And now, the immorality of passibility

N31-960x727This could be Part 5 in our response to Sirvent (responses in Part 3 and Part 4). But I intentionally want to rephrase things and turn Sirvent’s logic on his own thesis. And thus the title “immorality of passibility” pace his “immorality of impassibility.” For on its own terms Sirvent’s thesis devours itself. Once his view is considered in light of the integrity of God’s experience of a world full of diverse aesthetic experiences, some of inexpressible joy and others of unspeakable torment, fatal problems emerge for Sirvent. One absolutely must work any imitatio dei out in light of the competing emotional demands which make up the world’s diverse experiences. Specifically, is God’s experience of such a world to be understood as non-integrated or integrated? And once one does this, one can easily see how, on Sirvent’s own view, a passibilist God is as morally bankrupt as Sirvent thinks an impassibilist God is. Given Sirvent’s own line of argument, no version of a passibilist God is worth imitating either, but to see this you have to ponder the question of the integrity of God’s experience of the world’s diverse experiences. We cannot define whether God is worth imitating based on what God feels in response to an isolated, single individual’s pain. We should assess things in light of God’s experience of the whole.

I thought of posting a short clip from a former post of ours in which I follow the logic out, but I’d rather those interested read the whole post and follow the argument for themselves: What difference can passibilism really make?

Prayer: God, you see all, know all, love all, pursue all, redeem all, invite all and give all yourself to all of us without having to divide yourself among us. We need you so desperately. Teach me to rest my weary and anxious wandering in you.


5 comments on “And now, the immorality of passibility

  1. formerlyjeff says:

    As you know, Tom, I’m a divine-passibilist, but I don’t know think your description of integrated or segregated divine passibilist experience gets at what passibilists are trying to account for, however poorly they are communicating it. I think passibilists are trying to account for divine motivation and, hence, actual plausibility in beliefs about divine action. Plausibility, i.e., per human criteria, like inductive plausibility criteria; not sectarian criteria, even if there are legitimate sectarian plausibility criteria.

    But divine motivation that thus plausibly explains/predicts must involve what God believes the effects of creaturely experience will be or probably be, not merely what they are at a given time. For on divine passibilism, those future effects also effect God’s felt experience and, hence, determine divine motivation.

    If Alan’s drop-in-an-ocean view of passibilism can account for humanly-plausible prediction/explanation of divine action in that way, it will suffice. I’m just not sure how to do that syllogism. What doesn’t suffice is impassibilism unless there’s some human plausibility criteria you have yet to disclose that would make it work. It is of no predictive value to humans qua humans to say I can conceive of a deity doing x if it’s no more or less humanly plausible to say that x happened a-causally, etc.

    IMO, the reason why this is important to passibilists is because it’s hard for us to conceive of divine benevolence that is consistent with a divine indifference to a human ability to plausibly explain events theistically. For that seems to mean that God is indifferent to whether at least some humans are atheists. And in that case, I have no idea in what sense God is benevolent.

    And that brings me to my other problem with the thesis being debated: I can’t conceive of how God could be moral. I see God not as moral (i.e., one who freely chooses to act benevolently), but
    as naturally benevolent because of essential competence, prehensive capacity and a sympathy-based motivation. But this doesn’t rule out a divine capacity of God to risk (not guarantee) his own suffering for another. We, on the other hand, have to weigh the consequences of free risk-taking against our obligations to others, because we are seemingly truly moral agents.


    • Tom says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Good to hear from ya. How ya doing?

      I appreciate how the issue of ‘motivation’ figures into things for you. I personally don’t see why passibilism is the only way we can make plausible sense of motivation. But we’ve been over that a lot. I don’t agree, for example, that if the atheism of atheists doesn’t measurably diminish God’s experience that God must be, as you say, “indifferent” to whether or not people are atheists. We can disagree over whether the ‘integrated’ vs ‘non-integrated’ nature of God’s experience of the world is relevant to the question of divine motivation (I think it’s relevant), but it certainly is relevant to Sirvent’s thesis, which is why I reintroduced it here.



      • formerlyjeff says:

        I agree that the integrated vs.desegregated experience is a real distinction. But divine passibilism may work even if the Father only sympathetically feels from the Son’s felt experience or anticipated felt experience. So I don’t think that distinction is what divine passibilism per se is about at root. It seems to me it’s about humans qua humans being able to more plausibly believe that some element and/or aspect of our own satisfactory experience has something to do with what most people mean by “the divine.” Of course we can just posit that it does. But I think divine-passibilists actually believe it’s more plausible in terms of mere human plausibility criteria that it does. And the merest of inductive criteria render it so.

        But the minute you move to divine impassibilism, induction fails, and so most divine passibilists don’t know what then renders the positing of the divine more plausible to humans qua humans than any of the conceivable infinite histories void of the divine or the benevolent divine, because they don’t know what merely human plausibility criteria there is that could do that other than inductive criteria.

