Divine Omniprescience: Are
Literary Works Eternal Entities?
By Richard R. LaCroix
at the American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division Meeting, March,
There are two quite common
views which appear to be embraced by both a large number of aestheticians as
well as a large number of non‑aestheticians. It is quite commonly believed by
many of both groups that God is omniscient with respect to the future, that
is, that God knows everything that will ever occur. I refer to this belief as
the doctrine of divine omniprescience.
It is also quite common to many
of both groups to believe that literary authorship is creative in the sense
that by means of his composing activity an author is an agent who brings about
the existence of some thing (e.g., a play, a poem, a novel, etc.) which did
not exist prior to the composing activity of that agent and which would not
exist without the composing activity of that agent or some similar agent. I
shall call this belief the doctrine of literary creativity.
What does not appear to be
recognized is that these two doctrines cannot both be consistently endorsed.
I argue that the two doctrines jointly entail a contradiction and I will point
out some of the logical consequences of trying to avoid that contradiction.
It seems quite unexceptionable
to say that there exists a whole host of compositions. By a composition I
mean such a thing as a play, a poem, a novel, an essay, a story, a review, and
the like. Despite the difference in kind, it is no more accurate to say that
the moon exists than it is to say that Shakespeare’s play Hamlet
Assume first that William
Shakespeare brought about the existence of that play by means of a certain
sequence of his composing activities, that the play did not exist prior to his
composing activity, and that the play would not exist without his composing
activity or the composing activity of Marlowe or Bacon or some other person.
Assume second that God is
omniprescient. By the second assumption God knew before the creation of the
universe that such things as that he would create the universe, that in 1564
C.E. William Shakespeare would be born at Stratford upon Avon, that
Shakespeare would marry Anne Hathaway, and so on. Including among the
countless numbers of things that God knew before the creation of the universe,
by the first assumption, was that in 1600 C.E. Shakespeare would bring about
the existence of a play which had no prior existence and that it would be
In addition, God knew what the
first word of the play would be and that it would be first, what the second
word of the play would be and that it would be second, and what each
succeeding word or symbol of the play would be and its proper sequential
order; and God knew all this before the creation of the universe.
So, before the creation of the
universe it was possible for God to recite all the lines of Hamlet, an
aesthetic critique of Hamlet, to provide a grammatical critique of
Hamlet, and so on. It was even possible before the creation of the
universe for God to stage the play with his angels (he could have prompted
them in their lines) or, in the absence of angels, he could have created some
beings for the express purpose of producing Hamlet.
In short, since the possibility
of someone to do the sort of things enumerated above for some given
composition entails that the composition exists, then the given assumptions
jointly entail that Hamlet existed before the creation of the universe,
and hence they also entail that before creation God knew both that Hamlet
existed and that it existed before the creation of the universe.
But part of the first
assumption is that Hamlet did not exist prior to 1600 C.E. and so it
did not exist prior to the creation of the universe, and it has already been
observed that the given assumptions jointly entail that before creation God
knew that Hamlet did not exist prior to 1600 C.E. and so before
creation he knew that it did not exist prior to the creation of the universe.
It follows, then, that Hamlet both existed and did not exist
before creation and that before creation God knew both that Hamlet
existed before creation and that Hamlet did not exist before creation.
So, since the two given assumptions jointly entail a contradiction, they
cannot both be true; and, since the above reductio ad absurdum argument
applies to all compositions, it follows that the doctrine of divine
omniprescience and the doctrine of literary creativity are logically