Persons, Particularity, and Agency

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The following is an attempt to give an account of what it means to say that a person is an agent using the Orthodox understanding of personhood and freedom, answering the objection that the Orthodox understanding of person requires nominalistic predication.

Orthodox theology claims that (1) persons are distinct from their natures, (2) persons are particulars, sharing no properties in common according to their personhood (though the various kinds of persons share things in common in the capacity of their nature, whether divine, human or angelic) and (3) persons are agents (sources of choice). Orthodoxy wants to say that persons are agents, but also that persons are utterly particular and unique—they share nothing in common. How is it possible to say both of these things at once? After all, doesn’t it seem like “being an agent/being a source of choice” is some property that multiple things can have? And if multiple things can share the personal property of agency, then surely this means that they have some property in common—namely agency.

One option would be for the Orthodox to say that persons have agency predicated of them in a nominalistic way. By nominalistic predication I mean that the word “agency” doesn’t actually pick out a similarity between two or more things. Instead, “agency” is just a name that is given to particulars which are being arbitrarily classed together. But it seems like agency is something that can be really predicated of multiple things. It doesn’t just seem to be a name that doesn’t correspond to some kind of reality inhering in persons.

But then if agency is real in multiple persons, doesn’t that mean that persons considered according to their personhood (as distinct from their nature) share something in common? This is against the teaching of the Fathers (Cappadocians, Cyril, Maximus, John of Damascus, etc.), and the Orthodox responses to heresies such as the Fillioque (Photios). So how do we synthesize the apparently conflicting teachings of the Church? This will require an examination of particulars, action, persons, and the definition of agency.

Particulars and Action

Any traditional libertarian understanding of an agent wants to say that two conditions must be met for something to have free will (agency): first, that there are alternative possibilities available to an agent in a given circumstance, and second, that the agent is the source of his or her choices. To say that there are alternative possibilities available to an agent in a given situation means roughly that there is more than one possible choice that could be done by that agent, and the agent chooses one of these alternatives when he or she makes a choice. To say that an agent is a source of choice just means that prior causal conditions are not sufficient to explain what an agent does. Whereas a determined event is sufficiently explained by prior causes, a free choice is not fully explained by prior causes. Rather, the choice originates with the agent.

Let us consider a deterministic event where a particular thing is causally determined to perform an action. When a lamp shines, we can say that the lamp is exercising the causal power of shining. We are denoting something of the particular thing “lamp” that can likewise be predicated of other particular things that are lamps—namely that the lamp’s causal power of shining is performing the action “shining”. However, it is this particular lamp that is exercising the causal power of shining, and so it is proper to speak of the lamp as a particular as shining—not just the causal power (which is a universal shared by other lamps) as shining. This particular exercise of the causal power of shining is being done by this particular lamp. None of this commits us to the idea that particulars qua particulars have a causal power of shining; for the causal power of shining is located in the shared characteristics of lamps, not their particularity. All that is implied is that particulars are exercising their *natural* causal power of shining. This natural power is something they have qua nature (what is common) not qua particular (what is unique).

The case is similar with persons performing libertarian-free actions. Actions are done by natural faculties. A natural faculty of free will is an active power that has alternative possible choices available to it. That is to say, no prior causal conditions necessitate that any specific one of the following choices be done in some given circumstance: a1, a2,… an. This is different from deterministic natural faculties which have only one action possible in any circumstance—the specific action determined by prior causal conditions.

Of course in order to exist, this faculty of free will has to be had by a particular thing. It can’t exist in abstract, without any concrete particular to have it. A particular is just that—a particular. It has nothing in common qua-particular with any other particular. It individuates one thing from every other thing (even another thing that has the exact same nature).

An action or activity is a kind of state of being that a nature can have. A nature is a set of powers or capacities; in other words, it is “something that can do things”. An activity is different from a choice, however. A choice is a specific way of acting. An action is a wider kind of thing, which can be done in a variety of ways. For instance, “eating” is an activity or action. But we can choose to eat in different ways—sloppily or with good manners, for instance. The choice consists in the particular way in which a particular person acts.

It is not proper to speak of a person as a source of action. For actions are done by natural faculties; eating is done by our chewing and digesting powers. But it is proper to speak of a person as a source of choice. For a person particularizes his or her actions—he or she chooses how to act.

Of course in order to exist, this faculty of free will has to be had by a particular thing. It can’t exist in abstract, without any concrete particular to have it. A particular is just that—a particular. It has nothing in common qua-particular with any other particular. It individuates one thing from every other thing—even other things having all the same natural properties.

Persons and the Definition of “Source of Choice”

We have said that persons are particulars. But lamps are particular things too. And yet it seems persons are radically different from any other kind of thing—especially lamps. What makes lamps different from persons? I would like to suggest that the difference between a lamp (or any particular impersonal thing, like an animal or a plant) and a person is at least this (though there is surely more): that a person is any particular thing that has a natural faculty of free will. This is not to say that free will is the only faculty of a person. Nor is it to say that only one natural kind of thing can be a person (ie. only human beings, and not angels, or God). “Person”, therefore, denotes (at least) any particular that has a natural faculty o f free will.

