This entry continues yesterday's discussion. The question was: How can an ontologically simple God know contingent truths? Here again is yesterday's aporetic tetrad:
1. God is simple: there is nothing intrinsic to God that is distinct from God.
2. God knows some contingent truths.
3. Necessarily, if God knows some truth t, then (i) there an item intrinsic to God such as a mental act or a belief state (ii) whereby God knows t.
4. God exists necessarily.
I briefly discussed, without endorsing, an externalist way of rejecting (3). Reader Dan M. has a different idea for rejecting (3):
. . . a kind of nominalism about mental acts or states.
To illustrate, consider this truth: (A) Bill is sitting. Because 'Bill' is a singular term denoting a man, (A)'s truth implies the existence of at least one item. But there's disagreement about whether (A) implies the existence of other items. A property realist might say: (A) implies the existence of a property, sitting-ness. An event or state realist might say: (A) implies the existence of an event or state, Bill's sitting. But a nominalist may say: no, an item (e.g. Bill) can be a certain way (e.g. sitting), without that consisting in (or otherwise committing us to) the existence of any further items (such as a property of sitting, or a state or event of Bill's sitting).
Bringing in God's knowledge, we can say: (B) God knows that Bill has two cats. Someone who accepts proposition 3 might say: (B) implies the existence of an item intrinsic to God, namely a particular state of knowledge. If I understand you on knowledge externalism, that sort of response takes issue with 'intrinsic'. On the alternative view I'm entertaining, we take issue with 'item' instead. We say: there is no item of God's knowing that Bill has two cats. Just as Bill can sit without there being a state of Bill's sitting (construed as a bona fide item), God can know that something is the case without there being a state of God's knowing it (construed as a bona fide item).
The suggestion, to put it generally, is that if a subject S believes/knows/wants/desires (etc.) that p, a correct ontological assay of the situation will not turn up anything in addition to S and p. Thus there is no need to posit any such item as the state (or state of affairs or fact or event) of S's believing/knowing/wanting/desiring that p. So on Dan's proposal, if 'God knows that Bill has two cats' is true, this truth does not commit us ontologically to the state (state of affairs, fact, event) of God's knowing that Bill has two cats.
In Cartesian terms, there is an ego and a cogitatum, but no cogitatio. This amounts to a denial of mental acts and thereby a denial of the act-content distinction.
Well, why not? One reason off the top of my head is that such a parsimonious scheme cannot account for the differences among believing, doubting, suspending judgment, wanting, desiring, willing, imagining, remembering, etc.
One and the same proposition, that Bill has two cats, is known by me, believed but not known by my loyal and trusting readers, doubted by a doubting Thomas or two, suspended by Seldom Seen Slim the Skeptic who takes no position on the weighty question of the extent of my feline involvement, remembered by last year's house guests, etc. Indeed, one and the same subject can take up different attitudes toward one and the same proposition.
Suppose a neighbor tells me there's a mountain lion in my backyard. I begin by doubting the proposition, suspecting my neighbor of confusing a mountain lion with a bobcat, but then, seeing the critter with my own eyes, I advance to believing and perhaps even to knowing. So one and the same subject can take up two or more different attitudes toward one and the same proposition.
These examples are phenomenological evidence that we cannot eke by with just the subject and the object/content but also need to posit mental acts, particular mental occurrences or episodes such as Bill's seeing here and now that there is a mountain lion in his backyard. The differences among believing, knowing, doubting, desiring, remembering, etc. will then be act-differences, differences in the types of mental acts.
How would a resolute denier of mental acts account for these differences? Will he shunt all the differences onto propositional contents? Will he theorize that there are memorial, imaginal, dubitable, desiderative, etc. propositional contents? Good luck with that.
Suppose that S goes from doubting that p to believing that p. The denier of mental acts would have to redescribe the situation as one in which there are two propositions, call them a dub-prop and a cred-prop, with awareness of the first followed by awareness of the second. How could one display these two propositions? Dubitably, there is a mountain lion on the backyard and Credibly, there is a mountain lion in the back yard?
Perhaps such a theory can be worked out plausibly. But it makes little sense to me.
And so we are brought back to our problem: How can a simple God know contingent truths?