The New Collection
December 8, 2010 — 18:23

Author: Jon Kvanvig  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Hell Molinism Open Theism Problem of Evil Theological Fatalism  Comments: 6

Seems that describing it as “shameless self-promotion” absolves one, though I doubt it. But that’s the line so I hereby use it, whatever purgatory consequences… My new collection, in draft form, LaTeX’ed to beautiful purposes by Oxford’s document class, is here.
Any thoughts welcome, of course–would love to minimize the errors!

Foreknowledge of free actions
August 23, 2010 — 21:02

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Foreknowledge Open Theism Theological Fatalism  Comments: 37

I think the following yields a pretty good formulation of the argument for incompatibility of foreknowledge and free will. Start with the principles:

  1. If x freely chooses A at t, and p is a truth solely about what happened prior to t, then p does not entail that x freely chose A at t.
  2. <God believes at t* that x freely chooses A at t> entails <x freely chooses A at t>.
  3. <God believes at t* that x freely chooses A at t> is solely about what happens at t*.

Now note that if I will freely choose A tomorrow, and God has foreknowledge, then God now believes that I freely choose A tomorrow, and <God now believes that I will freely choose A tomorrow> is a truth purely about what happens today that entails that I freely choose A tomorrow, contrary to (1). So if (1)-(3) hold, then God lacks foreknowledge or we don’t choose freely.

But here is a criticism of (1) that I don’t remember seeing, though it’s obvious enough that I expect it’s there somewhere. Claim (1) is supposed to capture our intuition about alternate possibilities. But it fails to capture these intuitions. Consider this case. Suppose the laws of nature are necessary, and you simultaneously deterministically cause me to have an irresistible desire to do a Hitler salute and push me into a time machine so that it is nomically necessary that I perform the Hitler salute in the year 3000 BC. Next thing I see, it’s the first moment of the year 3000 BC, and I am doing a Hitler salute. Intuitively, here is a violation of alternate possibilities. But (1) does not indicate this. Let p be a complete description of the universe at the time you push me into the time machine. Then p entails that I do a Hitler salute in the year 3000 BC. But p is not a proposition about what happened prior to the year 3000 BC. Hence, (1) does not rule out my freedom, even though it is surely meant to.

Here’s a second, less weird case. Simultaneous causation is at least imaginable. Imagine the laws are necessary, and there is some state of the world that deterministically causes me to simultaneously raise my arm in a Hitler salute. Again, (1) does not tell me that the action is unfree, even though the alternate-possibilities intuitions that led to (1) surely do. So (1) does not capture these intuitions.


Nelson Pike Conference
August 13, 2010 — 19:10

Author: Garret Pendergraft  Category: Divine Foreknowledge Free Will News  Comments: 2

Some of you may have seen the announcement on Philosophy Updates, but in case you haven’t (or as a reminder):
On December 11th, 2010, the University of California, Riverside and the University of California, Irvine will co-sponsor a conference in honor of Nelson Pike. It will be held at UCI, and the speakers will be:

  • Robert Adams,
  • Marilyn Adams,
  • David Woodruff Smith, and
  • John Fischer.

It should be good times, so please save the date! Stay tuned for more details as they develop, or feel free to contact John Fischer.
And, as an added bonus, only for Prosblogion readers,* to get you pumped for the conference, check out this re-reading of Pike’s argument from the aforementioned John Fischer (along with his co-authors Patrick Todd and Neal Tognazzini).
* Not really—but it is difficult to find online.

The first sin and compatibilism
April 1, 2010 — 8:01

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Christian Theology Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Problem of Evil Theological Fatalism Virtue  Comments: 33

Begin with this plausible principle:

  1. If x is necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances to do something wrong, then either (a) x’s character was in some way vicious prior to the action or (b) x is not culpable for the wrong (or both).

This principle is one that both compatibilists and incompatibilists can accept. Hume certainly accepts it, because he thinks we are culpable insofar as our actions reveal our vicious character. We can imagine cases where an internal state that is in no way vicious necessitates a wrongful action. For instance, one might justifiably believe that some action A is right, and one’s virtuous character might necessitate one to do what one believes to be right, but objectively A is wrong. However, in that case, one is not culpable for A. If there is nothing vicious in x’s character, and the character necessitates an action, it is hard to see how the action could be a culpable action.

