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Rob Gressis

I think it's important to know in what sense the members of the Trinity are alleged to be the same. Are they all supposed to be the same substance, the same person, or share the same nature?

And the next question is this, of course: in what sense are they supposed to be different? I take it that everyone who thinks about this and wants to preserve the doctrine takes it that they are the same substance, at least. If you say, with Merricks, that they are the same person but three separate spheres of consciousness, then is it only the person that is alleged to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, or is each sphere of consciousness supposed to have all these features too?


This isn't a topic I know much about, but Merricks' proposal sounds very puzzling to me. If God the Father has no knowledge of embodiment, won't there be an awful lot that He doesn't know? I guess we could still say that the three spheres of consciousness jointly know everything (or enough to count as God, anyway). But that doesn't make a lot of sense if there's no single underlying consciousness that integrates the three spheres. In which case it seems we'd be giving up the idea that the three are different in any deep sense. (I guess it would be more like our consciousness of different sense modalities, each modality being like one of the "spheres" in the joint mind.)

elisa freschi

Ambrose and Rob, you raise a similar issue, i.e., that of the integration of the spheres of consciousness. I suppose that Merricks would point to the example of patients who underwent brain surgery. It seems that these patients, if confronted with an object (e.g., a pen) which they can simultaneously see with both eyes may integrate the two separate notions (the one acquired with the left eye and the one acquired with the right one). And the same applies to the other sense faculties. In other words, one might think that "God" can in some cases integrate the notions S/He separately acquires as Father, as Son (and as Holy Spirit?). The Father as distinct sphere of consciousness would not know what it is like to be embodied, but God would know it.


Hi Elisa,
In cases where the person integrates information from different channels, e.g., left and right eyes, there is no split consciousness. (Or that's what it sounds like from your description anyway.) The splitting happens, I'm assuming, when the information is compartmentalized, so that there's no single consciousness aware of what comes in through the different channels. If the joint consciousness ascribed to God (as opposed to each or any of the three) is like the first case, we lose the idea of the split. If it's more like the second case, the question is what it would mean to say anyone (e.g., God) is consciously integrating the information. (And if that doesn't make sense, God knows a lot less than He should.) So I remain puzzled by the analogy.

elisa freschi

Ambrose, I am not an expert, but I guess that the "integration" does not happen like in our brains, since it is only through the fact that the subject sees the same object with both her eyes that both her brain sides can agree that the object exists. By contrast, Merricks explains, if you tell to the right side of such a patient to look for a pen and to the left side to look for a toothbrush, the right hand will dismiss the toothbrush as if it was not wanted and vice versa. Thus, it seems that my terminological choice of "integration" was not appropriate. "Simultaneous awareness" might be better (in the sense that both sides are aware of the same thing at the same time, if this is presented to both, and that they can agree that it is the same thing).

I agree that it seems that either "God" knows less than one would expect (since S/He would now just what the Son knows or just what the Father knows, or just what the Holy Spirit knows, or just what , e.g., the Father and the Son came to know simultaneously) or that there is a higher level of integration (but how?). I will think about it and see whether I can think of a solution.

Elisa Freschi

I went back to Merricks' article and I think that this would be his answer (I beg his pardon if I just misunderstood his points): The three spheres of consciousness commonly called Father, Son and Holy Spirit are intrinsically omniscient. Thus, unlike in the case of patients who underwent brain surgery, they did not need to *acquire* new knowledge.

However, they might have a different approach to that same corpus of knowledge and might have a different feeling of themselves (e.g., the Son might think of himself "I am the Son of my beloved Father and will obey him").


I'm afraid I'm still very puzzled :)

If the immaterial sphere of consciousness is ignorant of such things as what it's like to be embodied, there is an awful lot that it doesn't know -- enough that it's hard to understand how such an intelligence can be considered "intrinsically omniscient" (or omniscient in any way). Presumably, as you say, God does not need to _acquire_ information, but that might not be so important. Suppose the information is just there, unacquired. Suppose there are these three different "approaches" to it, ways of conceiving or experiencing the knowledge. Either these are differences deep enough to help us understand the distinction between the three "persons" (or whatever they are) or they aren't. If they're deep enough, the different ways of knowing threaten to collapse back into disjoint sets of knowledge -- so that none of the three is truly omniscient. If they're not deep enough to threaten omniscience, then how are there three spheres of consciousness rather than a single conscious mind with different contents?


Why would the 'immaterial sphere of consciousness' be 'ignorant of such things as what it's like to be embodied?'

I don't, myself, recall Merricks ever having committed himself to *that* view. Indeed, I think (but don't know) that he'd think that the immaterial sphere of consciousness knows what it's like to be embodied, it just doesn't know what it's like in the same *way* that, for example, the Son does.

For what it's worth, and going back to the original question, I quite like Merricks's analogy. It's imperfect, of course, but I think it helps paint a nice picture of a difficult topic.

Elisa Freschi

Yes, I think that the amount of knowledge must be the same for the three persons, i.e., all of them need to be omniscient. But each of them might have a particular perspective on that same corpus. Is this possible?
Ambrose seems to imply that the difference among persons consists of their different knowledge (so that, it is not only the case that Father and Son both know about the Passion, but look upon it in a different way, but that the Son knows *more*, i.e., what it is like to have one's body tortured).

(BTW: Thanks for the interesting discussion!)


I don't, myself, like the idea that the three persons have 'different knowledge'. I think it's perfectly possible (and plausible) that the Father, and the Spirit know exactly what the Son knows with respect to, e.g., what it's like to have one's body tortured. The Son knows this, however, in a different way (but he doesn't know *more* than the others).

I don't see why it wouldn't be possible for the three persons to have a different perspective on the same body of knowledge. I mean, they're three different people, so why not three different perspectives?

Elisa Freschi

Roger, I agree, this was also what I was trying to say in my last comment. I am still puzzled by the Holy Spirit's perspective, but this has to do with the general problem of how to imagine "love" as a person (although, after all, deus caritas est…).


I guess I take that claim (the claim *that God is love*) to be metaphorical, and not literal. I agree that it would be difficult to think of love as a person, but then I think of love as something that can be either an emotion or an action (depending on the sort of love we're talking about). And I don't think actions or emotions are people.

Elisa Freschi

Well, this brings us to a different problem, i.e., whether it is possible to think of God outside ontology. I was hinting at this possibility at the closure of my post and I think that John's statement (deus caritas est) could be ---if not understood as a metaphor--- be a hint in this direction.


"I don't see why it wouldn't be possible for the three persons to have a different perspective on the same body of knowledge"

But what exactly is meant in saying that they have different "perspectives" on the same knowledge? If you and I have different visual perspectives, there will be stuff that I see and you don't and vice versa. If we both have different perspectives on some body of knowledge, doesn't that likewise suggest that there's something each knows that the other doesn't? For example, knowing about torture by acquaintance versus knowing about it by description. If the difference in "perspectives" is not like this, I'm unsure how it can be a deep enough difference to explain the difference between the three parts of God. But if it is like this, it seems there is some knowledge peculiar to each of the parts. That's my worry, anyway.

Elisa Freschi

Ambrose, this seems to have to do with the problem of omniscience: is it knowledge by acquaintance or by description (using Russells distinction)? I can imagine that God has a
direct access to things, and that His/Her omniscience is in this sense knowledge by direct acquaintance.

As for the different colouring of the same corpus of knowledge by acquaintance… why should it be impossible?

