I was recently reading Feser’s contribution to the new Routledge collection on classical theism, and Feser is still parroting his old assertion — and it is only an assertion — that denying DDS entails the possibility of polytheism. Because this assertion is obviously false, I wanted to dispel with it in this post.
Feser previously made this assertion on p. 189 of his Five Proofs, to which I respond on p. 276 of Existential Inertia and Classical Theistic Proofs:
Today, however, I want to focus on Feser’s most recent re-assertion. Here’s the relevant passage from Feser (2023, p. 18):
Never mind that the main arguments for the claim that DDS does secure God’s uniqueness fail (one, two, three). [For instance, it’s easy to imagine two beings, each of which is identical to everything intrinsic to them, including their respective primitively distinct haecceities. Each being would be simple, but there would be two of them (since they enjoy distinct haecceities).] Feser offers two “arguments” here that denying DDS — or, at least, affirming that there’s a distinction between God’s genus and specific difference or God’s essence and existence — entails the possibility of polytheism. I’ll tackle each in turn.
Feser’s First Argument
Here’s the first argument (my formulation):
- For any x, if there’s a distinction between x’s genus and specific difference, then there could be something distinct from x in x’s genus.
- So, if there’s a distinction between God’s genus and specific difference, then there could be something distinct from God in God’s genus. (From 1)
- If there could be something distinct from God in God’s genus, then there could be at least two Gods.
- If there could be at least two Gods, then polytheism is possible.
- So, if there’s a distinction between God’s genus and specific difference, then polytheism is possible. (From 2, 3, 4)
There are four issues with this argument.
First, Feser simply asserts premise (1). He gives no justification for it whatsoever. Why can’t there be some genus only admitting of one possible instance? Feser is shockingly silent on the matter.
Second, even if God is within a genus or kind (like divine being or perfect being), we can show that given what kind of thing God is, there cannot be more than one thing of his kind, thus undermining premise (1). In particular, God is a perfect being, which implies possessing every perfection essentially and lacking every imperfection essentially. (A perfection is, roughly, a necessarily great-making feature.) Here is just a small sampling of reasons why there can only be one perfect being in principle, drawing from Brian Leftow (2012) and Enric Gel (Forthcoming) as quoted and discussed in my post here:
- Argument #1: Plausibly, being the source of every other concrete thing (if there are such) is a perfection. For starters, this seems deeply intuitive. Just think about it—being that upon which every other concrete thing depends intuitively seems to be a great-making feature. That is, a being that’s the source of everything else concrete is intuitively greater than a being from which other concrete things are independent. A being who graciously gives the gift of existence to everything else concrete—indeed, a being without whom everything else concrete would blip into nothingness—just seems better than a being from whom other concrete things are independent. The latter being clearly lacks something good that the former being has—perhaps (the fullest expressions of) graciousness, or creativity, or providential control over which concrete things come to be, or a loving outpouring of itself to its creatures (for the concrete things aren’t even its creatures to begin with). But if this sourcehood property is a perfection, then there cannot in principle be more than one perfect being. If there were more than one, each would be the source of the other, which lands in vicious circular dependence.
- Indeed, Feser (2023, p. 11) himself explicitly states that allowing other things to be independent of God entails denying God’s ultimacy, and surely ultimacy is a perfection! So, we have the following Feser-inspired argument: ultimacy is a perfection; a perfect being essentially has every perfection; hence, a perfect being essentially enjoys ultimacy; but (as Feser says) if things existed independently of x, then x is not ultimate; hence, things cannot exist independently of a perfect being; hence, every other thing must be dependent on a perfect being; and if that’s so, then there can only be one perfect being in principle. (If there were two, they would each be dependent for their existence on the other, implicating us in vicious circularity.)
