Metaphysical Personalism – Why the Mind Comes First (Part 7: The Success of Personalistic Reduction)

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We have seen that the materialistic reduction faces very serious problems, which tend to make it a failure. But can the personalistic reduction fare any better? The answer seems to be a resounding “yes”.

While there are various versions of personalism that could be used as a basis of the personalistic reduction, it seems rationally warranted to focus on the version that is as simple as possible (see the discussion on the value of simplicity above), while still providing the full explanatory benefits of a “mind-first” world. The view that as the most foundational reality, there exists one personal being with few simple attributes is the most simple version of personalism that there can be. As Richard Swinburne points out, “Theism postulates God as a person with intentions, beliefs, and basic powers, but ones of a very simple kind, so simple that it postulates the simplest kind of person that there could be.” (Swinburne, The Existence of God, Page 97) Swinburne also points out that not only do the considerations of simplicity favour a hypothesis that postulates few substances, but also, the properties of the substances should be only few and of a simple kind. It is simpler to postulate properties that are unlimited (have zero limitations) than ones that are limited but imply a large finite qualities or quantities. We may further argue that this is especially the case when one is dealing with the ultimate, foundational reality. For that reality is, ex hypothesi, one that exists (at least logically, even if not temporally) prior to anything else, which makes it harder to make sense of the idea that it could be limited by something else. Theism postulates for God properties that are simple in the sense that I defined above. God’s knowledge and power are thought to have no limits. To know without limitations also implies that the knower has no need to rely on sense organs or to rely on inference in order to follow out the logical consequences of propositions. In short, unlimited knowledge is best thought of as direct apprehension of truth. Similarly, to have unlimited power implies that the one who exercises that power can act directly, without a need to rely on any kind of mediating causes. The nature of these two properties seems to be such that they can be integrated so as to form one single property, namely, unlimited intentional power. A person that has such unlimited intentional power has no need for a body (by the movement of which he could bring about various states of affairs, and by the sense organs of which he could acquire information). The concept of an unembodied person is not incoherent in any obvious way, even if it is not the concept of the types of persons that we are typically acquainted with. It is also much simpler concept than that of an embodied person, and obviously, the essential embodiedness of the person that constitutes the most foundational reality would threaten the very principle of reduction that the main argument of this essay is based on.

Theism seems to provide the simplest personalistic hypothesis. In so far as the general preference for simplicity in the selection of hypotheses is rational (and certainly, to many thinkers who have reflected on the criteria for rational evaluation of hypotheses, it has seemed to be so), the argument for personalism can be turned into an argument for Theism.

But how does Theism explain the two categories of phenomena (personal and material) on the basis of which our argument has been built? It should be clear at this point that the first move is to regard the personal God as the ultimate, foundational reality. The existence of the material world, on the other hand, can be understood as something that is a consequence of God’s intentional action in creation and conservation of the world. As a personal being, God intends to bring about the existence of the material world for his own purposes, and having unlimited intentional power, he is able to accomplish this purpose. The continuing existence and regularity of the material world can be seen as the result of God’s decision to sustain the universe in existence with the aim of fulfilling his purposes for the universe. Also, given the unlimited intentional power that God can use, it seems to fall within his causal capabilities to bring about the existence of finite, created persons. In this manner, the existence of the material (and the personal beings of a limited kind, such as human beings) can be derived from the properties of the foundational personal reality (God), and in this sense, there is an explanatory reduction between the two basic categories.

The types of arguments against materialistic reductionism that we have examined in this essay do not seem to have any obvious parallels that could be posed as problems for personalistic reduction. One possible objection would be to claim that the personalist view somehow makes the material world somehow “less real” than is required by the impressive success of modern science. But such objection seems to be based on a misunderstanding. The personalist does not need to be committed to the idea that the material is somehow just “illusory” or existing simply “in the mind of God”. Rather, the theistic view provides all of the necessary resources to make sense of the bringing about of the genuine existence of the material world. And given God’s omniscience and unchanging purposes, there is no reason why he should be expected to be a “threat” to the regular workings of nature – quite the contrary seems to be the case. However, there may be special occasions on which God chooses to bring about a miraculous event that goes beyond the laws of nature. But this hardly threatens the foundations of science.

Concluding Reflections

We can conclude, then, that metaphysical personalism is the rationally preferable view of reality, and that the principles of rational enquiry tend to point towards theism as the most rational form of personalism. These conclusions have profound implications that are worthy of not just many additional philosophical essays, but of lives lived in exploration and awe of the God to whom everything else owes its being. From a philosophical point of view, there can be nothing more intellectually satisfying than the pursuit of the knowledge of such God. While there may be some definite limits to what our rational pursuits of such ultimate truth can achieve by themselves, it should be kept in mind that God is not constrained by such limits. This should make one to seriously consider the possibility that God has chosen to reveal himself to humanity in some more concrete and particular way.

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