Last, Merricks agrees that there is some knowledge peculiar to the Son (etc.), namely the notion I am the son (etc.). Plus, one might imagine that the Sons knowledge used to be even more different while He was embodied? And, once again, what would be the
Spirits perspective?

Trenton Merricks

Thanks to Elisa Freschi for inviting me to comment on this post. The main thing I want to say is that the paper is not trying to give a theory about the metaphysics of the Trinity. So I do not say, for example, that the Father is a sphere of consciousness. Rather, the paper is trying to undermine the charge that the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly contradictory. The strategy of the paper is to present a case--involving spheres of consciousness, etc.--that is not contradictory, but most aptly described by claims like "Lefty is not the same center of consciousness as Righty" and "Lefty is the same person as Righty." Since that case is not contradictory, despite having that description, I argue that we should not conclude that the Trinity is contradictory, even though the Trinity is described by claims like "The Son is not the same person as the Father" and "The Father is the same God as the Son."

Elisa Freschi

Trenton, thanks a lot for your contribution! Do you mean to say that the case of the spheres of consciousness within patients who underwent brain surgery only meant to say that there are cases in which it is not contradictory
to maintain that there are distinct spheres of consciousness, although the individual remains the same (i.e., that the distinctions within the Trinity might be of an altogether different nature)?

And, what would you say about the difference in knowledge among the three persons of the Trinity (see Ambrose's and Roger's comments above)?


Hi Elisa. You ask:

"As for the different colouring of the same corpus of knowledge by acquaintance… why should it be impossible?"

The metaphor of color is a good one. If you and I both know x by (visual) acquaintance and there is a difference in "colouring" then it does seem that each of us knows something the other does not -- namely, the different colours or colourings with which each thinker is acquainted. What I know of x by acquaintance = what it is like for me have a certain experience. If my experience has a certain character (colouration) that yours does not have, then by definition those experiences cannot be or provide the same acquaintance knowledge.

Now I'm not sure how exactly to apply the metaphor to the case of "a corpus of knowledge". If there are different colourations of what is known for different thinkers (spheres of consciousness) then it seems that, by definition, what is known is not identical across those thinkers. (And so, on this view, there is no single corpus of knowledge.) But if it is a single corpus of knowledge K such that thinker T1 knows K under a certain subjective "colouration" and T2 knows K under a different subjective "colouration", it seems to me that the corpus will be less than the whole of knowledge. There will be additional knowledge (by acquaintance) that T1 has in virtue of her peculiar subjective experience and T2 lacks, in virtue of hers. That's why I wonder whether the scenario is really possible. (As you say, it has to do with omniscience.)

Elisa Freschi

Ambrose, thanks again for the interesting discussion!
Let us think at the Getsemani scene: the Son and the Father both know about what is going to happen, but for the Son there is a different feeling about it, since *His* body is going to suffer. If I am understanding you correctly, you claim that all knowledge is positional and that, hence, the Father and the Son do not really share the same knowledge.
I, by contrast, was defending an objective, subject-independent view of knowledge, as if this existed independently of the knower. Why? Because it seems that positionality does not apply to God, as S/He is in each possible position.
However, you might ask, *WHO* exactly is in each position? In Merricks' example, in the case of a patient who underwent brain surgery, there is no person S beyond "Lefty" and "Righty" (the spheres of consciousness corresponding to his left and right brain emisphere). Similarly, one could think that there is no omnipervasive "God" beyond the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In other words, it seems that the split in different spheres of consciousness can only be consistent if ---unlike in the case of S, Lefty and Right--- it does not regard the totality of God. One might imagine that God consciously decides to enter one or the other perspective…

Roger, could you help?


Ambrose, you say:

"If you and I both know x by (visual) acquaintance and there is a difference in 'coloring', then it does seem that each of us knows something the other does not -- namely, the different colours or colourings with which each thinker is acquainted."

This reads (if I understand it correctly) like a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand you say that we can both know that x, but on the other hand that each of us knows something different than the other. I.e., that we do *not* both know that x (since we believe/know something different than the other). So, on your view, can you and I (and Elisa and I, and you and Elisa, and you and I and Elisa, and so on) ever know the same thing (i.e. can we ever all believe/know that x)?

If not, then I guess that'll be one crucial hole in any trinitarian theory about how all three persons are essentially omniscient. But, I don't, myself, see any reason to think that two (or three) people can't share the same knowledge. it seems perfectly natural (and right) to say of my friend and me, that we both know that 3+2=5. We'll have different perspectives--sure. But I think that two (or three) people can have the exact same belief (e.g. that x is true, etc.).

I don't know if I've added anything helpful. But, so far as i can see, something like this issue might be the hangup.

Also, if I've read you right, Ambrose, then I think your view rules out omniscience full-stop (is this what you were alluding to at the end of your post?). That seems an untoward consequence of your view. To me, anyway.

Elisa, I'm not sure what you mean when you say "one might imagine that God consciously decides to enter one or the other perspective…."

When you say 'God', to whom are you referring? 'God', at least in the context we've been discussing, I would think, refers to the Three. So, do you mean that the *Son* could consciously decide to enter one or the other perspectives that aren't his own? I think that can't be right. My guess is that, necessarily, the Son cannot have the perspective of the Father (since the Son is not the Father), and the same is true for the other persons. So, in what sense could God (i.e. that three persons of the trinity) consciously enter one or the other perspectives. This sounds to me like 'modalism', a view that was, for what it's worth, marked a 'heresy' in the 3rd (or so) century.

Elisa Freschi

Roger, as for your first point (whether we can all know that 3+2=5), I think that the concept of the positionality of knowledge is the answer. Ambrose implcitly maintains that all knowledge is positional.

As for the second point, I see why you accused me of modalism. I'll answer in a separate comment.


Yes, I think that's right about Ambroses's view (is it, Ambrose?). But, as I say, I think that view's problematic for at least the reason that it seems (if I understand the view at all) to rule out omniscience.

Well, I didn't mean to *accuse* you of modalism. I was merely pointing out that, on at least one reading of your imagined view of God and his consciously deciding which perspective to take, your view *seemed* like modalism. But, again, I didn't mean to accuse you of anything.

Elisa Freschi


I did not take your hint at modalism as a "personal accusation" and I enjoy a lot this discussion.
the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit cannot be the same God only because they share the same corpus of knowledge. What else makes them *one* God?


I don't know that I can begin to guess what all makes the three persons one God, but here's at least one thing to think about. Necessarily, there can be only one being who is omnipotent. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are each omnipotent. But that means they can't be different beings. So, even if there are three people in the godhead, there can be only one being.

Other than that, all three share the same essential attributes. So, they are all the same in essence. And I think this is true: for all x and all y, if x and y are the same in essence, then x and y are the same thing. So, given that all three Persons have all the same essential attributes, this makes them the same thing; that is, this make them the same God.

I think that's as good a guess as I've got!


Hi Elisa and Roger,

I've enjoyed the discussion too.

I didn't mean to insist that all knowledge is positional (though I'm certainly open to the idea) but only that acquaintance knowledge is. So my thought was that if the trinity works in the way we're considering then it would seem that some knowledge of the different parts/persons of the trinity is positional.

So, for example, I'm sure that we do know or believe many of the same propositions (e.g., that 3 + 2 = 5). But suppose that it's possible to know the same proposition under different "colourations", as Elisa has suggested. I think that's plausible enough. But then isn't this kind of (acquaintance-like) knowledge something over and above that familiar kind of shared knowledge of propositions? Or, if there really is no difference at all in what is known, not even a difference in the subjective character of acquaintance knowledge, how can this difference in "colouration" help us to distinguish the trinitarian God from unitarian one?

