The Incarnation and Compatibilism
April 7, 2009 — 9:39

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Christian Theology Free Will  Comments: 19

I’ve been thinking for a little while about two related arguments for compatibilism based on Christian theology. In this post, I’ll look at the implications of the traditional approach to the Incarnation, and in a second post I’ll look at what the kind of robust view of inspiration that I favor will require. I’m cross-posting this at my personal blog.
It seems to me that with the traditional understanding of the Incarnation, something like compatibilism must be true of Jesus’ freedom. The traditional view of the Incarnation is that Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his divine nature prevents him from doing anything sinful, but at least in his earthly life he had all the human ability to do so, being fully tempted in every way. This means that we need some sense in which it’s possible that Jesus do something wrong and some sense in which it’s not. The best way I know of that anyone has captured this is to say that it was possible for Jesus to do wrong in relation to his human nature but not possible in relation to his divine nature.
But what does that mean? If it means that two natures constrain him, and one allows it while the other doesn’t, then it just implies that it’s not possible for him to have sinned. His human nature would have allowed it, but the divine nature prevented it. This seems just like the situation for someone with no legs: it’s possible for them to walk with respect to their brain but not possible for them to walk with respect to their legs. So it’s simply just not possible for them to walk, unless it’s ever proper to ignore the obstacle sufficient for preventing that possibility, and it pretty much never is unless you’re talking about attaching new legs or something like that. But there’s no such analogous possibility with Jesus, as if he could lose his divine nature. So this doesn’t well capture the intuition that there’s some sense in which Jesus could have sinned, in order to explain the statements about his having been genuinely tempted. This complaint strikes me as much like the complaint that libertarians on free will offer against compatibilism.


If the causes of our actions can be traced back to events outside our control, then incompatibilists will claim that we are not free. They will say that there’s no possibility that things will be otherwise. A certain variety of compatibilist, however, will say that there’s a sense in which it’s not possible and a sense in which it’s possible. It’s possible with respect to the factors that we usually care about when we consider ourselves free, but it’s impossible with respect to the actual past and laws of nature. When we are concerned with our freedom, what we care about is the fact that we consider options, evaluate them based on our own desires and motivations, and act in such a way that our decision-making process is what leads to our eventual choice. If that process can include options to be considered that are not possible in the broader sense, we still call them possibilities in ordinary discourse, because we’re restricting ourselves to a more limited sense of what it means to be possible. We can consider it a live option.
The incompatibilist view considers this sort of move either incoherent or self-deceptive, but compatibilists think this better matches our ordinary sense of freedom than the libertarian view that we have some ability to transcend the causal order of nature (and super-nature, since we should be including divine causes here too). My thought is that the traditional view of the Incarnation requires something very similar to what the compatibilist is saying here, something the libertarian strongly resists. It requires a sense of possibility and ability that, in the only sense the incompatibilist cares about, is not present.
I think there’s also something closer to the compatibilist model of freedom in the traditional model of the Incarnation. Imagine Jesus facing temptation in the wilderness in Matthew 4, say. For it to be a real temptation, he has to have considered the attractiveness of doing what Satan tempted him to do. If his divine nature prevents him from doing it, then there must be something even within him that prevents him. What form might that take? It seems as if it must be some motivation within him that’s stronger than the motivations that he seriously considers when he’s tempted to do what’s wrong, stronger enough that even his consideration of the wrong doesn’t lead him toward sinful desires. It sounds as if his internal state: his desires, motivations, loves, beliefs, and so on are what cause him to do what he does, even to love what he loves and desire what he desires. It sounds as if the compatibilist has a ready-made explanation of his internal state.
The libertarian, to say that he is free in his choice whether to give in to temptation, has to say that there’s no guarantee of him doing the right thing but also that he will be prevented somehow from doing it, even from desiring things at a sinful level. It sounds like the libertarian is forced into accepting the compatibilist’s way of describing freedom in order to maintain the traditional view of the Incarnation. Now it’s possible that there are other ways to handle this that I’m not thinking of, but this does seem to me to be a pretty good argument for compatibilism among those who accept the Incarnation in the traditional way. (Also, I want to be clear that I’m not equating the traditional view I’ve been assuming with orthodoxy. For all I know, orthodoxy is broader than the traditional view on whether Jesus could have sinned. It’s the latter view that I think requires a compatibilist understanding, so I’m open to the possibility that someone will be able to pull those apart and thus get out of this argument.)

