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The Absolute Simplicity of Unconditioned Reality

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NOTE: Today we continue our six-part series by Karlo Broussard on a metaphysical proof for God's existence. The posts will run each of the next five Mondays:

 


 
We have seen in the previous post on the metaphysical argument for God’s existence that at least one unconditioned reality must exist in all of reality—a reality that is necessary to ground the existence of any conditioned reality (what one might call a “Creator”). We concluded by asking whether unconditioned reality is worthy of what theists have traditionally defined as God—namely the supreme being that is absolutely simple (pure being or pure existence) and unique, immutable, immaterial, eternal, perfect, personal, all-powerful, etc.

It is my intention to take up the metaphysical principle of absolute simplicity in this post. Drawing heavily again from Fr. Robert Spitzer’s book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, I will first explain the metaphysical sense of absolute simplicity and then reason to the conclusion that unconditioned reality considered in and of itself must be absolutely simple. This will set the stage for future posts in which I will discuss the various attributes that we can deduce from our knowledge of unconditioned reality and its absolute simplicity.

The first step for understanding this metaphysical idea of absolute simplicity is to think about how the realities of our experience are restricted to particular modes of being. They have distinguishing notes or diversifying principles that makes them this being instead of that being. These distinguishing notes or diversifying principles constitute what philosophers call restrictions or boundaries. Such restrictions can be spatial (X exists here instead of there), temporal (X exists now instead of then), or a way of existence (X exists and behaves in this way, the way of an electron for example, instead of that way, the way of a proton—this is called “essence” in Scholastic jargon).

Now, it’s important to note that such restrictions (or boundaries) cause exclusion between existents and make for incompatible states of being. Take for example the proton and the electron. The restricted way of behaving like a proton (the attraction of electrons) excludes and is incompatible with the restricted way of behaving like an electron (the repulsion of electrons)—in other words the proton is not going to act and behave like the electron in the same respect at the same place and time. They are incompatible states of being—the proton exists and behaves in this way as opposed to that way (the way of an electron) and the electron exists and behaves in this way as opposed to that way (the way of a proton).

Moreover, even though two existents may exist in the same way (i.e., have the same essence), they still can be separated or excluded from one another due to spatial or temporal restrictions. For example, if proton A exists here, then proton B is excluded from proton A because it cannot exist in the same spatial point at the same time (spatial restriction). If proton A exists now but proton B existed then, then obviously proton A would be excluded from proton B because proton B no longer exists while proton A does (temporal restriction).

So, in short, restrictions (or boundaries) exclude and make for incompatibility.

The second step for understanding absolute simplicity considers how some realities are less exclusive and more compatible with other modes of being and consequently have fewer restrictions that limit their mode of existence (i.e., less boundaries). Take for example, as Fr. Spitzer does in his book, the electromagnetic field, the medium through which protons and electrons interact. What if that field had the existential restrictions of an electron—that is to say it existed in the electron way and not the proton way? Obviously the protons would not be able to interact with it because they would be excluded by and incompatible with the field’s electron restrictions. What if the electromagnetic field had the existential restrictions of a proton? Similarly, the electrons would not be able to interact with it because they would be excluded by and incompatible with the field’s proton restrictions. But the protons and electrons do interact with the electromagnetic field. Therefore, the electromagnetic field is compatible with both the restrictions of the proton and the restrictions of the electron. It is less exclusive and more inclusive.

What this means is that the electromagnetic field must have fewer restrictions (or boundaries) in its mode of existence. Why? Because restrictions cause exclusion and incompatibility; thus less exclusion and more compatibility means fewer restrictions. Since the electromagnetic field is less exclusive and more compatible than protons and electrons, it follows that it has fewer restrictions that limit its mode of being—metaphysically speaking it’s simpler in nature (higher level of simplicity) than protons and electrons.

So, we have arrived at an important metaphysical principle: the less exclusive and more compatible a thing is with other realities, the fewer restrictions it has to limit its mode of being (less boundaries)—that is to say the simpler it is.

In light of this, we can ask for step three, “What would an absolutely simple being be like?” Well, since the simplicity of a thing is proportioned to the degree of restrictions that limit its mode of existence, it follows that a reality that is absolutely simple would have no restrictions whatsoever to limit its act of being. In other words, it would be totally unrestricted in its act of being—not being restricted to existing in this way or that way; nor being restricted to existing here instead of there; nor being restricted to existing now instead of then; but simply be pure existence or pure being itself (the scholastic jargon is "Pure Actuality" since something is in act in as much as it exists). Consequently, such a reality would be totally compatible with and inclusive of any real or possibly real mode of being. Nothing would (or could) be excluded from it because it would have no restrictions to give rise to exclusion or incompatibility.

Now that we have explained what absolute simplicity is in the metaphysical sense, we are in a position to move to the question, “Is unconditioned reality, considered in and of itself, absolutely simple or pure being itself?”

We can start with the following idea: Any reality X that has restrictions (thus limiting its mode of being to existing in this way and not that way; or existing here instead of there; or existing now instead of then, i.e., not absolutely simple) is going to have a real or really possible incompatible state (i.e., a not X) on the same level of simplicity. For example, it’s the restrictive existence of the proton that allows for the real possibility of the incompatible state of the electron (as well as neutrons and perhaps a billion of other possible other types of particles). Similarly, the restrictive existence of the electromagnetic field allows for the real or real possibility of the incompatible state of other kinds of fields, such as the neutrino field, the gravitational field, the quark field, and the electron field. So, the question of whether unconditioned reality itself is absolutely simple is really a question of whether unconditioned reality itself can have any real or really possible incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity (like the protons and non-protons; like the electromagnetic field and non-electromagnetic fields). The answer to such a question is no.

Let’s say for argument sake that unconditioned reality was reality “X” and due to its restrictions it had a real or really possible incompatible state of being, “not X,” on the same level of simplicity. Since restrictions cause exclusion and incompatibility, the real or really possible state, “not X,” would be incompatible with and thus exclude from itself the only thing that can ultimately fulfill the conditions for its existence, namely unconditioned reality (see the previous post). But if this incompatible state of being, “not X,” would exclude from itself and be incompatible with the only thing that could ultimately fulfill its conditions for existence, namely unconditioned reality, then it could not in principle be real or really possible—i.e., it couldn’t exist or even possibly exist.

For example, if unconditioned reality had the restrictive mode of existence of a proton, then unconditioned reality would be incompatible with an electron and consequently the electron would be excluded from unconditioned reality (remember protons and electrons are incompatible states of being due to their existential restrictions or boundaries). Now, if the electron was excluded from unconditioned reality, then the electron could not exist because it would be excluded from the only condition that is sufficient for its existence (remember every conditioned reality has its conditions fulfilled ultimately by unconditioned reality). The same reasoning applies if we reverse the roles and postulate unconditioned reality having the restrictions of an electron in which case protons could not exist.

A similar outcome would ensue if unconditioned reality was restricted to a position in a spatial manifold or a point in a temporal manifold. Consider for example unconditioned reality existing in a spatial position that an electron or a proton was not. In such a case that electron or proton could not have its conditions fulfilled (and thus not exist) because unconditioned reality would be unable to interact with it in order to fulfill its conditions. If unconditioned reality existed at a point in time when a particular electron or proton did not, then obviously that electron or proton would never have its conditions fulfilled and would be nonexistent.

So, we can see how if unconditioned reality had any restrictions that would give rise to any real or really possible incompatible state of being on the same level of simplicity then that state of being could not exist—it could not be real or really possible.

If one has “eyes to see and ears to hear,” the hypothesis that unconditioned reality can have a real or really possible incompatible state of being on the same level of simplicity is an intrinsic contradiction. Think about it in light of what we have proven so far: If unconditioned reality has a real or really possible incompatible state of being on the same level of simplicity, then such a state of being could not have its conditions fulfilled—i.e., it could not in principle be real or really possible. So what we have here is the following: if restriction in unconditioned reality, then a real or really possible incompatible state of being on the same level of simplicity that cannot be real or really possible. This obviously is a contradiction and thus cannot be true. Therefore, unconditioned reality cannot be any reality that would have a real or really possible incompatible state of being.

Now, if unconditioned reality cannot have any real or really possible incompatible state of being on the same level of simplicity, then it cannot have any restrictions (or boundaries) that would limit its mode of being to existing in this way instead of that way; or here instead of there; or now instead of then. Why? Remember, if restrictions, then incompatibility – no incompatibility, therefore no restrictions. If unconditioned reality itself has no restrictions to its mode of being, then nothing (whether real or really possible) can be excluded from it, which means that it must be compatible with and inclusive of all other real or really possible restricted states of being. In other words, unconditioned reality must be pure being itself or pure existence itself without any restrictions whatsoever to its act of existence – in short it must be absolutely simple.

The questions remain whether there can be only one unconditioned reality and whether it has the divine attributes classically ascribed to God. I will take up the absolute uniqueness of unconditioned reality in the next post.
 
