Thursday, January 31, 2019

Can our cells be substances?

A standard Aristotelian principle says:

  1. No substance is a part of another substance.

I was just struck by how (1) says less than it seems to. One interesting philosophy of biology question is whether our symbiont bacteria are part of us. But:

  1. All bacteria are substances.

  2. We are substances.

  3. We are not bacteria.

  4. So no bacteria are parts of us. (By 1-5)

This argument is fine as far as it goes. But there is a metaphysical possibility that its conclusion leaves open which it is easy to forget.

Let’s grant that our symbiont bacteria are not a part of us. But perhaps their matter is a part of us. In other words, maybe the bacteria are matter-form composites just as we are, but their matter is a part of our matter, whereas their form is not a part of us at all, and hence they as wholes are not parts of us. They merely overlap us in matter.

And the point can be generalized. Before I noticed this point today, I used to think that the Aristotelian commitment to (1) requires us to deny that our cells are substances. But (1) leaves open the possibility that our cells are substances whose matter is a part of us, while the cells as wholes are not parts of us.

I don’t really want to say this. I would like to supplement (1) with this principle which has generally been a large part of my reason for affirming (1):

  1. The matter of one substance is never a part of another substance.

My reason for accepting (6) has been that the identify of the matter is grounded in its substance, and if the matter had its identity doubly grounded, it wouldn’t be one thing, but two, and so it wouldn’t be the same matter in each substance.

In fact, (6) is a special case of a stronger claim:

  1. No two substances have any matter in common.

Here is an argument that establishes (7) directly. Start with this plausible thesis:

  1. No two material substances have all of their matter in common.

But now if (7) is false, then it should be possible to have two plants that have some matter in common. We could further imagine that the non-common matter perishes, but both plants survive. If so, then we would have a violation of (8). So, it’s plausible that if (7) is false, so is (8).

Here is a different line of thought in favor of (7):

  1. Matter is grounded in the accidents of a substance.

  2. Two substances cannot have any accident in common.

  3. If x is entity grounded in a and y is an entity grounded in b and a ≠ b, then x ≠ y.

  4. So, two substances cannot have any matter in common.

So, all in all, while (1) leaves open the possibility of our cells and bacteria being substances and yet having their matter be a part of us, we have good reason to deny this possibility on other grounds.

It would be very neat if one could derive (1) from (7). From (7) we do directly get:

  1. No substance with matter is a part of another substance.

But it would take more argument to drop the “with matter” qualifier.

Can free will be grounded in quantum mechanics?

Robert Kane famously physicalistically grounds free will in quantum events in the brain. Free choice, on Kane’s view, is constituted by rational deliberation involving conflicting motivational structures with a resolution by an indeterministic causal process—a causal process that Kane thinks is in fact physical.

Here is a problem. Suppose Kane’s view is true. But now imagine a possible world with a physics that is like our quantum physics, but where panpsychism is true. The particles are conscious, and some of them engage in libertarian free choices, with chances of choices exactly matching up with what quantum mechanics predicts. The world still has people with brains, in addition to particle-sized people. The people with brains have particles that are persons in their brains. Moreover, it turns out that those indeterministic causal processes in the brains that constitute free choice are in fact the free actions of the particle-sized people in the breains.

All of Kane’s conditions for freedom will be satisfied by the people with brains. For the only relevant difference is that the quantum-style causal processes are choice processes (of the particle people). But these processes are just as indeterministic as in our world, and it’s the indeterminism that matters.

But the actions of the brain possessors in that world wouldn’t be free, because they would be under the control of the particle people in the brains. We could even suppose, if we like, that the particle people know about brains and want to direct the big people in some particular direction.

One could add to Kane’s account the further condition that the indeterministic causal processes in the brain are not constituted by the free choices of another person. But this seems ad hoc, and it is not clear why this one particular way for the indeterministic causal processes to be constituted is forbidden while any other way for them to be constituted is acceptable. The details of how quantum indeterministic processes work, as long as they are truly indeterministic and follow the quantum statistics, should not matter for free will.

