Friday, April 17, 2009

Divine Exemplification Theory

From time to time, I review my notebooks to see what projects I started and never finished or may never finish. One such project is what I have called (for lack of a better term) "divine exemplification theory." I might one day go forward with work on this idea, concept or theory, but what I am trying to figure out is how one can intelligibly and accurately talk about forms or abstract concepts without being a Platonist of one stripe or the other.

Concepts or properties like treeness, rockness, doghood or humanity seem fairly "easy" to discuss intelligibly or coherently. But where the waters become rough is when one discusses justice, goodness, courage and wisdom (inter alia). Aside from the difficulties that come from trying to define these terms (as anyone who has read Plato can attest to), a problem also resides in trying to explain the primordial locus of these concepts/properties/attributes.

Are the aforementioned "qualities" Forms that "exist" in some transcendent realm of Being (Plato)? Do putative "Forms" like justice obtain in acts performed by free agents rather than in some intelligible sphere of Being? Or do the Forms reside in God's mind (Philo, Augustine). Or should one say that the Forms have their locus in the human mind?

I humbly submit--more work needs to be done here--that what have been called "Forms" do not reside in some intelligible (i.e. noetic) realm nor do they reside in the mind of God. But the "Forms" (especially things like justice or wisdom and beauty) reside and have been everlastingly exemplified by God Himself. Notice, I am not limiting the Forms to the mind of God. Nor do I think they are immutable, even though they are everlasting. I am suggesting that the so-called Forms like justice or goodness have been everlastingly exemplified by God in his actions and eternal purpose. They have not just resided in the mind of God. Hence, the name, Divine exemplification theory.


Vlad said...

I hope you continue this idea. But have you considered a more mundane approach? Though it might disturb our theological sensibilities, it might be fruitful to consider the locus of these concepts to be within our world rather than outside of it. They exist only in the phenomena, something like the laws of physics which are merely a way of expressing how nature behaves.

There is something platonic even in speaking of their “everlasting” exemplification. Though I know what you mean by God’s eternal purpose, I would aver that we simply don’t have the language to talk about God ‘before’ t=0. We lack the conceptual ability to picture such things as spacelessness, timelessness. I very much wonder if “goodness” can have any meaning in such circumstances any more than “treeness” can. Though we cannot picture the non-existence of universals, this is only because we are completely grounded in our world (or universe, if you will).

I would go so far as to say that even our revealed knowledge of God is phenomena, and we have no access to the noumena of him. God has chosen to condescend and interact with us in the time and space of his creation, and all of its other properties, and we can only know him from this particular perspective.

Or is this painfully pessimistic?



Edgar Foster said...

I appreciate your thoughts, Vlad. I've probably held a number of the positions you express at one time or another in my life. I've flirted with skepticism, considered myself a nominalist or conceptualist, but then conversely I have espoused epistemological realism (Josef Seifert) or Platonism. But I now see that adhering to one particular epistemology or metaphysic is probably wrong-headed. But to address your remarks:

The view you present in the comment box sounds familiarly Kantian. I believe that Kaufman accepts the consequences of Kantian epistemology/metaphysics and applies Kant's philosophy to God. While there are ways in which I agree with Kant, I believe that the material aspect of his philosophy proves to be unsatisfactory in the end since there is an implied agnosticism associated with his phenomena/noumena dichotomy. Moreover, Kant suggests that there is a strict bifurcation vis-a-vis facts and values or faith and reason/science or knowledge. I'm not sure that I can buy into this metaphysical assumption.

Edgar Foster said...

I will keep your remarks in mind as I continue to think about the issue. Two other brief things for now:

1) I believe that God is temporal in some way. I have read quite a bit of the primary and secondary literature on the subject of God's temporality or lack thereof. The more that one reads the manifold sources regarding this subject, it seems that the less certain one can be about how God actually relates to time qua time. Yet, I believe he must be temporal in view of what reason and Scripture indicate.

2) I believe that "universals" exist in some manner, which is not to say that I affirm Platonic Forms or that I believe abstracta exist in some intelligible (noetic) realm of Being. There are serious problems associated with the belief in abstract objects (i.e. abstracta). See A. Plantinga's study Does God Have a Nature? He broaches issues that involve God's aseity and the existence of uncreated states of affairs.

Vlad said...

Though I use the nomenclature of Kant, I should say that I don’t accept his epistemology whole. I’m not inclined to his bracketing of faith. Indeed, I’m rather more materialist in my outlook, and simply mean to affirm that God is “wholly other,” and that it is that otherness which we have no access to. Of that I am, indeed, agnostic.

(1) As an open theist, I find this view quite amendable with God’s temporality. As God acts within the world, he is bound by some of its properties. I can legitimately talk and reason about God and his qualities, because all of the categories of reason apply and I have all of the universals at my disposal. It’s only outside of this that the language breaks down for me.

(2) Well-taken. Any other bibliographic suggestions are welcome.

Edgar Foster said...

Here are other works dealing with the extent to which we can know God:

Frank G. Kirkpatrick, Together Bound: God, History, and the Religious Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

See Gordon D. Kaufman, God the Problem (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972).

Kenneth Nordgren, God as Problem and Possibility: A Critical Study of Gordon Kaufman's Thought Toward a Spacious Theology, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 13 (Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala Universitet, 2003).

Vincent Brümmer, Speaking of a Personal God: An Essay in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992).