Elisa, you write:

"the Son and the Father both know about what is going to happen, but for the Son there is a different feeling about it, since *His* body is going to suffer. If I am understanding you correctly, you claim that all knowledge is positional and that, hence, the Father and the Son do not really share the same knowledge."

But I didn't mean to argue from the controversial premise that all knowledge is controversial. The point can be made in a more modest way: it's very plausible that the particular kind of knowledge under discussion here is positional, i.e., acquaintance knowledge of one's own bodily experiences.

You continue:

"I, by contrast, was defending an objective, subject-independent view of knowledge, as if this existed independently of the knower. Why? Because it seems that positionality does not apply to God, as S/He is in each possible position."

Would simultaneously (or timelessly) having all possible positions deprive God of positionality or positional knowledge? Or would it just be the sum of all such knowledge? (Can such things be summed?) I'm not sure what to make of this, but I can restate my puzzle in your terms, I think. If God does have all positional knowledge, then we lose the distinctness of the three parts or persons of the Trinity. (Just as any ordinary human mind has different modes or channels of knowledge and experience, so too might a divine mind.) If God does not have all positional knowledge, we lose omniscience.

Roger: I don't think that admitting acquaintance knowledge -- which any serious philosophy of mind or knowledge should, in my opinion -- rules out omniscience. It rules out omniscience if (a) that is defined as non-positional propositional knowledge and (b) there is nevertheless such a thing as acquaintance knowledge. So I think it rules out a certain conception of omniscience, and I suspect it _might_ rule out Trinitarian theism. Not sure about that, though :) (And I myself am pretty strongly inclined to some kind of theism, so I hope not all forms of omniscience are ruled out.)

Thanks again to everyone for a fun discussion. I look forward to hearing more from you guys...

Elisa Freschi

Roger and Ambrose,

let me sum up the problems we feel are still open (please correct me if I am misrepresenting them or leaving out something important):

1) How can it be that the distinction into three persons and omniscience do not exclude each other? Are all the three persons omniscient? And are they all omniscient by acquaintance? How can this be, if the three persons are distinct and, hence, have different perspectives and experiences? If they are a priori omniscient, that is, they have a priori knowledge by acquaintance without any need to acquire it, than the historical events of Jesus' life seem to have had no impact on the Son (who did not learn anything through them).

2) If there is no God beyond the three persons (just like in Merricks' description of S, who does not exist apart from Lefty and Righty), then is it always just the Father (or the Son, or the Holy Spirit) whom we are praying to/who does XYZ…? What is then left to the unitary God? (see Roger's last comment above).


Ambrose: Right. I agree that there is such a thing as acquaintance knowledge (all should agree with this, I think). And I didn't mean to suggest that such a thing rules out omniscience. What *would* rule out omniscience, I was trying to suggest, is the thought that *all* knowledge is positional knowledge. But since that's not what you're arguing for (my mistake!), no reason for me to keep thinking about it!

One thing I might suggest, just having thought about this very briefly, is this: omniscience is the knowledge of all truths that are possible to be known. This, for example, is what allows so-called 'open theists' to hold onto God's omniscience while claiming that he doesn't know the future; for, there's nothing about the future that *can* be known (the future is 'open' they say).

Maybe we can extend this sort of reasoning to God's knowledge with respect to certain bits of acquaintance knowledge. Possibly, it isn't possible for the Father to know what it's like (in the acquaintance knowledge sort of way) to feel physical pain. So, possibly, this isn't something that falls under the purview of the Father's omniscience. However, since the Son can feel (and, according to the Christian story, *has felt*) physical pain, this *is* something that falls under the purview of the Son's omniscience.

This might, if it's cogent, make sense of some of the passages in the NT where the Son, e.g., claims that he doesn't know some of the things that the Father knows (e.g. that Father, but not the Son, knows when the Son will 'return'). Perhaps it's not so much as possible for the the Son to know these things just as it's not so much as possible (I'm offering, anyway) for the Father to know some of the things the Son knows.

There will be similar things said with respect to the Spirit vis a vis the Son and the Father, too.

Elisa: With respect to 2, I think one way to answer that question goes like this: We always pray (if we pray) to the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Spirit. But i think *this* issue is controversial on mostly theological grounds (as opposed to strictly philosophical grounds).

Elisa Freschi

Roger, thanks. I wonder whether a solution to 2) could be ---if you allow me to go back to my pet suggestion--- a non ontological God. After all, praying through the Holy Spirit could also mean that the Holy Spirit is just His power and not an entity endowed with such a power. Furthermore, the very concept of "person" might leave the door open for a more dynamic understanding of God?


Okay, say that omniscience is knowledge of all that is possibly known. In this case, possibility seems to be "positional" -- there is what is possible for the Son to know, what is possible for the Father to know, etc. The proposal is that what is possibly known for some persons of the Trinity is not possibly known for others. The Father, from his "position", can't know what it's like to be crucified, for example. So my question now can be restated: Is there a way to explain why it is possible for one person of the Trinity to know x but not possible for another person to know x _without_ committing to the unwanted conclusion that these persons are just flatly _different_ minds? In other words: an explanation that doesn't collapse into tritheism. Here is why the problem seems fairly serious (to me, anyway). I can't have acquaintance knowledge of what it's like to be in Rome at this moment, because I'm not there. But it is possible for me to know what that's like in some broader sense: I could be, or could have been, in Rome at this moment. But it's not possible even in that broad sense for me to know what it's like for _you_ to have a headache. There's no place or time where _I_ could be (and no other change in my parameters) that would enable me to know that kind of thing. To know it, I'd have to be you, which is strictly impossible. So in the case of Son and Father, it appears we're talking about this deeper or stricter kind of impossibility. Qua Father, there's no way for the Father to know what it's like to be crucified; the Father can't occupy the relevant "position" except by being something other than the Father, so simply can't occupy that position. But then it seems that this impossibility is the kind associated with a difference in _minds_ just like the impossibility of my knowing by acquaintance your experience of a headache. If Father and Son are just flatly different minds, rather than aspects or parts of a single mind, we have tritheism (I suspect). But on the other hand, if they are just aspects or parts of a single mind -- God's mind -- then it is unclear why the acquaintance knowledge of the Son is not possibly known for the Father. But if it's possibly known, but not know, the Father is not omniscient (even on this more careful definition of omniscience).

elisa freschi

Ambrose, thanks. Now, I guess that Merricks' proposal would be useful again insofar as it points out that it is possible to have different spheres of consciousness without having different "minds".
A few comments back (before Roger stopped me through the mention of the heresy of modalism:-)), I suggested that the unitary God could enter the one or the other sphere of consciousness at will. Why at will? Because it is difficult to imagine omnipotence without it.
I would in this sense imagine that God *can* be Father, Son and Holy Spirit and, de facto, *decides* to be all of them simultaneously because just through the three elements there is a real love-relation.


Elisa: With respect to your proposal of a non-ontological God. Well, maybe that's a way to think about 2 (the stuff about prayer), but it's pretty much a denial--insofar as I understand your view--of any orthodox conception of the Trinity. On your non-ontological God view, are the three persons, persons? If they don't have being (this is what you mean by non-ontological, yes?), in what sense are they people? This, to my mind, would make God out to be a kind of quality, or property (or something else). But I think people *have* qualities, or properties (or something else); they *aren't* those things. So, God, if he's a person (or people), isn't those things.

