Metaphysics and Mormonism: Transcendence

Very roughly and tentatively, but good enough perhaps for the purposes of a blog discussion or an introduction to philosophy, one could say that there are two basic metaphysical positions, with a third that is a variation of one of those two.

According to the first position, whatever is ultimate–for Christians, God–is one kind of basic being, an uncreated one, and the created world is another kind of basic being. The two kinds of being, uncreated and created, are related in virtue of the fact that the second kind of being is created by the first, and that relation is described as participation or analogy. For example, we are like God in goodness, wisdom, and justice, even though his goodness, wisdom, and justice transcends ours to such a degree that we cannot really understand it. (We usually assume that this metaphysical position requires belief in creation ex nihilo.)

According to the second position, first adumbrated by Duns Scotus, “being” has only one meaning, whether it refers to created being or uncreated being. If I say “God exists,” then “exists” means the same thing in that sentence that it means when I say “Aardvarks exist.” We can, of course, wonder what “being” can mean when it refers to God as well as to the everyday world with which we are familiar and which is so different in seemingly every way from God. One answer to that question is modern materialism (the third, derivative position): essentially, to be means to exist in space and time. Though it is notoriously difficult to parse carefully what that means for things like mental functions and numbers, I think we have a sufficient intuitive grasp of materialism to use the term meaningfully. One need not be a materialist to subscribe to the metaphysical claim that there is only one kind of being, but it is by far the most common contemporary version of “the univocity of being.”

It is relatively simple to understand what “transcendence” means for the first kind of metaphysics. Uncreated being is transcendent of created being because it is the origin of the latter and by being its origin gives it meaning. However, what transcendence means in the second case is much less obvious. Indeed, it is relatively simple to argue that there can be no coherent notion of transcendence for the second kind of metaphysics because, by its very nature, transcendence means there is some kind of being that is other than that of the ordinary world. Without transcendence of some kind, however, it is difficult to see how to avoid nihilism: there is no source of meaning if there is no transcendence.

Where does that put Mormons? At first glance, it seems impossible for us to believe that there is more than one kind of being and, so, impossible for us to speak of participation and analogy. Most of the time we more or less naturally assume that our metaphysics is of the second type. But if it is, in what sense can we meaningfully speak of transcendence? Are we secretly, unbeknownst to ourselves, nihilists?

I can think of two ways out of this problem: (1) Perhaps we are really in the first camp: every intelligence, as an uncreated being, has being in a different sense than every other one. If so, then we believe in an infinite number of kinds of being (rather than only two). We might believe in an infinite number of kinds of being but no created being per se. There may be an infinite number of possible arrangements of the infinite number of beings (which doesn’t necessarily imply no limits on the possibilities), but no new beings–an infinity of uncreated being but no created being. In that case, it would also mean that “Mormon materialism” has less in common with contemporary materialism than we often assume. And it would mean that transcendence is possible, though a transcendence quite different than we usually think it. Each other person, for example, would be transcendent of me (and not only persons).

Or (2) a number of recent thinkers have worked to argue that the univocity of being (whether modern materialism or something else) doesn’t preclude transcendence: transcendence in immanence. On this view, meaning doesn’t have to be given to it by something transcendent, but is part and parcel of immanence. Most ways of thinking the transcendence of immanence involve beginning with the Heideggerian idea that to be always means to be in relation and that relation is in itself meaningful. This position put us more in contact with contemporary, non-reductivist materialism, though it isn’t obvious that what is contemporary is or ought to be the touchstone for our metaphysics.

42 comments for “Metaphysics and Mormonism: Transcendence

  1. June 28, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    I am a chemist, not a philosopher, so I lack much of which is required for a cogent conversation. However, it seems that there can be one kind of being, yet several states of existence. Is it just “not getting it” to suggest that one can transcend ones state, yet retain the same kind of being? Or maybe this is what you were saying in your first synthesis with different terms?

  2. Aaron Brown
    June 28, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    I think I’d understand your last paragraph better if you’d define the term “immanence” for us.

    Aaron B

  3. Jim F.
    June 28, 2005 at 6:20 pm

    J. Stapley: Perhaps that will work, but it isn’t clear what it means to have the same being and to transcend one’s state. Take a simple example, an orange. When I looked in the fruit bowl this morning, there was an orange in it. When I looked in the bowl this afternoon, it was still there. The same thing, with the same being. But if that orange transcended its being in some way, what would I have seen? Would it be the same thing? It seems not.

