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The Incompatibility of Omniscience and Intentional Action: A Reply to David P. Hunt

  • Tomis Kapitan (a1)

In ‘Omniprescient Agency’ (Religious Studies 28, 1992) David P. Hunt challenges an argument against the possibility of an omniscient agent. The argument – my own in ‘Agency and Omniscience’ (Religious Studies 27, 1991) – assumes that an agent is a being capable of intentional action, where, minimally, an action is intentional only if it is caused, in part, by the agent's intending. The latter, I claimed, is governed by a psychological principle of ‘least effort’, namely, that no one intends without antecedently feeling that (i) deliberate effort is needed to achieve desired goals, (ii) such effort has a chance of success, and (iii) it is yet contingent whether the effort will be expended and the goals realized. The goals can be anything from immediate intentional doings, tryings or basic actions, to remote and perhaps unlikely consequences of actions, e.g. global justice. The thrust of the principle is that it would be impossible for a wholly rational self-aware agent to intend without a background presumption of an open future as concerns the desired state and the means to it. But this presumption embodies a sense of contingency which, in turn, requires an acknowledged ignorance about what the future holds, otherwise the future would appear closed relative to present knowledge with the desired state presented as either guaranteed (necessary) or ruled out (impossible). Regardless whether this self-directed attitude is accurate, it follows that intentional action precludes complete knowledge of one's present and future. Consequently, no omniscient or omniprescient being can be an agent.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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