On Terrible Libertarian Worlds
January 30, 2015 — 20:08

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Divine Providence Free Will Problem of Evil Uncategorized  Tags: , ,   Comments: 8

Consider a morally perfect world, w, that includes only libertarian free agents. Everyone in w is acting morally, no one is acting immorally. Let S be the set of all agents in w, where S = {a0, a1, a2, a3, a4, . . .,an}. And let A be the set of actions of agents in w, where A ={M0, M1, M2, M3, M4, . . ., Mn}, where ‘Mn’ indicates that agent n performed a moral action. But we know that the actions of agents in w are libertarian free, so we know that the actions are fully independent: no one’s action is causally dependent (or logically dependent, or otherwise dependent) on anyone else’s action. Otherwise, these actions are not free. So, we know that there is a possible world w’ where the set of actions are A’ = {Im0, M1, M2, M3, M4, . . ., Mn}, where ‘Imn’ indicates that agent n performed an immoral action. In w’, one of the agents chooses to act immorally. But then, on the same assumptions, we know that there is a possible world w” where the set of actions is A” = {Im0, Im1, Im2, M3, M4, . . ., Mn}. In w”, three of the agents choose to act immorally, the rest act morally. We know that they are free to do so. But then we know that there is also a possible world wn where An = {Im0, Im1, Im2, Im3, Im4, . . ., Imn}. In wn all agents decide to act immorally. This is possible too, given libertarianism. But we know something much, much worse.

We know that the libertarian moral agents might have decided to perform not merely immoral actions, but truly horrendous actions, the very worst sorts of actions. So, there is also a world wt in which the agents perform morally terrible actions, Tn. There is a world wt in which the set of actions is in At = {T0, T1, T2, T3, T4, . . ., Tn}. If there is a possible world wt in which the actions are those in At, then it is possible that God actualizes a possible world in which agents perform the actions in At. That is, there are possible worlds wt in which God exists and he creates only morally terrible agents all of whom perform only morally terrible actions. But it is not possible that a perfectly good and omnipotent being actualizes wt. There are two reasons a perfectly good and omnipotent being cannot actualize wt, aside from the obvious intrinsic disvalue of wt: (i) God might have actualized none of the terrible agents and, more importantly, (ii) there is guaranteed to be a wt world (there are, in fact, large numbers of wt worlds) in which the contingent facts concerning other, uncreated, agents are such that, had God created them they would all have always gone right (this is surprisingly not difficult to prove). God would surely have to actualize some or all of those agents. The only plausible conclusions available are that libertarianism is false or God does not exist. Theists of course should be moved to conclude that libertarianism is incompatible with theism.

 

Comments:
  • David Gordon

    This argument presupposes that in the morally perfect world w. there is a time t at which at least two agents with libertarian free will choose simultaneously. If this isn’t the case, then it hasn’t been shown that there is a possible world w” that includes an immoral action. Libertarian freedom doesn’t require that the action of agent B, who acts later than agent A, be independent of the choice of agent A. Libertarian independence requires only that if the history of the universe up to B’s choice had been exactly the same, then B could have chosen otherwise. it doesn’t require that B’s choice be independent of A’s past libertarian choices.

    If this is right, then a theist who accepts libertarianism can escape the argument by claiming that there is a logically possible limit to the number of simultaneous free actions by different actors.

    February 4, 2015 — 13:42
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi David,

    I don’t assume any simultaneity either in decision making or action. At least, I hope I don’t.

    February 4, 2015 — 16:35
    • David Gordon

      Hi Mike,

      My worry is that you have made the requirements for full independence of actions too strong. Suppose, that, in the actual world, both you and I have libertarian free will. At time t1, I act morally and at t2, you act morally. Since you have libertarian free will, there is a possible world identical to the actual world up to t2 in which you act immorally. This possible world includes my act at t1.

      It doesn’t follow, or at least I’m not seeing why it does, that there is another possible world in which I act immorally at t1 and in which you have libertarian free will to act at t2. Libertarian free will requires only that, given the history of the actual world, you could have chosen otherwise than you did, not that you could now have chosen otherwise whatever my past libertarian free choice. Your argument seems to presuppose the latter.

      February 4, 2015 — 19:50
  • Michael Almeida

    It doesn’t follow, or at least I’m not seeing why it does, that there is another possible world in which I act immorally at t1

    Yes, it does, if you were libertarian free at t1. The very notion of freedom involved entails that you freely act morally only if you could have failed to do so. Otherwise, you did not freely act morally at t1.

    Libertarian free will requires only that, given the history of the actual world, you could have chosen otherwise than you did, not that you could now have chosen otherwise whatever my past libertarian free choice. Your argument seems to presuppose the latter.

    Your past libertarian choice is part of the history of the actual world! But assume that my free actions need not be independent of the actions of others. In that case, God could act in ways that bring it about that I act morally. Since my act was not causally determined, I am, on your view, free. But of course that is inconsistent with libertarianism.