How would God be a person (or three people) on your (very interesting!) view?

Ambrose: Your question ("Is there a way to explain why it is possible for one person of the Trinity to know x but not possible for another person to know x _without_ committing to the unwanted conclusion that these persons are just flatly _different_ minds?) doesn't seem--well, it doesn't seem *to me*, anyway--to be much of a problem for the trinitarian view. I think the trinitarian will say something like: "but they *are* different minds"; they're three different people, after all. So, three different minds. And--just as Elisa points out--it doesn't follow (see Merricks) that the presence of three different minds entails three different beings. Trinitarians are committed to the belief that (some how) there are three different people (so, three different minds) that make up the same *one* being.

Elisa Freschi

Roger, I do not want to be non-orthodox (if only because it is far more challenging and fun to try to make sense of the orthodoxy, without the easier way out of making up one's own religion), but I wonder whether there is not much in the Christian part of the Bible which warrants my attempt (e.g., the already mentioned deus caritas *est*, which does not say that God is *like* love or *has* love). The idea of an ousìa+attributes seems to me more Aristotelian than Biblical. Thus, perhaps it is not non-orthodox to abandon it.


"'but they *are* different minds'; they're three different people, after all. So, three different minds."

Well, okay, but you can perhaps see how this position seems very puzzling -- borderline incoherent -- to some people. Which is why so many people find the Trinity theory hard to defend (or even understand). Is God a person? A person with three other people as parts? Three other people that all have distinct bodies of knowledge, each knowing things that the others don't and _cannot_ know? But it's hard to see how a single person can be or contain three others. If God is not a person, is God at least a mind? But, on this view, God qua mind is not to be identified with some single underlying conscious perspective that knows all that is known to the three persons of the Trinity. Okay, but then in what sense do those three disjoint perspectives constitute an omniscient whole? No one of them knows all that all three know, and there is no greater mind that knows all of that either. So who or what is it that is supposed to be omniscient?

A committee of individually non-omniscient minds doesn't add up to an omniscient whole, surely. But if a committee is the wrong metaphor, it seems we aren't thinking of three persons (or minds) anymore. Instead, we seem to be likening the three parts of the Trinity to different mental or sensory faculties of a single mind. (Just as I know some stuff by seeing, other stuff by reasoning, etc.)

To me, anyway, this is all very hard to understand!


Oh, it's definitely difficult to understand. I certainly didn't mean to suggest (in any way!) that the notion of the Trinity is easy to understand. I'm pretty sure I don't understand how it works (if it works), myself.

One thing that we can all agree on, however, is that three people=three minds. That's fairly standard, I'd think. So, it's not a question of how God can be one *person* and three people at the same time. *That* would be, I think, just contradictory, or at least contrary.

What's at issue, then, is how three people can be said to be the same *being*, the same ontological reality (if that's what it is--see Elisa's suggestion to the contrary)? Here is where Merricks's thought experiment was supposed to (and, for my money, does) help.

As far as the omniscience bit goes, I'm not quite sure the view I offered is the correct one. I really just offered that view as a way that *might* help explain how each person could be said to be omniscient, yet fail to know things that one or more of the other people know. It doesn't seem devastating--or anywhere in the ballpark of devastating--just yet, how each person's being omniscient, but having certain truths they don't have access to, undermines their being omniscient. At least this problem (if it's a problem) seems to me to be about as troubling for omniscience as the fact that God can't create a rock so big he can't lift it is a problem for omnipotence.

Elisa: Ok, so if you're trying to stay within the bounds of orthodoxy, then I guess that commits you to the idea that, somehow, this non-ontological reality is a person? If so, you might just have the view that Aquinas had. He thought that God was a person (or people, strictly), but not in the sense that *we* are people. God isn't *a being*; rather, God is the *source* of all being; he is being itself; he doesn't have a genus, he doesn't have a species, etc; so he's not a substance, i.e., he's not whatever is actually in the world. And Aquinas *did*, if I remember correctly, think that God is identical to his properties (so, e.g., he might have read that passage from John literally). (and if Aquinas didn't think this, surely some of the early church father did.) So, I think, as far as that goes, you're still within orthodoxy.

THe problem, as I see it, is in the details of your view, viz., God's consciously deciding which *perspective* to take, or which sphere of consciousness to occupy. That, as I said earlier, sure sounds like modalism. What would you/could you say in response to that?

Lastly, I think a good reason to conclude that God is *not* some property, or quality (or whatever), but *is* a substance (ousia), is the fact (if it's a fact) that Jesus is God. Jesus is a substance; so God is a substance. Of course, you might say that perhaps the Son is a substance, but the Father (and the Spirit) needn't be. But if this is true, then the Son and the Father (and the Son and the Spirit) have different essential properties--that is, they aren't *one* in essence. They aren't one in essence because the Son has the essential property *is (either essentially or accidentally) a substance* while the Father (and perhaps the Spirit, too) has the essential property *is essentially not a substance*. So, that looks to me like a denial of the orthodox view that God is three persons who are *one* in essence. What do you think?

Elisa Freschi

Roger, your point re. the distinction of substance and attributes is exactly what I was aiming at (i.e., perhaps we do not need to always postulate a substance to which attributes are later added, cases like God and "consciousness" might be instances of coincidence of substance and attributes).
In which sense do you think Jesus needs to be a substance? If He is a substance because He is embodied, then embodiment pertains only to Him (no one claimed that the Father is also embodied, isn't it?). If not, cannot He be a substance in the special sense discussed above, i.e., an independent "being" whose essence *entirely* coincides with its attributes, with no residual "substrate"?

OT: Ambrose and Roger, I am really enjoying this conversation. Could you imagine travelling to Europe and joining a workshop on a related topic? (I was thinking of organising it in Venice 2015 and you can write to me also privately about it).


Hi Roger.

Maybe I can put the point more clearly. If omniscience means "knowing all that is possible to know", then it's ambiguous. It might mean (a) knowledge of all that is possible for someone or other to know, or (b) knowledge of all that is possible for a given thinker T to know given T's epistemic limitations or situation. Now I assume that interpretation b is not what we want here. If it were correct, some actual human thinkers might sometimes count as "omniscient" in virtue of their severely limited mental powers. But if interpretation a is correct, what are the relevant limits of possibility?

My intuition, anyway, is that a being B is not properly omniscient if there are propositions p, q and r that are possible for some other being B* to know but which are not actually or possibly known to B. For suppose instead that B can be omniscient despite failing to know p, q and r. Then, as before, B might count as omniscient simply because B is so much less intelligent or perceptive (say) than B*. But that seems like a very weird way to acquire omniscience! At any rate, I'm not sure how this line of thought -- which seems wrong to me -- differs from the one you're proposing.

Now in the scenario we're discussing, we have these three minds or persons: Son, Father, Ghost. You're saying that Son knows p and q, and that Father knows p and doesn't (and can't) know q. You're also saying that these different minds are not parts or aspects of some more complex or broader mind. There is _no_ mental unity that _has_ all the different bits of knowledge distributed across the three. But then, even if God is in some sense a single "being" comprising these three minds, how can God be the kind of being that _knows_ anything? Only minds (or persons) know, I assume. So if this further "being" is not a mind or a person, it knows nothing. So there is nothing that knows all that is possibly known (in the present sense of being possibly known to someone or other).

