Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is Promise-Breaking Lying?

Eric brought this question up to me. I tend to think promise-breaking is lying. Here's the form a promise to someone takes: "I promise that I will do x." In effect, this is a guarantee that you will do x. And since 'I will do x' is equivalent to 'it is true I will do x', it follows 'I promise that I will do x' is equivalent to 'I promise that it is true I will do x'. To intentionally break a promise then is a form of lying; for you are guaranteeing something is true when you know it is not. In fact it may be an even worse form of lying, since you are not only saying intentionally what is false, but by promising it to the other person you are guaranteeing to someone that it is true. This is probably why people are even more disappointed when someone breaks a promise than when they tell a lie without a guarantee of its truth.

Of course, unintentionally, something may hinder you from fulfilling your promise. But then you are not morally culpable for failing to fulfill the promise. This is just a more specific case of telling someone something you believe to be true but, through no fault of your own, you don't know the details and it actually turns out to be false. When you promise something to someone you don't know that, while you are on your way to fulfill your promise, a large set of goons determined to stop people from fulfilling promises will pop up out of the corner. So it's not your fault for not being able to fulfill the promise.

These sorts of cases show that lying should be construed more subtly as intentionally telling a false-hood. And promise-breaking should be construed as intentionally failing to fulfill a promise. With this in mind it is plausible to think of promise-breaking as a more specific form of lying.

William Lane Craig on God and Analogy

William Lane Craig, as with most contemporary analytic philosophers of religion, objects to the classical Thomistic idea that God cannot be said to be a being in the sense that we can. I aim to argue that at least some of his claims here are unreasonable.

Craig objects: "One of the aspects of Thomas Aquinas’ thought that I find most disturbing is his claim that we can speak of God only in analogical terms. Without univocity of meaning, we are left with agnosticism about the nature of God, able to say only what God is not, not what He is."

This does not follow in the slightest; in fact, I wonder if Craig actually understands what analogy is, since it is one of the main points of Aquinas's theory of analogy to avoid this problem. Aquinas sought to show, in contrast to Maimonides, that though we can't predicate attributes of God in the same sense as us we can still speak meaningfully and make positive predications about him. Craig fails utterly to show how from the semantic analogy of the term 'being' we are left only with negative theology.

Next, Craig says: "When in discussions with atheists I affirm, 'God exists' and they reply, 'God does not exist,' we may need to be sure that we mean the same thing by 'God,' but there is no equivocation on the meaning of 'exists.'"

I guess what Craig is trying to say here is something like this: If the word 'exists' is analogical, then when I affirm God exists and when atheists affirm God does not exist, we are both equivocating past each other. But this is a genuine ontological dispute and so there is no equivocation; hence, 'exists' is not analogical. The problem is that the main premise is simply not true; if analogy is true, then we affirm that God exists in one sense, and the atheist simply denies that God exists in any sense, including the one I am predicating of God.

In the next paragraph, Craig says this: "The problem you pose brings us to the heart of my current work on divine aseity. What makes God more than just one being among many is precisely His aseity: God alone is self-existent; everything else exists contingently. Only God exists of Himself (a se); everything else exists through another (ab alio). That makes God the source of being for everything apart from Himself."

Now, I really like this, and I agree with this completely. The only problem is that Craig himself doesn't; for if what Craig says is literally true then divine simplicity is true, from which it is a small step to the doctrine that talk about God is analogous. Here's why:

(1) Whatever is non-identical to God is created by God. [conceded by Craig]
(2) If God has metaphysical proper parts ('parts' hereafter), then at least one of these parts is not created by God. [prem]
(3) Either God has parts or he doesn't. [LEM]
(4) Suppose he does have parts. [assp]
(5) All of God's parts are created by God. [by 1]
(6) One of God's parts is not created by God [by 2,4]
This is a contradiction. Hence, we must reject our assumption. Hence:
(7) God has no parts.

So by 'metaphysical proper parts' here I mean things like ontological constituents, such as a property-instance (or trope or accident or whatever). (1) is just Craig's own thoughts on the matter, and (2) is true because clearly God doesn't create his essential properties; he depends on those for his existence, since if they didn't exist then neither would he. The rest follows by the meanings of the terms and the rules of logic.

Craig says that he considers God to be a substance, presumably in the same manner we are: "Not a physical substance, of course, but a spiritual substance like a mind."

However, the case is even more clear if Craig thinks God's mind and will are distinct; for if he does, granting Craig's doctrine of aseity, then from (1) it follows God's will must be created by God. But it is absurd to suppose God creates his own will; after all, he must have a will to do that! So, either Craig's doctrine of aseity is false (which I agree with Craig it isn't) or God is not distinct from his will (which I think is right, but is really only intelligible given divine simplicity).

