The creator, the first being, can make things from nothing; it’s not like he has to put together pre-existing things, combining them in new ways. Second, let’s us add that the first being has some strong motive to not create anything, and so has the freedom to refrain entirely from creating. But, let’s continue to assume that he does create this second being. In this scenario, the creature is merely contingent; it is possible that he doesn’t exist. Yet, there’s no distinction between his existence and his essence. So, if the first being wants to annihilate him, well, it won’t be by separating that second being’s existence and essence; it’ll all have to be in one fell swoop, as it were. (For the record, I don’t think it is metaphysically possible for a thing’s existence and essence to be the same; I’m arguing from Bill’s assumption here. Even on his views, a thing may fail to have the distinction noted, and yet not be necessary.)

This is why I answer “no” to the third and fifth questions above.

But notice something else – that we never said, in our thought experiment above, that the creator, the necessary being we started with, wasn’t caused by something else. For all we’ve said, this creator exists because there was some other unstoppably powerful being with an overwhelming motive to create it!

What this shows is that the theist wants to say not only that God’s existence is necessary (that it is impossible for God not to exist), but also this is not so because of something else, but rather because of God himself. Aquinas makes this point somewhere; we want to say not that God is necessary through another, and also not that God is necessary for no reason (i.e. his necessity is a brute fact), but rather that God is necessary because of himself, in other words, that it is impossible for God to not exist because of something about God himself.

Answering the first question is harder than it may appear. I’ll take a crack at in in my next post.

Dale
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.

2 thoughts on “Dialogue with the Maverick Philosopher: God is a being, not Being itself – part 4”

  1. Thanks for this interesting series of posts! I’m reading with interest.

    >>Imagine that there’s a necessary being, a self, with vast powers of intentional action. Now imagine that this being has an overwhelmingly strong motive to create another being, and no motives to not create such a being, and that nothing else exists which is able to thwart or prevent such an action.<>Aquinas makes this point somewhere; we want to say not that God is necessary through another, and also not that God is necessary for no reason (i.e. his necessity is a brute fact), but rather that God is necessary because of himself, in other words, that it is impossible for God to not exist because of something about God himself.Answering the first question is harder than it may appear. I’ll take a crack at in in my next post.<<

    Yes! The "something about God himself" is precisely that his essence and existence are identical!

  2. In your example, it would seem that the creature composed of essence and existence only exists because of its causal dependence on something else. Even if one accepts that particular objection as cogent, don’t you give up the game anyway? Effectively you just distinction between something like intrinsic and extrinsic necessity. Creatures for whom essence and existence are different depend (necessarily) on an extrinsic efficient cause. Thus the dependence of creatures on God by virtue of his simplicity.

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