    Aaron B: immanence – what is present; what you “see” is what there is.

    Those interested in an overview of metaphysics–what in the world is it anyway–may wish to go to

  4. June 28, 2005 at 6:27 pm

    Interesting. Though, I’m not sure an orange has the capacity to transcend its orangeness.

  5. June 28, 2005 at 6:28 pm

    An excellent summary, Jim. One point: the idea that “to be always means to be in relation and that relation is in itself meaningful”–or in other words, a “non-reductivist materialism,” a consideration of the interrelated material of the world which presumes an irreducible givenness–is by no means solely a Heideggerian idea. I know you know this, but I thought I needed to add it, just in case some readers might think “oh, there goes Jim, bringing it all back to Heidegger again.” Heidegger is, I think, by a significant margin the thinker who has given us the best contemporary philosophical language by which we can talk about “transcendence in immanence,” but people can and do reach this same metaphysical position by numerous other routes.

  6. Jack
    June 28, 2005 at 6:36 pm


    How about a “collective” identity? Is it possible that the gathering of uncreated beings into “one” may “create” a transcendent indentity of sorts? If so, then the “created” may (in a certain way) transcend the “uncreated”.

  7. June 28, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    I prefer to embrace the label of nihilism. Values, Meaning and Morality emerge from the social interaction of eternal beings. There is no good or meaning which we eternal beings do not create ourselves. I can understand if many aren’t as willing as I to embrace this.

  8. Travis Anderson
    June 28, 2005 at 7:09 pm

    Jim. I’ve never had much regard for the usefulness or validity of the trancendent/immanent distinction except in navigating the history of philosophy–partly because (thanks to you) my serious philosophy studies started with Heidegger, for whom such conceptions are largely the result of wrongheaded metaphysical assumptions. But wouldn’t we want to say that for Heidegger being means not just to be in relation, but (predominantly) to be in relation to consciousness–since, for instance, material objects have being, not by virtue of their relation to each other (electromagnetic or otherwise), but by virtue of some consciousness of that relation (which, as Heidegger himself so often pointed out, is not to say being is a product of consciousness). And this is precisely what it means (for Heidegger, at least) to say a relation is meaningful. So, (apart from exposing Heidegger’s oft-ignored indebtedness to Hegel) wouldn’t that fact so complicate even a metaphorical application of such terms that we would be better off receonceiving our relation to god or others without them?

  9. Anon
    June 28, 2005 at 11:06 pm

    I like the concept of ‘corruption’. The world is corrupted, corrupts, whatever. I like to think of this as ordered things becoming disordered. When I think of sanctification, I imagine something losing its ability to become disordered. So morality, values, I see as tied to the preserving things from disorder. Purity is avoiding those things that quicken or enhance the natural tendency of things to fall apart. When this occurs there is a ‘harmony’ that we perceive and which produces in us – because of our innate senses – ‘joy’. I think I could probably explain all human nature with this theory.

    What about any theories regarding a cyclical universe. If we are uncreated, if we can say that we ‘exist’ ‘have existed’ and ‘will always exist’ then we’re okay. So what about a repetitive, infinite universe? What if we are the gods already, but ‘we’ aren’t ‘them’ ‘yet’ but we will be them, and they were us. There would of course need to be infinite growth. But imagine a – not a universe – an existence (metaverse? I’m not good with the words) – which is infinite in size, has existed forever, will exist forever, but where the forevers meet, the whole thing loops back on itself. A singularity that exists unto itself, where all things exist unto themselves, and joy/harmony is a perception we have (as the higher ‘beings’) of incorruption/purity? Doesn’t it make sense for an infinite metaverse to be infinite in size and time, and wouldn’t it loop back onto itself? Could God be his own father, but they are different beings ‘now’ because one isn’ t the other ‘yet’. This would in effect mean infinite Gods, but one God. Whoa.

    let’s draw a picture
    # …
    / || \
    * # * …
    / \ / || \ / \
    * * * # * * * …
    / \ / \ / \ / || \ / \ / \ / \
    * * * * * * * # * * * * * * * …

    # = Earth w/Savior
    * = World w/God
    Each row represents an iteration. However, the number of stars should always be infinite. The line of pounds represents Father:Son->Father:Son->Father:Son … Maybe the Holy Ghost becomes Michael of the next iteration? Us, the Son, and the HG all being the infinite spirits in that iteration. I’m not good with infinity, nor am I good with this sort of theology, nor am I any good at philosophy. But it’s the closest thing that I have to comprehending a lot of complicated and serious doctrine

    Or maybe we all live inside a big computer, or just a small cave. In any case, I sure enjoyed the potatoes I just ate for dinner. Alright, I admit I’m joking around a bit. But I promise my overall sincerity, in case you thought I was being irreverent.

