Saturday, July 23, 2005

Omniscience and Moral Perfection

[Guest post by Pat Smith]

Let’s take a break from my grand account of normativity and just do some old-fashioned conceptual analysis. I am going to try and show that God cannot be both omniscient and morally perfect.

Omniscience does not only require having all propositional knowledge (although indexicals provide some problems there), it is also requires that you have all phenomenological knowledge (again, setting the indexical problem aside). That is, you can’t just the 0-60 time of a Ferrari you must also know what it is like to smell a flower.

I think this presents a problem with God’s moral perfection. To be omniscient, God must know what it is like to murder or rape someone. And the only way that God could know what it was like to do these things is to actually do them. Clearly, a person who rapes and murders is not a morally perfect being.

Now, one might object here that God might simply be able to simulate doing these things in His mind, and thus avoid the heinous acts. I think Christians should be uncomfortable with this solution since they think the intention is as evil as the deed but set that aside. I think the problem is that God is omniscient: She knows that these are simulations. Simulations work for human beings because you can fool our mind into thinking that it is real by simulating neuro-physiological states. But God can’t be fooled; She will always know that She is engaged in a simulation and cannot have genuine phenomenological knowledge of the bad acts.

The other way you might want to go is to argue that omniscience does not require phenomenological knowledge. Alas, I don’t think this works. First, it seems to be a fairly important constituent part of our own knowledge sets. But more importantly, it is a very odd omniscient being that has total knowledge of the universe, but doesn’t have the kind of knowledge that ordinary, fallible human beings have. Very odd.

Or you could argue, similarly, that God can obtain phenomenological knowledge through some other mechanism besides becoming embodied and actually doing certain activities (or taking control of human bodies engaged in those activities). But this is logically incoherent: phenomenological knowledge just is the knowledge that we gain from being embodied and experiencing the world.

I am curious if anyone sees an obvious flaw in my argument.


  1. I go with the option of God being immanent in the world and thus knowing all that Her creatures know. (Not meaning that God and creatures are identical.)

  2. I thought about this a bit on my blog. Excellent question and post.

    After my initial thoughts I added some comments that brought it into the externalist debate that we find in Putnam. To simplify consider a person drinking on Earth and Earthsim. Propositionally the person on Earth intends and knows that they are drinking water. Propositionally the person on Earthsim intends and knows they are drinking simwater (although they happen to call it water). Phenomenally though the person on Earth and Earthsim experience the same thing.

    I think that line of thinking resolves the murder problem since God can have the same phenomenal knowledge as the murderer without sharing the same intents or propositional knowledge as the murderer.

  3. My thoughts:

    How can one have a 'what it is like' without specifying, at least implicitly, for whom it is like that? Thus, when one asks whether God knows what it is like to see the sun with physical eyes (for instance), a further specifying question needs to be asked: What it is like for whom to see the sun with physical eyes? Certainly not God, for God would have no physical eyes with which to have such an experience; so it must be that God knows what it would be like for others who do have physical eyes. And if we were to assume that God made the system of physical eyes, and thus knows what it is capable of, it isn't obvious what reason we would have to deny that God has such knowledge. Much the same with murder and rape. And, indeed, it isn't clear we have to go so far as God to find such knowledge. Is it really impossible for someone who has never raped or murdered to know what rape and murder are like, even if (say) they have a Dostoevsky-like ability for exploring the depths of the human psyche? It isn't clear to me that we have any reason to think there is.

    And it also isn't clear why knowing what it is like to do something like rape would be a strike against moral perfection. It seems to me that it would depend on its larger context. For instance, one can argue that if someone knows what it is like to rape, and he knows that rape is morally atrocious, and I have never actually raped anyone, this allows me the possibility of greater moral perfection, because my recognition of rape's moral evil will be far and away better-informed than that of the person who doesn't know what it is like to rape.

    I think you touch on an issue of greater interest when you talk about simulations. I'm not convinced, though, that simulations work because they fool us; at least, the usual value of a simulation seems to be precisely that we recognize that they are not real, but simply suficiently like the real for us to know something about the matter simulated. But perhaps you meant something else by simulation.