Hence my metaphor of a committee. The committee as a whole isn't the kind of thing that knows stuff, and the mere fact that it's staffed by various people whose individual bodies of knowledge are jointly exhaustive of knowledge per se doesn't make the committee omniscient.

Well, anyway, that's my best attempt at articulating what puzzles me. Maybe I'm just missing the point here, but I don't see how Merricks' proposal helps. (It appears to reduce God's knowledge to something like the "knowledge" of the committee.)

Elisa -- I've enjoyed the conversation, definitely, and your conference idea is very interesting. Let us know what you have in mind!


Elisa: Could you clarify this bit a little more:

"In which sense do you think Jesus needs to be a substance? If He is a substance because He is embodied, then embodiment pertains only to Him (no one claimed that the Father is also embodied, isn't it?). If not, cannot He be a substance in the special sense discussed above, i.e., an independent "being" whose essence *entirely* coincides with its attributes, with no residual "substrate"?"

I'm not sure I quite understand what you're asking. One thing I can say is that I think Jesus is a substance because Jesus is a human person. Here's the argument: I think that human persons are substances; Jesus is a human person; so I think that Jesus is a substance.

As far as Venice goes: I can definitely imagine traveling there (or some place like it) for a workshop on a related topic! As Ambrose said: let us know what you have in mind!

Ambrose: Good points. Yes, I agree that those are difficulties for the view I was offering. In my defense, I'm not sure anyone else has ever offered that view, and it's just something that came to me very quickly. Definitely something to think more about!

You say:

"But then, even if God is in some sense a single "being" comprising these three minds, how can God be the kind of being that _knows_ anything? Only minds (or persons) know, I assume. So if this further "being" is not a mind or a person, it knows nothing. So there is nothing that knows all that is possibly known (in the present sense of being possibly known to someone or other)."

I suppose I want to deny the antecedent of what I take to be your main claim, here (viz., "if this further 'being' is not a mind or a person, then it knows nothing). The orthodox view, I think, is that this being *is* a person. Well, it's *personS*. So, I deny that the being, God, isn't persons; thus, I deny that there's any reason, yet, to think God doesn't know anything.

Elisa Freschi

Roger, Ambrose, perhaps we should try to clarify some basic terms. Please correct my naïve attempt.

Brain= the physical support of a mind. According to some neuroscientists, the latter is only a function of the former and the same probably applies to the relation of the brain and the other terms here below. In the case of God, we all agree that no brain is needed, thus implicitly disagreeing with this neuroscientific claim.

Mind= ability to conceive/think/etc. Does it need to "exist" as a substance? Perhaps it can only be a function? (I am inclined to this second view.)

Person= a dynamic configuration of mind and other features. Again, does it need to "exist" as a substance? I am inclined to answer in the negative form, since in the case of God, we have one substance and three persons, so that the latter seem to be different than the former.

Substance= whatever exists and can have attributes. Does not need to have a material existence. But how are immaterial substances to be known? Are they just a necessary postulation or can we say something positive about them? Last, do they exist independently of their attributes (such as "being a person")?

If this description is not completely wrong, a person needs to have cognitive activities and thus there cannot be a person without a mind. However, a person is something more than a mind, since it adds to it further (psychological) characters, so that the reservoire of cognitions stored in it assumes different meanings (e.g., at Getsemani, the Son knows he is close to terrible tortures, just like the Father knows it; but for the Son, this means also being terrified, something which does not need to be the case for the Father).

As for Ambrose's idea of a committee, I wonder whether a substance exists independently of its attributes. If not, then there is no committee apart from its members and it does not make sense to ask about the omniscience of the committee. Rather, a substance starts playing a role only insofar as it is a person and the three persons are all three omniscient (though, I would say, since they have different personalities their omniscience might have different psychological outputs).

Now, if the substance is just nothing more than the condition for the existence of the three persons, we are back to Swinburne. If I claim that it itself has some autonomous will and can decide to shift to the Son's or the Father's or the Holy Spirit's perspective, I am liable to be accused of modalism. If Merricks is right, it is hard to explain that there is also a unitary perspective which knows everything+all three perspectives. If this unitary perspective is impossible, then I can understand Ambrose's perplexities concerning the incompleteness of God's omniscience.

Elisa Freschi

Roger, to be more specific, I am not sure that persons need to be substances. Could not it be that in the case of human beings, minds are co-occurrent with brains, and persons are co-occurrent with substances? Just wondering…

Elisa Freschi

Roger and Ambrose, as for Venice, I need a little premise.

1) Together with some friends and colleagues I organise since 2009 yearly "Coffee Break Conferences" (CBC). The name hints at the fact that usually conferences' talks are quite boring (just showing off one's erudution, etc.), whereas freer conversations during the coffee breaks are really intriguing. Thus, we decided to have conferences which only consist of coffee-break like conversations, i.e., a lot of debate, real questions and in-depth problems being analysed. But no boring talks, no showing off, no fake questions, etc. This also means that there is generally no "public", but just "participants".

2) In 2013 I initiated a series of panels within the CBC (ideally, once every 2 years) on the general topic "There is only 'Philosophy' ". The idea is to discuss philosophical topics without geographical (/religious/cultural) boundaries, so that one stops speaking about "Jewish" philosophy or "Indian" philosophy (or "French" philosophy, etc.), but just discusses philosophically about interesting topics which can cross cultural and geographical borders. The topic for the "There is only 'Philosophy' " panel in 2013 was Philosophy of Testimony and I really enjoyed it.
You can read about it here: http://asiatica.wikispaces.com/Analysis+of+testimony
Or some basic thoughts about the topic here: http://elisafreschi.com/2013/09/20/67/

3) In 2015 the CBC will be in Venice and our conversation made me think of a panel on "God and personhood" (better proposals for the title are welcome), focusing on different ways to make sense of the difficult relation between the categories of "god" and "person". For instance, we might decide to discuss questions such as "Is God a person in the same way as human beings are persons?", "Can God be more than one person and still one God? How?", etc. Given the general framework of the conference, I would think that participants discussing about similar topics from different perspectives should also be welcome (you already know that I mainly work on Sanskrit philosophy and during our conversation I could not help thinking at the way some Sanskrit authors conceived of the relationship between the different personhoods of God ---usually the idea is that God can 'limit' His omniscience and become in this way a partly different person). Please note that the purpose is not just juxtaposing different views, but rather discussing about a philosophical/theological problem with no limitations concerning the possible approaches.

I am happy to discuss further about it, either here or privately, you can find my email on Academia.edu (or I can drop you a line if you agree).


Hi Elisa,
I think I agree with your way of laying out all the basic terms (and the implicit denial of the neuroscientific claim).

And I very much like the idea of the CBCs! I'll get in touch when I have a chance to see how that might work. If I can figure out the financing, I'd love to come to Venice and do philosophy.

You write:

"The orthodox view, I think, is that this being *is* a person. Well, it's *personS*. So, I deny that the being, God, isn't persons; thus, I deny that there's any reason, yet, to think God doesn't know anything."

I like this orthodox view, and my puzzlement has to do with how to reconcile its different ingredients. If God is a person, then we are back to an earlier question: how can we understand the idea that a single person is, or somehow "contains", three others? And a further question: supposing that we could understand this mysterious relation between three persons and one, how is the knowledge of each of the first three related to that of the one? Maybe some things possibly known to some of the three are not possibly known to some others, but all of what is possibly known to any of the three is also possibly known (hence, in this case, actually known) by the one. If so, I feel like the three are not really distinct persons after all, but merely different aspects or modes or parts of that one mind. Maybe instead some of what is possibly known to any of the three is not possibly known to the one; but then I have trouble understanding how the one can contain or be the three. (I think the reason this dilemma seems acute has to do with the special character of God. What could God be other than a mind or spirit? But how can _that_ kind of thing be individuated in a way that meets both of our conditions -- omniscience and real distinctions between the constituent minds or persons?