Comments:
  • Thanks for bringing this up.
    Let me raise one question about your compatibilist solution. Suppose our puzzle is this: “Why was it metaphysically impossible that the incarnate Logos sin?” If that is the explanandum, you haven’t quite solved the puzzle. You say that Christ had a motive that determined him to act rightly. But to answer the puzzle, you would then have to explain why it was the case that it was metaphysically impossible that he lack that motive? Maybe there is a story to be told in terms of God’s essential justice being such that he would ensure for himself such a motive were he to become incarnate. Or maybe some variant of 2, below, would work.
    Anyway, here are some alternate accounts:
    1. Tom Flint has a Molinist story on this that might work if Molinism is true.
    2. The Thomistic story is that Jesus enjoys the beatific vision (he is always united hypostatically to the divine nature, after all), and the beatific vision provides a motive that dominates all motives. More precisely, on the Thomistic story, freedom requires finite-level indeterminism only when the choice is made between incommensurables. For someone with the beatific vision, the good of union with God not only outweighs but evidently dominates all other goods, and so one freely chooses that good. Thus, the Thomist is a compatibilist about choices where there is domination, and an incomaptibilist (leaving aside the question of God’s primary causation) about choices where there is no domination. When we will be in heaven, we will freely be choosing the good, because we, too, will have the beatific vision.
    3. A source incompatibilist can say that choices are to be attributed to persons, not to their natures or wills. Of course, we choose with or by our nature or will. But the choice is made by the person, not by the person’s nature or will. Source incompatibilism requires that one’s free choices not have any origin outside of one. The free choices of the incarnate Logos still flow from the Logos. They do not have an origin outside of the Logos. (The divine nature is not a thing outside of the divine person.) So for persons who are caused, source incompatibilism requires alternate possibilities (else our actions can be traced back to the environment and to our causes), while in the case of uncaused persons, source incompatibilism is compatible with determination. That seems to me to be an attractive feature of source incompatibilism for theists.
    What’s nice (from my point of view) about 1, 2 and 3 is that they each let us retain incompatibilism for ordinary cases.

    April 7, 2009 — 11:30
  • Anonymous

    Alexander
    In your comment, you conclude with the following sentence: “while in the case of uncaused persons, source incompatibilism is compatible with determination. That seems to me to be an attractive feature of source incompatibilism for theists.” Could you elaborate on what is meant by that. You certainly don’t seem to mean compatibilism. But if SI is compatible with determination, why then isn’t the view your discussing in your #3 not simply determinism of some sort. Or perhaps this is what you meant – incompatibilist determinism. Is it? Or am I completely misunderstanding your point?

    April 7, 2009 — 20:20
  • Mike Almeida

    If it means that two natures constrain him, and one allows it while the other doesn’t, then it just implies that it’s not possible for him to have sinned. His human nature would have allowed it, but the divine nature prevented it.
    I’m not sure why. One nature allows it while the other constrains it. How does it follow that he could not have sinned? You say His human nature would have allowed it, but the divine nature prevented it and conclude that he could not. But it seems as reasonable to say His divine nature would have prevented it, but the human nature allowed it so he can.

    April 8, 2009 — 7:05
  • Jeremy Pierce

    Alex, I suppose someone who thinks Molinism is compatible with libertarianism might find some Molinist explanation. I don’t think counterfactuals of freedom can be true unless compatibilism is true, so I don’t think that counts as avoiding this argument.
    As for Aquinas, I’m not sure I’ve seen the stuff you’re referring to. I’ll have to think about that view more. Where does he expound this view, or where in the secondary literature could I find someone explaining it in more detail? My reading of his discussion of freedom in the philosophical portion of the Summa is that he’s at least not saying anything contrary to compatibilism. (He may well end up rejecting compatibilism in the biblical portion later on. I’ve never read that stuff.) My initial inclination, though, is to say that his account of someone experiencing the beatific vision has to be compatibilist if he thinks that’s genuine freedom (even if he thinks there’s libertarian freedom in other cases). If all I can show is that compatibilism is true, even if sometimes we have libertarian freedom, I do think that’s a conclusion almost all libertarians would want to resist.
    I’m not sure if I think the third view is coherent until I see more, but it sounds like the standard agent causation view that van Inwagen shows either to lead to an infinite regress or to have something unexplained that wouldn’t be the sort of freedom we’d want for ourselves. Do you have a particular view in mind in the literature? Maybe I haven’t kept in touch with the free will literature for a few years, and there’s been a response to the kind of objection that I’ve always found decisive that won’t seem to me to be dodging the issue.
    Mike, so are you saying that if I lost my legs I’d still be able to walk, because after all my arms still allow me to walk even if my legs no longer provide the means?

