Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Do all Christians accept divine command theory?

The textbook mentions, and criticizes divine command morality on p. 57. It says "The Divine Command Theory states that moraltiy is based not on the consequences of actions or rules, not upon self-interest or other-interestedness, but rather upon something "higher" than these mere mundne events of the imperfect human or natural worlds. It is based upon the existence of an all-good being or beings who are supernatural and who have communicated to human beings what they should and should not do in a moral sesne. In order to be moral, then, human beings must follow the commands and prohibitions of such a being or beings to the letter without concerning themselves with consequences, self-interest, or anything else."
Now obviously no one is going to follow this unless they believe in a supernatural being like God. But suppose you did. God by definition is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. Given that definition, and given the fact that this being has given a commandment, is it possible that you could say "Yes yes I know. God has commanded X, but I ought to do not-X instead."
Does this mean that all religious believers who think that God has given commandments are, to some extent, committed to the Divine Command Theory?

32 comments:

David said...

a look at biblical wisdom literature will show another approach - for example on adultery, "you can't put fire in your lap and not get burned" and so forth in the passages in Prov 5,6. These show consequences as a reason to avoid the behavior. "Wisdom" is about typical actions and consequences in a world created in wisdom to be lived in by wisdom.

Paul Manata said...

"Does this mean that all religious believers who think that God has given commandments are, to some extent, committed to the Divine Command Theory?"

No, not necessarily. The DCT speaks to what *grounds* the ought or ought not.

But, the believer in your example might, for instance, believe that what grounds the ought or ought not are "part of the fabric of the universe", possibly some kind of NL theorist, yet *still* always follow X if God says X is right since that might be an *epistemic* grounding for the believer's action, e.g., "God cannot be wrong about what is right." *That* proposition could be true *and* the DCT be false.

Stated another way, the question could be viewed from the perspective of *epistemology* rather than *metaphysics*.

Mike Almeida said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "to some extent" committed to DCT. It seems an obvious epistemic possibility that God is a utilitarian. You might mean, "what if we follow God's command NOT because it maximizes overall value, but because God commands it. There might be an interesting sense in which God's moral authority justifies us in adhering to his commands, despite the fact that God's commands are justified by the principle of utility. Similarly, a policman's legal authority justifies my (of course, more limited) obedience. But the law is not whatever he says it is.

Jason Pratt said...

Insofar as morality goes? No, I certainly don't. At best it would be a metaphysical ground for amoral pragmatism.


To say the same thing a different way: if I started from trinitarian theism instead of working (as it happens) toward trinitarianism, my complaint would be that DCT either ignores or contravenes orthodox trinitarian theism. Moreover, whichever direction I proceed, I would sooner or later arrive at the conclusion that only orthodox trinitarianism can coherently fit a DNT of morality; whereas mere monotheism will always end up collapsing into DCT. (The various journal entries before and especially after my hyperlink up there, discuss this all in very boring detail. {s} Also, I recall debating this with Steve Lovell, who tries to be in favor of DNT over against DCT, here on DangIdea several years ago, though I don't recall whether the debate is part of the posts Victor recently redated. I'm too tired today to go look. It ought to be possible to find it in a site search for 'Lovell', though.)

JRP

Bilbo said...

Intriguing comment, Jason. I'll try to find that debate.

Jason Pratt said...

Bilbo (and perhaps others),

Felt a little better after lunch, so I did some digging around.

The first part of our debate can be found in the comments here, interspersed with Steve’s discussion on his Euthyphro paper with John Loftus. (Steve and John’s side of the discussion briefly continued in a subsequent post set up by Victor. Steven Carr briefly commented, too. John’s original comments on Steve’s paper can be found by following the link above in this paragraph.)

The discussion between Steve and I was continued here. At the time, Steve’s Euthyphro paper had been lost from its original link, so I wasn’t able to refer directly back to it (not having saved it on my computer the first time.) We haven’t discussed it directly since then; but Victor most recently posted up a fresh link to that (with fresh room for commentary discussion) here. (As Bilbo will already know; but for sake of other readers.)

It should be noted that my critiques don't necessarily spell out my own full analysis, and certainly not in any full systematic fashion. For that, please refer to the eye-glazingly long series of entries linked to in my previous comment. {s}

JRP

Anonymous said...

Jason,

I looked through the links you gave, but I didn't notice anything about your making a distinction between DNT based upon monotheism and DNT based upon orthodox trinitarianism. Did I miss it? Could you spell out the differences here, so I don't have to try to wade through all the other comments? -- Bilbo

Jason Pratt said...

Bilbo,

More than a little bit sick today, or I’d work up a nice macro-post on the topic. Sorry. (Well... by my standards this isn't a macro-post... {s})

The distinction is indeed mentioned in my discussion with Steve Lovell, but I think it’s only spelled out in one paragraph, maybe two; and most of the discussion is more about circular argumentation and assertioning (though that has some significant topical overlap with Divine Command Theory of ethics in itself!) So that can be distracting.


The most relevant entries from my series on “Ethics and the Third Person” would be this, this (the immediately subsequent entry), and this; but the distinction between orthodox trinitarian (or at least binitarian) theism and mere monotheism, insofar as ethical grounding goes, can be found occasionally mentioned in subsequent entries after that, too.

An updated listing of all the current journal entries comprising chapters of the book of which E&t3rdP is a section of chapters, can be found here, for wider context. (However, I haven’t yet edited and posted up two whole sections of chapters, so there’s a pretty big topical jump from the end of Sec 1 to the beginning of Sec 4.)