- Argument #2: Other properties that are intuitively perfections entail the possession of the sourcehood property above (and hence entail the necessary uniqueness of any perfect being). For instance, intuitively, providentially controlling which other concrete things exist—that is, providentially controlling the denizens and hence character of the concrete world—is a perfection. And this seems really plausible—such control facilitates artistic expression in the divine creative act; it affords more power and greater ability to shape the character of the concrete world for the better; and so on. Yet a being B that isn’t the source of every other concrete thing would fail to have providential control over which concrete things exist; if a concrete thing C isn’t sourced in B—that is, if C is independent of B—then B clearly exerts no control over whether C exists. So, providential control over which concrete things exist is a perfection, and it also entails being the source of every concrete thing (if there are such). Thus, any perfect being must be unique, regardless of whether perfect beings or divine beings (or whatever) is a genus.
- Both arguments #1 and #2 are similar to an argument found in Leftow (2012) and expounded in Gel (Forthcoming). Consider what Leftow calls the GSA-property (short for ‘God, Source of All’): x has the GSA-property iff, for any concrete substance wholly distinct from x, x and only x makes “the creating-ex-nihilo sort of causal contribution’ to its continued existence” (Leftow 2012, p. 21). As Leftow argues, the GSA-property is either a perfection or a constituent of other perfections. Why think this? First, consider that “[b]eing a potential ultimate source of some proportion of what benefits things is a good property to have” (Leftow 2012, p. 22). But being the ultimate source of all that benefits things would be the maximal degree of this good property, and hence, given that “a property is a perfection iff it is the maximal degree of a degreed good attribute to have” (Leftow 2012, p. 22), being the ultimate source of all that benefits things is a perfection. But such a perfection entails the GSA-property, and hence a perfect being must have the GSA-property. (And the GSA-property, in turn, entails necessary uniqueness by the same route mentioned in argument #1.) Consider also that the GSA-property, together with the ability to freely exercise one’s own power, constitutes the property of having complete control over all other concrete objects. But “[i]t is good to have power over other things’ existence … Power over existence is degreed. Complete power over all other concrete things’ existence is its maximum, and so plausibly a perfection” (Leftow (2012), 22). In this case, the GSA-property is a constituent of another perfection, and so a perfect being must have the GSA-property and hence cannot fail to be unique.
- Argument #3 (Leftow-Gel): F is a perfection if it is “objectively and intrinsically such that something F is more worthy of respect, admiration, honor, or awe than something not F, ceteris paribus’ (Leftow 2012, 178). But, intuitively, something necessarily unique is more worthy of respect, admiration, honor, or awe than something not necessarily unique. Hence, being necessarily unique is a perfection. Hence, a perfect being is necessarily unique (i.e., there can only in principle be one perfect being).
- Argument #4 (Leftow-Gel): A perfect being would possess supreme or absolute value. But something is more valuable in the same measure as it is more unique – or at least that seems plausible and congruent with how we measure value. But something is maximally or supremely unique only if it necessarily unique. Uniqueness that is maximal or supreme in value isn’t a fragile, happenstance accident; it’s robust across worlds. Hence, a perfect being must be necessarily unique.
- Argument #5 (Leftow-Gel): A perfect being could not have a superior; nothing could be greater in perfection than a perfect being. Plausibly, moreover, a perfect being could not have an equal, as it is greater to be unmatched in perfection than not to be. As Leftow puts it, “[i]t would be greater to be intrinsically such as to be the greatest possible being among commensurable rivals than not to be. No constellation of attributes could confer more perfection than one that made one thus greatest” (ibid). Hence, since being unmatched in perfection is itself a perfection, and since perfect beings essentially have every perfection, it follows that there can only be one perfect being in principle. (If there could be more than one, then a perfect being could be matched in perfection and hence could fail to have the perfection of being unmatched in perfection. But no perfect being could fail to have a perfection, as what it is to be a perfect being is, in part, to have every perfection essentially.)