    I'm not sure why you think phenomological knowledge simply is knowledge gained from being embodied and experiencing the world; if we take this seriously, the real issue of 'phenomenological knowledge' would turn out not to be a type of knowledge at all, but a means of knowing. That is, if we take this identification seriously, someone could very well have know the very same thing that I know by phenomenological knowledge, just in a different way. In other words, your formulation, far from showing the proposal incoherent, seems to suggest that it is quite coherent.

    Likewise, if we interpret the formulation to be talking not about a means of knowing but about what is known, it isn't clear why this couldn't be known by several different ways; and this would suffice to allow for the possibility of omniscience.

  4. Brandon, I think the distinction between phenomenological knowledge and propositional knowledge is the distinction between the thatness of knowledge and the "feel" of knowledge. However I agree that one must be careful here as I think one can conflate the two.

    As to the issue of embodiment. I think that's an interesting one which raises however the question of what embodiment means. Consider for example process theologians who claim the universe is God's body. Not in a Spinoza or Stoic sense, but in the sense that it is like the relationship between our body and our spirit. That is it enables God to have knowledge required by embodiment. Of course the process theologians impose more restrictions that many find troubling. (Such as open theism) But that's in a certain way unrelated to this particular claim.

  5. Not only do I think they can be conflated; I think it has become unfortunately common to do so. It's my view that when people talk about phenomenal knowledge, &c., that they either (1) mean what is felt, known, etc.; or (2) mean the manner in which it is felt, known, etc., i.e., the disposition of the means of knowing; or, much more commonly, (3) are equivocating between the two. I think most discussions of phenomenal consciousness, qualia, 'feels', etc., fall into the trap of (3); and it seems to me that arguments like those in the post do, too. Part of the argument is plausible if by 'phenomenal knowledge' we mean something falling under (1); other parts are plausible if we mean something falling under (2); but never the twain shall meet.

  6. Please understand that this is hard to write. It may be bit simplistic, but I often think examples are beter than abstract argument.

    When I was much younger I came to a large city full of country innocence, and would wander about exploring backwaters with great ’aesthetic’ appreciation.

    One day I happened to overhear what sounded like a man / women conflict behind a secluded bush area.
    The imagination of a lonely ( and well hormone endowed) and totally inexperienced young man leaped into life. Whatever else flitted through a young mans brain,it was soon clear that there was a rape in progress. Please note that this was not instantly morally judged , or even comprehended. All one became slowly aware of was the absolutely hateful animal domineeering tone of the man involved .. and the repeated pleas and calls for help by the lady.
    I don’t know what I would have done if another man had not appeared, apparently from nowhere. But he did not intervene. He gave me a sickly indulgent ‘comradely smile’ that made me feel ill. And that young, unprepared self could only blindly stride away .. very confused and upset.
    You need not comment, thank you very much.

    The point is, that though I had not raped a women I knew from then on (worsened I suppose by my sense of guilt at turning away) what it was like to rape and be raped. The human self, even that young innocent one, could empathize, FEEL what was going on. Though I have shied away from even thoughts of such like ever since.
    I have heard it said that we a like ‘monkey imitaters’. Our nervous system can echo, strong emotional content in others as we observe. That makes sense if you just think of the associations that the neural net will make, given sufficiently close input to the situation.

    I believe it anyway. I could feel the WILL and desire of the man IN MYSELF and equally the desperation of the lady. Though i had not actually done the deed.
    ( or had i commited the sin in my heart as the christians would say?)

    I think then that surely a God could, at the very least, be expected to ‘feel’ the behaviour of humans, and presumably apply a god like moral judgment and perception to it. An even more supreme god (!) could presumably forsee this to come when creating a world.

    Have you never had the horror of your own death ( or suffering) suddenly made vivid by a clear, real news item on TV ? It doesn’t necessarily arise, but it most certainly can.
    I am not sure that acted rapes or whatever would have quite the same effect . But then, the very ability of humans to act, bears out the way we can strongly feel, without really committing the deed.

