Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Incarnation and Identity

Joseph Jedwab is a doctoral candidate at Oriel College, Oxford University. He is writing his dissertation under Richard Swinburne, who is among the top two or three philosophers of religion at work today. What follows are his penetrating comments on a published paper of mine available on-line here. He actually nails me on a couple of logical points. Jedwab writes:

I enjoyed your paper on the Incarnation very much. It matters not that it does not refer to the most recent literature. Here are some comments.

Briefly my own view is the following. There are mental subjects (i.e. subjects of mental properties--entities that perceive, think, feel, and act). There is one divine subject: a mental subject who has the divine properties that include being necessary and essentially eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly free, and perfectly good. And there are human subjects: mental subjects who are humanly embodied in human biological organisms. Human embodiment nvolves reciprocal pairs of causal powers between the mental subject and the organism, powers to affect the organism in characteristically human ways and powers to be affected by the organism in characteristically human ways. God becomes human by coming to stand in the relation of human embodiment to a human biological organism. Suppose that we want an account where the Son has a distinctively human sphere of consciousness in which he humanly experiences and out of which he humanly acts. Then I say the Son's sphere of consciousness divides in the Incarnation into a stream that has distinctively divine conscious mental states and a stream that has distinctively human conscious mental states.

BV: If there are two streams of consciousness, one human, the other divine, then presumably there are two (synchronic and diachronic) unities of consciousness. But it is not clear how one person can encompass two distinct unities of consciousness. The Chalcedonian definition requires that there be exactly one person with two natures. Now if there is exactly one person, then it seems there would have to be exactly one (synchronic and diachronic) unity of
consciousness. Otherwise, there would be something like multiple personality disorder.

I believe that the Son is Jesus, 'the Son' and 'Jesus' if ordinary names at all are two names for one and the same mental subject.

BV: Suppose that proper names are Kripkean rigid designators, where T is a rigid designator iff T denotes the same object O in every metaphysically possible world in which O exists. Then:
1. ‘Son’ denotes the Son in every possible world, because the Son is a necessary being.
2. ‘Jesus’ denotes Jesus in some (but not all) possible worlds, because Jesus is contingent.
3. There are possible worlds in which ‘Son’ and ‘Jesus’ do not denote the same object.
4. If two rigid designators are coreferential, then they denote the same object in all possible worlds in which they denote any object.
5. “Son’ and ‘Jesus’ are not coreferential rigid designators.

To put the point in material mode, how can a necessary being (the Son) be identical to a contingent being (Jesus) given the necessity of identity, to wit, if x = y, then necessarily x = y? For if x = y, and this identity holds across all possible worlds, then either both beings are necessary, or both beings are contingent (and exist in all the same possible worlds). Given that the Son is necessary, and that the Son is identical to Jesus, then Jesus must be necessary. But this contradicts the fact that Jesus is a contingent being.

The Son assumes humanity, that is acquires the property of being human by becoming humanly embodied. The Son also assumes a human rational soul and human body. 'Soul' is ambiguous here. Perhaps one can say that it means principle of life. But then perhaps this phrase turns out to be ambiguous too. In the Platonic sense, a soul is an immaterial mental substance. In the Aristotelian sense, a soul is a substantial form or property in virtue of which a living substance is alive. In the Platonic sense, the Son assumes a human rational soul by becoming a human rational soul.

BV: How exactly? By becoming identical to a human rational soul? How then could the Son retain its divine properties?

In the Aristotelian sense, the Son assumes a human rational soul by acquiring a property in virtue of which he is a human rational living substance. This could involve acquiring a distinctively human rational stream of consciousness. More straightforwardly, the Son assumes a human body by coming to stand in the relation of human embodiment to a human biological organism. I am taking 'human body' as human biological organism.

This is my substance dualist account of the Incarnation. But another account that equally defends the doctrine from the charge of inconsistency is the one Trenton Merricks provides in his paper 'The Word became Flesh: Dualism, Physicalism, and the Incarnation' (unpublished), where to be human is to be a human biological organism, in which case God becomes human by becoming a human biological organism.

BV: Both on your and Merrick’s accounts, I am left with my question of how one thing can have incompatible properties.

You present three problems:
(P1) How can one person have apparently incompatible natures?
(P2) How can one person have apparently incompatible non-nature properties?
(P3) How can there be one person in the Incarnation if apparently one person incarnates himself in another person?

