Grounding Molinist-type counterfactuals?

Here’s an interesting thought I just had: what if instances of acting libertarian-freely not only determine the truth value of what libertarian-free subject S chooses actually (A), but also grounds what S would have done counterfactually?

So, when S libertarian freely decides, in situation C, to do A, perhaps S is also implicitly freely deciding what, in situation C*, S would have done.

If this is possible, then subjunctive counterfactual conditionals of creaturely freedom can be grounded (namely in the very nature of instances of S acting libertarian-freely).

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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26 Responses to Grounding Molinist-type counterfactuals?

  1. Since the necessary and sufficient conditions for an action to exhibit libertarian free will (LFW) is simply the existence of a single consistent world description in which the subject acts otherwise, it is gibberish to say that any particular such description, actual or not, “grounds” the freedom.

    If such a description exists, then the agent has LFW in all possible worlds. Just as it is sufficient for there to be one black marble in a bag of white marbles for all the marbles to be “in a mixed bag”.

  2. I think there is some confusion on your part here. Let me try to explain it another way.

    Suppose that in Libertarian-freely choosing A, in circumstance C, one had freely acted (acted as a first-mover in some causal series) in such a way that the action is morally equivocal to libertarian-freely choosing B, in circumstance C*. You might think of the Libertarian-free action or movement of the soul as exerting (stay with me here, this is just for the sake of a metaphor) moral-energy, such that in C*, given the same free action of the soul (given its response to its disposition in C), the Libertarian-Free agent would have done B.

    This requires only that there is some moral equivocation – that subject S in C doing A is morally equivalent to subject S in C* doing B. Perhaps it’s morally equivalent in such a way that S’s choosing A in C is implicitly S’s choosing B in C*.

    It seems to me, though, that even if my solution here for grounding counterfactuals worked, it wouldn’t do the Molinist very much good would it?

    • Also, just so we’re clear, “the necessary and sufficient conditions for an action to exhibit libertarian free will (LFW) is simply the existence of a single consistent world description in which the subject acts otherwise” is clearly false, since there would be no way to distinguish, on that account, Libertarian Freedom from Randomness.

      Second, the articulation in terms of possible world semantics would not ‘ground’ the freedom, strictly speaking, since it merely articulates conditions under which we can recognize that freedom.

      Third, I am not trying here to ground freedom, but to ground counterfactuals of the Molinist variety.

      What do you think? Do you think, on the assumption that agents act libertarian freely, that their acting can ground the counterfactuals as well? If so, do you think accepting this kind of grounding-account could be of any benefit to the Molinist?

      • Suppose that in Libertarian-freely choosing A, in circumstance C, one had freely acted (acted as a first-mover in some causal series) in such a way that the action is morally equivocal to libertarian-freely choosing B, in circumstance C*.

        You’re going to have to help me out on the notation. By “equivocal” do you mean “equivalent”, and by C* do you mean the identical antecedent world segment in at least one other world?

        And “first mover” in the sense of “not a function of prior world states” is still by definition random (with respect to prior world segments). Still not seeing how this weird definition of free will makes us such precious little snowflakes.

        You might think of the Libertarian-free action or movement of the soul as exerting (stay with me here, this is just for the sake of a metaphor) moral-energy, such that in C*, given the same free action of the soul (given its response to its disposition in C), the Libertarian-Free agent would have done B.

        The problem is not with “soul” or “force” verbiage per se. It’s that philosophers of religion (and I absolutely do not exempt atheist PoRs on this count) tend to be terminally confused about modality, and reintroduce modal concepts after they are supposed to have been reduced to talk of possible worlds (regardless of how literally one takes such talk).

        Like explaining how sperm can be a unit of heredity by saying each one has a little man inside, or theories of mind which posit a conscious “meaner” within the brain who experiences everything, or (my favorite, courtesy of the Churchlands) explaining temperature as the excitation of molecules in a substance… which then “rub up against each other, creating friction, which makes them heat up”!

        In modal terms, the concept of a “force” of A causing B is exhausted by the concept of a model which rules out the observation of ~B following the observation of A. Period. Full stop.

        Therefore it is literally meaningless to talk of A causing B “in” a single world, and it is literally meaningless to talk of “exerting forces” across worlds. Just as it is meaningless to talk about a black or white marble being in a mixed bag “in” a single marble. Likewise it is literally meaningless to talk of (LFW)freely choosing “in” a world.

        This requires only that there is some moral equivocation – that subject S in C doing A is morally equivalent to subject S in C* doing B. Perhaps it’s morally equivalent in such a way that S’s choosing A in C is implicitly S’s choosing B in C*.

        Again, the notation is a barrier to me here.

        Also, just so we’re clear, “the necessary and sufficient conditions for an action to exhibit libertarian free will (LFW) is simply the existence of a single consistent world description in which the subject acts otherwise” is clearly false, since there would be no way to distinguish, on that account, Libertarian Freedom from Randomness.

        Ding ding ding! Exactly! Hallelujah! You are the first theist I have ever seen exhibit even the slightest flicker of awareness that there might be a problem with LFW being functionally equivalent to randomness.

        A fair coin flip, made by a blind man in an insane asylum, controlling every one of your thoughts and hopes and desires does not meaningfully give you any more free will than a cyborg puppetmaster controlling every one of your thoughts and hopes and desires gives you free will.

        Intellectually, what’s going on now in Buddhism is much more interesting than what’s going on in Christianity, because the former denies free will of the childish and superstitious type.

