Ordinary counterfactuals of free will
June 12, 2008 — 10:17

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Molinism  Comments: 8

Let me add a third beat-up-on-Molinism post. Here is the idea. Ordinary language makes use of counterfactuals of free will (CFWs). But ordinary CFWs are not Molinist in kind. For one, Molinist CFWs have no truthmakers, or at best have Platonic kinds of truthmakers (a pair of abstract propositions standing a property of subjunctive conditionality). Ordinary CFWs have concrete truthmakers.
Here are some examples of ordinary CFWs:

  1. George grabs some money off the table not knowing or caring whether it is his or not. As a matter of fact, it is his. A standard criticism to make of George is: Were the money not his, he would still have taken it.
  2. Martha kisses a man she just spent two hours talking with at a bar. Had this man not been her husband, she might not have kissed him.
  3. Patrick is an optimist, and as gets up in the morning, he chooses to believe that he won the lottery for which the draw was last night. He looks at his newspaper, and finds he was right. Nonetheless, we say that Patrick did not know he won until he looked at his newspaper, and one reason he did not know was because he would have believed that he won even had he not won.
  4. Curley takes a smaller bribe. Had he been offered a larger, he would have taken it. (This example is Plantinga’s.)

The four above CFWs are made true by the causes, motives and reasons behind the agent’s actual choice. Thus, that George took the money and did not know or care whether the money was his is what makes it true that he would have taken it even if it were not his. What makes it true that Martha might not have kissed the man had he not been her husband is that among the considerations guiding Martha’s decision to kiss the man, there was the fact that he is her husband. What makes it true that Patrick would have come to the same conclusion had he not won is that he chose to believe he won on grounds that would have been the same had he not been the winner. And what makes it be the case that Curley would have taken the larger bribe is that he took the smaller, and all the reasons for taking the smaller bribe are available for taking the larger, and there are no additional reasons against taking the larger bribe (if there are, e.g., if the penalties are higher, then we ordinarily cannot affirm the counterfactual in (4)).
There is a way in which these kinds of ordinary CFWs do not state some further counterfactual fact–rather, they are a convenient restatement of the facts about the causes, motives and reasons behind the agent’s actual choice.
Because these CFWs are made true by concrete things, they are not Molinist CFWs. In fact, I suspect that most Molinists (I am thinking of Tom Flint in particular, who made a remark that commits him to this) would say that the corresponding Molinist CFWs can have different truth value from the ordinary ones. For instance, take (2). On standard Molinist views, it is highly plausible that there is a possible world w where Martha kisses her husband, and where the fact that he is her husband is one of the reasons for kissing him, which is sufficient to make true the might conditional in (2), but where in w there also holds the Molinist CFW that had he not been her husband, she still would have kissed him. Thus, the Molinist CFW would conflict with the ordinary one. Likewise, Molinists are apt to agree that Molinist CFWs could be such that were Patrick not to have been the winner, he would not have chosen to believe that he was the winner. The Molinist CFWs hang loose from the ordinary ones, then, and are irrelevant for the kind of nomative evaluation that we make. If Patrick is lucky enough that for him the Molinist CFW holds that had he not been the winner, he would not have chosen to believe he was the winner, that doesn’t make his belief knowledge.
But now we have a problem for the Molinist. Nomic counterfactuals and ordinary CFWs are different kinds of counterfactuals from Molinist CFWs. But then how do we ever acquire a concept of a Molinist CFW? And if we don’t ever acquire such a concept, then it seems all the Molinist stuff is, literally, nonsense.

Comments:
  • But now we have a problem for the Molinist. Nomic counterfactuals and ordinary CFWs are different kinds of counterfactuals from Molinist CFWs.
    I confess to not seeing the distinction you’re pushing. I don’t even see why the Molinist CCF’s must be non-nomic. The Molinist’s assume a libertarian account of free will, of course, but some libertarian accounts of free will (I have in mind Bob Kane’s, The Significance of Free Will) are, in a sense, nomic. Probabilistic laws do play a role in Kane’s libertarianism, and I don’t see why a Molinist would have to therefore distance himself from such a view. All the more so since Kane’s is probably the best worked-out liberatarian position. Apart from that, I don’t see why a Molinist could not account for why Smith did A rather than B by appealing to the “influence” of his preferences or character or upbringing. Indeed, I seem to recall Tom Flint talking about how Molinists do not deny the role of influence in free behavior. So, my guess is that I’m just missing the point your making here. What am I missing?

    June 12, 2008 — 13:52
  • A nomic counterfactual A→B is one where A plus the laws plus some background assumptions entails B. Molinist counterfactuals aren’t like that.
    Certainly, Molinists can account for influence. But the point I am making is that what makes, say, the counterfactual in (4) true in the ordinary sense is a non-modal fact about Curley’s motives together with the fact that a larger bribe would fit even better with his motives. But that is not what makes true the corresponding Molinist counterfactual.

    June 12, 2008 — 14:10
  • But there are also nomic counterfactuals, A -> B, whose probability is entailed by statistical laws, A and the history up to A. These are relevant ot Kane’s account of libertarian free will.

