Molinism and Libertarian Free Will (Again)

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.

Rather, LFW involves the idea that it is possible for S to freely choose A or ~A in exactly the same circumstances. Or to put it more precisely: if S chooses A at time t in W1, then for S to have LFW in W1 there must be a possible world W2 in which S chooses ~A at t where the history of W2 at t is identical to the history of W1 at t. (For the sake of simplicity I’m leaving aside the distinction, made by some libertarians, between derivatively and non-derivatively free choices, since that distinction isn’t relevant to the point being made here.)

So the question I pose to the Molinist is just this: Should God’s decree be included in the history of W1?

If it should be included, then (assuming divine infallibility) there is no possible world W2 (with an identical history) in which S chooses ~A at t. But if it shouldn’t be included, I would like the Molinist to give a principled, non-question-begging reason why it shouldn’t be included. For it strikes me as special pleading to exclude, of all things, God’s eternal decree — which is an active divine foreordination, not a passive divine foreknowledge — from the history of the world prior to our free choices (or from the circumstances in which we make our free choices).

I realize there’s much more to be said on this issue. (There was some discussion of the issue in the comments on my original post.) But that’s my basic response to the Molinist quoted above. His reply doesn’t give an adequate answer because it doesn’t adequately grasp the problem in the first place.

15 thoughts on “Molinism and Libertarian Free Will (Again)”

  1. I appreciate the clarification on how the history has to be identical in W2 as it is in W1 at the time of the action. Does this not still rely on assuming that the libertarian/Molinist holds to PAP though? Couldn’t narrow source libertarians like Dave Hunt just deny the necessity of PAP for moral responsibility and still be incompatibilists? I ask because Craig has made it quite clear that he accepts Frankfurt argument and doesn’t believe PAP is necessary for free will. Couldn’t this narrow source libertarianism resolve the dilemma?

    1. Thanks for the question, Zack. Some quick thoughts in response:

      1. The Molinist cited above clearly accepts PAP, so I answered on those terms. But you’re right to point out that not all Molinists accept PAP.

      2. I suspect Timpe is right that narrow source incompatibilism (which denies PAP) collapses into wide source incompatibilism (which affirms PAP); in other words, the ultimate sourcehood condition entails some minimal PAP condition.

      3. I’ve argued previously that Molinism is really a form of non-causal determinism. But if moral freedom is compatible with non-causal determinism, I see no reason why it wouldn’t also be compatible with causal determinism (broadly understood).

    2. Craig does say that PAP isn’t necessary for moral responsibility, but it is interesting to note that in the Four Views on Foreknowledge book, he does take issue with Hunt’s response by saying, from memory, “Dave Hunt says foreknowledge rules out the ability to do others, but not to worry, because we don’t need that ability to be free!”

      I also agree with James that libertarians who take this like need to deal with the arguments of Timpe, Kane, et al. that purport to show that APs are going to be needed somewhere if we are going to be the ultimate source of our character or will. But to piggy-back of James’ comment, we should note some other cost:

      1. They cannot use consequence-style arguments to argue that determinism rules out free will.
      2. So what argument do they have? The ‘direct argument’ seems to be the best candidate. Now, you (Zack) claim that these source incompatibilists use Frankfurt counterexamples to motivate a denial of PAP. But as Joe Campbell as shown, IMO, direct source incompatibilists cannot use both the direct argument and appeal to Frankfurt. That Joe has shown this has been accepted by many incompatibilists (e.g., Timpe, Shabo, etc). (The basic concern here is that certain transfer issues needed in the direct argument are invalid if we accept Frankfurt counterexamples).
      3. So above I said *direct* (or what Timpe calls ‘narrow’) source incompatibilists can’t use the direct argument. Timpe notes that this leaves some PAP-denying source incompatilists, like Zagzebski, to employ another kind of argument for incompatibilism. What’s that? It’s fairly complicated but the basic gist is that the argument falls out of her specific understanding of the faculties of the intellect and the will and the role they play in generating free (and responsible) action.
      4. Now, it’s still not clear whether this kind of argument does ultimately rely on some kind of transfer principle that rules out Frankfurted agents from being responsible. It’s not exactly clear what the *structure* of this argument is. Nevertheless, at this point it seems to me that proponents of this argument crucially reply on *manipulation* to make their case.
      5. So, putting aside that we’re not yet clear on what, precisely, the *structure* of manipulation arguments are, and so whether they rely on a transfer principle that renders Frankfurted agents not responsible, there’s a deeper concern here *for Molinists*. It’s important to note that the PAP-denying, Frankfurt-case-accepting, Molinist will have trouble with this line of argument (and it’s interesting to note that Molinists don’t seem to endorse Zagzebski’s views on freedom and responsibility here). The trouble is that Molinism is plausibly a version of manipulation too.

