A defense of Platonic theism

Paul M Gould, Purdue University


From the time of Plato to the present, philosophers have believed in the existence of nonphysical entities such as numbers, properties (e.g., redness, personhood), and propositions. And at least since the time of Augustine, a tension has been noticed between belief in these abstract objects (as they're often called) and theism. In recent analytic philosophy of religion, there has been a renewed interest in this tension. To see what the problem is, consider the following three jointly inconsistent claims: (a) there is an infinite realm of abstract objects which are (i) necessary independent beings and are thus (ii) uncreated; (b) only God exists as a necessary independent being; (c) God creates all of reality distinct from him, i.e., only God is uncreated. Statement (a) represents a common understanding of Platonism. Statements (b) and (c) follow from the common theistic claim that to qualify for the title “God,” someone must exist entirely from himself (a se), whereas everything else must be somehow dependent on him.^ All three claims can be motivated, but they form an inconsistent triad. Necessarily existing independent abstract objects (ai) are inconsistent with the traditional theist’s doctrine of divine aseity (b), and uncreated existing abstract objects (aii) are inconsistent with the traditional theist’s doctrine of creation (c). Yet, many contemporary analytic philosophers of religion are attracted to Platonism, and employ it in articulating a traditional conception of God seemingly unaware of the inherent tension. Further, attempts by philosophers aware of the tension to salvage a version of Platonism consistent with traditional theism have been widely judged as failures. Thus, the options seem to be either reject Platonism or traditional theism.^ My dissertation is a defense of a Platonic theism that seeks to remain faithful to the theistic tradition. I focus on one kind of abstract entity, property, and argue that it is possible to understand properties as necessarily existing entities created (and hence dependent) on God. Further, for the Platonic theist constrained by Scripture and tradition, she ought to understand properties as such.^




Michael Bergmann, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Religion, Philosophy of|Philosophy

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