Thursday, November 09, 2006

Flavors, colors, and God



Steve,__I think you have done a really nice job with your review here. It seems your preliminary remarks about definitions and Grim's assumptions really undercut the power of any of his arguments.__I'm curious about the omniscience arguments, though.__You point out:__Several problems here:__i) There’s a running equivocation of terms. When he says “know,” he really means “feel.”__Can God “feel” what it’s like to do this or that? A physical feeling.__Can God experience a particular passion? An emotional feeling.__Grim is assuming, without benefit of argument, that a feeling is an object of knowledge rather than an incidental mode of knowledge.__I wonder if your term "feeling" could be replaced with "qualia." If so (barring your preliminary comments which I believe undercut this argument anyway), it appears Grim's is right in pointing out certain areas of ignorance in God's omniscience in so far as lacking qualia is the same as lacking knowledge (which many argue is the case).__In this way, God would be like Jackson's Mary before she is released from her room. In as much as Mary LEARNS something more that she DID NOT KNOW, God (in Grim's example) would also not "know" the things he mentions (e.g. the qualia of juggling, the qualia of being ignorant).__At the very least, I think the argument becomes more interesting if you allow the replacement of "feeling" with "qualia," don't you agree?


A couple of points:

1. Bob Adams has mounted a theistic argument on the basis of qualia:


Robert Adams has an argument for the existence of God based on the experience of flavors, colors, and other qualitative states in his essay "Flavors, Colors, and God" in The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology. Adams is cautious about the strength of his argument, and he maintains that this argument is not a "knock-down proof" for the existence of God but only that this argument would add strength to a cumulative case for the existence of God. Adams's AFR does not focus on the existence of rationality, but rather it focuses on how to explain qualitative states of mind. In philosophical literature, qualitative states of mind are referred to as qualia (quale, for the singular). Qualia are the states of mind that are irreducibly "felt" or "experienced." According to traditional categories, qualia are secondary qualities, which are only present in one's subjective experience. Unlike primary qualities (e.g., mass, shape, size) which exist independent of one's experience, secondary qualities (e.g., colors, flavors, textures) exist only in one's subjective experience. In other words, we could imagine objects existing with primary qualities even if no minds existed to perceive these qualities, but we cannot imagine objects existing with secondary qualities unless there is some mind perceiving them. Similarly, qualia exist only in one's experience. It is for this reason that qualia have been the focus of philosophical interest.

Adams suggests that qualia is best explained by the existence of God. His argument follows primarily from two points. First, Adams argues that there is no naturalistic explanation of how qualitative states of mind exist. If naturalism is true, we would only expect the world to have primary qualities. Primary qualities are straightforwardly physical; they are the kind of properties that scientists can measure in a lab. But how do secondary qualities fit in a naturalistic worldview? These qualities are not physical, nor is there a straightforward way for a naturalistic philosophy of mind to explain how these qualities exist. The second point in Adams's case is that the existence of God readily explains qualia. Since God is a mind, and according to Christianity, humans have been created in his image, it makes sense how there could be more to our experience than only what is physical. On the Christian worldview, it makes much more sense to believe that our experience should have non-natural properties.


2. I recently corresponded on this general issue, so I'll reproduce my correspondence on the subject:

A bare sensation, in and of itself, isn't truth-valued. The sensation of warmth or sweetness, isn't true or false.

Therefore, to lack that sensation is not, of itself, a lack of knowledge.

It is, of course, possible to have true or false beliefs, or assert or deny true or false propositions, *about* a given sensation.

There you have a *relation* between a sensation and a corresponding belief or proposition.

It is true or false *that* I feel warm. It is true or false *that* ice cream tastes sweet to me.

You can turn a sensation into an object of knowledge, but a sensation qua sensation has no truth-value. Absent the relation, there is not truth-value, because truth *is* a relation between a propositional attitude and a corresponding object.

Put another way, a bare sensation doesn't refer to anything. It lacks intentionality. So it isn't true or false. In order for it to be true or false, it would have to be true or false *about* something.

It can, however, be put into such a relation. One can make assertions about a given sensation. Predicate a sensation *of* something.

I said all this in relation the question of whether, since God is incorporeal, his lack of physical sensation entails a limitation or deficiency in his knowledge, which would be a defeater for omniscience.

Quote: What if someone says, "Can Steve know what it feels like to taste an ice cream cone?" If you say "yes," then what about them saying, "well why couldn't God know this, then?" Stated another way, if God can't know what it feels like to taste an ice cream cone then why can Steve?

One of the problems here is a certain imprecision in ordinary language. Consider several different formulations of the question:

1. What does it feel like to taste ice cream?

2. What does ice cream taste like?

3. Do you know the taste of ice cream?

The difference between (1) and (2) is that I dropped the word "feeling."

