A fallacious argument against Molinism
October 10, 2008 — 9:02

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Molinism  Tags:   Comments: 8

Here is an argument against Molinism, which while valid, is fallacious in an interesting way. This argument is an improved version of one that I have earlier defended.

  1. God brings it about that x is in circumstances C because of God’s belief that x would freely do A in C. (Hypothesis for reductio)
  2. If y brings it about that p because of y’s belief that q, then y’s bringing it about that p because of y’s belief that q is causally prior to p’s holding. (Premise)
  3. If x freely does A in C, then x’s being in C is causally prior to x’s freely doing A. (Premise)
  4. If E is causally prior to F, and the occurrence of E entails the occurrence of F, then E deterministically causes F. (Premise)
  5. That x freely does A is not deterministically caused by anything. (Premise)
  6. p is entailed by its being the case that God does B because of God’s belief that p. (Premise)
  7. Causal priority is transitive. (Premise)
  8. God’s bringing it about that x is in circumstances C because of God’s belief that x would freely do A in C is causally prior to x’s freely doing A in C. (By 1, 2, 3 and 7)
  9. That God brings it about that x is in circumstances C because of God’s belief that x would freely do A in C entails that x freely does A in C. (By 6)
  10. God’s bringing it about that x is in circumstances C because of God’s belief that x would freely do A in C deterministically causes x’s freely doing A in C. (By 4, 8 and 9)
  11. 10 contradicts 5.

What is wrong with the argument, I think, is the seemingly innocent (4). Claim (4) commits a mistake that I have identified elsewhere, the mistake of thinking that one can define concepts conjunctively. Deterministically causing is not just a conjunction of causing and logically determining (i.e., entailing), just as causing intentionally is not just a conjunction of causing and intending. The standard example for the latter is something like: George is pointing a gun at Bob and intends to kill Bob, and George’s intention to kill Bob causes his hands to shake and accidentally squeeze the trigger. Then George intended and caused Bob’s death but did not intentionally cause Bob’s death. For x to intentionally cause B, it has to be the case that x intends B and x causes B, but these two facts also have to be related in the right way. Likewise, for A to deterministically cause B, it has to be the case that A causes B and that the occurrence of A entails the occurrence of B, but these two facts also have to be related in the right way.

I don’t have a counterexample to (4). It could even be that (4) is true for some deeper reason. But as it stands, with (4) being presented simply because of its intuitive plausibility, the argument is fallacious in the following sense: Its plausibility rests in part on a cognitive fault of the interlocutor. The cognitive fault is that we have a tendency to accept conjunctive characterizations like (4) when we should always be suspicious of conjunctive characterizations, because just about always one needs the conjuncts to be satisfied in an appropriately related way. I think this may be because our minds automatically assume an appropriate connection between conjuncts, even if a statement does not give one. Consider “He pressed the trigger and the gun went off.” We automatically assume that the speaker is telling us that the gun went off because of the pressing of the trigger. But no such claim is made.

Suppose we fix up (4) by adding that the entailment must be appropriately related to the causal claim. But now (10) cannot be derived, because we don’t have an argument that in that case the appropriate relation holds.

Comments:
  • Mike Almeida

    If E is causally prior to F, and the occurrence of E entails the occurrence of F, then E deterministically causes F.
    Here’s a counterexample to (4). Let N-> be a CFF such that C N-> A is true and let N be logical necessity and M be a form of possiblity strong enough for libertarian freedom. Let it also be true that God brought about C. If so, then C & (C N-> A) entails A, but A is free.
    1. N((C & (C N-> A))-> A)
    2. A & M~A

    October 10, 2008 — 13:53
  • Mike:
    But C N-> A is not causally prior to A.

    October 10, 2008 — 13:57
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex,
    Sorry, I was stipulating causal priority, as in your earlier case here, http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2008/09/molinism-and-es.html
    In fact, my objection there is my objection here.

    October 10, 2008 — 14:05
  • 4. If E is causally prior to F, and the occurrence of E entails the occurrence of F, then E deterministically causes F. (Premise)
    I think that this is as much a clarification request as anything, but: what sort of entities are referred to by E and F above, and what sense of ‘entails’ are you employing? I’m a little confused. Most of your argument above is most naturally read in terms of events causing one another, but events can’t (in the usual sense) entail anything, as entailment is a relationship among statements.
    Sorry if I’ve overlooking something obvious, but I’m genuinely puzzled and don’t know how to proceed in analyzing the argument as it stands.

    October 10, 2008 — 20:49
  • E and F are events.
    The occurrence of E entails the occurrence of F iff the proposition that E occurred entails the proposition that F occurred.

    October 10, 2008 — 23:10
  • Mike Almeida

    The counterexample to (4) with causal priority (carried over from the earlier post) is just this,
    Suppose S = George is shipwrecked. Now suppose essentiality of origins together with S entails, (S N-> H), where H = George acts heroically. S of course also entails S. So S entails (1).
    1. S & (S N-> H)
    and you note that,
    2. N((S & (S N-> H)) -> H)
    Of course that’s right. Any world in which George is shipwrecked he acts herocally. But George is not unfree, since it is also true that,
    3. ((S & (S N-> H)) -> M~H
    That is, given that antecedent it is possible that George does not act heroically. This is just to say that it is possible that George acts in such a way that ~(S N-> H) comes out true. It is a part of the Molinist account, of course, that possibly agents act such that the CCF’s that obtain are different.

    October 11, 2008 — 9:40
  • Mike,
    Minor point: I think the earlier post does not claim that C N-> A is prior to A. It only says that the claim that God believes (C N-> A) is prior to A.
    That said, I think this is a question-begging counterexample to (4) in the case of this anti-Molinist argument, since it assumes Molinism holds.
    I’d like to see a counterexample to (4) that is independent of Molinism. This would make for a much better Molinist response to the argument in the present post than my handwaving stuff about conjunctions.

    October 12, 2008 — 23:09
  • Mike Almeida

    That said, I think this is a question-begging counterexample to (4) in the case of this anti-Molinist argument, since it assumes Molinism holds.
    That’s a fair objection. I thought it was ok to assume that there are CFF’s, since we can have CFF’s and also concede all of the assumptions you claim make an agent’s action unfree. I think that’s all I’ve done, no?

    October 13, 2008 — 7:16