Elisa: That Venice stuff sounds great. Keep me posted. My email address is on my CV at my website (which I'll link below--just click on my name, I think) in case you want to contact me that way.

Ok, so you're proposal is that persons don't have to be substances. I'm not quite sure what that leaves us with. Persons don't have to have being (and so don't have to *be* beings, I assume). Do they have identity? if so, to what are they identical? I was thinking that persons are identical to something, viz., a substance. So, Jesus, a human person, is identical to his body (or maybe his soul if you go that route). The Father, likewise, is identical to whatever he is substantially (in the immaterial). The same with the Spirit.

So, right, what would God, qua non-ontological reality, be identical with?

Ambrose: A couple of things. We don't want to say (not if we're thinking in the orthodox way) that God is three people that *make up* one person. Rather, we want to say that God is one being who is three people. He's the Son; He's the Father; and He's the Spirit. So, using the 'is' of identity, here are three claims about what God is identical to:

A. The Son is God,

B. The Father is God, and

C. The Spirit is God.

But A - C are not a conjunctive statement (or, more accurately, A - C aren't conjunctive ingredients that make up a particular one thing). Each is taken on its own. So, if you were to look at Jesus, e.g., it'd be right to say 'that man, there, he is God,' in the *exact same way* that it'd be right to say of the Father 'that spirit I prayed to last night, he is God.' And the same for claims about the Spirit. So, it's not that these three people make up God; rather, each person *is* the one God (where that 'is' is the 'is' of identity). If that sounds paradoxical, this is where Merricks's paper is (if it is) of some use.

As far as God's omniscience is concerned, it really does seem appealing to think about this in terms of omniscience by committee (in the sense of 'omniscience' that entails the knowledge of all that is possibly known to any of the three). The rub is that I quite doubt that any sort of god-like omniscience is attainable through addition. But maybe something like this *is* how it works (if it works at all)?

Elisa Freschi


my general problem is: we tend to comply with Aristotle's dualism (substance vs. attributes), but if, as stated also by Ambrose, we disagree with the necessity of a body-soul dualism in the case of God, why should not we take into account the possibiity of avoiding also the substance-attributes dualism? Human persons co-occur with bodies (perhaps also with souls, but I would not admit a further entity different from "person"), but what evidence do we have that a similar dualism applies also in the case of God, who is certainly a very different person than we are?

Elisa Freschi

(BTW, Ambrose, I tried to send you an email, but it came back. Hence, I depend on you for getting in touch privately)

Elisa Freschi

Ambrose, Roger,
yesterday I was re-reading the Prologue in John's Gospel and it came to my mind that perhaps we did not stress enough the fact that the three persons do not seem to be on the same level, at least in that text. And I am not talking of the "filioque" problem, but rather of the fact that the Son is equated with the Logos and the Logos is said to be "pròs tòn Theón". This seems to be (I am sure I read this remark several times, but I cannot remember any source now) the same kind of relation which holds between God and his Wisdom in the Old Testament. Could not we interpret it as the one between a substance and its attributes --- and then perhaps go on and suggest that the third person is God's Love?



Well, I'm not sure that God is a very different person than we. I suppose it depends on what you mean by 'different'. Surely he's different in the sense that he's got the omni-qualities and such, and we don't. But that doesn't--it seems to me, anyway--have very much to do with his being a *person*. I'd think our being persons is very much *similar* to God qua person. We are, after all, made in God's image. And, at least traditionally, one way to think about this is that our 'image bearing' is found in our being the type of persons God is. That is, we can form intentions, plan, and carry out our plans, all by having a certain kind of reasoning capacity and the like. Moreover, we are capable of genuine emotions, love, worship, etc. Are non-ontological things (things that lack being, and aren't substances) so much as capable of being 'persons' in this sense?

As far as John's Gospel goes, 'pros ton theon' is usually translated as 'was God'. So, the Logos (i.e. the Word) was God. This is said to be John's identification of Jesus with the Word, and the Word with God; thus, Jesus with God. So, according to John, Jesus is God. Later on, in John 8:57 - 58, John quotes Jesus as identifying himself as the 'I Am'. The Jews would have known this as Jesus' identifying himself as YHWH (i.e. Yahweh)--hence the next sentence about the Jews picking up stones to kill Jesus because of what he'd just said (it's blasphemy to identify oneself with God if one isn't God). YHWH was the 'personal' name of God that God used to identify himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai (think of the burning bush scene from "The Ten Commandments" if you've ever seen that movie). My point? Well, it's just this: the Word is the very God that the Jews had been worshipping, the one that spoke to Moses in the burning bush and presented Moses with the Ten Commandments. So, while it's true that Jesus is the Logos (and, you're right, he's also identified as God's Wisdom in the NT revealing what the Psalms, in the OT, were pointing to), God's Word and God's Wisdom are a particular human person. And I think that a human person is a substance. So, shouldn't we think those things (God's Word and God's Wisdom) are that substance, i.e., that they are a substance if Jesus is a substance?

Or maybe I'm confused. Are you thinking that Jesus isn't a substance (and human people aren't substances)?

Elisa Freschi

Roger, this is perhaps the first time I partially disagree with your argument: the beginning of John has: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
This means that "being pròs tòn theón" (being at God) is a distinct sentence from "being theós" (being God). The fact that the two sentences must mean something slightly different and yet be compatible makes me think that the Logos might be an essential characteristic of God, so that one cannot imagine God without the Logos (just like when John says that Love -caritas- *is* God).
As for the relation between substances and persons, I was just suggesting that we could rethink it. After all, in the case of God we have three persons and one substance (at most:-)), so that it is clearly not the case that there is reciprocal unique relation between each persons and one substance. I wonder whether the postulation of substances as corresponding to persons is not an unwarranted postulation.


Right. I understand that the literal interpretation is 'was toward the God', but just as a matter of fact, most (maybe all? anyway, all orthodox translations read it that way) biblical scholars translate that passage as 'was God'. This is beyond my expertise--I'm no Bible scholar. But, i assume there's some good reason to translate the greek the way I did over against the way you did.

And since we're presupposing the orthodox view of things, I think we should stick to the orthodox translation of the Bible. So, I think we should stick with the view that John's assertion is that the Word (the Logos) *is* God, and not merely some characteristic of God. Unless characteristics can be persons, but I'm still not sure what that would mean.

Ok. So, we agree that God is three people in one substance. What I was suggesting is that a person *is* a substance, but not that a person can't be co-substantial (is that the word?) with another person (like Lefty and Righty, e.g.). So, the Three share the same substance though they are different people. But the point is: they *are* a substance qua persons. This is why I was wondering if you thought Jesus qua person was a substance, and not some attribute of God (a substance). If Jesus qua person is a substance, I'd think all three qua persons would have to be a substance.

Maybe I'm just too western in my thinking, but I'm having a difficult time thinking about people as attributes rather than concrete things (since I'm a person and I'm a concrete thing--I don't know how to separate these two things; they seem like the same thing to me).