But now add these premises:

  1. The first sin was culpable.
  2. The internal state of the first sinner was in no way vicious prior to the first sin. (The goodness of creation)

It follows from (1)-(3) that:

  1. The first sinner’s first sin was not necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances.


Adams and “The Virtue of Faith”
November 28, 2009 — 20:32

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Molinism Open Theism Theological Fatalism  Comments: 9

I recently finished Robert Adams’ old article “The Virtue of Faith” (chapter 1 of the book The Virtue of Faith), and I found a really interesting point. Uncertainty and faith are necessary for a certain sort of special good in a relationship. I think it’s worth quoting Adams on this:


August 20, 2009 — 9:04

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Foreknowledge Molinism  Tags:   Comments: 5

For simplicity, I shall ignore the distinction between God talking and Jesus talking. I shall also write “deny” for “deny libertarian-freely” (note: typical libertarians allow for the possibility of free choices that are determined by character and circumstances, as long as the agent had a sufficient role in forming the character through properly indeterministic choices; it is only the latter that I will call “libertarian-free”). Take the case where God tells Peter that Peter will deny him. What divine knowledge was the prophecy based on? Suppose we say: God tells Peter that Peter will deny because God knows that Peter will deny. This would be a simple-foreknowledge (SF) account of prophecy. Now we have an apparent circularity in the order of explanation. God telling Peter that Peter will deny is explanatorily prior (“e-prior”) to Peter’s denial–it affects Peter’s state of mind when choosing whether to deny. But Peter’s denial is, presumably, e-prior to God’s knowing that Peter will deny. (Thomists and Calvinists will likely deny this. And so such Thomists and Calvinists will have no difficulty.) And God’s knowing that Peter will deny is e-prior to the prophecy. So we come full circle.

There is a way out of this argument: God ensures that Peter’s choice whether to deny is causally isolated from Peter’s memory of the prophecy. This breaks the circle, since then God’s prophesying to Peter that Peter will deny will no longer be e-prior to Peter’s denial. Moreover, Scripture says that only after the denials did Peter remember the prophecy, so there is some exegetical ground for supposing some causal isolation.

The difficulty with this SF account of prophecy is that it only makes prophecy possible in cases where the prophecy is isolated from the prophesied event. I shall argue that the Molinist may face a similar problem.


Merricks on “Truth and Freedom”
June 16, 2009 — 14:08

Author: Andrew Moon  Category: Divine Foreknowledge Theological Fatalism  Comments: 9

I just finished Trenton Merricks’ recent Phil. Review (2009, 118:1) article “Truth and Freedom”. Like most of his stuff, his arguments were crisp and clear. I’ll say at the outset that I’m far from being an expert in the freewill/foreknowledge/fatalism literature. (I make that explicit, because I know that some readers of this blog are!)
It was fun to see Merricks apply some of his work on the nature of truth to the fatalism problem. He starts with the mundane, general point that a proposition is true because of what the world is like; i.e., truth depends on the world, not the other way around. Furthermore, this dependence is not a causal one (more on this below).


June 5, 2009 — 8:20

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Divine Foreknowledge Open Theism  Comments: 24

Consider two claims about God’s knowledge.

  1. For all p, if p, then God knows p.
  2. For all p, if p, and possibly God knows p, then God knows p.

It is an interesting fact that (2), combined with two uncontroversial premises, entails (1). I said this in an earlier post, but now I have a more elegant argument. Here are my uncontroversial premises:

  1. Necessarily, God’s knowledge is closed under conjunction and tautological implication (i.e., if God knows p and God knows q, then God knows (p and q), and if God knows p, and p tautologically implies q, then God knows q).
  2. There is at least one proposition p such that possibly God knows p and possibly God knows not-p.

Obviously, the proposition p in (4) is contingent, since knowledge entails truth.

Here is the argument that (2)-(4) entail (1). Fix any true p. By (4), let q be any proposition such that possibly God knows q and possibly God knows not-q. If q holds, then let r=q. If q does not hold, then let r=not-q. Note that r is true. Observe that possibly God knows not-r (if r=q, then this follows from the fact that God possibly knows not-p; if r=not-q, then this follows from the fact that God possibly knows q as well as (3), since q tautologically implies not-r). Let s be the proposition (p or not-r). Then, God possibly knows s. For God possibly knows not-r, and in any world where God knows not-r, God also knows (p or not-r) by (3). Now, s is true as p is true. Therefore, s is a proposition that is true and possibly known by God. Therefore, by (2), God knows s. Moreover, r is a true proposition, and God possibly knows r (since God possibly knows q and God possibly knows not-q). Therefore, God knows r, by (2). But s is (p or not-r). By (3), it follows that God knows p, since (s and r) tautologically implies p.

