Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Essential Attribute


Recently, I read something interesting in Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda’s “Duties of the Heart”, section 1, chapter 9. It was a very elegant argument for the Creator’s Oneness based on ancient Greek philosophical notions, as echoed in the philosophy of Andalusian Jewry.

The argument is based on the notion of “essential and accidental attributes”. An “essential attribute” is a quality which is core to an entity. The entity simply cannot be without it and trying to remove it would remove the entity as well. Examples of essential attributes are wet to water or heat to fire. An “accidental attribute” is a quality which can be added to or removed from an entity without changing its core. It’s a secondary attribute, which an entity can exist with or without. An example is hot water. The heat is an accidental attribute because water is water, whether hot or not.

The argument:

Hot water acquires heat by being placed over a fire (or an energetic equivalent). In other words, fire supplies water with heat. Water does not have heat on its own. It needs to receive heat from an outside source - fire. Why? The answer is because for water, heat is an accidental attribute. Accidental attributes are never “native” to the entities which possess them. They need to be imported from essential attributes of other entities. Therefore, fire transmits heat to water and water transmits dampness to sponges.

Stylistically, accidental attributes are degraded versions of essential attributes. They are weaker than their corresponding essential attribute. Water can never be as hot as the fire that heated it up. Flawed attributes are clearly accidental, not essential. Throughout creation, the notion of oneness is flawed because it’s not real oneness. It’s unified multiplicity. Every oneness within the vast span of creation is composed of parts, multiplicity in space, and is subject to change, multiplicity in time.

These flaws of multiplicity cast all onenesses in creation as accidental attributes. Like “where there’s smoke there’s fire”, where there are accidental attributes there must be a transmitting essential attribute, feeding it with continuity. Therefore, there must exist a perfect Oneness which feeds all these imperfect onenesses with continuity. Since this Oneness is perfect, void of multiplicity, it can only belong to One Entity - namely, the Creator.


No comments:

Post a Comment