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William Lane Craig

God and Abstract


Objects
The Coherence of Theism: Aseity
God and Abstract Objects
WilliamLaneCraig

God and Abstract Objects


The Coherence of Theism: Aseity
WilliamLaneCraig
Talbot School of Theology
Biola University
La Mirada, CA, USA

Houston Baptist University


Houston, TX, USA

ISBN 978-3-319-55383-2ISBN 978-3-319-55384-9(eBook)


DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-55384-9

Library of Congress Control Number: 2017934646

Springer International Publishing AG 2017


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God sustains in being all intelligible things
as well as all things of a material nature. . . .
He comprehendeth in Himself all of the
intelligible creation, that all things may
remain in existence controlled by His
encompassing power. . . . Does what has
been said leave us any longer in ignorance of
Him who is God over all?
Gregory of Nyssa Against Eunomius II.11
For Robert Adams
With gratitude for your work and example
Preface

This book is the third installment of a long-range research program on the coher-
ence of theism, that is to say, a systematic philosophical analysis of the principal
attributes of God according to classical theism. My first two volumes explored the
divine attributes of omniscience and eternity, respectively. This third volume exam-
ines Gods attribute of aseity or self-existence. God is traditionally conceived to
exist not merely necessarily but independently of anything else and to be the Creator
of everything apart from Himself. The chief challenge to the doctrine of divine
aseity issues from contemporary Platonism, which holds that there are objects, such
as numbers and other mathematical objects, which exist necessarily and indepen-
dently, so that God is not the sole ultimate reality.
I first became aware of the challenge posed by Platonism to classical theism at a
meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers in Milwaukee in 1982, where I
heard Thomas Morris present his remarkable paper Absolute Creation. Although
my previous forays into set theory and philosophy of mathematics had made me
sceptical of the reality of abstract mathematical objects, I had never before appreci-
ated how Platonism struck at the very heart of theism. Moreover, Morris own solu-
tion to the challenge posed by abstract objects to divine aseity seemed to involve a
vicious circularity, which, in my opinion, he struggled vainly to elude. Clearly, here
was a powerful challenge to the coherence of classical theism that I did not know
how to resolve. I put the issue on the back burner until my studies of divine omni-
science and divine eternity were complete and then took up the challenge in
earnest.
Vaguely aware of the tradition of divine conceptualism in Christian theology, I
initially anticipated that I would eventually articulate some sort of conceptualist
solution to Platonisms challenge. What caught me by surprise was the discovery of
the rich cornucopia of anti-realist solutions to the problem. Contemporary Christian
philosophers are to all appearances largely unfamiliar with these options, so that
such viewpoints are virtually never discussed in any depth by writers on divine
aseity. Moreover, these views are often conflated in the literature, and no standard
nomenclature exists for all of these views. This makes it difficult even to discern
clearly the array of options available. Philosophers working in philosophy of

ix
x Preface

athematics, the field where the debate over abstract objects is most vigorously
m
pursued, almost never consider integrating theism into their respective views on
mathematical objects, making the task of theological integration especially chal-
lenging. As my study proceeded, I found myself increasingly attracted to anti-realist
perspectives on abstract objects, relative to which the challenge to divine aseity
simply evaporates or, rather, never appears. I hope in this study to lay out a range of
viable options for the classical theist who is seeking to find a solution to Platonisms
challenge.
One drawback of the embarrassment of riches available for responding to
Platonisms challenge is that I often find it necessary to mention various alternative
viewpoints before those views have been properly introduced. This practice may be
unenlightening to the reader not already familiar with these views. My best solution
to this problem is the perhaps brazen suggestion that the reader, after completing the
book, reread the earlier chapters in light of newly acquired knowledge of the alter-
native views.
I have profited from personal discussion or correspondence with many thinkers
in the pursuit of this study, among whom I wish to thank in particular for their
stimulus and input: Robert Adams, Jody Azzouni, Mark Balaguer, J. T. Bridges,
Jeffrey Brower, Charles Chihara, Paul Copan, Thomas Crisp, Trent Dougherty,
Mark Edwards, Thomas Flint, Paul Gould, Dorothy Grover, Geoffrey Hellman, Paul
Horwich, Ross Inman, Peter van Inwagen, Dennis Jowers, Brian Leftow, Mary
Leng, Christopher Menzel, J. P. Moreland, Thomas Morris, Kenneth Perszyk,
Michael Rea, Maria Reicher-Marek, Theodore Sider, Peter Simons, Alvin Plantinga,
Joshua Rasmussen, Elliott Sober, Robert Thomas, Achille Varzi, Greg Welty,
Edward Wierenga, Dallas Willard, Stephen Yablo, Takashi Yagisawa, and Dean
Zimmerman.
Thanks are due as well to my research assistant Timothy Bayless for procuring
research materials, hunting down references, compiling the bibliography, compiling
the indices, and carrying out other related tasks for me. Finally, as always, I am
grateful to my wife Jan, not only for her help with early portions of the typescript
but even more for her encouragement and interaction.
I have presented portions of my research at meetings of the Society of Biblical
Literature, the Society for Philosophy of Religion, the Society of Christian
Philosophers, the C. S. Lewis Society (Oxford), the Evangelical Philosophical
Society, the American Philosophical Association (Central Division), and the
sterreichische Gesellschaft fr Religionsphilosophie and at philosophical collo-
quia at Texas A&M University, Rutgers University, and Southern Evangelical
Seminary. Earlier versions of my work on the topic of God and abstract objects have
been published as Why Are (Some) Platonists So Insouciant? Philosophy 86
(2011): 21329; A Nominalist Perspective on God and Abstract Objects,
Philosophia Christi 13 (2011): 30518; God and Abstract Objects, in The
Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, ed. Alan Padgett and James
Stump (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pp. 44152; Nominalism and Divine
Aseity, Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 4 (2012): 4364; Propositional
TruthWho Needs It? Philosophia Christi 15 (2013): 35564; Peter van
Preface xi

Inwagen, Substitutional Quantification, and Ontological Commitment, Notre


Dame Journal of Formal Logic 55 (2014): 553561; Divine Self-Existence, in
Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, ed. Daniel D. Novotn and Luk
Novk (London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 26995; Divine Aseity and Abstract
Objects, in Christian Philosophy of Religion: Essays in Honor of Stephen T.Davis,
ed. C.P. Ruloff (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), pp.165
201; and God and Abstract Objects, Philosophia Christi 17 (2015): 26976. I am
grateful for permissions where required.
In the spring of 2015, I had the honor of delivering a semipopular distillation of
the material of this book as the Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham,
UK.An expansion of these lectures has now been published by Oxford University
Press as God Over All: Divine Aseity and the Challenge of Platonism (2016). The
present book offers a more detailed and technical discussion of the issues surveyed
there.

Atlanta, Georgia, USA WilliamLaneCraig


Contents

Part I The Problematic


1 Introduction.............................................................................................. 3
Divine Aseity............................................................................................. 3
Abstract andConcrete Objects................................................................... 6
Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism.................................................. 13
Peter van Inwagen.................................................................................. 14
Bob Hale andCrispin Wright................................................................. 15
Michael Dummett.................................................................................. 21
John Burgess andGideon Rosen............................................................ 24
Concluding Reflections.............................................................................. 26
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 29
2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects................................................. 33
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity......................................... 33
The Witness ofJohn andPaul................................................................ 33
The Witness oftheChurch Fathers........................................................ 57
Perfect Being Theology............................................................................. 70
Conclusion................................................................................................. 72
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 72
3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism...................................... 77
Quines Indispensability Argument............................................................ 79
Naturalism.............................................................................................. 80
The Indispensability Thesis................................................................... 87
The Criterion ofOntological Commitment............................................ 95
Confirmational Holism.......................................................................... 104
Conclusion andTransition......................................................................... 107
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 115

xiii
xiv Contents

Part II Realist Solutions


4 Absolute Creationism.............................................................................. 121
Exposition.................................................................................................. 121
Thomas Morris andChristopher Menzels Modified Platonism............ 121
Hugh McCanns Aristotelianism............................................................ 129
A Vicious Circularity?............................................................................ 132
Assessment................................................................................................. 134
Scope andNature ofCreation................................................................ 134
The Bootstrapping Objection................................................................. 139
Conclusion................................................................................................. 161
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 161
5 Non-platonic Realism............................................................................... 165
Exposition.................................................................................................. 165
James Franklins Physicalism................................................................ 165
Divine Conceptualism............................................................................ 170
Assessment................................................................................................. 191
Arguments forRealism.......................................................................... 191
The Promise ofConceptualism.............................................................. 196
Worries About Conceptualism............................................................... 201
Conclusion................................................................................................. 211
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 211

Part III Anti-realist Solutions


6 Alternative Logics andSemantics.......................................................... 217
Free Logic.................................................................................................. 218
Substitutional Quantification..................................................................... 224
Concluding Remarks.................................................................................. 235
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 236
7 Fictionalism.............................................................................................. 239
Exposition.................................................................................................. 239
Hartry Field andMark Balaguers Fictionalism.................................... 239
Assessment................................................................................................. 243
Obvious Truth ofElementary Mathematics........................................... 243
Indispensability/Applicability ofMathematics...................................... 248
Fictionalism andSelf-Defeat................................................................. 261
Concluding Remarks.................................................................................. 280
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 280
8 Ultima Facie Interpretive Strategies....................................................... 283
Exposition.................................................................................................. 284
Geoffrey Hellmans Modal Structuralism.............................................. 284
Charles Chiharas Constructibilism....................................................... 294
Stephen Yablos Figuralism.................................................................... 302
Contents xv

Assessment................................................................................................. 309
Concluding Remarks.................................................................................. 324
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 325
9 Pretense Theory........................................................................................ 327
Exposition.................................................................................................. 329
Kendall Waltons Theory ofFiction....................................................... 329
Mary Lengs Pretense Theory................................................................ 334
Assessment................................................................................................. 341
Obvious Truth ofMathematics.............................................................. 341
Disanalogy ofMathematics toFiction................................................... 343
Concluding Remarks.................................................................................. 367
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 368
10 Neo-Meinongianism................................................................................. 373
Exposition.................................................................................................. 373
Alexius Meinongs Gegenstandstheorie................................................ 373
Richard Routleys None-ism.................................................................. 377
Assessment................................................................................................. 383
The Ontological Assumption................................................................. 384
The Reference Theory............................................................................ 398
The Independence Thesis....................................................................... 401
Concluding Remarks.................................................................................. 416
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 417
11 Neutralism................................................................................................ 421
Exposition.................................................................................................. 421
Jody Azzounis Deflationary Nominalism............................................. 421
Assessment................................................................................................. 438
Quantification andOntological Commitment........................................ 440
Singular Reference................................................................................. 453
Deflationary Truth.................................................................................. 466
Concluding Remarks.................................................................................. 475
Bibliography.............................................................................................. 476

Part IV Conclusion
12 Concluding Reflections............................................................................ 483

Bibliography..................................................................................................... 489

Index.................................................................................................................. 513

Ancient and Medieval Sources Index............................................................. 537


Part I
The Problematic
Chapter 1
Introduction

Divine Aseity

In a broad sense theology in Christian usage comprises the entire range of Christian
doctrine; but in a narrower sense, which is often called theology proper, theology is
the doctrine of God. An important part of the doctrine of God concerns Gods
nature, or the so-called attributes of God. One of the most fundamental attributes of
God is aseity, that is to say, Gods property of being self-existent. God is said to have
the property of aseity because He exists a se (from or of Himself).
Gods attributes are taken to be Gods essentially defining properties. God does
not merely happen to be self-existent; rather it belongs to His very nature. Thomas
Morris observes that it is a fairly uncontroversial judgment among perfect-being
theologians that aseity is a great-making property or ingredient of perfection.1 It is
unthinkable that God could have been dependent for His existence upon something
else. Nothing so dependent would deserve to be called God. So the fact that God
exists a se would not seem to be a contingent matter.
Minimally speaking, God exists a se if and only if He exists independently of
everything else. Were everything other than God to disappear, God would still exist.
Such a minimalist or thin conception of divine aseity entails that God exists inde-
pendently of anything else in every possible world in which He exists but does not
entail that God exists in every possible world. Gods existing in every possible
world is a function of His attribute of metaphysically necessary existence. On this
minimalist understanding of divine aseity, Gods aseity neither entails nor is entailed
by His necessary existence. But conjoin divine aseity with divine necessity, and we
lay the foundations for a truly great concept of God, a being which eternally exists
in every possible world independently of anything else.

Thomas V. Morris, Metaphysical Dependence, Independence, and Perfection, in Being and


1

Goodness: The Concept of the Good in Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology, ed. Scott
MacDonald (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), p.287.

Springer International Publishing AG 2017 3


W.L. Craig, God and Abstract Objects, DOI10.1007/978-3-319-55384-9_1
4 1Introduction

Indeed, beginning with the tenth century Muslim philosopher al-Frb, philoso-
phers and theologians came to articulate a more robust conception of divine aseity,
according to which Gods essence includes His existence, so that aseity entails
metaphysical necessity and eternality.2 The essences of all other beings are distinct
from their existence, so that God is unique in existing by a necessity of His own
nature. As a Neo-Platonist, Frb believed that the universe is necessary in its exis-
tence because it emanates from God necessarily. Still, the universe and everything
in it do not exist a se because they are dependent upon God for their existence in
every world in which they exist, that is to say, in every possible world. Frb thus
allows for beings which are, as he puts it, possible per se because they do not exist
by a necessity of their own natures, even though they are necessarily existent ab
alio in deriving their existence necessarily from a necessarily existent being.3
Frbs distinction led medieval Christian theologians to distinguish similarly
between a being which has necessity in itself (per se necessarium) and a being
which has a cause of its necessity in another (causam necessitates aliunde).4 Aseity,
then, on this more robust conception, entails but is not entailed by metaphysical
necessity and eternality.
This more robust conception of aseity is epitomized by Anselm of Canterburys
ontological argument. According to Anselm it belongs to the concept of a greatest
conceivable being that it should have existence of its own nature and so could not
fail to exist. God, says Anselm, exists more truly than all other beings and hence in
a higher degree than all others and as the highest of all beings exists through itself
(per seipsum) and creates all other things from nothing.5 As G.W. F.Leibniz saw,
Anselms ontological argument assumes that the idea of such a being is coherent.6
One cannot simply deduce Gods existence from the concept of a maximally great
being. The proper conception of such a maximally great being, in Morris formula-
tion, is the conception of a being whose nature is such that if it is possible, then it
exists in every possible world.7 Although Anselms conception of God and his onto-
logical argument are usually taken to be all about Gods metaphysical necessity,
what Anselm is in fact talking about is, not just Gods necessary existence, but His
aseity. As Frb saw, simply existing in every possible world is not sufficient for
maximal greatness, for a being which is caused to exist in every possible world
enjoys necessary existence but is clearly not maximally great. Only a being which
exists by a necessity of its own nature, independently of anything else, is a candidate
for a maximally great being.

2
For an account see William Lane Craig, The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz,
Library of Philosophy and Religion (London: Macmillan,1980), pp.5960, 7683.
3
Al-Frb, Al-Frbs philosophische Abhandlungen, ed. F.Dieterici (Leiden: Brill, 1890), p.57.
4
Thomas Aquinas Summa theologiae 1.2.3.
5
Anselm Proslogium 3, 5.
6
G.W. F.Leibniz, New Essays concerning the Human Understanding, trans. A.G. Langley, 3d ed.
(LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1949), iv. 10.
7
Thomas V.Morris, review of The Quest for Eternity by J.C. A.Gaskin, Faith and Philosophy 3
(1986): 334.
Divine Aseity 5

Even more expansive formulations of divine aseity were articulated by other


theologians, particularly Reformed theologians, who emphasized that God is inde-
pendent not only in His existence, but in all aspects of His being, such as His knowl-
edge and will.8 Reformed theologys commitment to Gods unilateral election and
predestination of creatures could be rooted in His complete independence of crea-
tures. Petrus van Mastricht, for example, treated Gods aseity as fundamental and
derives Gods unity, immutability, infinity, simplicity, intellect, will, and omnipo-
tence from it.
For Reformed theologians, as for Anselm and Frb, divine aseity is an incom-
municable divine attribute. God alone exists a se; everything else exists ab alio.
Again, this is not a contingent matter. To suggest that in some other possible world
God finds Himself confronted with some independently existing being, uncreated
by Him, would impugn Gods power and majesty.9 The doctrine of divine aseity is
thus closely correlated with the Christian doctrine of creation. For, necessarily,
everything other than God derives its being from God, who is the only self-existent
being. God is, therefore, to borrow Brian Leftows helpful phrase, the sole ultimate
reality,10 the apex of the pyramid of being, as it were.
Leftow takes Gods being the sole ultimate reality to imply that God is the
Source of All that is outside Him, which he explicates as follows:
(GSA): For all x, if x is not God, a part, aspect, or attribute of God , God makes the creat-
ing ex nihilo sort of causal contribution to xs existence as long as x exists.11

This seemingly innocuous explication raises difficult metaphysical questions. Are


parts, aspects, and attributes actually things? That is to say, if God refrains from
creation, then is there just one thing, God, that exists, or is there a plurality of
things? If we say that Gods parts, aspects, and attributes are not really existent
things, then Leftows exceptions to creatio ex nihilo are unnecessary, and we can
say simply that God has created everything other than God Himself. But if we
ascribe to Gods parts, aspects, and attributes such positive ontological status that
they are things in addition to God, then it becomes crucial that we understand just
what these entities are. For example, if we adopt an Aristotelian account of proper-
ties as immanent universals, then it could be plausibly thought that such immanent
things need not be created by God but exist a se along with God. But if properties
are Platonic entities which are in God only in the sense that God stands in the
exemplifies relation to them, then they are outside God or apart from God in such
a way that to ascribe aseity to them and exempt them from creation is, as Leftow

8
See Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Grand Rapids,
Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003), pp.23340.
9
See Brian Leftow, God and Necessity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp.41213, who
points out that the more central and prominent an attribute is in the Biblical picture of God, the
stronger the case for taking it to be necessary to being God. . . . If creating everything is prominent
and central in the Biblical account, we have as good a reason to take creating everything as a
requisite as we do in any other case, such as being omniscient or being omnipotent.
10
Leftow, God and Necessity, pp.35.
11
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.20.
6 1Introduction

himself recognizes, theologically unacceptable. The notion of things existing out-


side or apart from God is intuitive but very difficult to explicate, so that it may be
preferable just to deny that parts, aspects, and attributes of God are, strictly speak-
ing, things. Part of the motivation for a metaontological criterion of ontological
commitment is the desire to have clear answers to such difficult questions. In the
sequel we shall be occupied with just such questions.
The doctrine of divine aseity in any of its various formulations faces a significant
challenge from the philosophy of Platonism. Although contemporary Platonism is
vastly different from Platos own philosophy, they are united in affirming that there
exist uncreated entities apart from God which are necessary and eternal in their
being. Plato spoke of them as transcendent Forms or Ideas; contemporary Platonists
call them abstract objects. Because it postulates the existence of beings which are
independent of God, the metaphysical worldview of Platonism is fundamentally at
odds with the metaphysics of classical theism.12 In the next chapter I shall say some-
thing more in detail about the basis for the affirmation that God alone exists a se;
here I want to introduce contemporary Platonism.

Abstract andConcrete Objects

It is commonplace among metaphysicians to draw a fundamental distinction


between concrete and abstract objects. One prominent metaphysician goes so far as
to say that even the difference between God and creatures pales in comparison to the
difference between abstract and concrete objects.13 And yet, just how to draw the

12
I am well aware of the irony that because of its postulation of independent, immaterial objects
many naturalists are equally convinced that the metaphysical worldview of Platonism is funda-
mentally at odds with the metaphysics of naturalism. See, for example, the intriguing discussion in
the German journal Erwgen 17/3 (2006), which is entirely devoted to the question of the compat-
ibility of naturalism and mathematical Platonism. In the principal essay by Bernulf Kanitscheider,
Naturalismus und logisch-mathematische Grundlagenprobleme, pp. 32538, Kanitscheider
naively claims that Quines holism somehow solves the problem, prompting an incredulous
Michael Dummetts response, This philosophy of mathematics is highly unconvincing, because
there is no such thing as revising a mathematical theory, at least not in response to a conflict
between scientific theory and observation. . . . Mathematics is a rock upon which naturalism found-
ers (Michael Dummett, Naturalism and the Philosophy of Mathematics, Erwgen 17/3 [2006]:
346). In his Natur und Zahl: Die Mathematisierbarkeit der Welt (Berlin: Springer Verlag, 2013),
esp. chap. 17, Kanitscheider continues to struggle with the compatibility of his materialistic natu-
ralism and mathematical objects, toying with the solution of a vaguely characterized Aristotelianism.
See further J.P. Moreland, Naturalism and the Ontological Status of Properties, in Naturalism:
A Critical Analysis, ed. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Routledge Studies in Twentieth-
century Philosophy 5 (London: Routledge, 2000), pp.67109. For more on Quines holism, see
Chap. 3, pp.1047.
13
Peter van Inwagen, A Theory of Properties, in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 1, ed. Dean
Zimmerman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), pp.11011. Elsewhere he affirms that only the dif-
ference between Creator and creature is greater than the difference between abstract and concrete
things (Peter van Inwagen, Being, Existence, and Ontological Commitment, in Metametaphysics:
Abstract andConcrete Objects 7

lines of that distinction remains very controversial. Concrete objects are familiar
and all around us, but abstract objects have a sort of ethereal quality about them.
Although Plato regarded his Forms as more real than worldly things, the modern use
of the word abstract connotes a sort of derivation from a richer reality. As David
Lewis has written,
abstract entities are abstractions from concrete entities. They result from somehow subtract-
ing specificity, so that an incomplete description of the original concrete entity would be a
complete description of the abstraction. This, I take it, is the historically and etymologically
correct thing to mean if we talk of abstract entities.14

Properties would seem to be a prime example of an abstraction: one subtracts every-


thing but the desired feature of an object to arrive at, for example, its shape or color.
But other commonly identified abstract objects, for example, sets or functions, do
not seem to fit this pattern. Lewis thus recognizes that in contemporary discussion,
the term abstract is no longer used in the etymological sense. But then what is an
abstract object if not an abstraction?
It is difficult to say. Many philosophers seem to have given up the task of enun-
ciating a criterion for distinguishing abstract from concrete objects, preferring sim-
ply to point to paradigmatic examples of each.15 For example, material objects of
various sorts, along with persons, are universally recognized as concrete objects, if
they are objects at all. By contrast mathematical objects such as numbers and sets,
along with propositions, properties, and possible worlds, are typically taken to be
abstracta, if they exist. To be sure, there are realist construals of such entities
according to which they are concrete objects, but even in such cases the proponents
of these views recognize clearly that they are offering an alternative to construing
these objects as abstract. For example, someone who takes mathematical objects to

New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology, ed. David Chalmers, David Manley, and Ryan
Wasserman [Oxford: Clarendon, 2009], p.477).
14
David Lewis, On the Plurality of Worlds (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), pp. 856. Peter Simons
explains,
In abstraction the attributes [of concreta] are partitioned into two classes: those which are
retained, selected, or abstracted and those which are rejected, overlooked, or abstracted
from. The end product or output is a new object, the abstractum, lacking the rejected attri-
butes but inheriting the retained (or closely related) ones (Handbook of Metaphysics and
Ontology, 2 vols., ed. Hans Burkhardt and Barry Smith [Munich: Philosophia Verlag,
1991], s.v. Abstraction, by Peter M.Simons).

On Platonism, Simons observes, abstracta pre-exist, rather than are created through, abstraction.
15
See, e.g., Wolfgang Knne, Criteria of Abstractness, in Parts and Moments, ed. B. Smith
(Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 1982), p.432. In order to accommodate things like the Equator or the
center of mass of the solar system, Knne actually wants to introduce a third kind of object which
depends for its existence on concrete entities. While one can sympathize with the motivation, this
move would force us to regard impure sets as not abstract, which seems mistaken. Better to recog-
nize that on Platonic realism there can be both dependent as well as independent abstracta.
Timothy Williamsons necessitism requires the postulation of a third kind of object as well, objects
which are only contingently concrete. See Chap. 10, pp.3901. Rather than posit such strange
objects, I think it preferable to reject necessitism.
8 1Introduction

be mere marks on paper understands that he is taking such objects to be concrete


and that his view therefore differs from that of thinkers who take them to be abstract.
The difference between abstract and concrete thus remains understood even when
specific examples are disputed. Usually, discussion of the reality of abstract objects
is able to proceed on the basis of shared examples without a clear delineation
between concrete and abstract. Indeed, the adequacy of any proposed criterion for
delineating abstract and concrete objects will have to be judged by how well it
accords with these paradigmatic examples.
Still, if the distinction between abstract and concrete objects is so fundamental,
there ought to be some distinguishing traits of such objects, and everyone would
welcome the clarity such a delineation would bring to the ontological debate over
abstract objects. So one ought to make a serious effort to discover what objectively
distinguishes abstract from concrete objects.
There is a temptation among contemporary philosophers to identify concrete
objects with material objects, but that inclination is probably a result of their implicit
naturalism, not any conceptual necessity with respect to concrete objects. If souls or
angels do exist, they indisputedly fall in the class of concrete objects, not abstract
objects, even though they are immaterial entities, for they, like material entities,
have causal powers and produce causal effects on other concrete objects. Therefore,
one cannot justifiably take the distinction between concrete and abstract to be the
distinction between material and immaterial.
It is frequently asserted that an object is concrete just in case it is spatio-temporal
and that therefore any existing entity which is not spatio-temporal is an abstract
object. But again, this cannot be right, for God has traditionally been taken to tran-
scend space and time, if He exists, and yet is a paradigmatic example of a concrete
object, being a personal agent capable of effecting things in the world.16
Perhaps that provides a clue to the distinction between concrete and abstract enti-
ties. It is virtually universally agreed that abstract objects, if they exist, are causally
impotent and so do not stand in causal relations as causes to effects. Numbers, for
example, cannot effect anything. Their causal impotence serves to distinguish
abstract objects from entities which just happen to be causally isolated in our world,
but which could have had effects, and from God, who could have refrained from

16
Greg Welty notes that Jerrold Katz, Joshua Hoffman and Gary Rosenkrantz, and Jaegwon Kim
all recognize that the counter-example of God ruins the criterion of non-spatio-temporality (Greg
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism: The Case for Interpreting Abstract Objects as Divine Ideas
[D.Phil. thesis, Oxford University, 2006], pp.1214). The relevant references are Jerrold Katz,
Realistic Rationalism (London: MIT Press, 1998), p.128; Joshua Hoffman and Gary S.Rosenkrantz,
Substance among Other Categories (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp.1823;
Jaegwon Kim, The Role of Perception in A Priori Knowledge: Some Remarks, Philosophical
Studies 40 (1981): 348. Welty recognizes that non-spatio-temporality plus acausality does furnish
an extensionally adequate criterion for the ontological distinction between abstract and concrete
objects, even though he takes propositions, properties, and so on to be concrete objects, viz., divine
thoughts. They are merely functioning as abstract objects; that is to say, they play the roles nor-
mally assigned to abstract objects.
Abstract andConcrete Objects 9

creating and so have stood in no causal relations.17 More than that, their causal
impotence seems to be an essential feature of abstract objects. The number 7, for
example, does not just happen by accident to lack causal powers; it seems incon-
ceivable that 7 could possess causal powers. Hence, there is no possible world in
which 7 could effect something.
The causal impotence of abstract objects implies that they have no causal powers
whatsoever. They are utterly effete. This fact entails that they are unextended and
immaterial, lest they come into contact with other objects and so affect them. It is
less clear that they must also be non-spatio-temporal and therefore immutable.
Numbers certainly seem to be non-spatio-temporal and immutable, but for proposi-
tions the story may be quite different. Many philosophers would say that proposi-
tions, unlike sentences, have no tense and so have their truth-values immutably,
even if contingently. Propositions could thus exist beyond space and time. But other
philosophers disagree, arguing that the propositions expressed by tensed sentences
can change their truth value. For example, the proposition expressed by the sentence
George W.Bush is the President of the United States was false during the Clinton
presidency but became true in 2001 at Bushs inauguration and reverted to being
false when Obama was inaugurated in 2009. If truth and falsity are intrinsic proper-
ties of propositions, then such propositions are not immutable and must exist in
time, if not in space.
Or again, the story concerning properties also seems different from that of num-
bers. Properties raise the age-old dispute concerning what medieval thinkers called
universals. For unlike particulars, properties do not seem to be confined to a specific
place. To illustrate, if we have a ball existing at a certain time, it occupies a specific
spatial location. If it occupied two distinct spatial locations at that time, then we
should have two balls, not one ball. But properties are often construed to be differ-
ent. For suppose two balls in different locations have simultaneously the same
shape. In that case they each have the same property, namely, being spherical. They
cannot be said to have different properties in this respect, or they would differ in
shape, which ex hypothesi they do not. Thus, the same property exists at the same
time in two distinct spatial locations. Moreover, the property exists wholly in those
two places simultaneously. That is precisely why properties are called universals. If
they really exist, they have, at least on the usual account, the bizarre property of
existing wholly in two distinct places at the same time. But in that case, properties
do seem to exist in space and time. Even if we try to avoid this conclusion by saying
that properties themselves are non-spatio-temporal, but that their instantiations or
instances are in space and time, we still seem saddled with saying that properties
can acquire and lose the property of being exemplified. In other words, they are
mutable with respect to exemplification, just as propositions are with respect to
truth-value. Thus, properties also seem to be temporal entities.

Even on the Thomistic account of God, according to which God as an absolutely simple entity
17

has no real relations with creatures, it remains the case that creatures do have real relations to God
and so are effected by Him, which would be impossible were God an abstract object.
10 1Introduction

While all abstract objects are causally impotent and immaterial, some of them
thus have potentialities and are arguably even mutable and temporal in their being.
Nonetheless, it might be thought that all abstract objects are metaphysically neces-
sary in their existence. While numbers, propositions, and properties do seem to have
this modal status, philosophers eager to affirm artistic creativity insist that abstract
objects like musical and literary compositions are genuine creations of their human
authors. On the other hand, since all sequences of notes or words seem to exist nec-
essarily, human authors might be said to be the discoverers, not the inventors, of
their works. In other cases, the metaphysical necessity of abstracta seems less plau-
sible: the Equator, for example, though abstract, seems clearly contingent in its
being and incapable of existing independently of the Earth. And what about sets,
which are usually taken to be paradigm examples of abstract objects? Since sets are
defined to have their members essentially, sets which have contingent objects among
their members do not exist in worlds in which any of their members fail to exist.
Thus, sets, if they exist, would be an exception to the rule that abstract objects have
necessary existence. Abstract objects, though plausibly all causally effete and
immaterial, thus come in a bewildering variety. Such objects, if they exist, are
extremely queer entities, and we might well still find ourselves unclear as to what
these things really are.
Although the criterion of essential causal inertness is widely accepted as satisfac-
tory for distinguishing abstract from concrete objects, dissenting voices, as one
would expect, are raised. Both Gideon Rosen and Gary Rosenkrantz, for example,
find the causal inefficacy criterion unsatisfactory because they restrict the causal
relation exclusively to events.18 Rosenkrantz observes that the criterion would there-
fore imply that substances are not concrete objects. Even if we allow substances to
be involved in events, Rosenkrantz and Rosen still worry that we do not know what
it is for an object to participate in an event. The challenge, Rosen says, is to charac-
terize the distinctive manner of participation in the causal order which serves to
distinguish concrete from abstract objects. These worries may merely underline the
inappropriateness of restricting causes exclusively to events. We can allow event/
event causation on the criterion without denying that substances are causes as well.19
In any case, what distinguishes concrete from abstract objects even in event/event
causation is that concrete objects contribute to the event by exercising their causal
powers whereas abstract objects are utterly effete and so do nothing.
Although Rosen admits that there are no decisive, intuitive counterexamples to
the causal inefficacy criterion, Rosenkrantz claims that facts are abstract entities

18
Gary Rosenkrantz, Concrete/abstract, in A Companion to Metaphysics, ed. Jaegwon Kim and
Ernest Sosa, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy 7 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), pp. 901;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Abstract Objects, by Gideon Rosen (19 July 2010,
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abstract-objects/.
19
For a defense of Francisco Suarezs view of substances as causes and a favorable comparison to
rival accounts of causation, see Alfred J.Freddoso, Introduction: Suarez on Metaphysical Inquiry,
Efficient Causality, and Divine Action, in Francisco Suarez, On Creation, Conservation, and
Concurrence: Metaphysical Disputations 20, 21, and 22, trans. with Notes by Alfred J.Freddoso
(South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustines Press, 2002), xliiilxxiii.
Abstract andConcrete Objects 11

which can nevertheless be causes and effects. But if a fact is to be abstract, it must
be something like a true proposition or a state of affairs which obtains or is actual.
Such entities do not seem to be causally efficacious, which is in line with the
criterion.20
Bob Hale expresses four misgivings about what he calls the acausality criterion:
(i) causality is based on categorical properties, so the acausality of abstract objects
is based on something else in terms of which the distinction should be drawn; (ii)
abstract objects may be granted not to cause change, but they can perhaps be sub-
jects of change; (iii) maybe abstract objects can bring about change; and (iv) it is
undesirable to beg the question against those who hold that abstract objects may be
objects of non-sensory intellectual intuition.21 It is immediately obvious that Hales
(ii) and (iv) are not relevant to the criterion as I have explained it. The problem with

20
Rosenkrantzs own proposal aims to define concrete objects, leaving abstract objects to be any-
thing that is non-concrete (Rosenkrantz, Concrete/abstract, pp.912). Differentiating different
levels in a hierarchy of ontological categories, Rosenkrantz places the categories abstract and
concrete at the second level of generality and below them at the third level categories which are the
various kinds of concreta and abstracta, such as property, relation, proposition, event, and so on.
Assuming that there is a plurality of irreducible categories of concrete and abstract objects at the
third level, Rosenkrantz offers the following definition:
x is concrete = df. x instantiates a level 3 category which possibly has an instance having
spatial or temporal parts.

Rosenkrantzs strange criterion fails to differentiate clearly and accurately between abstract and
concrete objects. For paradigmatic examples of concrete and abstract objects can both belong to
the same third level category. For example, if we take a substance to be an object that is the subject
of predicables but is not itself predicable of other things, then many abstract objects like numbers,
structures, works of literature and music, theoretical entities of science, fictional characters, and so
on, are substances, which according to Rosenkrantz, is a third level category. But, then, since they
belong to a category which possibly has (other) instances with spatial and temporal parts, namely,
concrete objects, these objects count as concrete! Moreover, even if we resist the inclusion of cer-
tain kinds of abstract objects under the category of substance, paradigmatic abstract objects like
propositions and properties still turn out to be concrete objects because those categories possibly
have instances with temporal parts, since propositions and properties can undergo intrinsic change,
respectively, in their truth value or exemplification relations over time.
21
Bob Hale, Abstract Objects, Philosophical Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), pp.478.
Hales own proposal is that the abstract/concrete distinction is, roughly, a distinction between those
sortal terms whose grounding relations can hold between things which are spatially separated at
time t and those whose grounding relations cannot so hold (Ibid., p.59). His criterion illustrates, I
think, the unsatisfactory nature of approaching a metaphysical question from the standpoint of the
so-called linguistic turn in philosophy. What we want to understand is the difference between
abstract and concrete objects, not abstract and concrete (singular) terms. To get to ontology, we
should have to add to Hales account that abstract objects are objects which can be referred to by
abstract terms and concrete objects those which can be referred to by concrete terms. But even then
we are left completely in the dark about the contrasting natures of abstract and concrete objects.
And we have no way of discerning the relevant grounding relations in every case. Hales is, at best,
merely an epistemic criterion aimed at helping us distinguish abstract from concrete objects, not
an ontological account serving to differentiate abstract from concrete objects.
Hale states his criterion more precisely:
F is an abstract sortal iff, for any (equivalence) relation R that grounds F, either
12 1Introduction

(iii) is its ambiguity. Thomas Flint claims to have discerned twelve different mean-
ings of bring about in the philosophical literature, only one of which designates
the causal relation.22 So bringing about can be consistent with acausality. Finally,
what about (i)? This misgiving does not really deny that applying the criterion will
satisfactorily divide abstract from concrete objects. But in that case, whatever the
roots of acausality, the criterion is successful in its intended function. Hales is
really a complaint about the explanatory adequacy of the criterion: he wants a
deeper, metaphysical account of why abstract objects fail to stand as causes in rela-
tions with other things. He does not explain why it is mandatory that such a meta-
physical account should treat causality as reducible to categorical properties. The
reason that abstract objects are not causes is prima facie that they have no powers.
Hale himself eschews a reductive requirement with respect to modality; why not
also causal powers? But if we do want to suggest an explanation for why abstract
objects have no powers, a plausible answer is that it is because they are essentially
immaterial and impersonal. Their immateriality precludes their impinging on any
physical reality so as to affect it. Because they are not persons, like God or minds,
they lack the active power of agents to do things. They are, then, neither physical
nor spiritual substances. It is plausible, at least, that only physical and spiritual sub-
stances have causal powers. As a result, abstract objects are utterly effete.
I shall take their causal impotence, then, to be a distinguishing feature of abstract
objects. Fortunately, not much, if anything, will hang on the adequacy of this crite-
rion for our present study, since, as we shall see, it is not really their abstractness, or

(i) R cannot hold between spatially located items at all, or


(ii) R can hold between things which are spatially but not temporally separated.

What does it mean that R grounds F? Hale explains that an equivalence relation R grounds a sortal
F iff for any statement of identity between F-denoting terms, there is a statement that R holds
among certain things, the truth of which is necessary and sufficient for the truth of that statement
of F-identity. For example, the sortal term direction is grounded by the relation of parallelism
between lines because the direction of a = the direction of b iff a is parallel to b. Now this relation
does not meet condition (i); but it does fulfill condition (ii), since two simultaneously existing,
spatially separated things can be parallel. Therefore, direction is an abstract sortal term.
The opaqueness of Hales account of the abstract/concrete distinction becomes evident when
we reflect that no criterion is given for being concrete. Unlike Rosenkrantzs account, Hales
account does not take concrete and abstract to be exhaustive. Consider the sortal term object.
Take a statement of identity between two object-denoting terms, such as 3 and 9. 3 = 9
iff 3 is the same object as 9 provides a grounding relation R for object. R can hold between
spatially located items, for example, Hesperus and Phosphorus, but it cannot hold between simul-
taneously existing, spatially separated things. Therefore, object is not an abstract sortal. But
neither is it a concrete sortal. It is a neutral term while can be used of either numbers or cows. So
what is it to be a concrete object? Hales account tells us nothing.
What is wanted, then, is not a way for us to distinguish abstract from concrete terms but an
ontological account differentiating between abstract and concrete objects. The causal inefficacy
criterion, indicted by Hale as metaphysically deficient, is, in contrast to Hales own criterion, far
more elucidating metaphysically in separating abstract from concrete objects.
22
Thomas P. Flint, The Varieties of Accidental Necessity, in Reason, Metaphysics, and Mind:
New Essays on the Philosophy of Alvin Plantinga, ed. Kelly James Clark and Michael Rea (New
York: Oxford, 2012), note 12.
Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism 13

even the necessity and eternality of certain abstracta, that is problematic for the
doctrine of divine aseity; rather it is, fundamentally, their uncreatability that pre-
cludes Gods being the sole ultimate reality. Whether an object is abstract or con-
crete, if it is uncreatable, its existence is incompatible with Gods being the sole
ultimate reality.

Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism

Platonists believe in the reality of abstract objects, while those who deny their real-
ity may be referred to as anti-Platonists. This eponymous terminology, though
opaque, is a less misleading way of framing the debate over abstract objects than the
differentiation between realists and anti-realists. For there are realist views of math-
ematical objects, possible worlds, properties, and so on which are anti-Platonist, as
we shall see. Anti-Platonists thus comprise both realists and anti-realists about these
various objects. Anti-realism about mathematical objects and their ilk is usually
referred to as nominalism; but again, this terminology can be quite misleading. The
word nominalism is used to denote quite different positions in two distinct philo-
sophical debates.23 The first is the age-old dispute over universals, nominalism
being the position that there are no universals. The second concerns a very recent
debate, centered in the philosophy of mathematics, which has arisen only since
Gottlob Freges Foundations of Arithmetic (1884).24 In this debate nominalism is the
position that abstract objects like numbers do not exist. A nominalist in the context
of the first debate is not necessarily a nominalist in the context of the second, and
vice versa.25 Moreover, the label nominalism has negative connotations in the his-
tory of theology as a result of its use in the first debate that are entirely foreign to
nominalism in the second debate, which is largely a twentieth century development
that has become widely discussed only since Hartry Fields publication of his

23
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v., Nominalism in Metaphysics, by Gonzalo Rodriguez-
Pereyra, 20 July 2011, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nominalism-metaphysics/; see also Uwe
Meixner, Einfhrung in die Ontologie, 2d ed. (Darmstadt: WBG, 2004), p.87; Steven J.Wagner,
Prospects for Platonism, in Benacerraf and His Critics, ed. Adam Morton and Stephen P.Stich
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p. 74. To complicate matters even more, the medieval debate over
universals, according to Brower, is significantly different than the contemporary debate over uni-
versals (Jeffrey E. Brower, Aquinas on the Problem of Universals, Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research 92/3 [2015]: 71535).
24
Burgess and Rosen esteem present day nominalism hardly to date back before Nelson Goodman
and so to have no connection with medieval nominalism (John P.Burgess and Gideon Rosen, A
Subject with No Object [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997], p.18).
25
For example, an advocate of class nominalism is committed to the reality of abstract objects, viz.,
classes, which precludes his being a nominalist so far as the second debate goes; and someone who
holds to a view of immanent universals as concrete counts as a nominalist in the second debate but
is not a nominalist in the context of the first. For a nice survey of nominalist views in the context
of the first debate, see D.M. Armstrong, Universals and Scientific Realism, Vol. 1: Nominalism
and Realism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pt. II.
14 1Introduction

ground-breaking book Science without Numbers (1980). So as not to mislead I shall


use the label anti-realism to designate any view according to which mathematical
objects and the like do not exist. My preferred terminology will enable us to distin-
guish clearly between realism, arealism, and anti-realism about certain putatively
abstract objects. It makes clear, for example, that anti-Platonism should not be
equated with anti-realism, since there are realist as well as anti-realist forms of anti-
Platonism on offer.
Still, a major terminological ambiguity of decisive significance for our study
remains. For the word Platonism is used to characterize positions having vastly
different ontologies. There are two very different Platonisms on offer today. Let us
look at some representatives of each.

Peter van Inwagen

Some Platonists like Peter van Inwagen agonize over the metaphysical commit-
ments which their Platonism brings. Van Inwagen confesses,
I am happy to admit that I am uneasy about believing in the existence of causally irrele-
vant objects. The fact that abstract objects, if they exist, can be neither causes or [sic]
effects is one of the many features of abstract objects that make nominalism so attractive. I
should very much like to be a nominalist, but I dont see how to be one 26

In contrast with certain more sanguine Platonists, van Inwagen thinks that we should
reject Platonism if we can: It would be better not to believe in abstract objects if we
could get away with it.27 For it is very puzzling that objects should fall into two so
radically different and exclusive categories as abstract and concrete.
The Platonist must think of objects, of what there is, as falling into two exclusive and
exhaustive categories, the abstract and the concrete. If x falls into one of these categories
and y into the other, then no two things could be more different than x and y. According to
orthodox Christian theology, no two concrete things could differ more than God and an
inanimate object. But (assuming for the sake of the illustration that all three things exist) the
differences between God and this pen pale into insignificance when they are compared with
the differences between this pen and the number 4; indeed, the number seems no more like
the pen than like God. The difference between any abstract object and any concrete object
would seem to be the maximum difference any two objects could display.28

It would be much more appealing, says van Inwagen, to suppose that one of the
categories is empty. But concrete objects are indisputably real and well-understood,

26
Peter van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated Things, in Metaphysics and God, ed. Kevin
Timpe (London: Routledge, 2009), p. 19; similarly, Peter van Inwagen, Dispensing with
Ontological Levels: an Illustration, Disputatio 6 (2014): 36. In so saying, van Inwagen is echoing
Quine: I should like to be able to accept nominalism (Willard Van Orman Quine, Nominalism,
[March 11, 1946] Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 4, ed. Dean Zimmerman [Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2008], p.6).
27
Van Inwagen, Theory of Properties, p.107.
28
Ibid., pp.11011.
Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism 15

in contrast to abstract objects. So we should presume that abstract objects do not


exist. Nominalism of some sort is thus the default position. Indeed, van Inwagen
believes, one should not believe in abstract objects unless one feels rationally com-
pelled by some weighty consideration or argument. . . . my conclusion is that a
philosopher should wish not to be a Platonist if its rationally possible for the
informed philosopher not to be a Platonist.29 Van Inwagens Platonism is thus a sort
of agonistic Platonism embraced only with great reluctance and struggle.
By contrast many other Platonists are much more cavalier about postulating the
existence of such radically unfamiliar objects. Theirs is an insouciant Platonism.
They do not seem at all troubled by affirming the existence of such objects. Consider
three examples.

Bob Hale andCrispin Wright

Bob Hale and Crispin Wright have defended a neo-Fregean view of abstract objects
which they call Abstractionism. The view is so-named because of the crucial role
played by so-called abstraction principles of the form (a) (b) ((a) = (b) E(a,
b)), where a and b are variables of a given kind, is a term-forming operator
denoting a function from items of the given kind to objects in the range of the first-
order variables, and E is an equivalence relation over items of the given kind. The
principles explain the truth conditions of certain -identities as coinciding with the
truth conditions of an equivalence statement which we already understand. For
example, the direction of a = the direction of b iff a is parallel to b. The left-hand
side of this biconditional involves reference to abstract objects, namely, directions,
even though the right-hand side makes no mention of such entities. The appearance
of such abstract objects, as if by magic, has led some ontologists to suggest that
Wright and Hale subscribe, or should subscribe, to either quantifier variance,
according to which the first-order existential quantifier has more than one meaning
(one ontologically committing and another not), or to maximalism, according to
which everything possible actually exists.30 Hale and Wright, however, repudiate
such interpretations of their view.31 They concede, If it looks as if the truth of
abstraction principles may turn on substantial metaphysical hostages, or as if there
are special problems about knowing that they are true, or can be stipulated to be
true, this appearance needs to be disarmed before the abstractionist can expect much
sympathy for his proposals.32 Wright and Hale, however, insist that no metaphysi-

29
Ibid., p.107.
30
Theodore Sider, Neo-Fregeanism and Quantifier Variance, Aristotelian Society Supplementary
Volume 81 (2007): 20132; Matti Eklund, Neo-Fregean Ontology, Philosophical Perspectives 20
(2006): 95121.
31
Bob Hale and Crispin Wright, The Metaontology of Abstraction, in Metametaphysics,
pp.1816.
32
Ibid., p.192.
16 1Introduction

cal assistance is needed in defense of their principles. There is no metaphysical


hostage to redeem. A (good) abstraction itself has the resources to close off the
alleged (epistemic metaphysical) possibility [that the denoted abstracts do not
exist]. . . . the truth of the right-hand side of an instance of a good abstraction is
conceptually sufficient for the truth of the left. There is no gap for metaphysics to
plug, and in that sense no metaontology to supply.33 This view of the matter, they
muse, is essential not only to abstractionism but also to the quantifier variantist
rescue of abstractionism. Quantifier variance ensures the conservation of truth
conditions right to left across the biconditional by taking the right-hand side to be
sufficient for existential generalizations of the left-hand side at a purely conceptual
level, without collateral metaphysical assumption.34 This is a thesis about what
meaningsconceptsthere are, not about the World of the metaphysician.35 If the
metaphysician spurns this minimalist conception of objects and singular refer-
ence, they warn, then he will have to deny that abstractions can ever be said to be
stipulatively true.36
It remains quite unclear just to what sort of ontology Wright and Hale think
themselves committed by singular reference to abstract objects. Elsewhere Hale
differentiates sharply between objects in the ordinary sense and objects in the pecu-
liarly Fregean sense relevant to their view. For Frege, Hale explains, objects consti-
tute one category of entities alongside others, like concepts (properties), relations,
and functions. Objects are complete entities, while concepts, relations, and func-
tions are incomplete entities. Hale says that this categorization of non-linguistic
entities presupposes a prior, logical categorization of types of linguistic expressions
into singular terms and various incomplete expressions, like predicates. In Hales
view we have little insight into the nature of these non-linguistic entities apart from
the linguistic expressions which distinguish them: there is no fully general expla-
nation of what it is to be an entity of one of those types save by reference to the type
of expressions of which entities of that type are the non-linguistic correlates.37 An
object, then, just seems to be the potential referent of a singular term: To be an
object, in the sense intended, is just to be the sort of thing that can be referred to by
means of a singular term38 Indeed, in Hales view once one understands that
some expression is functioning as a singular term and one understands what is being
referred to, it makes no sense to ask whether the referent is an object: It is, in con-
sequence, simply unintelligible to suppose that someone fully equipped with the
relevant notions of object, property, etc., might understand a certain expression, and
know which entity it stood for, and yet be in serious doubt about whether that entity
is, say, an object or not.39 On this view it would seem fair to say that the weather,

33
Ibid., p.193.
34
Ibid., p.194.
35
Ibid.
36
Ibid., p.209.
37
Hale, Abstract Objects, p.3.
38
Ibid., pp.34.
39
Ibid., p.4; cf. Hale and Wright, Metaontology of Abstraction, p.207.
Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism 17

for example, is an object, since it may be referred to in true sentences like Today
the weather in Atlanta will be stormy.
Now lest we have reservations about including the weather in our ontological
inventory as an existent object, Hale hastens to add that it is crucial that it is the
Fregean notion of object that is at issue here. Even if something is an object in the
peculiarly Fregean sense, we might still wonder, he says, whether it is an object in
the common use of that word. Hale gives the example of a perforated sheet of post-
age stamps. One might wonder whether the singular term the third from the left in
the fourth row refers to an object in the ordinary sense of that word. But anyone
who understands this expression cannot doubt that it refers to an object in the
Fregean sense if it refers to anything at all. It seems to be a conceptual truth that the
referent of a singular term is an object in the Fregean sense. Even though Frege uses
object (Gegenstand) to distinguish certain entities from other entities like con-
cepts, relations, and functions, Hale emphasizes that the Fregean use of the word is,
in contrast to the common use of object, not a sortal term at all (not even a very
general one).
Now if abstract objects are just the referents of certain abstract singular terms but
not objects in the ordinary sense of the word, it is far from clear, I think, what the
affirmation that abstract objects exist really amounts to ontologically. Hale avers,
If it is taken as invoking the everyday notion of object, the question whether there are
abstract objects is devoid of philosophical interest; its answer is quite certainly that there are
not, but that is triviala great many kinds of thing beside those whose title to be recognized
as abstract objects has been taken seriously by philosophers fail to count as objects in that
sense. Vague though the common notion is, it is evidently outrageous to suggest that num-
bers, classes, directions and shapes, say, are objects in that sense. But the same goes for
hurricanes, speeches (i.e., the actual historical events) and holes in the ground.40

Hales disclaimers are puzzling, in large part because it is difficult to understand the
distinction he insists on between objects in the ordinary sense and objects in his
Fregean sense. Hale does not explain what the ordinary sense of object is, other
than to say that the word is a sortal term, in contrast to Freges usage. This is not
very helpful, since object, concept, relation, and function do, in fact, seem
to be functioning for Frege as sortal terms used to classify various entities.41
So what is the difference between Fregean objects and objects in the ordinary
sense? The most help we get from Hale is the contrast of ordinary objects with

40
Hale, Abstract Objects, p.4; cf. the last paragraph on p.26.
41
Chihara notes that The classical Logicists, Frege and Russell, thought that there was some onto-
logically (or logically) basic totalityobjects for Frege and individuals for Russellthat the
lowest level variables were supposed to range over, a view which he finds widely doubted in
contemporary Anglo-American philosophy (Charles S.Chihara, Constructibility and Mathematical
Existence [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990], p.69). For we should not think of an object or indi-
vidual as a particular kind of thing; it is a particular role that things of any kind may occupy: the
role of subject of predication. To accept the semantics for quantification theory is not to accept any
particular metaphysics of individuals (Ibid., p.70). Chihara thus questions Quines criterion of
ontological commitment because Chihara is not sure what an entity is on Quines view. Similarly,
Hale seems to have stripped objects of any ontological significance.
18 1Introduction

h urricanes, speech events, and holes. This contrast suggests that objects in the ordi-
nary sense are what are classically called substances, things which exist in and of
themselves.42 If this is right, then I am puzzled by two things. First, if for the
Platonist abstract objects are not substances, then what are they? On Platonism it
seems that some abstracta, at least, should be classed as objects in the sense of
substances. Numbers seem clearly to be stand-alone objects, if they exist, and the
shape of a ball is supposed to be an entity that exists independently of the ball. Even
directions could seem to stand alone, as when someone says, He fled in that direc-
tion. If these are not objects in the ordinary sense, then what are they?
Second, if abstract objects are taken to be merely the sort of things that can be
referred to via an abstract singular term, do they exist at all, even for the Platonist?
The answer to that question will depend on ones theory of reference.43 A Gegenstand

42
I note that this is how van Inwagen also understands the word, for he says that if a table were to
exist, it would be real, a true object, actually a thing, a substance, a unified whole (Peter van
Inwagen, Material Beings [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990], p.100). Abstract objects,
by contrast, are objects in the very general sense that this word has in logic and mathematics: a
property can be the referent of a noun or a noun-phrase and properties can be quantified over
(Peter van Inwagen, Relational vs. Constituent Ontologies, Philosophical Perspectives 25:
Metaphysics 2011: 4034). More recently he has explained, I understand the word substance in
either of two senses: thing that cannot be predicated of things and thing that exists on its own
or in its own rightthat is a thing that is not a mode or mere modification of some other thing;
a thing that does not inhere in some other thing; a thing that is not an ontological parasite. I
contend only that the class of things that are substances in either sense is identical with the class of
things that are substances in the other (Van Inwagen, Dispensing with Ontological Levels,
p. 32). He also thinks that Other names for the category of concrete objects are: substance,
impredicable, individual thing or particular thing, and agent (or etiological object or
causal thing) (Ibid.) The difficulty is that van Inwagen also holds that Abstract objects exist
independently of human language and human thought. For that matter, they exist independently of
divine thought. Each of them in fact exists independently of everythingor, at any rate, of every-
thing else, everything besides itself (Ibid., p.31). But that makes abstract objects substances, in at
least one sense of the word. On van Inwagens favored ontology, there are no ontological para-
sites, things that inhere in other things (Ibid., p.32). He rejects constituent ontologies, which treat
abstracta as constituents of things, in favor of a relational ontology which treats abstracta as
independently existing things (Van Inwagen, Relational vs. Constituent Ontologies, pp.3923).
But then it follows from van Inwagens characterizations that abstract objects are concrete objects,
which is incoherent. It seems to me that van Inwagen, as a heavyweight Platonist, ought to affirm
that abstract objects are, indeed, substances but to deny the equation of substances and concrete
objects.
43
A deflationary theory of reference developed along the lines limned by Paul Horwich, Meaning
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998) or, better, Arvid Bve, A Deflationary Theory of Reference,
Synthse 169 (2009): 5173 allows us to use singular terms non-vacuously even though there are
no objects in the world correlated with those terms. None-ists like Richard Routley have vigor-
ously protested what Routley calls the Ontological Assumption (to wit, the assumption that a state-
ment has the value true and is about something only if the subject of the statement refers to an
existent object) underlying most contemporary theories of reference (Richard Routley [Sylvan],
Exploring Meinongs Jungle and Beyond: An Investigation of Noneism and the Theory of Items
[Canberra: Australian National University Research School of Social Sciences, 1979], p.44; cf.
pp. 17, 22). Unlike deflationists, None-ists still share the belief that there must be an object to
which reference is made, if reference is to be successfulhence, their belief in non-existent
objects. Some have accused neo-Meinongians of being closet Platonists; but my suspicion is quite
Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism 19

can be merely the subject of conversation, what one is talking about. Prima facie we
talk all the time about things that do not exist. Are abstract objects among these?
Hales examples of things besides abstract objects which are not objects in the ordi-
nary sense do not inspire confidence that abstract objects, even on Platonism, truly
exist, for hurricanes, speech events, and holes are precisely the sorts of thing that
many metaphysicians plausibly deny exist.44 These things are real in the sense that
they are not illusory, but they are not, properly speaking, existents. If abstract objects
have no more reality than holes, then perhaps Hale is right in thinking that the ques-
tion of their existence is of no philosophical interest, for then the affirmation that
they exist may be trivial, having no ontological significance.
Hale goes on to say,
When, as I intend, the question is understood in terms of the Fregean notion of object, it is
inseparable from questions belonging to the philosophy of languageasking whether there
are objects of a certain general kind is tantamount to asking whether there are, or at least
could be, expressions functioning as non-vacuous singular terms of a certain kind. When
the domain of objects is understood as including at least the referents of all genuine singular
terms, it is anything but obvious that it is does not include abstract objects of various sorts;
rather there is a quite strong prima facie case for believing that it does. For there can be no
serious doubt that we frequently find ourselves employing what at least appear to be singu-
lar terms for entities of many kindsnumbers, classes, shapes, to mention some of the
more obvious exampleswhich, in advance of any deep account of the abstract/concrete
distinction, we would have little hesitation in classifying as abstract.45

Writing in the aftermath of the linguistic turn introduced into philosophy by


Frege,46 Hale and Wright speak of abstract objects in terms of semantic categories

the reverse: that insouciant Platonists may, in fact, be crypto-Meinongians of some sort. For they
hold that some singular terms refer to objects whose existence they deny or whose existence is
widely denied.
44
For example, van Inwagen considers the postulation of events to be ontologically profligate. He
writes, There are, I would say, no events. That is to say, all statements that appear to involve
quantification over events can be paraphrased as statements that involve objects, properties, and
timesand the paraphrase leaves nothing out (Van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated Things,
p. 14; cf. van Inwagen, Dispensing with Ontological Levels, pp. 32, 3840). Theodore Sider
compares talk of properties in a nominalistic understanding to talk of holes:
We talk, for instance, as if there are such things as holes But surely there arent really
such things as holes, are there? What kind of object would a hole be? Surely what really
exist are the physical objects that the holes are in: walls, pieces of cheese, shirts, and so
on. When one of these physical objects has an appropriate shapenamely, a perforated
shapewell sometimes say that there is a hole in it. But we dont really mean by this that
there literally exists an extra entity, a hole, which is somehow made up of nothingness
(Theodore Sider, Introduction, in Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics, Contemporary
Debates in Philosophy, ed. Theodore Sider, John Hawthorne, and Dean Zimmerman
[Oxford: Blackwell, 2008], pp.23).
N.B. that abstract objects would similarly be entities made up of nothingness and, unlike holes,
lacking even liners.
45
Hale, Abstract Objects, p.4.
46
On which see Michael Dummett, Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1991), Chap. 10. Dummett identifies 62 of Freges Die Grundlagen der
20 1Introduction

rather than classical metaphysical categories.47 Hence, it is hard to know what is the
ontological import of non-vacuous singular terms.
In his most recent book Hale says that the semantic function of a singular term is
just that of identifying an object as what we are talking about.48 We may agree with-
out hesitation that we employ singular terms to talk about entities which, if they
exist, are abstract objects; but the problem is that we similarly employ singular
terms to talk about things like Wednesdays, shortages, holes, and events, which
plausibly do not exist. It might be said that in such cases the relevant singular terms
are vacuous and the sentences containing them false. But as mentioned, whether
non-vacuous singular terms have real world ontological correlates is going to
depend upon ones theory of reference, which at this point remains moot.49
Comparing his conception of objects to an abundant conception of properties,

Arithmetik (1884) as the first example of the linguistic turn in philosophy. In what Dummett deems
the most pregnant philosophical paragraph even written, Frege construes the question of how
mathematical objects are given to us as a question concerning how the meaning of sentences con-
taining singular terms for mathematical objects is to be fixed. Similarly, Hale is preoccupied with
whether singular terms take abstracta as their objects, an approach which seems to me to obfuscate
rather than elucidate ontology, since the notion of object as a semantic category is said to be so
different than that of an ordinary object. E.J. Lowe distinguishes a linguistic and a metaphysi-
cal answer to the question, What is an object? The linguistic answer is anything that can be
referred to at all, the reference of a singular term or the value of a variable of quantification. The
metaphysical answer is any item that enjoys determinate identity conditions and so falls under a
sortal concept (E.J. Lowe, Objects and Criteria of Identity, in A Companion to the Philosophy of
Language, ed. Bob Hale and Crispin Wright, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy 10 [Oxford:
Blackwell, 1997], p.616). Lowe thinks that properties, facts, and propositions are objects merely
in the linguistic sense and that mathematical objects count as objects in the metaphysical sense.
What does Hale think? Since he denies that abstract objects are objects in the common sense of that
word and focuses on their role as referents of singular terms, it is hard to tell.
47
Hale later agrees with Dummett that the debate over mathematical Platonism must be about the
question, Are there true statements whose proper analysis discloses expressions purporting refer-
ence to numbers? Although it might seem tendentious to ignore the ontological dispute in favor
of the truth-value dispute, Hale finds plausible Dummetts suggestion that a dispute over the exis-
tence of certain abstract entities might be represented as a truth-value dispute by taking the dis-
puted class of statements to consist of statements purporting reference to those entities. Indeed, he
thinks the dispute is best elucidated in terms of the objective truth of statements purporting refer-
ence to such entities (Bob Hale, Realism and its Oppositions, in Companion to the Philosophy of
Language, pp.2723, 2845). The general endorsement of this approach to questions of ontology,
he says, admits to acceptance of Freges Context Principle which warns against asking after the
reference of substantial expressions outside the context of complete sentences. For the implica-
tions of this approach see Dummetts comments in note 56 below.
48
Bob Hale, Necessary Beings: An Essay on Ontology, Modality, and the Relations between Them
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p.15.
49
According to Hale, objects can be defined as those things which can only be referred to by (or are
the semantic values of) singular terms (Ibid., p. 31). Whether or not semantically determined
objects belong in ones ontological inventory will depend on ones theory of reference. Dummett
muses that Frege had a thin theory of reference analogous to the redundancy theory of truth
which was insufficient to bear the weight of a realistic interpretation of those terms (Dummett,
Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics, pp.1958; cf. note 56 below). What theory of reference one
prefers is apt to depend on what one thinks exists, so that reference will not be the guide to
ontology.
Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism 21

according to which there are properties like being-fast-asleep-in-a-deck-chair-on-


Brighton-Beach-while-His-Holiness-the-Pope-is-addressing-the-faithful-from-his-
balcony-in-St. Peters-Basilica, Hale avers, the conception of objects I am
defending is equally deflationary or metaphysically lightweight.50 Like the equally
deflationary and metaphysically lightweight abundant conception of properties,
Hales conception of objects takes as sufficient for the existence of an object what
one might reasonably see as the bare minimum required to distinguish objects from
entities of other categories such as properties and relations.51 We can do that with-
out making metaphysically heavy commitments.

Michael Dummett

Michael Dummett, whose earlier work inspired Hale and Wright, is another phi-
losopher whose remarks on the existence of abstract objects are far from perspicu-
ous.52 For example, noting that informal discourse is permeated by abstract terms,
Dummett cities as an illustration the following paragraph from a London daily:
Margaret Thatcher yesterday gave her starkest warning yet about the dangers of global
warming caused by air pollution. But she did not announce any new policy to combat

50
Ibid., p.40.
51
Ibid. N.B. that Hales conception of ontology is not the study of what exists but what categories
things belong to. The central question of ontology, then, is: what kinds of things are there? (Ibid.,
p.9). For Hale, ontology is basically the doctrine of categories. Hence, he prioritizes the analysis
of language over the categorization of various types of entities, arguing that that there is no serious
alternative to relying upon the analysis of language in explaining ontological categories (Ibid.,
pp.1718; cf. Meixner, Einfhrung in die Ontologie, p.10). This is a very thin conception of ontol-
ogy, for a metaphysician like van Inwagen, for example, would agree in classifying a chair as an
object or a bells tolling 5 oclock as an event, even though he denies that chairs and events exist.
Hence, Meixner says, Language is, so to speak, the instrument which discloses to us the funda-
mental structures of the actual and the non-actual (des Wirklichen und Nichtwirklichen). Such a
view is consistent with Achille Varzis claim that linguistic analysis is pretty useless as a tool for
drawing up an inventory of what exists (Achille C.Varzi, Words and Objects, in Individuals,
Essence, and Identity, ed. Andrea Bottani, Massimiliano Carrara, and Pierdaniele Giaretta, Topoi
Library 4 [Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002], pp.4975). Van Inwagen, a heavy-
weight Platonist, accepts only two ontological categories: concrete objects and abstract objects
(Peter van Inwagen, What Is an Ontological Category?, in Metaphysics: Aristotelian, Scholastic,
Analytic, ed. Luk Novk, Daniel D.Novotn, Prokop Sousedk, and David Svoboda (Frankfurt:
Ontos Verlag, 2012), pp. 1124; Peter van Inwagen, Relational vs. Constituent Ontologies,
Philosophical Perspectives 25: Metaphysics 2011: 389405; van Inwagen, Dispensing with
Ontological Levels, pp.302). On his view, in contrast to Meixners, there are no empty catego-
ries. See further Jorge J.E. Gracia, What Is Metaphysics? Realist, Conceptualist, and Neutralist
Answers, in Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics, ed. Daniel D. Novotn and Luk
Novk, Routledge Studies in Metaphysics (London: Routledge, 2014), pp.1941, for an ontologi-
cally neutral conception of ontology.
52
For Dummetts anti-Platonism about the abstracta of mathematics, see Michael Dummett, The
Philosophical Basis of Intuitionistic Logic, in Philosophy of Mathematics, 2d ed., ed. Paul
Benacerraf and Hilary Putnam [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983], pp.109111.
22 1Introduction

c limate change and sea level rises, apart from a qualified commitment that Britain would
stabilize its emissions of carbon dioxidethe most important greenhouse gas altering the
climateby the year 2005. Britain would only fulfill that commitment if other, unspecified
nations promised similar restraint.

Dummett then observes,


Save for Margaret Thatcher, air and sea, there is not a noun or noun phrase in this
paragraph incontrovertibly standing for or applying to a concrete object (is a nation a con-
crete object, or a gas?). Ordinary literate people readily understand such paragraphs; few
would be easily able to render them in words involving reference only to concrete objects,
if indeed they can be so rendered, or even to understand such a rendering if presented with
it. An ordinary readers comprehension of the abstract terms does not consist in the grasp of
any such procedure of translation, but in a knowledge of how those terms function in sen-
tences: no reason whatsoever exists for supposing him to attach a reference to Margaret
Thatcher, but not to the climate or air pollution.
The notion of reference to an object is employed to mark the difference in linguistic
function between a singular term and a predicate or relational expression; and that differ-
ence is as salient in the sentence Carbon dioxide is a compound as in Margaret Thatcher
is a woman. One can know a great deal about Margaret Thatcher without ever having had
to identify her; but, to understand a personal name, one has to know that there is a such a
thing as identifying its bearer. There being such a thing is what constitutes it as referring to
its bearer, and explains our understanding of its use in predicating something of its bearer.
Identification of a county, say as that in which one is, of a gas, say as being emitted from an
exhaust pipe, of a political group, say as holding a meeting, all differ greatly from identify-
ing a person, because counties, gases and political groups are things of very different kinds
from people: but such identifications occur, and play the same fundamental role in our dis-
course about such things as the identification of people plays in our discourse about them.
To deny those things the status of objects, and to the corresponding expressions the function
of referring to them, is to fall into nominalist superstition, based ultimately on the myth of
the unmediated presentation of genuine concrete objects to the mind.53

This is an extraordinarily puzzling passage. Dummett holds that almost all the noun
phrases in the cited paragraph do not refer to concrete objects but do refer to objects.
Do they refer, then, to abstract objects? Clearly not, for not only are things like air
pollution and sea level rises and gas not abstract, but Dummett accepts the charac-
terization of abstract objects as objects having no causal powers,54 yet here it is
explicitly stated that global warming is caused by air pollution, that carbon dioxide
gas alters the climate, and that nations must promise restraint.55 On pain of contra-

53
Dummett, Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics, p.231; cf. pp.2078, where he characterizes nom-
inalism as the view that putative abstract terms ought to be expunged from the language altogether
or at least not only denied a reference but declared incapable of occurring in true sentences. To
reject nominalism, he says, is to declare that abstract terms are unobjectionable. On this account a
good many contemporary anti-Platonists do not count as nominalists.
54
Ibid., p.181.
55
Several of Dummetts examples have to do with socially constructed objects, which, in John
Searles analysis, involve our assigning some function or status to a mind-independent object,
according to the schema X counts as Y in C, where C is some social context (John Searle, The
Construction of Social Reality [N.Y.: Free Press, 1995]). For example, in our social context a cer-
tain object counts as a screwdriver. Given human intentionality and civilization, it should come as
no surprise that our discourse is pervaded by talk of such socially constructed objects. But, argu-
Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism 23

diction Dummett must be using the word object in two different senses. The
things mentioned are not objects in what Hale calls the ordinary sense of the term,
but they are objects in the semantic sense of being the referents of singular terms.
As Dummett says, the notion of reference to an object in the latter sense is just a
way of marking the difference between a singular term and a predicate or relational
expression. The metaphysician can happily grant the things in question the status of
objects in this sense without thinking that his ontology will have to include in it
things like dangers, sea level rises, commitments, and restraints.56
If this interpretation is correct, it explains Dummetts otherwise strange insouci-
ance about embracing an object so bizarre as the Equator. In response to a sort of
dispensability argument for nominalismwhat Dummett calls the nominalist
challengeto the effect that abstract objects, lacking as they do all causal powers,
explain nothing and so may be dispensed with, Dummett writes,
In Grundlagen, Freges examples of objective but non-actual objects are the Equator and
the centre of mass of the solar system. The existence of the Equator is certainly an a poste-
riori truth. It depends on the fact that the Earth has poles, which in turn depends on the
unquestionably contingent fact that it spins about an axis. Yet, if someone argued that to
assume the existence of the Equator explains nothing, that, moreover, since it has no causal
powers, everything would be exactly the same if it did not exist, and that therefore we have
no reason to accept the hypothesis of its existence, we should gape at the crudity of his
misunderstanding.
What should we say to correct the objectors misunderstanding? He is trying to conceive
of the Equator as an actual object that has been stripped of its causal powers; naturally, then,
he cannot see what grounds we can have for believing in such an object. We have to teach
him that it is an altogether different kind of object. We can do that only by patiently explain-
ing to him the use, or the truth-conditions, of sentences containing the term the Equator;
such an object as the Equator is given to us only by means of our grasp of what can be
meaningfully said about it and when it is true to say it. When we have given these

ably, the only existing objects in such cases are the mind-independent Xs, which are seen as Ys. A
woman, for example, is seen as a wife or as a widow in different Cs without any intrinsic change
on her part. There can thus be objective facts about social reality, e.g. Johns wife is named
Sherrie, without the existence of the object referred to. Searle is therefore inclined to speak of
social (or institutional) facts rather than objects. The implication of socially constructed reality is
that our discourse is pervaded by singular terms which do not refer to existents.
56
Cf. Dummetts earlier reflections on Freges Platonism:
When we scrutinize the doctrines of the arch-Platonist, Frege, the substance of the existen-
tial affirmation finally appears to dissolve altogether. For him mathematical objects are as
genuine objects as the Sun and the Moon: but when we ask what these objects are, we are
told that they are the references of mathematical terms, and only in the context of a sentence
does a name have a reference. In other words, if an expression functions as a term in sen-
tences for which we have provided a clear sense, i.e. for which we have legitimately stipu-
lated determinate truth conditions, then that expression is a term (proper name) and
accordingly has a reference: and to know those truth-conditions is to know what its reference
is, since we must not ask after the reference of a name in isolation. So, then, to assert that
there are, e.g., natural numbers is, it turns out, to assert no more than that we have correctly
supplied the sentences of number theory with determinate truth-conditions; and now the
bold thesis that there are abstract objects as good as concrete ones appears to evaporate to a
tame assertion which few would want to dispute (Michael Dummett, Platonism, in Truth
and Other Enigmas [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978], pp.21213).
24 1Introduction

e xplanations, he will grasp that there is nothing problematic about the existence of the
Equator; that its existence is not a hypothesis, but stands or falls with the proposition that
the Earth rotates about an axis. Or, if he does not, we may abandon him to self-congratula-
tion on his resistance to Platonistic superstition.57

According to Dummett, Freges distinction between objects which are or are not
actual (wirklich) does not contrast real objects with fictitious objects, but serves,
rather, as his manner of distinguishing between what present-day philosophers usu-
ally call concrete and abstract objects.58 The Equator is not wirklich because it
has no Wirkungen (effects) upon anything. Now I understand that the Platonist does
not postulate the Equator as an explanatory hypothesis. But I do not understand the
Platonists insouciance about permitting so strange an object into his ontology. The
reason Dummett thinks that there is nothing problematic about so weird an abstract
object as the Equator is that, I suspect, he himself accepts the Equators existence
merely in the sense of being what the Equator refers to in true sentences like The
Equator bisects the Congo rather than in the sense of the Platonistic superstition
that ones ontological inventory includes this circular, spatio-temporal, contingent,
25,000 mile long, abstract object currently girdling the Earth. It is an object only in
the semantic sense of being a referent of a singular term. If this understanding is
correct, rejecting the Platonistic superstition does not entail falling into the nom-
inalist superstition of denying that the function of singular terms is to refer to
objects.