Given these distinctions, we can propose the following definition for what it means to say that a person is source of his or her own choices:

To say that a person is a source of his or her own choices means that a particular that has a natural faculty of free will chooses to do an action in a specific way, where prior causal conditions do not completely explain why the particular uses the natural faculty of free will in the specific way it does as distinct from another way it could have used its faculty.

Another way to put this is that a person is a source of his or her choices in that a person particularizes the natural activities of his or her will in an utterly unique way. To “particularize” is to “do in a unique way”. St. Maximus the Confessor wrote:

For the things that exist came to be out of nothing, and have therefore a power that impels than to hold fast to existence, and not to non-existence, which [power] is simultaneously an inclination towards that which naturally maintaineth them in existence, and a drawing back from things destructive [to their existence]. Consequently, the super-essential Word, by virtue of His humanity, had of His humanity this self-preserving power which clingeth to existence. And [in fact], He exihibited both [aspects of this power], willing the inclination and the drawing back on account of His [human] energy.

(From the Disputation with Pyrrhus, 33, pp. 16-17. Cited in “Synergy in Christ According to Maximus the Confessor” by Daniel (Photios) Jones, available at http://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2005/05/04/synergy-in-christ/)

The idea when Maximus says “He exhibited both [aspects of this power], willing the inclination and the drawing back on account of His [human] energy”, as in other sections of Maximus’ writing on the will, (some of which are provided in Batrellos’ The Byzantine Christ) is that a person (such as the Word) can use his or her natural faculties in particular, unique ways.

On this definition of “source of action”, it is not prior causal conditions that particularize the use of a natural faculty.  For instance, when a lamp shines at some particular time in some particular way, we would say that the particular way that the lamp is shining is determined by prior causes.  The action of shining is particularized (done in particular ways) by causally-sufficient events.  The lamp causes its shining because it was caused to act that way.   With persons, this is false.  They cause their free choices, but not because prior events cause them to do so.

First Objection

Though this account speaks of a person as a source of choice, there remains a problem. For it seems to be implying that a natural faculty of free will is actually the source of choice—not the person. We have assumed that natural powers do actions. And surely the definition above implies that the natural faculty of free choice does its acts in some particular way. Does this not imply that nature, not person, is the source of choice? This would be troublesome because it may imply that a person is not responsible for his or her actions—the person just does what is natural, not having a say in the matter. But consider the shining lamp example from earlier. The following two statements about the lamp are one-sided, and given an incomplete picture:

“the causal power of shining is doing the action ‘shining’ in some particular way”

“the particular is performing the action ‘shining’ in some particular way”

It is true that the causal power of shining is doing the action ‘shining’. But it is the causal power of shining had by *some particular lamp* that does this action. It is not the causal power of shining considered in abstract, apart from being concretely-instantiated, and activated by. It is also true that the particular thing called “lamp” is shining. But this is not done qua particular, but in virtue of the universal it has, “the causal power of shining”. Because we predicate of the particular what is true of the universals it has, we should say that

“the lamp is performing the action ‘shining’ by exercising its causal power of shining”

or just

“the lamp is performing the action ‘shining’”

Similarly with a person. If a person is just a particular with a natural faculty of free will, then there is something one-sided about the following two statements:

“the natural faculty of free will is performing choice a1”

“the particular is performing choice a1”

It is improper to speak exclusively so that either the particular does the action alone, or the natural faculty does the action alone. Particulars are bare things, with no universals qua particular, because they share nothing in common qua particular; so surely they can’t have the universal of free will qua particular. Natures without particulars are universals without any existence; so surely they can’t have free will qua lacking concrete existence. Only a particular with a common natural faculty of free will, or a particularized natural faculty of free will, can actually perform free actions. Thus it is proper to say that

“the person is performing choice a1 by exercising his or her natural faculty of free will”

or just

“the person is performing choice a1”

So the definition does not imply that the natural faculty of free will is “making choices for the person” or something like that, just like a natural faculty of a lamp isn’t shining for the lamp. As the lamp shines, so the person chooses how to act.

Second Objection:

One might object “aren’t you saying that persons all share something in common—namely they all are the source of their choices?”

But consider what it means to say a person is the source of his or her choices. It means that they particularize their natural activities by using their natural powers in an utterly unique way. “Being able to particularize” is not a “personal power” or something like that. It is a description of what persons do by using their natural powers—the powers they share in common.

But isn’t “using” itself a kind of thing that each person has in common, then, qua person? No, for “use” means “particularization” or “making to be unique”. So to say that all persons share “using” in common means that all persons share “particularization” in common. It is to say all persons “make to be unique” the activities done by their natural powers. But “making to be unique” is not something that would be common among persons; it would be utterly particular among them.

Application

Having defended the definition against objections, I now apply the definition to several issues. Before starting, I will re-state the definition:

“To say that a person is a source of his or her own choices means that a particular that has a natural faculty of free will chooses to do an action in a specific way, where prior causal conditions do not completely explain why the particular uses the natural faculty of free will in the specific way it does as distinct from another way it could have used its faculty.”