    April 8, 2009 — 8:06
  • Jeremy Pierce

    Also, do these views affirm that Jesus had the freedom to do otherwise, a requirement for libertarianism? If so, then they accept a possible world where Jesus has the divine nature and sins. Isn’t that a problem? But if there’s no possible world in which Jesus, having the divine nature sins, then doesn’t his freedom require denying the Principle of Alternative Possibilities as the libertarian conceives of it?

    April 8, 2009 — 8:31
  • Anonymous, I think what Alex meant is that SI is compatible with the action’s being caused, and thus having an explanation. I don’t think he meant that it’s compatible with determinism, i.e. the thesis that every event is determined by the laws and the past.

    April 8, 2009 — 8:34
  • 1. Source Incompatibilism (SI) says that freedom or responsibility for an action is incompatible with the action being entirely caused (or maybe even explained?) by factors outside of oneself.
    Alternate Possibilities Incompatibilism (API) says that freedom or responsibility for an action requires a real possibility of doing otherwise.
    SI does not in general entail API. However, SI does entail that the freedom of a caused agent (i.e., an agent whose existence was caused by something outside her) is incompatible with causal determinism (causal determinism being a species of determinism in which the later states of the universe are caused by the earlier ones; one could be a nomic determinist without being a causal determinist, e.g., if one thinks that the true physics has no room for the concept of causation). (Stump advocates SI and doesn’t realize this entailment, apparently.) Moreover, it may be that, at least given some auxiliary assumptions, SI entails API in the special case of caused agents.
    So, SI and API are closely related, but only in the case of caused agents. In the case of uncaused agents, the two fall apart, and it is thus it is at least prima facie possible to accept SI and yet to say that God, and the Logos, necessarily avoids sin and yet is free.
    The best recent arguments for incompatibilism are in fact arguments for SI, not directly for API. (For instance, Pereboom’s manipulation arguments.)
    2. I think van Inwagen may be wrong about the leaving of something unexplained. See the chapters on van Inwagen and libertarian free will in my The Principle of Sufficient Reason, as well as Randolph Clarke’s Libertarian Accounts of Free Will. There is a nice exposition of Clarke’s view, with additional references, here [Word].
    3. I think that St. Thomas holds that our earthly choices are compatible with divine determination (primary causation is on a different plane–or so the Thomists say), but that there is no determination by any finite causes. I am guessing that he would say that there couldn’t be determination by any finite causes because of the nature of the will.
    An apposite passage: ‘Man does not choose of necessity. And this is because that which is possible not to be, is not of necessity. Now the reason why it is possible not to choose, or to choose, may be gathered from a twofold power in man. For man can will and not will, act and not act; again, he can will this or that, and do this or that. The reason of this is seated in the very power of the reason. For the will can tend to whatever the reason can apprehend as good. Now the reason can apprehend as good, not only this, viz. “to will” or “to act,” but also this, viz. “not to will” or “not to act.” Again, in all particular goods, the reason can consider an aspect of some good, and the lack of some good, which has the aspect of evil: and in this respect, it can apprehend any single one of such goods as to be chosen or to be avoided. The perfect good alone, which is Happiness, cannot be apprehended by the reason as an evil, or as lacking in any way. Consequently man wills Happiness of necessity, nor can he will not to be happy, or to be unhappy. Now since choice is not of the end, but of the means, as stated above (Article 3); it is not of the perfect good, which is Happiness, but of other particular goods. Therefore man chooses not of necessity, but freely.’ (S Th I-II 13 6)