    As for HOW a God would be aware of individual’s ‘states of being ‘…. Well, I am once more, a bit worried how confidently philosophers speak of what a god may, or may not , be like, or be capable of.
    I don’t think it’s asking very much of an assumed ‘supreme creator god,’ that they could experience a humans internal state of being very closely.
    Or even, be with, or be part of that individual. Or be the font of their consciousness.
    (If there is a god of course )

    Regards david L.

  7. How could Christ know everything and yet and know no sin? (Dunno, but I'd be surprised if Aquinas couldn't tell us.)

  8. Brandon answered that already: "What it is like for whom to see the sun with physical eyes? Certainly not God, for God would have no physical eyes with which to have such an experience; so it must be that God knows what it would be like for others who do have physical eyes."

  9. Pat wrote: "And the only way that God could know what it was like to do these things is to actually do them."

    Here is where I think your claim falls down. God, with G's superior powers of empathy, imagination, etc. (to say nothing of presupposed Omniscience) can know what things are like to do without doing them. Brandon, and David, and I all claim to have imperfect similar knowledge of evil, and we're only human.

    As for the claim that simulation knowledge isn't a substitute for phenomenological knowledge, I don't buy it.

  10. Pat, when you say "This amounts to the claim that God cannot have phenomenological knowledge because he doesn't have a body," I don't think this is right; that's precisely what it does not amount to. You can't ask, for instance, what it is like to see colors unless you at least implicitly indicate who is the subject of discussion. What something is like is always what it is like for someone. So there is a need to clarify who is the reference point here. In the case of something involving embodiment can't be God, at least as usually understood; so 'what it is like' must be 'what it is like for so-and-so' or 'what it is like for such-and-such species that is capable of seeing with physical eyes'. This is importantly relevant for your attempt to link the matter to moral perfection; because it will never need to be the case for God to know what it is like for God to do evil -- all that God would need to know is what it is like for (say) Jack the Ripper to do evil, and if God knows Jack the Ripper perfectly there is no obvious reason why he could not know what it is like for Jack to do the things Jack does; and no obvious reason why knowing this would be a moral failing. I also don't understand why you think it would be a bar to omniscience to know what, in effect, would typically be considered a logical impossibility, namely, what it is like for a perfectly good being to rape someone. Since there is nothing to know here, nothing in this bars the possession both of moral perfection and of omniscience.

    But, further, my suggestion doesn't amount to the claim that 'God doesn't have phenomenal knowledge because he doesn't have a body'; my suggesting is that you keep equivocating when you use the phrase 'phenomenal knowledge', sometimes indicating a content (in which case not knowing it in our way would not be a bar to omniscience because you've given no reason, beyond the equivocation itself, to deny that God could know it without having the same disposition of the means of knowing) and sometimes indicating a disposition of the means of knowing (in which case it is not a bar to omniscience, either, because it is not knowledge in the relevant sense - no one understands omniscience to be the claim that God knows according to every possible means of knowing).

  11. As a relevant side note, I'm not at all sure what you mean by "God is omnipotent, of course He can become embodied"; there is no 'of course' about it. Christians believe in the Incarnation, and consider it to be possible through divine omnipotence, but one should not play down how such an interpretation of omnipotence would be seen by Jews and Muslims as logically incoherent. But even more broadly, you've said nothing that indicates that there's a conflict. If God is not incarnate, there is nothing to know about what it is like for the incarnate God to see with physical eyes; there is no such thing, so no conflict would arise. If we are talking about God's knowledge of the possibility of there being such an experience, then this would just be accounted for by God's knowledge of His own divine power, and again no conflict would arise. (If it is not within divine power, of course, there can't be an incarnate God, and no conflict would arise there, either.) If God is incarnate, God knows what it is like for the incarnate God to see with physical eyes; he's doing it. So no conflict would arise there, either. But when it comes to evil, we are back at square one again, even with an incarnate God; the Incarnate Word may be physically capable of raping someone, but there is no moral possibility to it, so there is nothing to know on the moral side, and no conflict arises. And we can't get any farther without already assuming that God has less than perfect goodness, which in the argument was not supposed to be a presupposition but a conclusion on supposition of divine omniscience.