First, this definition sidesteps accusations that the Orthodox view of persons involves an ad-hoc or philosophically untenable nominalistic predication. For we are not saying of persons-qua-persons that they share some quality in common—the quality of “being the source of choice”. It is true that every person is the source of choice. But “source of choice” means not “multiply-instanced natural faculty of ‘source of choice’” but rather “particular with a particular instance of the natural faculty of free will, that does particular choices with that natural faculty of free will—actions which lack a causally-deterministic explanation”. This seems to capture everything that is meant by “source of choice” by libertarians.

Second, this theory seems to be what the Fathers mean when they say that a person particularizes their will by choosing to energize (act) in specific ways.

Third, this gives a nice way of explaining sourcehood. It is philosophically-economic, utilizing two notions: alternative possibilities and particularity. Furthermore, the definition employs terms that some critics of libertarianism might consider easier to comprehend than “sourcehood” by itself.

Conclusion

This theory of the sourcehood condition sidesteps criticisms to the idea that persons are the source of their own choices (agents). It evades accusations of nominalism about persons, fits naturally with patristic statements about particulari ty of action, and offers a philosophically-fruitful analysis of sourcehood in terms of particularity and alternative possibilities. It therefore presents a viable defense of the Orthodox understanding of persons as agents.

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13 Responses to “Persons, Particularity, and Agency”

  1. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    One might object “aren’t you saying that persons all share something in common—namely they all are the source of their choices?”

    But consider what it means to say a person is the source of his or her choices. It means that they particularize their natural activities by using their natural powers in an utterly unique way. “Being able to particularize” is not a “personal power” or something like that. It is a description of what persons do by using their natural powers—the powers they share in common.

    But isn’t “using” itself a kind of thing that each person has in common, then, qua person? No, for “use” means “particularization” or “making to be unique”. So to say that all persons share “using” in common means that all persons share “particularization” in common. It is to say all persons “make to be unique” the activities done by their natural powers. But “making to be unique” is not something that would be common among persons; it would be utterly particular among them.

    Response: Michael, to avoid nomalistic charge it seems that the only way you can do that is by saying that particulars are not universal, which I would grant. This, in your view, is what persons do, they particularize, now the way in which they particularize would be undoubtedly different but that they all share in particularizing a nature (no matter how unique they do it) would still require a nominalistic predication or it would need to be grounded in a universal because it is something they share in common. They all make unique a nature, no matter how differently they might do it, so for example:

    Person A makes Nature Z unique in way Q

    Person B makes Nature Z* unique in way Q*

    Both these persons are doing something in common making a nature particular so I do not see how you get out of this given that they all have the *makes* in common.

    But perhaps I am confused. If you are correct here, I would be very glad in holding to the person nature distinction as articulated by the eastern Christians.

    God Bless,

    NPT

  2. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Michael,

    I also remembered: This post does not solve the issue of relational properties, since you reject any sort of instantiation of any properties had by a person, but it seems that all persons would be related to the nature in some way. Thus, it seems you have predicate nominalistically about persons and relational properties that they have with the nature that they are particularizing and contributing to the process of free will.

    God Bless,

    NPT

  3. MG Says:

    Nate–

    I don’t see how “particularizing” or “making unique” could be something requiring ontological commonality. You yourself admit that it could be different in each case. The “differentness” is precisely what particulars are doing. But it seems you can’t share “differentness” in common; that’s a contradiction. Its precisely because there’s no sameness that “particularizing” looks different for each particular thing. Its not something common.

    So yes, there is nominalistic predication going on here. In a sense. But in the important sense—the sense that would amount to a criticism of my view—it is not nominalist predication. The deal is that nominalistic predication would only be a problem if I was trying to unify similar things by means of a name, without any kind of ontological unity. “Your theory of how things with x kind of similarity are ontologically unified is nominalist” is a criticism. But I’m not trying to unify similar things at all. There’s no similarity in particulars qua particulars, and so there’s nothing to ontologically unify in particulars qua particulars. “Your theory of how completely unsimilar things with no kind of similarity are not ontologically unified” doesn’t sound like a criticism to me. The point of my post was to show that “source of a particular choice” doesn’t amount to a similarity. And so claiming nominalistic predication doesn’t amount to a criticism. Its not nominalist because there isn’t an ontological similarity that is being unified by means of a name.

    I could grant that there might be an instantiation relation that holds between a particular and the universal that it instantiates; and furthermore that the instantiation relation is an instance of the universal “instantiation relation”.

    My schema looks like this:

    Person A Nature N
    Person B Nature N
    Person C Nature N

    Any ontological commonality that exists is on the side of nature (including the instantiation relation), and any particularity that exists is on the side of person (particularizes). Any universals (including an instantiation relation, if it exists) become particularized by instantiation in a particular.

    If you could explain how “making unique” is a common ontological feature of things, that would be helpful.

  4. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello Michael,

    Yeah, I will try to explain what I meant by “making unique”. I am not saying here that you have to buy that a particular somehow requires a universal for it’s uniqueness. What I am saying is that all persons share something in common and yet they are all unique. It seems to me that they all share in the universal of making natures particular, but I am not saying that the way in which they do it is universal because as you have stressed the way they do it is utterly unique. I am saying this: *that* persons make natures unique is something they all share in common, but *how* they make natures unique is obviously different as you have said. The former needs a universal, but the latter does not. You can reject the need for a universal in the formers case and just say that it requires some sort of nominalistic predication, but of course this is what your post was suppose to avoid in the first place.