    April 8, 2009 — 9:30
  • Mike Almeida

    Mike, so are you saying that if I lost my legs I’d still be able to walk, because after all my arms still allow me to walk even if my legs no longer provide the means?
    I don’t think I want to say that. You note above that . . .[t]his seems just like the situation for someone with no legs: it’s possible for them to walk with respect to their brain but not possible for them to walk with respect to their legs. But I don’t see the analogy; it’s hard (for me) to make sense of the claim that ‘it is possible for them to walk with respect to their brain’. Given the context, I think we should say that it is not possible for them to walk. No doubt there are worlds in which they have legs, or other prosthetic devices, but you want to rule them out as irrelevant to what is possible here (if I’m reading you correctly). When you say it is possible for them to walk with respect to their brain what you seem to be saying is that they know how to walk, but can’t, or, their brain can send walk-signals, but they cannot walk. That’s to say, though, that they can’t walk.
    It might be that you want to put this in terms of abilities, powers rather than possibilities. I think I agree that the former might be unmanifested (given finks and the like). But I’d deny that they are not possibly manifested.

    April 8, 2009 — 11:03
  • Mike Almeida

    However, SI does entail that the freedom of a caused agent (i.e., an agent whose existence was caused by something outside her) is incompatible with causal determinism (causal determinism being a species of determinism in which the later states of the universe are caused by the earlier ones
    An SI-er could argue instead that though every inner state was caused by events outside, the action was caused by the relevant inner states and not outer events. They might have to deny transitivity for causation, but they wouldn’t be the first. Mutual causation plus a-reflexivity are good reasons to give up causal transitivity.

    April 8, 2009 — 11:22
  • Jeremy,
    I’d suggest it is best to get clear on the doctrine first before attempting to gloss it philosophically, if that be possible.
    The classical discusison of this is not in the Scholastics, and hence not in Aquinas. The place to look is in the Dyothelite/Monothelite-Dyoenergist/Monoenergist controversies of the 7th-8th centuries. The champion for the Dyothelite side was Maximus the Confesor, a layman no less.
    The teaching in sum is this. Christ has two wills or two powers of choice which are employed by one divine person. What Christ lacks and what is not essential to human beings is the gnomic will, which is a specific mode or employment of the natural faculty of will or choice. The gnomic will is a use of the power of choice where theuse of that power is not yet fixed with the good telos of the respective nature. This comes through habituation. The reason why it is fixed is that a created agent has as yet not been habituated since he has a begining (lest souls pre-exist). The gnomic will is also in part characterized by deliberaiton motivated by an ignorance about genuine and apparent goods.
    But Christ is not a person with a begining and so he lacks that specific employment or use of the natural human faculty that makes sin possible. Christ is therefore impeccable from the get-go inhis human power of choice. This impeccability does not preclude the AP condition, pace Pruss above. There is a difference between the condition that there be a plurality of options and a plurality of morally opposed options. For Maximus, there is no need to read free will as requiring the latter. So I think Pruss is wrong when he writes above,
    “So, SI and API are closely related, but only in the case of caused agents. In the case of uncaused agents, the two fall apart, and it is thus it is at least prima facie possible to accept SI and yet to say that God, and the Logos, necessarily avoids sin and yet is free.”
    This is only true if the AP condition requires objects of differing or opposed moral value and the good is simple. But Maximus with his insistence on the essence energies distinction rejects the idea that the Good is simple in say the way that Augustine speaks of it.
    Christ can enjoy libertarian freedom in his human power of choice without the possibility of sinning just so long as he has a plurality of good objects to choose between. And this is what he does in Passion, when at one moment he freely chooses the good to preserve his life with his human power of choice and with his divine power of choice wills to go to the cross, since both are goods willed by God.
    To say that the human power of choice was moved or predestined by God as Augustine and Aquinas seem to is just another version of the Monoenergism that was rejected in Maximus’s works and the 6th council in the seventh century that upheld his teaching.
    As for the temptation, the traditional locus for that is also in Maximus in his discussion of 2nd Cor 5:21 where he indicates that Christ takes up our corrupted human nature in the incarnation, experiencing our passions and temptations even though he personally performs no sinful acts. Christ is impeccable even though he truely experiences our temptations.

