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The aloneness argument: an aspectival response

Abstract

This article seeks to provide a response to the Aloneness Argument Against Classical Theism proposed by Joseph C. Schmid and Ryan T. Mullins. This response focuses on showing the unsoundness of the argument once the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity is reformulated within the essentialist aspectival framework provided by the Aspectival Account. Formulating a response to this argument will thus also serve the further purpose of providing an extension of the Aspectival Account and a needed revision of the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity, which can aid others in their quest to further clarify the nature of this doctrine.

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Notes

  1. The nature of the essence/accident distinction assumed in this article will be further elucidated below.

  2. The Aspectival Account was introduced into the literature by (Sijuwade, 2021), who focused in that article on answering Alvin Plantinga’s objections to the cogency of the DDS. This article thus serves as a further extension of this account through the utilisation of the notion of ‘essentialism’ and the application of this account to another important objection raised against the DDS.

  3. It is important to note that there is a diversity of positions that fall under the category of Classical Theism, as Veli Matti Kärkkäinen (2017, 35) writes that there is a ‘diversity and plurality of interpretations of God under the umbrella concept of classical theism’. And John W. Cooper (2006, 322), in voicing a similar point writes, ‘traditional classical theism is not a single, monolithic position. It has variations and nuances on many issues’. Nevertheless, there is a distinguishing factor between Classical Theism and other models of God, which centres on our understanding of the ‘strength’ or ‘strictness’ of the divine attributes, as John C. Peckham (2019, 9–10, emphasis in text) helpfully notes,

    Some believe the label classical theism should be reserved for views that affirm a strict conception of the classical divine attributes…A strict classical theist…is one who subscribes to a strong or strict understanding of the divine attributes. Accordingly, the strict classical theist is one who affirms, as a tightly connected package, divine perfection, necessity, pure aseity, utter self-sufficiency, strict simplicity…The italicized modifiers in the previous sentence denote some ways in which strict classical theism affirms these attributes in a strong or strict sense.

    This is a vital point. As the adherent of Classical Theism is only required to uphold a strong or strict understanding of the DDS (and the other divine attributes)—rather, than upholding one that has precedent in the classical tradition (such as that expressed in (1))—in order for them to fall under the umbrella of Classical Theism. One can thus reject the classical conception of DDS, yet affirm a strong (and revised) version of it, and thus still be classed as a Classical Theist.

  4. This example is based on a similar example provided by Baxter (2018a, 901–902). In motivating aspects, Baxter believes that the clearest cases, as in the example in the main text, are those of the internal psychological conflict of a person. However, self-differing, according to Baxter, is not only confined to these psychological conflicts but, as Baxter writes, cases ‘of being torn give us the experiences by which we know that there are numerically identical, qualitatively differing aspects. We feel them’, (Baxter, 2018b, 104). Thus, at a general level, as we will see, self-differing is present in any case where an entity has a property and lacks it at the same time, in the virtue of playing different roles.

  5. As Baxter (2018a, 914) writes, ‘aspects should not be confused with Casteneda’s guises, or Fine’s qua-objects, or other such attenuated entities’.

  6. This functional role fulfilled by an aspect is similar to that of ‘mode’, which has recently been re-introducedinto the literature Jonathan Lowe (2006, 23–24), and John Heil (2012, 3–4). However, the central differencebetween an aspect and a mode is that the former, and not the latter, is numerically identical with the individualthat bears it.

  7. In reference to aspects, there will be an interchanging of the term ‘qualities’ with the term ‘properties’. However, the former term is preferable over the latter term, as it helps us to ward of mistaking the entities that are born by aspects to be further entities that are ontologically different from them.

  8. More on this below.

  9. This identity and conception of the nature of an aspect would also apply to the sub-aspects of an individual.

  10. As Ted Sider (2007, 58) notes (in a related mereological context), ‘Defenders of strong composition as identity must accept this version of Leibniz’s Law; to deny it would arouse suspicion that their use of ‘is identical to’ does not really express identity’.

  11. One might still comment that it is inconceivable to define numerical identity without utilising Leibniz’s Law, and thus Baxter’s approach should be rejected. However, Baxter notes that he is not defining identity; but instead is taking it as primitive.

  12. A single individual differs from itself by having two or more aspects.

  13. Baxter (2018a, 909) sees Leibniz's Law as being closely related to the further principle that co-referential terms are substitutable salva veritate. However, he notes that this specific principle concerns only singular reference, and thus the substitution of expressions only refers to single individuals. One would thus need to provide an argument for why it should be generalised to aspects.