- Argument #6: The number of perfect beings could not be a contingent matter. If it were a contingent matter, then some perfect being would only exist contingently. But necessary existence is a perfection, and hence no perfect being could exist contingently. Hence, the number of perfect beings could not be a contingent matter. But we have excellent reason to think the number of perfect beings is one. This is the simplest hypothesis on offer about the number of perfect beings; any other number would be intolerably arbitrary and seemingly inexplicable (and hence versions of the PSR count strongly in favor of uniqueness); omnipotence is a perfection, and there are familiar arguments that there can only be one omnipotent thing in principle; and positing only one perfect being suffices to explain all the relevant data about created reality that perfect beings together could jointly explain. Thus, we have strong reason to think the number of perfect beings is one. Since (as was just shown) the number of perfect beings is not a contingent matter, it follows that there can only be one perfect being in principle.
Notice that all of these arguments are perfectly compatible with God being within a (necessarily-one-membered) genus of perfect beings or divine beings (or etc.). Even if God is a member of the genus perfect beings or divine beings, the nature of perfection precludes more than one perfect being (and hence more than one God). In other words, the nature of perfection strictly entails that the aforementioned genera are necessarily one-membered, which in turn undermines premise (1). You don’t need DDS to secure uniqueness, and denying DDS obviously doesn’t entail the possibility of polytheism. The above arguments are sound whether or not DDS is true; they’re based simply on the nature of perfection, and all theists accept that God is a perfect being. Allow me to repeat: you don’t need DDS to secure uniqueness. It is genuinely puerile to suppose that denying classical theism implies “monopolytheism”, the claim that God simply contingently happens to be unique.
To sum up: Feser’s argument is that ~DDS entails ◊polytheism. To show that this is mistaken, we need only show that even if ~DDS is true, ◊polytheism doesn’t follow. Arguments #1-6 establish precisely this, since even under ~DDS models of God, God is a perfect being and hence has various perfections that strictly entail ~◊polytheism. This shows that ◊polytheism doesn’t follow from ~DDS, as many models on which ~DDS holds strictly entail ~◊polytheism. For Feser’s argument to succeed, he needs to show that any ~DDS model entails ◊polytheism. He does no such thing, and the contrary is demonstrable. To make things as explicit as possible:
- ~DDS models of God, as part of their content, include the claim that God is perfect. This is undeniable.
- What it is to be perfect is to have every perfection essentially, and various perfections strictly entail ~◊polytheism.
- If a consistent theory includes p as part of its content, and p strictly entails q, then that theory doesn’t entail ~q.
- So ~DDS models of God don’t entail ◊polytheism, so long as such models are consistent.
And (4) contradicts Feser’s central contention that ~DDS models of God entail ◊polytheism. (Of course, Feser might try to argue that such models are inconsistent and so trivially entail everything by explosion; but that would be a separate argument, and an argument that he doesn’t give. He isn’t arguing that ~DDS models trivially entail ◊polytheism by explosion; he’s saying they non-trivially entail ◊polytheism.)
Again, Feser could always argue that such hypotheses are inconsistent or impossible on other grounds; but that’s a separate argument from the possible polytheism argument.
Here’s a clearer way to put the point, using more precise logical terminology. If p is consistent with q and q is inconsistent with r, then p does not entail r. For suppose the antecedent of that conditional is true. That is, suppose p is consistent with q and q is inconsistent with r. Now suppose, for reductio, that p entails r. Since r is inconsistent with q, r entails ~q. So, since p entails r (by our supposition for reductio), and since r entails ~q, p entails ~q (by the transitivity of entailment). But if p entails ~q, then p and q are inconsistent. But we supposed that p is consistent with q. Contradiction. Hence, our assumption for reductio is false. So, p does not entail r. Hence, from the truth of the antecedent we derived the truth of the consequent. Hence, the conditional claim is true. Thus:
5. If p is consistent q and q is inconsistent with r, then p does not entail r.
But ~DDS is consistent with C, the conjunction of the premises in one of my valid arguments for ~◊polytheism. Nothing in ~DDS prevents one from affirming all of the premises in one of my valid arguments for ~◊polytheism. So:
6. ~DDS is consistent with C.