  10. Kingsley
    June 28, 2005 at 11:21 pm

    This morning my roommate helped my orange “transcend its being,” and now I have to live with the odor.

  11. Kingsley
    June 28, 2005 at 11:59 pm

    Sorry about that, Jim F. I ping pong wildly between the ages of 10, and, oh, — 13.

  12. June 29, 2005 at 12:33 am

    Ah! You pick now to raise this great discussion – just as I’m preparing to leave for Canada!

    I really want to talk about Duns Scotus, as I think he offers some more complexities to things. That is in his formal difference. There we have the difference between generals and particulars with the formal difference being fairly close to the participium. Obviously there are some key differences. But we have in Scotus the actual individual which is unintelligible (somewhat akin to Kant’s things-in-themselves), the formal difference which is metaphysical and intelligible, and then the universal itself. With Heidegger we have the difference between ideals/universals and individuals/sensible things being the participium which I think Heidegger ends up relating to Being and which Derrida (I believe) treats in a similar fashion.

  13. June 29, 2005 at 12:43 am

    Whoops, hit send too soon.

    What I wanted to add was the for Scotus the Being of all things is the participation in the things of God. Each being participates in higher genus with a lower. Thus Being is for Scotus a kind of differance. Thus in a sense for Scouts Being *is* a kind of transcendence. Thus for Scotus there is a kind of human transcendence even if it isn’t the transcendence of God.

    One should also note as important that while there is but one Being, there are five modes of Being and non-Being. I think several of them are very important when considering transcendence.

    Obviously none of this is a criticism of your point. Just a place where I’m interested at the moment and thought others might be. Alas it’s off to Canada and internet incommunicato.

  14. Mark Butler
    June 29, 2005 at 1:22 am

    Clark, Isn’t that Duns Scotus in the first instance, and Scotus Eriugena in the second?

  15. June 29, 2005 at 2:31 am


  16. June 29, 2005 at 2:44 am

    That’ll teach me to do philosophy late at night with little sleep for a few days. I had it in my mind that Duns Scotus had the five fold modes of Being. I did a quick google to look it up, found the SEP and linked it in.

    My bad. Ignore than second post. I do know Duns Scotus accepts multiple modes of being. My mind is too frazzled right now to list them though. There’s at least finite and infinite modes, substantial and accidental modes, and I *think* one other. Finite being is also broken down into the 10 categories of I *think* Aristotle. But once again I’m going by memory.

    Doing a quick search, I think this was the passage that dimly I was thinking of relative to Jim’s comments.

    “As to the question, I grant that ‘being’ is not predicated univocally of all things. Neither is it predicated equivocally, for something is said to be predicated equivocally when those things of which it is predicated are not attributed to one another. For when they are attributed, then it is predicated analogically. But because it (‘being’) does not have one concept corresponding to it, it signifies all things essentially according to their proper perfection and simply equivocally according to the logician. But because those things which are signified are essentially attributed to one another (‘being’ is predicated) analogously, according to the metaphysicians.” (Metaph., 4, q. 1, n. 12)

    The idea, I believe, is that in sentences we can speak of different “kinds” of being, but there is an ultimate Being below them all that they hold in common.

  17. Seth Rogers
    June 29, 2005 at 10:10 am

    I’ve never read the philosophers mentioned (and I doubt I even have a foundation to try to understand their writing). However, I thought I’d throw out some of my thoughts (which I assume are based in LDS theology).

    Human identity in LDS thought has three layers of human identity:

    1. We read that the foundational basis for our existence – intelligence – was not created and neither can be. This is the first layer, but we know very little about it. Where we self-aware at this point? Free agents? We don’t know. But we do know that God didn’t “create” the intelligences.

    2. Second, God added upon this foundation and gave us spirit form. I think most of us assume that this is where we derive most of our identity. Most scriptural reference to the metaphysical “soul” refers to this state. We do know that we were both free-agents and self-aware at this point.

