Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Agent-causation and God

In us, it is a different thing for an event to be caused by our internal psychological makeup and for it to be caused by us simpliciter. Causation by internal psychological makeup is event-causation while causation by us simpliciter is agent-causation. But in the case of God, the distinction seems to disappear, given divine simplicity. For God's internal psychological makeup is God.

7 comments:

Jonathan D. Jacobs said...

Suppose you think, as I think you should, that all causation is substance causation. Then the distinction between an event being caused by my internal make-up and it being caused by me turns into the distinction between an event being caused by me and an event being caused by my parts.

The distinction in God still disappears, as God has no proper parts.

Paul said...

Alex,

I've thought about this before as well. It is fair to say then that "some x have agent causation" is true. I was going to mention this to van Inwagen when I saw him recently, but it didn't come up. On my reading of his An Essay on Freewill, he doesn't seem anti-agent causation for human beings, although he suspects that it is incoherent (or, rather that it is is hard to defend its coherence). But, as you say, it seems that agent causation would have to apply straight-forwardly to God, at least on a classical theist view.

Alexander R Pruss said...

And I not only should, but do. Thanks for the needed reminder.

I'd prefer to say that in our case it's a distinction between an event being caused by me in my agential respect and an event being caused by me in my psychological respect. But I don't know how to spell that out better.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Paul:

It seems to me that Peter is generally skeptical about causation, whether event- or agent-.

Paul said...

Alex,

Well, it is true that Peter refers to "causation" as a kind of quagmire. But, I share his puzzlement at the notion of the cause that constitutes a free-will choice. I tend to agree with him that 1) we have freewill, 2) incompatiblism is true, 3) we know what freewill is (viz., the ability to choose otherwise), 4) we don't really know how it works. However, based on your post here, perhaps we could say that 5) there are difficulties with how agent causation works, but we know something about it, and it is true of God's agency (although God is not a substance, he is like one), and likely true of ours.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am inclined to think that, apart from some very interesting matters of detail, we are in a position to know about as much about how free will works as about how ordinary physical causation works. Maybe even more, because we have an inside view.

Paul said...

Alex,

Good point. This same point (about the obscurity not of agent-causation but causation itself) is raised by Chisholm in his fine article on agent causation. However, I still see it as a difficulty regarding how some of the mechanisms in a person (such as one's beliefs, physical desires, etc.) can be said to cause x without determinately causing x (since only the substance of the person is said to determinately cause x).