But C is the conjunction of premises in a valid argument for ~◊polytheism. And for any deductively valid argument, the conjunction of premises is inconsistent with the negation of the conclusion. So:
7. C is inconsistent with ◊polytheism.
From (5)-(7), it logically follows that
8. ~DDS doesn’t entail ◊polytheism.
And (8), of course, shows that Feser is wrong.
But back to Feser’s argument. The third problem with Feser’s argument is with its third premise. Suppose the only genera of which God is a member are highly abstract and cross-categorial — existents, powerful things, personal things, concrete things, etc. — none of which are necessarily unique to something divine. It obviously doesn’t follow from this supposition that there can be more than one God. All that would follow is that there can be more than one existent, more than one powerful thing, more than one personal thing, more than one concrete thing, and so on. But these are obviously true consequences — clearly, there can be more than one existent, more than one powerful thing, and so on. None of this entails that there can be more than one God. Given our supposition, the only genera of which God is a member are ones which are not necessarily unique to divinity. Clearly, then, there can be more than one member of such genera without there being more than one God. Thus, if my supposition is true, then the consequent of Feser’s premise (3) doesn’t follow from its antecedent. It wouldn’t follow from God’s being a member of a genus that there could be more than one God, since the genera of which God is a member might admit of multiplication not of Gods but of non-God things. In order to show that (3)’s consequent follows from its antecedent, one must either (a) add that God is a member of some genus that is necessarily unique to divine things, or else (b) show that even though the genera of which God is a member admit of multiplication of non-God things, such genera must also thereby admit of multiplication of Gods. But the non-classical theist is not committed to either (a) or (b), and Feser offers no justification whatsoever for thinking they hold.
Fourth, note that nothing in this argument suggests DDS. Even granting (4), all the monotheist must do is deny that there is a distinction in God between genus and specific difference. This much is already affirmed by many (perhaps most) non-CTists, since many non-CTists don’t even believe that there are such things as genus and specific difference as metaphysical components of things. Denying a distinction between God’s genus and specific difference takes us almost no way towards DDS.
Feser’s Second Argument
Here’s Feser’s second argument (my formulation):
- For any x, if there’s a distinction between x’s essence and x’s existence, then there could be something distinct from x with x’s essence.
- So, if there’s a distinction between God’s essence and existence, then there could be something distinct from God with God’s essence. (From 1)
- If there could be something distinct from God with God’s essence, then there could be at least two Gods.
- If there could be at least two Gods, then polytheism is possible.
- So, if there’s a distinction between God’s essence and existence, then polytheism is possible. (From 2, 3, 4)
Again, never mind that there are independent problems for identifying God’s essence and existence, and never mind that such an identification does not automatically entail uniqueness. (For more on these claims, see my book and my post here). The problems with this argument are basically the same as the problems for Feser’s first argument above. Feser simply asserts premise (1) without any justification; even if God’s essence is distinct from God’s existence, given God’s perfect essence, there cannot be more than one thing with that essence (cf. arguments #1-6); and nothing in this argument suggests DDS, since many (perhaps most) non-CTists don’t even believe that there are such things as essence and existence as metaphysical components of things and hence already deny that there’s a distinction in God between these metaphysical components. I won’t belabor the points.
Some remarks on terminology
I wanna look at one more problem with Feser’s chapter. It’s hard to decide which of the innumerable problems to pick — e.g., unjustified claims about what requires a cause (cf. my book), the (bizarre) claim that God’s ultimacy enjoys a regulative status for classical theism that it doesn’t for non-classical theisms (p. 11), nowhere defining what a ‘part’ is (despite the fact that a denial of parthood (and hence the notion of parthood itself) is essential for understanding DDS), and so on ad nauseam. Alas, the problem that concerns me here is Feser’s use of the woefully unhelpful ‘theistic personalism’ label.
