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Friday, October 06, 2017


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A couple of quick thoughts and questions, which may or may not be on the mark.

First, is (3) a problem if only God has libertarian free will?

Second, if (3) is problematic because it is only "contingently true that God knows [some particular contingent] truth" (e.g. that Socrates published nothing), then there may not be a problem. That what God knows is contingent doesn't imply that his knowledge is contingent. Couldn't God know that while Socrates could have published, he in fact wouldn't do so in the actual world? That seems to split the horns of the dilemma. God always/eternally knew/knows that in World 1, Socrates won't publish, but (say) in Worlds 2 and 3 he would. As long as God could also know that World 1 was/would be the actual world, then there doesn't seem to be a problem.

The logic of the modal claims reminds me of the argument from fatalism, which confuses the necessity of the consequence and the necessity of the consequent, but maybe I'm wrong in thinking there's a parallel. (Or maybe I'm right, but you think that some version of the argument from fatalism succeeds?)

The point is that if God knows that p, where p is a contingent truth, then he is in a mental state S which he is in contingently. In our world, A, Socrates is married. *Socrates is married* is contingently true: he might not have been married. But God created possible world A, making it actual, and not some other poss. world. So God knows that Soc is married. Now distinguish the proposition known from the state S the knower is in when he knows it. Surely God is in S contingently.

This will be clearer if you read the longer posts to which I linked.

The problem arises on the assumption of divine simplicity. So for you, Dennis, with your background, I would expect you to reject the DDS.

There's an implicit premise: if God knows x by virtue of S, then necessarily S "carries the content" that x. So any possible world where S characterizes God, God knows or believes that x.

I think Aquinas would say that God knows x by virtue of his entire, simple, indivisible essence. If ~x were the case instead of x, then God would know ~x by virtue of that same entire essence, which would be no different in that world from how it is in this, except in the external relations created things bear to it.

Yes, I think Aquinas would say that. But what does it mean?

Hello, Bill. I see the collective inconsistency of the tetrad, and I read the other post. You suggest externalism as a way to address (3). The term ‘externalism’ is used in different ways by epistemologists. It’s often used with regard to justification. In this sense, it refers either to (a) the view that at least some of the factors that justify a belief are external to the believer and in some sense cause or reliably produce the belief, or (b) the view that one cannot always access the relevant justification for one’s belief, or is not always aware of the justification.

It’s not clear to me how you’re using ‘externalism.’ You don’t seem to be referring to justification. Instead, you seem to address the issue of whether or not the possession of knowledge requires the presence of an intrinsic mental state (such as a belief) that mediates that item of knowledge for the knower. In this sense, externalism is the position that there are no intrinsic mental states. Is this right?

It seems to me that an appeal to externalism about justification raises problems. If this sense of externalism were to apply to God as a simple being, then we would have the difficulty of explaining how a necessary and simple being could have intrinsic mental states (beliefs) caused or produced by contingent states of affairs external to him.

But I don’t think this is what you mean. I think you are referring to externalism in the sense that God would have no intrinsic mental states at all. His knowledge would be a matter of direct awareness; his entire being would be directly present to that which is known. I agree that this view is implausible. I’m not sure it makes much sense.

I'm the guy who originally posed the question. It is very interesting to me. Here are some of my thoughts.

First, Aquinas says several things on this issue. The oddest of which is that in places he denies that any relation between God and creatures exist in God. That is, on this line of reasoning, any contingency whatsoever - such as that Socrates is sitting - is not an item that would exist in God. This fact would only exist outside of God, as related to him by a relation of dependence. Now, some current Thomists think this is an intelligible view to hold regarding God's contingent knowledge. That is, they claim that God's knowledge of the world is not an item intrinsic to him. Every contingent truth regarding God and the world is really just reducible to some species of the world's dependence and relation to God, without positing anything intrinsic to God. We are related to God in the same way that our knowledge is related to the known object. The object is no different whether we know it or not. Nor is the object in itself related to our act of knowing. Yet it is still true and meaningful to say that the known object is related to us in virtue of the fact that our intellects are related to it; and yet still this relation is nothing in the object itself. So, too, these Thomists would say, is it the case with God and creation.