        Second, the articulation in terms of possible world semantics would not ‘ground’ the freedom, strictly speaking, since it merely articulates conditions under which we can recognize that freedom.

        Third, I am not trying here to ground freedom, but to ground counterfactuals of the Molinist variety.

        The Grounding relation is overrated. Right there on the label, you can see how it reeks of stale Foundationalist approaches to the world. We need to outgrow whatever emotional temptation it is that makes us think that everything must be “grounded”, as both the rationalists and empiricists implicitly do. We should replace this metaphor with something more serviceable, like what will “keep our boats afloat” instead of what will “keep our Ziggurats erect”. The virtues involved are different.

        What do you think? Do you think, on the assumption that agents act libertarian freely, that their acting can ground the counterfactuals as well?

        I think that LFW stands in contradiction to genuine free will and that grounding is pointless, and on the assumption that agents “act LFly” i.e. randomly,

        If so, do you think accepting this kind of grounding-account could be of any benefit to the , Molinist?

        Can’t say until you set me straight on the notation. It does seem that Molinism would be much, much better off with compatiblism than LFW, although it would still have the problem of “actualizing” being gibberish and the problem of possible worlds being impossible to “actualize”.

      • ajrogers2013 says:

        “Also, just so we’re clear, “the necessary and sufficient conditions for an action to exhibit libertarian free will (LFW) is simply the existence of a single consistent world description in which the subject acts otherwise” is clearly false, since there would be no way to distinguish, on that account, Libertarian Freedom from Randomness.”
        So what are the necessary and sufficient conditions, if not this?

  3. Right, I should be clearer about those things. I wanted to avoid saying equivalent, but equivocal may not have been a very useful word to use – I was thinking etymologically because equi-vocal literally refers to saying the same word ‘as though’ it meant the same thing (and equivocation is called a logical fallacy when the use of the same word ‘as though’ it meant the same thing is performed when the use of the same word does not mean the same thing as it did the first time it was used). So, for two events to be equivocal would just be that to say ‘S did A in C’ is to say ‘S did B in C*’, but then I might as well just say that it is equivalent. Perhaps I should say ‘morally’ equivalent.

    By C* I do not mean an identical antecedent world segment in at least one other world, but rather I mean a different antecedent world segment (and the molinist will not situate the antecedent in another logically possible world because they want to say that their special kind of counterfactual conditional is not ‘true’ at another logically possible world, but that the counterfactual is true simpliciter – and this is one of my problems with Molinism). In other words, the Molinist wants to say that it is true simpliciter that “Had Mary been in some other circumstance C*, she would have libertarian-freely chosen X, given the choice between X and Y.” I don’t think that kind of counterfactual can be simpliciter true (I think it must be true in some logically possible worlds, and that it cannot be true in all of them since even the Molinist agrees that would violate the notion of libertarian-free agency). One of the biggest criticisms of Molinism is that these kinds of counterfactual conditionals cannot be grounded (hence what I thought of doing in the post above was to find a way to ground these in the actual world by arguing for moral equivalence, but this kind of grounding will NOT help the Molinist get what she wants to get by postulating middle knowledge because God only knows the counterfactuals given the facts of libertarian-free choices).

    ““first mover” in the sense of “not a function of prior world states” is still by definition random (with respect to prior world segments).”

    I think that’s rather shallow. If you wish to define randomness in that way, you can, of course, but there is a clear meaningful difference between a random result, and a result which some agency brings about in such a way that no antecedent conditions determined what that agency would chose to bring about. The random result is clearly as out of our control as is the deterministic result. The whole idea of Libertarian Free Will is that we act as first movers in the sense that we determine without being determined, when acting in our capacity as moral agencies. Notice, however, that on your definition there is no way to tell the difference between Libertarian Free Will and Randomness, and therefore, I think, your definition is inadequate to capture the concepts we all understand to be meaningful. We need to do better than that.

    “In modal terms, the concept of a “force” of A causing B is exhausted by the concept of a model which rules out the observation of ~B following the observation of A. Period. Full stop.
    Therefore it is literally meaningless to talk of A causing B “in” a single world, and it is literally meaningless to talk of “exerting forces” across worlds. Just as it is meaningless to talk about a black or white marble being in a mixed bag “in” a single marble. Likewise it is literally meaningless to talk of (LFW)freely choosing “in” a world.”

    Well, it seems to me that that definition can be called into question. For instance, you would presumably say that some particle fluctuating into existence out of the quantum vacuum was in some sense caused by the quantum vacuum.

    “Ding ding ding! Exactly! Hallelujah! You are the first theist I have ever seen exhibit even the slightest flicker of awareness that there might be a problem with LFW being functionally equivalent to randomness.”

    That’s just naive. Read the literature. Also, think about it: unless your intuitions are quite odd, and probably malformed, you too recognize a meaningful difference between LFW and randomness just like the rest of us.

    “The Grounding relation is overrated. Right there on the label, you can see how it reeks of stale Foundationalist approaches to the world.”

    Here you can perhaps be forgiven and excused, since foundationalism is not everywhere very popular, but I am a foundationalist, and I think foundationalism is more fertile than any of it’s epistemological alternatives.

    “I think that LFW stands in contradiction to genuine free will”

    What is genuine free will?

    • So, for two events to be equivocal would just be that to say ‘S did A in C’ is to say ‘S did B in C*’, but then I might as well just say that it is equivalent. Perhaps I should say ‘morally’ equivalent.

      Well, I’m not sure what role this is playing in your argument.

