Molinism and Circularity
May 19, 2015 — 10:40

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Divine Providence Molinism  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 9

Yesterday, I discussed Thomas Flint’s response to the grounding objection in chapter 5 of Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Today, I want to discuss his response to Robert Adams in chapter 7.

Adams’ objection turns on a notion of explanatory priority which, Flint complains, is not adequately defined. Flint argues that there is an equivocation in the argument, and that Adams relies on a transitivity assumption which is not plausible when applied across the different sorts of priority involved. I think, however, that Flint is mistaken on both counts: first, the notion in question is not equivocal. Rather, it is a genus containing several species. Second, transitivity is not actually required. What’s required is just an anti-circularity principle. The anti-circularity principle is abundantly well-justified across the entire genus.

The notion of priority here corresponds to the notion of objective explanation. That is, A is prior to B iff B because A. That’s simple enough. Of course, there are many different uses of ‘because’ and I’m inclined to agree that the anti-circularity principle won’t apply to all of them. That’s why we require that the because or priority here track objective explanation, i.e., that A really be a reason why B is true, and not merely a fact that helps make B intelligible to some particular mind. It is extremely plausible to suppose that there can be no cycles in chains of objective explanation.

The types of priority/explanation at issue include these:

  1. The priority of reasons (and, more generally, considerations) to actions (whether divine or creaturely).
  2. The priority of God’s creative act to all creaturely activity.
  3. The priority of causes to effects.
  4. The priority of free choices to free actions.

Now, it is, as I said, extremely plausible that an anti-circularity constraint applies here. For instance, it is incoherent to suppose that I should choose to act in a certain way because I am going to act in that way. Similarly, if my action causes it to be the case that P, then P can’t be among the reasons for my action, since (barring overdetermination, etc.) P won’t be true unless I take the action. (Of course, I might take the action because taking the action will cause it to be the case that P. That’s different.)

Now, let C be a proposition describing a total circumstance and let A be a proposition stating that a creature takes some free action in that circumstance. The Molinist is clearly committed to:

(1) C []-> A is prior to God’s decision to weakly actualize C.
(2) God’s decision to weakly actualize C is prior to the agent’s having the reasons, considerations, etc., which lead her to choose A.
(3) The agent’s reasons, considerations, etc., are prior to her choice that A.
(4) The agent’s choice that A is prior to A.

By the anti-circularity constraint, this implies that neither the agent’s choice that A, nor A itself, is prior to C []-> A.

But then why is C []-> A true? If the Molinist says, for no reason at all, she runs into the randomness objection. The anti-circularity constraint prevents the Molinist from saying it’s because of the agent’s choice or the agent’s action. The Molinist obviously can’t say it’s due to God. If it’s due to the agent’s essence, nature, character, etc., then we’re presupposing a compatibilist theory of freedom and don’t need to bother with all the complexities of Molinism. There’s a serious problem here, and Flint hasn’t defused it.

(Cross-posted at

Future Contingents and the Grounding Objection to Molinism
May 18, 2015 — 11:56

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Divine Providence Free Will Molinism  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 13

In chapter 5 of Divine Providence: The Molinist Account (1998), Thomas Flint defends a response to the grounding objection which he attributes to Alfred Freddoso. According to the Flint-Freddoso line, there are difficulties about future contingents which are exactly parallel to the difficulties about counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, and solutions to the problems about future contingents can be adapted to provide equally plausible solutions to the problems about counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. This claim is false.

The exact formulation of the grounding objection is a little tricky. Some philosophers take it to be based on the (questionable) assumption of some form of truthmaker theory, i.e., the notion that if a sentence/proposition is true then its truth must somehow be grounded in an actually existing concrete entity. This kind of very abstract claim about truth is quite controversial and can easily be rejected by the Molinist. However, the objection can be stated much more compellingly by keeping the focus on free will, which is of course the Molinist’s main concern. The Molinist endorses a negative thesis about freedom, namely, that my action is unfree if that action is determined by anyone or anything other than me. However, if this negative thesis were the Molinist’s whole conception of freedom, then the Molinist would succumb to the randomness objection to libertarianism: she would be unable to distinguish between an indeterministic spasm and a genuinely free action. Accordingly, the Molinist should conjoin to this negative thesis the positive thesis that an action is free only if it follows from my (undetermined) causal activity. But then, according to the Molinist, all of the counterfactuals regarding my free choices are determined and known by God in a manner that is logically independent of my even existing (let alone choosing), so it seems that it is not my undetermined causal activity that makes the counterfactuals true, and the same ought to be true of the subjunctive conditionals with true antecedents (since those would have remained true even if God had decided not to create me). Accordingly, I am not free in any positive sense, since all of my choices are determined by the prior truth of the counterfactuals and not by my spontaneous causal activity.

