Forgiven Already?
November 12, 2008 — 10:45

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Religion and Life Virtue  Comments: 70

I’m afraid that the answer to my question might be obvious; if so, then it’ll be answered quickly!
I come from a Christian background which told me that God has forgiven all of my sins, past, present, and future. I also come from a background which tells me that I should ask God for forgiveness. I also have the background belief that it’s not the case that you should ask for what you already have. These beliefs seem to me to conflict. Let’s be more precise.


1) At t, God has already forgiven me for the sin I committed shortly before at t-1.
2) At t, I ought to ask God for forgiveness for the sin I committed shortly before at t-1.
3) It’s not the case that I ought to ask for something that I believe that I already have.
I think that both the “moral” and “rational” oughts apply in (2), but let’s suppose that it’s a “rational” ought. Now suppose I believe (1). Then, if I believe (3), it follows that I don’t think I ought to ask for forgiveness. But then it follows that I should reject (2). So belief in (1)-(3) leads me to have an irrational set of beliefs.
So I should give one up. Here’s what might be obvious to some that’s not obvious to me. Which one should I give up?

Comments:
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    It seems to me the premise to reject is 1). Suppose you think that God is timeless. Then perhaps you can say that while God timelessly forgives your sins, he did not forgive, nor had he already forgiven, them *at t*. For to do something or to have done something already *at t* is not something a timeless being does.
    If, on the other hand, you think God is not timeless–you think that he exists inside of time–then you probably aren’t inclined to accept 1) anyway. (That is, you probably accept some form of “open theism.”) Does that seem right?

    November 12, 2008 — 11:15
  • Jonathan,
    Thanks for the comment. Well, I think that God is temporal, and I’m a Molinist (who’s open to the simple foreknowledge view but has not read enough about it). I’m definitely not an open theist.
    But it seems that you could raise the trilemma for a defender of divine timelessness. Just replace (1) with (1*):
    1*) At t, I have been forgiven for the sin I committed shortly before at t-1.
    While it may be false on the divine timelessness view that God forgives sins at times, it is the case, I think, that I am forgiven at times. It’d be weird to say that my sins are forgiven at no time at all. Would you reject (1*)?
    You’re right that if I were an open theist, I’d reject (1), but I guess this is a problem (if it’s a problem at all) for nonopen theists.

    November 12, 2008 — 13:38
  • Jordan Woods

    “1*) At t, I have been forgiven for the sin I committed shortly before at t-1.”
    I think this a much better expression of the belief that God’s forgiveness is placed on all of your sins (past and present and future) at any moment in your life or, put differently, that the state of being forgiven for all the sins committed in a creature’s lifetime at any one moment in that creatures life is something that obtains for that creature with regard to God (though differing views on the atonement may change what ‘creatures’ are given this status). Whatever else could be said, Jonathans’ observation certainly revealed the need for (1*).
    “So I should give one up. Here’s what might be obvious to some that’s not obvious to me. Which one should I give up?”
    I would reject (3). (1*) and (2) seem to have biblical truth-makers (the truth of (1*) and/or (2) rests on what the Bible says, among other things) whereas (3) doesn’t have biblical truth-makers in the sense described above (correct me if I’m wrong). Given that I believe (1*) and (2) are true from scripture I find myself pressed for an explanation of where (3) goes wrong. Would equating the problem(s) of denying (3) with the problem(s) of denying (c), in the following set, be plausible?:
    a) At t, God has already determined His response to my prayer, for X, at some moment in time before t.
    b) At t, I ought to pray to God for X.
    c) It’s not the case that I should pray for X at t when God’s response to my prayer for X at t was determined before my prayer at t.
    I believe equating the problem(s) of denying (c) with the problem(s) of denying (3) seems prima facie plausible. In which case, whatever the motivations I have for denying (c) may entail that I deny (3) with an explanation including these motivations OR an explanation including motivations of that type. For instance, in light of the former explanation, I might deny (c) on the grounds that prayer, even under (a) and (b), is worthwhile since it is an expression of my creatureliness to God and so I will deny (3) because of this ‘creatureliness’ motivation; an example, in light of the latter, might have my motivation for denying (3) being something similar to my motivation for denying (c) (though I’m at a loss as to what a similar motivation would look like).
    It should be noted that the truth-makers of (1*) and/or (2) may be different under varying beliefs about what part(s) of the scriptures we have today are the thoughts of God (i.e. the positions on divine inspiration, inerrancy, etc.).

    November 12, 2008 — 15:08
  • Andrew Moon

    Jordan,
    Can you clear up what you mean by “truth-maker” and “biblical truth-maker”? By the former, I think you just mean “evidential support” and by the latter, I think you just mean “evidential support from the Bible.” Is that right?
    You made an analogy with petitionary prayer, but I still wasn’t clear on what support there was for denying (3) (other than that it conflicts with (1*) and (2)). Isn’t it just very plausible that if you believe you already have something, then it’s not rational to ask for it?

    November 12, 2008 — 15:35
  • Andrew Moon

    I just realized that I should specify that (3) should have a ceteris paribus clause or there will be counterexamples. For example, suppose I’m trying to fool a supervillain into thinking that I don’t have a secret elixir, so I yell to my friend, “Bob, give me the elixir!” The super villain chases after Bob, whom I know will be able to get away. Secretly, I had the elixir all along. Here, I was rational in asking for something I believed I already had. Of course, such cases (which involve deception) do not apply to cases involving asking God to forgive us our sins.
    Here’s a specious counterexample: it seems that I am rational in asking Bob for five dollars even if I believe I already have five dollars. But the five dollars in my pocket are not identical to the five dollars in Bob’s pocket; they’re the same type but different tokens. (3) is talking about tokens.

    November 12, 2008 — 15:44
  • Jordan Woods

    I figured my expression of my thoughts about truth-makers in this context would require further articulation, so thank you.
    You are right, what I meant was that the evidential support will be different for (1*) and/or (2) as opposed to (3). The evidential support for (3) seems to be absolutely extra-biblical unless of course one can point to a passage in the Bible that defends it or goes against it in some explicit way (I don’t know how explicit should be defined here). I was thinking of truth-maker as a ‘source of evidential support’ not as ‘evidential support’ and what I needed was ‘evidential support.’ So, with regard to petitionary prayer it seems that the evidential support for (c) will be extra-biblical in which case we could use the ‘creatureliness’ feature of prayer as a reason to deny (c) and as a reason to deny (3). Therefore, my objection to your (3) would be that the reason to ask for something, from God, that you already have, is rational because it is somehow an expression of your creatureliness.

    November 12, 2008 — 16:26
  • Andrew Moon

    Jordan,
    Thanks for the response. My difficulty is understanding what you mean by “expression of creatureliness”. Suppose I sin. I realize that I am ALREADY forgiven. I believe it; perhaps I know it! But now I’m supposed to ask for it? That seems weird! It seems irrational to ask for it.
    Sally has already given me her favorite toy. After I receive it, I then ask her, “Would you give me your favorite toy?” It seems quite irrational to ask! Same in the forgiveness case. Saying that it’s an expression of creatureliness doesn’t seem to help.

    November 12, 2008 — 16:52
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    I we replace 1 with 1*, now it seems the premise to reject is 3, but I suppose I need to understand a little more about why one should believe 1.
    For suppose I believe 1 and I also believe:
    4) Were I to not ask for forgiveness at t, it would not have been granted at t-1.
    Then I have good reason to deny 3 (and, as it happens, good reason to believe 2).
    And it doesn’t seem strange to me—assuming the truth of 4 doesn’t already seem strange—that I could believe that I already have forgiveness but also believe that if I don’t ask for it, I would not have been forgiven.
    On the other hand, if you reject 4, then I’m left wondering why you would accept 1*. Is it something other than universalism?
    (I myself am not strongly inclined to accept 1. Should I be? Is there something in orthodoxy that requires it?)

