For example, take these four notions:

  1. Creation by rearranging/ordering prime matter (AKA from preexisting substance).

  2. By emanation.𓆉

  3. "From nothing."

  4. Modal "toggling": switching mere possibilia to actualitas?

The first three seem correlated with types of founding relations: preexistent creation is well-founded, emanation is looping/Quinean (esp. in a pan(en)theistic setting), and exnihilation is either from the void relation or infinitely-descending.

On the other hand, destruction-of-nonexistence as a sort of "reified" double-negation elimination seems (3)ish, too (though note the theme in deep antiquity of (1) as a "victory over chaos"), unless we separate Apollyonic creation-by-destruction, as void-founded, from descending exnihilation by the Form of Creation. Moreover, I'm not sure where to fit intellectual intuition (Kant's technical definition of divine creation𓆣) into this scheme: is it generic over the other direct options?

𓆉I have in mind the doctrine, among some antenicene Christians (notoriously Arians), that the Son was especially emanated from the Father, hence still created in some sense preclusive of strict deity on the Son's part, yet otherwise as if all the fullness of the Father's deity was embodied in another form. Perichoresis seems cofoundational more easily, without indicating that the entities in circumincessio are created by each other. Otherwise, circular sets can be either finite or infinite in some capacity. So whether all emanationism corresponds only with cofoundationalism, is not decided in favor of the correspondence strictly speaking, since as per Conifold's example of Plotinus, we seem to be speaking of a hyperfoundational relation also or instead.

𓆣Kant uses the phrase "intellectual intuition" in the Transcendental Analytic, e.g. here:

... an intuition different from the sensuous ... [which is] an intellectual intuition...

The transcendental definition of sensation is from its passivity, as opposed to the spontaneity or proactivity of understanding and reasoning. So intellectual intuition is the Agent Intellect of Aristotle's (and the scholastics), who suggested a divine character for such a force.

Kant also refers to this "faculty" as an intuitive understanding:

... I cogitate an understanding which [is] itself intuitive (as, for example, a divine understanding which should not represent given objects, but by whose representation the objects themselves should be given or produced)... [emphasis added]

Accordingly, via divine unity, there is no difference between God's way of knowing the things It creates, and Its will in creating them; there is no difference between intellectual intuition and the act of divine creation.

  • 1
    Intellectual intuition is not a mode of creation, it is a mode of (hyper) knowing the created available only to its creator. And how do you figure emanation as looping? Isn't Plotinus's metaphor the descent of being, from the higher to the lower all the way to the total privation? Looping would be more fitting to cyclic cosmologies like the Stoic one, cycles of genesis and destruction, the eternal return. I am also not sure where Hinduist māyā or Hegel's evolutionary dialectic of the Geist and other process philosophies would fit.
    – Conifold
    Feb 21, 2023 at 11:52
  • @Conifold Kant seems to say that God's way of knowing things, via intellectual intuition, is the same as the way of creating them, for he says that an intuitive understanding's representations would give/produce the objects of those representations rather than passively attaching to already-existent objects. Or maybe Meiklejohn's translation strikes again, I haven't found out yet. Feb 21, 2023 at 16:52
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    How wide a range of sources are you prepared to consider? I imagine that if you look beyond Western or Christian sources, you might find other concepts of creation. Feb 21, 2023 at 17:03
  • @MarcoOcram I imagine abstract Taoism, and some/most predominant Hinduisms, are pertinent. OTOH I do hope to see how concepts of creation are in a somewhat definite family of word usages so I would have to see if there was a unifying theme for the use of the word "creation," or the translation to that of other words, from various traditions. Feb 21, 2023 at 17:18
  • @KristianBerry Maybe the tag "comparative-philosophy" is relevant here then.
    – user64708
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


I mean, a lot comes down to definitions.

One of the most widespread traditions is a pre-existing condition of chaos, typically personified as a chaoskampf like Maat, Isfet, Tiamat, Illuyanka, & Python (slain by Apollo & the fumes said to inspire the Pythia, the Oracle at Delphi). Evidence from comparative mythology suggest this may be humanity's oldest myth, predating the arrival of humans to Australasia. In the Alchemical tradition, this is described as creation arising from 'prima materia'.

The lines in Genesis

"And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly" King James version.

"So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm" ESV version

is said to echo the Babylonian Enuma Enis:

"When on high the heaven had not been named,

Firm ground below had not been called by name,

Naught but primordial Apsu, their begetter,

(And) Mummu*–Tiamat, she who bore them all, Their waters commingling as a single body;

No reed hut had been matted, no marsh land had appeared,

When no gods whatever had been brought into being,

Uncalled by name, their destinies undetermined—

Then it was that the gods were formed within them"

But, in Genesis asserting the deity of the Bible as predating everything, as uncreated, and not merely overpowering the whales/primordial monsters, but as having created them, and undertaking the 'dividing of the waters'.

