Buridan's Ass Applied to God



Buridan's ass states a problem where a hypothetical donkey has to decide between two equal choices (food and water, an equal distance apart from the donkey). Since they are completely equal, neither is chosen and the donkey dies. This may be solved by randomness, but God is not random. Would this create a problem for God (God cannot choose either one), given that such situations where two equal choices can exist for him?


Posted 2016-11-30T01:17:55.840

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5I'm not sure why this was downvoted. This is a potentially interesting question, but it seems beset by an assumption I don't understand, viz., what prevents God from merely choosing? (the larger question is whether two options could with knowledge of everything be completely equal). – virmaior – 2016-11-30T02:39:02.457

@virmaior I guess you could say what prevents God from merely choosing is that God has no methods of choosing besides reasoning which is better, which creates the problem. – APCoding – 2016-11-30T02:53:45.933

1You seem to be confusing God (and here keep in mind we just mean the God that appears in traditional Western philosophical arguments) with a cosmic rational calculator somewhere in your assumptions. On the usual picture, God is rational and free, and that means God is not necessitated to pick only the single most rational course of action but rather among any of the rationally allowable options (pending other constraints). – virmaior – 2016-11-30T04:32:43.077

This question is very intriguing, but practically, God does not choose because God requires neither. And he still doesn't die. – Gray Roberts – 2016-11-30T08:33:48.590

I cannot understand the ambiguity here . Isn't this a question about hierarchy of needs . A person will choose whatever he needs more( This may be different based on whether a person is rational or irrational) . Data shows thirst is triggered first , so a person should choose water before choosing food . what is wrong with this line of thought ? – shrey – 2016-12-01T04:41:02.163

1@shrey, the point is that the two choices are equally important... have equal hierarchy... equal in everyway... food and water was just an example... point is there's a perfect equilibrium. – Ameet Sharma – 2016-12-02T03:59:53.410

2I do not think that equal choices can exist for God because no choices exist for God, he himself is the source and repository of all choices. Unlike us he is not presented with external choices from "outside" and then picks one. There is no "outside", and there is no "before" and "after" the choosing. God does not choose, he creates. Choosing between "possible worlds", etc., is just our flawed way to describe something timeless. – Conifold – 2017-01-01T02:09:19.687



These questions about applying logical paradoxes to God appear in this SE very frequently and they always amaze me. Why do people assume that God is subject to reason?

And in particular why do people who do not believe in God believe that that God in which they do not believe must be subject to reason?

And it makes no difference if the person contemplating is a student or a renowned philosopher.

The answer is quite simple. Imagine a God that transcends reason and now your question becomes nonsensical.

Here is Maimonides on the transcendence of God:

all people, both of past and present generations, declared that God cannot be the object of human comprehension, that none but Himself comprehends what He is, and that our knowledge consists in knowing that we are unable truly to comprehend Him. — Guide for the Perplexed, I 59:2

And as Osho put it in The Discipline of Transcendence Volume 2:

all great religious assertions are paradoxical. They may be in the Vedas, in the Upanishads, in the Koran, in the Bible, in the Tao Te Ching. Wherever, whenever you will find truth, you will find it paradoxical - because the truth has to be total; totality is paradoxical.

A doctrine is never paradoxical, a doctrine is tremendously consistent - because a doctrine is not worried about reality. A doctrine is worried about being consistent. It knows no reality. It is a mind game, and the mind is very, very logical. And the mind says don’t allow any contradiction in it.

Everything God-made is contradictory. That’s why people go on arguing about God.

And if you don't like to have it from Osho, then take it from Chomsky who argues that existence is mysterious in the sense that it transcends our capacity of understanding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-E0IEyS4qw


Posted 2016-11-30T01:17:55.840

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"Wherever, whenever you will find truth, you will find it paradoxical - because the truth has to be total; totality is paradoxical". How does Osho argue that totality paradoxical? Also, is there a school of thought that argues for the idea that God is not subject to reason? Is it fideism? – APCoding – 2017-01-01T02:03:12.187

"that existence is mysterious in the sense that it transcends our capacity of understanding". Isn't existence something very simple? I exist is similar to it is true that I am in the actual world, which seems very clear to me. – APCoding – 2017-01-01T02:23:02.600

You ask "How does Osho argue that totality paradoxical?" Naturally, Osho argues that in contradictory ways. His main subject matter is an inner experience of godliness which one cannot describe, and yet he tried to describe it all his life. I don't think Fideism matches that bill, since it is not a faith that is "hostile" to reason, but rather an experience that rationality itself recognizes as transcending its boundary. but regardless of faith or existential experiences, one can ask oneself "why do we assume existence does not transcend our reasoning capacity?" – nir – 2017-01-01T04:58:13.687

You write "Isn't existence something very simple? I exist is similar to it is true that I am in the actual world, which seems very clear to me." — we have a clear intuition about existing here and now, for naturally that is where we are at, but it seems to me that once you try to apply it to someone else being somewhere else that intuition breaks down into a paradox. take a look at the following question on this subject: http://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/35880/on-a-paradox-of-existence

– nir – 2017-01-01T05:03:24.307

Looking at the question, it's not really a paradox, is it? It just talks about when something is true when we say it exists. The example they give is when we say the moon exists, are we saying it exists when we see it (1 second delay) or right now? – APCoding – 2017-01-01T17:46:16.497

I don't understand what you mean. Can you try to clarify? – nir – 2017-01-01T21:06:29.260

The question you linked about the topic of a paradox of existence doesn't really bring up a paradox I don't think. I don't think that question rejects being able to meaningfully talk about existence of other things; rather, what exactly we mean be existence. – APCoding – 2017-01-02T01:57:23.790

"Why do people assume that God is subject to reason?"

