Friday, November 1, 2019

Guessing and omniscience

Suppose that yesterday you guessed that today I’d freely mow the lawn, and today I did freely mow the lawn. Then, the correctness of your guess is a doxastic good you possessed.

(Note: If the future is open, so that there was no truth yesterday that today I’d mow the lawn, it’s a little tricky to say when you possessed it. For when you guessed, it wasn’t true that you possessed the doxastic good of guessing correctly. Rather, now that it has become the case that this doxastic good is attributable to you.)

Now no one can have a doxastic good that God lacks. Thus, God had to have at least guessed the same thing yesterday. And God has no doxastic bads. So, God never gets anything wrong. But the only plausible way it can be true that

  1. God always gets right the things we guess right, and

  2. God never gets things wrong

is if God has comprehensive knowledge of the future.


Philip Rand said...

It is impossible for God to do 3 things...

One of them is:

1/ God cannot learn.

Martin Cooke said...

Lovely argument, Alex, but I wonder how logical it actually is.

Rand seems to be making the point that although learning is for us a doxastic good, God cannot learn. That would seem to mean that it was false that "no one can have a doxastic good that God lacks." Although you could presumably say that the goodness of learning is entirely in the acquiring of knowledge, and that God does not lack the knowledge that we learn. Now, there are all sorts of other things that are good about learning, but perhaps they are not doxastic goods.

But I wonder just how good a good guess is. Although it can be very good for us to guess correctly, those goods seem to be extrinsic. We might, for example, earn a lot of money that way. Or avoid a big problem. But justification is very important, when it comes to beliefs, I feel. Random beliefs just do not seem to be good beliefs, in my opinion. I may well be wrong though...

Walter Van den Acker said...


Can one have comprehensive knowlegde of the future if the future is open?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Has anyone ever freely mowed the lawn?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Taking a closer look at why someone "may" freely mow a lawn:

1. The home owner's association busybodies are out on patrol looking for who to send violation notices to because they have nothing better to do and this makes them feel important. The violation notices will certainly contain threats of fines for each day a blade of grass is longer than six inches and threats of other actions. The wording is designed to make one feel they are some kind of criminal.

2. Someone might just want to kick back in a hammock with a six pack. They mow the law first so their time chilling with that six pack isn't disrupted by a nagging better half because the lawn isn't mowed.

But are the people in this two cases freely mowing a lawn? Sure they do it without anyone telling them to. But I don't think anyone freely mows a lawn.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I have one question: Why if we are created in the image we can learn and God can't? Wouldn't that be God giving us an ability He Himself doesn't have? If God doesn't have that ability then how can He give it to us.

Dominik Kowalski said...

What could you learn if you are omniscient? The ability to learn requires privations in regards to knowledge, which God doesn´t have, but we do.

Stephen Brown said...

The ability to learn is good in that it brings us closer to God. But God can't be any closer to God. It's not a lack of the good that we possess; He already possess the good of unity with God that our ability to learn is a shadow of.

But what about the good of guessing the future? If the future is open, then there is no good in a guess that has no referent - it's not the case that it is a correct guess. But is it the case that once the event has occurred, we can say that we have the good of having guessed correctly? I don't know how this would be explained. Why is it good to have guessed correctly?

Does a coin have a good because a coin toss predicted an event? It seems that it doesn't. If we flipped 64 coins with a yes/no question, approx 32 would predict the event. If we repeat that process with the coins that predicted correctly, we should expect approx 16 to predict correctly twice, 8 to do it 3 times, 4 - 4 times, 2 - 5 times, and 1 - 6 times. But the coin that predicted the future 6 times in a row would be no different from the coin that predicted falsely 6 times in a row. How can we say that one has a good that the other lacks?

For God to possess the same "good", if we can call it that, of accurately predicting the future requires that the future does not exist for Him - it must be open for Him. It's not the same good for a person in the present, seeing the event, to also claim the event is happening, or a person in the future to claim that it did happen in the past. The good being claimed, is only possible in reference to a future that does not exist. Perhaps it could be extended to a present or past event that is not known. In any case, this must exclude God, unless we are to claim that He does not know the future, which is to make Him temporal.

But if God exists, and created time & space, He is not temporal with respect to our universe. There is no reason that our present time should have any significance with respect to God's knowledge of events in time. This may seem to suggest that the future is not open, but determined. This is not the case. It is only on the assumption that God is parallel with our present (sneaking temporality back into His nature), that His knowledge of the future implies that it "presently exists". In the present, the future does not exist, and God does not know "in the present".

Alexander R Pruss said...


I don't know if guessing that p implies believing that p. But even if it does, when one unjustifiedly believes that p, and p is true, then there is a good and a bad: the good of believing the truth and the bad of believing unjustifiedly. If God has all the doxastic goods, he has this good of believing the truth.

Majesty of Reason said...

"Now no one can have a doxastic good that God lacks."

This is interesting. I am uncertain if it's true. For surely it is a doxastic good to come to have knowledge by first-hand acquintance with, say, overcoming an obstacle. And clearly God cannot have such knowledge by first-hand acquaintence, since that would entail potencies and limitations for God. Now, you may object that this is not a *doxastic* good, since this is not a good relating to *belief*. After all, surely knowledge by acquaintance is not propositionally structured to allow for it to be a belief-related good.

But maybe we could have a proposition like "it is true that I have knowledge by first-hand acquiantance with overcoming obstacles" or "I know what it is like to have knowledge by first-hand acquaintence with overcoming obstacles", neither of which seem to be beliefs possessed by God, and both of which seem to constitute doxastic goods for us finite beings provided they are true.