    Now with regards to this critique I have made you have said:

    “Any ontological commonality that exists is on the side of nature (including the instantiation relation), and any particularity that exists is on the side of person (particularizes). Any universals (including an instantiation relation, if it exists) become particularized by instantiation in a particular.”

    My difficulty with this is that if there is a relation with a given Substance S and the content of that relation would be a ontological connection with another substance S* then both S and S* will both have instantiated relations to one another. If we reject a relation with S and not S* then the predication of the relation of S to S* wll be nominalistic, conversely, if we reject a relation with S* and not S then the predication of the relation of S* to S will be nominalistic. These are the problems I have with your person/nature distinction. But to be brutally honest I hope you answer my problems because if you answer my nominalistic charge then it seems that this view of person and nature being distinct in the sense you describe seem to be superior to my own formulations. But a interesting question I might have for you is this: do you think a semi-compatiblist could accept the person/nature distinction as you have articulated it, but just alter it slightly so as to avoid libertarian agency with respect to creatures?

    I have really enjoyed reading this post by the way!

    God Bless,

    NPT
    NPT

  5. MG Says:

    Nate–

    For the time being I will respond to only your first issue.

    You wrote:

    “Yeah, I will try to explain what I meant by “making unique”. I am not saying here that you have to buy that a particular somehow requires a universal for it’s uniqueness. What I am saying is that all persons share something in common and yet they are all unique. It seems to me that they all share in the universal of making natures particular, but I am not saying that the way in which they do it is universal because as you have stressed the way they do it is utterly unique. I am saying this: *that* persons make natures unique is something they all share in common, but *how* they make natures unique is obviously different as you have said. The former needs a universal, but the latter does not. You can reject the need for a universal in the formers case and just say that it requires some sort of nominalistic predication, but of course this is what your post was suppose to avoid in the first place.”

    It sounds like you are giving something similar to a “universal of particularity argument”, namely that “there must be a universal for particularity; otherwise how can you explain the fact that all of these things have ‘being particular’ in common?” If I’m right in comparing these two arguments, and the “universal of particularity” argument does not work, then it seems that your argument about “particulars share ‘making unique’ in common, so there must be a universal of ‘making unique’” would not work either; unless there is a relevant difference between the two arguments that makes the second one valid. Is there a difference?

    Also, it seems that the same logic you have used to argue for “the universal of making natures particular” could be used to say that each being has a power of “being able to exist” and that “existence” is a common activity that all things do. After all, I can say of two pencils “the pencil is able to exist” and therefore conclude that “being able to exist” must be a power they both have. The logic is exactly the same, it seems.

    But of course the conclusion “they share in the common power ‘being able to exist'” doesn’t have to follow if you don’t consider existence to be an activity (which I don’t think you do). The solution that you must use with “exists” or “being able to exist” seems to be, then, to think of “existence” as sui generis, not like other predications. You are explaining the commonality of “being able to exist” by means of something other than a power because you deny that “existing” is an activity. But then one might wonder: what if “particularization” is not an activity? If one denies that particularization is an activity, then there’s no need to think particulars have some common power of “being able to particularize”.

    You might ask “well, even if its possible that particularization is not an activity, why should I accept that particularization is not an activity?” And I would respond “because the things that do it don’t share anything in common, and thus cannot be said to share in some common ‘act’; there is no common ‘it’ to share in.” And hence there’s no common feature about which there is (objectionable) nominalistic predication going on.

  6. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello Michael,

    You said:

    “It sounds like you are giving something similar to a “universal of particularity argument”, namely that “there must be a universal for particularity; otherwise how can you explain the fact that all of these things have ‘being particular’ in common?” If I’m right in comparing these two arguments, and the “universal of particularity” argument does not work, then it seems that your argument about “particulars share ‘making unique’ in common, so there must be a universal of ‘making unique’” would not work either; unless there is a relevant difference between the two arguments that makes the second one valid. Is there a difference?”

    Response: No, I am not. In fact I explicit reject in the statement you quoted that I was making such an argument. Yeah, first off I never made a argument yet for why I think that particular unique things need a universal. Secondly, there difference in the two claims is that one thing is a particular and in your view does not need a universal and thus it is utterly unique. But persons make nature unique in a unique way has you have articulated, but all persons share something in common, namely that they make natures unique. ***I am not saying that the way they make nature unique is what they have in common, but that they make natures unique is what they share in common.*** So for example if you were to have one Subject S and another Subject P, both subjects make unique clay sculptures, but they both share in the universal of making unique sculptures no matter how unique they make them, they both *make* them and thus share in that universal. That is what I am saying.

    Does that make sense?

    God Bless,

    NPT

  7. MG Says:

    Nate–

    you wrote:

    “No, I am not. In fact I explicit reject in the statement you quoted that I was making such an argument. Yeah, first off I never made a argument yet for why I think that particular unique things need a universal.”

    I didn’t mean to attribute such an argument to you, and I’m sorry if it looked like that.