  12. I said, I also don't understand why you think it would be a bar to omniscience to know what, in effect, would typically be considered a logical impossibility, namely, what it is like for a perfectly good being to rape someone. Since there is nothing to know here, nothing in this bars the possession both of moral perfection and of omniscience.

    That should be 'not to know', of course. And, lest I be misunderstood, it's perhaps worth noting that I am holding moral perfection as a constant in the above comments, and running through the different scenarios for knowledge. I see no scenario, that when made more precise than the original post, introduces any conflict. One could do the reverse, holding moral perfection constant and running through omniscience scenarios in relation to moral perfection; and some of the other commenters have touched on aspects of that sort of argument.

  13. If God is immanent or experiences everyone else's phenomenological experiences, it still doesn't answer my problem.

    Sure, God might be able to know what it is like for Bob or Mary to murder someone, but She doesn't know what it is like for Her to murder or rape someone.

    And those are very different things.

    I see a problem here.

    We agree that there is a contradiction between moral perfection and rape or murder.

    We agree that God can know what it is like for a morally imperfect being (e.g. a human) to commit murder or rape.

    But the point at issue is whether God can know what it would be like for a morally perfect being (i.e. God) to murder or rape.

    But if it is contradictory for a morally perfect being to commit murder or rape, then there can be no "what it would be like" for God to know.

    - Ron

  14. And yes, for us, a simulative experience works for the real thing because, as I said, our brains can be fooled into thinking that we are really experiencing something.

    You keep saying this, but you haven't given any of your reasons for saying so, or if you have I've missed them. Talk of fooling one's brain is at best only a figure of speech; and we can learn perfectly well about reality from a simulation even while knowing we are doing so -- so we don't have to be fooled for a simulation to work. Indeed, that's the way we normally use simulations for pedagogical purposes. The simulation just has to be a good one.

    Further, it does not in fact follow that because one knows something by imagination, one only knows what it is like to imagine it, not what it is like to do it. This general sort of argument-form would land us in a bog of skepticism before long, because it confuses (yet again) the means of knowledge and what is known by means of it. The real determinant of whether one knows anything by imagination, simulation, or whatever else, is simply whether a sufficiently competent person, acting competently, can gain by way of it apprehension of what is in fact true.

    Likewise, you keep saying things like, God HAS to have the knowledge of what it is like for Him to murder and rape, not just what it is like for Jack, but you haven't given any reasons for such an odd claim. Knowing what it would be like for a divine being to murder (assuming it were possible) sheds no light whatsoever on what it would be like for Jack to murder, for Jack is not a divine being. As you already said, the two things are very different. Since (I presume) on your view, you and I and no other non-divine being know what it would be like for a divine being to rape and murder, there is no 'parlor trick' and no exceptions here: contrary to your claims, God would not fail to know what fallible creatures know because we would have to say that fallible creatures don't know what it is like for a divine being to rape and murder (this, I presume, would be true on your view, as well). So you still seem to be mired in an equivocation about reference points. Your argument about God not knowing what fallible creatures know would only work if fallible creatures know what it would be like for a divine being to rape and murder; but your argument also seems to require that they could not possibly know this, not being divine, because otherwise you seem to be trying, arbitrarily to run the argument in only one direction.

    The only way the issue could arise is if there were something to be known about the way a divine being rapes and murders. And here, I confess, I just don't understand what you are saying. You say people argue about whether rape and murder are compatible with moral perfection. Who do you have in mind? Why would one consider argument a criterion of the distinction between analytic and synthetic? (You are right that apparent obviousness to many people does not suffice for the distinction; but it would surely be a better mark than whether a few people argue about the matter -people have argued about the principle of noncontradiction; all that shows is that people can be perverse.) Under what circumstances could a necessarily morally perfect being rape and murder while still being morally perfect; why do you think rape and murder are logically compatible with moral perfection? What makes you think that 'A morally perfect being does not rape or murder' is analogous to 'An otter has a heart and lungs' rather than 'A non-oviparous animal does not lay eggs'?