    February 5, 2015 — 7:44
  • Adam Omelianchuk

    Hi Mike! Interesting argument. Two thoughts, one minor and one, well, less minor.

    First, I think your conclusion needs some qualification: God creates no one with libertarian freedom or God does not exist. Suppose you are right that libertarianism is false or God does not exist; let’s suppose further that does God exist. Then libertarianism is false, and if that’s right, then God had to create the actual world. But I doubt that you meant to imply a position in which God was not able to refrain from creating (did you?). Still, your argument packs some punch if we qualify things the way I qualified them.

    Second, and more importantly, I’m not sure its possible for God to create a world in which the only actions his free creatures perform are morally terrible, meaning they are “the very worst sorts of actions.” If virtue libertarianism is true, then it would take some time for God’s free creatures to develop a character that produces actions that go from being bad to the worst sort their can be. God’s judgment on those agents may be such that it ends every world that is on its way to becoming one wherein his creatures only perform the worst sorts of actions. But on this view, it is false that “God creates no one with libertarian freedom or God does not exist.”

    What do you think?

    March 3, 2015 — 8:03
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi Adam,

    I’m not sure about the qualification you suggest. The conclusion of the argument is that either God does not exist or libertarianism is false. But you add,

    let’s suppose further that does God exist. Then libertarianism is false, and if that’s right, then God had to create the actual world.

    I have no idea how the fact that libertarianism is false and God exists entails that, necessarily, God actualizes our world. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t follow from these premises. But you add,

    I’m not sure its possible for God to create a world in which the only actions his free creatures perform are morally terrible, meaning they are “the very worst sorts of actions.”

    I think that’s probably true, and I think I say so in the post. What I’m arguing is that if we have libertarian free will (no matter what our virtues or dispositions to behave happen to be) there will be such worlds. That is, such worlds are possible, even if not probable, given our dispositions or virtues. But all I need is the possibility.

    March 3, 2015 — 8:18
    • Adam Omelianchuk

      Thanks for your reply. On point one, I guess my question is what you mean by “libertarianism.” I take it to mean that one is able to perform some action A and one is able to refrain from performing A. But if no one has that dual ability, then how could God freely create the actual world without compatibilism being true? And if it is true, then God’s creation of the actual world is inevitable, is it not? That seems to follow, since the decision to create this world and only this world is determined by his unchanging nature or whatever it is that determines God to do as he does.

      On point two, I’m not sure you even have possibility in the sense that you speak of, that there are worlds where libertarian agents go terribly wrong in the relevant sense. This is because creaturely dispositions and virtues that aren’t the only relevant factors; we also have to include God’s. Think of the Hebrew Bible’s Flood story. In that story, the world was on the way to being absolutely terrible, but God intervened and “started over” so to speak with Noah. By virtue of God’s goodness, he “regretted” making human beings because of what they had become, and had almost all of them killed (this assumes, of course, that a good God can do such a thing). Or think of the Tower of Babel. In that story, God does not allow his creatures to complete their project. To generalize from these examples, it seems that there no worlds in which we go as bad as we could go. Hence, having libertarian freedom doesn’t entail that there must be some worlds where we only do what is utterly terrible; it only implies that some are on the way to being terrible given that God exists.

      The main problem this view faces is making sense of this “on the way to being terrible” property without appealing to possible worlds. I think we can do that. I agree with David Oderberg that enumerating possible words tells us nothing substantive about the modal properties of an objects in the those words. Take our case for example: we are talking about what God and the libertarian agents he creates could do, not some non-actual abstract states of affairs or concrete Lewis-style worlds in which our non-identical counterparts do this or that (or neither). The (supposed) fact that there are no worlds where God exists and created agents do only terrible things is not what makes it the case that God necessarily constrains their freedom, nor does the (supposed) fact that there are no worlds where libertarian freedom is so terribly misused tell us anything about the essence of that freedom. To be sure, it would be inconsistent to say that God necessarily limits our freedom to be as bad as we could be and that there is a world in which we are as bad as could be. But that there is no world where we are as bad as we could be doesn’t imply anything about how bad we could be, just as the fact that there is no world where Socrates is a number tells us nothing about how Socrates could not be a number. We have to do a deeper analysis the essence of things than just enumerate worlds in which the sorts of properties we are interested in are instantiated or not.

      So I agree with you in a sense, that there is a use of freedom that is so bad that God could not exist in that world if it were to contain it. But I don’t see how that implies that that libertarianism is false. Or so it seems to me. This has been a lot of fun to think about this week, and I thank you for providing such good food for thought. 🙂

      March 6, 2015 — 7:40
  • Michael Almeida

    I agree with David Oderberg that enumerating possible words tells us nothing substantive about the modal properties of an objects in the those words.

    In that case we have a fundamental disagreement, and not much room for discussion.

    March 6, 2015 — 7:43
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