    November 12, 2008 — 20:48
  • Doesn’t this argument depend on what you mean by ‘God has already forgiven you’? If you mean that God has already extended his forgiveness/grace, OK, but don’t you still need to ask for it/accept it in order for it to save you?
    And if that’s right, then there is a perfectly straightforward sense in which it’s rational for you to ask for forgiveness–your asking for it is one of the factors that saves you.
    If you’re a Molinist, you could say that’s it’s true that you’re already forgiven (and that that forgiveness would be effective), but that it’s still rational for you to ask to be saved because God’s foreknowledge that you would ask for forgiveness is the truth-maker for his offer of forgiveness forgiving (and saving) you.

    November 12, 2008 — 21:01
  • Jordan Woods

    Andrew,
    What I mean by “creatureliness” with regard to petitionary prayer is that the Christian who, though believing God has made up His mind already on a request for X, willingly asks God for X because the very act of asking expresses some creaturely feature of himself. I believe that God has decided already whether or not to grant me an A+ on my philosophy exam tomorrow, however I still ask Him before tomorrow to grant me an A+. My reason for so doing is to, in some sense, throw myself at the ‘feet of Christ.’ To express my need for God in this specific situation, as a creature helpless before Him who requires grace to get that A+! This, even though I believe that God granting me an A+ is already determined before I pray. As a Molinist, I suppose, you might have some elaborate scheme (a move probably similar to the one that rescues God’s foreknowledge given your other beliefs) for explaining away the seeming absurdity of petitionary prayer given God is omniscient. However, as a Calvinist the above explanation, in some way, describes a move I would make.
    Now, with regard to your (3)… even though you have already been forgiven, and genuinely live in the truth that for some specific sin S you are forgiven, your asking for forgiveness for S is not irrational since it is an expression of something about you that is not expressed to God when you don’t ask for forgiveness for S, in roughly the same way that there are features of yourself that you express, and God then ‘sees’ (Now that certainly needs defining!), by you performing petitionary prayer. This/these feature(s) would not be expressed and therefore not ‘seen’ by God if you did not perform petitionary prayer.
    As an aside… It seems to me that there is a strong reading of your (3) and a weak reading of it. Maybe a strong reading would say your motivation behind asking for an X, for the SOLE purpose of receiving an X that you already have, is irrational. I can accept that. On a weak reading of (3) perhaps we can say that someone should not ask for an X that they already believe they have, even if they have a different SOLE purpose (than the one mentioned above) or multiple purposes. This weak reading I can’t accept and my argument from analogy plays off of this supposed weak reading.
    I hope that helps.

    November 12, 2008 — 22:10
  • Jordan Woods

    I just realized that my sentence about a strong reading of (3) should have said:
    “Maybe a strong reading would say your motivation behind asking for an X, for the SOLE purpose of receiving an X that you already believe you have, is irrational.”

    November 12, 2008 — 22:18
  • Andrew,
    We have talked about this before and I think pretty much the same thing. I don’t think when a Christian repents he is asking for the atonement to cover his sins all over again. It is simply an expression of creaturely remorse – obviously we are going to sin after we come to Christ, and afterwards we admit to God we made a mistake. I think asking God to ‘Forgive us’ is an expression we use *inside* the context of an already-saved life to restore ourselves with God. It is an anthropomorphizing of our relationship with God – just as we ask people we injure to forgive us, so we do the same with God when we sin.
    The only person who has a problem with the contradiction you note is someone who thinks we are asking God to remove the sin from our record once we’ve done it, and then must nervously wonder whether God actually did remove it. But that’s not the meaning of asking God to forgive us within a relationship with him at all. Rather it’s an expression of repentance and heartfelt sorrow, and asking for forgiveness is just submitting yourself to God again. Though the word ‘forgive’ is still used, I think it means something different than the absolute, theological sense of Christ’s atonement on the cross wiping away all of our sins. It is just a useful word for coming back to God. The absolute, theological sense of the word has to do with salvation, while the subsequent usage has to do with sanctification.
    So, for your post, 2) uses an equivocal word. The change in meaning makes it so it does not contradict 1).

    November 13, 2008 — 0:39
  • john a

    Why not look at God’s forgiveness as conditional upon further actions that we take? He has forgiven us our sins if we turn to Him in complete recognition of our wrongdoing and need for Him to guide our lives. We have to ask for this forgiveness in order for Him to enter into our lives. I take it that we would not intentionally do wrong if we thought He was in our lives already. An analogy (paraphrased from teh Bible)might be in order. I have purchased a gift for you and am ready to give it to you, but you have to open the door in order for me to give it to you. You know that I am at the door with the gift. Opening the door is asking for the gift.

    November 13, 2008 — 8:20
  • Andrew Moon

    Phew, there’re a lot of comments. I try to limit my blogging time, so I may not have given the required thought that your comments deserve. I proceed anyway.
    Philip,
    Right, if you understand ‘asking for forgiveness’ as ‘repenting’ or ‘expressing sorrow’, then there is no problem. I was taking ‘asking for forgiveness’ more straightforwardly as, well, asking for forgiveness. When I pray, I might express sorrow for my actions. Or sometimes, I repent (turn 180) of my sin. Other times, I ask God to forgive me. I’m wondering about the rationality of the last one.
    John,
    If we take your conditional view, I think that that’d be just a rejection of (1) or (1*).
    Jonathan,
    Hmm, (4) seems attractive (especially to me, as a Molinist). I’ll have to think about it.
    Tim,
    What strikes me as odd about your suggestion is that receiving forgiveness could be a necessary condition for salvation, but then asking for forgiveness would be an extra necessary condition for salvation. Suppose a necessary condition for going to event X is that I am a member of M. It is weird to think that an additional necessary condition for going to X would be that I must also ask for membership of M, even when I already have it. Analogies will abound.
    Jordan,
    “your asking for forgiveness for S is not irrational since it is an expression of something about you that is not expressed to God when you don’t ask for forgiveness for S”. I’m sympathetic to your suggestion. I’m still at loss of what the “expression of something about you” might be. What is that?

    November 13, 2008 — 9:54
  • Mike Almeida

    Even if you have been forgiven, you can still fail to accept the forgiveness or to recognize that you need it or to show that you want it. Asking is humbling. It shows that you actually accept the forgiveness, shows that you actually want the forgiveness and that you recognize you need it.

    November 13, 2008 — 10:47
  • Andrew,
    Well, I do think it is capable of more than just expressing sorrow – it is an anthropomorphizing of God. Our relationship with him in this is just like it is with a person – we may know that our spouse loves us unconditionally, and we already have committed ourselves to each other in our vows, but asking for forgiveness can be asking to return to their good graces, which is an action that does more than just express sorrow on behalf of the wrongdoer. It is a restoration of the relationship on both sides, despite the fact it comes *within* a committed relationship. So it’s still rational even if you are expecting action on God’s half in response to your repentance. That’s just the way relationships work.

    November 13, 2008 — 11:47
  • Jordan Woods

    Andrew,
    Mike’s comment reveals a POSSIBLE expression that I suggested might exist for Christians such as yourself. Thank you Mike for putting a possibility I only saw in an obscure way, in to more concrete form.

