Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Clarifying "Analogy"

As it remains an area of Protestant orthodox theology into which little thorough contemporary philosophical inquiry is made, and one in which conceptual clarity is of great importance in development of a Christian (or Biblical) theory of knowledge, I will endeavor to begin a brief treatment of the Reformed doctrine of analogy. It appears that this doctrine as upheld by Reformed Christian communities at present is to some degree amorphous. Likely, the most prominent and freshest association of the doctrine or analogy for the contemporary reformed Christian will be with Cornelius Van Til who, in the mid-twentieth century, forcibly defended the view that human knowledge is “analogical” to Divine knowledge, against the opposing notion held by Gordon Clark that human knowledge and Divine knowledge are “univocal.” However, as the appellations given to the views of the opposing sides in this debate were borrowed from a much earlier theological controversy wherein they denoted slightly different views, and wherein a slightly different matter was at issue, prima facie discussion of the doctrine of analogy with a view toward the broader theological/philosophical context is apt to involve convolution. The original doctrine of analogy comes from Thomas Aquinas. Thomas’ doctrine shall be the first concern in this paper. Thomas’ doctrine of analogy is a different doctrine from Van Til’s. This may be clearly seen when the central contentions of the two doctrine’s are juxtaposed:

1) Thomas: The meanings of the terms humans use to speak about God are analogical to their meanings when used to speak about creatures.

2) Van Til: All human knowledge is analogical to Divine knowledge.

Under the Thomistic doctrine, the meanings (for humans) of terms are analogical to other meanings (for humans) of the same terms. Under the Van Tilian doctrine, the content of human knowledge is analogical to the content of Divine knowledge. I shall deal with Thomas’ doctrine of analogy in such a way as to set up for more lucid consideration of Van Til’s. The bulk of the paper (part 1) shall be dedicated to dispatching Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy in favor of an alternate theory of theological names. Through analysis of Thomas’ doctrine, however, we shall find that his was a noble cause in that he sought, through the positing of analogy as a mode of theological naming, to recognize the vast metaphysical difference and established distance between God and creatures, and the sense of God’s utter incomprehensibility so unmistakably conveyed in Scripture. In conclusion (part 2) I shall note that Van Til’s, doctrine of analogy (which in substance is really the Reformed Scholastics’ doctrine of archetypal and ectypal knowledge) more adequately systematizes these Biblical notions while enabling a viable theory of theological names and thus offers an auspicious ground for a Christian theory of knowledge.

Part I

Thesis 1: Thomas Aquinas doctrine of analogical names for God is false.

