- This is a YouTube video, and not a paper as such. See Link.
- As it is a quick way in to Zimmerman’s views on the subject, this is a quick file-note outlining what he says.
- First-Person Perspectives1 (FPPs2) are important to me in my research as Lynne Rudder Baker’s Constitution View3 (CV4) has it that they are individuative of persons.
- The question5 Zimmerman was asked was “Do you think that God can access our consciousness, that He can know our first-person perspectives6 - or can we withhold our thoughts from God?”
- In Detail7:-
- God knows our thoughts as he searches the hearts and minds and we can’t disguise our thoughts or feelings.
- There’s supposed to be a puzzle about how anyone can know anything from someone else’s perspective, but Zimmerman isn’t puzzled.
- If we think hard about “my FPP”8 or “the way the world seems to me”, what we’re talking about is a “repeatable kind”. What I see before me now (say) is a phenomenal array of repeatable quality, and someone else may have exactly the same sometime later. Maybe not exactly – different eyes, and experience is shaped by our expectations – but there’s nothing in principle impossible about this exact array being repeated in someone else’s mind.
- So, when we talk about my FPP9, we’re talking about lots of repeatables – how things look, how my body feels, sounds I’m hearing – even the different way my voice sounds to me rather than to others. There’s no reason to think God can’t understand10 all this completely. God can know everything about my FPP11.
- A puzzle about emotions such as envy, fear etc – can they be understood by someone who hasn’t had them. Could God experience envy or shame? Zimmerman thinks these emotions can be understood from the outside.
- But in any case, the Incarnation gives Christians extra resources: kenosis, God’s self-imposed limitation. Christ did experience desolation and pain (not shame and guilt) and other human experiences involving weakness. “Tempted in all manner as we are tempted, but without sin. So, Christ apparently experienced the prelude to sin – temptation – a tremendous mystery that Christ should have understood and undergone that; he’s unwilling to speculate further.
- He thinks what it’s like to be a sinner can be understood from the outside – much as Hume’s missing shade of blue. Similarly with degrees of fear – we have the ability to simulate or extrapolate, God must be able to do likewise, though this is anthropomorphic.
- But, is the thought “I am hungry” different from any thought that anyone else might think? Zimmerman thinks of that as Roderick Chisholm & David Lewis think about first person thought: it’s the self-attribution of a property. It’s not a proper proposition, so it’s not something that God needs to be able to know.
- Some brief comments:-
- I’m not terribly interested any more in the theological angle to all this. I might still differ on the business of temptation (as distinct from “testing”): see my "Todman (Theo) - The Temptations of the Lord". Moreover, I imagine it’s theologically defensible to say that Christ vicariously felt guilt and shame on the cross.
- I think Zimmerman’s “Hume’s missing shade of blue” analogy – while it might work for fear – is rather inept for sin.
- But this is all by the by. From my perspective, the interesting aspect of this short response is Zimmerman’s views on the FPP12.
- I’m not sure where the debate has got to in the philosophy of mind as to the essential privacy of experience, and its unknowability “from the outside” – the difference between first-person and third-person experience.
- There’s also – in consciousness studies – a lot of argument about the irreducibility13 of the mental – in particular the phenomenal – to the physical, and the distinction between “knowing about” and “experiencing”. It’s interesting that Zimmerman – a dualist – seems to agree with the reductive14 materialists15 on these points – ie. in refusing to be swayed by these considerations.
- I do – though – think he’s wrong in downplaying the uniqueness of the FPP16 – and the thought that you are (and no-one else is) “trapped” in this body – and think of this as diagnosed by Williams in the “future great pain test17”.
Footnote 5: This is (from the perspective of Christian doctrine) rather an easy question, and thankfully Zimmerman doesn’t spend much time on the second part of it.
Footnote 7: This is a very full, and hopefully faithful, but not quite verbatim account.
Footnote 10: This all sounds a bit dismissive of the “knowledge argument” (“red Mary”) about consciousness being irreducible to physical facts.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021