Friday, December 21, 2007

More on Kenny on God

The holidays are upon us so not much time for Daddy to philosophize but maybe a note about God would be appropriate for the season, so this by way of spreading holiday cheer.
The last remark by Prof. Kenny in Chapter 5 of What I Believe, "Why I am not a Theist - II," is as follows: "Human intelligence is displayed in the behaviour of human bodies and in the thoughts of human minds. If we reflect on the actual way in which we attribute mental predicates such as 'know', 'believe', 'think', 'design', 'control' to human beings, we realize the immense difficulty there is an (sic) applying them to a putative being which is immaterial, ubiquitous and eternal....we cannot really ascribe a mind to God at all." (pp. 52-53). I think that this is a very important argument, it is the one to which I alluded at the end of the last post but I didn't realize then that Kenny had himself stated the argument so prominantly. I think the argument goes like this: Say that God has the attributes of being omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent (I guess there will be other God-like properties that would also serve the point, omnitemporal etc.). In the case of an ordinary use of the verb "to know," to say of Tony, "Tony knows about X" is informative because it is possible that Tony might not know. That is the meaning of the verb, the semantic function of the word. In a world where Tony had the property of knowing anything and everything, there would be no epistemic verb for Tony's condition at all. There would be, quite literally, nothing to talk about. And so Tony would not appear to us to be the kind of thing that "knows" things, and similarly for statements like "God caused X" or "God is located at X." In all cases, it looks like it is the finitude of the ordinary person that allows them to come under mental predicates. And location is just a straight-ahead physical property, so far as I can see.
Here's what's exciting about this argument: I think that mental properties are a really fancy subset of physical properties. I think that being a person is a property that only a being with a finite physical body could have. So that looks like a credible argument for physicalism about the mind. Merry Christmas.

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