One response to this objection the Molinist should not make is that the determination in question is okay because it’s not causal determination. If the Molinist made this response, a Thomist or Leibnizian opponent would reply that it is perfectly consistent with their view that our actions might be free from external determination by natural causes (and, indeed, both the Thomist and the Leibnizian will insist that our actions are indeed often free from such external determination). As Leibniz expresses the matter:

Since, moreover, God’s decree consists solely in the resolution he forms, after having compared all possible worlds, to choose that one which is the best, and bring it into existence together with all that this world contains, by means of the all-powerful word Fiat, it is plain to see that this decree changes nothing in the constitution of things: God leaves them just as they were in the state of mere possibility, that is, changing nothing either in their essence or nature, or even in their accidents, which are represented perfectly already in the idea of this possible world. Thus that which is contingent and free remains no less so under the decrees of God than under his prevision. (Theodicy, tr. Huggard, sect. 52)

If the Molinist is to have grounds for rejecting Leibniz’s view, she has to insist that it is not only (natural/secondary) causal determination that interferes with freedom, but any kind of determination whatsoever. Hence determination by the prior truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom must, on the Molinist’s view, be inconsistent with freedom.

Now consider the Flint-Freddoso response. According to this response, the issue here is exactly parallel to the issue about future contingents. (Note that Leibniz makes the same claim about his compatibilist response.) It is true now that I will freely eat breakfast tomorrow. But if it is already true now, then doesn’t that mean I won’t be free, since the truth of this proposition determines that I will eat? Note again that the Molinist can’t say that this doesn’t matter because the determination is not causal, or else the Thomist or Leibnizian comes back with a distinction between primary and secondary causation.

Flint argues that a particular solution to the problem of future contingents can be adapted to the counterfactual case. According to this solution, a future claim counts as grounded iff the grounding will happen in the future. Similarly, a counterfactual claim counts as grounded iff the grounding would happen if the antecedent were true. This solution, however, cannot succeed without surrendering the Molinist’s claim to a more robust notion of freedom than the Thomist or Leibnizian, for here we are saying, effectively, the if the antecedent were true I would exercise undetermined causal efficacy to make the consequent true. But this is exactly what Leibniz says: God sees, in that other possible world, that the manner of causation I will exercise will be free causation. By actualizing that world, he doesn’t make the causation any less free. The Molinist now lacks motivation for saying that God couldn’t actualize that other possible world at which I freely take the opposite action in exactly the same circumstances.

Flint’s formulation of the solution to the problem of future contingents is complicated by a desire to remain neutral in the debate between presentists and eternalists in the philosophy of time (or perhaps by an endorsement of presentism – it’s not really clear). Endorsing eternalism makes the solution to the problem of future contingents easier to state, and more plausible. At the same time, it makes it clearer why the parallel solution to the problem about counterfactuals is not plausible. If eternalism is true, then we can say that the future contingent claim is made true by the fact that at that future time I actually do exercise undetermined causal influence and thereby bring it about that I eat breakfast. The future time really exists. (It is true now that it exists, although it is, of course, located in the future.) My free choice really happens at that time. That’s what makes it true. Nice and simple.

Now consider the parallel move for the counterfactuals. Here we’d have to say that it’s because I exercise undetermined causal influence at some other possible world that the counterfactual is true. But note that if it’s enough for me to exercise undetermined causal influence according to some abstract possible world then we’re back at Leibniz: why can’t God just make that world actual without altering the manner of causation I exercise? What we need, if this is going to be parallel to the case of eternalist future contingents, is for me not merely to be represented as exercising undetermined causal power, but actually doing it. This means that, in order for the Molinist to make the parallel move, we need (a) realism about the feasible worlds (but not the other merely possible worlds); and (b) transworld identity across feasible worlds. In other words, we need it to be the case that I myself actually face every choice which it is metaphysically possible that I face. Needless to say, eternalism is much easier to swallow than this. Accordingly, the grounding problem for Molinist counterfactuals is really not parallel to the problem of future contingents.