      By C* I do not mean an identical antecedent world segment in at least one other world, but rather I mean a different antecedent world segment (and the molinist will not situate the antecedent in another logically possible world because they want to say that their special kind of counterfactual conditional is not ‘true’ at another logically possible world, but that the counterfactual is true simpliciter – and this is one of my problems with Molinism).

      So… a different antecedent segment of the same, actual world? Er, I thought counterfactuals (see what it says on the tin? not factual) by definition not actual. What does the fact that I did go swimming last time I went to Lake Michigan have to do with whether I will go skiing in Colorado this season?

      Are you sure this is what Molinists say? I mean, I will believe, at the drop of a hat, that a theologian said something irretrievably confused about modality, but I don’t understand why anyone would say a non-actual history isn’t talking about the, well, actual world. This is probably related to my inability to grasp what is supposed to turn on these conditionals being true “simpliciter”.

      In other words, the Molinist wants to say that it is true simpliciter that “Had Mary been in some other circumstance C*, she would have libertarian-freely chosen X, given the choice between X and Y.”

      “Had she been in some other circumstance” by definition of PW semantics (however literally you interpret those) references some other possible world. “There is a world such that C* happened, then X happened.”

      And by definition of LFW, there must be at least one possible world where X followed C* and at least one possible world where Y followed C*. That is the straightforward meaning of the phrase “could have done otherwise”. (The two worlds must also be within the same sphere of nomological, not merely logical possibility, i.e. identical reduced description strings of the laws governing state-transformations.)

      I don’t think that kind of counterfactual can be simpliciter true (I think it must be true in some logically possible worlds, and that it cannot be true in all of them since even the Molinist agrees that would violate the notion of libertarian-free agency).

      Once again, modal statements are characterized by their not being true “in” individual worlds. If that is all the Molinist means by “simpliciter” then I’m at a loss as to why this is controversial at all. Another way of putting it is to point out that if an agent is L-free in one possible world, then he is L-free in all of them, just as if one marble is in a mixed bag, then all the marbles in that bag are in a mixed bag, “mixed” and “LFW” not being statements that any single world/marble can rule in or out.

      Assuming arguendo that Yahweh can “actualize” worlds (he can’t, but let’s run with it), then knowing that an agent in some counterfactual circumstance in a nomologically equivalent world would do one and only one thing entails, by definition, determinism, which in turn entails a lack of LFW, which is defined in terms of the ability to do otherwise, which in turn is cashed out modally in terms of the existence of more than one possible world.

      To the Molinist, you can say: middle knowledge or LFW — pick one. Still not understanding what the “grounding problem” is even supposed to be. The wiki entry starts by characterizing it as “metaphysical”, but the first quote only talks about the epistemic status. And if you people are happy simply defining Yahweh’s goodness into existence by saying it’s necessary, I don’t see why you’re worried about defining his knowledge into existence.

      This sentence I do understand: “Opponents to middle knowledge claim that the historical antecedent of any possible world does not determine the truthfulness of a counterfactual for a creature, if that creature is free in the libertarian sense,” which seems to be my point precisely. Given LFW, there is no single world state nomologically entailed by the antecedent state, i.e. in our model antecedent conditions do not determine a unique decision i.e. one’s decisions are random with respect to antecedent conditions.

      So if I’m right about what’s going on here, the problem isn’t that counterfactual knowledge isn’t “grounded”, whatever that means. It’s that it isn’t true.

      If you wish to define randomness in that way, you can, of course, but there is a clear meaningful difference between a random result, and a result which some agency brings about in such a way that no antecedent conditions determined what that agency would chose to bring about.

      And yet you find yourself unable to clearly and meaningfully state this “clear and meaningful difference”, when the purely formal definition of randomness with respect to something is the purely formal antonym of being determined with respect to that thing. Even the McCann quote in the section on objections to Molinism recognizes this point!

      You keep subconsciously wanting to insert some ontological claim into being “determined” over and above 1) the formal observation that some event is temporally conjoined with some other event and 2) the formal property of a model which spits out the latter event given the former. There is no daylight in between these.

      The random result is clearly as out of our control as is the deterministic result.

      Then either 1) we have no free will or 2) the free will we have is not LFW.

      The correct answer is “2”.

      The whole idea of Libertarian Free Will is that we act as first movers in the sense that we determine without being determined, when acting in our capacity as moral agencies. Notice, however, that on your definition there is no way to tell the difference between Libertarian Free Will and Randomness, and therefore, I think, your definition is inadequate to capture the concepts we all understand to be meaningful.

      That is not a bug, it’s a feature. It is the central claim in my arguments, in this and the earlier thread that LFW isn’t what we want when we say we want free will. Do you really think Christian parents spend thousands of dollars giving their children a good biblical upbringing with the thought that this education will in no way increase the probability that they will grow up to be Christians?” Pull the other one.

      Well, it seems to me that that definition can be called into question. For instance, you would presumably say that some particle fluctuating into existence out of the quantum vacuum was in some sense caused by the quantum vacuum.

      I am no expert in QM, but according to my understanding the current most plausible interpretation is that at that scale such events are genuinely uncaused i.e. not entailed by prior states of the system.

      That’s just naive. Read the literature.

      It is naive to assume that I have not. LFW is defined in terms of the ability to have done otherwise, which is defined (in PW semantics) in terms of possible worlds in which one does otherwise.

      Also, think about it: unless your intuitions are quite odd, and probably malformed, you too recognize a meaningful difference between LFW and randomness just like the rest of us.