 
(Image credit: Reasons.org)

Karlo Broussard

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After a three-year apprenticeship with Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. PhD., nationally known author, speaker, philosopher, and theologian, Karlo works as a full time apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers giving lectures throughout the country on topics in Catholic apologetics, theology and philosophy. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology from Catholic Distance University and the Augustine Institute, and is currently working on his masters in philosophy with Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is one of the most dynamic and enthusiastic Catholic speakers on the circuit today. He resides in Murrieta, CA with his wife and four children. You can view Karlo's online videos at KarloBroussard.com. You can also book Karlo for a speaking event by contacting Catholic Answers at 619-387-7200.

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  • Thanks for part 2. I was with you on Part 1. There's some necessary being, some "unconditioned reality".

    If I understand your argument:

    (Def 1) X is maximally simple if X excludes no reality.

    (Axiom 1) If X is conditioned on Y, then Y includes X.
    (Axiom 2) Y does not include X if and only if Y excludes X.
    (Axiom 3) X always includes itself.

    (Postulate 1) There is only one unconditioned reality, and all other realities are conditioned on the unconditioned reality.

    (Prop 1) The unconditioned reality includes all other realities. (Post 1, Axiom 1)

    (Prop 2) The unconditioned reality includes all realities. (Prop 1, Axiom 3)

    (Prop 3) The unconditioned reality excludes no reality (Prop 2, Axiom 2)

    (Prop 4) The unconditioned reality is maximally simple (Prop 3, Def 1)

    ---

    Two questions and observation.

    Question: Is this an accurate representation of your argument?

    Question: If so, what happens if there's two unconditioned realities? What if we reject Postulate 1?

    It seems as though you could have (simplistically) one unconditioned reality that includes everything on the left hand side of the universe, and another that includes everything on the right hand side. In that case, neither are maximally simple.

    Observation: Everything is included in the ultimate reality. What is included in something seems to be part of something. I'm part of this Unconditioned Reality. The object of this argument so far seems to be compatible with Spinoza's God, or Nature.

    Maybe nothing exists outside of the universe. If so, then whatever in our universe includes the most (the simplest theory or group of theories that describe the universe) will be the maximally simple unconditioned reality. Maybe the universe is identical to this unconditioned reality.

    • Hey Paul, as I'll show in the next installment there cannot be two (or more) unconditioned realities because the hypothetical instantiation would necessarily entail a restriction of some sort in its act of existence (spatial, temporal, or way of existence) in order to be a distinct and particular instantiation, which would in turn give rise to a possible incompatible state on the same level of simplicity, which in turn would constitute the hypothetical instantiation to not be UR at all since UR can't have any incompatible states of being (otherwise that incompatible state of being would be excluded from UR and wouldn't have its conditions fulfilled; thus would not exist).
      The idea of UR being inclusive of all of other modes of being is to be understood in the sense that it is compatible with and non-exclusive of all other modes of being or possible modes of being (unlike the proton's boundaries excluding the electron's boundaries). The reason for this is that it must fulfill the conditions of every conditioned reality that exist or could possibly exist. While UR is inclusive of (or compatible with) my existential restrictions (I am not excluded from it - otherwise I wouldn't exist) I cannot be a part of UR precisely because my existence is restricted or has boundaries (finite). UR's existence (as shown above) cannot have boundaries -- is unrestricted (infinite). This is the same reason why the universe cannot be the UR. The universe is restricted or has boundaries by virtue of being a material or physical reality. The UR cannot have excluding boundaries or restrictions. Therefore, the UR cannot be the universe.
      Hope that helps!

      • But everything has some boundaries or restrictions. At minimum, any UR is restricted from being a conditioned reality. It is restricted from being a cat, or a human brain, or a billion human brains.

        I do not see why not a single proton could not be an unconditioned reality. A single necessary proton that relies on nothing for its existence. It excludes everything from its reality that is incompatible with it. Why is that impossible?

        • First, it is true that UR is not a CR but this is not due to an existential restriction (like a proton not being an electron). UR is not a CR precisely because it has no existential restrictions -- its pure being; thus it is compatible with the existential restrictions of cats, human brains, etc, and can fulfill the conditions necessary for these things to exist.

          Secondly, a proton cannot be UR because (as demonstrated in the argument) it has restrictions, which makes for an incompatible state on the same level of simplicity. This in turn means that the proton's boundaries exclude other boundaries from itself on the same level of simplicity (e.g., the electron). But UR can't have any incompatible states of being that are excluded from it (less that state of being be non-existent). Therefore, UR can't be a proton.

          Hope that helps Brian!

          • Hang on, you have not demonstrated anything about what any unconditioned reality is, or that there is only one. I thought what we were talking about by unconditioned reality was the lack of conditions.

            You now seem to be conflating conditions with existential restrictions.

            Any UR cannot be a CR, any UR must also obey the laws of logic. These would seem to be existential restrictions to me.

            You have not demonstrated why the cannot be an unconditioned reality of only a single proton. Yes, electrons are real, and really possible in this reality, but that doesn't mean it is possible in other realities. You are again presupposing part three of your argument, that there can be only one UR.

          • Hey Brian,

            Unconditioned reality is simply that which does not need conditions fulfilled in order to exist but exists in and through itself. This was defined and demonstrated in installment one.

            I don't think I'm conflating conditions and existential restrictions. The fact that UR can't have any existential restrictions (it's absolutely simple) follows from UR being unconditioned -- absolute simplicity follows from "unconditionedness"

            As I stated in my other responses, a proton cannot be UR because a proton has restrictions or boundaries. UR does not have restrictions or boundaries. Therefore, UR can't be a proton.

            Thanks for your comments.

          • But as far as I can tell there is nothing about being unconditioned or necessary that implies no restrictions on a mode of being.

      • I'm going to assume for now that you agree that my construction of your argument is accurate. If it isn't, please point to the "axiom" (premiss) or definition that is amiss, and why it is amiss.

        as I'll show in the next installment there cannot be two (or more) unconditioned realities because the hypothetical instantiation would necessarily entail a restriction of some sort in its act of existence (spatial, temporal, or way of existence) in order to be a distinct and particular instantiation, which would in turn give rise to a possible incompatible state on the same level of simplicity, which in turn would constitute the hypothetical instantiation to not be UR at all since UR can't have any incompatible states of being (otherwise that incompatible state of being would be excluded from UR and wouldn't have its conditions fulfilled; thus would not exist).

        This would unfortunately make your argument circular. Your argument in Part 2, as I represented above, concludes that if there is only one unconditioned reality, then that reality is maximally simple. It sounds from what you say in the comment above that you will argue in Part 3 that if the unconditioned reality is maximally simple, then there is only one unconditioned reality. Although these two statements are not identical, their combination does not help you establish that there's a single unconditioned reality. At most, it will show that:

        An unconditioned reality is maximally simple if and only if there is only one unconditioned reality.

        Which leaves open the possibility that there are two, or five, or an infinite number of unconditioned realities.

        Since you haven't yet shown that there is only one unconditioned reality, you need to do one of two things:

        (1) Show that there's only one unconditioned reality first, before you show that the unconditioned reality is maximally simple.

        or:

        (2) Show that any number of unconditioned realities must each be maximally simple.

        I cannot be a part of UR precisely because my existence is restricted or has boundaries (finite).

        This does not follow. Electrons and positrons are not identical, but both are included in the electromagnetic field. The electromagnetic field lacks restrictions that electrons and positrons have, and electrons and positrons are part of that field.

        Now, it seems that the unconditioned reality, if it is maximally simple, must include everything. That means it must include electrons, positrons, you and me. The fact that I'm restricted, that I'm finite, is a good thing for this argument; I'm part of the unconditioned reality. It includes me but extends beyond me to include and describe everything else.

        • Hey Paul,

          Unicity follows from simplicity. It is only because unconditioned reality is absolutely simple (free of all restrictions or boundaries) that there can be one. As I'll show in the next installment, the argument goes as follows:

          P1: If multiplicity, then difference.
          P2: If difference, then one of the hypothetical URs is going to have to be restricted.
          P3: UR can't have restrictions (absolute simplicity)
          Therefore: no difference between UR 1 and UR 2
          Therefore: no multiplicity

          In regard to the "inclusive" nature of UR, here is a quote that might help from Fr. Spitzer in his book New Proofs, pg.131:

          "Inasmuch as unconditioned reality itself is absolutely simple, it is also a purely inclusive reality. Note that this pure inclusion does not mean that unconditioned reality itself absorbs everything into itself (as in Monism). Rather, it means only that unconditioned reality itself can interact with any less simple reality on any level. It does not destroy or absorb the less simple reality, it simply transcends the less simple reality's boundaries."