Elisa Freschi

Roger, I might be misled by the fact that ---though not being a Bible scholar--- exegesis is one of my main interests. But I think that if we have two sentences immediately following each other, we must assume that they do *not* mean the same. In John's Prologue, the first clause says that the logos was "pròs tòn theón" and the second one that the logos "was God" (theòs hēn). The Knox Translation (2013, Westminstere Diocese) has "God had the Word abiding with him, and the Word was God".

Roger and Ambrose,
more importantly:

1) In the case of God, the fact of being a substance only serves as a substrate of the three persons, with no additional function, isn't it?
2) If so, perhaps we can find a smoother way to connect the three, especially insofar as the three persons-one substance model entails the problems we have described above (symmetric risks of modalism or threetheism; omniscience of the "committee" only).
3) If the three persons are on the same level, and we want to avoid modalism (once again, thanks for the hint, Roger) don't we end up having no access to "God" apart from the three persons? Does not this lead very close to Threetheism?
3b) If the three persons are on the same level (and it could not be different), then the fact of being "pròs tòn theón" does not make much sense.
4) The Son is equated to a "function" of God (namely his creative Word) by John, the Holy Spirit is equated to the Loving relation between Father and Son.


Oh, sorry! Yes, that's right: the Word was *with* God and the Word *was* God. But my main point still applies. Orthodoxy has this, not as an identification of the Logos with the Father (who is the 'God' that the verse refers to when it says that he Logos was pros ton theon), but as another person on par with the Father--he's identified, too, as God. And then we get a clearer picture of who this person is in the verses that follow. So, the point is that this Word is Jesus. Now, if we want to say that the Son (i.e. Jesus) is a characteristic of God, or a function of God, then it's got to be true that persons can be characteristics or functions. That just sounds odd to my ear.

I do think the three Persons *have* different functions in the Godhead. But saying that they *are* these different functions seems to me to remove anything to which each person might be said to be identical. (I'm still hung up on the idea that people are identical to things--I, e.g., am identical with my body. But this presupposes that people are necessarily ontological.)

As for 1, above, I'm not sure what you mean by 'the fact of being a substance only serves as a substrate of the three persons, with no additional function….' If the persons are one substance, that substance serves whatever function those people serve since it just is those people (and not something in addition to those people--it's identical to them).

As for 3 and 3b, why would our avoiding modalism imply that we end up having to access God apart from the Three? If I pray to the Father, isn't that my having access to God (assuming, as we are, that the Father is God)? And the same is true for Jesus, and the Spirit? Now that we're clear about what it means to be 'pros ton theon', why doesn't it make sense that the Word (or the Spirit for that matter) could be *with* God if we understand that 'God' refers to the Father? So, the Son was with the Father. That makes some sense, right?

Remind me, where is HS equated with the loving relation between the Father and the Son? I can only recall the Spirit identified--in the book of Acts, e.g.--as the Helper that Jesus was sending after his resurrection and ascension. Are you thinking of the baptism scene?

Elisa Freschi

With point 1, I meant: as you also confirmed, the substance does not serve any further function than the hypokeímenon for the "person". Now, the situation is different in the case of human persons, since the body is something we actually experience and whose close relationship (but not identity) with the person is also part of our experience. But why should the same dualism be needed in the case of God? Do we have further reasons apart from the symmetry with the case of human persons ---which, as I tried to argue, is not complete, since the case of the body is quite different--- ? I am just exploring and I do not have a ready-made answer.

3) My problem regards the fact that when people report to have experienced "God" (and not "Jesus") until now I somehow assumed that this meant "the Father", thus giving some preheminence to this person. I don't know of anyone who experienced "the Holy Spirit" and I only know of people speaking about their experience of the "Action" of the Holy Spirit. In this connection: yes, I was thinking of the Baptism, but also of the Symbolum Nicaenum (ex Patre Filioque *procedit*) and of the eulogy of the Holy Spirit, which always refers to it as vivificans (and the like), i.e., stressing its action rather than its personhood (if I am not wrong).


Oh, I guess I have a different view of the human body. Where you say "the body is something we actually experience and whose close relationship (but *not* identity) with the person is also part of our experience" (my emphasis), I want to say that I *do* share identity with my body. I think that I am identical to my body. So, human persons are material substances because they are identical to their bodies. Is this where the crux of our disagreement is?

Back to 3. I think that the orthodox view of how we experience God *is* that we experience (or can experience) the Father. But--and this is crucial--we only do so by experiencing the Son, i.e., Jesus. So, if anyone has experienced the Father, they have experienced the Son, and vice versa (this is the point of Jesus' 'I AM' claim in John 8, as referring back to the burning bush scene at the top of Mt. Sinai). Also, Jesus' claim, in John 14:ff that whoever has seen the Son has seen the Father.

Elisa Freschi

This is very interesting, Roger. I added "not identity" because I did not want to rule out the possibility of a life after the body is dead, but I am very much attracted by the idea of a person which is not dual. How do you harmonise the two points?


According to the orthodox view there is the resurrection of the body. Some Christians believe that, after death, there is a kind of 'hold over' between death and resurrection--sometimes called 'Heaven'--but the end of the story is life with Jesus on a recreated earth, as a bodily resurrected human person.

I'm inclined to think that after death, there is no 'hold over', and that's because I think that a human person just is her body. So, for a human person to exist, she has to be embodied. Thus, if she dies, she won't exist again until after she's been resurrected bodily. (In fact, Merricks has a couple of papers on this issue.) I'm not sure that this doesn't rules out *every* kind of dualism, I don't think; it just rules out Cartesian substance dualism (maybe there's room, however, for a hylomorphic view?).

Elisa Freschi

Thanks Roger, you got to the point I was hinting at (i.e., what happens between my death and my body's resurrection, if I am identical with my body?). In fact, the point is so interesting that after reading your first comment I ended up writing a post about it, which I will probably publish tomorrow or on Thursday, so that people have time to read and ponder about Marcus' posts (not that they would not, but it is easier if the post is the first one at the home page).


You say:

"So, using the 'is' of identity, here are three claims about what God is identical to:

A. The Son is God,

B. The Father is God, and

C. The Spirit is God.

But A - C are not a conjunctive statement (or, more accurately, A - C aren't conjunctive ingredients that make up a particular one thing). Each is taken on its own."

But if A-C are true identity statements then every property of God is a property of each of the things identical with God (Son, Father, Spirit). So if a proposition p is possibly known by God, p is possibly known by each of the three entities identical with God. At least that seems to follow from our concept of identity. How then could it be that what is possibly known by the Son is not possibly known by the Father? Your answer seems to be that the "is" in A-C does not mean "is one and the same as" but rather "is-one-and-the-same-SUBSTANCE-as". If so, I can understand how the scope of knowledge is different for Son, Father and Spirit. x being the same-substance-as y doesn't logically imply that x has the same knowledge as y, for perhaps x and y are different but co-substantial people (minds, thinkers, souls). But then, as you say, it doesn't seem that "god-like omniscience can be attained by addition". On the other hand, if persons are substances, and the identities in A-C are identities of person (substances) then it is hard to see how there can be different scopes of knowledge. I don't really see that Merrick's proposal helps with this problem; to me it just seems to make it more vivid or puzzling. On the other hand, I'm sympathetic to your suggestion that maybe the nature of God just is extremely obscure and puzzling to us. That wouldn't be surprising, I guess.

Elisa -- I'll get in touch. (Because of my long history of politically unacceptable comments, I go by a pseudonym here.)

