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Gersonides' Account of God's Knowledge of Particulars NORBERT SAMUELSON THE PURPOSE OF THIS PAPER is to explain how Gersonides (Levi Ben Gershon, 1288-1344) thought that God knows particulars. Gersonides explicitly states his position as follows: We say that it was already made clear above (in Treatise III, chapters 1 and 2) that these contingents are defined and ordered in one respect and are contingents in another respect. This being so, it is clear that the respect in which He knows them is the respect in which they are ordered and defined. Similarly (this) is the case with the Active Intellect, according to what was explained (in Treatise III, chapter 2), because in this respect it is possible that they should be known. The respect in which He does not know them is the respect in which they are not ordered, which is the respect in which they are contingents. This is because in this respect it is impossible that they should be known. However from this (latter) respect He knows that they are contingents which possibly wilI not be actualized with regard to the free will which God, may He be Messed, gave to man in order to perfect what was lacking in the governance of the heavenly bodies, as was explained in the preceding treatise. (III,4,138-139) ~ (A) In one respect particulars are defined and ordered and in another respect they are not. In the respect in which they are not they are contingent and conversely in the respect in which they are defined and ordered they are not contingent . (B) Only in the respect in which particulars are defined and ordered are they knowable. Only in this respect can God know particulars. With respect to particulars being contingent God only knows that they are contingent. In itself the above statement of Gersonides' position is barely intelligible. Concerning (A) we must ask what it means for a particular to be "defined." Prima facie it seems that classes are defined, but not particulars. Furthermore Gersonides uses the terms "defined" (r2~3~]~) and "ordered" (~']]~) as synonyms, but it is not at all clear how defining and ordering are related, let alone identified. i All quotes from Gersonides are taken from the ~wr~/~r~r~b~, which will be referred to in the text as The Wars. References will note treatise number, chapter number, and page number. Page numbers refer to the Leipzig, 1866 edition of the text. All English translations are my own. [399] 400 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Concerning (B) we must ask what it means to "know" (~'1~) a definition. Prima facie it seems false to say that all that can be known of a particular is its definition. There are any number of facts about a thing other than what that thing is that certainly seem to count as instances of knowledge. Furthermore, not only are there instances of knowledge about a thing other than its definition, but it does not seem that to know a definition is to have knowledge. To know something is to be informed about something, but a definition does not give information about anything other than words. Furthermore, does not Gersonides contradict himself when he says on one hand that no particular can be known with respect to being contingent and on the other hand that it can be known that a given particular is contingent? Finally it must be asked how on the basis of the above explanation is God's knowledge different from man's knowledge. Gersonides did not say that particulars are knowable to God only with respect to being defined and ordered; he said that in general particulars are knowable only with respect to being defined and ordered. But if this is so, then man no less than God knows particulars only with respect to their being defined and ordered. The goal of this paper is to answer these questions and in so doing to make Gersonides' account of God's knowledge of particulars more intelligible. As we shall see the answers to the above questions, insofar as answers can be given, rest on Gersonides' limitation of the use of the term "knowing" to grasping essences...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 399-416
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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