    You wrote:

    “Secondly, there difference in the two claims is that one thing is a particular and in your view does not need a universal and thus it is utterly unique. But persons make nature unique in a unique way has you have articulated, but all persons share something in common, namely that they make natures unique. ***I am not saying that the way they make nature unique is what they have in common, but that they make natures unique is what they share in common.*** So for example if you were to have one Subject S and another Subject P, both subjects make unique clay sculptures, but they both share in the universal of making unique sculptures no matter how unique they make them, they both *make* them and thus share in that universal. That is what I am saying.”

    I understand the distinction you are invoking (having the ability to make a nature unique vs. how you make a nature unique), but I personally don’t see the force of the objection, because I can’t see any reason to think “making unique” would be a thing that particulars have in common.

    But for the sake of argument, let me see if I can state it in a way that doesn’t have the connotations of commonality. What if we define “a particular’s making a nature unique” as follows

    “to say that a particular makes a nature unique means that the particular has a nature”

    does this still fall prey to the objection, by your reckoning?

  8. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello Michael,

    Do not worry about it, misunderstands occur all the time in philosophy.

    But you said:

    “to say that a particular makes a nature unique means that the particular has a nature”

    does this still fall prey to the objection, by your reckoning?

    Yes, they all share in common having a nature and thus a universal would be required.

    I also want to continue to be honest as to where I am on my theological journey as it were. I said last time that I was considering the person/nature distinction last time because I prefered it to some of my own formulations. I now want to offical retract that statement because I forgot that if one held to the person/nature distinction they cannot hold that the members of the trinity have modal properties such as being contigent or necessary. For this reason I could not ever hold to this distinction. But I just wanted to clear things up with you and to be straight with you. Have a good week.

    God Bless,

    NPT

  9. MG Says:

    Nate,

    You wrote:

    “Do not worry about it, misunderstands occur all the time in philosophy.”

    Okay.

    You wrote:

    “to say that a particular makes a nature unique means that the particular has a nature”

    does this still fall prey to the objection, by your reckoning?

    “Yes, they all share in common having a nature and thus a universal would be required.”

    Lets say that “having a nature” can be interpreted in one of the following two ways:

    1. Take “have” as primitive, not requiring an instantiation relation, a property, or a power.

    2. Say that “having a nature” is a natural property (multiply instanced) of persons.

    Do either of these work? What do you think?

    You wrote:

    “I also want to continue to be honest as to where I am on my theological journey as it were. I said last time that I was considering the person/nature distinction last time because I prefered it to some of my own formulations. I now want to offical retract that statement because I forgot that if one held to the person/nature distinction they cannot hold that the members of the trinity have modal properties such as being contigent or necessary. For this reason I could not ever hold to this distinction. But I just wanted to clear things up with you and to be straight with you. Have a good week.”

    It wouldn’t be impossible to make modal predications of the persons, depending on what you mean by that. You could just predicate of them in their natural energies (or essence if you like) that their activities are done in all possible worlds. It would be redundant to say that each person has its own property of “necessity”.

  10. MG Says:

    Also, I am still interested in your response to my arguments about existence in comment 5.

    It seems to me like if we have reason to question the status of a predication as picking out a property, then the fact that we can apply it to multiple things just shouldn’t lead us to conclude that it picks out a property.

  11. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello Michael,

    1. Take “have” as primitive, not requiring an instantiation relation, a property, or a power.

    2. Say that “having a nature” is a natural property (multiply instanced) of persons.

    Response: As for 1: But there seems to be a instantiated relation, so thus one would have to predicate nominalistically here. Just rejecting it here arbitrarily does not seem to be much of a solution here. As for 2: Usually when we say that a substance has something or other the substance here would have the property and not the property having the substance. When you relegate this to just a natural property it seems inconsistent with how use language metaphysical language about properties and substances. So I do not think any of these solutions work well.

    You said:

    “It wouldn’t be impossible to make modal predications of the persons, depending on what you mean by that. You could just predicate of them in their natural energies (or essence if you like) that their activities are done in all possible worlds. It would be redundant to say that each person has its own property of “necessity”.”

    Response: I mean intrinsic modal properties to the person, for example: The person of the son is necessary. This would be distinct from the energies of the son, for example: The person of the Son loves. One is of the essence and the other is a energy, so it seems hardly redundant to predicate necessity of these two things. And from discussions with you have gotten the impression that there is a sense in which the Son is not necessary and I would say the Son is Necessary in ever respect except the contingent relation properties he has with the created order…I am pretty sure you cannot affirm that in the sense I am describing and meaning this.

    It seems to me like if we have reason to question the status of a predication as picking out a property, then the fact that we can apply it to multiple things just shouldn’t lead us to conclude that it picks out a property.

    Response: I do not know what you really mean by this and I was unsure how the rest of comment 5 was even relevant.

    But I will do my best to respond. I do not think that things are able to exist, existence in my view is not a ability. Just like being Hispanic is not a ability. But throughout my arguments I have never assumed that existence or being made to particular is a activity. None of my critiques have assumed this, rather they have assumed the opposite. When I was using make, I was using it in a non-active sense. But I would say that there are instantiated real properties that are being described here. Thus, these properties would describe how the person is and all persons is what distinguishes natures from one another but in saying this I do not assume persons do this as a power but how persons exist with natures. I assumed the very same thing with my critiques this entire time. That is why I did not feel I needed to address comment 5, but perhaps I am missing something? What do you think?