Does the addition of "feeling" to "taste" really add anything to the overall sense, or is it a bit redundant?

It's an idiomatic way of expressing the question, but is it more (or less) precise from a conceptual standpoint?

Does "feeling" augment the notion of "taste," or is it a more general category of the same thing?

The difference between (1) and (3) is that I substitute "know" for "feel."

To treat the two formulations as synonymous would beg the question: feeling=knowledge.

Are (1) and (3) in fact interchangeable? Or are they two rather different questions? And does a negative answer to (1) imply a negative answer to (3). Not obviously.

The difference between (1)-(2) and (3) is that I dropped the word "like" in (3).

How does that word function in (1)-(2)?

On the face of it, "like" sets up a comparison. The taste of ice cream is like...

A is like B.

If we take it that way, then it would be possible to know A indirectly by knowing B, assuming that B is like A at the relevant point of comparison.

So, on that construction, God could know what ice cream tastes like, not by knowing the taste, but by knowing something analogous. He knows A by knowing B, which resembles A.

I'm not saying that this is correct. Simply, that this follows from one interpretation of the verbal formulation.

On the other hand, one of the arguments (as you well know) against physicalism is that a brain state or computer (pace AI) isn't "like" a flavor or idea of blue. It lacks intentionality.

Unless a brain state is *like* x, it cannot be *about* x.

And I would say the same thing about raw sensation.

So when we ask, "What does ice cream taste like," the question is misleading.

For we aren't necessarily asking whether the taste of chocolate is similar to something else.

Rather, we're asking about the taste of chocolate. Not chocolate in relation to chocolaty non-chocolate.

So it's really a question of identity rather than analogy.

The problem is due to the fact that each taste is unique. So you can't really explain it directly, in some noncircular fashion. It is what it is. A primitive notion which is resistant to further analysis.

But there are also times when we are inviting a comparison. If I know one flavor, and not another, and you know both, I may ask to compare the two in order for me to make my choice.

My point is simply that we need to distinguish between words and concepts. Language can be deceptive. We may ask a question a certain way, not because that's the most accurate way of framing the question, but because it's the most idiomatic.

And the idiom may mislead us into assuming a conceptual distinction when the distinction is purely semantic or stylistic.

So the question can be more ambiguous than it appears to be at first glance.

Finally, is a taste physical? And if God is nonphysical, then can this be an object of divine knowledge?

We tend to assume that taste is physical because we associate taste with a sensory process.

And that association is valid up-to-a-point.

But I can also dream about tasting ice cream. Or, just now, I can imagine the taste of ice cream. It's not quite as vivid as the real thing (unfortunately!), but my point is that we can enjoy a quasi-sensation that is nonphysical. A mental simulation, absent a physical stimulus.

And I'd argue that the universal flavor is ontologically prior to its concrete instantiation.

God knows the universal. God knows by particular inasmuch as he knows the universal.


  1. Today most people have a very superficial ritualistic approach to God. In America - probably in India as well - in the Christian churches most people come and think that if they offer prayers if they give their donation on Sunday then they are taking care of their religious part of life. Religion is become more of a traditional social approach to God rather than a deep heart felt approach, rather than a desire to surrender.

    Now what did Jesus teach in the bible? Lord Jesus Christ taught either you are hot or you are cold but if you are lukewarm I spit you out. Now Jesus is a representative of God. There is one God for all the religions of the world. Just like the sun in the sky. It is the same sun for all the different countries of the world although in English we call it the sun. In India you may call the Surya. In Spain they call sol, but it’s the same sun but according to different languages he is addressed by different names. So similarly God has different names Jehova, Allah, Rama, Krishna, Madhusudhana. But we are speaking about different qualification, different qualities different characters that one supreme infinite God who is the father of all livings beings.

  2. So, to answer Grim, you would say something to the effect that every qualia/feeling has two senses: (1) the particular and (2) the universal. So, just as you can not only taste (a particular) ice cream, you can imagine the taste (a universal) of ice cream. The universal "ontologically prior" to the particular [I'm not exactly sure what that means]. So, God has knowledge of the particular via the ontologically prior universal.

    Is that right?

    God can know the particular qualia of juggling, ignorance, and being Peter Grim through the universal.

    It is a very interesting take on the issue.

  3. "Since God is a mind, and according to Christianity, humans have been created in his image, it makes sense how there could be more to our experience than only what is physical"

    I keep hearing the Imago Dei tosssed around like this. 'Created in the image of God means that we were given a faculty of reason'...'created in the image of God means that all of the finite attributes of God are given to man'. But I wonder how close to Scripture these interpretations are. In the Genesis account, the Imago Dei seems to happen directly when referring to man's rulership over the animals and environment. I don't know if the concept really carries beyond this pseudo-lordship.

  4. Mathetes,

    I've discussed the imago Dei on several occasions--most recently here:

  5. Thanks Steve