This response to objections cannot, however, be regarded as yet fully convincing, for it may appear that the case for the incommensurability of the gap between God and creatures must work against the case for saying that it can be crossed by any rational inference. Kevin Loughton32 has argued that a dilemma of this kind, at least apparent, remains to be resolved. He restates the objection as follows: if God's difference from creatures is such that it cannot be understood in contrast with any sameness with creatures, then the converse must hold true too. For if there is no 'sameness' between God and creatures to be set in contrast with 'difference', then there cannot possibly be any inference from creatures to God. For inferences require a gap to be crossed, and then cross it. Hence, either an inference is possible between God and creatures, in which case there is a gap between them and the inference crosses it - in which case the difference is not 'incommensurable' and you are straight back into Scotus' univocity. Or else there is no gap to be crossed - the difference is 'incommensurable' - in which case no inference is necessary, or even possible, which is Milbank's position.
The dilemma, so posed, at the very least demands of my case some further clarification. And in support of the view that the case for the 'incommensurability' of the gap between God and creatures cannot be made consistently with that for inference across it, let us return yet again to the notion of'difference'. I argued in chapter eight that 'difference' is 'intra-generic', for generic language is language descriptive of the kinds of ways in which things can differ from one another. Consider, then, the cases of Peter, a police officer, who is 5' 3" tall, and of Susan, a social worker, who is 5' 8'' tall. There is an 'intra-generic' difference between being a police officer and being a social worker, and there is an 'intra-generic' difference between being 5' 3'' tall and being 5' 8'' tall; the first of professions, the second of heights. In each case the differences are on a common scale. We can therefore sensibly answer the question 'What is the difference between Peter and Susan?' either by saying that they practise
32 PhD student in the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge in detailed correspondence about the argument of this chapter. Much more in this chapter than I have explicitly acknowledged has been revised in the light of Loughton's critical comments.
different professions or by saying that Susan is taller than Peter. But we cannot sensibly answer the question about their difference by saying that Peter is a police officer and Susan is 5' 8" tall. For there would appear to be no common 'trans-generic' standard either of comparison or of contrast between heights and professions. And so the descriptions in question offer information neither about their similarity nor about their difference.
Nonetheless, there obviously is a difference - because it is 'transgeneric', Thomas calls it a diversitas33 - between practising a profession and being of a certain height. Why, then, should we not say of all such 'diversities', even within creation, that they are 'beyond similarity and difference'? Simply because they are not. There is no problem at all constructing a context against the background of which we can re-establish these diversities upon common logical ground, and so establish their relations of similarity and difference, and consequently inference between them. For example, all we need to know is that Peter's height falls well below the required minimum for a male police officer and that Susan's height well exceeds that for a female police officer,34 and we can conclude that there is this difference between Peter and Susan derivable from the profession of the one and the height of the other, namely that whereas Peter must have been granted a special dispensation from the height requirement, Susan, had she applied to be a police officer, would have needed no such concession. Hence, there are constructible 'differences' between 'diversities' such as to validate the possibility of inferences between them; they are not, in the sense in which the difference between God and creatures is, incommensurably different.
But no such case can be made for the difference between God and creatures, for this must be, on my argument, an absolutely incommensurable difference, and it would seem that inference from the one to the other must be ruled out on the very account of that difference which I have supplied by way of grounding its incommensurability. For that difference is 'beyond similarity and difference' in just that sense that no possible common logical ground can be found between God and creatures. Hence, no possible inference can be constructed between them.
Was this article helpful?