For starters, Feser tendentiously defines ‘theistic personalism’: “The basic thesis of theistic personalism is that whatever else God is, he is an instance of the genus person, alongside other instances such as human persons, angelic persons, and any other species of persons that there might be” (p. 20). This is tendentious, of course, because ‘theistic personalists’ aren’t committed to placing God within a genus. It’s also deeply confusing and misleading, since classical theists explicitly think God is personal and so are legitimately deemed ‘personalists’. Indeed, many classical theists say God is not only personal but a person. (To me, this is a distinction without a difference, but set that aside.) Consider Bill Vallicella, classical theist and author of the SEP entry on divine simplicity: “Classical theism is a personalism: God is a person and we, as made in the image and likeness of God, are also persons” (Vallicella 2016, p. 381). Or consider my old prof Jeff Brower, a staunch proponent of a truthmaker account of divine simplicity and classical theist: “God is a person, at least in the broad sense of an entity possessing the sorts of mental states generally regarded as constitutive of personhood” (Brower 2009, p. 106). Or consider Pruss (2006, 2008, 2017), or Eleanore Stump and Norman Kretzmann (1985), or countless other classical theists besides who explicitly say God is a person. Or consider Aquinas:
…yet that which the word signifies, namely that which subsists in an intellectual nature, is appropriate to God; and for this reason, the term ‘person’ is properly ascribed to God.De Potentia Dei, q.9, a.3, co.
Then, since whatsoever is most excellent in creatures should be attributed to God, it is fitting that the word ‘person’ should be attributed to God.De Potentia Dei, q.9, a.3, co.
In the same article, Aquinas explains that “the mode of existence signified by the word ‘person’ is most exalted, namely, that a thing exists by itself”. Aquinas also considers and rejects an objection to the view that God is a person on the basis of God’s not being within a genus. Aquinas replies that “Although God is not in the genus of substance as a species, he belongs to the genus of substance as the principle of the genus” (De Potentia Dei, q.9, a.3, ad.3). In fact, several objections Aquinas considers in the article explicitly use “a person” as applied to God, and Aquinas not only doesn’t object to such usage but follows it. Objection 5 in the article is that since a person is an individual substance, and since individual substances must be individuated from other things, and since matter is the principle of individuation, God — if he were a person — would have to be material. And yet God is immaterial. In clear reference to God (the only immaterial thing at issue), Aquinas responds that “there is no reason why there should not be an individual substance and a person in immaterial things.”
In short, ‘theistic personalism’ is monumentally confusing and misleading. In fact, I’ve received dozens of messages and emails over the years from people who think the classical theistic God isn’t personal as a result of the Davies-Feser framing of the opposition between classical theism and ‘theistic personalism’. The framing has tangible negative effects. Its confusion is palpable.
Feser then claims that there is a philosophical, DDS-based reason for thinking that God couldn’t be a person. The problem with Feser’s reason is that Feser simply asserts — without any justification (a common theme) — that truthfully predicating ‘is a person’ of God implies that God falls in the genus person with divine person as a specific difference. Moreover, given the wide application of ‘person’/’a person’ to God among classical theists, we have good reason to think that such application does not entail that God is composed of genus and specific difference.
Feser also claims (following Davies) that there is a special-revelation-based reason for thinking God couldn’t be a person. The reason is that God’s being a person (allegedly) conflicts with Trinitarianism. The idea is that God is three persons, not a person.