          Fr. Spitzer goes on to explain the distinction between differentiation through exclusion or incompatibility (e.g., protons and electrons) and differentiation through simplicity (e.g., electromagnetic field and electrons). In the former, you have differentiation with exclusion (because they are on the same level of simplicity) and in the latter you have differentiation without exclusion (different levels of simplicity).

          In regard to the vacuum being UR, that can't be because the vacuum is still a physical reality which involves boundaries/restrictions which UR can't have (via absolute simplicity). In the Scholastic jargon, the vacuum is still a composite being of form and matter and essence and existence and therefore requires a being whose essence is existence, i.e., subsistent being itself (God).

          • If my understanding is correct, you haven't shown simplicity in Part 2. At most you've shown that "if there's one unconditioned reality, that unconditioned reality is simple". So your next article will not help your case at all. You'll be arguing in circles.

            Part 2 (if correct) shows that "If there's one and only one unconditioned reality, that reality is maximally simple."

            Part 3 (if correct) will show that "If reality is maximally simple, then there's only one unconditioned reality."

            And, if I'm correct, that's where I'll be getting off this train ride.

            In regard to the vacuum being UR, that can't be because the vacuum is still a physical reality which involves boundaries/restrictions which UR can't have (via absolute simplicity). In the Scholastic jargon, the vacuum is still a composite being of form and matter and essence and
            existence and therefore requires a being whose essence is existence, i.e., subsistent being itself (God).

            Maybe the cosmos is all that is. In that case, everything that exists is just a bunch of fluctuations on a single vacuum. We are all one thing: waves on the big ol' space-time seas. Looking at the universe this way, it's a single, 4 dimensional, unchanging substance. There's no boundaries, no restrictions. It includes all that exists and can exist. Seems to be a good candidate for the unconditioned reality.

          • Hey Paul,

            From installment one, we conclude that there is at least one unconditioned reality (I think you got that right).

            Now, in the current article we're considering the nature of unconditioned reality considered in and of itself (regardless if there is one or more). In other words, we're asking the question, "What is unconditioned reality like?" In answering that question we conclude that such reality is absolutely simple as defined (free from all restrictions or boundaries and thus compatible with all real or really possible modes of being; otherwise it would not be able to be the ultimate source of the fulfillment of conditions for a conditioned reality).

            It is because unconditioned reality considered in and of itself is absolutely simple that we can deduce there must be one and only one UR (as will be shown in installment three). As I indicated in the above syllogism, the argument against multiplicity of URs (next installment) presupposes absolute simplicity (this installment) and not the other way around.

            So, I don't think I'm arguing in circles.

            I hope you stay on board! Thanks.

          • If you think you are not arguing in circles, please identify the mistake I made in my representation of your argument. What did I not understand?

          • This one: "If there's one and only one unconditioned reality, that reality is maximally simple."

            As I indicated above, the unicity of UR is not a part of the argument in the above article. It simply argues for absolute simplicity of unconditioned reality considered in and of itself. From there we can then reason, "If absolutely simple, then no multiplicity."

            If I was arguing as you indicated in the above statement, then I would be affirming the consequent which as you know is a fallacy. But I'm not making that argument. I am making (or will be in the next installment), "If absolute simplicity, then no multiplicity. Absolute simplicity (proven in this installment). Therefore, no multiplicity (next installment). As you know this is simply modus ponens.

            Hope that helps!

          • This one: "If there's one and only one unconditioned reality, that reality is maximally simple."

            That's the conclusion I draw using what I believe to be your argument. And I draw it (validly, I think) from three premisses and a definition, in my attempt to represent your argument. If my conclusion is wrong, and my argument is valid, then one of my premisses must be false, or my definition of "simple" must disagree with your definition of "simple". My definition:

            (Def 1) X is maximally simple if and only if X excludes no reality.

            If not the definition, which one of these premisses:

            (Axiom 1) If X is conditioned on Y, then Y includes X.
            (Axiom 2) Y does not include X if and only if Y excludes X.
            (Axiom 3) X always includes itself.

            Is false?

            Here's an example of two unconditioned realities, neither of which are simple. Say there are two gods, one for the left hand side of the universe and the other for the right hand side. Any cat that exists on the left hand side is caused by Lgod, and the cat on the right hand side is caused by Rgod. Lgod includes everything on the right hand side of the universe, and Rgod includes everything on the left hand side of the universe. Both Lgod and Rgod are stipulated to be unconditioned realities. Lgod includes all the things on the left side of the universe and Rgod all the things on the right side, but neither includes the other side, so neither is simple.

            Why is this not allowed?

          • Okay Paul, I think I might understand what your asking here. I'll give it a shot and then I've GOT to get some work done (LOL - this is play time for me and I've truly enjoyed the dialogue. I also appreciate your rigorous thinking and your cordiality).

            Your definition is correct and your axioms seem correct as long as you understanding "inclusivity" in the way that I am using it as indicated in the quote from Fr. Spitzer above (New Proofs, pg. 131).

            Now, in regard to your hypothetical worlds with Lgod and Rgod, I agree that you're in a position to construct such a situation. Your basically hypothesizing two URs. Nothing that I've argued so far in installments one and two can answer that question -- that is without further deduction. The only way we can prove that such a situation is impossible is if there can be one and only one UR, which comes in installment three. Once we prove the absolute unicity of UR, then we can conclude that any real or really possible being other than the one UR is a conditioned reality, which in turn means that every real or really possible being other than the one UR has its conditions ultimately fulfilled by the one UR. Hence, there could not be a cat in some other world (or any conditioned reality for that matter) that does not have its conditions fulfilled by the one UR; thus the answer to your question.

    • I'm a little skeptical about this formulation of the argument for simplicity too, but your formulation doesn't appear to have much to do with Karlo's argument, and certainly not Spitzer's. For example, a metaphysically simple reality is defined as a reality that lacks boundaries or restrictions. Exclusion comes later in the argument, not as a definition.

      It's not clear either the argument uses those axioms. You've also switched "compatibility" to "inclusion," even though the latter obviously has a different meaning.

      I do think there's a solid objection on one point, though. If you posit a multiplicity of unconditioned realities such that at least one is present in all places, times, and qualitative states, that does seem to create problems for the argument. It seems that one unconditioned reality could have an incompatible state in some respect, but so long as another unconditioned reality is compatible, there should be no problems in terms of fulfilling conditions.

      • Thomas, thanks for your reply.

        I think your objection:

        this formulation of the argument for simplicity too, but your formulation doesn't appear to have much to do with Karlo's argument...

        is fair. But this was the only way I could find to represent the argument. Maybe I took too many liberties, but I think you provide a good example of why I did what I did:

        You've also switched "compatibility" to "inclusion," even though the latter obviously has a different meaning.

        That's true that I did switch the terms. But I don't think 'compatibility' has a different meaning from 'inclusion', the way Karlo uses the word 'compatibility'. The way I'd use the word "compatibility" would go something along the lines of the google dictionary definition "a state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict." By that definition, every part of reality is compatible with every other part of reality. Necessarily. Nothing is more compatible than anything else, and so everything would be maximally and minimally simple. That can't be what Karlo means. So I continued on to the discussion on inclusion and exclusion, and made some connections there. Maybe they aren't the right connections, but Karlo can correct me if I went the wrong way.

        The place I made the connection is here:

        Therefore, the electromagnetic field is compatible with both the restrictions of the proton and the restrictions of the electron. It is less exclusive and more inclusive. (emphasis is mine)

        • "The way I'd use the word "compatibility" would go something along the lines of the google dictionary definition "a state in which two things are able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict." By that definition, every part of reality is compatible with every other part of reality. Necessarily."

          But that's the problem, that's not how compatibility is being used in this argument. A proton and electron are not compatible in the sense that no X can be both a proton and an electron at the same time in the same respect, or something close to that at least. White and black are incompatible in the same way: no X can be both white and black at the same time and in the same respect.

          The notion of compatibility doesn't mean there can't be both protons and electrons in our universe, or that cows can't be spotted.

          • The electromagnetic field cannot be both a proton and an electron at the same time. It can't be either. So it's incompatible with either protons or electrons.

            Take the related example, say electrons and positrons and photons, which are all three part of the quantum electrodynamic vacuum. The quantum electrodynamic vacuum is "compatible" with positrons, electrons and photons because it includes the properties of positrons, electrons and photons.

            (I noticed the above may look pedantic. I'm not trying to be pedantic here. I'm trying to get at what may be one of my own misunderstandings; the distinction between 'more compatible' and 'includes more properties'.)

            So to avoid confusion, it seems better to talk about what properties a thing includes and what properties a thing doesn't include. If a thing excludes no properties, then it compatible with everything (in this strange way the term is used), and so would be maximally simple.

          • You're mistaking the relationship between boundaries, exclusion, and compatibility. It's set out at greater length in Spitzer's book, with more examples that are helpful.

