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 blog.kennypearce.net)

A Theistic Dilemma
March 17, 2015 — 14:02

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Concept of God Existence of God Free Will Problem of Evil Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 2

Here’s a dilemma that might be worrisome for theists. It’s, in any case, a worry for me. Consider, first, the thesis in  (1).

1. Possibly, God actualizes a morally perfect possible world or a morally very good possible world.

Most of us believe that (1) is true, indeed, many of us believe that (1) is necessarily true. But if we affirm (1), we have to deny (2).

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Evil and Compatibilism
February 8, 2015 — 11:33

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Concept of God Existence of God Free Will General Problem of Evil Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 17

There is widespread belief that compatibilism + theism cannot offer a credible solution to the logical problem of evil. Why does anyone believe that? I think they’re reasoning this way: if compatibilism is true, then, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world. That’s of course true, and it entails that the free will defense fails. But then they reason, if, necessarily, God can actualize a morally perfect world, then, necessarily, God does actualize a morally perfect world. It is then observed that, obviously, there is evil. So, compatibilism + theism is incoherent; it cannot solve the logical problem.

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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.

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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:

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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

and

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

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Divine Freedom Writing Retreat
October 11, 2011 — 10:21

Author: Kevin Timpe  Category: Free Will Links News  Tags:   Comments: Off

Through a generous grant from the Templeton Foundation, I’m pleased to announce a writing retreat and workshop that I’m hosting next spring on ‘Divine Freedom’. Details of the retreat can be found here: http://people.nnu.edu/ktimpe/research/flyer.pdf

To apply, send a no more than two page letter of interest and a CV via email.

If there are any questions, please do not hesitate to email me.

Theology of Free Will
July 11, 2011 — 17:36

Author: Kevin Timpe  Category: Free Will General  Tags: ,   Comments: 2

The latest batch of notifications coming out of Mele’s Big Questions in Free Will grants includes the winners for the 2011-2012 theology of free will grants. And ll three of the winners are philosophers!

David Hunt, “Freedom and Foreknowledge: Divine and Human Agency without Alternative Possibilities.”

Brian Leftow, “Divine Freedom.”

Hugh McCann, “Free Will for Theists: The Theology of Freedom.”

Congratulations, you three!

Free Will as Essentail to Human Nature
April 3, 2011 — 9:35

Author: Kevin Timpe  Category: Free Will  Tags:   Comments: 16

A number of theologians and philosophers make the claim, implicitly if not explicitly, that having free will is essential to human nature. This is, perhaps, a fairly natural claim, particularly if one thinks that free will is a capacity of the human soul. But the claim got me thinking, as there may be a counterexample.

The first potential counterexample will depend on the details of what one’s view of free will is. Consider, for example, John Fischer’s view according to which free will requires a certain level of ability to recognize and respond to moral reasons. But then what about psycopaths, who are incapable of recognizing and/or being moved by certain sorts of moral reasons, namely those that pertain to the good of other individuals? Even if psycopathy renders individuals who suffer from it not morally responsible, it would seem odd if they weren’t human. Now, perhaps psycopathy at most takes away certain aspects of one’s ability to recognize or be moved by certain moral reasons, but it leaves one’s abilitty to recognize and be moved by other kinds of moral reasons intact. So perhaps what psycopathy does is limit the range of one’s free will, but doesn’t diminish it all together.

The second potential type of counterexample is young children. My daughter is currently only ten months old, and I strongly doubt she has either the volitional or intellectual capabilities for free will, although she likely will once she reaches a certain age. In response to this, perhaps one could say that what is essential to humans is not the actual having of free will, but the capacity to have free will.

But finally, consider those humans who have genetic disorders that strongly impair their intellectual and/or volitional capacities. Such individuals may not reach the level of these capacities needed for free will even once fully grown. Nor, given their genetic disorders, does it look like even have the capacity for free will in the way suggested regarding young children.

So it looks like the claim the free will is essential to human nature is false.

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!