Fischer on Free Will and Moral Responsibility
December 14, 2005 — 17:35

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Divine Foreknowledge  Comments: 5

Brian Leiter has a new guest post up by John Martin Fischer on the state of the state of free will and moral responsibility. This is the first in what Brian promises will be a series of commissioned posts by leading philosophers.
First off Fischer deserves some thanks for singling us out towards the end of his insightful remarks on work relating to the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and human freedom. I find myself in agreement with Fischer’s remarks that

Molinism provides a picture of how God could know about future actions of humans, and how he could use this knowledge in his providential activity. But it does not provide an answer to the problem about the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and human free action; rather, it simply presupposes some answer to this problem.

To paraphrase David Hunt, I don’t want my defense of human freedom to be hostage to a particular speculative account about how in fact God knows the future.
Fischer also thinks it would be interesting to see some work done in the direction of the nature of belief as a route towards progress on the traditional problem between God’s foreknowledge and human freedom. I confess that I don’t know what Fischer has in mind here, but hopefully someone can fill in the details in the comments section.

  • I see it, in a fledgling sense of Fisher’s idea, that he’s trying to relate the nature of belief as being directly correlated to the freedom of or free abilitites of the human, and that the two are directly subcategorized underneath the parent idea of godly foreknowledge.
    I think if you look at it through the kaleidoscope of issues that surround that idea, it would be one worthwhile guess that he’s attempting to say that the nature of belief and the foundations of religion that are based on god’s foreknowledge, or god’s ability to weigh in your actions affects the human’s free action as a result.

    December 14, 2005 — 22:53
  • Kevin Timpe

    This may not be exactly what John has in mind, but I think that an important issue that needs to be looked at is how the idea of truthmaking that many (largely Australian) metaphysicians are developing relates to the nature of belief and knowledge. And this, I think, is related to the idea that Molinism is orthoganal to the compatibility question concerning divine foreknowledge and free will, in that Molinism seems to presuppose a certain view of the truthmakers for the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom that are at the heart of middle-knowledge. At the same time, I think that some of the contemporary Molinists who have tried to respond to the grounding objection are getting closer to the truthmaking idea, though they don’t always use that language.

    December 15, 2005 — 10:58
  • jon kvanvig

    Kevin, interesting idea here. First a sidepoint and then a question. If the idea of truthmaking were put in place of grounding, then the grounding objection turns on the question of whether there are only categorical truthmakers. I expect the answer to that is “no,” and I don’t think this question is addressed sufficiently. After all, if there are dispositional and other kinds of non-categorical truthmakers, then the question of what makes a counterfactual of freedom true is as uninteresting as talking to a disquotationalist about truth…
    But here’s the question. I don’t quite understand the Fischer worry, and you seem to have a better grasp of it. The worry is that there foreknowledge is incompatible with freedom; the response is that there are counterfactuals of freedom which can be exploited so as to generate foreknowledge of free actions without compromising freedom. If correct, this constitutes a demonstration of the compatibility of freedom and foreknowledge, so I don’t see what’s supposed to be orthogonal here.

    December 15, 2005 — 18:36
  • Jon,
    With regard to the truthmaking/grounding issue, I think that the defender of Molinism, to try and take the bite out of the grounding objection, might want to look into some of the recent work on truthmaking for modal and dispositional truths (as in the later chapters of Armstrong’s recent ‘Truth and Truthmaking’ and new book ‘Truthmakers: The Current Debate’ edited by Beebee and Dodd, which I must confess I haven’t looked at yet). I’m not suggesting that the Molinist will be able to avail truthmaking to rebut the grounding objection, but I think that’s the direction the Molinist should explore.
    Here, I think, is the way in which Molinism is thought to be orthoganal to the compatibility issue. Molinism seems to assume two things: the humans have libertarian free will and the God has foreknowledge (of a certain sort). But if these are assumptions of Molinism, then it is assuming that the two are compatible. For example, in outlining Molinism, Hasker, Basinger and Dekker write: “The theory [Molinism] assumes, first of all, that human beings possess free will in the libertarian (or incompatibilist) sense…. Molinists also hold, in common with most traditional theists, that God foreknows the future free choices that will be made by free creatures.” I don’t have Flint’s book on Molinism in front of me, but I think I remember that he also suggests that both of these are assumptions of Molinsm (or, in the language I think he uses, part of the ‘twin pillars’ of Molinism). Though I could be wrong, Molinism primarily seems to be a way of trying to reconcile a strong notion of providential control with libertarian free will. In other words, Molinism seems not to primarily argue that there are CCFs, but to say that assuming that there are, then can provide a way of reconciling providence and free will (though I think that Molinists have also tried to argue for there being true and knowable CCFs, though these arguments usually quickly come back to discussing the grounding issues mentioned above). And I think that this line of thought is what’s behind John’s comment.