The shortest way I can think of to tell the distinction is this: in orthodox Christian theism, the fundamental ground of all reality is an eternally enacted coherent interpersonal relationship, self-begetting and self-begotten, Father and Son. (The 3rd Person, the Holy Spirit, proceeds but is not begetting nor begotten in the economy of the Trinity; i.e. He has nothing to do with the self-existence of God per se, thus nothing specifically to do with the existence of not-God entities, either, per se. He does have a very important function in the relation of the first two Persons to derivative persons, and that function is intimately related to the ethical relationships of derivative persons. But that’s more complicated to discuss, and isn’t immediately relevant to the distinction between orthodox Christian theism and monotheism vis-a-vis final ethical grounding.)

In mere monotheism, though (such as Islam, or some forms of Judaism, or nominal deism, though examples could be multiplied further), the final ground of reality is not Itself an interpersonal relationship. In fact, it would be difficult to say coherently that this final ground of reality is even actively personal at the level of Its, or His, own self-existence. (And if not there, then why should It be personal in relation to created reality?!) Consequently, it becomes logically impossible to discuss the ethics of this God in terms that functionally escape one or the other horn of the Euthyphro: either the ethical grounding referrent goes beyond this God (in which case we aren’t yet talking about the real God), or else the ethics are dependent on effectively arbitrary action/decrees of this God. A mere assertion of DNT is the only other option, but without positive content for why the Divine Nature is this way, this will end up collapsing under examination into DCT sooner or later (or else will end up collapsing into mere assertioning on our part about the character of God.) Note that once upon a time (not sure about currently), the file-description for Steve Lovell's paper stated that DNT was a variant of DCT. Insofar as mere monotheism goes, that turns out to be true!--but, by tautology, a variant of DCT is still some kind of DCT.

Orthodox Christian theism, however, provides the missing link by connecting coherent interpersonal relationships, fair-togetherness (or ‘righteousness’ as the Greek NT term is commonly translated) to the very existence of existence itself. It also provides a functional basis for why acting to fulfill non-fair-togetherness is such a problematic action for a derivative creature (and would be even more problematic for God if God ever did that!)


A further consequence is that if this kind of divine ontology of existence (i.e. orthodox Christian theism) can be plausibly concluded to be taught in a set of Scriptures, then to whatever extent we further conclude (for whatever reasons) that this is the most proper and accurate teaching in those Scriptures (since it isn’t impossible that in a set of non-systematic teachings, more than one plausible theology might be derivable from it), this theology gives us the key grounds for interpreting what the various ethical stances taken by God in those scriptures do and do not (either probably or certainly) entail.

This is why I stress that if we’re going to be serious, for whatever reasons, about being orthodox Christian theists, then to whatever extent or extents we accept the Jewish and Christian scriptures as being authoritative, we must resolve to interpret ethical and soteriological concerns in those scriptures, in light of orthodox Christian theism. At the very least, we mustn’t claim things about ethics and/or soteriology in the scriptures, that implicitly or explicitly contravene orthodox Christian theology.

To give a common example: it is ridiculous for us to insist upon holding to the truth of orthodox Christian theology while also propounding a soteriology where, explicitly or implicitly, God the Father wants to do one thing in regard to us but God the Son wants to do another thing in regard to us and so convinces the Father to do that other thing instead in regard to us. A Mormon or an Arian could coherently claim that, but not an orthodox theologian. Nevertheless, it is depressing how often I’ve seen that position being taken by preachers and teachers and apologists who would otherwise also be trying to affirm orthodox Trinitarian theology.

(A friend of mine found a video on YouTube that succinctly if a bit crudely illustrates this principle failure. Well, yeah, I can hardly blame people for rejecting Arianism... {wry g})

JRP

mattghg said...

That sounds not unlike an argument I've heard advanced against Islam: namely, that some of Allah's 99 names (e.g. "the loving", "the forgiving") make no sense if taken ontologically (as they traditionally are) and applied to an absolutely unitary God sans creation. One speaker even goes as far as to suggest that such an approach results in pantheism.

Rob Grano said...

Jason, your post is a good one, but I'd be hesitant about your relegation of the Holy Spirit to a sort of 'silent partner' in this whole business. The "eternally enacted coherent interpersonal relationship" of the Godhead is definitely true, but it is true of the three, not just the two. I'm not sure if your understanding of this idea is based on an over-reliance on the Augustinian model of the Trinity, or a commitment to the Filioque, or both. I certainly do not wish to get into a discussion of the Filioque here, and thus would simply recommend a look at the Cappadocians on the issue, as a sort of balance to the Augustinian model, remembering that throughout most of the patristic era the views were seen as complementary, not contradictory (and still are by many folks).

Having said all that, I think that your post sums up admirably the importance of differentiating between Trinitarian monotheism and 'straight' monotheism regarding this matter.

Jason Pratt said...

Matt,

If I recall correctly (and I may be wrong on this or have misheard), Muslisms tend to use the Divine Plural as a self-reference by Allah, too. While it might be an example of the ‘royal plural’ by their day, more likely they borrowed it from Jewish references to YHWH in the OT as Elohim--which culturally could not have been based on a ‘royal plural’ precedent (or so says Kitchen in his survey of ancient Near Eastern cultures around the Hebrews during their development.)

Of course, insofar as ‘forgiveness’ is meant in relation to sin, the term would make no ontological sense to apply to an orthodox trinitarian God either: the singular unity of God would cease to exist if any of the Persons transgressed against any of the others! If it’s meant in the older Hebrew/Greek sense of freeing or loosing, though, that might make sense, as at least two of the Persons freely give existence (and thus active freedom) to each other, and at least one of the Persons (or two, per the filioque, which btw I accept) gives existence and thus active freedom to the 3rd Person.

