Thursday, July 27, 2006

Making a big to-do about doing otherwise

1. For many people, the freedom to do otherwise is a precondition of personal responsibility. The Calvinist understands the appeal of this intuition just as well as the libertarian.

For the Calvinist, however, theology is based on revelation rather than intuition. Even if we couldn’t put our finger on what’s wrong with this intuitive assumption, human beings are creatures of quite limited intelligence, and since God is smarter than we are, it is wiser to trust his wisdom over our own.

2. That said, suppose we take a closer look at the libertarian intuition. What makes it so appealing to suppose the freedom to do otherwise is a precondition of personal responsibility?

After all, we can only make one choice at a time. So why should our incumbency depend on having more than one choice at any given time?

Likewise, suppose I’m dealt a royal flush in a poker game. Now, there are two different ways I could be dealt a royal flush.

It could be due to a random shuffle of the deck. Although the odds against getting a royal flush are astronomical, it’s inevitable that sooner or later a poker player will be dealt a royal flush. This outcome would be analogous to the libertarian position.

The other way would be if the deck was stacked. In this case I was bound to be dealt a royal flush. That outcome would be analogous to the Reformed position.

Now, would I play my hand or place my bets any differently depending on how I was dealt a royal flush?

Suppose I don’t know if the result was random or predetermined.

Does the process affect my choice? No, it doesn’t. I simply play the hand I’ve been dealt.

Since it’s the same hand in either case, regardless of the underlying cause, it makes no practical difference. I wasn’t forced to play my hand one way if it’s due to a stacked deck, but another way if the deck was randomly shuffled.

3. So why do so many people feel that it does make a difference?

The unspoken assumption is that, given a chance, I might have done otherwise.

But unless I would have done otherwise, then what’s the point of my having several choices to choose from even though I’m only going to choose one in particular?

You see, what makes the freedom to do otherwise an attractive proposal is not that principle alone, but the additional assumption that if I had the freedom to do otherwise, then I would do otherwise.

So if the libertarian is going to make a case against Calvinism, he needs to do a lot more than invoke the generic freedom to do otherwise as a precondition of personal responsibility.

For even if we were grant the general principle, the libertarian needs to go beyond this principle in order to establish that, in any particular case, the agent would have done otherwise had he been given the opportunity to do so.

4. But suppose, for the sake of argument, that the agent would have done otherwise. Even that concession carries another unspoken assumption.

To say the agent would have done otherwise does not imply that the agent, if given the chance, would have chosen good over evil.

Suppose, absent the freedom to do otherwise, he chose evil. This does not, of itself, imply that he was compelled to do evil. Remember our example of the poker play.

Given the chance to do otherwise, he could just as well choose the very same evil as he did absent the freedom to do otherwise.

5. But, what is more, even if he were to choose otherwise, this doesn’t imply that he’d choose good over evil. He could just as well choose an alternative course of evil.

Suppose you gave a guy like Robert Tilton a range of good choices and evil choices. If Tilton had the freedom to do otherwise, and if Tilton were, in fact, to exercise that freedom, he would ignore all of the good choices and make one evil choice after another. After having his fill of one evil choice, he’d move on to the next in line.

So the libertarian would also need to establish that even if the agent would have done otherwise, what he would have done otherwise would be to choose good over evil.

Since, as I said at the outset, an agent can only make one choice at a time, we can only judge an agent by the choice he did, in fact, make; for we can never know what other choice he might have made even assuming the freedom to do otherwise.

So it’s hard to see how the libertarian can establish, either certainly or probably, that the agent would have done good instead of evil if given the chance.

8 comments:

  1. I think to state it even stronger, there must be a reason that a person makes the choice that he/she makes. But if someone "could have chosen otherwise" this implies that there is no reason motivating the choice.

    This makes every liberarian free-will decision arbitrary and ad hoc, and therefore there can be no "moral" choice at all.

    Suppose a choice is based on something that could go either way; why did it go a specific way then? There cannot be a reason, for if there is a reason then it no longer becomes possible for the person to have gone "either way" for the reason determines which way the choice would go. Since the choice is determined, then it is impossible for the person to actually go "either way."

