Can Theists be Libertarians?
January 15, 2015 — 23:02

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 14

I take minimal libertarianism (ML) to entail that, for any time t, free agent S, action A, and world W, S is libertarian free at t in W with respect to A only if S can (is able to) do A at t and S can (is able to) do ~A at t. It is central to the freedom of the libertarian free agent S in W that S has available to her at t an A-world, w, and a ~A-world, w’, each of which share the same past. There are of course many complicating clauses we can add to (ML), and various resulting versions of libertarianism, but the minimal conditions in (ML) is all we will need.

Theists often find libertarianism appealing.  But can theists consistently be libertarians? The standard view on gratuitous evil is in (P).

P. Necessarily, God prevents every instance of gratuitous or pointless evil.

(P) of course expresses a necessary truth (if true). (ML) also expresses a necessary truth. Both (P) and (ML) are widely accepted among theists. But if (P) is true, as it certainly seems to be, and God exists, then (ML) is false. How would a proof go?

Note first that (ML) generates a B-series of worlds. Let w be morally perfect. In a B-series, we have a world w-1 which is exactly like w except that there is one additional evil. (ML) allows that we replace a good agent in w with a bad moral agent, one who always goes wrong. There is also a w-2 which is exactly like w-1 except that we replace another good moral agent with a bad moral agent. And so on downward. The series, w > w-1 > w-2 >, . . ., > w-n, is a B-series since every world from w-1 downward includes gratuitous evil. All of the worlds have the same amount of positive value–in particular each has the same value of freedom and exercise of freedom–and the worlds lower in the series have additional evil.

Since God exists in all worlds in the series, he can replace the bad moral agent in w-1 with the good moral agent in w, and actualize a better world. He can replace the bad agent in w-2 with the good agent in w-1, and actualize a better world and so on down the series.  The result is that libertarian freedom yields pervasive violations of (P). The options are to reject the idea that God must prevent gratuitous evil (P), or reject the idea that free agents are libertarian free (ML).  The reasonable response is to reject (ML).

Addendum

 

 

 

Comments:
  • Remark

    Hi Dr Almeida,

    “All of the worlds have the same amount of positive value–in particular each has the same value of freedom and exercise of freedom–and the worlds lower in the series have additional evil.”

    This is possibly a tangential point to make, but, as the quote above suggests, theists often (indeed mostly if not always) suppose that freedom has a positive value, or an intrinsic value, that adds to the perfection of a world, such that God wishes to actualise beings with (for now, unspecified) freedom.

    I have doubts about freedom’s value. An argument for it is this: A’s freely rescuing a child from a burning house has greater moral worth than A’s rescuing the child under compulsion. Accordingly, actions + freedom are more valuable than actions – freedom. Thus, freedom of itself adds to the positive value of the world.

    If this were true, then consider A’s shooting the child instead (a) under compulsion, and (b) freely. If freedom has positive value, then we should say that A’s shooting the child freely has greater moral worth than A’s shooting the child under compulsion. We should say that A’s action + freedom is better than A’s action – freedom. But we don’t. In fact, we say the very opposite, that A’s free action is morally worse that A’s action constrained.

    What freedom does, in effect, is to intensify an action, such that good actions are made better by being performed freely, and bad actions worse.

    A tangential point without intention to dis-rail the OP.

    January 17, 2015 — 2:31
  • Michael Almeida

    I agree that the source of the value of freedom is not clear, andI agree with the points you make above. I’m assuming here that it has value, indeed, I’m assuming that it’s value outweighs the evil people freely bring about. This is almost certainly false, but I concede it anyway. But even with these concessions, there are vast violations of (P) under the assumption of (ML) alone. It is extremely hard to see how a theist can be a libertarian, unless they suddenly decide to reject (P).
    One further concession: note that I concede in the OP that God has an excuse for failing to prevent gratuitous evil if the best feasible (not best possible, but best feasible) world includes such evil. Even granting all of this we have lots of violations of (P).

    January 17, 2015 — 8:11
    • Remark

      Hi Dr Almeida,

      Well, St Thomas, for one, clearly rejects libertarian freedom (LF), if by LF is meant an action (or decision) that lacks a causal history (which, from your past comments, is what I take you to mean by LF). As you know, St Thomas believed that all (free) actions have remote as well as proximate causes. That is, causes of actions derive partly from the agent and partly from God. This clearly isn’t LF as just defined.

      But if this still leaves room for gratuitous evil in the form of human actions, then St Thomas has to explain why God, having a causal influence in bringing about these actions, is responsible but not morally culpable in any sense for them. That is to say, St Thomas has to show that your proposition (P) is false. This might place God in an even worse position with respect to GE than He was in on the assumption that agents have LF and He played no part in bringing agent’s actions about. Just a further thought.

      January 17, 2015 — 9:23
      • Remark

        Oops, I meant (last sentence) agents’ actions! Bad punctuation. R

        January 17, 2015 — 9:38
      • Kevin Corbett

        This might be another meaningless and unneeded excursion into the history of philosophy, but there are at least some Thomists (I know of Brian Davies and Edward Fesser for example) who hold, and believe Aquinas held, that God is not a moral agent at all, and that what it means to call God good is entirely different from what it means to call a creature good. This isn’t, though, without contention among Thomists (I don’t believe it to be what Aquinas held, nor the whole truth myself).