    November 13, 2008 — 11:48
  • john a

    Mike said what I wanted to much more clearly then I did. I also think that it is consistent with (1), but (2) might need to be modified to read (2a) At t-2, I ought to ask God for forgiveness for the sin I committed at t-1. Our recognition that we need to be forgiven might occur long after the ‘sin’ was committed.

    November 13, 2008 — 12:06
  • Andrew Moon

    Mike (and John and Jordan, who (possibly) agree with Mike),
    I agree that there’s a need to accept God’s forgiveness. I agree that we need to be humble and repent and so on. It just seems weird that after all that, I still have to ask for forgiveness.
    Here’s another way to put it. Suppose I recognize that I’ve sinned. I check the Bible and come to believe that God’s forgiven me (I believe (1).) I confess or acknowledge my sin, I accept the fact that God forgives me, and I repent and try (with God’s help) to change my ways. Wouldn’t it be then odd if a friend came along and said, “oh wait, did you remember to ask God for forgiveness?” At this point, it seems pointless; that part of the formula seems unnecessary. That is because (3) is so plausible. Why ask for something you believe you already have? So to lay my cards out on the table, I’m most inclined to reject (2).
    (Umm… but is there any Biblical support for (2)? I can’t think of any off the top of my head.)

    November 13, 2008 — 21:06
  • john a

    Andrew
    I am hardly a scholar, but it seems to me that one way of looking at forgiveness is to realize that it plays a part in redemption. Forgiveness is not a problem of logic, but of what it means to be an ethical person. In order to be redeemed one has to realize completely that one has done wrong and to want to change one’s behavior. To be willing to be redeemed one needs to open oneself up to the possibility of being able to overcome the flaws that lead one to sin (I hate the word ‘sin’ but will use it anyway). One needs to ask for that to occur. I take it that for a Christian (not being one myself) that one of the most important features of that way of life is that there is a reciprocity involved in the relationship one has with God; it is a two-way street with duties and obligations on everyone, God included, involved. God can forgive all sins if he is so inclined and capable of doing so (after all he is God), but that does not mean that I have forgiven myself for my sins. Redemption comes when the transgressor asks for the strength to accept what it means to be forgiven. One has to forgive oneself as part of the process of overcoming wrongdoing. I take it that being a Christian means that one can only truly forgive oneself if one has first asked God to forgive him. Assuming that all sins are sins against God, then God needs to be asked for his forgiveness so that I can take this gift and turn it outward from me. I really do not think that one can change unless one recognizes the need to change and does what is necessary for that change to take place. For the Christian, I think, it is crucial that one realize that God is an essential partner in any significant change taking place that will end up in really redirecting one’s life. This is probably a (nother) poor analogy; it is like needing a class of water, God has the water and he gives it to me if I ask and then it becomes part of me. It cannot become part of me unless I ask.

    November 14, 2008 — 0:15
  • Mike Almeida

    Yes, something needs to be added, I think. Suppose you believe that God freely forgives you, as most Christians do. In that case, you do not believe that God necessarily forgives you. So you know that, possibly, God does not forgive you. After all, he does not have to do so. If you believe that, then asking God to forgive you–just to try to ensure that he does forgive you–is not so strange.

    November 14, 2008 — 8:13
  • p. toner

    I reject 1. Then I go to confession. (But not because I reject 1!)
    It’s a very interesting question, though, for those who do accept the kind of view expressed in 1.

    November 14, 2008 — 12:22
  • Mike,
    Are you using an epistemic or metaphysical (broadly logical) necessity/possibility?

    November 14, 2008 — 13:25
  • Mike Almeida

    Are you using an epistemic or metaphysical (broadly logical) necessity/possibility?
    Suppose we agree that God freely forgives sinners such as I. I know from this that there are worlds in which God does not forgive sinners such as I. That is perfectly possible. Do I know that this is not such a world? Could I be one of those that he perhaps has had quite enough of? I honestly don’t know whether he has had enough of my transgressions. I know it is not impossible. My epistemic state regarding my own forgiveness is not one of certitude, though I agree that there is reason for hope and faith otherwise. So actually asking for forgiveness–despite my faith that I am forgiven–doesn’t strike me as so strange.

    November 14, 2008 — 13:54
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    I suppose I’m still not clear why someone who accepted 1 and accepted:
    4) If I were not to ask for forgiveness at t, it would not have been granted at t-1.
    would reject 2. (Tim O’keefe, if I understand him correctly, claims that a Molinist would accept 4, since it’s God’s foreknowledge of your asking for forgiveness at t, at least in part, that makes him forgive you at t-1. If you were to not ask at t, then God would not have foreknown that you would ask, and so would not have granted.)
    This isn’t how I would go, since I (like P. Toner) am not inclined to accept 1. But why not go this route if you accept 1? Am I missing something?

    November 14, 2008 — 20:52
  • Mike Almeida

    Just to be clear, I’m claiming to accept (1) as well. The reason you can believe (1) and still coherently ask for forgiveness, on the view I’m defending, is that what you believe does not (as in most cases) rise to the level of certainty. So you believe that you are forgiven, but the probability that you are forgiven is not 1.
    The Molinist move is interesting, but we can’t assume that every suitable backtracking argument is open to the Molinist. Why believe (4)?
    4) If I were not to ask for forgiveness at t, it would not have been granted at t-1.
    How do we know that the closest world in which I do not ask for forgiveness at t, isn’t one in which I do nothing wrong at t-1? Certainly that is true for some agents. If so, then I’m not forgiven because I did nothing wrong, not because I did not ask for it.

    November 15, 2008 — 9:02
  • Hello.
    I haven’t read all the comments so I’m not sure if this has been said, but what we are dealing with is essentially two separate kinds of forgiveness.
    1) Faith in Christ procures forgiveness for a life-time of sin, so that we can spend eternity with God. This forgiveness is salvific.
    2) We ask for forgiveness, as we sin, so the Holy Spirit is uninhibited from abiding with or working in us, here on Earth. This forgiveness is sanctifying.
    So, while the first kind of forgiveness (which cannot be snatched from us) deals with our eternal state, the second kind – the kind we ask for constantly (having already been promised ultimate forgiveness) – is necessary so that the Spirit not be grieved in order that our “walk” may flourish.
    The two truths – guaranteed forgiveness and our call to ask for forgiveness – are not in conflict in any way. No fancy temporal/causal footwork is necessary!

    November 15, 2008 — 14:24
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Mike, you’re view makes sense. I suppose if I were to accept 1, I might accept your account of why we should believe 2.
    Regarding 4, the standard semantics for counterfactuals (Lewis) has it built in that “backtracking” worlds are further from the actual world than non-backtracking worlds, and hence the closest world to the actual world in which I don’t ask for forgiveness at t is one in which I still sinned at t-1. What’s strange in this case is that we *have* to backtrack with regard to God’s beliefs (including foreknowledge) and his granting of forgiveness. But I think the standard semantics would still count the closest world as one in which I still sinned at t-1, for I’m not forced to backtrack regarding *that* event.
    Of course you can reject the standard semantics, and as it happens, I do. Then it seems we are left with two counterfactuals:
    4a) If I were not to ask for forgiveness at t and were I not to have sinned at t-1, then God would not have granted forgiveness at t-1.
    4b) If I were not to ask for forgiveness at t and I were I to have sinned at t-1, then God would not have granted forgiveness at t-1.
    I can accept both of those. Then the question is, did I sin at t-1? If not, then I don’t have to ask forgiveness for a sin I haven’t committed, and God’s not granting it is not a problem. If I did sin at t-1, then 4b applies, and hence I should ask for forgiveness at t, since were I not to ask, it would not have been granted at t-1.