Craig thinks getting rid of Platonism will solve the problems concerning God's aseity; but it doesn't, since even if there are no abstract properties in us there are clearly ontological constituents (my brownness, my height, my shape, etc.). Even taking 'parts' in this sense, I think the above argument shows that if he wants to hold on to the strong doctrine of aseity set out in the quote above he needs to get rid of the idea that God has any parts at all. And if God has no parts in the metaphysical sense then it can be shown speech about God is analogical; for in our case, to say I am good is to say the quality of goodness inheres in me as an accident (or is exemplified as a property, or inheres as a trope or whatever). But since God has no parts in any of these senses, to say God is good cannot be to say this about him. And the same with any of the divine attributes. Thus our terms must be said analogically of God.

[Edit: Craig's reply here. My reply here.]

Friday, July 27, 2012

Is 'Existence' Univocal Because 'All' Is Univocal?

In this post, Bill Vallicella presents another argument by Peter van Inwagen for the univocity of existence and questions it (he posted and refuted the first argument here). I think Vallicella has a point. Still, I might grant that the Quinean like Van Inwagen can translate a singular existential statement so as to have the same form as a general existential statement and argue the conclusion still does not follow. Quine, in his famous paper "On What There Is," proposes that we treat for instance the relation '__ = Pegasus' as a single-place predicate '=Pegasus'; one can call this 'pegasizing' or formally 'P'. Then 'Pegasus exists' will just be 'something pegasizes', which will just be translated to, '(Ex)(Px)'. Even ignoring the problematic aspects here I would pose a different objection. I would accuse Van Inwagen's argument of being a 'non sequitur'. Vallicella states the argument thus:

(1) 'Every' is univocal.

(2) 'Exist(s)' and 'every' are interdefinable: 'Fs exist' is equivalent to 'It is not the case that everything is not an F.'


(3) 'Exist(s)' is univocal.

Clearly, as is, this argument is not valid. To make it valid we need some further premise. I'm not sure what sort of plausible premise Van Inwagen is using to get to his conclusion, but maybe it is something like

(2.5) If two terms are interdefinable then each of the terms' uses share the same sense relation.

(Just a clarificatory point: Sense relations are things like 'univocity' or 'equivocity', and Van Inwagen thinks that all the uses of 'exists' are univocal.) How are we to understand 'interdefinable' here? Surely not as meaning that for each 'exists' statement there is a semantically identical 'every' statement, i.e. one with the exact same meaning, for that would be utterly question-begging. We must construe it then as something like 'for each 'exists' statement there is a logically equivalent 'every' statement'. The problem is that (2.5) is not obviously true on this interpretation. I'll explain.

I think we can admit that 'some' and 'every' are univocal, that these two are interdefinable in the sense that logically equivalent statements can be expressed in terms of each, but still say that 'some' doesn't fully capture the meaning of 'exists', and thus neither does 'every'. Of course, every 'some' statement is logically equivalent to another 'there exists' statement, but that does not imply they are semantically identical.

On the idea that 'exists' is analogical, the natural language quantifier 'there exists' has many senses, but all beings can be said to exist in one of those senses; thus the range of this quantifier includes all beings (regardless as to which sense of 'being' can be said of them). And since there are no non-existent beings, the range of the quantifier 'some' is over all beings. So the two quantifiers range over the same domain of discourse; and since for any 'some' statement there is a logically equivalent 'there exists' statement, it follows that we can translate logically equivalent statements involving either of them with the same symbol in predicate-logic, '(Ex)'. This is also why they are each logically equivalent to at least one 'all' statement. But it simply doesn't follow that they all share the same sense relation (univocal, equivocal, etc.). It is true that our 'some' quantifier ranges over only and all beings, but it ranges over them regardless as to which of the many analogous senses of 'being' can be said of them. So it's consistent with both 'some' and 'all' being univocal that 'being' or 'exists' are not.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thomistic vs. Molinist Predestination Part III

In the last post I discussed whether a Thomist could preserve both the efficacy of God's will and the libertarian freedom of our actions, and it seems to me that he can. Hence, the Molinist objection that God's causing a free action is impossible doesn't work, so we are left with the Thomist view which better preserves God's sovereignty.

The problem then, as brought up in the original post, is in how we can reconcile God's ability to cause anyone to freely choose him with the fact that God doesn't do so. For the teaching of Scripture is that God wills that all men be saved. Now, Aquinas distinguishes between God's antecedently willing that all be saved and his consequently willing that only some be saved, which I explained in the original post. The problem with Thomas' example is that God's will, unlike that of the judge example he uses, is intrinsically efficacious, even in the case of free action.

