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. JT Paasch
    April 12, 2008 @ 7:35 am

    Yes, for Scotus there is just one deity trope.

    And yes, Scotus says it’s a ‘this’ in itself (but a trope is individual, so that captures the idea).

    And yes, for Scotus, the deity trope is a kind-nature for the persons.

  2. Scott
    April 11, 2008 @ 6:19 pm

    Oh, and … the three divine persons all are constituted by the numerically same ‘qualitative thisness’–otherwise don’t we get homoiousian-ism?

  3. Scott
    April 11, 2008 @ 6:17 pm


    Nice summary. Though a question remains.

    Do you think Scotus says there are three divine tropes, i.e. three tropes of the divine essence? My guess is that the answer is ‘no’. It seems what is at issue is whether we construe the divine essence as though it were akin to a ‘mass term’ (e.g. ‘water’, ‘wood’ = ‘divine’). But couldn’t one say, “I plan to swim in all the waters on planet earth before I die?’ It has been too long since I’ve looked at the distinction btwn. sortal terms, mass terms, and the like. But my guess here is that we need to say ‘this divinity’. Scotus does speak like this, no? IF so, then when we ask about the exemplifications of the divine essence, if we are saying there is only ‘this divine essence’, does this phrase point out the number of exemplifications, or does it point out the ‘kind-nature’?

    My guess is that it is both: the divine essence is a ‘qualitative thisness’–something that may not hold for creatures—if we accept a principle of individuation as a non-qualitative-thisness, or by some double-negations.

    Just some thoughts…

  4. JK
    April 9, 2008 @ 1:38 am

    Hi Dale,
    I wasn’t clear enough in my earlier question to you so I’ll re-issue it with hopefully better clarity. In essence (pun intended), I was simply asking you about the specific question that you pose at the end of this blog post, which goes: “In sum, I need to think more about this. Maybe in another post soon, I’ll further explore the idea that the essence divinity includes relational properties, specifically, being in certain I-thou relationships.” I take your trinitarian question not as asking if personal relations are essential (I assume as describes the Trinity this is a big affirmative), but if the “esse” (i.e. the “whatness” of essence divinity) of the Trinity can be reconceived with relational properties (which you stipulate possibly in terms of I-thou relationships) instead of insisting on the conventional orthodox partition between the Godhead’s essence (“whatness”) and its persons (“whoness”). My presupposition is not social trinitarian, but rather in agreement with the Nicean formulation. Automatically making the separate distinction between the divine esse and the divine persons has been what the Latin wing (in particular) of Christianity has held as most biblically prudent, with the thinking that we can only legitimately talk about the divine persons, not the divine essence. So, to wrap back around here, my question is simply asking you to comment further or resource point in regard to the blog post question you ended with. Sorry for running on, and thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Alexander R Pruss
    April 8, 2008 @ 6:38 pm


    If anybody wants examples of non-intrinsic essential properties, here are two candidates (they take “essential” in the modal sense: an essential property is one which one cannot lack):
    1. Socrates’ property of being the son of Sophroniscus and Phaenarete. (Assuming essentiality of origins.)
    2. My property of being known to exist by God. (Necessarily, in every world where I exist, God knows that I exist.)

    On the other hand, maybe it is essential properties in the sense of “whatness” that your social trinitarian interlocutor is interested in. In that case, there is some plausibility to the idea that only intrinsic properties are essential. (Though maybe it’s part of my whatness that I am created by God?)

  6. JT Paasch
    April 8, 2008 @ 7:00 am

    Dale —

    Historical note on universals.

    It seems to me that the western tradition in general has two worries about saying the divine essence is a universal (and I think Gregory of Nyssa is worried about these things too, although some specialists would disagree with me on that).

    1. On the one hand, we can say that universals are separated from their instantiations. For example, we might say that universals are abstract objects (properties), or Forms (like Plato says). However we want to swing though, the universal is separate from its instantiations, so every instantiations of a universal is dependent upon the universal in some way.

    Now transfer this over to the divine case. Suppose we said that universals are separate from their instantiations, and suppose we said that God is (or the three persons are) an instance(s) of the universal of deity. If so, then God depends on the universal in some way. Of course, that conflicts with God’s aseity, so we don’t want that.

    (This is why it’s probably more appropriate to say that deity is a trope. That way, nobody thinks that deity depends on some other entity (a universal/property) in any way.)

    2. Alternatively, we could say that a universal is immanent — it is wholly present in, and it only exists in, each particular that exemplifies it. However, in the early centuries of the Common Era, certain post-Aristotelian, Stoic, and neo-platonic influences had led to a fairly common view that immanent universals are, quite literally, divided up or multiplied into individual instances. The result is that, for example, your humanity is numerically distinct from mine.