‘Merciful and Compassionate’, which are the two most popular Muslim terms, could be similarly construed within a multiple-person Unity, insofar as the word we often translate ‘mercy’ could be loving-kindness. (Thus ‘merci!’ becomes a grateful acknowledgment of lovingkindness, which is how it is used in French, if I recall correctly. Again, ‘merci!’ can be a plea for lovingkindness, and thus for salvation of various sorts whether from hardship or from sin or from punishment, which is how we tend to use the word in English.)


Rob,

I don’t consider the HS to be a silent partner in the Trinity--and certainly not in the relationship of man to God. On the contrary, I consider the HS’ role to be absolutely necessary in regard to that relationship.

I don’t yet understand why the 3rd Person must, or should, be regarded as absolutely necessary in regard to the interPersonal relationships of the Father and the Son; but that doesn’t mean that I deny the eternal existence of the 3rd Person within the economy of the Persons.

What I do stress is that the distinction between being begotten and proceeding be taken seriously, and not be considered effectively two processions; which is often how Christian theologians (especially among those EOx who deny the filioque) have presented the doctrine. When there are only semantic differences between the generation of the 2nd and 3rd Persons, something has gone wrong with the theology.

For what it’s worth, my committment to the Filioque and to the self-begetting/begotten relationship in the eternally active existene of God, is based on metaphysical analysis, and not on committment to this or that set of Patristic teaching. (In fact, a substantial number of the Fathers are privative not positive aseitists, aren’t they? Maybe the great majority? I would be interested in seeing a comprehensive survey on that, if anyone knows of one, btw.)


Anyway, thanks for the compliment. {s} I wish more of our apologists understood the importance of not punting to mere monotheism when talking about ontological ethical grounding.

JRP

Rob Grano said...

"What I do stress is that the distinction between being begotten and proceeding be taken seriously, and not be considered effectively two processions"

I would agree, but as an Orthodox who does reject the double procession, I think that Orthodox theologians would say that the begotten-ness of the Son and the procession or spiration of the Spirit are, in fact, different even if we can't exhaustively say how they are different. Actually, I don't know of any Orthodox theologian who'd say that the only difference between begetting and proceeding or spirating is merely or effectively a semantic one.

In any case, I certainly agree with your last sentence re: apologetics.

Jason Pratt said...

Rob,

Certainly, no orthodox theologian, including among the EOx, would present the begetting and the procession as being merely semantic. However, there's a difference between saying it isn't merely semantic, and treating the difference as in effect not being merely semantic.

To claim that the begetting and the proceeding are different but that the difference cannot be functionally described (except by terminology labels), is to treat the generations as effectively the same for both Persons.

Positive aseity, however, offers a real functional distinction between the begetting and the proceeding. It has several other advantages, too, in regard to theism per se, or even ontological existence per se, over against privative aseity.

The main drawback on the EOx side of Christian tradition, would be that this would pretty much require accepting the filioque as a corollary. But I've heard (from Bishop Ware and I think some others), that a significant number of EOx theologians would actually be prepared to accept the filioque, if a proper council could be convened. (Which doesn't seem likely to happen so long as the papal schism continues, for hope of not closing off ecumenical reconciliation, ironically.) Also, it would probably require rebalancing EOx theology more in favor of kataphatic instead of apophatic theology; though I think this might be more easily accomplished than getting a consensus acceptance of the filioque (which would have to be more formal.) At the same time, I get the impression or at least the suspicion that Eastern Orthodoxy would be more open to positive aseity per se than Western Orthodoxy.

On the Western side of the tradition, the first problem would be acting against the very strong tradition of accepting privative aseity (especially among Catholics); but the main problem would be that orthodox universalism follows as a corollary, which would require broadly rethinking soteriologies. More easily done for Protestants in principle (if not in practice), but that kind of move would badly undermine RCC doctrines concerning papal/magesterial infallibility. I think. (I honestly don't recall to what extent the RCC has declared against permanent hope of salvation from sin; and if they haven't declared against it specifically, something might still be arranged without undermining infallibility of church teaching. Certainly John Paul II and Benedict both seem(ed) eager to work with Balthasar on the topic--and they'd know if the position had already been strictly declared against.)

JRP

Ilíon said...

As we surely all know, 'elohim' is used to denote the (singular) "I Am" and also the (plural) pagan gods of the nations.

'Elohim' is used to denote "magistrates" (singular? plural? ???)

'Elohim' is used to denote what the Witch of Endor saw when Saul went to her to "bring up Samuel." After she called out in alarm when she saw Samuel, Saul asked her, "What do you see?" She replied, "I see 'elohim' rising up out of the ground."

Ilíon said...

apparently, she saw *one" 'elohim,' for Saul then asked, "What does he look like?"

Bilbo said...

Jason writes: "Orthodox Christian theism, however, provides the missing link by connecting coherent interpersonal relationships, fair-togetherness (or ‘righteousness’ as the Greek NT term is commonly translated) to the very existence of existence itself. It also provides a functional basis for why acting to fulfill non-fair-togetherness is such a problematic action for a derivative creature (and would be even more problematic for God if God ever did that!)"

This is certainly closer to the line that C.S. Lewis took in "The Poison of Subjectivism."

However, I'm not sure I understand it. By "fair-togetherness," are we saying that the Father and the Son have a relationship that can be described as "fair"? If so, wouldn't the concept of "fairness" (an ethical concept) need to exist independently of that relationship in order to describe it? And wouldn't that put us back in (what you see as) the same problem of the simple monotheist?

