Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Does God choose the reasons he acts on?

Suppose that Sam is dying of cancer and Sally prays for him. God now has two reasons to cure Sam's cancer: (1) cancer is bad; and (2) Sally has asked God to cure the cancer. Simplify by supposing these are the only two reasons God has for curing Sam. And presumably there are reasons against curing Sam, such as that miracles damage the order of the universe or that Sam can learn much from suffering.

So, God has to make the decision whether or not to cure Sam. Question: If God is going to cure Sam, does God always have to make an additional choice whether (a) to cure him only because of (1), or (b) to cure him because of (2), or (c) to cure him because of both (1) and (2)?

I think that supposing an additional such divine choice wherever there are multiple sufficient reasons for acting is not particularly plausible. God then would need further reasons in favor of each of the three alternatives (a), (b) and (c). There may be some logically possible cases where God a reason to cure Sam only because cancer is bad, and not because Sally asked him. Maybe this is a world where God promised to ignore Sally's prayers on that day, to teach Sally a lesson. (I doubt God makes such promises in our world.) But typically, there will be no reasons to prefer (a) or (b) to (c). So, typically, God will only have reason to go for (c), and so he won't have to make the additional choice between (a), (b) and (c), since where all the reasons are seen to favor one option, no choice needs to be made.

This leads to the idea that at least typically, when God does anything, he does this for all the reasons that favor doing it, rather than for some selection of reasons. This is an aspect of what I call "divine omnirationality."

7 comments:

Kevin Timpe said...

The first and final paragraph talk of God's reasons for X-ing, but the third talks of his sufficient reasons for X-ing. I think that divine omnirationality is likely true of sufficient reasons, but I'm less sure that it's true for all of God's reasons.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The third paragraph talks of the actual reasons behind God's choice. I don't know what you mean by "sufficient reasons".

Schimpfinator said...

"Reason" is a word used by human beings. God doesn't have to weigh alternatives and deliberate on the basis of linguistic considerations.

"Just as the Romans and Etruscans cut up the heavens with rigid mathematical lines and confined a god within each of the spaces thereby delimited, as within a templum, so every people has a similarly mathematically divided conceptual heaven above themselves and henceforth thinks that truth demands that each conceptual god be sought only within his own sphere."

Do you suppose that your divisions of the "conceptual heavens" matches God's? I doubt there is any point in supposing he divides them at all.

Alexander R Pruss said...

"Reason" is a word, but a reason is not a word.

Schimpfinator said...

To be more clear, if God does not divide concepts up into words like we do, but instead has an infinite awareness of all things, then his decisions would flow from this awareness without any hesitation or "reason" to have done otherwise.

Kevin Timpe said...

Alex, in the third paragraph you say "wherever thereare mutiple sufficient reasons for acting." I was thinking that you thought not all of God's reasons are sufficient to move him to action, just as is the case with humans.

Consider three possible worlds. In world1, God has a reason A for Xing, and does so. In world2, God has reason B for Xing, but doesn't do X. In world3, God has both reason A and reason B for Xing. Why think that God doing X in 3 is a result of all his reasons (that is A and B), given that having B doesn't move him to X in world 2? B is a reason for Xing, but just not a sufficient reason for Xing.

Alexander R Pruss said...

So, is a "sufficient reason" here a "necessitating reason"?