Properties and Attributes

Why is this important?  Understanding that this is what “makes up” a human being is crucial in apologetics, evangelism, and the pro-life cause.

Older theologians made a distinction between property and attribute, the latter being a wider category than the former.  Modern philosophers haven’t held to that distinction.  I am going to list different writers’ takes on it and see what comes up.

JP Moreland (either works by Moreland or about Moreland) :

property: a universal (Moreland and Craig, 219), that which can be instantiated in more than one place at once.  It would still exist apart from the substance. A substance “owns” a property (215).  Properties always come together in groups.

Gould and Wallace clarify Moreland’s position by saying a property is an instantiation of an abstract object (Gould and Wallace 24).

substance: more basic than properties. Substances do the having, properties the “had.”  “A substance is a deep unity of properties, parts and capacities.”

Richard Muller:

attributum: the attributes identify what the thing is and are inseparable from its substance (Muller 50).

proprietas: pertaining to God, it is an incommunicable attribute.  More specifically, that which is uniquely predicated of the person.  Regarding the doctrine of man, what is predicated of an individual (250).

Alvin Plantinga:

property: Plantinga broadens the discussion to where he can say “God has a nature–a property he has essentially that includes each property essential to him” (Plantinga 7).  So, God has the property of having a nature.  Plantinga seems to have reversed the relation between property and attribute.

Conclusion

On one hand, properties are had by the person, attributes by the essence.  Or rather, attributes are predicated of the essence.  Yet J. P. Moreland says properties are had by the substance.  Is Moreland confusing substance and person?  Maybe not.  In the West substance wasn’t necessarily identical with “essence” or ousia.  Substance denotes a standing under, which points to the idea of person.

Yet it is also important to realize that properties are explanatorily prior to the things that have them (Gould and Wallace 25).  The easiest conclusion is that attributes are predicated of the essence, properties of the person, provided we also see properties functioning as universals.

Works Cited

Gould, Paul and Wallace, Stan.  “On what there is: theism, platonism, and explanation” in Eds. Gould, Paul and Davis, Richard Brian. Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of J.P. Moreland.  Chicago: Moody Press, 2010.

Moreland, J. P. and Craig, William Lane.   Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview.  Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2003.

Muller, Richard A. Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, reprint [1995].

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Author: Ephraim's Arrow

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, charismatic gifts

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