Friday, January 21, 2005

Jedwab on Incarnation and Reduplication

Joseph Jedwab is completing his doctorate on Trinity and Incarnation at Oriel College, Oxford, under Richard Swinburne, one of the top philosophers of religion. Jedwab writes:

Dear Bill,

I am sorry I have not been responding to the all the stuff on the Trinity. I promise to say more about it after I hand in some more work to my supervisor.

BV: Great to hear from you! I figured you were hard at work on your thesis. I'm just happy you are still reading this blog. Your command of the relevant literature is undoubtedly superior to mine. As I recall, some months back you actually nailed me on a point of logic. Many (are called to) try, but few (are chosen to) succeed.

But I thought I should say something quickly about the Incarnation and reduplication. I have a sense that we have been through this before.

BV: As I recall, we didn't talk about reduplication specifically.

But there is no harm in a little repetition. I think there are two good views about what it is to be human, though I strongly prefer the first to the second. Either we are immaterial simples humanly embodied in human organisms or else we are human organisms. On the first view, to be human is to be an immaterial simple mental substance that is humanly embodied in a human organism. And on the second view, to be human is to be a human organism. I see no problem in the Incarnation on the first view, which I endorse: a divine mental subject is an immaterial simple mental substance who becomes human by coming to be humanly embodied in a human organism.

If you ask for a human soul and mind, I can accommodate. 'Soul' is used in two ways: in the Platonic sense, 'soul' means an immaterial mental substance, and a soul is human if and only if it is humanly embodied in a human organism; in the Aristotelian sense, 'soul' means a property a substance has in virtue of which a substance has a life, and a soul is human if and only if in virtue of having it a substance has a human life. Does Christ have a human soul? Yes. In the Platonic sense, Christ is a human soul. In the Aristotelian sense, Christ has a human soul.

BV: Let's discuss the Platonic view since this is the one you endorse. Your view as stated thus far implies that a divine immaterial mental substance is human in virtue of its being humanly embodied in a human organism. From this I conclude that you are not really accommodating my request for a human soul/mind. As I understand the Incarnation doctrine, it implies that the 2nd Person of the Trinity assumes full humanity at a particular historical moment. This full humanity includes a human body and a human mind/soul. (We don't need to distinguish soul from mind here, as far as I can see.) Thus it is not as if a divine mind comes to acquire a human body; it is rather that a divine mind comes to be numerically identical with a human mind/body complex. It is not just that the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us; it is rather that the Word becomes a full-fledged human being. God becomes one of us, and enters into our predicament. This predicament has a bodily side: I am exposed through my body to the rude impacts of the physical order. But it also has a mental side: I've got this finite mind scarcely capable of keeping two ideas in play at the same time , and open to anxiety and all manner of mental suffering. Or in the words of the Alanis Morrissette song from around 1995-1996 (I remember hearing it when I was in Turkey), God became one of us,

Just a slob like one of us

Just a stranger on the bus

Trying to make his way home.

This is where a good part of the conceptual difficulty lies. Assuming the truth of something like Platonic-Cartesian interactionist substance dualism, one has a springboard for understanding how the Incarnation is possible -- but only if the Incarnation is the Son's mere taking on of a body, as a opposed to his taking on of a man, so to speak, a mind/body complex. But you have an answer to this below.

What is a mind? Some use 'mind' to mean a mental subject and so a human mind is a human mental subject. If so, Christ is a human mind. But others use 'mind' to mean a power to perform mental acts or have mental states and so a human mind is a power to perform distinctively human mental acts or have distinctively human mental states. If so, I think Christ has a human mind.

Still others use 'mind' to mean a composite of mental states. Let me add some flesh to this usage. Some talk of a mind as a consciousness or a stream of consciousness or a sphere of consciousness. Say two conscious states are strictly co-conscious if and only if they are parts of the same conscious state. And say two conscious states are serially co-conscious if and only if they stand in the ancestral of strict co-consciousness. Then say a stream of consciousness is a composite of conscious states, where every mental state that is part of that composite is strictly or serially co-conscious with every other conscious state that is part of that composite and no other conscious state. It seems to me from the literature on split brain cases that it could be that one mental subject has two conscious states that are simultaneous but neither strictly nor serially co-conscious with each other and that it could be that one mental subject has two streams of consciousness that are simultaneous.

But I ask, why could not a divine subject, when he becomes humanly embodied have two streams of consciousness: one of which has distinctively divine conscious states and the other of which has distinctively human conscious states? If so, Christ has two minds. In this case, one can see the point in using reduplicatives.

BV: I don't see this as a case of reduplication. Suppose that Jack is a Cartesian composite of mind (res cogitans) and body (res extensa). There is no need to invoke reduplication to avoid the apparent contradiction of saying that Jack is both in space and not in space. There is no need to say that Jack qua body is in space while Jack qua mind is not in space. For one can simply say that Jack's body is in space and his mind is not in space. There is no need for reduplication because there are two separate substances. And if there were only one substance, Jack, reduplication would not help at all. This is because being a body entails being in space and being a mind entails not being in space, so that

a. Jack qua body is in space while Jack qua mind is not in space

boils down to

b. Jack is in space and Jack is not in space

which is a contradiction.