If I remember correctly, Lewis stressed the lovingness of the relationship between the Father and the Son (by the way, I think Lewis thought this love was identical with the Holy Spirit, if I remember his description of the Trinity in Mere Christianity). But I'm not sure this escapes the problem, either. Could "love" be defined in some way that avoided mention of values? If not, I think it puts us back in the same spot as the simple monotheist.

My guess is that the real answer is that the quality of goodness is such that for a being to be a necessary being, that being must be wholly, perfectly good. To lack goodness in any degree would be an imperfection, which only a contingent being could possess.

Rob Grano said...

"I've heard (from Bishop Ware and I think some others), that a significant number of EOx theologians would actually be prepared to accept the filioque, if a proper council could be convened."

Actually some Orthodox might be able to accept a version of the filioque, provided it maintains the monarchy of the Father, and doesn't require accepting the Western notion that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son "as from one principal." In other words, while we'd be perfectly happy to accept the idea that the Spirit proceeds FROM the Father THROUGH the Son, it can never be accepted that the Spirit receives his existential, hypostatic origin from the Son, as that is the property of the Father only, as font of the divinity.

Jason Pratt said...

Ilíon,

Actually, elohim is always plural, except in the special case where referring to the singular entity known as YHWH (I AM THAT I AM). El on the other hand is singular, and is also sometimes used as a name for the YHWH deity. It isn’t odd that the Hebrews would use El as a name for God. What’s odd is that they would also use Elohim as a name for this singular God.

This single-but-also-plural naming convention (as well as apparently plural references to multiple entities sharing the singluar divine name, scattered here and there in the OT), was a major exegetical ground for the orthodox Christian theological doctrine of God having a singularity of substance (in Greek philosophical parlance) but a plurality of Persons. Or, as the creed says, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance.

Since ‘el’ is another name for heaven or air (compare with the Aramaism behind “kingdom of the heavens” as a way of referring to the kingdom of God--literally the phrase would be kingdom of Elohim), the Witch was probably saying in a colloquial way that she was seeing vapors rising up out of the ground. Since that would be the sign of a ghost, and since Saul was seeking audience with one particular ghost, it wouldn’t be much of a leap for him to ask what ‘shade’ looked like.

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Bilbo,

Yes, Lewis touched on this understanding two or three times in his work, though he never seems to have incorporated it on any wide scale.

{{By "fair-togetherness," are we saying that the Father and the Son have a relationship that can be described as "fair"?}}

Yes; but it would be more important to think of that the other way around: the relationship of the Father and the Son (and the Spirit, too) to each other is the eternal standard of interpersonal relationships--ontologically, though not necessarily epistemically in the understanding of this or that derivative person. The concept of fairness, for its fullest possible rooting, depends upon this reality. The concept does not exist independently of the relationship of the Persons.


{{Could "love" be defined in some way that avoided mention of values?}}

Probably not, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is that eventually the is/ought distinction must be reconciled (ditto the distinction between ground/consequent and cause/effect). If the orthodox Trinity is true, then an actively coherent interpersonal relationship is the ground of all existences (including its own existence): so long as God, in His Persons, behaves in a way that isn’t self-schisming, He will continue to exist. Relatedly, so long as God isn’t acting in a subordinate fashion (i.e. toward created entities) in some way that runs intentionally counter to the actions of the Persons in regard to each other, He will continue to exist. (We can be certain that such a schism ‘will never happen’, from our temporal perspective, because we wouldn’t be here to discuss anything if it ‘did’.)

This fundamental action, however, is the fulfillment of coherent unity between multiple Persons in their personal relationships with each other. In English language we call this fairness; probably deriving, in Western languages, from the generative glowing effect of things that emit energy, i.e. {char-}. As a derivative metaphor from this, the Greeks used {char-} as a way of talking about joy (much the same way we would say someone is ‘beaming’ with happiness); but as it happens, this natural glowing turns out to be the derivative of the eternal dynamic energy of the self-begetting/self-begotten God, the perpetual motion machine upon which all other powers depend. But God isn’t a machine; God is a personal unity of persons in relation to one another.

Typically when we think of ethics, one way or another we’re thinking in terms of how persons ought to treat persons. But for this ‘ought’ to be properly based in an ‘is’, the ‘is’ must itself be an interpersonal relationship at the ground of all reality.

(If you read my journal entries concerning the ethical problem of mere monotheism, and move along directly through the next two entries, you’ll find me discussing this principle in regard to arguably the best non-theistic ethical theory, too: it has to come down to personal relationships without reduction of that relationship to non-personal relationships instead. The problem is that non-theistic ethical attempts are always going to reduce down to non-personal ultimate grounding eventually.)


JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Rob,

The positive-aseity self-generating (self-begetting/self-begotten) notion addresses both concerns, East and West, very admirably I think.

On the one hand, it clearly distinguishes the begetting/begotten relationship from the relationship of proceeding in principle: the generation of the Son is directly involved in the active self-existence of the Godhead, whereas the generation of the Spirit is not. That satisfies the Western concern to avoid having the 2nd and 3rd Persons being basically the same kind of ‘emanation’ (for want of a better word.)

On the other hand, it also clearly distinguishes the relationship between the begetting and begotten Persons, so that the 1st and 2nd Persons are not merely modes of the same entity. The Son surrenders to the Father to maintain the circuit of active self-existence. The Son does not generate the Father; nevertheless (if positive not privative aseity is true) the economy of the Godhead depends on the submission of the Son to the Father as on the generation of the Son by the Father. The Father clearly retains the monarchy in the relationship, though; the Son is loyal to the Father in submission. (This return-circuit to the Father is occasionally mentioned in the Scriptures, too, not-incidentally, as being an operation of the Son. The middle of 1 Cor 15 occurs to me as perhaps the most important statement of this in scripture.)