    December 16, 2005 — 12:11
  • p. toner

    I think you’re right in saying that Molinism is primarily an attempt to explain how libertarian freedom can be compatible with a strong notion of Providence. That is to say that the Molinist isn’t primarily concerned with reconciling _foreknowledge_ and libertarian freedom, but rather with reconciling God’s _control_ over how His plan unfolds and freedom. (For this reason, the passage you cited from Craig, Basinger and Dekker doesn’t seem quite right. Molinists don’t just want to preserve foreknowledge–which you could have without having Providential control–but rather a strong notion of Providence.)
    You’re also right to say that the acceptance of true counterfactuals of freedom isn’t what’s really characteristic about Molinism. After all, Thomists believe there are true counterfactuals of freedom. But Thomists believe these fall under God’s free knowledge, and, correspondingly, Thomists tend towards an account of freedom that looks pretty much like compatibilism (of a sort). As I expect everyone here knows, the distinctive move of Molinism is to posit a third category of divine knowledge, falling between God’s free knowledge and his natural knowledge, and placing the counterfactuals of freedom there.
    It seems to me that Jon is right in saying that once you’ve got middle knowledge, explaining the compatibility of _foreknowledge_ and freedom is easy. So I join Jon in not being quite sure what Fischer’s worry is all about. I suspect, however, that Fischer’s concern is based on a conflation of foreknowledge with middle knowledge. Middle knowledge, of course, is quite distinct from foreknowledge. According to the Molinist, God has middle knowledge of what I’d freely do in all kinds of situations I’ll never actually be in (and about which, consequently, he _lacks_ foreknowledge).
    If it’s right that he’s conflating middle knowledge and foreknowledge, then I think I see why he’s concerned. Because one wants to know where God gets this middle knowledge of what I’d freely do. (This is what you’re getting at in talking about truthmaking and the grounding objection. Incidentally, I think you’re right that truthmaking is the deal. Also, Trenton Merricks is writing a book of truthmaking that will have a chapter on subjunctive conditionals: I expect this will be of interest to you.) But if we take Fischer to be making this kind of point, then it’s still not quite right that Molinism simply _presupposes_ some solution to this problem.
    I know of at least two attempted solutions. Molina’s own solution is based on God’s supercomprehension of our essences. Suarez quickly pointed out that this answer seems to solve the problem by implicitly denying libertarian freedom: it appears to land the Molinist in what the scholastics called a “determinism of the circumstances.” So Suarez rejected it and substituted his own more elegant solution. That is that there really is a fact of the matter about what I’d freely do, and since God is omniscient, he knows what the fact of the matter is. End of story. This seems to be the way most contemporary Molinists go. (Like you, I don’t have Flint’s book in front of me, but I think it’s his way. I’m pretty sure Bill Craig goes this way, too.) This might not seem compelling, but neither does it seem to simply presuppose a solution. In effect, it denies there’s any need for a solution. It says the question is a bad one.
    Again, I’m writing all this without any books or articles in front of me. And despite what it might have just sounded like, I actually don’t pretend to be an expert on this stuff. So I could be wrong…

    December 16, 2005 — 14:26