  14. This modal characterisation is also the one followed by Schmid and Mullins (2021, 2) in the Aloneness Argument.

  15. The primary method that Fine (1994a, 3–5) followed in showing the failings of the modal characterisation was by adducing certain counterexamples that emphasised the fact that essentialist claims are intuitively tied to what an entity is, and thus the modal characterisation of essences fails to provide a notion that is, in fact, co-extensional with this intuitive view. The most famous of these counterexamples centres on Socrates and the singleton set {Socrates} that contains him. For a detailed unpacking of this counterexample and other similar counterexamples, see (Fine, 1994a, 3–5).

  16. A question that one can ask—and one that I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for raising—is that of why one should adopt Fine’s approach when a simpler account of essence is at hand—specifically, an ‘intrinsicality’ account, which can be stated as follows: a is essentially F iff necessarily if a exists then a is intrinsically F (i.e. the essential properties of a thing are the intrinsic properties that it cannot fail to have). This account handles Fine's counterexamples to modal essentialism (e.g. being a member of singleton Socrates is not intrinsic to Socrates; singleton Socrates is Socrates 'wearing braces' etc.). However, despite the ability for this account to ward off the issues faced by the modal characterisation account, one should indeed favour Fine’s account for two reasons: first, the intrinsic/extrinsic property divide is notoriously difficult to demarcate—and thus one is utilising an unclear notion (i.e. intrinsicality) to provide clarity to an unclear notion (i.e. essentiality). Second, the former, and not the latter, is able to rightly class extrinsic properties (e.g. Socrates’ origination from Sophroniscus and Phaenarete), as well as intrinsic properties (e.g. Socrates being human), as essential properties of an entity. In other words, the intrinsicality account seems to be unclear (as the notion of the intrinsicality is itself unclear) and too strong (as there are indeed essential extrinsic properties) and thus one has good reason to proceed to utilise Fine’s non-modal account, as it provides a clearer and more flexible approach for clarifying the issue at hand.

  17. The following is a very brief statement of the nature of a module trope, as elucidated within a theistic context. For a further explanation of the nature of module trope (and that of a modifier trope) and a further explanation for why God must indeed be conceptualised as this type of entity, see (Sijuwade, 2021).

  18. Leibniz's Law was previously conceived of here as the principle of the indiscernibility of identicals. However, now we are conceiving of it in this case as its converse—the principle of the identity of indiscernibles, which can be stated formally as such: ∀φ(φ(x) ↔ φ(y) → x = y).

  19. For a detailed explanation of why there is this entailment of the other divine properties from omnipotence, see (Swinburne, 2016, 174–75). Furthermore, the construal of omnipotence above is a basic construal provided by (Swinburne, 2010, 8), which is subject to certain counterexamples (such as the ‘McEar’ objection). For these counterexamples and a more refined definition of omnipotence that does not face these counterexamples, see (Swinburne, 2016, 150–74).

  20. The traditional set of divine properties would include more than what is included here. However, for brevity's sake, we will focus on these specific five properties. Furthermore, this specific set of properties and their definitions are derived from the work (Swinburne, 2016).

  21. The qualities would be ‘sub-aspects’ of the aspects under question—more on the nature of sub-aspects within a theistic context below.

  22. The ‘quality’ of necessity in (26) would be an aspect of omnipotence: Necessity-Aspect (i.e. Omnipotencey[y is necessary]), and the ‘quality’ of contingency in (27) would be a sub-aspect of the P-Knowledge-Aspect (i.e. P-Knowledgey[y is contingent]).

  23. Interestingly, the conclusion reached here also allows one to deal with the (infamous) modal collapse argument, stated most recently by Mullins (2021, 94–95) as such:

    M1 If God intentionally acts to actualize this world, then this world cannot possibly fail to obtain.

    M2 If God’s intentional act to actualize this world is absolutely necessary, then this world exists of absolute necessity.

    M3 God’s existence is absolutely necessary.

    M4 Anything that is identical to God’s existence must be absolutely necessary.

    M5 All of God’s intentional actions are identical to each other such that there is only one divine act.

    M6 God’s one divine act is identical to God’s existence.

    M7 God’s one divine act is absolutely necessary. (M3–M6).

    M8 God’s intentional act to actualize this world is absolutely necessary. (M7).

    M9 This world exists of absolute necessity. (M2, M8).

    This argument can be avoided within the framework and account that has been proposed here, as (M4) is indeed false, given that God’s creative act—construed in the Aspectival Account as the Creator-Aspect—is identical to God, yet it can qualitatively differ from him, and thus God (unqualified) can be necessary whilst this aspect (i.e. his creative act) and the world both remain contingent.

  24. Competing interests: The author declares none.

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Correspondence to Joshua R. Sijuwade.

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Sijuwade, J.R. The aloneness argument: an aspectival response. Int J Philos Relig 91, 177–203 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11153-021-09819-6

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Keywords

  • Classical Theism
  • Divine Simplicity
  • Aspects
  • Essentialism