    3. The third layer added upon our existence was the physical creation which we also assume God to be directly responsible for.

    It is an open question as to whether these three layers of identity apply to non-human components of the universe. Specifically, the first layer.

    LDS scripture is clear enough that all things were created spiritually before physically: animals, plants, rocks, the earth itself (which has a rather unique identity of its own in LDS scripture). So that accounts for layers 2 and 3.

    But what about intelligences?

    The scriptures aren’t closed to the possibility. After all, the LDS cannon specifically contemplates a heaven populated by unequal beings (“and I beheld there were many noble and great ones”). We might assume that this inequality derived from an unequal state as intelligences. The only other option is that God deliberately created our spirits unequally. I prefer the first explanation.

    Assuming that our spiritual inequalities derive from inequality as intelligences, is it a huge stretch to extend that inequality of intelligence all the way down to single-celled organisms and beyond?

    Sorry to bring up the ubiquitous “Celestial Vegetables” discussion (popular in Gospel Doctrine classes the world over). But it seemed relevant.

  18. June 29, 2005 at 11:17 am

    OK, now that I’m semi awake I ought correct my Scotus comments a little better. He had two main modes (which I mentioned). The infinite and the finite with the finite being Aristotle’s 10 categories. Not sure where I got the 5 fold idea. It probably was thinking of Eriugena in my muddled mind.

  19. Jim F.
    June 29, 2005 at 12:56 pm

    I should have known better than to try to blog about this. It is far too interesting. Instead, I should have used the “experiment” format. I’ll try to respond, but I’m going to have to be brief. I do have a professional paper to get written.

    Russell (#5): Thanks for noting that this isn’t only a Heideggerian notion, though I too think that no one has done as good a job as Heidegger of developing the idea.

    Jack (#6): I think there is quite a bit to the idea that, sealed to one another, we become more than we are as individuals. I’m not sure what more to say than that, however. It is a great idea but one that hasn’t been worked on very much.

    Jeffrey Giliam (#7): Because of the history of the term “nihilism” and the connotations it usually has, I don’t think many are going to be willing to embrace the term. Nevertheless, I think a number of Mormons are quite willing to take the position you describe: value, meaning, morality, etc. emerge from the social interaction of eternal beings. I’m one of them. But to embrace that position is not to answer the question of how we think about metaphysics and transcendence: how does value, meaning, and morality emerge or arise and what is its metaphysical status?

    Travis Anderson (#8): Thanks for the note about Heidegger and relation. You’ve clarified what I left unsaid but probably should have made explicit.

    Though I certainly agree that the transcendent/immanent distinction as it has often been made in the history of philosophy is the result of wrong-headed metaphysical assumptions, I nevertheless think the terms are useful even in the absence of those wrong-headed assumptions. For one thing, “transcendence” is the term that is currently being used by a number of European thinkers such as Marion and Henry who are clearly taking a more-or-less Heideggerian position rather than a traditional one. For another, Levinas’s contribution to thinking about these issues, it seems to me, was to argue that the Other transcends the Same. On a Levinasian view it seems to me that the terms “transcendence” and “immanence” come back into the discussion–though, of course, with new meaning.

    Anon (#9): Whether you were being reverent or irreverent, I have to confess I don’t understand what you said.

    Kingsley (## 10, 11): No need for apologies. Sometimes on a thread like this a little humor is exactly what we need. Perhaps that’s what Anon was also trying to add.

    Clark (## 12, 13, 15, 16, 18): I’m glad to hear that you’re off to Canada. That will keep us from having to deal with these issues in a careful and thoughtful way. There’s no question that Scotus’s thinking is more complicated than I’ve made it. Nevertheless, I think that the basic point remains the same: the univocity of being drives us toward the kind of understanding of the world that we find in materialism or other monisms. For a discussion of this to which I am very sympathetic, see the relevant chapter in Catherine Pickstock, After Writing.

    Seth Rogers (#17): The question at hand isn’t a question about human identity, at least not directly. It is a question about how many kinds of basic substance (stuff, thing) there are. If there is more than one, how are they related? By some third thing? If so, it is a basic substance? Traditional Christians have solved that problem by saying there are two basic substances–created and uncreated being–and that the second is the creator of the first. If there is only one basic substance, how do things like meaning and value (to borrow terms from Jeffrey Giliam, #7) and divinity arise?

