Friday, June 30, 2017

Does Molinism make sense?

On Facebook, some folks attempted to critique my post:


I'm not a Molinist, but neither of these are really problems for them. To the first, this is exactly what middle knowledge is meant to solve.

i) That may be what middle knowledge is meant to solve, but positing that God knows the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom is a stipulation rather than a solution. Big difference.

ii) Moreover, the problem is deeper than sheer assertion. As I discuss, Molinism creates an obstacle to divine knowledge of hypothetical or counterfactual choices. 

To the second, Molinism allows for God to determine everything other than free choices. This is presumably enough, since free choices aren't typically the only things that make up the circumstances of other free choices.

How can God determine circumstances that are contingent on choices that God can't determine?

First, what makes the knowledge middle is not its content (many views agree that God knows these counterfactuals), but its being true contingently and without being determined by God.

Now you're resorting to a semantic quibble. To begin with, "middle knowledge" is just a label. I wasn't discussing why the position is thus designated. And there's more to Molinism than middle knowledge.

However, the content is directly germane to the question of whether God can differentiate between possible worlds, on the basis of circumstances, in order to instantiate a world of his choosing. 

Second, theories by their very nature posit principles in order to account for the phenomena they wish to explain. The Molinist seeks to explain how a God could know the outcome of a libertarian free choice, and proposes a theory about the nature of certain counterfactuals to account for this. Sure, you might find their particular proposal indefensible in the long run, or think some other account does a better job (as I do), but you can hardly fault them for following the standard process.

I fault people for making exaggerated claims about the explanatory power of their theory. Molinism doesn't even attempt to explain how God can know the hypothetical/counterfactual choices of libertarian agents. Rather, it takes that possibility for granted. Yet that's a central issue in dispute. So it begs the question.

By directly determining the parts of those circumstances that are not free choices. To say a circumstance is contingent on free choices is not the same as saying it is contingent on only free choices.

If you have a chain of events where each successive event is contingent on a preceding event, and at each fork in the road it could veer off in two or more directions, how does God instantiate any particular trajectory? The circumstances at T1 don't pick out a particular outcome. Depending on how that goes, we come to T2. But the circumstances at T2 don't pick out a particular outcome. And so on and so forth, like a game of chess.

As to their failure to explain how God can have this knowledge, I think it gets ahead of where we are in the dialectic. You don't need to have an explanation for the explanation, before the latter is worth considering. The Molinist starts with the assumption (shared by almost everyone) that God knows all true propositions and guides free human choices. He then proposes that there a class propositions that if known, would enable God to guide our free choices.

i) To begin with, while we can grant the assumptions of an opposing position for the sake of argument, proponents of the opposing position are not entitled to stipulate that we must grant their assumptions. There are many situations in which it is right and proper to challenge the assumptions of the opposing position.

ii) Moreover, you're taking the extreme position that even granting their assumptions for the sake of argument, we are not allowed to challenge the coherence of their position. We must grant that their position is internally consistent.

Those are arbitrary restrictions. 

If the same circumstance could result in two different outcomes because of free choice, then the Molinist's claim is that it would only result in one.

If an agent can choose more than one course of action under identical circumstances, then the circumstances fail to yield a specific result. In that case, God is shooting blind when he instantiates a possible world. He has a range of possible/feasible worlds from which to choose, but circumstances are insufficient to differentiate one outcome from another. 

The knowledge of the counterfactuals was never under question

That's an issue if God is blindfolded when he chooses which option to instantiate, for circumstances are too indiscriminate to select for the desired outcome.

The ability to chose differently doesn't effect God's knowledge of what said creature would choose given the circumstances. Just like your ability to choose differently doesn't effect God knowing what you will choose.

i) I think you mean affect, not effect. If you're going to be patronizing, at least use the right word. 

ii) Actually, there are freewill theists of the Occamist stripe who say it does affect God's knowledge. Soft facts, backtracking counterfactuals.

Foreknowledge doesn't have any causal power.

Red herring.