John Burgess andGideon Rosen

My final example of insouciant Platonists is John Burgess and Gideon Rosen. In


criticizing imagined content-hermeneutic nominalism, they entertain the sugges-
tion that mathematical existence theorems are not ontologically committing to
mathematical objects because there is simply an ambiguity in the word exists,
between a strong and a weak sense, which we may write as exists and exists. (A)
[There exist prime numbers greater than a thousand] is supposed to be quite true
if by exists one means exists, and to become false only if one takes exists to
mean exists.59 Burgess and Rosen rejoin that the nominalist will need to explain
these two senses of existence and show that philosophical claims involve one sense
while internal mathematical and scientific claims involve the other. Then they add,

57
Dummett, Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics, p. 182. The reference is to Gottlob Frege,
Grundlagen der Arithmetik, 26 (The Foundations of Arithmetic: a Logico-Mathematical Enquiry
into the Concept of Number, trans. J.L. Austin, 2nd rev. ed. [Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University
Press, 1980], p.35).
58
Dummett, Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics, p.80.
59
Gideon Rosen and John P.Burgess, Nominalism Reconsidered, in The Oxford Handbook of
Mathematics and Logic, ed. Stewart Shapiro, Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2005), p.525.
Heavyweight andLightweight Platonism 25

Suppose it is said that for a thing to exist is for it to [sic; supply be] part of the ultimate
furniture of the universe. However this last phrase is interpreted, it seems quite plausible
that large, composite objects like the Eiffel Tower do not exist in this sense. But an anti-
nominalist may be perfectly willing to grant that the Euler function may not exist in this
sense either. The most the anti-nominalist wishes to claim [sic; supply is] that the Euler
function exists in the same sense that the Eiffel Tower does.60

They conclude, the genuinely controversial question is whether or not numbers,


functions, and the like exist in the sense in which the planet Venus does and the
planet Vulcan doesnt.61
It is difficult to know what to make of this. Burgess and Rosen seem to agree with
metaphysicians like van Inwagen that chairs, tables, and other alleged composite
objects do not exist and therefore are not to be included with, for example, funda-
mental particles in ones ontological inventory. If mathematical functions are like
those things, then they do not exist, which is the anti-realist position. Van Inwagen
insists that on his view chairsand, by extension, the Eiffel Tower and Venusare
real in the sense that they are not illusory.62 But they do not exist as unified objects.
There literally are no such things. Burgess and Rosen seem to think likewise.
Burgess elsewhere confirms this impression by looking at the dispute in a theo-
logical light:
One very traditional sort of way to try to make sense of the question of the ultimate meta-
physical existence of numbers would be to turn the ontological question into a theological
question: Did it or did it not happen, on one of the days of creation, that God said, Let there
be numbers! and there were numbers, and God saw the numbers, that they were good?
According to Dummett, and according to Nietzscheor my perspective on Nietzschethis
is the only way to make sense of questions of ontological metaphysics. . . . I myself believe,
like Russell, that analytic atheism [the thesis that theological language is meaningless] is
false, and suspect, contrary to the Australians, that the Nietzsche-Dummett thesis is true. If
as I believe the theological question does make sense, and if as I suspect it is the only sen-
sible question about the italics-added real or capital-R Real existence of numbers, then I
would answer that question in the negative; but then I would equally answer in the negative
the question of the Real existence of just about anything.63

It is clear that Burgess rejects what he calls capital-R Realism in favor of a much
weaker realism which amounts to just a willingness to repeat in ones philo-
sophical moments what one says in ones scientific moments, not taking it back,
explaining it away, or otherwise apologizing for it.64 This weak realism does not
presume to tell us just what God was saying to Himself when He was creating the

60
Ibid.
61
Ibid.
62
Van Inwagen, Material Beings, p.107.
63
John P.Burgess, Mathematics and Bleak House, Philosophia Mathematica 12 (2004): 301.
64
Ibid., p.19. Some of Burgess remarks suggest that he is a sort of Carnapian conventionalist or
ontological pluralist with respect to abstract objects; others of his remarks suggest at most agnosti-
cism about what really exists. But his theological perspectivethe only way to make sense of
questions of ontological metaphysicsyields a clear, negative answer.
26 1Introduction

universe.65 Hence, theories that posit mathematical objects cannot be claimed to


give a Gods-eye view of the universe, to reflect the ultimate nature of metaphysical
reality, or anything of the sort.66

Concluding Reflections

ystein Linnebo calls the insouciant Platonism of which Wright and Hale, Dummett,
and Burgess and Rosen serve as representatives lightweight Platonism.67 Their
insouciance arises, I think, from their assuming a metaphysically light notion of exis-
tence. It is a datum of ordinary language that we often make existential affirmations
about things which we do not take to exist in the same way that other things do. This
has led some philosophers like Robert Adams to distinguish two senses of exist and
of related expressions such as formal and informal existential quantifiers: a meta-

Ibid.
65

John P.Burgess, Quine, Analyticity and Philosophy of Mathematics, Philosophical Quarterly


66

54 (2004): 43. The context makes clear Burgess belief in the mind-dependent nature of such
objects:
the mathematical objects that figure in our current scientific theories are there largely
because of what we are (and the way our interaction with the universe has gone) rather than
because of what the universe is like. Positing numbers may be extremely convenient, and in
practice even indispensably necessary for us, but theories that involve such posits cannot be
claimed to give a Gods-eye view of the universe, to reflect the ultimate nature of meta-
physical reality, or anything of the sort.
He merely insists that none of the above gives us any reason to reject current science and mathe-
matics, as he takes fictionalists to do.
67
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Platonism in the Philosophy of Mathematics (5.2
3), by ystein Linnebo, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism-mathematics/, July 18, 2009;
cf. David Chalmers characterization of such views as lightweight realism, and David Manleys
ascription to neo-Fregeans of the use of lightweight quantification (David J. Chalmers,
Ontological Anti-Realism, in Metametaphysics, pp.78, 95101; David Manley, Introduction: A
Guided Tour of Metametaphysics, in Metametaphysics, pp.19, 25).
Linnebo thinks that lightweight semantic Platonism falls short of heavyweight Platonism by
denying the mind-independence of abstract objects; I think rather that these would-be Platonists
fail to affirm the existence of abstract objects in a sense relevant to ontology. N.B. that Linnebo
admits that lightweight semantic Platonism meets the standard criterion for mind-independence
with respect of mathematical objects, viz., there would still be such objects if no persons existed,
but he thinks that we need a different criterion because lightweight Platonists reject the analogy
between physical objects and mathematical objects. But we have seen that that is not true: they
think that such objects are as real as hurricanes, holes, and the Eiffel Tower. Whence, then, their
insouciance? It is, I maintain, because they do not think that these things truly exist.
N.B. that the distinction between lightweight and heavyweight ontological commitments does
not align with van Inwagens distinction between analytic philosophys thin and continental
philosophys thick conceptions of being (Peter van Inwagen, Introduction, in Ontology,
Identity, and Modality [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.4), as seems to be sug-
gested by William F. Vallicella, Existence: Two Dogmas of Analysis, in Neo-Aristotelian
Perspectives in Metaphysics, ed. Daniel D. Novotn and Luk Novk, Routledge Studies in
Metaphysics (London: Routledge, 2014), pp.4548.
Concluding Reflections 27

physically light sense and a metaphysically heavy sense.68 Not that Adams thinks that
the English word exists has multiple meanings; Adams denies rather that ordinary
language has any clear, metaphysically heavy sense of exist. Adams writes,
I believe that the meaning of exist and of (informal) quantifiers is metaphysically light in
natural languages. I think we speak sincerely and literally, but without meaning to commit
ourselves on deep metaphysical issues, when we say, as we do, that there are rocks as well
as roosters, shapes and sizes, numbers and theorems, molecules composed of several atoms,
amoebas and other living cells that split in two, cities and states, laws and agreements,
properties and relations, words that are spoken and written, books that exist in both printed
and electronic formsand so on. I suppose that few if any of us would say that all of those
objects are fundamental metaphysically.69

In Adams view what is asserted to exist in a metaphysical light sense is a matter of


linguistic conventions and ones personal interests. For example, in opposition to
van Inwagens claim that tables do not exist but merely particles arranged table-
wise, Adams claims that conventions governing the ordinary use of English assure
the truth of
1. If there exist material simples arranged tablewise, then There exists a table is
true.
These conventions assign the same truth conditions to There exists a table as to
There exist material simples arranged tablewise.
We have seen that some Platonists affirm that abstract objects are just as real as
hurricanes, holidays, and holes and yet seem to be no more committed to the exis-
tence of abstract objects than we are to the existence of objects serving as the refer-
ents of those terms. Now obviously, abstract objects cannot, like chairs or the Eiffel
Tower, be said to be real in virtue of the fact that they are not visual or auditory
illusions. But it seems to me that a distinction can be drawn with respect to abstracta
which is analogous to the distinction between real and illusory for concrete objects.
We are all familiar with the paradoxes of nave set theory such as Russells
Paradox which destroyed Freges edifice and eventually catapulted him into nomi-
nalism in late life. To Frege there was every appearance that impredicative sets were
real sets; but if set theory was to be salvaged, then, as Quine put it, such illusory
combinations of entities had to be ruled out, and the reality of such pseudo-sets
denied.70 Other would-be mathematical objectslike a proof of the consistency of
arithmetic or a derivation of the Continuum Hypothesis from the axioms of Zermelo-

68
Robert Adams, The Metaphysical Lightness of Being, paper presented to the Philosophy
Department colloquium at the University of Notre Dame, April 7, 2011. In this paper, he proposes
that we can make metaphysically heavy affirmations of existence only by taking them to be asser-
tions that something is metaphysically fundamental, where fundamentality is a relational concept
having to do with the role that the fundamental thing has in a system of things. He has since aban-
doned that suggestion, holding instead that things which exist in a metaphysically heavy sense are
things which exist in themselves.
69
Ibid.
70
W.V. O.Quine, A Logistical Approach to the Ontological Problem, in The Ways of Paradox,
rev. ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), p.202.
28 1Introduction

Fraenkel set theoryhave proven to be just mathematical pipedreams. With respect


to properties, van Inwagen similarly notes that, despite every appearance, there is no
real property unable to be said truly of itself, for this leads inevitably to the analogue
for properties of Russells Paradox for sets.71 D. M. Armstrong goes further. He
distinguishes between real properties and mere linguistic predicates truly said of
a thing.72 Certain terms may appear to ascribe properties, but in fact they do not. For
example, being self-identical and exists are not, in his view, real properties. In
another place van Inwagen grants certain classes reality without affirming their
existence:
One of the assumptions on which [my] conception of ontology rests is that natural classes
are real. By this I do not necessarily mean that there are objects called natural classes, for
an ontologian may well deny that there are classes of any description. . . . What I mean
by saying that there are natural classes is a consequence of the thesis that there are natural
non-conventionallines of division among things.73

In saying that there are natural classes or real divisions among things, van Inwagen
is not making heavyweight existence assertions about classes and divisions but
rejecting conventionalism about classifying things even if one regards the cate-
gories themselves as virtual classes and thus as not really there.74
Now if properties, sets, and classes are, for the Platonist, real only in the sense
that they are not like the foregoing pseudo-entities, even though they, like holes,
hurricanes, and the Eiffel Tower, do not exist, then the Platonist has not ventured
beyond nominalism, since the anti-realist can similarly distinguish real from
pseudo-properties, sets, and other mathematical objects. Thus, there is, ontologically

71
Van Inwagen, Theory of Properties, p.131. This aporia presents a serious challenge, by the
way, to van Inwagens heavyweight Platonism. For he regards it as a prima facie defect in a meta-
physical theory if it affirms the existence of things that raise questions such that those who espouse
the theory are at a loss to provide answers to them (Van Inwagen, Dispensing with Ontological
Levels, p.40); and he admits that It looks for all the world as if (given that there are properties at
all ) when one saysand, surely, this is true?The property wisdom is not one of its own
properties, one is ascribing the property expressed by the open sentence x is not one of the prop-
erties of x to wisdomwhich Russell has shown to be incoherent (Ibid.). Van Inwagen can only
reply that I dont see how to paraphrase away the apparent reference to and quantification over
substances and relations that is a pervasive feature of our everyday and philosophical and scientific
discourse. I think, therefore, that such problems as are raised by substances and relations are
unavoidable (Ibid.). This seems to me a good reason to reject the metaontology that makes such
paradoxes unavoidable.
72
D.M. Armstrong, A Theory of Universals: Vol. 2: Universals and Scientific Realism (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. 1978), pp.712. Cf. Hale and Wright, Metaontology of Abstraction,
pp. 2079, where they compare favorably their minimalist conception of objects and reference
with the abundant as opposed to sparse view of properties, in contrast to the anxious metaphysi-
cian who thinks of the issue analogously to the existence of sparse properties, worrying whether
one is referring to real properties in the metaphysical World.
73
Van Inwagen, What Is an Ontological Category?, p.13.
74
Ibid., p.21.
Bibliography 29

speaking, less than meets the eye to lightweight Platonists affirmation of the exis-
tence of abstract objects.75
The key ontological question concerning the existence of various putative
objects, as Burgess and Dummett rightly discern, is whether, in order for things like
holes, hurricanes, and holidays to be the referents of singular terms, God would
have to create them. The answer of the lightweight Platonist seems clearly, no. Such
semantic objects just come along with all the genuine things that God does create.
Their reality would thus be irrelevant to the doctrine of divine aseity. Is it, on
Platonism, the same concerning abstract objects? Must they be the objects of par-
ticular acts of creation in order to be the referents of singular terms? If not, then their
reality constitutes no challenge to divine aseity. They may be just as real as holes,
hurricanes, and holidays and yet not among existing things, all of which God has
made.
So it is not entirely clear just what ontological commitments are required by
Platonism, especially as pursued by linguistic philosophers. If Platonists are content
with a metaphysically light understanding of existence, as some of the most promi-
nent defenders of Platonism today appear to be, then the challenge posed by the
existence of abstract objects to divine aseity simply evaporates, and our book may
end at this point. Still, many Platonists will insist that abstract objects do exist as
mind-independent realities and are immaterial substances. Their heavyweight
Platonism is a challenge to divine aseity which must be met by the orthodox theist.

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Ancient and Medieval Sources

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Chapter 2
Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

In our opening chapter I introduced contemporary Platonism and alluded to the


challenge it poses to the classic doctrine of divine aseity by its postulation of
uncreated abstract objects. In this chapter I want to explain why the Christian theist
cannot in good conscience accommodate himself to Platonism by compromising the
traditional doctrine.1 By unfolding the exegetical and philosophico-theological
basis of the classical doctrine, I hope to show that the challenge of Platonism strikes
at the very heart of classical theism.

Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity

The Witness ofJohn andPaul


The Witness ofJohn

The biblical witness to Gods unique aseity is both abundant and clear. Undoubtedly
one of the most important biblical texts, both theologically and historically, for
understanding sole divine ultimacy is the third verse of the prologue of the Gospel
of John. Speaking of the pre-incarnate Christ as the Logos or Word (1.14), John2
writes,

1
From this chapter onwards when I speak of Platonism without qualification, I should be under-
stood to be speaking of the metaphysically heavyweight Platonism described in the previous
chapter.
2
I use the name of the received author of the fourth Gospel without commitment to its actual
authorship or to the evangelists authorship of the prologue. Many Johannine commentators think
that the prologue contains an independent poem or hymn, perhaps stemming from the Johannine
community, which has been adopted by the evangelist and supplemented with his explanatory
glosses. There is unanimity that vv. 15 (with possible exception of v. 2), 1011, and 14 belong to
the original poem or hymn; vv. 69 are clearly the evangelists gloss. Our interest is solely in what
vv. 13 of the prologue mean.

Springer International Publishing AG 2017 33


W.L. Craig, God and Abstract Objects, DOI10.1007/978-3-319-55384-9_2
34 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

In the beginning was the Word,


and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.

All things came into being through him,


and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it (1.15).3

All things (, neuter plural) connotes all things taken severally, not simply the
Whole (as could have been indicated by the arthrous ). Of course, God is
implicitly exempted from inclusion in all things, since He has already been said to
have been () in the beginning ( ) (v. 1). God and the Logos are not the sub-
ject of becoming or coming into being, but of being simpliciter. They simply were in
the beginning (cf. Gen. 1.1, which is echoed in v. 1). So all things designates every-
thing there is aside from God Himself. Everything other than God and the divine
Logos came into being () through the Logos. The verb is the aorist form of
, whose primary meaning is to become or to originate. As indicated, it
serves to contrast all other things with God, who simply was in the beginning and so
never came into being. The aorist tense implies that everything else that exists came
into being at some time in the past. V. 3 thus carries the weighty metaphysical impli-
cation that there are no eternal entities apart from God, eternal either in the sense of
existing atemporally or in the sense of existing sempiternally. Rather everything that
exists, with the exception of God Himself, is the product of temporal becoming.4

3
,
,
.
.
,
.
,

,
.
4
This implication reinforces the point which we have elsewhere made that the biblical concept of
creation is an inherently temporal notion (Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation out of
Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker
Bookhouse, 2004], chaps. 14). N.B. to say that everything other than God has a temporal begin-
ning is not to say that there is a temporal beginning of all things collectively. Theoretically, the
sequence of past events could be enumerated by the negative numbers, beginning with the present
event as 0, so that while everything that exists has individually a moment of its creation at some
time in the finite past, nevertheless the series of creative events regresses infinitely. The evangelist
precludes this theoretical possibility by his expression in the beginning, when only God and the
divine Logos exist. Still the point remains that while for every thing that has come into being, there
is a time in the past at which it began, nevertheless that does not imply that there is a time in the
past at which everything began.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 35

The verb also has the sense of to be created or to be made. This


meaning emerges in v. 3 through the denomination of the agent ( ) respon-
sible for things coming into being. The preposition + genitive indicates the
agency by means of which a result is produced. The Logos, then, is said to be the
one who has created all things and brought them into being. Such agency need not
preclude Gods being the ultimate cause of things coming to be and the Logos the
instrumental cause (cf. I Cor. 8.6; Col. 1.16; Heb. 1.12). A second, equally signifi-
cant metaphysical implication of v. 3 thus emerges: only God exists a se; everything
else exists ab alio, namely, through the divine Logos. God is thus the ground of
being of everything else, as even so-called necessary beings would have to be
contingent upon God.
So the first clause of v. 3 states that everything that exists (God excepted) came
into being through the Logos. Employing the formalism of classical logic and letting
C stand for the predicate came into being through the Logos, we may represent
v. 3a as

(x )((y)( x = y) Cx ),

a universally quantified statement to the effect that for any individual x, if there is
such a thing as x, then x came into being through the Logos. We can simplify the
above representation by substituting an existence predicate E for the existential
quantifier:

(x )( Ex Cx ),

which states that anything that exists came into being through the Logos.5
With this in mind turn now to the second clause of v. 3: without him not one
thing came into being.6 The verb is again , the clause stating that nothing

5
Even more simply, if we take our domain of quantification to be existing things, we may symbol-
ize v. 3a as (x) (Cx). Then v. 3b may be represented (x) (Cx).
6
There is, it should be noted, a significant question of how the sentence of v. 3 is to be punctuated.
(See Kurt Aland, ber die Bedeutung eines Punktes: eine Untersuchung zu Joh. 1, 3.4, in Kurt
Aland, Neutestamentliche Entwrfe, Theologische Bcherei 63 [Mnchen: Chr. Kaiser Verlag,
1979], pp.35191].) Does the sentence end with , as I have it, or should the following
phrase be the terminus of the sentence? Contrary to the statements of some commenta-
tors, the exclusion or inclusion of this phrase significantly alters the meaning of the second clause
of the sentence. Absent the phrase, clause two is plausibly to be understood as the negation of the
contradictory of clause one. But if the phrase is included, the second clause restricts the domain of
the quantifier to things which have come into being ( ): without him not one thing that
has come into being came into being. Here the claim is that of those things which have come into
being, none has done so apart from the Logos. Everything that has come into being has been cre-
ated by the Logos. This is consistent with the statement that there are things which never came into
being and so were never created by the Logos: these entities exist eternally and a se. In this case
the second clause is vastly weaker than clause one, lacking the metaphysical implications of clause
one.
The majority of the editorial committee of the fourth edition of the United Bible Societies The
Greek New Testament assign a {B} rating to the punctuation of the text which places a full stop
36 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

came into being without or apart from () the Logos, being merely
more emphatic than (nothing). V. 3b is thus simply the negation of the contra-
dictory of v. 3a:

(x )( Ex & Cx ).

The contradictory of v. 3a states that some things exist which did not come into
being through the Logos, that is to say, there are things which either never come into

after , indicating their near certainty of the text so punctuated. Since the original Greek text
contained no punctuation at all (which is characteristic of the earliest manuscripts), the committee
verdict must represent their confidence that the text, properly understood, should be so punctuated.
In this they follow the consensus of the many ante-Nicene fathers who cite the text. According to
Metzger, the majority of the committee for the third edition were impressed by the rhythmical
balance of the opening verses of the Prologue, where the climactic or staircase parallelism seems
to demand that the end of one line should match the beginning of the next (Bruce M.Metzger, A
Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament [London: United Bible Societies, 1971], p.195).
The pattern is striking: , , , , and all stand in this repetitive pattern.
Adopting the suggested punctuation would add (in different tenses) to the list, though as a
verb it would be exceptional.
Metzger demurs, however, noting Johns fondness for beginning a clause or sentence with +
a demonstrative pronoun (13.35; 15.8; 16.26; 1 Jn. 2.3, 4, 5; 3.10, 16, 19, 24; 4.2, etc.). Metzgers
argument strikes me, however, as weak because most of these examples are from 1 Jn. and are
instances of a characteristic phrase like by this we know, and is not in any case a demon-
strative pronoun. More persuasive is Metzgers claim that the perfect tense would seem to
require the present tense in v. 4 rather than the imperfect tense . Metzger finds the sentence
beginning with to be intolerably clumsy and opaque (Ibid., p.196).
In fact, in Stoic literature we find a construction in line with Metzgers preferred punctuation:
fate, says Chrysippus, is the according to which all things that have been made have been
made, and all things that are being made are being made, and all things that are to be made will be
made (from Stobaeus Eclogues, cited by J.Rendel Harris, Stoic Origins of the Prologue to St.
Johns Gospel, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 6 [1921]: 449).
On behalf of the committee majoritys punctuation, it has been urged that John uses the Semitic
device of positive and negative parallels (1.20; 3.18; 6.50; 1 Jn. 1.8; 2.4). But, in fact, none of these
alleged examples says the same thing twice, so that Johns style is loose enough to permit the addi-
tion of a phrase like . A better argument for excluding the phrase is that without it
and form a nice inclusio: all things through him came to be, and without him came to be
not a thing.
Even if we do adopt the minority position on the punctuation of v. 3, it is, as Keener reminds
us, finally context, not syntax, that enables us to grasp the evangelists meaning. And the first
clause of the sentence tells us unambiguously that all things came into being through the Logos.
The second clause, on the alternative punctuation, then reiterates that everything that has come into
being (which, the first clause has informed us, is everything) has come into being through the
Logos. A final adjudication of this question will have to wait until we have examined the historical
background to our text. I think we shall see that the best reason for rejecting the majority view on
the punctuation of v. 3 is, ironically, at the same time good reason for thinking that on Johns view
all things have been created through the Logos, just as the first clause of v. 3 states. That is to say,
apart from God, the class of agenta is empty, all things other than God belonging to the class of
genta.
Ultimately making no difference, the present discussion is relegated to a footnote.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 37

being and so exist atemporally or sempiternally or else which came into being
independently of the Logos. Both possibilities are excluded by v. 3bs negation of v.
3as contradictory. V. 3b is thus the mirror image of v. 3a, stating the same proposition
negatively rather than positively, a not unfamiliar feature of Hebrew poetry (Ps.
18.6, 37; 39.9).
Jn. 1.3 is thus fraught with metaphysical significance, for taken prima facie it
tells us that God alone exists eternally and a se. It entails that there are no objects of
any sort which are co-eternal with God and uncreated via the Logos by God.
Partisans of uncreated abstract objects, if they are to remain biblical in their theology,
must therefore maintain that the domain of Johns quantifiers is restricted in some
way, quantifying, for example, only over concrete objects.7
The issue is a subtle one, easily misunderstood.8 The question is not: did John
have in mind abstract objects when he wrote ? Probably
not, either because he was conceptually unaware of abstract objects or else because
he thought that abstract objects exist only in Gods mind, as I shall explain below.
Perhaps John had never thought about abstract objects. But neither had he
thought of quarks, galaxies, and black holes; yet he would take such things and
countless other things, were he informed about them, to lie within the domain of his
quantifiers. But if these sorts of things would be included in the domain of Johns
quantifiers, why not abstract objects as well? For the Platonist, mathematical objects
like numbers and ordinary physical objects are on an ontological par: numbers are
just as real as automobiles, only more numerous.9 Mark Steiner emphasizes that just

7
See, e.g., Peter van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated Things, in Metaphysics and God, ed.
Kevin Timpe (London: Routledge, 2009), pp.34, 19. N.B. that van Inwagen recognizes that one
cannot justify restricting the domain of Johns quantifiers by appealing to singular terms that are
plausibly vacuous, such as sin or evil. There are no objects that are the denotations of such
terms, and so they are no exception to Johns claim that all existing things have been created by
God. John could with equanimity acknowledge that many singular terms we use have no existing
referents. The question is whether he could with equanimity admit that there really are objects that
that are uncreated by God.
N.B. as well that it will not do to point out that first-order quantifiers do not take properties as
values of the variables bound by them, thereby implicitly exempting some things from the domain
of quantification. For aside from the fact that the use of first-order quantifiers to represent Johns
statement is a convenience of modern logic imposed on Johns statement, the salient point is that
while first-order quantifiers do not quantify over the predicate position, nevertheless they do quan-
tify over properties when these are taken to be the subject of predication, as in The property
greenness is an abstract universal.
8
See the persistent misunderstanding of the question by my collaborators in Paul Gould, ed.,
Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract Objects, with articles,
responses, and counter-responses by K. Yandell, R. Davis, P. Gould, G. Welty, Wm. Craig,
S.Shalkowski, and G.Oppy, Bloomsbury Studies in Philosophy of Religion (London: Bloomsbury,
2014).
9
Michael D.Resnik, Frege and the Philosophy of Mathematics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
1980), p. 162. Dummett comments, The mathematician is, therefore, concerned, on this view,
with the correct description of a special realm of reality, comparable to the physical realms
described by the geographer and the astronomer (Michael Dummett, Platonism, in Truth and
Other Enigmas [Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), p.202).
38 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

as atomic physics is the science of micro-entities, so for the Platonist mathematics


is the science of abstract entities, in which case the natural numbers, the subject
matter of the science, are objects in the same sense that molecules are objects.10
Abstract entities may be even more remote from direct sense perception than micro-
entities, but they are, according to Platonism, just as real, so that if quarks lie in the
domain of Johns quantifiers so do numbers.11 As W.V.O. Quine colorfully put it,
numbers of all sorts, functions, and much else are as integral to the physical
theory that uses them as are the atoms, the electrons, the sticks, for that matter, and
the stones.12 The question, then, is not what objects John thought lay in the domain
of his quantifiers. The question, rather, is: did John intend the domain of his quanti-
fiers to be unrestricted, once God is exempted?
It is more than likely that he did. For Gods unique status as the only eternal,
uncreated being is characteristic of late Second Temple Judaism, which forms the
backdrop of the New Testament. Richard Bauckham, in his influential work on the
character of ancient Jewish monotheism, is especially clear in identifying the
features of Jewish monotheism that served to distinguish YHWH, Israels covenant
God, from everything else. In addition to Jewish characterizations of God in terms
of His unique relationship to Israel, there are in Jewish literature also characterizations
of God in terms of his unique relationship to the whole of reality: most especially,
that he is Creator of all things and sovereign Ruler of all things.13 It is on the basis
of such characteristics that Judaism held to a strict and excusive monotheism.
Listing a plethora of Jewish texts, Bauckham concludes,
To our question, In what did Second Temple Judaism consider the uniqueness of the one
God to consist, what distinguished God as unique from all other reality, including beings
worshiped as gods by Gentiles?, the answer given again and again, in a wide variety of
Second Temple Jewish literature, is that the only true God YHWH, the God of Israel, is sole
Creator of all things and sole Ruler of all things.14

There is a bright line in Second Temple Judaism that divides God ontologically
from everything else, a bifurcation which Bauckham attempts to capture by the
expression Gods transcendent uniqueness. According to Bauckham, so-called
intermediate figures fall into one of two categories: (i) supernatural but created

10
Mark Steiner, Mathematical Knowledge, Contemporary Philosophy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
University Press, 1975), p.87; cf. p.127.
11
For the Platonist, as Quine reminds us, there is no distinction between the there are of there
are universals and the there are of there are unicorns or there are hippopotami or (x) (x)
(there are entities x such that) (Willard Van Orman Quine, Logic and the Reification of
Universals, in From a Logical Point of View [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953],
p.105). If we are to understand Platonism, we must resist the temptation to think that abstract
objects exist in some ghostly, diminished sense. Indeed, for ancient Platonists the ideal world was
actually more real than the world of concrete objects.
12
W.V. Quine, Responses, in Theories and Things (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1981), p.182.
13
Richard Bauckam, God Crucified, in Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids, Mich.:
William B.Eerdmans, 2008), p.8.
14
Ibid., p.11.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 39

beings like angels and exalted patriarchs and (ii) personifications of aspects of God
Himself which had no independent existence, such as His Word and His Wisdom.15
Gods status as the sole ultimate reality comes to expression in Jewish monolatry,
the restriction of worship exclusively to God, which precludes worship of created
supernatural beings. In religious praxis, says Bauckham, Jewish monolatry most
clearly signaled the distinction between God and all other reality.16
It is noteworthy that neither Bauckham nor the texts he cites takes any cogni-
zance of abstract objects. As a biblical scholar, he may be completely unaware of
such objects. Nevertheless, he obviously reads the Jewish texts as unrestricted in
their quantifiers.17 Again and again he takes these texts to distinguish God from all
other reality, and the majority of scholars have concurred in this exegesis.
The salient point here is that the unrestrictedness of the domain of the quantifiers
is rooted, not in the type of objects thought to be in the domain, but in ones doctrine
of God as the only being which exists eternally and a se. It is who or what God is

15
Andrew Chester appears to challenge Bauckhams scheme, commenting, for his argument,
Bauckham needs Wisdom and Logos on the one hand, and angelic and exalted human figures on
the other, to belong in neatly, compartmentalized and absolutely differentiated categories. Yet it is
by no means obvious that it would all have simply been perceived like this (Andrew Chester,
Messiah and Exaltation, WUNT 207 [Tbingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2007], p.24). But Chesters point
is not that these entities do not, in Jewish theology, belong in ontologically distinct categories, but
rather that the distinction between them is sometimes blurred in Jewish literature so that in popular
imagination confusion might result (Ibid., p.25). For example, Philo will sometimes refer to the
Logos as the archangel and chief of angels. Someone without an understanding of Philos full
Logos doctrine might well be confused by this figurative language. (As we shall see, for Philo the
Logos is Gods mind, no more distinct from God than the mind of an architect is distinct from the
architect.) Similarly, Wisdom is, like Jewish notions of Shekinah and Memra, a way of describing
aspects of God or His activity, but this personification might well be confusing to ordinary people
encountering these traditions of a female figure moving easily between heaven and earth, having a
throne in heaven, being created before all else and assisting in creation (Ibid., p.24). How these
figures might have been perceived at a popular level is not relevant to our concern, which is to give
some content to Gods transcendent uniqueness. To overturn Bauckhams characterization of
Jewish monotheism, one would need to show that Jewish thought embraced the existence of enti-
ties distinct from God which were uncreated and non-derivatively sovereign. N.B. that even if
monolatry is compromised in some aberrant texts like 1 Enoch 3771 (itself a moot point), strict
monotheism is not compromised, since Bauckham takes monolatry to be a practical outworking of
strict monotheism, not constitutive of it.
16
Bauckam, God Crucified, p.11.
17
E.g., This God of Israel is the one and only Creator of all things and sovereign Lord over all
things. Among the many other things that late Second Temple period Jews said about the unique-
ness of their God, these two aspects of his unique relationship to all other reality were the most
commonly cited, repeatedly used to put YHWH in an absolutely unique category (Richard
Bauckham, Biblical Theology and the Problems of Monotheism, in Jesus and the God of Israel,
pp.834). Similarly, Gordon Fee, building on Bauckhams work, comments on Pauls adaptation
of the Jewish Shema in 1 Cor. 8.6: The Shema also asserts, typical of Pauls Jewish monotheism,
that the one God stands over against all pagan deities at two crucial, interrelated points: as Creator
of all that is and concomitantly as the one Ruler of all that is created. Nothing absolutely noth-
ing lies outside the realm of the one Creator-Ruler God (Gordon D.Fee, Pauline Christology:
An Exegetical-Theological Study [Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007], p.90).
40 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

that requires the domain of the quantifiers to be unrestricted, whatever beings might
be found to lie in the domain.
John himself identifies the Logos alone as existing with God (and being God) in
the beginning. Creation of everything else through the Logos then follows. This is
an example of what Bauckham calls Christological monotheism: the divine Logos
is on Gods side of the dividing line between God and the rest of reality. So while
John may not have had abstract objects in mind when he affirmed that all things
came into being via the Logos, there is no reason to doubt that he was convinced
that everything that exists (apart from God) had come into existence via the Logos.
Were a modern philosopher to sit down with John and explain to him what an
abstract object is supposed to be, furnishing him with examples like numbers,
properties, and propositions, and tell him that many twenty-first century Platonists
believe that such things are mind-independent objects which exist just as robustly as
familiar concrete objects, doubtless John would have responded that if there really
are such mind-independent entities, then they, too, must have come into being
through the Logos. Can we think that John would have entertained with equanimity
a proposed revision of the prologue along the following lines: In the beginning was
the Logosalong with an incomprehensible infinitude of uncreated, mind-
independent beingsand the Logos was with Godalong with this infinite
plentitude of independently existing and co-eternal objects .?18 To posit an
infinite plentitude of beings existing independently of God, so that the realm of
concrete objects brought into being via the Logos is literally infinitesimal by
comparison, would have fatally compromised Johns Logos doctrine and trivialized
divine aseity, thereby betraying Jewish monotheism. It seems to me, then, that John
did intend that the domain of his quantifiers (once God is exempted) include
everything, whatever idea he may have had concerning the contents of that domain.
But was John in fact ignorant of the relation between abstract objects and divine
creation when he wrote vv. 15, as we have assumed? It is, in fact, far from clear
that the author of Johns prologue was innocent concerning abstract objects and
their relation to the Logos. For the doctrine of the divine, creative Logos was
widespread in Middle Platonism,19 and Hellenistic Judaism, epitomized in the work

18
Given the incomprehensible infinitude of mathematical objects alone, philosopher of mathemat-
ics Christopher Menzel rightly remarks that the platonist must put severe, indeed embarrassing,
qualifications on the scope of Gods creative activity and on his status as the source of all exis-
tence (Christopher Menzel, Theism, Platonism, and the Metaphysics of Mathematics, Faith and
Philosophy 4 [1987]: 365).
19
For references see Gregory E.Sterling, Day One: Platonizing Exegetical Traditions of Genesis
1:15in John and Jewish Authors, paper presented at the Philo section of the Society of Biblical
Literature, San Antonio, Texas, November 2023, 2004. One is reminded of Augustines striking
observation:
Thou procuredst for me certain books of the Platonists, translated from the Greek into
Latin. And therein I read, not indeed in the very words, but to the very same purpose,
enforced by many and divers reasons, that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was
with God, and the Word was God: the Same was in the beginning with God: all things were
made by Him, and without Him was nothing made (Confessions 7.9).
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 41

of the Alexandrian Jewish philosophical exegete Philo (20 B.C.A.D. 50), bears its
imprint. The similarities between Johns Logos doctrine and Philos are numerous
and striking.20 In a recent review of the role of the Logos in creation in Philo and the
Johannine prologue, Leonhardt-Balzer summarizes the most important similarities:
Summarizing, the following points may be noted: both use the Logos in a way similar to
that of the Wisdom literature; both describe the Logos as temporally prior to creation (Op.
17; 24; Jn 1.12). Insofar as they go beyond the Wisdom tradition, they call him God
(Som. 1.228230; Jn 1.1). Both connect the operation of the Logos with the beginning of
the world (Conf. 146; Jn 1.12) and see the world as created through () the Logos
(Cher. 127; Jn 1.3). Both connect the Logos with light (Som. 1.75; Op. 33; Conf. 6063; Jn
1.45, 9) and see in the Logos the way for people to become Gods children (Conf. 145
146; Jn 1.12). Both make a clear distinction between the Logos with God and the Logos in
creation, whereby not only the prologue to John but both bring the statements of Genesis to
bear on the Logos with God.21

It will be helpful to say a brief word about each of these points.


First, both Philo and John bear the imprint of Jewish Wisdom literature in their
doctrine of the divine Logos. A good many scholars have sought to explain the
origin of the Johannine Logos in the personified figure of Wisdom featured in the
book of Proverbs:
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth
When he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the worlds first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,

Though Augustine wrote after the rise of Neo-Platonism, his sentiments were Philos sentiments as
well. The Logos appears already in the work of Antiochus of Ascalon (12568 B.C.) and Eudorus
(first century B.C.), two of the earliest Middle Platonists. Reviewing the evidence, Armstrong
identifies Antiochus as the most probable originator of the doctrine that the Platonic ideas are
Gods thoughts, which serve as the plan or pattern for the world (A.H. Armstrong, The Background
of the Doctrine that the Intelligibles Are Not Outside the Intellect, in Les Sources de Plotin,
Entretiens sur lantiquit classique 5 [Geneva: Vandoeuvres-Genve, 1957], p. 400; cf. Audrey
N.M. Rich, The Platonic Ideas as Thoughts of God, Mnemosyne S.IV, 7/2 [1954]: 12333).
20
A brief survey of texts may be found in A.W.Argyle, Philo and the Fourth Gospel, Expository
Times 63 (1952): 3856.
21
Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer, Der Logos und die Schpfung: Streiflichter bei Philo (Op 2025) und
im Johannesprolog (Joh 1, 118) in Kontexte des Johannesevangeliums, ed. Jrg Frey und Udo
Schnelle, WUNT 175 (Tbingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), p.318.
42 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

When he assigned to the sea its limit,


so that the waters might not transgress his command,
When he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker (Prov. 8.2230a).

While Wisdom bears an obvious resemblance to Johns Logos, it cannot be the


whole story behind it. One might mention the differences between Wisdom and the
Johannine Logos, for example, the full divinity and eternality of the Logos in
contrast to Wisdom (a difference later exploited by Arians). But the more
fundamental problem is nomenclature: John does not speak of but of .
It has been said that because Wisdom is a female personification, it would have been
inapt as a designation of Jesus. Doubtless; but that fact not only underlines the
differences between the Logos and Sophia but leaves us still without any explana-
tion of Johns Logos terminology.
Some scholars have sought to trace Johns nomenclature to Gods Word in the
Old Testament:
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And all their host by the breath of his mouth.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
He commanded, and it stood firm (Ps. 33.6, 9).

By while the Septuagint speaks of creation by Gods word (), nowhere in the
Old Testament is Gods word hypostatized as an individual. Keener suggests that
John prefers over because the former is apt to conjure up the image of
divine law (Torah).22 But then why not call Jesus the divine Nomos? Keener answers
that the range of Torah and Nomos is not identical, and the personification of
Wisdom was more wide-spread. This answer is unsatisfactory, however, since nei-
ther is the range of Torah and Logos identical, nor does John use the personification
of Wisdom, but of Logos, which is without precedent in the Old Testament.
Perhaps it will be said that John has creatively blended, while simultaneously
heightening and expanding, Logos and Sophia. But why think that this is original to
John? The fundamental problem for scholars who appeal to Old Testament motifs
like divine Wisdom or the word of the Lord or divine Torah to explain Johns
doctrine is that those same motifs were already known and appropriated by Philo to
produce a full-blown Logos doctrine. According to Philo scholar David Runia,
while there is growing agreement on the profound influence of Plato and the Platonic
tradition on Philos thought, The most important movement toward consensus in
Philonic studies is the recognition of the central role played by exegesis in his work.
Philo regarded himself as a commentator on scripture, and this has crucial
consequences for the way his writings must be read and evaluated.23 Runia concurs

22
Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: a Commentary, 2 vols. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson
Publishers, 2003), 1: 35563. Of the commentaries which I have consulted Keeners has the most
thorough survey of the relevant literature.
23
D. T. Runia, Philo of Alexandria and the Timaeus of Plato (Amsterdam: Free University of
Amsterdam, 1983), p.19; cf. p.433.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 43

with other Philonic scholars that Philo was primarily, not a systematic Greek phi-
losopher, but a scriptural exegete who employed the categories of Greek philosophy
in his exegesis. His basic religious ideas are Jewish, his intuitions Jewish, and his
loyalties Jewish, but his explanations of his ideas, intuitions, and devotions are
invariably Greek.24 It was Philo who blended the Logos of Middle Platonism with
Jewish Wisdom literature and Torah to produce a doctrine of creation through the
hypostatized Logos.
Although Leonhardt-Balzer characterizes the Logos in Philo and John as tempo-
rally prior (vorzeitig) to creation, that characterization should not be pressed for
philosophical precision. For the words of the Johannine prologue are capable of
being understood as descriptive of a timeless existence of the Logos with God sans
creation, and Philo himself seems to think that time begins at the moment of
creation:
For there was no time before the cosmos, but rather it either came into existence together
with the cosmos or after it. When we consider that time is the extension of the cosmos
movement, and that there could not be any movement earlier than the thing that moves but
must necessarily be established either later or at the same time, then we must necessarily
conclude that time too is either the same age as the cosmos or younger than it. To venture
to affirm that it is older is unphilosophical (On the Creation of the World 26).25

On this view the Logos is already there when time begins to exist at the moment
of creation, in the sense that the Logos exists at the moment of creation but did not
begin to exist or come into being at that moment. On this point John and Philo are
one.
As to the divinity of the Logos, John affirms that the Logos is divine (), and
Philo refers to the divine Logos who is the place of Gods ideas (On the Creation
of the World 20). He speaks of the Logos of God in the sense of the mind or
thoughts of God (On the Creation of the World 24). Moses, he says, calls the one
true God his most ancient Logos (On Dreams [De somniis] 1.230).

24
Ibid., p.435, concurring with Sandmel. Cf. Wilsons judgment:
the purpose of Philos writings was evidently to make Judaism intellectually respectable in
the eyes of the Gentile world, to interpret and expound the sacred literature of the Jewish
people in the light of the contemporary philosophy and theology of the Hellenistic Age,
which was an amalgam largely compounded of Platonism and Stoicism. . . . (R.McL.Wilson,
Philo and the Fourth Gospel, Expository Times 65 [1953]: 48).
Wilson adds that the author of the fourth Gospel was writing in a similar environment.
25
Citation from On the Creation of the Cosmos according to Moses, trans. with an Introduction and
Commentary by David T.Runia, Philo of Alexandria Commentary Series 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2002),
p.52. Leonhardt-Balzers references to On the Creation of the World [De opificio mundi] 17; 24
concern a human illustration involving the plans of an architect prior to construction, an analogy
all aspects of which cannot be carried over automatically to the Logos and creation. If not tempo-
rally prior to creation, the Logos is at least causally prior to creation.
44 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

John and Philo alike connect the Logos with the beginning of the world ().
John says that the Logos existed in the beginning and that the cosmos came to be
through him (1. 3, 10). Philo, citing Gen. 1.1: In the beginning God made the
heavens and the earth, also connects the Logos with the beginning of the world (On
the Creation of the World 2627). They both understand the Logos to be the agent
of creation, through whom the world was made. The use of + genitive to express
instrumental creation is not derived from Wisdom literature but is an earmark of
Middle Platonism; indeed, so much so that scholars of this movement are wont to
speak of its prepositional metaphysics, whereby various prepositional phrases are
employed to express causal categories26:

phrase:
category:
efficient cause material cause instrumental cause final cause
entity: God the Creator four elements Logos of God Gods goodness

Philo identifies the four Aristotelian causes by these prepositional phrases, stating
that through which represents creation by the Logos.27 References to the Logos as
the instrumental cause of creation are prevalent in Philo.28 Although some commen-
tators on Johns Gospel have rightly insisted that John is not interested primarily in
metaphysics but salvation, we cannot ignore his explicitly metaphysical affirma-
tions that all things came into being through the Logos ( ) and that the
world () came into being through him ( ) (1. 3, 10).

26
Runia, Philo and the Timaeus, pp.1403; Sterling, Platonizing Exegetical Traditions.
27
Philo writes,
many things must co-operate in the origination of anything; by whom, from what, by means
of what, and why? Now he by whom a thing originates is the cause; that from which a thing
is made is the material; that by means of which it was made is the instrument; and why, is
the object. For come now, suppose any one should say, what things must meet together, that
any house or city may be made? Must there not be a builder, and stones, and timber, and
tools? What then is the builder, but the cause by whom the house or city is built? And what
are the stones and timber, but the materials of which the building is made? And what are the
tools, but the things by means of which it is made? And for what reason is it built, except to
serve as a shelter and protection? This is the object. Now passing on from these particular
buildings, consider the greatest house or city, namely, this world, for you will find that God
is the cause of it, by whom it was made; that the materials are the four elements, of which
it is composed; that the instrument is the word of God, by means of which it was made; and
the object of the building you will find to be the display of the goodness of the Creator (On
the Cherubim [De cherubim] 1257).
28
Runia provides the following list: Allegorical Interpretation [Legum allegoriae] 3. 9; On the
Cherubim 28; On the Sacrifices of Abel and Cain [De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini] 8; On the
Unchangeableness of God [Quod Deus sit immutabilis] 57; On the Confusion of Tongues [De
confusione linguarum] 62; On the Migration of Abraham [De migrationi Abrahami] 6; On Flight
and Finding [De fuga et inventione] 12; 95; On Dreams 2.45; The Special Laws [De specialibus
legibus] 1.81.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 45

Both John and Philo associate the Logos with light, in contrast to darkness, a
motif held in common with the Genesis account of creation. John says that
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.

He was the true light that enlightens everyone coming into the world (1. 45, 9).

In his commentary on the Genesis creation account Philo identifies the light of Gen.
1.3, not as physical light, but as a sort of intellectual light (). That
invisible and intelligible light came into being as image of the divine Logos (On
the Creation of the World 31). This light came into existence before the sun, and as
soon as it did, darkness retreated and withdrew (On the Creation of the World 33;
35). As the ideal model of the sun and other heavenly luminaries, this non-physical
light is the source from which the sun, moon, planets, and stars derive the illumination
suited to them (On the Creation of the World 29; 31; cf. On the Migration of Abraham
40; On Dreams 1. 75). Elsewhere Philo speaks of God Himself as the archetypal
light which gives forth rays imperceptible to the senses, being intelligible to the
intellect alone (On the Cherubim 97). This light seems uniquely perceptible to God.
But in his treatise On Dreams Philo does say that this light shines upon the mind
and in so doing eclipses the light of the outward senses so that the light of virtues
like prudence, justice, knowledge, and wisdom shines forth clearly (1.7284; cf. On
the Confusion of Tongues 60). Philo proceeds to say that the divine Logos is not
only the model of the sun, but that when it reaches to our earthly constitution,
assists and protects those who are akin to virtue, or whose inclinations lead them to
virtue; so that it provides them with a complete refuge and salvation (On Dreams
1.8586).
John says that to those who welcomed him the Logos gave the right to become
children of God (1. 12). Philo, for his part, writes,
they who have real knowledge, are properly addressed as the sons of the one God . And
even if there be not as yet anyone who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let
him labor earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born Logos, the eldest of his angels,
as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the authority, and the name of God,
and the Logos, and man according to Gods image, and he who sees Israel. For which rea-
son I was induced a little while ago to praise the principles of those who said, We are all
one mans sons. (Genesis 42.11.) For even if we are not yet suitable to be called the sons of
God, still we may deserve to be called the children of his eternal image, of his most sacred
Logos; for the image of God is his most ancient Logos (On the Confusion of Tongues
145.7).

There is striking accord here, though John dares to affirm that to which Philo seems
only to aspire, that we are in fact children of God.
Finally, both the prologue of John and Philo distinguish between what we might
call the transcendent and immanent Logos. John speaks of the Logos as existing
46 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

with God sans creation, then of the Logos as the agent of creation, and finally even
of the Logoss becoming flesh and dwelling among us (1.14). Philo also thinks of
the Logos as active in the world, but, as we shall see, places great weight on the role
of the Logos as the mind of God in that state of Gods existing sans creation.
Of course, there are differences between Philo and Johns Logos doctrines, the
most obvious and important being Johns affirmation that the Logos has taken on
human flesh and become a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Philo could never speak of the
incarnate Logos, says Leonhardt-Balzer bluntly.29 But even here Philos doctrine
could be taken as anticipatory of what Christians wanted to affirm with regard to
Christ. Philo identifies the Logos with the image of God, which according to Gen.
1. 27 is man (Allegorical Interpretation 3.96; Concerning Noahs Work as a Planter
[De agricultura No] 1820). According to Philo the Logos is at once a kind of
second deity, distinct from the supreme Father of the universe whose Word he
is, and the archetype of which the human mind is the similitude and form
(Questions and Answers on Genesis [Quaestiones et solutiones] 2.62). So Philo
does not shrink from referring to the Logos as the man according to Gods image,
so that it may be rightly said of the righteous We are all one mans sons (Confusion
of Tongues 1467). In an astonishing passage, Philo refers to the Logos as Gods
eldest son and His first-born () (Confusion of Tongues 623; cf. 146);
as for John, he is Gods (Jn. 1. 14; 3. 16, 18). Philo has thus prepared the
way for Johns bold affirmation that the archetypal man has actually become a man.
The resemblances between Philo and Johns doctrines of the Logos are so numer-
ous and close that most Johannine scholars, while not willing to affirm Johns direct
dependence on Philo, do recognize that the author of the prologue of Johns Gospel
shares with Philo a common intellectual tradition of Platonizing interpretation of
Genesis chapter one.
Now John does not tarry to reflect on the role of the divine Logos causally prior
to creation. But this pre-creation role features prominently in Philos Logos doctrine.
According to Runia a cornerstone of Middle Platonism was the bifurcation of the
intelligible and sensible realms.30 To draw the distinction in this way is, however,
somewhat misleading.31 The fundamental distinction here, as originally found in
Plato, is between the realm of static being ( ) and the realm of temporal
becoming ( ). The former realm is to be grasped by the intel-
lect, whereas the latter is perceived by the senses. The realm of becoming was com-

29
Leonhardt-Balzer, Der Logos und die Schpfung, p.318; cf. pp.31516.
30
Runia, Philo and the Timaeus, p.68. The locus classicus of the distinction was Platos Timaeus
27d528a4, which is in turn cited by Apuleius De Platone et eius dogmate 193; Nicomachus
Introductio arithmetica 1. 2. 1; Numenius fr. 7; Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 3. 5; Sextus
Empiricus Adversus mathematicos 7. 142.
31
None of Runias texts draws the fundamental distinction at issue as intelligible vs. sensible;
rather it is being vs. becoming. The problem with the former characterization of the distinction is
that it seems to leave no place for immaterial concreta like intelligences, angels, or souls. Given
that the intelligible realm exists in the mind of God, such beings cannot be classed as part of the
intelligible realm. They must be part of the sensible realm, which is thus more accurately described
as the realm of concrete objects subject to becoming.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 47

prised primarily of physical objects, while the static realm of being was comprised
of what we would today call abstract objects. For Middle Platonists, as for Plato, the
intelligible world ( ) served as a model for the creation of the sensible
world ( ). But for a Jewish monotheist like Philo, the realm of Ideas
does not exist independently of God but as the contents of His mind. This view was
not original to Philo; the interpretation of the Platonic Ideas as thoughts in the mind
of God was characteristic of Middle Platonism and became widespread throughout
the ancient world.32 For Philo the intelligible world ( ) may be thought
of as either formed by the divine Logos or, more reductively, as the divine Logos
itself as God is engaged in creating. Although references to this role of the Logos
are frequent in Philo,33 the fullest exposition of his doctrine comes in his On the
Creation of the World according to Moses:
God, because He is God, understood in advance that a fair copy would not come into exis-
tence apart from a fair model, and that none of the objects of sense-perception would be
without fault, unless it was modeled on the archetypal and intelligible idea. When he had
decided to construct this visible cosmos, he first marked out the intelligible cosmos, so that
he could use it as an incorporeal and most god-like paradigm and so produce the corporeal
cosmos, a younger likeness of an older model, which would contain as many sense-
perceptible kinds as there were intelligible kinds in that other one. To declare or suppose
that the cosmos composed of the ideas exists in some place is not permissible. How it has
been constituted we will understand if we pay careful attention to an image drawn from our
own world. When a city is founded, in accordance with the high ambition of a king or a
ruler who has laid claim to supreme power and, because he is at the same time magnificent

32
For example, Nicomachus of Gerasa (c. A.D. 60120), who flourished in Roman Syria adjacent
to Judaeae, held that of the subjects of the classical quadrivium,
arithmetic existed before all the others in the mind of the creating God like some univer-
sal and exemplary plan, relying upon which as a design and archetypal example, the Creator
of the universe sets in order his material creations and makes them attain their proper
ends .
All that has by nature with systematic method been arranged in the universe seems both
in part and as a whole to have been determined and ordered in accordance with number, by
the forethought and the mind of him that created all things; for the pattern was fixed, like a
preliminary sketch, by the domination of number prexistent in the mind of the world-cre-
ating God, number conceptual only and immaterial in every way, but at the same time the
true and the eternal essence, so that with reference to it, as to an artistic plan, should be
created all these things, time, motion, the heavens, the stars, all sorts of revolutions
(Nicomachus of Gerasa, Introduction to Arithmetic [ ] 1.4, 6, trans.
Martin Luther DOoge [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1938], pp.187, 189).

See further Rich, Platonic Ideas as the Thoughts of God, pp.12333. She observes, Though
Plato speaks of the transcendent Idea as existing alone and by itself and never in anything else
[Sympos. 211A], the tendency among many of his interpreters [e.g., Albinus, Plutarch, Philo,
Galen, Atticus, Origen, Stobaeus, Hippolytus, Theodoret] seems to have been to make the Idea
dependent upon God as a thought resident in his mind (p.123). R.M. Jones says that the doctrine
of the Platonic Ideas as Gods thoughts was so well-known by Philos time that Philo could employ
it without hesitation (Roger Miller Jones, The Ideas as the Thoughts of God, Classical Philology
21 [1926]: 317326).
33
E.g., Allegorical Interpretation 3. 96; On the Migration of Abraham 6; On Flight and Finding 12;
On Dreams 1. 75; 2. 45; The Special Laws 1. 81; On the Confusion of Tongues 603; 172.
48 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

in his conception, adds further adornment to his good fortune, it can happen that a trained
architect comes forward. Having observed both the favourable climate and location of the
site, he first designs in his mind a plan of virtually all the parts of the city that is to be
completedtemples, gymnasia, public offices, market-places, harbours, shipyards, streets,
construction of walls, the establishment of other buildings both private and public. Then,
taking up the imprints of each object in his own soul like in wax, he carries around the
intelligible city as an image in his head. Summoning up the images by means of his innate
power of memory and engraving their features even more distinctly in his mind, he begins,
like a good builder, to construct the city out of stones and timber, looking at the model and
ensuring that the corporeal objects correspond to each of the incorporeal ideas. The
conception we have concerning God must be similar to this, namely that when he had
decided to found the great cosmic city, he first conceived its outlines. Out of these he
composed the intelligible cosmos, which served him as a model when he also completed the
sense-perceptible cosmos. Just as the city that was marked out beforehand in the architect
had no location outside, but had been engraved in the soul of the craftsman, in the same way
the cosmos composed of the ideas would have no other place than the divine Logos who
gives these (ideas) their ordered disposition. After all, what other place would there be for
his powers sufficient to receive and contain, I do not speak about all of them, but just a
single one of them in its unmixed state? If you would wish to use a formulation that has
been stripped down to essentials, you might say that the intelligible cosmos is nothing else
than the Logos of God as He is actually engaged in making the cosmos. For the intelligible
city too is nothing else than the reasoning of the architect as he is actually engaged in
planning the foundation of the city (On the Creation of the World 1620; 24).

Especially noteworthy is Philos insistence that the world of ideas cannot exist any-
where but in the divine Logos. Just as the ideal architectural plan of a city exists
only in the mind of the architect, so the world of ideas exists solely in the mind of
God. Since time, for Philo, has a beginning at creation, the formation of the
intelligible realm in the divine mind should probably be thought of as timeless and
as explanatorily prior to Gods creation of the sensible realm.
On Philos doctrine, then, there is no realm of independently existing abstract
objects. While not part of the created realm, the , though eternal
and unchanging, must be considered dependent for its existence on God.34
Given the close similarity of the Logos doctrine of the Johannine prologue to
Philos doctrine, it is not at all impossible that the author of the prologue was aware
of the relation of the Logos to the realm of ideas. It is striking how verbs of being
dominate vv. 12, while verbs of becoming dominate vv. 35.35 The light that

34
Runia, Philo and the Timaeus, p.138. Philo interpreted Gen. 1. 15 to relate the creation, not of
the concrete world, but of the ideal world in the mind of God which then served as His model for
the concrete world. Philo thereby underlines the fact that ideal objects do not exist a se.
Goodenoughs reflections on the derivative nature of created beings are also relevant to ideal
objects: in Philos view
worship is due only to absolute power. This word, , our word autocratic
power, means self-originating power. The power of all created things is not self-originat-
ing, but is derivative from the One. Only God has power of his own right and nature (Erwin
Goodenough, An Introduction to Philo Judaeus [Oxford: Blackwell, 1962], p.107).
35
According to Sterling, Platonizing Exegetical Traditions, this verbal contrast became a stan-
dard way for later Platonists to distinguish between the eternal world of the ideas and the sense
perceptible world in which we live. I suggest that the author of the hymn understood the shift from
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 49

enlightens every man coming into the world (v. 9) is plausibly the intelligible light
of the Logos. If John took the realm of created things to include only concrete
objects subject to temporal becoming, that may have been only because abstract
entities were not thought to be independently existing objects external to God but to
be ideas immanent in the Logos and so no challenge to Gods aseity and universal
creation.
This brings us back to the previously noted question of the punctuation of Jn.
1.3.36 The distinction in Middle Platonism between the intelligible realm and the
realm of temporal becoming gives grounds for taking the phrase to belong
to v. 3, for it is descriptive of the realm of temporal becoming which owes its origin
to the Logos. The intelligible realm does not have an independent existence, for it is
the contents of the divine mind or Logos. Interested as he is in the incarnation of the
Logos, John does not linger over the pre-creatorial function of the Logos, but given
the provenance of the Logos doctrine, he may well have been aware of the role of
the Logos in grounding the intelligible realm as well as his role in creating the realm
of temporal concrete objects.
However this may be, our exegetical study of Jn. 1.15 supports the conclusion
that the author of the prologue of Johns Gospel conceives of God as the creator of
everything apart from Himself. There are no uncreated, independently existing,
eternal objects, for God exists uniquely a se.

The Witness ofPaul

Turn now to the Pauline witness. The same Hellenistic Judaism, epitomized by
Philo, that forms the background of Johns prologue also finds echoes in Pauls
statements on Gods being the source of all things. Consider the following
representative Pauline texts:
there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one
Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Cor. 8.6
NRSV).37
For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from
God (1 Cor. 11.12 NRSV).38
For from him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 11.36 NRSV).39
He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation; for by him all
things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or

to in Genesis 1 as a textual warrant for a Platonic understanding. The point is espe-


cially strong if we include the phrase in v. 3.
36
See note 6.
37
, , ,
.
38
, .
39

50 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

dominions or rulers or powersall things have been created through him and for him (Col.
1.1516 NRSV).40

Like John, Paul ascribes the origin of all things () to God. As a monotheistic
Jew, Paul held to the traditional understanding that God is the source of everything
other than Himself.41 After the fact of God's unity, comments Fee, this is the next
fundamental theological statement of the Judeo-Christian understanding of God.42
No exceptions, other than God Himself, are contemplated to Gods being the fount
of all things.43
Commenting on the background of Rom. 11.36, Douglas Moo observes, The
concept of God as the source (ek), sustainer (dia), and goal (eis) of all things is
particularly strong among the Greek Stoic philosophers. Hellenistic Jews picked up
this language and applied it to Yahweh; and it is probably, therefore, from the
synagogue that Paul borrows this formula.44 Stoic thought is the more distant
progenitor; more immediately we find here variations on the prepositional
metaphysics of Middle Platonism that Philo adopted (though here, in contrast to
Stoic and Middle Platonist usage, ek indicates, not material causation, but origin in
God as Creator of all things). Noting how unusual for Paul such prepositional
formulations are, Richard Horsley has argued that a Philonic provenance for Pauls
expressions is especially evident in Pauls Corinthian correspondence.45 He shows

40
, ,
, ,

41
As we have sought to show elsewhere, Gods unique status as the only eternal, uncreated being
is typical for Judaism (Copan and Craig, Creation out of Nothing, chaps. 13).
42
Gordon D.Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New
Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B.Eerdmans, 1987), p.375.
43
Compare in this regard how Paul treats the universally quantified statement of Psalm 8.6: For
God has put all things in subjection under his feet. But when it says, All things are put in subjec-
tion, it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him (I Cor.
15.27 NRSV). Here Paul is willing to allow the obvious exception of God Himself. Similarly,
when Paul affirms that All things are from God, he means this in a universal sense, apart from the
obvious exception of God Himself.
44
Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New
Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B.Eerdmans, 1996), p.743. The connection with Stoic
texts was argued by Eduard Norden, who observed that there is no parallel in the Old Testament to
Rom. 11.36 (Eduard Norden, Agnostos Theos: Untersuchungen zur Formengeschichte religiser
Rede (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1913), pp.2403; cf. pp.2504 for Hellenistic background to Col.
1.1516.). While mentioning the appropriation by Hellenistic Judaism, Norden did not explore the
relevant Philonic texts. Dunn conveniently provides excerpts of parallel texts (James D.G. Dunn,
Romans 916, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 38B [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988], p.702).
For Stoic texts (some of which are Roman) see Pseudo-Aristotle De mundo 6; Seneca Epistulae
morales ad Lucilium 65.8; Marcus Aurelius Meditations 4.23. For Philo see Special Laws 1.208
and Cherubim 1256. As Murphy-OConnor rightly reminds us (see below), what is important
here is not so much verbal as conceptual parallels.
45
Richard A. Horsley, 1 Corinthians, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries (Nashville:
Abingdon, 1998), pp.11920; for detailed analysis see idem, Gnosis in Corinth: I Corinthians
8.16, New Testament Studies 27 (1980): 3251.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 51

that numerous passages in Philos writings provide an analogy for nearly every
aspect of the Corinthians religious language and viewpoint.46 He comments,
I Cor. 8.6 is an adaptation of the traditional Hellenistic Jewish form of predication regarding
the respective creative and soteriological roles of God and Sophia/Logos, which Philo or his
predecessors had adapted from a Platonic philosophical formula concerning the primal
principles of the universe. What was already a fundamental tenet of the Hellenistic Jewish
religion expressed in the book of Wisdom appears in more philosophical formulation in
Philo; that God is the ultimate Creator and final Cause of the universe, and that Sophia/
Logos is agent (and paradigm) of creation or the instrumental (and formal) cause.47

Notice that whereas God is regarded as the efficient and final cause of the universe
of created things, Sophia/Logos serves as the instrumental cause and the formal
cause (or paradigm) of creation, this latter role being specifically the source or
ground of the or ideal world. Pauls innovation is that he substitutes
Christ for Sophia/Logos, having Christ take over what were the functions of
Sophia, according to the gnosis of the Corinthians.48
Similarly, in his letter to the Colossians Paul has apparently adapted traditional
Hellenistic Jewish hymnic material concerning Sophia/Logos to make Christ the
agent of creation. Peter OBrien comments,
while there are points of linguistic contact with Stoicism especially, and thus the language
of the hymn may well have served as a bridge for those from such a background (cf. the
similar function of in John 1), nevertheless Pauline thought is different from the
pantheistically conceived world-soul of Stoicism. the parallels from Hellenistic Judaism,
especially the LXX, are much closer.49

46
Horsley, Gnosis in Corinth, p.43.
47
Ibid., p.46.
48
Ibid., p.51. Bauckham concludes,
We can, therefore, be confident that Pauls formulationfrom him and through him and to
him [are] all things (Rom. 11:36)is neither original to Paul nor borrowed directly from
non-Jewish sources, but was known to him as a Jewish description precisely of Gods
unique relationship to all other reality
The only (!) novel element in Pauls reformulation is the inclusion of Jesus Christ within
the unique divine identity so understood (Bauckham, Biblical Theology and the Problems
of Monotheism, pp.1034).
49
Peter T. OBrien, Colossians, Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary 44 (Nashville: Thomas
Nelson, 2000), p.47. E.g., Wisdom (or Sirach) 43.26 says that through his word all things hold
together. The parallels become even closer if one adopts the majority view that the original mate-
rial adapted by Paul spoke of the cosmos rather than the church as the body of which Sophia/Logos
is the head. OBrien observes,
Philo of Alexandria referred to the world of the heavens as a uniform body over which the
Logos was set as head (Som 1.128). As the body of man needs the direction and guidance
given by the head (Spec Leg 3.184), so too the body of the universe needs the eternal Logos
which is its head to direct it (Quaest in Ex 2.117). So on the view that the words of the hymn
are a cosmological assertion it is stated that Christ is the head ([kephal]) who rules the
body of the cosmos (Ibid., p.49).

OBrien rejects the majority view because body is typically used by Paul of the church, but never
of the world. But that fact only shows why Paul would adapt such material to fit his theology
even if OBriens scepticism about attempts to recover the original wording is justified.
52 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

It is striking that whereas in Col. 1.1516; 1 Cor. 8.6 Paul singles out Christ as,
like Johns Logos, the instrumental cause of creation, in Rom. 11.36 Paul declares
the Father to be the source, sustainer, and goal of all things. James D. G. Dunn
comments,
Paul saw no conflict whatsoever between ascribing agency in creation to God and ascribing
it also to Christ. Rom 11:36 thus confirms the implication of 1 Cor 8:6 that ascribing
agency in creation to Christ did not conflict at all with his belief in God as one and alone
creator, and that the Christology thus expressed was contained within his (Jewish)
monotheism.50

Rom. 11.36 is thus, in Moos words, a declaration of Gods ultimacy.51 Dunn


concurs: Where the focus is so exclusively on the supreme majesty and self-
sufficiency of God, the Stoic type formula provides a fitting climax: he is the source,
medium, and goal of everything, the beginning, middle, and end of all that is.52
It might be said that the domain of Pauls universal quantifiers is limited in some
way. For example, some commentators have interpreted Paul to be speaking
soteriologically, not cosmologically.53 Not only does such an interpretation ignore
the provenance of Pauls expressions in Middle Platonism,54 but there is no reason
to restrict Pauls quantifiers to things pertaining to salvation.55 Indeed, such a restric-
tion presupposes a false dichotomy, for as Dunn says of Romans,
In an argument which began with mans rebellion against God as creator, what could be
more appropriate than a final acclamation of God as the creator? In the final analysis the
election of Israel, the gospel outreach to the Gentiles, the whole course of salvation-history
itself, are simply aspects of the most fundamental relation of all, that of the Creator with his
creation.56

50
Dunn, Romans 916, p.702.
51
Moo, Epistle to the Romans, p.740.
52
Dunn, Romans 916, p.704.
53
E.g., Jerome Murphy-OConnor, Corinthians 8:6: Cosmology or Soteriology? [1978], rep. in
idem, Keys to First Corinthians: Revisiting the Major Issues (Oxford University Press, 2009),
pp. 5875 ; William Hendricksen, Exposition of Pauls Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1981), p.388. On Murphy-OConnors change of mind, see the following note.
54
In his 1978 article Murphy-OConnor disputed Stoic parallels to I Cor. 8.6 because of the two-
fold shift from all things to we and because the four prepositional phrases do not refer to the
same subject. These are weak objections, especially when one reflects on Pauls substituting the
cosmic Christ for the Philonic Logos as the instrumental cause of creation. In his 2009 postscript
Murphy-OConnor admits, I now think that I made a mistake in focusing exclusively on Stoic ta
panta parallels to the detriment of comparative material to be found in Hellenistic Judaism, notably
as regards its understanding of creation (Murphy-OConnor, Corinthians 8:6, p. 70). Citing
Philos Cherubim 127, he says that he is now persuaded that 8.6 embodies a reference to creation
(Ibid., p.72). He even speculates that it was Apollos, an Alexandrian Jew, who introduced Philonic
thought to Corinth! He concludes, Christ is presented as the instrument of creation, a role that
Jewish tradition attributed to Wisdom and to the Word, adding merely that These pre-existents,
however, were never seen as threats to monotheism (Ibid., p.74).
55
See Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, p.374.
56
Dunn, Romans 916, p.704. Cf. Horsleys comment on I Cor. 8.6: While leaving intact their
affirmation of God as the source and final cause of all things, he replaces Sophia with Christ,
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 53

In particular, 1 Cor. 11.12 is, in light of the comparison with human origins, plainly
a text about cosmological origins. In Col. 1, vv. 1516 describe Christs cosmological
role and vv. 1720 his soteriological role.
It might be said that the domain of Pauls quantifiers is restricted to concrete
objects. For the role ascribed to Christ in Col. 1.1516 seems to be the instrumental
cause and end of creation. One might think that only concrete objects are in view in
creation, and, therefore, Pauls quantifiers are restricted to such. The things in
heaven are doubtless angelic beings, not ideal objects of the . Such
an argument is misconceived in multiple ways. First, waiving the fact that thrones,
dominions, and powers are not, in fact, concrete objectsany more than are
municipalities or jurisdictions, the overriding point is that in Hellenistic Judaism
the was not taken to be part of the created world but to exist in the
mind of the Logos and to serve as the pattern for Gods creation of the concrete
world. Ideal objects are not part of creation or the world but are Gods ideas.57 They
have no existence outside the divine mind. So in ascribing to Christ the role of the
Logos in creating the concrete realm, Paul is affirming that everything apart from
God has been created by God through Christ. The domain of Pauls quantifiers is
unlimited: everything outside God has been created by God.
That the domain of Pauls quantifiers is unrestricted is evident from the fact that
the expression the heavens and the earth, is a typical Jewish merism or totalizing
idiom comprising everything apart from God.58 Pauls characterization of the created
realm as all things in heaven and on earth was not, in the mind of a first-century
Jew, any sort of restriction. Moreover, Paul characterizes the Son as the creator of
all things visible and invisible, a characterization which, having the form A and
not-A, is collectively exhaustive. Indeed, Pauls thinking is expansive: he moves
from speaking of all things in heaven and on earth, to all things visible and invisible,
and finally to all things simpliciter. His intention is that the domain of his quantifiers
be unrestricted.
This conclusion is significant because it shows that the biblical authors were not
partisans of absolute creationism, the view that abstract objects are part of the cre-

applying to him the predicates of the instrument of creation and the instrument of salvation
(Horsley, 1 Corinthians, p.120).
57
On what the worldas opposed to the intelligible worldcomprises, see Philos remark:
When you wish to give thanks to God with your mind, and to assert your gratitude for the
creation of the world, give him thanks for the creation of it as a whole, and of all its separate
parts in their integrity, as if for the limbs of a most perfect animal; and by the parts I mean,
for instance, the heaven, and the sun, and the moon, and the fixed stars; and secondly the
earth, and the animals, and plants which spring from it; and next the seas and rivers, whether
naturally springing from the ground or swollen by rain as winter torrents, and all the things
in them: and lastly, the air and all the changes that take place in it; for winter, and summer,
and spring, and autumn, being the seasons of the year, and being all of great service to
mankind, are what we may call affections of the air for the preservation of all these things
that are beneath the moon (Special Laws 1.210).
58
See Copan and Craig, Creation out of Nothing, p.43.
54 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

ated world. By distinguishing between the and the


Hellenistic Judaism rejected both Platonism and absolute creationism. At most
Hellenistic Judaism accepted divine conceptualism with respect to abstracta, the
view that what typically pass as abstract objects are, in fact, thoughts of God.
Depending on what ontological status is ascribed to Gods thoughts, even
conceptualism may outstrip Hellenistic Jews ontological commitments. Philo likes
to compare the to the ideas in the mind of a human architect, and it
is dubious that he took such an architects thoughts to be bona fide objects existing
in the world. Thus, he says, If you would wish to use a formulation that has been
stripped down to essentials, you might say that the intelligible cosmos is nothing
else than the Logos of God as He is actually engaged in making the cosmos. For the
intelligible city too is nothing else than the reasoning of the architect as he is actually
engaged in the planning the foundation of the city (On the Creation of the World
24). Even anti-realists agree that human persons think of numbers, propositions, and
such without taking their thoughts to be identical to such objects or to have the
ontological status of existent objects. Similarly, all that Philo may be committed to
by his Logos doctrine is God Himself thinking in various ways.
Perhaps biblical authors followed the lead of Hellenistic Judaism in locating
mathematical objects and the like in the mind of the Logos; perhaps they had never
considered the subject. We do not know. But just as the discovery of extra-terrestrial
planets would not have led them to think that these objects somehow escaped
Christs creatorial power, so the discovery that there are abstract objects would not
lead them to exempt them from having their source in Christ. As Leftow wryly
remarks, if the biblical writers had become convinced of David Lewiss modal
views (according to which other possible worlds are concrete spatiotemporal entities
different from the actual world), they would probably have wanted this extra
ontology to be covered by Gods creation as well.59 The plausibility of this surmise
gives Leftows following comment its bite: they meant all things to cover things
known and unknown: they could not have believed that they knew everything all
things ranged over. But once grant this point, and it is hard to see why we should
limit its scope to the concrete.60 Thus, Biblical authors who came to believe in
abstracta would want to hold God responsible for them all. Their idea surely is not
that God has done enough to deserve praise and so on (that is, made a big part of
reality), but there are realms of reality for which He does not deserve praise and so
on.61 Rather God and Christ deserve praise for everything that exists because all of
it finds its source in God.
The biblical witness to divine aseity and Gods being the sole ultimate reality is
thus impressive. God is affirmed to exist independently of everything else and to be
alone eternal in His being. Everything apart from God is said to belong to the realm
of temporal becoming and to have been created by God through Christ, the divine
Logos.

59
Brian Leftow, God and Necessity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp.1078.
60
Ibid., p.63 (my emphasis).
61
Ibid., p.64 (my emphasis).
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 55

I want to close our discussion of the biblical witness by reflecting briefly on the
biblical authors doctrine of creation. I have remarked that the biblical writers
affirmation that all things other than God have been created by God doubtlessly
looks back to the creation account in Genesis 1. The form of Jn. 1.1 mirrors Gen.
1.1, and the ubiquitous use of past-tense verbs for creationfor example, All
things came into being through him (Jn. 1.3) and For by him all things in heaven
and on earth were created (Col. 1.15)indicates that some event in the past is in
view. But this raises a puzzle occasioned by the late arrival on the scene of things
not created in Gods original act of creation. Since the origin of many things is
relatively recent and to all appearances non-miraculous, in what sense can they be
said to have been created by God? Such a question is not foreign to the biblical text.
For biblical writers were aware that living organisms are born every day through
apparently natural processes. Even more obviously, artifacts of human manufacture
are brought about through natural causes on a daily basis. So how is it that everything
that has come into being has done so through divine creation? In what sense can
God be said to have created, for example, the Parthenon or the Jewish Temple?
Leftow has helpfully formulated several models of what he calls late creation.62
(i) God created ex nihilo the simples (atoms) out of which material things are
made. If there are no simples, then at some level God created ex nihilo the composite
stuff of which material things consist. They therefore owe their existence to God.
(ii) God not only created the stuff out of which material things are made but also
established deterministic causal systems primed to produce certain effects at later
times. God thereby intended to bring these later effects into being and can be said to
create them by setting up the causal antecedents for them. One can supplement this
model by adding free agents to the things that God intends, along with the artifacts
He then leads them to produce or knew they would freely produce. On this model
God is the remote cause and creatures the proximate causes of things coming into
being. (iii) God could will and cause an entire causal sequence of events to exist
terminating in the production of some creature. On this model God causes, not
merely the first member of a causal sequence, but the entire sequence. Still each
member of the sequence has causal antecedents in the sequence. Again, this model
can be enhanced by making some of the creaturely causes free agents, whose
choices produce effects intended by God. (iv) We can extend (iii) by adding that
God conserves objects in being by willing that they persist from one time until a
later time. Thus, at every moment of their existence they are being created ex nihilo
in that God wills that they persist in being rather than be annihilated. On this model,
late creation is a matter of Gods conserving the world in being.
Obviously not all of these models would be applicable to Gods creation of
immaterial entities like angels, souls, or abstract objects. But late creation either
does not come into view for such objects or is unproblematic. Angels may have been
created once only, perhaps at the moment of creation and never again. Souls could
be created immediately by God throughout history at the various appropriate times.

62
Ibid., pp.1520.
56 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

Abstract objects come in such diverse types that no one model applies.63 Since our
concern here is with biblical, not systematic theology, let us leave aside for the
moment Gods creation of abstract objects, since these do not come explicitly into
view in the biblical text.
While the systematic theologian will typically want to affirm a doctrine of divine
conservation in line with option (iv), it is doubtful that John and Paul had such a
model in mind in the passages we have examined, given the dominance of past-
tense verbs of creation in their statements. They probably looked primarily to Gods
original action of creation in the beginning. Given that they were not theorists of
natural law, they may be most naturally understood to have had something like
option (i) in mind, perhaps supplemented by Gods providential intentions that later
things should come to be. Not that John and Paul were atomists; rather they believed
that in addition to angels and souls, God created the stuff out of which physical
things are made and so He can be said to be the Creator of all things. Such a model
does not commit the biblical writers to some sort of mereological nihilism, the view
that there are no composite objects, for they could consistently and no doubt did
believe that things like bricks and swords and horses do exist as bona fide things,
even if they are composed of parts. Indeed, such a model would not even commit
them to some sort of emergentism with respect to macroscopic objects, the view that
macroscopic objects are composed of more fundamental parts. Instead of a
bottom-up fundamentalism, they may have preferred a more commonsensical
top-down perspective, according to which the parts of things emerge as one takes
an increasingly microscopic view of objects. On a top-down perspective the
fundamental reality is the macroscopic object itself. Such an object, though
fundamental, may still be said to have been created by God in the sense that God
brought into being the stuff of which it is made. Finite agents are artificers who
shape the stuff into things like knives and bricks or beget progeny via material stuff
like semen. They are thus, as option (ii) affirms, proximate causes of what exists.
God remains the ultimate Creator in that He is the source of the stuff of which every
material thing is made, as well as the Creator of angels and souls.