    It's very possible that I'm missing something; because all I see in your argument are at least two equivocations and several claims for which you have given no reasons.

  15. Interesting discussion!

    Brandon -- I think Pat might appealing to some sort of indexical knowledge. A person might know what it would be like for themselves to commit murder. But a morally perfect being cannot have such indexical knowledge (or so Pat argues). He might know what it is like for others to commit murder. But not himself. Yet we manage to have such knowledge about ourselves, and not just about others. Thus we can know something that God cannot!

    You could counter this argument by rejecting the possibility of essentially indexical knowledge. I'm undecided as to whether that's a good move or not.

    I'm also unconvinced by Pat's suggestion that a proper simulation requires self-deception. I'll grant that knowledge of the simulation would prevent God from experiencing what it is like to be a murderer. The knowledge of 'fakeness' would form a barrier to the sort of intimacy-with-the-experience that would be needed here. But I don't see why knowledge of what it would be like (to have such an experience) requires any such intimacy. Sure, most of us cannot know what an experience is like unless we actually have the experience. But I don't see any reason to think that God would be similarly limited in his ways of knowing.

  16. I considered the possibility that Pat might mean something like that; but if so, moral perfection is otiose, since the work is done entirely by the claims about indexical knowledge.

    On whether we can have essentially indexical knowledge, there's a lovely little paper by Hector-Neri Castaneda (in The Journal of Philosophy vol. 64 no. 7, April 1967) called "Omniscience and Indexical Reference"[*] which I think shows quite clearly to make any sense of our use of indexical propositions at all, we must have some sort of quasi-indexical way of referring to exactly the same thing to which we refer in the indexical proposition. So, to borrow Castaneda's example, when I say "Privatus believes that I weight 150 pounds" Privatus, properly speaking, cannot refer to me in the first person at all. But his belief still must have some sort of reference to exactly the same thing that I am referring to when I say, "I weigh 150 pounds". Examples can be multiplied. I think with indexical knowledge we should make the same distinction I made above: the indexical aspect has to do with the way we know, not with what we know. Knowing can be essentially indexical; what is known cannot.

    [*] Norman Kretzmann's indexical argument against omniscience is the occasion for the paper, but, as Castaneda points out, the issue arises for all knowers, not just omniscient ones. If it's a problem for omniscience, it's a problem for a lot of our own knowledge, since we are constantly trying to refer to other people's indexical knowledge. If that knowledge is essentially indexical, then it isn't clear that in those cases we are referring to anything at all. This is at least suggested by the language. If Richard knows that Brandon knows that he is pleased, it does not follow that Richard knows that he is pleased; but Richard in some way has to have epistemic access to the same proposition that is involved in Brandon's uttering the statement, "I am pleased". Otherwise, we could never make such a statement as "Richard knows that Brandon knows that he is pleased."

  17. But if it is contradictory for a morally perfect being to commit murder or rape, then there can be no "what it would be like" for God to know.

    I agree with Ron. There are some things that God cannot know, by definition. How to square a circle, for example. Some people say that God cannot know the future for the same reason stated above -- there is nothing, as yet, for God to know, because the future has not happened yet.

  18. "And yes, for us, a simulative experience works for the real thing because, as I said, our brains can be fooled into thinking that we are really experiencing something."

    That's not what I'm claiming. I claim that imagination substitutes for experience because its close enough to the real thing, and I don't always aim for exactitude. During these imaginings, 'fooling' my brain isn't happening, nor is it necessary. So, God knows that G's only imagining, but G also knows that the imagining is perfect, and that the imagined experience is exactly like the actual experience would be.

    "And further, it doesn't matter how good your imaginative capacities are, you only know what the experience of imagining doing a bad act."

    But that experience of imagining is close to the one of doing. And in the limit, exactly equal.

    You think our claim that imagining is like doing is absurd. I think that your claim of an unbridgable chasm between imagining and doing is absurd. I think we have dueling intuitions here.

  19. Another thought... the Quakers say that there is "that of God" in us... if they are right, and somehow God resides therein without being identical with me, then when I kill, "that of God" kills. If "that of God" kills, then "that of God" knows what it's like for "that of God" to kill. Would that detract from God being good? Perhaps the Quakers have an answer to it.