    June 12, 2008 — 16:14
  • But the point I am making is that what makes, say, the counterfactual in (4) true in the ordinary sense is a non-modal fact about Curley’s motives together with the fact that a larger bribe would fit even better with his motives.
    How does that make the counterfactual true? It rather explains why it’s true, doesn’t it? What makes the counterfactual true is the fact that Curley takes the bribe in the closest worlds in which he’s offered it. What explains why Curley takes the bribe in that world is his venality.

    June 12, 2008 — 16:18
  • Mike:
    Sure, if all you mean by a “nomic counterfactual” is that the antecedent makes the consequent probable on account of the laws, then some Molinist counterfactuals could be nomic counterfactuals. By “nomic counterfactual”, I meant one where the TRUTH and not just the probability of the counterfactual held in virtue of facts about the laws and background conditions.
    If you think counterfactuals are made true by facts about closeness of worlds, then you won’t like my story as to what makes the Curley counterfactual true. But a variant of my story will still work. Remember that Lewis insists that causal facts hold in virtue of how things are in THIS world, because what worlds are close to this one depends on how things are in this world. I can make the same move. The reason the world w1 where Curley takes the larger bribe is the closest world to the actual world w0 is that (a) the history of w0 and w1 up to Curley’s choice is the same except for a substitution of a larger bribe; (b) in w1 Curley acts on exactly the same motives as in w0; (c) in w1 Curley acts the same way as in w0. These facts depend on Curley’s motives in w0.
    Now, if try to shoehorn Molinist counterfactuals into a Lewisian semantics (I once was party to a conversation between Al Plantinga and some grad students about doing this), we’re going to have to add non-qualitative closeness facts. Thus, if the Molinist counterfactual that I would have given an A in exchange for a bribe two months ago is true (as a matter of fact nobody has ever offered me a bribe), it is true not in virtue of facts like (a), (b) and (c), but in virtue of a primitive closeness fact, or in virtue of a match between counterfactual facts, or something like that. (There is more than one way to tell this story.)
    In any case, what make the Molinist counterfactuals true will be rather different from what makes the ordinary counterfactuals true. For what makes the ordinary counterfactuals true is similarity of qualitative non-modal facts, while what makes the Molinist ones true is something rather different.

    June 12, 2008 — 19:54
  • Heath White

    Alex,
    I was with you up until the last paragraph. I’m pretty sure we (philosophers) have a concept of Molinist CFWs. Indeed, you spend so much effort arguing against them, it would be surprising if your posts were all nonsense!
    A better criticism might be that Molinist CFWs are transparently made up to solve a tricky philosophical problem and have no other use. Which is suspicious.
    I’ve always thought the Molinist needed to appeal to individual essences or natures if they wanted to explain their counterfactuals. Plantinga does this when he first re-introduces the viewpoint into the problem of evil discussion. Of course, this raises the problem of whether Molinism can really get God off the hook for evil, since God went and created creatures with these evil-choosing natures.

    June 13, 2008 — 9:15
  • Mike Almeida

    The reason the world w1 where Curley takes the larger bribe is the closest world to the actual world w0 is that (a) the history of w0 and w1 up to Curley’s choice is the same except for a substitution of a larger bribe; (b) in w1 Curley acts on exactly the same motives as in w0; (c) in w1 Curley acts the same way as in w0. These facts depend on Curley’s motives in w0.
    I agree with all of this. But what you’re doing is EXPLAINING why w1 is the closest world to w0. It is what happens in w1 that makes the Curley counterfactual true. I’m distinguishing between the semantics for counterfactuals and what explains the resolution of vagueness. You offer an explanation of how to resolve the vagueness so that w1 comes out closest. I agree with that.
    Thus, if the Molinist counterfactual that I would have given an A in exchange for a bribe two months ago is true (as a matter of fact nobody has ever offered me a bribe), it is true not in virtue of facts like (a), (b) and (c), but in virtue of a primitive closeness fact, or in virtue of a match between counterfactual facts, or something like that.
    It is not clear to me why you say this. Certainly in NN (pp. 174 ff.), Plantinga offers and argues for a Lewisian analysis of ccfs. Why would the closest world in which you do not accept the bribe be closest in virtue of some primitive similarity relation it bears to @? Why wouldn’t you say instead that a world in which you take the bribe is importantly dissimilar in that you do something in that world that you’ve rarely done before? That, let’s suppose, is atypical for you, though of course perfectly possible.

    June 13, 2008 — 10:15
  • Dear Alexander,
    You said: The four above CFWs are made true by the causes, motives and reasons behind the agent’s actual choice.
    For those holding to libertarian freewill, those causes are indeterminate and might make the counterfactual proposition likely, but not true. I suspect compatiblists would also say the causes only make the counterfactual proposition likely rather than true, as altering the causes (i.e. a larger bribe) could yield a different result.
    In other words, I am not sure you have come up wiht an alternative basis of truth for CFWs.
    God be with you,
    Dan

    June 14, 2008 — 18:10