Some parallels between Boyd’s approach and my Peircean-Scotistic phenomenology:

aesthetic primacy = peircean normative sciences where aesthetics precede ethics which precede logic

dispositions = peircean thirdness

definitional dispositions = scotistic haecceity, dynamical, hartshornean nonstrict identity (only divine essence enjoying strict identity as Ens Necessarium)

constitutive dispositions = scotistic formal distinction coupled with distinctions of modal adequacy and modal a/temporality

Boyd: A beginning point is  the  recognition that the mechanistic (and hence  deterministic)  models of dispositions  which tend to  be most  useful in science  need not be considered ultimate.  Their  utility, and thus relative  validity, can  be affirmed, but the very recognition that we are  talking metaphorically  about an unpicturable reality  suggests  that no  one model need be  taken  as exhaustively  definitive for disclosing  the nature of this reality. The legitimacy of models  must be contextually determined.

JB: d’accord, ergo:

dispositions are variously in/determinative = pluralistic account of teloi (teleopotent, teleomatic, teleonomic and teleologic teleodynamics)

emergentist stance (sans supervenience) avoids both epistemic and ontological reduction or a priori conclusions that we have necessarily encountered epistemic in/determinables and/or ontological in/determinedness and to what degree

Boyd: It is  the insight of Whitehead and Hartshorne  that there  is an  aesthetic  dimension to all experience which, I believe, can furnish us  with another very fruitful model of dispositions.  If  beauty  is indeed  a priori, and if becoming is, therefore,  essentially  a  becoming  towards “aesthetic satisfaction,” then it is reasonable to  construct  a model of dispositions  which reflects  this dimension of  reality. I  believe  that the Process  concept of  a “subjective aim  towards aesthetic  satisfaction” furnishes us  with  just such a  model.

JB: again, d’accord

This comports with evolutionary epistemology, Jack Haught’s process aesthetic teleology, Peirce’s aesthetic primacy and my own (with Yong) axiological epistemology.

Boyd: The aesthetic model of disposition we are here arguing for seems  to accomplish just this.  It  renders creative acts  futuristically  unpredictable  but retroactively intelligible. It thereby fulfills  Ross’  requirement for intelligible spontaneity by  “circumscribing without  determining”  the act it explains, and it  does this without necessitating either the postulation of an indeterminate  world totality (Ross), an indeterminate Creator (Neville), or an unintelligible self-creation  ex  nihilo  (Hartshorne).

JB: In semiotic terms, this marks the threshold where nonarbitrary signs — which function merely as icons and indexes (peircean firstness and secondness, respectively), such as in the algorithmic, teleonomic, end-directedness of sentient creatures — are supplemented by arbitrary signs, which function robustly as symbols (peircean thirdness), such as in the nonalgorithmic, teleologic, end-intendedness of sapient creatures.

It also marks the crossing of the telic threshold from what Peirce would call the finious and Mayr the teleomatic, beyond the teleonomic, even, to the truly teleological, or, in Deacon’s terms, from the merely thermodynamical and morphodynamical to the robustly teleodynamical, or, in classical Aristotelian terms, from formal to final causation.

Boyd: It seems, therefore, that one may accept the “principle of continuity” and yet reject psychicalism. 

JB: Yes. A priori applying a root metaphor proves too much, especially if it commits to a philosophy of mind stance or is too specific, not vague enough (like field).

Boyd: It  is, we again see, Hartshorne, and not  the phenomenologists, who  commits the  “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” 

JB: Put differently, it is one thing to adopt an emergentist stance, quite another to smuggle in supervenience with distinctions, for example, between weak and strong emergence. It’s an unwarranted move from an exploratory heuristic to an a prioristic explanatory metaphysic. The move should be characterized as a fallibilist, metaphysical hypothesis and then tested and argued and not presented as self-evident.

