Classical Theism Doesn’t Really Compete (tautologically)

  • Chance or necessity?
  • Chaos or order?
  • Paradox or pattern?
  • Random or systematic?
  • Asymmetric or symmetric?
  • Discontinuity or continuity?

We approach reality’s in/determinacies with no final analytical adjudication of how many & which of them arise from methodological or epistemic in/determinabilities versus various in-principle occultings of certain in/determined ontic realities.

Some tautologies imagine a wholesale indeterminedness, a thoroughgoing realm of merely ephemeral forms, a tehomic abyss of nominalistic turtles all the way across. Others, a pervasively determined reality of only eternal forms, a pantheon of essentialistic turtles all the way down.

Neither of these monistic tautologies requires mereological whole-part distinctions, although, ontologically, the former type usually admits materialist presuppositions, the latter – idealist. Explanatorily & causally, the former takes reality to be brute, the latter conceives it as ultimately explicable & absolutely caused.

Might there be more than turtles?

Could they be arranged with more than horizontal & vertical directionality, perhaps both? without

  • dichotomizing them into matter or mind, perhaps both?
  • imagining that turtlehood’s at least partly intelligible even if at bottom still wholly incomprehensible?
  • conceiving it as adequately determined & sufficiently reasoned rather than either absolutely so or pervasively indetermined?

What alternative tautology could accommodate that cluster of presuppositions?

None has presented.

Rather than formal, syllogistic arguments that employ root metaphors & metaphysical dichotomies between chance & necessity or advancing pure deductions, humankind has long taken refuge in common sense abductions, informal reasonings that rely heavily on reductiones ad absurdum.

Without root metaphors & exhaustive definitions, instead employing only vague & general phenomenological categories of meta-ontological significance, our reasoning must resort to a fallibilist triadic cycling of abductive hypothesizing, deductive clarifying & inductive testing, which will converge on the truth, even when we can only make successful references to reality.

Classical theism, Thomism, Scotism, Neo-platonism, Palamism, Augustinianism and such do not compete on tautological terms with either a materialist monism or pantheism, either a thoroughgoing nominalism or essentialism, both which take rather naïve a prioristic approaches with a pretense of comprehensively accounting for reality, mereologically, exhaustively defining its objects, epistemologically, neatly arranging its turtles, ontologically.

Rather, distinctions like being, reality & relations; essence, existent, act-potency; quiddity, haecceity, formal distinction; ousia, hypostasis, energeia; and so on, suffice to “meaningfully” relate realities via successful references & abductive inferences, even when successful definitions otherwise elude us.

As Christians encounter paradox, we don’t rush to closure, imagining a priori that it must necessarily be

  • resolved, dialectically in synthesis;
  • dissolved, paradigmatically via perspectival shift;
  • maintained, creatively in tension; or
  • evaded, practically, via reductiones.

Our abductive hypotheses regarding a putative Ens Necessarium tend to evade radically nominalistic & essentialistic tautologies, which devolve into atheological & pantheological stances that wreak conceptual havoc on our

  • common sense experience of a human free will,
  • common sense notions of causality,
  • common sense presuppositions of metaphysical reality & first principles of reasoning.

Our abductions regarding reality’s ultimates & reductiones regarding its proximates don’t a priori recommend themselves as metaphysical verities without having first proved themselves, a posteriori, as indispensable methodological stipulations.

A Dionysian-like approach gets to the point:

  1. God is | x | is true analogically and kataphatically.
  2. God is | not x | is true literally and apophatically.
  3. God’s neither | x | nor | not x | is true unitively.

When we approach classical theisms without this logic, we fall into confusion because we project onto them our own implicit nominalisms & essentialisms and materialisms & idealisms. We imagine we can

  • synthesize them in an Hegelian-like dialectic (like some dipolar theisms),
  • dissolve them paradigmatically through some Kuhnian-like shift (like some panentheisms), or
  • maintain their creative tensions (methodological principle of sufficient reason but a metaphysical materialism).

That’s not what classical theism does!

Instead, it evades such tensions altogether, refrains from proving too much, from saying more than can possibly be known, from telling untellable stories.

Some pejoratively caricature as an ad hoc mysterianism

  • such apophasis,
  • such reliance on successful references,
  • such bracketing of root metaphors,
  • such an inescapably fallibilist approach,
  • such a practical reasoning under speculative uncertainty.

Our defense, though, is robust.

This is no dissolvent mysterianism, but the exuberantly hopeful epistemic optimism of a nuanced, negative mysterianism, which posits that –

  • if our indispensable methodological stipulations derive from timeless metaphysical truths,
  • then, our acting as if these propositions, however tentative, are true,
  • will more likely provide us more beautiful, good, unitive & liberative value-realizations than alternative stances can.

Now, it may well be that, too many of us aren’t always the best exemplars of such transcendental imperatives, piously voicing firm beliefs, while practically responding to life with nihilistic tendencies. Mea maxima culpa!But that’s why we so fulsomely celebrate our hagiographic traditions, taking account of how other persons, once similarly situated and as flawed as us, have nevertheless plumbed the depths of solidarity & scaled the heights of compassion, miraculously so, both in virtue and in visible signs like sanctifications, spectacular healings, unitive realizations & transformative liberations – all that remain otherwise inexplicable, both physically & psychologically.

The practical takeaway is that what can often seem rather meager, propositionally, can still impart enormous significance, dispositionally, normatively justifying an eminently actionable way of living, existentially.

As we reflect on the

  • primal emptiness at the Father’s origination of the Trinity,
  • empty manger of the Advent at the Incarnation,
  • empty tomb of the Resurrection,
  • empty space of the Ascension
  • all now filled with the utter fullness of Pentecost …

Let us hope that, whenever we encounter that much beauty, that much goodness, that much unity & love, that much freedom, the Truth will, more likely than otherwise, at least, be nearby.

The kerygma doesn’t finally lend itself, propositionally & with complete definitions, to a competing tautology. It’s a category error to approach our Creeds, Scriptures & Traditions that way. It accommodates itself, rather, to a practical reasoning under speculative uncertainties, where successful references must suffice, commensurate with the Subjects on both Hands of the Father.

If we open ourselves, dispositionally, follow through, existentially, then our abductive propositional apprehensions will grow ever more comprehensive until our vision is Beatific.

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