The latest (July 2011) Faith and Philosophy contains an excellent article by Jeff Speaks on some difficulties related to establishing the consistency of certain claims (he uses as examples the existence of human freedom and the existence of evil) with the existence of an Anselmian God. The basic idea is this: since an Anselmian God is, by definition, a necessary being, establishing the possibility of an Anselmian God is tantamount to establishing the necessary, and therefore actual, existence of an Anselmian God. But these compatibility arguments typically, in one way or another, assume the possibility, and so the actuality, of an Anselmian God. If we were allowed to assume this premise, our task would be extremely easy! We could argue as follows:
- God (actually) exists
- Evil (actually) exists
- The existence of God is consistent with the existence of evil.
Piece of cake! Now I, of course, take this argument to be sound. In fact, I even think that some people (depending on their background beliefs) might be rational in allowing this argument to increase their confidence in the truth of (3). But clearly this argument cannot be used to respond to atheist arguments from evil against the existence of God. It is dialectically inadmissible in that context.
In his paper, Speaks argues that Warfield’s argument for the compatibility of necessary omniscience with human freedom and Plantinga’s free will defense are both a lot like this. That is, they both assume that, possibly, an Anselmian God exists. But if that assumption is admissible, then we could just use this simpler argument. But obviously we can’t use this simpler argument, so the premise must be inadmissible. (This isn’t exactly the way Speaks puts his points together; it’s my interpretation of what his arguments actually show.)
Speaks states the “principal conclusion” of his paper as follows:
any argument for the compatibility of two propositions must also be an argument for the possibility of each of those propositions. Hence it is impossible to argue for the compatibility of two propositions, one of which is necessary if possible, without arguing for the truth of that proposition. (p. 291)
In this post, I’m going to push back.
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!
I think the following yields a pretty good formulation of the argument for incompatibility of foreknowledge and free will. Start with the principles:
- 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.
- <God believes at t* that x freely chooses A at t> entails <x freely chooses A at t>.
- <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.
Ari: Consider this horrific theology: God forces Sally to sin, in a way that takes away her responsibility, and then he intentionally causes eternal torment to her.
Cal: I thought you were smarter than that. That isn’t Calvinist theology! Calvinism holds that God intentionally causes people to sin in a way that retains their responsibility, and then punishes some of them.
Ari: I didn’t say it was a Calvinist theology. You agree that this is a horrific theology, I take it?
Cal: Yes, of course.
Cal: Because God is punishing an innocent.
Ari: I said nothing about punishment. I said God intentionally caused eternal torment. I didn’t say that the torment was a punishment.
Cal: How does that make it not be horrific?
Begin with this plausible principle:
- 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:
- The first sin was culpable.
- 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:
- The first sinner’s first sin was not necessitated by his internal state and the circumstances.
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).
[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?
Since there’s still little going on here, I thought I’d direct readers to another post in my series based on my introductory philosophy course lecture notes. This time it’s on foreknowledge and freedom. Again, I don’t expect it to include anything newsworthy for many readers of this blog, since we’ve discussed all these issues here in much more depth in the past, but I’ve tried to summarize the main moves in the discussion at a level someone in an introductory course could understand, and some may want to take a look at that or offer feedback. Newer readers less familiar with our discussions on this topic or with the literature on the issue may find it informative as well. I did try to include the most current work on the subject.
I have previously expressed on Prosblogion my belief that Rowe’s argument — made most recently and thoroughly in Can God be Free? — against the existence of God from the impossibility of creating the best world founders on the concept of sufficient goodness and satisficing action and I don’t wish to revisit that issue. However, I do think there is an issue in the neighborhood which suggests a conclusion which will be unpopular with many: that God must create a world. The argument starts with a kind of dominance principle and I’ll call it the "swamping principle"–(SP) for short–because one category swamps the other.
(SP) For any two types of actions A and B if every token of A is better than any token of B, then God must bring about a token of A.
So let A = Creating a member of the set of sufficiently good worlds and let B = creating no world.
It looks, then, like on this assignment (SP) entails that God must create.
I don’t think this is a very interesting proposition given the operative sense of "must" and that I’m not an unrestricted libertarian.
What I find interesting is the following dialectic: Leibniz and Clarke agree that there’s a best possible world and dispute whether this is consistent with God being free and the nature of that freedom. Rowe denies that there is a best possible world and argues from that that there is no God, since a God would have to create the best. I agree with Rowe that there is no best possible world, but reject his argument on the grounds that God can satisfice. However, the satisficing response assumes that there is a class of action-types like A above which, together with (SP), entails that God must create which brings us back to the Leibniz/Clarke debate on God’s freedom.
There are lots of interesting threads leading out of this, but I wonder if anyone thinks they have a counter-example to (SP).