  20. The knowledge of what it is like for God to commit murder involves God's action, and not merely 3rd person knowledge. It is therefore more closely analogous to making a squared circle than Pat wants to admit, because in both cases, we are insisting that God be able to do something that is impossible.

    As for the distinction between analytic and synthetic truth, the otter analogy just doesn't motivate me.

    Let's assume (just for the sake of argument) that the the statement "a person who rapes and murders is not a morally perfect being" is synthetic. What does that matter? It is still contradictory for a morally perfect being to commit a moral imperfection, and so God could not commit rape and murder and be morally perfect.

    And so God does not need to know what it would be like to do something impossible in order to be omniscient.

  21. Vera, nobody can know those other contradictions you mention. However, Pat seems to be pointing to a case of knowledge which is attainable to humans, but not to God. This is an important disanalogy. Not knowing the impossible is no threat to omniscience. But not knowing something that other people do know, surely is!

    The real question, as I see it, is whether an indexical proposition shares some commonality between all its instances. If not, then you can deny that there is any one thing that I know that God doesn't.

    Suppose God and I both know what it is like for me to X, and neither of us know what it is like for God to X. On that description, it doesn't seem like I know anything God doesn't. But now suppose there is an essentially indexical object O: "what it is like for me to X", where the "me" is taken de dicto, varying according to the speaker/thinker. Now, I know O, but God does not know O. This seems to threaten God's omniscience.

    (But again, the obvious response is simply to deny that there is any one object 'O' that remains constant even as the indexical shifts its reference. If God and I both utter O, we express different propositions. Thus when I know O, the object of my knowledge is different from the object O that God doesn't know.)

  22. Hold on a moment.
    I have been reading this with fascination, and been most impressed with the everyone's input, and it has stirred up some pretty deep thoughts in me anyway.

    BUT ... isn't this something of a trick problem?

    We are to suppose that a God can know 'everything'?
    And therefore god MUST know what it is like for god to murder and rape someone?

    I don't think so.
    It will only be possible for God to know what CAN BE.

    And we have decided apparently that God is morally perfect.
    Well, in that case god murdering someone is not a possibility that CAN BE.

    Hence it CANNOT be known.

    It is just in the order you put the propositions.

    (probably.) cheers.

  23. Are you saying that God could rape and murder people without actually murdering or raping them because he is divine?

    No; why would you think that?

    On the argument you give:

    God is omni[scient]. That means he must know all knowledge. This includes phenomenological knowledge. So, he must have all phenomenological knowledge. This includes what it is like for Jack the Ripper to murder and rape. But it also includes what it is like for a divine being to murder and rape. Clearly, God raping and murdering someone is a different event from Jack the Ripper doing it. Since are distincty knowledge sets, and all-knowing being must have both.

    You asked for the equivocation. Let's start with the premise, "He must know all knowledge." The most natural reading of this is "He must know every possible object of knowledge," i.e., for everything that is able to be something known, God knows it.

    If we continue this reading into the next premises, we have to understand them to mean something like:

    (a) He must know this possible object of knowledge: what it is like for Jack to rape and murder.

    (b) He must know this possible object of knowledge: what it is like for a divine being to rape and murder.

    OK. But this is not the whole argument; (b) is not obviously true, and requires some defense. Where the equivocation keeps entering in is in your reasons for accepting (b) as true. (b) strikes most of us as obviously false: there is no possible object of knowledge that is 'what it is like for a divine being to rape and murder'. The answers you've given for why we should accept (b) as true appear to change the sense in which we are using the word 'knowledge' from objects of knowledge to ways in which those objects are known. That's an equivocation. But you have given no other reasons to accept (b).

