Monday, January 26, 2009

Bad knees

I’ve been thinking more about Sextus Empiricus M 9.162–7. Here is an interestingly similar set of concerns which I have mentioned before.
My knee hurts, and I am aware of the fact. If a perfect physiologist examined my knee he would know it too. But there is a difference between my awareness and his. What kind of difference? I do not know anything which he does not know. On the contrary, he knows much more about my pain than I do–'I only know it hurts'. I do not even want to say that I know it better than he does. And, provided he is giving me his full attention, I do not want to say either that I am better aware of my pain than he is. But there is still a difference between me and him: we know what we know in completely different ways. We might say: we know the same thing from different points of view. The question then is: is it enough for God to be the perfect physiologist, or must he somehow 'feel my pain'? I think he must, because if not, then there is something which I know and he does not, viz. not my pain, but my view of my pain. Of course, God 'knows just how I feel', but that phrase is no more comfort here than elsewhere: his knowledge remains theoretical, derived, whereas mine is perceptual, immediate. Mine is not therefore better, but it is different. If God's knowledge of my pain is only that of the perfect physiologist, then I have an awareness, a perspective, which God lacks. And that contradicts the spirit of the first requirement. [1]
Franck’s reaction to the argument is that god’s omniscience can be preserved by god’s immanent omnipresence: god does have my perspective on my pain because he is ‘in me’ and therefore can know it as I can, ‘from the inside’ as it were.

I have no idea whether that is a satisfying response since I share none of the relevant starting points. I don’t even think this worry about pain is one that needs to be shown to be compatible with a certain notion of God. But looking again at this passage I think there are various other interesting things about this stretch of Francks' argument. I think there are a number of points that are worth questioning. Here is the first. Francks claims:

1. The sufferer knows nothing that the perfect physiologist does not know about the sufferer’s hurt knee.

Rather than the sufferer having some knowledge that the physiologist lacks, Francks insists instead that the two know the same thing but in different ways and from different points of view and if this is true it is enough to throw doubt on god’s omniscience since there will be a view or perspective on the hurt knee that god lacks.

I am not sure I find 1. very plausible [2]. I think I would want to say that there is a difference: the sufferer know what it is like to have a knee hurt like this which the physiologist qua physiologist does not. (He may have hurt his own knee in exactly the same way, I suppose, which might muddy the waters, but if he has then the knowledge he thus gains he has not qua perfect physiologist but qua sufferer.)

Does anyone think 1. is a plausible thing to say? (I wonder how 'perfect' physiology is imagined to be.)

[1] Francks, R. 1979. ‘Omniscience, omnipotence, and pantheism’, Philosophy 54: 395–9, at 396.

[2] Certainly the following is clearly false (unless the sufferer is a perfect physiologist too):

2. The perfect physiologist knows nothing that the sufferer does not know about the sufferer’s hurt knee.

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