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The Roots of Eternity

  • Brian Leftow (a1)

The claim that God is eternal is a standard feature of late–classical and mediaeval philosophical theology. It is prominent in discussions of the relation of God's foreknowledge to human freedom, and its consequences pervade traditional accounts of other kinds of divine knowledge, of God's will, and of God's relation to the world. So an examination of the concept of eternity promises to repay our efforts with a better understanding of the history of philosophical theology and with insight into the concept of God. Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann's ‘Eternity’ is a forceful, sophisticated presentation and defence of the notion of eternity. Our treatment of eternity will focus on two of Stump and Kretzmann's claims. First, Stump and Kretzmann contend that eternity isa kind of ‘atemporal duration’. We will see that while this is true, it is only part of the story. Second, Stump and Kretzmann claim to provide a viable account of how the existence of an eternal being can be simultaneous with some temporal event. We will see that and why they have not done so.

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page 189 note 1 Kretzmann, Norman and Stump, Eleonore, ‘Eternity’, journal of Philosophy, (1981), 429–58.

page 189 note 2 Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy V, prose 6, quoted at Stump and Kretzmann, , op. cit. 430. I have added one line of the original text to what Stump and Kretzmann quote.

page 190 note 1 Stump, and Kretzmann, , op. cit. 431–4.

page 190 note 2 Fitzgerald, Paul, ‘Stump and Kretzmann on Time and Eternity’, journal of Philosophy, LXXXII (1985), 260–9

page 190 note 3 Stump, and Kretzmann, , op. cit. 432.

page 191 note 1 Hopkins, J. and Richardson, H. W., eds. and trs., Anselm of Canterbury: Collected Words, vol. I (Toronto: Edwin Mellen Press, 1974), Proslogion, c. 18, p. 106.

page 191 note 2 Ibid.Proslogion, c. 19, p. 106.

page 191 note 3 Cf. ibid.Monologion, c. 21, p. 34.

page 191 note 4 Ibid.Proslogion, c. 21, p. 107. As a point has no dimensions, but only location, talk of eternity as dimensional models it on an extension.

page 192 note 1 Plotinus would be an exception to my thesis. In his system, that which is simple, the One, is ‘above’ even being eternal, andthat which is eternal is Nous, which is ‘below’ the One. Hence in Plotinus, only the extensional model of eternity would apply. Augustine and later Christian writers in effect merged aspects of Plotinus' One and Nous in their description of God. I will deal only with writers who make this conflation.

page 192 note 2 Boethius, , The Consolation of Philosophy, tr. Watts, V. E. (London: Penguin Books, 1969), bk. iv, prose 6, pp. 136–7. Earlier, Boethius has argued that God is unity itself, and applied to God Parmenides' description of Being as a homogenous sphere (bk. 3, X–XII), which arguably expresses the same intuitions which were to find full flower in the doctrine of divine simplicity.

page 192 note 3 ST la 9, 1; 10, 2.

page 192 note 4 CF. De Ente et Essentia, c. 4 and ST Ia Io, 3.

page 195 note 1 Aquinas was careful to leave this route open; see Leftow, Brian, ‘Simplicity and Eternity’ (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1984), ch. I. That the text mentions this strategy does not imply that I endorse it or that it is ultimately viable.

page 195 note 2 Plantinga, Alvin, Does God Have a Nature? (Milwaukee, Wisc.: Marquette University Press, 1980), Pp. 2747.

page 195 note 3 Mann, William E., ‘Divine Simplicity’, ReligiousStudies, XVIII (1981), 451–71. Mann's proposal is foreshadowed in Peter Geach's essay on Aquinas, in Three Philosophers (Ithaca, NY: CorneII University Press, 1961).

page 196 note 1 Cf. ST Ia 13, 1 ad 2.

page 196 note 2 ST Ia Io, 1.

page 196 note 3 Stump, Eleonore and Kretzmann, Norman, ‘Absolute Simplicity’, Faith and Philosophy II (1985), 354.