63
Many, like numbers, are plausibly timeless, if they exist at all, and so, properly speaking, can be
neither created nor conserved in being by God, since these are both temporal activities. So late
creation does not even come into view for them. At most they could be said to be sustained (tense-
lessly) by God (see Copan and Craig, Creation out of Nothing, p.164). On the other hand, if we
are talking about temporal abstracta, then some of them, like properties, would exist from eternity
and so would also elude being created. But other temporal abstracta, like the Equator or the center
of mass of the solar system, could be brought into being immediately by God when the material is
appropriately arranged or else created along the lines of models (ii), (iii), or (iv). Similarly, the
same models could account for the late creation of abstracta which are the products of free agents,
like literary and musical compositions.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 57

The Witness oftheChurch Fathers

Inspired by the New Testament teachings, particularly of John and of Paul, the
Church Fathers similarly understood God to be the sole ultimate reality. The
conviction that God is the Creator of everything that exists aside from God Himself
eventually attained credal status at the Council of Nicaea. In language redolent of
the prologue to the fourth Gospel and of Paul, the Council affirmed:
I believe in one God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things vis-
ible and invisible;
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages,
light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father,
through whom all things came into being.64

The phrase Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible is
Pauline, and the expression through whom all things came into being Johannine.
At face value the Council seems to affirm that God alone is uncreated and that all
else was created by Him. Once again, the Christian metaphysician who thinks that
there are uncreated, abstract objects must take the domain of the credal quantifiers
to be restricted in some way if he is to hold to Nicene orthodoxy.
The Christian philosopher Peter van Inwagen, for example, is clearly troubled by
the fact that he feels forced philosophically to accept the existence of things which
are uncreated by God despite the seemingly clear statement of the first article of the
Creed to the contrary. Van Inwagen tells us that when he recites the Nicene Creed,
therefore,
I must regard the phrase creator of all things visible and invisible as containing a tacitly
restricted quantifier. I commit myself only to the proposition that God is the creator of
all things (besides himself) that can in some sense be either causes or effects.65

This is what he, as a realist about uncreated abstract objects, must do; but can he
justifiably do so? In van Inwagens words, Is it permissible for the Christian to
regard the range of the quantifier everything in the sentence God has created
everything as restricted to a certain class of objects ?66 It is surprising how little
effort and attention van Inwagen actually gives to a defense of an affirmative answer
to this question. All that we are given by way of a defense is the plausibility of tak-
ing Jesus logion With God all things are possible (Mt. 19:26) as tacitly involving
a restricted quantifier. Van Inwagen concludes, This example shows that it is at

64
, , , ,
.
, , ,
. ,
, , o , .
65
Peter van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated Things, in Metaphysics and God, ed. Kevin
Timpe (London: Routledge, 2009), p.19.
66
Ibid., p.3.
58 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

least not beyond dispute that in the creedal statement God is the creator of all
things, all things must be understood as an unrestricted quantifier.67
Van Inwagens conclusion is, however, both a non sequitur and an irrelevancy.
Jesus saying provides at best an illustration of a tacitly restricted universal
quantifier. But it sheds no light at all upon the meaning of the first article of the
Nicene Creed. We could just as well have illustrated van Inwagens point by the
statement, Theres nothing in the refrigerator. Van Inwagens question concerns
the meaning of the Nicene Creed, and no responsible answer to such a question can
be given without serious engagement in exegesis and historical theology.68 In any
case, van Inwagens conclusion, taken at face value, is framed in such extreme terms
that it ceases to be relevant. If his illustration really does suffice to show that it is
not beyond dispute that (all things) should be understood here as an
unrestricted quantifier, then the same is true with respect to any universally quantified
statement and so is no longer interesting. What the philosopher or theologian who
is concerned to stay within the bounds of orthodoxy wants to know is how likely it
is that the domain of the quantifier in the first article of the Creed is intended to be
unrestricted or to be tacitly restricted in some way.69
Van Inwagen thinks that the domain of the quantifier in the opening article is
tacitly restricted to objects that can enter into causal relations. But whereas he
provides grounds for thinking that the quantifier in Jesus saying was intended to be
restricted to matters of practical interest to people, van Inwagen provides no
evidence at all to show that the formulators of Nicaea understood the domain of
their quantifier to be in any way restricted.
On the contrary, I think that we have convincing evidence that they assumed the
quantifier to be unrestricted in its scope. At the heart of the Arian controversy which
occasioned the convening of the Council of Nicaea lay a pair of terminological

67
Ibid., p.4.
68
This is worth emphasizing. Van Inwagen takes his paper to be a defense of the consistency of his
belief in uncreated abstract objects with the first article of the Nicene Creed, and his defense of that
position depends crucially upon what the Creed means. That is an exegetical, not a philosophical,
question. It is easy to give an interpretation of the Creed which is consistent with ones philosophi-
cal beliefs; but texts have objective meanings, and not every interpretation is consistent with the
meaning of a given text. Van Inwagen is explicit about claiming that his beliefs about abstract
objects are consistent with the meaning of the Creed.
In his response paper in our symposium God and Abstract Objects, van Inwagen shows that
he still has not fully grasped this point. For he rejects taking the universal quantifier in Jesus
logion as unrestricted, not on textual or theological grounds, but on philosophical grounds
(Peter van Inwagen, A Reply to Dr. Craig, Philosophia Christi 17 [2015]: 301). This is just bad
hermeneutics. One cannot determine the meaning of an ancient, or any other, text by imposing
ones philosophical predilections upon it. In Jesus case there are compelling historical and contex-
tual reasons for taking his quantifiers to be restricted.
69
It should not, but probably does, need to be reiterated that the question here is not whether the
framers of Nicaea intended abstract objects to be included in the domain of their quantifiers, any-
more than the question is whether they intended automobiles, quarks, and black holes to be
included in the domain; rather, as van Inwagen rightly sees, the question is whether they intended
the domain of their quantifiers to include everything other than God, whatever such an inventory
might include.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 59

distinctions prevalent among the Church Fathers: agentos/gentos and agenntos/


genntos.70 The word pair agentos/gentos derives from the verb ginomai
(), which means to become or to come into being. Agentos means
unoriginated or uncreated, in contrast to gentos, which means created or
originated.71 The second word pair agenntos/genntos derives from the verb
genna (), which means to beget. That which is agenntos is unbegotten,
while that which is genntos is begotten. Most of us are familiar with the famous i
which marked the difference between confessing Christ as homoousios with the
Father and confessing Christ as homoiousios with the Father, so that the difference
between heresy and orthodoxy could rightly be said to hang on a single iota. But a
similar world of difference lay in the single n by means of which Christ could be
said to be agentos but genntos, in contrast to the Father, who is both agentos and
agenntos.72
Being homonyms, as well as so close in spelling, these terms were not always
clearly distinguished by the early Church Fathers.73 For example, Justin Martyr
asserts, God alone is agenntos and incorruptible, and therefore He is God, but all
other things after Him are gennta and corruptible (Dialogue with Trypho a Jew
[Dialogus cum Tryphoni] 5.3033). Here the contrast is evidently intended to be
between the uncreated and the created, since inanimate things are not properly said
to be begotten. As G.L. Prestige notes, so long as reference was being made to God
the Father, no harm was done in failing to distinguish between the agentos and the
agenntos, since the Father is both. Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Origen
will sometimes mix terms, contrasting the agentos and the genntos. Again, little
harm is done, so long as one is contrasting non-divine beings, even though i nanimate

70
In Greek / and / .
71
It (in the plural) is precisely the Greek equivalent of the word featured in the title of van Inwagens
paper: God and other agenta.
72
The doctrine that the Son is begotten of the Father admittedly stands in tension with my claim
that aseity belongs to the divine nature. For although all the persons of the Trinity are uncreated,
only the Father seems to be truly self-existent, the Son deriving his existence from the Father.
Perhaps one could say that aseity, though an essential property of God, does not belong to the kind-
nature deity, just as risibility was taken to be essential to man but not, properly speaking, part of
the generic human nature. Kind-natures are given in answer to the question What is it? and do
not include all a things essential properties. Similarly, being triune is an essential property of God
but is not part of the kind-nature shared by the three persons of the Trinity. Aseity could be taken
to be an essential property of God but not part of the divine nature because it is possessed only by
the Father. But since the doctrine of the Sons being begotten in his divine, as opposed to human,
nature is unattested by Scripture (see Murray J.Harris, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of
Theos in Reference to Jesus [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Bookhouse, 1992], pp.8492) but is
merely a vestige of the Logos Christology of the early Greek apologists, I am inclined to dispense
with it, holding the persons of the Trinity to be underived (William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland,
Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press,
2003], chap. 29). There is then no difficulty in claiming that aseity belongs to the divine nature.
73
For a survey of texts see the nice discussion by George L.Prestige, God in Patristic Thought
(London: SPCK, 1964), pp.3755, which I follow here. See also the references in J.B. Lightfoots
Excursus on the Words gennthenta ou poithenta reprinted in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,
2d series, vol. 14: Seven Ecumenical Councils, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (rep. ed.:
Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994), pp.47.
60 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

objects would be more appropriately called genta than gennta. But with the rise
of the Arian threat, greater precision became necessary.
As Athanasius, that great champion of Nicene orthodoxy, explains, Arians had
borrowed the term agentos from Greek philosophy and applied it exclusively to
God the Father (Defense of the Nicene Definition [De decretis] 7: On the Arian
symbol Agenetos; cf. Discourses against the Arians [Orationes contra Arianos
IV] 1.9.30; On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia [De synodis] 4647). The
relevant meaning of the term, he notes, is what exists but was neither originated nor
had origin of being, but is everlasting and indestructible. He complains with
obvious indignation that the Arian strategy was to ask the unsuspecting whether the
agentos is one or two. When the person replied that the agentos is one, the Arians
would spring the trap by exclaiming, Then the Son is gentos! and thus a creature.
Not surprisingly, then, Athanasius says that he prefers to use the term Father
rather than agentos, though he recognizes that the latter term has a proper and
religious use (Defense 7.3132; Discourses 1.9.3334).
According to Athanasius God exists beyond all created existence (gentes
ousias) (Against the Heathen [Contra gentes] 35.1; cf. 2.2; 40.2), which comprises
the heavens and the Earth, including the invisible powers (44. 2; 47.2). It belongs to
the nature of created things to be brought into existence from nothing (41.2). It is
evident that for Athanasius created being is the realm of non-divine concrete objects
and that God is unique in His transcending created existence. If this were not clear
enough, Athanasius affirms of the Word (Logos) that there is nothing that is and
takes place but has been made and stands by Him and through Him, quoting as his
proof-text Jn. 1.3 (42.2). The Word, through whom God created the world, exists in
Him that begat Him, nothing being outside Him, but both heaven and earth and
all that in them is being dependent on Him (47.2). Citing Prov 8.27, Athanasius
asks, Or who was with Him when He made all created existence, except His
Wisdom? but being present with Him as His Wisdom and His Word, looking at
the Father He fashioned the universe and organized it and gave it order (46.6).
Athanasius was familiar with Platos works, as we know from his citations, and this
remarkable passage seems to be a deliberate play on the account of creation in the
Timaeus. Rather than looking to the Forms as the pattern for creation, the Logos
looks to the Father in order to fashion the orderly universe. There is no realm of
abstract objects, for nothing apart from God is above created existence, and created
existence is the realm of concrete objects brought into being by God through His
Word.
On Athanasius view, although God is uniquely agentos, within the Godhead
the Father alone is unbegotten, the Son having his existence from the Father by
being begotten eternally of the Father and all else being in turn created by the Son.
Though like the Father agentos, the Son differs from the Father in being genntos.
Athanasius writes,
We do not regard God the Creator of all, the Son of God, as a creature, or thing made, or as
made out of nothing, for He is truly existent from Him who exists, alone existing from Him
who alone exists, in as much as the like glory and power was eternally and conjointly
begotten of the Father. All things to wit were made through the Son; but He Himself is
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 61

not a creature, as Paul says of the Lord: In Him were all things created, and He is before
all (Col. 1.16). Now He says not, was created before all things, but is before all things.
To be created, namely, is applicable to all things, but is before all applies to the Son only
(Statement of Faith [Expositio fidei] 3).

According to Athanasius, then, God alone is agentos; everything else is gentos.


But within the Godhead only the Father is agenntos, while the Son is genntos. So
in his own statement of faith, Athanasius confesses, We believe in one Unbegotten
God, Father Almighty, maker of all things both visible and invisible, that hath His
being from Himself. And in one Only-begotten Word, Wisdom, Son, begotten of the
Father without beginning and eternally (Statement of Faith 1).
Athanasius followed in the train of his bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, who
included the young Athanasius in his retinue at the Council of Nicaea. In explaining
the Arian heresy, Alexander notes that the Arians affirm that God created all things
out of nothing, including the Son. Citing Jn. 1.3, Alexander replies that John
himself affirms that the Word of God is not classed among things created out of the
non-existent, for he says that all things were made by Him (Epistle of Alexander
of Alexandria to Alexander of Constantinople, in Theodoret Ecclesiastical History
1.3). Alexander goes on to explain that the distinction between being and becoming
or uncreated and created is a bright dividing line between God and all else:
That which is must be of an opposite nature to, and essentially different from, things cre-
ated out of the non-existent. This shows, likewise, that there is no separation between the
Father and the Son, and that the idea of separation cannot even be conceived by the mind;
while the fact that the world was created out of the non-existent involves a later and fresh
genesis of its essential nature, all things having been endowed with such an origin of
existence by the Father through the Son.

In Alexanders thinking anything that is uncreated cannot be distinct from God. But
the Arians err in thinking that the orthodox, in affirming Christs deity, therefore
teach that there are two unbegotten Beings (Ibid.). The Father alone is unbegotten
as well as uncreated, whereas the Son is immutable and unchangeable, all-sufficient
and perfect, like the Father, lacking only His unbegotten. Human terms cannot
fully express what is meant by being unbegotten. The dignity of being unbegotten
is reserved to the Father alone: Therefore His own individual dignity must be
reserved to the Father as the Unbegotten One. we ascribe to the Father alone His
own proper glory of the unbegotten. In Alexanders thinking there is nothing
other than God the Father that is unbegotten and uncreated.
The ante-Nicene and Nicene Church Fathers, as well as the Arians themselves,
were united in rejecting any suggestion that there might exist agenta apart from
God alone:
there is not a plurality of agennta: for if there were some difference between them, you
would not discover the cause of the difference, though you searched for it; but after letting
the mind ever wander to infinity, you would at length, wearied out, stop at one agennton,
and say that this is the Cause of all things (Justin Dialogue 5).
it is impossible for two agenta to exist together (Methodius On Free Will [Peri tou autexou-
siou] 5)
62 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

in all things God has the pre-eminence, who alone is uncreated, the first of all things, and
the primary cause of the existence of all, while all other things remain under Gods subjec-
tion (Irenaeus Against heresies [Adversus haeresis] 4.38.3)
For before all things God was alone, himself his own world and location and everything
alone however because there was nothing external beside him (Tertullian Against Praxeas
[Contra Praxeum] 5.1315).
We have never heard that there are two unbegotten beings, nor that one has been divided
into two. ; but we affirm that the unbegotten is one (Letter of Eusebius of Nicomedia to
Paulinus of Tyre, in Theodoret Ecclesiastical History 1.5).
God, subsisting alone, and having nothing contemporaneous with Himself, determined to
create the world. And conceiving the world in mind, and willing and uttering the Word, He
made it; and straightaway it appeared formed as it had pleased Him. For us, then, it is suf-
ficient simply to know that there was nothing contemporaneous with God. Beside Him
there was nothing (Hippolytus Against Noetus [Contra Notum] 10.1; cf. Refutation of All
Heresies 10.28).
the Father is the one agenntos (Epiphanius Panarion [Adversus haeresis] 33.7.6)

It would be simply flawed exegesis, I think, to suggest that the quantifiers in these
statements are not intended to be unrestricted.Agentos is thus the word which the
Church Fathers used to denote the Jewish idea of what Bauckham calls Gods
transcendent uniqueness.74 Prestige explains,
Since transcendence, though a characteristically Hebrew idea, is nowhere philosophically
expounded in the Bible, a term had to be adopted to express its definition. This was found
in the word agentos, uncreated. The idea of creation was therein contrasted with that of
self-grounded existence. To call God uncreated was tantamount to calling Him infinite
perfection, independent reality, and the source of all finite being: He alone is absolute; all
else is dependent and contingent.75

This property is taken to be unique to God: the emphasis on God being uncre-
ated () implies that He is the sole originator of all things that are, the
source and ground of existence; and the conception is taken as a positive criterion of
deity.76 According to patristic scholar Harry Austryn Wolfson,77 the Church Fathers
all accepted the following three principles:
1 . God alone is uncreated.
2. Nothing is co-eternal with God.
3. Eternality implies deity.
Each of these principles implies that there are no agenta apart from God alone.

74
Recall our discussion on pp.3840.
75
Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, p. xx.
76
Ibid., p.5.
77
Harry A. Wolfson, Platos Pre-existent Matter in Patristic Philosophy, in The Classical
Tradition, ed. Luitpold Wallach (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1966), p.414.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 63

But lest it be suggested that abstracta were somehow exempted from these prin-
ciples, we shall see that the ante-Nicene Church Fathers explicitly rejected the view,
championed by van Inwagen, that entities such as properties and numbers are
agenta. The Fathers were familiar with the metaphysical worldviews of Plato and
Pythagoras and agreed with them that there is one agentos from which all reality
derives; but the Fathers identified this agentos, not with an impersonal form or
number, but with the Hebrew God, who has created all things (other than Himself)
ex nihilo.
Although the primary target in their defense of creatio ex nihilo was the doctrine
of the independence and eternality of matter,78 the Fathers did not countenance the
idea that although matter might be originated, properties might nonetheless be
beginningless and uncreated. Athenagoras characterizes Christians as those who
distinguish and separate the uncreated (agenntos) and the created (gentos)
(Plea for the Christians 15). Although Athenagoras assumed that the latter realm
was the material world (including material spirits), that is not because he considered
properties to be agennta but rather because he considered properties to lack any
existence independent of concrete objects. His conviction is evident in his comment
on how Satan is opposed to Gods goodness:
to the good that is in God, which belongs of necessity to Him and co-exists with Him, as
colour with body, without which it has no existence (not as being part of it, but as an
attendant property co-existing with it, united and blended, just as it is natural for fire to be
yellow and the ether dark blue)to the good that is in God, I say, the spirit which is about
matter is opposed (Plea 24, my emphasis).

Athenagoras here clearly rejects the idea that properties have some sort of
independent existence apart from concrete objects.
His fellow Apologist Tatian affirms that God alone is without beginning and
attributes to Him the creation of both matter and form:
Our God did not begin to be in time; He alone is without beginning, and He Himself is the
beginning of all things. God is a Spirit, not pervading matter, but the Maker of material
spirits and of the forms [schmatn] that are in matter; He is invisible, impalpable, being
Himself the Father of both sensible and invisible things (Address to the Greeks [Oratio ad
Graecos] 4.1014).

Tatian rejected the notion that there is besides God any eternal, uncreated thing,
even pure forms. Instantiated forms he would presumably take to belong to the
realm of things invisible.
Origen, who was trained in neo-Platonic philosophy, repudiated the identifica-
tion of the realm of Platonic ideas with the biblical heavenly realm whence Christ
came, commenting,
It is difficult for us to explain this other world; and for this reason, that if we did so, there
would be a risk of giving some men the impression that we were affirming the existence of
certain imaginary forms which the Greeks call ideas. For it is certainly foreign to our
mode of reasoning to speak of an incorporeal world that exists solely in the minds fancy or
the unsubstantial region of thought; and how men could affirm that the Saviour came from

78
See the discussion in Copan and Craig, Creation out of Nothing, pp.119145.
64 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

thence or that the saints will go thither I do not see (On First Principles [De principiis]
2.3.6).

Like Philo, Origen believed that the forms of worldly things pre-existed as ideas in
the second person of the Trinity, biblically identified as the Wisdom or Logos of
God.79 He wrote,
God the Father always existed, and he always had an only-begotten Son, who at the same
timeis called Wisdom. This is that Wisdom in whom God delighted when the world was
finished. In this Wisdom, therefore, who ever existed with the Father, the Creation was
always present in form and outline, and there was never a time when the pre-figuration of
those things which hereafter were to be did not exist in Wisdom (First Principles 1.4.480).

The genera and species of all things have therefore always existed, being contained
in Gods Wisdom (First Principles 1.2.23; 1.4.5). Origen contrasts the way in
which things pre-exist in Wisdom with their later substantial existence: Since
Wisdom has always existed, there have always existed in Wisdom, by a pre-
figuration and pre-formation, those things which afterwards have received substantial
existence (First Principles 1.4.5). We see here a pointed contrast between the
substantial existence enjoyed by concrete objects and the unsubstantial and even
imaginary existence ideas have, even in the Logos.
Methodius in his dialogue Concerning Free Will [Peri tou autexousiou],81 after
declaring that there cannot be two agenta, defends creatio ex nihilo by having
Orthodoxus say to Valentinian:
ORTHODOXUS: Do you say then, that there co-exists with God matter with-
out qualities out of which He formed the beginning of this world?

In his Commentary on the Gospel of John Origen regards Christ, insofar as he is Gods Wisdom,
79

as the beginning or source of all things, including their forms:


For Christ is, in a manner, the demiurge, to whom the Father says, Let there be light, and
Let there be a firmament. But Christ is demiurge as a beginning (arch), inasmuch as he is
Wisdom. It is in virtue of his being Wisdom that he is called arch . Consider, however,
if we are at liberty to take this meaning of arch for our text: In the beginning was the
Word, so as to obtain the meaning that all things came into being according to Wisdom and
according to the models of the system which are present in his thoughts. For I consider that
as a house or a ship is built and fashioned in accordance with the sketches of the builder or
designer, the house or the ship having their beginning (arch) in the sketches and reckon-
ings in his mind, so all things came into being in accordance with the designs of what was
to be, clearly laid down by God in Wisdom. And we should add that having created, so to
speak, ensouled Wisdom, he left her to hand over, from the types which were in her, to
things existing and to matter, the actual emergence of them, their moulding and their forms.
But I consider, if it be permitted to say this, that the beginning (arch) of real existence was
the Son of God, saying: I am the beginning and the end, the and , the first and the last
(1.22).
80
Sections 35 of chap. 4, which contain this passage, are not included in the old edition of the
Ante-Nicene Fathers edited by Roberts and Donaldson in 1885 but are included, on the basis of the
reconstructed text by Koetschau, in Butterworths more recent translation (Gloucester, Mass.:
Peter Smith, 1973).
81
Mark Edwards informs me that On Free Will is not universally assigned to Methodius. Some
ascribe it to Origen, some to an otherwise unknown Maximus.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 65

VALENTINIAN: So I think.
ORTHODOXUS: If, then, matter had no qualities, and the world were pro-
duced by God, and qualities exist in the world, then God is the maker of
qualities?
VALENTINIAN: It is so.
ORTHODOXUS: Now, as I heard you say some time ago that it is impossible
for anything to come into being out of that which has no existence, answer
my question: Do you think that the qualities of the world were not pro-
duced out of any existing qualities?
VALENTINIAN: I do.
ORTHODOXUS: And that they are something distinct from substances?
VALENTINIAN: Yes.
ORTHODOXUS: If, then, qualities were neither made by God out of any
ready at hand, nor derive their existence from substances, because they are
not substances, we must say that they were produced by God out of what
had no existence. Wherefore I thought you spoke extravagantly in saying
that it was impossible to suppose that anything was produced by God out
of what did not exist.
Here Orthodoxus, who obviously speaks for the orthodox faith, will not allow that
even properties are uncreated by God. For God alone is uncreated.
Neither were numbers thought to exist independently of God as agenta. Thus,
Hippolytus traces the heresy of Valentinian Gnosticism to the systems of Plato and
Pythagoras and ultimately to the Egyptians (Refutation 6.16). The latter asserted
that ultimate reality is an agenntos unit and that the other numbers are generated
from it (Refutation 4.43). Pythagoras, then, declared the originating principle of
the universe to be the unbegotten monad, and the generated duad, and the rest of the
numbers (Refutation 6.18). The material world was thought to be in turn generated
from these incorporeal principles. There are, then, according to Pythagoras, two
worlds: one intelligible, which has the monad for an originating principle; and the
other sensible. Nothing, he says, of intelligibles can be known to us from sense.
For he says neither has eye seen, nor ear heard, nor whatsoever any of the senses
known that (which is cognized by mind) (Refutation 6.19; cf. Clement of Alexandria
Stromata 5.14). Hippolytus then makes the connection with Valentinus: And from
this (system), not from the Gospels, Valentinus has collected the (materials of)
heresyand may (therefore) justly be reckoned a Pythagorean and Platonist, not a
Christian (Refutation 6.24). Hippolytus charges that Valentinus. and the entire
school of these (heretics), as disciples of Pythagoras and Plato, (and) following
these guides, have laid down as the fundamental principle of their doctrine the
arithmetical system. For, likewise, according to these (Valentinians), the originating
cause of the universe is a Monad, agenntos, imperishable, incomprehensible,
inconceivable, productive, and a cause of the generation of all existent things
(Ibid.).
The Logos doctrine of the Greek Apologists provided the key for grounding the
intelligible realm in God rather than in some independent realm of self-subsisting
66 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

entities like numbers or forms.82 Combining the Gospel of Johns presentation of


Christ as the pre-existent Logos who in the beginning was with God and was God
and through whom all things came into being (Jn. 1.13) with Philo of Alexandrias
conception of the Logos as the mind of God in which the Platonic realm of ideas
subsists (On the Creation of the World 4.1625), Tatian offers one of the earliest
Christian expositions of this doctrine:
God was in the beginning; but the beginning, we have been taught, is the power of the
Logos. For the Lord of the universe, who is Himself the necessary ground of all being,
inasmuch as no creature was yet in existence, was alone; but inasmuch as He was all power,
Himself the necessary ground of things visible and invisible, with Him were all things; with
Him by Logos-power, the Logos himself also, who was in Him, subsists. And by His simple
will, the Logos springs forth; and the Logos, not coming forth in vain, becomes the first-
begotten work of the Father. Him (the Logos) we know to be the beginning of the world
(Address to the Greeks 5.19).83

82
For a discussion of texts taken from pseudo-Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria,
Origen, and Augustine, see Harry Austryn Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, vol.: I:
Faith, Trinity, and Incarnation, 3rd ed . rev. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970),
chap. XIII: The Logos and the Platonic Ideas. According to Wolfson, every Church Father who
addressed the issue rejected the view that the ideas were self-subsisting entities but instead located
the intelligible world in the Logos and, hence, in the mind of God.
Thus, van Inwagen is in a sense correct that a Church Father in dialogue with a contemporary
Platonist about abstract objects might well say, Its perfectly all right for a Christian who believes
in such things to say that causal concepts like creation do not apply to them (van Inwagen,
Reply to Dr. Craig, p.305). But he would say this, not because he thought that there might be a
plurality of agenta, but because such things do not exist in the external world, the realm of cre-
ation, but only in the Logos, the mind of God.
Gregory of Nyssa may be one Church Father who was an absolute creationist and so would not
agree that causal concepts like creation are inapplicable. Distinguishing between the intelligible
world and the sensible world, Gregory divides the intelligible world into that which is uncreated
and that which is created. He is clear that the Trinitarian God is the only agentos: In the division
of all existing things, then, we find these distinctions. There is, as appealing to our perceptions, the
Sensible world: and there is, beyond this, the world which the mind, led on by objects of sense, can
view: I mean the Intelligible: and in this we detect again a further distinction into the Created and
the Uncreate: to the latter of which we have defined the Holy Trinity to belong, to the former all
that can exist or can be thought of after that (Against Eunomius 1.22). It is unclear whether the
created intelligible world includes abstract objects, for Gregory seems to have in mind angelic
beings, as is evident from his ascription of free will to such beings. Later, however, he says of the
Logos: the Word is the Creator of matter, by that very act also producing with the matter the quali-
ties of matter, so that for Him the impulse of His almighty will was everything and instead of
everything, matter, instrument, place, time, essence, quality, everything that is conceived in cre-
ation (Ibid., 2. 7).
83
Similarly, Athenagoras declares that our doctrine acknowledges one God, the Maker of this
universe, who is Himself uncreatedbut has made all things by the Logos which is from Him
(Plea for the Christians 4). The patterns after which all created things are made (Ibid. 8) are to be
found in the Logos, who is the mind of the Father: The Son of God is the Logos of the Father, in
idea and in operation; for after the pattern of him and by him were all things made, the Father and
the Son being one. And the Son being in the Father and the Father in the Son, the understanding
and reason of the Father is the Son of God (Ibid. 10. Cf. Theophilus To Autolycus 2.22; Eusebius
Demonstratio evangelica 4.13).
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 67

The invisible, intelligible realm of exemplar ideas exists in the immanent Logos,
who, proceeding out from God the Father (whether eternally or at the moment of
creation), is begotten as God the Son. He then creates the sensible world of things
that we experience.
Hippolytus, in language that would later echo at Nicaea, exults in the fact that
even the opponents of orthodoxy must finally concede that there is but one agentos
which is the source of all reality:
God, subsisting alone, and having nothing contemporaneous with Himself, determined to
create the world. And conceiving the world in mind, and willing and uttering the Word, He
made it; and straightaway it appeared, formed as it has pleased Him. For us, then, it is
sufficient simply to know that there was nothing contemporaneous with God. Beside Him
there was nothing; but He, while existing alone, yet existed in plurality. For He was neither
without reason, nor wisdom, nor power, nor counsel. And all things were in Him, and He
was the All. He begat the Word; and thus there appeared another beside Himself. But
when I say another, I do not mean that there are two Gods, but that it is only as light of light.
Who then adduces a multitude of gods brought in, time after time? For all are shut up,
however unwillingly, to admit this fact, that the all runs up into One. If, then, all things run
up into One, even according to Valentinus, and Marcion, and Cerinthus, and all their
fooleries, they are also reduced, however unwillingly, to this position, that they must
acknowledge that the One is the cause of all things. Thus, then, these too, though they wish
it not, fall in with the truth, and admit that one God made all things according to His good
pleasure (Against Notus 1011; cf. Refutation 10.2829).

It is ironic, in view of the contemporary debate among Christian philosophers over


God and abstract objects, that even the heretics against whom the Church Fathers
contended did not think to postulate a plurality of agenta. Whether Gnostic, Arian,
or Christian, all were committed to there being a single agentos.84 The challenge
facing the framers of Nicaea was how to preserve the deity and distinctness of the
Son while acknowledging that there cannot exist a plurality of agenta.
Recurring, then, to the Nicene formula, we can see in light of its historical back-
ground that when God the Father is said to be the Maker (poitn) of all things
(pantn) visible and invisible, the domain of quantification is intended to be
unlimited. There is a state of affairs in the actual world which consists of God
existing alone, in absolute solitude. Even numbers and properties do not exist
outside Him, much less independently of Him, for He is the ground of all being, and
nothing is co-eternal with Him. The tradition of the Logos Christology of the Greek
Apologists comes to expression in the Nicene affirmation that the Son of God is
begotten, not made (gennthenta ou poithenta). He is said to be the one through
whom all things came to be (di ou ta panta egento). Since he himself is unmade
and everything else is gentos, the Son must be agentos and is therefore God, even
though as the Son he is genntos from the Father.
In one of the earliest commentaries on the Creed promulgated at Nicaea,
Theodore of Mopsuestia lays special emphasis on the Creeds distinguishing God as
Father and as Creator:

84
Certain Marcionite advocates of metaphysical dualism were the exception that proved the rule.
68 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

He is the Father of the Son and the Creator of the creatures. The creatures were created later
while the Son was from the beginning with Him and from Him. This is the difference
between Father and Creator. He is called the Father of the one who was born of Him, and
the Creator of all the natures which are outside Him and which were created from nothing
by His will.
He is called and He is the Father of the Son, because He is of the same nature as the one
who is said to be His Son, but He is the Creator of everything because everything was cre-
ated from nothing; and although the natures of the visible and invisible things differ among
themselves yet all these created things, whether visible or invisible, came into existence by
the will of their Maker. The fact that they were made from nothing is common to all of
them, as all were created from nothing by the will of their Maker. Because everything was
created by Him and is sustained by His will, everything whether visible or not owes praise
to the Creator (Commentary on the Nicene Creed).

There is no tertium quid: the Son alone is begotten of the Father, and everything
outside God is created ex nihilo. The idea that there could be things co-eternal with
God and unmade by Him is excluded.
In the years immediately following Nicaea, the church was embroiled in contro-
versy over the Creeds affirmation that the Father and Son are the same substance or
hypostasis85; but the detractors of Nicaea never disputed the fact that there is but one
agentos. We see the universal conviction of the church in the so-called Lengthy
Creed sent by the Eastern bishops to those in Italy soon after the Council of Sardica
in 343:
the Divine word teaches that there is one unbegotten principle without beginning, the Father
of Christ. But those who unauthorized by Scripture rashly assert that there was a time when
he was not, ought not to preconceive any antecedent interval of time, but God only who
without time begat him; for both times and ages were made through him. Yet it must not be
thought that the Son is co-inoriginate () or co-unbegotten () with
the Father: for there is properly no father of the co-inoriginate or co-unbegotten. But we
know that the Father alone, being inoriginate and incomprehensible, has ineffably and
incomprehensibly to all begotten and that the Son was begotten before the ages, but is not
unbegotten like the Father, but has a beginning, viz. the Father who begat him, for the head
of Christ is God. Now although according to the Scriptures we acknowledge three things
or persons, viz. that of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we do not on that
account make three Gods: since we know that that there is but one God perfect in himself,
unbegotten, inoriginate, and invisible, the God and Father of the only-begotten, who alone
has existence from himself, and alone affords existence abundantly to all other things.

Moreover we execrate and anathematize those who falsely style him the mere unsubstantial
word of God, having existence only in another, either as the word to which utterance is
given, or as the word conceived in the mind. But we know him to be not simply the word
of God by utterance or mental conception, but God the living Word subsisting of himself;
and Son of God and Christ; and who did, not by presence only, co-exist and was conversant
with his Father before the ages, and ministered to him at the creation of all things, whether

85
Though the Creed was formulated in Greek, the meaning of the Creeds terms is Latin: hyposta-
sis is etymologically indistinguishable from substantia and so was taken to be synonymous with it.
The terminology was adjusted at Constantinople in 381 to accommodate the Greek differentiation
between ousia (= substantia) and hypostasis.
Biblical andPatristic Witness toDivine Aseity 69

visible or invisible, but was the substantial Word of the Father, and God of God (Cited in
Socrates Ecclesiastical History 2.19).

The Eastern bishops were in consensus with the West in affirming that God the
Father is alone uncreated and unbegotten. Particularly interesting is their contrasting
the divine Logos with an abstract object like a word type which can be tokened or a
mental event in the mind. These are said not to have a substantial existence, contrary
to the Platonists and conceptualists.
At the Council of Smirmium in 359 the Eastern Bishops promulgated another
creed, this time containing the following anathema:
If any one should say that the Son is unbegotten, and without beginning, intimating that
there are two without beginning, and unbegotten, so making two Gods, let him be anathema:
for the Son is the head and beginning of all things; but the head of Christ is God. Thus do
we devoutly trace up all things by the Son to one source of all things who is without
beginning (Cited in Socrates Ecclesiastical History 2.30).

The one source of all things is the sole ultimate reality.


The Church Fathers both East and West were thus united in rejecting the exis-
tence of any uncreated object apart from God. So if confronted by a modern-day
Platonist defending an ontology which includes causally effete objects which are
agenta and so co-eternal with God, they would have rejected such an account as
blasphemous, just as surely as they rejected accounts involving causally efficacious
objects, since such an account would likewise deny Gods being the source of all
things.86 The Fathers could not therefore exempt such objects from Gods creative
power, since He is the sole and all-originating agentos.
Indeed, the very fact that the postulated entities are causally unrelated to any-
thing, even God, is precisely what would make such an account so objectionable.
Orthodoxy could not countenance such a metaphysical pluralism. The Fathers
would have been bewildered by van Inwagens parting shot: whether there are
objects to which the concept of causation has no application is a question that
theology should regard as no business of hers.87 The framers of Nicaea could not,
as the heirs and protectors of the orthodox faith, have looked upon such a question
with indifference. Indeed, in affirming that God the Father is the Maker of all things,
that all things are genta through God the Son, they did not, we may be thankful,
ignore this question but answered it in the negative.

86
I am gratified that van Inwagen, in response to my published work, now agrees that Craig is very
likely right when he tells his readers that when the Fathers made statements like God is the creator
of all things , they meant their use of the universal quantifier to be absolutely unrestricted (Van
Inwagen, Reply to Dr. Craig, p.302). But, he insists, this fact does not settle the matter, for the
Church Fathers very likely meant something quite different by words like property than what van
Inwagen means. For example, the properties of physical things that I call colors, are nothing at
all like Athenagoras colors (Van Inwagen, Reply to Dr. Craig, p.304). I agree and have noted
some of the differences between classical Platonism and contemporary Platonism. But this fact
does not turn back the evidence that the ante-Nicene Fathers were committed to Gods being the
sole agentos. Van Inwagens properties, however peculiar, are still uncreated, necessary, and eter-
nal attributes belonging in the Fathers view to God alone.
87
Van Inwagen, Uncreated Things, p.19.
70 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

Perfect Being Theology

As if the biblical and patristic witness were not enough to justify Christian belief in
God as the sole ultimate reality, the requirements of sound systematic theology
include the affirmation of Gods being the source of all things apart from himself.
Systematic theologians such as Herman Bavinck have identified aseity as the most
fundamental of the divine attributes.88 For not only does biblical and patristic teach-
ing bear witness to this attribute, but it is a fundamental requirement of perfect
being theology as well. As a perfect being, the greatest conceivable being, God must
be the self-existent source of all reality apart from Himself. For being the cause of
existence of other things is plausibly a great-making property, and the maximal
degree of this property is to be the cause of everything else that exists.89 God would
be diminished in His greatness if He were the cause of but a fraction of the other
things that exist. Were abstract entities such as mathematical objects real existents
independent of God, then God would be the source of merely an infinitesimal part
of what exists. Gods status as the greatest conceivable being thus requires that He
be the source of existence of all things apart from Himself. Even more, Gods
greatness would be further augmented if it were impossible that anything exist
independent of His creatorial power. Thus, in any possible world God is the source
of all things, if any, apart from Himself.
Seen in this light, divine aseity is a corollary of Gods omnipotence, which
belongs indisputably to maximal greatness.90 For if any being exists independently
of God, then God lacks the power to annihilate it or to create it. An omnipotent
being can give and take existence as He sees fit with respect to other beings. Gods
power would thus be attenuated by the existence of independently existing abstract
objects.
One might rejoin that it is impossible to create certain sorts of abstract objects
and, since omnipotence does not include the ability to do the logically impossible,
the creation of these sorts of objects accordingly falls outside the scope of
omnipotence. But the power in question is not the power to create certain sorts of
abstracta, which is, indeed, in some cases impossible, but the power to bestow and
withdraw being as one sees fit. It would be incoherent to require of an omnipotent
God the ability to create uncreatable abstract objects, and classical theism does not
wish to ascribe such a power to God. But the power to create and annihilate all other
existing things certainly is coherent, and its incompatibility with the existence of
uncreatable (abstract) objects only gives reason to think that such objects do not
exist.

88
God is independent, all-sufficient in himself, and the only source of all existence and life. It
is in this aseity of God, conceived not only as having being from himself, but also as the fullness
of being, that all other divine perfections are included (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics,
vol. 2: God and Creation [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004], p.148).
89
See Leftow, God and Necessity, p.22.
90
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.22. Leftows attempt to make aseity a constituent of Gods omni-
presence is less persuasive because omnipresence concerns Gods causal influence only upon
objects in space, and many abstract objects are plausibly non-spatiotemporal.
Perfect Being Theology 71

Moreover, there is a powerful philosophico-theological argument against the


existence of uncreated, Platonic properties. Consider the cluster of divine attributes
which go to make up the property deity. Leftow argues,
If deity is Platonic, its existing and being as it is are explanatorily prior to Gods having it.
For its content does not derive from God but characterizes God: God is divine because He
has deity, and so His characteristics include just what the property contributes. On realism,
a property K has a K-making role: a property is an entity the right relation to which is
constitutive of being K.The property contributes K-hood to the K; it makes the K what it
is. Thus deitys being as it is explains Gods being as He is God is omnipotent, perhaps,
because deity entails or contains omnipotence. Gods being as He is does not explain deitys
being as it is, for if deity is Platonic, it does not draw its being or content from the God
who has it. Thus on Platonism. God depends on essential attributes more ultimate than
He.91

On Platonism Gods nature is an abstract object existing independently of God to


which God stands in the relation of exemplification or instantiation. Moreover, it is
in virtue of thus standing in relation to this object that God is divine. He is God
because He is so related to this abstract object. Thus, on Platonism God does not
really exist a se at all. Platonism does not simply oppose some independently
existing object to Goda serious enough compromise of Gods sole ultimacybut
makes God dependent upon this object, thus denying divine aseity.92 The implication?
So deity/the Platonic realm, not God, is the ultimate reality.93
Worse, if possible: since aseity, like omnipotence, is one of the essential attri-
butes of God comprised by deity, it turns out that God does not exemplify deity after
all. Since aseity is essential to deity and God, on Platonism, does not exist a se, it
turns out that God does not exist! On Platonism there may be a demiurge, such as is
featured in Platos Timaeus, but the God of classical theism does not exist. Theism
is thus undone by Platonism.

91
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.234. Patristics scholar Mark Edwards says that Plato and Plotinus
would have agreed with Leftows conclusion, which is why theos is not their term of choice for
the highest principle, whose preferred designation (though hardly its proper name) is the One or
the Good (Personal communication, May 18, 2014). In place of Platonism Leftow suggests an
Aristotelian account of deity. If Aristotelian properties exist, they do so only because their instances
exist. If there is such a thing as deity, not only does it exist only because God does, but the way
God concretely is determines its contents. This claim is compatible with an Aristotelian theory of
universals, a trope theory or nominalism (Leftow, God and Necessity, p. 254). In the sequel
Leftow denies that deity exists at all: There is no such thing as deity. God is the whole ontology
for God is divine (Ibid., p.307). This is an endorsement of nominalism (cf. ibid., pp.41314).
There is simply the concrete object God and nothing else to which He must stand in relation in
order to be God.
92
N.B. that unlike the case of the Sons being begotten from the Father, God and the abstract object
deity are not the same substance, nor do they share the same nature. Thus, it would be fatuous to
see the Sons dependence on the Father as analogous to Gods dependence upon an abstract object.
93
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.235. Leftow offers a second argument as well for this conclusion.
See also idem, Is God an Abstract Object? Nos 24 (1990): 58198, where he presents a boot-
strapping objection against Gods creating His own nature, which, barring divine simplicity, leaves
God dependent upon His nature for His existence.
72 2 Theology Proper andAbstract Objects

Conclusion

It seems to me, therefore, that we have very strong reasons both biblically and theo-
logically for standing with the historic Christian tradition in affirming that God is
the sole ultimate reality: that He exists a se and is the source of all things apart from
Himself. This conclusion entails that the orthodox Christian cannot be a (meta-
physically heavyweight) Platonist, for Platonism affirms that there are abstract
objects which exist necessarily, eternally, and a se, in contradiction to the Christian
affirmation that God is the sole ultimate reality. The challenge posed by Platonism
to orthodox theology is serious and must be squarely confronted.
In the remainder of this book we shall examine more closely the challenge posed
by Platonism to divine aseity. Why think that heavyweight Platonism is true? As we
shall see, there is one argument that virtually dominates the contemporary discussion.
We shall then engage in a wide-ranging analysis of various proffered defeaters of
that argument which are available to the classical theist, assessing their credibility
as we proceed. I think that we shall discover that there is a cornucopia of viable
options open to the theist for meeting the challenge of heavyweight Platonism,
many of which contemporary Christian philosophers have scarcely begun to explore.

Bibliography

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Jones, R.M.: The ideas as the thoughts of God. Class. Philol. 21(4), 317326 (1926)
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Leftow, B.: Is God an abstract object? Nos. 24(4), 581598 (1990)
Leftow, B.: God and Necessity. Oxford University Press, Oxford (2012)
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Epiphanius: Panarion
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Numenius frag. 7
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Philo of Alexandria: On the Migration of Abraham


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Chapter 3
The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

On the contemporary scene, the debate over the reality of abstract objects is cen-
tered in the philosophy of mathematics, and so the focus of our attention will be
upon that debate.1 There are principally two arguments lodged against Platonism

1
In his Introduction to Beyond the Control of God?, Paul Gould claims that if one follows the
nominalist in denying that Abstract entities exist necessarily, then the problem of universals is
of central concern and the age-old nominalism-realism debate ensues (Paul Gould,
Introduction in Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the Problem of God and Abstract
Objects, ed. Paul Gould with articles, responses, and counter-responses by K.Yandell, R.Davis,
P. Gould, G. Welty, Wm. Craig, S. Shalkowski, and G. Oppy [London, England: Bloomsbury:
2014], pp.24). I must respectfully disagree. Gould is evidently thinking of the debate over nomi-
nalism that reached its apogee in the Middle Ages, not of the more recent debate over Platonism
and anti-Platonism centered in philosophy of mathematics. If by the problem of universals
Gould means the classic problem of the One over Many, then this problem is not a central concern
in the contemporary discussion between Platonists and anti-Platonists (see comments by Steven
J.Wagner, Prospects for Platonism, in Benacerraf and His Critics, ed. Adam Morton and Stephen
P.Stich [Oxford: Blackwell, 1996], pp.756, on the contemporary dominance of philosophy of
mathematics over classic arguments for universals)and with good reason, I think. What is ulti-
mately at stake in the problem of the One over Many is what J.P. Moreland calls ones ontological
assay of things (J.P. Moreland, Universals, Central Problems of Philosophy [Chesham, England:
Acumen, 2001], p.15). Platonism offers an ontological assay of things in terms of substances and
abstract properties which are exemplified by those substances. The anti-realist rejects the Platonists
ontological assay of things. Majestic elephants and brown dogs exist, but the brownness and the
majesty are just useful fictions. If asked to provide an explanation of why Rover is brown, the anti-
realist will offer a perfectly plausible and, I think, adequate scientific explanation in terms of
Rovers absorbing and reflecting various wavelengths of light, and so forth. By contrast it helps not
at all to explain why Rover is brown to say that Rover exemplifies the property of brownness.
Indeed, how does being partly composed of or standing in relation to a static, non-spatial, causally
effete, abstract object make an otherwise colorless dog brown? Platonism enjoys no explanatory
advantage over anti-realism (Michael Devitt, Ostrich Nominalism or Mirage Realism?
Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 61 [1980]: 437; so also Peter van Inwagen, Relational vs.
Constituent Ontologies, Philosophical Perspectives 25: Metaphysics [2011]: 3968). Mark
Balaguer therefore reports that The One Over Many argument is now widely considered to be a
bad argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Platonism in Metaphysics, by Mark
Balaguer, April 7, 2009, 3 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism/). In reply to these criti-
cisms Gould/Davis basically reiterate the demand for an explanation of resemblance without

Springer International Publishing AG 2017 77


W.L. Craig, God and Abstract Objects, DOI10.1007/978-3-319-55384-9_3
78 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

and one argument in its favor. The two objections usually urged against Platonism
are (i) the epistemological objection and (ii) the uniqueness objection.2 The major
consideration weighing in for Platonism is the Indispensability Argument.3
The epistemological objection springs from the causal isolation of abstract
objects. If such objects exist, they are causally unrelated to concrete objects like
ourselves. Indeed, some of them, at least, do not even exist in space and time. But
then such objects seem to be epistemically inaccessible for us, for no information
about them can pass from them to us. Hence, if Platonism were correct, human
beings could have no mathematical knowledge. Since we do, in fact, have such
knowledge, Platonism must be false.
The uniqueness objection is based on the insight that the only mathematically
relevant properties of the natural numbers are their structural properties, that is to
say, properties having to do with the positions they occupy in a certain ordinal struc-
ture. The internal properties of numbers are irrelevant to mathematics; only their
relational properties rooted in that ordinal structure matter. Hence, any series of
abstract objects exhibiting that ordinal structure satisfies the basic axioms of arith-
metic. There does not seem to be anything metaphysically special about any of these
sequences of abstract objects that would set one of them apart as the unique series
of natural numbers. But if Platonism is true, there is a unique sequence of abstract
objects that is the natural numbers. Therefore, Platonism is false.
The only major consideration in favor of Platonism is based on one apparently
overriding fact about abstract objects: they are indispensable. For this reason even
naturalists, whose physicalistic ontology does not comfortably accommodate such
non-natural entities as abstract objects,4 will often reluctantly embrace their reality.
Platonism is alleged to be implied by the truth of mathematics, for example. Lest
anyone claim that perhaps our mathematical theories are not really true, it is pointed
out that these theories are indispensable to our scientific knowledge of the world.
Thus, to deny the truth of Platonism is to deny science and to land us finally in
scepticism.
Whether Platonists can successfully defeat the two principal philosophical objec-
tions lodged against their view may remain a moot question here. For our concern
is one that is scarcely ever broached in the literature: that Platonism is theologically

responding to the sort of reasons Devitt gives for thinking that no explanation is required apart
from an account of why a thing is as described (Paul Gould and Richard Davis, Response to
William Lane Craig, in Beyond the Control of God?, pp.128129).
2
Paul Benacerraf in two seminal papers initiated the discussion of these two issues. See Paul
Benacerraf, What Numbers Could Not Be, Philosophical Review 74 (1965): 4773; idem,
Mathematical Truth, Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973): 661679.
3
The seminal papers here are W.V. O.Quine, On What There Is, in W.V. O.Quine, From a
Logical Point of View (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980), 119; Hilary Putnam,
Philosophy of Logic, in Hilary Putnam, Mathematics, Matter, and Method (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1975), 323357.
4
See J.Moreland, Naturalism and the Ontological Status of Properties, in Naturalism: a Critical
Analysis, ed. Wm. L.Craig and J.Moreland, Routledge Studies in Twentieth-Century Philosophy
5 (London: Routledge, 2000), pp.67109.
Quines Indispensability Argument 79

unacceptable. If this contention is correct, then the theist has a good reason to reject
Platonism, even if the epistemological and uniqueness objections fail. By the same
token, if the Indispensability Argument for Platonism goes through, then classical
theism faces a powerful defeater.

Quines Indispensability Argument

The Indispensability Argument for Platonism was inspired by W. V. O. Quine.


While confessing a preference for desert ontological landscapes, Quine neverthe-
less felt obligated to admit mathematical objects, specifically sets, into his ontology
because he thought that the truth of our best scientific theories commits us to them.5
Remarkably, Quine himself never articulated or defended the Indispensability
Argument at any length, obliging us to reconstruct it as best we can.
Quines Indispensability Argument was predicated on several distinctive Quinean
theses:
1 . Natural science is the sole arbiter of truth and guide to reality. (Naturalism)
2. Statements quantifying over mathematical entities are indispensable to our best,
canonically formulated scientific theories. (Indispensability Thesis)
3. We are ontologically committed to the values of variables bound by the quanti-
fiers in a first-order symbolization of a true, canonically formulated, scientific
statement. (Criterion of Ontological Commitment)
4. Confirmation of the truth of our best scientific theories accrues to every indis-
pensable statement of those theories. (Confirmational Holism)
Naturalism ensures that there are no metaphysical or otherwise extra-scientific
grounds for rejecting the existence of mathematical objects. What science alone
requires to be real is real, period. The Indispensability Thesis lies at the heart of
every version of the argument. It is fundamentally the claim that quantification over

Here is Putnams summary of Quines argument:


5

So far I have been developing an argument for realism along roughly the following lines:
quantification over mathematical entities is indispensable for science, both formal and
physical; therefore, we should accept such quantification; but this commits us to accepting
the existence of the mathematical entities in question. This type of argument stems, of
course, from Quine, who has for years stressed both the indispensability of quantification
over mathematical entities and the intellectual dishonesty of denying the existence of what
one daily presupposes (Hilary Putnam, Philosophy of Logic, Harper Essays in Philosophy
[New York: Harper & Row, 1971], p.57).

As we shall see, even this sketch omits some essential features of Quines argument. For a nice
overview see Michael D. Resnik, Quine and the Web of Belief, in The Oxford Handbook of
Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic, ed. Stewart Shapiro (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2005), pp.41236. For a detailed exposition of both Quine and Putnams arguments see Russell
Marcus, Autonomy Platonism and the Indispensability Argument (London: Lexington Books,
2015), chaps. 2 and 6.
80 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

mathematical entities in our best scientific theories cannot be paraphrased away.


Quine recognized that statements of ordinary language, if taken prima facie, would
involve quantification over pseudo-objects; hence, the need for a canonical formula-
tion of the statements of a scientific theory, ensuring that their ontological commit-
ments are irreducible. Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment is not a
criterion of existence per se but tells us rather what must exist in order for a canoni-
cal statement to be true. Given Naturalism, we shall be ontologically committed
only by whatever statements in our best scientific theories are true. Finally,
Confirmational Holism ensures that the indispensable mathematical statements of
true scientific theories are themselves true. For whatever evidence goes to confirm
the truth of the theory as a whole goes to confirm every statement it comprises.
Since the mathematical statements of a true scientific theory are true and indispens-
able, we are ontologically committed by those theories to the mathematical objects
quantified over. Hence, we are required by modern science to believe in the exis-
tence of mathematical objects.
Every one of these Quinean theses is highly controverted, and none of them,
much less all of them, is, I think, plausibly true. Let us say a brief word about each.

Naturalism

By Naturalism in the context of the Indispensability Argument one is not referring


to a metaphysical thesis about what there is, for example, the thesis that only physi-
cal objects exist or the thesis that spacetime and its contents alone exist. Quine
showed himself, at least in principle, to be quite open to the existence of supernatu-
ral realities: If I saw indirect explanatory benefit in positing sensibilia, possibilia,
spirits, a Creator, I would joyfully accord them scientific status too, on a par with
such avowedly scientific posits as quarks and black holes.6 Quines avowal makes
it evident that what is at issue in the Indispensability Argument is not some sort of
metaphysical naturalism but rather an epistemological naturalism, or, as Quine put
it, naturalized epistemology.7 Naturalism in this sense is just the recognition that it
is within science itself, and not in some prior philosophy, that reality is to be identi-
fied and described.8 Quines naturalized epistemology shunned what he called
first philosophy, any attempt to justify the deliverances of the sciences.9 There

6
W.V. Quine, Naturalism; or, Living within Ones Means, Dialectica 49 (1995): 252.
7
W.V. Quine, Epistemology Naturalized, in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1969), pp.6990.
8
W.V. Quine, Things and their Place in Theories, in idem, Theories and Things (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981), p.21.
9
In his Five Milestones of Empiricism, Quine identified naturalism as the abandonment of the
goal of a first philosophy prior to natural science (W.V. Quine, Five Milestones of Empiricism,
in Theories and Things, p.67).
Quines Indispensability Argument 81

should be no attempt to ground the natural sciences; rather this is where we begin
our philosophizing: Naturalism
sees natural science as an inquiry into reality, fallible and corrigible but not answerable to
any supra-scientific tribunal, and not in need of any justification beyond observation and the
hypothetico-deductive method . . . .
The naturalistic philosopher begins his reasoning within the inherited world theory as a
going concern. He tentatively believes all of it, but believes also that some unidentified por-
tions are wrong. He tries to improve, clarify, and understand the system from within. He is
the busy sailor adrift on Neuraths boat.10

The salient point here for the Indispensability Argument is that the marooned phi-
losopher has no other resources than the deliverances of the natural sciences at his
disposal.
Now Quines is a generous scientism which is not restricted to the deliverances
of the hard sciences like physics and chemistry. He explains, In science itself I
certainly want to include the farthest flights of physics and cosmology, as well as
experimental psychology, history, and the social sciences.11 Nonetheless, his
Naturalism does have some bite, as is illustrated by Quines attitude toward tense
and temporal becoming. Although he did not write on the subject at any length,
Quines passing remarks indicate that despite our ineluctable experience of the real-
ity of tense and temporal becoming, Quine dutifully follows what he takes to be the
verdict of the natural sciences that reality is tenseless and that temporal becoming is
a subjective illusion of human consciousness.12 Naturalized epistemology, finding
no place for tensed time in natural science, waves aside the deliverances of our
experience of the presentness of experience and of temporal becoming.

10
Ibid., p.72. Otto Neurath was a sometime member of the Vienna Circle who frequently employed
the image of reconstructing a boat while at sea in order to express his anti-foundationalist view of
knowledge. See Nancy Cartwright, Jordi Cat, Lola Fleck, and Thomas Uebel, Otto Neurath:
Philosophy between Science and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),
pp.89166.
11
Quine, Naturalism, p.252.
12
The reasons for taking time to be on a par with space are, Quine believes, overwhelming
(Quine, Things and their Place in Theories, p.10). Complaining that Our ordinary language
shows a tiresome bias in its treatment of time, Quine thinks that relativity theory leaves no rea-
sonable alternative to treating time as space-like, and therefore we should drop tenses (Willard
Van Orman Quine, Word and Object [Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1960], pp.170, 172; cf. idem,
Elementary Logic, rev. ed. [New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965], pp.56). He advocates using a
four-dimensional view of nature and tenseless verbs in order to designate past individuals (Willard
V.Quine, Designation and Existence, Journal of Philosophy 36 [1939]: 701; idem, The Scope
and Language of Science, in The Ways of Paradox, rev. ed. [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1976], pp.2357). In response to J.J. C.Smarts allegation that tenses commit us to a par-
ticularity which is contrary to the spirit of science and lead, when understood metaphysically, to
the notion of times flow, Quine writes approvingly, I was gratified by his scorn for the stubborn
notion of the flow of time (W.V. O.Quine, Reply to J.J. C.Smart, in The Philosophy of W.V.
Quine, Library of Living Philosophers 18, ed. E.Hahn and Paul A.Schilpp [LaSalle, Ill.: Open
Court, 1986], p.518). Similarly, the reality of the self, apprehended in first-person experience, will
be denied as a result of Quines naturalism.
82 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

The relevant aspect of naturalized epistemology for the Indispensability


Argument, then, is its restriction of basic sources of knowledge to the sciences. If
the sciences provide good grounds for thinking that abstract objects like numbers
and sets exist, they cannot be gainsaid because there is no other independent,
accepted source of knowledge about reality, in particular no metaphysical or theo-
logical arguments that need to be weighed against the deliverances of science.13
Quines Naturalism involves, as Michael Rea explains, a methodological disposi-
tion to restrict ones basic sources of information to the deliverances of science,
broadly construed. The crucial identifying dispositions of Quines Naturalism, he
says, are a high regard for science and scientific method, a disposition to employ
scientific methods and results in all domains of inquiry as much as possible to the
exclusion of a priori speculative methods, [and] opposition to theories, particularly
religious ones, that are untestable and do not play any significant role in filling out
interstices of scientific theory.14
No orthodox Christian theist can embrace Quines naturalized epistemology,
since so doing would exclude divine revelation, along with rational intuition, as a
basic source of information for knowledge about reality. Christian theists, in con-
trast to naturalists, hold that theology is itself a Wissenschaft, that is to say, a body
of knowledge.15 Therefore, in weighing indispensability arguments for Platonism,

13
See Putnams rejection of Pierre Duhems theologically motivated fictionalism with respect to
certain scientific posits (Putnam, Philosophy of Logic, pp. 701). Putnam asserts, it is silly to
agree that a reason for believing that p warrants accepting p in all scientific circumstances, and then
to addbut even so it is not good enough. Such a judgment could only be made if one accepted
a transscientific method as superior to the scientific method; but this philosopher, at least, has no
interest in doing that (Ibid., pp.734). Putnam rightly speaks only for himself as a naturalist. As
we shall see, non-naturalists cannot be blamed for pursuing a different research programme.
14
Michael C.Rea, World without Design: The Ontological Consequences of Naturalism (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 2002), p.49.
15
Contrast Penelope Maddy, Three Forms of Naturalism, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy
of Mathematics and Logic, ed. Stewart Shapiro (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p.449,
who, in answer to the question If mathematics is an exception to the methods of natural science,
why not theology?, replies that theology is not used in natural science and so needs only to be
approached psychologically or sociologically. This remark reveals how little she has truly freed
herself of naturalisms constraints. See further the intriguing response of Alan Weir, Naturalism
Reconsidered, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic, pp.46972,
who considers Maddy vulnerable to the case of a philosophically and scientifically sophisticated
theism which sees theism as complementing or even enhancing the coherence of ones scientific
worldview in various ways. Weir considers mathematics to be an enormous Trojan horse sitting
firmly in the center of the citadel of naturalism (Ibid., p.461).
Quines Indispensability Argument 83

the Christian theist will take seriously the teaching of divine revelation regarding
Gods aseity and creatio ex nihilo.
Given the widespread influence of Quines naturalized epistemology,16 the
Christian theist will therefore find himself somewhat out of step with a good deal of
contemporary philosophy. His theological reservations about the existence of cer-

16
Of naturalism, Rea observes, It is not just fashionable nowadays; it enjoys the lofty status of
academic orthodoxy (Ibid., p.1). John Burgess and Gideon Rosen, reflecting on the present state
of Anglophone philosophy, state that there is near consensus on the presupposition of naturalized
epistemology. The reason that nominalists feel obliged to respond to the Indispensability Argument,
they believe, is because nominalists, too, profess for the most part to be adherents of Naturalism
(John P.Burgess and Gideon Rosen, A Subject with No Object [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997],
pp.645). Thomas Hofweber agrees: Today almost all of ontology, the discipline, is within the
paradigm that started with Quines classic essay On What There Is . . . . we look to science to tell
us what there is (Thomas Hofweber, Ontology and Objectivity, [Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford
University, 1999], p.3). So Mark Colyvan, for example, declines to mount any general defense of
naturalism, offering as his justification the fact that scientific realists who deny mathematical
objects are typically naturalists, so my acceptance, without argument, of a broadly naturalistic
perspective is not as serious an assumption as it may first seem (Mark Colyvan, The Indispensability
of Mathematics [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001], p.25). Elsewhere Colyvan asserts, I
take it that almost everyone accepts some suitably broad sense of this doctrine (Mark Colyvan,
Mathematics and the World, in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. Andrew D.Irvine, Handbook of
the Philosophy of Science [Amsterdam: North Holland, 2009], p.666). Concerning Quines legacy
Roger Gibson surmises, Only time can tell, but I suggest that his revival of naturalism (the natu-
ralistic turn) will survive well into the new century. Philosophy is continuous with science; there
is no first philosophy, no external vantage point (Roger F. Gibson, Jr., Willard Van Orman
Quine, in The Cambridge Companion to Quine, ed. Roger F.Gibson, Jr. [Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2004], p.14). A caveat is in order, however: the form of naturalism dominant
in contemporary philosophy of mathematics is not the hardline Quinean restrictivism, but rather a
disposition to place special weight on the views and practices of mathematicians themselves, as the
practitioners of the discipline, rather than on the views of outsiders, including philosophers. On
naturalism in this sense, see Penelope Maddy, Naturalism in Mathematics (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1997), part III: Naturalism.
84 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

tain abstract objects will be treated dismissively as emanating from what has been
called an alienated epistemology.17 But as Alvin Plantinga has emphasized,18 the

17
For this appellation, see Burgess and Rosen, Subject with No Object, p.205. Rosen elsewhere
distinguishes what he calls permissive Naturalism from restrictive Naturalism. The permissive
Naturalist holds that fulfillment of the internal norms of a scientific discipline is sufficient to make
belief in mathematical objects rational; whereas the restrictive Naturalist maintains that it is irra-
tional not to believe in the entities so recommended (Gideon Rosen, Nominalism, Naturalism,
Epistemic Relativism, in Metaphysics 2001, ed. James E.Tomberlin, Philosophical Perspectives
15 [Oxford: Blackwell, 2001], pp. 802). Rosen raises a number of difficult questions for the
restrictive Naturalist; but even his so-called permissive Naturalism restricts our basic sources of
knowledge to the sciences. As Burgess and Rosen state, The naturalists commitment is at most
to the comparatively modest proposition that when science speaks with a firm and unified voice,
the philosopher is either obliged to accept its conclusions or to offer what are recognizably scien-
tific reasons for resisting them (Burgess and Rosen, Subject with No Object, p.65). There can be
no extra-scientific basic source of knowledge that might lead us to doubt that scientific practice
delivers to us the whole truth about the existence of mathematical objects. The Christian theists
theological grounds for not taking the fulfillment of the internal norms of a scientific discipline to
be the final word in ontology will therefore be treated dismissively: The question of what non-,
un-, or anti-scientific philosophical merits might be claimed for a nominalistic reconstruction from
a standpoint prepared to appeal outside, above, and beyond scientific standards of merit to some
supposed extra-, supra-, preter-scientific philosophical standardsto the Oracle of Philosophy or
to occult faculties of philosophical intuition that cannot be justified by appeal to anything more
fundamentalwill not concern us (Ibid., p. 205). (Contrast Burgess remarkable affirmation,
quoted above in Chap. 1, that the only way to make sense of questions of ontological metaphys-
ics is to ask whether God created the relevant objects, and the answer to that question, in contrast
to the deliverances of science, is negative [John P. Burgess, Mathematics and Bleak House,
Philosophia Mathematica 12 (2004): 301]). More recently they complain, it is very difficult to
settle issues when one rejects scientific standards for settling them. Argumentation over epistemol-
ogy (or almost anything else) from an alienated, extrascientific, as opposed to a naturalized, intra-
scientific, standpoint usually tends to be inconclusive and often tends to bog down in issues of
burden of proof (Gideon Rosen and John P.Burgess, Nominalism Reconsidered, in The Oxford
Handbook of Mathematics and Logic, ed. Stewart Shapiro, Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy
[Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], p.524). Such a complaint prizes easy answers over truth.
One might agree that questions may be more solvable when ones basic sources of evidence are
limited to the deliverances of natural science but be unwilling to purchase a solution at the expense
of truth. Prizers of truth may well be willing to live with inconclusiveness and stalemate if that
result is avoidable only by a personal choice to restrict what counts as evidence. In point of fact,
the debate between naturalized Platonists and nominalists has already bogged down in issues of
burden of proof, despite their shared restriction of basic sources of knowledge. Finally, Burgess
and Rosen err when they assert that the question, What are the scientific merits of a nominalistic
reconstruction of current physical or mathematical theory? is only for those who profess natural-
ized epistemology (Burgess and Rosen, Subject with No Object, p.205). For since the Christian
theist also accepts the sciences as basic sources of knowledge, he will be interested in potential
defeaters of his theological conviction that there are no uncreated objects and eager to show that
his theological convictions are not in conflict with science. Notice, too, that even if his own reasons
for rejecting certain abstract objects are theological, that does not inhibit his attempting to find
common ground by appeal to arguments meeting the internal standards of the sciences.
18
Alvin Plantinga, Advice to Christian Philosophers, Faith and Philosophy 1 (1984): 25371.
Plantinga delivered two admonitions: First, Christian philosophers and Christian intellectuals
generally must display more autonomymore independence of the rest of the philosophical
world. Second, Christian philosophers must display more integrityintegrity in the sense of inte-
gral wholeness, or oneness, or unity, being all of one piece (Ibid., p.254). Cf. Plantingas own
integrative thinking concerning a theistic perspective on the existence of mathematical objects in
Quines Indispensability Argument 85

Christian theist does not take his philosophical marching orders from current phi-
losophy, and integrity as Christian thinkers demands that we seek to formulate a
worldview that integrates theological knowledge with other basic sources of knowl-
edge such as the natural sciences. The fact that naturalists reject sources of knowl-
edge other than the sciences should not trouble us in our philosophizing.
Now, of course, as Plantinga acknowledges, if there were some reason to think
that our basic sources of knowledge really are restricted to the natural sciences
alone, then that would be a genuine matter for concern that would need to be
addressed. But there is no such reason.19 Even if we allow that science needs no
external justification for its being a basic source of knowledge, there is nothing in
science itself that warrants the sweeping claim that there are no extra-scientific
basic sources of such knowledge as moral, aesthetic, religious, and metaphysical
knowledge.20 But then Naturalisms restrictive epistemological stance is either

Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford University Press,
2011), pp.28491.
19
Although Mary Leng devotes a chapter to a defense of Quines naturalized epistemology, she
never successfully addresses the question of why we should limit our basic sources of knowledge
to the natural sciences. Why not accept other sources as well? At one point she poses the question,
intriguing in light of Plantingas Reformed Epistemology, Why, then, look to science, however
broadly construed, rather than, for example, the framework provided by a particular theological
worldview? (Mathematics and Reality [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010], p.35). Plantinga,
of course, also rejects the classical foundationalism which Quine abandoned in taking natural sci-
ence to be a basic source of knowledge, but he does not, like Quine, limit our basic sources of
knowledge to the deliverances of natural science. Leng answers her own question:
Quines reason for looking to science, in particular, to discover what we ought to believe
that there is is just that it is our current best science that is the result of our most concerted
efforts at refining and improving our conceptual scheme in describing and systematizing
our experience. If, as naturalized philosophers, we take our cue from our scientific theories
and methods, rather than seeking to abandon them, we can hope to contribute to this inter-
nal refinement of our current state of reasonable belief rather than seek to undermine it (as,
for example, not really reasonable (Ibid.).

The false dichotomy of her second sentence above is glaring. One who accepts additional sources
of knowledge, for example, rational intuition, as basic in no way seeks to abandon scientific theo-
ries and methods or to undermine our current state of reasonable belief! And the first sentence is
plausibly over-restrictive in its description of human experience, ignoring as it does our experience
of tense, moral values, the self, and so on.
Lengs interpreting Quine to take the practical reasons for adopting the scientific framework as
evidence for the truth of scientifically justified statements (Ibid., pp.312, 37) lacks any textual
warrant. Rather Quine simply accepts science as a basic source of knowledge. Leng fails to address
Reas contention that the only plausible construal of Naturalism is that it is a methodological dis-
position to accept natural science alone as a basic source of knowledge and is, as such, incapable
of justification. Christian philosophers should be heartened by Lengs admonition, given in another
context, that a philosopher who holds back on the grounds that her claims might still be
laughed out of town, must surely lack the robust resistance to ridicule that her chosen discipline
requires (Ibid., pp.2834).
20
For a critique see Paul Moser and David Yandell, Farewell to Philosophical Naturalism, in
Naturalism: A Critical Analysis, ed. Wm. L.Craig and J.P. Moreland (London: Routledge, 2000),
pp.323. Although Rea, in order to find a loophole in their argument, focuses on their claim that
86 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

justified extra-scientifically, which makes naturalism self-defeating, or else simply


unjustified.
Rea argues that Naturalism must be regarded as unjustified.21 That is to say,
Naturalism is most plausibly taken to be a set of methodological dispositions on the
part of the inquirer which treats only the deliverances of the natural sciences as
basic sources of evidence. As a set of methodological dispositions (or a research
program), Naturalism is not a philosophical thesis at all and is therefore neither true
nor false. Since it makes no claims, it requires no justification. But then neither can
it assert its superiority to some other inquirers non-naturalistic set of methodologi-
cal dispositions which treats as basic sources of evidence not only the deliverances
of science but, for example, rational intuition or divine revelation. Rea observes,
What unifies naturalists is just a shared set of methodological dispositions. Furthermore,
these dispositions preclude naturalists from justifiably believing that their research program
is one that ought to be shared by others, or that it is the only one that issues in justified
belief. For to think such things is to suppose in part that the epistemic status of scientific

science thus logically permits non-natural realities (Reas emphasis), a more sympathetic con-
strual would drop the word logically and take their point, which Rea does not dispute, to be that
we have no reason to suppose that either the actual empirical sciences or the hypothetically com-
pleted empirical sciences warrant precluding the existence of non-natural realities or sources of
evidence.
21
Rea, World without Design, pp. 6367; cf. pp. 17. Reas argument is even stronger than the
argument I present in the text, for he maintains that Naturalism, when taken as an epistemological
thesis along the lines of Quines naturalized epistemology is self-defeating. Quines theses cannot
be taken as empirically justified,
For theses refutable by science cannot plausibly count as versions of naturalism because
naturalism involves, first and foremost, a commitment to follow science wherever it leads.
Thus, [these theses] would have to be taken as theses justified, if at all, by methods other
than the methods of science. But now they truly are self-defeating (Ibid., p.63).

Clearly, Naturalism could not itself be justified at the bar of any extra-scientific tribunal; but why
could Naturalism not be itself overthrown by further progress in science? Rea answers,
Naturalism is motivated by a high regard for scientific method. It would be completely
absurd, therefore, to think that empirical investigation could overthrow naturalism without
overthrowing scientific method itself in the process. So long as scientific method remains
intact as a way of judging between two theses, naturalism will always prescribe taking sides
with science and could therefore never find itself condemned by science. This much has
been uncontroversial in the literature. But then the dilemma stands . . . . (Ibid., p.52).