      So the upshot is that the Molinist who makes the moves Zack suggests seem to be without an argument for incompatibilism.

  2. Thank you once again for your helpful responses Dr Anderson and Paul. A few more questions after discussing this with my Molinist friend.

    He continues to make distinctions between God *causing* a world and *actualizing* a world. For example, he’ll make statements like “God does not decree that S will choose A in W1. Rather, God could decree that W1 be actual. And it is within W1 that S chooses A.”

    Could you help me with this *cause* vs *actualize* distinction that Molinists make and how it might help them?

    Also, he says in response to your question about God’s decree being included in the history of W1 that “God’s decree is not chronologically prior, rather it is logically prior. So, it is a mistake to think that God’s decree is part of the circumstances. That would be to misunderstand the nature of God’s decree. So this is not special pleading. This is why you find philosophers saying that God’s decree is different from world to world. PW1 and PW2 can be identical up until the moment of the agents decision. But clearly, since the worlds are not totally identical, God’s decree would be slightly different. Remember, God decrees a certain world to be actualized. God’s decree is not part of the world. ”

    What of the chronological vs logical distinction? Does that get the decree out of the “history” of the world because its logically prior?

  3. I apologize, the second paragraph should read “He makes continues to make distinctions between God *decreeing* a world and *actualizing* a world.”

  4. Zack’s friend: “God’s decree is not chronologically prior, rather it is logically prior. So, it is a mistake to think that God’s decree is part of the circumstances. That would be to misunderstand the nature of God’s decree. So this is not special pleading… God’s decree is not part of the world.”

    Au contraire, it is special pleading. What is God’s decree, after all? It is an action of God, or at the very least, one of his (efficacious) intentions. And what are these? Aspects of God, that is, the real God, in whom we live and move and have our being. So ask yourself: is God part of the world? If by ‘world’ you mean ‘all the things there are,’ then of course he is. God is as actual as every other being in the world. His actions and intentions are as actual as your actions and intentions.

    So why would the definition of the circumstances in which I make my choice specifically preclude the existence of God? God’s not some shadowy, unactualized phantom, a mere wisp of possibility. It’s arguable that he’s more real of a Being than we are! How strange to preclude this actual Being from the specification of our actual circumstances.

    Talk about ‘logically prior’ seems irrelevant. Right now I’m writing this email. To do that, I must have the power to write an email. One might say that my power to write an email is ‘logically prior’ to my actually writing the email, since the latter entails the former, but not vice-versa. But it makes no sense to say that therefore my power to write an email is not part of my actual circumstances! So the Molinist will have to say something more here than simply draw the chronological/logical distinction, in order to have a principled reason for excluding God from our actual circumstances.

    There’s a lot more to say here, but I’ll stop now.

  5. To add to what Greg said, if we don’t have to include God’s decree because it’s not “chronologically prior,” that this move is open to the Calvinist too. God’s decree is timeless, and so it’s not “part of the circumstances” we consider when we ask whether we could do otherwise given theological determinism. So this move doesn’t show that Molinism isn’t deterministic, since the same move would show that the *paradigmatically deterministic* Calvinism wasn’t deterministic.