But there are obvious problems with this, many of which have already been pointed out by Ben Page in his IJPR article (of which Feser seems thoroughly unaware) published online in 2018. First, this reason will fall flat for non-Christians. Second, asserting God is three persons makes ‘theistic personalism’ all the more worthy as a name for a view. If the classical theistic God is literally multiple persons, ‘theistic personalism’ is an entirely apt descriptor for the view, and hence the charge of being a misleading and confusing descriptor is stronger than ever. Third, most theists “who claim [God is a person] claim it of theism in general, rather than Christian theism. As such they might suggest that [the claim] addresses something more fundamental to theism, rather than Trinitarian concerns. Perhaps the thought is that whatever God is, He is at least one person” (Page 2019). In short, we can understand the claim that God is a person as the claim that God is at least one person, and no conflict with Trinitarianism arises. Fourth, Page argues that because we can say of every member of the Trinity both ‘that is God’ and ‘that is a person’, it plausibly follows that we can also legitimately say that God is a person. Fifth, treating God as ‘a person’ is entirely unproblematic if by ‘person’ in this ascription we mean what Boethius famously took it to mean, namely an individual substance of a rational nature. Even if trinitarianism is true, God is an individual substance of a rational nature and hence is a person at least in that sense. (Moreover, the sense in which each of the divine persons is a person could be a slightly different sense — e.g., being identical-in-being to an individual substance of a rational nature.) Relatedly, Page argues that the defender of the claim ‘God is a person’ can maintain that ‘person’ here means something distinct from what it originally meant when formulating the Trinity, and hence such a claim “cannot be thought to contradict God being three persons, when ‘person’ in this [latter] sense is understood as it was meant originally when termed ‘hypostasis’” (2019). For instance, ‘person’ in the claim ‘God is a person’ might simply mean a rational, conscious, and self-aware being.
For these five reasons, Feser’s special-revelation-based reason fails.
Feser concludes his article by saying that ‘theistic personalists’ have a “tendency toward an excessive anthropomorphism” (p. 22). Never mind that this is pure assertion; it’s obviously false to boot. I have no clue what’s anthropomorphic about an absolutely perfect, necessarily existent, radically independent, supreme, utterly unlimited, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, perfectly good, perfectly free, perfectly rational, immaterial, providentially governing creator and sustainer of everything else. ‘Theistic personalism’ affirms all of this, and to affirm all of this is to cast anthropomorphism to the flames. No human is anything like this.
Moreover, if ‘theistic personalism’ is guilty of anthropomorphism, so too is classical theism. Consider impersonalist conceptions of Brahman or the Neo-Platonic One as ultimate realities. A proponent of such views could berate classical theism as anthropomorphic with far more legitimacy than Feser’s charge toward ‘theistic personalism’. For Feser, ultimate reality is personal. He literally has pronouns he prefers we call him by. He’s an intentional agent with free will and acts for reasons (if only analogously so). He desires relationships with creatures. He loves creatures. He even has emotions (though not passions). If that isn’t anthropomorphism, what is? At the very least, all of these affirmations are obviously far more ‘anthropomorphizing’ than saying ‘hey, maybe God’s knowledge that 1+1=2 is not numerically identical to God’s love of creatures’.
Our hypothetical proponent continues:
I’m reminded of Xenophanes’ scathing critique of Greek anthropomorphism: “[i]f horses had hands, or oxen or lions, or if they could draw with their hands and produce works as men do, then horses would draw figures of gods like horses, and oxen like oxen, and each would render the bodies to be of the same frame that each of them have” (B15). And in a similar vein, he notes that “Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and dark,” whereas Thracians say “that theirs are grey-eyed and red-haired” (B16). Here Xenophanes is noting correlations between the features of particular groups of people and the features such groups associate with the ultimate reality. Just as Ethiopians are themselves dark-skinned, their ultimate realities (gods) are similarly dark-skinned; and just as Thracians are themselves red-haired, their ultimate realities (gods) are similarly red-haired. And just as Feser has free will, intentions, acts for reasons, loves, desires, and has emotions, so too does Feser’s “ultimate” reality have these features (analogously, yes, but literally). But this is like supposing that ultimate reality is dark-skinned or has red hair. No. Ultimate reality is a radically transcendent One — a mindless, impersonal, absolutely simple principle from which all multiplicity and differentiation — including a multiplicity of trinitarian persons — derives. Feser’s God is a dependent being. Feser’s God has internal multiplicity and differentiation among persons. This internal multiplicity requires an extrinsic source or principle accounting for the unity of the multiplicity. This extrinsic source is the absolutely simple One, which transcends all multiplicity, differentiation, and qualification. Anything apart from the One requires a cause for the unity of its multiplicity, distinction, differentiation, and qualification. Thus, a differentiation or multiplicity of distinct divine persons demands an extrinsic cause. Multiplicity is anthropomorphism. Personhood, free will, intentional action, reason-based action, love, desires, preferred pronouns, and emotions are anthropomorphism. Cast such anthropomorphism to the flames, for it contains nothing but sophistry and illusion.
