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 blog.kennypearce.net.)

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)

Can Theists be Libertarians?
January 15, 2015 — 23:02

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 14

I take minimal libertarianism (ML) to entail that, for any time t, free agent S, action A, and world W, S is libertarian free at t in W with respect to A only if S can (is able to) do A at t and S can (is able to) do ~A at t. It is central to the freedom of the libertarian free agent S in W that S has available to her at t an A-world, w, and a ~A-world, w’, each of which share the same past. There are of course many complicating clauses we can add to (ML), and various resulting versions of libertarianism, but the minimal conditions in (ML) is all we will need.

Theists often find libertarianism appealing.  But can theists consistently be libertarians? The standard view on gratuitous evil is in (P).

P. Necessarily, God prevents every instance of gratuitous or pointless evil.

(P) of course expresses a necessary truth (if true). (ML) also expresses a necessary truth. Both (P) and (ML) are widely accepted among theists. But if (P) is true, as it certainly seems to be, and God exists, then (ML) is false. How would a proof go?

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God, Jones, and Black
December 12, 2014 — 13:15

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , ,   Comments: 12

Harry Frankfurt is credited (by some) with having shown that alternate possibilities are not necessary for freedom and moral responsibility. There are any number of Frankfurt-style counterexamples (FSC) to the principle of alternate possibilities (PAP) and any number of (more or less relevant) versions of PAP. There are, further, any number of (more or less cogent) replies to each of the counterexamples. The literature is vast. I want to suggest a rather direct reply that (as far as I know) hasn’t been suggested and that does not depend on any specific version of the FSC. I will consider a brief counterexample with just a few bells and whistles, add the ornaments that you think matter. First, the sort of PAP that matters to the discussion is something like PAP0.

PAP0. S is free and morally responsible for what he has done only if S could have done otherwise.

It’s important to note that PAP0 does not apply to cases where we had choices to do otherwise but now cannot do otherwise (I could have tied myself to the mast, but now I cannot resist the Sirens). Cases like the following aim to show that PAP0 is false (I borrow liberally from Fischer here, but change the story a bit)

Black has secretly inserted a chip in Jones’s brain that enables Black to monitor and control Jones’s activities. Black can exercise this control through a sophisticated computer that he has programmed so that, among other things, it monitors Jones’s voting behavior. If Jones were to show any inclination not to rob the bank then the computer, through the chip in Jones’s brain, would intervene to assure that he actually decides to rob the bank.

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Libertarianism and Theism?
December 4, 2014 — 11:04

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Atheism & Agnosticism Concept of God Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 14

Many theists are libertarians about free will. I take it as a minimal implication of libertarianism that at any time t at which an agent S freely chooses A, S might have chosen ~A instead. The future branches into many genuinely possible alternatives. I want to make a few observations.

1. Note first that the free will defense (FWD), as Plantinga offers the argument, simply assumes that we have libertarian freedom. It is the assumption of libertarian freedom that makes it possible for (what I’ll call) bad CCF’s to be possibly true: recall we are invited to consider a world in which CCF’s of the sort, God creates S in T ☐⟶ S goes wrong, are true. Such counterfactuals could not be true unless we assumed that there are worlds in which God exists and agents produce evil. He could have ended the argument right there, after affirming that at least one of these is true somewhere in metaphysical space, since that is the conclusion we’re after.

2. That brings me to my second quick observation. For all of the fuss in the FWD, all we really need, for Plantinga’s purposes, is one counterfactual of the sort, God creates S in T ☐⟶ S goes wrong, to be true in some possible world. The rest of the argument is unnecessary for the main purpose. If there is such a true counterfactual, then God exists in some world where there is evil, contrary to the logical argument from evil. So ends the dispute.

My main point is that atheological opponents might reasonably balk at the idea that libertarian freedom is compatible with theism. Here’s why. Assume we have libertarian freedom. For any rational agent S, if S has libertarian freedom with respect to action A, then S can perform ~A. For actions A with moral significance, libertarian freedom entails that you can perform the morally wrong action ~A. But the modal claim that you can perform the wrong action ~A entails the further modal claim that God can actualize a world in which you go wrong. So far, I assume, so good. Now, unless it is true that you and everyone else is universally transworld depraved in every possible world in which you go wrong, which is simply not credible, this means that God can actualize a world in which you go wrong when he might have actualized a world in which you go right instead. Certainly, there is some world like that under the assumption of libertarianism. But why should an atheological opponent accept that? He shouldn’t. Why wouldn’t an atheological opponent urge instead that God cannot actualize a world in which you freely go wrong when he might have actualized one in which you freely go right. He would. But then it’s reasonable to believe that libertarianism is not compatible with theism.

