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Monday, April 22, 2019

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Hi, Bill. Interesting topic. Here are some first thoughts:

It seems to me that the property of omniscience is not identical to the property of being all-knowing, if by "all-knowing" one includes all subjective/experiential knowledge of the lives of non-divine beings, all knowledge-by-acquaintance, etc. The traditional definition of omniscience is a matter of propositional knowledge. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/omniscience/

To be omniscient is to know all true propositions and to believe no false ones.

If omniscience were a matter of being all-knowing in the all-inclusive sense noted above, then God would know "I am Julius Caesar" -- because that was an item of Caesar's knowledge. And God would know "I am Napoleon" and "I am Alexander" and ... etc. It seems absurd to say that God knows that he is each of these non-divine individuals.

Moreover, if omniscience includes experiential knowledge of what it's like to be a fallen human, then God knows by experience what it's like to commit morally wrong acts. This makes omniscience incompatible with moral perfection, which would seem to make the Anselmian concept of a greatest conceivable being logically inconsistent. And if God is necessarily omniscient in the all-inclusive sense of being all-knowing, then he has all of these items of knowledge necessarily. This would seem to make the material world necessary and moral evil necessary.

Thanks for the response, Elliot

>>To be omniscient is to know all true propositions and to believe no false ones.<< We can agree that this is the standard understanding of omniscience among analytic philosophers.

But now suppose God is omniscient by the above definition and knows every true proposition in neuroscience about pain in humans, but has no experiential acquaintance with physical pain. Wouldn't you say that he lacks knowledge in a sense that embraces both prop. kn. and experiential kn.?

To put the point more broadly: God knows every true proposition about human beings, but he does not know what it is like to be human being. Therefore, there is something he doesn't know, despite knowing every true proposition.

As for first-person sentence such as 'I am Julius Caesar,' such sentences express first-person propositions. Now the analysis of such propositions is extremely difficult. But suppose that 'I am J. C' uttered by J. C. expresses the proposition that the utterer of the sentence = J. C. Surely God could know that proposition without being identical to J . C.

Or suppose that the proposition expressed by my assertive utterance of 'I am BV' expresses the proposition that a certain Cartesian ego = BV. Surely God could know that proposition without being identical to me.

Your final paragraph is very interesting. What if I bite the bullet? If God does not know what it is like to succumb to sexual passion, then he is not omniscient: he doesn't know all there is to know.


Hi Bill,
In your reply to Jacques, you write:
A God's eye view is a View from Nowhere (to allude to a title of one
of T. Nagel's books.) An incarnate God would have to have a definite
perspective and personality. But then he could not be objectively
omniscient. If, on the other hand, he were objectively omniscient,
then he could not be incarnate. That seems to be what Jacques is
saying.
It might be replied that that Jesus qua God is objectively omniscient
but subjectively nescient, but qua man is objectively limited in
knowledge but has knowledge of qualia. If that makes sense, then we
could say that an incarnate God knows more than the same God aloof
from matter. For then the incarnate God knows everything the
disincarnate God knows plus what it is like to be a man, and by
analogy what it is like to be a cat or a dog or any sentient being
sufficiently similar in physiological make-up to a man.
I may be completely wrong about this and delving in matters far above my competence, but if what you say here is correct, then it follows that the Incarnation was in some sense necessary not only for good of humanity, which was saved from sin, but for the good of God, whose knowledge is only complete with the Assumption of Christ. On an orthodox Christian view, through this mysterious event, “Henceforth Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: "By 'the Father's right hand' we understand the glory and honor of divinity, where he who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God, of one being with the Father, is seated bodily after he became incarnate and his flesh was glorified" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 663). Assuming this perspective, the “bodily” present Christ brings, new knowledge, a subjective knowledge of the human experience into the Godhead at a moment in time. If this is so, do not a host of thorny, perhaps intractable theological difficulties arise regarding God’s simplicity and perfection?
Vito


>>But now suppose God is omniscient by the above definition and knows every true proposition in neuroscience about pain in humans, but has no experiential acquaintance with physical pain. Wouldn't you say that he lacks knowledge in a sense that embraces both prop. kn. and experiential kn.?<<

Yes, on the amalgamation of prop. and exper. knowledge, God possesses all propositional knowledge but lacks some experiential knowledge. But on the standard definition of omniscience, God is omniscient despite lacking some experiential knowledge.

>>To put the point more broadly: God knows every true proposition about human beings, but he does not know what it is like to be human being. Therefore, there is something he doesn't know, despite knowing every true proposition.<<

Right, there is something God doesn’t know sans incarnation, namely, experiential knowledge of being human. But this wouldn’t count against God’s omniscience if omniscience is only a matter of prop. knowledge. God knows all props about what it’s like to be human. For example, God knows ‘To be human is to be limited, weak, and lacking in knowledge’ and ‘To be human is to experience physical discomfort in various degrees from minimal to extreme’, etc. But God doesn’t know by experience what it’s like to be human unless he adopts a human nature and lives an incarnate life.