 NB: As Mullins (2020) points out, divine impassibility does not deny that God has emotions (in the broad sense of valenced, affective, conscious states). Impassibility simply denies that God can suffer, that God can experience passions (which would be happenings to God and are distinct from emotions broadly construed), and that God can be causally influenced or moved. As Mullins points out, the classical tradition is fraught with attributions of emotion (broadly construed) to God, as when (e.g.) they describe his experiential life as one of undisturbable blessedness/bliss/happiness.)
Denying DDS obviously doesn’t entail the possibility of polytheism. And ‘theistic personalism’ is an obviously unhelpful, misleading, and confusing term.
All of this does leave me wondering, though. Has Feser not thought of these considerations? Is Feser unaware of Leftow’s decade-old arguments? Is Feser unaware of Page’s article published online in 2018, which is an article of direct and immediate relevance to his Routledge chapter? Did none of these considerations dawn on the book’s editors to raise as problems with Feser’s chapter? I won’t speculate. I will say, though, that these are striking omissions in Feser’s work.
Author: Joe Schmid
Are you planning on addressing Pruss’ new arguments in this volume? It seems like we could get around his arguments by just denying that proper parts exist simpliciter, ala WLC. Is that the sort of move you’d suggest?
Great question — I *might* go through some other chapters in the volume, such as Pruss’. In case you’re curious, I’ve actually already responded to many of the arguments Pruss makes in that chapter — see my video here 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idma_oyto7M&list=PLxRhaLyXxXka0E9laGDA83gN2UbQoa4F2&index=2
Since making that video, I have more reservations to boot, I think. So *maybe* I’ll make such a post
Nice post. Is there a reason you eventually decided to drop the pseudo-civility? You used to preface posts with “I want to emphasize how much I value so-and-so’s contributions even if I disagree with them!”, etc., but as someone that’s followed you for a while, the snark creeping in has been pretty noticeable.
Hey my dude!
Thanks for the comment 🙂
So, some annoyance is definitely noticeable in this post. And the reason is because I was genuinely annoyed in writing the post! I think Feser is offering deeply poor arguments [and — if I’m being honest — they’re obviously poor]; he’s using deeply misleading and unhelpful terms like ‘theistic personalism’ — which he also wields in a derogatory manner — despite the fact that the unhelpfulness has already been pointed out in literature that’s directly relevant to his chapter; he’s using arguments that have already been responded to years ago and is either unaware of the responses or intentionally ignoring them [either way is a serious mistake]; he’s mischaracterizing non-classical theistic models of God; he does so with a palpable aura of polemicism; and, on a slightly more personal side of things, he has misrepresented my work in the past and hasn’t ever recognized it (let alone owned up to it). [On this last point, cf. https://tinyurl.com/ycyxhmmr ]
In light of this concoction of factors, I think annoyance with Feser’s chapter is genuinely warranted and appropriate; and I also think it’s appropriate to convey that to an audience, lest I mask what I think is the appropriate response and tone.
But this annoyance has by no means seeped into everything I produce; it has simply seeped primarily into my responses to Feser. In my YouTube videos, I’m still continually quick to emphasize how much I value others’ contributions despite disagreements, etc. It isn’t ‘pseudo-civility’ but rather genuine civility and love-oriented framing that is dished out *where appropriate*. In some contexts, that genuine civility is appropriate; in others, it would be inappropriate [because, e.g., a tone of annoyance is more appropriate]. I think watching the following video will be really helpful for seeing where I’m coming from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt1wN10yOY4. It’s a wonderful dialogue I just had with Josh Rasmussen. At some point in the discussion, I talk about oppressors and the oppressed in argumentative contexts. The oppressors weaponize arguments. They say they have demonstrations, proofs, insuperable objections; they say whole groups of people aren’t part of the real debate; they end their books with ‘QED’ as if their arguments are on epistemic par in producing the kind of certainty that mathematical proofs do; they call people who deny natural law theory but accept universalism ‘delusional’. These are the oppressors in these sorts of contexts. I am sticking up for the oppressed, and to do that, sometimes you have to be quite firm and unforgiving. Sometimes you need to give doses of curated snark. That can be a powerful way to stick up for the oppressed.