    April 9, 2009 — 0:34
  • Alex, that passage is exactly one of the ones I had in mind when suggesting that his view is compatibilist. He says choices aren’t of necessity, but the question is what that means. When he explains it, it has nothing to do with not being caused by prior causes but only about the intellect examining some things rather than others, which even the Stoics would be happy to say.
    Mike, what I was thinking was this. If the human nature does not constrain Jesus from sinning, but the divine nature does, then something is indeed constraining him from sinning. Therefore he is constrained from sinning. All it takes is one thing constraining him from sinning for it not to be possible for him to sin (in the way API-libertarians speak of possibility).
    Perry, the libertarian freedom I’m discussing is the libertarian freedom not just to do otherwise (where any good alternative is sufficient) but the freedom to sin. On your account, Jesus did not have that in his earthly life, right?
    Monoenergism is the view that Jesus only had the one divine will and no human will. That’s not the divine determination view, which would hold that Jesus’ divine will just is God’s will but that Jesus’ human will is a separate will that is predestined to choose whatever God’s will chooses. The metaphysics is different. On this view, Jesus’ human will is like how Calvin or Leibniz would have seen every human being’s will, which you’d be hard-pressed to confuse with God’s will.

    April 9, 2009 — 6:36
  • Alexander Pruss

    Mike:
    “An SI-er could argue instead that though every inner state was caused by events outside, the action was caused by the relevant inner states and not outer events.”
    They could. But I think generally SI-ers are motivated by something like the following principle: “If an event A is deterministically caused by an event B, then one is responsible for A only if one is responsible for B.” Then if there is a deterministic chain of events that starts before one’s existence and ends with the action, this principle will at some point be violated.
    Jeremy:
    I take Aquinas to be thinking that “For the will can tend to whatever the reason can apprehend as good” to be true on every occasion. Whenever you apprehend x as good, your will can tend toward x.
    Here is one reason for my reading. Aquinas says that we are free, and not necessitated, because we choose particular goods rather than between Happiness and non-Happiness. The difference between the two cases, according to him, is that the will is necessitated to choose Happiness, but is not necessitated to choose the particular good. If compatibilist were true, why couldn’t the choice of Happiness also be free? On the compatibilist reading of what Thomas is saying, in the case of a particular good G, one is free because on some occasions (with a particular set of motives) one chooses G and on other occasions (with another set of motives) one does not. But what one does on other occasions than the present seems irrelevant to the question whether one is acting freely. So on this reading, Thomas’s incompatibilism is not a very good incompatibilism. And that’s not a charitable reading.
    Supposing we take the compatibilist reading, in cases where the intellect does apprehend both A and B as goods, what kind of cause could determine the will to opt for A? Antecedent desire? But I do not see desire playing a significant role prior to choice. In fact, I see the opposite as going on. I choose between A and B, and I opt for A, and this opting for A constitutes a desire for A. I am inclined to think, after doing a text search of Aquinas, that he might think it is categorically mistaken to suppose that desire determines the will. The closest we get is one statement where desire influences a bad person’s intellect to present the wrong things to the will. But in the case where the intellect presents both A and B as good, it seems that desire isn’t going to make the will choose one or the other.

    April 9, 2009 — 7:56
  • Jeremy,
    If the AP for condition for libertarians is just the ability to choose between alternatives then this could include choosing to sin, but not necessarily so. And that is what the traditional doctrine states, namely that the ability to sin is not essential to freedom, and not essential to being human. If this weren’t so, then people in heaven aren’t human and we have akind of eschatological docetism (not to mention Christological Docetism).
    Monoenergism came in lots of forms, one of which was the idea that the divine will determined or moved the human will. That view was also condemned. Consequently traditional Christology precludes monergistic views like those of Calvin. And this is why Calvin and the majority of Reformed scholastics altered the traditional Christology. See Muller’s, Christ and the Decree: Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins.
    Moreover, if the divine determination view were correct, theyare going to have a hard time with John 6 or the Passion where Jesus indicates that he chooses otherwise than the divine will without sin.