        January 17, 2015 — 19:15
        • Michael Almeida

          Yes, I am assuming that we can described God’s goodness non-analogically.

          January 18, 2015 — 8:34
  • Michael Almeida

    I don’t think libertarianism entails that actions have no causal history. They might have probabilistic causes, for instance, or they might have agent causes. What they do not have is deterministic causes. I’m not sure the same problems with violating (P) afflict views on which God causally influences actions, since such accounts don’t obviously generate the relevant sort of B-series above.

    January 17, 2015 — 11:18
    • Remark

      Hi Dr Almeida,

      “It is central to the freedom of the libertarian free agent S in W that S has available to her at t an A-world, w, and a ~A-world, w’, each of which share the same past.” (Quoted from the OP)

      On this understanding, there is nothing in either world that inclines S to perform A rather than not-A, or vice versa. It would be odd to say that in w the past is such that S will probably do A and in w’ the past is such that S will probably do not-A, if the pasts in w and w’ are the same. If actions have a causal history, on the other hand, then better sense can be made of S’s doing A in w and not-A in w’. But then the pasts of w and of w’ would have to be different.

      “I’m not sure the same problems with violating (P) afflict views on which God causally influences actions, since such accounts don’t obviously generate the relevant sort of B-series above.”

      I’m sorry, but I don’t quite understand this.

      January 17, 2015 — 11:46
      • Michael Almeida

        I showed you how to develop a B-series from the assumption of (ML). I’m not sure I can do that for non-libertarian theories. I know I can’t do it for some.

        January 17, 2015 — 16:26
  • Josh

    Interesting… I paused at this line: “Since God exists in all worlds in the series, he can replace the bad moral agent in w-1 with the good moral agent in w, and actualize a better world.”

    It’s not clear to me why you think that’s true. (I can think of arguments for it, but I’m not sure what your reason is.) Suppose open theism is true and that God can’t know for sure whether a given creature will freely perform an evil intention until that creature actually does so. How, then, could God simply replace the person? It’s not like God can reach into one possible world, pick some beings out, and put them instead into a different possible world… (Perhaps your answer is going to turn on a certain definition of “gratuitous evil”.)

    January 27, 2015 — 11:21
  • Michael Almeida

    I paused at this line: “Since God exists in all worlds in the series, he can replace the bad moral agent in w-1 with the good moral agent in w, and actualize a better world.” It’s not clear to me why you think that’s true. Suppose open theism . .. How, then, could God simply replace the person? It’s not like God can reach into one possible world, pick some beings out, and put them instead into a different possible world…

    Hi Josh,

    Yes, the addendum might help with this (see above). The thought is this: take a world w that includes agents (a1, a2) who always go right. There is a world w’ (assuming minimal libertarianism) which includes agents (a1, a3) which is exactly like w except that (i) a3 goes wrong and (ii) the creaturely essence of a2 in w’ is such that, had a2 been created instead of a3, then a2 would always go right. So, basically, the idea is that w’ a sub-perfect world (a1, a3) and it is true in w’ that God can actualize a perfect world w. What is it that guarantees that there is such a sub-perfect world? Libertarianism does. So, libertarianism is going to guarantee that there are worlds in which moral evil occurs for no greater good. That is, libertarianism guarantees that there are worlds w’ such that God might have actualized a better world w that includes no moral evil. But then libertarianism is going to guarantee that there are worlds that include gratuitous moral evil.
    The libertarian will have to argue that every possible instance of libertarian moral wrongdoing is, really, for a greater good. But that’s not credible. Since libertarian moral evils E are not determined, there can be no greater good G such that G is true and G entails E. That is, there can be no greater goods G such that God aims to bring about G and since G entails E, God has to bring about E too. Note that there is a good G (perhaps) that E entails. This is the old evil for freedom’s sake line. But we get the good G (freedom) in the better world w, too. We might assume that E is sufficient for G, but we know that E is not necessary for G.

    January 27, 2015 — 11:44
  • Josh

    Thanks for that. It confirms my suspicion that your notion of “gratuitous evil” is different than the one I had in mine. (I define it in terms of “feasible” worlds, not possible worlds.)

    January 28, 2015 — 16:57
    • Michael Almeida

      Hey Josh,

      No, no, I mean the B-series to be a set of feasible worlds from some morally perfect world. I’m reasonable sure that there must be such a series assuming ML. In the interest of full disclosure, I doubt that the notion of feasibility interestingly divides possible worlds. All worlds are feasible form any world, I say, since all God needs to do is predict the behavior of agents to (i) have them behave that way and (ii) not cause them to behave that way. But this is another story of course.

      January 28, 2015 — 17:19
      • Josh

        Okay, but then, as far as I am understanding you, you’ll need additional premises (which you’ll no doubt have reasons to accept). For example, suppose there are counterfactuals of creaturely freedom whose truth-values do not depend upon God’s decisions. Then, for there to be an evil free feasible world with free creatures, it will need to be the case that at least some possible agent or agents happen to enjoy morally favorable counterfactuals. You are reminding me of my very first philosophy paper, “on creating worlds without evil,” where I in effect support this premise using considerations of probability. My argument there leads me to join you in being reasonably sure that there must be such a series assuming ML, but only if God has access to counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, etc..

        January 29, 2015 — 13:45
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