Thanks for the response.
I appreciate civility, but I guess it just struck me as over-the-top, nearly to the point of insincerity. Of course, this is not to say you *intentionally* do so, but I think it’s a reasonable question given that you have a tendency to get visibly frustrated, exasperated, etc (and justifiably so, in some cases!).
I don’t know how else to say this, but I find the language of oppressor/oppressed here a bit dramatic. I’m a fellow agnostic, and I admit Feser’s bravado and confidence in expressing his views have made me roll my eyes on occasion, but I struggle to see how I’m being ‘oppressed’ by such language, in anything like the ordinary sense of the term. But perhaps I have thick skin, or maybe I’ve bought too much into the “higher-order truths about chmess” perspective.
Anyway, I don’t mean this to be too critical, so I hope it doesn’t come off that way. Congratulations on your book and good luck with your philosophy career!
The language of oppressor/oppressed is certainly hyperbole — I of course don’t mean that those who behave in the manner I described are literally oppressing people, and that people are literally oppressed by such people. It nevertheless accurately captures — metaphorically — harmful/negative dialectical tendencies. We could use other terminology — Eg, we could speak in terms of argument weaponizers, or triumphalists, or etc. rather than oppressors.🙂
Many thanks for the congratulations, and I hope the book serves you well!
“…he’s using arguments that have already been responded to years ago and is either unaware of the responses or intentionally ignoring them [either way is a serious mistake]…”
Intentionally ignoring a response to one’s work in the literature, when writing subsequent work, can very easily not be a mistake at all, let alone a serious mistake. There are a number of very obviously legitimate reasons one might do this:
(1) You’re responding to that criticism elsewhere, but there’s nothing to cite yet.
(2) The criticism isn’t germane to the direction you’re going with this piece.
(3) You know that the responses are bad, and they are either so bad or so misleading that it wouldn’t be beneficial to one’s audience to respond to them.
(4) An adequate response requires technical work that is beyond the ability of your target audience to grasp.
(5) The substance of the response already occurred to you, and you are grappling with that substance in some way, but without citing or referring to the response, because you had the idea first and aren’t taking any ideas from the response.
(6) There are a lot of responses, and you can only response to the 2, 3, or 4 best ones within this word limit.
Yes, requisite caveats apply to my comment there; but the caveats are either very obviously not satisfied w.r.t. Feser’s neglect of Page’s article, or else their satisfaction doesn’t rescue Feser from the charge of making a mistake in his neglect of Page’s article.
Imagine you’re reviewing an article submitted to a journal, and that article attempts to defend the simple (invalid) modal collapse argument. Imagine further that they don’t even cite (!!) your 2019 article. That is obviously a serious flaw with the article, and the author of said article clearly doesn’t get off the hook by saying things like “I’m responding to that elsewhere!”, “that isn’t germane to where I’m going with my piece!”, “that response is so bad that it’s not worth engaging!”, and whatnot. *Even if* these are true, the minimally appropriate thing to do is to reference the 2019 article in a footnote and explain, briefly, why one is not engaging it. To fail to do this is to fail to do one’s due scholarly diligence.
[And it should be noted that most (if not all) of the caveats clearly aren’t satisfied w.r.t. Feser’s neglect of Page’s article. E.g., it’s patently germane and relevant to his central “arguments” against ‘theistic personalism’ he develops in his chapter; Page’s responses are clearly cogent; they’re not at all technical; Feser’s work doesn’t anywhere grapple with the substance of Page’s response; there aren’t lots of responses to Page; a one-sentence-long footnote wouldn’t take him over the word limit; and so on.]