It is not clear to me that this argument goes through. A Naturalist could, it seems, come to the point
where the scientific evidence leads him to conclude that there is another source of knowledge
which he ought to accept as basic, e.g., rational intuition. So he abandons the naturalistic research
program in favor of a new program which takes there to be two basic sources of evidence. Since in
the new program he continues to accept science as a basic source of evidence, he has not, in over-
throwing Naturalism, overthrown the scientific method. Rea is right to emphasize that so long as
he remains in the former program he does not take the new source of evidence as basic and that his
adoption of the new program is not based on evidence (Michael Rea, Replies to Critics, Philo 7
[20042005]: 1658). But I do not understand why his overthrowing Naturalism in switching
programs involves overthrowing the scientific method. My thanks to Michael Rea for interaction
on this issue.
Quines Indispensability Argument 87

reasoning is open for philosophical debate. But the project of using philosophy to justify
science is a project that naturalists reject.22

The naturalist may prefer his research program, but he has no grounds for thinking
that those who reject his set of methodological dispositions err in doing so.
Rea calls the views to which one is committed as a result of adopting a certain set
of methodological dispositions the consequences of ones research program.23 If
Quine is right, one of the unwelcome consequences of the naturalistic research pro-
gram is that one is committed to the reality of abstract objects. Someone who adopts
a different set of methodological dispositions may not, however, find himself so
committed, for he may have other, overriding reasons to deny the reality of such
objects. Even the naturalist may find himself so unhappy with the consequences of
his research program that he decides to cash in his methodological dispositions
concerning acceptable evidence for another set. Be that as it may, the Christian the-
ist, who rejects as too narrow the basic sources of evidence allowed by the natural-
ist, cannot be faulted for so doing, unless his own research program should prove to
be self-defeating. The Christian theist has extra-scientific grounds for rejecting the
reality of uncreated abstract objects. That alone does not imply that abstract objects
do not exist, since the alternative of absolute creationism (to be discussed in the
sequel) remains an option to be explored, but it does blunt the force of the
Indispensability Argument by taking theological considerations to be relevant to the
question of the reality of abstract objects. The consistent Christian theist who is not
an absolute creationist will advocate an eliminative anti-Platonism that dismisses
the reality of various abstract objects on non-naturalistic, or more specifically, theo-
logical, grounds.24

The Indispensability Thesis

Quines Indispensability Thesis flows naturally out of his epistemological natural-


ism. For given that the natural sciences alone are accepted as basic sources of evi-
dence, it is to the natural sciences that we must turn for our knowledge of the world.
On a naturalized epistemology our ontology must be derived from the natural sci-
ences. Reflecting philosophys linguistic turn, Quine will turn to language as a guide
to ontology, not, indeed, to ordinary language but to a formalized language of

22
Rea, World without Design, p.72.
23
Ibid., p.73.
24
Cf. Matti Eklunds notion of eliminativist anti-realism, which involves an independent argument
to the effect that the atomic sentences of a discourse are uniformly false or untrue (Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v., Fictionalism, by Matti Eklund, http://plato.stanford.edu/
entries/fictionalism/ [March 30, 2007], 3.1). Pace Eklund, I see no reason to think that the elimi-
nativist need think, like the fictionalist, that all the sentences of the discourse are false or untrue.
He merely seeks to eliminate abstract objects allegedly implicated by a discourse by means of
some independent argument.
88 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

science, in what he calls a logistical approach to ontology.25 The ontology of the


common man, by which Quine means the ontology implicit in ordinary language, is
vague and untidy in two ways.26 First, it takes in many purported objects that are
inadequately or vaguely defined. Second, it is vague in its scope: we cannot tell
which of these vague things the common man takes to exist. We cannot trust gram-
mar to guide us, as if every noun demanded a denotation. The nominalizing of verbs
(e.g., deer hunting, spelunking, residing) suffices to invalidate that idea, such nomi-
nalizations being mere stylistic variations. Ordinary language just does not concern
itself with a circumscribed ontology. It is therefore to natural science that we must
turn in order to determine an ontology. Quine observes,
We tend not to appreciate that most of the things, and most of the traits of the so-called
world, are learned through language and believed in by a projection from language. Some
uncritical persons arrive thus at a copy theory of language: they look upon the elements of
language as names of elements of reality, and true discourse as a map of reality. They proj-
ect vagaries of language indiscriminately upon the world, stuffing the universe with ands
and ors, singulars and plurals, definites and indefinites, facts and states of affairs, simply on
the ground that there are parallel elements and distinctions on the linguistic side.
The general task which science sets itself is that of specifying how reality really is:
task of delineating the structure of reality as distinct from the structure of one or another
traditional language. The notion of reality independent of language is carried over by the
scientist from his earliest impressions, but the facile reification of linguistic features is
avoided or minimized.27

Things are not so simple, however, for even the language of natural science as it now
stands is not suitable, in Quines view, for disclosing ontological commitments. The
language of science is replete with empty proper names, indexical expressions,
tensed verbs, modal vocabulary, quantification over pseudo-entities, and so forth.
Therefore, before the ontological commitments of a scientific theory can be revealed,
the theory must be regimented into the canonical sentences of an artificial
language.
The most thorough-going linguistic transformation required by Quine is that the
sentences of a theory must be recast in the purely extensional language of first-order
predicate logic with identity, augmented by the membership relation of set theo-
ry.28 So doing would require a radical re-writing of science to eliminate all i ntensional

25
W. V. O. Quine, A Logistical Approach to the Ontological Problem, in Ways of Paradox,
pp.197202.
26
Quine, Things and their Place in Theories, p.9.
27
Quine, Scope and Language of Science, pp.2323. Cf. his comment: the idiomatic use of
there is in ordinary language knows no bounds comparable to those that might reasonably be
adhered to in scientific discourse painstakingly formulated in quantificational terms (idem,
Logic and the Reification of Universals, p.106).
28
A linguistic expression is extensional if its truth value is unaffected by substituting for one of its
singular terms a different singular term having the same referent, or substituting for one of its
predicates a different predicate having the same denotation, or substituting for one of its compo-
nent clauses a different clause having the same truth value. These new expressions are said to be
substitutable salva veritate in extensional contexts. If they are not so substitutable, one is dealing
with an intensional context; e.g., The glass broke because it was fragile is an intensional context,
Quines Indispensability Argument 89

contexts. All modal vocabulary, along with modal logic itself, must be expunged.
The language must be completely de-tensed and indexical expressions eliminated.
No doxastic or intentional expressions can be permitted. Counterfactual condition-
als and counterfactual reasoning must be exorcised. Indeed, all sentential connec-
tions apart from the truth-functional connectives ~ and & must be removed
from scientific theories.29
If it be wondered why so radical a recasting of science is necessary for Quines
project, the answer is that in order for Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment
(to be explained below) to yield even remotely plausible results, existential quanti-
fication must be restricted to extensional contexts. For example, consider the modal
statement, Possibly quintessence (a field of dark energy) is responsible for the
observed acceleration in the cosmic expansion. If we are allowed to quantify into
modal contexts, then it follows that there is something, namely, quintessence, which
is possibly responsible for the observed acceleration. Or consider the intentional
statement Le Verrier hoped to observe Vulcan (the hypothesized planet between
the sun and Mercury). Quantification into such a context would entail that there is
something, namely, Vulcan, which Le Verrier hoped to observe. Again, tensed state-
ments like Lucy was a fully bipedal hominid will be problematic, for it follows
that there is something which was a fully bipedal hominid. But there is no such
thing, since Lucy is extinct. Counterfactuals, being non-truth functional composi-
tions, will also prove problematic. From If a rigid rod were put into motion in the
aether, it would suffer a FitzGerald-Lorentz contraction, we could infer that there
is something which is such that if a rigid rod were put into motion in it, the rod
would contractthereby implying the existence of the aether.
Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment, then, if it is even to get off the
ground, must presuppose a regimentation of science into thoroughly extensional
statements. What is noteworthy in this regard is that ontology is clearly guiding
rather than following the criterion. Rather than follow the criterion where it leads,
accepting whatever ontological consequences ensue, one is regimenting the lan-
guage so as to not be saddled by the criterion with ontological commitments one
wishes to avoid. The criterion serves to ratify ontological decisions already made in
advance.
The problem with Quines proposed regimentation of scientific language, apart
from pragmatic concerns, is that he provides no reason to think that such a regimen-
tation is even possible, much less desirable, for an empirically adequate science.
Indeed, it seems highly unlikely that such a project could succeed. Modal notions
seem inextricably bound up with science, as is evident, for example, in the use of
dispositional terms. Attempting to de-tense physical science would significantly
curtail sciences informativeness about the world, for example, the Big Bangs

since it was transparent is not substitutable salva veritate for it was fragile, though both clauses
are true. Quine once remarked, my extensionalist scruples decidedly outweigh my nominalistic
ones (Reply to Parsons, in The Philosophy of W.V. Quine, p.397).
29
Willard V.Quine, Notes on Existence and Necessity, Journal of Philosophy 40 (1943): 1245;
Willard Van Orman Quine, Mathematical Logic (New York: W.W. Norton, 1940), p.72.
90 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

marking the beginning of the universe.30 Intentional statements would seem to be


vital to the human sciences like psychology and sociology, which Quine wants to
include among the genuine sciences. Counterfactual truths are supported by the
laws of nature, so that their elimination would cripple sciences explanatory ade-
quacy and predictive ability. Ironically, Quines reformulation of science in purely
extensional terms seems no more feasible than the project of a nominalistic de-
mathematization of science.
Moreover, the demand that science be cast in the form of first-order logic seems
to be no more feasible or desirable. Restricting all quantification to universal and
existential quantification is far too simplistic. Generalized Quantifier Theory came to
recognize during the 1980s that all and some belong to a much wider category
of quantificational expressions which may be given a unified syntactic and semantic
treatment.31 These include expressions like more, most, many, few, at least
as many as, some but no more than five, finitely many, and so on. Conjoined
with nouns, they form quantified noun phrases. It seems a fantasy to suppose that an
empirically adequate science could be re-written so as to prescind from all such
quantification. As a result, the regimented science captured by canonical sentences in
standard first-order logical notation will not only be empirically inadequate but will
also fail to sanction valid inferences employing such non-standard quantifiers.
As if the prospects for the success of Quines regimentation of science were not
already sufficiently gloomy, the situation is made even more grim by Quines resort
to paraphrase in order to avoid unwanted ontological commitments. Even canonical
scientific sentences may involve us in unwanted ontological commitments through
the variables of quantification. For example, Quine muses that scientific statements
could commit us to the existence of units of measure, as in, for example, the sen-
tence The length of Manhattan is 11 miles. Paraphrase can eliminate quantifica-
tion over and, hence, ontological commitment to units of measure by re-writing this
sentence as Manhattans length-in-miles = 11.32 The paraphrase leaves us

30
Huw Price observes, the ordinary temporal perspective is so familiar, and so deeply imbedded,
that we need to be suspicious of many of the concepts used in contemporary physics (Huw Price,
Times Arrow and Archimedes Point [New York: Oxford University Press, 1996], p.234). Even our
regarding the Big Bang as the beginning, rather than the end, of the universe is to betray the
assumption of a tensed perspective. Still more fundamentally, Price complains, The conceptual
apparatus of physics seems to be loaded with the asymmetric temporality of the ordinary world
view. Notions such as degree of freedom, potential, and even disposition itself, for example, seem
to embody the conception of an open future, for which present systems are variously prepared
(Ibid., p.260). In Prices view we have only begun to imagine what physics would look like if it
were thoroughly de-tensed. One might protest that Prices concern is not with temporal becoming,
but with temporal anisotropy. But Prices point is that apart from the reality of temporal becoming
it simply becomes gratuitous to affirm the anisotropy of time, as contemporary physics does.
Insofar as physical theory presupposes temporal anisotropywhich according to Price is so very,
very far (Ibid., p.259)it also presupposes the objectivity of temporal becoming.
31
See Hofweber, Ontology and Objectivity, 2.22; George Boolos, To Be Is To Be a Value of a
Variable (or to Be Some Values of Some Variables), Journal of Philosophy 81 (1984): 43049.
32
Quine, Word and Object, p.245. He surmises that sentences about the Equator can probably be
paraphrased into forms in which Equator has the immediate content nearer the Equator than
Quines Indispensability Argument 91

c ommitted to the existence of numbers, but not, at least, miles. Quine emphasizes
that a paraphrase will not be synonymous with the target sentence but will simply
serve as well the purposes of the speaker.33 The speaker rejects the original sentence
with its ontological commitments in favor of the paraphrase.
Unfortunately, expressions involving quantification over mathematical objects
are, in Quines view, one type of scientific expression that cannot be paraphrased
away. So in addition to physical objects as values of the variables of quantification,
we do need to add abstract objects, if we are to accommodate science as currently consti-
tuted. Certain things we want to say in science may compel us to admit into the range of
values of the variables of quantification not only physical objects but also classes and rela-
tions of them; also numbers, functions, and other objects of pure mathematics. For, mathe-
maticsnot uninterpreted mathematics, but genuine set theory, logic, number theory,
algebra of real and complex numbers, differential and integral calculus, and so onis best
looked upon as an integral part of science, on a par with the physics, economics, etc., in
which mathematics is said to receive its applications.34

Since mathematics is up to its neck in abstract objects and mathematics is ineradi-


cable from an adequate science,35 the nominalist must either repudiate the truth of
mathematics or find an acceptable paraphrase (or a contextual definition) of the
mathematical terms employed in science:

and these four words can be treated as a simple relative term or defined away in terms of centrifugal
force or mean solar elevation (Ibid., p.254).
33
Ibid., p.159.
34
Quine, Scope and Language of Science, p.244. Here is Putnam on the challenge facing the
nominalist:
Reference to classes of things, and not just to things, is a commonplace and useful mode of
speech. If the nominalist wishes us to give it up, he must provide us with an alternative
mode of speech which works just as well, not just in pure logic, but also in such empirical
sciences as physics (which is full of references to such non-physical entities as state-
vectors, Hamiltonians, Hilbert space, etc.). If he ever succeeds, this will affect how we
formulate all scientific principlesnot just logical ones (Putnam, Philosophy of Logic,
p.14).
35
Quine writes,
Mathematics is up to its neck in universals; we have to quantify over numbers of all
sorts, functions, and much else. I have argued that there is no blinking these ontological
assumptions; they are as integral to the physical theory that uses them as are the atoms, the
electrons, the sticks, for that matter, and the stones (Responses, in Theories and Things,
p.182).

Cf. Putnam, Philosophy of Logic, p.43. Quine declares:


Ordinary interpreted scientific discourse is as irredeemably committed to abstract objects
to nations, species, numbers, functions, setsas it is to apples and other bodies. All these
things figure as values of the variables in our overall system of the world. The numbers and
functions contribute just as genuinely to physical theory as do hypothetical particles (Quine,
Success and Limits of Mathematization, in Theories and Things, pp.149150).
92 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

As a thesis in the philosophy of science nominalism can be formulated thus: it is possible


to set up a nominalistic language in which all of natural science can be expressed. The
nominalist, so interpreted, claims that a language adequate to all scientific purposes can be
framed in such a way that its variables admit only concrete objects, individuals, as values
hence only proper names of concrete objects as substituends. Abstract terms will retain the
status of syncategorematic expressions, designating nothing, so long as no corresponding
variables are used.
Indeed, the nominalist need not even forego the convenience of variables having abstract
entities as values, or abstract terms as substituends, provided that he can explain this usage
away as a mere manner of speaking. . . .
if the nominalist can devise contextual definitions explaining quantification with
respect to any other alleged entities of an abstract kind, he becomes justified in speaking as
if there were such entities without really forsaking his nominalism. The entities remain fic-
tions for him; his reference to such entities remains a mere manner of speaking, in the sense
that he can expand this sort of quantification at will into an official idiom which uses only
variables having proper names of individuals as substituends. But if the nominalist can not
supply the relevant contextual definitions, then his nominalism forbids his use of variables
having abstract entities as values. He will perhaps still plead that his apparent abstract enti-
ties are merely convenient fictions; but this plea is no more than an incantation, a crossing
of the fingers, so long as the required contextual definitions are not forthcoming.36

Though sympathetic to such a nominalistic construal of science,37 Quine held out


little hope for the nominalists project:
Discourse in general, mathematical and otherwise, involves continual reference to abstract
entities of this sortclasses or properties. One may prefer to regard abstractions as fictions
or manners of speaking; one may hope to find a method whereby all ostensible reference to
abstract entities can be explained as mere shorthand for a more basic idiom involving refer-
ence only to concrete objects (in some sense or other). Such a nominalistic program pres-
ents extreme difficulty, if much of standard mathematics and natural science is to be really
analyzed and reduced rather than merely repudiated; however, it is not known to be impos-
sible. If a nominalistic theory of this sort should be achieved, we may gladly accept it as the
theoretical underpinning of our present ostensible reference to so-called abstract entities;
meanwhile, however, we have no choice but to admit those abstract entities as part of our
ultimate subject matter.38

In fact Quine did believe that reference to various abstract objects could for the most
part be paraphrased awayin the language of set theory. Though bringing much
greater ontological economy by reducing the kinds of abstract objects to which

36
Quine, Designation and Existence, pp.7089. For more on contextual definition, see Quine,
Five Milestones of Empiricism, pp.689.
37
See Nelson Goodman and W.V. Quine, Steps toward a Constructive Nominalism, Journal of
Symbolic Logic 12 (1947): 10522.
38
Quine, Mathematical Logic, p.121. Forty years later, reflecting on Quine and Goodmans attempt
to formulate elementary mathematics using a formalism of sentence tokens, Quine was decidedly
more pessimistic: Nominalism, ostriches apart, is evidently inadequate to a modern scientific
system of the world (Quine, Responses, p.183). Ostrich nominalism is Quines pejorative
label for what I take to be a form of nominalism which, in effect, rejects Quines metaontology and
so refuses to provide the paraphrases Quine deems requisite for escaping ontological commitment
(see Quine, Word and Object, pp.2423).
Quines Indispensability Argument 93

science commits us, this paraphrastic strategy is ultimately unavailing for the nomi-
nalist, since we are finally stuck with sets as irreducible constituents of our
ontology:
Researches in the foundations of mathematics have made it clear that all of mathematics
can be got down to logic and set theory, and that the objects needed for mathematics in this
sense can be got down to a single category, that of classesincluding classes of classes,
classes of classes of classes, and so on. Our tentative ontology for science, our tentative
range of values for the variables of quantification, comes therefore to this: physical objects,
classes of them, classes in turn of the elements of this combined domain, and so on up.39

Our working ontology is thus pretty liberal, Quine muses, But in mitigation it
may now be said that this is the end; no abstract objects other than classes are
neededno relations, functions, numbers, etc., except insofar as these are con-
strued simply as classes.40 Indeed, Quine boldly suggests that we could even dis-
pense with concrete objects, in favor of nothing more than classes of classes!
The problem with Quines requirement of suitable paraphrases to avoid ontologi-
cal commitment to the values of bound variables lies not in his claim that the lan-
guage of mathematics is inextricably bound up with that of science. Despite Hartry
Fields bold attempt to re-write Newtonian physics without utilizing the language of
mathematics,41 most philosophers would agree with Quine that mathematical lan-
guage cannot be expunged from science. Rather the difficulty with the requirement
of a paraphrase in order to avoid ontological commitment is that Quine provides no
algorithm for paraphrasing the sentences of a regimented science into an acceptable
form. Paraphrases must be constructed on an ad hoc, as they come, basis.42 As a
result we have no guarantee that a regimented science will be able to shed the
unwanted and implausible ontological commitments of ordinary language. Indeed,
given the absence of any paraphrastic algorithm, the gerrymandered nature of the
paraphrases will permit various paraphrases of the same target sentence quantifying
over different objects, so that we do not know what a theorys ontological commit-
ments are.43 In fact, as we shall see in our discussion of Quines Criterion of

39
Quine, Scope and Language of Science, p.244; cf. idem, Things and their Place in Theories,
pp.1516: We need never talk of numbers, though in practice it is convenient to carry over the
numerical jargon.
40
Quine, Mathematical Logic, pp.1212.
41
Hartry Field, Science without Numbers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980). For a sym-
pathetic discussion of Fields project see Mark Balaguer, Platonism and Anti-Platonism in
Mathematics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp.11327.
42
See Quines procedure in Word and Object, 5055. Quine acknowledged, The moot or con-
troversial part of the question of the ontic import of a sentence may of course survive in a new
guise, as the question how to paraphrase the sentence into canonical notation (Ibid., p.242). He
thought this change of guise had at least the advantage of shifting the debate because, in effect, the
nominalist has thereby accepted Quines metaontology for settling ontological disputes. If he
declines to play this game, the argument terminates (Ibid., p.243).
43
Quine, again, acknowledges the ontological relativity that results from paraphrastic pluralism:
The objects or values of variables serve merely as indices along the way, and we may permute or
supplant them as we please as long as the sentence-to-sentence structure is preserved (Quine,
Things and their Place in Theories, p.20). Although Quine insists that naturalism requires that
94 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

Ontological Commitment, the ontological relativity which results as a consequence


of the plurality of the paraphrases seems to be inconsistent with Quines notion of
ontological commitment.44 The hit-or-miss nature of the paraphrastic strategy in the
absence of an algorithm also implies that we have no guarantee that nominalistic
paraphrases for the mathematical statements featured in scientific theories will not
yet be found. There is nothing in the Indispensability Argument that compels us to
decide now, in the absence of an algorithm, whether a sentence quantifying over
mathematical objects is susceptible to a nominalistically acceptable paraphrase. The
nominalist could accept Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment and
acknowledge the need for nominalistic paraphrases of sentences quantifying over
mathematical objects and yet reasonably hold, in the absence of any prescribed
procedure for formulating paraphrases, that the desired paraphrases are feasible but
have yet to be discovered. This is not a mere hope or incantation, for there are in fact
today nominalistic paraphrases of classical mathematics which have proved to be
remarkably successful.45 Of course Quines deep commitment to extensionalism
would have precluded the acceptability of these paraphrases, availing themselves as
they do of the resources of modal and counterfactual logic, but that only serves to
underscore how unrealistic and obsolete Quines restrictivism is.
The Achilles Heel of Quines second thesis, then, is not his claim that mathemati-
cal sentences cannot be extracted from an empirically adequate science. Rather it is
his requirement that as a pre-condition for the employment of his Criterion of
Ontological Commitment, the whole of science, including not just the physical but
also the human sciences, be re-written in an artificial language which is (i) purely
extensional throughout, (ii) capable of expression in first-order logical notation, and
(iii) accompanied by contextual definitions which enable one to paraphrase away
implausible ontological commitments. The suggestion that such a project is feasible
is even worse than an incantation and a crossing of the fingers.

all ascription of reality must come from within ones scientific theory of the world, still displace-
ments in our ontology through proxy functions would have measured up to internal scientific
standards no less faithfully (Ibid., p.21). We must speak from within a theory, albeit any of vari-
ous (Ibid., pp.212).
44
For if ontological commitment means that one is committed to those entities which must exist if
the sentences of a certain class are to be true, then it follows that we have no ontological commit-
ments, since, given the availability of alternative paraphrases, none of the postulated entities must
exist. See Peter Simons, Ontological Commitment, in Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology,
ed. Hans Burkhardt and Barry Smith, 2 vols. (Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 1991).
45
See Charles S.Chihara, Constructibility and Mathematical Existence (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1990); idem, A Structural Account of Mathematics (Oxford: Clarendon Press 2004); idem,
Nominalism, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic, ed. Stewart
Shapiro (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp.483514; Geoffrey Hellman, Mathematics
without Numbers: Towards a Modal-Structural Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1989); idem, Three Varieties of Mathematical Structuralism, Philosophia Mathematica 3 (2001):
12957; idem, Structuralism, in Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic,
pp.53662.
Quines Indispensability Argument 95

The Criterion ofOntological Commitment

With Quines third thesis, his Criterion of Ontological Commitment, we come to the
key to his Indispensability Argument for the existence of abstract objects. Despite
the title of his influential essay On What There Is, Quine recognizes that his crite-
rion is not a criterion of existence but of ontological commitment.46 It does not tell
us what exists but rather what the proponent of any given theory must regard as
existent. As such the criterion is a metaontological thesis aimed at clarifying onto-
logical disputes. It reveals the rival ontologies implicit in the disputants respective
theories.
Quine rejected the idea that grammatical names are a means of disclosing onto-
logical commitment. For words functioning grammatically as names may not be
genuine names at all. Genuine names must designate an object, where designation
just is the relation a name has to the object whose name it is.47 There is thus an inti-
mate connection between designation and existential quantification: we cannot val-
idly infer that there is something which is F if the alleged name fails to designate
anything. So, for example, the nominalist regards appendicitis as a meaningful
and useful word, but he denies that it is, semantically speaking, the name of any
entity.48 The nominalist treats such purported names as syncategorematic expres-
sions, like and and or, which are meaningful in their context but are not the
names of anything.49 If appendicitis, then, does not designate anything, a sentence
like Appendicitis is dreaded is not about an entity appendicitis, and so the exis-
tential generalization (x) (x is dreaded) fails.50 By contrast, to say that there is such

46
We look to bound variables in connection with ontology not in order to know what there is, but
in order to know what a given remark or doctrine says there is . (W.V. Quine, On What
There Is, Review of Metaphysics 2 [1948]: 13). Cf. Quine, On Carnaps Views on Ontology, in
Ways of Paradox, p.129.
47
Quine, Notes on Existence, pp.11416; idem, Designation and Existence, pp.7012.
48
Quine, Designation and Existence, pp.7046.
49
Elsewhere Quine points by way of illustration to the word sake as an extreme example of a
grammatical name which is really syncategorematic (Quine, Word and Object, p.16). We habitu-
ally say for the sake of with sake seemingly in term position but never committing ourselves
to any such objects as sakes. Sake functions as an invariable fragment of a preposition for the
sake of or for ____s sake (Ibid., pp.236, 244).
50
Quine elsewhere notes that some will protest that (x) says nothing of entities or existence and
that the meaning of existential quantification is completely described by the logical rules govern-
ing it, i.e., that it serves merely to facilitate certain logical inferences, not to assert existence. Quine
replies, the meaning which those rules determine is still that which ordinary usage accords to the
idioms there is an entity such that, an entity exists such that, etc. existential quantification
was designed for the role of these common idioms (Quine, Logistical Approach, p.198). Cf.
idem, Logic and the Reification of Universals, p.105, where he says that it is to the familiar
quantificational form of discourse that our criterion of ontological commitment primarily and fun-
damentally applies. To insist on the correctness of the criterion in this application is, indeed,
merely to say that no distinction is being drawn between the there are of there are universals,
there are unicorns, there are hippopotami, and the there are of (x), there are entities x such
that. It is noteworthy that Quines justifiably taking (x) as ontologically committing is thus
96 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

a thing as appendicitis, that appendicitis designates something, is to say that the


operation of Existential Generalization is valid with respect to appendicitis. Thus,
we have a formal basis for distinguishing genuine names from syncategorematic
expressions: it is to say that from a certain context we may infer (x) ( x ).51
An expression designates or is a name if and only if Existential Generalization with
respect to it is a valid form of inference.
So although we may not be able to reach an absolute decision about whether any
given expression designates something, we can, Quine insists, say whether a given
pattern of linguistic behavior construes an expression as having a designation: we
decide based on whether Existential Generalization is valid with respect to it.52 Now
if Existential Generalization is valid with respect to it, so is Universal Instantiation.
So we may as well say that names are those constant expressions which replace
variables and are replaced by variables according to the usual logical rules of
quantification.53

bound up with the question whether the ordinary language expressions which it codifies are onto-
logically committing. On the tight connection between ordinary language and the ontologically
committing features of the regimented, first-order language Quine envisions, see Jody Azzouni,
Deflating Existential Consequence: A Case for Nominalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2004), pp.5253.
51
Quine, Logistical Approach, p.198.
52
Quine, Designation and Existence, p.706; cf. idem, Logistical Approach, pp.1989; idem,
Notes on Existence, p.118.
53
Quine, Designation and Existence, p.708; idem, Logistical Approach, p.199. Quine recog-
nized that his canonical language must be stripped of singular terms, lest by Universal Instantiation
we be led to unacceptable ontological commitments. Quine observed,
To say that something does not exist, or that there is something which is not, is clearly a
contradiction in terms; hence (x)(x exists) must be true. But this rule of inference
[Universal Instantiation] leads from the truth (x)(x exists) to the controversial conclu-
sion God exists and the false conclusion Pegasus exists, if we accept. . . God and
Pegasus as primitive names in our language. The atheist seems called upon to repudiate
the very name God, thus depriving himself of vocabulary in which to affirm his atheism;
and those of us who disbelieve in Pegasus would seem to be in a similar position (Quine,
Mathematical Logic, p.150).

Quine therefore endorses Russells Theory of Definite Descriptions in order to show how we may
use grammatical names (or singular terms) without supposing that any alleged designata exist
(Quine, On What There Is, pp.58). Russell analyzes a sentence involving a definite description,
such as The author of Waverly was a poet, as an abbreviation of an existentially quantified sen-
tence like Someone wrote Waverly and was a poet, and nothing else wrote Waverly ((x) (Wx &
(y) (Wy x = y) & Px)). The virtue of Russells analysis, says Quine, is that the burden of objec-
tive reference (which had been put on the descriptive name) is taken over by bound variables of
quantification (like something, nothing, and everything). Thus, words which appear to be
singular terms do not designate any particular object but refer to entities generally. Quine further
advocates treating proper names like Pegasus as short for definite descriptions like the winged
horse captured by Bellerophon, thereby bringing them within the scope of Russells analysis. If
we know nothing about the alleged designation of the proper name, we can use an artificial device
to describe it, for example, the thing that pegasizes. N.B. that if Russells Theory of Descriptions
fails with respect to proper names, as a great many contemporary philosophers of language think,
then Quines criterion provides at best sufficient, but not necessary, conditions for ontological
commitment (Peter Hylton, Quine on Reference and Ontology, in Cambridge Companion to
Quine, pp.1245).
Quines Indispensability Argument 97

Now names are substituends of the variables of quantification, but the values of
the variables are the entities named. So the following are five ways of saying the
same thing:
There is such a thing as appendicitis.
The word appendicitis designates.
The word appendicitis is a name.
The word appendicitis is a substituend for a variable.
The disease appendicitis is a value of a variable.

Ontological commitment is thus most clearly disclosed through a theorys bound


variables:
There is no commitment to entities through use of alleged names of them; other things
being equal, we can always deny the allegation that the words in question are names. But
still there certainly is commitment to entities through discourse; for we are quite capable of
saying in so many words that there are black swans, that there is a mountain more than 8800
meters high, and that there are prime numbers above a hundred. Saying these things, we
also say by implication that there are physical objects and abstract entities; for all the black
swans are physical objects and all the prime numbers above a hundred are abstract
entities.
Thus I consider that the essential commitment to entities of any sort comes through the
variables of quantification and not through the use of alleged names. The entities to which
a discourse commits us are the entities over which our variables of quantification have to
range in order that the statements affirmed in that discourse be true.54

Quine concludes, The universe of entities is the range of values of variables. To be


is to be the value of a variable.55 A given pattern of linguistic behavior is thus onto-
logically committed to all the values of its bound variables.
So we have a Criterion of Ontological Commitment based on the bound variables
of a given theory. Quine did not consider his criterion to be at all controversial.
Indeed, he took it to be scarcely contestable, since the meaning of (x) is given
by the ordinary language locution there is an object x such that.56 He insisted, It

54
Quine, On Carnaps Views on Ontology, p. 128; cf. Quine, Designation and Existence,
p.708.
55
Quine, Designation and Existence, p.708. Quine is assuming that only first-order quantifica-
tion is ontologically committing or, in other words, that second-order quantification over predi-
cates is either illegitimate or devoid of ontological commitment. For only first-order variables
correspond to natural language pronouns and therefore involve commitment to things. Van Inwagen
comments, If there are non-nominal variables, they cannot be pronouns, for pronouns occupy
nominal positions. But then what are non-nominal variables? Pro-adjectives? Pro-verbs [as
opposed to proverbs]? Pro-sentences? No such items are to be found in natural language, and it
is doubtful whether the idea of a pro-adjective (etc.) makes any sense (Peter van Inwagen,
Quines 1946 Lecture on Nominalism, Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 4, ed. Dean
Zimmerman [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008], p.130.
56
W.V. Quine, Philosophy of Logic, 2d ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986),
p.89; cf. note 50 above. Similarly, Charles Parsons opines that Quines criterion hardly deserves
to be controversial (Charles Parsons, Ontology and Mathematics, Philosophical Review 80
[1971]: 151). ystein Linnebo actually refers to the standard Quinean notion of ontological
commitment (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Platonism in the Philosophy of
Mathematics by ystein Linnebo). Azzouni muses, It cant be understated how influential the
98 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

is no use to appeal that x itself is syncategorematic: in a sense it is syncategore-


matic, but the point is that the idiom there is something x such that is by its very
meaning a flat assertion of existence, insofar as this idiom and the term existence
(or being) mean anything at all.57
Unfortunately, things are not so simple. For Quine was not consistent in the for-
mulation of his criterion, so that it is not as perspicuous as might at first appear. Here
is a sample of Quines formulations of the criterion:
The universe of entities is the range of values of variables. To be is to be the value of a
variable.58
We may be said to countenance such and such an entity if and only if we regard the range
of our variables as including such an entity. To be is to be a value of a variable.59
The ontology to which ones use of language commits him comprises simply the objects
that he treats as falling with [sic] the subject-matter of his quantifierswithin the range of
values of his variables.60
The question of ontological presuppositions reduces completely to the question of the
domain of objects covered by the quantifier.61
The entities to which a discourse commits us are the entities over which our variables of
quantification have to range in order that the statements affirmed in that discourse be true.62
It is in the values of the variables, not in the supposed designata of constant terms, that the
ontology of a theory is to be sought.63
In general, an entity is assumed by a theory if and only if it must be counted among the
values of the variables in order that the statements affirmed in the theory be true.64
My conclusion is that in order to decide what entities are presumed to exist, by a given
discourse, we are to examine the vbls. [variables] used in that discourse, and consider what
values they are presumed to take on. To be, then, from the point of view of any given
written or spoken doctrine, is to be the value of a vbl.65

view that first order objectual quantifiers must carry ontological commitment has been (Azzouni,
Deflating Existential Consequence, p.57). Azzouni evidently means It mustnt be understated and
cant be overstated, etc.
57
Willard Van Orman Quine, Nominalism, [March 11, 1946] Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol.
4, ed. Dean Zimmerman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.12.
58
Quine, Designation and Existence, p.708.
59
Quine, Logistical Approach, p.199.
60
Quine, Notes on Existence, p.118.
61
Ibid., p.125.
62
Quine, Carnaps Views on Ontology, p.128.
63
Goodman and Quine, Steps toward a Constructive Nominalism, p.105.
64
Willard Van Orman Quine, Logic and the Reification of Universals, in idem, From a Logical
Point of View (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953), p.102.
65
Quine, Nominalism, pp.1213.
Quines Indispensability Argument 99

We can very easily involve ourselves in ontological commitments by saying, for example,
that there is something (bound variable) which red houses and sunsets have in common; or
that there is something which is a prime number larger than a million. But this is, essen-
tially, the only way we can involve ourselves in ontological commitments: by our use of
bound variables.66
To be assumed as an entity is, purely and simply, to be reckoned as the value of a
variable.67
The variables of quantification, something, nothing, everything, range over our whole
ontology, whatever it may be; and we are convicted of a particular ontological presupposi-
tion if, and only if, the alleged presuppositum has to be reckoned among the entities over
which our variables range in order to render one of our affirmations true.68
A theory is committed to those and only those entities to which the bound variables of the
theory must be capable of referring in order that the affirmations made in the theory be
true.69
The ontology to which an (interpreted) theory is committed comprises all and only the
objects over which the bound variables have to be construed as ranging in order that the
statements affirmed in the theory be true.70
The objects we are to be understood to admit are precisely the objects which we reckon to
the universe of values over which the variables of quantification are to be considered to
range.71
Once we admit classes and relations irreducibly as values of variables of quantification, and
only then, we are committed to recognizing them as real objects. The range of values of the
variables of quantification of a theory is the theorys universe.72

A moments reflection reveals that these formulations do not all come to the same
thing, which fact has led to widespread misunderstanding of Quines criterion. In
the first place it is unclear whether one is ontologically committed to the objects in
the domain of ones quantifiers or to some more restricted collection of objects.
Many of Quines formulations seem to suggest that we are ontologically committed
to everything in the domain of our quantifiers. So understanding Quines criterion
leads to a significantly different ontology than if we take the Criterion in a more
restricted sense. For example, if in making a universally quantified statement we
intend the domain of the quantifiers to be unrestricted, then we are ontologically
committed to literally everything there iswhich is hardly informative. On the

66
Quine, On What There Is, p.12.
67
Ibid., p.13.
68
Ibid.
69
Ibid., pp.1314.
70
W.V. O.Quine, Ontology and Ideology, Philosophical Studies 2 (1951): 11.
71
Quine, Word and Object, p.242.
72
Willard Van Orman Quine, Set Theory and its Logic, rev. ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1963), p.28.
100 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

other hand, if we take the criterion to commit us only to those objects in the domain
which must exist if the universally quantified statement is to be true, then we are
committed to nothing at all, since universally quantified statements, understood as
conditionals, have no existential import and so require no objects in order to be true.
Or again, with respect to existential quantification, if we take as the domain of quan-
tification everything in my backyard, then the statement Theres a cat in my back-
yard commits me ontologically to all the things in my backyard, whereas restricting
my ontological commitments only to the things that must exist in order for my
statement to be true at most leaves me committed merely to the existence of a cat.
Now as Chihara observes,73 taking Quines criterion to involve ontological com-
mitment to everything in the domain or range of ones variables, in line with the
aphorism To be is to be the value of a variable, makes it superfluous and pointless
to recur to the actual statements of a given theory in order to determine ones onto-
logical commitments by checking which objects a theory affirms as values of its
bound variables, for the theorys ontology has already been delivered to us simply
by establishing the domain of its quantifiers. There is simply no reason to see even
what the theory states, which subverts Naturalisms appeal to scientific theory to
deliver our ontology. Moreover, since various domains can be arbitrarily assigned to
a theorys quantifiers, it is wholly implausible to think that a theory affirms the exis-
tence of all the objects in whatever domain one chooses. To be meaningful, onto-
logical commitment must selectively pick out some of the items in the domain as
those whose existence a theorist is obliged to acknowledge.
So the next question which arises, then, concerns what sort of restriction Quine
envisions with respect to the scope of our commitments. A number of his formula-
tions of his criterion suggest that one is ontologically committed to just those objects
which must be values of the bound variables of ones theory if that theory is to be
true. With respect to this version of the criterion, the universal quantifier ceases to
be of any significance. For in order for a statement like All centaurs have four
hooves, to be true, centaurs need not exist, as the statement has no existential
import. Even a true statement about things that actually do exist, like All cetaceans
have blowholes, carries no ontological commitments. On this formulation of the
criterion, then, our ontological commitments are delivered exclusively via variables
bound by existential quantification.
But how is ontological commitment accomplished through variables bound by
existential quantification? The crucial difficulty here is occasioned by the modality
of Quines criterion. Some of Quines formulations suggest that the proponent of a
theory is ontologically committed to just those objects over which his theorys
bound variables must range in order that the statements of that theory be true. The
problem here, as a number of critics have pointed out, is that except in cases where
a specific object is designated (for example, Venus) there are no objects which must
exist in order for the existentially quantified statements of a theory to be true.74

73
Charles S.Chihara, Ontology and the Vicious-Circle Principle (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University
Press, 1973), p.95.
74
E.g., Simons, Ontological Commitment; Chihara, Ontology and the Vicious-Circle Principle,
Quines Indispensability Argument 101

Suppose a theory affirms, There are planets outside our solar system. There are no
specific planets which must be included in the range of values capable of being
assumed by the bound variables in order for the statement to be true. Any given
planet could be deleted from the range or an entirely different collection of planets
substituted for those in the actual range of values. The truth of the statement does
not commit the theorys proponent even in general to planets outside our solar sys-
tem, since there is no object, no presuppositum, which has to be reckoned among
the entities over which the theorys bound variables range in order for that statement
to be true. Thus, the truth of such a statement and others like it involves no ontologi-
cal commitments whatsoever, which seems to subvert the purpose of Quines
criterion.
Quine later sought to clarify his metaontological posture by distinguishing the
ontology of a theory from the ontological commitments of a theory. In response to
Jaakko Hintikkas comment that What he [Quine] appears to mean is that a sen-
tence is committed to the existence of all the values of the bound variables it con-
tains, not just to the existence of those specific values (if any) which are needed to
make the sentence true,75 Quine wrote,
My remaining remark aims at clearing up a not unusual misunderstanding of my use of the
term ontic commitment. The trouble comes of viewing it as my key ontological term, and
therefore identifying the ontology of a theory with the class of all things to which the theory
is ontically committed. This is not my intention. The ontology is the range of the variables.
Each of the various reinterpretations of the range (while keeping the interpretations of pred-
icates fixed) might be compatible with the theory. But the theory is ontically committed to
an object only if that object is common to all the ranges.76

This paragraph is prima facie quite baffling.77 Fortunately, another essay published
in the same year helps us to understand Quines distinction between a theorys

pp.98101. Chihara also doubts that such a criterion succeeds in stating necessary as well as suf-
ficient conditions for ontological commitment. A theory which affirms (x) (x is a full set of golf
clubs) plausibly requires the existence of golf clubs in order to be true; but according to Quines
criterion it is not committed to them, since x does not take golf clubs as values. Of course, stating
sufficient conditions for commitment to the existence of abstract objects would be all the Platonist
needs.
75
Jaakko Hintikka, Behavioral Criteria of Radical Translation, in Words and Objections: Essays
on the Work of W. V. Quine, ed. Donald Davidson and Jaakko Hintikka (Dordrecht: D. Reidel,
1969), p.79.
76
W.V. O.Quine, Replies, in Words and Objections: Essays on the Work of W.V. Quine, ed.
Donald Davidson and Jaakko Hintikka (Dordrecht: D.Reidel, 1969), p.315. On Quines view we
supply an interpretation for a language by specifying a universe of discourse, i.e., a domain of
objects for the quantifiers to range over, along with predicates for the predicate letters. So reinter-
pretations of the range of the quantifiers are the various universes of discourse that might be speci-
fied. One is ontologically committed to an object iff that object is included in all of the various
ranges.
77
Quines distinction prompts several searching questions on Chiharas part (Chihara, Ontology
and the Vicious-Circle Principle, pp. 967). Imagine that we have a theory which asserts that
There is a unicorn and takes as the domain of its quantifiers the class of living animals. The
ontology of this theory, then, does not include unicorns, as they are not to be found in the class of
living animals. Nonetheless, the theory is by Quines criterion ontologically committed to
102 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

ontology and its ontological commitments. There Quine explains ontological com-
mitment in terms of a theorys requiring a specific object to exist:
An expression a may occur in a theory, we saw, with or without purporting to name an
object. What clinches the matter is rather the quantification (x) (x = a). It is the existential
quantifier, not the a itself, that carries existential import. This is just what existential quan-
tification is for, of course. It is a logically regimented rendering of the there is idiom. The
bound variable x ranges over the universe, and the existential quantification says that at
least one of the objects in the universe satisfies the appended conditionin this case the
condition of being the object a. To show that some given object is required in a theory, what
we have to show is no more nor less than that that object is required, for the truth of the
theory, to be among the values over which the bound variables range.78

On this account ontological commitmentwhat a theory requires to existis lim-


ited to designated objects.79 But what about objects which are not specifically des-
ignated? Most scientific theories are not about designated objects but objects in
general of a certain type, for example, fundamental particles of various sorts. Unless
the standard model of particle physics mentions some particular particle, it lacks
any ontological commitment to particles. This may seem strange, given how Quines
criterion is normally understood, but it seems to be precisely what Quine affirms:
Our question was: what objects does a theory require? Our answer is: those objects that
have to be values of variables for the theory to be true. Of course a theory may, in this sense,
require no objects in particular, and still not tolerate an empty universe either, for the theory
might be fulfilled equally by either of two mutually exclusive universes. If for example the
theory implies (x) (x is a dog), it will not tolerate an empty universe; still the theory
might be fulfilled by a universe that contained collies to the exclusion of spaniels, and also
vice versa. So there is more to be said of a theory, ontologically, than just saying what
objects, if any, the theory requires: we can also ask what various universes would be sever-
ally sufficient. The specific objects required, if any, are the objects common to all those
universes.80

unicorns. So we have the strange consequence that a theory may be ontologically committed to a
kind of object even though such objects are not included in the theorys ontology. A further diffi-
culty arises from the fact that according to Quine a theory is ontologically committed to an object
only if that object is included in all the various reinterpretations of the range of the bound variables.
It would follow, then, that the class of living animals must include unicorns. Finally, Chihara sup-
poses a theory to have as its domain the class of unicorns. This is the null set. So on Quines views,
is the ontology of the theory the class of unicorns or does it have no ontology at all?
78
W.V. Quine, Existence and Quantification, in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1969), p.94.
79
Or, as Tom Crisp has pointed out to me, to entities to which some predicate is uniquely truly
ascribed by the theory in question. So, for example, if a theory asserts (x) (x is the last living dodo
on Earth), then the theory is ontologically committed to the object so described.
80
Ibid., p.96. So when Quine wrote earlier,
When we say that some dogs are white,

(4) (x) (x is a dog x is white),

we do not commit ourselves to such abstract entities as dogkind or the class of white things
(Quine, Logic and the Reification of Universals, p.113),
Quines Indispensability Argument 103

Here Quine envisions a theory which quantifies existentially over dogs without
naming any specific dog. Such a theory is on his view not ontologically committed
to dogs because there is no particular dog which must exist in order for the theory
to be true. Only if a dog were the value of a variable in every universe of discourse
with respect to which the theory comes out true would the theory require the exis-
tence of, or be ontologically committed to, that dog. But in the case of a theory
which is perfectly general there may well be no specific objects which are common
to all the universes. Such a theory would have no ontological commitments at all, no
specific objects that are required in order that the theory be true. That is why Quine
insists that there is more to be said of a theory ontologically than what its ontologi-
cal commitments are. A theory that quantifies over dogs cannot be true if its uni-
verse of discourse is empty, indeed, if there are no dogs. The ontology of a theory,
then, as Quine reminds Hintikka, should not be identified with its ontological com-
mitments. Its ontology is simply the range of its variables.
We can see now why Quine should make the initially puzzling assertion that
ontological commitment is not his key ontological term, despite the widespread
misunderstanding that this is Quines central metaontological insight. Since scien-
tific theories are typically general and do not designate specific objects, most scien-
tific theories will have precious few ontological commitments. Quines Criterion of
Ontological Commitment, then, was apparently never intended to disclose a theo-
rys ontology, those entities a given theory assumes to exist. The ontological com-
mitments of our best scientific theories will be a tiny collection of specifically
designated objects like Venus, the Hubble Constant, and Sagittarius (assuming
Existential Generalization is applicable in such cases), which is a pale wraith of the
ontologies which those theories presuppose.
Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment thus turns out to be next to use-
less, since scientific theories have so few ontological commitments. To find out
what a theory assumes to exist, we have to look to the theorys ontology, not its
ontological commitments. But how do we determine a theorys ontology? Quines
suggestion of identifying a theorys ontology simply as the range of its bound vari-
ables is problematic because of its uninformativeness or arbitrariness. Some differ-
ent criterion is needed.
For that reason various philosophers have sought to formulate criteria of onto-
logical commitment free of the deficiencies of Quines original criterion. Perhaps

he should have added that neither do we commit ourselves to the such concrete entities as dogs.
He footnotes here On What There Is, p.13, where he explains that the bound variables range over
our whole ontology and we are convicted of a particular ontological presupposition iff the presup-
positum must be in that range. He adds, Some dogs are white says that some things that are dogs
are white; and, in order that this statement be true, the things over which the bound variable some-
thing ranges must include some white dogs, but need not include doghood or whiteness.
Consistency requires him to add that since there are no objects which must be included in that
range in order for the statement to be true, dogs are not among the ontological commitments of the
theory, even if they are included in the ontology of the theory, i.e., the range must include white
dogs. It is a fascinating exercise to read Quines earlier work in light of this distinction: sometimes
a different perspective emerges; other times the results seem inconsistent.
104 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

most influential of these is Alonzo Churchs proposed criterion. Churchs formula-


tion of the criterion involves the following schema:
The assertion of (x) (M) carries ontological commitment to entities x such that M,

where x may be replaced by any variable, x may be replaced by the name of that
variable, M may be replaced by any open sentence containing only that variable,
and M may be replaced by any name of that sentence. Churchs criterion associ-
ates ontological commitment with the existential quantifier rather than with bound
variables. He wrote, philosophers who speak of existence, reality, and the
like are to be understood as meaning the existential quantifier . . . .81 Today much
of what passes as Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment is actually closer
to Churchs. Whether Churchs criterion of ontological commitment can bear the
weight contemporary Platonists repose on it is going to depend on whether the ordi-
nary language expression there is/are carries the alleged ontological commit-
ments. As we have seen, Quine, at least, thought that it does not.

Confirmational Holism

The final thesis of Quines Indispensability Argument is his Confirmational Holism.


In Quines view sentences of scientific theories are not subject to confirmation or
disconfirmation by evidence when considered in isolation but rather only as parts of
whole theories. It is the theory as a whole which is subject to testing, and its com-
ponent sentences enjoy confirmation or suffer disconfirmation insofar as they share
in the confirmation or disconfirmation of the whole. Science is a unified structure,
and in principle it is the structure as a whole, and not its component statements one
by one, that experience confirms or shows to be imperfect.82 One can test individ-
ual sentences only by deciding to hold fast the other sentences of a theory. But one
could as well decide not to hold them fast and make them subject to revision rather
than the tested sentence. Every sentence in a theory is therefore revisable in princi-
ple, but in practice we are more deeply committed to the truth of some sentences
and are therefore unwilling to revise them under the force of the evidence: some-
thing else will be sacrificed first.
Since sentences quantifying over mathematical objects are an ineradicable part
of science, it follows that they, like purely empirical sentences, share in the confir-
mation enjoyed by the theory of which they are a part. Thus, mathematical sen-
tences are empirically confirmed by the evidence supporting a theory.
Confirmational Holism is vital to Quines Indispensability Argument because it
forestalls the objection that confirmed scientific theories may include sentences

Alonzo Church, Ontological Commitment, Journal of Philosophy 55 (1958): 1014.


81

Quine, Carnaps Views on Ontology, p. 134. Cf. Quines Two Dogmas of Empiricism,
82

Philosophical Review 60 (1951): 38, where he asserted that our statements about the external
world face the tribunal of sense experience not individually but only as a corporate body.
Quines Indispensability Argument 105

which are not themselves true.83 Lest nominalists claim that the mathematical sen-
tences of a theory, notwithstanding its success, may be truth valueless or literally
false, Quine prevents any sequestering of mathematical sentences from the remain-
ing sentences of a theory. All the sentences of a theory are confirmed by the evi-
dence supporting that theory. Hence, if the theory is judged to be true on the basis
of the evidence, so must be its component sentences having mathematical objects as
values of bound variables. Thus, if we accept a theory as confirmed by the evidence,
we are committed to the truth of its mathematical sentences and, hence, committed
to the existence of the mathematical objects which are values of their bound
variables.
Unfortunately, Quines Confirmational Holism is a highly implausible and there-
fore widely rejected doctrine, the least plausible of the four Quinean theses com-
prised by his Indispensability Argument. Elliott Sober has convincingly exposed its
weakness, charging that The confirmation relation that holism invokes is bizarre.84
Sober importantly distinguishes distributive holism from non-distributive holism.
Quine endorses and his Indispensability Argument requires distributive holism,
according to which it is not merely a theory as a whole which enjoys confirmation
or suffers disconfirmation, but also its individual sentences as parts of the whole: in
virtue of the confirmation of the theory as a whole, each of its several sentences is
confirmed. Distributive holism is a strange doctrine, since confirmation does not
seem to be distributive in the way the doctrine envisions. How is it that the confir-
mation which a theory as a whole enjoys gets distributed to all its several parts?
Sober reminds us that it is fallacious to infer that because an observation O confirms
a hypothesis H and H entails some statement S, therefore O confirms S. (Let O = the
playing card is red; H = the card is the 7 of hearts; and S = the card is a 7). Sober
thinks that this fallacious inference (which he calls the special consequence prin-
ciple) underlies distributive Confirmational Holism, for apart from it all one has is
a non-distributive holism, according to which the confirmation/disconfirmation of a
whole theory is not distributed to its component parts, and hence, to its mathemati-
cal statements.
Furthermore, a property of confirmation/disconfirmation is symmetry: observa-
tion O confirms hypothesis H just in case not-O would disconfirm H.Yet the sen-
tences of pure mathematics never suffer disconfirmation from different observational
outcomes of theory testing. The mathematical calculus that is used in special relativ-
ity theory, for example, was used in Newtonian theory and did not come to share in

83
Putnams version of the Indispensability Argument does not appeal to holism but to applied
mathematics to secure the truth of mathematical statements. See Hilary Putnam, What Is
Mathematical Truth? in Mathematics, Matter and Method, 2d ed., Philosophical Papers I
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp.745.
84
Elliott Sober, Quine I: Quines Two Dogmas, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society
Supplementary Volume 74 (2000): 264; cf. idem, Mathematics and Indispensability, Philosophical
Review 102 (1993): 3557; idem, Evolution without Naturalism, Oxford Studies in Philosophy
of Religion 3, ed. Jonathan L.Kvanvig (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp.187221. For
discussion see Charles S.Chihara, A Structural Account of Mathematics (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
2004), pp.12836.
106 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

the disconfirmation of the latter. Since pure mathematical sentences do not suffer
disconfirmation but are common to all theories, neither can they be confirmed by
observational evidence.85
An even more radical consequence of Confirmational Holism, says Sober, is that
a confirmation of, say, relativity theory confirms everything I believe, even if it has
no connection with relativity theory. Otherwise it is not the case, as holism holds,
that my system of beliefs is tested as a whole by experience. So if I believe X and Y,
and you believe X and not-Y, then the confirmation of X confirms Y for me but
not-Y for you, which is absurd.
The Quinean might resist this untoward consequence by adopting a more moder-
ate holism, according to which extra-theoretical statements do not enjoy confirma-
tion or suffer disconfirmation along with statements integral to a theory. But as
Sober notes, even in such a case the shared theoretical background assumptions A
of both H and not-H would be simultaneously confirmed by the confirmation of H
and disconfirmed by the disconfirmation of not-H.Sober emphasizes that to reject
holism is not to adopt the positivistic alternative of testing isolated hypotheses.
Confirmation/disconfirmation relations are properly three-place relations: a hypoth-
esis H is confirmed by an observation O relative to background assumptions A.The
shared background assumptions of competing hypotheses are not tested by the
observations and therefore are not confirmed/disconfirmed along with H.Now the
mathematical sentences of science, precisely by being assumed by every scientific
theory, belong to the background assumptions of those theories. The empirical con-
firmation of those theories therefore does not extend to mathematical sentences. For
logic and mathematics to be tested empirically, one logical or mathematical state-
ment would have to be contrasted to an alternative statement against a background
of shared assumptions in such a way that the competing statements make different
predictions about observationswhich in the vast majority of cases cannot be done.
It follows, then, that the statements of pure mathematics which underlie scientific

85
Leng, while drawing a bead on Confirmational Holism as the Achilles Heel of Quines argu-
ment, greatly underappreciates the force of Sobers critique when she concludes that his objection
fails because some theorists like Colyvan are willing to contemplate cases in which empirical
evidence would count against the truth of sentences of pure mathematics (Leng, Mathematics and
Reality, p.108), for Sober himself presents such a possible case. Such cases are extraordinary and
dissimilar to the case at hand of Newtonian and relativistic physics. Similarly, Lehman is willing
to allow the disconfirmation of number theory because he holds to the extraordinary position that
mathematical truths and objects are contingent (Hugh Lehman, Introduction to the Philosophy of
Mathematics, APQ Library of Philosophy [Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1979], p.152, cf.
pp.17, 38).
In response to the rejection of the symmetry principle by Colyvan, Hellman, and Resnik with
respect to mathematical statements in science, Sober says, It is worth remembering that, accord-
ing to Bayesianism, this is impossible; O confirms H if and only if not-O would disconfirm H.
Even though Bayesianism should not be taken on faith, the question remains of how a plausible
confirmation theory can avoid a symmetry of confirmation and disconfirmation (Sober, Evolution
without Naturalism, pp.21011). See further Mark Balaguer, critical notice of Mathematics as a
Science of Patterns, by Michael Resnik, Philosophia Mathematica 7 (1999): 113.
Conclusion andTransition 107

theories are not tested when these theories are tested and so do not enjoy confirma-
tion as a result of the theorys confirmation.
But, we might ask, what about statements of applied mathematics which appear
in scientific theories, such as the statement that The value of the Hubble Constant
H0 = 70.8 1.6 km/s/Mpc? Such a statement is obviously subject to testing and,
hence, confirmation or disconfirmation and, by Quines Criterion of Ontological
Commitment, entails the existence of a mathematical object. But, again, the fact that
an observation O confirms a hypothesis H and H entails some statement S, does not
entail that O confirms S.Thus, the confirmation of sentences of applied mathemat-
ics does not imply confirmation of the entailment that some mathematical object
exists. What enjoys confirmation is the empirical content of the statement, not math-
ematical existence statements, for were the statement disconfirmed, and, for exam-
ple, the value of the Hubble Constant revised, what is denied is not the existence of
the number 70.8, but the assignment of that number as the value of H0 in km/s/Mpc.
Even more fundamentally, statements of applied mathematics like these are typi-
cally subject to direct testing, so that Confirmational Holism drops out of the argu-
ment. Confirmational Holism is needed by the Platonist in order to secure the truth
of statements of pure mathematics, but statements assigning mathematical values to
empirical quantities can be confirmed directly by holding fast the other parts of the
relevant theory. But then we have left the Quinean Indispensability Argument for
some revised version of the argument, and now the question will be whether the
confirmation of such statements of applied mathematics commits us to more than
the nominalistic content of such statements.

Conclusion andTransition

Quines original Indispensability Argumentinsofar as its outlines can be


descriedhas long since succumbed to criticism, predicated as it was on very
implausible theses, and so is neither defended nor defensible today. Rather what
often passes in the contemporary literature under the name of the Quine-Putnam
Indispensability Argument are chastened, less radical reformulations of the argu-
ment freed from Quines controversial theses. Indeed, some versions hardly deserve
to be called arguments from indispensability at all, since they simply appeal to the
evident truth of, for example, pure mathematical sentences as a basis for inferring
the existence of abstract objects.
Mark Balaguer provides a couple of reformulations of the Indispensability
Argument that nicely capture the typical case for Platonism in contemporary discus-
sion.86 First, a version to which he ascribes a Fregean provenance:
1. The only way to account for the truth of our mathematical theories is to adopt Platonism.

See also Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2d. ed., s.v. Number, by John Bigelow and Sam Butchart,
86

VI: 673, and the various versions in Mark Colyvan, The Indispensability of Mathematics (Oxford:
Oxford University Press 2001), pp.618. Balaguer captures the essence of all such arguments.
108 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

2. The only way to account for the fact that our mathematical theories are applicable and/or
indispensable to empirical science is to admit that these theories are true.
3. Therefore, Platonism is true.87

In a later piece he generalizes the argument and identifies some of its crucial seman-
tic underpinnings as an argument from singular terms and existential
quantification:
1. If a simple sentence (i.e., a sentence of the form a is F, or a is R-related to b, or) is
literally true, then the objects that its singular terms denote exist. Likewise, if an existential
sentence is literally true, then there exist objects of the relevant kinds; e.g., if There is an
F is true, then there exist some Fs.
2. There are literally true simple sentences containing singular terms that refer to things
that could only be abstract objects. Likewise, there are literally true existential statements
whose existential quantifiers range over things that could only be abstract objects.
3. Therefore, abstract objects exist.88

The two formulations are related. The grounds for (1) in the first argument are stated
perspicuously in (1) of the second argument. A criterion of ontological commit-
ment like Churchs is assumed, along with a theory of reference which takes it for
granted that corresponding to the singular terms used in true sentences there are
objects existing in the world. Accordingly, the truth of mathematical sentences
requires that mathematical objects exist. Similarly, the grounds for (2) in the sec-
ond argument are to be found in (2) of the first argument. The reason that we should
take discourse concerning abstract objects to be true is, at least in part, because such
talk is vital to our presumably true scientific theories of the world. I say in part
because the contemporary Platonist will sometimes appeal to the evident truth of
mathematical sentences regardless of their applicability or indispensability to
empirical science.
Notice the abandonment of the radical Quinean theses in these reformulations.
Though many or most contemporary metaphysicians may be epistemological natu-
ralists, still Naturalism plays no essential role in the argument. Someone who
accepts sources of knowledge in addition to the sciences as basic may offer such an
argument as convincing grounds for Platonism, so long as he thinks that there are no
countervailing extra-scientific arguments in support of anti-Platonism. Also gone

87
Balaguer, Platonism and Anti-Platonism in Mathematics, p.95.
88
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Platonism in Metaphysics, by Mark Balaguer, April
7, 2009; http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/platonism/. Singular terms are used to pick out just one
object and comprise proper names, definite descriptions, and demonstratives. By contrast general
terms are predicated of every entity in a certain class and comprise predicates and indefinite
descriptions. So, for example, 3 and the natural number between 2 and 4 are singular terms
picking out a particular number.
Conclusion andTransition 109

are the Quinean prescriptions concerning the formulation of our best theories of
science in canonical sentences of first-order logic. Statements of empirical science
or even ordinary language may be assessed for truth as we find them. Nor need such
sentences be indispensable to empirical science: applicability of mathematical sen-
tences or abstract object talk may serve as indicative of their truth. Quines much
misunderstood Criterion of Ontological Commitment has gone by the board and
been replaced by use of singular terms (a criterion Quine rejected) and existential
quantification as indicators of ontological commitment. Finally, Quines
Confirmational Holism plays no role at all, individual sentences being objects of
scrutiny with respect to their truth value.
A wide range of responses to such revised indispensability arguments are on
offer these days.89 Taking mathematical objects as a case in point,90 Fig.3.1 displays
some of the options for responding to indispensability arguments on behalf of
Platonism concerning such objects.

Fig. 3.1 Some responses to indispensability arguments concerning the existence of mathematical
objects

89
N.B. that when a Platonist like Russell Marcus contrasts his autonomy Platonism with indis-
pensability Platonism, he is taking indispensability arguments in a much narrower, and more
original, sense than I am. Marcus justification for autonomy Platonism still conforms to the pat-
tern of Balaguers re-formulations, for he says, We are justified in believing in mathematical
objects because we understand that they are the referents of singular terms in many true mathemat-
ical sentences (In the pre-publication version Marcus adds or objects in the domain of their
models) (Marcus, Autonomy Platonism and the Indispensability Argument, p.136). That is the
heart of what I take to be an indispensability argument. Therefore the various responses to the
Indispensability Argument which are surveyed in this book are also responses to so-called auton-
omy Platonism.
90
We could have taken abstract objects as our case in point, but then the figure would have been
much less illuminating. For then those who affirm the existence of abstract objects would be
Platonists (absolute creationists or plain Platonists), and those who deny their existence would be
anti-Platonists, which would include both realists and anti-realists. The figure as I have drawn it
makes it clearer that there are both Platonic and non-Platonic versions of realism. Arealism also
finds a more perspicuous place in my scheme. N.B. that anti-realism coincides with what is often
called nominalism.
110 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

As Fig.3.1 illustrates, there are non-Platonic versions of realism on offer today


which take mathematical objects and other objects typically thought to be abstract
as, in fact, concrete objects. These are taken to exist dependently and so do not con-
stitute a challenge to divine aseity. Divine conceptualism is an explicitly theistic
theory of this type. This alternative to Platonism will obviously merit closer
examination.
Figure 3.1 also reveals that situated between realism and anti-realism about
mathematical objects lies the option of arealism. Before saying a word about anti-
realist options, I want to ask whether arealism is an option which theists might seri-
ously entertain as a response to indispensability arguments for Platonism.
The classic version of arealism concerning mathematical objects is the conven-
tionalism of Rudolf Carnap. Carnap drew a fundamental distinction, which he took
to be of paramount importance, between what he called internal questions, that is
to say, questions about the existence of certain entities asked within a given linguis-
tic framework, and external questions, that is, questions concerning the existence
of the system of entities as a whole.91 As Carnaps subsequent illustrations make
clear, his way of drawing the distinction was misleading. For questions about, for
example, the whole universe of sets might still be asked within a given linguistic
framework and so be internal questions. The contrast is not between questions about
the whole system of entities versus questions about individual entities, but between
questions asked within a linguistic framework and questions posed from a vantage
point outside that framework.
Carnap does not explain what he means by a linguistic framework, but he char-
acterizes it as a certain form of language or way of speaking which includes
rules for forming statements and for testing, accepting, or rejecting them.92
Accordingly, a linguistic framework may be taken to be a formalized language (or
fragment thereof) with semantic rules interpreting its expressions and assigning
truth conditions to its statements.93 It is a way of speaking which assumes the mean-
ingful use of certain singular terms governed by rules of reference.
Carnap illustrates his distinction by appeal to what he calls the thing frame-
work or language. Once we have adopted the thing language of a spatio-temporally
ordered system of observable things, we can meaningfully raise internal questions
like Is there a white piece of paper on my desk? or Are unicorns and centaurs real
or imaginary? From these questions we must distinguish the external question of
the reality of things. Someone who rejects the thing framework may choose to speak
instead of sense data and other merely phenomenal entities. When we ask about the
reality of things in a scientific sense, we are asking an internal question in the thing
language, and such a question will be answered by empirical evidence. When we

91
Rudolf Carnap, Meaning and Necessity: A Study in Semantics and Modal Logic (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1956), p.206.
92
Ibid., pp.208, 214.
93
See Scott Soames, Ontology, Analyticity, and Meaning: the Quine-Carnap Dispute, in
Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology, ed. David Chalmers, David
Manley, and Ryan Wasserman (Oxford: Clarendon, 2009), p.428.
Conclusion andTransition 111

ask the external question about whether there really is a world of things, we are,
Carnap insisted, asking a merely practical question whether or not to use the forms
of expression featured in the thing framework.
Carnap next applies his distinction to systems of a logical rather than empirical
nature, that is to say, frameworks involving terminology for abstract objects like
numbers, propositions, and properties. Consider, for example, the system of natural
numbers. Our language will now include numerical variables along with their rules
of use. Were we to ask, Is there a prime number greater than 100? we should be
posing an internal question, the answer to which will be found, not by empirical
evidence, but by logical analysis based on the rules for the new expressions. Since
a sentence like 5 is a number is necessarily true, and by Existential Generalization,
implies There is an n such that n is a number, the existence of numbers is logically
necessary within the number framework. Moreover, given the internal semantics,
the sentence Five designates five is analytic, that is to say, logically true. No one
who asked the internal question, Are there numbers? would seriously consider a
negative answer. By contrast, ontologists who ask this question in an external sense
are, in Carnaps view, posing a meaningless question. No one has succeeded in giv-
ing cognitive content to such an external question. The same may be said of ques-
tions concerning propositions and properties: in an external sense they are devoid of
cognitive content. The question of realism vs. nominalism is, as the Vienna Circle
agreed, a pseudo-question.94
On Carnaps view the adoption of a linguistic framework needs no theoretical
justification because it involves no assertion of reality and, hence, is neither true nor
false. Acceptance of a new framework can be judged only as being more or less
expedient, fruitful, and conducive to the aim of its user.
Carnap takes Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment to apply to internal
questions only. In choosing a linguistic framework, one is, in Quines terminology,
choosing an ontology; but Carnap finds this way of putting things to be misleading.
For such an ontology is purely conventional: one can change ontologies just by
changing frameworks, and no framework is more accurate than another. Carnap
concludes, Let us grant to those who work in any special field of investigation the
freedom to use any form of expression which seems useful to them . Let us be
cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in per-
mitting linguistic forms.95
Virtually no one today would embrace the verificationist theory of meaning
which motivated Carnaps claim that external questions are devoid of cognitive con-
tent. Still, Carnaps conventionalism finds its parallel today in what we might call

94
Carnap, Meaning and Necessity, p. 215. This claim elicited Quines derisive comment: I
object to this idea, however, as struthionismby which I mean that it involves the struthionic fal-
lacy: that of burying ones head in the sand (Willard Van Orman Quine, Nominalism, [March
11, 1946] Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 4, ed. Dean Zimmerman [Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2008], p.9). Struthion is the Greek word for ostrich.
95
Carnap, Meaning and Necessity, p.217.
112 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

metaontological anti-realism.96 Thinkers of this persuasion deny that certain mean-


ingful ontological questions have objective answers. Although mereological ques-
tions play the starring role in metaontological disputes, some non-realists would
deny that the question Do abstract objects exist? has an answer that is objectively
true or false. For example, this sort of view has been defended today by the philoso-
phers of mathematics Mark Balaguer and Penelope Maddy.97 On such an arealist
view, there literally is no fact of the matter whether or not abstract objects exist.
Arealism might at first blush seem to provide a quick and easy solution to the
problem which motivates our inquiry, namely, the challenge posed to divine aseity
by the existence of uncreatable, abstract objects. If there really is no objective truth
about the existence of abstract entities, then the employment of abstract terms in
object languages like that of mathematics has no ontological significance. Internal
questions about the existence of certain sets or numbers or solutions to equations
may be answered in the affirmative, but the external question about the existence of
such entities literally has no answer. So it cannot be truthfully said that there are
objects which God did not create.
It is extraordinarily difficult to understand how there could be no fact of the mat-
ter whether or not abstract objects exist, short of a radical ontological pluralism,
according to which for some language users there really are abstract objects whereas
for other language users there are not.98 Such an ontological relativity might strike
us as utterly fantastic (were there numbers in Jones world during the Jurassic
Period because Jones would one day affirm mathematical statements?), but never
mind: the overriding point is that such a solution is not available to the classical the-
ist because then in some peoples realities there are, indeed, objects uncreated by
God, which is theologically unacceptable. Hence, the theist cannot embrace onto-
logical pluralism with respect to abstract objects.
But then we see that arealism or metaontological anti-realism is also not an
option for the classical theist, for a similar reason.99 Given Gods essential aseity,

96
See David J.Chalmers, Ontological Anti-Realism, in Metametaphysics, pp.77129. I prefer
the nomenclature metaontological anti-realism to ontological anti-realism. Chalmers termi-
nology is misleading, since anti-realism on the level of ontology is the denial of the existence of
the objects in question. It is only on the metaontological level that anti-realism is the denial that the
ontological question has an objective answer. The viewpoint also goes by the name ontological
pluralism.
97
See Balaguer, Platonism and Anti-Platonism in Mathematics, pp. 15179; Penelope Maddy,
Defending the Axioms: On the Philosophical Foundations of Set Theory (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2011), p. 98. Balaguer characterizes arealism as a kinder, gentler positivism (Mark
Balaguer, Realism and Anti-Realism in Mathematics, in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. Andrew
D. Irvine, Handbook of the Philosophy of Science [Amsterdam: North Holland, 2009], p. 90).
Maddy offers various characterizations of arealism.
98
For discussion see Matti Eklund, Carnap and Ontological Pluralism, in Metametaphysics,
pp.13751; cf. idem, The Picture of Reality as an Amorphous Lump, in Contemporary Debates
in Metaphysics, ed. John Hawthorne, Theodore Sider, and Dean Zimmerman (Oxford: Blackwell,
2008), pp.38296.
99
See the interesting remarks by Burgess, Mathematics and Bleak House, pp.19, 301. Burgess
flirts with Conventionalism when he says of his own view,
Conclusion andTransition 113

there just is no possible world in which uncreated, abstract objects exist, for God
exists in every possible world and is the Creator of any reality extra se in any world
in which He exists. Therefore, it is a metaphysically necessary truth that no uncre-
ated, abstract objects exist. Hence, there is, indeed, a fact of the matter whether
abstract objects of the sort that concerns us exist: they do not and cannot exist. Thus,
metaontological anti-realism with respect to abstract objects is necessarily false,
and conventionalism about existence statements concerning abstract objects is also
necessarily false. The arealist solution proves to be too quick and too easy.100
This negative verdict on an arealist solution does not, however, imply that
Carnaps analysis is without merit. For despite the widespread rejection of
Conventionalism, Carnaps distinction between external and internal questions con-
tinually re-surfaces in contemporary discussions and strikes many philosophers as
intuitive and helpful.101 Linnebo puts his finger on Carnaps fundamental insight
when he writes,
In fact, many nominalists endorse truth-value realism, at least about more basic branches of
mathematics, such as arithmetic. Nominalists of this type are committed to the slightly odd-
sounding view that, although the ordinary mathematical statement

For many professed realists, realism amounts to little more than a willingness to repeat in
ones philosophical moments what one says in ones scientific moments, not taking it back,
explaining it away, or otherwise apologizing for it: what we say in our scientific moments
is all right, though no claim is made that it is uniquely right, or that other intelligent beings
who conceptualized the world differently from us would necessarily be getting something
wrong (Ibid., p.19).

But when Burgess takes a theological perspectivewhich, he says, is the only way to make sense
of ontological questions, then Gods privileged perspective reveals that numbers do not exist in
the ultimate, metaphysical sense. By contrast, Mary Leng does not take Burgess theological per-
spective seriously and so takes Burgess to be a Carnapian Conventionalist; indeed, she herself
cannot seem to get beyond the internal questions (Mary Leng, Revolutionary Fictionalism: A Call
to Arms, Philosophia Mathematica 13 [2005]: 278, 28590).
100
Similarly, what we might call a quasi-Carnapian strategy, according to which naturalized epis-
temological standards are just to not up to the task of answering external questions, so that we are
left with agnosticism concerning such ultimate ontological problems, will also fail. According to
this viewpoint, the external questions are meaningful and have answers, but we are not in a position
to answer them. Burgess seems to suggest such a position when he asserts, Naturalism teaches us
to look at our scientific, philosophical, and other forms of intellectual endeavor as activities of
biological organisms with cognitive capacties [sic] that, though extensive, stop well short of omni-
science. As such, none of these endeavors can succeed in achieving a Gods-eye view of Reality
(Burgess, Mathematics and Bleak House, p.20). Burgess thinks that God might well have pat-
terns of thought involving categories of unfamiliar objects or perhaps even lacking a category of
objects at all (Ibid., p.31). Such a perspective is interesting because it implies that the proponent
of naturalized epistemology is not in a position to say that uncreated abstract objects really exist in
contradiction to Christian doctrine. But such a quasi-Carnapian agnosticism is not a solution open
to the Christian theist himself, since, necessarily, there are no uncreated entities, regardless how
unfamiliar, so that agnosticism is dispelled.
101
See, e.g., Hofweber, Ontology and Objectivity, 1.4-5; 2.3.1; 4.1-10; Stephen Yablo, Does
Ontology Rest on a Mistake? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 72 (1998): 22961; Emma
Gullberg, Objects and Objectivity: Alternatives to Mathematical Realism (Ume, Sweden: Ume
University, 2011), pp.97108, 13848.
114 3 The Indispensability Argument forPlatonism

(1) There are prime numbers between 10 and 20.


is true, there are in fact no mathematical objects and thus in particular no numbers. But
there is no contradiction here. We must distinguish between the language LM in which math-
ematicians make their claims and the language LP in which nominalists and other philoso-
phers make theirs. The statement (1) is made in LM. But the nominalist's assertion that (1) is
true but that there are no abstract objects is made in LP. The nominalist's assertion is thus
perfectly coherent provided that (1) is translated non-homophonically from LM into LP. And
indeed, when the nominalist claims that the truth-values of sentences of LM are fixed in a
way which doesnt appeal to mathematical objects, it is precisely this sort of non-homopho-
nic translation she has in mind.102

Statements made in LM correspond to Carnaps internal questions; statements made


in LP correspond to external questions. External questions are now to be regarded as
meaningful and as having objective answers, but those answers may be quite differ-
ent than the answers to homophonic questions posed internally. If the claim There
are mathematical objects is expressed in LM, then anti-realists could accept the
claim as stated in LM while denying, in LP, that there are mathematical objects. A
host of anti-realisms, the most prominent being perhaps fictionalism, employ this
essentially Carnapian strategy.
By distinguishing between internal and external questions, the anti-realist cir-
cumscribes Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment. We are at best ontologi-
cally committed by quantification in the language in which external questions are
posed; but quantification in the language in which internal questions are posed is not
ontologically committing. Statements in the external language which are correlates
of internal statements may avoid quantification over abstract objects or may be
taken to be simply false or to be neutral in their ontological commitments; but truths
expressed in the object language itself cannot be assumed to be ontologically com-
mitting simply because they are in the quantificational idiom of first-order logic. All
of these anti-realisms are, of course, controversial and will occupy us in the sequel;
but what is clear is that the debate has moved far beyond Quines flat imposition of
his criterion.
Contemporary anti-realisms, illustrated in Fig.3.1, may be conveniently under-
stood as rejecting one or the other of the two premisses of Balaguers sample indis-
pensability arguments for Platonism. Fictionalists reject the second premiss of each
argument, regarding the sentences quantifying over or having singular terms refer-
ring to abstract objects as false, or at least untrue. Proponents of ultima facie strate-
gies like figuralism, constructibilism, and modal structuralism likewise do not
challenge the traditional criterion of ontological commitment but reject the claim

102
Linnebo, Platonism in the Philosophy of Mathematics, 1.4. Linnebo unfortunately limits the
range of anti-realist solutions unnecessarily. Linnebo has in mind Geoffrey Hellmans translations
of mathematical statements into counterfactual conditionals, so that the mathematical truths
affirmed in LP will look or sound quite different than those truths as stated in LM. That leaves out of
account anti-realisms like fictionalism, which affirms truth-value realism but regards statements in
LM as fictionally true and homophonic statements in LP as false, as well as anti-realisms which,
unlike fictionalism, call into question the criterion of ontological commitment underlying indis-
pensability arguments for Platonism.
Bibliography 115

that mathematical sentences must be taken to be literally true. Pretense theorists


similarly deny that mathematical sentences must be taken literally. By contrast,
advocates of alternative semantics or logics such as substitutional quantification and
free logic challenge the assumption that existential quantification or use of singular
terms carries ontological commitment, as assumed in the first premiss of each argu-
ment. Indeed, other anti-realisms, such as neo-Meinongianism and neutralism,
reject entirely the criterion of ontological commitment that comes to expression in
the first premiss of each argument and so hold that the truth of sentences of abstract
discourse does not commit their user to the existence of abstract objects. My experi-
ence suggests that contemporary theistic philosophers are largely uninformed and,
indeed, often unaware of these anti-realist alternatives to Platonism. In the ensuing
chapters we shall examine the prospects for success of the various realist and anti-
realist approaches and their viability as a solution to the challenge posed by
Platonism to divine aseity.

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Part II
Realist Solutions
Chapter 4
Absolute Creationism

The most obvious solution to the challenge posed by Platonism to Gods being the
sole ultimate reality, the solution also involving the least departure from standard
Platonism, is to expand the meaning of creation so as to encompass abstract as
well as concrete objects. The result is a sort of theistic Platonism which preserves
intact the host of abstract objects but renders them dependent upon God, even if
necessary and eternal in their being, so that God remains the sole ultimate reality.
This is the solution proffered by absolute creationism (Fig.4.1).

