Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Divine simplicity and divine knowledge of contingent facts

One of the big puzzles about divine simplicity which I have been exploring is that of God’s knowledge of contingent facts. A sloppy way to put the question is:

  1. How can God know p in one world and not know p in another, even though God is intrinsically the same in both worlds?

But that’s not really a question about divine simplicity, since the same is often true for us. Yesterday you knew that today the sun would rise. Yet there is a possible world w2 which up to yesterday was exactly the same as our actual world w1, but due to a miracle or weird quantum stuff, the sun did not rise today in w2. Yesterday, you were intrinsically the same in w1 and w2, but only in w1 did you know that today the sun would rise. For, of course, you can’t know something that isn’t true.

So perhaps the real question is:

  1. How can God believe p in one world and not believe p in another, even though God is intrinsically the same in both worlds?

I wonder, however, if there isn’t a possibility of a really radical answer: it is false that God believes p in one world and not in another, because in fact God doesn’t have any beliefs in any world—he only knows.

In our case, belief seems to be an essential component of knowledge. But God’s knowledge is only analogical to our knowledge, and hence it should not be a big surprise if the constitutive structure of God’s knowledge is different from our knowledge.

And even in our case, it is not clear that belief is an essential component of knowledge. Anscombe famously thought that there was such a thing as intentional knowledge—knowledge of what you are intentionally doing—and it seems that on her story, the role played in ordinary knowledge by belief was played by an intention. If she is right about that, then an immediate lesson is that belief is not an essential component of knowledge. And in fact even the following claim would not be true:

  1. If one knows p, then one believes or intends p.

For suppose that I intentionally know that I am writing a blog post. Then I presumably also know that I am writing a blog post on a sunny day. But I don’t intentionally know that I am writing a blog post on a sunny day, since the sunniness of the day is not a part of the intention. Instead, my knowledge is based in part on the intention to write a blog post and in part on the belief that it is a sunny day. Thus, knowledge of p can be based on belief that p, intention that p, or a complex combination of belief and intention. But once we have seen this, then we should be quite open to a lot of complexity in the structure of knowledge.

Of course, Anscombe might be wrong about there being such a thing as knowledge not constituted by belief. But her view is still intelligible. And its very intelligibility implies a great deal of flexibility in the concept of knowledge. The idea of knowledge without belief is not nonsense in the way that the idea of a fork without tines is.

The same point can be supported in other ways. We can imagine concluding that we have no beliefs, but we have other kinds of representational states, such as credences, and that we nonetheless have knowledge. We are not in the realm of tineless forks here.

Now, it is true that all the examples I can think of for other ways that knowledge could be constituted in us besides being based on belief still imply intrinsic differences given different contents (beyond the issues of semantic externalism due to twinearthability). But the point is just that knowledge is flexible enough concept, that we should be open to God having something analogous to our knowledge but without any contingent intrinsic state being needed. (One model of this possibility is here.)


Walter Van den Acker said...


IMO, it is not about knowledge or beliefs or whatever. The real issue is the content of God's mind. If in w1 X exists and in w2 Y exists, then the proposition (or whatever you wish to call it) "X exists" is present in God's mind in w1 while "Y exists" is present in God's mind in w2 instead.
So, God in w1 is intrinsically different from God in w2.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Why would a proposition's being present in a mind have to be an intrinsic property of that mind? After all, having a joey in its pocket is not an intrinsic property of a kangaroo.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Do you think propositions simply float around, Alex?

Arath55 said...

Dr. Pruss, what’s your opinion on this simple argument for neccesitarianism.

g: God
k(x): x’s knowledge
M(x): x is metaphysically necessary.

1. g = k(g)
2. M(g) ∴ M(k(g))
3. M(k(g)) 2, 1, Leibniz’s Law

God's Knowledge is the set of all truths. Meaning the truth-value of every proposition would be necessary, which is clearly necessitarianism.

Alexander R Pruss said...

God's knowledge, or anybody's knowledge, is not a set.