So if one attempts to limit omniscience by saying that omniscience only means that God knows things that God can know, or that God only knows things that possibly are known by someone (which also entails (2)), one hasn’t limited omniscience at all: God still ends up knowing all true propositions, assuming (3) and (4). Is there some other way of non-arbitrarily limiting omniscience? I am not sure. But, fortunately, there is no need to limit omniscience. God knows all truths.

Open Theism and Divine Freedom
August 26, 2008 — 21:35

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Concept of God Divine Foreknowledge Free Will Open Theism  Comments: 15

[Cross-posted at Parableman] Open theists distinguish between two different varieties of their view. There are actually a number of ways to divide up open theism into varieties, but one particular division that open theists make among themselves is between the following two positions:
1. There is no such thing as a future to be known, and that’s why God doesn’t know the future exhaustively. It’s not a limitation on God that he doesn’t know everything that will happen. There’s nothing to be known, so God can’t know it. So God is omniscient in knowing all the facts about the future. There just aren’t very much such facts yet.
2. God could know the future, but it would prevent our freedom, so God chooses to limit his knowledge, knowing that knowledge about what we would choose to do would make us unfree. God doesn’t know all he could know metaphysically, but he does know all he could know given his choice not to know future free choices.
I’m not really sure these are distinct views.


Prophecy in Harry Potter
August 7, 2008 — 9:39

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Christian Theology Concept of God Divine Foreknowledge Divine Providence Free Will Molinism Open Theism Theological Fatalism  Comments: 12

[cross-posted at Parableman]
I’m working on a chapter for the forthcoming Blackwell Philosophy and Harry Potter on the topic of destiny, and one of the things I’m trying to do in the chapter is distinguish between different metaphysical analyses of prophecy. I’ve come up with three, and I’m inclined to think that it might be exhaustive enough for the purposes of a popular-level work like this, but I’m curious if anyone here can think of any others.
Here’s what I’ve got (and how I’m presenting it in the draft I’m writing):
1. They involve mere likelihoods. No one has access to the actual future, but someone might have magical access to information that’s derived from what’s likely. Given what’s true about the various people involved, it’s very likely that a certain outcome will happen. That means prophecies, even the ones Dumbledore is inclined to call genuine, are not infallible. They can turn out get it wrong.
2. They do not derive their content from the actual future. Rather, they make the future happen. When a genuine prophecy occurs, it influences those who hear it in such a way that they end up doing things that will fulfill the prophecy. This kind of prophecy is self-fulfilling in a very literal sense.
3. The seer has some intuitive connection with the way things will really happen, such that the words of the prophecy are true about a future that really will be that way. If it’s a genuine prophecy, it can’t be wrong, because its origin lies in the very future events that it tells about. In the same way that a report about the past can bring knowledge about the past only if there’s some reliable connection with the actual events in the past, a genuine prophecy in this sense must derive its truth from a reliable method of getting facts about the future.
My understanding of J.K. Rowling’s view of prophecy, judging by this interview and my sense that the Albus Dumbledore character represents her views when he discusses this issue with Harry Potter, is that she wants to treat Professor Trelawney’s two genuine prophecies as the first kind, a kind of prophecy an open theist could accept.
There are hints in at least two of Dumbledore’s conversations with Harry that he thinks something like the second kind is going on, but it’s clearly not a reduction of prophecy to what happens in #2, because the characters in question (mostly Lord Voldemort) still make free choices and aren’t simply caused by the prophecy to do anything the way some ancients thought Laius was caused by Apollo’s prophecy to do what he did that led to Oedipus eventually killing him.
My argument at this point is that there isn’t really a way for Dumbledore to distinguish between Trelawney’s two genuine prophecies and all her vague predictions that can often be interpreted as coming true unless the genuine ones are of the third kind (because the pseudo-prophecies are of the first kind, and the genuine ones can’t be completely explained by the second kind). Rowling doesn’t seem to want to accept that, and Dumbledore is clearly with her, so there’s a consistency issue here both for the character and the author. But my argument depends on the options I’ve listed being exhaustive. Is that true?