a) Thomas Aquinas’ view of analogical names for God

If the doctrine of analogy is to be considered in light of its historical vicissitudes, first attention must be given to the doctrine as formulated by Thomas Aquinas, as usage of the language of analogy in Christian theology appears to originate with him.[1] Thomas’ category of analogy is drawn directly from Aristotelian analysis.
Systematization of diverse loci at which Aristotle deals with the logic of names and references shows him distinguishing between things named equivocally, things named univocally, and things named in a special sort of equivocation (that sort which Thomas will call analogy). [2] Things named equivocally are said to share a name but have entirely different meanings, or denotations. For example, the word “pen” can be used to refer to a writing utensil or a fenced area where pigs are kept. Things named univocally are said to share a name and meaning or denotation. As an example of univocal naming, a man or an ox may each be said to be an animal, and in each case what is meant by animal, namely “animate sensitive substance” is the same. Finally Aristotle arrives at a special sort of equivocation in which the things named again share the same name and have different denotations, yet in which the denotations do not seem wholly diverse. For example, a picture of a horse and an actual horse may both be named an animal, and though these denotations are entirely different, they are in some sense related.
Thomas Aquinas effectively imports this threefold division of modes of naming into his philosophical/theological system giving special prominence to the third mode. For Thomas too, there is distinction between instances of equivocations that occur by chance, as in the case of “pen” and equivocations by design. The latter cases he categorizes as instances of analogical naming, midway between purely equivocal and univocal naming. Thus, for Thomas in things named analogically “there is diversity because the name signifies different proportions or relations or references; there is unity because these proportions or relations or references are to one in the same thing.”[3]
An example employed repeatedly in the work of Aquinas as an elucidating instantiation of analogical naming is that of the designation “healthy.” Aquinas notes that many unlike things, such as medicine, food, the animal etc. can be described as “healthy” yet the variety of things are not all termed “healthy” by mere happenstance, rather they all are said to be healthy because they “refer or are proportioned, or attributed to the same health.” That is “the different relations involved are that of restoring, of signifying and sustaining health.”[4] What distinguishes cases of analogical naming from cases of univocal naming is that in the former “the common notion signified by the name is not shared equally by all the things which receive the name; only one of the analogates is signified perfectly by the name” while in the later “things named… participate equally in the common notion signified by their common name.”[5] Thus, the case cited above of multiple things named “healthy” is one of analogy rather than univocity because only in one of the analogates is the notion signified by “healthy” possessed perfectly or, properly, namely the animal itself. As we could take “healthy” to mean (in 13th century speech), “that wherein there is a proper proportion of the humors” of the several analogates listed in our example, only the animal could be said to exemplify this denotation of “healthy” when the term is applied simply, apart from contextual reference. The rest of the analogates will bear the name “healthy” only insofar as they refer in some way to that which possesses the notion properly.[6] The type of analogy given in this example is that of, “one towards the other,” in which one of the analogates has a relation, reference, or proportion to the other which properly possesses the notion commonly signified. [7]
It is precisely this type of analogical reference which Thomas takes to be operative in all human speech and knowledge about, or naming of God. Here I am obliged to quote a passage from Ralph M. McInerny’s book The Logic of Analogy, as it helpfully outlines Thomas’ rationale for a system of analogical names for the Divine:
If God is to be known, He cannot be known through His sensible qualities since He has none. However, he can be known though the sensible things which are the connatural objects of our intellect[8], known as their cause. Thus knowledge of God follows on knowing something else as a quod [9] and then arguing to God’s existence: this is discursive knowledge and it is radically imperfect.[10]