This problem applies to any physicalist account on which free choices are grounded in quantum processes.

There is a way out of the problem. One could accept a pair of Aristotelian dicta:

  1. All persons are substances.

  2. No substance is a part of another substance.

But it is not clear whether the acceptance of these dicta is plausible apart from the fuller Aristotelian metaphysics which holds that all substances are partially made of non-physical forms. In other words, it is not clear that acceptance of (1) and (2) can be well motivated within a physicalist metaphysics.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Partial fulfillment of promises

A classic joke: You arrive in the Soviet Union. At the airport you see two people working. One is digging holes in the ground. The other is filling them in. You ask them what they are doing. They say: “The guy who was supposed to be planting trees didn’t show up.”

So, suppose I promise to dig a hole in your yard and plant a tree there. But I couldn’t obtain the tree. Obviously, I shouldn’t dig the hole. Thus, sometimes, partial fulfillment of a promise is no use at all, or worse.

But it seems that sometimes partial fulfillment is my duty. If I promise to give you two T-shirts and but I only manage to obtain one, it seems I owe you that one. But even that depends on the context. Suppose the two T-shirts were to be for a party where a parent and their child were to wear matching clothes. Then one T-shirt might be useless.

Perhaps the story is this. When I can’t fulfill a promise, I need to make it up to you as best as possible. Partial fulfillment is a way of making it up, and it is a default component of making up. But sometimes it’s worthless, in which case I should ask you if there is some other way you’d like me to make up for it.

Justification and units of assertion

It’s clear to me that each of two assertions could individually meet the evidential bar for assertibility, but that their conjunction, being typically less probable than either conjucnt, might not. But then there is something very strange about the idea that one could justifiably assert “S1. S2.” but not “S1 and S2.” After all, is there really a difference in what one is saying when one inserts a period and when one inserts an “and”?

Perhaps the thing to say is that the units of assertion are in practice not single sentences, but larger units. How large? Well, not whole books. Plainly, as the preface paradox notes, one can be justified in producing a book while thinking there is an error somewhere in it (as long as one does not know where the error lies). I think not whole articles, either. Again, we expect to be mistaken somewhere in a complex article. Perhaps the unit of assertion is something more of the order of a paragraph or less, but more than a sentence.

If so, then in typical cases “S1. S2.” will be a single unit of assertion, and to be justified in asserting the unit, one needs to be justified in the conjunction. This gives us a pretty precise definition of a unit of assertion: a unit of assertion is an assertoric locution that is lengthwise maximal with respect to needing to be justified.

What in practice determines the unit of assertion is probably determined by a mix of content, context, intonation, length of pauses, etc. For instance, a topic switch is apt to end a unit of assertion, and it may sometimes make a difference how long the pause between the sentences in “S1. S2.” with respect to whether the sentences form a single unit of assertion.

Surely people have written on this.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Lying to prevent great evils

Consider this argument:

  1. It is permissible to lie to prevent great evils.

  2. Not believing in God is a great evil.

  3. So, it is permissible to lie to get people to believe in God (e.g., by offering false testimony to miracles).

But the conclusion is absurd. So we need to reject (1) or (2). I think (2) is secure. Thus we should reject (1).

I suppose one could try to calibrate some great level E of evil such that it is permissible to lie (a) to prevent evils at levels greater than E but (b) not to prevent evils lesser than E. I am sceptical that one can do this in a plausible way, given that not believing in God is indeed a great evil, since it makes it very difficult to achieve the primary goal of human life.

Perhaps a more promising way out of the argument is to formulate some subject-specific principle, such as that it is wrong to lie in religious matters or for religious ends. But it is hard to do this plausibly.