    God Bless,

    NPT

  12. MG Says:

    Nate:

    You wrote:

    “1. Take “have” as primitive, not requiring an instantiation relation, a property, or a power.

    2. Say that “having a nature” is a natural property (multiply instanced) of persons.

    Response: As for 1: But there seems to be a instantiated relation, so thus one would have to predicate nominalistically here. Just rejecting it here arbitrarily does not seem to be much of a solution here.”

    Okay. For now, I think that I would say “have” is not a “thing” that is common between persons—there’s no instantiation relation. I will deny that there is an instantiated relation, taking “have” as primitive, and see where that leads. Its certainly not obvious to me that we need instantiation relations to explain how a particular has its nature.

    If there’s reason to think that “have” is not a property or power or activity, then this wouldn’t be arbitrary. I will attempt to provide such reasons at the end of this comment.

    You wrote:

    “As for 2: Usually when we say that a substance has something or other the substance here would have the property and not the property having the substance. When you relegate this to just a natural property it seems inconsistent with how use language metaphysical language about properties and substances. So I do not think any of these solutions work well.”

    That’s a good point; you’re right.

    You wrote:

    “Response: I mean intrinsic modal properties to the person, for example: The person of the son is necessary. This would be distinct from the energies of the son, for example: The person of the Son loves. One is of the essence and the other is a energy, so it seems hardly redundant to predicate necessity of these two things. And from discussions with you have gotten the impression that there is a sense in which the Son is not necessary and I would say the Son is Necessary in ever respect except the contingent relation properties he has with the created order…I am pretty sure you cannot affirm that in the sense I am describing and meaning this.”

    I can’t see any reason to think that persons need to have universals instantiated in them qua person. Why is it not enough to acknowledge that in all possible worlds, the Son has chosen to act in specific ways?

    If it’s a predication of the essence, its not a predication of the person-qua-person, right?

    Also, its important to keep in mind that we aren’t saying the Son qua essence is contingent.

    You wrote:

    “It seems to me like if we have reason to question the status of a predication as picking out a property, then the fact that we can apply it to multiple things just shouldn’t lead us to conclude that it picks out a property.

    Response: I do not know what you really mean by this and I was unsure how the rest of comment 5 was even relevant.”

    Well, there are obviously some common (multiply-instanced, and meant in the same sense) linguistic signs that don’t pick out multiply-instanced features of things. For example “particular” is not a multiply-instanced feature of a thing, right? And yet it is a common predication. The reason that its legitimate to deny that “particular” is a universal is because this would be contradictory to affirm—a particular has nothing in common, qua particular, with anything else. In other cases like “red”, we can look at reality and see exact similarities between two colored things; and from this we conclude rightly that there is a feature they both share in common, namely red. But “being different from everything else” or “not being an instance of a universal” is not something common. And so there is a principled, non-arbitrary reason to deny that “not being an instance of a universal” does not pick out a universal. And thus, just because it can be applied as a label to multiple things doesn’t mean it picks out a universal.

    You wrote:

    “But I will do my best to respond. I do not think that things are able to exist, existence in my view is not a ability. Just like being Hispanic is not a ability. But throughout my arguments I have never assumed that existence or being made to particular is a activity. None of my critiques have assumed this, rather they have assumed the opposite. When I was using make, I was using it in a non-active sense. But I would say that there are instantiated real properties that are being described here. Thus, these properties would describe how the person is and all persons is what distinguishes natures from one another but in saying this I do not assume persons do this as a power but how persons exist with natures. I assumed the very same thing with my critiques this entire time. That is why I did not feel I needed to address comment 5, but perhaps I am missing something? What do you think?”

    I know you have never assumed that “existence” or “being made particular” is an activity. But I’m challenging the fact that you assume this is false. How would you understand language such as “the cat can exist” or “the possible world can exist”? Should this not imply an ability, on your view?

    What do you mean you used “make” in a non-active sense?

    Let me re-state the things in comment 5 by replacing “power” and “activity” with property-language.

    “Also, it seems that the same logic you have used to argue for “the universal of making natures particular” could be used to say that each being has a property of “existing” and that “existence” is a common property that all things have. After all, I can say of two pencils “the pencil exists” and therefore conclude that “existence” must be a property they both have. The logic is exactly the same, it seems.

    But of course the conclusion “they share in the common property ‘existence’” doesn’t have to follow if you don’t consider existence to be a property (which I don’t think you do; at least most modern philosophers do not). The solution that you must use with “exists” seems to be, then, to think of “existence” as sui generis, not like other predications. You are explaining the commonality of “exists” by means of something other than a property because you deny that “existence” is a property. But then one might wonder: what if “particularization” is not a property? If one denies that particularization is a property, then there’s no need to think particulars have some common property of “being able to particularize”.

    You might ask “well, even if its possible that particularization is not an activity, why should I accept that particularization is not a property? Doesn’t it seem arbitrary that other common predications pick out properties and ‘particularize’ doesn’t?” And I would respond “because the things that do it don’t share anything in common, and thus cannot be said to share in some common ‘property’; there is no common ‘it’ to share in. Furthermore, saying that ‘particularizes’ is a common property seems to lead to absurdities.” And hence there’s no common feature about which there is (objectionable) nominalistic predication going on.”

