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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue number 75
11th January 2004


I. Pathways to Philosophy - Spreading the Word

II. On God and 'I': A Response to Geoffrey Klempner by David Robjant

III. 'The Solipsist' by James Martin



The first issue of 2004 sees the launch of a new campaign, 'Spreading the Word'
to increase the number of web links to the Pathways sites. I hope that readers
of Philosophy Pathways will find time to help with the campaign.

The second feature in this issue is prompted by a question posted at the
beginning of December on Ask a Philosopher. The questioner quotes a response
from Paul Monfils, a Catholic Deacon, to an answer I gave back in April-May
2000 concerning my objection to the notion of an 'all-knowing' deity. A couple
of weeks later, I posted my reply to the Deacon alongside the replies of Rachel
Browne, Kim Boley and Henk Tuten. Now David Robjant has written a carefully
argued rejoinder which I reproduce below. I shall make my reply to David
Robjant in the next issue.

Also in this issue - on a not unconnected theme - a poem by Pathways student
James Martin entitled 'The Solipsist'. 



Over Christmas and the new year, Pathways and the ISFP were showered with good
wishes. Here is just a small sample:

     "The Newsletter has been a constant source of inspiration
     and interest to me throughout 2003. Thanks for all the very
     hard work you have done - it's very much appreciated!!"
     "I want to thank you for what I've learned so far. I find
     what the ISFP does important, and I'm proud to be a member
     and enthusiastic supporter."
     "This is a great service for philosophy itself. You have
     done a marvelous thing in providing certain ground for
     bringing lovers of wisdom together."
     "You have given philosophy a fresh spirit and renewed
     purpose for those who participate in your Pathways and
     Journals. They truly inspire and educate."
     "I always found your approach to a 'global philosophers
     cafe' convincing and hope to lure some more visitors to it
     and make it grow in extent and quality."
     "Thank you for being part of something I believe to be
     an absolute necessity in bringing about a saner, more
     peaceful world. The Philosophical Society, especially
     with your participation in it, is a class act. And besides
     the regular letters and essays, I have immensely enjoyed
     reading your personal works."
     "I've been meaning to tell you...how much I've enjoyed
     the Pathways Newsletter, particularly the socio-political
     "I had just finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
     Maintenance when I came across The Possible World Machine.
     Actually, it would be more appropriate to say that the PWM
     answered my call - I am sure you know that sometimes we
     find things, and sometimes they find us. So thank you for
     engaging me."
     "I think your organization is important...I wish we had
     more like it here in the ol' USA..."
Yet, despite all this generous praise, I have reluctantly come to the
conclusion Pathways to Philosophy is still one of the best-kept secrets on the

Looking around the internet, I come across many far less worthy philosophy web
sites which receive more visitors and far better known thanks to aggressive

A few years ago, when I put the first Pathways pages on the web, I would
regularly e-mail web masters offering to exchange links. Nowadays, I find that
I have less and less time for web surfing.

That is why I am asking you, the readers of Philosophy Pathways, to help spread
the word.

If you come across a philosophy related web site with a links page which
doesn't include a link to Pathways, write a polite e-mail to the webmaster
suggesting that they add one. You can also mention the PhiloSophos Knowledge
Base and the ISFP home page:

     Pathways to Philosophy Distance Learning Program

     PhiloSophos Knowledge Base

     International Society for Philosophers

Web sites promoting e-zines will be suitable for links to Philosophy Pathways
and our new Philosophy for Business newsletters:

     Philosophy Pathways e-journal

     Philosophy for Business e-journal

Here are the other Pathways sites:

     The Ten Big Questions

     The Possible World Machine

     The Glass House Philosopher

     Wood Paths

     Philosophy of A-Z

For example, the web master of a science fiction site will be interested to
hear about The Possible World Machine.

If you get some success, and web masters write back to you then please forward
the e-mails to me so that I can keep track of our web links campaign, and also
add reciprocal links.

Happy hunting!

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2004



The following is from Ask a Philosopher answers page 24:

     Geoffrey Klempner offered the following thesis:

     "I have an objection to the definition of God as 'all
     knowing'. I'll leave you to consider whether or not you
     think that it is convincing. Being all knowing, God sees
     things from every point of view, including yours and mine.
     He knows what it is like to be you, and he knows what it is
     like to be me. But it seems to me that I know something God
     does not, and cannot know. What God knows is only what
     things are like for someone satisfying my total
     description. He knows, for example, what it is like to be
     struggling with this question. But what God cannot know is
     what it is like for the individual satisfying that total
     description to be I. From God's point of view, every
     individual is 'I'. From my point of view, only one is."