It seems better to me to just deny (1), and be an absolutist about lying: lying is always wrong.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Nonsummativism about group belief

Here is a quick argument that a group can believe something no individual does. You hire a team of three consultants to tell you whether a potential employee, Alice, is smart and honest. The team takes on the task. The team leader first leads a discussion as to which of the other two team members is best qualified to investigate which attribute, and unanimous agreement is reached on that question. Both of these then investigate and come to a decision. The team leader writes “Alice is” on a piece of paper, and then passes the piece of paper around to the second team member, who writes down the attribute she investigated or its negation, depending on what she found, followed by “and”. The leader then passes the piece of paper to the third team member, who writes down the attribute they investigated or its negation, followed by a period, without reading (and hence being biased by) what was written already. Job done, the leader without reading folds the paper in half and hands it to you, saying: “Here’s what we think.”

You open the paper and read the verdict of the consulting team: “Alice is smart and not honest.” The team agrees unanimously that the division of labor was the right way to produce an epistemically responsible group verdict, but nobody on the consulting team believes or even knows the verdict. The team leader has no opinions on Alice: she delegated the opinions to the intelligence and integrity experts. The intelligence expert has no view on Alice’s integrity and vice versa.

One could say that the team doesn’t believe its verdict. But to issue a verdict that one does not believe is to fail in sincerity. But there need be no failure in the above procedures.

(My own view is that when we say the team “believes” something, we are using “believes” in an analogical sense. But the points stand.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Molinism and behavioral dispositions

There is some sort of a link between counterfactuals and dispositions, though there are lots of counterexamples to direct links. Here is a very weak principle affirming such a link:

  1. Suppose that x is in state S at time t and that x’s being in S at t grounds x’s being disposed to behavior A after t. Then there is some maximally determinate categorical proposition p describing the world up to time t and logically compatible with x’s being in S at t such that it is false that were p true and x in state S, x would fail to engage in behavior A after t.

To put it very roughly, this messy principle says that if a disposition to a behavior is grounded in a state, then it’s not the case that no matter what one adds to the state, the behavior would not occur. Suppose that (1) is a necessary truth.

Add this:

  1. It is possible for a human being to have an unactualized indeterministic disposition with respect to non-derivatively free behavior.

For instance, there is presumably a shade R of red that Jean Vanier has never met someone wearing, and yet he is disposed to behave non-derivatively freely kindly to persons wearing R.

What I have said so far does not, however, cohere with Molinism. For on Molinism, the conditionals of free will logically float free from the indeterministic dispositions of things. There is, for instance, a possible world where Jean Vanier still has the same kindly dispositions that he does in the actual world, but where the Molinist conditionals say that in the case of any of the appropriate maximally deterministic categorical strengthenings of the claim that he meets a person wearing R, if that strengthening were actual, he would behave unkindly to that person. This would violate (1).

[Note added later: This was, of course, written before the revelations about Jean Vanier's abusiveness. I would certainly have chosen a different example if I were writing this post now.]

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Hiddenness and Molinism

Schellenberg claims that God cannot coexist with a non-resistant non-believer, since God being love would ensure that everyone who is non-resistant would be given the conditions necessary for a personal relationship with God.

It seems to me that a Molinist has a nice answer to this. A loving God would not want to compel people to have a particular kind of relationship with him, and would hence leave them free. But now imagine a particular non-resistant non-believer, Alice. God could know of Alice that if she believed in God and were free with respect to a relationship with God, she would freely choose a bad relationship with God. Then here are God’s main options with respect to Alice:

  1. Not create Alice

  2. Ensure Alice believes in God but make it impossible for her to have a bad relationship with God

  3. Ensure Alice does not believe in God

  4. Ensure Alice believes in God and allow her to have a bad relationship with God.

For Schellenberg’s case to work, (3) has to be an unacceptable option for a loving God. But (3) seems better than (1) and (4), and (2) seems contrary to the way that love requires respect for the freedom of the beloved. So while (3) is not ideal, it seems better than the alternatives.

And it could be—this is parallel to Trans-World Depravity—that in every feasible world there is someone like Alice.

I think the main response would be that a person who would have a bad relationship with God counts as resistant—i.e., a disposition to a bad relationship with God counts as resistance. However, this misses the Molinist point. Molinist conditionals of free will are not grounded in present character. One can be such that one would have a bad relationship with God if one believed in God, without having a disposition to such a relationship. One’s present character might, for instance, be neutral or even favoring of a good relationship with God, but given Molinism, it could be that were one to come to the decision point, one would decide against the relationship.

