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Omniscience (/ɒmˈnɪʃəns/)[1] is the capacity to know everything. In Hinduism, Sikhism and the Abrahamic religions, this is an attribute of God. In Jainism, omniscience is an attribute that any individual can eventually attain. In Buddhism, there are differing beliefs about omniscience among different schools.


The word omniscience derives from the Latin word sciens ("to know" or "conscious") and the prefix omni ("all" or "every"), but also means "all-seeing".[1]

In religion


The topic of omniscience has been much debated in various Indian traditions, but no more so than by the Buddhists. After Dharmakirti's excursions into the subject of what constitutes a valid cognition, Śāntarakṣita and his student Kamalaśīla thoroughly investigated the subject in the Tattvasamgraha and its commentary the Panjika. The arguments in the text can be broadly grouped into four sections:


See also: Attributes of God in Christianity

Some modern Christian theologians argue that God's omniscience is inherent rather than total, and that God chooses to limit his omniscience in order to preserve the free will and dignity of his creatures.[3] John Calvin, among other theologians of the 16th century, comfortable with the definition of God as being omniscient in the total sense, in order for worthy beings' abilities to choose freely, embraced the doctrine of predestination.[4]


In the Bhakti tradition of Vaishnavism, where Vishnu is worshipped as the supreme God, Vishnu is attributed with numerous qualities such as omniscience, energy, strength, lordship, vigour, and splendour.[5]


God in Islam is attributed with absolute omniscience. God knows the past, the present, and the future. It is compulsory for a Muslim to believe that God is indeed omniscient as stated in one of the six articles of faith which is:

Say: Do you instruct God about your religion? But God knows all that is in the heavens and on the earth; God is Knowing of all things

It is believed that humans can only change their predestination (wealth, health, deed etc.) and not divine decree (date of birth, date of death, family etc.), thus allowing free will.

Baha'i Faith

Omniscience is an attribute of God, yet it is also an attribute that reveals sciences to humanity:

In like manner, the moment the word expressing My attribute “The Omniscient” issueth forth from My mouth, every created thing will, according to its capacity and limitations, be invested with the power to unfold the knowledge of the most marvelous sciences, and will be empowered to manifest them in the course of time at the bidding of Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Knowing.

— Baha'i Reference Library


Main article: Kevala jnana

In Jainism, omniscience is considered the highest type of perception. In the words of a Jain scholar, "The perfect manifestation of the innate nature of the self, arising on the complete annihilation of the obstructive veils, is called omniscience."[6]

Jainism views infinite knowledge as an inherent capability of every soul. Arihanta is the word used by Jains to refer to those human beings who have conquered all inner passions (like attachment, greed, pride, anger) and possess Kevala Jnana (infinite knowledge). They are said to be of two kinds:[7]

  1. Sāmānya kevali – omniscient beings (Kevalins) who are concerned with their own liberation.
  2. Tirthankara kevali – human beings who attain omniscience and then help others to achieve the same.[7]

Omniscience and free will

Omniciencia, mural by José Clemente Orozco

See also: Determinism, Free will, and Argument from free will

Whether omniscience, particularly regarding the choices that a human will make, is compatible with free will has been debated by theologians and philosophers. The argument that divine foreknowledge is not compatible with free will is known as theological fatalism. It is argued that if humans are free to choose between alternatives, God could not know what this choice will be.[8]

A question arises: if an omniscient entity knows everything, even about its own decisions in the future, does it therefore forbid any free will to that entity? William Lane Craig states that the question subdivides into two:

  1. If God foreknows the occurrence of some event E, does E happen necessarily?[9]
  2. If some event E is contingent, how can God foreknow E's occurrence?[10]

However, this kind of argument fails to recognize its use of the modal fallacy. It is possible to show that the first premise of arguments like these is fallacious.[11][12]

Omniscience and the privacy of conscious experience

Some philosophers, such as Patrick Grim, Linda Zagzebski, Stephan Torre, and William Mander have discussed the issue of whether the apparent exclusively first-person nature of conscious experience is compatible with God's omniscience. There is a strong sense in which conscious experience is private, meaning that no outside observer can gain knowledge of what it is like to be me as me. If a subject cannot know what it is like to be another subject in an objective manner, the question is whether that limitation applies to God as well. If it does, then God cannot be said to be omniscient since there is then a form of knowledge that God lacks access to.

The philosopher Patrick Grim[13] most notably raised this issue. Linda Zagzebski[14] argued against this by introducing the notion of perfect empathy, a proposed relation that God can have to subjects that would allow God to have perfect knowledge of their conscious experience. William Mander[15] argued that God can only have such knowledge if our experiences are part of God's broader experience. Stephan Torre[16] claimed that God can have such knowledge if self-knowledge involves the ascription of properties, either to oneself or to others.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Definition of Omniscience".
  2. ^ McClintock, Sara L. (2010). Omniscience and the Rhetoric of Reason. Wisdom Publications.
  3. ^ John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology SPCK/Fortress Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8006-3153-6
  4. ^ Pike, Nelson (January 1965). "Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action". The Philosophical Review. 74 (1). p. 30. doi:10.2307/2183529. JSTOR 2183529. S2CID 170519806.
  5. ^ Tapasyananda (1991). Bhakti Schools of Vedānta. Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math. ISBN 978-81-7120-226-3.
  6. ^ Mehta 1954, p. 99.
  7. ^ a b Sangave 2001, p. 16.
  8. ^ "Ron Barnette, a Bright-OMNISCIENCE AND FREEDOM". 1999-09-16. Archived from the original on 2012-04-22. Retrieved 2013-04-25.
  9. ^ "Purtill on Fatalism and Truth". Faith and Philosophy: 229–234. 1990.
  10. ^ Viney, Donald Wayne (Spring 1989). "Does Omniscience Imply Foreknowledge? Craig on Hartshorneby". Process Studies. 18 (1): 30–37. doi:10.5840/process198918130. S2CID 170638788. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  11. ^ "Foreknowledge and Free Will". The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 12 June 2010. Archived from the original on 30 April 2018. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  12. ^ Swartz, Norman (5 March 2011). "'The' Modal Fallacy". Simon Fraser University. Archived from the original on 9 August 2017. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  13. ^ Grim, Patrick (1985). "Against omniscience: The case from essential indexicals". Noûs. 19 (2): 151–180. doi:10.2307/2214928. JSTOR 2214928.
  14. ^ Zagzebski, Linda Trinkaus (2013). Omnisubjectivity : a defense of a divine attribute. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. ISBN 9780874621839. OCLC 825106425.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. ^ Mander, William (2000). "Does God know what it is like to be me?". Heythrop Journal. 43 (4): 430–443. doi:10.1111/1468-2265.00203.
  16. ^ Torre, Stephan (2006). "De Se Knowledge and the Possibility of an Omniscient Being". Faith and Philosophy. 23 (2): 191–200. doi:10.5840/faithphil200623215.