A key text from St. Thomas for open-theism dialogue

Open theism means more than one thing – I here am thinking of the open theism that argues that God does not know the future because there is no such thing to know. Ruyer argues something similar, sc. when we get in a car accident, we run into another car, not into the accident. There is no “future accident”, waiting like a ghost out there for us to run into it from behind, and therefore no “future accident” to be gazed at, whether by God or anyone else.

This is one of the fullest accounts STA gives of the mode of existence of the future, and so the strongest and most charitable critique of his ideas would probably start here. A fuller translation would have used the phrase “under the ratio of”, here usually just translated “as”.

The future can be known in two ways 1.) in itself and 2.) In its causes.

1.) In itself it can be known by no one but God. The reason is that future things, as future, do not have existence in themselves; and since existence and truth are convertible and all knowledge is of something true, it is impossible that there be some knowledge of the future as future.  But since the past, present, and future are the differences of time and designate temporal order, everything that is in time stands to the future as future. So it is impossible that a knowledge in the temporal order would know the future in itself, and the knowledge of every creature is such (cf. infra) so it is impossible for some creature to know the future in itself. This is peculiar to God alone, whose knowledge is above the whole order of time, so that no part of time stands to the divine operation as past or future, but the whole flow of time and the things that are done in the whole of time fall under his gaze and are conformed to it in the mode of the present. His undivided act of vision bears down on all things simultaneously, as everything in its own time. A likeness can be taken from the spacial order. Just as the prior and posterior in motion and in time follow the prior and posterior in magnitude, so God in the mode of the present sees all things which are compared to each other in order of past, present and future, which cannot happen for one whose vision falls under the order of time, just as someone situated in a high vantage point sees all walking on the road, not as coming before and after him although he sees others so proceed, but everyone situated on the road can see nothing but what preceded him or what is positioned next to him.

De malo, 16. 7.

[D]upliciter possunt futura cognosci: uno modo in seipsis, alio modo in suis causis. In seipsis quidem a nullo cognosci possunt nisi a Deo. Cuius ratio est, quia futura, prout futura sunt, nondum habent esse in seipsis; esse autem et verum convertuntur; unde cum omnis cognitio sit alicuius veri, impossibile est quod aliqua cognitio respiciens futura in ratione futuri, cognoscat ea in seipsis. Cum autem praesens, praeteritum et futurum sint differentiae temporis, temporalem ordinem designantes: omne quod qualitercumque est in tempore, comparatur ad futura sub ratione futuri. Et ideo impossibile est quod aliqua cognitio subiacens ordini temporis, cognoscat futura in seipsis. Talis autem est omnis cognitio creaturae, ut post dicetur. Unde impossibile est quod aliqua creatura cognoscat futura in seipsis; sed hoc est proprium solius Dei, cuius cognitio est elevata supra totum ordinem temporis, ita quod nulla pars temporis comparatur ad operationem divinam sub ratione praeteriti vel futuri; sed totus decursus temporis, et ea quae per totum tempus aguntur, praesentialiter et conformiter eius aspectui subduntur. Et eius simplex intuitus super omnia simul fertur, prout unumquodque est in suo tempore. Potest autem accipi conveniens similitudo ex ordine locali. Sicut enim prius et posterius in motu et tempore consequitur prius et posterius in magnitudine, ut dicitur in IV Physic., ita Deus praesentialiter omnia intuetur, quae ad invicem comparantur secundum ordinem praesentis, praeteriti et futuri. Quod non potest aliquis eorum cuius intuitus sub hoc ordine temporis cadit; sicut ille qui est in alta specula constitutus, videt simul omnes transeuntes per viam, non sub ratione praecedentis et subsequentis quoad ipsum, quamvis videat quosdam alios praecedere; tamen quicumque in ipsa via constitutus est in ordine transeuntium non potest videre nisi praecedentes, vel iuxta se positos.

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5 Comments

  1. RP said,

    November 11, 2012 at 5:52 am

    I hate to comment on your blog because the last time I did (conservation laws), merely asking a question, the whole thread imploded. And all the other times you exhibited a complete indifference. But I’ll try one more time.

    Ruyer: “God does not know the future because there is no such thing to know”

    How are the prophecies of the Old Testament explained away?