    Now transfer this over to the divine case. If we say the divine essence is an immanent universal, this is more attractive than the previous view because the exemplifications of deity do not depend on some universal that exists apart from the exemplifications. However, it also means that deity will be divided up into each divine person, and the result will be that the Father’s deity is numerically distinct from the Son’s and Spirit’s — and that’s tritheism.

    So what to do? Some, like Scotus, think the divine essence is in fact an immanent universal, but it is infinite, and because it is infinite, it cannot be divided up. Thus, there is only one divine essence, and it is immanent in each divine person.

    Alternatively, we could just say the divine essence is one trope that is shared by three divine persons.

    Others will talk about the divine essence more as one constituent which overlaps all three persons at the same time. I think this is probably what Aquinas has in mind (although sometimes Aquinas talks more along the lines of Scotus’s view).

    I think Augustine might also think the divine essence is a constituent (although he too sometimes talks about the divine essence as an unmultiplied immanent universal). In De Trin book 7, Augustine suggests that the divine essence is like the gold in a case where three gold statues are all made of the same lump of gold at the same time. Augustine quickly rejects this analogy because we can’t understand how three gold statues could be made from the same lump of gold at the same time. But I think that Augustine likes one feature of this model: the ‘gold’ totally overlaps each statue. There is no place in the region occupied by the statues which the gold does not fill. And also, gold is a mass term, so we can’t say it in the plural, while ‘statues’ can be plural. Similarly, the divine essence totally overlaps the persons, and we can’t say it in the plural, while we can say ‘persons’ in the plural.

    Finally, I should note that there is nothing inconsistent about holding both (a) that the divine essence is an undivided immanent universal in the divine persons, and (b) the divine essence is a constituent that is shared by the persons. One can (and most scholastics do) hold both.

  7. Scott
    April 7, 2008 @ 11:03 pm


    Re: the divine essence as a universal, I think I thought we had discussed this before. In short, the option on the table was an ‘immanent universal’, such that this sort of universal piggy-backs on the subject that bears this universal. In the divine case, three subjects have the same immanent universal. [This is just one view, of course. That is, it is Duns Scotus’s view.]

    Aurelius: Richard of St. Victor beat you to the punch.. he has an acct. of the ‘order of origin’ in his De Trin., which I have recently found out will be published in English by Paternoster Press in the coming months. Richard distinguishes between a being (esse) and an existent (ex-sistere). The later includes some ‘ex’ order from which it ‘is’.

  8. Aurelius
    April 7, 2008 @ 3:05 pm


    I think you are right to think of non-intrinsic essential properties as relation properties. I guess the concern here is how relational properties can be essential, i.e., kind defining.

    But there do seem to be cases that make it such that X is X because and only because of some relationship that X bears to Y. The idea is currently being used in philosophy of biology to help define the concept of a species. According to this relational definition of species, we are human, among other things, only because of the relationship that we bear to those organisms that produced us. In other words, some organism cannot be human just because it looks like us, is genetically identical to us, and can mate with us. Rather, in order to be human the organism must have the same evolutionary lineage as us. If it does not, then, it is not human. Take the relational property away from those organism and they lose their identity.

    One interesting consequence of this idea is that there cannot be humans (nor tigers nor chimps) on other planets — even if they look just like us and can interbred.

    I think this concept is or should be of definite interest to Trinitarian theologians; for the Son and the Spirit seem to be who they are because and only because of who they are produced by.

  9. Dale
    April 7, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

    Hi Scott,

    I certainly can’t provide a non-controversial example of such an essential property. I’m not what what the distinction is you’re asking about.

    Your second remark is interesting to me, because I’ve been thinking some about universals, and how that issue bears on theology. In your view, is the mainstream tradition inconsistent? While Plato and Aristotle both believe in universals, they famously say some incompatible things about them. What would the motivation be for treating the universal “divinity” in a way different from all other universals? (Maybe this is a post topic!)

  10. Dale
    April 7, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

    Hi JK,

    I’m not quite sure what you’re asking… but if you want to know about the claim that the essence of divinity includes a relationship with another, see my earlier posts here and here.

  11. Scott
    April 4, 2008 @ 12:27 pm

    Can somebody help me understand what an ‘non-intrinsic essential property’ might be? Is this basically a relational constitution, such that X is only X if X is related to Y (akin to a Platonic ontology of participation/relations, as opposed to an Aristotelian constituent ontology?)

    typically, the Platonic ontology has been used by Christians to say something about creatures (not about God); and the Aristotelian ontology has been used by Christians to say something about God. But if we use a Platonic relational ontology, it is hard to see how this does not entail necessary creation?

  12. JK
    April 3, 2008 @ 12:02 am

    I’m interested in the area you mention at the end here: essence divinity, specifically being in certain I-thou relationships. Will you be posting more specifically on this in the near term, or can you point me to so good sources for me to do some exploring on my own?
    Thanks much,