Boyd: Because of the way experienced is defined, the  God-world relation  lies “beyond  the accident of God’s will.” While the precise  way non-divine reality exists  is influenced by the divine will and is contingent, the  fact that  there  is a contingent non-divine reality  is in  no way  the result of  God’s  will. It is a metaphysical, and thus  eternal,  necessity. The Christian doctrine  of “creation  ex  nihilo” is thus impossible.  So also, then, is the Christian doctrine of God  as  self-sufficient  unto  Godself completely impossible.  The supposed  a priori  structure of rationality, and hence being, requires  this. 

JB: Any reductionistic bent will a priori commit us to various types of modal and dependent contingenies and/or necessities. Philosophically, various creatio accounts remain live options? It needn’t be decided theologically either.

Boyd: Both being and becoming  are  capable of being exemplified concretely  and  abstractly.

JB: By categorically expanding our temporal modalities beyond the abstract (1ns) and concrete (2ns) to recognize the dispositional (3ns) as real, we can exemplify being as concrete and essentially distinct and becoming as dispositional and formally distinct.

Boyd: As we shall see more fully in our exposition  below, an adequate metaphysical account  of  the structure  of experienced reality  requires the acceptance of the ontological parity of being and becoming. 

JB: There’s a definite parity insofar as each entity remains irreducibly triadic, as abstract, concrete and dispositional. As we’ve recognized, previously, the dispositional invites disambiguation as it vaguely refers to teloi that can variously be weakly finious or strongly final causes, variously in/determinative or even metaphysically necessary.

Boyd: And finally,  while we  have defended Hartshorne’s view that aesthetic  value is  a priori, we have argued that his correlation of aesthetic  intensity with synthesized multiplicity  is not necessary. One can, rather, distinguish  between the subjective intensity  of an experience, and the expression of that experience:  the former admits of an acme  point, the latter  does not. 

JB: I find the distinction between the intensity and scope of aesthetic experience helpful, as well as its overflow into contingent illustrations. It seems a recapitulation of Scotus’ invocation of a univocity of being in conjunction with infinity, or the peircean-scotistic formal distinction coupled with further distinctions of modal adequacy and a/temporality, all which preserve the analogy of being, as any infinite instantiation accords a qualitative difference. This intensity thus comprises an essential divine aspect, while the scope would refer to an extrinsic, constitutive relation.

Boyd: Can God  be necessary and contingent in different respects, but not in such a way that God’s necessary features are merely abstract? 

JB: Our triadic distinctions allow for God’s necessary aspects to be essentially distinct regarding, for example, necessary dispositions and intensity of aesthetic experience, while any contingent aspects would, while real, be only formally distinct and inseparable, for example, illustrative expressions and scope of aesthetic experiences.

These distinctions, then, will impact our accounts of divine essences, hypostases, persons, paterology, christology, pneumatology and soteriology, making our classical understandings of radical grace, radical freedom and radical intimacy even more intelligible. 

Divine benevolence (normatively & sacramentally) would mediate between divine omniscience (descriptively & eschatologically) and divine omnipresence (interpretively & ecclesiologically) to effect divine omnipathy (evaluatively & soteriologically), all realized via divine omnipotence (contemplatively & sophiologically).

In human anthropology, as imago Dei, the normative mediates between the descriptive and interpretive to effect the evaluative as augmented by the contemplative (self-transcendence).

Boyd: Prima facie, then, no obvious absurdity is committed in maintaining that God can  be, in one sense, necessarily  actually  infinite while further maintaining  that God can also  be, at the same  time but in another sense, contingently  actually infinite. This is,  from another angle,  simply to  say that God can have a necessary  eternal  perspective on Godself which may (it is  a contingent matter) include a perspective which  encompasses non-divine perspectives.  God is eternally  and necessarily defined  by this one’s eternal  experience of Godself, and this experience may  encompass, and find expression  in, the interaction of non-divine creatures. 

JB: This articulates Joe Bracken’s move, which employs a field-theoretic approach to preserve transcendence while providing for an immanence that remains consistent with indispensable classical and trinitarian insights.