  20. Ralph Hancock
    June 29, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    The question or problem of “transcendence” arises — dare I say “naturally” — out of our “ordinary” practical (political, ethical) existence: we are not simply, necessarily who we are — our instincts, desires, “socialization,” etc — we are choosing beings, and every choice involves the implicit positing of some end, implicit ranking of goods, implicit sense of being beholden to, obligated to, called by something (“the good”) or someone (“God”) other than, “higher” than ourselves. So our existence could be said to generate “transcendence” — Transcendence-Are-Us, you could say, and then you would be edging towards Heideggerian insights, but you’d risk missing the fact that our transcendence is bound up with a sense of something higher (cf. Levinas’s “elevation”). But of course this something cannot be a “thing” among things, or all is pulled back into the orbit of materialism: there is nothing that cannot in principle be manipulated, re-cast by human power/intelligence. So we can grasp the problem of transcendence much more adequately than any solution: both monism and dualism have their problems — though I’d take dualism any day… but when it becomes radical (a la Descartes), it collapses back into monism (mind-matter = subject/object = there is nothing by matter and our power over it.

    I’m not sure “immanence” helps that much, since it depends upon its correlate, “transcendence,” just as secular “wordliness” was made possible by Christian “otherworldliness.”

    Consider this: Being is fecund; its always spilling over. It is more than what it is. To learn to give is to grow in fecundity, in being.

  21. Jim F.
    June 29, 2005 at 8:01 pm

    Perhaps this will help illustrate the problem of the univocity of being: ‘

    “The univocity of Being between God and creature [the assumption that there is, ultimately, only one kind of being] paradoxically gives rise to a kind of equivocity [multiplicity of kinds of being], for the difference of degree or amount of Being disallows any specific resemblances between them, and excludes the possibility of figural or analogical determinations of God that give us any degree of substantive knowledge of His character. [. . .] The distance between the infinite and the finite becomes an undifferentiated and quantified (although unquantifiable) abyss. Thus, the ‘same’ becomes the radically disparate and unknowable.” (Catherine Pickstock, After Writing 123)

    Let me see whether I can give that a translation: Suppose that we and the Divine are beings of essentially the same type. If so, then it is absolutely unclear what it means to speak of divine attributes like justice or embodiemtn or . . . , for God is so different from us that we have no way of knowing what it means to say that he has is just or has a body. If he is the same as we, then we have no way of understanding his difference from us.

  22. Jim F.
    June 29, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Ralph Hancock points in the direction of an answer: Being is fecund; its always spilling over. It is more than what it is.

    As Ralph, I think, knows, my own thinking also takes this direction. (I think it is the direction in which Jack (#6) has also pointed).

    However, Ralph also says: We can grasp the problem of transcendence much more adequately than any solution.

    Amen. And that’s the problem. If being is fecund, then transcendence is its fecundity (though, of course, being is no it). But it is a lot easier to say that or to agree that there seems to be something to it, than it is to make that meaningful. Perhaps philosophy cannot do so.

  23. June 30, 2005 at 4:10 pm

    I tend to think there is something fundamental about existence, or being, that is part and parcel to each of us. Call it spirit or something. It is eternal. In that respect, we are eternal beings, just as God is. Maybe that means we are all transcendent. That is, in the sense that we are not contingent beings. However, the eternal part of us is sort of contingent when one starts to talk about its relationship to the rest of us. That is, if there is some difference between the spiritual and physical aspects of our mortal existence (and it might be that there is no difference). Our situation in time then, is contingent. On the other hand, if all things are essential, i.e. not contingent, than it doesn’t make much sense to talk about transcendence. That is because there is nothing to compare it to that would make something different than the ordinary.

    I don’t think this is nihilism though. We have too much to believe in. One has to remember that in the end, our values are based on eternal principles, not upon the decrees of God. That is, God is God because he follows those principles that are coeternal with him. Even if we also are eternal beings, we would still have good reason to follow those principles.

  24. Jim F.
    June 30, 2005 at 5:21 pm

    Timotheus (#23): Our values are based on eternal principles, not upon the decrees of God. That is, God is God because he follows those principles that are coeternal with him.

