Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Reformed Response to Mark Krause on the Person/Nature Distinction

The following is my response to an argument made against my recent post, Problems with the Eastern Orthodox Distinction of Person/Nature?, on the Eastern Orthodox blog "The Well Of Questions" by Mark Krause. Mark's full response can be found here.

First of all, I don’t quite know what to make of his definition of nominalism. Here’s a better one: Nominalism is the thesis that there are no universals. Given this definition, it is very difficult to see how Orthodoxy is nominalist. We surely think that universals exist, we just do not think that hypostasis is a universal.

Response: My definition was perfectly clear. I think you are redefining terms at this juncture because you want to avoid the obvious charge that you are a nominalist only with regards to persons. I am a nominalist only with regards to justification, thus I am not a nominalist either way given your definiton. But I am a nomialist and so are you with regards to one thing, I just happen to be clear about it. I do not reject universals as a whole and neither do you, but that was not the claim of my post at all. Also, just to be clear to our readers, the word "hypostasis" means "person."

Instead, hypostasis is what gives reality to universals. Hypostasis is the entity that instantiates a nature and thereby gives it a concrete existence, but obviously, an hypostasis is not merely the instantiation of a nature. Hypostasis is not the kind of entity that could be a universal because it is inherently what gives a concrete PARTICULAR existence to a nature. This particularity is key. What is natural is what is held in common between the members of a natural class, but what is hypostatic is what is particular to the individual members of the natural class. It is a category confusion to seek the universal hypostasis that every individual hypostasis instantiates. The whole point of the category is to have a place for particularity. If one denies this categorical distinction between hypostasis and nature then how does one establish the particularity of the members of a natural class? More to the point, how does one establish the particularity of the members of the Trinity?

Response: I do not really see how, if a person instantiates a nature and gives it particular existence, that therefore we are warranted in allowing nominal predication to that one entity. You are saying that persons give particularity to everything and because of that it does not need to instantiate a universal. I do not see how giving the persons of the trinity this unique role that therefore we are able to be nominalists with regards to persons. Another problem remains: mere human beings also have persons but they do not give concrete existence to everything, yet your view of personhood would still require you to have fictional predications of human persons. This seems inconsistent because you are saying the persons of the trinity cannot be instantiated because they give things particular existence, but mere human persons do not do that so there is no reason to have merely names or fictional predicates for them. Why couldn’t the nature of God establish particularity after he has chosen freely to create? Why could not a person be an instantiation of a universal and also give particularity to everything else? You don't argue for the negation of the alternative possibilities. In addition, why could not the members of the trinity be distinct and yet at the same self-instantiate personhood in all three instances of the divine persons? These all seem like plausible ways out and your questions that do not bring to the table any sort of metaphysical dilemma.

Justification for the categorical distinction between hypostasis and nature aside, even if everything Nate says is correct and compelling about the “nominalism of Orthodoxy” regarding hypostasis, this still provides no reason why the Orthodox cannot condemn the Reformed for having a nominalist view of justice. We don’t have a nominalist view of justice because we the think that Scripture teaches to the contrary. Does Scripture also teach that hypostasis is a universal? I don’t think so.

Response: Well I obviously I think that scripture does teach an extrinsic, nominalistic view of justification, but I do not see any reason for thinking that Reformed folks have to hold that there is no universal for justice whatsoever. I simply hold to nominalism with regards to justification and not for justice. In this case the imputation is still just because Jesus Christ made a covenant and earned righteousness that he did not need so that he can give it to us legally. The act is allowed under the exception of an agreement between it’s just members (the trinity). It seems to me that since the Father and Son made such an agreement that this exception makes a lot more sense than saying a person gives particularity and this somehow excludes it from real predication.

Thus, Nate’s argument doesn’t succeed. The point is Scripture teaches that justice is real and a universal, but the Reformed do not. Scripture does not teach that there is a universal for hypostasis. One reason for this, is surely that such a teaching would be committing a grave category mistake. I mean, seriously, does Nate think that all realists must believe in a Universal called “particularity” that all particulars must participate in? Such a notion would be silly because of the obvious category confustion between universals and particulars.

Response: I actually think there is a universal for particulars, I agree with Scotus on this point. I see no reason for doubting this. I think that justice is a universal but with regards to covenants and believers' justification one can predicate nominalistically about a believers' status in some sense, but the righteousness is a real righteousness (namely it is Christ’s righteousness that is merited for us). I will make a future post arguing for this view from scripture alone.

I conclude that your argument about persons allowing for particularity does not entail that you have to predicate them nominalistically, and that I can make theological exceptions for nominalistic predication (at least partially) about believers in a covenantal relation made by God.

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