(P1&P2): You say the difficulty common to (P1) and (P2) is the apparent commitment to the indiscernibility of identicals, the discernibility of the Son and Jesus, and the identity of the Son and Jesus. I want to defend the claim that it can be that something is divine and human. For nothing can have incompatible properties, be they natures or non-nature properties. So my view is different from van Inwagen's application of relative-identity to the doctrine of the Incarnation, where, for example, God the Son is divine, Jesus of Nazareth is human, nothing is divine and human, but God the Son is the same Person as Jesus of Nazareth, though God the Son is not the same Being as Jesus of Nazareth. So I go for the indiscernibility of the Son and Jesus. In fact, the alternative seems to involve relative identity or Nestorianism.

BV: I take it you are saying that the relative-identity approach to the Incarnation flirts with the Nestorian heresy according to which there are two persons in two natures rather than one person in two natures. That’s interesting, and I hadn’t thought of it. In an ancestor draft of the published paper I had a long critique of relative identity theory, which I find dubious. So, between us, relative identity theory is off the table.

What about the reduplicative strategy such as we find in Aquinas? Suppose H and I are incompatible predicates. Then ‘x is H and x is I’ is contradictory. But ‘x qua F is G and x qua H is I’ seems to avoid contradiction. For example, ‘The Son qua divine is necessary, but the Son qua human is contingent.’ Does this collapse into the relative identity approach, or is it distinct? Whatever the answer to this question, the reduplicative approach seems deficient. In the end, one and the same x is both H and I.

But this leads to deeper and more general ontological questions about individuals and how they have properties. The distinction between constituent and nonconstituent ontologies comes into play.

(P3): I do not believe that, in the Incarnation, one person incarnates himself in another person. The Son becomes incarnate or humanly embodied in a human biological organism. But this human biological organism is not a mental subject. So the Son does not incarnate himself in another person.

BV: The trouble with saying this is that the Son does not become man by assuming a human body, but by assuming a human body together with its animating rational soul, which latter is a mental subject. That a divine mind should acquire a human body is not so problematic; but that a divine mind should acquire a human mind-body complex is quite problematic. How can two minds/persons be one mind/person?

Here are some critical remarks and points of interest:

1. Footnote ii: I do not think there are intentional properties like being believed to be a philosopher. If there were there would be quotational properties that are not intentional like being so-called because of its appearance in the night sky which applies to Hesperus but not Phosphorus.

BV: I tend to take a somewhat sparse view of properties myself: I do not believe that every predicate expresses a property. But there are people who take a latitudinarian view of properties, and I wanted to block a possible objection from their quarter to the Indiscernibility of Identicals according to which, e.g., Hesperus is not identical to Phosphorus because one has an intentional property the other lacks. I take it your point is that the objection can be blocked simply by denying that there are intentional properties. OK.

2. p.2: You call the defense of the Incarnation that says the relation between the Son and Jesus is like the relation of embodiment between a soul and body 'the Apollinarian defense'. But the Apollinarian view says the Son assumed a human body with non-rational soul but did not assume a rational soul also. As far as I know, it does not concern itself with whether the Son is identical
to Jesus, saying that Jesus is the composite of the Son and the human body with a non-rational soul, or that Jesus is the human body with a non-rational soul.

BV: Bringing Apollinaris into the discussion may have only muddied the waters. I wanted a convenient tag for the fallacious maneuver whereby the God-man relation is likened to the mind-body relation. Hence ‘Appollinarian defense.’

There are two issues here that need to be separated out: (a) Is the Son identical to Jesus or not? If not, what is Jesus? A human subject, a human body, a composite of a human subject and human body, a composite of the Son and a human body, or a composite of the Son, a human subject, and a human body? I say the Son is Jesus.

BV: I take it you mean the ‘is’ of identity, and that you accept the strictures I placed on strict numerical identity, to wit, total reflexivity, symmetry, transitivity, necessity of identity, and Indiscernibility of Identicals. But then the puzzles I mentioned seem to remain standing.

(b) Does the Incarnation involve the Son becoming humanly embodied in a human biological organism or does it involve the Son coming to stand in some unique relation to a human subject who is humanly embodied in a human biological organism which subject is distinct from the Son? I say the Incarnation involves the former. If the Incarnation involves the latter, I cannot see how one avoids Nestorianism.

BV: I think you are right about this. The latter alternative amounts to the Nestorian heresy. But it is not enough to say that the Son becomes embodied in a human biological organism; what must be said is that the Son becomes a human being with body and mind. A biological organism is an organism from the point of view of biology. The latter has no truck with souls as animating principles – Vitalism is dead (to put it paradoxically) – or with minds.

So the name of the defense could be misleading because it does not separate out these distinct issues. Any defense that thinks of the Son and Jesus as mental subjects who are distinct from each other I would call a Nestorian defense.