    April 9, 2009 — 8:46
  • Jeremy Pierce

    Perry, I’m not going to have the same conversation twice on separate blogs. I’ve responded to this on the cross-posting, but I don’t see the point in copying everything over again here every time.
    Alex, I still don’t get it. He sees happiness as whatever state is best for us, and he sees the will as what we want. Wanting or desiring is just an intellectual act of declaring something to be good for us. So it follows almost by definition that we will our own happiness. So why would determinism change that? A determinist allows for possibilities that are technically metaphysically impossible once you factor in the past and laws (although they are absolutely possible in the sense of their possibility if you ignore the full past and laws). So I don’t see how it makes a difference if he’s a determinist. He’d say this either way.
    I think you’re right that he wouldn’t say desires influence or cause the will and that he might well say they influence or cause the intellect. But for him the will is almost an involuntary faculty. It simply chooses what the intellect deems best. All the work is in the intellect. Every being with an intellect has a will, and that’s what makes the being free, but it’s the intellect that seems to me to be doing all the work in generating the freedom by having the capability of choosing between options. There’s something very Stoic about his psychology, even if it’s somewhat more complex.

    April 9, 2009 — 14:30
  • It seems pretty clear to me that what he is saying–and certainly this seems to be what contemporary Thomists interpret him as saying–is that in ordinary cases, there is no best thing to do. Every ordinary action has good-making and bad-making features, which the intellect can see. So, for any ordinary action, the intellect tells the will: “It has these good features, and these bad features.” It is then, he thinks, possible to do the action because of the good features, or refrain from the action because of the bad features. I have a yummy and healthy dinner in front of me. I can eat it, because of the good of nutrition. Or I can refrain from eating it, because of the badness of having to go to the effort of lifting my spoon.

    April 9, 2009 — 15:07
  • There is something to be said for reading Aquinas as a compatibilist. Aquinas’s position on this very tricky; it used to be the case that there were two major opposing interpretations, depending on whether you agreed with the Dominican or the Jesuit reading of Aquinas. The Dominican interpretation was Banezianism, based on the idea of physical premotion; the Jesuit interpretation was Molinism, which was originally developed precisely as an opposing reading of Aquinas before it was detached and set out on its own. Both criticized each other, in effect, for being crypto-compatibilists. And Stump’s interpretation (Stumpism?) would put him in the compatibilist camp.
    There is good reason to worry about all of these interpretations as interpretations of Aquinas (not least because every single one of them, including Stump’s, involves reading Aquinas in terms of something not obviously in Aquinas at all). Part of the problem is that Aquinas has a view that drops out almost entirely from the later discussion: he thinks the intellect and will are parallel, both presupposing a necessary natural inclination (first principles in the case of the intellect, the good in the case of the will) and both capable of acting freely and without necessity as long as this doesn’t conflict with the natural inclination, and both of these freedoms are essential to understanding the freedom of the human person. This makes it somewhat difficult to place him with respect to most discussion of this issue. But Aquinas is very clear (in a passage in the De Malo, I think) that there is no state of human life, including that of the blessed, that does not involve free choice; and free choice for him is both the ability to will or not will and the ability to will a thing or something else.
    A problem that seems to me to arise with the argument in the post is that when people are incompatibilists for AP reasons, they aren’t saying that freedom requires that every possibility be availability. That is, however AP is interpreted, it must be consistent with the idea that some things are not going to be possible. So the AP libertarian seems to me to be in a much better position than is suggested in the post: all he or she has to deny is that one of the possibilities available is sinning, because that would be inconsistent with his divine nature. But that on its own says nothing about whether he is determined in the choices he actually makes.