  6. Yes, good point, Paul. “I could do otherwise as long as we don’t count God’s decree as part of my circumstances” gets Molinists and Calvinists out of the same jam, it seems.

  7. He responded with what I thought was your excellent analogy about writing an email and logical vs chronological power with the following:

    ” The difference is that while the power to write the email is causally connected to the state of affairs in which I write the email, whichever of God’s decrees (world 1 or 2) is the actual one, this will be causally impotent to the historical circumstances leading up to the agent’s action. I’m not saying that God’s decree itself is causally impotent. I’m saying that between the two specific different decrees that we are examining, there will be no causal change until the moment the agent makes the choice, because, in both decrees God would be actualizing the same state of affairs until the agents choice.”

    Once again he appeals to “actualization”. How does this notion differ from causation and what work is it supposed to accomplish for the Molinist? Thanks for your help!

  8. Zack,

    Your friend says: “I’m saying that between the two specific different decrees that we are examining, there will be no causal change until the moment the agent makes the choice, because, in both decrees God would be actualizing the same state of affairs until the agents choice.”

    I’m afraid I don’t understand this sentence. In particular, the phrase “there will be no causal change.” Fixing our attention upon just one timeline, what ‘change’ over that specific timeline are we talking about? None that I can see. It’s true that the agent’s causal contribution to the circumstances won’t take place *until* the agent’s moment of choice. But that isn’t a “causal change”. It’s just the agent being a cause within his timeline.

    Perhaps what your friend means is that since God’s decree only ‘strongly actualizes’ the *circumstances* of the agent’s choice (rather than strongly actualizing the choice itself), this keeps Molinism from being problematic. While I think the strong actualization / weak actualization distinction is bogus in this context (as I explain in my contribution to the forthcoming *Calvinism and the Problem of Evil* [ed. Daniel M. Johnson and David Alexander]), let’s waive that and keep our eye on the ball. What we’re wondering about in this discussion is the following: Why should God’s decree be exempted from the circumstances in which the agent makes his choice? Your friend’s initial answer was that:

    “God’s decree is not chronologically prior, rather it is logically prior. So, it is a mistake to think that God’s decree is part of the circumstances. That would be to misunderstand the nature of God’s decree. So this is not special pleading… God’s decree is not part of the world.”

    My reply was that, on the contrary, saying that God’s decree is ‘logically prior’ does not remove it from the agent’s circumstances, even as saying that the agent’s “power to write an email” is logically prior to the agent’s choice does not remove the agent’s own power from his circumstances.

    As far as I understand your friend’s reply, he is saying, “Yeah, but God’s decree doesn’t *cause* or *ensure* or *entail* the particular choice to be made. In that sense God’s decree ‘will be causally impotent to the historical circumstances leading up to the agent’s action.’” In response, I say that even if I concede that that’s true, it’s irrelevant. Because once again we can say the same thing about the agent’s “power to write an email”. His mere possession of such a power does not *cause* or *ensure* or *entail* the agent’s particular choice to write the email. And yet it’s still part of his circumstances! So let’s stipulate: neither God’s decree nor the agent’s power to write an email *cause* or *ensure* or *entail* the agent’s choice to write the email. Nevertheless, both God’s decree and the agent’s power to write an email are obviously part of the agent’s circumstances.

    It seems quite implausible to say: the agent’s power is logically prior to his choice, and it forms part of the agent’s circumstances of choice, and God’s decree is logically prior to the agent’s choice, but it *doesn’t* form part of the agent’s circumstances of choice. Here, talk of ‘logically prior’ or ‘causally impotent’ is irrelevant in giving us a good reason to think that God’s decree doesn’t form part of the circumstances. If that were true, then we’d have a good reason to think the agent’s causal powers don’t form part of his circumstances, and that’s absurd.

    I conclude that the Molinist arbitrarily excludes God’s decree from the circumstances of the agent’s choice. God and his decree are fully actual, even as the agent’s causal powers are actual. The distinctions your friend have presented so far don’t seem relevant in removing this arbitrariness.