One could redefine non-resistance as being such that were one to believe, one would be in a good relationship with God. But because Molinist conditionals are ungrounded, we wouldn’t know whether a particular non-believer is resistant or not.

It's a pity that Molinism is false.

Individual and group discrimination

An interesting question is whether a prohibition on discrimination with respect to a determinable P by itself prohibits discrimination against groups with respect to patterns or distributions of P in groups.

If so, then it would be the case that:

  • a prohibition of racial discrimination by itself prohibits discrimination against multi-racial groups

  • a prohibition of gender discrimination by itself prohibits discrimination against same-gender couples.

But here would be a more surprising up-shot:

  • a prohibition of P-based discrimination by itself prohibits discrimination against groups lacking P-diversity.

After all, lack of P-diversity is just a pattern of P-distribution (akin to same-gender couple, except that same-gender couples are by definition pairs while groups lacking P-diversity will often have more than two members). But that prohibiting P-based discrimination prohibits discrimination against groups lacking P-diversity seems implausible. After all, criticism is one of the forms of adverse treatment that when based on a protected characteristic will constitute discrimination. But it seems absurd to suppose that a prohibition on discrimination with respect to P also prohibits criticism of groups for lacking P-diversity.

If this is right, then a prohibition on discrimination against groups exhibiting particular patterns or distributions of the protected characteristic does not follow from a prohibition on discrimination on the basis of that characteristic, but requires a separate step. Sometimes, of course, that separate step is a no-brainer, as in the case of moving from prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race to prohibiting discrimination against multi-racial groups (including couples).

Let me add that I am neither a social nor a legal philosopher, so it may be that this has already been well-established or thoroughly refuted in the literature.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Haecceity and esse

I wonder if the haecceity of a thing isn't identical with its esse.

A Thomistic argument for essentiality of origins

Here is a suggestive Thomistic line of thought in favor of the essentiality of origins—i.e., the principle that the causes of things are essential to them.

Consider two possible cases where a seed is produced in the same apple tree T:

  1. A seed is produced at t because of the tree’s exercise of seed-producing powers together with God’s cooperative exercise of primary causation.

  2. A seed is created directly at t by God and not by the exercise of the tree’s powers.

And suppose that the seeds in the two cases are exactly alike, occur in the same place on the tree, etc.

I will argue that the Thomist should say that these will be numerically different seeds, and the best explanation of their difference is given by essentiality of origins.

For the Thomist is committed to there being a genuine difference between the two cases. Cooperative divine-creaturely causality is metaphysically different from divine primary causality. But where does the difference lie? Well, in (1) the tree’s causal powers are activated, while in (2) they are not. But it is a standard scholastic maxim that the effect is the actuality of the cause qua cause. Thus it seems that the difference between cases (1) and (2) should be found in the effect, namely the seed.

Furthermore, suppose that the difference between the cases is solely located in the cause, namely that in case (1) the tree’s causal powers are activated but not in (2), and that this activation is an accident A of the tree. The difference between cases (1) and (2) then is that in case (1), A occurs in the tree and in case (2) it does not. But for any accident of the tree, God could miraculously suppress any effects of that accident. Thus, there will be a case where A occurs in the tree and no seed results. And we could, further, imagine that:

  1. Not only does God suppress the effects of A but he additionally directly miraculously produces an effect exactly like the one that A would have produced.

The difference between (3) and (1) can’t be in the activation of the tree’s causal power, since that is still there in (3). So we really should suppose a difference in the effects between (3) and (1). But a similar difference should exist between (2) and (1).

Note that the Thomist cannot say that there is a difference on the side of the causes lies in God, namely that in case (1), God’s causal power is unactivated but it is activated in (2) and (3). For an intrinsic difference in God between possible worlds would violate divine simplicity.