For the question to work as an objection one would have to assume it does have a causal power - but that sort of theological determinism is (aside from being logically fallacious) exactly what the Molinist solution finds to be unnecessary. Like I said, if this guy would take the time to step outside of his deterministic assumptions and seek to truly understand the view, he wouldn't need to ask this kind of trivial question.

i) I'm always amused by people whose intellectual confidence is in inverse proportion to their intellectual competence. That's a common malady among internet atheists and internet freewill theists. 

ii) Molinism doesn't have a solution.

iii) My argument doesn't presuppose that foreknowledge has causal power (whatever that means). 

God knows all at once, by virtue of his middle knowledge, all the circumstances - those that would be created by free creatures and those that would not be, and then sovereignly chooses to create that world of free choices and circumstances that suit his ends. Thus all circumstances, no matter how they came to be, were chosen by God - all the while leaving libertarian freedom still possible.

That doesn't begin to engage my argument. Once more, if libertarian freedom is defined as the ability to do more than one thing under the same circumstances, then instantiating a particular set of circumstances won't suffice to instantiate a world with any particular set of choices, inasmuch as the choices are causally independent of the circumstances. A given set of circumstances cannot select for a particular outcome. The outcome is radically underdetermined by the circumstances inasmuch as the circumstances don't produce free choices.

This is also very easy to refute.

Behold the beauty of overconfidence. 

(i) That you could do otherwise in a circumstance does not entail that you would do otherwise.

Misses the point. God can only get the world he wants if a given set of circumstances ensures a corresponding set of choices. If, however, a given set of circumstances leaves the agent with more than one available course of action, in response to said circumstances, then how does actualizing circumstances pick out one outcome rather than another? 

(ii) Easy. If God breaks down a car, for example, He changes the circumstances. Lol.

Was that supposed to be clever? 

It's like a game of chess. The countermove depends on the previous move. Each move and countermove open up a new set of forking paths. If many circumstances are caused by free choices, then how can the choices be isolated from the circumstances that God instantiates?

No, I completely get the point. Except x circumstance will in fact lead to only one outcome: choice y. You can repeat that possible world ad infinitum and that outcome would still arise unless the circumstance changed. The choices are not isolated from the circumstances God instantiates, that's the point.

If the same outcome invariably follows from the same antecedent conditions, how do you distinguish that from determinism? On your view, there's no way to tell the difference between fair dice and loaded dice. Even if you roll the same dice a billion times, and get sixes a billion times in a row, that's consistent with fair dice rather than loaded dice.

So a pair of dice is analogous to personal agency how...?

If the dice are fair, each throw is causally discontinuous with the preceding or succeeding throw. Analogous to the freedom to do otherwise under the same circumstances.

A typical explanation of libertarian freedom involves two possible worlds with a shared past. Everything was the same up to the moment of choice, at which point it forks off in opposing directions. More prosaically, holding antecedent conditions the same, divergent outcomes are equally viable.

3 comments:

  1. "If the same circumstance could result in two different outcomes because of free choice, then the Molinist's claim is that it would only result in one."

    I think this reveals something of the hollowness of the could-have-done-otherwise condition many libertarians think so important. A determinist could affirm pretty much the exact same thing: Mr. Reprobate could have accepted Christ or rejected Christ, but he would only reject Christ given God's decree.

    If Calvinism doesn't provide for a robust enough account of forking paths then neither does Molinism. What really is the point of dispute is source-hood.

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  2. Your opponent in quotes:

    "The Molinist seeks to explain how a God could know the outcome of a libertarian free choice, and proposes a theory about the nature of certain counterfactuals to account for this."

    Molinists seek to overcome the grounding objection?

    "By directly determining the parts of those circumstances that are not free choices. To say a circumstance is contingent on free choices is not the same as saying it is contingent on only free choices."

    Not "on *only*" free choices makes room for some free choices. Yet even only one free choice is the fly in the ointment.

    "The Molinist starts with the assumption (shared by almost everyone) that God knows all true propositions and guides free human choices."

    Yes, the molinists operates on borrowed capital. The problem is that a purely contingent choice defies a truth value. If at t1 something might occur at t2, then at t1 it's philosophically false that it will occur at t2 even if it does occur at t2. What's the t1 truth maker after all?

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