For Aquinas, God can be known, whether in natural or supernatural revelation, only discursively through created effects of which He is the efficient cause. In patent Aristotelian fashion, Aquinas posits a schema for human naming of the Divine in which the many various creaturely accidental predicates, or nonessential attributes, are the invariable starting point. Notions ascertained as properly possessed in creatures, may then be ascribed to God’s unified essence in a related, proportional, or participatory sense. Thus for all names common to God and creatures, (and thus for all Divine names since God can only be named from creatures), the notion signified will be possessed properly in the creature and derivatively in God.
In light of this framework for analogical naming, we may examine a concrete instance of analogical ascription of a name to God. Consider the statement, “God is wise.” Since, for Thomas, it is stipulated that God may be named (or known) only analogically with names possessed properly in creatures, the designation “wise” in this proposition must be sought for its full, simple applicatory notion or denotation first in some creature or other. Then some relation of God to the proper notion possessed in the creature must be sought, which affords Him derivative application of some aspect(s) of the full simple notion, and so of the analogous name. Set parallel to the illustration of analogous naming employed earlier, some creature or other will occupy the variable place of “the animal” as the anaolgate in which the name, or designation in question, here “wise” (‘healthy,’ in the example) is possessed properly, and God will occupy the variable place held above by “medicine” as the analogate in which the name, or designation in question is possessed only referentially, relationally, or proportionally to the other. If “wise” means “having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right” of the analogates – God and some creature or other, only the creature could be said to exemplify this denotation of “wise” when the term is applied simply, apart from contextual reference. God will bear the name “wise” only insofar as He relates in some way to that creature which to possesses the notion properly.
Interestingly, Thomas suggests that one fundamental way (among others) of relation of God to the creatures, whereby He is afforded derivative application of certain aspects of their proper perfections such as wisdom, justice, or goodness, is the way of causation. Thus, both God and Socrates may be said to be wise, not because both can be said to possess the full, proper notion of “wise” (which for our purposes is: having the power of discerning and judging properly as to what is true or right), but in virtue of the facts that Socrates possesses the full, proper notion of “wise” and that God causes Socrates to be wise.[11]
b) Presentation and vindication of John Duns Scotus’ argument against Thomistic, doctrine of analogy (as renovated by Thomas Williams).
John Duns Scotus repudiates this view of analogical names for God. While we should depart from the Scotistic theological deportment in various other areas, we may find Scotus’ refutation of Thomistic analogy instructive, especially as contemporarily refurbished by Thomas Williams.[12]
Scotus objects to the view of Aquinas detailed in part (a) by demonstrating that statements and ascriptions of names purported to convey meaning analogically will always be reducible or analyzable into either instances of pure equivocity or pure univocity. Thomas Williams advances Scotus’ objection, both in expounding Scotus’ works and in expostulating from his foundation. Williams takes up the same classic example employed in (a) in which the designation “wise” is predicated both of God and of Socrates. As has been shown, Aquinas and proponents of his doctrine of analogical names would hold that the term “wise” has different but related senses, or denotations in the statements “Socrates is wise” and “God is wise.” Assuming that the denotation of “wise” in the sentence “Socrates is wise” can be explicitly specified, Williams poses the question to proponents of Thomistic analogy whether we are able to explicitly specify either i) the denotation of “wise” in the sentence “God is wise” or ii) the relation which the denotation of “wise” as applied to God bears to its denotation as applied to Socrates. He then delineates the exhaustive possible scenarios which will result from the three possible responses to this query. 1) If neither (i) nor (ii) can be specified, then the two uses of “wise” are equivocal and we remain strictly agnostic about the meaning of “God is wise.” 2) If (i) may be specified, this specification would serve as a substitute for “wise” in “God is wise.” If the terms of the substitute expression are taken to have the same denotations as they have in our regular speech, it is a case of univocity[13]. If the terms of specification were said to have different, or different-but-related denotations from the those which they have in our regular speech, then the former query must be again posed of each of them and this process must continue ad infinitum or until it terminates in a univocal expression or cession to agnostic equivocity. 3) If (ii) may be specified, then a substitute expression may be given for “wise” in “God is wise” consisting of the explicit denotation of “wise” in “Socrates is wise” plus the explicit specification of (ii). Again, if the terms of this substitute expression have the same denotations that they have in our ordinary language, a univocal expression has been achieved in which no meaning is lost. If their denotations are said to be different, then regress or agnosticism ensues. Left with situations either of utterly agnostic equivocation or of univocal predication as exhaustive of the possible endpoints of this discussion, Williams argues that univocal predication is the only tenable option for whoever would wish to speak meaningfully of God, His names and His attributes.[14]
This argument is incisive and effectively excludes analogy as a distinctive middle way of reference between equivocity and univocity. When posed Williams’ query, the proponent of Thomistic analogy will likely deny (i) above can be accomplished (it is constitutive of their position to do so), and enter the regress outlined in attempting (ii). For Thomas, from the outset it is stipulated that we may speak of God employing only names which have their proper denotations in creatures (not God), and thus the denotation of a name applied to God decidedly cannot be explicitly specified. As we saw in part (a) however, the relation which the denotation of “wise” as applied to God bears to its denotation as applied to Socrates may be indicated. Thomas suggests that one way of relation of God to the creatures whereby He is afforded derivative application of certain aspects of their proper perfections is the way of causation. A proponent of analogy may state that “God is wise insofar as He causes Socrates to be wise.” Yet if it is investigated whether the terms in the substitute expression are to be taken to have their ordinary denotation, an affirmative finding will not likely be forthcoming. Aquinas in speaking of God as first cause notes that the way in which God would cause things from nothing must be quite unlike the way in which we observe any sort of cause and effect among created things. Thus again we are assured that the denotation of cause when applied to God is different in a way that is not specifiable from the creaturely denotation of the term, which alone we may access.
This breakdown of analogical naming may be seen to occur in the mundane cases as well as in cases of appropriating names for God. Consider again the example of “healthy” from part (a). Aquinas cites the cases of the ascription of “healthy” to numerous things (i.e. medicine, food, etc.) besides that which possesses its simple, full notion or denotation properly but somehow relate to that which does possess the simple full notion (the animal) as instances of analogical naming. Were the Scotus/Williams objection applied here, the question would be posed to the proponent of analogy whether we are able to explicitly specify either i) the denotation of “healthy” in the sentence “medicine is healthy” or, ii) the relation which the denotation of “healthy” as applied to medicine bears to its denotation as applied to the animal. Both of these seem quite doable and so with a little effort the ascription of the designation “healthy” to medicine will be shown to have been specifiable equivocation. Indeed we will recall from the outset that as, analogy was drawn up in Aristotle as a kind of equivocation so it remains.