We can state the problem equivalently as follows. God wills that all men be saved, as we know from Scripture and the teaching of the Church. Since God's will is efficacious, it follows that all men are in fact saved. But it is false that all men are saved. So it seems we have a straight contradiction. Hence, we must understand the 'antecedent' will as willing in some other sense--according to Aquinas this would be a willingness rather than a simple willing--since it is clearly God's consequent will which is actually satisfied (some people are not saved and are damned). The problem is that I have difficulty understanding how God could have a "willingness" distinct from a simple willing if he is absolutely and most simple. Let me explain:

God should be construed as lacking any potentiality to be fulfilled. Now, the way I understand this consequent will, being a willingness, is as a sort of "background desire" to have everyone be saved. But a desire is something that can be fulfilled. So God has a potentiality to be fulfilled, which is false. Hence there is no such willingness.

Maybe the problem here is that we should reject this understanding of "willingness." I may simply be misunderstanding Thomas' notion here. This interpretation may be somewhat uncharitable anyway, since Aquinas explicitly argues that the order between antecedent and consequent is in God's effects and not in his absolutely simple will itself. So my question then is how this can be. One way I'm thinking of construing this willingness is as follows: God absolutely wills the existence of human beings; the natural end of each human being is union with God; so in some sense God wills their salvation just by willing their existence. So God wills their salvation in one respect, though by not willing their predestination does not will it in another respect. Hence, no contradiction. Another way might be to say that God gives men sufficient grace to choose him; (sufficient grace on the Thomistic view is grace which gives one the ability to choose God, but which does not entail one actually does); hence God wills that all men have the means to salvation; so in some sense God wills that all are saved. I am not so sure about either of these options, either as to whether they are what Thomas intended or whether they work.

The key then is to find some notion of 'antecedent will', distinct from God's simple and absolute willing. And this is where I'm stuck at. It appears that the Molinist view doesn't work since Thomism can preserve freedom and perfect sovereignty (not even mentioning the other problems with Molinism); the Thomist view seems inadequate insofar as it is not clear what God's antecedent will is, this being a willing apart from God's efficacious, absolute, and simple will. Is there some third way that I'm missing? I don't think Congruism can help here, since there is still the question of why God doesn't elect all people he creates, and from my reading Scotus's doctrine here is not much different from Thomas' or Augustine's. Maybe this is a good theological reason to accept a weaker version of God's sovereignty in favor of Molinism? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thomistic vs. Molinist Predestination Part II

In my last post I explained that God does not cause1 our free actions, but only cause2's them; hence, there can be no conflict between God's efficaciously willing that one do an action and our doing it libertarianly freely. I'd argue that one's free actions being caused is only inconsistent if we are using 'caused' in the sense of cause1. This is how I understand physical determinism:

(PD) The past state of the world, together with the laws of nature are sufficient to render necessary one unique future.

Clearly then God doesn't determine my next action A in this sense in cause2ing it, since God could have just as well created everything with the laws of nature and the past state up to my current time and yet cause2ed me to do ~A. It's only the case that I must do A under the supposition that God wills I do A, but it's not absolutely speaking necessary that I do A, since God could have willed otherwise.  In other words, libertarian freedom is possible, since even given the laws of nature + the past state of the world I could have done otherwise if God had so willed.

But maybe God's cause2ing me determines me in some morally relevant sense (where a form of determinism is morally relevant just in case if it were true it would preclude moral responsibility and freedom) since his causing is 'logically prior' to my acting. So we can generalize determinism from physical determinism to 'logical determinism' as follows:

(LD) An event E is logically determined by some state S just in case (a) necessarily the proposition expressing E (i.e. the proposition that E is the case) is true if the proposition p expressing S is true and (b) p is true.

Since necessarily if God wills that I do A then I do A, and God wills I do A, by this definition I'm logically determined to do A. So if this is a genuine morally relevant form of determinism, then God's cause2ing determines our actions and removes freedom. The problem with LD however is that it's not clear that it is a morally relevant form of determinism. After all, necessarily, if I do A then God wills I do A, and I in fact do A, but I don't determine God in any relevant sense to will that I do A. But if LD was a morally relevant form of determinism then I would.

I would simply hold to this: necessarily, God wills I do A if and only f I do A. This is true, but this is only meant to secure the efficacy and dependence of everything else for its existence on God's will.  This is similar to supervenience relations, and just like supervenience relations it only implies a necessary covariance; it does not necessarily imply any causal priority either of God's willing or my acting. To come back to the original point, we are working on different "causal plains" so to speak; I cause only in the sense of cause1, and God causes only in the sense of cause2. There is no causal priority of either of God's willing or my acting to the other.