    November 15, 2008 — 17:19
  • Mike Almeida

    What’s strange in this case is that we *have* to backtrack with regard to God’s beliefs (including foreknowledge) and his granting of forgiveness. But I think the standard semantics would still count the closest world as one in which I still sinned at t-1, for I’m not forced to backtrack regarding *that* event.
    Certainly, resolving vagueness in ways that make a backtracker true is, in ordinary contexts, a mistake. But the resolution can (and does) verify a backtracker in the way I suggest in certain contexts; this is why I said that such a backtracker is true for at least some agents. Consider an agent what would NEVER fail to ask for forgiveness, were he to do something wrong. If we have such an agent in mind, then were he to fail to ask for forgiveness, then he would not have done anything wrong. That sounds to me like the right resolution. And notice too that such an agent is all we need to upset the suggested solution to Andrew’s puzzle. The suggested solution depends on it being true in all cases that were you not to ask for forgiveness, then God would fail to forgive you for that reason. Hence you should ask. But as it happens, for some agents, God would fail to forgive you because you did no wrong. That gives you no reason to ask in the case where you have done something wrong.

    November 15, 2008 — 20:40
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Mike: I hadn’t understood Andrew’s worry to be one about all possible agents. But suppose it is. Then won’t the answer depend on the person who asserts 1-3 ?
    No doubt someone who is essentially contrite, as we might call it, and knows it, will find no comfort in 4. But it’s not clear to me such a person needs to worry about Andrew’s puzzle. For she knows that she *will* ask for forgiveness, if she sins. No sense in wondering whether she *should* ask.
    (I suppose, if she were a philosopher or some other person given over to pondering really weird questions, she might wonder if she *should* ask even though she knows she *will*. But I take it that this wondering is of a very different sort than Andrew’s wondering. No matter what her answer to the puzzle, she will still ask. But perhaps I’m wrong about that, too. Perhaps that was just what Andrew was wondering. In that case, I concede: An essentially contrite person who knows she will ask for forgiveness if she sins, but nevertheless wonders whether she *should* ask, will not have a reason to ask in virtue of knowing that, were she not to ask, she would not have been forgiven.)
    But for those who either are not essentially contrite or are but do not know it, 4 should still be reason to accept 2. Right?

    November 15, 2008 — 22:04
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi Jonathan,
    Suppose we ask whether the Molinist solution to Andrew’s worry is perfectly general. If it is general, then, for every X, if X is forgiven prior to X’s petition, then X has good reason to petition anyway. The good reason to petition for God’s forgiveness is that X would not be forgiven were he not to petition. That is, it would never have been the case that X was forgiven were he not to petition for God’s forgiveness. I claim that the Molinist solution is not perfectly general; the Molinist solution instead depends on certain contingent facts obtaining. Suppose we eliminate those facts from the case. In cases where a person is very strongly disposed to ask for forgiveness, (call that person Y) the fact that God would not forgive Y were Y not to ask for forgiveness is no reason at all for Y to ask for it. So the idea is that we can simply reformulate Andrew’s worry in such a way that the Molinist can offer no help. We ask now whether there is any reason for Y to ask for forgiveness. We know that Y will ask, given his dispositions, but that might just make Y irrational. In fact the Molinist gives us no reason to believe that Y is anything but irrational. I’ve suggested that there is a non-Molinist reason for Y to ask for forgiveness, and that is that Y is not certain that he is forgiven. So, I think, Y is not irrational.

    November 16, 2008 — 9:54
  • Mike Almeida

    Maybe here is where we disagree. I say that if the Molinist solution mistakenly makes Y irrational for petitioning, then the Molinist does not provide the correct solution to Andrew’s puzzle. It does not provide the correct solution despite its success in a restricted range of cases.

    November 16, 2008 — 10:07
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Mike: I doubt there is any one solution to the perfectly general puzzle. The Molinist solution I was pursuing, as you point out, would not apply to persons who are essentially contrite (and know it).
    Your solution–that we are not certain that we are forgiven at t-1–does not solve the perfectly general puzzle either. For it will not apply to those who are, in fact, certain they possess forgiveness at t-1. (I suppose you might add the claim, necessarily, X is not certain that he possesses forgiveness. I see no reason to think that claim is any more likely than the claim that, necessarily, X either is not essentially contrite or does not know that she is essentially contrite.)
    You indicated that you think the Molinist solution is successful in only a restricted range of cases. Do you have some reason to think that most persons are essentially contrite and know it? (I don’t think it’ll do to say that most persons are highly disposed to ask for forgiveness even if they are not essentially contrite. For merely being disposed to do so, even highly disposed, does not undermine 4’s being a reason to ask for forgiveness.)

    November 16, 2008 — 12:19
  • Mike Almeida

    As I was trying to indicate, I don’t think I need anything as strong as the property of ‘essential contriteness’. I simply need someone who is (perhaps very) strongly disposed to being contrite. And I think there are such people. I don’t know why you also assume they must know that they are. Suppose they don’t. It will still be true that they have no Molinist reason to petition for forgiveness, though they might think they have such a reason.
    That aside, I take it as a theorem (which is more or less standard) that no proposition is assigned probability 1 except necessary truths. Since ‘God forgives me’ is not a necessary truth (as far as I know) no moral agent (or rather no agent that might be in a position to ask God for forgiveness) can assign it probability 1.

    November 16, 2008 — 13:48
  • Mike Almeida

    Sorry, I missed your parethetical remark here.
    I don’t think it’ll do to say that most persons are highly disposed to ask for forgiveness even if they are not essentially contrite. For merely being disposed to do so, even highly disposed, does not undermine 4’s being a reason to ask for forgiveness.)
    I guess we disagree. I’m urging that Y is so strongly disposed to ask for forgiveness that in the closest worlds to ours in which Y fails to do so, Y did nothing wrong. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to assume that in every world in which Y exists and does something wrong, she asks for forgiveness. That’s probably not a property anyone instantiates (except maybe trivially). But Y might be sufficiently strongly disposed to ask for forgiveness that it would take a large departure from the actual world for her to fail to do so. But in those very distant worlds, she does fail.
    If that’s so, then (4) gives Y no reason at all to ask for forgiveness. Her failing to ask for forgiveness would not actualize a world in which she has done something wrong and is not forgiven. It would actualize a world in which she did nothing wrong at all.
    4) If I were not to ask for forgiveness at t, it would not have been granted at t-1.

    November 16, 2008 — 13:57
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Mike: I feel a bit strange pushing this view, since I’m not inclined to accept either 1 or Molinism. Still, a few questions just so I can understand.
    I’m not an epistemologist, but a few claims struck me as surprising. Is it really true that one can’t be certain of P unless P is necessary? I think I can imagine a being who has infallible access to contingent truths or some subclass of contingent truths.
    Is it true that P can be a reason for me to do x only if nothing that is true (but unknown by me) undermines P as a reason to do x? I would have thought that P’s counting as a reason is dependent upon my background beliefs, not on *everything* that is true.
    Regarding the difference between essential contriteness and being disposed to contriteness, it seems to me that unless it is a law that I am highly likely to be contrite, then the closest world in which I don’t ask for forgiveness at t is one in which I still sinned at t-1. Are you supposing that it’s a law that if someone sins, she is highly disposed to ask for forgiveness? (At any rate, that’s my understanding of the standard semantics for counterfactuals. Do you think I’m wrong about the standard semantics for counterfactuals?)
    Regardless, consider:
    4b) If I were to have sinned at t-1 and were to not ask for forgiveness at t, then I would not have been forgiven at t-1.
    If someone is merely highly disposed to ask for forgiveness, then 4b will not be a counterpossible. And if one accepts 1 and 4b, then doesn’t that give her reason to believe 2 even if she believes 3?