Thesis 2: We have different (but related) specifiable concepts for God and for creatures, and terms analogically applied to both God and creatures are, at base, cases of “specifiable equivocity.”
An evident aim of Scotus, and a chief aim of Williams in taking up Scotus’ position, is to recognize immanent meaning in our speech about, and naming of God. Indeed this is a worthwhile aspiration with strong Biblical foundation. Throughout Scripture, various names and attributes are predicated directly of God without caveat or reservation as to their ingenuous applicability. While a posture of dumbfounded doxological reverence is everywhere maintained, men and women, upon true encounter with YHWH boldly confess, in candid referential terms, the perfections of Him beheld. As theological terms make direct, immediate reference to encountered, beheld qualities, there is available ready artillery to counter the positivist charge which claims that since language for God and His supposed attributes receives no ostensible referent in our experience, it conveys only aesthetic or emotive effluvium. The Thomistic doctrine of analogy plays into the hands of this critique by eroding the wealth of meaning carried by our denotative speech about, and names for God. If the proponent of Thomistic analogy must retreat from whatever proposition he or she should make concerning God when questioned as to its meaning or reference, it should seem the positivist point is made. Consider three steps suggested by Thomas Aquinas to be involved in our naming God:
First, we affirm a name of God, saying God is good.
Secondly, since the name is verified of God only because of the id a quo,[15] we deny it of Him, saying God is not good.
Finally, we once more affirm it of Him, intending to say that goodness is found in God supereminently and beyond all possibility of our grasping what the divine goodness is.
-What we finally know, therefore, is that we do not know what God is. These names remain the names of creatures and do not become the names of God in any full sense. [16]

If this account were given in response to inquiry as to what is meant or thought when it is said that “God is good” though the positivist critic, the lay unbeliever, or the churchgoer may come away appreciating the speaker’s effervescent poetic sentiment, he or she certainly would not have garnered any meaningful assertive content.
Its seems that we are supplied by the Scriptural accounts with abundant warrant to advance the common sense claim that if anyone or anything is to be humanly known, it will be the case that, He, he, she, or it is experienced in some way or other, and understood (although in all cases only partially so). These two elements in human knowledge may be restated as perception and conceptualization. Whoever/whatever is to be known passes through, and/or remains in the ken of our perceptual[17] experience and is noted as a part of perceptual experience compassing certain qualities as distinct from other parts. Thus, if our terminology (which conveys concepts) is to be meaningful, it must be demonstrable to which parts of our experience which terms refer. Given the epistemic apparatus with which we as human beings have been outfitted, we must hold to a doctrinal position under which all of our names or terms of reference whether for God, other people, things etc. convey concepts denoting parts of our experience.
Dr. Thomas Williams’ formulation of Scotus’ doctrine of univocity reads thus:
Univocity: Notwithstanding the irreducible ontological diversity between God and creatures, there are concepts under who’s extension both God and creatures fall, so that the corresponding predicate expressions are used in exactly the same sense in predications about God as in predications about creatures. [18]