            You keep assuming that because something is distinct from something else, it's incompatible. But that's not how the terms are being used in the argument. An electromagnetic field is compatible with a proton and an electron because it can co-exist with either, even though it can't co-exist with either in the same respect at the same time. A proton co-exist with an electron in any way; an electromagnetic field can in certain ways. (At least that's how I understand the physics being used; I'm not a physicist.)

            It's important to realize that things can be distinguished not only by having exclusive boundaries, but by greater simplicity. So, for example, a triangle and a circle are not distinguished by simplicity, but by having boundaries that simply exclude one another. These exclusive boundaries give rise to incompatibility--triangles and circles are simply incompatible realities.

            But I can have a thought about a triangle and a thought about a circle, and these thoughts are incompatible (I can't conceive of anything being both a triangle and a circle). However, my power of thinking is compatible with both triangularity and circularity (though not of course at the same time and in the same respect). While a triangle can never be circular, my thought can take the form of circularity. While a circle can never be triangular, my thought can take the form of triangularity. My power to think lacks the boundaries of two dimensional shapes, but it can take on those boundaries at different times. That's why my power of thought is compatible with two dimensional shapes, while these two dimensional shapes are incompatible with each other.

            Hope that does something to clear up how boundaries, compatibility, and exclusions are related. Spitzer's book has a number of examples (the one I used above is one of them). And if I got it wrong, Karlo or someone else can correct me.

          • You keep assuming that because something is distinct from something else, it's incompatible. But that's not how the terms are being used in the argument. An electromagnetic field is compatible with a proton and an electron because it can co-exist with either, even though it can't co-exist with either in the same respect at the same time.

            Now we are back to coexistence. Electrons and protons can coexist. Many protons and electrons coexist right now, in your body.

            So, for example, a triangle and a circle are not distinguished by simplicity, but by having boundaries that simply exclude one another.

            Why not just say that the circle includes properties that the circle doesn't include? Why talk about boundaries? It seems confusing to talk about boundaries, because you think about edges or sides or limits, and certainly a triangle can be inside a circle. Why not just talk about properties that things have in common or don't have in common?

            But I can have a thought about a triangle and a thought about a circle, and these thoughts are incompatible (I can't conceive of anything being both a triangle and a circle).

            And I can't think of anything being both a proton and an electromagnetic field. Those thoughts are likewise incompatible.

            We do get at the idea that the mind is simpler, but that seems to be because it includes more properties. It can include "the idea of X and Y" even though the idea of "X" may not include the idea of "Y", such as with circles and triangles.

            If circles and triangles exist in idea-space, the mind can include both of them but they can't include each other.

          • There are generally two ways to debate the validity of an argument. In the first, both participants understand both the terms and the syntax of the argument. In the second, one (or all) of the participants have misunderstood the argument. In the second case, they're not really debating the merits of the argument at all.

            I think the objection we've been debating falls in the second category. We should be clear that we've not yet gotten to the point where we are debating the merits of the argument; we're disagreeing on what the argument is. I think it would help to read Spitzer's formulation of the argument, since it is replete with helpful examples and he's very clear on his definitions and premises.

            But me see if I can simplify it with the circles and triangles example. Triangles have boundaries that circles don't (e.g., three internal angles). By boundary, I understand a determination that necessarily delimits the thing. The limitations of a triangle exclude the triangle's being circular. Triangles and circles are incompatible in the sense that they cannot coexist in the same place, time, and respect. (When you mention co-existence you always take out the place, time, and respect qualifier, which misconstrues the argument.)

            But a two dimensional plane is not incompatible with a triangle, even though it is not identical with it. A two-dimensional place plane can take on triangular features in certain respects without being limited by those features. This is obvious in the case of a two dimensional plane that includes both a triangle and a circle. The plane has both triangular and circular features, but these features are not boundaries (again, determinations that necessarily delimit a thing) for the plane, while it is for a triangle or square respectively. The plane lacks those boundaries and is, in that respect, simpler. Because it is simpler, the plane is not incompatible with a triangle or circle.

            Likewise, a triangle and a circle can inhere in my thought, without my power to think being bounded by their boundaries. Or again, one boundary of an electron is a negative charge. An electromagnetic field can also take on a negative charge, but the negative charge isn't a boundary for it. An electromagnetic field and an electron can both be negatively charged, while a proton cannot be negatively charged. Protons and electrons are incompatible in this respect; while electrons and fields are not.

          • I think the objection we've been debating falls in the second category.

            But the author of the article says that I represented the argument accurately here:

            Your definition is correct and your axioms seem correct as long as you understanding "inclusivity" in the way that I am using it as indicated in the quote from Fr. Spitzer above (New Proofs, pg. 131).

            Now, in regard to your hypothetical worlds with Lgod and Rgod, I agree that you're in a position to construct such a situation.

            Now, maybe Karlo doesn't understand what Spitzer is saying. Or maybe he misinterprets what I'm saying.

            At the end of the day, you and I are getting nowhere with this discussion. My understanding of your position has not improved since we've started writing back and forth. So here's what I suggest.

            First, I'd invite you to consider the possibiiity that you agree with me, that "having boundaries" is in this context the same as excluding properties, and that the less boundaries you have, the more properties you include. Your example seems to show just that:

            But a two dimensional plane is not incompatible with a triangle, even though it is not identical with it.

            A 2-d plane can include triangles. All triangles lie in a 2-d plane.

            If, after considering the possibility that we are saying the same thing in different ways, you think that I'm still misunderstanding Spitzer's arguments, then I ask you to do the following:

            Please lay out a succinct definition of "simplicity", lay out the premises of the argument for absolute simplicity, and then construct the argument, showing how the premises lead to the conclusion that the unconditioned reality is absolutely simple. Once you do this, we can compare your version of the argument to mine.

          • A more technical and not so relevant aside: The classical electromagnetic field cannot be charged. It is produced by charged particles. Also, it is massless, and both electrons and protons are massive. Finally, it does not include the strong nuclear force; protons do. In all these ways, the classical electromagnetic field cannot be a proton or an electron.

          • What makes you think anyone is talking about classical electromagnetic fields? I would think you'd assume we are talking about the contemporary science. And why would you think I suggested that an em field can be a proton or electron? Or why would I deny that particles like protons can have features em fields don't? I have to admit I'm utterly baffled by almost every feature of your response.

            You state, for example, that Karlo says you represented his argument accurately; but all he actually said was that the axioms "seem" correct and the definition could be right so long as you understand inclusivity as Spitzer does. We've been discussing is whether you have in fact understood inclusivity (Spitzer would prefer the term compatibility) as Spitzer does. But to say that the author of this piece endorsed your version of it when in fact he said part of it "seems" correct and he declined to affirm your formulation of precisely the issue we're debating is quite a stretch, to say the least.

            Finally, to ask me to make the complete argument in the comments when it took a dozen pages in its original form (in "New Proofs for the Existence of God") is unrealistic. I'm not sure that Disqus even allows comments that long, and I certainly wouldn't want to write one. And I don't know why you'd think I want to anyway; I've said multiple times that I think this argument has a defect.

            Fortunately, I've modified Spitzer's argument in a way I think works at some length here if you want to slog through it: http://thinkingbetween.blogspot.com/2014/09/simplicty-of-god.html

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If God exists, why does he make is so difficult to "prove" his existence? A dozen pages on just the concept of simplicity, which is just a small part of the overall proof.

          • As metaphysical arguments go, this is pretty simple. Some Kripke or Heidegger might put the relative difficulty level in perspective.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            If it is so simple, please define simplicity precisely and show that simplicity is unique.

            A question I have is: could we give a being a simplicity number? For instance suppose being X has one restriction, could we say that it has simplicity = 1? If being Y has two restrictions, it has simplicity 2?

          • Aquinas was able to state five arguments for God's existence in a single page. Plantinga was able to put his argument into three lines.

            I'm just a chump, and I was able to put together an argument for simplicity in half a dozen lines in a Disqus comment.

            Maybe you and Spitzer aren't capable of such brevity. Sadly, it may mean that I won't be able to understand what you're talking about. If your series of comments hasn't helped my understanding in the slightest, I don't see what help a dozen more pages of the same will accomplish.

            So, since you've given me no good reason to think that my interpretation of Karlo's argument is wrong, I'll stick with my interpretation. Karlo can correct me himself, if he sees I've made a mistake somewhere. So far, he hasn't.

            Anyway, thanks for trying.

          • Paul:

            I hope you're not confusing Aquinas' arguments with the compressed summaries of the Summa or the Compendium. The places Aquinas actually does set forth complete arguments (e.g., in the Summa Contra Gentiles) are a whole lot longer than a page. There's a big difference between a fully fleshed out argument and a brief summary of an argument. The latter won't be very compelling, because it doesn't actually make an argument, it just summarizes it.

            And demanding that a complex metaphysical argument be a page or two long is a bit like demanding that a physics theory omit math.