Omnipotence and the ‘Delimiter of Possibilities’ View
May 20, 2013 — 21:54

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 24

Aquinas notes that some analyses of omnipotence have a serious problem: they reduce the apparently substantive claim “God is omnipotent” to the trivial claim that God “can do all that He is able to do.” Now, perhaps it is true that to be omnipotent is to be able to do everything God is able to do (or at least that omnipotence entails this), but this is hardly an illuminating analysis.
In several places in his Anselmian Explorations, Thomas Morris defends the view that the Anselmian God is the ‘delimiter of possibilities.’ This view has been endorsed by other Anselmians, and I am inclined to it myself. What Morris means by it is that many apparently conceivable worlds are in fact impossible precisely because it is impossible that God should permit them. God exists necessarily, and no world can be actual except by God’s permission. Hence if God’s character (or whatever) prevents him from permitting a state of affairs, then that state of affairs is not genuinely possible.
When this view is combined with a result theory of omnipotence, Aquinas’s worry recurs.

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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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Divine Power, Alternate Possibilities, and Necessary Frankfurt Cases
November 30, 2012 — 18:56

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Concept of God  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 19

Much of the difficulty in analyzing the notion of power comes from the various limitations of creaturely power: our powers come and go, and they are not infallible (sometimes we have the power or ability to do something, and nevertheless fail to do it when we try). These are the sorts of cases which derailed conditional analyses of power. However, an omnipotent being would have none of these limitations. In our paper, Alexander Pruss and I exploited this fact to develop an analysis of omnipotence, or unlimited power, without the need for a prior analysis of power. This approach has the advantage of allowing us to understand omnipotence without first solving the puzzles about power. A disadvantage, however, is that it does answer all of the questions of the form “does God have the power to…” (which I take to be equivalent to “can God…” on the most usual meaning of the latter in these sorts of questions). Indeed, without an analysis of power, our account does not answer any questions of that form. What it does do is tell us enough about what an omnipotent being would be like that if we did have an analysis of power we would presumably be able to give the correct answer to each such question and explain why these are the correct answers.
One such question which is of particular interest is, “does God have the power to do evil?” According to the Pearce-Pruss theory, the claim that God is omnipotent entails the following two claims:

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Violation of freedom of conscience
June 21, 2012 — 7:03

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Religion and Life Virtue  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 5

Here are two plausible necessary conditions for a law to violate freedom of religion or freedom of conscience:

  1. Legislation L violates x’s freedom of religion only if L requires x to do something that is contrary to the requirements of x’s religion.
  2. Legislation L violates x’s freedom of conscience only if L requires x to do something that is contrary to the requirements of x’s conscience.

I am pretty sure that (1) is false, and am inclined to think (2) is false as well. (Let me specify that I am using “legislation” to mean something like a putatively authoritative enactment of an authority. The reason I say “putatively” is that I want to allow for legislation that is so unreasonably that it is null and void, has no authority. Aquinas will say such legislation–my term, not his–is not a law.)

Let me start with (1). There is a simple counterexample. Consider legislation prohibiting public religious worship on Saturdays. Such legislation seems to be a paradigm of legislation that violates the religious freedom of Jews. But it is my understanding (and if the understanding is flawed, just make this a hypothetical) that Judaism does not require public worship on Saturdays–the requirements of prayer do not have to be fulfilled in Synagogue worship. Hence (1) is false.

Now consider (2). Suppose that Sam is a typical vegetarian on grounds of conscience. Now, consider legislation M1 that requires everyone to eat meat on New Year’s Eve, under penalty of a week in jail. This legislation is a paradigmatic case of a law that violates Sam’s freedom of conscience. (Note: I am not taking it to be clear that “violates x’s freedom of conscience” entails that the legislation is unjustified; obviously that legislation violates someone’s freedom of conscience is a strong reason against having such legislation, but since consciences can be mistaken in all sorts of spectacular ways, there may be times where such legislation is justified.) But note that except in really weird scenarios, M1 isn’t like that.)

But now consider legislation M2 that is just like M1, except that now the penalty is death. Surely if M1 violates Sam’s freedom of conscience, so does M2. But Sam is a typical vegetarian. And typical vegetarians, I think, hold that it is permissible to eat meat when the alternative is death. Thus, M2 does not require Sam to do anything that is contrary to the requirements of his conscience: it requires him to eat meat, but eating meat is permissible given M2.

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Job Seeker: Questions About Church Affilated Schools
September 19, 2011 — 12:54

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Uncategorized  Tags:   Comments: 10

A job seeker writes:

Though I am a participating member of a faith tradition, I had never considered the possibility of working at a denominational school. I didn’t attend a denominational college or university and, historical affiliations aside, I’ve never even visited the campus of one. Given the tight job market I’ve started wondering about the option of landing at such an institution. I was wondering if your readers could help answer some questions about these institutions?

  • Is it common from church affiliated schools to hire individuals from other denominations?
  • What’s the climate like for research and teaching? e.g. Is there protection for academic freedom?
  • Does tenure offer genuine protection? (It seems like I’ve heard stories of people being driven out.)
  • How does the campus climate compare to secular counterparts? (Are small Christian Colleges like other SLACs?)

I’m sure the answers come in a range, but since I’m operating in the dark and replies would be welcome.

Signed comments would be preferred.