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Freedom and Foreknowledge
A Plantinga : On Ockham's Way Out Two essential teachings of Western theistic religions : Christianity, Judaism and Islam are that (1) God is omniscient and that (2) human beings are morally responsible for at least some of their actions. (1) Implies that God has knowledge of the future and thus has foreknowledge of human actions
(2) That some human actions are free.
Divine foreknowledge and human freedom can seem to be incompatible. There are two lines of the argument for the incompatibility thesis the claim that these doctrines are indeed in conflict; one of these arguments is pretty clearly fallacious, but the other is much more impressive.
1. Foreknowledge and the Necessity of the Past
Augustine, through the mouth of Evodius's statement illustrates one parameter of the problem : the conception of freedom in question is such that
a person S is free with respect to an action A only if
(1) it is within S's power to perform A and within his power to
(2) No collection of necessary truths and casual laws causal
laws outside S's control together with antecedent conditions
outside S's contain entails that S performs A, and none entails
Augustine : 'That being so, I have a deep desire to know how it can be that God knows all things beforehand and that, nevertheless, we do not sin by necessity. Whoever says that anything can happen otherwise than as God has foreknown it, is attempting to destroy the divine foreknowledge with the most insensate impiety… But this I say. Since God foreknew that man would sin, that which God foreknew must necessarily come to pass. How then is the will free when there is apparently this unavoidable necessity'
that he refrains from doing so.
This can also be put as follows :
1. If God knows in advance that S will do A, then it must be the case that S will do A.
2. If it must be the case that S will do A, then it is not within the power of S to refrain from doing A.
3. If it is not within the power of S to refrain from doing A, then S is not free with respect to A.
4. If God knows in advance that S will do A, then S is not free with respect to A. Aquinas's point may be put more perspicuously as follows : (1) is ambiguous between
(1)(a) : Necessarily, if God knows in advance that S will do A, then S will do A.
(1)(b) : If God knows in advance that S will do A, then it is necessary that S will do A.
Now consider :
Aquinas : If each thing is known by God as seen by Him in the present, what is known by God will have to be. Thus, it is necessary that Socrates be seated from the fact that he is seen seated. But this is not absolutely necessary or, as some say, with the necessity of the consequence; it is necessary conditionally, or with the necessity of the consequences. For this is a necessary conditional proposition : If he is seen sitting, he is sitting.
(1)(c) : If God knows in advance that S will do A, then S will do A.
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(1)(a), says Aquinas, is a true oppositions expressing 'the necessity of the consequences', what it says is just that the consequence of (1)(c) follows with necessity from its antecedent. (1)(b) on the other hand is an expression of the necessity of the consequent, what it says, implausible, is that the necessity of the consequence of (1)(c) follows from its antecedent. Aquinas means to point out that (1)(a) is clearly true but of no use to the argument. (1)(b) on the other hand, is what the argument requires; but it seems flatly false, or at least no reason to endorse it.
There is another, more powerful argument, that is considered by Aquinas. The best form is put forward by Jonathan Edwards :
Past existence is now necessity : having now made sure of existence, it is impossible that it should be otherwise than true, that that thing has existed.
II. If there is divine foreknowledge of the volitions of free agents, that foreknowledge, by the supposition, is a thing which already has, and long ago had existence; and so, now its existence is necessary it is impossible to be otherwise, than that this foreknowledge should be, or should have been.
III. It is also very manifest that those things which are indissolubly connected with other things that are necessary, are themselves necessarily. As that proposition whose truth is necessarily connected with another proposition, which is necessarily true, it is necessarily true. To say otherwise would be a contradiction it would be to say that the connection was indissoluble and yet was not so, but might be broken. If that, whose existence is indissolubly connected with something whose existence is now necessary, is itself not necessary, then it may possibly not exist, notwithstanding that indissoluble connection of its existence.
IV. If there is a full, certain and infallible foreknowledge of the future existence of the volitions of moral agents, then there is a certain infallible and indissoluble connection between those events and foreknowledge; and that therefore, by preceding observations, those events are necessary events; being infallibly and indissolubly connected with that whose existence already is, and so is now necessary, and can't but have been. Edwards concludes : God has certain and infallible prescience of the acts and wills of moral agents, and it follows that events are necessary, with the same sort of necessity enjoyed by what is now past. This argument appeals to two intuitions :
A. Although the past is not necessary in the broadly logical sense (it is possible, in that sense, that Abraham should never have existed), it is necessary in some sense : it is fixed, unalterable, outside anyone's control.
