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Molinism and Varieties of Freedom I: Prolegomenon: Categories of Divine Foreknowledge

22 June 2011

Luis de Molina: the eponymous founder of Molinism and exponent of scientia media.

As might be inferred from the name of this blog or from trying to carry on an unrelated conversation with me I have an abiding interest in the work of Luis de Molina, particularly his project to reconcile creaturely freedom and divine foreknowledge. Molina posited a new category of divine knowledge, scientia media, which he argued could reconcile the free will of created beings with God’s perfect foreknowledge of those created beings. This series on Molinism and varieties of freedom aims to explore the varieties of freedom compatible with a Molinist conception of divine foreknowledge. The standard philosophical distinctions of libertarian and compatibilist free will will be looked into along with more explicitly theological constructions of the will. But first, by way of prolegomenon, a brief explanation of Molinism’s categories of divine foreknowledge is in order.

Luis de Molina posited three forms of divine foreknowledge: scientia naturalis, scientia liberalis, and scientia media. The former two were derived from the work of earlier Scholastic theologians, principally (and perhaps directly) from Thomas Aquinas, but they are also present in the thought of the great rival of Thomism, Duns Scotus. The latter category, scientia media, was Molina’s own. It was posited in his monumental work Concordia liberii abitrii cum gratiae donis, more generally known simply as the Concordia, where Molina attempted to reconcile the Thomistic predestinarian theology (yes, Thomas Aquinas was a predestinarian) strongly advocated by the Dominicans with a free creaturely will.

Scientia naturalis is that knowledge which God knows by his very nature. This knowledge is independent of action of God’s part and is thus logically pre-volitional.[1] Scientia naturalis consists of all metaphysically necessary truths and all possible truths, truths which are independent of God’s will. Thus God has no control over the truths of those propositions which he knows through his scientia naturalis. Thomas Aquinas referred to this category of divine knowledge as Scientia Simplicis Inteligentia, or Knowledge of Simple Intelligence, describing it as God’s knowledge of all things which are not necessarily actual.[2]

Scientia liberalis is that knowledge which God knows by his creative act of will. This knowledge is logically post-volitional, contingent upon God taking certain, non-necessary, creative acts from amongst the full range of creative acts available to him. These truths are thus metaphysically contingent and God has control over their content: God could have chosen to create different creatures or situations, or not to create at all, in which case the content of his scientia liberalis would be different or nonexistent. This category of knowledge Aquinas called Scientia Visionis, or Knowledge of Vision, referring to the knowledge of all that is, was, or will be.[3]

Scientia media is Molina’s new category and describes God’s knowledge of what creatures would do were they created. More precisely it is God’s knowledge of all true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom: all determinations which may be made by any creatures as may be created. It can be thought of as consisting of an infinite or extremely large set of propositions in the form, “If agent A were in situation P then agent A would freely perform action S.” This categories occupies a middle ground between the two traditional categories, incorporating elements of each. Scientia media is, like scientia naturalis, pre-volitional and independent of divine control. That is, God has no power over the content of propositions known through scientia media, their truth is independent of his will. It is similar to scientia liberalis in that the truths known through scientia media are contingent (not metaphysically or logically necessary) because they are dependent upon the possible determinations of creaturely free will.

Notes and Bibliography

[1] The notion of a logical order of categories of knowledge is important to the Molinist conception of divine knowledge but was also held by Scotus and Aquinas.  This priority is conceptual and atemporal (as is necessary within an atemporal conception of God).

[2] ST 1.14.9

[3] Ibid.

Dekker, Eef, “Was Arminius a Molinist?” The Sixteenth Century Journal 27 (1996), 337-352.

Laing, John D., “The Compatibility of Calvinism and Middle Knowledge,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47 (2004), 455-67.

Muller, Richard A., “Arminius and the Scholastic Tradition,” Calvin Theological Journal 24 (1989), 263-277.

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