        In other words, I think divine passibilism is, or tends to be, correlative with the view that loving humans requires a common human epistemology that gets the sufficiently sane to a belief in a benevolent Designer of the world we commonly infer. And I don’t think most divine-passibilists see how divine- impassibilism is consistent with or entailed in any such conceivable human epistemology. That’s not to say that it isn’t, or course. We just can’t see it.

        Even Greg argued out of both sides of his mouth on the matter in T&P. On the one hand, he spoke of spontaneous (unpredictable) divine action. But on the other hand, he spoke of the preference for the concept of God to function as an explanatory principle. But an unpredictable actor is not considered a functional explanatory principle to my knowledge.

        My point is only to say that no matter how many of these strained arguments for divine-passibilism you argue against (that I too disagree with for one or more reasons), I think what I’m saying here is that which will always be left that needs to be addressed if you’re actually trying to show divine passibilism problematic.

        Because it’s insufficient to say that your view is plausible if you’re goal is to show us that our view is problematic. To do that, you need to tell us what plausibility criteria you’re using and whether you think it’s a criteria that humans qua humans naturally use or that just subsets of humans choose to use, etc. Without a plausibility criteria that defines “plausible” in a given context, the word “plausible” has no human-wide or community-wide meaning. You’re not saying that divine-passibilism is inconceivable because it’s incoherent in some sense, are you? Clearly our own passibilism accounts, in part at least, for many of our actions, right?

        If all your saying is that a “metaphysics/ontology” wherein the “plausibility” of divine-impassibilism is entailed can not be proved false via a different “metaphysics/ontology,” then there’s nothing to argue, I think. Because both divine impassibilism and divine passibilism seem to be in some sense fundamental in the opposing ways of thinking. And I think that’s because we define “plausible” differently. And the meaning of “plausible” is pretty fundamental in one’s thought about things.


  2. Tom says:

    Check out the Abstract to David Bradshaw’s article “St. Maximus on Time, Eternity, and Divine Knowledge.”

    Maximus follows Dionysius the Areopagite in holding that God ‘precontains’ the knowledge of all things as their cause. He develops this idea by interpreting divine foreknowledge as a consequence of God’s knowledge of the divine logoi, the acts of will by which God predefines and creates all things.Since among the items God foreknows are creatures’ free acts, it would seem to follow that such acts are determined by the logoi. Elsewhere, however, Maximus emphasizes that the full realization of a rational creature’s logos depends upon that creature’s free choice. There thus seems to be a conflict between Maximus’s Neoplatonic account of divine knowledge and his commitment to human free will. I argue that to reconcile this conflict we must distinguish two stages in the existence of the logoi: an initial stage in which they embody simply the divine intent, and a later stage in which (as Maximus puts it in Ambiguum 10) they ‘re-enter’ into eternity to the extent that they have been embodied in the lives of the faithful. The logoi at the latter stage are the joint product of the divine will and creatures’ free choice. However, the distinction between the two stages is conceptual rather than temporal; from a point of view within time, the logoi are always already at the latter stage. This explains how in knowing them from all eternity God can foreknow, without determining, creatures’ free choices.


    How would knowing the logoi in these two “stages” (i.e., as divine intentions which define the telos of things toward which things tend but with respect to which they self-determine in ways which are not themselves determined by these divine intentions, and in their final, eschatological embodied fulfillment) amount to knowledge of all the intermediate ways in which creatures freely self-determine en route to final, eschatological fulfillment? What about a doctrine of the logoi viewed in terms of original intention (Stage 1) and final fulfilled (Stage 2) constitutes knowledge of all the temporal becoming that constitutes the journey from Stage 1 to Stage 2, i.e., the entire history of creation from creation to fulfillment in God?

    Knowing what I finally intend with respect to some outcome which I don’t myself determine, as well as knowing that those outcomes finally do come round to their fulfillment, cannot tell me which particular path of actualization creation’s becoming in fact takes. I could know that I intend my wife to arrive home safely, and I can know that given certain natural dispositions (which I determine as her ‘nature’), she cannot choose permanently self-dispose out of all possibility of arriving home safely, but this cannot tell me which of all the possible diverse routes (all of which ‘end’ in her safe arrival) she actually takes.


    1) Fixed intentions with respect to final outcomes (logoi)? Yes.
    2) Fixed certainty with respect to the final fulfillment of those intentions (via the irreducible grounding and orientation of our rational capacities)? Yes.
    3) Fixed knowledge of WHICH of all the contingent, freely, self-determined routes rational creatures take en route toward fulfillment? The combined truth of (1) and (2) entail answering (3) with yes. A “no” answer to (3) does nothing to undermine (1) or (2).


    • Tom says:

      I probably should’ve posted this on ‘What time is it?’ I didn’t meant to get off into ‘God and Time’ here on this thread when my point was the relevance of the integrated vs non-integrated nature of God’s experience of the world.


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