    November 16, 2008 — 16:25
  • Mike Almeida

    Regarding the difference between essential contriteness and being disposed to contriteness, it seems to me that unless it is a law that I am highly likely to be contrite, then the closestworld in which I don’t ask for forgiveness at t is one in which I still sinned at t-1.
    No, not if the cases that Lewis actually cites (e.g., the case of Jim and Jack, attributed to P. B. Downing, ‘Counterfactual Dependence and Time’s Arrow’) about backtracking are relevant. Jonathan Bennett has some interesting (and more conservative) disagreement about when backtracking occurs. So none of this is settled by appeal to standard resolutions of vagueness, as far as I can tell. But see Bennett’s, A Philosophical Guide to Conditionals in which you might well find someone who shares such intuitions.
    Is it really true that one can’t be certain of P unless P is necessary? I think I can imagine a being who has infallible access to contingent truths or some subclass of contingent truths.
    This is the standard view and codified in the probability axioms. I’m not sure what to say about the metaphysics of infallible agents (though of course infallible agents also make mistakes–unless they are essentially infallible). I just don’t know what to say about the possibility of such agents.
    Regardless, consider: (4b) If I were to have sinned at t-1 and were to not ask for forgiveness at t, then I would not have been forgiven at t-1.If someone is merely highly disposed to ask for forgiveness, then 4b will not be a counterpossible. And if one accepts 1 and 4b, then doesn’t that give her reason to believe 2 even if she believes 3?
    4b does not provide Y with any reason to ask for forgiveness. Despite (4b), it is true that were Y not to ask for forgiveness, it would not have been the case that Y did anything wrong. (4b) would provide Y with a reason to ask for forgiveness were it true that, if he did not ask for forgiveness (in worlds where he’s gone wrong) it would be true that he was not forgiven for his wrongdoing. I’m urging that (Y’s dispositions being what they are) this is not true.

    November 16, 2008 — 19:54
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    I’m not sure I get your response to 4b. You say,
    “(4b) would provide Y with a reason to ask for forgiveness were it true that, if he did not ask for forgiveness (in worlds where he’s gone wrong) it would be true that he was not forgiven for his wrongdoing. I’m urging that (Y’s dispositions being what they are) this is not true.”
    You think that “if X were to sin *and* yet not ask for forgiveness, he would not be forgiven” is false? And that’s because his disposition to ask for forgiveness? So because he has a disposition to ask for forgiveness, then if he were to sin and yet not ask for forgiveness, then he, well, what? Wouldn’t have sinned?
    The antecedent of the counterfactual I’m considering is one in which he both sins and does not ask for forgiveness. That’s impossible only if he is essentially contrite, and you’ve said that you don’t need anything that strong.
    Let P = “X asks for forgiveness”, Q = “X sins”, R = “X is forgiven, and “>” the counterfactual conditional.
    (not-P > not-Q) does not entail that (not-P & Q) is inconsistent. Hence, both the following propositions can be true:
    (not-P > not-Q), and
    ((not-P $ Q) > not-R).
    I must be misunderstanding your point.

    November 16, 2008 — 20:43
  • Mike Almeida

    You think that “if X were to sin *and* yet not ask for forgiveness, he would not be forgiven” is false?
    No, I don’t think it is false. You didn’t ask me about it’s truth-value, as I recall, you asked me whether it gave Y a reason to ask for forgiveness. I said it didn’t. As I see it, the facts of the case are the following.
    1. Y is forgiven at t-1
    2. Y is strongly disposed to ask for forgiveness.
    3. If Y were not to ask for forgiveness at t, then Y would have done nothing wrong at t-2.
    4. If Y were not to ask for forgiveness and done something wrong, then Y would not have been forgiven at t-1.
    Given (1)-(3), (4) gives Y a reason to ask for forgiveness only if: were Y not to ask for forgiveness, then Y would have done something wrong and not be forgiven. But that is inconsistent with (3).
    Now we can revisit whether a strong disposition to ask for forgiveness is sufficient basis for the backtracker I’m describing, but I don’t imagine that will change any minds. For whatever it’s worth, Lewis does cite a person’s pride as the basis of a backtracker, viz., there was a quarrel yesterday and Jim is prideful. If Jim asked Jack for help today, there would have been no quarrel yesterday.

    November 17, 2008 — 7:27
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    That there are resolutions of the vagueness of comparative similarity of worlds that allow backtrackers is clear. But that the standard resolution disallows them is also clear, if only because Lewis *built* it that way on purpose to get his account of causation to work.
    Why do you think the following statement is true?
    “(4) gives Y a reason to ask for forgiveness only if: were Y not to ask for forgiveness, then Y would have done something wrong and not be forgiven.”
    If I know that all of 1-4 are true, and I know that I have sinned at t-1, then don’t I have good reason to ask for forgiveness? After all, I am not so strongly disposed to ask for forgiveness that I will, of necessity, ask for forgiveness. So there is a possibility that, though I have sinned, I will not ask for forgiveness. And, per 4, if that were to happen, I will not have received forgiveness. I had better ask for it, then!

    November 17, 2008 — 9:26
  • I agree with Jonathan Jacobs in the above exchange, but let me go ahead and try to put the concern in a slightly different way.
    Look, in the proposed scenario, I’ve already sinned. So my two options are the following:
    (A) Ask for forgiveness and be saved.
    (B) Do not ask for forgiveness and do not be saved.
    I don’t have the option (C) do not ask for forgiveness and do not sin.
    This is true, even if I’m so strongly disposed to ask for forgiveness when I sin that the closest possible world in which I don’t do so in one in which I didn’t sin the first place.
    Compare: I have been bitten by a poisonous snake, and I have some anti-venom. Let us presume, for the sake of argument, that it was already true that I’d take the anti-venom and recover. Indeed, I’m so strongly inclined to take the anti-venom that the closest possible world in which I do not take the anti-venom in one in which I wasn’t bitten in the first place. Nonetheless, it is rational for me to take the anti-venom, given that I have already been bitten.
    For what it’s worth, I think that the epistemic line Mike A. was taking above doesn’t fly: I can know that I’m going to take the anti-venom, and it doesn’t effect one white the rationality of my doing so.

    November 17, 2008 — 10:41
  • Mike Almeida

    Indeed, I’m so strongly inclined to take the anti-venom that the closest possible world in which I do not take the anti-venom in one in which I wasn’t bitten in the first place. Nonetheless, it is rational for me to take the anti-venom, given that I have already been bitten.
    This is confusing. Given the situation as it is described here, the fact that you’ve already been bitten is one that would not obtain if you chose not to take the anti-venom. So there is no reason to take it. It looks like this,
    1. I’ve already been bitten.
    2. Were I not to take the anti-venom, I would not have been bitten.
    Options:
    3. Take the anti-venom or Do not take the anti-venom.
    4. Suppose I take the anti-venom. In that case I survive having been bitten.
    5. Suppose I do not take the anti-venom. In that I case I survive. Given (2), were I not to take the anti-venom, I would never have been bitten.
    So, you have no reason to take the anti-venom, as the case is described. Of course, one might say that the case is misdescribed. One might say that the backtracker in (2) is false. I certainly would. Your disposition to take the anti-venom is not related in the right way to your not having been bitten.

