Sovereignty
November 10, 2010 — 8:41

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence Molinism  Tags: ,   Comments: 9

Suppose that I know that if I cause A, then either B or C will eventuate. Suppose that each of B and C furthers my plan, and neither of them furthers it better than the other. Then it does not seem that sovereignty would require me to know or decide prior to my decision to cause A which of B and C would eventuate. Sovereignty perhaps requires that nothing happens that is contrary to God’s plan, but it does not require that God’s plan should determine every detail.

Here is try at a notion of sovereignty built on this idea:

  1. x sovereignly executes plan P iff x successfully executes P and if we let Q be what x strongly and knowingly actualizes in executing P, and we let K be all that x knows explanatorily prior to x‘s decision to strongly actualize Q, and we let W be the set of all worlds at which both Q and K hold, then no world in W better fits the goals of P than any other.

In other words, x is sovereign in the execution of a plan provided that, given what x does and knows, he can’t be disappointed in respect of the quality of the plan’s execution.

One way to ensure sovereignty in the execution of a plan is to strongly and knowingly actualize every little detail. This is a Calvinist or maybe Thomistic way. Another way is to know exactly how the details would turn out. That’s a Molinist way. Another way is the “chessmaster way” (not my terminology or original idea; I think the view has been developed by W. Matthews Grant and Sarah Coakley): to choose a plan in such a way that no matter how things turn out, the goal wouldn’t be any the less well achieved by the lights of the plan. One can do this in two ways: setting one’s goal appropriately (so that whatever turns out, fits–that’s not how chessmasters do it) or choosing the plan very carefully or some combination of the first two disjuncts.

This doesn’t give us a definition of monadic sovereignty, and I think that is not necessarily a bad thing. It may be that the notion of sovereignty has its home as connected to particular plans. But if one wants a monadic notion, one might try for something like this:

  1. x is perfectly sovereign provided that it is an essential property of x that both x is perfectly free in his forming of plans and x is sovereign in the execution of all the plans that he forms.

But while it is plausible that God is sovereign in his actual plan of salvation, one might raise the van Inwagen question whether God couldn’t decide to execute a plan non-sovereignly if he so chose.

Comments:
  • Mike Almeida

    Suppose x is an onminscient, but finitely powerful agent, in a deterministic world W where P is the exclusive (or only physically possible) plan or series of events. If x performs A (= Q) in W and x knew prior to performing A (= Q) that P will be executed given A then x sovereignly executes P, on the analysis offered. The goals of P must be achieved, since they’re determined; there is no branching world at which the goals of P are not realized. But surely x does not sovereignly execute P in W.
    x sovereignly executes plan P iff x successfully executes P and if we let Q be what x strongly and knowingly actualizes in executing P, and we let K be all that x knows explanatorily prior to x’s decision to strongly actualize Q, and we let W be the set of all worlds at which both Q and K hold, then no world in W better fits the goals of P than any other.

    November 10, 2010 — 10:28
  • Steve Jeffers

    “Suppose that each of B and C furthers my plan, and neither of them furthers it better than the other”
    … and, presumably, that you are certain that there are no other courses of actions which even potentially couldn’t better further the plan. That these are two ‘equal best’ outcomes, with no other factors or risks or consequences that will affect subsequent furthering of the plan.
    Leave aside an omniscient being – I’m not sure that qualifies as a choice for a non-omniscient being.
    If I want $50, and you’ll give me a $50 bill if I flip a coin and it comes up heads *or* tails, is choosing heads or tails really a choice?
    ‘Choice’, in these terms, has to involve at least the possibility of non-trivially different outcomes.

    November 10, 2010 — 12:53
  • Mike:
    I don’t see why x doesn’t sovereignly execute P in W.
    Mr Jeffers:
    In my warm-up discussion, I was choosing whether to do cause A or not. Whether B or C results from A wasn’t up to me. In particular, I don’t choose between B and C.

    November 10, 2010 — 13:47
  • Steve Jeffers

    “I was choosing whether to do cause A or not.”
    I thought it was implicit that B and C furthered the plan more than inaction. If inaction furthers the plan just as much, then again it’s not a choice with consequences.
    You wouldn’t *choose* between B and C, but the way you’ve set it up, it doesn’t matter, because you know only B or C can result, and they’re identical for your purposes.
    To go back to my coin toss game. My sole aim is to win $50, I get one chance to play. I win $50 if I play, $0 if I don’t play. I have the power not to play … but won’t achieve my sole aim unless I do.
    Even within very simple game scenarios, I don’t think this can usefully be called ‘choice’.
    If I also get $50 for *not* playing, this isn’t a choice, this is ‘getting $50’.
    I think, for what it’s worth, that you’re onto something. I just think the values have to be different. Choice is not an abstract concept, it’s a choice *between*.