Elisa Freschi

Ambrose, thanks for that.
To be honest, this reading of identity as "being the same substance of" is what irritates me. It seems to me dangerously similar to Swinburne's point about the fact that his is not a Threetheism because the three persons cannot exist independently of each other. And the concept of substance seems to me to be little more than a clever device to avoid threetheism.


Hi, Ambrose,

I think we should just read that 'is' of identity in A - C as of the numerical sort. I agree that it does *seem* strange that two things (although, I use 'thing' loosely, since the Three are the same thing, but different persons) could be identical even though they have different qualities. E.g. (as we're theorizing) the Son has access to knowledge that the Father doesn't, and vice versa.

But, here's a mundane example of the same *type* of thing (I think!). I believe that I am (numerically) identical with my five-year-old self. But my five-year-old self and I have lots of different qualities (height, weight, age, knowledge, etc.). nevertheless, I think my five-year-old self and I are identical.

So, it looks to me like there can be two qualitatively different things (again, 'things' is used loosely, especially since me and I my five-year-old self are the same thing, *and* the same person--but imagine that i travel back in time to meet my five-year-old self; it sure seems like there'd be two things present in some sense of 'thing') that are, nevertheless, numerically identical. I'm not willing to say that this is a counterexample to Leibniz's Law, but it *is* weird.


Hi Roger,
I'm not sure that numerical identity is weird, if we're speaking here of human identity -- the relation same-human-as rather than the relation of identity simpliciter.

Suppose there is a human H with an existence stretching over many decades. Then for a while H might be (the same human as) Roger-in-1993 and for a while might be Roger-in-2013. It doesn't follow that, for any t and t*, Roger-at-t is the same-human-as Roger-at-t*. Instead, H timelessly has the property of being Roger-at-t and the property of being Roger-at-t*, and the properties of those indexed Rogers may be very different. But I take the fact that x is the same-human-as y fails to imply that x and y have all the same properties to show that this is not really identity we're talking about.

In the same general way, a lump of metal may count as the same-material-as a statue, even though the lump and the statue are not identical. When we say it's "numerical identity" we have to specify what we're counting. (One _of_ what kind of thing?) But strict identity, the relation relevant to Leibniz's Law, isn't contingent on any specification. Or, to put the point another way, we can make it contingent but then the consequent of the Law will refer only to properties of the identicals that they possess under a given description. For example, if H is the same-human-as Roger-in-2013 and also Roger-in-1993, then those indexed Rogers must have all and only the same properties qua human beings. (And I'd argue that they do. The properties you happen to have now but not then, such as, say, greater height or a Ph.D., are not properties that you possess simply in virtue of your humanity or human identity.)

Okay... Back to God! If the Son is the same-substance as the Father, but not the same person, then (on my view) we can infer that Son and Father are not _strictly_ identical but only identical with respect to their substance-identity. But now we're back to my tedious old worry :) Why should substance-identity _without_ personal identity be enough for that single substance to _know_ whatever is known by persons sharing that substance? Or, if it is not enough, how can this substance be omniscient? (Will it have to be by addition?)


I'm not sure I know what you mean by *strictly* identical; so, if I screw this all up…sorry!

Assuming i know what you mean by 'strictly identical', here's what I was thinking. The Son is not the Father since they are different people, after all. But, even so, they are the same God--that is, they are strictly (I would think) identical with God. (I.e. The Son is strictly identical to God, and the Father is strictly identical to God.)

(I'll borrow this next bit from Merricks.) Here's an illustration:

Consider S, who's just had her brain bisected. And suppose that you were to correspond with S via letter, but the way in which S corresponds with you is by writing, on one day, as Lefty (one sphere of consciousness), and on another day, as Righty (the other sphere). Since brain bisection does not produce two people--there's still only one person after the brain bisection--there is only one person, S, with whom you correspond even though you keep corresponding with either Righty or Lefty. And suppose that Righty knows things only Righty knows (suppose that you told Righty, in a recent letter, that you have a dental appointment later in the week), but Lefty doesn't know these things (indeed can't, since you told them to Righty and only Righty). Here, it seems plausible to say that S knows that you have a dental appointment this week even though Lefty, who *is* S, doesn't know.

I'm inclined to think that--so long as I understand what you mean by *strictly* identical--Lefty and Right are *not* strictly identical. They are different spheres of consciousness, after all. Even so, they are S. That is, I would say that they are *strictly* identical to S. (I.e. Lefty is strictly identical to S, and Righty is strictly identical to S.)

So, now two claims:

1. Lefty and Righty are the same person, and

2. The Son and the Father (and the H.S.) are the same God.

1 seems true given the above story. Moreover, if 1 is true, S knows what Lefty and Right know since S just is Lefty or (inclusive) Righty.

Why can't we say similar things with respect to 2? Assume 2 is true. Would God know what the Son and the Father (and the H.S.) know?

Perhaps you might wonder how God, qua substance, could know what each person knows. But, this just seems to be the flipped version of the Lefty and Righty case. In that story we have two substances--Lefty and Righty--that know things, things that S, qua person, knows, too. In the God case, we have three people--the Son, Father, H.S.--that know things, things that God knows, qua substance.

Who knows if that works, but it's an attempt. What do you think?


Hi Roger,
I agree that Lefty and Righty are not (in my sense) strictly identical (since each has properties the other lacks). But then I don't see how both can be strictly identical with S despite being non-identical with the other. Strict identity is transitive. I'm also puzzled by the idea that Lefty and Righty are "the same person" despite each having a conscious life that the other knows nothing about. But never mind -- maybe we have different ideas about the identity conditions for persons.

Suppose that Lefty and Righty are indeed the same person. So they are person-identical with S, and each is then person-identical with the other. Lefty is the same-person-as S, you say, and S is the same-person-as Righty. But then surely Lefty must be the same-person-as Righty also. More generally, if a and b are identical in some respect R with c, then a and b are also identical in respect R. Strict identity is transitive, and so is any relation of identity-in-some-respect.

Now for the Son and Father. If they are the same God, that is not strict identity, but the relation x-is-the-same-God-as-y is also transitive. So I take your position to be this, when translated into my language:

1. The Son is the same-God-as the Father.
2. The Son is not the same-person-as the Father.

Now 2 implies that Son and Father are not (strictly) identical, since there are properties of Son that are not properties of Father.

Suppose that they are identical with respect to Godhood, though. Then my question is why identity in _that_ respect would be enough for the omniscience of God. If "x is the same-God-as y" does not imply "x is the same-person-as y", there seems to be no reason why 1 would be enough for the single God to know all that each person (Son and Father) knows. Knowledge seems to go along with personal identity rather than some non-personal kind such as the kind of God-identity we're talking about here.

Elisa Freschi

Ambrose, this is a tentative draft of the CfP:

_God and persons/God as person_

Is God a person? If yes, is S/He a person in the same way as we are such? And what does "being a person" imply? Do persons need to correspond to a substrate? Does this substrate coincide with their body? And is such a body a material abode or rather the substrate of experience?

The problem can be developed in different ways, ranging from the co-existence of three persons in one God in Christianity (in which sense are they distinct? In which sense are they the same?) to similar problems in other theologies (e.g., the role of God's personality in Indian theology). Further, is God's personality an essential part of Him/Her or does it only regard the devotional level?

The debate will cross through geographical boundaries (as usual in the CBC model), showing how philosophical (and theological) problems can be debated together from different perspectives. Participants are encouraged to focus on the philosophical significance of the ideas at stake, rather than on a sheer description of a narrow topic. The CBC meeting will focus on a general philosophical discussion.

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