    (For the record, I don’t think the Molinist can consistently maintain that the divine decree is “causally impotent” with respect to the agent’s choice, but that’s not what we’re debating right now, so I’m conceding it *arguendo*.)

    So let’s try again: neither God’s decree nor the agent’s causal power ensures the agent’s choice (according to Molinists). Both God’s decree and the agent’s causal power are logically prior to the agent’s choice. So why is God’s decree not part of the agent’s circumstances, while the agent’s causal power is part of the circumstances? Talk of ‘logically prior!’ or ‘causally impotent!’ now seems irrelevant in explaining the difference.

  9. I thank you again for this continued interaction as I have benefited greatly from it. I have heard of the forthcoming volume on Calvinism and the Problem of Evil before and I am excited for its release.

    His latest response is to agree with you that Gods decree is part of the circumstances of the agents decision. He says “As far as God’s decree (to actualize a specific possible world) being logically prior to the event, I’m fine with saying that it is part of the circumstances. ”

    When I pressed him on the original question again though (which was if Gods decree is included in the circumstance of the agents choice then given that God has decreed that S will choose A in W1 is it possible for S not to choose A in W1?) his answer is “It is to misunderstand the nature of possible world semantics. God doesn’t decree or decide what the content is in each possible world. Rather, he just decrees a specific world.”

    Furthermore, he has no problem affirming that Gods decree is apart of the circumstances in each possible worl but clarifies that the content of each possible world is already there prior to God’s decree. Therefore, Gods decree is different in each possible world based on the content that is already there prior to his decree.

    I’m just really struggling with how to respond to him on the grounds on his narrow source incompatibilism. For me its so much easier to just respond to libertarian free will by arguing against PAP but ultimate source-hood without PAP is a much more difficult system to address and is the view he holds based off of teachings from Craig.

    1. Hi Zack,

      As far as I can make out, your Molinist friend now concedes that he can’t reconcile Molinism with PAP, so he’s giving it up in favor of a ‘narrow source incompatibilism’. So the advantage of Molinism over Calvinism isn’t that it preserves PAP, but that it keeps God from being the ultimate cause of our choices. At no point in our history can we do otherwise, but as long as we’re the ultimate cause of our doings then Molinism is a providential alternative to Calvinism worth having.

      First, it seems to me that both James Anderson and Paul Manata have addressed this precise objection. Just scroll up to your very first comment in this thread, and read their replies to you. That’s what they’d say in response to the source-but-no-leeway position your friend is articulating. I think I agree with them.

      In addition, I have doubts that Molinists can successfully distinguish Molinist non-causation of our choices from Calvinist causation of our choices, at least when it comes to ‘God is a moral monster’ culpability considerations. Indeed, I don’t know metaphysically how to distinguish God-as-cause on the Calvinist account from God-as-non-cause on the Molinist account, since it looks to me as if all the factors that would lead us to say “God’s the ultimate cause” on the Calvinist account are all there on the Molinist account. I’m clearly the cause of the bullet killing the man even though I exploit realities over which I have no control, and which are not sourced in me. Ditto for God on Molinist providence. What is the ‘extra’ factor present in Calvinism that generates the metaphysical asymmetry between Calvinism and Molinism?

      Beyond this, it’s at least controversial to suppose that one can endorse source conditions on responsibility without endorsing at least some PAP conditions on responsibility at some point. If Molinism clearly precludes the latter, then its appeal to libertarians just got narrowed.

      Finally, there’s both leeway-compatibilists and source-compatibilists, so it’s not like insisting on leeway and source conditions for responsibility automatically nets a win for indeterminists. It all comes down to how you define these conditions. There are versions of them that are compatible with determinism.

  10. Michael Shuman

    Great comments all!

    I was wondering, Dr. Anderson, (or anybody) where I might read more about how the abandonment of PAP (the narrow source incompatibilism) collapses into wider source incompatibilism, which affirms it. Or where could I find someone arguing for narrow source incompatibilism? It does seem to me this gets at the heart of the matter. Does this denial of PAP by the molinist get them out of this molinist mirkwood?

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