Hence, I'm not sure this form of determinism, viz. logical "determinism", is a genuine form of determinism. I mean we can call it determinism (nomina significat ad placitum) but the question is whether it is a morally relevant kind, i.e. one which removes free will and moral responsibility. In the next and final post I'll come to the point about whether Aquinas's picture of predestination works.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thomistic vs. Molinist Predestination Part I

This post comes out of a very large and high-quality discussion on predestination on Facebook. If you don't have Facebook you should really get it, if only because (among other things) we have a thriving Thomism group on there. I will be posting in three parts.

So, I'm kind of agnostic between Thomistic and Molinist views of predestination at the moment (though sympathetic to the Thomistic view). I'm worried about the Thomistic view since if God's will is efficacious then he should be able to bring about the salvation of all, and so the only explanation for why not all are saved is that God does not will it, which is contrary to Scripture. Aquinas replies by distinguishing between God's consequent and antecedent will. So God in general ('antecedently') wills that all men be saved, but taking all things into consideration ('consequently') wills that only some are saved; just as a judge wills that all men should live but taking into consideration particular cases wills that some should die. However, the difference between the two cases is that God's will can never be thwarted or perverted.

The problem with the Molinist view in my book is that I don't think it fits well with God's providence/omnipotence. The Molinist will reply that there's no problem, since it's not contrary to God's omnipotence if God can't bring about something that's impossible, and God's causing someone to freely choose him is impossible, since a free action can't be determined. But here I see no reason why God cannot bring about either of two contraries of a person's choice (i.e. either action A or not-A) and the action still be free--for God and creatures are working on different causal plains so to speak; God creates 'ex nihilo' by giving the whole of existence to particular states of affairs, whereas creatures cause in the sense of interacting with each other. It is only causing in the latter sense of interacting with by coercing or forcing that is incompatible with free will, and this is not the sense in which God is a cause.

To elaborate on the Thomistic point about how God can cause free actions we must distinguish different senses of the word 'cause.' First there is the sense of 'cause' in terms of interacting. Let's call this 'cause1'. So, for instance, this is what it means when I push you and 'cause' you to fall down, or when neurons cause arms to move, or if Cartesianism is true what happens when the soul causes the body to move. God does not cause in this sense; God does not cause1.

There is another sense of cause which means to create ex nihilo at evey moment, to 'sustain' or give being to things (although I have some reservations about the word 'sustain' since I think it can be misleading, since God isn't in time). We can call this cause2. God causes in this sense by being the cause of all being other than himself. He gives existence or 'esse' to everything. This is a very central doctrine to Thomism. God is the only person who causes in this sense; God is the only person who can cause2. God can cause2 anything that is possible. And on libertarian free will either of two contraries--i.e. either of action A or ~A--is possible, so God can cause2 either. Though I would agree he can't cause1 them, since that would entail determinism.

Now, maybe one can argue that even in the sense of cause2, this counts as a form of determinism which limits moral responsibility, and hence we should revert to the Molinist response. In Part II I'll respond to this point.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Thomistic Critique of Religious Evidentialism

There is a certain view among Christian philosophers that in order to be justified in one's belief in Christianity one must have studied the best philosophical arguments and come to the conclusion of Christianity through a process of discursive reasoning. Call this "religious evidentialism." The obvious problem is that this would seem to consign anyone who doesn't come to belief in God by studying the arguments into the class of epistemically "unjustified" believers. And that seems to be most believers. I don't think Aquinas would endorse this at all, and I think we can produce a good argument for thinking why this is not the case, on Thomistic grounds:

If this evidentialist approach is right, and most people are unjustified in their belief in Christianity because they didn't study arguments, then at least on a Thomistic view these people are to that extent intellectually failing because their cognitive faculties are failing in some respect and they intentionally act contrary to them. Moreover, to the extent they grow in faith, to the same extent do they grow in being unjustified in their beliefs, and thus grow in intellectual vice. But if Thomism is true, grace perfects nature, and does not destroy or act contrary to it. God doesn't make us do evil things in the process of salvation. He doesn't destroy our nature, but perfects it, i.e. sanctifies us (and on the Thomistic view this is the same as to justify us, in the theological sense). So it can't be true that those faithful who have not studied the arguments are unjustified in their beliefs.

This may provide some warrant for thinking something like Alvin Plantinga's picture of religious epistemology is correct.