Phil Gons on the McCall/Yandell Argument and My Response

Phil Gons has a good post detailing a response to the McCall/Yandell argument against necessary role subordination in the Trinity:

Here’s their argument:

  1. If the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in all possible worlds, then the Son is necessarily subordinate to the Father.
  2. If the Son is necessarily subordinate to the Father, then the Son is essentially subordinate to the Father.
  3. Thus, the Son, as essentially subordinate to the Father, is of a different essence or nature than the Father, which entails a denial of homoousion.

My first line of response is to show that this argument can be equally applied to any eternal difference between the Father and the Son. Let’s take the Son’s property of sonship and apply their own argument to it.

  1. If the Son is eternally the Son and the Father is eternally not the Son in all possible worlds, then the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son.
  2. If the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son, then the Son is essentially the Son and the Father is essentially not the Son.
  3. Thus, the Son, as essentially the Son, and the Father, as essentially not the Son, are of a different essence or nature, which entails a denial of homoousion.

The result of extending the argument this way is that it demonstrates—assuming the legitimacy of the argument—that there can be no eternal difference of any kind without denying homoousion. But Yandell himself affirmed in the debate that the Son alone has the property of being the Son, and the Father alone the property of being the Father, and the Spirit alone the property of being the Spirit. Yet, according to his own argument, he must deny homoousion because these eternal differences constitute necessary differences, which constitute essential differences.

Yandell and McCall are attempting to affirm three propositions that simply cannot stand together. Here are the three incompatible propositions:

  1. The argument is valid.
  2. There are eternal differences among the three persons of the Trinity.
  3. The Father and the Son are homoousios.

If they wish to maintain their claim to rationality, they must either deny (1) the legitimacy of the argument, (2) that the Son alone has the property of being the Son, etc. (which amounts to a denial of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity), (3) the doctrine of homoousion, or (4) some combination of the three. At least one of these has to go. All three cannot coexist.

I thought this was a good argument. But after studying some metaphysics (years later) I left this comment:

I came across this post just after the debate, and I thought your raised a good argument against McCall and Yandell. Even though I was skeptical of it, I could not put my finger on what I thought was wrong with it. Now I am thinking I have an account of what is wrong with it. You write,

“My first line of response is to show that this argument can be equally applied to any eternal difference between the Father and the Son.”

I think there is a good reason to think it is false that this argument can be applied to any necessary difference between the Father and the Son. The property of “sonship” as explained by your counter argument amounts to this: “the Son is necessarily the Son and the Father is necessarily not the Son.” The first conjunct, “the Son is necessarily the Son” is the exemplification of self-identity: necessarily, everything is identical with itself. The Son has this property as does the Father as does every concrete particular. Yet such a property is what philosophers have recognized as an ‘impure property’—that is, a property that presupposes the notion of a concrete particular! To say the Son has the property of being identical with the Son and the Father as having the property of being identical with the Father is to assert a trivial truth that elucidates nothing about their constituent ontologies. What McCall and Yandell are worried about is a pure property, one that does not presuppose a concrete particular, distinguishing the Father and Son’s constituent nature. If the Father has the property of being in authority, and the Son qualitatively lacks this property, then neither the Father nor the Son is identical in their constituent ontologies.

One might try to wriggle out of this problem by claiming that the ‘being in authority’ property is not a constituent of the divine nature; rather, it is only a constituent of the Father’s personal nature. But there is good reason to doubt this as such a property seems to be a necessary condition of the divine attribute of sovereignty. One is sovereign if and only if one has the ability to control all things and the right to govern all things. It is very plausible to envisage the right to govern all things as exemplifying the property of being in authority, something the Father has that the Son lacks.

This distinction helps explain how there is compatibility between the three propositions. First, the argument is valid. There is no logical fallacy or false inference occurring between the premises. Second, the property of self-identity, while not sufficient to elucidate the constituent nature of a concrete particular, is sufficient for naming a difference between at least two concrete particulars, that is the Father and Son. Third, pure properties, those that make up the constituent nature of a concrete particular without depending on a concrete particular, make up identical sets of properties that are both necessary and sufficient for the divine nature of the Father and Son, thus both are homoousios

What do you think?

Read the whole thing to see Gons’s response.

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