[I wrote this article back in 2002 for the now-defunct UK website Facing the Challenge. Reposted here, with minor edits, for posterity.]
What would you do if you were accused of a murder you had not committed… yet?
So runs the tagline for Minority Report, the latest action-thriller-cum-futuristic-noir from director Steven Spielberg. Intriguing though the question may be, it is by no means the only conundrum raised by this equally entertaining and thought-provoking film. As The Matrix did to a lesser degree, Minority Report touches on a host of age-old ethical and metaphysical puzzles — some raised explicitly, others apparent only on later reflection — but in an imaginative, contemporary, and stylish manner.
Are we free to determine our futures or are we destined by fate? If you know in advance that someone will perform a certain action at a certain time, can that person then be acting freely? Could it ever be just to punish a person for a crime they didn’t commit, yet surely would have committed had others not intervened to prevent it? Is a crimeless society thereby a virtuous one? When are privacy and freedom more valuable than safety? Where does justice end and vengeance begin? Is it ever justifiable to treat human beings (even abnormal ones) as means rather than ends?
I received the following query from a reader (hyperlinks added):
Hey there! So I’ve followed your Molinism posts, comments and interactions with JW Wartick on his site. I took your question and asked it to my Molinist friend and he gave me an answer that seems pretty straightforward. The conversation goes something like this:
I want to hear your thoughts as to why a Molinist could not simply respond to your question with the following:
Calvinist: Given that God has decreed that S will choose A in W1 is it possible for S not to choose A in W1?
Molinist: No, because then it would have been a different world. S cannot choose ~A In W1. Therefore God’s decree could not be wrong.
Calvinist: How does that not invalidate LFW?
Molinist: It does not invalidate libertarian free will because S chooses ~A in W2. The libertarian view of free will does not believe that you are free if you can choose A or ~A in the same world. Rather, we believe that it should be simply possible to choose A or ~A. But of course these will both be in two separate worlds.
Doesn’t LFW simply means it needs to be possible for the action to be different, but that possibility would generate a different world other than W1 right?
I think this response evidences a confusion about what libertarian free will (LFW) involves. LFW requires more than the mere possibility of (freely) choosing otherwise. If S freely chooses A in W1, it’s not sufficient for LFW that there be some other world W2 in which S freely chooses ~A. After all, a compatibilist can make exactly the same claim! I believe there are possible worlds in which I make free choices other than the ones I make in the actual world, but that doesn’t make me a libertarian about free will.
IVP’s New Dictionary of Theology is an outstanding reference work. (Just look at the original editorial team and you’ll see why!) So I was delighted not only to learn that a second edition is in the works but also to be invited to contribute an updated entry for ‘Paradox in Theology’. The editors of the new edition have kindly granted me permission to reproduce the article here.