Fw: Re: [Milton-L] De Doctrina Christiana

Harold Skulsky hskulsky at email.smith.edu
Tue Jan 13 09:00:37 EST 2009

Jeffery Hodges writes: "But if Professor Skulsky is correct, then
Milton's God doesn't 'foreknow' anything. How, then, are we to
understand these lines: "If I foreknew [their fault], / Foreknowledge
had no influence on their fault, / Which had no less prov'd certain
unforeknown." Does the "if" imply that God's knowledge is not precisely

"Foreknow" as it applies to God's timeless knowledge cannot be taken in
the same inferential sense as "foreknow" as it applies to a prophet
(relying on insight granted by God) or a savant (relying on causal
evidence). But in the quoted lines Milton clearly applies "foreknow" to
God, who communicates his timeless knowledge to his creatures in
utterances with dates attached to them. 

When the date of the communication comes before the date of the event
in question, then the communication expresses "foreknowledge" IN
RELATION TO ITS CREATURELY AUDIENCE, whose awareness is always
time-limited. (The grammatical feature called tense, unlike date or
place in the temporal order, is a function of whether the tensed
sentence occurs before, after, or concurrently with the event that the
sentence is about. As Boethius argues, if an event E occurs, the
forecast of it ["E will occur"] and the report of it ["E is occurring"]
and the historical assertion of it ["E happened"] are totally equivalent
as assertions of E's occurrence. So there is no difference in reference,
but there is a difference in meanng: each utterance implies a different
time relation (before, during, and after respectively) between the date
of the utterance and the date of E. It is a logical truth, says
Boethius, that E "was to occur" at every date that precedes the date of
E; that logical truth consists in the fact that the sentence "E will
occur" would have been true if it had been uttered or thought at every
such date.)

The bottom line is (a) that the correct theory of God's knowledge is
what nowadays would be called naive realism but had better (following
Putnam) be called direct realism, (b) that God does indeed foreknow —
not literally but thanks to a form of the trope called metonymy.

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