            I've always assumed that I shouldn't assume I understand, say, quantum field theory in great depth because I don't have the required math skills. It has never occurred to me that I could demand quantum field theory be explained without the mathematical notation in a page or two. I've always assumed that if I want to really understand something deep or complex, I'd have to put in a lot of time and effort.

            Anyway, I've already pointed you to my version of the argument, which is about 4 pages. If that's too long, I'm afraid I really can't help you.

          • The problem isn't so much the length. The problem is that I don't understand what you are talking about. I read your four pages and have no better understanding of what you mean by simplicity than I did before. Your definition of simplicity still seems no different from my definition.

            Either I am understanding you, and you don't understand me, or I don't understand you at all.

            It seems as though no matter how much I read from you on this topic, it isn't getting any better. Four, or thirteen, or fifty pages I don't understand won't help me. In this case, more definitely isn't better.

            I've found other writers that talk about simplicity in a way I can understand. I find Eleonore Stump's writing on Divine Simplicity in Aquinas. It might be a good resource we can both use to learn more.

          • Paul:

            I went back and read Spitzer and this post, and while I find the notion of boundaries sensible, I' was somewhat perplexed as to what precisely incompatibility and exclusion are supposed to mean. I think I had them at least partially wrong. So I take back any criticism that would suggest what they were saying was clear and you weren't getting it.

            On rereading them, here's what I take them to mean with regard to compatibility, and I'll admit this is a fuzzy reconstruction. Two realities are exclusive if their coexistence is made possible by because they are both restricted with respect to space or time. For example, protons and electrons coexist, but only in different locations or at different times. Same thing with the color black and the color white.

            Compatibility, on this view, wouldn't mean they can coexist in the same universe. Compatibility would mean that their coexistence doesn't require them to be both restricted with respect to space and time. For example, whiteness and sweetness are compatible, because sugar can be both white and sweet. Being white and being sweet are compatible states. And the reason they are compatible is because sweetness lacks boundaries (i.e., limitations that it can't overcome) with respect to color. Similarly, an em field lacks the boundaries of an electron. This lack of boundaries is relative simplicity.

            I hope I'm somewhat close on that. I still think the argument relies on a hidden premise--that exclusive realities can't interact without a simpler reality. Maybe there's a good argument for that I haven't seen yet. I understand that that's true in some cases (e.g., particle physics), but I don't see why it must be universally true. But I do think that the argument can be reformulated along more classical lines in a way that works, as I tried to do in my post.

          • Not to send this conversation out in too many directions, but I think it helps to understand my argument that I conceive of God along very classical lines. I think of God as simple, which means he has no distinct intrinsic properties or attributes. I also think of God as infinite, which means that our concepts only apply analogically to him. For example, when we say God is personal, we don't mean he's a person like us. Any finite concept with both be like God and unlike God, and the unlikeness always exceeds the likeness.

            Sounds odd to most people, but it's just traditional theism that's been there since the advent of Christian theology. The bit about the unlikeness of our concepts always exceeding the likeness was even incorporated into theology by the Fourth Lateran Council. Some Christians now do talk about God like he's some kind of super-powerful spirit (e.g., Plantinga), but most theists regard that as juvenile, and it's certainly not the traditional way of thinking.

          • The classical conception of God may not be juvenile, and it may be traditional. The problem with the classical conception of God that I have is that it seems like nonsense. It makes no sense to me at all.

            God, for example, has no properties. It must be true of God that God has no properties. But then we can't say that God actually has no properties, except by some sort of analogy, because "has no properties" is saying something very property-like about God. So maybe God does have properties.

            It really seems like a bunch of incoherent babble that had the veneer of sense because it used some of Aristotle's vocabulary.

          • Were I to come across the Shrodinger equation, it would appear to me as a set of meaningless characters. Of course, it's appearance to me does not bear on the question of whether or not it is actually coherent.

            It does seem odd to me that people are puzzled by something that has been a high profile issue over the last 30 or so years. There's a helpful article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy and no shortage of easy secondary literature.

            I think the thing that trips people up is that they insist on seeing God as an entity more or less like other entities.That's not what the mainstream theistic traditions mean by God.

          • The resource I've found most helpful for divine simplicity has been Eleonore Stump's book Aquinas. She does an excellent job talking about what is meant and not meant by divine simplicity, and how the problems with divine simplicity are some of the most difficult in natural theology. She admits to being very puzzled by divine simplicity. Maybe that seems odd to you as well? You could write her and inform her on how the concept actually works.

            As for myself, I've looked around. When I was Catholic, I read Aquinas's two summas. I don't think the concept makes sense. All I can say is it doesn't make sense to me. That may be a limitation on my part.

            I've taught quantum mechanics and quantum field theory at a university level. It's a strange experience since I don't understand what I'm teaching. No one really understands quantum mechanics. But this lack of understanding, the utter confusion about what's 'really going on' is different from my confusion about divine simplicity in two ways:

            1) I can test quantum mechanics.

            2) I can talk about quantum mechanics.

            I'm not sure you an do either of these in a meaningful way with divine simplicity. The arguments for it don't convince me, and I've not found a satisfying solution to the puzzle (and puzzles like it):

            God is simple.
            This means God has no intrinsic properties.
            So there is nothing that can be said of God that "x is such that Px" unless it involves something "extrinsic".
            "God is such that God is simple" appears to be something intrinsic about God. It doesn't involve anything outside of God.
            "God is such that God is simple" is false.
            So God isn't actually simple.

            I think you can get at this by negative theology. Maybe when you say "God is simple" you aren't saying something about what God is but about what God isn't. Maybe also you can get at this by analogy. Either way, the conclusion shouldn't be that God has no intrinsic properties, but that we can't say whether God has intrinsic properties or not. Also, for the Christian it gets far more difficult, because God isn't simple: God's existence is identical to his essence. So God = Goodness = Simplicity = Three people. Simplicity doesn't seem to be identical to three people.

            Finally, after all this talk of angels and heads of pins (I've given up on Karlo's series), my pragmatism kicks in. What does it matter to say that God has intrinsic properties or not? How will that affect the issues that actually interest me and most atheists and agnostics? Those are:

            Does God exist?
            Does God relate to the world?
            Does God do miracles?
            Does God will, love, etc.?
            Does God love me?
            Is there eternal life?

            No atheist I know of cares about the question: Is God simple? It seems to infuse the discussion with a sort of nonsensical mysticism that is entirely unhelpful to the questions atheists are interested in. The Catholic or Jew might respond "Ah, but we don't think God exists either. God is existence." and junk like this.

          • Divine simplicity matters a great deal for what people mean when they say "God." If true, it sharply distinguishes God from any finite thing. God would not be a member of any class, including the class of entities. It also qualifies every claim about God, requiring analogical or apophatic modes of speech. So it's important in that it shows Christians are not talking about some superpowerful spirit flitting about in the cosmos.

            And in this context, the doctrine of simplicity is helpful background for Karlo and Spitzer's argument, though not strictly necessary to it. My point was simply that simplicity is not something invented for the sake of this argument, or to give Christianity an air of sophistication--it's something that has been central to the intellectual and spiritual life of Christians since the earliest days.

            I've not read Stump's treatment of divine simplicity, so I can't really comment on it. Barry Miller has very good defenses of the coherence of simplicity if you like the style of analytic philosophy. Etienne Gilson has some helpful discussions on the metaphysics of simplicity in his book on Aquinas. The doctrine makes quite a bit of sense, if you accept the real distinction between essence and existence. And I do think Spitzer's examples in "New Proofs" are helpful to someone interested in science (even though I've argued his argument uses an unsupported premise).

          • God is not a member of any class, including the class of what exists. So God doesn't exist. ;)

            Seriously, though, thanks for taking the time to provide me with resources and put up with me. After a few comments, you started to make good sense, and have helped me sort through some of the problems I have with the concept of divine simplicity. Thank you also for your suggested resources. I'd never heard of Barry Miller before, and am now looking up some of his writings.

          • Paul: thanks to you too. I think you make some good points, and I'll be attempting to fix and clarify some areas of my own formulation of this argument you helped me see were underdeveloped.

      • Hey Thomas, thanks for sharing your thoughts on these postings. I would just say one thing in reference to your statements above. You say, "It seems that one unconditioned reality could have an incompatible state in some respect" but as I presented in the above article UR CANNOT have an incompatible state on the same level of simplicity less we end up with an intrinsic contradiction (i.e., a real or really possible incompatible state of being on the same level of simplicity that is not real or really possible). So, if a hypothetical UR has an incompatible state of being on the same level simplicity, then it would simply not be unconditioned reality considered in and of itself. The next installment will be concerned with the metaphysical impossibility of multiple URs. Thanks again!

        • Karlo:

          I'll have to think about this some more. I have to say I had difficulty with Spitzer's formulation of this step too, although I couldn't tell if it was because I wasn't getting something or the argument was obscure. Every other step in Spitzer's argument makes sense to me, and I do think you can argue for simplicity along classical lines.