    Many Mormons (including Elder McConkie, I think) believe this, but it isn’t doctrinal. In fact, I think that what Brigham Young says here suggests that he would have taken the belief to be false doctrine:

    In his treatise entitled “Great First Cause,” page 16, par. 17, brother Pratt states:-“All the organizations of worlds, of minerals, of vegetables, of animals, of men, of angels, of spirits, and of the spiritual personages of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, must, if organized at all, have been the result of the self-combinations and unions of the pre-existent, intelligent, powerful, and eternal particles of substance. These eternal forces and powers are the Great First Causes of all things and events that have had a beginning.”

    The foregoing quoted ideas, and similar ones omitted to be quoted, with the comments thereon, as advanced by brother Pratt in an article in the Seer, entitled “Pre-existence of Man,” and in his treatise entitled “Great First Cause,” are plausibly presented. But to the whole subject we will answer in the words of the Apostle Joseph Smith on a similar occasion. One of the Elders of Israel had written a long revelation which he deemed to be very important, and requested brother Joseph to hear him read it. The Prophet commended its style in glowing terms-remarked that the ideas were ingeniously advanced, &c., &c., and that he had but one objection to it. “What is that?” inquired the writer, greatly elated that his production was considered so near perfect. The Prophet Joseph replied, “It is not true.” (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-75), 2:223)


    It was neither rational nor consistent with the revelations of God and with reason and philosophy, to believe that these latter Forces and Powers had existed prior to the Beings who controlled and governed them. (Clark, comp., Messages, 2:232)

  25. Jim F.
    June 30, 2005 at 5:42 pm

    Having thought about this question for the last several days (not only because of this post but because I’m working on a paper I have to present in early September), I think I may be better able to lay out, in shorthand, both the problem of immanence and transcendence and to say more about how I am thinking about them.

    Philosophers have for a very long time made the distinction between transcendence and immanence. Following Martin Heidegger, I believe that distinction is founded on a fundamental metaphysical error, the error of assuming that being is a thing.

    Nevertheless, it is too much to suppose that the distinction is only an error, that it is not at least an attempt to capture philosophically something genuine in our experience.

    Here is how I would outline the possibilities:

    1. Transcendence

    a. “Pure” transcendence: the realm of the eternal and of temporal are metaphysically distinct. Nietzsche argued that, ultimately, this view (which he understood to be the Christian view) is nihilism because it denies the value of the world, pushing those values into some other world that we do not experience (which, in the end, means giving them no foundation whatsoever).

    b. The neo-Platonic understanding (Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus): this world is what it is in virtue of its participation in the eternal. The descent of the soul into materiality is an expression of the Divine and not something in itself evil.

    It seems to me that, in spite of itself, this view assumes pure transcendence, the radical separation of the eternal and the temporal. I think that Duns Scotus’s objections are fatal.

    Besides, this view requires creation ex nihilo.

    2. Immanence

    a. One can argue that the insistence that everything is imminent, in spite of its intentions, is nihilism because it “flattens” the world, giving materiality nothing on which to hang itself. Value has no origin. This seems to be a strong argument against most forms of immanence.

    b. However, fecundity or “impure” transcendence assumes that everything is immanent without succumbing to that criticism, without flattening the world. The flatness of the material is an artefact of consciousness (being; the same rather than the other). In ordinary experience, consciousness flattens the fecundity of being/temporality into something static and atemporal by dealing with abstract beings rather than particular beings (which is a good thing rather than a bad thing, but nonetheless tempts us into the metaphysical error of mistaking our abstractions–the products of Kantian categories–for the things themselves).

    Philosophy can do no more than point toward fecundity. Thus the need for phenomenology. Philosophy cannot grasp the fecundity of being. Fecundity is a mystery. It is apocalyptic, something hidden. Art, however, can reveal that mystery, and religion does reveal it. But it reveals it in practice (which is not reducible to consciousness though also not separate from it). Philosophy can’t do what art and religion can do because it is a matter of mind alone and, therefore, a rejection of fecundity in favor of stasis and control; philosophy implicitly assumes the very disjunction that is in question.

    My central thesis: excess/fecundity explains transcendence better than participation, either of which is superior to the “standard” view of transcendence.

    Though I reject neo-Platonic participation, I suspect that the debates with and within contemporary neo-Platonism (in the form of Radical Orthodoxy) are helpful in thinking about excess and fecundity (particularly the discussion of ritual), as is also the work of thinkers like Levinas and Derrida, and the Catholic philosophers Jean-Luc Marion (France) and Paul Moyaert (Beligum).