    April 10, 2009 — 19:00
  • Brandon:
    Thank you for the comments on Aquinas which are much more knowledgeable than mine.
    As for AP, however, I think the idea that there is some alternate possibility will not solve the problem. Here is the problem. According to AP, it seems you are only responsible for doing A if you could have failed to do A (or maybe: failed to do A freely). Therefore, you are only responsible for refraining from sinning if you could have failed to refrain from sinning.
    Now, suppose x’s possibilities are the actions A and B, both of which are morally good, and x chooses A. Then, AP allows us to say that x is responsible for doing A. But it does not allow us to say that x is responsible for avoiding wrongdoing. For while he could have done otherwise than to do A, he couldn’t have done otherwise than to avoid wrongdoing. (This is even if the doing of A is identical to the avoiding of wrongdoing on a coarse-grained analysis of actions.)
    So, while there is no difficulty in saying that Jesus acted freely, there is a difficulty, given AP, in saying that Jesus freely refrained from sinning.
    A different way–I think only verbally different–to the same result is this: “x freely did A” is an ambiguous way of making a claim that should properly be made contrastively: “x freely did A rather than B, C or D.” Seen this way, it is possible that on one contrastive disambiguation it is true that x freely did A and on another it is not. Suppose that George’s will is remotely controlled by aliens who make him give a sandwich to a homeless person. The only thing not in the aliens’ control is whether he will give a cheese sandwich or a ham sandwich. George chose to give a ham sandwich. Then “George freely gave a ham sandwich” is both true and false, depending on how we disambiguate it. It is true that (1) George freely gave a ham sandwich rather than giving a cheese sandwich. It is not true that (2) George freely gave a ham sandwich rather than nothing at all. Now, for moral praise or blame purposes, what matters is whether (2) is true, not whether (1) is true (except in special cases, such as where George knows something relevant about the homeless person’s preferences, allergies or religious affiliation).

    April 10, 2009 — 21:48
  • Brandon:
    But I think both the Banezians and the Molinists will agree that on Aquinas’s view there is no determination of our action by prior secondary (i.e., created or finite) causes (I am relying on Freddoso for information on the Banezians). If Thomas is a compatibilist at all, he only believes that human freedom is compatible with determination by the primary cause (God), not that it is compatible with determination by secondary causes. I do not see interpretive room for the idea that human freedom is compatible with determination by prior secondary causes.
    I am inclined to think the Banezians are right about Aquinas interpretation. Alas, I am also inclined to think that both the Banezians and the Molinists are wrong about the substantive question, but my own position has its difficulties (and so I hold it only very tentatively, being willing to abandon it if it is shown incompatible with what the Church teaches about grace and predestination).

    April 10, 2009 — 21:58
  • According to AP, it seems you are only responsible for doing A if you could have failed to do A (or maybe: failed to do A freely). Therefore, you are only responsible for refraining from sinning if you could have failed to refrain from sinning.
    I think this, like most characterizations of AP, is potentially ambiguous. All that AP really commits one to is that there are alternative possibilities out of which the action was selected, such that we could have done otherwise; that tells us that they must be possible in some sense, but it doesn’t tell us that all the possibilities considered must be the kind we would under any sufficiently similar circumstance have chosen. But surely AP is consistent with saying that someone who considers a number of possibilities for action, all of which are really in the agent’s power to do, all but one of which are rejected as obviously bad and stupid and repulsive, is responsible for choosing the one action that is none of these three? There were alternative possibilities for action; all but one was rejected. That the other alternatives were too awful to be freely chosen by any agent that knows what it is doing and is able to resist any absurd temptations that might arise is really not relevant to whether the one alternative that was viable was freely chosen or a choice involving moral responsibility. You would have made a moral choice deliberately that was in your power not to make.
    Thus the real problem is the ground of possibilities, that is, what criterion do we use to identify the relevant alternative possibilities. And thus that there is some alternative possibility may solve the problem for the AP libertarian, depending on how the alternative possibility fits with the criterion used. A power-based criterion, for instance, would have no problem: Jesus had the same power we do. Thus he had the same relevant alternative possibilities; the impossibility of sinning arises from something else entirely. A different criterion would give different results, so it is essential that we not talk about the AP libertarian in general as if they are all committed to the same way of identifying alternative possibilities.
    I agree that both Banezians and Molinists will hold that there is no determination of our action by prior secondary causes (and that an adequate interpretation of Aquinas requires accepting that); my point was that traditionally neither usually thought that the other actually managed to give an account in which this was true. I think the problem with all of the interpretations of Aquinas, Banezian, Molinist, Stumpist, is that they take something from Aquinas that is only used for one type of situation, and try to make it into a general account of all divine providence; there is reason to think that Aquinas is more complex than any of the three can actually allow.

    April 11, 2009 — 6:49