      No, I recognize a meaningful difference between actual free will and randomness, because LFW is bunk. Free will requires nonrandomness in order for my decisions to be genuinely mine. They must be nonrandom with respect to my hard-won experiences, nonrandom with respect to my prior moral reflection on what to do, nonrandom with respect to previous courses of self-discipline I have embarked on etc.

      How many people have you met whose every action is utterly random with respect to any prior character traits?

      What is genuine free will?

      I like “evitability”, or Hofstadter’s “anti-sphexishness.” It is what you get, in the absence of duress, when the causal chain leading up to the output of an organism’s decision passes through a neural system in which it plays a functional role in anticipating future outcomes and modifying desires accordingly.

      • “but I don’t understand why anyone would say a non-actual history isn’t talking about the, well, actual world.”

        isn’t –> is

      • This might help you get clear on LFW and randomness: remember the old vertical line test they taught us in junior high to tell if something is a function?

        This works because if something is truly a function then every value in the domain uniquely determines a single value in the range. Note that “determine” here is a purely formal relation with no ontological implications, is completely agnostic with respect to what (if anything) the numbers in the domain and range correspond to, and therefore says nothing whatsoever about whether the former “cause” the latter.

        Now we can define randomness with respect to something as the opposite property of being determined with respect to something: the presence of two or more outputs for a given input. Again, this is purely formal. In between being completely determined and completely random, there are only different degrees of randomness.

        A reduced description of observations (say, “F=MA”) is a function taking you from inputs to outputs in a one-to-one manner, or, in the case of probablistic laws, taking you from input observations to a small but still non-singular set of output observations.

        LFW is the claim that models of human behavior flunk the vertical line test. Determinism is the claim that they do not. Your choices are more or less determined just to the extent that observations of outputs from antecedent world states are more or less constrained by your model.

        Whatever it is you want when you say you want free will, you can see that behaving randomly with respect to prior states isn’t (in and of itself) something more (or less) desirable than being determined with respect to prior states. Whether or not you have free will (a normative claim) is not something that can simply be “read off” from the purely formal properties of how our descriptions relate inputs to outputs, which is another way of saying free will is not a matter of determinism vs. indeterminism.

      • If by Random you mean only something which is defined that way, contra determinism, and you can couch it in PW semantics, then I am happy to say that Libertarian Free Will is ‘random’. The point is, of course, that it isn’t metaphysically random. There is in fact something which acts as a first mover and causes the consequent. You say that “Note that “determine” here is a purely formal relation with no ontological implications, is completely agnostic with respect to what (if anything) the numbers in the domain and range correspond to, and therefore says nothing whatsoever about whether the former “cause” the latter.”

        If this is all you mean by random, which is idiosyncratic, then Free Will is formally random, and metaphysically non-random (since there is a determining cause, but it is one which is not itself determined).

      • So Baby Jesus knows what I would do in an alternate circumstance? Then he knows the reduced description which recovers the data of my prior behavior, and this reduced description has a single unique output given the input of the antecedent light cone. Therefore, determinism is true. No skin off my back, obviously.

        So Baby Jesus is the efficient cause (don’t get me started on “actualizing”; this is already way too much typing for one morning) of the antecedent world segment? Then he is the efficient cause of my decision. Again, not a problem for me, since I have the correct understanding of free will.

        It does begin to be a problem for the theologian when you notice it drops a hydrogen bomb on Plantinga’s response to the logical problem of evil, which I swore I wouldn’t talk about, so I’ll bow out for now.

    • ajrogers2013 says:

      “Had Mary been in some other circumstance C*, she would have libertarian-freely chosen X, given the choice between X and Y.”
      What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for libertarian-freely choosing something? If they want this to be true “simpliciter”, then I don’t see how there could be any conditions.

    • ajrogers2013 says:

      “If you wish to define randomness in that way, you can, of course, but there is a clear meaningful difference between a random result, and a result which some agency brings about in such a way that no antecedent conditions determined what that agency would chose to bring about. The random result is clearly as out of our control as is the deterministic result. The whole idea of Libertarian Free Will is that we act as first movers in the sense that we determine without being determined, when acting in our capacity as moral agencies.”

      If you determine the result, then it isn’t random. But if you are not determined to be the way you are at the moment of decision, then the person you are at that moment is at least partially random right? It can’t be that the person you were five minutes before the decision fully determined the person you were at the moment of decision because then “antecedent conditions determined what that agency would chose to bring about”. (The antecedent conditions being the person you were five minutes earlier). So it doesn’t seem that you’re avoiding randomness as much as pushing it back a step.

      • “So it doesn’t seem that you’re avoiding randomness as much as pushing it back a step.”

        Well, of course. What you do is nonrandom with respect to what you Will, and what you Will is nonrandom with respect to your causal history. But LFW fans insist they would be more “free” if their actions were utterly beyond their own control!

        Our host says that I am simply “misunderstanding”, but from where I sit I have provided nothing but crystal clear exposition and explicit definitions of my terms, where he has resisted requests to define central concepts like LFW, causation, randomness etc. Of course, I did come barging in with a text-tsunami or three, so I can sympathize with a cost-benefit analysis involving incurring a half dozen more of them.

        With modal concepts the problem is very much a “fish discovering water” issue. They’re just so built in to the way we model the world it becomes difficult for people to step back from them and think about them clearly and consistently. But this problem is made just infinitely, infinitely worse by the fact that a sincere student of apologetics will almost certainly be relying directly or indirectly on Plantinga, whose lack of philosophical competence it is a constant struggle to phrase diplomatically.