Boyd: The design and epistemic arguments, we have seen, arise out  of  the concept of reality as necessarily ordered and necessarily knowable. They  build upon  the third, fourth, and  fifth foundational statements of Hartshorne’s system. Together they  attempt to  demonstrate  that a necessary cosmic Orderer and necessary cosmic Knower  exist. What must now  be explicated is  the  type  of power and knowledge which these  arguments  necessitate. 

JB: Much of this section presupposes, not uncontroversially, the principle of sufficient reason, which is fine as a theological leap but philosophically needs to be argued. Similarly, we cannot a priori know whether the cosmos presents as brute fact or, as a whole, necessarily, begs explanation. In other words, the fallacy of composition may or may not apply. Accordingly, alternate trinitarian field-theoretic accounts, whether creative, co-creative or pro-creative via ex nihilo, ex profundis or multitudinae, may remain viable. They would have implications regarding any problem of evil. Any defense will still require both kenotic-free will as well as metaphysical constraints on divine knowledge, power and freedom as discussed elsewhere.

Again, as regarding any essential or voluntary kenosis, we best be mindful of the plurality of teloi which God need or need not sustain in noncoercively interacting with freedom. In my view, it is only the robustly teleologic dynamics of human freedom that need be sustained via divine constraint. Other teleodynamics, then, whether quantum teleopotency, inanimate teleomaticity or biological teleonomicity would remain subject to divine prerogatives whenever they are not otherwise inextricably intertwined with some realization of personal freedom or agency. As with the qualifications discussed elsewhere regarding omniscience (of future peircean 3ns, necessities and probabilities), this makes our hopes regarding eschatological realizations more real, our theosis more pressing, our petitionary prayer more urgent, our recognition of the miraculous more ubiquitous.

Boyd: Hence we  have arrived  at what constitutes the outline for a trinitarian dispositional metaphysics, grounded on  a priori  truths, and compatible  with the dynamic, non-substantival process  categories of modernity  as well as with  Scripture  and the Christian tradition. The relationship between the  Trinity and the world process is that the creative  process of the self-sufficient God  graciously grounds  and encompasses the creative process  of  the world. And the ultimate result is  the world’s redemptive sharing in the eternal self-delight which characterizes and constitutes the creative self-becoming of  the triune  God. 

JB: And why wouldn’t we all say, Amen!?


Would it be fair to say, within Thomism, that, while God’s relation to creation is not real, but logical, it is still real-ist? It implies no absolute causal disjunction, only that, for example, creation would be “an effect proper to no known cause.”

As such, we could only ever aspire to successful references to, even while in principle precluded from providing successful descriptions of, G-d. Put differently, God’s logical relation is not without foundation and we can make true statements, both literally and analogically, about God. The literal statements, though, can only ever be predicated apophatically.

In other words, the real vs logical distinction does not threaten God’s eminent intelligibility even though it preserves G-d’s utter incomprehensibility.

After all, we have a rather robust phenomenology of creaturely participation in and partaking of divine operations, such as regarding the Incarnation, the Sacraments, pneumatological gifts, soteriological graces, theosis, eschatological and proleptic realizations, the miraculous, petitionary prayer and on and on. These Divine Presences in no way threaten Divine Simplicity even as they donatively gift us, transforming us from image to likeness.

More succinctly, these Presences don’t differ essentially, only constitutively. Hence, we realize a Eucharistic Presence in the People Gathered, the Word Proclaimed, the Sacred Species, none substantially distinct, only tran-substantial. Theotic divine energies gift presence — not via distinct ousia, but — via met-ousia. Divine contingencies thus only ever refer to constitutive and not essential relations.

That reminds me of Fr Norris Clarke’s approach, where God’s immutable in the absolute order, but mutable in the relative order. God’s extrinsic, constitutive relations don’t threaten the infinite perfection of divine personal being. This differs from Whitehead and Hartshorne’s accounts of Abstract/Primordial immutability and Concrete/Consequent mutability, where creation is needed to complete God. Clarke’s God doesn’t “need” the world.