    I’ve found a good way to think of God’s eternal knowing is as memory: for God the future is yesterday’s news.

    The future is not existent; therefore purely potential. There can only be one pure potential (Cosmos). Therefore, the future is “prime matter”. It is necessary to think of the real as what is knowable rather than as “being”. “The reality of things is itself its light”

    .

    • November 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

      Ruyer: “God does not know the future because there is no such thing to know”

      How are the prophecies of the Old Testament explained away?

      Those could be thrown into the dialectic. Perhaps we could develop an idea of prophesy that was other than “seeing the future”. Or maybe we would see the objection as fatal to Ruyer’s point. But then we have to explain R. somehow.

      Your opinions could be thrown into the mix too. It’s a complicated topic and I have no satisfying account to even very basic problems. One impediment to interpreting your contributions is the quotation marks you place around prime matter, which appear to mean that you are using prime matter as a metaphor, just as you are using yesterday’s news as a metaphor. Metaphors are important and irreplaceable ways of knowing, but in this context we have to flesh out ideas in additional ways. So to consider your non-metaphors:

      The future is not existent; therefore purely potential.

      By “existent” you have to mean “actual”. This is fine, but potentials only exist to be actual, and (as you have just said) the future is never actual. In fact, to all appearances it cannot be actual that is, it does not have a potential of any kind. The point is not dialectical trickery – I think at the heart of your claim is the reasonable idea that the future exists in some way, and does not exist in some way, and the best way to describe this mode of being is to call it “potential”. But I don’t think such a description will work, unless we posit a sense of “potential” that is totally sui generis. But how would this explain the problem? Wouldn’t this amount to saying “the future is potential in the special way in which the future is potential”?

      Further, Aristotle uses time to explain potential (this is the sense of “in all time all possibles are actualized”) and so to use potential to explain time would put us into a vicious circle. This is part of a larger problem – the advance of our knowledge has made it clear that we don’t know just what the order is between magnitude, (both body and space) and time and motion – we don’t know which should come first in the explanation. Time, for example, needs to be invoked in order to explain place (contra Aristotle) so time appears to have some sort of priority to space. But then we still have to explain what is wrong with Aristotle’s arguments to the contrary- which are too good to just ignore.

      It is necessary to think of the real as what is knowable rather than as “being”

      Here again, we have the quotation-mark problem. This doesn’t look like a metaphor, but there is some sort of distinction you appear to want to make in being. So what is it? Are you speaking of being secundum quid? If so, is the claim that the real is not being simpliciter? Do you mean it is knowable as opposed to being in se? Or that the real is in the intentional order as opposed to the entitative? Are you arguing for a sort of Platonism where the real is just a participation in the intelligible? Most of these these are defensible positions (I lean towards Meister Eckhart’s) but it is not clear what sort of conclusions we should draw from them vis-a-vis time and physics. Should we go with Plato and say that there is no science of physics? (That seems too expensive). Or are we saying that time is an opinion? That the mind generates time just as it generates abstract universals?

      • RP said,

        November 12, 2012 at 5:29 am

        Thanks for the reply. You’ve brought up so many points and questions it will take me a few days to address them.

  2. RP said,

    November 14, 2012 at 4:31 am

    I decided not to respond after all. Your blog is not for the discussion of my ideas which remain beyond challenge on my hard drive along with my response to your reply.

    But against Ruyer’s assertions that God can’t know the future perhaps He knows it in the same way as Aquinas has it in DV that he knows prime matter?.

  3. RP said,

    November 14, 2012 at 5:21 am

    One more question, please:

    Suppose I wrote: By “existent” you have to mean “actual”. This is fine, but potentials only exist to be actual, and (as you have just said) prime matter is never actual. In fact, to all appearances it cannot be actual that is, it does not have a potential of any kind. The point is not dialectical trickery – I think at the heart of your claim is the reasonable claim that prime matter exists in some way, and does not exist in some way, and the best way to describe this mode of being is to call it “potential”. But I don’t think such a description will work, unless we posit a sense of “potential” that is totally sui generis. But how would this explain the problem? Wouldn’t this amount to saying “prime matter is potential in the special way in which prime matter is potential”?

    How would you respond to this?


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