    In other words, a choice occurs because a person does, indeed, want what is chosen; and it is on the basis of that desire to do what is done that a moral stand can be taken. If a person does evil because he wants to do evil, he is an evil person; but if a person does evil because he is forced to when he doesn't want to do it, we know that is coersion and he is not morally accountible. The desire, not the ability to do otherwise, is the determiner of morality. Indeed, if a person does not chose based on his desire, then his decisions are completely arbitrary and random.

    Thus, freedom cannot mean "the ability to do otherwise" but instead must be viewed as "acting according to one's desires and free from coersion."

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  2. Calvindude,

    How do you think that plays out there with respect to God creating or not creating? Those are two alternative possibilities. God created, but did not have to, and could have done otherwise.

    The problem here is a Triadological problem not anthropological. Solve it there, you solve it everywhere.

    You say:
    "Thus, freedom cannot mean "the ability to do otherwise" but instead must be viewed as "acting according to one's desires and free from coersion.""

    This sounds more like the One of Plotinus than it does the Trinity.

    It's time to put down the Augustinian Hellenization (filioque) and dig into Maximus the Confessor.

    Photios

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  3. Photius wrote:
    ---
    How do you think that plays out there with respect to God creating or not creating?
    ---

    That is a good question and an aspect I hadn't thought of there. Thanks for bringing it up (it's like the whole tension between God's freedom and God's simplicity argument).

    It's always fun to think more :-)

    Photius wrote:
    ---
    Those are two alternative possibilities. God created, but did not have to, and could have done otherwise.
    ---

    This is true. The universe is not necessary, but contingent upon God's desire to create the universe.

    In this case I would argue that he could still be free according to my definition, since God's creation of the universe was not compelled in any manner, and it was according to His desire.

    Where that desire came from, I do not know and cannot speculate. I would say it's fairly clear from Scriptures that it was not necessary for God to create, and therefore His desire to create was not a necessary desire either.


    Photius wrote:
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    The problem here is a Triadological problem not anthropological.
    ---

    I do disagree here. Man's free will is an anthropological question. Men learn; God does not. Men can make decisions based on the lack of knowledge; God does not. Therefore, man's will is to some extent limited by his finite nature; God is infinite and thus His will is going to be different from man's in some respects.

    Photius wrote:
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    This sounds more like the One of Plotinus than it does the Trinity.
    ---

    I'm not sure what you mean by that, so please elaborate :-)

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  4. the whole debate also hinges on what one means by, "could" do otherwise.

    it was forordained that Jesus would not have his bones broken.

    "could" his bones have been broken?

    well, what is meant by "could?"

    Where they unbreakable?

    That is, was there a metaphysical difference between Jesus' bones and ours?

    No. So then, they *could* have been broken, just like any other bone.

    So, man is *metaphysically* able to do otherwise (e.g., his arm is metaphysically able to abstain from bringing down a knife on a woman, or not), but he is morally *unable* to do good.

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  5. Calvindude,

    "Thanks for bringing it up (it's like the whole tension between God's freedom and God's simplicity argument)."

    You identified the problem. Bravo! :) It's my contention that this Neoplatonic simplicity as understood by Origen, Arius, and St. Augustine is not compatible with doctrine of the Trinity and is in fact a Hellenization of the Gospel along with Its ordo theologiae of essence, attributes, persons. Because foreknowledge and predestination become confused and are identical in Augustine: "to predestine is the same as to foreknow;" (Ad Romanum Expositio, 8:29), it is on the basis of St. Augustine's Hellenized Trinity that his doctrine of predestination/grace must be evaluated. Of course, I don't question Augustine's sanctity as error even extreme doesn't necessarily call into question his sainthood, only if he had take such speculations as dogma (which he never did). With Augustine as the root paradigm of the consensus patrum, by the Carolingian Franks and Scholasticism, the faith becomes subordinated to man's philosophy. One thing that is unique in the Reformation is that the Reformers intuitively grasped the dangers of philosophy and in their insistence of sola scriptura, they are trying to establish the proper ordo theologiae: reason is subordinated to faith and in the order of which questions will be asked and dealt with. If they could just take the next step of the patristic ordo of Persons, Operations, and essence. (See this: http://www.energeticprocession.com/archives/Breaking_Dialectic_Trinitarian_Structure_Gregory_Nyssa_Contra_Eunomium.pdf)

    "This sounds more like the One of Plotinus than it does the Trinity."

