Friday, November 19, 2004

Pratt on Pantheism

Jason Pratt comments on yesterday's long post on pantheism. Jason tells me that he loves posts like this, suggesting perhaps that he prefers philosoblogging to politblogging.

I presented the following argument of Robert Oakes, albeit in my own words:

1. Every contingent being is necessarily such that it is existentially dependent on God at each moment of its existence.

2. If anything X is necessarily such that it is dependent on something Y at each moment of its existence, then X is a mode (aspect, modification) of Y.


3. Every contingent being is a mode (aspect, modification) of God, which amounts to pantheism.

Jason accepts the validity of the argument and the truth of premise (1). But then he comments:

Premise 2 needs a bit of polishing . . .Intersystem dependencies of effect could be set up within an eternal universe where the X is not only a modification of Y, e.g. an electron X at each moment of its existence _might_ be dependent on proton Y for its orbit around proton Y without X being a mode/aspect/modification of the proton. Both X and Y in this case would be dependent for their _existence_ on (at least) natural system Z, however.

BV: First off, the argument above is not my argument but Oakes'. I am out to refute premise (2), not polish it. My overall purpose is to rebut Oakes' attempt at showing that classical theism collapses into pantheism. As for Pratt's example, I am not sure it tells against (2). To say that the electron is dependent on the proton for its orbit is not to say the former is dependent on the latter for its existence -- and its existential dependency that is at issue.

Earlier you presented two positions: "Whether or not God exists, the divine nature [or perhaps we should say 'character' or 'properties'] excludes the possibility of God's being a system of physical objects" and "If pantheism is to be worth discussing, it must somehow allow for a difference of some kind between God and the cosmos."

BV: The divine nature could be thought of as the conjunction of the divine attributes, where a divine attribute is an essential (as opposed to accidental) property of God. 'Character' or 'properties' seems ill-advised since these would encompass relational properties that are accidental to God. Consider the property of having created Socrates. This relational property is merely accidental to God: He might not have had this property. Indeed, the nonrelational property of having created something or other is also accidental to God.

By these, you have essentially denied every tenet of positive pantheism of which I am aware (and also, in passing between these points, have denied what I call negative pantheism). At which point I am wondering why youwould bother to call any result of these denials 'pantheism' at all. If, for instance, C-cosmos exists; and if C is dependent on the continuousaction of G-God; but C is excluded from _being_ G; then even if C is a modification of G, why would we say this entails _pan_-theism?It couldn't be pantheism in the sense of 'all is God': for C is excluded from _being_ God.

BV: I simply don't understand what Pratt is saying here. There is no point in discussing pantheism unless it is an (epistemically) possibly true doctrine. If it is an absurdity, why discuss it? I think my original explanations of the (A) and (B) senses of 'pantheism' make this quite clear. A pantheism worth discussing must be a doctrine that can accommodate the obvious (datanic!) difference between God and the physical universe. Spinoza, for example, can accommodate it -- but I have no desire to segue into Spinoza exegesis. 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? And yet Spinoza is not a classical theist. No classical theist (Aquinas e.g.) would hold that finite contingent particulars such your humble correspondent and the keyboard he is belaboring are modes of the one substance, God. What the classical theist will say is that, in addition to the infinite substance, God, there is a plurality of finite substances which -- somehow -- are totally dependent on divine action at each moment for their existence. That 'somehow' is where the problem is located. How is divine conservation consistent with the substantiality of creatures -- especially if a substance is defined as anything metaphysically capable of independent existence?

[. . .]

In any event, if I claim (which I do) that the evident system of Nature exists; that it is not-God; and that it necessarily exists by dependence on God's continuous action; then I am saying pantheism per se is false , even if I go on to conclude (which I do) that Nature is a modification of God. . . .

BV: This is simply to ignore Oakes' argument. And until Pratt tells us what he means by 'pantheism,' there is simply no deciding whether some doctrine is or entails pantheism. Oakes is certainly right that there is a serious problem in distinguishing classical theism from pantheism. This problem cannot be solved by defining pantheism as an absurd position that no one holds. No one (to be precise: no competent philosopher) holds that the physical universe is identical to God. Ceratinly Spinioza does not hold that. Who does?