Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mysterious thy ways

Imagine an ordinary decent person who is omniscient. Her actions are going to be rather different from what we expect. She would take what would to us be big risks for the sake of small gains, simply because for her there is no risk at all. He stock portfolio is apt to be undiversified and quite strange. If we live in a chaotic world, then she might from time to time be doing some really odd things, like hopping on one leg in order to prevent an earthquake a thousand years hence. There would be bad things she would refrain from preventing because she saw further than we into the consequences, and good things she would avoid for similar reasons.

Now add to this that the person is omnipotent. And morally perfect. These additions would presumably only make the person stranger to us in behavior.


SMatthewStolte said...

This all sounds plausible.

But the addition of omnipotence might mitigate some of these strange behaviors. For example, it seems less likely that an omnipotent person would go around hopping on one foot to prevent a terrible earthquake, since there would be more direct ways of preventing disasters like this. And there might be good reasons for promoting the good in ways that could become examples for the finite beings of the world. Hopping on one foot might prevent a disaster, but if the rest of us see her doing this, we are unlikely to learn much from it (except, I suppose, the mysteriousness of her ways).

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's one intuition, yes. But you might also think that omnipotence could introduce other kinds of strangeness by making the agent even less like us.

Moreover, an omniscient agent might have reason to minimize intervention that goes against the laws of nature, in which case she might still hop on one foot to prevent a disaster. :-)

Alexander R Pruss said...

In regard to the last sentence, think of the really weird things people do. They want a ball to go into a small hole far away. The efficient and easy thing to do is to take the ball, run to the hole and put it in. But, no, that's not what they do. They take a weighted stick, and whack the ball hard with it, hoping it will get closer to the hole, and they repeat the process until the ball is in the hole.

Why? Because there is a rule about it. And restricting the activity to the rule makes possible goods that wouldn't otherwise be achievable.

Of course, it depends what is stake. If there is a device that will kill the golf player unless deactivated by a ball being placed in the hole, the player will run as fast as possible and put the ball in the hole, no matter what the rules say.

But then notice an interesting thing. An omnipotent golf player has the opportunity for having the best of both worlds, as she can deactivate the device in a perfectly rule-governed way by a hole-in-one.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Bibliographic note: I am basing myself on the account of sport and games in Suits' grasshopper book. Not that he's likely to endorse this application.

Hassan uz Zaman said...

Thanks for that beautiful analogy professor Pruss, and also for the helpful intuition-boosting comments.

I have a question about appealing to/invoking the mystery of omniscience to explain things like suffering- if we open that can of worms, could one also not say it cuts against truth claims of religion(s)? Perhaps God, for some greater (perhaps incommensurable) good we don't know of, put misleading (false?) information in scripture.

One may reply that this is impossible since God is morally perfect. But my response to that is the moral argument (and perhaps other arguments in natural theology) only lets us know that God is morally perfect, not that He cannot lie or deceive- since in certain contexts lying or deceiving may become moral, and we are in no position of knowing whether such contexts arose in God's case.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think lying is always wrong. But there are forms of deception that are not always wrong so that doesn't fully answer your question.