In other words, if positive aseity is agreed to be true, both positive statements of Eastern and Western theology can be agreed to: the Spirit proceeds FROM the Father THROUGH the Son, and also the Spirit proceeds FROM the-Father-and-the-Son in their unique relationship to each other. (I am not aware of any Western theologian who would, with at least a moment’s thought, aver that the Spirit receives His existential, hypostatic origin “from the Son” without reference to the Father.)


As is often the case (in my experience), it’s the acceptance of privative aseity (where God simply exists uncaused, not even self-causing) that has produced the divisions and misunderstandings. Once God is considered to simply exist uncaused, the whole point to speaking of two of the Persons having a relationship meaningfully distinct from their relationship to the third Person, is shattered. Guesses and analogies (known to be false in themselves) are the best that can be done then, in trying to distinguish the Persons from one another. It shouldn’t be surprising that the two branches suspect one another of modalism in regard to at least two of the Persons, after that. {s!} (And not without some weight on each side’s complaint!--but the problem is the privative aseity.)

JRP

Ilíon said...

Jason Pratt: "Actually, elohim is always plural, except in the special case where referring to the singular entity known as YHWH (I AM THAT I AM)."

I fully understand that the word 'elohim' is plural in grammatical form. [Sheesh! I'm not Joseph Smith.]

But, the word being grammatically plural in form does not necessarily mean that its meaning is plural in some specific instance of usage, either in the Bible or in every-day speach -- any more than with "life" ('chai'im' or 'chayyim') or "virginity" ('betulim').

The word also seems to be grammatically feminine, doesn't it? Or, rather, to be more precise, is not 'elohim' commonly understood to be a masculine plural of a feminine noun? (Try doing that in English) And yet, the God called 'Elohim' is always referred to by the pronoun 'he,' is he not (despite that he is neither male nor female)? And magistrates would rarely, if ever, have been female, would they?

The word is grammatically plural in form, but not necessarily plural in meaning. This is why I wrote: "'Elohim' is used to denote "magistrates" (singular? plural? ???)" ... I'm unsure, off-hand, whether the word is always plural in meaning in the places where the Bible uses it to refer to magistrates. And, it hardly makes sense to think that in every-day speach one would use the word to refer only to a plurality of magistrates.


You say that it's always plural (in meaning), except when referring to "the singular entity known as YHWH (I AM THAT I AM)." I'm not so sure. [Also, since we're being exact, "I AM THAT I AM" is not the translation of the Tetragrammaton, but rather it is the common/historical English translation of the Hebrew phrase transliterated as: 'Ehyeh asher ehyeh']


Jason Pratt: "Since ‘el’ is another name for heaven or air (compare with the Aramaism behind “kingdom of the heavens” as a way of referring to the kingdom of God--literally the phrase would be kingdom of Elohim), the Witch was probably saying in a colloquial way that she was seeing vapors rising up out of the ground. Since that would be the sign of a ghost, and since Saul was seeking audience with one particular ghost, it wouldn’t be much of a leap for him to ask what ‘shade’ looked like."

As I understand it, 'el' denotes power, or might, and from that exaltation (to be lifted up) ... and from that, one might get "heaven" or "air."

Jason Pratt said...

Ilíon,

Well, I have to say I've never heard of 'El' being regarded as a feminine name. Isn't it typically associated with the Sky-Father? (cf Ugaritic {il} and {ilt}; the latter is feminine.)

However, an expert in the history of Semitic languages might easily reverse than on me, I suppose (since I claim no expertise in that). And insofar as it could mean something similar to 'spirit' in the sense of 'vapor' or 'breath' or 'cloud', and 'spirit' is certainly feminine in Hebrew, then... {shrug}

In any case, I'm certainly not disagreeing that Elohim can mean a singular group, which is quite self-consistent as a concept. (Even Joseph Smith would agree with that, I expect. {wry g}) It's the habit of addressing this group of powers as a singular authoritative entity identical to a well-known common usage of the singular version of that word, also used in the same tradition for the same entity, that's peculiar.

Fortunately, my metaphysical analysis doesn't have to depend on wringing some kind of systematic revelation of terminology out of avowedly non-systematic history and prophetic proclamations written in what Lewis (iirc) once called the most indefinite language in the world. And my observation about the Muslim use of divine plurals was mainly an incidental historical observation anyway--it's certainly open to any amount of correction.


{{And, it hardly makes sense to think that in every-day speech one would use the [plural] word to refer only to a plurality of magistrates.}}

Um. Actually, that would make perfect sense of everyday speech. {g} What would be odd would be to use an obviously plural word for a single magistrate, in everyday speech or otherwise. This is why some scholars (like Kitchen) think what we now recognize as the habit of the 'royal plural' began with the Hebrews in their references to El.

{{As I understand it, 'el' denotes power, or might}}

True, too. Moreso, in fact, in the scriptures than any other obvious meaning; though the history of how it got to that meaning is controverted. The Endor scene features some very odd old phrasings, such as 'ob' or hole as a word for ghost. (The necromancer was calling for the spirit from a hole, ritualistically.)

