Monday, August 1, 2011

Choices, no-brainers and heavenly joy

Aquinas distinguishes between choices and no-brainers, though not in those terms. In a choice between options A and B, there is something that each of these options has subjectively going for it that the other option does not. But if A is a no-brainer over B, A has something subjectively going for it that B does not, but B has nothing subjectively going for it that A does not. In other words, A subjectively dominates B. And we can say that A is a no-brainer provided that A is a no-brainer over all the subjectively available options.

The famous example is that for the souls in heaven, heavenly beatitude is a no-brainer: heavenly beatitude beats every alternative in every respect. Thus, for a soul in heaven, there is never a choice between heavenly beatitude and another option.

For us, on the other hand, heaven is not a no-brainer. One might choose between heavenly beatitude and being Attorney General of Wales. There are at least two ways in which this can happen. First, due to cognitive deficiences, we may not fully perceive heavenly beatitude as containing within itself all that is worth having in being Attorney General of Wales. We may mouth the words "heaven is better", but not really perceive it (i.e., the intellect may fail to present all the advantages of heaven to the will), or we might not even mouth the words. Note that there is also a difference between:

  1. x perceives that: for all r, A is better than B in respect of r,
  1. For all r, x perceives that A is better than B in respect of r.
It is, I think, (2) that is required for no-brainers in the above sense. But perhaps all we have with respect of heaven is (1). Second, being Attorney General of Wales presents the following advantage: it comes sooner than the heavenly joy. But neither cognitive limitations nor delays of heavenly beatitude are present in heaven.

I think Aquinas would want to say that if determinism is true, there are no choices, only no-brainers. But I am having trouble making this argument.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Pruss, You give heavenly beatitude as a prime example of a no-brainer for the souls in heaven. I am wondering about Lucifer's sin and whether this might present a difficulty.

Heaven clearly was not a no-brainer for Lucifer. Yet, prior to his sin, Lucifer was presumably a good angel. I think Aquinas would say that there is no falsehood in his intellect at that time. Aquinas writes, "Now it is quite evident that the quiddity of a thing can be a source of knowledge with regard to everything belonging to such thing, or excluded from it; but not of what may be dependent on God's supernatural ordinance. Consequently, owing to their upright will, from their knowing the nature of every creature, the good angels form no judgments as to the nature of the qualities therein, save under the Divine ordinance; hence there can be no error or falsehood in them" (Sum, I, 58, 5). Aquinas goes on to admit the possibility of error in angelic intellects, but only for those that are already demonic. Those that are good are without intellectual error. So, Lucifer's intellect could not have failed to present the advantages of heaven to his will prior to his sin. Further, heavenly joy was immediate for Lucifer, so immediate gratification cannot be the reason for Lucifer's choice.

It seems to me that Lucifer presents us with a radical instance of libertarian free will. He turned his will against the advantages that his intellect apprehended. In other words, Lucifer had a choice even when it was a no-brainer.

It might still be the case that if determinism is true, there are only no-brainers. However, if it is true that Lucifer rebelled despite having no intellectual error, we might be able to conclude that even if there were only no-brainers, there still could be choice and freedom.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a very hard question.

One piece of the puzzle is that Aquinas thinks that Lucifer's choice occurred before he had the beatific vision. (The "before" refers to the order of explanation, but maybe not the temporal order.) Could it be that the advantages of the heavenly vision are only fully seen as trumping everything when one has them?

Another piece of the puzzle is that according to Aquinas, Lucifer desired his heavenly beatitude, but wanted to have it by his own effort rather than by God's grace. Lucifer, thus, was the ultimate Pelagian. Now, it could be that once one has the heavenly beatitude by grace, it no longer makes any sense to seek to seize it on one's own. But before you have the heavenly beatitude, there is a good of independent happiness that presents itself to the will, and Lucifer seized it.

But why can't someone in heaven desire to have the good of independent happiness? Maybe because their destiny is all set, so independence is no longer seen as a possibility?