Exposition

Thomas Morris andChristopher Menzels Modified Platonism

Thomas Morris and Christopher Menzel coined the term absolute creation to
describe their proposed solution to the challenge of Platonism in their seminal arti-
cle, Absolute Creation, which sparked the contemporary debate over God and
abstract objects.1 A terminological clarification would be helpful at this point. I have

1
Thomas V. Morris and Christopher Menzel, Absolute Creation, American Philosophical
Quarterly 23 (1986): 353362. But see note 3 below. There are really two contemporary debates
about God and Platonism going on, one over the challenge of Platonism to divine sovereignty,
sparked by Plantinga, and the other over the challenge of Platonism to divine aseity, stemming
from Morris and Menzel. As I explain, these challenges are often conflated. For example, the title
of the recent symposium edited by Paul Gould, Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the
Problem of God and Abstract Objects (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), is evocative of the divine
sovereignty debate, when, in fact, the symposiasts are almost wholly occupied with the debate over
divine aseity.
It has come to my attention that a small group of Christian mathematicians had anticipated
philosophers in discussing these issues, albeit in an out-of-the-way corner. Beginning in 1977 the
Association of Christians in the Mathematical Sciences began holding their annual conference at
Wheaton College, and the unpublished proceedings of these conferences reveal that they were

Springer International Publishing AG 2017 121


W.L. Craig, God and Abstract Objects, DOI10.1007/978-3-319-55384-9_4
122 4 Absolute Creationism

Fig. 4.1 Some responses to indispensability arguments concerning the existence of mathematical
objects

called their view absolute creationism because it appeals to divine creation of


abstract objects to solve the challenge posed by Platonism to divine aseity. Many
other writers refer to Morris and Menzels position by another label, namely, the-
istic activism. This nomenclature also enjoys textual support in the original article.
But these interpreters of Morris and Menzel seem to be guilty of conflation. Attend
closely to Morris and Menzels characterization of theistic activism:
Let us refer to the view that we are espousing, the view that an intellectual activity of Gods
is responsible for the framework of reality, as theistic activism. A theistic activist will hold
God creatively responsible for the entire modal economy, for what is possible as well as
what is necessary and what is impossible. The whole Platonic realm is thus seen as deriving
from God.2

This statement makes it evident that the project of theistic activism is to explain, not
just the existence of abstract objects, but their modal statusespecially, as is evi-
dent from the context, the modal status of propositional truths.3 This is the same

aware of and addressing in at least a rudimentary way these questions. Interestingly, Christopher
Menzels article in Faith and Philosophy, cited below, was delivered at their 1987 conference.
2
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p.356.
3
Morris and Menzel write, in order to be the absolute creator of the entirety of the framework of
reality, in order to be responsible for its existence and nature, God must be responsible for the
necessary truth of all propositions with this modality as well as for their mere existence as abstract
objects (Ibid., p.355 [my emphasis]). Cf. comment by Scott A.Davison, Could Abstract Objects
Depend upon God? Religious Studies 27 (1991): 487, that in conversation Alvin Plantinga dif-
ferentiated between explaining the existence of propositions and accounting for the necessary truth
of propositions. It was this second concern that preoccupied Plantinga in his 1980 Aquinas Lecture
Does God Have a Nature? at Marquette University (Alvin Plantinga, Does God Have a Nature?
[Milwaukee, Wis.: Marquette University Press, 1980]). Because Plantinga was concerned with the
challenge posed by Platonism to divine sovereignty, not divine aseity, he dismissed nominalism as
irrelevant to the discussion, since even if there are no such things as the properties of being red and
being colored, for example, nevertheless it remains necessarily true that whatever is red is colored,
and God can do nothing to make it otherwise. In the end he opts for a conception of divine sover-
eignty that does not require everything to be within Gods control. He leaves unanswered the ques-
tion of whether the existence of abstract objects depends upon or can be explained by Gods nature
Exposition 123

project that preoccupies Brian Leftow in his recent, massive book God and Necessity.
Leftow explains that accounting for the existence of abstract objects is merely a
subsidiary project of his study; the main project is provide a theistic account of
modality.4 The latter is the project of theistic activism and is why Morris and Menzel
characterize their view as a modally updated version of Augustines theory of
divine ideas. Their view goes beyond Augustines in explaining the modal status of
Gods ideas. Thus, Morris and Menzel refer to theistic activism as the modal com-
ponent of absolute creationism.5 One may embrace absolute creationism without
espousing any particular theory, including Morris and Menzels, about the ground-
ing of truths modal status. Since our interest in this book is not in finding the foun-
dations of modality but in accounting for the putative existence of abstract objects,
I shall continue to refer to the view that all abstracta, along with all concreta, have
been created by God as absolute creationism.
Unfortunately it is not entirely clear that Morris and Menzel really are absolute
creationists in the sense in which I have used the term. For they fail to distinguish
clearly absolute creationism from another realist view which we may call divine
conceptualism. Divine conceptualism is a non-Platonic realism which substitutes
Gods thoughts in the place of abstract objects. Objects normally thought to be
abstract, such as mathematical objects, propositions, properties, and so on, are taken
to be, in fact, divine thoughts of various sorts.
The thrust of Morris and Menzels article is to defend Gods absolute creation of
all things, including abstract objects. Thus, they describe the problematic they wish
to address as follows:
The apparent conflict is between what is arguably the central idea of the theistic tradition,
the idea of a God as absolute creator of everything which exists distinct from him, and the
characteristic, metaphysically powerful claim of present-day Platonism that there are strong
theoretical reasons for recognizing in our ontology a realm of necessarily existent
abstract objects, objects so firmly rooted in reality that they could not possibly have failed
to existsuch things as properties and propositions.6

To this paragraph is appended the endnote:


Henceforth, we shall use the term Platonism to refer to the view that abstract objects such
as properties and propositions have objective ontological status. Many Platonists under-
stand their position to entail that these objects are metaphysically and causally independent

or activity. By contrast, Davison, like me, focuses on the first concern, the challenge posed by
Platonism to divine aseity.
4
Brian Leftow, God and Necessity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p.27. He recognizes
that a theist who makes putative abstract objects dependent on God need not adopt Leftows par-
ticular theory of modality. For discussion of Leftows two projects see my critical notices God
and Necessity, by Brian Leftow, Faith and Philosophy 30 (2013): 46270; God and Necessity, by
Brian Leftow, Philosophy 89 (2014): 1716.
5
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p.360: The view of God as an absolute creator, with
its modal component of theistic activism, has many implications of significant interest. It would
seem to me more accurate to say that absolute creationism is a component of theistic activism,
which is the wider project. It can accordingly be pursued independently of the wider project.
6
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p.353.
124 4 Absolute Creationism

entities. We hope to show that such independence need not be thought to follow from even
the strong form of abstract object realism which holds these entities to have the modal status
of necessity.7

It is evident that Morris and Menzel take contemporary Platonism to be a strong


form of abstract object realism and that they want to modify Platonism only to the
extent that abstract objects lose their independence of God. So they say, It will be
our claim that a strongly modalized Platonism and a theism stressing absolute cre-
ation are indeed consistent, and can be integrated together into what may be the
most powerful, comprehensive theistic metaphysic that can be constructed.8 So on
the view of absolute creation necessarily existent abstract objects are not self-
existent entities, since they are caused by God to exist.9
Morris and Menzels commitment to the reality of abstract objects thus appears
to be unequivocal. Indeed, to deny that propositions, properties, and so forth are
abstract objects would subvert their entire project of integrating contemporary
Platonism with theism. Nevertheless, when it comes to explicating their view,
Morris and Menzel seem to slide unconsciously into divine conceptualism. Their
claim that the Platonistic framework of reality arises out of a creatively efficacious
intellective activity of Gods is consistent with a modified Platonism.10 Similarly,
their claim that all properties and relations are Gods concepts, the products, or
perhaps better, the contents of a divine intellective activity, a causally efficacious or
productive sort of divine conceiving11 can be given a Platonist interpretation, since
concepts and the contents of divine thinking are plausibly construed to be abstract
objects. But Morris and Menzel proceed to describe concepts in concrete terms:
Unlike human concepts, then, which are graspings of properties that exist onto-
logically distinct from and independent of those graspings, divine concepts are
those very properties themselves; and unlike what is assumed in standard Platonism,
those properties are not ontologically independent, but rather depend on certain
divine activities.12 This passage is messy. Human concepts are said to be mental
events of a certain sort, graspings, which suggests that concepts are thoughts, not
abstract objects. We have, for example, a thought of redness, which is a grasping of
an abstract property. So are Gods concepts divine graspings? If so, then properties
and relations are divine graspings or thoughts. Properties and relations are said to be
identical with divine concepts. But if concepts are divine thoughts, then Platonism
has been sacrificed.
Morris and Menzel explicitly affirm the identity of propositions with Gods
thoughts: in the way in which we characterize properties as Gods concepts, we can

7
Ibid., p.361.
8
Ibid., p.354. Such a metaphysics takes contemporary Platonism seriously.
9
Ibid., p.360.
10
Ibid., p.356.
11
Ibid., p.355.
12
Ibid.
Exposition 125

characterize propositions as Gods thoughts.13 This is a typical conceptualist affir-


mation; but then they go on to affirm, So the existence of propositions as well
derives from an efficacious divine conceiving.14 One should have expected a con-
ceptualist to say that propositions are a divine conceiving, not that they derive from
it. Morris and Menzel do seem to identify propositions with divine conceivings,
however, for they explain, The number 2, the number 4, the relation of addition,
and that of equality are all divine concepts, all products of the divine conceiving
activity. The existence of the proposition that 2+2 = 4 is thus the existence of a
divine thought.15 Here abstract objects seem to be replaced by divine thoughts.
Some interpreters have taken the reduction to go the other way. In a recent sym-
posium Paul Gould and Richard Davis take absolute creationism to hold, not the
conceptualist thesis that abstract objects reduce to divine thoughts, but rather that
Gods thoughts reduce to certain abstract objects.16 On this interpretation Gods
thoughts are not concrete events but are abstract objects. Unfortunately, as fellow
symposiast Greg Welty observes, this saddles the absolute creationist with a view
which seems obviously wrong: Gould/Daviss conception of divine-mental-
events-as-abstract-objects pits them against what is widely seen as traditional onto-
logical constraints on AOs [abstract objects] (as Yandell, Craig, Shalkowski, and
Oppy point out). Gould/Davis hold that something most everyone else thinks are
paradigmatically concrete objects (mental states) are really AOs.17 Our thoughts
are not abstract objects. It seems bizarre to think that one of Gods thoughts, on the
other hand, could be an abstract object.18 Their causal efficacy alone will preclude

13
Ibid.
14
Ibid.
15
Ibid., p.356.
16
Paul Gould and Richard Davis, Modified Theistic Activism, in Beyond the Control of God?,
pp.5164.
17
Greg Welty, Response to Critics, in Beyond the Control of God?, p.108. Cf. the comments of
Yandell, Oppy, and the author in response to Weltys misleading claim that on conceptualism
abstract objects are Gods thoughts. Since Welty thinks that no satisfactory account can be given of
what an abstract object is, he speaks of abstract objects merely functionally; he himself recognizes
that Gods thoughts are concrete. By contrast Gould and Davis believe that Gods thoughts are
literally abstract objects.
18
Gould and Davis defend their view by claiming (persuasively, I think) that being a universal is a
sufficient condition of being abstract.
What would be involved then, in a concrete object being multiply-instantiable? Assume that
a necessary and sufficient condition for a concrete object to be multiply-instantiable is that
one and the same object would need to be multiply located (i.e., at different places at the
same time). But this possibility is (to say the least) highly counter-intuitive. Hence, it is
reasonable to conclude that concrete objects are not multiply-instantiable. But then, it fol-
lows that if an object is multiply-instantiable, it must be an abstract object (Paul Gould and
Richard Davis, Response to William Lane Craig, p.129).

They therefore infer that we ought to think of divine ideas and thoughts as abstract objects (Paul
Gould and Richard Davis, Response to Welty, p.99). It seems to me that the correct inference to
draw is that Gods thoughts are therefore not universals and therefore not properties. For as Welty
points out, it makes no sense to think of Gods thoughts as multiply located (Welty, Response to
126 4 Absolute Creationism

their being thus classified. So one should rather expect that according to absolute
creationism things like propositions and properties would be abstract objects which
are the causal products of, and not identical with, Gods intellective activity.
Since we are dealing with the work of living authors, we have the luxury of ask-
ing them what they meant to affirm. So I asked Morris and Menzel respectively
which view they meant to defend:
(1) a sort of modified Platonism, according to which abstract objects exist but are
caused by Gods intellective activity,
or
(2) a sort of divine conceptualism, according to which objects usually thought to be
abstract are really thoughts in Gods mind.

Gould and Davis, p.68). What we have here is a good argument, not for the abstractness of divine
thoughts, but against the conceptualist claim that divine thoughts play the role normally ascribed
to properties.
Interestingly, Gould and Davis reject Morris and Menzels claim that properties are divine
concepts; but they accept their claim that propositions are divine thoughts. Replying to scepticism
concerning Gods thoughts being abstract objects, they state,
A Proposition (capital P) is a divine thought: an ordered arrangement of divine ideas.
Propositions are abstract in the sense of being multiply instantiable in human minds; but
theyre not mind-independent abstracta of the Platonic variety. (Thus contra Craig and
Yandell, there is no incoherence in saying that God is a concrete being whose thoughts are
abstract.) (Gould and Davis, Response to Critics, p.77).

When they say that propositions are not abstracta of the Platonic variety, there is less here than
meets the eye: we deny that propositions are Platonic in the sense that they exist in Platos
heaven as brutely intentional entities (Ibid.). Their claim that propositions are multiply instantia-
ble in human minds seems multiply confused. Propositions are not the sort of thing that can be
instantiated. Natures or essences can be instantiated, not propositions. (On instantiation, see
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Simplicity, in Philosophical Perspectives 5: Philosophy of
Religion [Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview Publishing, 1990], p.538.) Neither are thoughts instan-
tiable. But in Gould and Davis view,
Propositions, as divine thoughts, are mental state typesabstract objects (not concrete
objects) that belong to Causal Reality; divine ideas are conceptsthe contents of Gods
thoughtsand also abstract objects that belong to Causal Reality. Gods thoughts and con-
cepts are universals; they are capable of multiple-instantiation. Our thoughts and concepts,
on the other hand, are tokens of the divine types. Hence, our thoughts and concepts, as
instances of the divine types, are concrete members of Causal Reality (Paul Gould and
Richard Davis, Response to Graham Oppy, p.185).

Here they declare human thoughts to be mental state tokens of divine mental state types. But,
again, propositions are not the sort of thing that can be tokened. Linguistic types can be tokened;
but propositions are linguistically expressed, not tokened. Moreover, what sense does it make to
say that God, a concrete mind, has a mental state which is an abstract object? Such a being would
be literally unconscious. Worse, as Oppy points out, if Gods thoughts and concepts are abstract,
and if abstract entities can only be effects and not causes, then it turns out that Gods thoughts and
concepts play no causal role in Gods creative endeavors (Graham Oppy, Response to Critics,
p.194). On the other hand, if Gould and Davis mean to affirm that Gods thoughts are causally
efficacious, then they cannot be abstract objects.
Exposition 127

Menzel was clear: Tom and I definitely had (2) in mind, with the qualification that,
like (1), we also thought of their existence as caused by Gods intellective activity.19
But Menzel served only as a sort of advisor for the article, which, according to

19
Personal communication, November 1, 2013. Similarly, in a recent session of the American
Philosophical Association, Menzel claims, Morris and I came down solidly on the side of the
conceptualist variant (Christopher Menzel, Problems with the Bootstrapping Objection: A
Response to Craigs God and Abstract Objects, Central Division meeting of the American
Philosophical Association, Chicago, Illinois, 27 February 2014, p.2, note 1).
Menzels recollection is difficult to square with his subsequent espousal of theistic Platonism
(Christopher Menzel, Theism, Platonism, and the Metaphysics of Mathematics, Faith and
Philosophy 4 [1987]: 365), according to which both theism and Platonism are true. But note that
Menzel says that many theists are also Platonists, or metaphysical realists (Ibid.), which sug-
gests that Menzel sees divine conceptualists as Platonists, since they are realists. This lack of dis-
crimination is bound to be misleading.
Menzels conceptualism emerges somewhat more clearly in his later piece, God and
Mathematical Objects, in Mathematics in a Postmodern Age, ed. Russell W.Howell and W.James
Bradley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B.Eerdmans, 2001), pp.6597. Menzel explains that the-
ists accept the existence of things belonging to three ontological categories: (i) physical things, (ii)
mental things, and (iii) spiritual things. Significantly, thoughts are said to belong to category (ii).
A more problematic category is (iv) abstract objects, such as universals, relations, and mathemati-
cal objects. So is Menzel proposing to reduce category (iv) to (ii)? It would seem so, though this is
not completely clear. While acknowledging powerful reasons for positing abstract objects, Menzel
notes that they occasion a dilemma for the theist: God either does or does not create abstract
objects. If He does, then one faces two problems: the coherence problem (how can eternal and
necessary objects be created?) and the freedom problem (how can the creation of such objects be a
free act of God?). If God does not create abstract objects, one again faces two problems: the sov-
ereignty problem (God is not the creator of all things apart from Himself) and the uniqueness
problem (God is not unique in existing a se). Rather than slipping though the horns of the dilemma
into nominalism, Menzel opts for abstract object creationism (p.71). Menzel thinks to resolve
the coherence, sovereignty, and uniqueness problems by embracing continuous creation. This is
where things get ontologically interesting. Menzel observes, As things stand, it appears that all the
AO-creationist is doing is modifying the traditional, Platonic conception of abstract objects: rather
than existing a se, abstract objects are now sustained in existence by God (p.73). But Menzel is
dissatisfied with such a view: what is needed is a positive model of the nature of abstract objects
that explains how such an object could be both necessary and created (Ibid.). This is where he
turns to theistic activism, which views abstract objects as the contents of a certain kind of divine
intellective activity in which God is essentially engaged (Ibid.) This sounds Platonistic, for the
contents of Gods thinking would surely be abstract objects like propositions. The theistic Platonist
would agree that This divine activity is thus causally efficacious: the abstract objects that exist at
any given moment, as products of Gods mental life, exist because God is thinking them; which is
just to say that God creates them (Ibid.). But between these two Platonistic-sounding sentences,
Menzel says this: Roughly, they [abstract objects] are Gods thoughts, concepts, and perhaps
certain other products of Gods mental life (Ibid.). Concepts might be taken to be abstract objects,
but Menzel later says that Thoughts and concepts are ideas in someones head (Ibid., p.75). So
both thoughts and concepts seem to be concrete mental events. The other products of Gods men-
tal life are presumably the sets which Menzel goes on to discuss. Menzel says that thoughts cor-
respond naturally to propositions and concepts correspond naturally to properties and relations
and sets are Gods collectings (Ibid., pp.75, 93). I take it, then, that Menzel moves away from
theistic Platonism to a sort of divine psychologism or conceptualism, despite his continued mis-
leading use of Platonistic terms like abstract objects and abstract object creationism. On his
view category (iv) is really empty.
128 4 Absolute Creationism

Morris, was written entirely by him in a single day.20 Morris says that he had not
clearly distinguished the two views in his thinking at the time:
As I recall, it was a tendency toward Platonism regarding the metaphysics of mathematics
and a wonder as to how that squared with a really stringent and comprehensive view of
creation from the point of view of Anselmian theism. My friend Chris Menzel worked a lot
in logic and mathematics, and he and I got talking one day, and I got all amped up about the
issues presented in the paper, and my wild machine analogy popped into my head, and we
talked nonstop for quite a time, and then I basically wrote up the piece for APQ in one tor-
rential flow of prose, in one sitting at the desk and showed it to Chris and he probably made
suggestions for changes, and there you have it.

I hadnt at the time even pondered much the divine conceptualist tradition, the ideas in the
mind of God work that had come before.

But then, what we came to sort of put a new spin on that, almost a reification of the divine
ideas of this sort, along with a committed creation framework underlying it, where the
concept of creation would perhaps do more work than it had hitherto been asked to do.21

Whatever Menzels personal views may have been, the ambiguities and apparent
contradictions in the article suggest that Morris had not clearly differentiated abso-
lute creationism from divine conceptualism. We see the conflation of the two views
in Morris Introduction to his Anselmian Investigations, where the article was
reprinted: We suggest that a thoroughly theistic ontology is possible which sees
even the realm of necessarily existing abstract objects as dependent on God. The
picture we adumbrate is a modally updated version of an ancient Augustinian
view.22 The first sentence is an expression of absolute creationism, the second of
divine conceptualism.
So what shall we do? I shall take Morris and Menzel to be exponents of absolute
creationism, since the stated goal of their project was to integrate Platonism with
theism. Conceptualism would signal a surrender of Platonism. So we shall in this
chapter consider absolute creationism as a proposed solution to our problem and
reserve the next chapter for a discussion of divine conceptualism.
For the rest, the remainder of Morris and Menzels positive explication of their
view consists of an endorsement of constructivism with regard to propositions.
Menzel continued to pursue this constructivism with respect to sets, properties, and
relations in subsequent publications.23 We need not follow its development, I think,

20
It is noteworthy that in the original paper, Menzel is listed second, despite the alphabetical prior-
ity of his name. In the version of the paper reprinted in Morris Anselmian Explorations: Essays in
Philosophical Theology (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987), pp.16178,
Morris felt free to omit Menzels name as co-author, alluding only in the books Introduction to his
role in the original paper. The reprint differs from the original principally in all of the first-person
plural pronouns being changed to first-person singular, except in cases where the reader might be
included under we. Endnote 7 is emended to acknowledge that what is said in that note is due to
Menzel.
21
Personal communication, November 1, 2013.
22
Morris, Anselmian Explorations, p.6.
23
Menzel, Theism, Platonism, and the Metaphysics of Mathematics, pp.36582; Menzel, God
Exposition 129

since such constructivism is an in-house issue among realists concerning ontologi-


cal economy and so is not germane to our interest in Gods being the creator of all
things extra se. Whether God creates all abstract objects de novo or builds them out
of more fundamental abstract constituents can be left for absolute creationists to
work out amongst themselves.

Hugh McCanns Aristotelianism

We should note, however, that the absolute creationist who takes Gods intellective
activity to produce abstract objects is not automatically committed to a transcendent
realm of abstract objects. So-called moderate realism, which takes universals to
exist immanently in things rather than transcendently, is an option for the absolute
creationist.24 The notion of immanent universals is frequently characterized as
Aristotelian, but unfortunately Aristotelians do not speak with one voice. Some self-
identified Aristotelians take universals to be causally efficacious and, hence, con-
crete entities rather than abstract objects.25 A theistic version of this non-Platonic

and Mathematical Objects, pp. 6597. Unfortunately for Christian philosophy, Morris stepped
away from professional philosophy.
24
Marilyn Adams, in her magisterial work on William Ockham, numbers among the proponents of
moderate realism of Walter Burleigh. The tenets of moderate realism include: (1) A universal is a
thing that exists in reality as a metaphysical constituent of particulars; (2) the universal exists in
many particulars simultaneously without being numerically multiplied itself; (3) the universal is
really distinct from particulars and other universals (Marilyn McCord Adams, William Ockham, 2
vols., Publications in Medieval Studies 26 [Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press,
1987], 1: 30; cf. Marilyn McCord Adams, Universals in the Early Fourteenth Century, in The
Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, ed. Norman Kretzmann, Anthony Kenny, and
Jan Pinborg [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982], pp.41139, esp. 42234).
25
See, e.g., James Franklin, An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics: Mathematics as
the Science of Quantity and Structure (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, U.K.: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2014). Franklin holds that There are no abstract objects (in the Platonist sense of
acausal entities in a non-physical realm) (Ibid., p.3); but neither will he allow abstract objects
existing immanently in things. He invites us to Imagine a world that is, as far as possible, purely
physical. It contains no abstract entities like Platonist numbers, no minds human or divine, no
languagesjust physical objects as we ordinarily conceive them to be. . . . let us say, that we are
dealing with the earth before conscious animal life began. Is there or is there not, in that world,
anything of a mathematical nature (to speak as non-committally as possible)? (Ibid., pp.56). He
answers, Yes. For things in the world would still come in certain quantities and stand in certain
ratios and exhibit certain symmetries. Now if we are speaking non-committally, such a view
sounds nominalistic. But Franklin repudiates nominalism, commenting, Where nominalism
regards mathematics as having no real subject but being only a manner of speaking about or mak-
ing inferences concerning ordinary physical objects, Aristotelianism regards mathematics as liter-
ally being about some aspect of reality, but about certain kinds of properties and relations rather
than about individual objects (Ibid., p.2). Franklin would eliminate mathematical objects from
his ontology by analyzing them in terms of universals like properties and relations. These are (or
can be) physical aspects of physical things. Endorsing David Armstrongs notion of concrete states
of affairs, Franklin says, Aristotelian realism about universals takes the straightforward view that
130 4 Absolute Creationism

realism would therefore not fall under absolute creationism; we may thus leave it
aside for the time being, returning briefly to it in Chap. 5. Thomistic progeny of
Aristotle tend to treat universals and mathematical objects as abstractions formed by
the intellect, rather than as immanently existing objects in the world.26 This view,
which we might call abstractionism, is really a form of anti-realism concerning
universals, since things which exist merely in the mind do not, in fact, exist, unless
one were to take the implausible step of affirming degrees of existence and ascribing
to entia rationis a sort of watered-down or quasi-existence.
Rather what we are talking about here is a view which embraces the reality of
abstract objects but takes them to exist somehow in concrete things rather than tran-
scendently. Menzels colleague Hugh McCann appears to defend a view like this.
Though clearly anti-Platonist, McCann explicitly repudiates nominalism on episte-
mological grounds.27 He also objects to conceptualism about putative abstracta
because, according to conceptualism, although they have their being in God, that
being is outside of his creative will.28 McCann espouses a radical voluntarism con-
cerning Gods creation of abstracta, motivated not so much by concern about divine
aseity, as by the desire to preserve divine sovereignty. Even on conceptualism, the
mere fact that the vast array of natures and principles by which things are defined
is fixed in advance of any decision on Gods part stands as an affront to his
sovereignty.29 McCann therefore wants to bring abstracta within the scope of
Gods free creative action. Abstract objects exist in the created world and are created
along with concreta.
Absolute creation is a single, timeless act in which all of creation is produced in one fell
swoop, and the natures of things, along with the entire Platonic menagerie implicit in them,
are created in their exemplificationthat is, as manifested within the concrete reality that is
the temporal world. Simply by creating the things that make up the actual world, then,
God also creates their naturesthat is, the universals that characterize themand all of the
more complex abstracta that are constructed out of those universals.30

the world contains both particulars and universals, and that the basic structure of the world is
states of affairs of the particulars having a universal, such as this pages being approximately
rectangular (Ibid., p.12). The physicality of universals on Franklins view is evident in his remark,
There is perception of universalsindeed, it is universals that have causal power. It is in virtue
of being blue that a body reflects certain light and looks blue (Ibid.). We shall take up again
Franklins non-Platonistic realism in Chap. 5 and for now confine ourselves to views that treat
universals as immanent abstract objects.
26
See Armand Maurer, Thomists and Thomas Aquinas on the Foundation of Mathematics,
Review of Metaphysics 47 (1993): 4361; Jeffrey E. Brower, Aquinas on the Problem of
Universals, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 92/3 (2016): 71535. Phil Corkum,
Aristotle on Mathematical Truth, British Journal for the History of Philosophy 20 (2012): 1057
76, ascribes a similar anti-realist view to Aristotle himself.
27
See respectively pp. 198 and 204 of Hugh J. McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God
(Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2012).
28
Ibid., p.198.
29
Ibid., pp.199200.
30
Ibid., pp.2012.
Exposition 131

This sounds as if McCann is endorsing the moderate realist view of universals as


existing in rebus, so that God, in creating concrete objects, also creates the univer-
sals they exemplify, the assumption being that all other abstract objects can be
reductively analyzed in terms of universals.
Unfortunately, McCanns view is not that clear. God is said to create felinity just
by creating concrete cats. So did felinity first come into existence along with the first
cat? No, says McCann; for universals exist timelessly. This reply seems to revert to
Platonism or conceptualism with respect to universals. But McCann digs in his
heels:
What makes felinity eternal is neither that it enjoys some imagined independent existence,
nor that it exists in another eternal entity, namely God. It is, rather, the very fact that there
is no such thing as Platonic existence, that felinity has being only, as it were, within its
instantiationsand is therefore in itself hidden and insulated from the world of change
that renders it timeless. Cats come and go and can change, and the same goes for thoughts
of cats; felinity in itself neither comes nor goes, nor does it interact with real beings. It must,
therefore, be considered timelessly eternal. 31

How can we make sense of this? How can felinity exist only in its concrete, spatio-
temporal instances and yet have timeless existence? If it is created by Gods creating
cats, then, since cats were created only a finite time ago, felinity did not exist before
that; but now it does. Felinity would therefore seem to have temporal existence even
if it endures intrinsically changelessly through time.
Something has to give here. If we stick with moderate realism, then the best
sense I can make of McCanns view is to say that God is timeless and time is tense-
less, all moments of time being on a par ontologically. At certain times, the universal
felinity is instantiated by cats; at other times it is not. It exists literally in its various
spatiotemporal instances, when and where they do. Felinity therefore is not time-
less, though it is tenselessly created by God along with everything else in the single
creative act that produces the whole of spacetime reality. Felinity supervenes on
cats; that is to say, it exists because God tenselessly creates cats.32
We might wonder, however, about the old problem of unexemplified universals
or uninstantiated essences. McCann wants to make room for uninstantiated univer-
sals like unicornality. He explains that God creates the universal triangularity either
by creating concrete objects which are triangular in shape or, alternatively, by

31
Ibid., p.203. Cf. his statement:
In short, to say that abstracta are eternal is not to say that there is a realm someplace off in
the beyond, even in the mind of God, in which they are housed: they are housed right here,
in their instantiations. But they are also eternal, because they are incapable of change. So
while there may be solace in treating God as an eternal repository for abstracta, I would
suggest that aside from the fact that they, like all things, owe their being entirely to God, no
repository is needed (Ibid., p.204).
32
Alternatively, if we want to hold on to the timeless existence of universals, then, once more, take
God to be timeless and time tenseless. Felinity, like God, exists timelessly and therefore does not
literally exist in its instances. It supervenes on cats; that is to say, it exists because God tenselessly
creates cats. It is therefore timelessly created by God. On such a view universals exist either in an
abstract, transcendent realm or as thoughts in Gods mind.
132 4 Absolute Creationism

c reating thoughts of triangles or of triangularity. This is problematic. Since thoughts


of triangles are not triangular, it is not clear how Gods creating thoughts of triangles
creates triangularity. To make matters more confusing, McCann claims that univer-
sals have two modes of being: real and mental. A universal is said to have real being
when it genuinely characterizes some actually existing entity, whereas the mental
mode of being does not involve real instantiation. This looks like an uncomfortable
marriage between moderate realism and conceptualism. Are some universals, then,
abstract objects and others concrete objects (thoughts)? That would create intoler-
able difficulties. Since God is eternally aware of all abstract objects,33 they all
have mental being. That sounds like conceptualism. Does a universal change from
having concrete mental existence to being abstract when it is instantiated? It is hard
to resist the conclusion that the difference between real and mental existence is not
intrinsic but relational: this just is the difference between abstract essences that are
instantiated and those that are merely thought of. We appear to be reverting to
Platonism about abstract objects. I thus find it difficult make sense of McCanns
view of uninstantiated essences. But it is enough for our purposes to note that abso-
lute creationists could be moderate realists rather than strict Platonists when it
comes to the location of abstracta created by God.

A Vicious Circularity?

Morris and Menzel (and McCann as well) are aware that absolute creationism
appears to involve what they call the ultimate act of bootstrapping, namely, God
must be the creator of His own properties and, hence, of His own nature.34 They
admit that it sounds at least exceedingly odd, and many would say incoherent or
absurd, to say that God creates the very properties which are logically necessary
for His creative activity, to say that He creates His own nature.35 Morris and Menzel
reject exempting Gods essential properties from absolute creation because no
such selective exclusion would work in the first place and such a move would
amount to abandoning the view of absolute creation, since God would not then be
the only uncreated being.36 They also reject any appeal to apophatic theology or to
divine simplicitywhich they take to be the denial that God has discrete, distin-
guishable properties which exist as abstract entities distinct from each other and
from himbecause such doctrines encounter insuperable obstacles which Morris
addresses elsewhere.37 Instead, they choose to bite the bullet and claim that it is
unproblematic that God create His own essential properties.

33
McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God, p.203.
34
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p.358.
35
Ibid. N.B. that Morris and Menzel do not distinguish between Gods creating His own nature and
Gods creating properties logically necessary for His creative activity.
36
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p.358.
37
Ibid., pp.3589. The reference is to Thomas V.Morris, On God and Mann: A View of Divine
Exposition 133

Although they offer an analogy to Gods creation of His own nature (a material-
ization machine which produces its own parts), Morris and Menzel insist that its
value is mainly heuristic or pedagogical. The philosophical point is that there is no
objectionable circularity in maintaining that while God stands in a relation of logi-
cal dependence to his essential properties, they stand to Him in a relation of causal,
ontological dependence.38 Earlier in their article they had exploited the same dis-
tinction to differentiate between the counterfactuals.
1. If there were no God, there would be no abstract objects.
and
2. If there were no abstract objects, there would be no God.
(2) expresses a harmless, symmetrical, logical dependence of God on abstract
objects, whereas (1) expresses a more revealing, asymmetrical, causal or ontologi-
cal dependence of abstract objects on God.39 So here, God Himself is ontologically
prior to His nature, even though it is true that were His nature not to exist, God
would not exist. There is no vicious circularity because the dependence relations are
different. It does not follow that because God creates His own nature and God
depends logically on His nature that God therefore creates Himself. Relations of
logical dependence are always transitive. Relations of continuous causal depen-
dence are always transitive. But we have no good reason to think that transitivity
always holds across these two relations.40 Since Morris and Menzel have rejected
divine simplicity, or the view that God is identical to His nature, God cannot be said
on their view to create Himself.
Morris and Menzel have other interesting things to say about the project of the-
istic activism and, in particular, Gods freedom with respect to the creation of
abstract objects, but these are tangential to our interests. They think themselves to
have coherently enunciated a view which retains the commitments of realism con-
cerning the objective existence of abstract entities while also capturing the
conviction of anti-realists and conventionalists that such items must be in some
sense mind-dependent.41

Simplicity, Religious Studies 21 (1985): 299318; reprinted in Morris, Anselmian Investigations,


chap. 6.
38
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p. 359. In his comment Problems with the
Bootstrapping Objection, Menzel substitutes existential dependence for logical dependence
in order to differentiate his relation from the logical posteriority envisioned by Bergmann and
Brower in their explication of the bootstrapping objection. An entity a is said to be existentially
dependent on b iff as existence entails bs, whereas a is causally dependent on b iff (crudely) b has
caused it to be the case that a exists.
39
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p.355.
40
Ibid., p.360. Menzel takes exactly the same line with far greater analysis and sophistication in
his Problems with the Bootstrapping Objection.
41
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p.361.
134 4 Absolute Creationism

Assessment

Two principal difficulties arise for absolute creationism, both addressed by Morris
and Menzel, the first troublesome and the second truly serious.

Scope andNature ofCreation

Morris andMenzels Dilemma

First, theologically considered, theistic Platonism misconstrues either the scope or


nature of creation. This unpalatable result is due to two features of abstract objects.
First, many abstract objects exist eternally. On Platonism, God does not at any time
bring properties, propositions, and mathematical objects into being. Rather, accord-
ing to theistic Platonism, they exist co-eternally with God in a relation of ontologi-
cal dependence upon Him. Second, on Platonism the mode of existence of many
kinds of abstract objects is necessary. In particular, abstract objects like properties,
propositions, and numbers could not have failed to exist. Moreover, not only do
abstract objects exist in every possible world, but their existing is plausibly not up
to God. The theistic Platonist is not saddled with the absurd consequences of univer-
sal possibilism, the doctrine that even logical and mathematical truths lie within
Gods control. Gods freedom with respect to creation is limited to the realm of
concrete objects, which He could have refrained from creating. But the realm of
abstract objects like properties, propositions, and numbers flows non-voluntaristically
from the nature or being of God.
These peculiar features of abstract objects will force significant revisions in the
theistic Platonists doctrine of creation. If we think of abstract objects as ontologi-
cally dependent upon God, but not, properly speaking, created by God, then the
scope of divine creation becomes minuscule. A biblically faithful doctrine of cre-
ation assigns all created things to the realm of temporal becoming and implies a
temporal beginning of existence of created things.42 But for the theistic Platonist,
the realm of dependent beings, with the exception of concrete objects, exists co-
eternally with God. Hence, scarcely anything, relatively speaking, is created ex
nihilo by God.43 The overwhelming bulk of things is merely sustained in being but
not, properly speaking, created by God. But, as we have seen, the Johannine and
Pauline witness to creation is that God through Christ has created all things other
than Himself.

42
For an extended defense of the claim that the biblical doctrine of creatio ex nihilo involves not
merely ontological dependence but a temporal beginning of the created order, see the first three
chapters of Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical,
and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2004).
43
Indeed, on moderate realism, as Ockham argued, nothing is created ex nihilo, since one of a
things ontological constituents, namely, its abstract universal nature, pre-existed.
Assessment 135

If, to avoid this difficulty, we follow the absolute creationist in expanding the
meaning of creation so as to comprise all dependent beings, then we radically
subvert Gods freedom with respect to creating. In orthodox Christian thought cre-
ation is seen as the freely willed act of God. He does not create by a necessity of
nature, and there are possible worlds in which God refrains from creation and so
exists alone. But absolute creationism robs God of His freedom with regard to creat-
ing. His freedom is restricted to creation of the realm of concrete objects alone. The
vast majority of being flows from Him with an inexorable necessity independent of
His will.
But would not theistic activism preserve Gods freedom with respect to the cre-
ation of abstract objects, even though when viewed ex post facto, so to speak, Gods
creation of abstract objects is seen in light of the modal framework He has estab-
lished to be necessary? Although Morris and Menzel are not clear in their seminal
treatment of this question, I think that they are fairly interpreted to be espousing
what Leftow calls a deity theory of modality, that is to say, a theory according to
which modal status is grounded in Gods nature, not in His will. For although they
affirm that on their theistic activism, Gods creation of the modal framework is con-
scious, intentional, and neither constrained nor compelled by anything existing
independent of God, they write, The necessity of his creating the framework is not
imposed on him from without, but rather is a feature and result of the nature of his
own activity itself, which is a function of what he is.44 If the modal framework is a
function of Gods nature, not of His will, then it is not up to God whether (or which)
abstracta exist. Thus, conceptualist Greg Welty seems to be justified in charging
that Morris and Menzel have traded in a biblical doctrine of creation for neo-Platonic
emanationism with respect to the realm of abstract objects, which is nearly all of the
created order.45 Even on a semi-voluntaristic version of theistic activism like
Leftows the modal status of logical and mathematical truths is not up to God but is
a function of His nature, so that such a theory when conjoined with absolute cre-
ationism would subvert Gods freedom in creating.

Roy Clouser andMcCanns Radical Voluntarism

It would seem that the only way the absolute creationist can safeguard Gods free-
dom is, after all, to go the route of universal possibilism. The radical Dooyeweerdian
philosopher Roy Clouser boldly affirms, not only that abstract objects are created by

44
Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, p.357 [my emphasis]. Since the divine activity in ques-
tion flows from the divine nature, their theory seems to be akin to what Leftow describes as
Leibnizs theory, which, he thinks, reduces to a deity theory (Brian Leftow, God and Necessity
[Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012], p.144; cf. p.136).
45
Greg Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism: The Case for Interpreting Abstract Objects as Divine
Ideas (Oxford University: doctoral thesis, 2006), p. 195; similarly, Keith Yandell, God and
Propositions, in Beyond the Control of God?, pp.2135. Theistic activists Gould and Davis are
remarkably blas about activisms implication of emanationism (Paul Gould and Richard Davis,
Response to Keith Yandell, in Beyond the Control of God?, pp.3637).
136 4 Absolute Creationism

God, but also that they are the created products of Gods will, the result of His free
choice.46 Clouser maintains that even the laws of logic, including the law of contra-
diction, are within Gods sovereign control. So-called necessary truths are neces-
sary only in the sense that they hold unfailingly in creation.47 Although Clouser
denies that he affirms universal possibilism, that is only because he misconstrues it
as the statement, made from within the existing modal framework, that everything
is possible.48 Clousers view is a thoroughgoing voluntarism, which sees the modal
framework of reality as the result of Gods sovereign, free choice, grounded in His
will, not His nature.49
Clouser does not shrink from affirming, against Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas,
that Gods own properties and therefore His own nature are the result of His free
choice and so are created by Him. Clouser denies that in His pre-volitional state
what Clouser calls Gods unconditional existence or transcendent beingGod has
a nature at all. While it is beyond us to grasp conceptually what that being is, we
can have the idea that there is ultimate, unconditional being upon which all else
stands in the relation of total dependence.50 God has freely chosen to create and
take on certain properties and relations. Clouser emphasizes that God really is as He

46
Roy A.Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious
Belief in Theories, rev. ed. (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), p.212; cf.
p.207.
47
Ibid., p.213; cf. p.205.
48
Ibid., p.228: It is not true that if God is genuinely sovereign then everything is possible. . . .
given that he did create, and created laws that we discover in the cosmosthe law of non-
contradiction among themthese laws set limits for what is really possible and impossible for
creatures. This is only to reiterate Morris and Menzels point that we lack an Archimedian point
from which to speak about the possibility of the modal framework. The point is that on Clousers
view it is up to Gods sovereign choice as to which framework should exist. So he is a universal
possibilist. This is especially evident when it comes to God, for he affirms, The transcendent
being of God is beyond the domain of the law of contradiction as well as all other laws (Ibid.,
p.229). This statement would be incoherent given the present modal framework, for there is no
possible world in which God both has and has not some attribute. But what Clouser calls Gods
transcendent being or unconditional being is an affirmation that God has freely chosen the laws of
logic that characterize the modal framework. See further ibid., p.365, n. 52.
49
Incredibly, McCann espouses the same radical voluntarism as Clouser and out of the same moti-
vation to preserve Gods sovereignty. McCann holds that God even chooses His own nature:
God is, essentially, an act of free willan act with no prior determination of any kind, in
which he freely undertakes to be and to do all that he is and does. The effect of this is pro-
found and dramatic. Far from escaping his sovereignty, Gods having the nature he does
turns out to be in itself an exercise of his sovereignty. That is, the reality that is Gods having
the nature he does is itself the action of his freely undertaking to have it, and all that is
essential to him is grounded in this exercise of freedom (McCann, Creation and the
Sovereignty of God, pp.2312).
McCann agrees with Clouser that Gods freedom as Creator transcends even logic: God is not
only a being who by his own choice exists a se, but also one who by his own choice transcends
logical possibility itself (Ibid., p.235). McCann appears to differ from Clouser only in thinking
that prior to the nature God has chosen to have is, not His transcendent being, but nothing at all
(Ibid., p.233), a doctrine that sits very ill, as we shall see, with McCanns claim that God is a
complex event composed of a subject + a property.
50
Clouser, Myth of Religious Neutrality, p.227.
Assessment 137

reveals Himself to be but insists that these attributes are true of him because he
freely willed them to be.51 Our concepts would not apply to God had He not willed
to stand in relation to creatures. For example, The fact that God is said to be one
and one in three is the consequence of the way he has freely taken on created
properties in order to make himself known to humans.52 This statement makes it
evident that monotheism, not to speak of Trinitarianism, is the result of Gods
choice, not His nature. Clouser sums up his voluntaristic absolute creationism as the
position that God chooses what he is and is what he chooses. Only Gods uncondi-
tional being is divine per se.53
What might be said in response to Clousers radical voluntarism? First, I think it
must be esteemed theologically perverse. While we should applaud Clousers robust
affirmation of Gods being the sole ultimate reality, existing uniquely a se,54 Clouser
moves too quickly from absolute creationism to voluntaristic theistic activism and
universal possibilism. Clousers theology is driven by the desire to preserve divine
sovereignty above all else. His Dooyeweerdianism privileges divine sovereignty
even above Gods essential goodness, wisdom, trinitarian nature, and so on. There
is simply no theological or scriptural reason for such a weighting of theological
priorities.55 Here we see Reformed theology run amuck, carried to such an extreme

51
Ibid., p.218; cf. p.224.
52
Ibid., p.143. Again, Clouser affirms that Gods being quantitatively one is a characteristic which
God has taken to Himself in order to make Himself known (Ibid., p.218). Clouser fears that any-
thing less will make God a dependent being: if its essentially true of God that there is only one
such being, then God couldnt exist unless the number 1 existed (Ibid., p.210).
53
Ibid., p.361.
54
Distinguishing three senses of creation, Clouser esteems the most fundamental notion to be cre-
ation3, the dependence of everything upon God such that had God not brought that thing about, it
would not exist. In all that follows, I will therefore take it to be a non-negotiable revealed require-
ment for theistic thought that for everything other than God, its existence and nature is created3
(brought about) by God (Ibid., p.201).
55
In defense of his voluntaristic view against Plantingas view that necessary truths do not depend
upon Gods will, Clouser presents two objections to Plantingas position. First, not all necessary
truths about Gods attributes can be explained by or grounded in Gods knowing or affirming them
because God would have to possess many of them in order to affirm anything. What we seem to
have here is a sort of bootstrapping objection to Plantingas conceptualism that appears to undo
Clousers own position. For in order to create properties, God in His transcendent, unconditional
being would have to already possess certain properties. In order for God to freely decide that there
is at least one God, there must already be at least one God. Clouser seems strangely unaware that
his bootstrapping objection presses powerfully against his own view.
The second difficulty Clouser raises against Plantingas viewpoint is that since humans share to
a lesser degree some of Gods properties, we are thereby made to be partly divine. For the shared
properties would have to be as uncreated in us as they are in God. Clousers objection seems to
assume that the properties shared by God and humans are uncreated by God, which the absolute
creationist denies. But even on Platonism why think that humans exemplifying an uncreated prop-
erty such as being powerful or being good implies that humans are partly divine? Clouser thinks
that being uncreated is a sufficient condition of divinity. That is clearly incorrect, since more condi-
tions must be met to qualify as divine. In any case, even if a creature had a divine property as a
constituent, that would not make the creature any less a creature; a being is either divine or it is not.
Finally, Clouser faces the embarrassment that his objection recoils upon himself: for if Gods attri-
138 4 Absolute Creationism

that God is said to decide whether He exists, whether He is one being, whether He
is a Trinity, and what essential properties He will have. Such a theology is so strange
as to be not recognizably Christian.
Second, Clousers voluntaristic theistic activism is self-referentially incoherent.
While it may not be logically contradictory to claim that God has freely decided
which modal framework to put into place, it is nonetheless self-refuting and so inca-
pable of rational affirmation. Over and over again, Clouser makes affirmations
about God which are self-defeating. For example, in claiming that The transcen-
dent being of God is beyond the domain of the law of non-contradiction as well as
all other laws,56 Clouser assumes the principle of bivalence, like the law of contra-
diction, for statements about Gods transcendent being. It would be futile to claim
that such statements are true only within Gods chosen framework, for then Clousers
claims about Gods transcendent being are not true prior to the framework.57
Similarly, in saying that Gods unconditional, transcendent being is propertyless
and that properties are the products of Gods free creation, Clouser implies that
Gods unconditional, transcendent being must have at least the properties of being
unconditional and transcendent. If Gods properties and relations are the result of
His free will, then God in His unconditional, transcendent being must have voli-
tional properties.58 Moreover, on Clousers view, God, having created the world,
now really has certain properties like omnipotence, omniscience, and moral good-
ness and stands in real relations to the world such as the worlds being totally depen-
dent upon God. Although one is tempted to construe Gods transcendent,
unconditional being as a sort of noumenal reality behind the phenomenal mask of
Gods appearance to us as One invested with certain attributes and standing in cer-
tain relations, on Clousers view such a construal is incorrect. He emphasizes that
God really does have, as a result of His free choice, various properties like unicity,

butes are the created products of His will, then God, in virtue of willing to have such properties,
is pari passu therefore partly a creature!
56
Clouser, p.229. Cf. his claim, assumed to be true and not false, that His unconditional being
neither conforms to nor breaks the law of non-contradiction.
57
In reply to the objection that making the laws of logic the free promulgations of Gods will is
incoherent, Clouser insists that precisely because Gods transcendent being is beyond the domain
of the law of contradiction, no contradictory consequences can follow from asserting that. What
Clouser fails to appreciate is that in the very affirmation that Gods unconditional being neither
conforms to nor breaks the law of contradiction, he is making a bivalent statement that he takes to
be true of Gods unconditional being, which is self-defeating.
58
Clouser defends his view against the objection that God must have some pre-volitional nature by
denying that Gods unconditional existence is a property. But even if existence is not a property,
being unconditional most definitely is a property, as are Gods volitional attributes. God cannot
coherently be said to freely will His volitional attributes. Against the charge that his view is self-
referentially incoherent, Clouser responds that we can have an idea that there is something without
conceptualizing what that thing is non-relationally, e.g., numbers of which we have no concept.
This response is inadequate, since Clouser makes positive claims about Gods unconditional, tran-
scendent being, just as in the case of numbers we know at least that they are numbers and so are
abstract, are mathematical objects, stand in certain (unknown) relations, etc. Without such minimal
concepts, Clousers affirmations about God would be vacuous and, hence, meaningless.
Assessment 139

omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, being a Trinity, and so on, and really is related
to the world as its sustaining ground. But if, as Clouser affirms, Only Gods uncon-
ditional being is divine per se, then it follows that God literally does not exist nor
ever has existed. For only Gods conditioned, relational being actually exists.
Clousers view is, in truth, atheistic.59
In sum, if we take abstract objects to be ontologically dependent upon God, but
not, properly speaking, created by God, then the scope of divine creation becomes
minuscule; but if we expand the meaning of creation so as to comprise all depen-
dent beings, including abstract objects, then, on pain of incoherence, we subvert
Gods freedom with respect to creating. Thus, the ontology of theistic Platonism is
incompatible with the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, attenuating either Gods free-
dom or the scope of creation.

The Bootstrapping Objection

The second, more serious difficulty confronting the absolute creationist has already
been alluded to: the well-known bootstrapping problem or the vicious circularity
involved in absolute creationism.60

59
Although Clouser tries to pass his view off as Cappadocian and Reformational, such a character-
ization is a gross misrepresentation. For the Cappadocian Church Fathers did not think that God
has created certain properties which He now really has. Rather, like Aquinas, they held that we
cannot form a positive conception of the divine nature. But Clouser thinks that God really does
have a comprehensible nature which He has freely created and adopted as His own.
60
There is an instructive debate in aesthetics concerning the ontology of art objects that is analo-
gous to the debate concerning God and abstract objects, with the notable exception that the former
seems to be free of the boot strapping problem. Christy Mag Uidhir explains that among the stan-
dard positions in aesthetics today are the paradoxical statements:
1. There are such things as art abstracta.
2. Abstracta are non-spatiotemporal and causally inert.
3. An artwork must be created.

(Christy Mag Uidhir, Introduction: Art, Metaphysics, and the Paradox of Standards, in Art and
Abstract Objects, ed. Christy Mag Uidhir [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012], p. 7). His
paradox of standards bears an interesting similarity to Goulds inconsistent triad:
1. Abstract objects exist.
2. If abstract objects exist, then they are dependent upon God.
3. If abstract objects exist, then they are independent of God.

(Paul Gould, Introduction, in Beyond the Control of God, p.2). Given a realist view of art objects,
the aesthetician is almost as firmly committed as the theist to art objects being created. But for
both the aesthetician and the theist such objects cannot be created, and hence, the aporia.
The difference between the two cases, it seems to me, is that the creation of art abstracta does
not seem to face any bootstrapping objection and so is less problematic than Gods creation of
properties. The aesthetician finds the creation of art abstracta problematic principally because of
the non-spatiotemporality and causal inertness of abstract objects. But abstract objects causal
inertness is not compromised by their being effects, and, as we have seen in Chap. 1, some kinds
140 4 Absolute Creationism

Michael Bergmann andJeffrey Browers Formulation

In a closely argued paper Michael Bergmann and Jeffrey Brower have presented the
most careful articulation of the problem. Consider first their intuitive statement of
the objection:
If a view such as theistic activism is true, then every property (or exemplifiable) will be a
product of Gods creative activity. But this implies the general principle that, for any prop-
erty F, Gods creating F is a prerequisite for, and hence logically prior to, F. Notice, how-
ever, that in order to create F, God must have the property of being able to create a property.
Here is where the trouble begins.61

In developing their argument, Bergmann and Brower take as their point of departure
what they call the Platonist metaphysics of predication.62 According to Platonism,
they explain, the truths expressed by predications such as Socrates is wise are
true because there is a subject of predication (e.g., Socrates), there is an abstract
property or universal (e.g., wisdom), and the subject exemplifies the property.63
Platonism, then, is a thesis which involves two components: (1) the view that a
unified account of predication can be provided in terms of properties or exemplifi-
ables, and (2) the view that exemplifiables are best conceived of as abstract proper-
ties or universals.64
The usual theological objection to Platonism takes issue with the second of these
components, since if properties are conceived as existing a se, they constitute a
challenge to the aseity-dependence doctrine of traditional theism:
AD. (i) God does not depend on anything distinct from Himself for His existing, and (ii)
everything distinct from God depends on Gods creative activity for its existing.

Bergmann and Brower, by contrast, attack, not the second, but the first component of
a Platonist theory of predication. They argue that whatever one takes as exemplifi-
ablesabstract properties, immanent universals, property instances, tropes, divine
ideas, the bootstrapping objection will remain unrelieved so long as we take

of abstract objects (like the Equator) are spatio-temporal. So art abstracta could be created after
all, and the theist will raise no objection to their existence.
Perhaps the aesthetician might say that if art objects are abstracta, they are certain constella-
tions of properties, in which case bootstrapping does raise its ugly head, since not all properties can
be created. But is an art object just a collection of properties, and must God possess the properties
of art abstracta explanatorily prior to creating them?
61
Michael Bergmann and Jeffrey E. Brower, A Theistic Argument against Platonism (and in
Support of Truthmakers and Divine Simplicity), p.366. N.B. that what they call theistic activism
is, in fact, absolute creationism.
62
Bergmann and Brower, Against Platonism, p.357.
63
Ibid. By the truths expressed by predications, Bergmann and Brower mean the propositions so
expressed.
64
Bergmann and Brower, Against Platonism, p.359. By a unified account of predication they
mean a general account covering all predications with the sole exception of predications leading to
Russells Paradox (so-called impredicative ascriptions).
Assessment 141

predication to involve a subjects exemplifying the relevant entity.65 Hence, Bergmann


and Browers objection is not really lodged against Platonism as such; rather their
real target is what we might call exemplificationism, the view that predication is to
be understood in terms of a things exemplifying something. Exemplificationism
allegedly involves an inherent and irremediable bootstrapping problem.
Bergmann and Browers claim, then, is that
T.Traditional theism is true

is incompatible with
P.The truth of all true predications, or at least of all true predications of the form a is F,
is to be explained in terms of a subject and an exemplifiable.66

Bergmann and Brower contend that (T) and (P) together entail viciously circular
claims.
Their argument for this contention depends, they state, upon the following five
assumptions:
A1. For any exemplifiable F, if F depends on Gods creative activity for its existing, then
Gods creating an exemplifiable is logically prior to F.
A2. For any x and any action A, xs being able to do A is logically prior to xs doing A.
A3. For any x, any y, and any exemplifiable F, if xs exemplifying F is logically prior to y,
then F is logically prior to y.
A4. xs being able to create an F = xs exemplifying being able to create an F.
A5. For any x and any y, if x is logically prior to y, then y is not logically prior to x.

On the basis of these assumptions, Bergmann and Brower formulate their argument
as follows:
1. T & P. [assume for reductio]
2. All exemplifiables depend on Gods creative activity for their existing. [from T]
3. For any exemplifiable F, Gods creating an exemplifiable is logically prior to F. [from A1
and 2]
4. Gods creating an exemplifiable is logically prior to the exemplifiable being able to cre-
ate an exemplifiable. [from 3]
5. Gods being able to create an exemplifiable is logically prior to Gods creating an exem-
plifiable. [from A2]
6. Gods exemplifying being able to create an exemplifiable is logically prior to Gods
creating an exemplifiable. [from A4 and 5]

65
If they are right about this, then we see that the difference between classical Aristotelianism and
Platonism with respect to the nature of exemplifiablesso important to the age-old debate over
universals alluded to in Chap. 1is irrelevant to the challenge posed by Platonism to divine aseity,
for that challenge arises not from abstract objects abstractness but from their uncreatability.
Whether exemplifiables are taken to be transcendent, abstract entities or immanent, concrete enti-
ties, the problem remains the same: God cannot, without vicious circularity, be held to have created
every exemplifiable.
66
We need not stumble over Bergmann and Browers use of the word explained, for they use the
word in a weak sense synonymous with analyzed or accounted for.
142 4 Absolute Creationism

7. The exemplifiable being able to create an exemplifiable is logically prior to Gods creat-
ing an exemplifiable. [from A3 and 6]
8. (4 & 7). [from A5]
9. (T & P). [from 18 by reductio]

It follows that if traditional theism is true, then exemplificationism, or (P), is false.


Therefore, any theory committed to a Platonist metaphysics of predication, such as
absolute creationism, is false.
In response to the bootstrapping objection, Morris and Menzel, as we have seen,
more or less bite the bullet, conceding the circularity but insisting that it is not
vicious.67 They attempt to break the vicious circle by distinguishing between the
causal dependence of Gods properties on God and the merely logical dependence
of God upon His properties.
But the vicious circularity which Morris and Menzel seek to break is not, I think,
the same circularity espied by most proponents of the bootstrapping objection,
including Bergmann and Brower. Morris and Menzel want to show, in effect, that
while God causes His properties, His properties do not cause God. True, God exists
if and only if His essential properties exist; but His properties do not create God. So
God cannot be said to cause Himself.68 By contrast, the vicious circularity alleged
by the detractor of absolute creationism is, I think, quite different. Bergmann and
Brower complain that the reason it just seems to Morris that there is no objection-
able circularity is that he isnt clear enough about precisely what the objectionable
circularity is.69 The vicious circle alleged by bootstrapping objectors is not that
God creates Himself but that properties, for example, must already exist prior to
Gods creation of them, which is incoherent. Prior to Gods creating properties,
there should be no properties, in which case, it is alleged, some of the causal condi-
tions for the creation of properties are missing. Thus, Bergmann and Brower speak
of Gods creating properties as a prerequisite for the existence of properties and
Gods having properties as a prerequisite for the creation of any property.70 This
is the vicious circularity that absolute creationism seems to involve.
Recall in this connection Morris and Menzels analogy of a materialization
machine which is able to create things ex nihilo and so creates new parts for itself as
old parts wear out. The analogy fails to capture the vicious circularity involved in

67
Similarly, in his Problems with the Bootstrapping Objection, Menzel provides several exam-
ples of symmetric relations of explanatory priority and concludes that a useful heuristic function
of the above examples is to break one of the habit that circularity is inevitably vicious (p.18).
68
Menzel explains,
the conclusion that God is causally dependent upon himself follows only if one adopts a
bridge principle asserting that transitivity holds across these two very different types of
dependencythat is, a principle asserting that from the fact that a is causally dependent on
b and b is logically dependent on c, we can infer that a is causally dependent on c. But there
is simply no reason whatever to think that such a principle is true (Menzel, Problems with
the Bootstrapping Objection, p.4).
69
Bergmann and Brower, Against Platonism, p.364.
70
Ibid., p.366.
Assessment 143

absolute creationism. For the machines new parts are not logically prior to them-
selves; rather, logically prior to the machines creation of new parts is its possession
of former parts, which is unproblematic. A better analogy of the circularity involved
in Gods creating His own properties is the famous case of the time traveler who
journeys back in time to deliver the plans for building a time machine to himself at
a younger age; reaching adulthood, he then uses the plans to build the time machine
and goes back in time to deliver the plans to himselfa circularity which is truly
vicious! Morris and Menzel say nothing to defeat the charge that explanatorily prior
to creating certain properties God must already have those very properties in order
to create them, which is incoherent.71
In his most recent discussion of the bootstrapping objection, Menzel takes
Bergmann and Browers remark that Morris (and Menzel) werent clear enough
about what precisely the objectionable circularity is to mean that the vicious circu-
larity can be cast in terms of a single, more fundamental relation of logical priority,
so that no transitivity problems arise.72 He then expresses scepticism that there is
such a fundamental relation and argues that even if there were, it is not invariably
asymmetric. This response seems to me to be based on a misinterpretation. While it
is true that Bergmann and Brower are concerned to cast their argument in terms of
a univocal relation of logical priority throughout, they are not trying to introduce a
new relation but rather to identify a different circularity than the one Menzel wishes
to avoid. With respect to Gods creation of properties, the explanatory priority at
issue is really a sort of causal prioritywhich Menzel admits to be asymmetric.73
According to Menzel, a is causally dependent on b iff (crudely) b has caused it to
be the case that a exists.74 This admittedly crude characterization might be plausi-
bly nuanced in such a way that the causal prerequisites of a are also causally prior
to a. On absolute creationism Gods creation of properties is causally prior to the
existence of properties; but among the causal prerequisites of Gods creating prop-
erties is Gods having certain properties and, hence, the existence of properties. In
Bergmann and Browers argument such a notion of causal priority could be substi-
tuted for logical priority throughout without impairing the argument. The problem
with absolute creationism is that causally prior to Gods creating properties the
causal prerequisites for His creating properties are missing, so that He cannot create
properties. One could put the difficulty by saying that the existence of properties
would have to be causally prior to the existence of properties, which is viciously
circular. So the bootstrapping worry arises, not from some unintelligible priority

71
In his God and Mathematical Objects, pp.7071, Menzel seems altogether oblivious to the
difficulty, casting the coherence problem as merely the incompatibility of abstract objects eter-
nal existence and creations involving a temporal beginning, a problem which he solves by re-
defining creation to mean Gods sustaining something in being.
72
Menzel, Problems with the Bootstrapping Objection, p.4.
73
Ibid., p.14. Menzel says that the priority of an act of creation to the thing created involves the
asymmetry of causation.
74
Ibid., p.3.
144 4 Absolute Creationism

relation or an equivocal use of different notions of logical priority, as Menzel


alleges, but from a pretty intuitive notion of the causal prerequisites for some action.
Perhaps the absolute creationist might hope to avert the bootstrapping problem
by denying that being able to create a property is a genuine property.75 With phi-
losophers like D.M. Armstrong76 he might hold to a more economical view of prop-
erties than (P) allows, maintaining that being able to create a property is a
predicate which, when united with the subject God, goes to form a true sentence
but that it does not denote a real property something can have. If the absolute cre-
ationist could plausibly show that all the proposed candidates for properties which
God must possess logically prior to His creation of properties are mere predicates,
then the bootstrapping problem could be avoided. In the example at hand, being
able to create a property strikes me as very plausibly taken not to designate a genu-
ine property, but to be a mere predicate.
Now this might appear simply to yield the palm of victory to Bergmann and
Brower, for this just is to admit that (P) is incompatible with traditional theism. Still,
Bergmann and Brower are willing to allow (T) to be revised in such a way that
abstracta are held to be merely dependent upon God though not, technically speak-
ing, created by God; so it would not seem out of place to countenance a similar
weakening of (P) instead. Indeed, it seems very plausible that (P) is far too strong to
be credible. (P) is actually a very radical thesis, not only because not all true predi-
cations seem to involve the ascription of a property, but also because they do not
even involve a subject of predication, that is, an object which is the referent of the
subject term.77 Thus, Bergmann and Browers argument would be more compelling
if they could show an incompatibility between traditional theism and a weaker,
more plausible form of exemplificationism.
Still, this escape route will, I think, prove unavailing to the absolute creationist,
since there seem to be good candidates for genuine properties which God must pos-
sess in order to be able to create properties. For example, being powerful is surely a
genuine property which God shares with creatures and which is obviously a prereq-
uisite for being able to create anything. But then we are stuck in a vicious circle
again.

75
Menzel is sceptical, not only of (P), but also that there is such a property as being able to create
properties (Menzel, Problems with the Bootstrapping Objection, pp.911).
76
See D. M. Armstrong, A Theory of Universals: Vol. 2: Universals and Scientific Realism
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), chap. 13.
77
Disjunctive and negative predications plausibly should not be taken to ascribe corresponding
disjunctive or negative properties, for example. I am also inclined to think that predications like
Her devotion is unwavering or Our disagreement is profound should not be taken to commit
us to an ontology that includes things like devotions and disagreements. (P) is just too far-reaching
to be credible.
Assessment 145

Divine Simplicity

Might the absolute creationist escape the bootstrapping problem by adverting to the
doctrine of divine simplicity? According to that doctrine, God is not in any way
composed. In particular, He transcends the distinction between a thing and its prop-
erties. Rather God is identical to His properties, and all His properties are identical
with one another. Thus, we should affirm with respect to God that omniscience =
omnipotence = holiness = omnipresence = eternality = God. The doctrine of divine
simplicity avoids the vicious circularity threatening absolute creationism because
God does not exemplify properties; rather He just is His own properties. God just
exists necessarily as a simple being identical with His own nature.78 Hence, (6) and
the underlying assumption (A4) are false.
Morris and Menzels scepticism about the plausibility of the doctrine of divine
simplicity seems to me, however, well justified. To say, for example, that God does
not have distinct properties seems patently false: omnipotence is not the same prop-
erty as goodness, for a being may have one and not the other. It might be said that
Gods omnipotence and goodness differ in our conception only, as manifestations of
a single divine property, just as, say, the morning star and the evening star have
different senses but both refer to the same reality, namely, Venus. But this response
is inadequate. For being the morning star and being the evening star are distinct
properties both possessed by Venus; the same entity has these two distinct proper-
ties. In the same way being omnipotent and being good are not different senses for
the same property (as are, say, being even and being divisible by two) but are clearly

78
See Eleonore Stump, critical notice of Does God Have a Nature?, Thomist 47 (1983): 622; Brian
Leftow, Is God an Abstract Object? Nos 24 (1990): 58198; Richard Brian Davis, The
Metaphysics of Theism and Modality, American University Studies V/189 (New York: Peter Lang,
2001), chap. 4. Here Leftow argues that orthodox theists have no choice but to adopt the doctrine
that God is identical to His essence. For, necessarily, God creates and maintains in existence what-
ever is not identical with Himself. Therefore, if there are any properties which are essential to
Gods nature, such properties must be identical to God Himself, since God cannot create His own
nature. Leftow thinks that it would be intolerable to deny that there are some properties which are
essential to Gods nature. For, minimally, God has the essential property of creating and maintain-
ing in existence whatever is not identical with Himself. If we deny that, then Gods nature exists
independent of God and God depends on it for the properties which are essential to being God.
In so arguing, however, Leftow begs the question against his anti-Platonist colleagues. For
Leftow just assumes that if God creates and maintains in existence everything not identical with
Himself, then there is, that is to say, there exists, a property creating and maintaining, etc. He
simply assumes that if God does not create and conserve His essential properties then, absent
divine simplicity, they exist independent of Him. That begs the question in favor of Platonism
against its anti-realist rivals. Anti-Platonists who reject divine simplicity do not deny that God is
necessarily omnipotent, omniscient, and so forth or that, necessarily, He creates and maintains in
existence everything not identical with Himself. Rather they reject the inference that there are
therefore entities or objects like being omniscient, or being omnipotent, or creating and maintain-
ing, etc. Leftows claim that theists committed to a robust doctrine of creation and conservation
have no choice but to embrace the identity of God and His essence is therefore plainly
question-begging.
146 4 Absolute Creationism

distinct properties. Even if God is both omnipotent and good in virtue of being in
the same intrinsic state, He nonetheless has both of these different properties.
Or again, for the theistic Platonist to say that God is His essence seems to make
God into a property, which is incompatible with His being a living, concrete being.
Medieval thinkers like Thomas Aquinas avoided this untoward implication because
they did not think of essences or natures as abstract objects but as concrete constitu-
ents of things.79 On the present view, however, essences are properties, construed as
abstract objects. All Gods properties are said to be identical with one another, and
God is said to be identical to the single, simple property which is His essence. But
if God just is omnipotence and is goodness and is omniscience and so on, then God
is not a substance and, in particular, not a personal agent. It does no good to try to
escape this conclusion by saying that God is His particular instance of these proper-
ties, for that would be to turn God into an abstract particular, to make Him this
goodness or this omnipotence. Nor will it do to say that Gods being identical with
His essence will simply force us to revise our concept of what a property is like, for
we clearly grasp some of the essential characteristics of properties and of abstract
objects in general, so as to be able confidently to assert that anything that is a per-
sonal agent just is not a property. The doctrine that God is any sort of abstract object
is theologically and philosophically untenable, for such causally effete abstractions
cannot be the creator and sustainer of the universe as God is.
Moreover, if God is not distinct from His essence, then God cannot know or do
anything different than what He knows and does. He can have no contingent knowl-
edge or action, for everything about Him is essential to Him.80 But in that case all
modal distinctions collapse and everything becomes necessary. Since God knows
that p is logically equivalent to p is true, the necessity of the former entails the
necessity of the latter. Thus, divine simplicity leads to an extreme fatalism, accord-
ing to which everything that happens does so with logical necessity. It might be said
that Thomas could escape this unwelcome conclusion by his doctrine that God
stands in no real relations to creatures. As a simple being, God transcends all the
Aristotelian distinctions among substance and accidents, and since relations are one
type of accident, God has no relational properties and stands in no real relations to
things outside Himself. Things stand in real relations to God, but the situation is not

79
See the very helpful article by Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Simplicity, in Philosophy of
Religion, ed. Jas. E. Tomberlin, Philosophical Perspectives 5 (Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview
Publishing, 1991), pp.531552.
80
The early Leftow wants to hold that although God is identical with His essential attributes and
they with one another, nevertheless God does possess contingent properties as well, with which He
is not identical, since if the world were different, Gods intrinsic state of knowledge would likewise
be different (Leftow, Is God an Abstract Object? p.595). In this case divine simplicity has been
abandoned, and one will have to say that God creates His own contingent properties. But then
incoherence threatens. For consider the property having contingent properties. This property can-
not be contingently possessed by God because in any possible world God will have some knowl-
edge state and, hence, some contingent properties. So this property must be essential to God and,
hence, identical with Him. But then explanatorily prior to His creating contingent properties, God
must already possess contingent properties, which is incoherent.
Assessment 147

symmetrical: Gods relations to creatures are just in our minds, not in reality. Thus
God is perfectly similar in all logically possible worlds which we can imagine, but
in some worlds either different creatures stand in relation to God or no creatures at
all exist and are related to God. Thus the same simple cognitive state counts as
knowledge of one conjunction of propositions in one world and another conjunction
of propositions in a another world. Similarly, in one world the same act of power
(which just is the divine being) has effects really related to it in the form of creatures
and in another world no such effects.
But Thomass doctrine only serves to make divine simplicity more incredible.
For it is incomprehensible how the same cognitive state can be knowledge that I
exist alone in one world and that I have created myriads of creatures in another.
Moreover, what God knows is still different, even if Gods cognitive state is the
same; and since God is His knowledge, contingency is introduced into God. It is
equally unintelligible why a universe of creatures should exist in some worlds and
not others if Gods act of power is the same across worlds. The reason cannot be
found in God, since He is absolutely the same. Neither can the reason be found in
creatures themselves, for the reason must be explanatorily prior to the existence of
creatures. Thus, to contend that God stands in no real relations to things is to make
the existence or non-existence of creatures in various possible worlds independent
of God and utterly mysterious.
Finally, to say that Gods essence just is His existence seems wholly obscure,
since then there is in Gods case no entity that exists; there is just the existing itself
without any subject. Things exist; but it is unintelligible to say that exists just exists.
In short, we have powerful reasons to reject the doctrine of divine simplicity and
along with it the claim that God can create all properties other than those which we
conceive to belong to His simple essence. It therefore seems that the vicious circu-
larity which threatens modified Platonism cannot be plausibly avoided by recourse
to divine simplicity.
McCann acknowledges the problems with the traditional doctrine of divine sim-
plicity, which in his mind render that doctrine implausible if not wholly untenable.
He therefore proposes an amended doctrine of divine simplicity by means of which
he hopes to solve the bootstrapping problem while avoiding the pitfalls of the tradi-
tional doctrine. McCann calls the bootstrapping objection the self-creation
problem.81 He construes the problem in terms of the vicious circularity involved in
Gods creating His own properties or nature. If God is God because He has a certain
nature and God creates His own nature, then God creates Himself, which is impos-
sible. McCann finds the root of the problem to lie in drawing a distinction between
God and His nature. God cannot, admittedly, be His own nature in the sense that He
is a property or a property instance. McCann therefore instead proposes that God be

81
McCann, Creation and the Sovereignty of God, p.214. He notes that Morris and Menzel do not
avoid the essential circularity by their distinguishing between logical and ontological priority, for
the universal having the power to create is not merely logically but ontologically prior to Gods
creating a property (Ibid., p.216).
148 4 Absolute Creationism

identified with a concrete state of affairs, not indeed, a static state of affairs, but a
dynamic state of affairs. God is, then, an event. McCann explains,
there is a dynamic quality in God that is not captured by the notion of a state. God is best
thought of as a kind of primordial event, but one that does not consist in a transition, and is
therefore timeless. What kind of event is that? The traditional answer was: the fullness of
being, existing of its own naturefor us, then, an event in which God is identical with his
actual or realized essence, which is in turn identical with being itself. God is, then, his
existent nature, is being, an actual dynamic state to which existence itself is essential and
upon which all else that is real depends.82

This sounds at first blush like the traditional simplicity doctrine of God as ipsum
esse subsistens. But whereas Aquinas held that God has no properties but is the pure
act of being, McCann holds that God creates His own properties just by being God.
Just as felinity exists because cats exist, so Gods nature exists because God exists;
and just as felinity exists only in cats, so Gods nature exists only in God. God, then,
does have properties, but they are created by God. McCann writes,
while God is not self-creating in the sense of causing himself to be or conferring existence
on himself, he is creatively disposed toward his nature, in that that nature finds its first and
only reality in the completely spontaneous act of God intending to have that naturethe act
that is God himself. Accordingly, universals such as omniscience, omnipotence, and aseity
have the same status as those pertaining to the created world. They have being only in what
exemplifies them, in this case just one being: God.83

On McCanns view, there just is nothing prior to the actual state of affairs that is
God; therefore, God cannot be dependent on His nature, and the bootstrapping
problem is avoided.
Very little reflection is needed, I think, to see that McCann has abandoned com-
pletely any claim to divine simplicity. For on his view God does have a nature which
exists immanently in Him, just as felinity exists in cats. As he acknowledges, the
universals comprised by that nature are distinct: omniscience omnipotence
aseity. So God is metaphysically composed of substance and properties. Moreover,
even on McCanns novel view that God is an event, that dynamic state of affairs, like
any concrete state of affairs, is, on McCanns view, also ineliminably composed of
a subject and a property.84 Just as the state of affairs of Socrates being wise is com-
posed of the subject Socrates and the property being wise, so Gods being omnipo-
tent is composed of the subject God and the property being omnipotent, and similarly
with the other divine attributes.
But now it is evident that McCann has done nothing to solve the bootstrapping
problem. It is only because he construes that problem to be that on absolute cre-
ationism God allegedly becomes dependent on His nature that McCann thinks that
he has solved it, for he would make Gods nature asymmetrically dependent upon

82
Ibid., p.228.
83
Ibid., p.232; cf. p.230.
84
The subject cannot be excised from the corresponding concrete state of affairs. There is,
then, a complexity of subject and attribute pertaining to actual states of affairs that cannot be elimi-
nated (Ibid., p.227).
Assessment 149

God. But that, as we have seen, is not the problem. The problem is that in order to
create properties God must already have properties, which is viciously circular.
McCann would have Gods properties depend upon God for their being.85 But unless
God is already omnipotent explanatorily prior to having properties, then there is no
explanation why He will have the property of omnipotence in the explanatorily pos-
terior moment. The only apparent way to avoid the vicious circularity is to maintain
with the anti-realist that God can be omnipotent without exemplifying the property
of omnipotence, which just is to abandon the Platonistic ontological assay of things.
In fact, McCanns view threatens to make universals metaphysically superfluous;
they seem to just float along as concomitants of the creation of concrete things and
do not do any metaphysical work.
Worse, McCanns view seems to be incoherent. For the complex state of affairs
which is said to be God is itself composed of God + a property. But then what entity
is that which is the subject of that dynamic state of affairs? If it is not God, then the
view is self-contradictory, since the subject of that state is said to be God. If it is,
indeed, God, then we are launched on an infinite regress in which every concrete
state of affairs that is God is itself partly composed of a subject which just is that
same concrete state of affairs. This regress is explanatorily vicious, since at every
prior level, the existence of the property is already posited, so that no explanation is
given of Gods nature.86 Far from avoiding bootstrapping, this view affirms it: in
order to create the property, God must already have it.
Thus, McCann, far from exploiting the doctrine of divine simplicity to avoid
vicious circularity, not only abandons divine simplicity but also, it seems to me,
fairly plunges headlong into the maelstrom of the bootstrapping problem.

Selective Creationism

Their backs apparently to the wall, some absolute creationists have conceded that
God, though not identical to His properties, does not create His own properties, but
they insist that God has created all other properties.87 This recourse, however, will

85
I am therefore baffled that he can say, It does not follow that God confers existence, or any other
aspect of his nature, on himself, in the sense that his act of so doing is prior to or causally produc-
tive of the aspect being present (Ibid., p.232). It seems that this is precisely what God does on
McCanns view. For the universals which make up His nature result from His act of being. The
whole point of absolute creationism in McCanns construal is to make Gods nature depend upon
God rather than vice versa. That is the gist of McCanns watchword: What comes first in the order
of being is always concrete existence (Ibid., p.230).
86
Cf. Shapiros observation that impredicative notions cannot be constructed because the object is
already contained in the class used to construct it (Stewart Shapiro, Philosophy of Mathematics
and Its Logic: Introduction, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic,
ed. Stewart Shapiro [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], p.7; see also Carl Posy, Intuitionism
and Philosophy, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic, pp.32134).
But absolute creationism is a constructionism, since God constructs sets via His collecting
activity.
87
See especially Gould and Davis, Response to Critics, in Beyond the Control of God, pp.7580.
150 4 Absolute Creationism

either give the palm of victory to the nominalist or sacrifice divine aseity. If one
affirms that God does not create His own properties because logically prior to His
creation of properties, God has no properties but is as He is without exemplifying
properties (since they have not yet been created), then one has abandoned the
Platonist ontological assay with respect to God and conceded to the nominalist that
in order to be, for example, powerful, one need not exemplify the property of being
powerful. Then it becomes unexplained why creatures cannot be as they are without
exemplifying properties. The problem is especially pressing in the cases of proper-
ties shared by God and creatures. Indeed, Platonists who appeal to the problem of
the One over Many to explain similarity relations will be hard-pressed to explain
how creatures resemble God in being powerful, since God and creatures do not
share the relevant property. Perhaps one could say that logically posterior to His
creation of properties, God comes to acquire properties; but then properties are not
doing any metaphysical work, since God is already powerful before coming to
exemplify being powerful.
Alternatively, the absolute creationist could affirm that Gods properties, or per-
haps better, His essential properties, are not created by God and are exemplified by
Him logically prior to His creation of all remaining properties.88 This recourse just
is to abandon the doctrine of divine aseity in favor of Platonism; it just is the theo-
logically unacceptable position that in addition to God there exist other uncreated
entities. For God is not identical to His properties (as asserted by the doctrine of
divine simplicity). The intuition underlying this view seems to be the same convic-
tion expressed by Leftow that objects which are parts, aspects, or attributes of God
should not be taken to detract from Gods being the sole ultimate reality.89 While
this intuition is not in general unreasonable, in the case of Platonism the exemptions

Gould asks, Why not hold that it is only properties distinct from God that are created by God? On
this suggestion, all of Gods essential properties (that is, divine concepts) exist a se as a brute fact
within the divine mind, and it is only those properties that are not essentially exemplified by God
(that is, necessarily satisfied in God) that are created by God. (Paul Gould, Introduction, in
Beyond the Control of God, p.10. Recall that Gould and Davis take the curious view that Gods
thoughts are not concrete but abstract objects.
88
Thus, Gould and Davis affirm
[A*] Gods essential Platonic properties exist a se (i.e., they are neither created nor sus-
tained by God, yet they are exemplified by the divine substance) (Gould and Davis,
Response to Critics, p.76).

But they insist that divine aseity is not sacrificed by Gods exemplifying Platonic abstract proper-
ties, whether on a relational or a constituent ontology. That claim seems clearly false on a relational
ontology, since on such a view God stands in relation to uncreated objects which are in no sense a
part of Him but are utterly separate beings. And even on a constituent ontology, where properties
are taken to be parts of God, the notion of parthood involved is still cashed out in terms of Gods
exemplifying abstract objects which are distinct from Him. Gould and Davis exposition of their
view is considerably muddied, moreover, by their odd affirmation that Gods thoughts are abstract
objects.
89
Recall from our Introduction, pp.56, Leftows GSA property: For all x, if x is not God, a part,
aspect, or attribute of God , God makes the creating ex nihilo sort of causal contribution to xs
existence as long as x exists (Leftow, God and Necessity, p.20). GSA abbreviates God is the
Source of All that is outside Him.
Assessment 151

do not seem to hold. For the standard Platonist view is that properties are constitu-
ents of things or in things only by way of exemplification.90 Thus, properties remain
objects apart from God. On this view there exist extra se uncreated, necessary, eter-
nal abstract objects to which God stands in a relation of exemplification. God is not,
therefore, the sole ultimate reality.
It gets arguably even worse. For as we saw at the end of Chap. 2, on Platonism
Gods essential properties or nature, what Brian Leftow calls deity, serve to explain
why God is God.91 Given the indifference of properties to exemplification according
to Platonism, Leftow presses his case against a realist view of deity; but his objec-
tion is all the more powerful if the absolute creationist resorts to the position that
God does not create His own properties. For then Gods nature is causally indepen-
dent of Him, and He depends for His Godhood on exemplifying the relevant proper-
ties. This makes God actually dependent upon His independently existing nature for
His existence. The problem, then, is not merely that things other than God exist a se;
the problem is that on Platonism God does not exist a se, a flat denial of divine
aseity.
In fact, if deity includes, as it must, the property of aseity, then absolute creation-
ism of this variety becomes incoherent. For in order to exemplify deity, God must
exemplify aseity and so exist a se. But if His aseity derives from His exemplifying
aseity, then He does not exist a se. For He depends upon aseity for His aseity, which
is incoherent. Thus, absolute creationism becomes necessarily false.