      • ajrogers2013 says:

        I have to admit, I was quite perplexed by the weird cult of Plantinga I encountered among Christian philosophers and students when I first switched my major to philosophy. Personally, I found him infuriating to read; he seems to almost be deliberately imprecise in his writing. Reading “The Nature of Necessity”, “God, Freedom, and Evil” and “On Occham’s Way Out” turned me against him pretty early on. That being said, I’ve only taken two semesters of philosophy so I’m hesitant to be too critical of him. There must be some reason that he is so popular. And I haven’t read much of his epistemology so maybe I’ll like that better. He also seems like a genuinely nice guy.

      • Well, Plantinga fandom among young apologists is extremely easy to understand, for the same reason Dembski or Behe fandom is. They’re creationists, but with Big Sciency Mathy Respectable-y backgrounds, so how dare you say creationism is anti-intellectual!

        If you want to really be perplexed, try looking at the atheist philosophers of religion who clutch their pearls when you dare to suggest Plantinga might not be the brightest bulb in the christmas tree, philosophically speaking.

        “He also seems like a genuinely nice guy.”

        Allow me to disabuse you of this notion by inviting you to google “plantinga apa counterpetition”, or simply reading any number of his arguments in support of undermining American science education.

      • You’re a very silly sensationalistic rhetorician. I’m not sure your comment here deserves any more by way of response than that.

      • ajrogers2013 says:

        Oh that stuff doesn’t bother me at all. Plantinga is a politically correct liberal compare to me.

      • “LFW fans insist they would be more “free” if their actions were utterly beyond their own control!”

        Really?

      • Yes, really.

        Remember when you clearly defined the necessary and sufficient conditions for LFW in modal PW terms in a way distinguishable from a blind inmate in an insane asylum flipping a coin?

        Neither do I.

      • Recall when I said “Libertarian Free Will is not defined in PW semantics for this very reason.” And again I said “You can model Libertarian Free Will in possible world semantics, but you fail to grasp that the model is not conceptually exhaustive.”

        Now, perhaps you’ll say that isn’t really an outline of necessary and sufficient conditions. However, let’s say that those conditions can be outlined as follows:

        A decision is Libertarian Free if and only if…

        1. There are logically possible worlds satisfying all the same antecedent conditions (temporal and efficient) where the choice made was different,
        2. The choice is not a function of randomness
        3. The choice is determined by a causal first-mover
        4. That first-mover cannot move except in response to antecendent conditions which do not determine the causal first-mover’s effect, and which do not make it to function randomely

        That sounds rather like what I’ve been saying all along, doesn’t it? You may say you don’t understand – I expect as much at this point. I think you haven’t quite gotten your head around the issue yet, and that’s perfectly fine. Perhaps I’m the one who thinks he has a coherent notion, and doesn’t. That’s fine too. My point has been, though, that simply to model libertarian free will in terms of logically possible world semantics as you have done fails to capture the idea. It doesn’t fall outside of logically possible world semantics, it’s just that it involves talk of relations like causal relations, and involves talk of first-mover agencies. They aren’t mechanistic in their output, nor are they blindly producing results at random.

        Since I don’t know what more I can say to help you see the idea, or to disabuse me of it, I have been at a loss for words – I think your comments have just pushed the conversation into circles, and I feel as though I’m just repeating myself to no avail.

      • ajrogers2013 says:

        @tylerjourneaux

        Does
        (3) “The choice is determined by a causal first-mover”
        happen after
        (1) “There are logically possible worlds satisfying all the same antecedent conditions”?
        So we would have a world with the same antecedent conditions followed by a causal first mover followed by an effect?
        (I am assuming this is what you meant, as opposed to the causal first mover’s state right before the effect being part of the antecedent conditions)

        And the antecedent conditions don’t even indeterministically cause the first mover to do anything, but yet he moves “in response” to the antecedent conditions?

        I’m not sure what “in response” could mean here if it isn’t some sort of causation. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just say that the causal first mover moves and that it isn’t in response to anything?

        I think the biggest problem is that if your causal first mover is inside your system and his state or properties at the time of his decision are not determined by antecedent conditions in the system, then they must be at least partially random, right?

        And if the causal first mover is outside of your system then it just seems like you’re cheating by constraining your system in a convenient way and you have’t really created any meaningful free will. I could constrain my system to my coffee cup and then say that the coffee I pour into it has libertarian free will because its movements aren’t entirely determined by the antecedent conditions of my system.

  4. Well, in one sense, welcome to the club of those who are perplexed by the Molinists. As a Theologian I will admit that I can see the attraction to it; it solves a plethora of puzzles and riddles all at once. However, it does require that God have this kind of ‘middle’ knowledge, called ‘middle’ because it is supposed to be in between Modal knowledge on the one hand, and knowledge of the actual world on the other (so, it is knowledge of counterfactual conditionals which are true AT our logically possible world). The Molinist will, therefore, typically deny any strong version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, claiming that Molinist-type counterfactuals are brute facts. They might argue, as I have previously done on the blog (playing the devil’s advocate), that given that subjunctive counterfactual conditionals are propositions, and given the Law of Excluded Middle, these counterfactual conditionals must have truth values at our world. Thus, some true counterfactual of this sort is true simpliciter.

    “And by definition of LFW, there must be at least one possible world where X followed C* and at least one possible world where Y followed C*. That is the straightforward meaning of the phrase “could have done otherwise””

    Necessary but not sufficient.