          Do you think I'm correct to say that the argument assumes that incompatible realities cannot interact except through a simpler reality? That's the part I get hung up on the most.

          • Thomas

            I agree that this formulation by Fr. Spitzer is a bit difficult to follow but I realized that he is indeed saying the same thing that Aquinas and the Scholastics said, just a different approach / formulation. I think this is good though. To have two approaches to divine simplicity (and there is more) is better than one. Some things stick better for one than for others.

            In regard to your question, I think your right. The argument starts with "simplicity" in general in the same way that Aquinas' first way would start with motion/change - a fact of our experience. As Fr. Spitzer illustrates in his book, the electromagnetic field is simpler than electrons and protons; light is simpler than a wave or a particle. You could even throw in our experience of human knowledge, which leads us to conclude that the mind is simpler in nature than any material reality. So, "simplicity" is the starting point but then it argues to absolute simplicity or the highest simplicity which turns out to be UR.

            Thanks for your comments.

          • Karlo:

            I've gone back and read both Spitzer's and your piece again. One thing I'm still stuck on is that it that the argument supposes not only that exclusive realities can interact through a simpler reality, but that they must do so.

            This appears to me to be assumed by the argument but never demonstrated. I'm not clear on what the argument for that would be.

          • Hey Thomas,

            The necessity of a simpler reality arises from the excluding boundaries. If there was no simpler reality to serve as a medium through which the exclusive realities can interact and be unified, then they would have nothing to do with each other whatsoever (no unification). The mind is another example. Notice that we're able to unify two incompatible beings, namely a square and a triangle, in the mind which allows us to compare and contrast them, which in turn leads to understanding. This is an indication that the mind is simpler in nature - compatible with the restrictions (or boundaries) of a square and a triangle. If the mind was restricted to either one of the boundaries, then we would have no capacity to come to an understanding of both of them since the boundaries of one exclude the boundaries of another. Hope that helps.

          • Karlo:

            I still am not sure I see the argument. Are you deducing the claim that exclusive realities cannot interact except through a simpler reality from the definition of exclusivity/incompatibility? That is, are you saying it follows analytically from the definitions? I don't see how the definition of exclusivity or boundaries (which I'm not sure has been given in the first place) entails that claim.

            I'm not sure how you would make that argument without bringing in further metaphysical presuppositions. As I understand exclusivity/incompatibility, it is a thesis primarily about whether things can coexist at the same place and time. It would seem you need additional assumptions about causation in order to get to the non-interacting claim.

            Not saying there's not an argument for it, but I don't think it's been made, unless its buried somewhere in these comments.

          • Hey Thomas,

            Thanks for the insightful questions. I will be honest and say that I will have to dig a little deeper to construct a clearer articulation of this point. I spoke with Fr. for a short period and he basically said that, a priori, how could two incompatible/excluded states of being have any sort of interrelationship/interaction/unification with one another unless there was some medium simpler than those exclusionary properties (e.g., electro. field with electrons and protons; light and particles & waves, etc) that allows for the interrelationship/interaction/unification. As Fr. said, if there was nothing more simple doing the unification of the opposed states then the opposed states would be totally unrelated - appealing again to the act of mentation that unifies the opposed states of square and circle. It is absolutely correct to say that the boundaries of square and circle prohibit them from being in the same place at the same time in the same respect, even in the mind, but there could be no sort of relationship (unification/interaction) among these contents of thought unless the mind is free of the boundaries of these thought contents (i.e., simpler in nature). But, like I said, I will have to dig a little deeper. Thanks again for the insightful thoughts.

          • Karlo:

            I can see how the interaction thesis is plausible, given the examples you've given, but I can't see its necessity. The fact that we can't imagine a situation in which two exclusive realities interact doesn't mean in 50 years some physicists won't discover exclusive entities that do interact in such a way.

            Just think how long we accepted Euclid's parallel postulate before the advent of non-Euclidean geometry! I'm always uncomfortable with an argument using the current limits of our imagination to establish a priori necessity. Particularly in this argument you and Fr. Spitzer have presented, because I think it's airtight everywhere else.

            Moreover, it seems that there are metaphysical views that do not require real mediums like space and time for substances to interact. If, as the Thomist W. Norris Clarke argues, space and time are abstractions of the properties or relations of substances, and if, further, those relations are internal to those substances, there is no need to posit the real existence of an independent medium in which such things interact. That is, on (at least one form of) Thomist metaphysics, space and time are not realities, but abstractions we generate in our minds from the properties of things. It seems clear to me that substances could then be viewed as interacting without a simpler medium.

    • Ignatius Reilly

      Couldn't we say that that the UR has infinitely many restrictions, because it cannot exclude the other realities from prop 1?

      • That's one of the reasons I don't think talking about simplicity in terms restrictions is very useful (unless you want to argue that the UR isn't very simple after all).

        One of the requirements of an UR, from the first article, is that it explains its own existence without any need to talk about things outside itself. That should mean that the UR can't be any different than what it is, it can't change based on any CRs. That's exceedingly restrictive.

        • Ignatius Reilly

          I would think that everything is infinitely simple or at least has the same simplicity number.
          For instance, with the triangle-circle example:
          1) A triangle would be a polygon, while a circle would not be a polygon.
          2) A triangle has three sides, while a circle cannot have three sides.
          3) A triangle has angles that add to 180, while a circle does not have angles
          Etc.
          I'm not sure I could think of a restriction that I could not write for both a triangle and a circle. In general, I would think that for any restriction R, a being could either have R or not have R, if it doesn't have R then it has the restriction ~R.

          • I think that the "restrictions" language is bad, after thinking about it and talking with Thomas Cothran. Thomas gives an easier-to-understand conception of simplicity in terms of parts. Things can be divided in three ways:

            1) Spatially, e.g. by being cut in half
            2) Temporally, e.g. by having a 'before' and an 'after'
            3) Conceptually, e.g. by having 'charge' and 'mass'

            Electrons are simpler than tigers (no spatial parts). Photons are simpler than electrons (no temporal parts, fewer conceptual parts).

            If you want to talk about geometric objects as though they exist, this works too. A point is simpler than a line.

            This makes sense, although in this framework, it's difficult to understand what it means to be maximally simple. If something doesn't have conceptual parts, you can't say "x is such that Px" for any property x might have, because x can't have any. "God is such that God is simple" is then false, because God can't have the property of being simple, unless saying "God is simple" expresses all that God is. In which case, there's no need to go on to any future parts. God can't be simple and have multiple persons, or a will, or a mind, or even causal powers, since all of these are properties that are not identical to simplicity.

            I can accept God as spatially and temporally simple. God's some mind out there in mind-land that doesn't change. I can even conceive of God as being conceptually simple, having the fewest possible properties. But I can't conceive of God as having no intrinsic properties whatsoever.

            In terms of restrictions? I don't know how you could ever say for sure whether something is simpler or more complicated by counting numbers of restrictions. Better to think of it in terms of parts.

  • Indigent

    Pure being itself or pure existence itself without any restrictions whatsoever to it's act of existence – in short it must be absolutely simple.

    Does this mean that in order to understand this concept that one must leave brains at the door and one's intellect must also be Pure or absolutely simple? so that one can be free of preconceptions, in order to understand the Catholic concept of "Unconditioned Reality". In other words, one would do well to learn how to garfunkel the pubicle and or intercept the cosmic junction, and the best way do this, and at the same time spiral down the vortex of the proverbial rabbit hole of Alice in Wonderland would be to alter one's state of consciousness by Catholic, meditation or other means of mind altering alaternatives?

    Before embarking on this vision quest into fantasy, perhaps it would be advisable to do some personal research on the effects of Catholic meditation or the ingestion of shrooms or ayahuasca and other stuff.

    I of course am being a bit facetious, and am not advocating the use of mind altering substances, but am just trying to emphasize the fact that religions and their apologists are trying to "philosophize" and make reasonable their way into the secular culture using philosophy and "science" to do so, and are doing their best to twist and use alternate philosophical explanations and methods, to convince the gullible of the veracity of their religion.who often have difficulty taking some of this stuff seriously. Am I alone in this? Anyway I will refrain from commenting further on this article.

    • mcqu9172

      I very highly doubt that the intent of this whole post was to get people to "leave one's brains at the door". I would actually find it very difficult to follow along with this line of reasoning without using my brain. Where is the "twist" you are accusing this author of? What "alternate philosophical explanations" has he used to convince the gullible masses of the veracity of his religion? Where did he even speak of religion? Do you have an actual objection to anything that was written in the article? I don't see one in your post. I only see baseless accusations that sound all too familiar...

      • Indigent

        ..

  • Abe Rosenzweig

    Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Doug Shaver

    We have seen in the previous post on the metaphysical argument for God’s existence that at least one unconditioned reality must exist in all of reality—a reality that is necessary to ground the existence of any conditioned reality (what one might call a “Creator”).

