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Cambridge properties, Modal Collapse, God's causal knowledge

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  • Cambridge properties, Modal Collapse, God's causal knowledge

    It seems like most classical theists who hold to the doctrines of divine simplicity, divine freedom (i.e., freedom to have created a different world), and the thesis that God's knowledge causes the world, posit the existence of cambridge properties as a way of avoiding modal collapse. How can God's knowledge of the world cause the world if it is a mere cambridge property that is wholly dependent on the world's extrinsic relation to God? The cambridge property account seems to imply that God's knowledge consists in the relation creatures have to Him and involves no intrinsic determination of His substance as metaphysically prior. However, God's knowledge as causative must be metaphysically prior to any relation something extrinsic bears to Him. Hence, it cannot consist in the creature's relation to Him. How is this not an insuperable problem for the doctrines of divine simplicity, divine freedom, and divine causal knowledge?

  • #2
    Yes, if God's beliefs are extrinsic to him, then he's ontologically prior to his beliefs, whereas if he's identical to his beliefs, he's ipso facto not ontologically prior to his beliefs.

    I'm reviving this thread. (I have a long standing commitment to write an article on the objection at the root of this, the accidental property objection, and will probably stay out of the main thread. Basically, I don't see a way around the objection.)

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    • #3
      I agree. But I was saying something more than the fact that if God's knowledge is extrinsic to him, He is ontologically prior to his beliefs. My main contention is that if God's knowledge of creation is extrinsic to him, it cannot be ontologically prior to creation. From what I gather even if an externalist view of knowledge could be coherently worked out and applied to God, it would still undermine the thesis that God's knowledge of contingents causes them to exist. If God's knowledge of contingent realities is extrinsic to him, I don't see how it can be causative. As something external to God it seems like God's knowledge of creation would be supervenient on creation's relation to him, and therefore couldn't be metaphysically prior to it.

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      • #4
        I didn't bother unpacking the rest of your post because it's superfluous. God's knowledge can't be ontologically posterior to him (without, for instance, importing complexity into him).

        So here is the other side of this: there are just as good arguments for God and God's simplicity. So what do we do?

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Exar Kun View Post
          It seems like most classical theists who hold to the doctrines of divine simplicity, divine freedom (i.e., freedom to have created a different world), and the thesis that God's knowledge causes the world, posit the existence of cambridge properties as a way of avoiding modal collapse. How can God's knowledge of the world cause the world if it is a mere cambridge property that is wholly dependent on the world's extrinsic relation to God?
          The notion of a Cambridge property was formulated in the last century, so I am not sure that I would say that most classical theists posit them to avoid modal collapse, unless you're suggesting that at a high level abstraction that is what classical theists effectively do. Whether that's a fair characterization of classical theists throughout history will depend on how Cambridge properties are understood, but my sense is they would generally want to rush in to qualify here. Or you may have in mind classical theists among contemporary philosophers, in which case I am not sure how popular the Cambridge property defense is.

          The standard example of a Cambridge property is something like "is taller than Mary," and that does seem to be wholly dependent on a relation. But that does not mean hat every Cambridge property is such, and those who employ the notion of a Cambridge property to defend divine simplicity would generally be interested in finding something more helpful.

          Geach, I think, has the example of a professor teaching (though I don't know whether he discusses it in reference to Cambridge properties). Intuitively, there is a sense in which it doesn't make any difference to the teacher whether there is one more student in the back of the lecture hall; the student might have been absent, without any change to the teacher. But since he's there, the teacher's act of teaching is also an act of teaching that student. So "is teaching that student" is a Cambridge property of the professor. Of course, in the present case, the professor is not creating the student, so the possibility of the property depends on the prior existence of the student, and the analogy is imperfect. But it also does not depend wholly on the relation between the professor and the student. There is a relation between the professor and the student because the professor is engaging in an activity of a certain character.

          Some classical theists understand God's knowledge of creation as practical knowledge. It is akin to the knowledge of a house that a house builder has in making it. The house builder already intellectually possesses the form of a house, and he knows the particular houses he builds in building them. Likewise, the archetypes of created things are in the mind of God, and God's creation is his actualization of some of them. Those archetypes are, as it were, the general knowledge that is put in act in God's creation. On divine simplicity, they are identical to God and do not depend on created things. They will be the cause of created things in a sense analogous to that in which Aristotle says the form of a house in the intellect of a builder is the cause of the house.

          God also has particular knowledge of the things he creates. This is what the classical theist will say does not determine his substance and could be different even while God remained the same. It's dependent on God's relation to creatures in the sense that it is the same as God's creating them (which the classical theist will also say does not determine his substance). But for that reason it does not require creatures to be metaphysically prior to him.

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          • #6
            Without getting into the later part of your post (I said I would stay out of it), a few quick comments on the earlier:

            Originally posted by Greg
            The notion of a Cambridge property was formulated in the last century, so I am not sure that I would say that most classical theists posit them to avoid modal collapse, unless you're suggesting that at a high level abstraction that is what classical theists effectively do.
            Geach invented the name “Cambridge property” in the last hundred years, but the general idea goes at least as far back as late medieval debates over relations and the notions of internal and asymmetric or nonsymmetric relations.

            Whether that's a fair characterization of classical theists throughout history will depend on how Cambridge properties are understood, but my sense is they would generally want to rush in to qualify here.
            I'm not sure classical theists had the terminology to articulate the accidental property objection before Scotus. They did occasionally use language very reminiscent of possible worlds to talk about theological problems, but not often.

            Or you may have in mind classical theists among contemporary philosophers, in which case I am not sure how popular the Cambridge property defense is.
            Yes. I took Exar's claim as an “All the beer is in the fridge” type claim. I see the Cambridge property defense come up a fair bit in the literature on the accidental property objection.
            Last edited by John West; 05-12-2019, 11:52 PM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by John West View Post
              Geach invented the name “Cambridge property” in the last hundred years, but the general idea goes at least as far back as late medieval debates over relations and the notions of internal and asymmetric or nonsymmetric relations.
              I don't deny that the general idea goes back quite far. The idea is similar to just about any attempt at reconciling simplicity with the contingency of God's knowledge that I can imagine. I just meant that Exar was giving the idea a fairly sharp sense that need not map onto every classical theist.

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