    November 10, 2010 — 15:25
  • Heath White

    Steve,
    I think the better analogy is if Alex wants to give you $50. He flips a coin, somehow he guarantees that you call it in the air, but he doesn’t know or care whether you call heads or tails. *Your* choice is free here. *His* ends are sovereignly accomplished either way.

    November 10, 2010 — 16:01
  • Mike Almeida

    I don’t see why x doesn’t sovereignly execute P in W.
    W is deterministic, so no one finite being (no one who did not actualize the laws of nature, say) is sovereign. Doesn’t that sound right?

    November 11, 2010 — 7:25
  • I don’t know that I agree. There still may be sovereignty in the execution of a plan. But x won’t be sovereign by (2) as x won’t be perfectly free in the forming of plans.
    But maybe I should modify (1). There are two options. The first is that I could let K contain only the necessary truths known to x. The second is that I could add the additional condition that only necessary truths are explanatorily prior to x’s decision to adopt the plan. The first option would have the side-effect of ruling out Molinism, and the second would rule out some versions of Molinism. I kind of like the second option, because there is something to the idea that the adoption of a truly sovereign plan is not conditioned by any contingencies.
    But maybe the right thing to do is to distinguish between sovereignly executing and sovereignly adopting a plan. Sovereignly executing a plan is compatible with non-sovereignly adopting it.
    Taking the above ideas into account, here is a proposal. Add to 1:
    1a. x sovereignly adopts plan P iff x perfectly freely adopts P and any contingent propositions explanatorily prior to x’s adopting P are wholly and perfectly freely brought about by x.
    Observe that the right hand side of 1a entails that x is a necessary being, since that x exists is explanatorily prior to x’s adopting P, and nobody freely brings it about that he exists, so that x exists can’t be contingent.
    Then:
    1b. x is sovereign in respect of plan P iff x sovereignly adopts P and x sovereignly executes P.
    We now need to decide whether in 2 to replace “is sovereign in the execution of all the plans that he forms” with “is sovereign in respect of all the plans that he forms”. I can see a case in both directions.
    In the above analysis I have violated my own strictures against conjunctive analyses. I think divine attributes may be unique in this regard–such violations may be possible. Maybe by divine simplicity there is only one natural attribute of God–divinity–and that one can’t be defined.
    The above analysis yields the following ontological argument for a necessary being that is a person.
    i. Possibly someone is sovereign in respect of a plan. (premise)
    ii. Only a necessary being can be sovereign in respect of a plan. (By 1a)
    iii. Therefore there is a necessary being that is at least possibly sovereign in respect of a plan. (i, ii, S5)
    iv. Necessarily, if x is sovereign in respect of a plan, x is a person. (Premise)
    v. Personhood is an essential property. (Premise)
    vi. Therefore there is a necessary being that is a person. (iii, iv, v and S5)
    If one doesn’t grant (v), then one only gets that there is a necessary being that is at least possibly a person.

    November 11, 2010 — 7:48
  • Mike Almeida

    1a. x sovereignly adopts plan P iff x perfectly freely adopts P and any contingent propositions explanatorily prior to x’s adopting P are wholly and perfectly freely brought about by x.
    Here’s a quick worry. The freedom envisaged is either (a) libertarian or (b) compatibilist. If (a) then there are indiscernible worlds W and W’ such that God chooses P in W and ~P in W’. That’s not obviously compatible with perfectly rationality (basically a Buridan problem where P and ~P are the ‘bundles of hay’, and all else is equal). If (b) then determined beings can sovereignly adopt a plan. But determined beings are dependent beings, and it’s hard to see how something might lack aseity and sovereignly adopt a plan (basically I sovereignly adopt P only if I am not extrinsically caused to adopt P).

    November 11, 2010 — 16:45
  • Determinism is incompatible with perfect freedom. 🙂
    So, let’s go for (a). I am afraid I don’t see how W and W’ can be indiscernible given that God chooses P in W and ~P in W’. Surely what God chooses is a difference!

    November 17, 2010 — 15:25