But this seems to contradict Aquinas on two other vital points. i) Knowledge exists in a knower. If God knows contingent truths, these truths must exist in him as things known in a knower. Yet, this position denies that God's knowledge of contingent truths is intrinsic to himself. Contingent truths are items that exist outside of God that are related to him by a relation of reason and dependence. God is not even intrinsically aware of them. Thus it follows that God does not, properly speaking, "know" contingent truths. No religious person, despite the logical consequences of his metaphysics, intends to hold this. (In fact, the Catholic Church considers it heretical.) ii) Aquinas frequency invokes the idea of all time as being present to God in order to explain God's knowledge of contingencies. In his letter to the monks at Monte Cassino, for instance, there is not even the mention of God's causally preparing both contingent and necessary effects to explain necessary and contingent modalities of creation in the world. What Aquinas appeals to most regarding God's contingent knowledge is the "watchtower" image: God knows contingent truths by beholding them. Of course, whether and/or how this sits with a) actus purus, whereby God is in no way passive; and b) the fact that God knows all things by knowing himself, is a different question. I am only saying that these two facts are inconsistent and even misleading if God's knowledge of the world is really not an item in him intrinsically.

One more thing. Perhaps we could gain some insight here by invoking the analogia entis. The whole dilemma arises from thinking that God's essence is strictly identical to the abstract modality of necessity, and only that modality. But "necessity" as such is, in our own conception, not the same thing as several other things (perfections) that theists normally want to ascribe to God. For example power, goodness, beauty, infinity - these are all modalities or modes of being quite different than pure Necessity.

So God, as the plenitude of being, is evidently more than just our notion of necessity in itself. But if that's the case there is no contradiction in supposing that he is more than just "necessary being." He can also be good being and beautiful being. And why, too, not contingent being? It is not immediately obvious to me that, as an instance of pure act, God could not be both necessary and contingent. In fact we have analogous experiences of how this could be in our own case: we necessarily will our own happiness; yet we contingently will it in this way or that.

Now, could it be meaningful, invoking via analogy our experience of an action that is simultaneously contingent and necessary, though in different respects, to say that God is a single species of both necessary and contingent action? We do not know how these things, which have different respects in our minds, are the same in God. But then again neither do we know how something can be both Good and True and Beautiful, since these things are to us different modalities. Yet if diversity in these things doesn't destroy simplicity, why should diversity in the contingent/necessary modality?

I have much more I could say on this issue (for instance, if God never created, would it still be possible for him to know the beings that he did not, but could have, created; and if so, is he not related, at least mentally, to beings necessarily?). But I will leave them alone for now and await any thoughts you all have.

Of course, one immediate retort to thinking that both contingent and necessary being could exist in the same act would be that on Aquinas' metaphysics the contingent is explained by the necessary and not vice versa. In fact, the whole argument for actus purus is built off the idea that nothing causes itself. Yet, this would mean that the contingent items in God would be caused by what is necessary in him. But then God would be causing his own act, and would have to be in act and potency regarding the same act, which is impossible.

One response to this seems to be that Aristotle's metaphysics seem to deny free/libertarian causation. The *impersonally* contingent may in fact "need" the impersonally necessary. This billiard ball can't move unless hit by another, and so on. But does a personal, free action need some further back explanation? Perhaps it can serve as its own backstop. Why does God freely cause x? Perhaps it is not because of some further back necessity. Perhaps it is enough simply to say "he just does."

Hi Bill,

I don't have a monochromatic background when it comes to the DDS. Some of the Protestant philosophers who influenced me rejected or redefined the doctrine, but I've been around (and read) plenty of Roman Catholic philosophers, too, who defended it in its classic form. And while it isn't a decisive factor for me, I give some weight to the fact that pretty much every major church body and thinker held the doctrine until very recently.