"And in particular why do people who do not believe in God believe that [this] God in which they do not believe must be subject to reason?" in particulary human reason. as if our species is the universal authority regarding what is reasonable? or even why "reason" is the controlling concept in the contemplation or debate. maybe we have an "unreasonable" God and we should be thinking in terms of that. – robert bristow-johnson – 2017-01-02T03:35:13.360

@APCoding, that is exactly the absurdity. we reasonably hold to the idea of talking of other things as existing and yet physics tells us that talk makes no sense. Imagine an astronaut A on planet Mars 12 light minutes away doing something risky which might cost him his life. Imagine engineers B and C back in the control room on earth talking. B: I wonder if A is alive. C: we don't know. B: right we can't know if he is alive Now but surely there is a fact of the matter. he is either alive or not alive. C: no, according to physics there is no fact of the matter. B: but that is absurd! C: right! – nir – 2017-01-02T07:21:39.740

Really? Modern physics suggests something has no truth value when we don't have direct contact with it? – APCoding – 2017-01-02T17:26:53.193

@APCoding, It is not necessarily a problem of physics. This is how Feynman put it: "Alpha Centauri 'now' is an idea or concept of our mind; it is not something that is really definable physically at the moment." In other words, if it is not definable physically then it is a problem that does not concern physicists — let the philosophers break their heads on it if they wish. If you think you can resolve it let me know. I would love to hear a good solution. As far as I understand it is a paradox, one of many which in my opinion are the inevitable consequence of any description of nature. – nir – 2017-01-02T20:41:55.453

Is the problem here with our definition of time? As far as I understand it, the B-theory of time is widely accepted. There is no objective "now", but it depends on who views it. Regardless, things still exist regardless of whether we know it or not. Is this correct? – APCoding – 2017-01-02T21:23:38.680

What does it mean to have a definition of time? for a physicist time is nothing more than what a clock measures - a so called working definition. we have no other definition of time. In the description of space-time in the theory of relativity, the axis of time and the axis of space can rotate into each other. If you find anyone who can comprehend or conceive what such a description corresponds to metaphysically, let me know, for I would be interested to talk with that person. that philosophers never tire of coming up with nonsense such as proclaiming that time is an illusion,... – nir – 2017-01-03T04:03:26.783

...or some other novelties of that sort does not surprise me. That there is no objective Now is a consequence of the special theory of relativity — that is exactly what I have been pointing out the entire time. But the problem is then to clarify what one means by saying that a thing exists. What does it mean to exist, other than to presently exist? And because we should not throw out the conviction or intuition that other things exist, we end up with a paradox. The point is not that either position is wrong. it is that Nature transcends all descriptions. – nir – 2017-01-03T04:11:36.983

To prevent a misunderstanding I note that by "philosophers never tire of coming up with nonsense such as proclaiming that time is an illusion" I do not refer to the description of space-time in the theory of relativity, but rather to the metaphysical ideas about time that philosophers propose. While I do not deny that there are aspects of our perception of time that can be argued to be an illusion (e.g our concepts of past and future, etc...), some philosophers make claims such as that the passage of time is an illusion and that in fact nothing ever changes, which I find nonsensical. – nir – 2017-01-03T07:25:10.593


Yes, this would create a problem for God under certain assumptions about the nature of God. I.e. that God always acts on sufficient reason, and never chooses arbitrarily (=by a sheer act of will), not even in an equilibium, in a Buridan's-Ass-like situation.

Such a view was held e.g. by Spinoza. Here concerning free will:

It may be objected, if man does not act from free will, what will happen if the incentives to action are equally balanced, as in the case of Buridan's ass? Will he perish of hunger and thirst?..

...I am quite ready to admit, that a man placed in the equilibrium described (namely, as perceiving nothing but hunger and thirst, a certain food and a certain drink, each equally distant from him) would die of hunger and thirst. (Ethics 2/49)

And by Leibniz. Here concerning God:

Now, as in the Ideas of God there is an infinite number of possible universes, and as only one of them can be actual, there must be a sufficient reason for the choice of God, which leads Him to decide upon one rather than another. (Monadology 53)

That is, that the actual universe must be strictly better than any other possible universe. There cannot be two equally good possible universes, because if there were, God would not be able to choose between them.

Ram Tobolski

Posted 2016-11-30T01:17:55.840

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