     Please comment on this response from Paul Monfils a Catholic

     "The statement "what God cannot know is what it is like for
     the individual satisfying that total description to be I"
     would be more accurately restated: "from my limited
     perspective, based upon nothing more than my limited human
     intellect, it seems to me that God could not know what it
     is like for the individual satisfying that total
     description to be I". Or to put it another way, "using
     nothing more than my flawed and finite human nature, I am
     incapable of comprehending how God could possibly know what
     it is like for the individual satisfying that total
     description to be I". Stated in this way it is apparent
     that no limitation on the part of God is suggested, but
     rather the sheer futility of a creature's efforts to
     understand his Creator; of the finite seeking to comprehend
     the infinite by finite means. Any statement which begins
     "what God cannot know" presumes far too much -- that I can
     validly equate my finite logical perception of God's
     capacity to know with His actual infinite capacity to know.
     "Once this philosophical quandary is stated more accurately,
     as my inability to comprehend how God could have access to
     particular knowledge, the answer is obvious -- "of course
     you can't understand how God could know this, but you can
     nevertheless know with certainty that God does know,
     because He has revealed His infinite and omniscient nature,
     and knows ALL, which would necessarily include everything
     which you are incapable of comprehending His capacity to
     know". Not only does God know "what it is like to be I",
     but He knows it perfectly, while I myself only know it

     Geoffrey Klempner replied: 

     "I am perfectly happy to preface every statement I make in
     the context of philosophical discourse (including this one)
     with the disclaimer, "From my limited perspective, based
     upon nothing more than my limited human intellect it seems
     to me that...". That used to be the accepted literary style
     for philosophers, e.g. Augustine in the Confessions. "O God,
     I know I am a complete ignoramus, and you understand things
     infinitely better than I do, but might it possibly be the
     case that...?", and so on. But such self-effacing language
     did not prevent Augustine from doing ground-breaking work
     on the philosophy of time.
     "A disclaimer which applies equally to every statement one
     makes has no force whatsoever.
     "There appears to be a special problem with philosophical
     arguments which rule out the possibility of something.
     Isn't it harder to prove a negative? It is hard to prove
     that there are no unicorns, because this would require
     investigating every place in the universe that unicorns
     might be. However, in philosophy, we prove things by means
     of logical argument. (Again, it is our best judgement
     concerning what is "logical" or a "proof", but this goes
     without saying.) And there can be logical arguments to the
     effect that "such-and-such is an impossibility".
     "My argument concerns a definition of God's 'omniscience'
     offered by a philosopher. On a certain, plausible view of
     'omniscience', I argue, an omniscient God cannot know the
     difference between my existence and G.K.s existence. The
     argument may be considered as a challenge. Of course, the
     theologian is free to say that if and when philosophy fails
     us, when it cannot meet the challenges set to it in the way
     that we would like, there is still room for faith. (That
     sounds close to Kant's view, although Kant held something
     stronger: that it is the task of his philosophy to
     demonstrate the limits of reason, in order to make room for
     faith.) However, one should never be complacent about the
     fact that one does not understand something. Especially in
     this case, where -- at least in the Judeo-Christian
     tradition -- it is a matter of central importance that God
     knows me as this unique I. That is why those who accept
     the comforts of religion have no reason to scorn

I'm not sure that I understand GK's argument correctly. His answer to this
provocation may help make that clear. But for the moment, and if I do
understand GK's argument, then it seems to me that, though it appears valid,
his argument proves too much.

If I understand it, GK's argument that God cannot be omniscient turns on the
difference between knowing a comprehensive set of facts about a subject's
experiences (we are presently assuming that such a set is possible) and
actually having those experiences. Because God is God and I am me, God
can't have my experiences in the way that I have them. Therefore (the
argument runs) there is at least one thing that God cannot know, namely,
"what it is like" to have these experiences as I have them: "God cannot know
is what it is like for the individual satisfying that total description to
be I".