The Buddhist tradition involves cycles, and an eternal cosmos with eternally pre-existing beings that have been being reborn. The Therevada version of the Brahmajala Sutta is fascinating, on the role of Buddha as Teacher of the Devas, guiding the apparent Creator Brahma to the understanding it was only the first being into this realm, and so to occupy it's brahma-house, the position of divinity, due to it's karma. Is this then just reorganising of material? I would say no, because in Buddhist thought the mental, the psychological, has primacy - as per Indra's Net, and made explicit in Yogacara philosophy called the 'mind only' school which dominates Mahayana Buddhist thought.

The doctrine of cretio ex nihilo involves a distinction between time-bound limited mundane matter, and timeless transcendental divinity. In modern physics this looks increasingly hard to make sense of, with ideas like Conformal Cyclic Cosmology connecting the timeless to the 'mundane', and objections to a substance-dualist picture of a metaphysical strata to reality going back at least to Elizabeth of Bohemia critiquing Descartes, and propounded by Hume. You could maybe identify potentia with the space of possible fundamental constants, like the mathematical structure E8. Personally I'm not convinced the semi-Jewish semi-Platonic picture of a Creator as the locus of dubiously conceivable superlatives is either coherent as a hypothesis, or useful philosophically for anything but propping up Bronze Age intuitions about the world. A meaningful picture has to connect a Creator to mundane necessities like in henotheism, for them to be actively involved. Or places them beyond the mundane, resulting in a deist picture of a grounding reality or principle that cannot intervene, or respond to prayer or worship.

My bigger problem with your way if grouping the many different types of cosmology into your three groups, is that it focuses on superficial criteria over what the cosmology is actually doing. Cosmologies aren't simply an account of history taken as neutral background. They locate us within the Cosmos, and imply how we are affected by and can affect wider reality. The Buddhist picture and the chaoskampf picture can be described in your classification as 'the same', but their purposes are radically different. I would describe the Buddhist picture as identifying that all beings face the challenge of how to live well (cease to create suffering), whereas the chaoskampf picture seeks to account for the landscape and the rising of a primary deity or culture hero (usually the source of the royal lineage). Consider as further example the Daoist idea of the taiji, as the differentiation from something universal ('the unnamed is the mother of the ten-thousabd things'). It's a positively pansychist unity of the divine principle into matter, leading to a radically different perspective.

I can't think of a Creation myth or Cosmology that doesn't fit into your categories, but I think that's because they are so vague that their utility is highly suspect.

  • My "practical" interest, here, is in analyzing a "conceptual priority problem" in moral thought, the idea being that many people have improperly exalted one specific positive notion of creation over the others, or have exalted the destruction-based double-negative version over the positive ones. I would like to tie this theme in to my representation of set-theoretic pluralism via epistemic pluralism, but such depends on the viability and utility of having only three/four categories of creation; and the "modal toggling" definition so far doesn't clearly fit my scheme... Feb 21, 2023 at 22:45
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    That being said, your familiarity with Indian/Chinese religious traditions is significant and pertinent, and so I would wonder if there are any distinctive notions of divine creation beyond those now surveyed. I'm minded to accept your answer, at least if no other helpful answer is offered (and your answer is already helpful, so there's that). Feb 21, 2023 at 22:47
  • @KristianBerry: Hobbes & others translated Atistotle's 'potentia' as power. It doesn't just concern possibility, but choice, enaction. In that sense 'modal toggling' is an emanation from a mind, by decision. Look at Aquinas on angels as the divine mind reaching out to act (eg Angel of Death), or communicate (to prophets). Christianity sees a gulf between divine & mundane. Hindu thought sees a matter of degree, of connection to the divine reality. Buddhist thought sees imposing mental constructs as the cause of separation from the 'natural state' of Bliss, & intersubjective unity.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 21, 2023 at 22:58
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    OK, based on that comment, I do think this is the best probable answer. I had noticed that "actual" and "active" and "agent" and so on were relevantly cognate (since "Agent Intellect" gets said as "Active Intellect" betimes) and so your observation about "actualization is an action" seems to get at at least one unifying theme, here, and the most important theme even if there are others. Feb 22, 2023 at 0:04
  • @KristianBerry: It's interesting to look at the Neoplatonist reconciliation of Aristotle's picture of active-intellect with Plato's ideas, through the idea of hypostasis of monad through nous into psyche. This is a picture of emanation. But the job this picture is doing, is identifying that reason gives access to divine knowledge or logos; a truly powerful psychotechnology that has had lasting impact - & arguably leading inevitably to a 'one substance rearranged' picture: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/85899/…
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 22, 2023 at 0:30

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