We ought not adopt this doctrine wholesale. There are no concepts under who’s extension both God and creatures fall. As concepts point to, or draw together, parts of our experience, it must be maintained that our concepts of Divine being and qualities be utterly distinct from our concepts of the being and qualities of the various creatures. Our perception of God constitutes part of our experience distinct and distinguishable from the parts which our perceptions of created things constitute.
Any single name or quality incidentally predicated of both God and creature should ultimately be further specified in each case, for our experience of God having a quality is an altogether different part of our total experience from those parts in which we experience the several creatures having some similar quality analogically/equivocally subsumed under the same name. Thus in the sentences “God is wise” and “Socrates is wise” we shall admit that this way of speaking is liable to be rather misleading and specify by substituting “God is divinely wise” and “Socrates is wise after the manner men are wise.” In these two “divinely wise” and “wise after the manner men are wise” are different concepts denoting different qualities that have characterized different parts of our experience. Working from a Biblical anthropology, it is also in order to note our experience of the relation of the certain similitude between these two concepts, or parts of our experience, and so our possessing a third relational concept, in English termed “image.” Having completed this analysis, it is then appropriate to return to analogical use of the term wise (as with the Biblical authors) understanding that it actually masks an equivocation which may be specified by substituting “Socrates is wise insofar as his being creaturely wise images the Lord’s being divinely wise.”

Therefore, our doctrine is not so much one of univocity in names shared of God and creatures, as it is one of, “specifiable equivocation.” If consciously grounded in analysis of the equivocation involved, analogical use is indeed permissible and is often implemented in our (and the Bible’s) talk about God and creatures. However, if any question should arise as to how these terms are applied to both God and creatures, we shall momentarily set aside the analogical/equivocal usage, and specify to which parts of our experience our terms refer in use, rather than retreat from their usage into perplexity with Thomas Aquinas.
A chief aim of Thomas Aquinas in positing his doctrine of analogy of names is to acknowledge and uphold the unspeakable difference between God and humanity. God’s incomprehensibility, His vast metaphysical difference from us, and His established distance from us are indeed manifest Biblical motifs with which we must not tamper. Yet as we have seen the way in which Thomas’ commendable effort to recognize these delimitations to the human enterprise of knowing/naming God tends overmuch in the direction of agnostic equivocity, it will be humble, bold piety rather than arrogation which will lead us to dispense with his doctrine of analogy in favor of this more biblical and robust doctrine of Divine names.

Part II
Toward Van Til’s doctrine of analogy…[19]
The archetypal/ectypal distinction between Divine and human knowledge taught in the works of the Protestant Scholastic writers offers wonderful resources for the fuller shaping of such an alternate doctrine of Divine names. This division of knowledge recognizes the humanly inaccessible archetypal sapientia of God as an incommunicably different, unfathomably great, original mode of knowing concomitant with God’s incommunicably different, unfathomably great, original mode of being. Yet it also recognizes (unlike Thomas) God’s condescended accommodated revelation of Himself in a form which creatures are capable of grasping. As delineated by Franciscus Junius, this self-revelation of God to His human creatures is ectypal – copy of, and emanation from the archetype. To quote three theses of Junius pertaining to this ectypal revelation:
8) Ectypal theology or theology considered simply (simplicier) {as they say} or relatively (secundum quid) is wisdom concerning divine things informed by God from the archetype through the communication of grace in order to glorify God.
9) The former (theologia simpliciter dicta) is the whole wisdom concerning divine things communicable to creatures in respect of the communicator.
10) The latter (theologia secundum quid) is wisdom concerning divine things communicated to creatures in respect of themselves. It is communicated by union, vision, or revelation.[20]