Do you see my point? If Christ possesses two distinct unities of consciousness, one human and the other divine, then there is no need to bring in reduplication. Reduplication is appropriately invoked when there is one X and a threat of contradiction. Thus to avoid the contradiction that Christ is both passible and impassible one says that Christ qua man is passible, but qua God is impassible. Unfortunately, the reduplication is unavailing for reasons given in my first reduplication post.

Christ can know something in one mind but not another, can act from one mind but not another. Then we can say he, as divine, knows something, but, as human does not. We can even say, if we want to but whether we want to is another matter, Christ, as human suffers, but, as divine, does not suffer.

BV: Because suffering, even physical suffering, is ultimately mental?

Trenton Merricks in an unpublished paper entitled 'The Word Made Flesh: Dualism, Physicalism, and the Incarnation' presents a different view. We are human organisms. To be human is to be a human organism. So a divine subject becomes human by becoming a human organism. So an immaterial simple becomes a material composite. I think that no immaterial being can become a material being and that no simple can become a composite. So I do not hold this view.

BV: You are a wise man.

But the strategy is a coherent one.

BV: How? It appears to be absurd on the face of it. An immaterial simple becomes a material composite without ceasing to be an immaterial simple?!? Next stop: The Twilight Zone.

If you think that we are hylomorphic composites of form (soul) and matter (body), then I have a theory of the Incarnation for you. A divine subject becomes human by becoming a hylomorphic composite.

BV: This needs some explaining. How can a simple become any kind of composite let alone a hylomorphic one?

Exercise: apply the strategy to other views of what it is to be human. Must it be that every human subject is mortal and every divine subject is not mortal? I see nothing in my account of what it is to be human from which this follows.

BV: For you a subject is human if it is humanly embodied in a human organism. That allows for a divine subject to be human accidentally. But it doesn't allow for a divine subject to become identical to a human subject: if x = y, then necessarily x = y. So it doesn't allow for the Incarnation strictly speaking, which is not a divine subject's assumption of a human body, but a divine subject's becoming identical with a human mind/body complex.

Does not your view imply that human subjects are only contingently mortal? If a mind is human only due to the contingent fact that it is embodied in a human organism, then my mind is mortal not intrinsically, but only due to its contingent relation to a mortal body. But does not this Platonism contradict Christianity with its commitment to the proposition that death is a great evil? For Xianity, we are not naturally immortal; supernatural agency alone can save us from total death.

Thus I seem to be on solid ground in insisting that being human entails being mortal.

And I see nothing on Trenton's view of what it is to be human from which this follows either. Must it be that every human subject is passible and every divine subject is impassible? What do we mean by passible? Suppose it means this: able to be affected, i.e. able to be such that something affects it. I think my account does entail this because, though I did not get into the details, for a mental subject to be humanly embodied involves having active and passive causal powers, and in virtue of having passive causal powers, the mental subject is able to be affected. But in this case, I think that every divine subject is able to be affected. How else is God to know contingent truths whose truthmakers he does not cause, e.g. truths about non-divine free actions?

BV: This will lead us far afield. In one sense, affection, passion, suffering are the same. But I would distinguish between affection in the broad sense from suffering in a narrow sense, where suffering involves damge to the sufferer. I see a coyote run past my window; I am affected else I would not perceive him; but I am not damaged in the process.

At least, I think that, even if no divine subject has passive causal powers, every divine subject has the power to cause himself to have passive powers.

I don't think reduplication plays any part in defending the possibility of the Incarnation. But we don't need reduplication.

BV: I think we agree on this. I would be the point more forcefully: Reduplication is useless. As you know, T. V. Morris came to the same conclusion. Aquinas, however, seems to think that reduplication is the way to go judging by Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, Chapter 39.

All we need is a good account of what it is to be divine and a good account of what it is to be human. I can hardly wait to get on to the stuff about the Trinity. But as you can see, when it comes to such matters, brief I am not.

BV: You raise fascinating issues, and you may well be right in the end. I hope to hear more from you. I think I have a way of showing how the Trinity is logically possible. But in these didactic and exploratory posts, I don't show my whole hand.

By the way, did you ever do any teaching for Bilkent University? I see positions going and I wonder whether it would be fun to go and work there for a short spell. But my Turkish does not exist.

BV: I taught nearby at Middle East Technical University, although I did read a paper at Bilkent. Bilkent is the best funded and probably best university in the Ankara area with METU coming in second. In both schools the language of instruction is English. So you will be able to survive without knowing Turkish. It is a fascinating language, however, and you will want to learn as much as possible. It has a very rich case and declension structure like Latin. But most everything is done with suffixes. As I like to quip, "The Turks do it with suffixes."