But (auto-)biography isn't playing a role here. Even if the DDS is false, or I think it's false, there may still be a satisfactory resolution to your aporetic tetrad.

As for the links, I read the first one when it came out, and it provoked thoughts similar to those expressed in my previous comment. As for the second link, I haven't read all your posts on the DDS or the entirety of your SEP article. But I don't think I misunderstand the DDS. What I tried to argue - or really, am trying to figure out - is whether the events God knows can be contingent without his knowledge/act of knowing being contingent as well.

Elliot writes: >>Instead, you seem to address the issue of whether or not the possession of knowledge requires the presence of an intrinsic mental state (such as a belief) that mediates that item of knowledge for the knower. In this sense, externalism is the position that there are no intrinsic mental states. Is this right?<<

Yes. There are no mediating items internal to the knower. I am not endorsing this view.

Chris M writes,

>> i) Knowledge exists in a knower. If God knows contingent truths, these truths must exist in him as things known in a knower. Yet, this position denies that God's knowledge of contingent truths is intrinsic to himself. Contingent truths are items that exist outside of God that are related to him by a relation of reason and dependence. God is not even intrinsically aware of them. Thus it follows that God does not, properly speaking, "know" contingent truths.<<

This follows if my (3) above is accepted:

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.

So the pressure is on for the Thomist to find a way to deny (3). (3), is extremely plausible for any knower, finite or divine.

It is a contingent fact that the sky is now cloudless. I know that by looking at the sky. My hiking partner knows it too. My mind is in a state S1 which is the mental act of knowing that the sky is cloudless. My partner is in a numerically distinct state S2 which is the mental act, etc. That the sky is cloudless is not in either of our minds; but given that our minds are substances distinct from the objects known, there is need for something internal to minds that mediates between mind and object known.

The underlying problems are these: How do we know contingent facts? how does God know them? Does God know them in the same way we do or in a different way? If different, can we make sense of that way? By analogy?

Dennis writes >>What I tried to argue - or really, am trying to figure out - is whether the events God knows can be contingent without his knowledge/act of knowing being contingent as well.<<

Right. That's the problem.

Think of divine awareness as a pure, diaphanous spiritual light that knows objects by illuminating them, but which lacks any internal contents by virtue of which it knows objects. (Recall Sartre's critique of Husserl in Transcendence of the Ego). Then no question could arise about the identity of God with any of these contents, there being none.

But this will lead to its own difficulties.

What I'm going to say would probably be more fitting under the post you just made Bill (about the mystery/impossibility of creation). But I can't post there. So, I'll post here.

The difficulty seems to reduce to the fact that all we know of things like intellect, will, consciousness, thought, etc. are no more than - and in principle cannot be more than - our own experiences of these phenomena. I have no intelligible conception of "knowledge" unless I inherently presuppose both myself as Subject and some other, outside existing thing as Object. Yet simultaneously (and absurdly?) I cannot actually posit said object as something absolutely outside my own conscious awareness of it. For I can have no description of The Object independent of an already conscious experience. That's just what a description is. Every description, and therefore every species of knowledge, presupposes consciousness and implicitly denies the fact that an object is existing "in itself" unperceived.

Thus, all knowledge is somehow the occurrence of a subject containing in itself an object as in-itself and not in-itself. This is, to me, incomprehensible, mystifying, inexplicable. Yet there it is, the most common thing in the world.

And what about creativity? The creative act - the production of Some Thought, which comes to be without any premeditation or act of intentional guidance preceding it. How can that be? How do we even produce our next sentence or word? I type out an intelligible thought - an ordered whole, which is, in its own way, a self-contained universe. It has its own rational laws, its own ordered telos. And yet I did not plan any of that. Nor did I even plan to type. I intended it, as I typed it. But before I typed I was intending something else. Our consciousness is thus always "behind" our spontaneity and self-decision. Thus I can only know myself by reflection. I'm only able to turn around and look at my souls footprints in the sand to try to figure out what kind of thing I am.

