Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An argument against theistic determinism

A pattern of argument against determinism that is worth exploring is not to argue that free will is incompatible with a variety of determinism, but instead to argue that some other feature of our moral life is incompatible that variety of determinism. For instance, the following argument is valid:

  1. If theistic determinism holds, then all our character features, histories and choices are entirely determined by God. (Premise)
  2. If x's character features, history and the choice to promise p to y, are entirely determined by y, then x's promise of p to y is invalid (and hence non-binding). (Premise)
  3. One only validly promises something if one chose to promise it. (Premise)
  4. Therefore, if theistic determinism holds, no promises to God are valid (by 1-3).
  5. Some promises to God are valid. (Premise)
  6. Therefore, theistic determinism is false. (By 4 and 5)

I think one can use (2) in an argument for incompatibilism. You start with (2) and add the premises:

  1. If x freely promises to y something permissible, then x's promise is valid.
  2. If some free choice can have an ultimate cause outside one, then a freely made promise of something permissible to any person whatsoever can have an ultimate cause outside one.
  3. Whether an action is free does not depend on conditions a hundred years before one's conception.
Then, you use a variant of this argument.


Dan Johnson said...

Why would the theistic determinist accept premise (2)? It just seems a special case of the claim that determination is incompatible with responsibility -- but the theistic determinist already denies that.

wrf3 said...

Dan said what I wanted to say better than I could. Determinism is not incompatible with responsibility. We are not responsible because we are free; we are responsible by Divine fiat. "But that's not fair," is the usual response. And therein lies the fundamental problem of mankind -- we think our notion of good and evil is right, when it is just as fallen as every other part of us.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think the claim that being determined by the person to whom you make a promise is incompatible with the promise's validity may be more plausible than the claim the determinism is incompatible with responsibility. For, more is required for promise validity than responsibility. (E.g. I am responsible for what I do at gunpoint--but promises made at gunpoint are invalid.)
But I was only claiming the argument was valid.

Beancan Tatterpants said...

I actually find the argument, including premise 2, to be a sound one.

But I fail to see how it has any impact on the ultimate reality of a relationship with a higher being (or simply the existence of a human being.)

I suppose I'm missing the implied steps, but a promise's validity seems to speak more to how we perceive the world, more to the illusion of free will than anything else.

I do like the concept of looking to sections of ethical life, but there must be a tighter connection between ethics and metaphysics for this to hold true. Basically, my argument is that with the two possibilities before us - one being that promises are valid and the other being that promises are invalid (based on your argument) - one precludes the existence of theistic determinism while the other allows for it while diminishing the meaning of a believer's relationship. However, both are still valid options for how reality looks.

One could just as easily say that theistic determinism exists at the cost of the genuineness of a believer's promises and ethical structures.