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Monday, December 28, 2015


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Bill, I'm curious about your agreement with Geach on the following: in this life, we know God only by description and not by acquaintance. I wonder what implications this view might have for the possibility of religious experience. Suppose I were to claim that God has spoken to me, perhaps in answer to a prayer of mine. Would this not be a way of knowing God by acquaintance (albeit not sensory acquaintance)? More generally, does the idea that we can know God only by description imply the impossibility of certain kinds of religious experience?

Hello again Bill.

I've posted some comments over at Ed's place (Ed Feser) and Ed and his crew were not happy with me. Perhaps I'm confused, but this post of yours helps make what I was trying to say to that gang very clear:

"God is therefore relevantly disanalogous to the examples Beckwith and Tuggy gave. Those examples were of things known or knowable by sensory acquaintance here below. Suppose Dale and I are seated at one and the same table. I pound on it and assert "This table is solid oak!" Dale replies, "No, it is not: there is particle board where you can't see." Dale thinks that a disagreement about the properties of a putatively self-same x presupposes, and thus entails, that there really is a self-same x whose properties are in dispute. But that is not the case. Disagreement about the properties of a putatively self-same x is merely logically consistent with there really being a self-same x whose properties are in dispute. In the case of the table, of course, we KNOW that the dispute is about one and the same item. This is because the table is an object of sensory acquaintance: its existence and identity are evident. But it can be different in the case of God with whom we are not sensorily acquainted.

Clearly, a Spinozist and a Thomist are not worshipping one and the same God despite the fact that for both Thomists and Spinozists there is exactly one God. One of them is worshipping what does not exist.

And so it is not at all obvious that Jew, Christian, and Muslim are all worshipping the same God. That, I submit, is crystal-clear. And so those who think that the question has an obvious answer are plainly wrong."

I went on to argue that I think Muhammad is a liar and basically made up his visions and the Koran (I found a great quote from Aquinas on the subject!) and so I think that Muslims are like the Spinozists -- they are worshiping that which does not exist!

Thanks very much for your insight.

You seem to be assuming a dichotomy between names as descriptions and names as logically proper (=where some kind of acquaintance with the named object is required). The first of these does not explain very well how one party can contradict the other.

Christian: God is triune
Jew: No, He is not triune.

Perhaps some descriptive theory could do the trick, but it's difficult to see how. The Jew is saying "whoever or whatever it is that you are saying is triune, I am saying is not triune". Both parties above concede that whatever satisfies 'God' as used by the Christian also satisfies the pronoun 'He'. But the essence of the descriptive theory is that nothing which satisfies 'God' as used by the Christian can satisfy the same term as used by an orthodox Jew.

The second account requires some notion of acquaintance or direct knowledge of God, but an orthodox Christian denies that such knowledge is available to the wayfarer. So neither account seems to work. (Not that you are denying that it is a difficult question).

Jeffrey S.,

I'm glad to be of some help. I haven't read Ed Feser's post yet, but it is curious that he is apparently now agreeing with Dale Tuggy as against me whereas on the topic of whether God is a being among beings, Ed and I oppose Tuggy.


Is it your view that two parties can contradict each other about an individual item only if both use logically proper names in formulating their disagreement?

That is not the case. Suppose the teacher of Plato exists.

Bill: The teacher of Plato is wise!

Ed: The teacher of Plato is not wise!

Bill and Ed are contradicting each other using definite descriptions.


By 'acquaintance' I meant 'sensory acquaintance' as my seventh paragraph makes clear. My concern was to show the inappropriateness of the Beckwith and Tuggy analogies.


Contradictory opposites, strictly speaking, cannot both be false. So if we read ‘The teacher of Plato is not wise’ in the Russellian way as both asserting the existence of a single individual who taught Plato, and who was not wise, then both Bill and Ed’s claims can be false - perhaps Plato was untaught. They are contraries, not contradictories.

For genuine contradiction, we require that sentential negation coincides with predicate negation. ‘He is non-triune’ = ‘It is not the case that he is triune’.

PS Feser’s latest (28 December) post is here.


You ignored the fact that I explicitly stated: "Suppose the teacher of Plato exists."

So what I said is a contradiction is a genuine contradiction.

I of course grant that 'The present King of France is bald' and 'The present king of France is not bald' are logical contraries, not contradictories.

Bill, contradictories are when both cannot be false. You supposed the teacher of Plato exists, but did you suppose that he cannot not-exist?

Or was your point that the existence is presupposed by both of the contradictory statements? But then it looks like this:

Suppose that the teacher of Plato exists.
Bill: That person is wise.
Ed: No, that person is not wise!

Which presumes that they are talking about the very same subject, and if we apply the same reasoning to the triune God example, we get:

Suppose that the God of Abraham and Isaac exists.
Christian: That God is triune
Jew: No, that God is not triune

So they must be talking about the same being.

Note also that Aristotle's definition of contradictory opposites are those "which have the same subject and predicate" (λέγω δὲ ἀντικεῖσθαι τὴν τοῦ αὐτοῦ κατὰ τοῦ αὐτοῦ - literally the same thing [affirmed and denied] of the same thing.

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