A Cue fromConceptualism

So, we must ask, is there some assumption or premiss of Bergmann and Browers
argument which the absolute creationist might plausibly reject? One way to get at
this question is by considering conceptualist responses to this argument in order to
see what routes are open to the absolute creationist.92 The conceptualist, in contrast

90
Thus, Moreland writes, it is entirely unclear how a property can be a constituent of a particular
(e.g. a concrete particular, a moment, or an event) without doing so by way of exemplification.
Throughout history, the overwhelming majority of realists have agreed that qua universals, proper-
ties are the sorts of things that enter other things by way of the nexus of exemplification
(Moreland, Universals, p.126; cf. Devitts complaint that on D.M. Armstrongs immanent real-
ism, we have not the remotest idea what in or have mean [Michael Devitt, Ostrich
Nominalism or Mirage Realism? Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 61 (1980): 438] ). Not only
does it seem unintelligible how an abstract object could be a part of a concrete object, but Gould
and Davis view is further burdened with the assumption that thoughts in Gods mind are
abstractobjects.
91
See Chap. 2, p.71.
92
Historically, the mainstream Christian position in response to the challenge of Platonism has not
been absolute creationism, but conceptualism. The seminal figure for Christian conceptualism was
Augustine, who transposed the Platonic realm of Forms or Ideas into the divine mind, so that they
become literally thoughts of God. As for these reasons (rationes), they must be thought to exist
nowhere but in the very mind of the Creator, he wrote. For it would be sacrilegious to suppose
that he was looking at something placed outside himself when he created in accord with it what he
did create (Augustine De diversis quaestionibus 46.2.2132; cf. Thomas Aquinas Summa theolo-
152 4 Absolute Creationism

to the absolute creationist, will immediately express reservations about (2), since on
his view exemplifiables are divine ideas, not objects in the external world and so not
objects of Gods creative activity. This sort of response was brought to Bergmann
and Browers attention by Jan Cover and Michael Rea, who suggested replacing
(AD) with.
AD*. (i) God does not depend on anything distinct from Himself for His existing and (ii)
everything distinct from God depends on God (though not, in every case, on Gods creative
activity) for its existing.

If we understand appropriately modified traditional theism (T*) as including merely


(AD*), then Bergmann and Browers argument fails to show any incompatibility
between (T*) and (P).
Such an escape would, however, be too facile. Bergmann and Brower are able to
show that their assumptions and premises can be appropriately revised to close this
route. The revised argument depends on the following assumptions:
A1*. For any x, if x depends on God for its existing, then Gods being Who He is is logically
prior to x.
A3*. For any x and any exemplifiable F, F is logically prior to xs exemplifying F.
A4*. Gods being Who He is = Gods exemplifying His nature.
A5. For any x and any y, if x is logically prior to y, then y is not logically prior to x.

and runs:
1. T* & P. [assume for reductio]
2. All exemplifiables depend on God for their existing. [from T*]
3. For any exemplifiable F, Gods being Who He is is logically prior to F. [from A1* and 2]
4. Gods being Who He is is logically prior to the exemplifiable Gods nature. [from 3]
5. Gods exemplifying His nature is logically prior to the exemplifiable Gods nature.
[from A4* and 4]
6. The exemplifiable Gods nature is logically prior to Gods exemplifying His nature.
[from A3*).
7. (5 & 6). [from A5]
8. (T* & P). [from 17 by reductio]

If Bergmann and Browers initial assumptions and premises are plausibly true, then
these revised versions are as well and so serve to show the incompatibility of (T*)
and (P). Thus, the conceptualists denial of (2) proves ultimately unavailing.
Moreover, Bergmann and Brower show that the bootstrapping problem can be
expressed in terms of propositions as well as properties. They write,

giae 1a.84.5). Augustine thereby rejects Platos account of creation in the Timaeus in favor of an
exemplarist account of creation which is consistent with divine aseity. Medieval thinkers who
wrestled with the problem of universals, from Boethius through Ockham, all adopted versions of
Augustines conceptualism. Universals were construed to have an ideal existence, not to be sepa-
rately existing abstract objects.
Assessment 153

Consider the proposition God is able to create a proposition. Apparently, this proposition
must be both logically prior and logically posterior to its being true. It has to be logically
posterior to its being true because its being true that God is able to create a proposition is a
prerequisite for Gods creating any proposition (and, hence, for any proposition). But it also
has to be logically prior to its being true because of a general principle, much like A3*,
according to which every proposition is logically prior to (because its a constituent of) its
being true.93

The idea here is that if God creates propositions, then they cannot exist and, hence,
be true until God creates them. But in order for God to create the proposition p (=
God is able to create a proposition), p must already be true and, hence, exist prior
to Gods creating it. So even if the absolute creationist were to deny to God logically
prior properties in favor of logically prior true predications about God, he would not
thereby avoid the vicious circularity identified in the bootstrapping objection.
It seems to me that the conceptualist is better advised to reject (6) and the under-
lying assumption (A4). For on divine conceptualism, universals are Gods thoughts,
neither subsistent objects in the world nor constituents in things. Thus, until God
conceives them, there are no universals. Thus, it is false on conceptualism that in
order to [conceive] F, God must have the property of being able to [conceive] a
property. To be sure, in order to conceive F, God must be able to conceive a prop-
erty, but He need not have the property being able to conceive a property in order to
be able to conceive a property. Bergmann and Brower are surprisingly unmindful of
how controversial (A4) must appear to the conceptualist, for all they offer by way of
justification for this assumption is the single sentence given P , the equivalence
stated in A4 seems to be uncontroversial.94 The problem with this proffered justifi-
cation is that (P) just does not entail (A4). What (P) entails is at best.
A4. The truth of x is able to create an F = xs exemplifying being able to create an F.

Bergmann and Brower have evidently confused the use of a predication in (A4) with
its mention. (A4) does not, in fact, mention any predication, but simply identifies xs
being able to create an F with xs exemplifying some property, an assumption which
the conceptualist should reject.95
Bergmann and Brower might be tempted to claim that their argument can go
through by assuming (A4) rather than (A4). For in that logically prior moment, is it
not at least true that x is able to create an F? If so, then, given (A4), x at that moment

93
Bergmann and Brower, Against Platonism, p.372, n. 21.
94
Ibid., p.369.
95
Thus, conceptualism seems to avoid the vicious circularity facing absolute creationism.
Properties, in the sense of universals, are mental abstractions. Explanatorily prior to the abstraction
of its properties, a concrete object does not exist as a characterless nothing, a bare particular, so to
speak, but as an object replete with its various particularities. So explanatorily prior to Gods con-
ceiving various properties, God exists as a concrete object which is omnipotent, omniscient, holy,
eternal, and so forth. God at that moment is able to form the conception of, say, omnipotence, so
that in a posterior explanatory moment the universal property omnipotence exists as a divine idea.
Gods being omnipotent is not a matter of His exemplifying a property, since the property is only
an idea which does not exist until God conceives it. So there is no explanatory circle in
conceptualism.
154 4 Absolute Creationism

must exemplify the property being able to create an F. The problem with this argu-
ment is that the conceptualist regards propositions, like properties, as constituted by
divine thoughts, so that logically prior to Gods conceptions there are no truth-
bearers yet and so no truths. Thus, contrary to Bergmann and Browers proposi-
tional version of their argument, logically prior to Gods creating a proposition God
must, admittedly, be able to create a proposition, but that is not to say that at that
moment it is true that God is able to create a proposition. Bergmann and Brower
have evidently confounded the claim that It is true that at that prior moment God
was able to create a proposition with the claim that At that prior moment it was
true that God is able to create a proposition. The first claim asserts that a certain
proposition is now true, while the second asserts that a certain, different proposition
was true. Appeal to (A4) will therefore be unavailing, since the conceptualist can
accept this assumption while denying that the proposition expressed by x is able to
create an F is true logically prior to Gods thinking this thought.
Without (A4) Bergmann and Browers (6) will not follow from (5). The concep-
tualist may agree that Gods being able to create an exemplifiable is logically prior
to His actually doing so, but without (A4) one cannot equate Gods being able to
create an exemplifiable with His exemplifying being able to create an exemplifiable.
Without this key step in the argument the vicious circularity which comes to expres-
sion in (7) will not follow.
It almost goes without saying that the conceptualist will also reject Bergmann
and Browers
A4*. Gods being Who He is = Gods exemplifying His nature

in their revised argument aimed at those who, like the conceptualist, do not think of
abstract objects as products of divine creative activity. For since Gods nature is a
property or a collection of properties, it does not exist prior to Gods conceiving it.
Nonetheless, God is Who He is prior to His conceiving of how He is. Therefore, the
conceptualist will agree with what is stated in (4) of the revised argument, that
Gods being Who He is is logically prior to the exemplifiable Gods nature; but (5)
will not follow, that Gods exemplifying His nature is logically prior to the exempli-
fiable Gods nature.
So Bergmann and Browers bootstrapping argument is ineffectual against the
divine conceptualist. That raises the question: could the absolute creationist simi-
larly avert the force of their argument by rejecting (A4)? After all, what difference
can it make whether the products of divine intellection are thoughts in Gods mind
or objects existing in the external world? In either case, they do not exist until God
conceives or creates them. In the logically prior moment God is as He is without
exemplifying properties or propositions being true.
I must admit that I see no reason why the absolute creationist could not coher-
ently make such a response to Bergmann and Brower. Indeed, such a view is sug-
gested by Friederike Moltmanns recent analysis of the ontological commitments of
natural language.96 Moltmann defends a sort of neo-Aristotelian view of abstracta

Friederike Moltmann, Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language (Oxford: Oxford
96

University Press, 2013). Contrast James Franklins version of Aristotelian realism in Franklin,
Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics, to be discussed in the sequel (pp.16570).
Assessment 155

which an absolute creationist like McCann might find very congenial. She argues
that natural language terms referring to abstract objects are, in fact, much rarer than
usually thought. She contends that only reifying terms, that is, noun phrases which
introduce an abstract object by means of a sortal term plus a non-referential expres-
sion, such as, for example, the number two or the color green, refer to abstract
objects. Most classes of terms usually taken as referring to abstract objects turn out
on her analysis to refer to a wide variety of concrete tropes or property instances, or
not to be referential at all. While eschewing the debate concerning the extent to
which natural language should serve as a guide to ontology, she agrees that, given
Quinean criteria of ontological commitment,97 natural language speakers are com-
mitted to the existence of various tropes and abstracta.
Butand this is the key point theologicallyabstract objects which are referred
to by reifying terms have on her view the status of derivative objects.98 With
respect to basic arithmetic truths, she adopts a paraphrastic strategy not unlike
Geoffrey Hellmans counterfactual analysis (see Chap. 8, pp.28494). Two and
two is four is best paraphrased as If there are (were) two things and two other
things, then there would be four things.99 Following Michael Dummett, she calls
this the Adjectival Strategy because the nominal use of numerals is no more com-
mitting to numbers than is their adjectival use. Commitment comes only with the
use of reifying expressions like the number two and the ascription of non-
mathematical properties and relations.
Moltmann compares the number objects of such reifying expressions to fictional
characters, which on her view are abstracta which are created or come into being
with the relevant stories. She explains,
This picture supports an account assimilating numbers to fictional characters. The parallels
with fictional characters are strong, given a view of fictional entities such as that of Kripke
(1973), Searle (1979), or van Inwagen (2000). On that view, there is only pretend reference
within the story, where nuclear properties are attributed to an individual the author pre-
tends to refer to. However, reference to a fictional character takes place as soon as extra-
nuclear properties are predicated of the individual described in the story (or better,
properties are predicated of the individual from outside the context of the story). Living on
Baker Street and being a detective are nuclear properties of Sherlock Holmes; properties
such as being a frequently cited fictional character, being created by Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle, and existing only in the story are extranuclear properties. While in purely mathe-
matical contexts, given the Adjectival Strategy, there is neither reference nor pretend

97
Moltmann, Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language, p.2. Her book is primarily
a discussion of the ontological commitments of singular terms in natural language, which, as we
have seen, was not part of Quines own criterion of ontological commitment. But, given a stan-
dard, Quinian [sic] view of ontological commitment, she also differentiates her view of special
quantifiers in natural language like something, everything, or nothing from that of neutral-
ism, taking the objects quantified over to be, not abstract objects, but tropes or nominalizations that
stand for kinds of tropes (Ibid., pp.967).
98
Ibid., p.3.
99
Ibid., p.219.
156 4 Absolute Creationism

r eference, mathematical properties certainly side with nuclear properties on the nuclear
extranuclear distinction. Non-mathematical properties, by contrast, side with extranuclear
properties, and thus they require reference to numbers as objects. Numbers as objects of
reference thus enable the attribution of non-mathematical predicates, just like [sic] fictional
characters as objects of reference enabled the attribution of extranuclear properties.100

More to the point, Fictional characters depend entirely for their existence and iden-
tity on the story and its context.101 Referring to a fictional character does not bring
it into existence; for once the story exists in a world, the fictional characters of the
story exist there as well, whether or not anyone ascribes to them extranuclear prop-
erties. Fictional characters are thus language-created, language-independent
objects.102 That is to say, they are abstract objects which objectively exist, but they
were brought into existence by their authors.
Now, she continues,
The same can be said about a plausible fictionalist account of numbers. Once there are the
mathematical contexts in which numbers have adjectival status, numbers as objects can be
read off those contexts. The use of explicit number-referring terms simply enables reference
to them. Numbers as objects of reference enable the attribution of non-mathematical predi-
cates, just like [sic] fictional characters as objects of reference enable the attribution of
extranuclear properties.103

She gives a similar analysis of property-referring terms. Applied theistically, prior


to Gods conceptualizing numbers or properties, one God existed, but not the num-
ber one, and God was omnipotent, even though the property of omnipotence did not
yet exist.
But what about tropes? On Moltmanns view, terms customarily thought to refer
to abstract objects, if referential at all, usually refer to tropes, which are concrete
property instances akin to Aristotelian accidents. She explains that Aristotles four
categories consist of two categories of particulars: primary substances (material
objects) and accidents (tropes) and two categories of universals: secondary sub-
stances (universals instantiated by primary substances) and qualities (universals that
are instantiated by accidents). This would appear to leave her view, if combined

100
Ibid., p.221. Her use of the distinction between nuclear and extranuclear properties in this con-
nection, while clear, is idiosyncratic (see our discussion of this distinction in the context of neo-
Meinongianism, pp.40911). In a footnote she explains that the distinction is better phrased in
terms of external predication and internal predication, since a single property, e.g., being well-
known, can be predicated of a fictional character both externally and internally. Her characteriza-
tion of her view as fictionalism is also misleading (see our comments on fictionalism, pp.2401).
Similarly, her characterizing reference in a story as pretended reference would not be a view shared
by the principal proponents of pretense theory (see Chap. 9). Her references are to S. Kripke,
Locke Lectures, University of Princeton, 1973, unpublished manuscript; J. R. Searle, The
Logical Status of Fictional Discourse, in Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of
Speech Acts (rep. ed.: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986); P. van Inwagen,
Quantification and Fictional Discourse, in Empty Names, Fiction and the Puzzles of
Non-Existence, ed. A.Everett and T.Hofweber (Stanford, Calif.: CSLI Publications), pp.23547.
101
Moltmann, Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language, p.221.
102
Ibid.
103
Ibid., pp.2212.
Assessment 157

with theism, susceptible to Bergmann and Browers bootstrapping objection, since,


regardless of the derivative status of abstract universals, in order to create tropes
God would already have to have tropes. But Moltmann underlines the ontological
dependence of a trope on the bearer of that trope.104 While she fails to explicate this
relation adequately,105 she does say, Tropes are entities involving an older notion of
abstraction, a notion that involves (psychologically speaking) attending to only
one aspect of a particular and abstracting from all the others. This form of abstrac-
tion yields not only particularized properties like Socrates wisdom, but also
degree-like, extent-like, number-like, and proposition-like objects that may still be
concrete entities.106 On this view tropes are themselves derivative entities which
exist only in a very light sense. As I shall suggest below, the absolute creationist
might avoid the bootstrapping problem by rejecting the Platonists ontological assay
of things and holding that God can be, for example, powerful without having the
trope of power, since prior to its abstraction the trope does not exist as an aspect of
a thing. This is similar to McCanns view that in creating cats, God also creates
felinity (as a trope and/or as a universal). Such a view will still be open to the usual
objections from the need for unexemplified properties, but it will, at least, be
immune to the bootstrapping objection.107

104
Ibid., p.48; cf. p.18.
105
She says that ontological dependence of tropes on their bearers means that a trope can exist in a
world at a time only if the bearer of the trope exists in that world at that time. As Morris and
Menzels discussion makes clear, such a definition does not capture ontological dependence, since
ontological dependence must be an asymmetric relation.
106
Moltmann, Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural Language, p.3.
107
For a critique of an Aristotelian absolute creationism, see Peter van Inwagen, God and Other
Uncreated Things, in Metaphysics and God, ed. Kevin Timpe (London: Routledge, 2009),
pp.320. Van Inwagens critique is aimed at the thesis that properties exist only in the concrete
objects that exemplify or instantiate them. This thesis can be refuted by producing just one con-
vincing example of an unexemplified property. Van Inwagens first essay at doing so is based on
his own theory of properties: a property is an unsaturated assertible, i.e., something that can be said
of something. An unexemplified property is therefore something that can be said of things but can-
not be said truly of anything. Van Inwagen thinks it obvious that there are such assertibles if there
are any unsaturated assertibles at all. For example, I could say of something that it is a woman who
was the president of the U.S. in the twentieth century. Since this cannot be said truly of anything,
it is therefore an unexemplified property. Van Inwagen recognizes that this objection presupposes
his own theory of properties, but, he says, he does not know of any other account of properties that
(a) is equally explicit as to the nature of properties, (b) is intelligible, and (c) has the consequence
that properties exist only in the things that have them. The challenge, then, for the Aristotelian
absolute creationist is to offer an alternative account meeting these three conditions.
Van Inwagens second essay at coming up with an example does not presuppose his own
account of properties. He points out that many properties of abstract objects cannot be properties
of concrete objects, e.g., being an even number. From this he infers, It cannot be true of these
properties that they exist only in the concrete objects that have them, for they are not had by
concrete objects at all (Ibid., p.110). This move is far too quick. Of course, the Aristotelian rec-
ognizes that some properties are unique to abstract objects. But to say that they exist in concrete
objects is not to say that they are exemplified by concrete objects. Perhaps this only serves to
underline van Inwagens bewilderment at what is even meant by an abstract universals existing
in concrete particulars. Moltmanns neo-Aristotelian perspective elucidates the question some-
158 4 Absolute Creationism

The apparent viability of such an absolute creationism exposes, I think, a weak-


ness in Bergmann and Browers taking as their starting point the metaphysics of
predication. By choosing that as the springboard for their argument, they have
opened the door for the absolute creationist to say that predications are true only in
the moment logically posterior to Gods creative activity and that prior to that activ-
ity God is able to create a property without His exemplifying a property or its being
true that God is able to create a property. Rather what is at stake in discussions of
divine aseity is not the metaphysics of predication but ones ontological assay of
things. Platonism offers an ontological assay of things in terms of substances and
properties which are exemplified by those substances. Logically prior to their exem-
plification of properties, substances either are mere bare particulars or simply do not
exist. Since absolute creationists accept the ontological assay offered by Platonism,
they are immediately confronted with a severe bootstrapping problem, since logi-
cally prior to His creation of properties God is either a featureless particular or non-
existent, in which case He is impotent to create properties. In order to create any
properties God must already have properties, which is incoherent. By contrast, the
anti-Platonist rejects the Platonists ontological assay of things. Wise men and
brown dogs exist, but the brownness and the wisdom are not fundamental ontologi-
cal constituents of things. It is his rejection of the Platonists ontological assay that
permits the conceptualist to hold coherently that logically prior to His conceptions
God is as He is without standing in an exemplification relation to properties.
Similarly, an absolute creationist who takes properties to be derivative entities can
maintain that logically prior to His creation of properties God is as He is without
having properties.
It is, then, his ontological assay which commits the Platonist and, hence, the
Platonist absolute creationist, to exemplicationism as the preferred account of the
metaphysics of predication. Predication is to be understood as the exemplifying of
a property because things have properties as ontological constituents. Deny the
Platonists ontological assay of things and the bootstrapping problem will not
arise.108

what: what exists in concrete particulars are tropes of various sorts, and the abstract universal
instantiated by them exists transcendently but dependently. The abstract universal exists only if at
least one instance (a trope) of it exists (Moltmann, Abstract Objects and the Semantics of Natural
Language, p.48). The question will then become the plausibility of Moltmanns theory of tropes
and plural predication.
Bootstrapping raises its ugly head when van Inwagen goes on to remark, If properties existed
only in the concrete things that had them, it is easy to see how God would go about creating proper-
ties: he would simply create concrete objects, and the creation of properties would be part and
parcel of his creation of concrete objects (Van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated Things,
p.11). What about Gods own properties? We seem to be back to Morris and Menzels fear that
God must create Himself in order to create His properties. Moltmanns view that properties are
created by something like abstraction from concrete particulars seems to save the day. God just
exists as He isomnipotent, omniscient, eternal, holy, etc.prior to focusing on aspects of His
being which results in properties existing.
108
Bergmann and Browers own solution involves a truthmaker theory of predication which avoids
commitment to the Platonists ontological assay. They write,
Assessment 159

Metaphysically Heavy Absolute Creationism

So it seems to me that an absolute creationism which rejects the Platonistic ontologi-


cal assay of things and instead treats abstract objects (and tropes) as derivative entities
supervening on concrete objects is a defensible option for the classical theist. But in
adopting such a view of abstracta, the absolute creationist seems to have lost any
rationale for positing the existencein a metaphysically heavy senseof such
objects. They are not doing any metaphysical work, as they do in the usual Platonist
scheme of things. As Moltmann says, they simply enable reference for reifying
expressions like the number 7 or the property wisdom. This smacks of lightweight
Platonism, which does not involve serious ontological commitment to abstract objects.
It might be said that we are involved in metaphysically heavy commitments to
the reality of such entities by the customary neo-Quinean criterion of ontological
commitment. This is Peter van Inwagens view. Van Inwagens favored ontology
divides everything into two broad ontological categories: abstract objects and con-
crete objects. He further classifies ontologies as either constituent ontologies or
relational ontologies. He rejects constituent ontologies, which ascribe to concrete
particulars an ontological structure.109 He therefore repudiates the Platonists onto-
logical assay of things, denying that properties are ontological constituents of
things. He says, abstract objects can in no possible sense of the word be con-
stituents of concrete objects. Thus, the Favored Ontology agrees with austere nom-
inalism on one important point: concrete objects have no ontological structure.110
The reason for van Inwagens scepticism is that he cannot make sense of con-
stituent ontologies. I do not understand the words and phrases that are the typical
items of the core vocabulary of any given constituent ontology. Immanent univer-
sal, trope, exist wholly in, wholly present wherever it is instantiated, constitu-
ent of (said of a universal and a particular in that order): these are all mysteries to
me.111 With respect to properties, he is mystified by the exemplification relation. He
asks, How does a concrete object (like a green ball) reach out and take hold of a
property (like the color green), an abstract object, and make it had or exemplified or

the truthmaker theory of predication is an ontologically neutral theory of predication.


According to this theory, if a predication of the form a is F is true, then its truth must be
explained in terms of its truthmakerthat is, in terms of an entity (or a group of entities)
whose existence necessitates the truth of the predication in question. But in principle, there
is no restriction on the nature or ontological category to which such an entity belongs.
Hence this theory does not require us to say that the truthmaker for a is F either is or
involves an exemplifiable. Indeed, for all the theory itself says, the truthmaker for this
predication may be nothing but the single individual, a (Bergmann and Brower, Against
Platonism, p.379).
Such a neutralist view of predication is fine but provides no solution for the absolute creationist
who accepts the typical Platonist ontological assay.
109
He also makes it clear that neither do abstract objects have an ontological structure (Peter van
Inwagen, Dispensing with Ontological Levels: an Illustration, LanCog Lectures in Metaphysics
2013, Disputatio 6/38 [2014]: 412).
110
Ibid., p.33.
111
Peter van Inwagen, Relational vs. Constituent Ontologies, Philosophical Perspectives 25:
Metaphysics (2011): 393.
160 4 Absolute Creationism

instantiated?112 On van Inwagens view properties are metaphysically idle, serving


to explain neither why objects are the way they are nor their resemblance to one
another. He insists, I do believe that there is an object I call the color green.
But I should never want to say that the fact that greenness was a property of both the
apple and the book explained the fact that they were both green or the fact that they
were both of the same color.113 He therefore characterizes himself as an ostrich
Platonist, who thinks that there is here nothing to be explained.
So why include abstract objects at all in ones ontology? Van Inwagen confesses
that Id really like to be an austere nominalist, but he finds himself reluctantly
committed to the reality of properties by ineliminable quantification over abstract
objects in our discourse.114 An absolute creationist of van Inwagens stripe, who
similarly holds to the neo-Quinean criterion of ontological commitment, could hold
to the reality of abstract objects without falling prey to the bootstrapping objection
because his favored ontology rejects the typical Platonist ontological assay of things.
Van Inwagen himself rejects absolute creationism, taking properties and other
abstract objects to be uncreated beings alongside God. But his cursory dismissal of
absolute creationism does not do this viewpoint justice. In his fullest treatment of
the viewpoint that I am aware of van Inwagen criticizes absolute creationism on the
grounds that (1) it is hard to make sense of Gods deciding to create an abstract
mathematical object, and (2) creation is a causal relation, and abstract objects can-
not enter into causal relations.115 With respect to (1), absolute creationists (unless
they are radical theistic activists) do not typically root mathematical necessities in
Gods will but in Gods nature.116 Hence, though mathematical objects depend onto-
logically on God, they are not the result of His deciding. As for (2), while abstracta
have no causal powers and so cannot be causes, why can they not be effects? Most
philosophers of aesthetics who are, like van Inwagen, realists about fictional
characters take them to be abstract objects created by their authors.117 So why could
God not be the author of mathematical objects?

112
Ibid., p.396.
113
Ibid., p.398.
114
Ibid., p.400; cf. van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated Things, p.19. N.B. that van Inwagens
repudiation of the Quine-Putnam Indispensability Argument is based on his rejection of the claim
that the success of science is best explained by postulating the existence of the real numbers
(Ibid.) That claim is not at all essential to the Indispensability Argument. Van Inwagens argument
for properties is a sort of indispensability argument. See Peter van Inwagen, A Theory of
Properties, in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 1, ed. Dean Zimmerman (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 2004), pp.11315.
115
Peter van Inwagen, Did God Create Shapes? Philosophia Christi 17 (2015): 285290.
116
See Morris and Menzel, Absolute Creation, pp.3556, 360. Cf. Brian Leftows development
in God and Necessity. Among theistic modal theories, Leftow distinguishes between theories
which ground modality in Gods nature and theories which ground modality in Gods activity.
Leftow endorses a partial activist view but even so grounds necessary truths of logic and mathe-
matics in Gods nature, not His activity.
117
Christy Mag Uidhir, Introduction: Art, Metaphysics, and the Paradox of Standards, in Art and
Abstract Objects, ed. Christy Mag Uidhir (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p.7.
Bibliography 161

Thus a Platonist like van Inwagen ought to find absolute creationism to be an


attractive option theologically. Nevertheless, to my knowledge no one has adopted
this viewpoint. Van Inwagen reports, I am the only proponent of the Favored
Ontology I am aware of,118 and he is not an absolute creationist. Neither do I per-
sonally find his favored ontology attractive. To my mind, the forced inclusion of
such metaphysical freeloaders as countenanced by van Inwagens favored ontology
ought to prompt us to call into question a metaontology that requires so inflationary
an ontology. In other words, we ought to cast a doubtful eye upon the criterion of
ontological commitment that foists such unwanted entities upon us.

Conclusion

I conclude, therefore, that absolute creationism is, after all, a tenable option for the-
ists who want to preserve Gods status as the sole ultimate reality in the face of
Platonisms challenge to that doctrine. In particular, by denying a constituent ontol-
ogy the absolute creationist can avoid the bootstrapping objection, since explanato-
rily prior to His creation of properties God can be just as He is without exemplifying
properties. So there is no vicious circularity in His creation of properties and other
abstract objects. Still, in light of the metaphysical idleness of such entities, not to
mention absolute creationisms attenuation of either Gods freedom or the scope of
creation, it seems to me that theists would be well-advised to look elsewhere for a
solution to the challenge posed by Platonism to the doctrine of divine aseity.

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Ancient and Medieval Sources

Augustine: De diversis quaestionibus


Thomas Aquinas: Summa theologi
Chapter 5
Non-platonic Realism

Not all forms of anti-Platonism are anti-realist. There are a few versions of non-
Platonist realism (Fig.5.1).
Non-Platonic realists hold that various objects normally thought to be abstract,
such as mathematical objects, are in fact concrete. These may be taken to be either
physical objects, such as marks on paper, which are manipulated by mathematicians
according to certain rules, or mental objects or thoughts, either in human minds or
in Gods mind. Gottlob Frege subjected the views that mathematical objects are
physical objects or human thoughts to such withering criticism that such views are
scarcely taken seriously today.1

Exposition

James Franklins Physicalism

Mathematician James Franklin has, however, recently defended what he calls an


Aristotelian realist philosophy of mathematics, according to which mathematical
objects can be reductively analyzed in terms of concrete properties and relations.2

1
Gottlob Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic: A Logico-Mathematical Enquiry into the Concept
of Number, trans. J.L. Austin, 2d rev. ed. (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1968), I.
7, pp.811; II. 267, pp.348.
2
James Franklin, An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics: Mathematics as the Science
of Quantity and Structure (Basingstoke, Hampshire, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014a). Cf. James
Franklin, Aristotelian Realism, in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. Andrew D.Irvine, Handbook
of the Philosophy of Science [Amsterdam: North Holland, 2009], pp. 103155; idem,
Aristotelianism in the Philosophy of Mathematics, Studia Neoaristotelica 8 (2011): 315; idem,
The Mathmatical World, Aeon Magazine (7 April 2014) <http://aeon.co/magazine/world-views/
what-is-left-for-mathematics-to-be-about/>.
Franklins reductive analysis of numbers is not altogether clear. Sometimes numbers are said to
be properties of the relation between parts of the world and the unit-making properties which

Springer International Publishing AG 2017 165


W.L. Craig, God and Abstract Objects, DOI10.1007/978-3-319-55384-9_5
166 5 Non-platonic Realism

Fig. 5.1 Some responses to indispensability arguments concerning the existence of mathematical
objects

Although Franklin eschews the term object with respect to properties and rela-
tions, that is only because he associates object with a particular, whereas prop-
erties and relations are universals.3 Concrete universals are, in contemporary
parlance, objects (entities), even if they are not particulars. As Franklin himself
asserts, his view replaces abstract objects with mind-independent objects which
are spatiotemporal and causal, namely relations such as ratios.4 On the basis of the
One over Many problem he rejects the anti-realist view that universals are not
genuine constituents of reality. . .and that the only realities are particular things.5
So his view is prima facie an example of non-Platonistic realism, if not about math-
ematical objects per se, then at least about properties and relations.
This brand of Aristotelian realism, however, when combined with theism, seems
to fall prey to the same bootstrapping objection that threatens absolute creationism.
As Bergmann and Brower argued, whatever one takes exemplifiables to beabstract
properties, concrete universals, property instances, tropesthe bootstrapping
objection will remain unrelieved so long as we accept an ontological assay of things
as comprised of a particular and the exemplifiable. After all, it is not the abstractness
of the exemplifiable that is problematic; it is rather the need for God to have the
relevant reality prior to His creation of it. In order to create the property being

structure them; but other times numbers are said to be the relations between individual things and
unit-making properties; or, again, relations between heaps or mereological sums and unit-making
properties (Franklin, An Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics, pp.378, 41, 645, 102,
114). A so-called unit-making property is a property that structures its instances discretely, e.g.,
being an apple divides the heap into individual apples (Ibid., p.16). Not only are these character-
izations inconsistent, but a mereological sum or heap is already composed of individuals. Moreover,
taking numbers to be relations between existent things runs into problems with very large numbers.
If we say, as Franklin does, that we can speak of such relations even though the relata do not exist
(barring Platonism with respect to possibilia), then the need for realism seems to vanish (see below
on Hellmans modal structuralism).
3
Franklin, Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics, p.14.
4
Ibid., p.240.
5
Ibid. p.12.
Exposition 167

powerful, God would have to already be powerful, which closes a vicious circle.
Moreover, if properties are created in the creation of the concrete object of which
they are aspects, then on Aristotelianism God would literally have to create Himself
in order to create His unique properties.
Moreover, given his view that universals are concrete objects immanent in things,
one would expect Franklin to have something to say about the problem of how a
concrete universal can be multiply instantiated, that is to say, exist wholly at distinct
places in space. The Platonist faces no such conundrum, since his abstract univer-
sals have multiple, distinct, concrete instances in the physical world. But some
explanation is in order for how any concrete object can exist wholly at separated
places. Unfortunately, Franklin does not, to my knowledge, address this question,
apart from a passing endorsement of David Armstrongs view that the basic struc-
ture of the world is states of affairs of a particulars having a universal.6 Armstrong
himself, however, admits that he cannot explain how concrete universals can be
multiply instantiated.7
Any proponent of concrete universals must also confront the problem of unin-
stantiated universals. This problem is especially acute for a concretist account of
mathematics, since the finite world cannot accommodate the infinities of classical
mathematics. It is noteworthy that this problem forces Franklin to abandon a strict
this-worldly Aristotelianism, according to which uninstantiated universals do not
exist in any way in favor of a semi-Platonist or modal Aristotelianism. . ., accord-
ing to which universals can exist and be perceived to exist in this world and often
do, but it is a contingent matter which do so exist, and we can have knowledge even
of those that are uninstantiated, and of their necessary interrelations.8 Such a view
is said to contrast with (extreme) Platonism, according to which universals are of
their nature abstract objects, that is, they are not the kind of entities that could exist
(fully or exactly) in this world, and they lack causal power.9
At first blush Franklins semi-Platonist view might appear to be the extraordinary
doctrine that uninstantiated universals are only contingently abstract, that is to say,
they exist and can be known, but they can turn into concrete universals. On such an
interpretation, the Platonist errs in thinking universals to be essentially abstract and
causally effete; rather they can become concrete (instantiated), in which case they
become sense perceptible and causally efficacious. Such a bizarre view has the
implication that when certain things (say, dodos) cease to exist, then certain con-
crete universals revert to being once more abstract. While such a view would not be
typical Platonism, it hardly deserves to be called Aristotelianism or to be classified
as a form of concrete realism.
Fortunately, such is not Franklins meaning. For he seems to be diffident, after
all, about the reality of uninstantiated universals. He asks,

6
Ibid.
7
See note 152 below; cf. note 90 of Chap. 4.
8
Franklin, Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics, p.26.
9
Ibid.
168 5 Non-platonic Realism

Should an uninstantiated universal be said to exist? That is not regarded as a meaningful


question by the semi-Platonist Aristotelian. When a universal is instantiated in a particular
in some state of affairs, a being exists with that universal; when a universal is not instanti-
ated, there are knowable possibilities concerning it and its relation to other universals, but
there is no need to grant it an existence parallel to that of particulars. It may be convenient
to set up names and mathematical notations for such possibilities, but it is not the business
of the philosophy of universals or the philosophy of mathematics to deal with complex
questions in the philosophy of language concerning reference to objects beyond the here
and now (such as fictional and future objects, as well as possibilities).10

This is a surprising paragraph. A great deal of contemporary philosophy of mathe-


matics and of universals deals with complex questions in the philosophy of lan-
guage concerning reference to objects beyond the here and now. Such questions are
inescapable for any would-be adequate philosophy of mathematics. Despite a feint
in the direction of arealism (That is not regarded as a meaningful question by the
semi-Platonist Aristotelian), it is evident that Franklin thinks that there is objective
and knowable truth to be had concerning such objects. Indeed, his remarks here
about knowable possibilities sound very much like Geoffrey Hellmans modal
structuralism, which is a sort of counterfactual if-thenism concerning mathematical
entities, to be discussed in our Chap. 8. This is anti-realism, not realism, concerning
mathematical objects and other putative abstracta. Far from being an arealist,
Franklin himself provides an anti-realist account of zero and the empty set as merely
useful fictions.11
It is intriguing that Franklin acknowledges that Hellmans modal structuralist
theory is the closest to that of the present book.12 But he voices three objections to
Hellmans view: (1) Hellmans excessively hypothetical interpretation of arith-
metic sentences is correct of uninstantiated structures, but avoids mention of what
happens when the structures are in fact instantiated.13 (2) Hellmans theory involves
a hidden reference to realistically interpreted universals, for his universal quanti-
fiers range over classes.14 (3) Like logicism, Hellmans project runs afoul of the
non-logical nature of the Axiom of Infinity, for Hellman postulates the logical pos-
sibility of an infinitude of atoms, but it is implausible that this possibility is in any
sense a matter of logic..15
These objections seem misconceived. (1) If the antecedents in Hellmans coun-
terfactual conditionals are true, then of course they are informative of actual, con-
crete structures. (2) Second-order universal quantification over classes is on no
account ontologically committing. (3) Postulating the mere possibility of an infini-
tude of objects, in contrast to the non-modal Axiom of Infinity, is a matter of either
strict or broad logical possibility.

10
Ibid., pp.289; cf. p.239.
11
Ibid., pp.2349.
12
Ibid., p.117.
13
Ibid., p.118.
14
Ibid.
15
Ibid., p.119.
Exposition 169

Now if Hellmans modal structuralism gives an adequate account of so-called


uninstantiated universals which is mathematically adequate, then the question arises
as to why we should be realists at all. Why include concrete universals in our onto-
logical inventory? Although Franklin exposits his realist view in his book, he does
not offer much of a case for realism.16 It is therefore a bit surprising to read late in
the book the statement, If the Aristotelian is prepared to admit a fictionalist theory
of zero and the empty set, was it really necessary to expend so much effort defend-
ing realism and fending off fictionalism up to that point?17 Franklins remark about
fending off fictionalism suggests that he has conflated two senses of realism: alethic
realism and ontic realism. What Franklin offers is, not a defense of ontic realism
about concrete universals, but a defense of alethic realism concerning mathematical
statements. His concern to fend off fictionalism is a concern to defend the truth of
mathematical sentences, pure and applied. But unless one accepts the criterion of

16
It is noteworthy that Franklin does not embrace the Indispensability Argument. He denies that
first-order quantifiers and singular terms are devices of ontological commitment. Ontology is not
subject to the vagaries of language in that way (Franklin, Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of
Mathematics, p.115). Citing neutralist Jody Azzouni, Franklin says, It may be that the way lan-
guage works requires names for or quantification over beings that the users of the language know
well are not real (Ibid., p.235).
So why be a realist? Remarkably, Franklin has almost nothing to say in response to this ques-
tion. All I could find was a claim that anti-realism (nominalism) could not solve the One over Many
problem: The main problem for nominalism is its failure to give an account of why different
individuals should be collected under the same name (or concept or class), if universals are not
admitted (Ibid., pp. 1213). But Franklin gives no argument that two things being white, for
example, requires that there be literally some other thing which is identical in the two things.
Franklin claims that mathematical properties and relations are sense perceptible, since they are
physical. He says that perception of the simpler quantitative properties of physical things is as
direct and straightforward as perception of color and hardness (Ibid., p.176). Certainly, we per-
ceive that there are, say, two dogs just as we perceive that the dogs are brown. But neither percep-
tual truth requires commitment to the reality of properties. One could even say that we perceive
that the number of the dogs is two or that the color of the dogs is brown, but, absent the disputed
criterion of ontological commitment at play in the Indispensability Argument, such singular terms
are no more ontologically committing than the adjectival terms.
Franklin also defends the claim of the early Penelope Maddy that sets are sense perceptible
(Ibid., pp.1745). Such an outlandish claim fails to reckon with the strange properties of sets. For
example, sets have their members essentially (Axiom of Extensionality). Even if we perceive
aggregates of things, we do not perceive that those aggregates have their members essentially and
are therefore sets. Franklin asserts that The relation of a platoon to a brigade is numerical because
they are both sets of soldiers (Ibid., p.39). This is false, since platoons and brigades do not have
their members essentially. Later Franklin claims that The set of blue things is not the property
blue nor is it in any sense an analysis of the concept blue. It is the property blue that pre-exists
and unifies the set (and supports the counterfactual that if anything else were blue, it would be a
member of the set) (Ibid., p.109). This assertion not only violates the Axiom of Extensionality
but also seems to presuppose a principle of universal comprehension, according to which proper-
ties determine sets, and so leads to the paradoxes of nave set theory. When Franklin says that we
perceive how a heap is divided by a unit-making property [like being an apple], and that is all
there is to being a set (Ibid., p.175; cf. p.16), he is using the word set in an idiosyncratic sense
(cf. p.60). As Maddy herself came to see, we cannot be rightly said to perceive sets.
17
Franklin, Aristotelian Realist Philosophy of Mathematics, p.239.
170 5 Non-platonic Realism

ontological commitment underpinning the Indispensability Argumentwhich


Franklin does not, there is no reason to agree with the fictionalist that mathemati-
cal truths commit us to objects like properties and relations. Franklin summarizes
his argument by saying, What has been asserted is that there are properties, such as
symmetry, continuity, divisibility, increase, order, part and whole, which are pos-
sessed by real things and are studied directly by mathematics, resulting in necessary
propositions about them.18 Given Franklins denial that informal quantifiers like
there are are devices of ontological commitment, this statement could have been
made by an anti-realist, so long as he is not a fictionalist.
It seems to me therefore that Franklins quasi-Aristotelianism is in danger of col-
lapsing into anti-realism about mathematical objects. If, on the other hand, one
insists on sticking with concrete universals, then the same boot strapping objection
that attends absolute creationism also threatens to undo physicalism.

Divine Conceptualism

Philosophers generally consider Frege to have dealt the death blow to a conceptual-
ist form of realism. But, however powerful, Freges objections to psychologism
such as the intersubjectivity, necessity, and plenitude of mathematical objectsdo
not touch divine conceptualism.19 That Frege could simply overlook what has his-
torically been the mainstream theistic position with respect to putative abstract
objects is perhaps testimony to how utterly detached nineteenth century philosophi-
cal thinking had become from the historic Christian tradition.20 With the late twen-
tieth century renaissance of Christian philosophy divine conceptualism is once
more finding articulate defenders.
For example, Alvin Plantinga, the most influential theist philosopher writing
today, has endorsed divine conceptualism with regard to supposedly abstract objects.
He locates himself in the Augustinian tradition in thinking of numbers, properties,

18
Ibid., p.81.
19
In their critiques of conceptualism, Burgess and Balaguer are typical in that neither even men-
tions divine conceptualism (John P.Burgess, Numbers and Ideas, in John P.Burgess, Mathematics,
Models and Modality [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008], pp.248; Mark Balaguer,
Realism and Anti-Realism in Mathematics, in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. Andrew D.Irvine,
Handbook of the Philosophy of Science [Amsterdam: North Holland, 2009b], pp.3740, 813).
20
Unfortunately, the situation seems to be little changed in German philosophy. Bernulf
Kanitscheider says matter-of-factly that the attempt to ground mathematical objects in the divine
mind no longer interests anyone, since it is obsolete and no longer accepted in todays secular
world (Bernulf Kanitscheider, Natur und Zahl: Die Mathematisierbarkeit der Welt [Berlin:
Springer Verlag, 2013], pp.923, 205, 214). For a brief survey of the pre-modern tradition see
Reuben Hersh, What Is Mathematics Really? (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1997), chapter 6:
Before the Crisis. In Hershs view, divine conceptualism was a complete and simple solution to
the ontology of mathematics. Recent troubles in the philosophy of mathematics are ultimately the
consequence of the banishing of religion from science.The present trouble with the ontology of
mathematics is an after-effect of the spread of atheism (Ibid., pp.122, 126).
Exposition 171

propositions and the rest of the Platonic host as divine ideas.21 Plantinga is not
always clear whether in so saying he mean to endorse absolute creationism or divine
conceptualism. But he says that perhaps the most natural way to think about
abstract objectsis as divine thoughts.22 Specifically, he advocates construing
propositions as Gods thoughts, properties as Gods concepts, and sets as Gods col-
lections.23 So construing propositions, properties, sets, numbers, and the like safe-
guards divine aseity, since Gods thoughts depend causally upon God. According
to classical versions of theism, sets, numbers and the likeare best conceived as
divine thoughts. But then they stand to God in the relation in which a thought stands
to a thinker. This is presumably a productive relation: the thinker produces his
thoughts. It is therefore also a causal relation.24 In that case, such objects do not
exist independently of God but depend causally upon Him, so that God exists
uniquely a se.
Unfortunately, Plantingas endorsement of divine conceptualism amounts to lit-
tle more than a nod in its direction. For a fuller articulation and defense of concep-
tualism we may turn to two Oxonian Christian philosophers Brian Leftow and Greg
Welty.

Brian Leftows Theistic Actualism

Brian Leftow has formulated and defended a sort of divine conceptualism as the
best realist view of putative abstract objects.25 Although his main concern is to
ground modal truths in God, a subsidiary project of his God and Necessity is to
explain how God accounts for the existence of so-called abstract objects.26
Leftows strategy is to dispense with abstracta nominalistically insofar as is possi-
ble and then to replace any indispensable abstract objects which remain with mental
events in the mind of God.

21
Alvin Plantinga, Response to William Lane Craigs review of Where the Conflict Really Lies,
Philosophia Christi 15 (2013): 178.
22
Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2011), p.288.
23
Theistsmay find attractive a view popular among medieval philosophers from Augustine on:
the view that abstract objects are really divine thoughts. More exactly, propositions are divine
thoughts, properties divine concepts, and sets divine collections (Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and
Proper Function [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993], p.121). I take it, then, that Plantinga
does not think of concepts and collections as abstract objects produced by divine thinking but as
divine thoughts.
24
Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, p.291.
25
Leftow uses conceptualism in another context as a label for the view that a statement is neces-
sarily true if its negation is inconceivable for us (Brian Leftow, God and Necessity [Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2012], p. 66). I use the nomenclature conceptualism in its more standard
employment as a synonym of psychologism. N.B. that Leftow does not claim to have shown that
his non-Platonist realism is superior to anti-realism (Ibid., p.551).
26
Ibid., p.27.
172 5 Non-platonic Realism

Leftows fundamental aim is to meet the ostensible challenge posed by necessary


truths to the claim that God is the sole ultimate reality by formulating and defending
a theistic metaphysics for grounding modal truths. An alleged conflict with classical
theisms claim of divine ultimacy arises from the assumptions that
1. Some strongly necessary truths are not about God and are not negative existen-
tials, e.g., mathematical truths.
2. It is always the case that if a truth is necessary and not a negative existential, it
has an ontology.
3. If a necessary truth not about God has an ontology, all of it lies outside God.
The conjunction of (1)(3) implies that there exists something ontologically outside
God which supplies the ontology for mathematical truths. But Leftow thinks it dif-
ficult to see how such abstracta could be created by God, which contradicts Gods
being the sole ultimate reality.
Leftow identifies four possible ways to deal with this apparent conflict:
(i) Deny that modal truths have an ontology.
(ii) Restrict the scope of Gods ultimacy to exempt various abstracta.
(iii) Adopt a safe ontology that does not conflict with divine ultimacy.
(iv) Make God the ontological foundation of modality.
Leftow concedes that his brief discussion of (i)-(iii) does not suffice to dispose of
them conclusively, but he thinks that he has given at least some reason to think that
these will not do.27 So he focuses on finding a tenable version of (iv).
Since the central concern of Leftows book is modal metaphysics, he focuses his
attention on putative possible worlds. Leftow presents a highly original and, I think
we must say, counterintuitive divine voluntarism with respect to the modal status of
truths not about God. Fortunately his conceptualism about abstract objects is not
inextricably intertwined with his modal theory, so that these can be teased apart and
discussion of the modal theory left for another day.28 In providing a non-Platonist
ontology for modal truths, Leftows strategy is to replace abstract modal ontology
with one of divine mental events and powers.29
Leftow distinguishes between possibilist and actualist ontologies of possible
worlds.30 Possibilists take possible worlds to be concrete universes enacting com-
plete histories. Possibilists come in two stripes: those who hold that all but one of
these universes are non-actual but existent (David Lewis) and those who hold that
they are non-existent but actual (Alexius Meinong). By contrast actualists hold that
possible worlds are things which are both actual and existent, such as propositions,

27
Ibid., p.71.
28
For some reflections on this head see my review of God and Necessity in Faith and Philosophy
30 (2013): 46270.
29
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.303.
30
Ibid., pp.3942.
Exposition 173

properties, states of affairs, or sets (Robert Adams, Alvin Plantinga, John Bigelow,
et al.).31
Leftow thus takes possible worlds semantics to involve ontological commitments
to possible worlds, an indication of his assumption of the customary criterion of
ontological commitment. He writes, On the standard semanticsP has as its
truth-condition that there is a possible world in which P.On what I believe to be the
correct semantics, its truth-condition is also existential. So on the standard approach
or my own, possibility-claims are true because something(s) exist(s).32 He adopts a
fictionalist perspective on possible worlds semantics, commenting, I do not believe
that big propositions or the like are possible worlds. I rather thoroughly do not
believe this: I think that talk about possible worlds is a useful fiction.33 Instead
he advocates theistic actualism, which takes God, rather than a realm of existing
abstract objects or a realm of non-existent or non-actual objects, to be the meta-
physical reality behind possible worlds talk.34 Leftow is thus speaking loosely in
classifying his view as actualist. Shunning possible worlds in favor of divine pow-
ers, Leftows view is actualist only in the sense that the ontology which makes
modal statements true is to be found in an actually existing reality.
Leftow holds that for any modal truth, God either is, contains, has, or produces
all of its ontology (its truthmakers or truth explainers):
POSS. (P) (P is true God is, contains, has, has attributes that have, (etc.), or produces all
Ps truthmakers.
NEC. (P) (P is true God is, contains, has, has attributes that have, (etc.), or produces all
Ps truth-explainers.35

Leftow explains that because on his semantics Ps truth condition is existential,


(POSS.) deals in truthmakers. He emphasizes that his concept of a truthmaker is
very thin: To say that a truth has a truthmaker in my sense is just to say that its

31
Cf. ibid., p.546. It is evident that Leftow is restricting his attention to realist conceptions of pos-
sible worlds.
32
Ibid., p.96.
33
Ibid., p.41.
34
Ibid., p.42. So he says,
My attitude to possible worlds is fictionalist. As I see it, possible-world accounts commit
themselves existentially to things which do not exist. They are strictly speaking false. But
we can usefully speak in possible-world terms, because beneath world-talk is a reality
involving God over which we really do quantify, which is isomorphic with world-talk in
obvious ways and which our putative world-descriptions correctly describe modulo their
false existential commitments. There is not an abstract, necessarily existing God-
independent possible world representing that some pigs have wings, but there is a divine
power to produce winged pigs which some world-powers recruit (Ibid., pp.4445).

A world-power, he explains, is a power to use other divine powers in such a way that all of the
states of a possible world that depend upon God alone, as well as His input to all of them that do
not, are actualized.
35
Ibid., p.115; cf. pp.956. The (etc.), I take it, is meant to abbreviate has attributes that have
attributes that have. See ibid., pp.3912 for a summary of Leftows modal theory.
174 5 Non-platonic Realism

truth-conditions are met, by its ontology being such as to do so.As I use the term,
that Fido is brown has a truthmaker says little more than that Fido is brown is
true.36 The truthmakers for P will be the various divine powers. P is true if and
only if there is some divine power to bring it about that P. The independence of
(POSS.) from Leftows peculiar modal theory is evident in his remark that his modal
ontology does not discriminate among various theist views but is consistent with the
differing theories offered, for example, by Aquinas, Descartes, and Leibniz.37
Since it seems that some necessarily true, negative existential statements, like
Round squares do not exist, have no ontology, they do not have truthmakers. Still,
Leftow maintains, there is something that explains this lack of a truthmaker and so
explains why the relevant statement is true. There is something about God that
explains why round squares do not exist; for example, God is such that He lacks the
power to produce a round square. So if P is necessarily true, then God is, contains,
has, has attributes that have, (and so on), or produces all truthmakers or truth
explainers for P.38
Notice that P is a nonmodal proposition. What about the ontology for P or P?
Here the situation is quite different. Leftow remarks,
One might be tempted to addthat if P has no ontology, all ontology for Ps truth-
explanation is ontology for Ps truth-explanation. For one might think that whatever truth-
explains it that there are no round squares, truth-explains it that possibly there are none. But
as I use these terms, a truth has a truthmaker only if it has an ontology and a truth-explainer
only if it does not. So no truth has both, and as just noted, that possibly there are no round
squares has an ontology.39

So for Leftow every truth of the form P has a truthmaker, namely, some divine
power, even if P does not. Similarly, on Leftows view truths of the form P have
no truthmakers, even if P does.40 For part of what explains the truth of P is, in the
jargon of possible worlds, the absence of possible worlds in which P is true.41
Translated into the terms of Leftows theory, a necessary truth is explained in part
by the absence of a divine power to make its negation true. So even if P has truth-
makers, P does not. That is why (POSS) speaks of truthmakers and (NEC) of
truth-explainers.
On Leftows view, then, the reality behind possible worlds talk is various divine
powers. He asserts,

36
Ibid., pp.823.
37
Ibid., p.96. All these thinkers appealed to divine powers to ground possibility claims, but for
Aquinas God has these powers by nature, for Descartes God freely chooses to have these powers,
and for Leibniz God wills to have these powers by nature.
38
Ibid., pp.82, 95.
39
Ibid., p.97.
40
This might seem to contradict Leftows claim that in the case of necessary truths to provide their
ontology is to provide their truthmakers (Ibid., pp.834). But I take him to be referring to the
ontology and truthmakers for P itself, not for P. Leftows ambiguity often makes him frustrat-
ingly difficult to interpret.
41
Ibid., pp.11516.
Exposition 175

I do not really believe in possible worlds, but instead parse possible-world-talk in terms of
powers: the reality behind the claim that there is a possible world in which God creates two
hydrogen atoms. . .is that God has the powers and had opportunity to create two hydrogen
atoms.As I see it, the truthmakers for modal truths from all eternity were are [sic] that
there were/are divine powers of various sorts. Talk of possible worlds is just a fiction which
gets at a reality which consists in divine powers.42

Instead of quantifying over possible worlds, the proper semantics for modal claims
actually quantifies over divine powers. Is Leftow therefore committed to an ontol-
ogy which includes divine powers in the place of possible worlds? Such an ontology
would be consistent with Leftows conception of God as the sole ultimate reality, for
Leftow allows that entities not outside God, namely, parts, aspects, or attributes of
God, are exceptions to the principle that God is the source of all reality other than
Himself.43 Thus an ontological commitment to divine powers would not be incon-
sistent with Gods being the sole ultimate reality.
But Leftow has a strong methodological bent toward ontological parsimony,44
which would incline him to get rid of powers if he can. Here two routes suggest
themselves. First, Leftow could paraphrase away commitment to divine powers by
speaking, for example, of what God is able to do or can do. Leftow sometimes
adverts unconsciously to such paraphrases. For example, in describing his peculiar
voluntaristic view of modal status, he says,
God thinks up a secular state of affairs S.Having done so, He has an opportunity to render
S possible and one to make S impossible, by making one or another decision. He can
decide: this is a natural power, present prior to possible worlds in the order of explanation.
He can decide whether S is possible: this is a specified power, one God came to have by
conceiving S.45

Here talk of powers is paraphrased by sentences about what God can decide to do.
Instead of saying that there is a divine power to create winged pigs, we can say that
God can decide or is able to create winged pigs.
Alternatively, Leftow could treat divine powers as attributes or properties of God
and then proceed to provide a nominalistic analysis of properties. This seems to be
his preferred alternative. He says,
Powers are real, inherent attributes.Powers are intrinsically modal attributes. So where
there is power and opportunity. . .there is possibility.
God has powers by nature.There is nothing within or without God to impede their
use.The presence of powers of this sort, in circumstances of this sort, is enough to make
possibility-claims true.46

42
Ibid., p.262; cf. p.449, where he speaks of Gods possessing a world-power with the precondi-
tions of its use.
43
Ibid., p.20.
44
Ibid., pp.53640.
45
Ibid., p.263 [emphasis mine for clarity]. Again, the ambiguitywhat follows the colon in each
case is not what God decides to do; rather it is Leftows commentary on what goes before. Gods
ability to decide in general is a natural power and His ability to make specific decisions is one He
bestows upon Himself.
46
Ibid., pp.2601.
176 5 Non-platonic Realism

It remains only to get rid of properties, which is the next step in Leftows nominal-
ization project.
Leftow takes Gods natural powers to be part of the content of deity, that is, of
the divine nature. With respect to the attributes constituitive of deity, Leftow holds
that any such attributes depend ontologically on their instances.
Platonism is not the correct account of deity.If there is such a thing as deity, not only does
it exist only because God does, but the way God concretely is determines its contents. This
claim is compatible with an Aristotelian theory of universals, a trope theory or
nominalism.47

Leftow later rejects a trope theory and, implicitly, an Aristotelian theory of divine
attributes and opts instead for a version of nominalism, according to which deity is
not an existent thing at all.
There just is no such thing as deity. God is the whole ontology for God is divine. There is
nothing else to which He need bear some relation in order for this to be true, and so all it
takes for it to be true is that He exist. Divine is just the way He is, and we need not in this
case reify the way. So all it takes to make it true that God is divine is that He exist.48

Leftow therefore considers himself to have eliminated Gods natural powers from
our ontology.49
What about other properties and powers not belonging to deity? Leftow will
eliminate these by substituting for them Gods concepts. Leftow lists six basic sorts
of theories of what properties or attributes are:
(i) Predicate/concept nominalism: to assert that Fido is a dog is to say of Fido just
that he satisfies ____ is a dog.
(ii) Class nominalism: to assert that Fido is a dog is to say that Fido is a member
of a certain class of things.
(iii) Mereological nominalism: to assert that Fido is a dog is to say that Fido is a
part of some mereological sum of things.
(iv) Resemblance nominalism: to assert that Fido is a dog is to say that Fido resem-
bles other dogs or a paradigm dog in the right way.
(v) Realism: to assert that Fido is a dog is to ascribe to Fido the right relation to the
universal dog-hood.
(vi) Trope theory: to assert that Fido is a dog is to say that Fido possesses an indi-
vidualized dog-ness.
Platonism competes with Aristotelianism as a version of (v). Any of the non-
Platonist theories of properties is compatible with Gods being the sole ultimate
reality. Leftow allows that theists may posit creatable abstracta, such as sets, points,

47
Ibid., p. 254, cf. p. 215, where he endorses a nominalistic analysis of attributes according to
which things are not the way they are because they have an attribute; rather things have an attribute
in virtue of the way they are, and pp.2434, where he indicts concept nominalism for inverting this
order and holding that something is a K because it falls under the concept K.
48
Ibid., p.307.
49
Ibid., p.308.
Exposition 177

Aristotelian universals, and tropes, without courting ultimacy concerns; but he


insists that theists do not need abstracta which are not constructible from these.50
So, Leftow says, As to Platonic universals, my own preferred move is to dissolve
them into the realities behind talk of divine concept possession: theists simply need
not deal in them with the mind of God available to do the work instead.51 Theists
can substitute divine concepts for properties:
Western theists should. . .limit their modal ontologies to God and created non-eternal con-
creta and abstracta. Any modal truths true from eternity must have their first ontology in
God somehow. If one can make do here with items in God, eternal abstracta outside Him
are otiose. But surely one can make do with items in God. If there were (say) eternally an
attribute of caninity outside God, there would also be Gods concept of this attributes con-
tent. Gods natural omniscience guarantees that this concept would be complete in every
respect. But then this concept can be put to any philosophical use to which we might put the
attribute.52

Instead of saying that Gods being creative is a matter of His standing in relation to
an abstract universal creativity, it would seem that on this view we should say that
His being creative is a matter of Gods falling under the divine concept of creativity.
But this construal sits ill with Leftows rejection of concept nominalism. He says
flatly that concept nominalism seems to me false.what makes God divine is not
His falling under a concept but that about Him which makes Him do so.53 Suppose
the concept nominalist does not ascribe an explanatory priority of falling under a
concept F to somethings being F. Leftow is still not satisfied: a mass of bronze falls
under the concept statue of Zeus, not just in virtue of its mass, but in virtue of its
shape. It seems then that, pace Leftow, on his account divine concepts cannot really
be put to any philosophical use to which the property realist puts universals. We can
replace property talk with talk of divine concepts, but their explanatory role is
unclear.
Leftows conceptualism is not yet complete, however. For concepts are them-
selves abstract objects existing outside the conceiving mind.54 They, too, must there-
fore be eliminated. Accordingly, Leftow adopts a fictionalist stance: There are no
divine concepts. All the same it is useful to talk about them.55 The reality behind
talk of divine concepts is concrete mental events in the mind of God. Leftow takes
events to be concrete particulars, concrete because they have causal power and par-
ticular because they cannot have instances. Thus, Theism without divine concepts

50
Ibid., p.64.
51
Ibid., p.86.
52
Ibid., pp.1134.
53
Ibid., p.243; cf. pp.2301. This account of concept nominalism seems flatly contradictory to his
account on p.215, where he praises predicate/concept nominalism precisely because according to
these theories things have an attribute in virtue of the way they are.
54
Ibid., p.299. Leftow notes that concepts are immaterial, non-spatiotemporal, causally effete enti-
ties and thus plausibly just are Platonic attributes. Hence, properties have not been eliminated after
all!
55
Ibid., p.317; cf. p.299.
178 5 Non-platonic Realism

can provide an account of modal truth whose ontology is just one non-physical
substance and some events.56
Leftow recognizes that Platonists can try to turn the tables on me by appeal to
Gods mental content. If we need Platonist entities to make sense of this, then in the
end, appeal to Gods mind leaves us as much reason to Platonize as we had
originally.57 But Leftow resists the inference that because a thought is contentful,
there must be some content to which that thought is related.
We could treat being contentful. . .as a primitive fact about mental events.So it is not clear
what special fact about the cat-event would make it require to be made as it is by cathood.
If we [do] bring the attribute into the story of Gods mental content, the story goes this way:
a particular event encodes what it is to be a cat because it grasps cathood.why does it do
so? Well, it just does.Without the attribute, the story goes: a particular event encodes
what it is to be a cat. Why? It just does.All there is to the event is Gods thinking and its
being contentful in a particular way; the way it is contentful makes it the event it is; to be
that event is to be an event contentful that way, period; and way is not ontologically
commissive.58

For Leftow, then, we should not think of Gods thoughts as involving relations to
some abstract content.
Ultimately, then, for Leftow modal ontology consists simply of God and certain
mental events. He substitutes divine powers for possible worlds, analyzes divine
powers as various properties possessed by God, trades in properties for divine con-
cepts, and finally substitutes contentful, divine mental events for divine concepts. It
is therefore arguable that Leftow is not at the end of the day a realist after all, but
rather a closet fictionalist. We have seen that he endorses a fictionalist stance on
possible worlds discourse because of its unacceptable existential commitments.
Such discourse is useful because beneath world-talk is a reality involving God over
which we really do quantify, namely, divine powers, specifically, Gods world-
powers.59 A world power is a power to use other subsidiary powers in such a way
that all of a possible world winds up actual.60 In effect, it is the power to actualize a
possible world. In contrast to quantifying over possible worlds, On my account

56
Ibid., p.300. Cf. Leftow, God and the Problem of Universals, Oxford Studies in Metaphysics 2
(2006): 349: I suggest then that in the last analysis, the ontology of divine concepts is in terms of
divine mental events and powers. So my move is to replace an ontology of universals with one of
divine powers and events involving God.
57
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.309.
58
Ibid., p.311. Leftows exemption of references to ways from being ontologically committing
does not signal his departure from the customary criterion of ontological commitment, but an
endorsement of taking ways as adverbial in nature, e.g., God thinks cat-ly. Leftow goes on to pres-
ent a causal theory of divine content, according to which one mental event may be spoken of as
grasping the concept dog rather than the concept cat because it is such that if it is appropriately
involved in generating Gods actions, dogs result, not cats (Ibid., p.313). Cf. his God and the
Problem of Universals, pp.32830.
59
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.445.
60
Leftow explains, A world power is a single power, so to recruit some vast subset of all possible
powers that all of a particular possible world that depends on God alone, and Gods own input to
all of it that does not, winds up actual (Ibid., p.442).
Exposition 179

alethic modal talk quantifies over divine world-powers.61 Again, On the standard
account, possibly P iff there is a possible world in which P.I say that possibly P iff
there are a P-world-power and the preconditions of its use.62 Presumably, neces-
sarily P iff every world-power is a P-world-power and there is no P-world-power.63
The difficulty for interpreting this view as a realism is that, given the customary
criterion of ontological commitment, quantification over world powers commits one
ontologically to the existence of world powers, but Leftow denies that powers are
existing things. Therefore world powers discourse is for Leftow just as fictional as
possible worlds discourse. In order to preserve realism, Leftow needs to provide a
modal semantics quantifying over no more than God and His mental events. But I
have been unable to find any such a account. What Leftow offers rather is an ontol-
ogy for modal discourse, an account of the truthmakers of modal claims. But this is
an account with which the fictionalist may readily agree. The fictionalist who is a
theist agrees that God has thoughts of what He can and cannot bring about, and
nothing precludes regarding these thoughts as concrete mental events.64 He just does
not identify divine thoughts with what, by another name, are called possible worlds.
Given his preoccupation with modal concerns, Leftow does not provide a detailed
account of other abstract objects.65 He appears to sanction fictionalism with respect
to mathematical objects. For, he says, A Platonic abstract particular number, for
instance, may not be something God could create. But theists do not need these.
Gods mind can contain the ontology for necessary truths of arithmeticnumber
concepts, for instance, could do the trick.66 Similarly, with respect to set theory
Leftow says, My own account of pure mathematics would be broadly Platonic but
with set-substitutes in the mind of God.it is by providing the set substitutesthe
ontology of mathematicsthat God provides truthmakers for pure mathematical
truth.67 The intention here is clearly realist; but since on Leftows view divine con-
cepts do not really exist, such an account of mathematics remains fictionalist, unless
and until it is explained how what we take to be numbers, sets, and other mathemati-
cal objects are, in reality, divine mental events.
Finally, with respect to propositions, Leftow denies that propositions exist, either
as abstract objects or as divine mental representations.

61
Ibid., p.411.
62
Ibid., p.449.
63
Ibid., p.401.
64
Especially congenial to the fictionalist will be Leftows account of possible and necessary secular
truths on the basis of Gods deciding to permit or prevent that P: possibly P iff from eternity God
does not prevent that P, and necessarily P iff from eternity God permits only that P (i.e., prevents
that P) (Ibid., p.410).
65
But he assures us, a God who provides a theory of attributes can do any ontological work num-
bers, sets, propositions, and possible-worlds do and more besides (Ibid., p.540).
66
Ibid., pp.645. He adds, Platonic universals can get a similar treatment.
67
Ibid., p.92; but cf. p.540, where he speaks sympathetically of replacing sets with divine mental
acts of collecting together.
180 5 Non-platonic Realism

Talk of propositions and divine mental representations is in my view convenient fiction. I


call the mental events which lie behind talk of God grasping propositions divine thoughts.
I suggest that these have their content primitively.They contain no proposition or repre-
sentation to give them their content. Rather, their being contentful as they are is just part of
their being the very thoughts they are.68

Leftow later reminds us, A divine thought has the content Boots is a cat at least
partly because it is such that its appropriate involvement with divine volition brings
it about that Boots is a cat; we can equally say that for this reason that it represents
it to God that Boots is a cat.69 Here Leftow ascribes to divine thoughts the proposi-
tional roles of having truth-evaluable content and representing the world. So while
propositions do not exist for Leftow, nonetheless divine thoughts can play the role
of propositions.70 Again, the fictionalist could affirm the same. So Leftow is perhaps
more fictionalist than conceptualist when it comes to abstract objects.

Greg Weltys Theistic Conceptual Realism

For a bona fide example of conceptualism we may turn to Greg Weltys defense of
what he calls theistic conceptual realism concerning propositions and possible
worlds. He argues that propositionswhatever they might be, metaphysically
speakingmust be necessarily existing objects possessing alethicity (capacity to
be truth-valued) and doxasticity (capacity to be believed or disbelieved).71 Thus,
four constraints upon any successful theory of propositions, namely, objectivity,
alethicity, doxasticity, and necessity, will help determine ultimately what kind of
thing propositions are. From the arguments Welty offers for these constraints addi-
tional conditions on any adequate theory of propositions emerge. Welty argues that
any successful account of propositions must meet the following six conditions72:
Objectivity This condition is an expression of Weltys realism. Welty argues, not
simply that propositions must be intersubjectively available and mind-independent
with respect to human beings, but, more fundamentally, that propositions are exist-
ing objects. We shall content ourselves with Weltys succinct summary of the
lengthier exposition of his arguments in his doctoral thesis:

68
Ibid., p.325. Leftow adds, I do not believe in states of affairs to be thoughts contents, but I
allow talk of states of affairs as convenient fiction (Ibid., p.327).
69
Ibid., p.516.
70
Ibid., p.550. But cf. p.81, where he does take nominalistic substitutes to be the values of vari-
ables taking propositions as their values. This would be a realist, not a fictionalist, stance.
71
Greg Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism, in Beyond the Control of God? Six Views on the
Problem of God and Abstract Objects, ed. Paul Gould, with articles, responses, and counter-
responses by K.Yandell, R.Davis, P.Gould, G.Welty, Wm. L.Craig, S.Shalkowski, and G.Oppy
(Bloomsbury 2014d), p. 83. Cf. Greg Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism: The Case for
Interpreting Abstract Objects as Divine Ideas (Oxford University: doctoral thesis, 2006), p.27,
where a fuller discussion of Weltys arguments, summarized in his essay with the same title, may
be found.
72
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), pp.10311.
Exposition 181

The grammatical argument for propositions takes propositions to be those things which are
the objects of propositional attitudes and the referents of that-clauses, things which are
intersubjectively available and mind-independent. Crucial to this argument is the assump-
tion that the syntactic properties of verbs are a prima facie guide to their semantic proper-
ties. This is true whether we are considering cognitive verbs (know, see, smell, taste, feel,
hear) or propositional verbs (intend, think, hope, wish, believe, judge, guess, consider).
Realists contend that neither the existence of disanalogies between cognitive and proposi-
tional verbs, nor an appeal to an adverbial theory of act-content, successfully undermines
this grammatical argument.
The quantificational argument for propositions is that (at least in certain cases) substi-
tutional quantification is not available as a way to interpret certain obvious truths, such as
there is a speck of interstellar dust that is so small and so distant from us and any other
language users there may be that no language user has any knowledge of it. Rather, we
must objectually quantify over propositions and thus be committed to their existence as
objects. . . .These entities have the property of being true but lack the property of being
expressed in a language.
According to the counterfactual argument for propositions, if we take propositions to be
contingently existing entities, then there seem to be counterfactual situations that cannot be
coherently described, such as if there had been no human beings, it would have been true
that there are no human beings. . . .Thus, its not merely that propositions exist (the gram-
matical and quantificational arguments), but that these truth-bearers exist necessarily (the
counterfactual argument).
Likewise, the modal argument for propositions contends that a view of propositions as
only contingently existing cannot accommodate the obvious modal intuition that there are
necessary truths.For if necessary means could not have failed to be true, then for the
contingency theorist no propositions are necessary, since ex hypothesi each could have
failed to be true, by failing to exist. But since it is obvious that some propositions are neces-
sary, it follows that the contingency view is mistaken, and that propositions must necessar-
ily exist.73

It is striking that Weltys arguments for realism, principally the grammatical and
quantificational arguments, are just instances of the Indispensability Argument for
the reality of abstract objects. If we reject, as I think we should, the metaontological
theses underlying the Indispensability Argument, then the nerve of Weltys case for
conceptualism will be cut. Divine conceptualism might remain a coherent option for
the classical theist, but it will not be incumbent upon him.
Alethicity An object has this property if it is something that can be true or false.
Implied by all four of Weltys arguments for realism about propositions, alethicity
is for Welty a central and defining characteristic of propositions. For the thrust of
those arguments is that we are committed to the reality of mind-independent truths.
Doxasticity An object has this property if it is something that can be believed or
disbelieved. As his grammatical argument makes plain, Welty takes propositions to
be the objects of doxastic attitudes. Hence, we do not merely believe that there are
such things as propositions. We also believe them. So on Weltys view propositions
must be existent objects which we believe.

