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  • Omnisubjectivity:Why It Is a Divine Attribute
  • Linda Zagzebski

Introduction

One of the most important discoveries in the history of philosophy was the discovery of subjectivity. What I mean by subjectivity is consciousness as it is experienced by the individual subject. At some point in the modern era, philosophers began to appreciate that the viewpoint of the individual subject cannot be reduced to an alleged objective viewpoint outside any person’s consciousness. Whether anything is lost by looking at persons from the outside rather than from the inside is an important question. But if persons are unique, as I believe they are, a primary candidate for their uniqueness is their unique perceptual perspective, and even more fundamentally, the uniqueness of contents of their consciousness. But subjectivity raises its own problems. One is the issue of how one person’s conscious experiences can be grasped by someone else. If the point of view of the subject is intrinsic to it, no one else can grasp it without “seeing through her eyes,” as we sometimes say.

I have argued that the existence of subjectivity requires an addition to the traditional attributes of God. I call the attribute “omnisubjectivity.”1 It is the property of consciously grasping with perfect accuracy and completeness every conscious state of every creature from that creature’s own perspective, a perspective that is unique. I believe that, [End Page 435] given the existence of conscious beings in the universe, the traditional attributes of omniscience and omnipresence entail omnisubjectivity and that it is implied in traditional practices of prayer. I believe that this attribute also gives us a way to think about the operations of grace, and it has implications for the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

Omniscience and Subjectivity

Subjectivity can be approached in a number of different ways. In one of its senses, it is the feature of consciousness that allows us to say that there is such a thing as what it is like to have a conscious experience of a certain kind—what it is like to see the color red, what it is like to taste chocolate, what it is like to sense like a bat, what it is like to feel fear, and so on. Thomas Nagel gets the credit for calling our attention to subjectivity in this sense in his well-known essay “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?” This sense of subjectivity raises the problem of how a being can know what it is like to have conscious experiences that it cannot have. It would seem that only a bat can know what it is like to be a bat. A person blind from birth cannot know what it is like to see color. In fact, we can go further and say that even creatures who can see color do not know what it is like to see color if they have never seen color. That was one of the points of Frank Jackson’s famous thought experiment about Mary. In that story, we imagine that Mary has lived all her life in a black-and-white room and has never seen a single colored object. All of her education comes from black-and-white videos and books. Yet, we also imagine that Mary knows everything there is to know about the physical world. There is no physical fact she does not know. But Jackson concludes that she does not know everything there is to know because, when she leaves her black-and-white room and sees in color for the first time, she finds out something she did not know before. She finds out what it is like to see in color. Knowing what it is like to see in color is something that cannot be known descriptively. She knew complete descriptions of colored objects and human perception before. So even though Mary always was human, and hence was the kind of being who can see in color, she did not previously know what it is like to see in color because she had not yet experienced seeing color.

The existence of subjectivity raises a further possibility. Maybe nobody but me sees exactly what I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2470-5861
Print ISSN
1542-7315
Pages
pp. 435-450
Launched on MUSE
2016-05-19
Open Access
No
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