Modality and open future
February 25, 2009 — 9:06

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Free Will Open Theism  Comments: 29

I’ve been thinking what open future (OF) views can say about the modality of statements about the future. There are two OF semantics, which I’ll call N and F. Suppose Curley now exists, and that Curley’s freely taking the bribe is open. On the N semantics, Curley will freely take the bribe is neither true nor false. On the F semantics, it is false that Curley will freely take the bribe. The N semantics requires denial of excluded middle. The F semantics requires denial of the principle that, basically, not(will(p)) iff will(not(p)).

Suppose now that we say that a proposition p possibly/necessarily/impossibly is V iff p is V in some/all/no worlds, where V is a truth value or a logical combination of truth values like “neither true nor false”, which I will abbreviate “ntnf”. Let p be the proposition that Curley will freely take the bribe. On the F semantics, p is false in every world. For in some worlds Curley’s freely taking the bribe is open, and in those worlds p is false by that semantics. And in all other worlds, it is determined that Curley won’t freely take the bribe (e.g., because it is determined that there is no Curley, or that nobody will ever offer Curley a bribe, or whatever). So, in every world, p is false, and so p is necessarily false.

On the N semantics, things are more interesting. In worlds where Curley’s freely taking the bribe is open, p is ntnf. In worlds where Curley’s freely taking the bribe is not open, p is false. Therefore, on the N semantics, p is possibly ntnf and possibly false, and necessarily not true.

So what’s wrong with this? Well, one thing is that as Geoff Pynn pointed out in the previous discussion of open futurism, the open futurist surely wants to say that p is a “future contingent”. But if p is necessarily false, as it is on the F semantics, then that’s endangered. And if p is necessarily not true, then it’s also in a bit of trouble.


January 31, 2009 — 9:09

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Free Will  Comments: 2

Dennett (see Vallicella’s discussion here) discusses an argument rather like the following, and criticizes it for being like an argument starting with the assumptions that every mammal has a mammal for a mother, and there was a finite number of mammals. But nonetheless, the argument strikes me very plausible:

  1. If E is a mental state or decision that I am responsible for to any degree, then either I, as libertarian cause, am among E’s causes, or else a mental state or decision that I am to some (perhaps different) degree responsible for is among E’s causes, or both.
  2. I have had only finitely many mental states and have made only finitely many decisions.
  3. Nothing is a cause of itself, and there are no causal circles.
  4. Therefore, if I am responsible for any mental state or decision, I have engaged in libertarian causation.

(Here, I understand “libertarian causation” as agent causation or any reasonably similar libertarian substitute, such as Kane’s.)

One could try to get out of the argument by positing an infinite number of past mental states and/or decisions. I think that would not be plausible, not just because of the implausibility of the infinitary posit, but because it wouldn’t get at the heart of the worry.


Free Will Defense and compatibilism
January 26, 2009 — 11:09

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Free Will Molinism Problem of Evil  Comments: 15

It seems very plausible that a good answer to the problem of evil will require some version of the Free Will Defense (FWD). If a FWD requires incompatibilism, then there is a very plausible argument from theism to incompatibilism.
But I think it may well be that a FWD does not require incompatibilism. First of all, a FWD does not need that freedom of will and responsibility be incompatible with determination by prior non-agential causes or by laws of nature. At most what we need for a FWD is that freedom be incompatible with total determination by prior agential causes (the case that matters is that of God’s creative act), a claim that I think some compatibilists will accept.
Second, even if freedom of will and responsibility are compatible with determination by divine agency, it does not follow that the FWD is completely out of steam. For it may be that certain kinds of good decisions depend on some of their value on something more than bare freedom of will and responsibility. For instance, for a promise to be valid, more is needed than that the object of the promise be good and that the promise be made with freedom of will and responsibility. A promise made at gunpoint is invalid, even if it is made responsibly and with freedom of will (one does, after all, have a free choice whether to utter the promise or to die, assuming one does not lose freedom and responsibility through panic, but this is not enough for validity).
Here would be one sketch of a FWD that is compatible with compatibilism (even compatiblism between freedom and responsibility, and determination by an agential cause): A love is of much greater value when the lover is not causally determined by the beloved to love the beloved. This claim is compatible with saying that the lover could freely and responsibly respond with love to the beloved even if determined to do so–for there is more that we want in a response to love than mere freedom and responsibility (e.g., someone with amazing powers of self-control could freely and responsibly respond with love to a threat, but that’s not the most valuable kind of loving response). But a failure to respond with love to God’s love is always an evil. But it might be that the only way God could ensure that there are agents all of whom respond with love to God’s love is by causally determining them to do so. (One way to argue for this is to suppose Molinism transworld unresponsiveness: In every feasible world in which agents are not determined by God to respond with love to his love, some agent fails to do so.) It might then be that God is justified in creating creatures some of whom fail to respond with love to his love.
But while this example shows that a FWD need not require the incompatibility between determination and freedom/responsibility, this FWD still requires the compatibility between freedom/responsibility and lack of determination–it requires the possibility of libertarian-type choices. (Hume thinks that freedom requires determination. Fischer, on the other hand, is an even-handed compatibilist–freedom is compatible with determination adnw ith lack thereof.)