{{Also, since we're being exact, "I AM THAT I AM" is not the translation of the Tetragrammaton}}

Exodus 3:14, if I understand correctly, gives God's explanation of what the name means, rendered as the phrase. So the answer is yes and no about whether I AM THAT I AM (back into ancient Hebrew) is the translation of YHWH: no it isn't a direct translation, but it's a translation of what the story says God translated the name to mean.

Speaking as a positive aseitist, I've always liked how the Name itself can be pronounced as a cyclical breath; and the phrase of self-existence looks more actively cyclical to me, too, than static. But that might be poetic convenience on my part, admittedly. {s} I wouldn't base an exegetical point on it.

JRP

Rob Grano said...

"it’s the acceptance of privative aseity (where God simply exists uncaused, not even self-causing) that has produced the divisions and misunderstandings."

Some (by no means all) Orthodox theologians attribute the divisions to the Platonic idea of absolute divine simplicity. I've never thought about it but I wonder about the relationship between the two ideas.

Bilbo said...

Jason,

Sorry for not responding sooner, but it's been my first chance to get to a computer in a while.

You write: "Yes; but it would be more important to think of that the other way around: the relationship of the Father and the Son (and the Spirit, too) to each other is the eternal standard of interpersonal relationships--ontologically, though not necessarily epistemically in the understanding of this or that derivative person. The concept of fairness, for its fullest possible rooting, depends upon this reality. The concept does not exist independently of the relationship of the Persons."

I'm still having problems with this view. Suppose the relationship between the Father and the Son were what we would call unfair. First, it's not clear to me that God would cease to exist. We might think that God was self-conflicted, perhaps insane. Yet it seems logically possible that such a being exists. It just wouldn't be a necessary being. I think God is necessarily fair, and fairness (along with love, humility, adoration, etc.) necessarily exists within the Trinity.

And that leads to the second problem. It seems we understand the concept of fairness independently of whether the relationship between the Father and the Son is fair, just as we would understand the concept of insanity.

Yes, the concepts are person-dependent. But does that mean that they would have no meaning in a universe with no persons? Or does it mean that the concepts wouldn't refer to anything?

Ilíon said...

Concepts can't exist if there are no persons -- no minds -- to entertain them.

Jason Pratt said...

Bilbo,

{{Suppose the relationship between the Father and the Son were what we would call unfair.}}

I would rather be a bit more specific if we’re going to make this test supposition; because at this level of ontological discussion we need to be asking how the Father and the Son are hypothetically treating one another in their actions. Are we talking about a schism of intention between the Persons? Are we talking about the Son rebelling againt the Father? Are we talking about the Father abandoning the Son? Are we talking about the Father or the Son betraying one another? Are we talking about the Father trying to enslave the Son? Are talking about either of the Persons being selfish against the other Person? Are we talking about the Persons competing against (not with) one another in essence, especially for the sake of domination? Are we talking about one Person trying to force the other Person to not be a Person?

It seems reasonably obvious to me that if we are proposing any of these things, or anything substantially like them (no ontological pun intended {g}), then at the very least we are no longer proposing orthodox Trinitarian theism. After which, your next remark would have to be taken in context of that: could the existence of multiple Independent Facts be true?--could Arianism be true?--could some kind of subordinate Mormonism be true in an atheistic reality? (Since if theism is true and also there are three elevated creatures known to us as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, their existence is frankly irrelevant to the current discussion which is about the characteristics of the Independent-Fact-or-Facts.)


On the other hand, given the truth of orthodox Trinitarian theism, the question might be: could the Persons start doing any of those things (or anything essentially like those things) and still result in God somehow continuing to exist? e.g., if the Son rebels against the Father and tries to set Himself up as a separate Independent Fact, could He succeed at that?--and, would the Father continue to exist as God whether or not the Son succeeded in the rebellion?


All of which are aside from the question of whether positive or privative aseity is true. If positive aseity is true, then no, a self-begetting/self-begotten entity cannot breach its interPersonal unity without not only the entity ceasing to exist but anything dependent on the entity also ceasing to exist.

If privative aseity is true, then the other questions I just mentioned might become viable. But I would be more interested in first trying to figure out how a self-begetting/self-begotten singular entity is supposed to exist without even self-causation; because that looks like a direct contradiction of claim.

{{It seems we understand the concept of fairness independently of whether the relationship between the Father and the Son is fair}}

Only if it’s possible for a singular multipersonal self-begetting/self-begotten entity to somehow continue existing with the Persons at essential conflict against one another.

If you mean that we can understand the concept of fairness independently of whether we ourselves know and understand the relationship between the Father and the Son, that’s certainly true enough; but unless we’re managing to successfully understand the concept of fairness apart from the procession and witness of the Holy Spirit (in which case Trinitarian theism could not be true and some other ontological proposal would be true instead), then God must be at least quietly witnessing to us and teaching us about what constitutes mutually supporting interpersonal relationships (and breaches against that)--even if we don’t specifically perceive the witness.

(Incidentally, or not-incidentally rather {g}, this has some extremely significant connections to New Testament teachings about the operations of the Spirit in the lives of every person; especially all across the Gospel of John, though also with connections in other texts.)


Ilíon of course is correct that concepts cannot and wouldn’t exist without persons. More specifically, if (as you agree) concepts are person-dependent (or, if you prefer, if a particular concept is person-dependent), then that concept could not even possibly exist without a person’s existence.

JRP

Bilbo said...

Jason,

Even though I don't understand most of what you wrote, I love reading it. Let me start with asking about the difference between positive and privative aseity.

Jason Pratt said...