    “if an agent is L-free in one possible world, then he is L-free in all of them,”

    No.

    “knowing that an agent in some counterfactual circumstance in a nomologically equivalent world would do one and only one thing entails, by definition, determinism, which in turn entails a lack of LFW,”

    Because the Molinist is talking about ‘middle’ truths the Molinist will be likely to respond that what they are saying doesn’t entail determinism because it doesn’t entail that their special counterfactuals are true in all logically possible worlds. In other words, there is simply no connection between the antecedent and the consequent, but their claims aren’t ‘actually’ true, nor are they issued as modal claims (claims, here, about all logically possible worlds), but rather they are supposed to be counterfactual conditionals which are true at our actual world. The Molinist will, in fact, say that counterfactual-counterfactuals, along with counterfactuals, were true absent God’s creative act, and then, given the act of creation, the counterfactual-counterfactuals became counterfactuals of the Molinist type, and the counterfactuals absent creation became factuals in creation.

    It can be a bit difficult to get one’s head around this concept, but even a non-theologian should give it a shot, because Molinism brings up issues such as the (possible) inadequacy of PW semantics to cover all those things which we want to talk about.

    “That is not a bug, it’s a feature. It is the central claim in my arguments, in this and the earlier thread that LFW isn’t what we want when we say we want free will. Do you really think Christian parents spend thousands of dollars giving their children a good biblical upbringing with the thought that this education will in no way increase the probability that they will grow up to be Christians?” Pull the other one.”

    I know it’s hard for you not to slip into this (from previous experience), but please try to avoid being rude or inane, if you can. Obviously Libertarian Free Will is not free will which is not influenced. Libertarian Free Will is a will which, even given influences (hence the importance of developing virtue and stifling vice) is actually free, such that what is chosen is NOT a function of what influences bore on the free agent’s choice.

    “So if I’m right about what’s going on here, the problem isn’t that counterfactual knowledge isn’t “grounded”, whatever that means. It’s that it isn’t true.”

    I would say that the reason we think it isn’t true is just that it isn’t grounded (there is nothing in virtue of which it can be understood to be true). However, of course, the Molinist will appeal to brute facts (something the Naturalist happily courts).

    “To the Molinist, you can say: middle knowledge or LFW — pick one. Still not understanding what the “grounding problem” is even supposed to be. The wiki entry starts by…”

    Ok, slow your role right there. Here are some better resources on Molinism:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/ducking-friendly-fire-davison-on-the-grounding-objection
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10437a.htm

    And finally, find and read some of the following resources for more:

    Craig, William Lane. “Robert Adams’s New Anti-Molinist Argument.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54, no. 4 (1994): 857-861.

    Craig, William Lane. “MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE, TRUTH-MAKERS, AND THE” GROUNDING OBJECTION”.” Faith and Philosophy 18, no. 3 (2001): 337-352.

    Davison, Scott A. “Craig on the Grounding Objection to Middle Knowledge.”Faith and Philosophy 21, no. 3 (2009): 365-369.

    Hasker, William. “A new anti-Molinist argument.” Religious studies 35, no. 3 (1999): 291-297.

    Pruss, Alexander R. “A Counterexample to Plantinga’s Free Will Defense.” Faith and Philosophy 29, no. 4 (2012): 400-415.

    “Then either 1) we have no free will or 2) the free will we have is not LFW.
    The correct answer is “2″.
    I like “evitability”, or Hofstadter’s “anti-sphexishness.” It is what you get, in the absence of duress, when the causal chain leading up to the output of an organism’s decision passes through a neural system in which it plays a functional role in anticipating future outcomes and modifying desires accordingly.”

    Best I can make out, that is simply nonsense. To call that free will is just to bastardize language.

    “I am no expert in QM, but according to my understanding the current most plausible interpretation is that at that scale such events are genuinely uncaused i.e. not entailed by prior states of the system.”

    The Copenhagen interpretation isn’t the most plausible interpretation, but in any case what physicists mean when they say that it is uncaused is just that there is no determining cause (no antecedent given which the particle will fluctuate into existence out of the quantum foam), but nobody, not even the staunchest advocate of the Copenhagen interpretation, would say that the quantum Vacuum does not cause the quantum event observed. Without the quantum vacuum (antecedent), there is no quantum event (consequent).

    “It is naive to assume that I have not. LFW is defined in terms of the ability to have done otherwise, which is defined (in PW semantics) in terms of possible worlds in which one does otherwise.”

    By whom? Where and when? Can you link me to those articles or direct me to the resources you have in mind? It seems to me, in my reading of the literature, that EVERYONE recognizes that Libertarian Free Will is not defined in PW semantics for this very reason. Please enlighten me – give me an excuse to believe you have read the literature.

    This seems to be the point at which you seem most lost, and it isn’t even really a point about Molinism at all, but a point about Libertarian Free Will. You can model Libertarian Free Will in possible world semantics, but you fail to grasp that the model is not conceptually exhaustive. There is a real and meaningful difference between Libertarian Free Will, where we act as first movers, and randomness, where we do not act as first movers. LFW does not say we are unmoved movers, but that we are first-movers with respect to some causal chains. On this view, though we may chose either way, it isn’t a function of any randomness or a function of determining antecedent conditions, but a function of what we intentionally decide. Neither Randomness nor Determinism would purchase objective moral responsibility.

    I will have to leave it at there for now. Have a good day (and my offer to speak more directly, someday, still stands – it would certainly require less energy on my part).

