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Molinism and Varieties of Freedom III: Compatibilist Freedom

15 August 2011

Arthur Schopenhauer, proponent of compatibilism

This third installment of “Molinism and Varieties of Freedom” will examine the compatibility of Molinism and compatibilism. Compatibilism, most simply put, is the attempt to reconcile free will with determinism;[1] it is a theory of free will in which the will is theoretically free but conditioned to a greater or lesser extend. The compabilist will is a free agent and thus bears moral responsibility for its choices and actions, but what those choices and actions will be is pre-determined. The compatibilist will, to misquote Schopenhauer, is free to will as it will but cannot will what it wills. Theologically compatibilism is deployed (like Molinism) in order to reconcile human free will with divine omniscience and omnipotence, though it does so by subordinating free will to divine power and/or foreknowledge. Theologically that subordination can be something of a rub for compabitibilism because it can lead to conflict with other divine attributes.[2] As mentioned in the previous entry in this series, Jacobus Arminius would argue in his most famous work, Declaratio sentimenti, that the subordination of human free will to divine power and foreknowledge violated divine love and justice.[3] Depending upon one’s understanding of the nature of such attributes as divine love and divine justice perfectly (ie. libertarian) free will may be understood as being theologically necessary.

The natures of and differences between compulsion and necessity are important to grasp if one is to understand compabitibilism. Both necessity and compulsion are restraints placed upon the will by an outside agent or factor. The will bound by compulsion is actively controlled by that outside agency, and does not truly possess agency or bear moral responsibility. The compelled will is not, strictly speaking, free, since such a will is prevented, not just at the metaphysical or logical level, from making decisions – movements of the compelled will are made for it. Though the compelled will may experience its own movements as being truly its own they are effectively imposed upon it and the holder of the compelled will is in no sense an agent and bears absolutely no moral responsibility. Molinism is completely incompatible with a compelled will, both in its theological assumptions and its philosophical intent. A compelled will is incompatible with the Molinist (and Arminian) conceptions of divine justice and divine love because, according to this theology, a God who loves his creatures will allow them freedom and a just God will not condemn creature for actions over which they have no control. Philosophically, of course, the compelled will would make Molinism redundant, since there is no free will to reconcile with divine control (the compelled will does not necessarily require perfect divine foreknowledge, God need not know in advance what movements of the will to compel in order to have complete control over them).

The will bound by necessity is, strictly speaking, still a free will, and possesses agency as well as bearing moral responsibility. However the necessitated will is logically or metaphysically restricted in the exercise of its freedom. Though such a will is totally free and can will independently of any outside agent or force its movements are necessary, that is, it cannot, logically or metaphysically, will other than it is bound to will by that necessity.[4] The will bound by necessity is somewhat compatible with the philosophical elements of Molinism but, like the will bound by compulsion, rubs up against the Molinist theology. This conditional philosophical agreement requires one to recast scientia media significantly: logically, though not necessarily metaphysically, subordinating it to the other categories of divine knowledge. This is because scientia media is simply not necessary as a category of divine knowledge within a deterministic framework: compabitibilism requires only scientia naturalis and scientia liberalis. God need not have knowledge of what creatures would do in certain situations as he determines what they will do.[5] Certainly this does not exclude God possessing such knowledge as scientia media, it just relegates it to a superlative function.

Bringing a compabilist concept of the will into conversation with Molinism once again raises the question of theodicy. As discussed in the previous installment of the series, with a libertarian free will God is theoretically unable to have a creation without evil if all possible creations with creaturely free will lead to evil. However, does this hold true with the compatibilist free will? Because the compatibilist will remains free the logical restrictions associated with free will on God’s creative power remain. There remain choices which individuals will not make, actions they will not take, nor matter what causal chain is placed before or what conditioning is placed upon them. Certain theoretically possible counterfactuals are thus in fact impossible. Once again this leads to the possibility of a lack or dearth or creative options without evil, with God having no alternative but to choose from amongst these flawed possible creations.

The next installment of “Molinism and Varities of Freedom” will explore the implications of Molinism for and compatibility with Lutheran concepts of Divine power and foreknowledge and of creaturely free will, focusing especially on Luther’s most favoured of his own works, De Servo Arbitrio (usually rendered in English as On The Bondage of the Will).

Notes and Bibliography

For an interesting treatment of compatibilist freedom in fiction see the series The Prince of Nothing and its sequel series The Aspect-Emperor, by Canadian fantasist R. Scott Bakker.

[1] Determinism being the idea that all the movements of the creaturely will, and, indeed, of everything else in the universe, are predetermined. This predetermination need not be on the part of a deity (cf. scientific determinism). The nature of the will is a matter of debate amongst deterministic thinkers.

[2] The divine attributes addressed in this, and all subsequent, installments are those of classical theism: transcendence, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence. More specifically these are addressed within the traditional Christian appropriation of classical theism and include the traditional Christian additions and elucidations of these attributes, such as Trinity, necessity, simplicity, aseity, and the creature-creator dichotomy, since this was the understanding of God within which Luis de Molina operated. The 20th and 21st century developments of process theism and open theism are not being addressed.

[3] Arminius was addressing supralapsarianism, which can be understood as a variety of compatibilism but need not be, depending upon one’s understanding of the nature of creaturely will in Reformed thought.

[4] Scientific determinism, the Newtonian theory that the movements of the universe and everything within it are perfectly determinable if one can know the precise location, direction, and speed of every particle in the universe at a single moment in time is a scientific species of compatibilism. Of course scientific determinism was disproved by the uncertainty principle, which holds that one cannot know the precise speed and location of an elementary particle at the same time, only one or the other, but this does not exclude the possibility the particles do move along a predetermined coursed unobservable to humans nor that an omniscient God can observe these particle in a way that humans cannot.

[5] It might be thought of as knowledge of what creatures would do were they wills not bound by necessity. This framework for scientia media need not be understood as God imposing necessity on creatures which could otherwise enjoy libertarian free will, since, as mentioned in the above footnote, it is possible that the created universe is inherently deterministic in a way beyond our ability to observe.


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