Perfection and Modal Accounts of the Intrinsic/Extrinsic Distinction

Learning Centre UG07
Arts and Law, Research, Students, Teaching
Thursday 8th November 2012 (16:00-17:30)

Professor Yujin Nagasawa:

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“Perfection and Moral Accounts of the Intrinsic/Extrinsic Distinction”

Patrick Todd (University of Innsbruck and Munich School of Philosophy)

It has been common to try to analyze the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic properties modally, the core idea being this: a property is intrinsic just in case possession of that property is compatible with being lonely (with being the only thing in existence).  But I contend (as others have for different reasons) that any modal account of the distinction is doomed to failure.  For consider God's perfection, or the property being perfect.  Arguably, being perfect isn't compatible with being lonely, since, plausibly, a perfect being necessarily would create other things besides itself, such as "the best of all possible worlds". However, if God, since perfect, must create a world, the following will still be true: it is because God is perfect that the world exists, and not because the world exists that God is perfect.  So even though God's perfection (plausibly) is not compatible with loneliness, it nevertheless seems intrinsic to God.  I think this example shows that it is no part of the concept of an intrinsic property that its possession must be compatible with loneliness.  In sum, then, modal accounts of the distinction fail because they fail to be appropriatelymetaphysically neutral; they rule out a substantive metaphysical thesis from the start.  A similar neutrality constraint crops up in other philosophical contexts, and I conclude by discussing (and defending) the neutrality constraint more directly.