I think this gets at some of the confusion between Aquinas and Scotus. Some say that Scotus (re univocity) was addressing semantical issues, while Aquinas (re analogy) was concerned with things. If so, then Scotus certainly doesn’t threaten the Thomistic analogy of being. Any Scotistic instantiation of infinity ultimately entails a qualitative difference. Furthermore, arguably, though he conceives infinity positively, it’s really another apophatic negation — not finite — like not mutable. Mostly, though, Aquinas’ analogy thus does not devolve into equivocity, as if our analogical predications could not make successful references to God, precisely because they’re coupled with literal apophatic statements. Instead, it protects us from the idolatry in imagining that we’ve ever made exhaustively successful descriptions of God. Not sure I said this very well. I guess that, consistent with Fr Clarke, we might say that any differences in God’s behaving vis a vis extrinsic, constitutive relations to creatures, would not entail differences in God’s being vis a vis intrinsic, essential aspects of the Trinity. Those extrinsic relations effect our becoming in likeness to God, but no divine becoming.

re: that things cause God’s knowledge? how does this not lead to creatures actualizing states of affairs in God’s mind? <<<<<

The distinctions I’ve come across grew out of an exchange between Fr Clarke and Lewis Ford.

God’s inner being can indeed be affected, whether 1) both absolutely and relatively, such as in the divine hypostases, interpersonally 2) absolutely but not relatively, in the divine nature or 3) relatively but not absolutely, such as in knowledge of and love relations with creatures.

How this squares with divine simplicity in Thomistic terms, I don’t know. But, in my view, #3 above sounds like what Scotus would call a formal distinction, as it refers to constitutive but not essential dispositions. Whatever the case, I think this requires a qualifying of divine simplicty that, for some, would entail a narrower conception than relied on previously.

RE: But if ‘real’ relations are defined simply as relations one truly has (i.e., relations that involve one in acts of mind and will vis-à-vis what one is related to) but which remain extrinsic to what one is essentially, then I’m fine with positing God’s real relations with the world. Does this commit me to a notion of divine simplicity unacceptable to classical theists? <<<<<

I think some Scotists would certainly accept your notion of divine simplicity.

Also, some neo-Thomists would, too: The Jesuit philosopher W. Norris Clarke advises Thomists to “simply drop” the doctrine of the lack of real relations in God and to adopt the view that, “[God’s] consciousness is contingently and qualitatively different because of what we do”.

As some have put it, it’s one thing to affect God’s absolute nature but quite another to affect God’s nature absolutely, only the latter violating divine simplicity.

While formally distinct, essential attributes would still refer to a divine noncontingent nature. Scotus would also apply a modally adequate distinction, which refers to degrees and intensities by which attributes are expressed. A modal ontology would also further implicate temporal distinctions such as past possibilities, present actualities, future probabilities and eternal necessities, all quite apart from the divine essence. These modes would differ between each attribute, among them collectively and from the divine essence (esse naturale). So, beyond a mere formal distinction plus modal distinction of intensity, creaturely divine partakings and participations implicate a modally temporal distinction, hence contingency — not in the divine nature, but — into any consideration of divine acts or relationality (esse intentionale).


The analogy of being, alone, would dissolve into mere equivocation. But it’s not to be taken alone, but, only ever in conjunction with literal references to reality, apophatic though they may be.

The univocity of being, alone, would collapse transcendence. But it’s not to be taken alone, but only ever in conjunction with the distinction between infinite and finite instantiations of attributes.

The univocity of being expresses the implicit semantical presupposition that necessarily grounds the realist – not equivocal – nature of the analogy of being, while the analogy of being expresses the implicit essential qualitative aspect that inhere’s in the in/finite distinction of the univocity of being.

Thus the real vs logical distinction of Thomism doesn’t express what the Scotists would consider a conceptual distinction (e.g. Venus as both morning and evening star), but very much could be interpreted to, implicitly, include the scotistic formal distinction of nonessential but inseparable attributes.


essential, formal, modal, conceptual, adequate