Sanctified Agents?
December 23, 2008 — 9:25

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Existence of God Free Will Problem of Evil  Comments: 39

It’s puzzling how transworld sanctified agents are supposed to pose a problem for Plantinga’s free will defense. I’m happy to grant Hawthorne and Howard-Snyder’s (P).
P. It is possible that, necessarily, some creaturely essence (or other) is transworld sanctified.
So, for all we know, in every possible world some creaturely essence is transworld sanctified. We can conclude immediately that (P1) is also true.
P1. It is possible that, necessarily, not every creaturely essence is transworld depraved.
Perfectly fine with me. Now, what is the problem for Plantinga’s free will defense? Is it supposed to be this conclusion?


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?

An account of omnipotence
February 15, 2008 — 9:54

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Concept of God Existence of God Free Will  Tags: ,   Comments: 43

Here is a simple proposal:
A being x is omnipotent provided that in every possible world, x’s free choices are collectively the ultimate explainers of the rest of contingent reality.
In particular, only a necessary being can be omnipotent. Whether omnipotence is compatible with created free will depends on how exactly we spell out “ultimate explainers”. We might think that if y in situation S freely chooses to A, and God creates y in S, and y freely chooses to A, then God’s creation is an ultimate explainer (it may or may not be the case that an ultimate explainer of a proposition is an explainer of the proposition).
This definition is incompatible with Molinisms on which God is not an ultimate explainer of conditionals of free will.
If the above account is right, we have a sound ontological argument along the lines of the standard S5 ontological argument:

  1. Possibly, there is an omnipotent being.
  2. Therefore, there is an omnipotent being.
A valid argument against Molinism
January 31, 2008 — 10:57

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Free Will Molinism  Comments: 6

Careful readers will have noted that I posted an argument against Molinism earlier this morning, and it committed a modal fallacy. I took down the argument as soon as I realized the fallacy. Here’s an argument that doesn’t seem to commit the same modal fallacy, but the cost of it is that it has some much more controversial premises. Let C a complete description of the circumstances at the time of Jones’ choice. The main point of Molinism is to make possible situations like this:

  1. Were Jones in C, he would freely choose to mow the lawn.
  2. Because of (1), God brings it about that Jones is in C.

Now add some statements that are, plausibly, conceptual truths, for a reductio:

  1. If p is explanatorily prior to Jones’ choosing what to do in C, and p entails that Jones will choose to mow the lawn, then Jones does not freely choose to mow the lawn. (This is a version of the Principle of Alternate Possibilities.)
  2. Explanatory priority is transitive.
  3. If, because of q, God brings it about that p, then q is explanatorily prior to p.
  4. If C is a complete description of the circumstances at the time of Jones’ choice, then that Jones is in C is explanatorily prior to Jones’ choosing what he chooses.
  5. If p and q are explanatorily prior to r, then p&q is explanatorily prior to r.

The argument now is easy. By (1) and (2), Jones is in C and freely mows the lawn. By (2) and (5), conditional (1) is explanatorily prior to Jones’ being in C. By (6), Jones’ being in C is prior to Jones’ choosing to mow the lawn. By (4), it follows that conditional (1) is explanatorily prior to Jones’ being in C. Let p be the conjunction of (1) with the claim that Jones is in C. By (7) and what we have already shown, p is explanatorily prior to Jones’ choosing to mow the lawn. But p entails that Jones chooses to mow the lawn. By (3), Jones does not freely choose to mow the lawn. But by (1) and (2) he does. Hence, a contradiction ensues.

Compatibilism and the Free Will Defense
November 10, 2007 — 8:00

Author: Jeremy Pierce  Category: Divine Providence Free Will Problem of Evil  Comments: 23

I’ve long suspected that the basic structure of Plantinga’s free will defense doesn’t require a libertarian view of free will, but I’ve never gotten around to trying to figure out in detail why that might be so. Well, Andrew Fulford has a proposal. Relying on the notion of creaturely integrity, Andrew offers an account of why God’s options might be limited by how God himself may have intended a person’s compatibilist freedom to work itself out, and for all we know this may be true for every actual person. In other words, it may well be that transworld depravity of a very particular sort may be true. It’s possible for all we know that, for each actual person, there is no possible world in which that person does no wrong. There is the problem of dealing with non-actual people, but that’s where God’s choice to actualize people with a certain kind of creaturely integrity comes in. Perhaps it’s true that anyone with the right sort of creaturely integrity, that God would have good moral reasons for wanting to bestow on people, will be transworld depraved in the way Andrew imagines.

What’s interesting about this proposal is that objections to it seem to be the same sort that people might raise against Plantinga’s own libertarian version of transworld depravity or his use of it. If that’s right, then he’s used the basic structure of the free will defense without relying on libertarian freedom.

Paper on Free Will in Heaven
August 1, 2007 — 18:37

Author: Kevin Timpe  Category: Free Will  Comments: 21

On the Papers in Philosophy of Religion sister site, I've posted a draft of a paper that Tim and I have written on free will in heaven.  Comments welcome encouraged.