BV: Here is the problem in a nutshell. Two persons in two natures gives you the heresy of Nestorius. But one person in two natures presents the problem of how one person can have radically different natures. If Christ is both fully divine and fully human, then Christ does not merely have a live human body, he also has a human mind. But how can there be two minds without two persons? If you say that a divine mind occupies a human body, then that is the heresy of Apollinaris.

3. Footnote viii: you say property P includes or entails property Q just in case it could not be that P is instantiated but Q is not. But this has the strange result that the property of being even includes or entails the property of being odd if numbers are necessary beings. Rather one should say P entails property Q iff it could not be that something instantiates P but not Q.

BV: Well, I didn’t use the word ‘include’ in my formulation, and removing that word removes some of the sting of your objection. But yes, my definition does have the consequence you note. I concede that I was wrong and that your definition is correct. It amounts to

(A) P entails Q iff ~Poss(Ex)(Px & ~Qx)

whereas what I said comes to

(B) P entails Q iff ~Poss[(ExPx) & (Ex)~Qx)].

The right-hand side of (A) entails the right-hand side of (B), but not vice versa.

But note that your definition also has paradoxical consequences, namely, that every impossible property entails any property, and that any property entails any tautological property. Thus, being both round and square entails being human, and being human entails being either round or not round. But these paradoxes are well known.

4. p.7: You identify begging the question with a kind of premise circularity. So one begs the question in an argument if one must know the conclusion in order to know one or more of the premises.

You consider the following two arguments:
(6) The Son is accidentally human.
(7) Jesus is essentially human.
(8) ¬ The Son is Jesus.

(6) The Son is accidentally human.
(¬8) The Son is Jesus.
(¬7) ¬Jesus is essentially human.

(By the way you make a mistake of no consequence when you say on p.8 that the negation of (7) is the proposition that Jesus is accidentally human.)

BV: Given that Jesus is human, then he is either accidentally human or essentially human, but not both. I take your point to be that the negation of a statement of the form a is essentially F is not a is accidentally F, but a is either accidentally F, or else not F.

You say the friend of OCI begs the question against the foe by arguing from (6) and (¬8) to (¬7), but the foe of OCI does not beg the question against the friend by arguing from (6) and (7) to (8).You say this because, though there is reason to believe (7)independently of (8), there is no reason to believe (¬7) independently of (¬8). But this does not constitute begging the question with respect to the second argument. What you would have to say if you wanted to make out that the friend begs the question with respect to the second argument is that there is no reason to believe (¬8) independently of (¬7). But in fact there is: I presume Jesus was so-named at birth (or the Aramaic equivalent) but he came to be called 'the Son' by himself and his followers from the title for the messiah 'the Son of God' and the title for the angelic figure of Daniel 7 'the son of man'. So I think neither the friend nor the foe begs the question with respect to the argument he is advancing.

BV: I think you are right. I blundered again. You are right that neither friend nor foe begs the question. I can see from this that you have studied my paper with great care and that you have a penetrating intellect.

5. p.8: You say we must distinguish between the agent and locus of the Incarnation for we must distinguish between the claim Jesus is the Incarnation of the Word and the Word is the Incarnation of Jesus. I take it you think friends of OCI think the first claim true and the second claim false. This is interesting. If so, there is already a problem. For if the Word is Jesus, then either both claims are true or both are false.

BV: We could frame it as an argument:

a. Identity is a symmetrical relation
b. Incarnation is an asymmetrical relation.
c. A case of incarnation cannot be a case of identity.

I take it you would argue from the negation of (c) to the negation of (b).

I concede that some friends say something like this. Actually, they say Jesus is the Word incarnate but the Word is not Jesus incarnate. Perhaps they think of 'Jesus' as a title that applies to the Word if and only if the Word is incarnate.

BV: We need to distinguish names from titles. ‘Tathagata’ and ‘Buddha’ are titles meaning he who has thus come, and the enlightened one. Titles are definite descriptions, not logically proper names. ‘Siddartha’ and ‘Gautama’ are proper names. Similarly, ‘Christ’ is a title meaning the anointed one, whereas ‘Jesus’ is a name. To further complicate matters, titles can be used as proper names just as definite descriptions can sometimes be used as rigid designators. (Cf. Donnellan’s distinction between referential and attributive uses of definite descriptions.) And I suppose names can be used as titles. Ordinary language is fluid. Maybe later I can clarify some of this.

I have more things to say, points of interest to make, and questions to ask, but this is perhaps sufficient for the moment.

BV: These were excellent comments, and I look forward to reading more of them.