(Cross-posted at

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.


Theistic frequentism and evolution
September 29, 2013 — 12:26

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 13

As I have argued elsewhere, it is very difficult to reconcile the idea that God intentionally designed human beings with the statistical explanations we would expect to see in a completed evolutionary theory. One might respond that our current evolutionary theory is not thus completed, but it would be nice to have a story that would fit even with a future completed theory. I now offer such a solution, albeit one I am not fond of.

Suppose first that God determines (either directly or mediately) every quantum event in the evolutionary history of human beings. Suppose further that physical reality is infinite, either spatially or temporally or in the multiverse way, in such wise that the quantum events in our evolutionary history can be arranged into a fairly natural infinite sequence and given frequentist probabilities

So far this is a simple and quite unoriginal solution. And it is insufficient. A standard problem with frequentist accounts is that they get the order of explanations wrong. It is central to a completed evolutionary story that the probabilistic facts explain the arising of human beings. But if the probabilistic facts are grounded in the sequence of events, as on frequentism they are, then they cannot explain what happens in that sequence of events. Some Humeans are happy to bite the bullet and accept circular explanations here, but I take the objection to be very serious.

However, theistic frequentism has a resource that bare frequentism does not. The theistic frequentist can make probability facts be grounded not in the frequencies of the infinite sequence of events as such, but in God’s intention to produce an infinite sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies and to do so under the description “an infinite sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies.” This requires God to have a reason to produce a sequence of events with such-and-such frequencies as such, but a reason is not hard to find–statistical order is a genuine kind of order and order is valuable.

The theistic frequentist now has much less of a circularity worry. It is not the infinite sequence of events that grounds the probabilities that are, in turn, supposed to explain the events within the evolutionary sequence. Rather, it is God’s intention to produce events with such-and-such frequencies that grounds the probabilities, and the events in the sequence can be non-circularly explained by their having frequencies that God had good reason (say, based on order) to produce.


A Theistic Argument for Compatibilism
January 29, 2013 — 17:29

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence Free Will  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 42

One often hears it asserted that most theists are metaphysical libertarians. This seems to be supported, at least in the case of theistic philosophers, by the PhilPapers survey where target faculty specializing in philosophy of religion, who were overwhelmingly more likely to be theists than their peers in other specializations (72.3% for religion specialists vs. 14.6% overall), were also overwhelmingly more likely to be libertarians (57.4% vs. 13.7%). (Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to compare theists to non-theists across the board, so we just have this correlation among religion specialists.)
Now, I suppose there are some reasons for this. One is that the free-will defense is widely thought to be the best response to the problem of evil, and is widely thought to require libertarianism. Another is that theists are often committed to some notion of punitive justice which is also widely thought to require free will. A third reason is that if God is a necessary being, and libertarianism is not true at least about divine freedom, then we inherit all of Leibniz’s difficulties in trying to carve out any contingency in the world at all. Now, it is perfectly possible to be a libertarian about God’s freedom and a compatibilist about human freedom. According to some (most?) interpreters, Aquinas adopts this view. On the kind of view in question, libertarian freedom would be the most perfect sort of freedom, and perhaps one might even concede that it’s a sort of freedom that we (prideful) human beings often think we have, but one would say that compatibilist freedom is sufficient for moral responsibility and is all that we actually have. Nevertheless, if the theist is committed to saying that God has libertarian freedom, then the theist is committed to saying that libertarian freedom is at least a coherent notion, and it’s easy to see why that would be at least correlated with claiming that we actually have libertarian freedom.
On the other hand, I think there are special philosophical reasons for theists to accept compatibilism. Reasons, that is, which are specially philosophical (as opposed to theological or scientific) and also specially applicable to theists. Consider the following argument:


The Value Component of Plantinga’s Free Will Defense
September 28, 2012 — 19:37

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence Free Will Molinism Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 8