    Check out my paper Synergy in Christ:

    http://www.energeticprocession.com/archives/Synergy%20in%20Christ%20According%20to%20Saint%20Maximus%20the%20Confessor.pdf

    "In this case I would argue that he could still be free according to my definition, since God's creation of the universe was not compelled in any manner, and it was according to His desire."

    If this is so, then God is compelled to create since by your definition of freedom only the stronger desire wins out. Again, the difference between Plotinian emanation of the world and this one here would only be verbial.

    Photios

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  6. "I do disagree here. Man's free will is an anthropological question. Men learn; God does not. Men can make decisions based on the lack of knowledge; God does not. Therefore, man's will is to some extent limited by his finite nature; God is infinite and thus His will is going to be different from man's in some respects."

    I know it is an "anthropological" problem, but what is the ordo in which we handle these questions. What I'm saying here, is that I'm questioning the whole ordo in which you are asking these questions, which is still a "leftover" from Romanism. Let's start with the Hypostasis of Christ first, and then we can understand man. Man can only be understood in reference to the perfect humanity of Christ, not starting from abstract philosophical principles or deriving some abstract principles from scripture without reference to Christ's hypostasis and operations:

    http://www.energeticprocession.com/archives/2006/06/pathway_to_the.html

    Photios

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  7. Photius,

    Let me first thank you for the refreshing intellectual exchange you've got here! I've been used to dealing with so many people who could only cut 'n paste that I'm not used to seeing someone who actually thinks! :-)

    You wrote:
    ---
    It's my contention that this Neoplatonic simplicity as understood by Origen, Arius, and St. Augustine is not compatible with doctrine of the Trinity and is in fact a Hellenization of the Gospel along with Its ordo theologiae of essence, attributes, persons.
    ---

    Well, I do have to acknowledge at times that I've questioned the idea of "simplicity" too. I do know that if I'm forced to chose between God's simplicity and God's freedom, I will choose the second because that's found explicitly in the Scripture in several places, while God's simplicity comes more from implication of various texts and, of course, philosophical reasoning on the issue.

    I will also look over your links. Unfortunately, I am in the process of moving so my library is all packed and I'll have to wait until after the move is finished before I can do some serious research on this topic again!

    One final thing though:

    I said:
    ---
    In this case I would argue that he could still be free according to my definition, since God's creation of the universe was not compelled in any manner, and it was according to His desire.
    ---

    You responded:
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    If this is so, then God is compelled to create since by your definition of freedom only the stronger desire wins out.
    ---

    In the above, I acknowledge that God is compelled in the sense that He does what He desires; but I maintain that His desires are not necessary. Thus, His desire to create the universe is not a necessary desire, and thus the universe is not necessary.

    Of course that still leaves us wondering why God ever did desire to create the universe in the first place. But God has only given us some hints as to His purpose (e.g. for his glory) and has, when people asked Him for explanation, simply said He does as He pleases.

    In any case, once my move is finalized (should be all done by August 12, Lord willing), I'd love to continue to talk with you on this issue! Feel free to e-mail me at cd@calvindude.com.

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  8. "In the above, I acknowledge that God is compelled in the sense that He does what He desires; but I maintain that His desires are not necessary. Thus, His desire to create the universe is not a necessary desire, and thus the universe is not necessary."

    I would say that is fine as long as it is maintained that the Trinity has the desire and capability to do both. If there is only one desire there is only one outcome, or so it seems to me by your thinking. As long as God has a plurality of options open, His freedom is safeguarded.

    "Of course that still leaves us wondering why God ever did desire to create the universe in the first place. But God has only given us some hints as to His purpose (e.g. for his glory) and has, when people asked Him for explanation, simply said He does as He pleases."

    This is where it gets speculative and should be somewhat avoided. Some say if he has plurality of objects of will then creation seems arbitrary, but their alternative usually implies necessary creation. This was a big problem for the scholastics. They had a real problem with getting around their doctrine simplicity and the eternality of the kosmos. There comes a point where we need to be silent and stop where revelation stops.

    Enjoyed the exchange as well. Email me anytime

    Photios
    photius@sbcglobal.net

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