  26. Jim F.
    June 30, 2005 at 6:07 pm

    Note: Doing some reading last night, I realized much more clearly how this discussion and that of Radical Orthodoxy and politics are connected when I read this in James K. A. Smith’s Introducing Radical Orthodoxy (99-100): “Behind the politics of modernity (liberal, secular) is an epistemology (autonomous reason), which is in turn undergirded by an ontology (univocity and the denial of participation).”

    Like Ralph Hancock (#20), I think that fecundity gives us an alternative to participation (and, therefore, also to creation ex nihilo and traditional Trinitarianism). Nevertheless–and in spite of the shortcomings in the Milbank piece that generated the other discussion–I think that thinkers like Milbank and others in the Radical Orthodoxy movement can help us think about what it would mean genuinely to have an alternative to contemporary politics.

  27. Jack
    June 30, 2005 at 6:37 pm


    I’m not sure that you’re arguing the right point in response to Timotheus’ comment. There may be a difference between what he considers “coeternal principles” and Orson Pratt’s “pre-existent, intelligent, powerful, and eternal particles of substance”. I don’t think Timotheus is positing that those “principles” are “Forces and Powers [which] existed prior to the Beings who controlled and governed them.

    Perhaps he is suggesting that the Gods have become such because they have learned the principles by which the intelligences will be governed–which (imo) doesn’t necessarily mean that those principles are controlling God. God “controls” (not my favorite choice of words) the universe by virtue of the “principles”.

    As for myself, I think we can get hung up on “principles”. Jesus made no distinction between Himself and principles when He said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light”. I love the incarnation of principles as found in the beatitudes. We read, “blessed are the meek”, not, “blessed is meekness”, “blessed are the pure in heart”, not, “blessed is purity”, etc.

    I like your thesis. I had to look up the word “fecundity” after reading Ralph’s comment. I had a nice little epiphany when I read the definition. Good stuff! I hope you guys’ll keep chatting about this for a while.

  28. Jim F.
    June 30, 2005 at 6:57 pm

    Jack: Pratt doesn’t say that the Gods are controlled by the powers. He merely says that those powers pre-exist the Gods who control them–just as the “principles” do–and Young denies that the powers pre-exist the Gods who control those powers. I don’t see how to say that there are pre-existing principles that God follows/obeys without falling exactly under BY’s criticism. The two cases seem exactly the same to me: powers pre-exist the Gods and the universe is organized according to those powers :: principles pre-exist God and he follows them to organize the universe.

    In any case, my point was not to argue that there are no such pre-existing principles, but to argue that a belief in them isn’t doctrinal, even if it is quite commonly believed.

    I’m glad to here that the conversation helped someone besides me have an epiphany of some kind. And thanks for your comments.

  29. Jack
    June 30, 2005 at 8:08 pm

    You’re right that Pratt didn’t say that. I read to much into his statement. However, the real question is: is Timotheus really suggesting that the principles existed prior to the Beings who control and govern them? I don’t think he is. He says they’re co-existent. I’ll let Timotheus argue the ins and outs of what that could mean–as I’m not convinced of it myself.

  30. July 2, 2005 at 4:17 pm

    I suggest that the only form of transcendence which Mormonism (my version of it at least) can maintain would be epistemic trandscendence, in that God and spiritual reality in general transcend our current knowledge, but that’s it. Ontological nihilism is the way to go when it comes to meaning, morals and values.

    These things emerge if a way VERY analogous to social contract ethics in that they are created by entities as they gain more intelligence. There is no meaning in our eternal existence but what we (God, myself and everybody else including those who came before God did) have created for ourselves. Thus morals, values and meaning come about (again in Mormonism as I see it, which excludes a spirit birth or creation) through the intellectual groweth of intelligences as they acquire reasons for doing things which benefit them in some epistemically transcendant way and avoiding things which harm them in this way.

    Thus, intelligence create and acquire meaning, values and morals as a means to better progress spiritually (whatever that really means).

  31. July 2, 2005 at 4:21 pm

    I guess this is more existential than nihilistic. There really are values, meaning and morals, but there are artificial constructs.

