Friday, 19 October 2018

Can God Make a Picasso?

That God ultimately produced everything besides himself mediaeval philosophers had no doubt. But precisely what this creative act amounts to, whether and in what way it is ongoing, and how divine production relates to, say, human production—all these were important open questions. The title of this article is meant to focus our attention on one of the most interesting of these open questions, as it was discussed by Oxford philosophers Walter Chatton (d. 1343) and William Ockham (d. 1347). For while Chatton and Ockham would certainly have agreed that God is ultimately responsible for the existence of the works of Pablo Picasso (and indeed Picasso himself), they would not have agreed in precise detail about how to answer the question I intend in my title, that is: Does it violate God’s omnipotence to say that he cannot make something that Picasso made—for example, the painting Guernica—without using Picasso himself as an intermediate cause?

Rondo Keele. "Can God Make a Picasso? William Ockham and Walter Chatton on Divine Power and Real Relations".

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Constituent Versus Relational Ontologies

Since the relationship between God and universals is one factor in the controversy over divine ultimacy lurking behind the classical theist versus theist personalist dispute I discussed here, here and here, it seems fitting to review this old entry. 

Debates over the difference between Platonism and Aristotelianism, and the respective merits of each position, are likely to continue for as long as Man philosophizes. This post does not seek to take a stance on which position is correct but to provide clarification on an issue which is too often lumped into this debate, that is the way in which particulars are related to their universals.

I contend that many of the superficial charges Platonists and Aristotelians, particularly those who adopt such position in virtue of the role they play in wider philosophical systems, lay at one another's feet really relate to the alternative and more fundamental differences between constituent and relational ontologies. This entry is intended to give a brief run-through of these two approaches to ontology. To do so I will look at two claims attributed to each position, at least in popular presentations (let us call their proponents the ‘pop-Platonist’ and ‘pop-Aristotelian’ respectively).

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Papers by David Lewis

I thought some of you might find Andrew Bailey's collection of David Lewis papers interesting. Lewis is wrong about a lot, but he's one of the finest prose stylists in recent analytic ontology and his papers usually have something of value in them.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Penetrate to the Very Marrow

... c'est [la raison] un guide qui s'égare: et l'on peut comparer la philosophie à des poudres si corrosives, qu'après avoir consumé les chairs haveuses d'une plaie, elles rongeraient la chair vive, et carieraient les os, et perceraient jusqu'aux moelles. La philosophie réfute d'abord les erreurs, mais, si on ne l'arrête point là, elle attaque les vérités: et quand on la laisse faire à sa fantaisie, elle va si loin qu'elle ne sait plus où elle est, ni ne trouve plus où s'asseoir.

... it [reason] is a guide that leads one astray; and philosophy can be compared to some powders that are so corrosive that, after they have eaten away the infected flesh of a wound, they then devour the living flesh, rot the bones, and penetrate to the very marrow. Philosophy at first refutes errors. But if it is not stopped at this point, it goes on to attack truths. And when it is left on its own, it goes so far that it no longer knows where it is and can find no stopping place.

Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire Historique et Critique. Translated by Popkin.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Skepticism and Mysticism

What, if any, connection is there between skepticism and mysticism? First off, we should be clear what we are talking about. By skepticism I mean the Pyrrhonian skeptical tradition, exemplified by the writings of Sextus Empiricus. On this definition, the skeptic is someone who employs arguments on both sides of any issue. Finding that the arguments on both sides of any issue have equal strength, the skeptic suspends judgment about the truth or reality of that particular issue. By mysticism I mean the belief that one can achieve super-human knowledge inaccessible to ordinary reason or super-natural states of Being unachievable by ordinary practices or processes.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Two Arguments for Divine Simplicity

This post discusses two arguments philosophers have sometimes given in favour of divine simplicity. I do not believe either are successful but will give an overview of them as a preamble to more substantial arguments for and against this position.

Complexity Implies Causation

The first argument is discussed at length in a fine article ‘Divine Simplicity, Aseity, and Sovereignty’ by Matthew Baddorf; it is the claim that complexity implies causation, that if an entity is complex then it requires an efficient cause of its existence. Neither Baddorf nor Paul Vincent Spade, who the former quotes in favour of that thesis, are aware of any reason for this dictum beyond a purported inductive generalisation from observed contingent beings to the effect: all contingent beings are complex therefore all complex beings are contingent1. The case for such a generalisation is weak and the purported supporting evidence easily explained in other ways e.g. by the aseity claim that all contingent beings depend on God for their existence. If such is granted then of course all non-God entities will require a cause, regardless of whether we assay God as ontologically simple or complex. As an inductive argument complexity implies causation has as much dialectical force as J. H. Sobel’s necessity implies abstractness animadversion against traditional theism (all abstract objects are necessary, God is necessary, ergo God is an abstract object)2.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018


The ancient sceptics labelled their opponents 'dogmatists'. The word 'dogmatist' in contemporary English has a pejorative tone – it hints at an irrational rigidity of opinion, a refusal to look impartially at the evidence. In its ancient sense the word lacked that tone: a dogmatist was simply someone who subscribed to dogmas or doctrines. We shall use the word in the ancient sense. The disadvantage of this practice is off-set by the convenience of having a short label for all those who are not sceptical philosophers.

Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes, The Modes of Scepticism.