    November 17, 2008 — 12:17
  • Mike Almeida

    Jonathan, you write,
    . . .I am not so strongly disposed to ask for forgiveness that I will, of necessity, ask for forgiveness. So there is a possibility that, though I have sinned, I will not ask for forgiveness. And, per 4, if that were to happen, I will not have received forgiveness. I had better ask for it, then!
    I said this,
    (4) gives Y a reason to ask for forgiveness only if: were Y not to ask for forgiveness, then Y would have done something wrong and not be forgiven.
    It’s true that, possibly, Y fails to ask for forgiveness. But (3) is also true.
    3. If Y were not to ask for forgiveness at t, then Y would have done nothing wrong at t-2.
    Given (3), Y knows that, were she not to ask for forgiveness, she would not have done anything wrong. This is why (4) does not give her any reason to ask for forgiveness.
    Now you might urge that possibly (i.e., in some distant worlds) she fails to ask for forgiveness and she is not forgiven. That is, (5) is true, (where I put ‘M’ for possibility).
    5. M(Y fails to ask for forgiveness and Y is not forgiven).
    Yes, that’s right. And I think (5) does give her reason to ask for forgiveness. The reason does not follow from what would happen or from what might happen, were she not to ask for forgiveness, since (3) is true and so therefore is the corresponding might-counterfactual in (6).
    6. ~(If Y were not to ask for forgiveness at t, then Y might have done something wrong at t-2).
    (5) gives Y a reason to ask for forgiveness, in my view, because it makes Y less than certain that Y is forgiven. But that’s the view I’ve been defending.

    November 17, 2008 — 12:36
  • Andrew Moon

    Mike,
    “The reason you can believe (1) and still coherently ask for forgiveness, on the view I’m defending, is that what you believe does not (as in most cases) rise to the level of certainty. So you believe that you are forgiven, but the probability that you are forgiven is not 1.”
    Suppose my friend forgives me of a wrong I commit against him. He actually tells me sincerely, “I forgive you Andrew”. I know he doesn’t say things unless he really means them. As a result, I come to believe with a high degree of confidence that he has, indeed, forgiven me. I don’t, however, believe this with certainty.
    Doesn’t it then seem irrational for me to ask, “Will you forgive me for the wrong I committed?” It seems to me to be irrational to ask for something I believe I already have. It also doesn’t seem to help for me to say, “well, I’m not certain that you have forgiven me.” He might reply, “But I just TOLD you you’re forgiven! Isn’t your high degree of confidence enough?” “Nope, because I’m not certain. Will you forgive me?”
    It seems to me that I am acting irrationally when I ask him, even if my belief doesn’t rise to certainty. Do you share this intuition?

    November 17, 2008 — 14:53
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi Andrew,
    What you say here sounds right. I think I wouldn’t ask a friend again, either. But then, I don’t need to be certain concerning the attitudes of my friends toward me. I do need to be certain concerning God’s attitude (of forgiveness) toward me, since obviously much more rides on this. The offense is much greater in the case of God and the consequences of not being forgiven, I expect, might be as well.

    November 17, 2008 — 15:55
  • Of course, one might say that the case is misdescribed. One might say that the backtracker in (2) is false. I certainly would. Your disposition to take the anti-venom is not related in the right way to your not having been bitten.
    Right. That’s what I’d say too. My disposition to take the anti-venom can make it the case that God foreknows that I’ll take it (and recover). It can make me know that I’ll take it (and recover).
    My present action can be the ’cause’ of God’s foreknowledge of what I’d do. But if I’ve already been bitten, I cannot make it to never have been the case that I was bitten by refusing the take the anti-venom. I’m trying to decide what to do in a situation in which I’ve been bitten.

    November 18, 2008 — 10:20
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi Tim, you write,
    My present action can be the ’cause’ of God’s foreknowledge of what I’d do. But if I’ve already been bitten, I cannot make it to never have been the case that I was bitten by refusing the take the anti-venom. I’m trying to decide what to do in a situation in which I’ve been bitten.
    A few things. I don’t think your present action can be the cause of what God knew, though I do think that God’s knowledge can be counterfactually dependent on what you now do.
    On the more interesting claim, I think it is false that, since you’ve already been bitten, you cannot act in such a way that you have never been bitten. To take first the easier case, consider someone who has as an essential property of never failing to take anti-venom in worlds where he is bitten. It follows that there are no worlds in which he is bitten and does not take the anti-venom. It also follows that, were he not to take the anti-venom, he would never have been bitten. So you have the following two true propositions, assuming Y has that essential property.
    1. Y has been bitten.
    2. Were Y not to take the anti-venom, Y would not have been bitten.
    But suppose Y does not have that essential property. Suppose Y has the deep disposition to take anti-venom in any world in which he is bitten. That disposition might be such that, any world in which he fails to take the anti-venom and is not bitten is closer to ours than any world in which he fails to take the anti-venom and is bitten. Let that person be Y. (1) and (2) are true, again.
    One argument against this conclusion would show that there could not be such a deep disposition. I off hand don’t see why there couldn’t be. Another argument might show that such a disposition would make failing to take the anti-venom a less than genuine option in worlds where Y is bitten. This strikes me as more plausible.

    November 18, 2008 — 14:24
  • Hi Mike. But this runs you right into problems analogous to those time-travel paradoxes of going back and killing your own grandmother. If I decide not to take the anti-venom, that decision occurs in a situation where I’ve been bitten and I decide (against my extremely strong disposition) not to take the anti-venom anyway. So if I make it to never have been the case that I was bitten, then I also make it to never have been the case that I decided not to take the anti-venom. But that was the decision that caused me never to have been bitten… I’m trying to think of a coherent description of that possible world.
    Do you really think that people can have strong psychological dispositions such that, once they go past a certain tipping point, those people acquire powers of backward causation they lacked before, albeit one’s they’re hugely unlikely to exercise? That most people who refuse to take the anti-venom just die, but that these people can change the past via their choices? Am I misunderstanding you here?

    November 18, 2008 — 15:32
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Mike: Let me try one more time. Let “>” be the counterfactual conditional.
    I assert,
    -A. (S & not-A) > not-F, and
    -A is a reason to ask for forgiveness.
    You assert,
    -A is a reason to ask for forgiveness only if B: not-A > (S & not-F)
    I say, why?
    You say,
    -Because C: (not-A > not-S)
    I’m sorry to say that I’m not at all clear how B and C are relevant. How have I gone wrong if I assert both that A gives me a reason to ask for forgiveness *and* that B is false and that C is true?

    November 18, 2008 — 16:12
  • Mike Almeida

    Tim,
    I don’t see the time-traveling case as especially worriesome. You say,
    But this runs you right into problems analogous to those time-travel paradoxes of going back and killing your own grandmother
    Right. It is possible to do that, I think. Only, were you to kill your grandmother, she would not have been related to you in that way. That is, in the closest world in which you do kill that person, you are not her grandson.
    But you say,
    So if I make it to never have been the case that I was bitten, then I also make it to never have been the case that I decided not to take the anti-venom.
    How do you arrive at this? I decide not to take the anti-venom in that world, too.
    Do you really think that people can have strong psychological dispositions such that, once they go past a certain tipping point, those people acquire powers of backward causation they lacked before. . .
    I don’t take these to be cases of backward causation. These people are not changing the past. They are instead acting in such that a way that, were they to do so, our past would never have been actual. This is not a causal relation. I hasten to say that I’m not so sure that backward causation is impossible, in very strange contexts.