73
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (essay), p.83; cf. idem, Theistic Conceptual Realism
(thesis), chap. 2.
182 5 Non-platonic Realism

Intentionality74 It follows from propositions alethicity and doxasticity that they


must also have intentionality or aboutness. Indeed, it is their intentionality that
explains propositions alethicity and doxasticity. For only if propositions make
claims about the worldthat is, represent the world as being a certain waycan they
be the sorts of things that can be true/false and believed/disbelieved. Welty writes,
Once we recognize the intentionality of propositions, we can see that alethicity is a corol-
lary of it. That is, the fact that proposition p has a truth-value (and indeed can have a truth-
value) presupposes the intentionality of p. For it is only because p is about
something represents it as being a certain way that p is susceptible to either correctly or
incorrectly representing something to be the case, that is, being true or false. Thus, ps
capacity to be truth-valued presupposes ps intentionality. The aboutness of p is what
enables it to make a claim, and it is the fact that it makes a claim that entails that it can be
true or false.
. . .what has been said here of alethicity can also be said on behalf of doxasticity. It too
presupposes intentionality. It is only because propositions make claims, and represent
something to be the case, that we can either agree or disagree that it correctly represents
what it claims to represent. This agreement or disagreement is constituted by our believing
or disbelieving the proposition in question.75

This condition is the crucial distinguishing condition between Platonic realism and
Weltys anti-Platonic realism. For while thoughts are intrinsically intentional, Welty
contends that abstract objects could have at best a derivative intentionality by being
conceived by persons.
Welty argues that ontological kind-economy is an explanatory virtue. We ought
not to multiply ontological kinds of things without reason. We are all of us already
committed to the reality of thoughts. Therefore if propositions can be taken to be
thoughts rather than abstract objects, we shall have an ontologically more parsimo-
nious theory of propositions and, hence, a better theory and, Welty would say, a
theory more likely to be true.
Plenitude Any adequate theory of propositions must guarantee that there are an
infinite number of propositions. To illustrate his point Welty cites Plantingas state-
ment, For each real number r, there is the proposition that r is distinct from the Taj
Mahal.
Necessity In order to secure the necessary truths which featured in the counterfac-
tual and modal arguments, propositions must be necessarily existing objects. This
condition, along with plenitude, will rule out any theory that takes propositions to
be human artifacts.
Welty argues along similar lines with respect to possible worlds. Possible
worldswhatever they might be, metaphysically speakingmust be necessarily
existing objects that represent the universe as being such-and-such, and that must be

74
In his doctoral thesis Welty rather misleadingly lists this condition as simplicity. But he is not
committed to the view that propositions are ontologically simple entities. Rather his point, as we
shall see, is that the simpler theory is to be preferred.
75
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), pp.11416.
Exposition 183

relevant in making it the case that the universe could be as they represent it to be.76
Again, four constraints upon any adequate theory of possible worlds, namely, objec-
tivity, necessity, representation, and relevance, will help determine what possible
worlds are. Welty lays down six conditions that any successful account of possible
worlds must meet77:
Objectivity Welty presents two main arguments for the reality of possible worlds.
Again, we content ourselves with his succinct summary of his lengthier exposition
in his doctoral thesis:
According to the argument from ordinary language, we are already committed to the exis-
tence of possible worlds (PWs) by way of our prephilosophical belief in ways things could
have been. This commitment is expressed in our ordinary language about the world, and
retaining this commitment leads to fewer difficulties than the attempt to paraphrase it
away.Interestingly enough, the ordinary language argument does not prove that PWs are
either concrete or abstract , but merely that they are entities that represent the world, and
therefore could be the kind of entities that either obtain (correctly representing the world)
or do not obtain (incorrectly representing the world). And for all we know from this argu-
ment, either concrete or abstract objects (as traditionally conceived) could play this role.
According to the argument from explanatory utility, commitment to PWs illuminates a
whole host of philosophical issues, and thus should be retained on the basis of this explana-
tory utility. Again, both abstractionists. . .and concretists. . .about PWs make this argu-
ment, each for their own ontological vision of PWs as either abstract or concrete.78

Like his arguments for propositional realism, Weltys arguments for realism about
possible worlds are predicated upon the metaontological assumptions underlying
the Indispensability Argument.
Representationality As we have just seen, Welty takes possible worlds to be rep-
resentations of how the world might have been. He explains, If they are (as the
ordinary language argument has it) ways the World (or universe) could be, then they
are about the World, representing it as such-and-such, and thus are the kind of enti-
ties that either obtain or do not obtain. Only one PW obtains, precisely because
every other PW incorrectly represents the World. Nevertheless, every other PW
represents the World as it could be.79 Moreover, possible worlds discourse

76
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (essay), p.84; idem, Theistic Conceptual Realism (the-
sis), p.63.
77
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), pp.14062; idem, Theistic Conceptual Realism
(essay), pp.8487.
78
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (essay), p.83; idem, Theistic Conceptual Realism (the-
sis), chap. 3.
79
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (essay), p.86; idem, Theistic Conceptual Realism (the-
sis), pp. 1458. Sometimes Welty speaks of possible worlds as representing how the universe
might have been. But this is merely a rhetorical device intended, like his capitalization of World,
to differentiate the concrete world in which we live from the possible worlds of possible worlds
semantics. Welty does not take God to be part of the universe even though God is part of the World
and is represented by possible worlds discourse. N.B. that if we reject the customary criterion of
ontological commitment, then it is unproblematic to say that possible worlds represent the World,
for the World need not be taken to be some sort of object. Since God is part of the World, we do
not want to say that God is part of some mereological sum which is an object in its own right. If
184 5 Non-platonic Realism

represents not only the world but also objects in the world. Citing David Lewis,
Welty notes that other possible worlds represent Hubert Humphrey as being in dif-
ferent ways.80 They tell us how Humphrey might have been. Thus, possible worlds
have a representative function not only for the world as a whole but for things in the
world.
Relevance Welty observes that one objection to both concretist and abstractionist
accounts of possible worlds is that on either construal possible worlds seem utterly
irrelevant to the phenomenon of modality. The worry here is that Even if possible
worlds are ways things could be, and thus represent the World as being such-and-
such, these representations must be relevant in making it the case that the World
could be as they represent it to be.81 Unfortunately, Weltys concern here seems to
be a misguided effort to find in possible worlds the truthmakers of modal discourse.
Welty asks, why would the existence of abstract objects (such as the maximal
states of affairs posited by Plantinga) be relevant to what is possible for me? Why
would these abstract objects be the truthmakers for modal statements? Why would
the existence of something that represents me as being so-and-so make it true that I
could be so-and-so?82 As we shall see, Plantinga does not think that possible worlds
are truthmakers of modal discourse, but that does not impair their utility, in his view,
since they do represent ways the world could be, while concretist views like Lewis
do not. The issue, then, is representationality, not relevance.
Intentionality83 Just as the intentionality of propositions follows from their aleth-
icity and doxasticity, so the intentionality of possible worlds follows from their
representationality and relevance. As Welty says, If they areways the World (or
universe) could be, then they are about the World, representing it as such-and-such
and so have intentionality.84

we retain the customary criterion, then Weltys claim that possible worlds are representations of
the World should be given up. They could still, however, represent things in the World.
80
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), pp.1478. The Lewis reference is David Lewis,
On the Plurality of Worlds (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), p.194.
81
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), pp.1556. He cites William Lycans misgivings
in this regard:
even if one throws together a system of actual objects that ape the group of non-actual
things or worlds we need, in the sense of being structurally isomorphic to that group of
things, why should we suppose that real possibility and other modalities in this world have
anything to do with specially configured sets of items, whether sentences or propositions or
matter-elements? It seems unlikely that what fundamentally makes it true that there could
have been talking donkeys is that there exists a fabulously complex set of some sort
(William Lycan, Possible Worlds and Possibilia, in Contemporary Readings in the
Foundations of Metaphysics, ed. Stephen Laurence and Cynthia Macdonald [Oxford:
Blackwell, 1998], p.92).
82
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), pp.1567.
83
Again, in his doctoral thesis Welty lists this condition as simplicity. He wants a theory that does
not multiply ontological kinds of things.
84
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (essay), p.86.
Exposition 185

The intentionality of possible worlds is best explained by conceptualism, in


Weltys view. For If spatiotemporal particulars derive their intentionality from the
intentionality of thinkers, why should it be any different for the intentionality of
abstract simples?Perhaps the reason why neither of these theories is particularly
illuminating on this matter of representation is because something fundamental has
been left out: the intrinsic intentionality of thoughts, from which all other intention-
ality is derived.85 Since the intentionality of possible worlds is ultimately derivative
from persons, an ontological kind to which we are already committed, conceptual-
ism enjoys the advantage of being the simpler theory.
If indeed the entities posited by set-theoretic nominalism, linguistic nominalism, and real-
ism ultimately receive their status as representations in virtue of the intrinsic intentionality
of thoughts, then the fortunes of these three positions are tied to those of conceptualism
itself. In short, advocates of these three positions initially advertised as distinct alterna-
tives to conceptualism are implicitly committed to some version of conceptualism any-
way, because in each case the status of possible worlds as representations requires the
conceptual activity of thinkers. In that case conceptualism would truly be the only game in
town, and its chief alternatives would be parasitic upon its adequacy, and therefore
superfluous.86

Such parasitic alternatives will not survive the application of Ockhams Razor.
Thus, presupposing the objectivity of possible worlds, Welty, like Leftow, sees con-
ceptualism as the best realist theory of possible worlds.
Plenitude The same sort of considerations that require an infinity of propositions
also require an infinity of possible worlds. This will doom any sort of human
conceptualism.
Necessity The realist must posit necessarily existing possible worlds if he is to
provide a theory of modality and modal relationships that secures the claims about
modality that he wishes to make. For the characteristic axioms of the modal systems
S4 and S5 require that modalities do not vary from world to world but are fixed.
Such necessity is, Welty holds, an irreducible and primitive notion.
Welty proceeds to argue that, given the foregoing constraints on any adequate
theory of propositions and possible worlds, theistic conceptual realism is the best
theory. According to this theory, propositions and possible worlds are, respectively,
divine thoughts of a certain sort.
So far as propositions are concerned, not all thoughts are capable of alethicity
and doxasticity, but some are. My thought of the letter B is not true or false or
capable of being believed; but my thought that B is a letter of the alphabet is. As
alluded to above, the chief advantage of conceptual realism over non-conceptual
realisms is its provision of intentionality. Drawing upon Tim Cranes analysis of
intentionality, Welty explains,
Thoughts have intentionality, which is to say they exhibit the two characteristics of direct-
edness and aspectual shape.

85
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), pp.1523.
86
Ibid., p.153.
186 5 Non-platonic Realism

Directedness is the apparently relational structure of intentionality, due to the fact that
every intentional state is about something else. A thought is always a thought of
something.
Aspectual shape denotes the perspectival or fine-grained nature of intentionality.
Objects of intentional states are always apprehended in a certain way. So, for instance, my
thought that Lewis Carroll authored Alice in Wonderland is not only about Lewis Carroll,
but also picks him out in a certain way, namely, as Lewis Carroll (the bearer of that name).
Thus, it would not be correct to report my thought as being that Charles Dodgson authored
Alice in Wonderland.87

Thoughts are thus well-suited to play the role of propositions. Indeed, Conceptualism
is simpler than [Platonic] realism because thoughts belong to an ontological cate-
gory which we already accept. There is no need to posit a third realm beyond the
material and the mental..88
Non-theistic conceptualism, however, fails the conditions of plenitude and neces-
sity, as we have seen. By contrast, theistic conceptual realism fulfills these condi-
tions along with the others. To fulfill the plenitude condition Welty appeals to divine
omniscience:
If God is omniscient, then at the very least, for any possible way things could be, God
knows whether or not he could bring it about. This is sufficient for God to have thoughts
that match the infinity of propositions that there must be. While there are surely proposi-
tions not thought of by any human being, due to lack of imagination or energy on their part,
or perhaps due to the complexity of the proposition in question, this is not the case with
God. And so the plenitude condition is easily satisfied.89

The appeal to Gods knowledge of what He can bring about might suggest that
Welty is endorsing what Leftow calls a deity theory of modality; but Welty denies
this. At this point he is merely trying to satisfy the plenitude condition, not explain
modality. Gods power comes into the mix only to guarantee that the scope of Gods
omniscience is wide enough for His thoughts to stand in for propositions.
Omniscience alone would require that Gods truth-evaluable thoughts are all true,
but we need Gods knowledge of His power, lest it be said that Gods thoughts are
not plenitudinous.
As for the necessity condition, Gods necessary existence and essential omni-
science serve to fulfill this condition. Welty explains,
On TCR, propositions are the thoughts of a divine person who necessarily exists, and who
necessarily has the thoughts which are designated as propositions on the theory in question.
This is why, in the preceding discussion of the plenitude condition, the range of divine
thoughts which were identified as propositions was explicitly defined with reference to
Gods self-knowledge of the range of his own power. Whatever one may say about the
contingent status of other thoughts which God may or may not have, this range of thoughts

87
Ibid., pp.11213. The relevant references are to Tim Crane, Intentionality as the Mark of the
Mental, in Current Issues in Philosophy of Mind, ed. A. OHear (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1998b), p.243; The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward Craig
(London: Routledge, 1998a), s.v. Intentionality, by Tim Crane, 2; idem, Elements of Mind
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp.1321.
88
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), p.118.
89
Ibid., p.126.
Exposition 187

does not change from possible world to possible world, precisely because they are indexed
to an immutable, essential feature of his divine nature: the divine power. God has these
thoughts in every possible situation in which he is God, as it were. And so there is no situ-
ation in which the thoughts which are identified as propositions on the theory in question,
are not had by God.90

Thus, God cannot fail to exist and cannot fail to have the thoughts which count as
necessarily true propositions.
Finally, what about objectivity? Because of Gods uniqueness and aseity, Gods
thoughts are independent of creatures, so that, in Weltys view, theistic conceptual
realism cannot, like psychologism, be indicted as unacceptably subjective. Like
Leftow, Welty endorses an ontology which takes thoughts to be concrete objects.
Although Welty often talks of abstract objects being divine thoughts, he makes it
quite clear that he is speaking merely functionally in this regard.91 He thinks, rather,
that propositions and possible worlds are divine thoughts and that Gods thoughts
are concrete. So in response to Paul Gould and Richard Davis contention that Gods
thoughts really are abstract objects, Welty rejoins, Gould/Davis hold that some-
thing most everyone else thinks are paradigmatically concrete objects (mental
states) are really A[bstract] O[bject]s.92 The difference between Leftow and Welty
regarding propositions is that whereas Leftow thinks that propositions are a conve-
nient fiction whose role can be filled by divine thoughts, Welty thinks that proposi-
tions just are Gods thoughts.
What, then, of possible worlds? The strength of theistic conceptual realism with
respect to possible worlds, says Welty, is due primarily to thoughts intrinsic inten-
tionality and relevance to modal claims. Possible worlds represent ways the world
could have been. In virtue of what do they represent? Welty answers, possible
worlds represent in virtue of the intentionality of thoughts. The aboutness or
directedness of thoughts explains the capacity of possible worlds to represent.93 In
order for a concrete object or an abstract object to represent something, what is
necessary is the stipulation of a person that such-and-such shall represent such-
and-such, and apart from said cognitive activity, nothing is representing anything,
strictly speaking..94
So possible worlds are divine thoughts. But they are not the same thoughts which
are propositions, for possible worlds have neither athethicity nor doxasticity and
therefore are not propositions. Rather they are divine thoughts of a different sort.
Welty distinguishes narrow intentionality (which entails alethicity and doxasticity)

90
Ibid., p.127.
91
Ibid., chap. 1; idem, Theistic Conceptual Realism (essay), in Beyond the Control of God, p.95.
92
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (essay), p. 108. Almost all of Weltys interlocutors in
Beyond the Control of God complain of Weltys misleading talk of abstract objects being divine
thoughts. Gould and Davis had charged, For Welty, divine thoughts are not abstract; they are
concrete. Therefore, we submit, Welty is a nominalist (Response to Greg Welty, p.100). Welty
is not a nominalist precisely because he takes thoughts to be concrete objects. He is a non-Platonic
realist, whereas nominalists are commonly understood to be anti-realists.
93
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), p.146.
94
Ibid., p.51.
188 5 Non-platonic Realism

from broad intentionality (which entails a capacity to represent). Possible worlds


are broadly intentional entities even if they are not narrowly intentional entities.
They exhibit directedness (they are about the universe) and aspectual shape (they
are fine-grained in their aboutness), but they fall short of alethicity and doxasticity.95
They are Gods thoughts of how the world might have been.
Welty finds an additional strength of theistic conceptual realism in its relevance.
Here Welty is raising the same question as Leftow with respect to the truthmakers
of modal statements. Without offering a full-blown theory, as Leftow does, Welty
claims that TCR, in contrast toother nominalist, conceptualist, and realist theo-
ries of possible worlds, goes some way towards providing a broader context in
which the nature of the possible worlds does in fact shed light on their relevance for
various modal claims.96 Possible worlds are thoughts or ideas which represent the
entire range of ways God could have created. By created, I take it that Welty is
speaking loosely, since God is part of the world and God does not create Himself.
The idea here seems to be that these various possible worlds represent the way real-
ity could have been, had God exercised His power differently. In knowing the range
of His power, God knows all the worlds that are possible.97 Thus, Gods thoughts
help to explain certain modal facts:
Because, necessarily, any World which exists is intelligently created via the realisation of a
divine idea, these divine ideas (of the range of the divine power) sustain a unique relation-
ship to any World which in fact exists: the possible features of any World are constrained
(quite literally) by the content of the divine ideas. Modal facts about the World what can
possibly be the case in any World you please are grounded in something which obtains
independently of the World: the divine self-knowledge.But this means that a range of the
divine ideas not only constitute possible worlds, but these ideas are relevant in making it the
case that the possibilities for any World are what they in fact are.98

Like Leftow, Welty distinguishes modal truths about God, which are constrained
by the divine nature logically prior to Gods knowledge of the range of His power,
and secular modal truths, which are constrained by the divine nature as reflected in
the divine ideas, since (unlike possibilities for God himself) what could be the case
for creation could only be the case through the realisation of a divine idea.99 I take

95
Ibid., p.150.
96
Ibid., p.158.
97
Later Welty will add,
Gods omniscience ought to be understood in light of his aseity. The best way to do this is
to construe such omniscience as his self-knowledge. That is, God perfectly knows himself,
and in knowing himself, he knows all creatures, both possible and actual.
More particularly, Gods knowledge of possible things is his knowledge of his own power,
while his knowledge of actual things is his knowledge of his own will (Ibid., pp.21516).
98
Ibid., pp.15960.
99
Ibid., p.161. Cf. his comment, the divine thoughts constitute the existence of all propositions
(whether truth or false, necessary or contingent), whereas the divine essence (specifically, the
divine power) is the truth-maker for necessary truths (Ibid., p. 221). Since possible truths are
necessarily possible, it follows that the divine essence determines what is possible. See further his
response to Objection 5 on pp.2436.
Exposition 189

it from this remark that Welty is here endorsing what Leftow calls a deity theory, as
opposed to Leftows voluntaristic account of secular modal truths. Like Leftow,
Welty recognizes that his account leaves primitive modal truths about Gods nature
and power unexplained, but reductionistic theories are doomed to failure anyway.100
At least theistic conceptual realism makes some advance, he says, in explaining
modal truths and so in showing the relevance of possible worlds as truthmakers of
secular modal statements.
Theistic conceptual realism meets the conditions of necessity and plenitude as
well because the divine thoughts which are possible worlds are the thoughts of a
necessarily existent person who necessarily knows the range of his own omnipo-
tence, which is, in turn, an essential feature of the divine nature.
Welty thinks that theistic conceptual realism thus trumps easily other realisms
concerning possible worlds, since absent a mind, these other theories fail in the
most fundamental respects. Simplicity considerations will do away with any sort of
theistic Platonism, for possible worlds conceptualism is simpler than (traditional)
realism, which assigns possible worlds to a primitive ontological category which is
neither material nor mental.101 Once we have Gods thoughts, abstract possible
worlds become superfluous.
So on Weltys view propositions and possible worlds are not abstract objects but
rather are concrete entities, namely, divine thoughts of different sorts. One of the
peculiarities of Weltys conceptualism is that these concrete entities are said to be
uncreated.102 In order to avoid the bootstrapping problem that plagues absolute cre-
ationism, Welty denies that the relation between God and His thoughts is causal. He
believes that absolute creationism succumbs in the end to a series of successful
objections, primarily because it construes the dependence relation between God and
abstract objects in terms of causation (more specifically, creation).103 But Weltys
version of theistic conceptual realism purges absolute creationism of all causal, cre-
ative language and restricts itself to positing an identity relation between Gods
thoughts and propositions and possible worlds.104 He concedes that a causal account
is a very plausible account of the thinker/thought relation in human beings.105 But
he refuses to extend such a model to Gods case. His motivation for denying a causal

100
Welty later comments,
As with any actualist conception of possible worlds, TCR does not claim to give a reduc-
tive analysis of modality. Rather, modal facts about God ground modal facts about the
world. In this connection it is crucial to remember that, because of the divine aseity, it is
simply a brute fact that God is the kind of God he is, with the powers that he has (Ibid.,
p.220).
101
Ibid., p.149.
102
On my model, God in no way creates abstract objects. Rather, a particular range of the uncre-
ated divine thoughts function as abstract objects (Ibid., p.213; cf. p.222).
103
Ibid., p.192.
104
Ibid., p.210.
105
Ibid., p.193.
190 5 Non-platonic Realism

account in Gods case seems to be just the need to avoid the bootstrapping
objection:
there is a serious question as to whether the thinker/thought model ought to be extended
from the human context with which we are most familiar, to the divine context. Ought we
to hold that God literally creates or causes his thoughts? Does this not imply that God cre-
ates his own attribute of omniscience (since divine omniscience is constituted by the
thoughts in question)? If so, then we are in for a real shocker: the problems about God creat-
ing himself or creating his nature would not just be an unfortunate quirk of theistic activism,
but would attach to traditional theism itself. This is probably as good a reason as any to
resist extending the thinker/thought model construed in any causal sense to the divine
context.106

It is worth observing that the bootstrapping problem will attach to theism itself,
given a causal account of the thinker/thought relation, only if one is a realist about
properties (and other abstracta). Since on anti-realism there is no such object as
omniscience, Gods causing His thoughts, as we do ours, does not bring His proper-
ties into being. If there is a problem here, it is a problem only for realists.
Now if we hold, as Welty does, that Gods thoughts are uncreated entities, then
has the sting of Platonism really been removed? Have we not merely substituted
uncreated, concrete entities for uncreated, abstract entities? I do not find that Welty
directly addresses this worry. He does claim that his theistic conceptual realism
violates neither the sovereignty nor the aseity intuition. But his defense of that claim
fails to connect with the present worry. With respect to the sovereignty intuition
Welty says, Since it is not clear that these thoughts are distinct from God in the
sense of being creatures, it is not clear that Gods inability to think something
other than these thoughts i.e., put these thoughts out of existence somehow vio-
lates his sovereignty (since sovereignty ranges over what God has created).107 Yes,
on Weltys model Gods thoughts are not distinct from God in the sense of being
creatures because Welty has denied that the relation between God and His thoughts
is one of causation or creation, so Gods thoughts cannot be creatures. But that is
precisely the problem. They are entities which are distinct from God in the sense
that they are not identical to God, and yet they are not creatures but are entities
uncreated by God. Even if we agree with Welty that God thinks some of His thoughts
necessarily, still we seem to be stuck with a realm of entities which are distinct from
God and uncreated by God. Why does this not violate the aseity intuition? Welty
replies, on TCR, abstract objects are not created (and thus a fortiori not created
according to an exemplar), and so the aseity question does not arise. God has (at
least some of) the thoughts he has, because of his essential omniscience about him-
self (in particular, about his power). Thus, the possession of these thoughts by God
is rooted in something that has traditionally been ascribed to God.108 This response
seems to be addressing a quite different worry, namely, why God has the thoughts
He essentially has. But I take the doctrine of divine aseity to affirm that God is the

106
Ibid., p.225.
107
Ibid., p.224.
108
Ibid., p.226.
Assessment 191

only uncreated being. The concern is that by postulating a realm of concrete entities
which are uncreated by God, Weltys conceptualism has violated the aseity intu-
ition. If that is the case, then the problem which motivates our inquiry remains
unsolved.

Assessment

Conceptualism will be an attractive view for theists who feel the force of realist
arguments for abstract objects and yet who want the preserve classical theisms
commitment to God as the sole ultimate reality. Indeed, conceptualism is histori-
cally the mainstream position among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Arguments forRealism

Still, the question arises as to whether the arguments for realism are, in fact, as
strong as conceptualists think. Neither Leftow nor Welty, for whatever reason, takes
much cognizance of anti-realist views. It is not until the final paragraph of his book
that Leftow acknowledges this oversight: theism yields the best realist account of
modality. The anti-realist options include conventionalism, fictionalism, and projec-
tivism.My full treatment of modal anti-realism must await another occasion.109
It is noteworthy how incomplete Leftows list of anti-realist options is.
Conventionalism, holding as it does that there is no fact of the matter concerning the
existence of abstract objects, is really a form of arealism, not anti-realism. I am
unsure what Leftow means by projectivism, but anti-realist options include in addi-
tion to fictionalism such views as figuralism, neutralism, constructibilism, modal
structuralism, pretense theory, neo-Meinongianism, and so on.
Leftow, it will be recalled, treats dismissively the following two anti-realist solu-
tions to the challenge to divine ultimacy posed by abstracta:
(i) Deny that modal truths have an ontology.
or
(iii) Adopt a safe ontology that does not conflict with divine ultimacy.
Why should we think these options untenable? Leftow classes conventionalism
and fictionalism as versions of the no ontology view.110 Contrary to this view,
Leftow maintains that truth must have an ontology.111 Although Leftow speaks
freely of truthmakers throughout his book, he insists that truths having an ontology

109
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.551.
110
Ibid., p.540.
111
Ibid., pp.245.
192 5 Non-platonic Realism

is a weaker claim than the claim that they have truthmakers. Unfortunately, his
understanding of even truthmakers is so thin that the notion of truths having an
ontology becomes utterly obscure.112 At one point Leftow asks whether, if there
were absolutely nothing, it would be the case that 2 + 2 = 4. If you think not, then
you accept that the latter claim has some ontology.113 What is the theist to make of
this? If, per impossibile, there were no God, then, I suppose, we might agree that
nothing would be the case. But truths having an ontology in this sense goes no
distance toward supporting realist claims that the singular terms 2 + 2 and 4
have real world referents, whether divine thoughts or abstract objects. The anti-
realist could agree with Leftow in embracing solution
(iv) Make God the ontological foundation of modality.
and rejecting premise
3. If a necessary truth not about God has an ontology, all of it lies outside God.
without thinking that mathematical singular terms refer to things in the mind of
God.114 To characterize anti-realist solutions as no ontology solutions in Leftows
sense is therefore highly misleading. Anti-realist solutions might perhaps be better
classed as safe ontology solutionsexcept that Leftows discussion of that option
then fails to connect with them, for he takes safe ontology solutions to be conven-
tionalist or psychological (a.k.a. conceptualist) views of necessity.115
Leftow also contends that necessary truths, even if they have no truthmakers,
involve an ontological commitment to the truths themselves.116 But a deflationary
nominalism, such as features in neutralism, would avoid such a commitment, since
it takes the truth predicate to be merely a device of semantic ascent, a way of talking
about a proposition P rather than asserting that P. Moreover, Leftows contention
serves to raise the metaontological question of what sort of criterion of ontological
commitment Leftow is presupposing. Although he does not explicitly address this
question, in a number of places throughout his book he seems to presuppose the
customary view that we are committed to the existence of the values of variables
bound by the first-order, existential quantifier and to the referents of singular terms
in sentences we take to be true.117 But, as we shall see in the sequel, this metaonto-
logical thesis is eminently challengeable and so cannot be merely assumed. In short,
as Leftow himself acknowledges, much more remains to be said about anti-realist
solutions to the problem of God and abstract objects.

112
Recall his statement that To say that a truth has a truthmaker in my sense is just to say that its
truth-conditions are met, by its ontology being such as to do so.As I use the term, that Fido is
brown has a truthmaker says little more than that Fido is brown is true. Take all subsequent talk of
truthmakers in this thin sense (Ibid., pp.823).
113
Ibid., p.25; cf. pp.54950.
114
N.B. how Leftow slides from having an ontology to referring to certain objects (p.81).
115
Ibid., p.66.
116
Ibid., p.49.
117
E.g., pp.77, 81, 96, 307, 4801, 511.
Assessment 193

Leftows rejection of anti-realist solutions because of ontological commitments


brings immediately to mind Weltys arguments for realism about propositions and
possible worlds. Welty assumes without question the customary criterion of onto-
logical commitment on the basis of first-order existential quantification and refer-
ence via singular terms. Weltys grammatical argument for realism about propositions
takes propositions to be those things which are the objects of propositional attitudes
and the referents of that-clauses. It is essentially an argument from singular terms
referring to propositions to realism about propositions. The argument assumes (i)
that successfully referring singular terms are ontologically committing and (ii) that
that-clauses are singular terms. In our discussion of neutralism, we shall see reason
to doubt both of these assumptions.
In defense of assumption (i) Welty suggests that the realist may revise the cus-
tomary criterion of ontological commitment to require merely that objects denoted
by singular terms in true sentences must exist, unless we have a good reason for
thinking otherwise.118 But I see no reason, in view of the pervasiveness in ordinary
language of singular terms lacking real world objects as their referents,119 to think
that there exists any such presumption. Rather, if the neutralist is correct, we ought
to be simply neutral about the speakers ontological commitments unless we have
good reason to think that he does or does not intend to make such a commitment.
In defense of assumption (ii), Welty concedes that fearing and desiring are not
propositional attitudes, that is, do not have propositions as their objects; but he sees
these as exceptional. He claims that if instances of an attitude are true or false, then
that attitude is a propositional attitude.120 But that seems clearly wrong. In Susan
fears that her son was killed, the instance is truth evaluable, but clearly Susan
doesnt fear a proposition. Indeed, in the paradigmatic case of believing, while it
makes sense to say that a person is the object of belief, as in The jury believed the
star witness, it is as inept to say that someone believes a proposition as that he fears
a proposition. Like fearing that, believing that is plausibly, as Arthur Prior
claims, a sentential connective.121 Welty rejoins that regarding such expressions as
sentential connectives cannot account for unspecified that-clauses, for example,
John believes everything that Jack believes. But, obviously, in the sentence John
believes everything that Jack believes the word that is a relative pronoun (like
which), not a conjunction, as in John believes that ____. Far from being a
counter-example, this statement merely involves a different grammatical use of the
word that.
Weltys quantificational argument for propositional realism amounts to an argu-
ment against substitutional quantification and for objectual quantification. He
assumes uncritically that objectual quantification is ontologically committing,
which we shall see reason to question.122 Even in his response to my own e xplication

118
Greg Welty, Response to Critics, in Beyond the Control of God?, p.131.
119
See Chap. 1, pp.213; Chap. 11, pp.4534.
120
Welty, Response to Critics, p.109.
121
See Chap. 11, p.469.
122
See Chap. 11, pp.44753.
194 5 Non-platonic Realism

of a neutralist view of first-order existential quantification and again in his Response


to Critics in Beyond the Control of God, Welty just reiterates an argument against
substitutional quantification.123 This betrays misunderstanding, for neutralism con-
cerns precisely objectual, not substitutional quantification. Neutralism does not
repudiate the customary semantics of quantificational discourse but rather the cus-
tomary criterion of ontological commitment.
Weltys counterfactual argument concerning propositions aims to show that
propositions cannot exist merely contingently, since there are counterfactual situa-
tions that could then not be coherently described; for example, If there were no
human beings, it would have been true that there are no human beings. As we shall
see in the sequel, a deflationary view of truth, according to which the truth predicate
is true is just a device of semantic ascent, rejects this counterfactual as false.
Rather than talk about truth, we can descend semantically and truly affirm, for
example, that, necessarily, if God had not created the world, human beings would
not exist. The anti-realist need not affirm the contingency of propositions; rather he
more plausibly denies that propositions exist (in a metaphysically heavy sense).
Finally, Weltys modal argument concerning propositions also targets the person
who thinks that propositions exist merely contingently; such a one must deny that
there are any necessary propositions, which, Welty observes, is obviously false. But
again, the anti-realist position need not be that propositions exist contingently but,
more plausibly, that they do not exist at all. The modal argument collapses into the
quantificational argument, since it assumes that Some propositions are necessary
is ontologically committing. If we do stipulate that we are speaking in a metaphysi-
cally heavy sense, then the anti-realists denial that there are (necessary) proposi-
tions is no obstacle to his truly affirming, for example, that God is necessarily good
or that, necessarily, 2 + 2 = 4. There is no reason to ascend semantically and talk
about the truth value of propositions instead. When Welty in response asks what one
then means by Necessarily, 2 + 2 = 4, he seems to be conflating giving the mean-
ing of a sentence with offering an account of the sentences truth conditions.124
There is just no trouble understanding what this simple sentence means; for exam-
ple, that 2 + 2 could not but be 4. The anti-realist can, if he wants, employ the useful
fiction of possible worlds to provide the usual semantics for stating the truth condi-
tions of such a sentence.
That forms a nice segue to Weltys arguments for realism about possible worlds.
His argument from ordinary language involves the outrageously implausible claim
that ordinary language commits us ontologically to such bizarre objects as ways
the world might have been. Even Quine would not have countenanced the applica-
tion of his criterion of ontological commitment to ordinary language in view of the
fantastic objects to which such application would commit us. There is no need, as
Welty assumes, to resort to paraphrase to eliminate expressions like There is a
quicker way to Berkeley from Stanford than going through San Jose if such

123
Welty, Response to Craig, in Beyond the Control of God?, pp.130131; idem, Response to
Critics, p.170.
124
Response to Craig, p.109.
Assessment 195

e xpressions are not taken to be ontologically committing to ways.125 Here we see


Weltys uncritical assumption of metaontological theses which the anti-realist may
plausibly challenge.
Weltys argument from the explanatory utility of possible worlds discourse is
unpersuasive precisely because possible worlds may be plausibly taken to be useful
fictions adopted because of their utility in illuminating modal discourse.126 They are
akin to ideal gases, frictionless planes, points at infinity, and other useful fictions
employed in scientific theories. Incredibly, Welty seems to think that possible
worlds are what make modal discourse true. This seems clearly wrongheaded, since,
as Welty himself points out, possible worlds semantics presupposes a primitive
notion of modality in affirming, for example, that a maximal state of affairs (or
world) includes only states of affairs which are compossible. This obviously cannot
be explicated in terms of truth in a possible world without vicious circularity. Thus,
Alvin Plantinga writes,
we cant sensibly explain necessity as truth in all possible worlds; nor can we say that ps
being true in all possible worlds in [sic] what makes p necessary. It may still be extremely
useful to note the equivalence of p is necessary and p is true in all possible worlds: it is
useful in the way diagrams and definitions are in mathematics; it enables us to see connec-
tions, entertain propositions and resolve questions that could otherwise be seen, entertained
and resolved only with the greatest difficulty if at all.127

What Welty fails to show is that, absent the customary criterion of ontological com-
mitment, the evident utility of possible worlds in illuminating modal discourse
requires realism with respect to worlds.
It is striking how Weltys prima facie diverse arguments for realism about propo-
sitions and possible worlds are virtually all incarnations of the old Quine-Putnam

125
Welty retorts,
The argument from ordinary discourse might strike Craig as less outrageously implausi-
ble (101) if he were to state the actual argument, which not only says that prephilosophical
belief in ways things could have been. . .is expressed in our ordinary language about the
world, but that retaining this commitment leads to fewer difficulties than the attempt to
paraphrase it away (83, emphasis mine). Alas, Craig doesnt offer us any paraphrases, so
we cannot test them for plausibility (Welty, Response to Craig, in Beyond the Control of
God, p.109).

Obviously, this retort will not do, since the need to resort to paraphrase assumes the customary
criterion of ontological commitment. He who rejects that criterion has no need of paraphrase to
avoid the unwanted ontological commitments of ordinary language.
126
Ironically, Welty seems to have missed the implication of a statement he cites from Theodore
Sider: Possible worlds are ubiquitous in metaphysics, and are frequently utilized in semantics,
ethics, probability theory, philosophy of mind, and many other contexts. The suitability of possible
worlds for these other purposes is largely independent of their ontological status (Theodore Sider,
Reductive Theories of Modality, in The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics, ed. Michael J.Loux
and Dean W.Zimmerman [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003], 3.1, cited by Welty, Theistic
Conceptual Realism [thesis], p.91).
127
Alvin Plantinga, Replies, in Alvin Plantinga, ed. Jas. Tomberlin, Profiles (Dordrecht:
D.Reidel, 1985), p.378.
196 5 Non-platonic Realism

Indispensability Argument. If that argument proves to be, as I think it to be, emi-


nently resistible, then the theist has no good reason to become a realist concerning
putative abstract objects and, hence, no good reason to become a conceptualist.
Conceptualism might remain an option for the classical theist, but it is not, as Leftow
and Welty believe, incumbent upon him.

The Promise ofConceptualism

So should we become conceptualists? The great advantage of conceptualism is that


it promises to safeguard divine aseity in the face of the challenge of Platonism. Does
it make good on that promise? As noted above, since Welty takes Gods thoughts to
be actually existing things which are causally independent of God, his conceptual-
ism does admit into ones ontology the existence of uncreated objects which are not
identical to God. Is that theologically acceptable? Answering that question requires
us to address a couple of further questions: (i) What is the relationship between God
and His thoughts? (ii) Does the existence of uncreated divine thoughts compromise
Gods aseity?
With respect to the first question, if, with Leftow, we take Gods thoughts to
depend causally upon God for their existence, then such objects do not exist a se,
and God remains the sole ultimate reality.128 But Welty stoutly resists the claim that
God is the cause of His thoughts. This denial strikes me as both implausible and ad
hoc. As Gould and Davis point out in response to Welty, the relation between a
thought and a thinker is most naturally understood as a productive relation: the
thinker produces his thoughts.129 So Gods thoughts are plausibly taken to be pro-
duced by God. Thinking, after all, is something that God does; it is an activity, even
if timeless, in which God is engaged. The result of such activity is Gods thoughts.
That plausibly suffices for a causal relation. Welty admits, as we have seen, that for
human thinkers the relation between a thinker and his thoughts involves the causal
dependence of thoughts upon the person who thinks them. So far as I can see, Welty
offers no reason why this relationship should not similarly characterize God and His
thoughtsapart from the fact that conceptualism would then become susceptible to
the same bootstrapping problem that plagues absolute creationism.130 But the anti-
realist, for example, would not take conceptualisms vulnerability to that problem to
justify denying that Gods thoughts depend causally upon God. Rather it would

128
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.303: God causes mental events.
129
Gould and Davis, Response to Welty, p. 99; cf. Weltys own development of this point in
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), pp.19294. Gould and Davis are clearly echoing
Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, p.121.
130
See Welty, Response to Critics, p. 108; Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis),
pp.22226. Cf. his response on p.234 to Plantingas claim that if propositions are divine thoughts,
then these objects can enter into the sort of causal relation that holds between a thought and a
thinker (Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function, p.121).
Assessment 197

serve as good reason to reject conceptualism! We have seen that on anti-realism


there is no need to deny the causal dependence of Gods thoughts upon God in order
to safeguard theism itself. Weltys rejection of that causal dependence is thus unac-
ceptably ad hoc, a move made only to save his theory.
Moreover, even if we do not construe the dependence of Gods thoughts upon
God as a causal relation, still there is undisputedly an asymmetric dependence rela-
tion between God and His thoughts: Gods thoughts depend upon God for their
existence, not vice versa. But, as we have seen, Bergmann and Brower formulate the
bootstrapping objection in such a way that the dependence of properties, proposi-
tions, and so forth upon God need not be taken to involve a causal or creative rela-
tion in order to generate a vicious circularity.131 If they are right, then Weltys denial
of a causal relation between God and His thoughts is not only implausible and ad
hoc but unavailing.
But would, as Welty fears, the affirmation of the causal dependence of Gods
thoughts upon God, in fact, render conceptualism susceptible to the bootstrapping
problem? I think not. For that problem arises, not, as Welty thinks, from the causal
dependence thesis, but rather, as we saw in our discussion of absolute creationism,
from the Platonists ontological assay of things.132 Consider again Bergmann and
Browers intuitive statement of the bootstrapping objection:
If a view such as theistic activism is true, then every property (or exemplifiable) will be a
product of Gods creative activity. But this implies the general principle that, for any prop-
erty F, Gods creating F is a prerequisite for, and hence logically prior to, F. Notice, how-
ever, that in order to create F, God must have the property of being able to create a property.
Here is where the trouble begins.133

Where the trouble begins for the absolute creationist is where the conceptualist
should part company with him. For on divine conceptualism, universals are neither
subsistent objects in the world nor constituents in things, but rather thoughts in
Gods mind. Thus, logically prior to Gods conceiving them, there are no universals.
That does not imply that apart from Gods conceptions, there are no wise men and
no brown dogs, but just no wisdom and no brownness. Thus, the conceptualist
should insist that it is false that in order to conceive a property F, God must have the
property of being able to conceive a property. To be sure, in order to conceive F, God
must be able to conceive a property, but He need not have the property being able to
conceive a property in order to be able to conceive a property.
Therefore, the conceptualist should reject Bergmann and Browers assumption.
A4. xs being able to create an F = xs exemplifying being able to create an F.

131
See p.152. Recall that Bergmann and Brower reformulate their original argument so that what
is at stake is not Gods creation of properties but merely properties (non-causal) dependence upon
God (Bergmann and Brower, Against Platonism, p.374).
132
See pp.15861.
133
Bergmann and Brower, Against Platonism, p.366.
198 5 Non-platonic Realism

For logically prior to Gods creating (or conceiving) an F God is able to create an F,
but that is not to say that He at that logically prior moment exemplifies the property
being able to create an F.
The conceptualist regards propositions, like properties, as divine thoughts, so
that logically prior to Gods conceptions there are no truth-bearers yet and so no
truths. Thus, contrary to Bergmann and Browers propositional version of their
argument, logically prior to Gods creating a proposition God must, admittedly, be
able to create a proposition, but that is not to say that at that moment it is true that
God is able to create a proposition. Bergmann and Brower have confounded the
claim that It is true that at that prior moment God was able to create a proposition
with the claim that At that prior moment it was true that God is able to create a
proposition.
Without (A4) Bergmann and Browers
6. Gods exemplifying being able to create an exemplifiable is logically prior to
Gods creating an exemplifiable.
will not follow from their
5. Gods being able to create an exemplifiable is logically prior to Gods creating an
exemplifiable.
The conceptualist may agree that Gods being able to create an exemplifiable is
logically prior to His actually doing so, but without (A4) one cannot equate Gods
being able to create an exemplifiable with His exemplifying being able to create an
exemplifiable. Without this key step in the argument the vicious circularity which
comes to expression in
7. The exemplifiable being able to create an exemplifiable is logically prior to
Gods creating an exemplifiable.
will not follow.
What is at stake in the bootstrapping objection, then, is not the (causal) depen-
dence of Gods thoughts upon God but rather ones ontological assay of things.
Platonism offers an ontological assay of things in terms of substances and properties
which are exemplified by those substances. Since absolute creationists typically
accept the ontological assay offered by Platonism, they are immediately confronted
with a severe bootstrapping problem, since logically prior to His creation of proper-
ties God is either a featureless particular or non-existent, in which case He is impo-
tent to create properties. By contrast, the conceptualist rejects the Platonists
ontological assay of things. Wise men and brown dogs exist, but the brownness and
the wisdom are Gods thoughts. Were, per impossibile, God not to conceive of them,
there would still be wise men and brown dogs, but no universals. By rejecting the
Platonists ontological assay, the conceptualist may hold coherently that logically
prior to His conceptions God is as He is without standing in an exemplification rela-
tion to properties.
Which leaves one wondering: why, if he rejects the Platonists ontological assay,
should the conceptualist adopt the Platonists metaphysics of predication? Why
Assessment 199

think that an account of predication should be provided in terms of properties or


exemplifiables? After all, if logically prior to His conceiving properties God is the
way He is without exemplifying properties, does not this already yield the palm of
victory to anti-realist? This, I think, is a very good question. If God can be omnipo-
tent without exemplifying the property of omnipotence, what need is there for a
realist account of predication? If God is able to conceive propositions without its
being true that God can conceive propositions, what need is there for a realist
account of propositions? If God can conceive of possible worlds without there being
a possible world in which God conceives of them, why adopt a realist theory of pos-
sible worlds? Once one successfully deals with the bootstrapping objection, then
realism seems to become superfluous.
That brings us to the second question posed above: if we do concede that Gods
thoughts are uncreated objects, would the existence of uncreated divine thoughts
compromise Gods aseity? Gods thoughts, if they are objects, are just as distinct
from God or non-identical to God as abstracta would be. They are literally beings
which are not God. Allowing that such things exist uncreatedly thus seems to com-
promise divine aseity. Yet there is intuitively a sense, difficult to articulate, in which
abstract objects exist outside God that makes their uncreated existence theologi-
cally unacceptable, whereas divine thoughts exist inside God and so do not seem
to violate divine aseity as do uncreated abstracta. But how are we to make sense of
the metaphorical, spatial language of inside and outside God? I have spoken of
Gods being the creator of everything that exists apart from God. Abstract objects,
if they exist, are somehow part of the world in a way that Gods thoughts are not. If
the world did not exist, there would be neither concrete nor abstract objects, but God
and His thoughts would still exist.
Recall Leftows explication of his claim that God is the Source of All that is
outside him134:
GSA.For all x, if x is not God, a part, aspect, or attribute of God, or an event, God makes
the creating-ex-nihilo sort of causal contribution to xs existence as long as x exists.

Leftow does not, unfortunately, define his terms. What counts as a part of God? We
might take the persons of the Trinity to be parts of God which, though not God, exist
acceptably a se. Leftow does not tell us what an aspect is. Could Gods thoughts be
taken to be aspects of God which similarly exist acceptably a se? Perhaps, though,
as we have seen, Leftow himself takes Gods thoughts to be mental events.135 Leftow
later walks back his claim that events are exceptions to creatio ex nihilo,136 and he
holds that Gods mental events are caused by God, so that divine mental events do
not violate the revised (GSA). Attributes of God would include omnipotence, omni-
science, omnipresence, and the like. Oddly, Leftows statement of (GSA) might be
construed by the Platonist to allow that the abstract entities which are Gods proper-
ties do exist acceptably a se. Absolute creationists like Gould and Davis want simply

134
Leftow, God and Necessity, p.20.
135
Ibid., pp.3023.
136
Ibid., pp.767.
200 5 Non-platonic Realism

to exempt Gods attributes from being created by God in order to stave off the boot-
strapping objection and so would be happy with (GSA)s exempting attributes. Such
an interpretation would pervert Leftows intention, but it underlines the difficulty of
explaining what it means to differentiate between things inside and outside
God.
The anti-realist might plausibly claim that we can cut this Gordian knot by deny-
ing that divine thoughts are objects or things that really exist.137 That is not to deny
that God is thinking. Rather it is to claim that thoughts are just one more example of
our inveterate tendency toward reification and nominalization. For example, we are
planning to go to the beach tomorrow and so speak of our plans for tomorrow, we
hunt deer in the fall and so speak of deer-hunting in the fall, we hesitate when learn-
ing of the proposed re-structuring and so speak of our hesitations about the pro-
posal, without thinking that we are thereby ontologically committing ourselves to
entities of these sorts. Similarly God thinks that Columbus discovers the New World
in 1492, and so we speak of Gods thought that Columbus discovers the New World
in 1492. There is no more reason to add thoughts to our ontological inventory of
things than hesitations or plans. If the realist points to our quantifying over divine
thoughts and the impossibility of paraphrasing away such quantifying expressions,
then the anti-realist should explain his doubts about the customary criterion of onto-
logical commitment that delivers so inflationary an ontology. The anti-realist will
hold that God thinks all the things that the conceptualist says He does, but the anti-
realist will not reify Gods thinking into objects which exist in addition to God
Himself. Anti-realism about Gods thoughts removes the need to distinguish
between objects which exist inside God and those which exist outside God,
since Gods thoughts are not objects. Neither are His attributes, of course. Aspects

Cf. Peter van Inwagens objection to divine conceptualism on the basis of his doubts about
137

admitting thoughts or mental eventsindeed, events of any sortinto ones ontology. He says,
I have to say that that seems to me to be an ontologically profligate thesis. Why should one
suppose that, simply because I come to exemplify a certain property at a certain time, there
is something there in addition to me and the property and the time? Those three objects
seem to me to [sic; supply be] the only objects that need figure in an adequate description
of, as we say, what happened. There are, I would say, no events. That is to say, all statements
that appear to involve quantification over events can be paraphrased as statements that
involve quantification over objects, properties, and timesand the paraphrase leaves noth-
ing out (Peter van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated Things, in Metaphysics and God,
ed. Kevin Timpe [London: Routledge, 2009b], p.14).

As his allusion to quantification and paraphrase indicates, van Inwagen accepts the customary
criterion of ontological commitment. If we deny that metaontological assumption, as neutralists
do, the thesis that events exist becomes all the more ontologically profligate, for even if we must
quantify over them, that implies nothing about ontological commitment, any more than does our
quantifying over objects, properties, and times. N.B. that in rejecting events van Inwagen seems to
assume that the indispensability of quantifying over certain items is not merely a sufficient condi-
tion of ontological commitment, but a necessary condition, a very radical thesis, indeed. But see
Peter van Inwagen, Dispensing with Ontological Levels: an Illustration, Disputatio 6 [2014a]:
3840, where he argues against events due to the impossibility of assigning a complete and consis-
tent set of properties to them.
Assessment 201

of a thinglike the southern exposure of ones house or a persons health or


financial statusare paradigm examples of abstractions that do not really exist.
That leaves only undetached parts as things in their own right, and even that is con-
troversial. We can, if we like, leave Gods concrete parts as real objects which are
exceptions to Gods creating everything other than Himself without compromising
divine aseity, I think. For plausibly if something creates non-successively all its
parts, it creates itself, which, apart from its apparent metaphysical impossibility,
would render God a created being. So God cannot create His parts, and yet, being
parts of God, these objects are clearly not examples of things existing a se apart
from God. If undetached parts are not really existing objects, so much the better!
The anti-realist theist may thus espouse a stronger version of (GSA), namely,
GSA*. For all x, if x is not God or a concrete part of God, God makes the creating-ex-nihilo
sort of causal contribution to xs existence as long as x exists.

This thesis yields a greater concept of divine aseity and so of God. If we go this
route, however, then conceptualism is just misconceived. It foists upon the theist an
inflated ontology of mental events which I see no reason to embrace. Indeed, Leftow
and Weltys own appeals to ontological kind-economy would cut against adopting
conceptualism, with its added kind of entity, namely, mental events or thoughts.

Worries About Conceptualism

Suppose, however, we do go the conceptualist route of taking Gods thoughts to be


objects which are causally dependent upon God. Such a position would meet the
demands of realism without vicious circularity and would not compromise divine
aseity. It would therefore seem to be an attractive option for the theist who feels the
force of realist arguments. Still, conceptualism is not worry-free. While it remains
for me a fallback position, some features of conceptualism make it somewhat
unattractive.
We might wonder, for example, how conceptualism will handle false proposi-
tions.138 We must not think that on conceptualism God entertains only true thoughts.
Otherwise only true propositions exist, which is insufficient for realism. We need
divine thoughts corresponding to all the false propositions as well. But how is this
to be done without attributing to God false beliefs, in contradiction to the doctrine
of omniscience?
In the case of true thoughts, it is enough to hold that, for any true proposition p,
God thinks that p. But in the case of a falsehood we cannot simply substitute for p a
false proposition. For to think that p is to believe that p. The most obvious solution
is to say that in the case of false propositions, God thinks that p is false. But the
problem here is that Gods thought is not, then, p but the quite different proposition
that p is false. Thus, ontologically there really is no thought that p, where p is false,

138
Van Inwagen expresses this worry in his God and Other Uncreated Things, p.12.
202 5 Non-platonic Realism

for God would not think such a thing. So there really is, contrary to realism, no
proposition p in the case that p is false. But then how can God think that p is false,
if there is no such thing? God never thinks that p, and so His thought that p cannot
be false.
In response to this worry, the conceptualist can claim that thinking, as he uses the
word, comprises or is consistent with a variety of doxastic attitudes, such as believ-
ing, hoping, fearing, and so on. Morris and Menzel state, We have characterized
propositions as Gods thoughts. Some of those thoughts are contingently true, some
are contingently false. The latter, of course, are not among Gods beliefs, since God
is omniscient.139 Menzel later expands on this distinction:
God necessarily thinks and conceives, and moreover, necessarily thinks and conceives the
same things. Note that this is not to say that God necessarily believes (and hence knows) the
same things; what God believes will depend in part on contingent facts, e.g., how many
people there are at any given moment. However, the thought There are n people, for any
given n, is conceived by God regardless of whether or not it is true.140

This explanation makes it evident that the English idiom thinks that is misleading
in the context of conceptualism, for the phrase in ordinary language is virtually
synonymous with believes that. God conceives that is less misleading, for we
can grasp the propositional content of interrogatives and imperatives, for example,
without believing them. In the case of false propositions, perhaps we should say that
God doubts or denies that p. Gods denying that p, like His believing that p, thus
suffices for the existence of passuming, of course, that all ones doubts and beliefs
are occurrent.141
This latter assumption ought to occasion serious worries for the conceptualist.
Conceptualism requires that in virtue of divine omniscience God be constantly
entertaining actual thoughts corresponding to every proposition and every state of
affairs. This may be problematic for the theist. Graham Oppy complains that it
threatens to lead to the attribution to God of inappropriate thoughts: bawdy thoughts,
banal thoughts, malicious thoughts, silly thoughts, and so forth.142 Welty treats this
concern somewhat dismissively. He responds,
An omniscient God has knowledge of the full range of thoughts that we humans can have
and will have. We dont surprise Him by our bawdy thoughts, banal thoughts, malicious
thoughts, silly thoughts, and so forth (105). His holiness is assured, as He doesnt intend

139
Thomas V. Morris and Christopher Menzel, Absolute Creation, American Philosophical
Quarterly 23 (1986): 355.
140
Christopher Menzel, God and Mathematical Objects, in Mathematics in a Postmodern Age,
ed. Russell W.Howell and W.James Bradley (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B.Eerdmans, 2001),
p.74.
141
But see H.H. Price, Thinking and Experience (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1969), pp.32754, who defends a sort of dispositional conceptualism which rejects the notion that
concepts are one sort of occurrent mental events. It is not clear, however, that Prices view is a
(non-Platonic) realism.
142
Graham Oppy, Response to Welty, p.105.
Assessment 203

these thoughts as we intend them. He is like the parent who already knows all the ways the
child can go astray.143

I think that the theist should take this worry very seriously. The problem, as I under-
stand it, is not that we surprise God, but that if He has the full range of thoughts that
we do, then He must imagine Himself, as well as everyone else, to be engaged in
bawdy and malicious acts, and, moreover, rather than putting such detestable
thoughts immediately out of mind as we try to do, He keeps on thinking about them.
Of course, He does not intend to do these things, but nevertheless He thinks about
them constantly, which does seem to impugn His holiness. The apostle Paul advises,
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, what-
ever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything
worthy of praise, think about these things (Phil 4.8). Are we really to imagine that
God does not exemplify this practice Himself but also entertains and dwells upon
the sorts of thoughts Oppy mentions?
One way to ameliorate this difficulty is to distinguish, as Welty does, between the
different sorts of thoughts God has. Welty, it will be remembered, distinguished
Gods thoughts which are propositions from His thoughts which are ways the world
might be. Omniscience is normally defined in terms of propositional knowledge: an
omniscient person must know every true proposition and believe no false proposi-
tion. Personal indexical knowledge can be, and usually is, taken to be non-
propositional knowledge. God does not know or believe that He is Himself
Napoleon, even though He knows the same proposition that Napoleon knows when
the emperor asserts, I am Napoleon.144 Thus, the conceptualist is not committed to
Gods entertaining the bawdy or malicious thought that He Himself is engaged in
____ or how it would feel to be engaged in ____, for such non-propositional knowl-
edge is not demanded by omniscience. At most He would have the less salacious
thought God is engaged in ____ and knows that to be false and impossible. What He
believes is that God is not engaged in ____, which is a true thought and describes an
actual state of affairs. Even if God has the indexical belief that He is not Himself
engaged in ____, the conceptualist need not think that such beliefs are occurrent
beliefs for God, since it is only their propositional content which needs to be an
occurrent thought of God. In other words, God need not be taken to be actually
thinking of these personal indexical beliefs and states of affairs. That would go
some way toward alleviating the worry that conceptualism would require God to be
entertaining and dwelling on bawdy or malicious thoughts.145

143
Welty, Response to Critics, p.110.
144
See discussion in William Lane Craig, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom: The
Coherence of Theism: Omniscience, Studies in Intellectual History 19 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1990),
pp. 79, idem, The Tensed Theory of Time: A Critical Examination, Synthse Library 293
(Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000a), pp.402, 1229.
145
More radically, perhaps the divine conceptualist can reject the necessity of Gods beliefs being
occurrent. Cocchiarella observes that in the traditional debate over universals most modern con-
ceptualists in that debate, like H.H. Price, when explaining what it means to exist in intellectu,
reject the traditional view of concepts as ideas in the sense of mental occurrences and instead
204 5 Non-platonic Realism

One way of putting this point is to say that what Welty calls the aspectual shape
of a thought does not always correspond to the aspectual shape of the proposition
expressed by that thought. For example, the thought that I am making a mess has a
different aspectual shape than the proposition John Perry is making a mess. God can
know the propositional content of Perrys thought without His thoughts having the
same aspectual shape as Perrys thought. God need not have the thought that He is
Himself making a mess in order to grasp the propositional content that Perry grasps
when he thinks that he is himself making a mess.
But does not the fact that thoughts and propositions can come apart in their
aspectual shape occasion even deeper problems for the conceptualist? For Gods
omniscience, being propositional in nature, guarantees only Gods complete propo-
sitional knowledge. It does not determine the aspectual shape of Gods thoughts that
express that knowledge. Welty says that he has the thought that Lewis Carroll wrote
Alice in Wonderland and that this is a different thought than the thought that Charles
Dodgson wrote Alice in Wonderland. Yet the propositional content of these two
thoughts is plausibly the same, as we have learned from the case of Hesperus and
Phosphorus. The thought that Phosphorus = Hesperus is not the same thought as
Hesperus = Hesperus, even though both these thoughts have the same, true propo-
sitional content. Gods omniscience guarantees only that He will know only and all
true propositions, not that He will have the full range of thoughts expressing that
content.
Gods thoughts have an aspectual shape that is uniquely His and is plausibly dif-
ferent from their propositional content. Gods thought, for example, is that I will
save my people from their sins. God may never entertain the oblique thought that
God will save His people from their sins. If we identify Gods thoughts with propo-
sitions, we are no longer able to distinguish between the aspectual shape of a propo-
sition and the aspectual shape of a divine thought having that propositional content.
Since God has first-person thoughts, identifying Gods thoughts with propositions
commits us to the existence of purely private propositions which are incommuni-
cable by God to us.
Personal indexical beliefs are just the proverbial camels nose. Consider Peter
van Inwagens claim that the propositional content of There are two very valuable
chairs in the next room is something like
There are xs and there are ys such that [the xs are not the ys and both the xs and the ys are
arranged chairwise and both the xs and the ys are in room 103 of the Morris Inn and both
the xs and the ys are collectively very valuable and, for any zs, if those zs are arranged
chairwise and are in room 103 of the Morris Inn and are collectively very valuable, then
those zs are the xs or those zs are the ys].146

Suppose that van Inwagen is right and that the way God thinks of this propositional
content has an aspectual shape more akin to the ordinary language expression. That

assume some sort of dispositional or functional view (Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology, 2
vols., ed. Hans Burkhart and Barry Smith [Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 1991], s.v. Conceptualism,
by Nino B.Cocchiarella).
146
Peter van Inwagen to William Lane Craig, personal communication, 27 January, 2010.
Assessment 205

suffices for His omniscience. God need have no thought having the aspectual shape
of van Inwagens paraphrase in order to be omniscient. But then there are true prop-
ositions which are not identical with Gods thoughts, which contradicts conceptual-
ism. If the conceptualist maintains that there is no such proposition, that the
proposition just is Gods thought, then God believes a false proposition (since, on
van Inwagens view, there are no chairs), which subverts omniscience. If the con-
ceptualist insists that Gods thought cannot but be true, then it turns out that concep-
tualism is incompatible with van Inwagens metaphysics of composition, which is
bizarre, in view of their unrelatedness.
Paraphrastic strategies for dealing with unwanted ontological commitments,
including commitment to abstract objects, major on distinguishing propositional
content from the way it comes to expression in our thoughts and language.147 To take
a simple example, the thought The number of people killed in the attack was 66 and
the thought Sixty-six people were killed in the attack have, on the customary crite-
rion of ontological commitment, different ontological commitments, the former
apparently committing us to the reality of numbers and the latter lacking such a
commitment. If these thoughts have the same propositional content, they cannot
have different ontological commitments. So which is Gods thought? The demands
of omniscience are met either way, and yet radically different ontologies ensue. If
God thinks both, what are His ontological commitments? In such a case, the onto-
logical commitments of the former cannot be annulled by the paraphrase, for the
paraphrase cannot be said to give the propositional content of the thought, for both
thoughts just are propositions on conceptualism. Suppose Charles Chihara and
Geoffrey Hellman are correct, that the commitment to mathematical objects in the
thought 2 + 2 = 4 can be successfully paraphrased away, and suppose that God
thinks 2 + 2 = 4. Then we are stuck with mathematical objects regardless of the
success of the paraphrases. The conceptualist might welcome commitment to math-
ematical objects, but this same approach will wind up committing us to holes, lacks,
and other unwanted commitments of ordinary language if God has, indeed, the full
range of thoughts that we humans can have and will have.
In short, distinguishing between the aspectual shape of a proposition and the
aspectual shape of thoughts expressing it, as personal indexicals almost force us to
do, is a Trojan Horse for conceptualism, raising all sorts of difficulties that make
conceptualism much less attractive than it at first appears.148 Thoughts may not be
well-suited to be identified with propositions and possible worlds after all.
All this is the result of reflecting on the attribution of bawdy and malicious
thoughts to God. But what about banal and silly thoughts? Here the worry high-
lights what seems to me another unattractive feature of conceptualism. Why in the
world should we think that God is constantly thinking the non-denumerable infinity
of banal and silly propositions or states of affairs that there are? Take Weltys own
illustration of the thought that for any real number r, r is distinct from the Taj Mahal.

See Chap. 8 for paraphrastic strategies.


147

Worse, since Welty ascribes aspectual shape to possible worlds as well, we seem to wind up with
148

a person-relative modality.
206 5 Non-platonic Realism

Why would God retain such inanities constantly in consciousness? Or consider


false propositions like for any real number r, r is identical to the Taj Mahal. Why
would God hold such a silly thought constantly in consciousness, knowing it to be
false? Obviously, the concern is not that God would be incapable of keeping such a
non-denumerable infinity of thoughts ever in consciousness, but rather why He
would dwell on such trivialities.
Welty moves far too hastily from the fact that God is omniscient to the concep-
tualist view that all that God knows is occurrent in consciousness. He writes, if
God is omniscient then at the very least, for any possible way something could be,
God knows whether or not he could bring it about. This is sufficient for God to have
thoughts that match the infinity of propositions that there must be.149 Gods infinite
knowledge is, however, clearly not sufficient to guarantee that there are the actual
mental events needed by the conceptualist. As Welty rightly puts it, This argument
assumes, of course, that in Gods case <knowing p> entails <thinking or having
thoughts that p>.150 Oddly, Welty says nothing by way of justification of this crucial
assumption. No reason is given for the assumption that in Gods case, unlike my
case, the knowledge that 2 + 2 = 4 requires a conscious mental event or thought with
that content. Obviously, we know vastly more than we occurrently believe. Why
should Gods case be any different? Now I fully appreciate that God is not just one
of the chaps and so has a conscious life much different than ours. Still the prolifera-
tion in conscious thought of the silly and banal beliefs necessary for divine concep-
tualism seems pointless and makes conceptualism a less attractive option.
Yet another worry for conceptualism is that concrete objects like Gods thoughts
do not seem suitable to play the roles normally ascribed to abstracta. We have
already seen the problem posed by the aspectual shape of thoughts for taking them
to be propositions and possible worlds.151 Now consider properties. The chief ratio-

149
Welty, Theistic Conceptual Realism (thesis), p.220. Cf. his inference:
God is an omniscient being. One consequence of this is that God perfectly knows the capac-
ities of his own power, and therefore all possibilities.On this conception, existence claims
about nonactual possible worlds are reducible to existence claims about things in the actual
world, for Gods knowledge of his own power is after all a mental item in the actual world
(Ibid., p.219).
150
Ibid., p.222.
151
See further C.J. F.Williams, What Is Truth? (Cambridge University Press, 1976), p.60, with
respect to taking propositions to be thoughts:
Philosophers who have regarded beliefs or assertions or judgments as bearers of truth in
preference to Propositions have probably done so because they regarded the former as con-
crete mental or physical states and the latter as abstract objects. But it would in any case be
a mistake to interpret Margarets belief in Margarets belief is true as referring to a
mental state. Margarets belief here means What Margaret believes, not Margarets
Believing. What Margaret believes may be the same as what you and I believe. . ., but
Margarets believing it and your believing it and my believing it are quite different from
each other.the assignment of the rle of truth-bearers to mental states was not only mis-
taken but unnecessary. Abstract objects can be avoided even though Margarets belief is not
her believing but what she believes. Since What Margaret believes is not directly or indi-
rectly about objects, it is not about abstract objects either.

See further our discussion of deflationary theories of truth in the sequel (pp.46675).
Assessment 207

nale behind construing properties as abstract universals rather than particulars is the
need for an entity that can be wholly located in diverse places.152 The Platonists
ontological assay of the rose and of the fire truck includes the color redness as a
constituent of each. In contrast to property instances, properties as universals are
taken by realists to be wholly present in all the things exemplifying them. The dif-
ficulty, then, for conceptualism is that Gods thoughts, as concrete objects, are not
universals but particulars and so cannot be wholly present in spatially separated
objects.153
So Gould and Davis protest,
For Welty, divine thoughts are not abstract; they are concrete. Therefore, we submit, Welty
is a nominalist. By way of contrast, we think being a universal is a sufficient condition on
being abstract (ontologically speaking),4 hence it is best to think of divine thoughts (i.e.,
propositions) and divine ideas (i.e., concepts) as abstract objects.
_____
4
We think being a universal, being non-spatial, being non-essentially spatio-temporal are
sufficient conditions for some object X to be abstract.154

Gould and Davis certainly represent the mainstream position in saying that concrete
objects cannot be universals, in view of the inability of concreta to wholly exist
simultaneously in different places. It does not follow, as they assert, that we should
adopt the strange view that Gods thoughts are abstract objects. We may, with
Leftow, take Gods ideas or concepts to be the abstract content of Gods thoughts,
but Gods thoughts cannot be abstract objects, since they remain mental states or
events.
Oddly, Welty seems to concede what I take to be the thrust of Gould and Davis
critique: If another sufficient condition for AO-status is being a universal, and
that means being multiply-instantiable, that is, one and the same object would
need to be multiply located, then are divine mental events multiply located? I cant
make sense of this.155 Welty cannot make sense of Gods thoughts being multiply
located, the impossibility of which, he seems to admit, excludes them from being

152
See D. M. Armstrong, Universals and Scientific Realism, vol. I: Nominalism and Realism
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978a), pp. xiv, 823; idem, Universals: An Opinionated
Introduction (Boulder, Col.: Westview Press 1989), pp.16, 77, 989; J.P. Moreland, Universals,
Central Problems of Philosophy (Chesham, England: Acumen, 2001), esp. pp.1002.
153
As Bertrand Russell explains,
It is largely the very peculiar kind of being that belongs to universals which has led many
people to suppose that they are really mental. But in so thinking, we rob it of its essential
quality of universality. One mans act of thought is necessarily a different thing from
another mans; one mans act of thought at one time is necessarily a different thing from the
same mans act of thought at another time. Hence, if whiteness were the thought as opposed
to its object, no two different men could think of it, and no one man could think of it twice.
That which many different thoughts of whiteness have in common is their object, and this
object is different from all of them. Thus universals are not thoughts, though when known
they are the objects of thoughts (Bertrand Russell, The World of Universals, in Properties,
ed. D. H. Mellor and Alex Oliver, Oxford Readings in Philosophy [Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1997], pp.4950).
154
Gould and Davis, Response to Welty, p.100.
155
Welty, Response to Gould and Davis, p.108.
208 5 Non-platonic Realism

universals. But neither, for the same reason, does it make sense to say that Gods
thoughts are literally in things as property instances or tropes. How then will the
conceptualist make sense of Gods thoughts as properties?
J.P. Moreland reports that Throughout history, the overwhelming majority of
realists have agreed that qua universals, properties are the sorts of things that enter
other things by way of the nexus of exemplification.156 On this view, Universals
are literally in their instances, but they are not in the spatiotemporal location of
those instances and the former are in the latter by means of a primitive non-
spatiotemporal tie of predication.157 Indeed, says Moreland, it is entirely unclear
how a property can be a constituent of a particular (e.g., a concrete particular, a
moment, or an event) without doing so by way of exemplification.158 On the tradi-
tional realist view properties are abstract objects which exist independently of their
instances and exist in their instances, not spatiotemporally, but by being exempli-
fied by particular things. On this view it is highly misleading to characterize univer-
sals as multiply located, for they really are not located at all, except in the abstract
realm, which they never leave. They are in things only in the sense that particulars
exemplify these immutable and pristine objects. In that respect they are just as tran-
scendent as Gods thoughts.
That raises the question whether the conceptualist could not say of divine
thoughts what the Platonist says of abstract universals: particulars stand in some
sort of relation to them in virtue of which particulars are the way they are. An imme-
diate problem for the conceptualist is that if properties are Gods thoughts, then
particulars must exemplify Gods thoughts. But a concrete object does not seem to
be the sort of thing that is exemplifiable any more than it can be a universal, since
concrete objects are particulars and particulars are not exemplifiable but rather
exemplify.159 Accordingly, Gods thoughts cannot be properties.
But perhaps divine thoughts can play the role of properties. In that case, although
properties as such do not exist, Gods thoughts can stand in for properties in the

156
Moreland, Universals, p.125. He explains,
the universal is indifferent to any particular instance (a Platonist would add all its instances)
since the universal can be a constituent in many instances through the non-spatiotemporal,
inhomogeneous nexus of exemplification. When redness has red1 as one of its instances,
this is due to the fact that some entity (a bare particular) outside the nature of redness has
entered into an exemplification relation with redness. Something happens to redness,
namely, it is modified and becomes exemplified (Ibid., pp.1012).
157
Ibid. p.9.
158
Ibid., p.125.
159
Welty appeals to the example of a city map to show that a concrete object can exemplify some-
thing: lots of things can be multiply exemplifiable and theyre still concrete particulars. Any map
or set of directions folded away in my pocket, constituted by spatiotemporal bits of graphite or ink,
seems to fit the bill (personal communication, Greg Welty to Paul Gould, December 26, 2012). It
seems to me that this is to confuse representation, which the map certainly does, with exemplifica-
tion. Welty rightly maintains that both abstract and concrete objects can be representations (Welty,
Theistic Conceptual Realism [thesis], p.71). As he says, intentionality is all-important here. The
importance of intentionality is a theme to which we shall recur in our discussion of reference.
Assessment 209

roles which realists typically ascribe to properties. In substituting Gods thoughts


for properties, Plantinga has suggested that particulars stand to Gods thoughts in a
relation analogous to exemplification.160 He appeals to Freges notion of falling
under a concept as the relation in which particulars stand to Gods thoughts. Thus,
all brown things fall under Gods thought of brown. Things which are brown resem-
ble each other in virtue of falling under the same concept.
Intriguing as this suggestion might be, it is problematic. In the first place, con-
cepts are not plausibly construed as concrete objects, for they are shared by multiple
thinkers in a way that thoughts are not.161 Concepts seem to be part of the content of
our thoughts. Moreover, as mental states, thoughts are characterized by intentional-
ity, being about things, not by things falling under them. My thought of redness is
about redness; it is not itself redness, nor do things fall under it.162 Furthermore,
substituting the notion of falling under a concept for property exemplification seems
to get the explanatory order backwards.163 Things are not brown because they fall
under Gods concept brown, in the way that things are brown because they exem-
plify brownness; rather they fall under Gods concept brown because they are
brown. This explanatory order was key, it will be remembered, in conceptualisms
avoiding making God dependent upon His nature and thus vulnerable to the boot-
strapping objection. Thus, the relation of falling under a concept cannot do the work
of exemplification. If this is right, then the conceptualist who would be a realist
about properties or who wants Gods thoughts to play the role of properties still has
plenty of work cut out for him, if his view is to commend itself as an attractive
option for theists.
Finally, consider the suitability of divine thoughts for playing the role of sets.
Plantinga, springboarding off a comment by set theorist Hao Wang about sets being
formed by the mental activity of collecting, suggests that sets be taken to be Gods
mental collectings.164 But if sets are really particular divine thoughts, then how do

160
For the view that having a property amounts to falling under a concept see Alvin Plantinga, Does
God Have a Nature? (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1980), pp.201; idem, Warranted
Christian Belief (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.15. For the view that properties are
divine concepts see idem, Warrant and Proper Function, p.121. I am indebted to Welty for these
references. Plantingas full suggestion that falling under a divine concept can be substituted for
exemplification of a property was made during discussion of my paper In Defense of
Conceptualism: A Response to Bergmann and Brower, at the University of Notre Dame.
161
A point made by van Inwagen with respect to ideas (van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated
Things, p.17). See also Leftow, God and Necessity, p.301.
162
A worry also expressed, in effect, by van Inwagen: its not clear that there is any such thought
if there is no objectwhich, in some sense, exists independently of the thoughtas its object
(van Inwagen, God and Other Uncreated Things, p.12). I do think, as will emerge in the sequel
in our discussion of theories of reference, that we can have thoughts about things that do not exist,
but the key point here concerns the intentionality of thoughts in contrast to properties. I do not
share van Inwagens difficulty in conceiving of non-propositional thoughts.
163
See Armstrongs critique of concept nominalism (Armstrong, Universals and Scientific Realism,
p. 27). See further Leftow, God and Necessity, pp. 2434; idem, God and the Problem of
Universals, p.352.
164
Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, pp. 28990. Actually, Plantinga is ambiguous on
whether sets are objects formed as a result of Gods collectings or just are His collectings. He says,
210 5 Non-platonic Realism

we have any access to sets?165 The question here is not whether I have a causal con-
nection with sets.166 Rather it is that sets, the real sets, are locked away in Gods
private consciousness, so that what we talk and work with are not sets at all. When
I collect into a unity all the pens on my desk, that set is not identical, it seems, with
the set constituted by Gods collecting activity. Since we have two collectings and
since sets are Gods particular collectings, the set I form is not identical to the set
of all pens on my desk. But if sets are determined by membership, how could they
not be identical, since they have the same members?
And again, we might wonder, why would God be constantly collecting things
together in the way demanded by the conceptualist? Perhaps the conceptualist might
say that God is constantly engaged in such collectings in order to provide the subject
matter for the full range of set theoretical truths, including alternative set theories.
But what if God merely imagines such collections to exist? As we shall see, a pre-
tense theoretical approach to various set theories is a very plausible interpretation of
set theory, one that enjoys support in the community of mathematicians. It has been
said that God is a mathematician. Perhaps God is also, in fact, a pretense theorist.
Indeed, imagining is a type of thinking. We saw that in order to secure divine
thoughts that are false propositions the conceptualist cannot take thinking to be
synonymous to believing. So suppose that God pretends that sets exist in order to
provide the subject matter for various set theories. In that case, we can admit that
God does have thoughts about all the various set theoretical objects, but we cannot
coherently identify His thoughts with sets, for sets on this view do not exist but are
merely imagined to exist. Given the coherence of pretense theory, there is no moti-
vation to move beyond anti-realism to realism about sets as divine thoughts. Indeed,
this conclusion can be extended: other abstracta, especially possible worlds, may be
plausibly taken to be merely imagined by God. A pretense theoretical approach
gives the conceptualist his divine thoughts but precludes our identifying Gods
thoughts with sets, possible worlds, propositions, properties, and so on.

It is natural to think of sets as collections that is, things whose existence depends upon a certain
sort of intellectual activity a collecting or thinking together and later speaks of sets as collec-
tions, the result of a collecting activity (Ibid.). If sets are objects which are not identical to Gods
mental collectings, then are they abstract objects, as the absolute creationist believes?
165
Menzel responds to this difficulty by arguing, What we do when we construct a set or form a
concept is like what God does. Hence, our set-like constructions and concepts are like his. We
thereby gain basic knowledge of mathematical objects in virtue of knowledge of our own percep-
tions and concepts, and of their similarity to those in the divine mind (Christopher Menzel, God
and Mathematical Objects, in Mathematics in a Postmodern Age, ed. Russell W. Howell and
W.James Bradley [Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B.Eerdmans, 2001], p.94). But if our collect-
ings are not Gods collectings, then we do not in fact have knowledge of real sets but only set-like
constructions. If we say that we do grasp the same sets as God, then we seem to have given up on
conceptualism and reverted to thinking of sets as distinct from, rather than identical with, collect-
ing operations.
166
As Plantinga thinks; see Where the Conflict Really Lies, p.291; see further William Lane Craig,
critical notice of Where the Conflict Really Lies, Philosophia Christi 14 (2012): 4737; Plantinga,
Response to William Lane Craigs review, Philosophia Christi 15 (2013): 1789.
Bibliography 211

Conclusion

In short, all sorts of worries arise when we reflect upon the conceptualist identifica-
tion of Gods thoughts with objects typically taken to be abstract. While by no
means knock-down objections to conceptualismindeed, I think that conceptual-
ism remains one option for the theist wrestling with the challenge posed by abstract
objects to theism, these worries should motivate the theist to look seriously at the
wide variety of anti-realist solutions to the challenge before acquiescing too easily
to the traditional conceptualist viewpoint.

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Bloomsbury, London (2014)
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Part III
Anti-realist Solutions
Chapter 6
Alternative Logics andSemantics

We turn now from realist solutions to the challenge of Platonism to anti-realist solu-
tions. Here a wide variety of options confront us (Fig.6.1). As with realist solutions,
we shall not survey all of these but shall confine ourselves to some that I take to be
most interesting or promising.
The first such solution I wish to consider briefly is the adoption of some alterna-
tive logic to classical logic or some alternative semantics for abstract object sen-
tences than the customary semantics. As non-standard viewpoints, such solutions
would have to be well-motivated if we are to prefer them as our defeater of Platonist
indispensability arguments. It might be thought that the theist has the most compel-
ling of motivations, namely, the theological untenability of Platonism. But such
thinking overlooks the potpourri of other anti-Platonist solutions vying for our
attention. If some other more mainstream anti-Platonist solutions are at least equally
plausible, then the theist would do well to avoid staking the coherence of theism on
an aberrant logic or semantics.
In this chapter I want to look briefly at two particular alternatives: free logic and
substitutional quantification. I shall not consider here quantifier variance or neutral
logic, since these views do not offer an alternative logic or semantics but simply
deny that the existential quantifier of first-order logic is inevitably a device of onto-
logical commitment. We shall take up those views in the sequel.

Springer International Publishing AG 2017 217


W.L. Craig, God and Abstract Objects, DOI10.1007/978-3-319-55384-9_6
218 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

Free Logic

Free Logics are logics which are free of existential import with respect to general
and singular terms but whose quantifiers are taken to be devices of ontological com-
mitment.1 As we have seen,2 this involves an essentially Quinean view of ontologi-

1
I follow here the exposition of Karel Lambert, who coined the label free logic and is one of its
most enthusiastic proponents. See also the characterization of a free logic by Edgar Morscher and
Peter Simons, Free Logic: A Fifty-Year Past and an Open Future, in New Essays in Free Logic,
ed. Edgar Morscher and Alexander Hieke, Applied Logic Series 23 (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic
Publishers, 2001), p.2. But the discipline can be semantically characterized in a way that is onto-
logically neutral. For example, John Nolt defines free logic to be a formal logic whose quantifiers
are interpreted in the usual waythat is, objectually over a specified domain Dbut whose singu-
lar terms may denote objects outside of D, or fail to denote at all (Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy, s.v. Free Logic, by John Nolt http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-free/ [April 5,
2010], 1.1). On this interpretation, empty singular terms are simply terms that denote no member
of the quantificational domain D. Free logic employs the existence predicate, E! in order to
distinguish terms that denote members of D from those that do not. For any singular term t, E!t is
true iff t denotes a member of D. (For a wonderfully limpid exposition of this approach, see John
Nolt, Free Logics, in Dale Jacquette, ed., Handbook of the Philosophy of Science: vol. 5:
Philosophy of Logic [Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2006], pp.102360.)
Now this is obviously a very thin sense of existence! Nolt subsequently comments,
Quine (1948) famously maintained that existence is just what an existential quantifier
expresses. Yet nothing forces us to interpret existential quantification over every domain
as expressing existenceor being of any sort. Semantically, an existential quantifier on a
variable x is just a logical operator that takes open formulas on x into truth values; the value
is T if and only if the open formula is satisfied by at least one object in the quantifiers
domain. That the objects in the domain have or lack any particular ontological status is a
philosophical interpretation of the formal semantics (Ibid., 5.5; cf. Nolt, Free Logics,
p.1057).

