Identity to Essence

Abstract

The idea that a being can be identical to its own essence has a long and venerable history in theological speculation. As with many ideas in theology, however, such an idea has never been given an adequate mathematical formulation. The key to such a formulation, I argue, is introducing an essence axiom into non-well-founded set theory. According to such an axiom, for every set, x, there is a set that contains all and only those sets that contain x. With such an axiom, it becomes possible to introduce an essence function that takes each set to its essence. An object that is identical to its essence, then, is simply a fixed point of the essence function. In this paper, I first discuss a theorem according to which any fixed point of the essence function is universally symmetrical with respect to the set membership relation. After proving the theorem, I discuss its theological implications. I go on to argue that the process of counting the members of a set that is identical to its essence is a Sisyphusian process. Such a fact I suggest shows that the absurdity of human existence is not alleviated by the existence of God but rather is entailed by it.

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Paul Studtmann
Davidson College

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