  5. The point is, of course, that it isn’t metaphysically random.

    The term “metaphysically random” is inapposite. It is used to distinguish between epistemic and ontological degrees of uncertainty (for those who insist there is a difference). This doesn’t help you in the slightest, since ontological indeterminism (of which LFW is a variety) is still random in precisely this sense.

    I sympathize end even empathize with your position. I really do. You have a vivid concept of “freedom in your mind (we all do), but this thing we call free will is a normative, expressive concept, so when you try to frame it in descriptive vocabulary, it always comes out not quite right. Squareness of pegs and roundness of holes and all that. The thing to do is understand the psychogical state of “ascribing free will to a creature we observe” (which turns out to be noncognitive), then looking at what features of the world reliably elicit this psychological state in us, then asking what our goals are by engaging in this linguistic practice, and whether some modifications, clarifications etc. would better help us accomplish those practical goals.

    There is in fact something which acts as a first mover and causes the consequent.

    “First mover,” you say? If I translate this into the correct, nondescriptive, expressionist vocabulary, this means “give no moral weight to antecedent causes”. But the LFW’s descriptivist vocabulary forces him to say something that means “there are no antecedent causes at all”, which is clearly false, and clearly indistinguishable from randomness.

    If this is all you mean by random, which is idiosyncratic, then Free Will is formally random, and metaphysically non-random (since there is a determining cause, but it is one which is not itself determined).

    This is moot, since we’ve seen that “metaphysically non-random” doesn’t mean what you think it means. And randomness is randomness with respect to something, and if the determining cause is “not itself determined” i.e. not itself a Function of prior world states in some model then you are right back where you started.

    …knowledge of counterfactual conditionals which are true AT our logically possible world).

    Then they are true “at” all of them.

    “Curley WOULD do X” = “in every PW with the identical antecedents, Curley Xes” = “there does not exist any PW with identical antecedents in which Curley fails to X”

    “Curley COULD do X” = “there is at least one PW with identical antecedents in which Curley Xes”

    “Curley COULD have Xed or Yed” = “there is at least one PW with antecedent conditions where Curley does each”

    Modal claims (given PW semantics) are claims about the existence or nonexistence of ENTIRE worlds. By now you will also have started to notice that logical possibility and nomological possibility, being conceptually distinct notions, are very tricky to clearly express simultaneously in the same PW framework. This is why apologists love modal logic — there are so many more chances to be be hopelessly obscure and confused and get away with it.

    “if an agent is L-free in one possible world, then he is L-free in all of them,”
    No.

    Yes.

    Once again:

    “Curley WOULD do X” = “in every PW with the identical antecedents, Curley Xes” = “there does not exist any PW with identical antecedents in which Curley fails to X”

    “Curley COULD do X” = “there is at least one PW with identical antecedents in which Curley Xes”

    “Curley COULD have Xed or Yed” = “there is at least one PW with antecedent conditions where Curley does each”

    The barrier here to understanding is that you keep subconsciously switching at the last moment from the descriptive concept of LFW to the expressive, compatiblist concept, which is the only one that has a determinate truth value with respect to a single world.

    The way to test this hypothesis is to ask whether you think it is coherent to speak of two PWs with identical event descriptions where the events in one are caused and the events in the other are not. The temptation to smuggle modal notions into single worlds is a powerful one.

    Because the Molinist is talking about ‘middle’ truths the Molinist will be likely to respond that what they are saying doesn’t entail determinism because it doesn’t entail that their special counterfactuals are true in all logically possible worlds.

    Gack! Ack! Stop!

    “Some marbles in the mixed bag are not in a mixed bag.” Modal claims are true in all or true in none.

    In other words, there is simply no connection between the antecedent and the consequent, but their claims aren’t ‘actually’ true, nor are they issued as modal claims (claims, here, about all logically possible worlds), but rather they are supposed to be counterfactual conditionals which are true at our actual world.

    Then I can dismiss Molinism as gibberish. Literally gibberish, containing a cast iron contradiction right in its core concept.

    It can be a bit difficult to get one’s head around this concept, but even a non-theologian should give it a shot, because Molinism brings up issues such as the (possible) inadequacy of PW semantics to cover all those things which we want to talk about.

    PW semantics is not merely possibly, but actually inadequate to cover all these things. The aforementioned inability to distinguish logical and nomological possibility being just one of them. And we haven’t even gotten into epistemic possibility!

    Conceptually, this is just a hundred car pileup in the fog at night, fog banks being the ecological niche most congenial to the flourishing of theology. If I come across as snarky on this topic, it is not out of some general orneriness of character, but out of a genuine compassion for the absolute waste of human energy that inevitably accompanies talk of incompatiblist free will. Even guys on “my side” (e.g. Mackie) routinely get sucked into the fog bank of not clearly defining “cause”, “actualize” etc. when arguing against apologists, and it drives me nuts to see that pointless waste.

    Libertarian Free Will is a will which, even given influences (hence the importance of developing virtue and stifling vice) is actually free, such that what is chosen is NOT a function of what influences bore on the free agent’s choice.

    Contradiction.

    Your model predicts a restricted set of outcomes, or an unrestricted one. You will find yourself quite unable to state what “influence” means in modal terms, except in the manner I have explained at length and in detail now.

    “I like “evitability”, or Hofstadter’s “anti-sphexishness.” It is what you get, in the absence of duress, when the causal chain leading up to the output of an organism’s decision passes through a neural system in which it plays a functional role in anticipating future outcomes and modifying desires accordingly.”