A defense (in Plantinga’s sense) against the logical problem of evil requires two components: a metaphysical component, which claims that a certain scenario is logically possible, and a value component, which claims that if the scenario in question were actual then it would be consistent with God’s goodness to weakly actualize a world containing evil. In Plantinga’s Free Will Defense (FWD), the scenario in question is one in which every creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity (TWD). Now, in both The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil Plantinga’s focus is squarely on the metaphysical component, defending the coherence of Molinism and the possibility of every creaturely essence suffering from TWD. The value component is almost completely ignored. Plantinga supposes that, if every creaturely essence suffered from TWD, then God would create a world with evil, and this would not in any way impugn his goodness. But why does Plantinga think this? I suppose he probably endorses:

(1) God’s perfect goodness consists in his actualizing the best world he can


(2) If every creaturely essence suffered TWD, then the best world God could actualize would contain some evil.


Ross’s Theory of Omnipotence Entails Double Predestination
January 27, 2012 — 0:56

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God Divine Providence  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 9

Let E (for ‘election’) be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be saved that he or she will be saved. That is, E is the longest conjunction of the form ‘John will be saved, and Mary will be saved, and Lois will be saved…’ which is true. Let R (for ‘reprobation’) be the proposition which says de re of each person who will in fact be damned that he or she will be damned.
The doctrine of predestination is the doctrine that God, from eternity, has issued an efficacious decree of election – that is, God, from eternity, effectively chose that E should be true. The doctrine of double predestination states that in addition to the decree of election, God also issued a decree of reprobation – that is, in addition to effectively choosing that E should be true, God effectively chose that R should be true.
Double predestination is much more contentious among Christians than predestination (although predestination is not entirely uncontroversial – for instance, open theists will have to deny it). Many Christians would rather have single predestination, holding that all people are, on their own, bound for hell, and God intervenes to save those he wishes to save, and just leaves the rest alone.
In his Philosophical Theology (1969), James F. Ross proposes the following analysis of omnipotence:

S is omnipotent if and only if for every logically contingent state of affairs, p, whether p or ~p is the case is logically equivalent to the effective choice, by S, that p or that ~p (respectively). (p. 211)

This analysis appears to have the consequence that, if God is omnipotent, then double predestination is true. Both E and R are true contingent propositions, so if God is omnipotent then God effectively chooses that the corresponding states of affairs should be the case.


Lawless Events and the Existence of God
September 1, 2011 — 20:29

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Divine Providence Existence of God Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 6

Christine Overall famously argued that miracles, conceived as violations of the laws of nature, would be evidence against the existence of the traditional God. A lengthy debate with Robert Larmer ensued, in which Larmer argued that only slight modifications to the law-breaking account of miracles are necessary in order for miracles to serve as evidence for, rather than against, the existence of God. Larmer tries to argue that miracles do not violate the laws of nature, but nevertheless holds that they are different from ordinary events in that they don’t follow from the laws of nature. (I don’t have Larmer’s book handy to remember the exact details of his account.)
The Overall-Larmer debate in some respects replays one dialectical thread from the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence: Clarke defends the view that any sufficiently widespread natural regularity should be regarded as a law, and any event that violates such a regularity should be regarded as a miracle. Furthermore, Clarke argues, miracles of this sort occur from time to time. Leibniz argues that God, as traditionally conceived, would not create a world of the sort Clarke envisions and, furthermore, that Clarke’s weak conception of laws does not allow a theologically adequate distinction between miracles and ordinary events.
I think Overall pretty decisively won the debate with Larmer, and Leibniz pretty decisively won the debate with Clarke on this and most other points. (One point where Leibniz clearly loses: his insistence that if there were not a unique best possible world God would be unable to create a world is clearly false.) However, there are a lot of people who seem to disagree, who continue to hold that miracles are best understood as somehow in tension with laws, and that such events can serve as evidence for the existence of the traditional God. I in fact think that miracles should not be conceived as in any sort of tension with laws, so, instead of speaking of miracles, I’ll speak of ‘lawless events’. Lawless events are those which don’t follow, either probabilistically or deterministically, from the laws of nature. (interpret ‘follow from’ in whatever sense your favorite theory of laws requires.) In this post I am concerned with arguments from the traditional divine attributes against the occurrence of lawless events. These arguments will of course work backward to show that lawless events would be evidence against the existence of a being with those attributes.


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!

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.