page 197 note 1 To move from these premisses plus the impossibility that God have temporal parts to the claim that God cannot be physical requires also the claim that whatever is physical and temporal is a continuant, for if instantaneous (temporally partless) physical entities were possible, God's inability to have temporal parts would not rule out His being one of these. Stump and Kretzmann's argument could also read as premising that necessarily, whatever is physical is both spatially and temporally extended. In this case it would not require (T), but could instead just claim that necessarily, whatever is physical is spatially extended, that every spatiallyextended thing has spatial parts and that God cannot have spatial parts.

page 197 note 2 Cf. Mellor, D. H., Real Time (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981), chs. 7, 8.

page 197 note 3 As in Holt, D. C., ‘Timelessness and the Metaphysics of Temporal Existence’, American Philosophical Quarterly, XVIII (1981), 149–56.

page 198 note 1 Cf. Hopkins, and Richardson, , op. cit. n. 6, pp. 25, 26.

page 198 note 2 Ibid. c. 21, p. 34.

page 198 note 3 I am not aware of any other candidate source for it.

page 200 note 1 For a brief explanation of ‘broadly logical’ modality, cf. Plantinga, Alvin, The Nature of Necessity (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), pp. 12. For the rest of this essay, all unqualified modal terms will express ‘broadly logical’ modality.

page 201 note 1 To state the argument properly, one would need carefully to qualify talk of a simple being existing at times and in possible worlds. For some of the rationale for this and some of the qualifications, cf. my ‘God and Abstract Entities’, forthcoming in Faith and Philosophy.

page 202 note 1 This might seem to entail that all of a simple being's intrinsic attributes belong to it of necessity. I suggest a way to block thisconclusion in op. cit. n. 27.

page 202 note 2 ST Ia 4, t; Summa Contra Gentiles (henceforth SCG) I, 21 (6).

page 202 note 3 SCG I, 23, 24.

page 203 note 1 Cf. Monologion 17.

page 205 note 1 Stump, and Kretzmann, , op. cit. n. I, 437–40.

page 206 note 1 Ibid. 439.

page 207 note 1 Recent contributions to the debate include Stump, and Kretzmann, , op. cit. n. I, 453–8;Gale, Richard, ‘Omniscience–immutability Arguments’, American Philosophical Quarterly, XXIII (1986), 319–35;Grim, Patrick, ‘oAgainst Omniscience: the Case from Essential Indexicals’, Nous, XIX (1985), 151–80.

page 207 note 2 Cf. Aquinas, , Summa Contra Gentiles, I 21, 45.

page 209 note 1 For a discussion which makes more fully some points I develop briefly here, see Mann's, WilliamEpistemology Supernaturalized’, Faith and Philosophy II (1985), 436–56. If my argument is correct, then it may be that only by having ‘middle knowledge’ (knowledge ‘in advance’ of what an agent A would freely do if placed in a situation) could a simple God have knowledge of theactions of created agents who possess libertarian freedom.

An unrelated point: there can in fact be at most one eternal being, as whatever is eternal is simple, and as we have seen, there can be at most one simple being. If there can be at most one eternal being, and if an eternal being knows whatever it knows about temporal things by apprehending itself, Stump and Kretzmann's original (ii) is satisfied in any eternal being's having knowledge of any temporal thing.

page 209 note 2 Stump, and Kretzmann, , op. cit. n. I, 435, 451.

page 209 note 3 Thus if precognition is possible, it is not a sort of observation, and is not so just because the events precognized occur later than their precognition.

page 209 note 4 Stump, and Kretzmann, , op. cit. n. I, 435.

page 210 note 1 For discussion of this definition's basis, problems and implications, cf. Salmon, Wesley, Space, Time and Motion, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), chs. 3, 4, esp. p. 73, and Sklar, Lawrence, Space, Time and Spacetime (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 276–94. esp. p. 277.

page 211 note 1 Stump, and Kretzmann, , op. cit. n. I, 436.

page 211 note 2 Ibid.

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