    I don't agree that it was a sound argument, partly because I am still not clear on the intended meaning of "unconditioned reality." However, if I may construe it as meaning an uncaused cause of the universe, then I will stipulate its existence for the sake of argument.

    We concluded by asking whether unconditioned reality is worthy of what theists have traditionally defined as God—namely the supreme being that is absolutely simple (pure being or pure existence) and unique, immutable, immaterial, eternal, perfect, personal, all-powerful, etc.

    OK, let's see if we can infer that the universe's uncaused cause must be all those things.

    The first step for understanding this metaphysical idea of absolute simplicity is to think about how the realities of our experience are restricted to particular modes of being. They have distinguishing notes or diversifying principles that makes them this being instead of that being. These distinguishing notes or diversifying principles constitute what philosophers call restrictions or boundaries.

    As in the previous essay, I find a reference to something "philosophers" say that I never heard when I was getting my philosophy degree.

    It is just a brute fact, so far as we know, that the universe consists of more than one thing. If reality did consist of only one thing, then we wouldn't be here having this discussion, because if only one thing existed, it couldn't be us humans.

    But what do we mean when we say there is more than one thing? Just that the identity predicate does not always hold, i.e. it is not the case that for all X and all Y, X is identical with Y. And that is because for some X, there is some Y such that there is at least one predicate P such that P(X) but ~P(Y). But nothing had to make this state of affairs obtain. We observe that it is so, but we don't know that it had to be so, nor that it could have been otherwise.

    Such restrictions can be spatial (X exists here instead of there), temporal (X exists now instead of then), or a way of existence (X exists and behaves in this way, the way of an electron for example, instead of that way, the way of a proton—this is called “essence” in Scholastic jargon).

    Scholasticism is of historical interest, but some of us think philosophy has learned a thing or two since Medieval times that vitiate the intellectual utility of essentialism.

    Now, it’s important to note that such restrictions (or boundaries) cause exclusion between existents and make for incompatible states of being. Take for example the proton and the electron.

    Ordinarily, the warning that something is "important to note" is issued when there is a nonnegligible risk that the reader will either overlook or ignore it. But we distinguish between protons and electrons precisely because we are not overlooking or ignoring the differences between them. The differences inform us that protons are not identical with electrons, but they do not cause the failure of identity.

    in other words the proton is not going to act and behave like the electron in the same respect at the same place and time.

    Right, because if it did, it would not be a proton. It would be an electron.

    They are incompatible states of being

    They are distinguishable modes of being. We observe that one particle behaves in such-and-such a way, and we call it one thing. We observe that another particle behaves in a different way, and we call it something else.

    Take for example, as Fr. Spitzer does in his book, the electromagnetic field, the medium through which protons and electrons interact.

    Scientists do not regard the electromagnetic field as a medium. If the ether had existed, it would have been a medium, but the electromagnetic field is in no relevant way analogous to the ether.

    So, we have arrived at an important metaphysical principle: the less exclusive and more compatible a thing is with other realities, the fewer restrictions it has to limit its mode of being (less boundaries)—that is to say the simpler it is.

    This is unintelligible to me. I can make no sense of defining simplicity in terms of limits on modes of being. I can made sense of simplicity as a function of ease of understanding. The behavior of protons and electrons can be described accurately in terms that require no formal education to understand. The behavior of the magnetic field is described accurately only by Maxwell's equations, which require some familiarity with multivariable calculus to understand.

    And by the way, I have seen no suggestion as to how we might enumerate those restrictions on "mode of being" so as to determine which of any two entities has more of them. Maxwell's equations are four in number. Are they an exhaustive list of the restrictions on a magnetic field's mode of being? If so, then how many restrictions are there on a proton's mode of being, and how do we count them as unambiguously as we can count Maxwell's equations?

    it follows that a reality that is absolutely simple would have no restrictions whatsoever to limit its act of being.

    No, I don't think so. Up to this point of the argument, the premises do not entail this conclusion.

    • Hey Doug,

      Thanks for your comments.

      You have a lot here and I am running short on time so I will make a few
      comments on a couple of things.

      First, the majority of your comments seem simply to affirm
      what I was saying in the argument – namely the proton is not the electron due to its restrictions or boundaries (we agree). The question that the argument sets out to answer is “Can UR have any restrictions like the proton or like the electron, etc?” I think the answer is no, as I argued in the
      article.

      Secondly, in regard to your comment about “simplicity,” the
      term is being used in the argument as it has been traditionally used in
      philosophical theology. As I referenced in the article, it refers to that which has less restrictions or less boundaries – that which is more compatible with states of being that have exclusive boundaries (e.g., electromagnetic field is simpler than the particle state – it’s more compatible with a proton than the electron is; thus its simpler in nature).

      Here is a quote that may be of some help from Fr. Spitzer’s
      book (New Proofs for the Existence of God, pg.122) on “absolute simplicity”:

      “Absolute simplicity may be defined as ‘the complete absence
      of intrinsic and extrinsic boundaries, finitude, or restriction in a reality.’ The simpler a reality is, the fewer intrinsic and/or extrinsic boundaries it has. As
      we shall see momentarily, boundaries cause exclusion, that is, limit interaction and interrelation within a reality and with other realities. Hence, ‘greater simplicity’ means ‘less intrinsic and extrinsic boundaries,’ which entails ‘less exclusion within itself and with other realities,’ which further entails ‘greater possibility for interaction and interrelationship within itself and with other realities.”

      The argument presented in the above article sets out to show
      that UR must be such an absolutely simple reality and I think the argument
      succeeds due to the fact that if UR wasn’t absolutely simple (as defined in the above quote), then those real or really possible incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity that UR’s restrictions or boundaries would give rise to would be excluded from UR (prohibiting interaction). If those real or really possible incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity would be excluded from UR (due to URs restrictions), then those incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity would not be able to have their conditions ultimately fulfilled by the UR, in which case they would not be real.

      So, if UR has boundaries or restrictions, then we end up with real or
      really possible incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity
      that are not real or really possible. But that violates the principle of non-contradiction. Therefore, UR cannot have boundaries or restrictions.

      Hope this helps to clarify.

      • Doug Shaver

        First, the majority of your comments seem simply to affirm what I was saying in the argument – namely the proton is not the electron due to its restrictions or boundaries (we agree).

        At least semantically, we don't agree. I would not say that the nonidentity of the proton and the electron is "due to" restrictions or boundaries on either. I would say that we infer their nonidentity from the fact that there exists at least one proposition P such that P(e) & ~P(p), and I see no reason to refer to that fact as a restriction or boundary.

        Secondly, in regard to your comment about “simplicity,” the term is being used in the argument as it has been traditionally used in philosophical theology.

        It might say something about philosophical theology that the validity of its arguments depends on unconventionally redefining the terms of those arguments. A leg is an appendage, and so we could define "leg" to mean "appendage," and in that case my dog has five legs, because she has a tail and a tail is an appendage. This does not work well as a proof of existence of five-legged dogs.

        So, if UR has boundaries or restrictions, then we end up with real or really possible incompatible states of being on the same level of simplicity that are not real or really possible. But that violates the principle of non-contradiction. Therefore, UR cannot have boundaries or restrictions.

        Hope this helps to clarify.

        I get it that, as you have defined simplicity, absolute simplicity is the absence of any boundaries or restrictions. And I get it that, as you have defined unconditioned reality, if it exists, then it is absolutely simple. But as best I can translate all of that into ordinary English, the most you might have proved so far is that there exists an uncaused cause. If that is an inadequate translation of your argument, then I need some more clarification.

        • I would not say that he has demonstrated the existence of an uncaused cause, rather that there must be some"thing" uncaused.

          • Doug Shaver

            I was conceding as much as I could. Because of his idiosyncratic semantics, I'm not sure what his argument actually proves.

  • So there definitely is one restriction on any unconditioned reality. They are not compatible with anything real or really possible that is incompatible to them.

    I think all you are doing here is stating that the the second law of logic applies to any unconditioned reality. Unconditioned realities are such that cannot be what they are not. Everything has this attribute.

    Protons. A proton is restricted from being what it is not. You use the term "interact" here, I'm not familiar with this use of the term. Electrons and protons do interact in the sense that they repel each other? An electron has restrictions that prevent it from being anything else. It is what it is, it is not what it is not, and it is nothing in-between.

    We are asked to consider an unconditioned reality with the restrictive mode of existence of a proton. In other words, the restrictions that apply to a proton apply in the same way to this unconditioned reality. In this reality,something incompatible with proton-ness would be impossible. So you couldn't say this was a reality that is incompatible with anything electronish, but electrons were real or really possible. That would be a contradiction. Such a reality is not possible. But all this means is that a reality that is restricted from being in certain any way, it is restricted from being that way.

