Monday, December 13, 2010

Divine freedom

Consider this sketchy argument against libertarianism: It is impossible for God to choose wrongly. But freedom requires the ability to choose otherwise if libertarianism is correct, and significant moral responsibility requires the freedom to choose wrongly. Hence, if libertarianism is correct, God lacks significant moral responsibility. But God has significant moral responsibility. Thus, libertarianism is incorrect.

There are various somewhat shaky details here. There is, for instance, the question whether the ability to choose otherwise that libertarians insist on has to imply an ability to choose wrongly in the relevant case. And there is the issue that some libertarians are only source-incompatibilists, and source-incompatibilism does not imply an ability to choose otherwise in the special case where the agent is God.

But I want to make a different point, namely that there is an argument in the vicinity that applies just as much on compatibilism as on incompatibilism. Consider this moral intuition:

  1. Someone who in ordinary circumstances chooses not to commit moral horrors lacks perfect virtue.
But no circumstances are going to press God extraordinarily, and God does not merely avoid moral horrors. Pushing on this intuition leads to the following suggestion:
  1. God does not choose to act non-wrongly.
Of course, there are various non-wrong things that God chooses to do, but he does not choose them over acting wrongly. That the things that God does are non-wrong is not something that counts in their favor in his choice, because all of the options he is choosing between are non-wrong. But, now, plausibly:
  1. Significant moral responsibility requires that one choose to act wrongly or that one choose to act non-wrongly.
  2. God has significant moral responsibility.
In (3), by "choose to act Fly", I mean something contrastive: choose to act Fly over acting non-Fly. But now (2)-(4) are contradictory.

Observe two things about this puzzle. First, the argument nowhere makes any use of incompatibilism. The intuitions behind (1) and (2) are either neutral between compatibilism and incompatibilism, or slightly favor compatibilism (because the compatibilist lays greater stress on the connection between action and character).

Second, someone who rejects one of the premises (2)-(4) will be untroubled by the original sketchy anti-libertarian argument.

If one rejects (2), then one will think that God chooses between non-wrong and wrong. But a rational being does not choose between options he knows to be possible and impossible options, and so the only way an omniscient and perfectly rational being could choose between non-wrong and wrong would be if it were possible for him to choose the wrong. Thus, someone who rejects (2) will reject the claim that God cannot choose the wrong.

If one rejects (3), then one will surely also reject the claim that significant moral responsibility requires the freedom to choose wrongly.

And (4) is just as much a premise of the original argument as of this one.

But everyone should reject one of (2)-(4) since these premises are logically incompatible. Therefore, everyone should reject one of the premises of the original anti-libertarian argument.

What should the theist do? I think the theist should reject the conjunction of (3) and (4): The sort of significant moral responsibility that logically requires choosing to act non-wrongly is not worth having, and so God doesn't have it.

3 comments:

David Balcarras said...

"Hence, if libertarianism is correct, God lacks significant moral responsibility. But God has significant moral responsibility. Thus, libertarianism is correct."

*scratches head*

You mean, "Thus, libertarianism is incorrect." ?

I'm sure this has an easy answer, but, why think that God is significantly morally responsible? Suppose the argument were sound. If God was demonstrably not morally responsible, then he is not responsible for evil, no? A welcome consequence for the theist in light of various atheologica Maybe not?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Thanks for catching the typo. I fixed it.

Maybe the reason to think God is significantly morally responsible is that God is significantly thank- and praiseworthy?

Basil said...

Professor Pruss,

Greetings. Could it be the case that God has the potential to act in a way that not is not in accordance with His nature, but does not, precisely because He acts only according to His nature. I'm thinking of an animal, say an ape, does not willfully jump off a cliff to kill itself, although it possibly could, but it does not because it is not within its nature to kill itself. (I'm sure some well read scientist could point to some species of self killing apes, so my example may not fit the bill perfectly).

I am wondering if there is a meaningful distinction between, not performing an act because it is within one's nature not to, but there being a possibility to do so given one's options.

~Basil