Thursday, December 08, 2011

Paulo F. M. Goncalves Critique of Thomas V. Morris' "Logic of God Incarnate"

Paulo F. M. Goncalves is lecturer in religious studies
at the University of Derby. His online essay is
entitled "A Critique of Thomas V. Morris's Use of
Natural Kind Terms in The Logic of God Incarnate."
This critique is nine pages long, including
endnotes. I'll try to state the gist of Goncalves'
analysis in a few pages.

Goncalves notes that his analysis of Morris' book is
not concerned with the "historical and theological
propriety" of the attempt to demonstrate the logical
coherence of the Incarnation. Instead of focusing on
such matters, he primarily concentrates on
critiquing Morris' use of natural kind terminology and
theory. In particular, he observes that Morris makes a
theoretical distinction between individual natures and
kind natures as well as a distinction between "common"
and "essential" properties found within a natural

The mention of natural kinds or "predicative
universals" calls to mind the debates on natural terms
contained in studies produced by Saul Kripke, Hilary
Putnam and W. V. O. Quine. Of course, Goncalves points
out that these thinkers all elaborate, "with extensive
qualification," what might be called a certain type of
nominalism. Conversely, Morris' view seems to be a
form of "conceptual realism." Goncalves thus provides
an overview of Morris' argument, distills the
aforesaid contentions and putatively clarifies Morris'
use of natural kind terms. He subsequently picks apart
Morris' view, concluding that Morris "does not
adequately deal with his relation to such recent
studies [those of Kripke and Putnam] and assumes a
conceptual realism on a fragile theoretical basis."
Goncalves ultimately charges Morris with incoherence
at crucial points and suggests that his methodology is
also "vulnerable." At this point, we will now review
one serious criticism that the lecturer in religious
studies makes concerning Morris' employment of natural
kind terms and theory. It involves Morris' theory of
human properties.

Detractors of the Incarnation doctrine contend that
the proposition:

(A) Jesus is God the Son

is incoherent and false a priori since this assertion
endeavors to unite two entities that are
seemingly, by definition, complementary
which can be defined as "mutually
exclusive." Morris criticizes this view, arguing that
while terms such as "bachelor," "doctor" or "lawyer"
are nominal kinds, "gold," "tiger," and "humanity" are
not. Instead, Morris thinks that the latter kinds are
natural terms. In other words, he seems to be
maintaining that the properties of
tigers or humans are necessary, but they are known a
posteriori. However, once the necessary properties of
a particular kind are known a posteriori, then certain
notional positions can be discounted a priori. But how does this
theoretical approach taken by Morris affect his construal of (A)?

Goncalves observes that Morris does not seem to be
that forthcoming vis-a-vis necessary a posteriori
properties of humanity. The latter does include "being conscious
at some time or another" as an indispensable property
of humanity. Nevertheless, Goncalves argues, it
quickly becomes clear that Morris is not willing to
let any properties that might possibly be "logical
complements of essential divine properties"
constitute his definition of what it means to be
human. Aside from this putative approach manifested in
Morris' book, Goncalves has another criticism that
pretty much sums up his objection to Morris' overall methodology.

How does one go about determining what is essential
with relation to human nature? What are the necessary
properties an entity must instantiate to be considered
essentially human? Goncalves argues that Morris
wrongly excludes certain properties that are commonly
associated with being human, to wit, properties that
serve as complements to the divine nature or qualities
that logically disallow a divine incarnation.

Morris avers that contingency, being created, being
non-eternal and finite with regard to knowledge and
power as well as being non-ubiquitous are not
complementary with respect to human nature. He claims that a
all such properties may characterize those entities that are
"merely human" but they are not necessary properties
that belong to one who is "fully human." Being "fully
human," according to Morris, involves assuming "a
human body and a human mind, no more and no less."
Jesus Christ, even though he subsists as God, can
simultaneously be fully human since human properties
that one would normally regard as complementary in
relation to divine properties are excluded based on
Morris' view of kind terms as they apply to humanity.

In conclusion, Goncalves finds Morris' use of natural
kind term theory problematic. Since the task of
relating individual objects to other members in a set
is fraught with seemingly insurmountable difficulties,
Goncalves wonders how Morris can develop a coherent
notion of the Incarnation. Goncalves indicates that
other strategies for rendering the doctrine of the
Incarnation coherent may possibly work. But Morris' use of
natural kind terms seems to miss the theoretical mark.



aservantofJehovah said...

Hebrews2:17NASB"Therefore,he had to be made like his brethren in ALL things,so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God,to make propitiation for the sins of the people."
Hebrews2:9NKJV"But we see Jesus,Who was made a little LOWER than the angels,for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor..." Does Morris make any comment on these and similar scriptures,they do seem to suggest that a little more is involved in Jesus becoming fully human than a mere taking on of the appearance and mental makeup common to humans.

Edgar Foster said...

It's been a while since I've read Morris' book, but from what I remember, his argument is primarily philosophical/logical rather than exegetical. But it's a good point that you make.