    Now, here are the absurdities I’m worried about, that seem to result from taking “has a nature” (or for that matter “has a feature”) as being a relation of “instantiates a nature”, (where “instantiates a nature” is a multiply-instanced constituent of particulars and natures that exists between a nature and its particular):

    It seems like if we ask questions like “what has the ‘instantiates a nature’ relation?” we get an infinite regress.

    For if we say “a nature instantiates a ‘instantiates a nature’ relation” then we can ask “what has that nature?” If we say, again, “a nature” then we get turtles all the way down.

    Similarly with properties. If we say “a property is what instantiates a ‘instantiates a nature’ relation” then we can ask “what has that property?” If we say “a property”, then the regress begins again.

    If we ask “what has the ‘has a nature’(‘instantiates a nature’) relation?” and answer “a particular” then we are saying a particular has a “has a nature” relation. But surely it is true of all particulars that “they have a ‘has a nature’ relation”. And thus they must have in common a relation of “has a relation of ‘has a nature’”. But surely it is true of all particulars that they have a “has a relation of ‘has a nature’” relation. And so they must all have a common relation of “has a relation of ‘has a relation of “has a nature”’. And again, it seems like we have an infinite regress.

    In order to avoid a regress, it seems to me like we have to say that a particular has a nature, but that “have” doesn’t describe a multiply-instanced constituent of particulars and natures that exists between them. “Have/has” (“instantiates”) must be primitive and unique for particulars, so as to avoid a vicious infinite regress.

    If this is correct, then we have a non-arbitrary reason for thinking that “particularizes” (“has”, “instantiates”) is not a property or a relation. And thus it isn’t ad hoc to claim that the nominalist predication I’m doing is not the bad kind of nominalist predication.

    How would you answer the worry about infinite regresses? Or do you think it isn’t a worry?

  13. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello Michael,

    Okay. For now, I think that I would say “have” is not a “thing” that is common between persons—there’s no instantiation relation. I will deny that there is an instantiated relation, taking “have” as primitive, and see where that leads. Its certainly not obvious to me that we need instantiation relations to explain how a particular has its nature.

    Response: I would agree with you in a sense and in another sense I would disagree with. It seems that the word “have” by itself is just an abstract concept and thus just by itself it has not instantiation. But when we use have in a propositions with things like “I have a beautiful girlfriend” this seems to be describing the relation of having. Now it seems to me that you have not really accomplished what you wanted out of the post because you are just rejecting that we need realist predication of things like such and such has this. But again, this is what your post was trying to avoid. Thus, it still seems like my critique holds water, namely, that if one holds to the person/nature distinction they have to hold to some sort of nominalist predication.

    If there’s reason to think that “have” is not a property or power or activity, then this wouldn’t be arbitrary. I will attempt to provide such reasons at the end of this comment.

    Response: Well, my substance instantiating the universal of being a male is not a power or a activity on my part, but one hardly thinks that this would warrant some nominalistic predication about me being a individual male.

    I can’t see any reason to think that persons need to have universals instantiated in them qua person. Why is it not enough to acknowledge that in all possible worlds, the Son has chosen to act in specific ways?

    Response: It depends on what you asking. If you are asking: What the son does in a possible is that necessary or contingent? Then the answer is sufficient. But if we wanted to ask about the person of the son whether or not he is necessary or contingent, then it seems that we would need to acknowledge more. And since my problem is with the person of the son being neither necessary nor contingent in your view, then I do not see how you talking about he does is going to be altogether helpful for you. Clearly, there is a distinction between what something is and what it does. And my problem is that you think the son is not necessary and contingent. Is there any reason to think that something can be neither necessary nor contingent apart from what the Eastern Church says? It is just obvious to me that either something is necessary or contingent and not anything else in that respect. And since there eastern orthodox church teaches the opposite of that, then I know that a priori truth more than I know that the eastern orthodox church is true therefore if I am to give up any belief in this circumstance that belief will be in the eastern orthodox church.

    If it’s a predication of the essence, its not a predication of the person-qua-person, right?

    Response: Well, this assumes that there is a person/nature distinction as the east conceives of it. And I reject that for the reasons I gave above.

    Also, its important to keep in mind that we aren’t saying the Son qua essence is contingent.

    Response: Well God’s essence is neither necessary nor contingent in your view right?

    Well, there are obviously some common (multiply-instanced, and meant in the same sense) linguistic signs that don’t pick out multiply-instanced features of things. For example “particular” is not a multiply-instanced feature of a thing, right? And yet it is a common predication. The reason that its legitimate to deny that “particular” is a universal is because this would be contradictory to affirm—a particular has nothing in common, qua particular, with anything else. In other cases like “red”, we can look at reality and see exact similarities between two colored things; and from this we conclude rightly that there is a feature they both share in common, namely red. But “being different from everything else” or “not being an instance of a universal” is not something common. And so there is a principled, non-arbitrary reason to deny that “not being an instance of a universal” does not pick out a universal. And thus, just because it can be applied as a label to multiple things doesn’t mean it picks out a universal.