    Best I can make out, that is simply nonsense. To call that free will is just to bastardize language.

    It is not literally nonsense, since any terms you do not understand I can explain to you at length and in detail.

    And the “bastardizing language” crack reveals more about the inadequacy of the theological mindset compared to the scientific mindset: I think looking at the world is a superior method for determining the way it works than sitting on the couch thinking really hard about what words mean. Poll a thousand people from Aquinas’ time and ask them if describing fire as “the rapid oxidation of the atoms of a substance” is “what they mean” by the term fire, and if fire therefore is the same chemical reaction as rust, but not at all the same phenomenon as what makes the sun shine. Or just ask Aristotle how many teeth his wife has…

    I observe that our attributions of free will appear to come in degrees, and that there are certain beings that seem to have more or less of it. Reptiles generally tend to have more than invertebrates, and mammals generally tend to have more than reptiles, and the higher primates generally tend to have more of it than their fellow mammals. Do please check out Hofstadter’s original article on Anti-sphexishness. The “possession of anti-sphexishness to the highest possible degree” turns out to require determinism, so compatiblism must be true.

    “It is naive to assume that I have not. LFW is defined in terms of the ability to have done otherwise, which is defined (in PW semantics) in terms of possible worlds in which one does otherwise.”

    By whom? Where and when? Can you link me to those articles or direct me to the resources you have in mind?

    Seriously?

    from the SEP:

    “Incompatibilists think that something stronger is required: for me to act with free will requires that there are a plurality of futures open to me consistent with the past (and laws of nature) being just as they were—that I be able ‘to add to the given past’ (Ginet 1990). I could have chosen differently even without some further, non-actual consideration’s occurring to me and ‘tipping the scales of the balance’ in another direction.”

    From wikipedia on Free Will:

    “Metaphysical libertarianism is one philosophical view point under that of incompatibilism. Libertarianism holds onto a concept of free will that requires that the agent be able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances.”

    “More than one possible action.” Ergo, more than one possible world compatible with the antecedent history up to that point of decision.

    From the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

    “The libertarians think that the compatibilist account of freedom can be improved on. They hold (1) that we do have free will, (2) that free will is not compatible with determinism, and (3) that determinism is therefore false”

    Determinism is false, you say? Then there is more than one possible outcome given the past.

    Yet again:

    “Curley WOULD do X” = “in every PW with the identical antecedents, Curley Xes” = “there does not exist any PW with identical antecedents in which Curley fails to X”

    “Curley COULD do X” = “there is at least one PW with identical antecedents in which Curley Xes”

    “Curley COULD have Xed or Yed” = “there is at least one PW with antecedent conditions where Curley does each”

    This seems to be the point at which you seem most lost, and it isn’t even really a point about Molinism at all, but a point about Libertarian Free Will.

    On the contrary. My thinking on this topic is crystal clear, like the waters above a Caribbean reef 100 feet down where you can still make out every detail and nothing is hidden.

    Theology is the oncoming oil spill on the horizon.

    Once one carefully and consistently and systematically gets clear about the absolutely bloody central concepts of cause, logical possibility, and nomological possibility, it is a genuine shock to realize how much of the discourse on the topic of free will vs determinism is absolutely incoherent. How can one go about reconciling Yahweh’s foreknowledge of our actions with LFW if even its advocates have no idea what LFW actually entails?

    There is a real and meaningful difference between Libertarian Free Will, where we act as first movers, and randomness, where we do not act as first movers. LFW does not say we are unmoved movers, but that we are first-movers with respect to some causal chains.

    Contradiction. Absolute, close the door, go home and crack open a cold one, your work here is done contradiction.

    “Secondary movers” = a function (in the strong or weak sense) of prior states of the system

    “First movers” = not a function of prior states of the system

    “Not a function of prior states” = random with respect to prior states

    The plain meaning of “first” here is in terms of being not determined by prior states. But you have in mind some kind of normative, nondescriptive notion of “first”. I totally get that. Try defining “first” 1) in a manner different from the plain meaning I have given you above and 2) in terms of less obscure terms, not more obscure terms, and you will begin to see that you really never had a clear concept of what you meant by being “free” of causality, or being a “first” mover, or being “metaphysically nonrandom”.

  6. ajrogers2013 says:

    This was a very interesting debate to read. I think you are both much better read than me in these areas.

    @tylerjourneaux I think your original idea for grounding Molinist counterfactuals with “morally equivalent” decisions is very creative. However, it won’t do much good if the real problems with Molinism are deeper than “lack of grounding”. I think the problems that Staircaseghost brought up point to some much more fundamental flaws in Molinism.

    • Obviously Molinism does have serious problems (though I don’t think much of what staircaseghost wrote qualifies as problematic so much as it qualifies as misunderstanding). However, I am always happy to read his thoughtful remarks, and I suppose other people probably do share at least some of his concerns. My ‘grounding’ solution above doesn’t help the Molinist at all; it doesn’t even ground all Molinist-type counterfactuals (for presumably these include counterfactuals about what non-actual persons would do if they had lived). More to the point, as I said above, I haven’t grounded these counterfactuals in a way that is palatable for the Molinist. In fact, if Molinist-type counterfactuals are grounded in the way proposed then we can concede to Craig and Plantinga that it seems as though there are true Molinist-type counterfactuals (and this explains what they refer to as our intuition of them) and still argue that it does not follow that Molinism is true.

      Notice that I am ardently not a Molinist.

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