>>But suppose that 'I am J. C' uttered by J. C. expresses the proposition that the utterer of the sentence = J. C. Surely God could know that proposition without being identical to J . C.>>

Arguably, ‘I am Julius Caesar’ uttered by J. C. doesn’t express the same proposition as ‘The utterer of the sentence = J. C.’ The former contains the use of the indexical “I” and expresses a first-person POV and a self-awareness. The latter doesn't contain the indexical and doesn’t seem to require self-awareness. God can know the latter without knowing the former. For God to know ‘I am Julius Caesar’ he’d need to be Julius Caesar.


>>Your final paragraph is very interesting. What if I bite the bullet? If God does not know what it is like to succumb to sexual passion, then he is not omniscient: he doesn't know all there is to know.<<

If you were to bite that bullet, I’d be inclined to say that the bullet is an implausible view of omniscience that need not be taken toothfully! 😊

Hi Bill,
Thanks for these interesting further thoughts. I'm still thinking it over too, but here are some scattered ideas...

If omniscience (or all-knowing-ness) is simply knowledge of everything that any one person can know, then it seems there are just too many things that an omniscient being won't know. There would be countless perspectival facts that this omniscient being wouldn't know--and intuitively it would seem that such a being couldn't have the kind of knowledge we expect of God. For example, he'd not be able to know how the resurrection seemed or how it was experienced by other people who were there. He'd know objective facts about their behavior but he wouldn't know this event--or any other event--from the inside. Shouldn't God know that? Wouldn't that be a necessary part of knowing what's in our hearts, being in a position to judge us with ultimate certainty and correctness? (There are other reasons why it seems God would have to know this kind of thing.)

A related point has to do with incarnation as some human being or other versus incarnation as every human being (and every other conscious being). Your point above, I think, is that being incarnated once as Christ would be enough for God to know what it's like to be human. Maybe it would even be enough to know what it's like to be a mammal or an animal. (I'm less sure about that though.) God does not need to be incarnated as a woman, or a man in a different time or culture. I agree with you about this. But I was trying to make the different point that just knowing what it's like to be human is not enough. It seems to me that God should know what it's like to be me, and what it's like to be you, and so on. And I don't think we need to get into any especially mysterious theorizing about haeccities to appreciate this point. It's just a fact that _I_ have all these traits that you don't have, which make an enormous difference to the quality of my experience. I have my childhood, my personality, my friendships and quirks and neuroses, and so on... Doesn't it seem that God should know what it's like for me to go through life with all those distinctive traits, in addition to knowing in general what a human-type life is like?

Vito writes,

>>if what you say here is correct, then it follows that the Incarnation was in some sense necessary not only for good of humanity, which was saved from sin, but for the good of God, whose knowledge is only complete with the Assumption of Christ. On an orthodox Christian view, through this mysterious event, “Henceforth Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father: "By 'the Father's right hand' we understand the glory and honor of divinity, where he who exists as Son of God before all ages, indeed as God, of one being with the Father, is seated bodily after he became incarnate and his flesh was glorified" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 663). Assuming this perspective, the “bodily” present Christ brings, new knowledge, a subjective knowledge of the human experience into the Godhead at a moment in time. If this is so, do not a host of thorny, perhaps intractable theological difficulties arise regarding God’s simplicity and perfection?<<

You mean the Ascension of Christ. 'Assumption' is used only in connection with the BVM. The Catholic doctrine is that Christ ascended BODY and soul into heaven. And that is surely a very strange doctrine, one that it is hard and perhaps impossible to make logical sense of. God is pure spirit. There is nothing material or bodily about him. This holds for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit prior to the Incarnation. But after the Incarnation, Resurrection, and Ascension, the Word (Logos) now has a material adjunct: the Ascension imports materiality into the Godhead!Transfigured no doubt, a subtle or spiritualized matter unlike the gross matter of our bodies, but matter nonetheless. Perhaps we could say that the Godhead is thereby enriched by the Son's trip into materiality and return to heaven. But as you, Vito, well appreciate, this ignites many difficult questions. To mention just one: if God is 'enriched' by the Son's earthly sojourn, then God prior to this adventure cannot be actus purus, wholly self-sufficient, simple, and impassible. God does not need the world. More later. And now to bed!

Hi Bill,

Of course Ascension and not Assumption. What a stupid error for me to make. Written too fast. Vito

Jacques,

Suppose there is something that is impossible for any subject to know. Would God's not knowing this thing show that he is not omniscient?

Hi Bill,
If you're thinking of indexical facts like those in your new entry (about Grim's argument) then I think I'll say no--not knowing such facts wouldn't imply that God is not omniscient.

But in those cases, we're presupposing that the subject whose omniscience is in question is distinct from the one to whom some proposition is indexed.

In the cases I have in mind, it's not clear that these are distinct subjects. If divine incarnation makes sense, God could know various indexical and phenomenal facts known to a specific human being. So one question I'd have then is: Does omniscience involve knowing all those kinds of facts, known to various _other_ human individuals?

Intuitively, I feel that if a being doesn't know "from the inside" what it's like to be me and live my life--as distinct from just being human and having some human life or other--then that being doesn't have the kind of knowledge that God should have.

Does that have any force for you?

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