We may note that the terms (at least the later two) which denote the modes of communication of the ectypal knowledge in thesis (10) suggest perception on the part of the receiving creatures. That understanding on the part of the receiving creature is involved seems implied by the very fact that cognate theological wisdom is the matter under consideration. Thus, we may view as ectypal (as per Junius & Protestant.Scholastics) the Biblical authors’ and our conceptualization of the qualia of perceptual encounter with God as He graciously condescends to reveal Himself in a form accommodated to the human epistemic apparatus. Our naming of God is ostensibly referential to our experience of Him.
Under Van Til’s “doctrine of analogy” it is this ectypal conceptualization of perceived qualities (i.e. knowledge) that is “analogous” to God’s archetypal correlate. We would eagerly subscribe to this “doctrine of analogy” as in substance, it accurately represents biblical teaching. For clarity, however, we ought to dispense with this appellation as it is infelicitous and wont to draw in Thomistic ideas.
(see forthcoming appendix for further discussion of archetypal:ectypal “analogy.”)

Select Bibliography
McInerny, Ralph M. Aquinas and Analogy. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996.

McInerny, Ralph M. The Logic of Analogy; An Interpretation of St. Thomas. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1961.

Williams, Thomas. The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. Cambridge companions to philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Williams, Thomas. “The Doctrine of Univocity is True and Salutary.” The University of Iowa, 2005. http://shell.cas.usf.edu/...twilliam/papers.html (accessed November 2, 2008).

Van Asselt, Willem J. “The Fundamental Meaning of Theology: Archetypal and Ectypal Theology in 17th Century Reformed Thought.” The Westminster Theological Journal 64, no. 2 (Fall 2002).
[1] The following discussion of Thomistic formulation of analogy will be largely a paraphrase of Ralph M. McIrney’s synopsis of this same.
[2] The ancient Aristotelian, and medieval Thomistic expression, “name,” will be roughly equivalent to our, “term,” or, “signifier.”
[3] Ralph M. McInerny, The Logic of Analogy; An Interpretation of St. Thomas, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1961: pg 72
[4] Ibid. 75
[5] Ibid. 75
[6] Ibid. 77
[7] “unis ad alterum” as opposed to “multorum ad unam” in which several things receive a common name because of common relation to one thing
[8] our present mental sense impressions
[9] Literally, “that.” Meant as: an ostensible sense datum.
[10] McInerny, pg. 154
[11] See McInerny 126-135, 162-63 for further discussion of analogical naming via the causal relation.
[12] Thomas Williams, “The Doctrine of Univocity is True and Salutary,” The University of Iowa, 2005. http://shell.cas.usf.edu/...twilliam/papers.html (accessed November 2, 2008).
[13] Williams calls this is a case of univocity since for him the substitute expression will necessarily be composed of terms, “drawn from the repertoire of expressions we use to talk about creatures,” and thus the terms of the substitute expression will apply univocally to God and creatures. I prefer, “specifiable equivocation,” since in defining, “wise,” differently when predicated of God and Socrates we show the usage to be equivocal. I do not believe we are constrained to speak of God only in terms from the repertoire of expressions we use to talk about creatures since our concepts and terms for God and creatures are ultimately distinct. Thus, while the substitute terms will each have ostensible referents, they will not be univocally predicated of God and creatures.
[14] Williams
[16] Quoted by McInerny from De potntia
[17] Perception may here denote other modes of experience in addition to sense perception such as, memory, ratiocination, and imagination as well as sensus Divinitatis and the internal testimony or instigation of the Holy Spirit through the reading of Scripture.
[18] Williams pg. 4
[19] Actually, toward a Protestant Scholastic view of Divine and human knowledge…
[20] Willem J. Van Asselt, “The Fundamental Meaning of Theology: Archetypal and Ectypal Theology in 17th Century Reformed Thought,” The Westminster Theological Journal 64, no. 2 (Fall 2002): pg. 327

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