    And again, you keep saying that 'A necessarily morally perfect being cannot rape and murder' is synthetically true rather than analytically true, but you have given no reasons for such a claim. And it is a very odd claim: it requires saying that there is nothing in the concept of 'necessarily morally perfect being' excludes the concepts 'rape' and 'murder'. That claims like 'A necessarily morally perfect being cannot rape and murder' are analytically true seems to me to be the standard view; to name just one case in which it is used in a nontheistic context, it is presupposed by Findlay's famous 'ontological argument for God's non-existence'. So I have no clue why you keep saying otherwise; your explicit reasons haven't been very strong at all. (Strictly speaking, we should be talking about necessity and contingency, because what your view actually requires is that 'A being cannot both rape and murder and be morally perfect' is not a necessary truth. If it's a necessary truth, its contradictory is simply impossible, whether it is so analytically or synthetically. But I have been assuming that you don't think there are necessary synthetic truths.)

    There is another equivocation, by the way, in your comment, or, at least, a misformulation: you say, "God knowing what it is like to rape and murder requires that He rape and murder." Not quite; God knowing what it is like to rape and murder simply requires that He know what it is like for someone to rape and murder (e.g., Jack). The real issue is whether there is any possible object of knowledge that is identified by 'what it is like for God to rape and murder'. This is the apparent equivocation about reference points I mentioned earlier: you keep sliding from 'what it is like for God to rape and murder' to 'what it is like to rape and murder' and back. As far as I can see, this slide can only be defended if we assume that God is not morally perfect, contrary to the supposition of your reductio.

  24. Your post divides into two parts, so I'll divide it into two parts. First, the part against me:

    Now wait a minute, why on Earth is this obviously false? That's ridiculous. You are just declaring it obviously false without any reason to do so.

    I'm a little puzzled. Why else do you think we have been talking about what morally perfect beings can't do, if not to clarify this point?

    Your further comments on this point suggest that you think the only way to conclude that (b) is obviously false is to hold a general position about phenomenal knowledge ("God doesn't have experiences, since God doesn't have experiences he can't have phenomenological knowledge") but I don't understand why you think this. The reason for holding that (b) is obviously false is that it posits as possible something that involves a contradiction; and that, I would have thought, was the reason we spent so much comment-space on morally perfect beings.

    It seems to me, you are conceding the following points:

    1) Divine beings can have phenomological knowledge.
    2) Divine beings, apart from moral perfection question, have the capacity to rape and murder.

    But: Omniscience doesn't require that they know what that is like for them to rape and murder.

    I find that very dubious.

    I have not, in fact, conceded (2), and I'm not sure where you're getting that from. (I'm not sure what it would mean to set the moral perfection issue aside; but, in any case, as I explicitly noted in a prior comment, I was holding the moral perfection attribute constant.)

    I am asking the question: "Can an omniscient being be morally perfect?"

    Exactly; and more precisely, you said that you were "going to try and show that God cannot be both omniscient and morally perfect." Now, in fact, the general view is that divine attributes like omniscience and moral perfection would be necessary attributes. So, if you don't consider the case of a necessarily morally perfect being, you are (1) considering something that most people wouldn't consider to be God; (2) not fully answering your question (because a full answer would require considering the common proposal of a being necessarily omniscient and necessarily morally perfect).

    According to you, "An otter has a heart and two lungs" is an analytic truth.

    Where did I say that? I certainly don't regard it as an analytic truth, and I can't find any place in the comments where I even suggested something like it. (Recall, for instance, that I asked why you thought the parallel was to "An otter has a heart and two lungs" rather than to "A non-oviparous animal does not lay eggs.")

    Perhaps there is some confusion here due to semantics. When I think of 'analytic/synthetic' I think of Kant: and on Kant's view, as I'm sure you know, an analytic truth is one that falls out of conceptual analysis in a strict sense. That's why he rejects the claim that 7 + 5 = 12 is analytic: it can't be broken down into rigorous genus-species definitions. 7 + 5 = 12 isn't determined by conceptual analysis; it's determined by conceptual synthesis. Now, it may be that you are using the term differently; that you make the odd claim that I think every truth is analytic suggests it, although I'm not quite sure what you mean in the first place (your argument for it seems to have something to do with conceptual analysis; but not every truth can be determined to be true by conceptual analysis, so even if I rejected synthetic truths -- which I nowhere did -- your argument for the claim that I think every truth an analytic one wouldn't work).