    November 18, 2008 — 16:26
  • Mike Almeida

    Jonathan,
    I guess we could go round on this for the fourth or fifth time, but the formalization you present does not clarify the discussion for me. I have no idea what -A is supposed to be there. All I can do is repeat what I’ve already said in yet other words, which I am really loathe to do. This quote from above seems to me about as clear as I can get on the matter. I can’t see any genuine source of confusion here. In any case, I just don’t have anything more to say on it.
    (4) gives Y a reason to ask for forgiveness only if: were Y not to ask for forgiveness, then Y would have done something wrong and not be forgiven.
    It’s true that, possibly, Y fails to ask for forgiveness. But (3) is also true.
    3. If Y were not to ask for forgiveness at t, then Y would have done nothing wrong at t-2.
    Given (3), Y knows that, were she not to ask for forgiveness, she would not have done anything wrong. This is why (4) does not give her any reason to ask for forgiveness.
    Now you might urge that possibly (i.e., in some distant worlds) she fails to ask for forgiveness and she is not forgiven. That is, (5) is true, (where I put ‘M’ for possibility).
    5. M(Y fails to ask for forgiveness and Y is not forgiven).
    Yes, that’s right. And I think (5) does give her reason to ask for forgiveness. The reason does not follow from what would happen or from what might happen, were she not to ask for forgiveness, since (3) is true and so therefore is the corresponding might-counterfactual in (6).
    6. ~(If Y were not to ask for forgiveness at t, then Y might have done something wrong at t-2).
    (5) gives Y a reason to ask for forgiveness, in my view, because it makes Y less than certain that Y is forgiven. But that’s the view I’ve been defending.

    November 18, 2008 — 16:41
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Fair enough, Mike.
    Perhaps someone else can help me see Mike’s point—if anyone’s still reading and has the patience to show me what is apparently obvious.
    Suppose I say,
    7. “if I were to not ask for forgiveness at t, then I would not have sinned at t-1.”
    I then say, of course,
    8. “it’s not *necessarily* the case that, if I do not ask for forgiveness at t, then I did not sin at t-1.”
    I then say,
    9. “if I were to not ask for forgiveness at t, then I would not have sinned at t-1 *and* I would not have been granted forgiveness at t-1.”
    If I understand Mike correctly, I haven’t yet made a mistake.
    I then say,
    10. “if I were to not ask for forgiveness at t *and* have sinned at t-1, I would not have been granted forgiveness at t-1.”
    If I understand Mike correctly, I haven’t yet made a mistake.
    I then say,
    11. “I sinned at t-1.”
    Still no mistake, if I understand Mike correctly.
    I then say,
    12. “the truth of 10 gives me reason to ask for forgiveness at t.”
    Now I’ve made a mistake. If I understand Mike correctly, I’ve said something inconsistent with the truth of 7.
    Can someone help me see why 12 is inconsistent with 7?

    November 18, 2008 — 19:34
  • Hi Jonathan. See the last few comments above between me and Mike on the ‘anti-venom’ case; I think they shed light here.
    Your point, I take it, is that, even if (7) is true, the relevant counterfactual to consider when deciding what to do is (10). After all, (A) I have sinned at t-1, and (B) if I have sinned at t-1, I cannot through my choice at t make it the case that I didn’t sin at t-1.
    Mike denies (B). He thinks that if (7) really is true, then if the person with that extremely strong psychological propensity to contrition were nonetheless to not ask for forgiveness, then he would make it the case that he hadn’t sinned at t-1. (See Mike’s message of November 18, 2008 2:24 PM. Mike can correct me if he thinks I’m misrepresenting him, but I think that this is right.)
    To put it mildly, I find this counterintuitive.

    November 19, 2008 — 10:40
  • Andrew Moon

    “I do need to be certain concerning God’s attitude (of forgiveness) toward me, since obviously much more rides on this. The offense is much greater in the case of God and the consequences of not being forgiven, I expect, might be as well.”
    Mike,
    I take you to be saying that even though one believes he has received forgiveness, since he is not certain that he has received it, and VERY much rides on having it, it follows that he ought to ask for it.
    Does this apply more generally?
    C) If S believes that he has X but is not certain that he has X, and VERY much rides on having X, then S ought to ask for X.
    (C) gets us some weird results. I believe (but am not certain) that God has atoned for our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross, but it seems very weird (and irrational) that I ask for it given that I believe that he has already done so. And I believe in the atonement to approximately the same degree that I believe that God has forgiven me of my sins.
    You might not agree with the more general principle (C), but my example with the atonement seems relevantly analogous to the general forgiveness case.
    Lastly, it seems that what is required is that I have faith in the atonement, faith that God has provided atonement for my sins. The proper response doesn’t seem to be that I ask for atonement. Similarly, it seems that what is required that I have faith that God has, indeed, forgiven me. Asking for something you believe you already have, even if a lot rides on it and you are not certain, still seems odd and irrational.

    November 19, 2008 — 11:48
  • This may duplicate some comments, since I haven’t read them all.
    Here is a counterexample to (3). I am the leader of an expedition that is about to set out. One of the pieces of equipment is a widget that needs to be checked daily. George, who is in the expedition, cares a lot about the widget, knows more about it than anyone else, and is a compulsive checker. Thus, I know that George is someone who would anyway check the widget every day of the expedition. Nonetheless, as head of the expedition, it is my job to ensure that all important tasks are assigned to people. Thus, I ought to ask George to check the widget every day of the expedition, even though I know that George would do so anyway…
    “Now, wait,” you say. “Even though I know about George’s widget-checking, it hasn’t happened yet, and so I don’t yet have it, and hence there is no counterexample to (3).”
    But I haven’t finished my story. You see, I haven’t yet told you that the expedition starts with time travel to the year 6000 BC. So, yes, it is already true that George checked the widget every day of the expedition–eight thousand years ago. Moreover, he would have done that even had I not asked. But I was still obliged to ask.
    Also, I don’t see good reason to affirm (1).

    November 19, 2008 — 11:53
  • Mike Almeida

    (C) gets us some weird results. I believe (but am not certain) that God has atoned for our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross, but it seems very weird (and irrational) that I ask for it given that I believe that he has already done so
    I’m not sure how weird that is, but nevermind. I don’t think I need to worry about it. Forgiveness is something I must have to be reconcilied to God. God’s crucifixion is not something I must have to be reconciled. God might have reconciled me lots of other ways; why would I ask for that particular way, given the less painful options? In other words, it is false that very much rides on the crucifixion as a particular method of reconciliation. What very much rides on is my having been reconciled in some way or other. You can certainly ask God for reconciliation, though you believe that Christ was crucified for you.

    November 19, 2008 — 12:24
  • Andrew Moon

    By asking for “it”, I was referring to an atonement. I take it that God’s providing an atonement for us is of great importance to us, but it seems irrational to ask for it.

    November 19, 2008 — 12:30
  • Mike Almeida

    . . . if (7) really is true, then if the person with that extremely strong psychological propensity to contrition were nonetheless to not ask for forgiveness, then he would make it the case that he hadn’t sinned at t-1.
    This is not quite right. I’ve avoided using causal language like “make it the case that”, since the relation is not causal. Nor did I assert that the person could (in whatever sense of ‘could’ you find suitable here) fail to ask for forgiveness. Maybe he can’t. I said that the closest world in which she does fail to ask, she has done nothing wrong. Hence, (10) gives me no reason to ask for forgiveness.
    Perhaps an analogy would help. You seem to be saying something analogous to the following: (1) gives me no reason to ask for forgiveness, since (2) is true.
    1. If I were to not ask for forgiveness at t, then God would not have forgiven me at t-1.
    2. If I were not to ask for forgiveness at t and God forgave me (anyway) at t-1, then I would be forgiven at t.
    I say that (1) gives me a reason to ask for forgiveness, in this case, despite the truth of (2).