  32. Ralph Hancock
    July 2, 2005 at 9:32 pm

    Re. priority God/principles. I believe we get into trouble by grasping either of the horns of this dilemma. If we try to think through to the end the idea of the priority of a personal, thinking/willing Being, then we end up with some radical nominalist or Calvinist notion of arbitrary willfullness. But if we try to take our bearings by pure eternal, impersonal principles, we’re not able to explain why we thinking-choosing-loving beings matter, why persons are of any importance. (Thus Aristotle’s God=impersonal self-thinking thought: indifferent to lower realms, i.e., us.)
    Somehow our agency must matter: which means at once that we must take our bearings from some sense of “the way things are,” or of real, ontologically-grounded differences in the natures of things; and at the same time we must believe that our actions are significant, productive of real changes in the way things are.

    So I advise against deciding the personal God/ impersonal principles question.

  33. Jack
    July 3, 2005 at 5:20 pm


    Do you think think it’s possilble that there’s no real decision to be made between God and “impersonal principles”? That principles are only manifest as they are incarnate, or, in other words, as they live in creation. If we think about the “principle” of “love” it becomes little more than a dead “concept” if it is dissociated from the breast of a human being. Even the scientific principle of gravitation becomes meaningless without particles. I suppose it may be useful to, by virtue of some kind of math, “abstract” the principles as a way of aiding our learning the things of God. But even so, we would not comprehend the abstracts if not for our prior “living” experience with principles.

  34. Jack
    July 3, 2005 at 8:33 pm

    Sorry about the second “think”. I think I was destracted momentarily from my thought as I thought of what it means to think. But thinking on what it means to be destracted by a thought when one is thinking about what it means to think, I soon found myself thinking about a destraction which had nothing to do with the thought I was thinking before I was destracted. Hence the second “think”, I think.

  35. Jack
    July 3, 2005 at 8:51 pm

    Deep thoughts by “Jack”.

  36. Harold B. Curtis
    July 3, 2005 at 9:14 pm

    One day I hope to be a god. When that day shall come, the principles and powers I will have followed and been subject to will have preceded my godhood. When the children of my begetting likewise become gods, will it not be because the principles and powers they have been subject to will have preceded their godhood? And when shall it end?

    If there is any truth to this, can we ever expect to see in mortality the beginning first cause of such genealogy? I do not expect it.

    I am reminded of reading years ago, from Joseph Fielding Smiths, “Answers to Gospel Questions”, that the galaxies are island universe’s each presided over by a god. Such cosmic plurality humbles my personal individuality. To contemplate the council of the gods which preside over even so small an estimate as 150,000,000,000 galaxies creates the need for a very large council room, or tiered counseling as is the case in the church today.

    Meanwhile God, the Eternal Father of the spirits of all mankind on earth, and the creator of Adam and Eve the first man and woman of all men and woman on earth, is the being who I reverence as my Father and my God. He is the Mighty Ahman who holds the keys powers presidency and intelligence on which I rely for my future blessing and consolation. He is the first cause in my life, and the only cause in whom I have assurance. His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ is the first cause of my redemption and salvation. I have no other place to go, because there is no other place to go. No one else offers resurrection, restoration, redemption, repentance, all heights and depths and so on and so on.

    Now I can accept the desire of some to question what caused the first cause, but it surely seems to me to be like a trip to Lagoon, where you go on rides up and down, around and around, in and out, and when you walk out the gate at the end of day all you can say is what a ride.

    Meanwhile I have enjoyed these posts and they have reassured me of mans inherent nature and desire to divine the Devine that is in all of us

    Harold B. Curtis

  37. Jack
    July 3, 2005 at 9:34 pm

    But, Harold, if that being who you reverence as your Father is your “first cause”, then He would precede the principles and powers you will have followed and been subject to on your trek toward godhood, no?

  38. Harold B. Curtis
    July 3, 2005 at 9:39 pm


  39. Jack
    July 3, 2005 at 10:41 pm


  40. Kingsley
    July 4, 2005 at 1:32 am

    “One day I hope to be a god.”

    What a great Church!

  41. Kingsley
    July 4, 2005 at 1:39 am

    One day I hope to clean my room regularly, so that I do not scream profanities when I lose my lighter under piles and piles of scraps of paper with my gambling debts written on them. On that great day, dare I say it, I will be one step closer to being worthy to be prayed to.

  42. Jack
    July 4, 2005 at 2:56 am


    You may not yet be worthy to be prayed to, but some of us worship the scraps of paper you write on.

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