Bilbo,

The difference goes back to the question of causation. Obviously, if something is caused or generated by something substantially more fundamental than itself, then the generated something cannot be an Independent Fact. You and I as persons, for example, are dependent for our existence upon Nature (at the least), and as persons we are not substantially identifiable with Nature. We are dependent entities. (There are some pantheists who would say otherwise, of course, but I'm leaving that significant and multi-faceted debate aside for our present purposes.)

To give another example related to debates about Christian orthodoxy, many (perhaps most) Mormons hold to a theology where the divine persons known as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are distinctly separate entities, the latter two derived in various ways from the Father, who himself was-or-still-is a natural entity who somehow ascended to massive cosmic power. Even if the Father is supposed to be self-existent now, in this kind of Mormon theology he wasn't always self-existent. Which means, metaphysically speaking, he cannot be the final ultimate Independent Fact of existence, one way or another. (Either there are multiple IFs now, or he still isn't really an IF at all.)

Another classic example is Arianism, where the Son is (in various ways depending on the system proposals) considered to be the greatest created entity but not substantially identifiable with the true and final Independent Fact Who is God the Father. In classical Arianism the Son would be a Platonic dyad; in the extremely popular neo-Arianism that developed afterward (largely accepted among the Germanic and Gaulish tribes at the end of the Roman Western Empire era, as well as among early feudal nobility for some centuries after the collapse of the Western Empire under invasion), the Son was a noble hero chosen by God the Father to be raised to deity second only to the Father alone. Either way the Son was a dependent entity not substantially identifiable with the Independent Fact.


Anyway, for an IF to be an IF, it cannot be generated by something other than Itself.

Consequently, there are two conceptual options for the IF's existence:

1.) the IF exists totally uncaused. This is privative aseity. ('Aseity' is a fancy way of saying 'is-ness'. {g})

2.) the IF eternally causes Itself in active self-causation. This is positive aseity.


If the monotheism of Islam is true, then God exists totally uncaused. Ditto for most classical ideas of monotheism. Most Christian scholars down through the ages have agreed with this idea as well.

If God is actively self-causing, though, then God would be self-begetting and self-begotten. This involves a distinction within the final reality of God, and the distinction must itself be distinctly personal, yet is still a unity of final substance. It isn't modalism, where the Persons of God are only masks or appearances based on situational human perspective or roles taken by the deity for various actions; nor is it something like cosmological tri-theism (such as can also be found in some Mormon theological proposals, if I'm not mistaken), where two or more distinctly separate IFs exist. God is a singular-substance unity of at least two persons, if positive aseity is true; and those two persons will be God self-begetting and God self-begotten. i.e., Father and Son (in analogical language).


Consequently, if orthodox Christian theism is true, then (it seems obvious enough to me) positive aseity must also be true.

Or, coming at it from the other direction, if we have reason to believe positive aseity (not privative) to be true, then we should accept at least orthodox bi-nitarianism to be true. (This is the route I prefer and recommend, myself; but a theological presuppositionalist could go the other route instead, I suppose.)


I could link this back up to the question of DCT vs. DNT ethical theories, as I've already done above, but I'd rather pause here and check to see if you're following along so far. (Please note I haven't in this comment tried to argue for positive aseity and/or for orthodox bi/trinitarianism. Also please note that I am not meaning to deny the existence of the 3rd Person, but in either positive or privative aseity it cannot be coherently said that the 3rd Person has anything intrinsically to do with the self-begetting of God's existence--because God doesn't self-causingly exist if privative aseity is true, and because self-begetting/self-begotten involves a distinction of only two persons.)

JRP

Bilbo said...

You write: "Consequently, there are two conceptual options for the IF's existence:

1.) the IF exists totally uncaused. This is privative aseity. ('Aseity' is a fancy way of saying 'is-ness'. {g})

2.) the IF eternally causes Itself in active self-causation. This is positive aseity."

Yes, I follow you now. And I like it.

Jason Pratt said...

Okay, now for the distinction-connection between DCT/privative aseity on the one hand, and DNT/positive aseity on the other hand.

If positive aseity is true, then God's own self existence as well as the existence of everything else in reality (which all depends upon the continuing action of God for their derivative existence) depends on God's self-begetting/self-begotten relationship between (at least those) two Persons of the singular-substance entity of God. If the Father doesn't generate the Son, not only won't the Son exist but neither will the Father Himself, because God won't be positively self-existing. And if the Son does not surrender obediently to the Father, then once again there will be schism in God's own self-existent action, and consequently no existence (of God or anything else). But neither can the Father be simply forcing the Son to comply because once again that would involve an intentional schism between the Persons or else it would ultimately mean that the Son doesn't exist as a Person at all. In which case positive aseity wouldn't be true either. (This is why it's important to decide first whether privative or positive aseity is true; then we can know what the Persons of God can generally be expected to do and not-do.)

If positive aseity is true, then God is what we call 'love'.

This interPersonal relationship, at the root of God's own self-existence, thus anchors in itself the fundamental character of God. Personal relationships either correspond (in light of our own derivative natures) with this fundamental relationship, or else they don't. God's commands can be expected, meanwhile, to have the end-goal in view (even if disruption is an immediate consequence) of coherent and mutually supporting fair-togetherness between the persons whose relationships are involved in the command God is giving. (Not that God actually needs our 'support'; but as the old saying goes, it's the thought that counts. {s})


If privative aseity is true instead, however, then God's own intrinsic nature has nothing to do with coherent interpersonal relationships. Or even with action at all. The IF's own intrinsic nature would be completely static--which points strongly away from theism per se, not-incidentally!