    November 19, 2008 — 12:47
  • Mike Almeida

    By asking for “it”, I was referring to an atonement. I take it that God’s providing an atonement for us is of great importance to us, but it seems irrational to ask for it.
    I don’t see that as irrational at all. It seems irrational (or, a bit irrational) in the case you describe because you keep slipping between “the atonement” and “atonement”. I wouldn’t ask for the atonement. But it seems to me perfectly sensible to ask that one be counted among those reconciled to God through the atonement. It seems to me presumptuous to just assume that, of course, I am counted among those when (1) I’m fully undserving of it and (2) it is perfectly possible that I am not among them.

    November 19, 2008 — 12:56
  • Andrew Moon

    you keep slipping between “the atonement” and “atonement”. I wouldn’t ask for the atonement. But it seems to me perfectly sensible to ask that one be counted among those reconciled to God through the atonement.
    That’s not what I said would be irrational to ask for. I clarified in the last comment that it would be irrational to ask for an atonement. In the last comment, I clarified that I was concerned with an atonement. Did you think I was slipping between “the atonement” and “an atonement” in the previous comment?
    Let me be more explicit. It would be irrational for me to ask for atonement for my sins when I believe that God has already atoned for my sins. That’s a counterintuitive implication of (C).

    November 19, 2008 — 14:13
  • Mike Almeida

    I clarified in the last comment that it would be irrational to ask for an atonement.
    Whether there is or is not an atonement is of zero importance to me. What do I care? As I’ve tried to point out, what is important to me is that I am counted among those whose sins have been atoned for. And just to repeat,
    …it seems to me perfectly sensible to ask that one be counted among those reconciled to God through the atonement. It seems to me presumptuous to just assume that, of course, I am counted among those when (1) I’m fully undserving of it and (2) it is perfectly possible that I am not among them.
    You might insist that it does not make sense to ask that one be counted among those reconciled to God via the atonement. Great. We disagree.

    November 19, 2008 — 18:23
  • Andrew Moon

    “Whether there is or is not an atonement is of zero importance to me. What do I care? As I’ve tried to point out, what is important to me is that I am counted among those whose sins have been atoned for.”
    Well that’s weird. Of course you should care that there was/is an atonement for sins. If you care about being counted among the atoned, then you should care that there is an atonement. It sounds as odd to me as someone who says, “I don’t care whether God exists! I just care about whether God loves me!” I take you to be saying “I don’t care whether there is an atonement! I just care whether I am counted among those whose sins have been atoned for.” Actually, that basically is what you did say.

    November 20, 2008 — 10:10
  • Mike Almeida

    Well that’s weird. Of course you should care that there was/is an atonement for sins. If you care about being counted among the atoned, then you should care that there is an atonement
    If I cared that there be an atonement, then any old atonement would satisfy me. But many (probably most) atonements would not satisfy me at all. That’s because I don’t care that there be an atonement. I care that I’m atoned for. Suppose an atonement occurs in which my sins are not atoned for. Do I have at least some what I care about in those cases? No, I don’t have anything that I care about.
    I also would not ask God that there be forgiveness, since God could instantiate that property by forgiving Jones and not me. Would I then have some of what I care about? No, I wouldn’t.
    So just to be clear.
    1. I don’t care that there be an atonement.
    1a. Since it is not what I really want, I would not ask for an atonement.
    1b. Since it is not something I want, it makes no sense for me to try to make certain it obtains.
    2. I do care that I’m atoned for.
    2a. Since it is what I really want, I would ask that I’m atoned for.
    2c. Since it is something I really want, it makes perfect sense for me to try to make certain I have it.
    Addendum.
    More clarification. I did not formulate (C) nor did I endorse (C). Perhaps (C) is some more basic principle that explains why it makes sense to ask for X in cases where you believe you have X, but are not certain. But maybe (C) will fail. No matter, nothing logically follows (at least that I can see) about my suggestion about how to resolve the tension in the puzzle. If not (C), then, perhaps it is some other principle or perhaps there is no basic principle here. I don’t know. As Plantinga notes, principles are hard to find, and I don’t feel much dialectical pressure to find one.

    November 20, 2008 — 11:20
  • Mike Almeida

    Maybe the confusion here is in thinking that desire is closed under logical consequence. But it isn’t closed in that way. You (seem to) think that (1′) and (2′) entail (3′),
    1′. I really want it to be true that my sins are atoned for.
    2′. Necessarily, my sins are atoned for only if there is an atonement.
    3′. :. I really want it to be true that there is an atonement.
    But that inference is bad. Compare,
    1. I really want that you do not suffer from the terrible disease you have been diagnosed with.
    2. Necessarily, you do not suffer from the terrible disease you have been diagnosed with only if you have been diagnosed with a terrible disease.
    3. :. I really want that you are diagnosed with a terrible disease.

    November 20, 2008 — 11:37
  • But isn’t it good that there be an atonement even if we are not atoned for? While perhaps I should wish more for an atonement that includes me, an atonement that doesn’t include me is better than no atonement at all.

    November 20, 2008 — 11:42
  • Andrew Moon

    Alex,
    That’s an interesting counterexample. I also formulated a counterexample to (3) in my November 12, 2008 3:44 PM comment. In my example, I rationally should ask for the secret elixir for the purposes of deceiving a villain. In your example, you rationally should check with your friend because of your duties as leader.
    I wonder if (3) could be reformulated as follows:
    3*) It’s not the case that I ought to ask for something X that I believe that I already have for the purposes of receiving X.
    Then, for the puzzle to remain, I should revise (2):
    2*) At t, I ought to ask God for forgiveness for the sin I committed shortly before at t-1 for the purposes of receiving forgiveness.
    I wonder if that seals the puzzle a bit more tightly.
    I’m not sure if there’s any scriptural warrant for either (1), (1*), (2), or (2*). But I was taught them growing up. Those propositions (with (3) or (3*)) seem to me to be irrational to believe.

    November 20, 2008 — 11:52
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex, you write,
    But isn’t it good that there be an atonement even if we are not atoned for? While perhaps I should wish more for an atonement that includes me, an atonement that doesn’t include me is better than no atonement at all.
    I didn’t deny that, I don’t think. I was simply pointing out that I might have a concern for my own atonement without caring much about anyone else. But suppose I care as much for all others as I do for myself. In that case, I could really want it to be true that there is the sort of atonement in which every existing person is atoned for. I see no incoherence in asking for that.

    November 20, 2008 — 12:11
  • Jonathan Jacobs

    Thanks, Tim. I hadn’t seen that exchange.
    The proposition (S > (not-A > not-S))—in words, “If I were to sin at t-1, then if I were not to ask for forgiveness t, then I would not have sinned at t-1” seems to pinpoint the issue for me.

    November 21, 2008 — 19:44
  • Andrew:
    It seems that even if I know that an effect will ensue, I can act for the purposes of achieving that effect. Knowledge does not imply complete certainty. I know that I won’t win a series of seven chess matches with a grandmaster, whether I play the series with her or not. But I can choose not to play in order to bring the effect about, thereby increasing the probability that I won’t win the series (there is a low but non-zero probability that I will win the series if I play; but there is only a zero probability that I will win if I don’t play).

    November 22, 2008 — 17:52
  • Alexander:
    I agree completely, although I’d like to add that the same considerations hold also in cases in which one is completely certain of what one will do and of the outcome. I know (and am certain, for sake of illustration) that I will avoid a car iff I hit the brakes, and also that I will hit the brakes. I still need to hit the brakes to avoid the accident.

    November 23, 2008 — 21:01