I take Nolt to mean that free logic is just a fragment of classical logic whose relevant quantifica-
tional domain can be anything, not just existents. Thus, the key issue is not the semantics of quanti-
fied first-order logic but the philosophical interpretation imposed on that semantics. Ermanno
Bencivenga, noting that some theorems of classical logic require every singular term to receive an
interpretation from the domain of quantification, retorts,
so what? The formal instrument does not specify the metaphysical counterpart of the rela-
tion between a symbol and its interpretation, nor does it tell you which things can or cannot
belong to a domain of quantification. The formal instrument is neutral with respect to all
these questions, and thus by itself cannot introduce any metaphysical commitments, exis-
tential or otherwise (Ermanno Bencivenga, Free Logics, Handbook of Philosophical
Logic: vol. III: Alternatives of Classical Logic, ed. D.Gabbay and F.Guenther [Dordrecht:
Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994], p.374).

Free logicians tend to share Quines assumption about existences being expressed by the first-
order quantifier. Hence, Nolt says, Where D is, as usual, taken to be the class of existing things,
free logic may be characterized as logic the referents of whose singular terms need not exist
(Ibid., 1.1; cf. Bencivenga, Free Logics, p.374). Proponents of neutral logic, to be examined in
the sequel, claim that the use of objectual semantics for quantified logic is ontologically neutral
because we do not know if existence is being used in a metaphysically heavy sense. On the dis-
tinction between free logic and neutral logic see John Woods, The Logic of Fiction, De proprietati-
bus litterarum, Series Minor 16 (The Hague: Mouton, 1974), pp.6871.
2
See Chap. 3, pp.957.
Free Logic 219

Fig. 6.1 Some responses to indispensability arguments concerning the existence of mathematical
objects

cal commitment: we commit ourselves to the existence of certain things, not by the
use of general or singular terms in sentences we take to be true, but exclusively
through the use of first-order quantifiers. Free logic will avoid the unwanted
commitments which Quines criterion would engender by scrapping classical log-
ics inference rules of Existential Generalization (EG) and Universal Instantiation
(UI). So, for example, from the truth of Sherlock Holmes is the most famous detec-
tive of English fiction we cannot infer that x (x = the most famous detective of
English fiction). By the same token, from the arithmetic truth that 3 < 5 we cannot
infer that x (x < 5).
A view that asks us to abandon EG and UI would seem to require very powerful
motivations.3 It is perhaps surprising how powerfully motivated some of the claims
of free logic are. Karel Lambert, a pioneer of free logic during the 1950s, complains
that although modern logic in the late nineteenth century shed itself of various exis-

3
See Alex Orenstein, Is Existence What Existential Quantification Expresses? in Perspectives on
Quine, ed. Robert B.Barrett and Roger F.Gibson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), pp.24570,
who argues that the unmodified rules of Universal Instantiation and Existential (or, as he prefers,
particular) Generalization are exact analogues or extensions of the logical rules of conjunctive
simplification and disjunctive addition. For example, the expansion of
( x )( x exists )
is
a exists & & Pegasus exists.

If we regard sentences with vacuous singular terms as false, then the conjunct Pegasus exists is
false, and so is the whole conjunction. Thus, we have a counter-example to the universal general-
ization that Everything exists. On Orensteins neutralist view of quantification, both Quine and
the free logician err in denying the truth of Something does not exist. If we do take first-order
quantifiers to be devices of ontological commitment, on the other hand, then free logics denial of
classical UI and EG can be well-motivated by the desire to avoid the implication of the Barcan and
Converse Barcan Principles, given that the logic of absolute necessity is S5, that everything exists
necessarily (Bob Hale, Necessary Beings: An Essay on Ontology, Modality, and the Relations
between Them [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013], pp.20911). See further our discussion
on pp.3905 of Chap. 10.
220 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

tence assumptions implicit in Aristotelian logic with respect to the use of general
terms,4 modern logic remains infected with existence assumptions with respect to
the use of singular terms, assumptions that ought not to characterize a purely formal
discipline.5 For we have at the deepest level a primordial intuition that logic is a
tool of the philosopher and ideally should be neutral with respect to philosophical
truth. So if there are preconditions to logic that have the effect of settling what
exists and what does not exist, they ought to be eliminated because they corrupt the
ideal of logic as a philosophical tool.6
These existence assumptions regarding singular terms surface dramatically in
the way in which standard modern logic handles identity statements. For such state-
ments cannot be true, according to standard logic, unless the referents of the singu-
lar terms employed in such statements exist. In other words, identity statements are
ontologically committing for him who asserts them. But it seems bizarre to think

4
These include the assumptions that in the traditional square of opposition A-statements like
All men are mortal imply I-statements like Some man is mortal, and E-statements like No
men are immortal imply O-statements like Some man is not immortal. Modern sentential logic
strips Aristotelian logic of these existence assumptions by interpreting universally quantified state-
ments to have the logical form of conditionals, e.g., If something is a man, then it is mortal,
which carries no commitment to the existence of a man. Just as modern sentential logic aspires to
be free of existence assumptions with respect to general terms, so free logic aspires to go one step
further to be free of existence assumptions when it comes to singular terms.
According to Lambert, Free Logic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp.1434,
the central question for the free logician is why the assumption of existential import should be
rejected for general terms but accepted for singular terms. Do not consequences similar to those
resulting from existence assumptions in the traditional logic of general inference also obtain in the
modern logic of singular inference? For example, logic cannot be applied to a statement like The
object at position P on which no external forces are acting maintains a constant velocity because
there is no such object. Should not the methods of logic apply to reasoning involving terms which,
for all we know, may or may not refer to existing objects, as in the case of astronomers who used
Vulcan before knowing whether such a planet existed or not? Finally, is there not a violation of
the intuitive distinction between arguments whose validity does require existence assumptions and
those which do not? See also Nolt, Free Logics, p.1023, who observes the obligation to confirm
the existence of things before naming them is so irksome that even mathematicians routinely flout
it. They get away with this, usually, only by being discreetly inexplicit about the underlying
logic which is, in consequence, not rigorously classical.
5
Karel Lambert, Existential Import Revisited, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 4 (1963):
28892; idem, The Nature of Free Logic, in Philosophical Applications of Free Logic, ed. Karel
Lambert (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp.312; idem, Free Logic, pp.1724; so also
Rolf Schock, Logics without Existence Assumptions (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1968),
pp.715. Nolt observes that because the domain of quantification cannot be empty, contemporary
standard logic treats many existential claims as logical truths, e.g., x (x = t); x (x = x); x (Fx)
x (Fx); x (Fx y (Fy)) (Nolt, Free Logics, p.1025).
6
Karel Lambert, Meinong and the Principle of Independence (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1983), pp.989. Lambert presents three further motivations for a free logic: (i) it eliminates
the asymmetry in the way in which traditional logic handles the existential import of general and
singular terms; (ii) it supplies a canonical idiom more reflective of actual science and more ade-
quate to the needs of both science and philosophy; and (iii) it is more suitable to the requirements
of modal and temporal logics. See further Nolts discussion of applications of free logic in Free
Logics, pp.104453; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Free Logic, 5.
Free Logic 221

that from a seemingly tautologous truth of the form t = t, where t is some singular
term, it follows that the thing denoted by t actually exists. Nevertheless, this is what
standard logic requires. For from the truth of the predication Fa it follows by EG
that x (Fx). So if we let F be the predicate = a, it follows from a = a that x (x
= a). Generalizing, if we substitute the predicate = t for P in Pt x (Px), we
have t = t x (x = t).
Lambert takes this ontological implication of mere identity statements to be
absurd. For it would follow from the fact Vulcan = Vulcan that there is some
object identical with Vulcan, that is to say, that Vulcan exists. Standard logic avoids
this untoward result by restricting the terms in true identity statements to those des-
ignating existing objects. For example, standard logic must regard a statement like
Vulcan = Vulcan as false, even though it appears to be a tautology which is neces-
sarily true. Standard logic cannot therefore distinguish the truth value of identity
statements like Zeus = Zeus and Zeus = Allah. Yet the first seems necessarily
true and the second obviously false. Nor can standard logic affirm the truth of
Aristotle = Aristotle, since Aristotle no longer exists and so there is no thing with
which he can be identified. It would be the height of ontological presumption, I
think, to claim that the truth of such a statement implies a tenseless theory of time,
according to which all moments and things in time are equally existent. Such an
inference would only underscore the free logicians claim that modern logic is still
infected with inappropriate existence assumptions. As a result of limiting truths of
identity to those whose singular terms denote existing objects, standard logic
becomes limited in its application to certain inferences and does not permit us to
discriminate between inferences where the referentiality of the terms is crucial and
those where it is not. For example, we are prohibited from inferring, Lincoln was
the Great Emancipator; Lincoln brooded; therefore, the Great Emancipator
brooded, an inference whose obvious validity should not be dependent on Lincolns
existing.
Proponents of free logic therefore propose to rid logic of all existence assump-
tions with respect to both general and singular terms. Free Logic has thus become
almost synonymous with the logic of irreferential (or non-denoting, vacuous,
empty) singular terms.7 Thus, unlike neo-Meinongianism (to be discussed in the
sequel) free logic need not presuppose that the referents of such terms are non-

7
So Lambert, Free Logic, p.137; see also Lambert, Meinong and the Principle of Independence,
p.35. N.B. when Lambert asserts that abandoning the principle that the singular terms in true sen-
tences must have real world objects as their referents requires that either singular terms can be
irreferential in such sentences or refer to non-real objects (ibid., p.55), he is assuming that refer-
ence is a word-world relation, which we shall find reason to question in the sequel. Cf. ibid., p.97,
where he identifies two groups of free logicians: (i) those who take terms like Vulcan and
Pegasus to be non-referring and (ii) those who take such terms to be referring, though not to any
existent object. One might be tempted to equate (ii) with neo-Meinongianism; but this is hasty, for,
as we shall see when we come to our chapter on neutralism, (ii) comprises two alternatives: (a)
those who take reference to be a relation between a term and a non-existent object (viz., neo-Mei-
nongians) and (b) those who deny that reference is a relation between a term and an object (viz.,
neutralists).
222 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

existent objects; rather, there just are no referents.8 Advocates of positive (as
opposed to negative or neutral) free logic maintain that certain sentences can be
truly asserted even though they contain irreferential singular terms.
This feature of positive free logic strikes me as well-motivated and eminently
plausible. The truth of identity statements involving vacuous singular terms is of a
piece with the assumed truth of many sentences which feature vacuous singular
terms.9 Recall our discussion of Michael Dummetts lightweight Platonism.10 There
we saw that sentences we normally take to be true and regularly rely upon are suf-
fused with singular terms to which no real world objects correspond. Such terms are
referential in at best a lightweight sense, but they do not have real world objects
existing as their denotations. Their semantic referents can be said to be real in the
sense that they are not illusory, but few of us would say that these referents exist in
more than the light sense which characterizes ordinary language. As we saw, even
several of the most ardent defenders of Platonism today do not attribute existence to
abstracta in a heavyweight sense; quite the contrary, they often deny it. Thus, this
aspect of free logic looks very promising as a way of challenging the criterion of
ontological commitment that underlies the post-Quinean Indispensability Argument
for Platonism from the use of singular terms.11

unless one adopts a dual domain semantics, as Nolt explains:


8

there are two main approaches, which I shall call dual-domain and single-domain seman-
tics, respectively.
In a single-domain semantics the domain typically represents the class of the existing
things, and empty singular terms have no referents. In a dual-domain semantics sin-
gular terms may refer to objects outside the quantificational domain. These outlying objects
are collected into a second or outer domain, in contrast to which the usual quantificational
domain is described as inner. The inner domain typically represents the class of existing
things; the outer, correlatively, includes nonexistents. Thus on a dual-domain semantics all
singular terms refer, but not all refer to existing things; the term empty is therefore not
equivalent to non-referring or non-denoting, as it is in single domains semantics (Nolt,
Free Logics, p.1025; cf. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Free Logic, 3).
Dual domain semantics sounds very much like neo-Meinongianism (Bencivenga, Free Logics,
pp.3946), unless one adopts a pretense theoretical approach to the outer domain and its members.
Both these views will occupy us in the sequel.
9
For example, Henry Leonard complains that the object languages of traditional logical systems
cannot meaningfully contain such attributions as t is fictitious, since the truth of such an attribu-
tion requires that t exists, in which case t is not fictitious after all. Thus, t is fictitious is false if t
does exist and false if t does not exist, in contradiction to ordinary English (Henry S.Leonard,
Essences, Attributes, and Predicates, Proceedings and Addresses of the APA 37 [196364]:
2930). To escape this dilemma, Quineans sometimes resort boldly to affirming the existence of
fictitious entities as abstract objects. See further Richard E. Grandy, A Definition of Truth for
Theories with Intentional Definite Description Operators, Journal of Philosophical Logic 1
(1972): 13755; idem, Predication and Singular Terms, Nos 11 (1977): 1637.
10
Chapter 1, pp.214.
11
Nolt remarks on some anomalies of positive free logic (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v.
Free Logic, 4; Nolt, Free Logics, pp.1032, 105355). For example, he complains that if such
a logic is bivalent, then it will be merely conventional whether certain formulas with empty singu-
lar terms are true or false; but establishing a consistent convention is a lot of bother for nothing.
Free Logic 223

That hardly settles the problem, however. For free logic continues to regard the
quantifiers of standard logic as ontologically committing. Indeed, if we invoke an
existence predicate E!, in free logic E!a = def. x (x = a), which just is Quines crite-
rion. Free logic seeks to avoid gratuitous ontological commitments by modifying
Existential Generalization and Universal Instantiation. EG now becomes x (x = t)
(Pt x (Px)), and UI is replaced by y (x (Px) Py).12 Thus, from an arithme-
tic truth like 3 < 5, it does not follow that x (x < 5). In order for such an inference
to be valid, we should have to determine first whether x (x = 3). The theistic anti-
Platonist may deny this statement on theological grounds. So far so, so good! But
this answer does not go far enough. For there will be apparent arithmetic truths
which are not inferred by way of EG from singular terms for numbers, such as
There are prime numbers greater than anyone has conceived. In this case, free
logic avails the anti-Platonist nothing: since he accepts the customary criterion of
ontological commitment, he will have no choice but to deny the truth of such sen-
tences. But that is to embrace fictionalism, which is a different anti-realist solution
to the indispensability argument.
Free logic therefore succeeds at best in part in turning back the force of the
Indispensability Argument for Platonism. Free logics denial that use of singular
terms in sentences we take to be true is ontologically committing for their user is, I
think, quite plausible and constitutes a step in the right direction. But because free
logic takes the existential quantifier of first-order logic to carry existence commit-
ments, it cannot avoid the Platonistic commitments of much abstract object talk.
Instead, one will have to have recourse to some other anti-realism like fictionalism
in order to avoid such unwelcome commitmentsunless, that is, one interprets
first-order quantifiers to also be ontologically neutral. Such a neutral logic will not,
technically speaking, be a free logic, but as Orenstein remarks, such terminology
may be misleading, for Isnt a logic which disassociates the quantifiers from

Ishould think that the free logician would be happy to remain agnostic about the truth values of
many such formulas, holding them to be inscrutable, and, if needs be, just abandon the principle of
bivalence for positive free logic. Nolt also observes that the classical principle that co-extensive
open formulas may be substituted for one another in any formula salva veritate fails for positive
free logic. But this failure is of little significance since, as Nolt explains, a related but weaker prin-
ciple, viz., the substitutivity salva veritate of co-comprehensive open formulas, is valid for positive
free logic. Certain formulas may be co-extensive with respect to D but not co-comprehensive with
respect to the outer domain D0. In 5.5 Nolt introduces new quantifiers and over the outer
domain to express co-comprehensiveness. If this move commits us to neo-Meinongianism, the free
logician might prefer simply to deny the Fregean assumption that the extension of a formula is a
truth value. A third anomaly concerns, not singular terms, but quantification, namely, sufficient
conditions for existence cannot be expressed in positive free logic because UI fails, making any
universally quantified existence condition question-begging. Nolt again shows how to solve the
problem by appeal to outer domain quantifiers (5.5); but my sympathies with positive free logics
treatment of empty singular terms does not extend to its handling of the quantifiers, which remains
Quinean. In any case, the free logician could simply regard the statement of such conditions as an
area where free logic does not find a useful application.
12
So Lambert says that free logic with the existence predicate E! is just standard predicate logic
with its existence assumptions made explicit (Lambert, Free Logic, p.160).
224 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

e xistence a paradigm of a logic that is free of existence assumptions, indeed freer of


existence assumptions than Lamberts variety?13 The viability of these solutions
will occupy us in the sequel.

Substitutional Quantification

Whereas free logic seeks to obviate ontological commitments allegedly arising


from the use of singular terms, substitutional quantification seeks to do the same for
existential quantification. Up to this point we have assumed that the quantifiers of
first order logic are to be understood objectually; that is to say, the values of the
variables bound by the quantifiers are taken to be objects in a domain or universe of
discourse D proper to the relevant language. A universally quantified sentence (x)
(Fx) is true if and only if F is true of every object in the domain, and an existentially
quantified sentence (x) (Fx) is true if and only if F is true of some object in the
domain.
By contrast, on a substitutional understanding of quantification, one does not
take the variables bound by the quantifier as ranging over a domain of objects;
rather we take the variables as dummy letters which may be replaced by linguistic
expressions in order to form sentences. A universally quantified statement is true
just in case the substitution of any term for the variable in the open sentence follow-
ing the quantifier yields a true sentence. An existentially quantified statement is true
just in case the substitution of at least one term for the variable in the open sentence
following the quantifier yields a true sentence.
Proponents of substitutional quantification like Ruth Barcan Marcus contend that
the objectual interpretation of the quantifier is ontologically inflationary because it
gratuitously carries with it ontological commitments which are not involved in the
vernacular. She illustrates her point as follows:
The standard semantics inflates the meanings of sentences which it paraphrases, those for
example which did not have the existential import they acquire on such paraphrase. Freed
from ontological inflation the apparent anomalies which arise in going from so simple a
sentence as
A statue of Venus is in the Louvre
to
(Ex) (A statue of x is in the Louvre)
are dispelled. Whatever the ontological status of Venus it is not something conferred by the
operation of E-quantification, substitutionally conceived.14

Marcus is happy to concede that the standard objectual semantics is not ontologi-
cally inflationary if we already believe in the existence of the objects taken to con-
stitute the domain; but where we are not so committed, ontological commitments

13
Alex Orenstein, Is Existence What Existential Quantification Expresses? in Perspectives on
Quine, ed. Robert B.Barrett and Roger F.Gibson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990), p.265.
14
Ruth Barcan Marcus, Quantification and Ontology, Nos 6 (1972): 245.
Substitutional Quantification 225

ought not to be thrust upon us simply by the formalism of first-order logic. Again
she provides engaging illustrations of her point:
If we already believe, in some sense of existence, in the existence of physical objects or of
numbers then if in our interpretation they turn up as objects over which variables range it
squares with the status theyve already been granted. But suppose we take the following
sentences as true. John is always late to class, There was at least one woman who sur-
vived the sinking of the Lusitania, A statue of Venus is in the Louvre, Necessarily,
Pegasus is Pegasus, and Pegasus is not a fish, Zeus killed his father brutally how do we
take them into SFL [Standard First Order Logic]? Some defy adequate paraphrase alto-
gether. Of those that are paraphrasable some odd consequences follow. The temporal
always of the first sentence goes into a universal quantifier with variables ranging over
temporal moments, so moments go into the domain of objects. Since the domain is unsorted,
they are there all of a piece with John, individual events, spatial locations, statues and the
like. What of Pegasus and Zeus and Venus? Since on some prior ontological considerations
we dont want them showing up in our domain as they must if those sentences are taken as
prima-facie true, something must be done. This requires devising extraordinary ways of
paraphrasing which often fails to preserve meaning e.g. There is a statue of Venus in the
Louvre might be read There is a statue called Venus in the Louvre. It may also require
that obvious truths, like the one about Pegasus, be taken as false.15

By contrast the substitutional interpretation of the quantifier averts such gratuitous


ontological commitments, since it requires no domain of objects which serve as
values of the variables.
Quine agreed that the idea of objective reference is alien to large parts of our
ordinary language.16 He says,
The vernacular use of the referential apparatus is indeed careless and prodigal of objects, if
we read it in a literal-minded ontological way. There is one thing about him that I dont
like, He and Elizabeth have so many interests in common. How many things are there
about him altogether, how many has Elizabeth, and how many are in common? We use
these idioms without countenancing these questions and the questions may be blamed as
justly on an emergent literal-mindedness of ontology as on an abortively ontological ver-
nacular. But when ontology steps forward to take these matters systematically in hand, the
effect is apt to be rather contractionist than otherwise.17

We give content to the ontological question by regimenting the language of science


strictly within the framework of the logic of truth functions and objectual quantifi-
cation.18 It is in imposing this referential pattern all across the board that scientific
theory departs from ordinary language..19
Quine also recognized that if we interpret the quantified sentences of our appro-
priately regimented theories substitutionally rather than objectually, then no ontol-
ogy or ontological commitments are involved simply in virtue of quantification.
Construing ones canonical sentences in terms of substitutional quantification will
therefore not serve the purposes of Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment

15
Ibid., p.242.
16
W.V. Quine, The Roots of Reference (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1973), p.89.
17
Ibid., pp.1356.
18
Ibid., p.136.
19
Ibid., p.89.
226 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

because, as he complains, substitutional quantification is simply ontologically


inscrutable.20 Because the substitutional variables do not take objects as values,
they fail to disclose the ontology of a theory. It is thus something of a misnomer to
speak of the substitutional quantifier versus the objectual quantifier; rather as Quine
is careful to say, what is at issue here are substitutional variables versus objectual
variables. Quine thinks that we initially learn to use variables substitutionally in
learning how to use relative pronouns in place of nouns, but later they become
objectual. Once the substitutional variable goes objectual, it goes objectual with a
vengeance. It becomes the distilled essence of ontological discourse.21 That is why
Once a theory is formulated in quantificational style, its objects of reference can be
said simply to be the values of its quantified variables.22 If, by contrast, we construe
the variables substitutionally, then Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment
becomes a non-starter, since the variables do not take objects as their values.
So why not take the variables of first-order quantified logic substitutionally
rather than objectually? Quines main objection to substitutional quantification is
that many things in the world over which we want to quantify do not have singular
terms denoting them, whereas substitutional quantification is limited to things spec-
ifiable by linguistic expressions. It is not entirely clear just what the problem here is
supposed to be.23 Quine seems to prefer objectual quantification as a welcome and
convenient encapsulation of the referential apparatus of ordinary language, whereas
substitutional quantification is not suited to the task in light of the unspecifiability
of many objects:
And the convenience of this encapsulation becomes evident when you try to say in some
other way what the objects of a theory are. If you say they are the objects named by the
singular terms, you omit objects that you might want to include even though individually
unspecifiable: various electrons and transcendental numbers, perhaps, if not also some
remote grains of sand and star dust.24

Advocates of substitutional quantification will insist, however, that saying what the
objects of a theory are is precisely not the business of a theory of quantification.
Thinking that quantification does suit this purpose leads to the inflationary anoma-
lies noted by Marcus. Having an ontologically non-committal theory of quantifica-
tion allows us to talk about transcendental numbers, electrons, and grains of sand
without prejudice.
Sometimes Quine speaks as though the problem occasioned by unspecifiability
were a problem of the meaning of quantified sentences:
Since the categorical construction An is a is learned through such examples as An
apple is a fruit, A rabbit is an animal, it would be inappropriate to read (x) (if Fx then

20
Ibid., p.136.
21
Ibid., p.100.
22
Ibid.
23
Note that Quine explicitly rejects the claim that substitutional quantification is inadequate for set
theory because there are indenumerably many sets but only denumerably many singular terms
(Ibid., pp.1134).
24
Ibid., p.100.
Substitutional Quantification 227

Gx) in the substitutional way as meaning merely that every substituend name that verifies
Fx verifies Gx. It is unnatural if not absurd to imagine names, or singular descriptions
either, for all apples and rabbits.25

Indeed; but it is no part of the substitutional interpretation to make a meaning claim


about quantified sentences, especially that they mean their truth conditions, as
Quine suggests.
Quine also claims that because of the unspecifiability of many objects in the
world the truth conditions of quantified sentences may diverge when construed sub-
stitutionally as opposed to objectually:
A universal quantification in the objectual sense can be falsified by some individually
unspecifiable value of its variable, while the same universal quantification in the substitu-
tional sense remains true; and an existential quantification in the objectual sense can hold
true by virtue of some unspecified value, while the same existential quantification in the
substitutional sense fails for lack of a specifiable example.26

While the anti-realist will, indeed, agree that quantified sentences can have different
truth values when construed objectually as opposed to substitutionally and see that
as an advantage of his theory, he will protest the inference that because some exist-
ing objects are unspecified in English they are therefore unspecified in any imagin-
able language. If he is a theist, he will insist that God is able to name any object that
exists. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name (Ps
147. 4). One thinks in this connection of Wilfrid Sellars appeal to the language of
omniscience, in which every object has a name.27 The truth conditions for substitu-
tional quantification may be successfully stated relative to the language of omni-
science, even if many, or most, objects have not yet received names in English.28
Furthermore, even if some language L lacks specifications for any given object, one
can envision an extension L of L in which that object is specified by a name.29
Quine himself realizes that in the end his unspecifiability objection does not go
through:
Quantification over physical objects was objectual because of its categorical root, in sen-
tences like Rabbits are animals that treat of individually nameless objects. Of course each
rabbit and even each grain of sand can in principle be systematically specified and accorded

25
Ibid., p.99.
26
Ibid., pp. 989. So also Hugh Lehman, Introduction to the Philosophy of Mathematics, APQ
Library of Philosophy (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1979), p.8.
27
Wilfrid Sellars, Realism and the New Way of Words, Philosophy and Phenomenological
Research 8 (1948): 6045.
28
See discussion in Michael J.Loux, Ontology, in The Synoptic Vision: Essays on the Philosophy
of Wilfrid Sellars (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977), pp.667; cf. idem,
Rules, Roles, and Ontological Commitment: An Examination of Sellars Analysis of Abstract
Reference, in The Philosophy of Wilfrid Sellars: Queries and Extensions, ed. Joseph C. Pitt
(Dordrecht: D.Reidel, 1978), p.247.
29
See Peter Thomas Geach, Reference and Generality, 3rd ed. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University
Press, 1980), p.184; see discussion in Daniel Bonevac, Systems of Substitutional Semantics,
Philosophy of Science 51 (1984): 63544, who presents several substitutional semantics involving
extensions of the first-order language.
228 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

a descriptive name, e.g. with the help of spatiotemporal coordinates. But such an artifice is
wildly irrelevant to genetic considerations, and has its place only at a the level of a con-
scious reworking of explicit scientific theory.30

The context of Quines remarks is his attempt to give a psychogenetic account of


reference, a project which is a matter of indifference so far as a theory of substitu-
tional quantification is concerned. As a conscious reworking of first-order quantifi-
cational semantics, substitutional quantification is entitled to help itself to
spatiotemporal coordinates to serve as the basis for names of entities referred to by
our scientific theories.
Since quantification with respect to physical objects can be construed substitu-
tionally, Quines further objection against construing quantification with respect to
classes substitutionally falls away. For, as he admits, that objection depends on tak-
ing the former objectually and the latter substitutionally.31 He grants,
The threat to the substitutional interpretation of class quantification would be met if we
could see our way to interpreting our quantification over physical objects substitutionally

30
Quine, Roots of Reference, p.110. Cf. Kripkes doubt about the utility of substitutional quantifi-
cation for interpreting natural languages: Dont almost all things lack names in our language?
(Consider grains of sand, rabbits, stones, ) (Saul Kripke, Is There a Problem about
Substitutional Quantification? in Truth and Meaning: Essays in Semantics, ed. Gareth Evans and
John McDowell [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976], pp.3801). Kripke says that even if we allow
definite descriptions to count as names, then substitutional quantification as he has defined it will
not apply because the terms must be given in the object language Los substitution class of terms in
advance of the extended language L featuring substitutional quantification (cf. p.329). Not only
does there seem to be no rationale for this restriction (cf. Dale Gottlieb, Ontological Economy:
Substitutional Quantification and Mathematics, Clarendon Library of Logic and Philosophy
[Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980], p.73), but I fail to see any reason why Quines descrip-
tion coordinates cannot be given in Lo. Kripke sometimes speaks as if nameability would have to
be part of the meaning of a substitutionally quantified expression: If we ask Is there life on
Mars?, do we ask whether we can name any life on Mars? (Kripke, Is There a Problem about
Substitutional Quantification? p.380). Of course not; to think otherwise is to confuse meaning
with truth conditions. Gottlieb takes Kripke to fear a vicious circularity: if we are prepared to add
to Lo an operator which forms a definite description for each open sentence, then we must provide
some semantic analysis for the descriptions. But on the standard Russellian analysis definite
descriptions are analyzed in terms of first-order quantifiers. For example, in order to affirm that
(x) (x is black) is true, we may have to rely on The book in the corner is black to verify it. But
on Russells theory of descriptions the latter sentence is analyzed as (x) ((y) (y is a book in the
corner iff y = x) & x is black). If the quantifiers thus reintroduced are interpreted substitutionally,
then we are convicted of circularity; and if objectually, then we have not avoided ontological com-
mitment (Gottlieb, Ontological Economy, p.49). It is not clear to me why the satisfaction of the
truth conditions of (x) (x is black) requires us to have a further theory of descriptions at all.
Moreover, wholly apart from the adequacy of Russells analysis, it is not clear to me that interpret-
ing Russells quantifiers substitutionally involves a vicious circularity. Interpreting them substitu-
tionally would require simply further linguistic substituends such as the object previously referred
to as the book in the corner. This could go on ad infinitum without being vicious. In any case,
Quine did not speak of definite descriptions but of descriptive names, e.g., The Shady Grove,
Lands End, based on spatio-temporal co-ordinates, and the applicability of Russells theory of
descriptions to proper names is sufficiently controversial to mitigate the force of any objection
appealing to it.
31
Quine, Roots of Reference, p.110.
Substitutional Quantification 229

too. Our reason against this was the namelessness of most rabbits, all grains of sand, all
electrons. But are these really nameless? Every physical object is specifiable with help of
spatiotemporal coordinates, and so can be named by a singular description. This desperate
resort was too farfetched to be interesting as long as we were speculating on the psychologi-
cal origins, but does it bear consideration now that we are ontologizing on our own?32

Quine returns a negative verdict, based on ones motivation for appeal to substitu-
tional quantification:
I think not, still. Consider the motivation. We want to interpret our quantification over phys-
ical objects substitutionally in order to remove the obstacle to substitutional quantification
over classes. And why do we want substitutional quantification over classes? The motive
was quasi-nominalistic, and ultimately a matter of relative empiricism. But if relative
empiricism speaks for substitutional quantification over classes, it speaks also for objectual
quantification over physical objectsthese being the versions that are closest to the respec-
tive genetic origins, if my genetic speculations have been right.33

Quine may speak for himself, but the ultimate motivation behind our inquiry into
anti-realist theories of abstract objects is theological and has nothing to do with rela-
tive empiricism (whose maxim Quine states as Dont venture farther from sensory
evidence than you need to34). We need not explore therefore the murky question of
how this maxim translates into the injunction to stick as closely as we can to the
psychogenetic origins of quantification. The motivations for anti-realism are mani-
fold, and some, like ours, may be quite unrelated to or even incompatible with rela-
tive empiricism. Hence, there is no barrier to taking quantification to be substitutional
simpliciter.
More recently, Peter van Inwagen has charged that substitutional quantification
is meaningless.35 What is it that van Inwagen finds incomprehensible? Simply
this: Letting represent the existential or particular substitutional quantifier in
contrast to the objectual quantifier (van Inwagen thinks that we should speak of
two different quantifiers rather than two interpretations of one quantifier), van
Inwagen says that he cannot understand a sentence like

S. ( x ) ( x is a dog ) .
He says that he cannot understand it because he does not know what proposition (S)
expresses.
Van Inwagens bewilderment makes it at once evident that his difficulty is not
with the operation of substitutional quantification but rather with the meaning of the
substitutional quantifier. He understands how to substitute a name like Fido for x

32
Ibid., p.140.
33
Ibid., p.140.
34
Ibid., p.138.
35
Peter van Inwagen, A Theory of Properties, in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 1, ed. Dean
Zimmerman (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), p.124; cf. his assertion: neither I nor anyone else
understands substitutional quantification (Peter van Inwagen, Why I Dont Understand
Substitutional Quantification, Philosophical Studies 39 [1981]: 285).
230 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

so as to obtain the singular proposition expressed by the sentence Fido is a dog.


He understands the meaning of that sentence. He understands that if it is true that
Fido is a dog, then the proposition expressed by (S) is true. What he cannot under-
stand is the meaning of (S), since he cannot understand what proposition it expresses.
Van Inwagens bewilderment strikes me as odd.36 I should have thought that (S)
means exactly what it means when the quantifier is understood objectually. The
general proposition expressed by (S) can be variously expressed in English: There
is a dog, Something is a dog, etc. There is no reason to think that the sentences
meaning changes with the interpretation (or switching) of the quantifier.37 In that
sense it may, indeed, be misleading to speak of different interpretations of the quan-
tifier, as though the substitutional quantifier had a different meaning than the
objectual.
At most, objectually and substitutionally quantified sentences might be justifi-
ably said to differ, not in their meaning, but in their truth conditions. Although some
philosophers have identified the meaning and truth conditions of a sentence or have
taken synonymy to be at least a sufficient condition of identity of truth conditions of
two sentences, the lesson of sentences involving indexical expressions teaches us
otherwise. The sentence I wish you were here uttered by different persons at dif-
ferent places has the same linguistic meaning but involves different referents on
different occasions of use and therefore different truth conditions. Thus, the state-
ments expressing the truth conditions for I wish you were here on two different
occasions may be non-synonymous even though the sentence has a single meaning.
Thus, diversity of truth conditions does not translate into diversity of meaning of the
target sentences. To give a different example, Grass is green is true if and only if

36
In fairness to van Inwagen, it must be admitted that some of the early expositions of substitu-
tional quantification certainly did seem to attribute a different meaning to the substitutional quanti-
fier. For example, Marcus, in discussing The Interpretation of Quantification, says that the most
common reading of existential quantification is There is (exists) at least one (some) thing (per-
son) which (who) . What we would like to have and do not have, she says, is a direct, unequiv-
ocal colloquial reading of (x) x which gives us the force of either Some substitution instance
of x is true or There is at least one value of x for which x is true (Ruth Barcan Marcus,
Modalities and Intensional Languages, Synthse 13 [1961]: 314). Similarly, musing that much
of the misunderstanding about quantification stems from the absence of a standard, unequivocal,
colloquial reading of the operators of quantification, she advocates that, where A is a propositional
function containing x as its only variable, (x) A is to be interpreted as Some substitution
instance of A is true (Ruth Barcan Marcus, Interpreting Quantification, Inquiry 5 [1962]: 252
3). But as van Inwagen himself notes, advocates of substitutional quantification did not persist in
this mistake. See J.Michael Dunn and Nuel D.Belnap, Jr., The Substitution Interpretation of the
Quantifiers, Nos 2 (1968): 177185. For a complaint similar to van Inwagens see Lehman,
Introduction to the Philosophy of Mathematics, p.8.
37
unless one treats there is in an ontologically inflationary way that is not faithful to ordinary
language, which determines the meaning of the quantifier of formal logic. I say interpretation (or
switching) in order to accommodate van Inwagens view that when one moves from objectual to
substitutional quantification, one is not changing interpretations but replacing one quantifier with
another quantifier. In either case, for reasons explained in the text, I see no grounds for thinking
that the change involved is a change of meaning. Indeed, switching quantifiers rather than
changing interpretations is less apt to suggest that it is a change of meaning which is involved.
Substitutional Quantification 231

grass is green or, alternatively, if and only if God believes that grass is green, in
which case the statements serving as the sentences truth conditions diverge in
meaning even though Grass is green has a univocal meaning. Hence, it is not the
case that diverse truth conditions entail diverse meanings of the sentence of which
they are the conditions.
The difference between objectual and substitutional quantification need not be
thought to lie in the meaning of the quantifier but in the way conditions are specified
for the quantified statements truth. Only on the objectual interpretation must there
be a (non-empty) domain of objects over which the bound variables range. The
substitutional interpretation lays down truth conditions which are ontologically neu-
tral with respect to what the sentence is about. The objectual interpretation therefore
arguably often gives the wrong truth conditions of quantified sentences, at least of
those susceptible to substitutional analysis: it is not the case that a sentence is true
only if the domain of the quantifier includes an object which is the value of the
bound variable.38 As a result, a quantified sentence which is true when understood
substitutionally may be false when construed objectually, not because of any lack of
synonymy but because the objectual interpretation yields the wrong truth condi-
tions. So, for example, a sentence like There are gods in the Babylonian pantheon
who have no counterparts in the Greek pantheon has the same linguistic meaning
under either interpretation but is plausibly true given a substitutional semantics
though false given an objectual semantics. The objectual semantics in this case
gives the wrong truth conditions.
So whether the quantifier is construed as objectual or as substitutional, there
should be no difficulty so far forth in understanding the meaning of an existentially
quantified sentence. For the sentences meaning does not change with the quantifier,
but at most there is a change of its truth conditions.39 If one understands There is a
dog, he should also understand (S).

38
But see Jody Azzouni, Deflating Existential Consequence: A Case for Nominalism (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2004), pp.547. As a neutralist Azzouni contends that this line of reason-
ing contains the crucial and unnoticed presupposition that the metalanguage in which the seman-
tics for the object language is couched is itself one whose quantifiers carry ontological commitment.
Without that presupposition, metalinguistic talk of objects in a domain no more commits us to
anything real than does the original object language assertion. He thinks that the lesson to be
learned from substitutional quantification is that a semantics for quantificational discourse need
not involve commitment to any objects at all. If we insist on interpreting the metalanguage quan-
tifiers as carrying ontic commitment, then of course, objects are involved by virtue of that interpre-
tation. But there is nothing in objectual semantics per se that requires such an ontic interpretation
(Jody Azzouni, Ontological Commitment in the Vernacular, Nos 41 [2007]: 222). The debate on
the level of the object language quantifiers thus replays itself on the metalevel, and the neutralist
sees no reason to take the metalanguage quantifiers, any more than the object language quantifiers,
as carrying ontological commitments. We shall take up neutralism in the sequel.
39
This is not to suggest that knowing a sentences truth conditions suffices for understanding its
meaning. The example, once more, of sentences containing indexical words shows that mere
knowledge of a sentences truth conditions will not suffice for understanding the meaning of the
sentence, since sentences with different indexical terms may have the same truth conditions but
quite different meanings. Some sort of linguistic knowledge will be necessary as well. Someone
who is not an English speaker may not understand (S), but the fault in that case does not lie with
substitutional quantification.
232 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

So, then, if There is a dog has the same meaning even when supplied different
truth conditions by objectual and substitutional quantification, what is the problem
supposed to be, in van Inwagens thinking, with substitutional quantification? The
problem, I think, is that van Inwagen believes that in order to avoid the ontological
commitments attending the use of the objectual quantifier, the substitutional quanti-
fier must have a different meaning. Otherwise (S) has the same ontological commit-
ments as (x) x is a dog, which van Inwagen takes to commit us to the existence
of a dog.
That van Inwagen takes substitutional quantification to avoid the ontological
commitments of objectual quantification is evident from his admission, with respect
to his argument for the existence of properties based on the truth of general sen-
tences quantifying over properties, that My argument fails if there is such a thing
as substitutional quantification.40 If proponents of substitutional quantification
thought that persons asserting sentences featuring the existential substitutional
quantifier were ontologically committed, for example, to the objects designated by
the singular terms substituted for the bound variables, then van Inwagens argument
for properties would go through unfazed and he would presumably have no problem
understanding such sentences. It is because he thinks the sentences featuring differ-
ent quantifiers have different ontological commitments that he believes the substitu-
tional quantifier must have a different meaning than the classical existential
quantifier. So he asserts,
Substitutional quantification is meaningless unless it is a kind of shorthand for objectual
quantification over linguistic items, taken together with some semantic predicates like x is
true or something satisfies z. But substitutional quantification, so understood, is of no use
to the nominalist; for, so understood, every existential substitutional quantification implies
the existence of linguistic items (words and sentences) and those are abstract objects.41

In his earlier piece van Inwagen observed that the proponents of substitutional
quantification do not themselves understand substitutionally quantified sentences to
be asserting the existence of linguistic items. Here in the context of his anti-
nominalist argument he modifies the objection by adding that if we do take the
substitutional quantifier to range over a domain of linguistic items, then it implies
the reality of abstract objects, presumably word and sentence types, so that Platonism
is vindicated after all. So the source of van Inwagens bewilderment is that he can-
not see how (S) can fail, under any acceptable understanding, to be committed to the
existence of a dog.
But it is no part of substitutional quantification to deny that one who asserts (S)
in normal contexts of utterance affirms the existence of a dog.42 Whether there is/

40
Van Inwagen, Theory of Properties, p.123.
41
Ibid., p.124. See similar complaint by Lehman, Introduction to Philosophy of Mathematics, p.9.
42
See Daniel Bonevac, Fictionalism, in Philosophy of Mathematics, ed. Andrew D. Irvine,
Handbook of the Philosophy of Science (Amsterdam: North Holland, 2009), p.379:
substitutional quantification does not avoid commitment; it transfers the ontological ques-
tion to the level of atomic sentences. The strategy means not to avoid metaphysical ques-
tions or assume that nothing at all requires the existence of objects but only to shift
Substitutional Quantification 233

are is being used to make an ontological assertion plausibly depends upon the con-
ditions of use in a particular case. The source of van Inwagens difficulty in making
sense of substitutional quantification, it seems to me, is that he taxes substitutional
quantification with a task it was never intended to address, namely, avoiding all
ontological commitments by means of there is/are.
In fact, substitutional quantification was only intended to avoid and, indeed, suc-
ceeds in avoiding the ontological commitments engendered by Quines original
Criterion of Ontological Commitment, which, as we have seen, has over time
morphed into a quite different criterion passing as Quines.43 Ironically, on Quines
original Criterion of Ontological Commitment, (S), even if the quantifier is under-
stood objectually, does not, as Quine recognized, commit us to the existence of a
dog because no specific dog must exist in order for (S) to be true. It is evident that
van Inwagen, although ascribing to his metaontology a Quinean provenance,44 in
fact presupposes a criterion of ontological commitment more like Alonzo Churchs.45

metaphysical questions from quantified and specifically existential sentences to quantifier-


free sentences and their truth conditions. On a substitutional approach, the interesting meta-
physical problem arises at the atomic levelwhy count those atomic sentences as true?and
there no longer seems to be any reason to assume that such a question must have a uniform
answer that applies no matter what the atomic sentences happen to be about. In regular and
paradigmatic cases ordinary language quantification expresses ontological commitment
because, in such cases, the truth values of atomic sentences are determined in standard
Tarskian fashion and so depend on the existence of objects.

I should say only that Bonevac fails to realize, as we shall see in the sequel, just how irregular and
non-paradigmatic these ontologically committing cases actually are.
43
Recall Chap. 3, pp.1034. Quines Criterion of Ontological Commitment is widely misunder-
stood by contemporary philosophers. See W.V. O.Quine, Replies, in Words and Objections:
Essays on the Work of W. V. Quine, ed. Donald Davidson and Jaakko Hintikka (Dordrecht;
D. Reidel, 1969), p. 315, in response to Jaakko Hintikka, Behavioral Criteria of Radical
Translation, in Words and Objections, p. 79; see further W. V. Quine, Existence and
Quantification, in Ontological Relativity and Other Essays (New York: Columbia University,
Press, 1969), pp.946. Van Inwagens argument for properties in A Theory of Properties would
fail on Quines Criterion, since his illustrative sentence There are anatomical features that insects
have and spiders also have, does not commit one to the existence of anatomical features, since
there is no feature that must exist in order for that sentence to be true.
44
Peter van Inwagen, Metaontology, in Ontology, Identity, and Modality, Cambridge Studies in
Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p.28; idem, Being, Existence, and
Ontological Commitment, in Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology, ed.
David Chalmers, David Manley, and Ryan Wasserman (Oxford: Clarendon, 2009), p.506; idem,
God and Other Uncreated Things, in Metaphysics and God, ed. Kevin Timpe (London:
Routledge, 2009), p.19.
45
See Chap. 3, pp.1034. Churchs formulation of the criterion, it will be recalled, involves the
following schema: The assertion of (x) (M) carries ontological commitment to entities x such
that M, where x may be replaced by any variable, x may be replaced by the name of that vari-
able, M may be replaced by any open sentence containing only that variable, and M may be
replaced by any name of that sentence. Churchs criterion associates ontological commitment with
the existential quantifier rather than with bound variables. He wrote, philosophers who speak
of existence, reality, and the like are to be understood as meaning the existential quantifier .
(Alonzo Church, Ontological Commitment, Journal of Philosophy 55 [1958]: 1014).
234 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

For he simply takes his stand doggedly on the meaning of there is/are in English
as carrying ontological commitment, if not susceptible to being paraphrased away.46
In an ontological dispute, he advises,
The parties to such a dispute should examine, or be willing in principle to examine, the
ontological implications of everything they want to affirm. And this examination should
consist in various attempts to render the things they want to affirm into the quantifier-
variable idiom (in sufficient depth that all the inferences they want to make from the things
they want to affirm are logically valid). The ontological implications of the things they
affirm will be precisely the class of closed sentences starting with an existential-quantifier
phrase (whose scope is the remainder of the sentence) that are logical consequences of the
renderings into the quantifier-variable idiom of those things they want to affirm. Parties to
the dispute who are unwilling to accept some ontological implication of a rendering of
some thesis they have affirmed into the quantifier-variable idiom must find some other way
of rendering that thesis into the quantifier-variable idiom (must find a paraphrase) that they
are willing to accept and which does not have the unwanted implication.47

Van Inwagen is convinced that existentially quantified statements about abstract


entities cannot be paraphrased away, and therefore in virtue of the meaning of there
is/are, which the existential quantifier codifies, we are ontologically committed to
such entities.
Substitutional quantification was never intended to address Churchs sort of cri-
terion. Indeed, Churchs criterion actually appears to assume substitutional quanti-
fication! For he speaks, not of domains of objects over which ones quantifier ranges,
but of open sentences and of replacing x with variables. In this sense, van
Inwagens estimation of the incompatibility of substitutional quantification with his
argument for properties is mistaken. For van Inwagens argument does not depend
on whether there is domain of objects over which the quantifier ranges but rather
simply on the meaning of there is/are.48 Whether Churchs criterion of ontological
commitment can bear the weight van Inwagen reposes on it is going to depend on
whether the ordinary language expression there is/are carries the alleged onto-
logical commitments. As we have seen, Quine, at least, thought that it does not. All
van Inwagen really offers for thinking that we are ontologically committed by the
existential quantifier is the synonymy in ordinary language of there is/are and
there exist(s). Synonymy is really beside the point, however, for it is indisputable

46
He says, The meaning of the quantifiers is given by the phrases of English that they abbrevi-
ate. The existential quantifier therefore expresses the sense of there is in ordinary English (Peter
van Inwagen, Quantification and Fictional Discourse, in Empty Names, Fiction, and the Puzzles
of Non-Existence, ed. Anthony Everett and Thomas Hofweber [Stanford: Center for the Study of
Language and Information, 2000], p. 239; cf. idem, Being, Existence, and Ontological
Commitment, p.492). The symbol is mere shorthand for a phrase like it is true of at least one
thing that it is such that and that the variables of quantification are nothing more than typographi-
cally distinct third person singular pronouns. there is no difference in meaning between It is
true of at least one thing that it is such that it is an anatomical feature and insects have it and spiders
also have it and x x is an anatomical feature and insects have x and spiders also have x (van
Inwagen, Theory of Properties, p.115). He observes that it follows from this proposition that
there are anatomical featuresperiod.
47
Van Inwagen, Being, Existence, and Ontological Commitment, p.506.
48
See ibid., p.498, where he says that a domain of quantification is not an essential part of an
understanding of quantification.
Concluding Remarks 235

that ordinary language is very light in its use of both these expressions, so that nei-
ther expression is always ontologically committing in ordinary language.49
In sum, substitutional quantification is intended to subvert a criterion of onto-
logical commitment that appeals to a domain of objects which is constitutive of
ones ontology. Eschewing such a domain, substitutional quantification adroitly
avoids the ontological commitments thought to issue from such a criterion. But
Churchs criterion, which has come to be widely accepted, does not depend on a
domain of objects but locates ontological commitment in the meaning of the exis-
tential quantifier. Given such a criterion we could find ourselves ontologically com-
mitted to certain entities despite our use of substitutional quantification.50 With
respect to this criterion the question shifts away from objectual vs. substitutional
quantification to the ontological import conveyed by the ordinary language there
is/are. That will be a question of central importance when we take up neutralism.

Concluding Remarks

As helpful as these Anstze are, ultimately free logic and substitutional quantifica-
tion will not fully resolve the challenge of Platonism for the classical theist. For
although free logic allows singular terms to be irreferential and so not ontologically

49
Recall Chap. 1, pp.267. It is worth noting, in view of van Inwagens insistence that existence
is not only synonymous with being but univocal as well (see, e.g., Being, Existence, and
Ontological Commitment, pp.48292), that the non-committing character of there is/are and
there exists in ordinary language is not due to a lack of univocity of meaning of such expressions,
as though there were one meaning which is ontologically committing and another which is not.
Rather, as Azzouni emphasizes, these expressions in the vernacular just do not force ontological
commitments (Azzouni, Ontological Commitment in the Vernacular, pp.204226). On Azzounis
view ontological commitment is person-relative and context-dependent; hence, there are no
words or phrases in the vernacular thatin virtue of their standard usageconvey ontic commit-
ment (idem, Ontology and the Word Exist: Uneasy Relations, Philosophia Mathematica 18
[2010]: 812). Hence, van Inwagens arguments in his Metaphysics, 3d ed. (Boulder, Col.:
Westview Press, 2009), chap. 13, about the intimate connection between existence statements and
number statements (e.g., to say that Fs exist is to say that the number of Fs is not zero) are unavail-
ing, since number statements in the vernacular are also ontologically non-committing, whether of
the form, e.g., He had one goal in mind or The number of obstacles to success remains three.
N.B. that if van Inwagen is right that to say that Horses exist is to say that The number of horses
is one or more, and that this is ontologically committing, then we are committed not only to horses
by such a statement but also to numbers, a bizarre consequence. I presume that he would para-
phrase away such a commitment by saying that there is at least one horse; but then we are back
again to using there is. Moreover, the intimate connection between existence statements and
number statements may hold for statements involving count nouns, but it is hard to see its applica-
bility to statements like Water exists, John exists, Bad weather exists, Intemperance exists,
etc.
50
See Woods, Logic of Fiction, pp.901; cf. Gottliebs comment that the semantical analysis of
atomic sentences in a language had better not reinstate the very commitment we are trying to avoid
by means of substitutional quantification. For example, he opines, it will not do to interpret the
substituends of the variables as names of the entities we are trying to avoid (Gottlieb, Ontological
Economy, p.50).
236 6 Alternative Logics andSemantics

committing, the theist who relies upon free logic to remove Platonisms sting will,
in view of free logics regarding the traditional first-order existential quantifier as a
device of ontological commitment, find that he must assume and therefore defend a
fictionalist or other anti-realist take on some abstract object sentences. Analogously,
even though substitutional quantification avoids identifying ones ontology with the
domain of ones quantifiers, still a classical theist who relies on substitutional quan-
tification to respond to Platonisms Indispensability Argument will have to deal with
the claim that there is/are locutions, if not suitably paraphrasable, indicate onto-
logical commitment on the part of their user, so that we find ourselves once more
catapulted into further debate about the ontological import of there is/are locu-
tions. This question shall be taken up repeatedly from different perspectives in ensu-
ing chapters.

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Chapter 7
Fictionalism

I take fictionalism to be the view that statements putatively involving either quanti-
fication over abstract objects or singular terms referring to such objects are false, or
at least untrue. Abstract objects are merely useful fictions; that is to say, even though
no such objects exist, it is useful to talk as though they did. Hence, the name
fictionalism.

Exposition

Hartry Field andMark Balaguers Fictionalism

Although contemporary fictionalism has its precursors, most notably Jeremy


Benthams theory of fictions and Hans Vaihingers philosophy of as if,1 the
fount of contemporary fictionalism is Hartry Fields Science without Numbers
(1980). The question Field poses is why we should regard standard mathematics as
a body of truths. The fact that its theorems are logically derived from a consistent
body of axioms is not enough; the question is, why regard the axioms as truths,
rather than as fictions that for a variety of reasons mathematicians have become
interested in?2 Since the truth of mathematical theories, taken at face value, would
commit us to the existence of a variety of abstract objects, an anti-Platonist, Field

1
On some early figures, see Gideon Rosen, Problems in the History of Fictionalism, in
Fictionalism in Metaphysics, ed. Mark Eli Kalderon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), pp.1464.
For Bentham see C.K. Ogden, Benthams Theory of Fictions, International Library of Psychology,
Philosophy, and Scientific Method (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1932). For
Vaihinger see H.Vaihinger, The Philosophy of As if, [1911] trans. C.K. Ogden, 2d ed. International
Library of Psychology, Philosophy, and Scientific Method (London: Kegan Paul, Treach, Trubner,
& Co.; n.d.).
2
Hartry Field, Science without Numbers: A Defence of Nominalism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1980), p. viii.

Springer International Publishing AG 2017 239


W.L. Craig, God and Abstract Objects, DOI10.1007/978-3-319-55384-9_7
240 7Fictionalism

advises, should embrace fictionalism about mathematicsor at least fictionalism


about mathematics-taken-at-face-value.3
What is fictionalism about mathematics-taken-at-face-value? Field explains,
A fictionalist about mathematics-taken-at-face-value is someone who does not literally
believe mathematical sentences, at least when they are taken at face value. (Or, if you prefer
to semantically ascend, a fictionalist is someone who does not regard such sentences,
taken at face value, as literally true.)4

On this characterization, a fictionalist need not be committed to the customary


semantics for quantification and reference with respect to mathematical sentences.
Indeed, Field says,
The fictionalist may believe that there is some non-face-value construal of mathematical
sentences under which they come out true; he or she may even believe that some such con-
strual gives the real meaning of the mathematical sentence, despite its departure from
what the mathematical sentence appears to mean on the surface.5

But Field himself is unsympathetic with such claims, and subsequent expositors of
fictionalism such as Mark Balaguer take fictionalism to be committed to the cus-
tomary semantics for mathematical sentences.6 Indeed, Balaguer thinks that fiction-
alism enjoys an advantage over other anti-realist views in sharing a common and
customary semantics with Platonists, at least with those pressing linguistic argu-
ments for the existence of abstract objects.
As I have characterized it, fictionalism is not closely related to the literary genre
of fiction, nor to theories thereof. The nearest approach to the literary genre of fic-
tion made by Field is his attempt to specify a sense in which commonly accepted
mathematical statements are regarded by fictionalists as true:
A fictionalist neednt (and shouldnt) deny that there is some sense in which 2 + 2 = 4 is
true; but granting that it is true in some sense does not commit one to finding any interesting
translation procedure that takes acceptable mathematical claims into true claims that dont
postulate mathematical entities. Rather, the fictionalist can say that the sense in which
2+2 = 4 is true is pretty much the same as the sense in which Oliver Twist lived in
London is true: the latter is true only in the sense that it is true according to a certain well-
known story, and the former is true only in the sense that it is true according to standard
mathematics.7

The comparison with fiction is useful in differentiating commonly accepted math-


ematical falsehoods like 2 + 2 = 4 from outrageous mathematical falsehoods like
2 + 2 = 5. Only the former are true according to standard mathematics. No further
comparison to the genre of fiction is intended. It will be helpful, then, to distinguish

3
Hartry Field, Realism, Mathematics, and Modality (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), p.2.
4
Ibid.
5
Ibid.
6
See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. Fictionalism in the Philosophy of Mathematics,
by Mark Balaguer, April 22, 2008, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fictionalism-mathematics/).
Strictly speaking, Balaguer is not himself a fictionalist because he thinks that the case for fictional-
ism and the case for Platonism are of comparable weight.
7
Field, Realism, Mathematics, and Modality, pp.23.
Exposition 241

the sort of fictionalism defended by philosophers like Mary Leng,8 which is tightly
connected to theories of fiction involving the notion of make-believe, from stan-
dard fictionalism. I shall refer to anti-realisms appealing to make-believe about
abstract objects as pretense theory and treat it separately. This distinction is impor-
tant because it insulates fictionalism from the objection that mathematics is not like
fiction in important ways, especially with respect to the role of make-believe. That
claim will be discussed when we take up pretense theory in the sequel. Here our
focus will be on the claim that discourse about abstract objects, particularly math-
ematical objects, is false or untrue.
Fictionalism, then, presupposes the customary semantics for quantification and
reference, along with the metaontological thesis that true existentially quantified
sentences commit us to the existence of whatever it is said that there is/are and that
reference is a word-world relation between a term and some mind-independent
object in the world.9
Fictionalists, then, are united in thinking sentences putatively involving either
quantification over or singular terms referring to abstract objects to be untrue. Field
thinks that the falsity of mathematical sentences does not undermine the project of
natural science because mathematics is ultimately dispensable. Balaguer, by con-
trast, thinks that the falsity of mathematical sentences does not undermine the proj-
ect of natural science because the nominalistic content of scientific theories is
independent of and, hence, unaffected by the falsity of their Platonistic, mathemati-
cal content.
On Fields view a nominalization of physical science is vital to a successful anti-
realism, for the affirmation of fictionalism tout court leaves one without an account
of how natural science can, if it is riddled with falsehoods, accurately picture the
world. He says,
our ultimate account of what the world is really like must surely include a physical theory;
and in developing physical theories one needs to use mathematics; and mathematics is full
of such references to and quantifications over numbers, functions, sets, and the like. . . .
If one just advocates fictionalism about a portion of mathematics, without showing
how that part of mathematics is dispensable in applications, then one is engaging in intel-
lectual doublethink: one is merely taking back in ones philosophical moments what one
asserts in doing science, without proposing an alternative formulation of science that
accords with ones philosophy. This (Quinean) objection to fictionalism about mathematics
can only be undercut by showing that there is an alternative formulation of science that does
not require the use of any part of mathematics that refers to or quantifies over abstract
entities.10

8
See, e.g., Mary Leng, Mathematics and Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
9
Van Inwagen therefore errs when he asserts that anyone who accepts Quines meta-ontology and
thinks that nominalism is true is committed to the feasibility of the nominalist paraphrase project
(Peter van Inwagen, Quines 1946 Lecture on Nominalism, Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol.
4, ed. Dean Zimmerman [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008], p.141). For a somewhat more
accurate characterization of fictionalism see Peter van Inwagen, Fictionalist Nominalism and
Applied Mathematics, Monist 97 (2014): 489, 496.
10
Field, Science without Numbers, pp.12. This is precisely the objection pressed forcefully by
van Inwagen, Fictionalist Nominalism, pp.486, 495, who assumes that Fields nominalization
project will not go through (p.501).
242 7Fictionalism

Most fictionalists demur, however, holding that the nominalization of science is not
essential to the defeat of the Quinean objection. Balaguer, for example, is willing to
concede Quinean claims about the indispensability of mathematics to physical sci-
ence, while maintaining realism about empirical science and fictionalism about
mathematics. Balaguer defends what he calls nominalistic scientific realism, the
view that the nominalistic content of empirical science is (mostly) true, while its
Platonistic content is fictional.11 Because abstract objects are causally inert and so
causally unconnected to physical states of affairs, there must be a nominalistic con-
tent of scientific theories, which, even if inexpressible by us due to the indispens-
ability of mathematics, is made true by the physical world wholly independently of
whether abstract objects exist. Thus, while Fields claim that empirical science can
be nominalized is highly controversial, the claim that empirical science has a
nominalististic content that captures its complete picture of the physical world is
no more controversial than the claim that abstract objects (if there are such things)
are causally inert.12 As for Fields concern that our ultimate account of what the
world is like must include a physical theory, Balaguer rejoins,
there is no guarantee that there is a true and attractive theory of the physical world. If (a)
mathematics is absolutely indispensable to empirical science and (b) there are no such
things as mathematical objects, then there is no true and attractive theory of the physical
world.13

The affirmation of absolute indispensability leaves us, not with Platonism, but with
the choice between Platonism and the conclusion that there is no true and attractive
theory of the physical world.
In support of the plausibility of nominalistic scientific realism, Balaguer defends
the thesis

11
Mark Balaguer, Platonism and Anti-Platonism in Mathematics (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1998), pp.130 ff.
12
Ibid., p.135.
13
Ibid., p.136. N.B. that by absolutely indispensable Balaguer means more than the indispens-
ability of mathematics to currently accepted theories. Mathematics is absolutely indispensable iff
it is impossible to formulate a theory of the physical world that (a) is true, (b) is more or less com-
plete in its description of physical reality, (c) is theoretically attractive, and (d) uses no mathemat-
ics (Ibid., p. 130). Balaguer thinks it is obvious that we have no good reason to think that
mathematics is absolutely indispensable. On the contrary, he thinks that we have good reason to
believe that mathematics is not absolutely indispensable. For if there are no mathematical
objects that are causally relevant to the physical world, then it seems that there should be an attrac-
tive way of describing the physical world that makes no reference to such objects. After all, doesnt
it seem that God could describe the physical world and say how it works without making refer-
ence to any causally irrelevant (or non-existent) entities? (Ibid.) Balaguers suggestion serves to
remind us that indispensability concerns, not the objects themselves, but abstract terminology. If
Balaguer is right, then for the theist the Indispensability Argument instantly evaporates, for abstract
terms are not absolutely indispensable. In weighing Balaguers claim, keep in mind that God has
unlimited linguistic resources, not just those currently known to man.
Assessment 243

(TA) Empirical theories use mathematical object talk only in order to construct theoretical
apparatuses (or descriptive frameworks) in which to make assertions about the physical
world.

Balaguer takes it to be obvious that mathematics does function in the way described
by (TA) in physical theories. Consider, for example, the use of mathematics in quan-
tum mechanics (QM):
it seems entirely obvious that (TA) applies to QM, that is, the reason we refer in QM to
things like vectors and subspaces and real numbers is that this provides us with a convenient
way of describing quantum phenomena. (Indeed, what else could we say here? We certainly
wouldnt want to claim that we refer to these objects in QM because we simply want to state
facts about them, or because we think they are partly responsible for the operation or state
of the quantum level of the physical world. It just seems obvious that the reason we refer to
these objects is that this provides us with an easy way of saying what we want to say about
quantum phenomena.)14

Whether or not mathematics is dispensable to physical theory, (TA) accurately


describes, in Balaguers view, the function of mathematics in scientific theories. But
such a role is perfectly compatible with fictionalism because descriptive aids need
not be genuinely referential in order to be useful. We could use mathematical object
talk to depict accurately the physical world even if no mathematical objects existed.
In short, the reason nominalistic scientific realism is a sensible philosophy of sci-
ence is that the nominalistic content of empirical science is all empirical science is
really trying to say about the world. Its Platonistic content is something it says
incidentally in its effort to say what it really wants to say.15
Fictionalists, then, may regard Platonistic mathematics as either dispensable
(Field) or indispensable (Balaguer) to physical science. What unites them is their
conviction that, given the customary semantics, the mathematical sentences, whether
pure or applied, are not true.

Assessment

Obvious Truth ofElementary Mathematics

The most evident objection to fictionalism is that some mathematical statements,


such as statements of elementary arithmetic like 1 + 1 = 2, are just obviously true.
Indeed, they seem to be necessarily true. Therefore fictionalism is ruled out tout
court.
It would be futile for the fictionalist to try to call into question the truth of such
elementary mathematical statements by appealing to putative empirical counterex-
amples, such as the combination of certain liquids, where one gallon plus one gallon
yields less than two gallons, or the marriage of two persons with children, where

14
Ibid., p.139.
15
Ibid., p.141.
244 7Fictionalism

one family plus one family does not result in two families. For as Chihara points
out, the arithmetic truth 1 + 1 = 2 is not a prediction of the result of combinations
of things but simply an identity statement which entails that if one has added one
thing and one other thing, then one has added two things, whatever may result from
their combination.16
Nor will it suffice for the fictionalist to say that elementary arithmetic statements
may be taken as fictionally true, that is to say, true according to the standard model
of arithmetic. For the point is surely that the standard model of arithmetic is correct.
It is inconceivable, given the meaning of the symbols 0, , +, and in a first-order
logical language of arithmetic that, for example, 0 + 0 0.17 Even on non-
standard models satisfying the first-order Peano Axioms, the same arithmetic state-
ments come out true (or false). (A second order formulation of the induction axiom
will serve to eliminate all the non-standard models in any case.) The elementary
truths of arithmetic impose themselves upon us, along with the axioms from which
these truths are derived as theorems.
Like Field, Mary Leng takes the Peano Axioms to be false, since they involve
ontological commitment to numbers. She claims that at best, we can know that it
follows from the Dedekind-Peano axioms that 2 + 2 = 4.18 This conviction brings
her into apparent conflict with the Fregean tradition that the axioms are known intui-
tively to be true. She observes that the Peano Axioms can be derived from Humes
Principle, that The number of Fs = the number of Gs iff there are as many Fs as
Gs. Platonists like Crispin Wright take this to be an equivalence principle whose
right-hand side is a truth of second-order logic for some Fs and Gs and which there-
fore requires the objects which are referred to on the left-hand side of the bicondi-
tional. Leng denies the truth of Humes Principle, affirming merely that if there
were numbers, Humes principle would have to be true of them.19 In other words,
while accepting the implication left to right, she denies the implication right to left.
Lengs position is incumbent on the anti-realist, however, only if he assumes, in line
with the customary semantics, that identity statements like that on the left-hand side
of Humes Principle have existence assumptions. Given her belief in the ontologi-
cally committing character of the customary semantics, Leng will have to deny an
elementary arithmetic truth like 1 = 1. Why not reject instead, we might wonder, the
semantic interpretation that requires the left-hand side of Humes Principle to be
ontologically committing? It is the unquestioned presupposition of the customary

16
Charles S. Chihara, Constructibility and Mathematical Existence (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1990), pp.934; idem, A Structural Account of Mathematics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004),
p.237.
17
0 is the name of a number, a one-place function symbol for the successor relation, and =
and two-place function symbols for addition and multiplication respectively. For discussion of
standard and non-standard models of the Peano Axioms in a first-order language, as well as a
second-order treatment, see George Boolos and Richard Jeffrey, Computability and Logic
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), esp. chap. 17.
18
Leng, Mathematics and Reality, p.90.
19
Ibid., p.88.
Assessment 245

criterion of ontological commitment that forces the fictionalist to deny such obvious
truths.20
Leng, in response to what Charles Parsons has called the obviousness of ele-
mentary mathematics, denies that any arithmetic propositions are obviously true.21
For if it is obvious, for example, that there is an even prime number, then it is like-
wise obvious that there are numbers. But the debate over the reality of numbers has
been raging for over two thousand years, so, surely the mere existence of a debate
over this matter speaks against the claim that the truth of the arithmetic propositions
in question is genuinely obvious?22 Lengs riposte must assume that Quine/
Churchs Criterion of Ontological Commitment has the same appearance of obvi-
ousness as the truths of elementary arithmetic, which is absurd. Men have not been
debating for two thousand years whether there is an even prime number or whether
2 + 2 = 4 but the ontological implications of such truths. It has only been within the
past century that a criterion of ontological commitment has evolved that takes such
truths to be ontologically committing. The millennia-long debate, especially the
contemporary debate, ought to make us dubious, I think, not of the obviousness of
arithmetic, but of the obviousness of the customary criterion of ontological commit-
ment which requires Platonism to be entailed by such truths.
Mark Colyvan, to whom Leng adverts, seems strangely acquiescent when it
comes to the customary criterion. In order to justify his denial that elementary arith-
metic statements are obviously true, he employs a Carnapian distinction between
questions posed within a linguistic framework and questions taken external to such
a framework:
Usually when asked questions about elementary number theory, we take the context of such
questions to be within number theory where the answers are obvious. Asked the same ques-
tion in a metaphysics seminar, the answers cease to be obvious. Furthermore, this phenom-
enon is not peculiar to mathematics. Its presumably obvious that the following statement is
true:
(*) There is a difference between the political policies of the Liberals and the Democrats.
Its obviously true in the context of a discussion of Australian politics, but in the context of
a metaphysics debate to admit that (*) is true is apparently to hold to a commitment to the
ontological category of differences. Perhaps differences, as an ontological category, do
exist, but its far from obvious that they do. Nonetheless, there is surely some reading of (*)
that is obviously true, and it is this reading, whatever it may be, that we are confusing with
(*) when we pronounce (*) obviously true.23

We may agree with Colyvan that it is far from obvious that differences and numbers
are ontological categories; but that provides no reason to deny the admittedly obvi-
ous truth of (*) or of 2 + 2 = 4. For it is not obvious, even in the metaphysics

20
The assumption of the customary criterion of ontological commitment is especially evident in
van Inwagens critique of anti-realism in van Inwagen, Fictionalist Nominalism, pp.4806.
21
Leng, Mathematics and Reality, p.90.
22
Ibid., p. 91, in sympathy with Mark Colyvan, The Indispensability of Mathematics (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 117. Leng treats obvious as a success-term, so that what
needs explanation is the appearance of obviousness of statements of elementary arithmetic.
23
Colyvan, Indispensability of Mathematics, pp.11718.
246 7Fictionalism

seminar, that holding to the truth of such statements does involve a commitment to
the existence of differences and numbers. That is to take for granted the customary
criterion of ontological commitment. Only on that assumption can our taking (*) to
be identical to the non-committal reading of (*) be deemed a confusion. If we pose
the external question, Does 2 + 2 = 4? the answer to that question will fail to be
obvious only if we presuppose the customary criterion, which is by no means as
obvious as the statement in question.
Leng herself confesses that The equation 2 + 2 = 4 is something that is diffi-
cult to doubt, even for anti-Platonists who would reject the closely related claim
(n) (n + 2 = 4) as carrying with it an unwarranted ontological commitment to
numbers.24 Remarkably, however, rather than reject the customary criterion of
ontological commitment, she tries instead to explain away the apparent obviousness
of 2 + 2 = 4: Perhaps what is obvious to us is just that certain propositions,
including the proposition that 2 + 2 = 4, follow from the assumption that there are
numbers satisfying the Dedekind-Peano axioms.25 Such a suggestion is outrageous,
since people have believed since the most primitive times, wholly apart from any
belief that there are numbers satisfying the Peano Axioms, that 2 + 2 = 4, and even
today most people would not have a clue how to derive the truths of elementary
arithmetic from the Peano Axioms.
Leng acknowledges that long before people knew much number theory, it seemed
obvious that 2 + 2 = 4, but she entertains sympathetically Colyvans claim that the
apparent obviousness of basic arithmetic is due to our childhood conditioning,
which might create an illusion of obviousness.26 One should have thought that the
reason we teach elementary arithmetic to our children in the first place is because
we find it, upon reflection, to be evidently true. Leng agrees that we could not have
found different number-theoretic statements like 2 + 2 = 5 to be obviously true.
But she insists that the salient point is that
Our early training in basic arithmetic conditions us to accept claims about numbers as true
without regard to the ontological commitments they bring with them, so that by the time we
come to consider matters of ontology, we find it hard to take seriously the possibility that
there may not be any numbers.27

This claim strikes me as both false and irrelevant. The first clause seems nearly
right, though it would have been better to speak of alleged ontological commit-
ments. Such ontological concerns are doubtless absent from primary school
instruction in arithmetic. But the last clause should have been we are astonished to
learn that some philosophers think that the truths of basic arithmetic commit us to
the existence of numbers as mind-independent objects. It is the disclosure that
ones childhood belief that 2 + 2 = 4 commits one to the reality of 4 that is hard to
take seriously at first. In any case, even if, as Leng thinks, we were conditioned

24
Leng, Mathematics and Reality, p.92.
25
Ibid.
26
Ibid.
27
Ibid., p.93.
Assessment 247

against anti-realism from childhood, that provides no grounds for rejecting the obvi-
ousness of arithmetic. Why not instead call into question the criterion of ontological
commitment which has been surreptitiously drilled into us?
Finally, Leng suggests more plausibly that the reason 2 + 2 = 4 seems obvious is
due to our experience of counting objects:
When we say that it is obvious that 2 + 2 = 4, it is plausible that we sometimes mean, not
that it is obvious that number theory implies that 2 + 2 = 4, but rather, that its obvious that
if I correctly count exactly two objects of one sort and exactly two objects of another
sort, then taking these together I will be able to count exactly four objects that are either
of the first sort or the second sort.28

But, she adds, this just makes adjectival use of the natural numbers, and such
uses can be formalized without quantification over natural numbers.29 Let us sup-
pose that Leng is right that our experience of counting goes to explain the obvious-
ness of elementary arithmetic and that adjectival use of numbers suffices to capture
such experience. Upon being informed that nominal use of the number 2 is ontologi-
cally committing in way that adjectival use is not, should we react by doubting the
truth of elementary arithmetic vouchsafed to us by counting rather than the criterion
of ontological commitment which requires that my belief that Ten is the number of
my fingers commits me to a mind-independent, abstract object, while I have ten
fingers does not? To do so would be a case of misplaced confidence. Any criterion
of ontological commitment will always be less obvious than the truths of elemen-
tary arithmetic.
In short, ones attitude toward the objection from the obviousness of elementary
arithmetic is going to depend on ones attitude toward the customary semantics. If
with the fictionalist we are convinced that the customary semantics with its devices
for ontological commitment is unavoidable, then we shall find upon reflection that
the sentences of elementary mathematics are anything but obvious.30 For we shall
come to see that statements which we have unhesitatingly accepted as true since
childhood are, in fact, radical ontological assertions about the existence of

28
Ibid.
29
Ibid.
30
See Fields reaction to the objection that it is unintelligible to deny the truth of mathematical
assertions like 2 + 2 = 4, since it is simply a consequence of the meaning we have assigned to
2, 4, +. etc., that this and similar assertions hold. He says that this objection cannot be right
because analytic truths cannot have existential implications. He grants that
the claim If there are numbers then 2 + 2 = 4 has some claims to count as an analytic truth,
indeed one so obvious that its denial is unintelligible. But it cant be an analytic or
purely conceptual truth that there are objects 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. obeying such laws as that 2 + 2
= 4. An investigation of conceptual linkages can reveal conditions that things must satisfy
if they are to fall under our concepts; but it cant yield that there are things that satisfy those
concepts (Field, Science without Numbers, p.5).

See further Mark Balaguer, Fictionalism, Theft, and the Story of Mathematics, Philosophia
Mathematica 17 (2009): 132, who points out that in order to dispense with fictionalism Platonists
need to argue that the Platonistic truth conditions of mathematical sentences are actually satisfied,
which is a substantive claim about the nature of the world.
248 7Fictionalism

ind-independent abstract objects. As such, they are not at all obviously true. We
m
come to realize that we have, in fact, misunderstood them all these years; we liter-
ally did not understand what we were asserting. On the other hand, if we find sen-
tences of elementary arithmetic to be obvious because we do not take them to be
ontologically committing, then we shall be led to reject the recently enunciated
criterion of ontological commitment which would saddle us with such commit-
ments. After all, the sentences of elementary mathematics are much more obviously
true than the customary semantics and its devices of ontological commitment and so
should be more tenaciously held and less quickly surrendered than the customary
criterion of ontological commitment. Since Platonists and fictionalists share the
customary criterion of ontological commitment, the objection to fictionalism from
the obviousness of elementary arithmetic is not, then, one that the Platonist could
press, since on the customary criterion such statements are not obviously true. It is,
however, an objection that fellow anti-realists will press forcefully against
fictionalism.

Indispensability/Applicability ofMathematics

If even sentences of elementary arithmetic are not obviously true given the custom-
ary criterion of ontological commitment, still a powerful argument for mathematical
truth and, hence, against fictionalisms denial of the same arises from the indispens-
ability and applicability of mathematics. Though often conflated in the literature,
mathematics indispensability is quite distinct from mathematics applicability.
Indispensability has to do with our inability to get along in science or in even ordi-
nary life without quantifying over or using singular terms having as their referents
abstract objects; applicability concerns mathematics reliability or utility in helping
us to navigate successfully the physical world. Realists and anti-realists alike who
endorse mathematical truth maintain that mathematics indispensability and appli-
cability is better accounted for if mathematical statements are, in fact, true.
Let us look first at mathematics indispensability. Contemporary indispensability
arguments differ from Quines in that no reformulation of our best theories of sci-
ence into an artificial language is required, nor are statements of mathematics taken
to be confirmed distributively via confirmation of the theories of which they are a
part. Rather such statements may be considered severally as they appear in or are
presupposed by the present scientific discourse of ordinary language. The salient
point is that we have good reason to think that many such statements are true, in
contradiction to fictionalism. Moreover, while quantification over or reference to
mathematical objects in many statements of ordinary language, such as The num-
ber of persons killed in the attacks of September 11 was approximately 3,000, may
be eliminated by rephrasing the numerical expressions adjectivally, for example,
Approximately 3,000 persons were killed in the attacks of September 11, which
utilizes numerical quantifiers carrying no ontological commitment to numbers, still
scientific discourse cannot be altogether freed from quantification over or reference
Assessment 249

to mathematical objects.31 Hence, it is alleged, we cannot reasonably deny that sci-


entific truths encompass statements quantifying over and referring to mathematical
objects.
It is noteworthy that this is not in itself a Platonist conclusion, but merely an anti-
fictionalist conclusion.32 It is only the conjunction of this conclusion with the cus-
tomary interpretation of existential quantification and reference that yields Platonism
or, at least, realism. Anti-realists who reject the customary interpretation may thus
press indispensability/applicabil