(Does it even make sense then to suppose that God is "I am"? For how can he know himself as a singular entity - an I - unless there is some resistant other than he can reflect against and realize that he is not that? It seems unintelligible for an "I" to exist utterly unrelated to anything outside itself. Or, it seems unintelligible for such an entity to know itself as "I".)

This problem, by the way, is a problem with all one-way predication of God. We say God is "necessary." But "necessity" unrelated to its opposite - contingency - is meaningless. Like saying a man is rich if no such thing as poorness exists. Does it make any sense to say God is simply necessary? Yet if so, if the world did not exist (and no contingent reality), it would be meaningless to say God was necessary. Necessary as compared to what? But if what we predicate of God is true or false in virtue of the fact that the universe exists, then such a predication cannot really exist in God ad intra. For then that predication would rely on something other than God existing in order to obtain. But then God would be dependent on the world and wouldn't be necessary. But if he is necessary then, still, he must be related to something contingent, or the predication is meaningless.

But back to creativity. There it is, happening incessantly, unavoidably, in every moment of our waking thought and movement. We are constantly creating all the time, every day.

Perhaps what we are missing in our account of God's creativity is some analogue in God of what is in us our "subconscious" mind - that thing where creativity and spontaneity and even self-determined action comes from. As I said, if we are going to say God "creates" or "has knowledge" then these words, if they are going to be meaningful, must have their entailments present where they are predicated. If what we mean by "knowledge" is not the same act that we are experiencing when we know something, then "knowledge" becomes a meaningless combination of letters - it fails to carry an intelligible referent.

Finally, a last thought about the problem of a simple being's contingent knowledge. It may be possible to say that God's knowledge is necessary, and that the world is contingent (and full of contingent facts), and that God knows these facts necessarily, and that nothing here implies a contradiction. For if we consider the contingent/possible as that which occurs at some point in infinite time, then God, in knowing (necessarily) what occurs throughout every moment in time, would know all contingent facts. And yet these facts would not be necessary because they do not exist throughout every moment of time.

I'm not convinced that it is intelligible to talk about the contingency of the entire universe as such. I can understand how one thing in the universe is contingent. For it can cease to be, or to begin to be differently. But the entire universe - all of space-time - as a whole? How could that exist differently? At what time or place would it either exist or not exist? When imagining the whole world or universe as possibly not existing we are already presupposing a space and time where such a potential may be actualized. But that is precisely what is impossible if we're talking about the possible existence or non existence of space-time in the first place.

"Could" is a modality that presupposes time. I can't see how it makes sense to suppose otherwise. Is not to say that a thing "can" to also simultaneously affirm that that thing is "now" standing in a relation of potentiality towards the "can" that is being entertained? But if that is correct, the thing that "could" is already in time, for it is at least possibly oriented towards what it could become in the future.

Last thing and I've done.

I'm often tempted to abandon classical theism in favor of a sort of Absolute Anthropomorphism. Where is the contradiction in supposing that God is quite literally an everlasting thinking, feeling mind, constantly creating, freely deciding, changing its mind and coming to know things as his subconscious throws them up into his conscious light? As crazy as it sounds, it makes more sense than a being who is absolutely undefinable - for that sort of thing is no different than something that does not exist: that is, from no-thing.

Love the blog.

"Right. That's the problem."

Yes - I was trying to communicate that I understood the problem, and my initial first stab at a solution was to suggest that the inference from the contingency of the events to the contingency of God's knowledge may be illicit, in something like the way the basic argument for fatalism mistakenly goes from the necessity of the consequence to the necessity of the consequent.

I appreciate the second paragraph of your latest response, as it shows that my worries about the aporetic tetrad may be different from yours. If I thought that God knew contingent events in the way you're suggesting, then I'd agree that advocates of the DDS are in a fix. But what would you say if you believed that God possessed middle knowledge? Perhaps you think that it's impossible for God to have such knowledge, and perhaps you're right. But suppose for the sake of argument that God innately possesses middle knowledge. What then?

Sigh...I wrote that backwards - of course it's that the necessity of the consequence doesn't follow from the necessity of the consequent. Time for bed.

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