Tuesday, April 30, 2019

A pre-established harmony with genuine mind-world causation

Molinists have the ability to give a distinctive pre-established harmony account of how the exceptionless truth of deterministic laws of nature could be made compatible with libertarianism.

Here is the story. God considers possible worlds where dualistic agents have the causal power to miraculously contradict the physical laws in their free choices, but where outside of exercises of free will, there are elegant deterministic mathematical laws governing the world. Call such worlds Candidate Worlds.

God then narrows his consideration to Finalist Worlds, which are Candidate Worlds that are feasible—i.e., compatible with the Molinist conditionals—and where as it happens the agents’ free choices accord with the elegant deterministic mathematical laws that govern the rest of the world.

And then God wisely and prudently chooses one of the Finalist Worlds for actualization.

On this story, there are elegant deterministic mathematical laws of nature which are true even of the agents’ choices, but they are true of the agents’ choices because the agents freely chose as they did. The agents had the causal power to violate, say, the conservation of momentum, but in fact freely did not do so.

There is an ambiguity in the concept of “exceptionless laws”. “Exceptionless laws” could mean: laws that allow no exception (they are pushy laws that are so strong as to make no exception possible) and laws that in fact have no exception. The deterministic laws in this story are exceptionless in the sense of having no exception, which is why I am talking of their exceptionless truth rather than their exceptionless power.

In this story, there is a dual explanation of the agents’ choices. On the one hand, there is a standard libertarian story about the agents’ free causality. On the other hand, the laws have explanatory power, because God chose the Finalist Worlds because they are worlds where the laws have exceptionless truth.

The big difficulty with the above story is Molinism. Also, it is worth noting that it is metaphysically possible that there turn out not to be any (feasible) Finalist Worlds: in that scenario, God wouldn’t be able to create a world where there is freedom and elegant deterministic mathematical laws holding exceptionlessly. But for reasons similar to why many people think Transworld Depravity is unlikely to be true, I think it is unlikely that there would be no Finalist Worlds.

It is also interesting to note that there are two more views that could be plugged into the story that can do the same job: Thomism and compatibilism.

On Thomism, God can use primary causation to make agents freely choose as he desires. Then we can suppose that God surveys the same Candidate Worlds as on the Molinist story. Then he chooses Finalist Worlds as those Candidate Worlds where the agents’ free choices in fact do not contradict the mathematical laws. And then God uses primary causation to actualize one of the Finalist Worlds. Again, the agents have the power to contradict the laws, but freely choose not to exercise it.

Finally we have straightforward compatibilism. A dualist can just as easily be a compatibilist as a materialist. On this story, we skip the Candidate Worlds, and the Finalist Worlds are worlds with compatibilist agents, with a deterministic non-physical mental life, who have the power of contradict the physical laws of the world but who are mentally determined, in a way compatible with freedom, never to exercise such a power. And then God chooses one of the Finalist Worlds. The agents then are as free as any compatibilist agents.

The compatibilist version of this story is close to Leibniz’s pre-established harmony, except that it has real mind-world causation, which is a big improvement.

Of course, the non-theist can’t make any of these moves. And, alas, neither can I, since my mere foreknowledge view denies Molinism, Thomism (about free will) and compatibilism.


Kenny Pearce said...

A view of this sort has been suggested by Ken Perszyk: https://philpapers.org/rec/PERMAC-2

Alexander R Pruss said...

This sort of view shows the compatibility of free will with deterministic laws, but not with *causal* determinism.

Kenny Pearce said...

Right. I took it that was the case both with Perszyk's account and with the one offered at the beginning of your post. I assumed that your story, like Perszyk's, was taking a descriptivist approach to natural laws (although you do use the word 'governing' at least once). The 'compatibilism' in Perszyk's title is nomological compatibilism, but it seems to me important to making the picture work that following according to the natural laws is not causal in the same oomphy sense as the decisions of agents. A key part of the move is that the laws don't make the agents do anything; the agents have the power to act contrary to them.

Alexander R Pruss said...


That wasn't my intent. I was trying to carefully distinguish between some events being *governed* by the laws and others being merely in *accord* with them.

By the way, if all we want is logical compatibility of free will with determininistic descriptivist laws of nature, and if we are OK with irreducible indeterministic causation, then we don't even need Molinism or Thomism. All we need is luck: namely that the agents happen to always act in such a way that the laws of the best system describing their actions be deterministic. We need the Molinism or Thomism only in order to for God to be able to *ensure* such compatibility.

To me all this emphasizes the point that the philosophically interesting question is not about the compatibility of free will and deterministic laws, but about the compatibility of free will and *causal* determination of actions by extra-agential causes (or by intra-agential but non-agentive causes). The compatibility of free will with deterministic laws can be arrived at in multiple silly ways (say, backwards causal laws, descriptivist laws and luck/Molinism/Thomism, or free will confined to the first instant of time).

Though on reflection, Perszyk's view makes the laws not be merely descriptivist but to at least enter into explanations via divine intentions, because the fact that some free action is nomically determined by earlier events is a part of the explanation for why that free action occurs. For God deliberately chose initial conditions so that only free actions that are nomically connected with the earlier events occur. Occasionalism about laws is not the same as Humeanism.

Kenny Pearce said...

So then is the view you are envisioning here one with systematic overdetermination? My voluntary actions would have a sufficient mental cause and a sufficient physical cause which are independent of one another? (In the present context, this kind of overdetermination might not be problematic, I suppose.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I am thinking that the laws do not say anything about causation (though I suppose Newtonian laws might be thought to say something about causation, since maybe the concept of a "force" is causal?). They just give regularities of behavior. I suppose one could do it with systematic overdetermination, too, but I hadn't thought of that.