    You can't a priori claim that rape and murder aren't the purview of a morally perfect being. And it certainly isn't NECESSARILY true. I bet you could imagine a world where it wasn't.

    No, I most certainly cannot; as far as I can see, rape and murder are morally wrong, and any being that committed them would be, ipso facto, not morally perfect. I do think that this is quite clearly a case where we can claim a priori that a morally perfect being would not commit them; and, in fact, your own argument presupposes that we can, since if your above claim were true, i.e., if there were a possible world in which a morally perfect being could rape and murder and still be morally perfect, you couldn't generate the contradiction you claim to be generating. I prefer the statement you originally made in the post, since it seems to me to be based on a sounder intuition: "Clearly, a person who rapes and murders is not a morally perfect being." I agree.

    And my goodness, do you really think that "rape" and "murder" and "not doing them" are entirely contained within the idea of "moral perfection?"

    It wouldn't quite work like that: the concept morally perfect being conceptually excludes rapists and murderers under its extension because rape and murder involve moral imperfection. But, if that's what is meant by including not-raping and not-murdering in the concept, yes. I'm unclear why you say that "Moral perfection for the Medieval Christians didn't include those concepts"; I recommend you re-read Aquinas on murder and rape, both of which he classifies as sins; and as he notes in his discussion of sin, sin is of its very nature contrary to the eternal law, which is that to which he would think a morally perfect being must conform (as I think is clear from his discussion of eternal law). I'm very puzzled, though, about your type of argument here. Suppose we identify some group of people (Mongolian hordes, for instance) who, we find, genuinely understand what we mean by moral perfection, but hold that a rapist can be morally perfect; it does not follow from this that they are right (as you seem to be saying), but rather that they are confused, and need to be set straight. People can be inconsistent, and often are.

  25. And then the part that clarifies your argument:

    My claim is an omniscient being can't be morally perfect AND a morally perfect being cannot be omniscient because being morally perfect requires that the being do not know a contingent, synthetically attainable truth that it would, under other circumstances, be perfectly possible for that being to know.

    I find this an intriguing claim. What other circumstances?

  26. That’s getting to be some heavy discussion!

    Over at ‘mormon philsophy and thought’ we get on this same subject …..

    “For God to truly know what these experiences are like he must fully experience them. That is, the knowledge can't be secondary or distant. It must be exactly as if he were doing them. Thus a simulation or other more "distanced" phenomena isn't the same as the experience itself. But that means that for God to know these experiences he must become evil. Thus, according to Pat, we have a contradiction between omniscience and God's goodness.”

    Isn’t that a great presentation of it?

    BUT .. I don’t think the requirements are quite accurate.
    I repeat, (in a stubborn and simplistic way) ,>

    The proposed omniscient god can know all that which CAN be.
    God defined as morally good, cannot murder … therefore that cannot be.
    And so murder by god is therefore impossible for ANY self to know.

    All that god need know, to be omniscient , is what it is like for the human to murder, with God absolutely ‘there’ , present in the murderer’s very soul/mind feelings .

    Get it?
    Take the line above “ It must be exactly as if he ( god) were doing them.”
    No, it must be exactly as if he were the HUMAN doing them.

    And while I am varyingly agnostic about god, the god which I am agnostic about is well capable of that.
    There will be, as it were, God left over, the god nature which is hidden from mortal comprehension, still god, even as he is one with the murderer’s mind.
    This god is a vast ( infinite by our standards) god, I might say.

    I can see however, there might be a problem for believers in an omniscient but strictly personal human -like god.

    Depends on what we conceive god to be I suppose. And who is going to be the authority on that?


  27. Your written thought:
    "I think this presents a problem with God’s moral perfection. To be omniscient, God must know what it is like to murder or rape someone. And the only way that God could know what it was like to do these things is to actually do them. Clearly, a person who rapes and murders is not a morally perfect being."

    My written thought:
    It does not present a problem to Spirit when in pursuit of moral perfection but it does present a problem to the human senses, especially when this condition is the only one we have direct experience of.
    Remember, He has become us to experience those things through far fetched as that sounds.


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