B. Whatever is 'necessarily connected' with what is necessary in some sense, is itself necessary in that sense; if a proposition A, necessary in the way in which past is necessary, entails a proposition B, then B is necessary in the same way.
If this argument is a good one, what it shows is that if at some time in the past God knew that I will do A, then it is necessary that I will do A necessary in just the way in which the past is necessary.
If God knew, eighty years ago, that I would mow my lawn this afternoon, this foreknowledge is a 'thing that is past'. Such things are now necessary. So it is now necessary that God had that knowledge eighty years ago; but it is also logically necessary that, if God knew that I would mow my lawn today, then I will mow my lawn today. It thus, is not within my power to refrain and I will not mow freely.
This is an argument for 'theological determinism'; the premise is that God has foreknowledge of the 'acts and wills of moral agents' and the conclusion is that these acts are necessary in just the way the past is. Clearly enough the argument can be transformed into an argument for logical determinism, which would run as follows :
It is true eight year ago, that I would mow my lawn this afternoon. Since what is past is now necessary, it is now necessary that it was true eighty years ago that I would mow my lawn today. But it is logically necessary that, if it was
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true eighty years ago that I would mow my lawn today, then I will mow my lawn necessary in just the sense in which the past is necessary. But then it is not within my power not to mow; hence I will not mow freely.
Boethian : Might object that this involves foreknowledge God's having known at some time in the past. Many theists, however, hold that God is eternal, and that his eternity involves at least the following two properties : i.
His being eternal means that every is present for him there is no future or past.
ii. God's being eternal means that he is outside of time, in such a way that it is an error to say of him that he knew some proposition or other at a time.
We thus cannot properly say that God now knows that Paul moves in 1995, or that at some time in the past God knew this the truth, instead, is that he knows this proposition eternally. The thesis that God is atemporal, and that everything is present for him looks incoherence. If it is coherent than Edwards's argument can be restated in such a way as not to presuppose its falsehood : That God eternally knows that I will mow this afternoon.
This depends upon the claim that a proposition can be true at a time. Some argue that it does not so much as make sense to suggest that a proposition A is or was or will be true at a time; a proposition is true or false simpliciter and no more true at a time than, for example, true in a mail box. But let us conned for the moment that it makes no sense to say of a proposition that it was true at a time; it none the less make good sense to say of a sentence that it expressed a certain proposition at a time. But it also makes good sense to say of a sentence that it expressed a truth at a time. Now eight years ago the sentence :
God knows (eternally) that Paul mows in 1995
expressed the proposition that Paul moves in 1995. If Paul will mow in 1995, then (5) also expressed the truth eighty years ago. So eighty years ago (5) expressed the propositions that Paul will mow in 1995 and expressed a truth, since what is past is now necessary, it is now necessary that eighty years ago (5) expressed that proposition and expressed truth.
2. Ockham's Way Out
Edwards speaks of the unalterability of the past; and it is surely natural to do so. Strictly speaking, however, it is not alterability that is relevant here; for the future is no more alterable than the past. The asymmetry between past and future does not consist in the fact that the past is unalterable in the way in which the future is; none the less, this asymmetry remains. Now, before 9.21, it is within Paul's power to make it false that he walks out at 9.21; after he walks out at 9.21 he will no longer have that power.
Recognising this asymmetry, Ockham held that the past is indeed in some sense necessary : it is necessary per accidens.
Ockham : I claim that every necessary proposition is per se in either the first mode or the second mode. This is obvious, since I am talking about all the propositions that are necessary simpliciter. I add this because of propositions that are necessary per accidens, because it was contingent that they be necessary, and because they were not always necessary
Ockham directs our attention to propositions about the past: pasttense propositions together with temporally indexed propositions, such as :
II. Columbus sail the ocean blue is true in 1492. whose index is prior to the present time. Such propositions, he says, are accidentally necessary if true; they are accidentally necessary because they become necessary. Pasttense propositions become necessary when they become true; temporally indexed propositions such as (VIII), on the other hand, do not become true (VIII) was always true
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but they become necessary, being necessary after not before the date of their index. Once a propositions acquires this status not even God, says Ockham, has the power to make it false.
