Questions and (some) answers

January 11, 2017


Dale asks, regarding this post:

.. is this a question about words or about things? Seems to me it must be the former: e.g. does “Deus” (used by Anselm) co-refer with the term “ho theos” used by Paul?

Both, I think, if reference is a relation between language and reality. Then if the two terms ‘Deus’ and ‘ho theos’ co-refer, there is a third thing, not a linguistic term but an item in extralinguistic reality, to which the terms are externally related. And of course if God is real, he cannot be a ‘theoretical entity’. And what if it is not the case that the God of the philosophers is the same being as the God of Paul? Then there are two possibilities. Either there are two separate divine beings, one of whom gets top billing in the Biblical story, the other of which is some being, we know not what, who is omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent etc., or one or both of them does not exist. (Dale points out that two people can theorize about the same being, and one gets it more correct than the other, but of course that would require that the beings be the same).

He also wonders about the religious or theological import of all of this. Well I am completing a book on the ‘Same God’ question and don’t want too many spoilers, but the broad tendency is against an over-liberal theology which begins with the theoretical God of philosophy, and almost ends there, with scriptural authority practically reduced to a sideshow. As a theology student at a liberal institution I was taught that Matthew has two angels because he is trying to make a theological point, Luke has one angel to make a quite different point, and Mark has a man at the tomb to say something probably different again. This is of course nonsense. Luke 1:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Luke and the other writers were clearly trying to piece together a historical narrative based on the reports of witnesses, other writings or letter and so on, just as a historian tries to piece together a coherent account based on the same kind of personal or textual witnesses. That does not have to entail Biblical inerrancy, although it is consistent with it. Like any historians, the gospel writers may not have got everything absolutely right. But they were not concocting some fabulous story or allegory. ‘These things are written so that you may believe’.

Turning from this to the question of substitutivity (if a and b are identical, then substituting ‘b’ for ‘a’ preserves the truth of the sentence), Dale also points out that Cartwright (among many) has shown this to be false. Very true, and this is the subject of a long-winded dispute over at the Maverick’s place, of which the latest installment is here (geeks only). Is designation is like pointing?

If you point at x, and y = x, you’ve pointed at y. Surely designation can involve more than that, but doesn’t it involve at least that? Why isn’t that good enough?

Right, but the question is whether designation is like pointing. Enough spoilers for now.

Ed Buckner
Ed Buckner studied and taught philosophy at the University of Bristol in England. He has a number of publications in the area of both analytic philosophy and medieval logic and philosophy. He is the author, with Jack Zupko, of Duns Scotus on Time & Existence, a translation of an early work by the philosopher-theologian Duns Scotus, with a comprehensive and detailed commentary. Now mostly retired, he curates the Logic Museum, a collection of primary sources in the history of logic.

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