Monday, November 29, 2004

Pratt and Properties and Pantheism Again

Jason Pratt writes:

. . . I normally try to avoid using the word 'properties' at all: I tend to link it to characteristics 'proper to' the object, usually in distinction from other objects. I wouldn't call having-created-Socrates a property of God. . .

BV: I see what you are saying. Terminology is a perennial problem in philosophy. But it is fairly standard to speak of essential versus accidental properties even though only the former are 'proper' to their possessors. A property is just a characteristic, a mark, a note (to use an old scholastic word), an attribute. An attribute is something one attributes to a thing. But my attributing it does not imply that the thing does not have it prior to my act of attribution. It is standard to speak of the divine attributes (omniscience, etc.); but those who speak in this way do not think of God as having these properties as a result of human acts of attribution.

Of course, people are free to use their terms as they see fit -- as long as they explain how they are using them. Too much divergence from standard usage, however, will impede understanding.

. . . if A and B had identical property sets, then they would be identical objects.

BV: This amounts to Leibniz's principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles. It is scarcely self-evident. Why could not there be two numerically distinct individuals that share all properties?

BV said: A pantheism worth discussing must be a doctrine that can accommodate theobvious (datanic!) difference between God and the physical universe.

JP responds: Having established (or at least asserted) any obvious (even datanic)_difference_ between God and the physical universe--why would we call the doctrine _pan_-theism? It doesn't look like a good use of the word.

BV: To me, the view that God just is the physical universe is not worth discussing -- except long enough to explain why it is not worth discussing. We don't need another word for the physical universe. Any theory worth discussing must accommodate the obvious difference between God and the physical universe. The question is not whether there is this difference, the question is how it is to be understood or articulated. A pantheist might say this: the physical universe is "a phase within the complete fact which is this ultimate individual entity [God]." (A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making, p. 67) That is, the the physical universe is included within the being of God. But that is not to say that the physical universe is identical to God.

BV said: But just off the top of my head: if God (Deus sive Natura) has infinitely many attributes, and the physical universe but one (namely, extension), then does that fact not suffice to distinguish God from the physical universe?

JP replies: I'd say yes (not that the physical universe has only one attribute, but that the proposal would entail distinguishing God from the physical universe). Consequently I would be denying pantheism, per se. Spinoza may not have been a classical theist, but if he held this (or a similar position) then he was being an incoherent pantheist.

BV: I am afraid I don't understand this. Why is Spinoza an "incoherent pantheist"? Because he does not adhere to a straw-man understanding of what a pantheist is supposed to be?

The reason I brought up Spinoza was to show how the obvious difference between God and the physical universe -- a difference that any theory must be able to accommodate -- can be accommodated. Spinoza does not identify God with the physical universe, but he also does not view the physical universe as a realm of substances distinct from the divine substance. Physical things are modes (in the attribute of extension) of the divine substance. But the divine substance is more than this system of modes because of all the other attributes of God.