    I don't see how this suggests that any unconditioned reality would be simple or not, in terms of its restrictions. An unconditioned reality of a single proton would seem quite simple. It could be stated quite simply as "a single proton and not anything that is not a single proton." Or, in another description it could be described by listing every possible mode of existence that it excluded, at every level of possible complexity. This description would be infinite... is that not a very complex level of restriction? If my monist materialist view is true, the only unconditioned reality is restricted to this material cosmos. It is pretty simply stated, but it could be very complexly stated.

    If my vematerialist monism is true, the this apparently

  • GCBill

    "If unconditioned reality itself has no restrictions to its mode of being, then nothing (whether real or really possible) can be excluded from it, which means that it must be compatible with and inclusive of all other real or really possible restricted states of being."

    This right here makes me suspect that your future installments will be unsuccessful in equating "unconditioned reality" with God. God is supposed to be immaterial, and immateriality excludes the restricted state of material existence. It certainly isn't "compatible with and inclusive of" it, that's for sure. You could say immaterial things are unrestricted in the sense that they aren't bound to a particular location, but they're also restricted in that they can't be bound to any location.

    You can run this same objection with timelessness and changelessness. Timeless things are not temporally restricted, but they're restricted in that they can't be temporal. I'm sure you can see how this general form applies to changelessness as well. It makes me think that metaphysical domains really are to some degree exclusive, and that attempts to reduce "reality" to a single one of these domains is likely to either say very little, or end incoherently.

    • This right here makes me suspect that your future installments will be unsuccessful in equating "unconditioned reality" with God. God is supposed to be immaterial, and immateriality excludes the restricted state of material existence. It certainly isn't "compatible with and inclusive of" it, that's for sure.

      Exactly! Now, I think this argument can survive and continue, but only if God is matter, and not any matter, but all matter. This is an argument, I suspect, for Spinoza's God: that the cosmos is all that was and is and will be. It's a metaphysical argument for naturalism. I'm just not sure if it's a very good one.

      • I just use the term "all matter" instead of "god". I find people generally thinks of something supernatural or immaterial or both when the word "god" is used. I think it would be misleading to call me a theist for believing in all matter.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Have you ever seen the book The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough? Some people refer to her perspective as one of "religious naturalism". I don't consider myself a religious naturalist, but think it's a great perspective, (and not all that divergent from what I hold to as a Catholic).

          There is an interview with her here, if you are curious:

          http://www.meaningoflife.tv/video.php?speaker=goodenough&topic=complete

          • Indigent

            I watched the interview.....worth viewing. I found it interesting that she referred to herself as a nontheist rather than agnostic or atheist.

    • First, it is true that immaterial states of being or not material states of being (we agree). However, to say that immaterial states of being are incompatible with and exclusive of (cannot interact with) material states of being is to assume that immateriality is not simpler in nature (remember the simpler, the less exclusionary properties). The above argument does not necessarily argue for immateriality being simpler in nature than material reality in a direct way. It is a consequence of it. If UR is absolutely simple, then UR must be immaterial (as argued above). If UR is immaterial, then we have immaterial reality that is compatible with (can interact with) material states of being – UR interacts with material states of being by fulfilling the conditions necessary for their existence.

      Secondly, I think you might be using the word “restriction” in a bit of a different way that I am in the above argument. When I speak of “restrictions” I mean limitations to being, which technically speaking (to use the Scholastic jargon) implies potentiality (the possibility to acquire more being - implying a lack there of) and the limitations in operative powers. Consequently, the fact that the UR CANNOT be bound to space, time, or a way of existence is not a restriction to or a limitation of its being but precisely the opposite -- its a manifestation of the fact that it is being in the highest sense -- the fullness of being -- being without limit (or restriction) -- i.e., infinite. To use the Scholastic jargon once again, UR is devoid of all potentiality (pure actuality) and thus is not limited in its powers to interact with any mode of being.
      Hope that helps.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        UR interacts with material states of being by fulfilling the conditions necessary for their existence.

        I think "interact" is wrong. UR as deduced acts on material states in that it conditions their existence; but the material states do not act on UR, in that they would then become conditions on it. In the same sense, an immaterial sphere (x²+y²+z²=r) acts formally on rubber to make it "actually" a basketball. But basketballs as such do not act on sphericity.

        • Neat example.

          I need to point out two very important things, though. You need to square the r. And, even more importantly, how did you get the little 2's? I need to know!

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Gaaah! x²+y²+z²=r² Fixed.

            Find the utility on your machine called "Character Map"
            Under "Group by" find "Unicode subrange"
            On the popper window, find "Superscripts/subscripts"

            Alas, the makers of computers apparently see no need for "superscripts" beyond 1, 2, and 3; and there are no actual subscripts, so unlike MS Word, the Internet is not friendly to mathematics.

          • Thanks :)

  • I would say that when you take the comments below into account, we have established that there must be at least one unconditioned reality, but that they can be simple or complex.

    I look forward to hearing arguments about whether there can be more than one unconditioned reality and whether the attributes declared divine are applicable to them, and specifically to Jesus.

    I have to say I find the lack of comment on this piece interesting too. Does no one have a rebuttal to Doug or Paul's critique?

    • Vicq Ruiz

      the lack of comment on this piece

      Hazarding a guess, it's because this type of article deals with some pretty well-trodden ground here on SN.

      I'll wait for parts four and five. I still want to know why unconditioned reality is opposed to my buying a box of condoms.

      • bbrown

        The Unconditioned Reality is perfectly loving and knows the damage that buying condoms will do to your soul and to others.

  • Though I am sympathetic with the argument, there seems to me to be a hidden premise that has not been justified: namely that incompatible realities cannot interact with one another in the absence of a simpler reality. That doesn't seem obviously true to me.

    The argument in Spitzer's book seems to move from a particular case (protons and electrons interacting in a field) to the universal rule that all incompatible realities can only interact by virtue of a simpler reality. Maybe that's true, but it's not clear to me that it must be so in every case.

    So my question is: what's the argument that it is impossible that incompatible realities interact in the absence of a simpler reality?

    (And let me say that I do actually accept simplicity, but along more classical lines involving the impossibility of an unconditioned reality having parts.)

  • Ignatius Reilly

    1) A maximally simple being has no restrictions.

    2) An Unconditional Reality cannot not exist.
    3) An unconditional reality has at least one restriction (it must exist)
    4) An unconditional reality is not maximally simple.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      An unconditioned reality would have the inner "structure" that its existence and its essence are identical. Necessary beings like angels, if they exist, are essences to which existences are joined. That is their "condition."

      So an unconditioned reality remains perfectly simple.

  • Tim Dacey

    Karlo:

    Do you think you think the assumption that "simplicity = truth" is being taken for granted here? You haven't spelled out exactly why we ought to believe this. In fact, even if this assumption were true, and a "Creator" is the best hypothesis (because it is the simplest, and is therefore, most likely the case) for the existence of the universe, it says nothing as to why "Theism" (not to mention Christianity) is also the best hypothesis. How are the competing Hypothesis not as equally "simple?" I think if this argument is going to be successful, certain clarifications about the assumptions at hand are needed.

  • Gijs Schenk

    While it was clear to me in the first article that the cells of a cat are conditioned building blocks, it isn't clear to me now why the most fundamental building blocks of that cat can't be unconditioned. After reading the first article, which showed that there must be at least one unconditioned reality, I expected this article to explain that, but instead it took off, I think, with the presupposition that the unconditioned reality is something independent from the conditioned things / cats. As I see it, this article basically says 'a fundamental unconditioned reality must be simpler than the things it is fundamental to'. That would be true if it would be a reality that encompasses conditioned things, but not if it is a reality that is just a fundamental building block (then it wouldn't even make sense to say that). Did I miss something here?

  • Elijah Johnson

    Dear Mr. Broussard,

    I find your work and Fr. Spitzers' work very insightful. I had two questions about this article if you had the time.

    1) You explained, "if this incompatible state of being, 'not X,' would exclude from itself and be incompatible with the only thing that could ultimately fulfill its conditions for existence, namely unconditioned reality, then it could not in principle be real or really possible—i.e., it couldn’t exist or even possibly exist." It seems as if you are already assuming that "unconditioned reality" is one single reality. But at this point in the proof, it has not been proven that unconditioned reality is unique. For the moment, let's imagine multiple unconditioned realities X, Y, and Z. If X is restricted, I understand that "not X" would be incompatible with X. But because we're imagining multiple unconditioned realities, X does not necessarily have to ultimately fulfill the conditions for "not X." The conditions for "not X" could be fulfilled by unconditioned reality Y or Z. So, why does there have to be only one unconditioned reality?

    2) You say that for any reality that is restricted, there are "real or really possible" incompatible states on the same level of simplicity. By "really possible" do you mean not logically self-contradictory? Just because something is not logically self-contradictory does not necessarily mean it is actually possible, right? Something must have a means for existing (unless its unconditioned). Therefore, why does there need to be a reality that is absolutely simple? It appears to me that there only needs to be a reality that is simpler than any actually existing reality, not that there needs to be an absolutely simple reality.