At first glance this kind of argument looks to be right. If we want to
see any problems with it, we will need to break it down and look at it's
workings. I await GK's correction, but the conclusion seems to follow from
these two plausible premises:

1. Omniscience is knowledge not only of all facts about all experiences but
also knowledge of "what it is like" for each and every subject.

2. To know perfectly "what it is like" for me is to have my history,
limitations, pains, and desires, or, in short: to know "what it is like [to
be me]" is to be me.

From these two premises, a contradiction in God's omniscience can be quickly
derived as follows. Supposing God is omniscient according to the definition
of omniscience given in (1), it is definitive of his omniscience that he
cannot successfully inhabit my poor limited view of the world. But if he
cannot successfully inhabit my poor limited view of the world, then, given
the definition of knowing what it is like offered in (2), there must be one
thing that God does not know, namely, what it is like to be me. Therefore
God is not Omniscient.

Now, I contend that this valid argument proves too much, proves something
altogether implausible, and therefore ought to give us a reason to reject
one or both of the premises I have identified in the argument (always
supposing that I've got the right end of the stick about GK's argument in
the first place.)

What 'too much' does it prove?

The argument proves, rather implausibly, that central human cases of
knowing perfectly well 'what it is like' for another are a sham. They will
be, according to the argument, cases of imperfect knowledge limited by
partial information, and limited in that they never could come to have
anything more than partial information. That is, they are conjecture.
Surmise. Inference.

But this kind of view about knowledge of the feelings of others doesn't
tally with real life, or with our use of 'know'.

My companion falls, grazes her knee on the pavement, and wails. I rush to
her with a hand outstretched. Granted, I am not omniscient as God is
defined to be. But why should I say that my knowledge of what it is like
for her in that moment of pain is 'imperfect'? I can see what she is
going through. It is there on her face - perhaps in the movements of her
whole body. Another example. She contorts in grief at the death of a loved
one. Again I know her feelings. I feel with her (com-passion,
mit-gefuhl), and my attitude towards her is bound up with my immediate and
certain knowledge of her experiences. I don't see why I should be forced
to say that I know her grief inadequately or imperfectly, merely on the
grounds that I am me, and she is she. I can just see her pain.

The suggestion that our knowledge of what it is like for another must
always be imperfect is odd, when we put it into particular human contexts.
Premise (2) demands exactly this caveat, that we can never perfectly know
what it is like for another. This is used by GK (it seems) as an argument
to limit God's knowledge. My present objection is that if (2) were
accepted, it would limit our knowledge too, and in quite implausible ways.

Now it it is quite true that for all kinds of reasons I might overlook or
fail to pick up on what another is feeling, and that I am better with some
people than with others, and so on. That's not to the point. The point is
that the quite general prohibition on attaining perfect knowledge of 'what
it is like' for another, the prohibition which is contained in premise (2),
contradicts our experiences. Just one instance of sure and perfect
knowledge of what it is like for another (someone with quite distinct
history etc to oneself) will falsify (2), and, with it, the argument here
deployed by GK against the omniscience of God. And it seems to me that
there are plenty of suitable examples.

None of which is to argue that God either exists or is omniscient. It is to
provoke a clarification from GK in which he will no doubt distance his
argument from that which I have guessed at, and in a way conducive to
understanding his point.

As a postscript, I will add that in my view it is not conceivable that there
is some comprehensive set of facts about a subject's experience. If knowing
such a comprehensive set of facts is held to be a necessary condition of
omniscience, no one and nothing can be omniscient.

(c) David Robjant 2003

E-mail: David.Robjant@irismurdoch.plus.com



The Solipsist
Sometimes, when the best luck can be random
or by any circumstance be known,
when the idler in search of time and himself
hangs for one more day to confront his lonely self-longing
for all things past or yet to come
where hope may yield in the shortest spans of time and distance,
a single thing be known by all who mind and body bent,
Where no debate, no rule, no argument care to impose itself again
for the sake of an ever-creating universe where even gods concur:
That our search for self begins and ends with us, and we
will never know the heart of another, their awareness,
their sense of being or purpose, or the why or wherefore of it all --
Or even a single fragment of it. And when we think of ourselves,
we think alone. For what else can there be to think about?
But in our longing, still, there rests the one glorious hope that gives us
breath, both first and last:
That we be loved for who we think we are, and be loved until our death,
and in return see clearly to love is to love the other best.
(c) James Martin 2003
E-Mail: sheldonjamesmartin@hotmail.com

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