    Response: Yeah, understand what you are saying now. The predication of the particular is grounded in the particular itself. General features are not particular and thus need to be grounded in something general, namely, universals.

    I know you have never assumed that “existence” or “being made particular” is an activity. But I’m challenging the fact that you assume this is false. How would you understand language such as “the cat can exist” or “the possible world can exist”? Should this not imply an ability, on your view?

    Response: A human being does not have the choice or ability to exist in a given possible world or to possibly exist or to contingently exist. I would see these propositions about how reality is. To say I can eat a pizza is to predicate an ability of me, but to say that in another possible world water can be bright pink rather than blue is using can equivocally. The word can, can mean different things, in differing contexts and statements.

    What do you mean you used “make” in a non-active sense?

    Response: It is not an action flowing from an able something or other.

    Let me re-state the things in comment 5 by replacing “power” and “activity” with property-language.

    “Also, it seems that the same logic you have used to argue for “the universal of making natures particular” could be used to say that each being has a property of “existing” and that “existence” is a common property that all things have. After all, I can say of two pencils “the pencil exists” and therefore conclude that “existence” must be a property they both have. The logic is exactly the same, it seems.

    Response: Yes it is, and I would think that existence is a property.

    But of course the conclusion “they share in the common property ‘existence’” doesn’t have to follow if you don’t consider existence to be a property (which I don’t think you do; at least most modern philosophers do not). The solution that you must use with “exists” seems to be, then, to think of “existence” as sui generis, not like other predications. You are explaining the commonality of “exists” by means of something other than a property because you deny that “existence” is a property. But then one might wonder: what if “particularization” is not a property? If one denies that particularization is a property, then there’s no need to think particulars have some common property of “being able to particularize”

    Response: Yeah, but like those philosophers who reject that existence is property, you have to give reasons for thinking that being able to particularize is not a property. And from reading the rest of your responses, I do not buy the reason you give.

    You might ask “well, even if its possible that particularization is not an activity, why should I accept that particularization is not a property? Doesn’t it seem arbitrary that other common predications pick out properties and ‘particularize’ doesn’t?” And I would respond “because the things that do it don’t share anything in common, and thus cannot be said to share in some common ‘property’; there is no common ‘it’ to share in. Furthermore, saying that ‘particularizes’ is a common property seems to lead to absurdities.” And hence there’s no common feature about which there is (objectionable) nominalistic predication going on.”

    Response: As I have said before, this assumes that the statement the person makes a nature particular is not a universal predicate; specifically, the word “makes”. And I have already responded to this above.

    Now, here are the absurdities I’m worried about, that seem to result from taking “has a nature” (or for that matter “has a feature”) as being a relation of “instantiates a nature”, (where “instantiates a nature” is a multiply-instanced constituent of particulars and natures that exists between a nature and its particular):
    It seems like if we ask questions like “what has the ‘instantiates a nature’ relation?” we get an infinite regress.
    For if we say “a nature instantiates a ‘instantiates a nature’ relation” then we can ask “what has that nature?” If we say, again, “a nature” then we get turtles all the way down.

    Response: Yeah, this is an argument against Platonism. The third man argument. I do not think it is a good argument however, because I believe in actual infinites, so I would argue that this is going on infinitely. I know that these predications are grounded more than I think arguments against actual infinites are reasonable.

    Similarly with properties. If we say “a property is what instantiates a ‘instantiates a nature’ relation” then we can ask “what has that property?” If we say “a property”, then the regress begins again.

    Response: Yeah, I do not see a problem with this.

    If we ask “what has the ‘has a nature’(‘instantiates a nature’) relation?” and answer “a particular” then we are saying a particular has a “has a nature” relation. But surely it is true of all particulars that “they have a ‘has a nature’ relation”. And thus they must have in common a relation of “has a relation of ‘has a nature’”. But surely it is true of all particulars that they have a “has a relation of ‘has a nature’” relation. And so they must all have a common relation of “has a relation of ‘has a relation of “has a nature”’. And again, it seems like we have an infinite regress.

    Response: Yeah, that is right. I do not have a problem with this going on infinitely.

    In order to avoid a regress, it seems to me like we have to say that a particular has a nature, but that “have” doesn’t describe a multiply-instanced constituent of particulars and natures that exists between them. “Have/has” (“instantiates”) must be primitive and unique for particulars, so as to avoid a vicious infinite regress.

    Response: Why would we want to avoid it? Again, it seems more reasonable to me that predications have to be grounded in the realist sense more than these strange arguments against actual infinites are true.

    If this is correct, then we have a non-arbitrary reason for thinking that “particularizes” (“has”, “instantiates”) is not a property or a relation. And thus it isn’t ad hoc to claim that the nominalist predication I’m doing is not the bad kind of nominalist predication.
    How would you answer the worry about infinite regresses? Or do you think it isn’t a worry?

    Response: Yeah Michael…I do not think it is a worry. I mean I do not worry that there are probably infinite amount of possible worlds in which there is one world when I wake up and say 1 and another when I wake up and say 2 and on and on. I do not worry about that so I do not see why I would worry about this.

    God Bless,

    NPT

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