Helm’s position
June 6, 2004 — 19:42

Author: Jon Kvanvig  Category: Divine Foreknowledge  Comments: 6

In Paul Helm’s entry in the IVP book on freedom/foreknowledge, he maintains a strong view of sovereignty and a compatibilist account of free will. He also denies the transitivity of causation, apparently to avoid the objection that God causes all of our actions.
There are several problems with this response, the most troubling coming from van Inwagen’s consequence argument, I think (I’ll have more to say about that argument in this context later). But apart from the consequence argument, which relies on concepts of necessity and bypasses talk of causation entirely, I don’t see how the denial of transitivity will help here. If we adopt a compatibilist account of free will, we’ll hold that an action is free when and only when it is the product of the right kinds of internal causes. In order to preserve freedom on this account from encroachment by God’s sovereignty, failure of transitivity will have to occur in every case in which human actions are free. No mere denial of the transitivity of causation can secure such a happy coincidence. So, as far as I can tell, the denial of the transitivity of causation is a necessary condition for preserving the compatibility of compatibilist free will with the strong view of sovereignty. It does not come even close to being a sufficient condition for preserving that compatibility.
Suppose then that there is no general assurance that there is the needed happy coincidence. Then Helm’s position on the compatibility of free will and sovereignty requires a different form of compatibilism than that above. He needs to say that an action is compatibilistically free if, but not only if, it is the product of internal causes. Amending the theory in this way yields an account of free actions that is incomplete.
So either way, the strong Edwardsian position that Helm defends on the relationship between freedom and sovereignty is incomplete.