Ockham means to draw the following contrast : Some propositions about the present 'are about the present as regards both their wording and their subject matter'; for example :
III. Socrates is seated This is strictly about the present; and if such a proposition is now true, then a corresponding proposition about the past : IV. Socrates was seated
will be accidentally necessary from now on. Other propositions about the present, however, 'are about the present as regards their wording only and are equivalently about the future' for example
V. Paul Correctly believes the sun will rise on 1 January 2000
Such a propositions is 'equivalently about the future' and it is not the case that if it is true, then the corresponding proposition about the past :
VI. Paul correctly believed that the sun will rise on 1 January 2000 in this case will be accidentally necessary from now on.
What Ockham says about the present, he would also say about the past. Just as some propositions about the present are 'about the present as regards their wording only and are equivalently about the future', so some propositions about the past are about the past as regards their wording only and are equivalent about the future; XII for example or :
VII. Eighty years ago, the proposition 'Paul will mow his lawn' in 1999 was true or (to appear those who object to the idea that a proposition can be true at a time :
Eighty years ago, the sentence 'Paul will mow his lawn in 1999' expressed the proposition 'Paul will mow his lawn in 1999' and expressed a truth.
These proposition are about the past, but they are also equivalently about the future. Furthermore , they are not necessary per accidens. We might say that a true proposition like XIIXIV is a soft fact about the past, whereas one like :
IX. Paul mowed in 1981
Is strictly about the past it is a hard fact. The idea of a hard fact about the past contains two important elements : Genuineness and Strictness. XIII is not a hard fact it tells us nothing about the past. What it really tells us is something about the future. XII and XIV on the other hand, do genuinely tell us something about the past : XII tells us that Paul believed something and XIV that a certain sentence expressed a certain proposition.
The distinction between soft and hard facts in important of Ockham it provides him with a way of disarming the arguments for logical and theological determinism from the necessity of the past. Each of those arguments, when made explicit, has as a premise :
X. If p is about the past, then p is necessary
Ockham's response is to deny XVI : hard facts about the past are indeed accidentally necessary, but the same cannot be said for soft facts. Such propositions as XIII and XIV are not hard facts about the past each entail that Paul will mow his lawn in 1999 and is therefore, as Ockham says, 'equivalently about the future'. Not all facts about the past are hard facts about the past, and only the hard facts are plausibly thought to be accidentally necessary.
XVI, the claim that all facts about the past is accidentally necessary, is seen to be false or at least at any rate there is no reason to believe it.
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This seems to be correct there is no easy way to refurbish Edward's argument. Given Ockham's distinction between soft and hard facts, what Edward's argument needs is the premise that such propositions as :
XI. God knew eighty years ago that Paul will mow in 1999
are hard facts about the past. Clearly, however, XVII is not one; for it entails :
XII. Paul will mow his lawn in 1999
and no proposition that entails XVIII is a hard fact about the past.
Here, Plantinga is not adopting an 'entailment' criterion, according to which a fact about the past is a hard fact about the past if and only if it entails no propositions about the future. What is being said is that no proposition that entails XVIII is a hard fact about the past, because no such proposition is strictly about the past. We may not be able to give a criterion for being strictly about the past, but there is an intuitive grasp of this :
A. No conjunctive propositions that contains XVIII as a conjunct is strictly about the past.
C. Hard facthood is closed under logical equivalence : any proposition equivalent to a proposition strictly about the past is itself strictly about the past. Any proposition that entails XVIII is equivalent, in the broadly logical sense, to a conjunctive proposition one conjunct of which is XVIII hence each such proposition is equivalent to a proposition that is not a hard fact about the past, and is therefore itself not a hard fact about the past. Thus the Edwardsian argument fails.
3. On Ockham's Way Out
Ockham responds to the argument for theological determinism by distinguishing hard facts about the past facts that are genuinely and strictly about the past from soft facts about the past : Only the former are necessary per accidens. This is intuitively plausible but extremely difficult to say what it is for a proposition to be strictly about the past, and equally difficult to say what it is for a proposition to be accidentally necessary.
According to Ockham, a proposition is not strictly about the past if its 'truth depends on the truth of propositions about the future'
This suggests that if a proposition about the past entails one about the future, then it isn't strictly about the past. We might concur with Ockham in holding that a proposition about the past is accidentally necessary if it is true and strictly about the past. There are problems with this :
A. Suppose we take 'about the future' in a way that mirrors the way we took 'about the past' ; a proposition is then about the future if and only if it is either a future tense proposition or a temporally indexed proposition whose index s a date later than the present. Then obviously any proposition about the past will entail one about the future.
I. I. II. II. III.
Abraham existed a long time ago
Abraham exists in 1995 BC
XV. It will be the case from now on that Abraham existed a long time ago
It will always be true that Abraham exists in 1995 BC
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