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

Is Modal Realism Immoral?
February 5, 2015 — 13:46

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: ,   Comments: 4

Many of you will know that I’m sympathetic to modal realism; I think it solves many more problems than it causes, especially for theists. I want to address here what I think is a mistaken objection to modal realism: the so-called problem of indifference. The objection is originally formulated in Robert Adams.

Indeed, if we ask, “What is wrong with actualizing evils, since they will occur in some other possible world anyway if they don’t occur in this one?”, I doubt that modal realism can provide an answer which will be completely satisfying ethically (Theories of Actuality, 1974).

If Lewisian modal realism is true, then, just as we exist and our worldmates exist, so does every other individual and person inhabiting every other world. They all exist even though they are not all actual; they all exist, though they are not all our worldmates; they all exist though they do not all exist in our world.  And these existing, non-actual persons are all as concrete, sentient, caring, and rational as we are. What Adams is calling attention to is that, if all of these beings exist in the same sense that we do, then they all matter morally, just as much as you and I do. But if we consider (literally or unrestrictedly, now) every existing sentient being in deliberating about what we should do, Adams complains, we will always reach the conclusion that it just doesn’t matter what we do.

No matter what we do–whether we do good or evil–it does not matter to the overall value of the pluriverse (i.e. the overall value of all possible worlds). If we do good, some counterpart of ours in similar circumstances will opt to do evil. If we do evil, some counterpart of ours in similar circumstances will opt to do good. It will necessarily balance out; the pluriverse and all of it’s inhabitants will not be any better off, or any worse off, overall no matter what we do. The overall value of the pluriverse is unchangeable. So, what difference does it make what we choose to do? We are led to moral indifference.


Malebranche and Robert Adams on Creating the Best
February 4, 2011 — 18:10

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 20

Leibniz famously argued that the actual world must be the best of all possible worlds (BPW). His argument, which he repeated in several places, went something like this:

  1. The actual world was created by an omnipotent and perfectly good being.
  2. An omnipotent being can actualize any possible world.
  3. A perfectly good being always chooses the best outcome from among its choices.
  4. Therefore,

  5. The actual world is the BPW.

Most people have found the conclusion of this argument incredible, and sought ways to escape it. The logical problem of evil is essentially an argument to the effect that the only premise that can be plausibly rejected is (1). Free will defenders often instead target premise (2). However, premise (3) is also open to question. In fact, many of Leibniz’s arguments (e.g. the opening sections of the Discourse on Metaphysics) seem to be directed against Malebranche’s 1680 Treatise on Nature and Grace, in which the denial of (3) was defended. (3) is also famously denied in Robert Adams’ 1972 “Must God Create the Best?”
(3) is amoral proposition, and so its evaluation will depend on one’s moral theory. (There is one way of denying (3) that is independent of one’s moral theory, and that is to deny that there is a unique best possible world; for purposes of this post let’s set that (epistemic) possibility aside.) The only moral theory on which (3) cannot possibly be denied is pure consequentialism. However, there are two major rivals to consequentialism: deontologism, and virtue ethics. (Mixed theories are also sometimes advocated.) So there are two main possibilities for the denial of (3): either the creation of the BPW would violate some deontological constraint, or the creation of the BPW would demonstrate a less than perfectly virtuous character. (I assume that a being who is perfectly good, at least if it is also perfectly rational, would at least allow goodness of outcomes to play a tie-breaking role, and so would create the BPW unless there was a moral reason not to.)
Malebranche takes the first option. He frequently speaks of “the perfection of God’s ways.” How would God’s ways be imperfect if he created the BPW? According to Malebranche, it seems, the BPW is irregular – it has a lot of miracles. Personally, I think regularity is much more plausibly construed as a good-making feature of worlds than as a good-making feature of God’s creative activity, so to my mind Malebranche’s suggestion is a non-starter. Might there be some other deontological constraint that could stand in here? Well, perhaps we could use a modified free will defense: contrary to the usual free will defense, we allow that God could actualize the BPW, but claim that he could do this only by engaging in some morally objectionable meddling with the freedom of creatures.
Adams is, of course, well known for his work on virtue ethics, and, as might be expected, takes the second option. According to Adams, a being who created the BPW would not be displaying the virtue of grace. This virtue is displayed by treating people better than they deserve. But the beings in the BPW deserve to exist, and deserve to be treated as well as possible. We, on the other hand, do not deserve to exist, since we are not part of the BPW. So God acts graciously toward us by creating us at all, and also by treating us as well as he does. A nice feature of Adams’s view is that it is easy to see how, on this view, it can be maintained that no one has a just complaint against God: the inhabitants of the BPW don’t exist, and therefore can’t have been wronged (even though, in some sense, they deserve to exist); we wouldn’t exist in the BPW, and so can’t very well complain about God’s not creating it, since that would amount to complaining about our own existence.
[cross-posted at]