But pretending for the moment that theism and positive aseity could both still be true, the point is that any 'command' given by God (assuming it makes sense to say that an intrinsically static entity would or could even give a 'command' or any kind of communication at all) would not intrinsically have fair-togetherness between persons as the goal. The 'ethicality' would be reduced to some kind of arbitrary non-intelligible content. It would be worthless even to say it had anything to do with God's nature per se. At most it would be about mere effective power-exertion: Might Makes Right.


Therefore, speaking specifically as an orthodox Trinitarian theologian, I reject Divine Command Theory. Or, put another way, I can really only accept Divine Nature Theory coherently, if I am at least an orthodox bi-nitarian theologian. (The metaphysical logic of that position will eventually lead me to discover a 3rd Person of the Deity, involved with our ethicality as derivative creatures. But that's beside the immediate point at hand.)

JRP

Bilbo said...

You write: "If the Father doesn't generate the Son, not only won't the Son exist but neither will the Father Himself, because God won't be positively self-existing."

When you first explained this, I thought it made perfect sense. Then I thought about it, and I'm no longer sure. The Father begets the Son, but the Father doesn't beget the Father? Is it strictly correct to say that God is self-causing. True, one "part" (not sure if it's proper to use that word in this context) of God is begetting another "part" of God. But what causes the first "part"?

I like the idea of positive aseity, so I hope there's an answer.

By the way, I've been involved in intelligent design discussion groups for a number of years. I came up with a "discovery" (I think God helped me with this, by the way. I remember asking Him about it before the idea came to me).

The cell has three principle parts: DNA, RNA, and proteins. DNA and RNA are made with nucleic acids, which have right-handed chirality. Proteins are made with amino acids, which have left-handed chirality. Biblically, the Messiah (or the Son) is thought of as God's right hand. I'm told that Irenaus referred to the Holy Spirit as God's left-hand. What is interesting is that the functions of RNA and Proteins in the cell bear close similarity to the functions of the Son and the Holy Spirit, respectively. I'm not sure how close the comparison between the Trinity and the tri-partite cell can be pressed, but it seems that God created the cell in His image.

I bring this up because all three parts of the cell -- DNA, RNA, and proteins -- are interdependent upon each other for their existence. Probably heretical, but I wonder if something like that is going on in the Trinity.

Jason Pratt said...

Bilbo,

Sorry for the delay; busy-ness elsewhere.

The first thing to keep in mind is that this is an ontological relationship, not a temporal one. There is no ‘first’ Person in that regard; the Godhead exists eternally. The ‘firstness’ of the 1st Person has to do with being the source of begetting. The 2nd Person is the eternal result. But the 2nd Person also eternally chooses to submit to the 1st Person, not out of compellment but willingly. This submission completes the circuit of active self-existence (again not temporally but ontologically). In that regard, you could say that the Father’s existence depends on the submission of the Son to the Father; but it would be more accurate, I think, to say that God (the Father and the Son--and the Spirit, too, but remember the Spirit proceeds distinct from being begotten) depends on the active generation of the Son by the Father and on the active submission of the Son to the Father, for God’s existence.

Incidentally, positive aseity would also mean that the Filioque dispute should be settled in favor of Western tradition: the Spirit proceeds from the-Father-and-the-Son in the unity of their unique relationship, or put another way the-Father-and-the-Son generate the procession of the Spirit. However, the concerns of Eastern Orthodoxy about this are also addressed, since what they worry about is that such a claim ends up identifying the Son as equal to the Father in a ‘mon-archical’ fashion (to apply a very old technical theological meaning for that term). But in positive aseity the Father is definitely the arche in relation to the Son.

So the concerns of both traditions are met in this fulfillment. (In effect each tradition is concerned that the other tradition is being effectively modalistic about two of the Persons, with only a merely semantic difference between the Persons at best.)


{{The Father begets the Son, but the Father doesn't beget the Father?}}

No; if positive aseity is true, the Father begets the Son, and the Son surrenders to the Father, completing the active circuit of self-existence (so to speak). The Son doesn’t generate or cause the Father. The Godhead would not exist, however, without the surrender of the Son to the Father.


{{I'm told that Irenaus referred to the Holy Spirit as God's left-hand.}}

In effect, Irenaus is thinking in terms of privative aseity, or at least not in terms of positive aseity. The Son and the Spirit, in his imagery, both are proceeding from the Father, but in two different ways. The only difference, effectively, is that there are two distinct Persons. I don’t recommend the imagery. (But I don’t blame Irenaus either. It’s a tough idea to get ahold of. I’m far from the only theologian to critique that way of putting it, btw.)

The Biblical imagery of the Son being the right-hand of the Father fits into positive aseity (and vice versa) well enough, however, insofar as the right-hand concept means the positive foundationally powerful action of the Father. Similarly, the Memra/Logos concept involves the 2nd Person being the rational action of the Father--also, in the case of the Greek term, ‘logos’ is related to ‘foundation’, and it is notably the Son Who is the foundation of creation. But the Son is also uniquely related to the Father, within the economy of the orthodox Trinity; and if positive aseity is true, that relationship has to do with the active self-generation of the singular substance of God Himself. So the Son can be said to bear the name of the Father, Who Himself is the acting foundation of the Godhead.


While I’m increasingly a fan of biological design arguments (despite some problems here and there), I don’t think I would use the relationship between RNA, DNA and activator proteins as evidence for the Trinity per se. I’m not sure it even makes a good analogy, though you shouldn’t hold that against it (probably nothing makes a very good analogy. {s} Even Father/Son 'begetting' doesn't really; it's just a handy way to talk in metaphorical terms about what's happening. Plus it has some important connections to the historical Incarnation of one of the Persons.) Sorry.

JRP