A Perspective in Jaina Philosophy and Religion
Prof. Ramjee Singh
Determinism and freedom
(1) If X foreknows that Y will act in a
manner known as Z, and if Y really acts in the same manner, there seems to
be no choice for Y but rather fixed and inexorable necessity. If it is
admitted that somebody is omniscient, no human action can be free or
voluntary. So it may also be deduced that if the omniscience is a fact,
morality becomes a delusion.
(2) In the case of God, omniscience is
regarded as the very nature of God, because He is the maximum being and
the only cause of the effected beings. As maximum being, He is the most
perfect being, hence most conscious and absolute self-conscious. But being
the only possible cause of beings, God is eminently whatever any effected
being may be. Thus knowing himself perfectly and most directly, he knows
himself as he is, hence as the only possible cause of all possible beings,
and thus knows everything real or mere possible, in the awareness of his
own essence. One reason why God is omniscient is His omnipotence. Since He
created all things He knew them before they existed, while they were still
mere possibilities. He knows not only that which actually exists, but also
that which could possibly exist, i.e., future realities and future
possibilities, in word, everything. The second reason for God's
omniscience is His omnipresence from which no one can escape whether he
ascended into heaven, lay down in sheol or sojourned ate the furtherest
limits of the sea.
(3) Now, a serious consequence might
follow from such a position, "when God created man, He foresaw what would
happen concerning him", for to confess that "God exists and at the same
time to deny that He has foreknowledge of future things is the most
manifest folly... ...one who is no prescient of all future things is not
God." If we say that God foreknows that a man will sin, he must
necessarily sin. But "If there is necessity there is no voluntary choice
of sinning but fixed and unavoidable necessity." So also Locke says, "If
is voluntary." Boethius also says, "If God is omniscient, no human action
(4) Now, one may say, if we apply the
concept of omniscience to human beings, the results will be all the more
devastating. But it may be pointed out that "God compels no man to sin,
though He sees beforehand those who are going to sin by their own will."
Hence, it may be argued that divine omniscience cannot entail determinism.
For instance, an intimate friends and have foreknowledge of another's
voluntary actions but it does not in anyway affect his moral freedom.
(5) But this does not seem to be very
good argument. A person's knowledge about the future action of an intimate
friend of his at most a good guess and not definite knowledge. Locke's
argument that there may be a man who chooses to do something which without
knowing that it is within his power to do otherwise (e.g., "If a man
chooses to stay in the room without knowing that the room is locked.")
seems to reconcile necessity with freedom but in fact it is a
reconciliation of ignorance and knowledge, e.g., he thinks himself free
only so long he does not know that he is not free.
(6) If it is said that "It is not
because God foreknows what He foreknows that men act as they do : it is
because men act as they do that God foreknows what He foreknows", it will
create a very awkward situation in which man's actions would determine
God's knowledge. We can also apply this to human omniscience, where it is
likely to create greater complications. It will mean that knowledge of the
actions of other men. Different people perform different actions, often
quite contrary to that of their fellows. This will create a difficult
situation for the cognising mind if it is to be so determined.
(7) To say that the omniscient being is
one who is justified in believing an infinitely large number of true
synthetic Proposition is not only vague but also self contradictory. For
example, it all depends upon the belief in one proposition at least.
`Nothing is unknown to him'. But this is to admit his omniscience and
hence it is like arguing in a circle. Thus, the concept of omniscience
whether logical or actual does involve difficulties.
(8) According to the early Pali sources,
Buddha offered a qualified support for the doctrine of omniscience even
with regard to himself, and he often criticized Nigantha Nattaputta
claiming omniscience in the sense of knowing and seeing, all objects on
all times - past, present and even future. His reluctance in claiming
unqualified omniscience is mainly concerned with knowledge pertaining to
future possibly because it will lead to some sort of determinism in
metaphysics and morals. "To speak of omniscience in relation to future is
to maintain an impossible position," because the course of future events
are partly determined, by the past and present and partly undetermined. I
think, Buddha's hesitation in claiming unqualified omniscience was
influenced mainly by moral considerations. If he knew the future acts of
human beings, there was no meaning in voluntary action or freedom of will
which forms the basis of ethics and morality. In fact, what is foreseen
(i.e., known conclusively), is necessary and what is necessary is outside
the scope of ethics.
(9) In view of these difficulties, I
wonder why the belief in omniscience in some form or other has been a
matter of faith, closely connected with the spiritual aspirations of the
people. In India, it has been accepted sometimes as a religious dogma,
sometimes as a philosophical doctrine and sometimes as both. Except the
Carvakas, almost all the systems of Indian Philosophy -both orthodox and
heterodox accept it. Even to the Mimamsakas, "All that is pertinent is the
denial of knowledge of dharma by man.." They do not intend to deny "the
possibility of person knowing all other things. Even the famous passage of
Kumarila in question "does not set aside omniscience."
(10) To my mind, the reason and motives
in formulating the concept of omniscience are extra-logical, for it is
always at the cost of freedom of will, the basis of our moral life.