Thus, it is the effects, namely the seeds, that are numerically different, and they are different precisely because their causes are different. But the seeds are exactly alike. So the difference must be a metaphysical difference between the seeds. And this strongly suggests essentiality of origins. Indeed, it suggests that entities have encoded within them the identity of their cause.

Objection: The argument at most suggests that there has to be a numerical difference when something is produced by a finite cause (with God cooperating) and when something is produced directly by God. But why think there is also a difference when the effect is produced by one finite cause rather than another?

Response: The simplest metaphysical explanation of why it makes a difference whether God produces the effect or it is produced by finite causes is that the effect has metaphysically encoded in it what its cause was. In fact, my own view is that this may be found in the effect’s esse: perhaps an effect’s esse is to be caused by this-and-that.

Moreover, suppose that there need be no numerical difference between effects of different finite causes, but there is a numerical difference between direct effects of divine causation and the effects of finite causes. Then in principle scientists could have directly made the numerically same seed that the tree made in (1), but God couldn’t have directly made the numerically same seed. That seems unacceptable. (Of course, one might rejoin that essentiality of origins is unacceptable as it implies that God couldn’t directly make the numerically same seed that the tree could make. But when, as I suppose, an effect of necessity encodes in itself what its cause is, the impossibility of something’s being made by a different cause does not seem to be a limitation on that cause.)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Thomism, chance and cooperative providence

Thomists have two stories about how God can act providentially in the world. First, God can work simply miraculously, directly producing an effect that transcends the relevant created causal powers. Second, God can work cooperatively: whenever any finite causal agency is exercised, God intentionally cooperates with it through his primary causation, in such a way that it is up to God which of the causal agents natural effects is produced.

I think there is a difficult problem for cooperative divine agency. Suppose Alice is desperate for food for her children. She finds an indeterministic alien device which has the following property. If she presses the big button on it, the machine has probability 1/2 of producing enough food for a month for her family, and probability 1/2 of giving her a mild shock and turning off for a month.

Alice says a quick but sincerely prayer and presses the button. Then, presumably:

  1. The probability that the machine will produce food is 1/2 conditionally on God not working miraculously.

But now notice:

  1. Necessarily, if God does not work miraculously, the machine will produce food if and only if God intentionally connaturally cooperates with the machine to produce food.

From (1) and (2) we can conclude:

  1. The probability that God will intentionally cooperates with the machine to produce food is 1/2 conditionally on God not working miraculously.

But imagine a different machine, where pressing the button has probability 1/2 of producing enough round pizza for a week and probability 1/2 of producing enough square pizza for a week. If Alice pressed the button on that machine, God, in acting cooperatively, would not have any significant reason to make the output of the machine come out one way or another.

In the round-or-square-pizza machine, we would expect the probability that God would cooperate to produce a particular outcome to be 1/2. But in the food-or-nothing machine, God does have a good reason to make the output of the machine be food: namely, God loves Alice and her family. We would expect the statistics for divine intentional cooperation to be different in the case of the two machines. But they are the same. In other words, it seems that God’s cooperative providence cannot depart from the statistics built into the natures of creatures. Yet that providence is fully under God’s voluntary control according to Thomism. This is puzzling.

If the Thomist says that God’s special providence is always exercised miraculously rather than cooperatively, the problem disappears. Absent special providential reasons, God has reason to follow the natural statistics of the machines. But if we allow that God sometimes exercises his special providence cooperatively, that should skew the statistics, and it cannot do that given the argument from (1) and (2) to (3).

Restricting special providence to miracles is a real option, but it destroys one of the advantages that Thomism has over competing theories.

Molinism and prophecy

Here’s a curious puzzle. Every theist—including the Molinist and the Open Theist—will presumably agree that this conditional is true:

  1. If God were to announce that Trump will freely refrain from tweeting tomorrow, then Trump would freely refrain from tweeting tomorrow.

After all, both presumably accept that God wouldn’t affirm what he didn’t know to be the case.

However, plainly, the truth of (1) isn’t enough to justify God in announcing that Trump will freely refrain from tweeting tomorrow. For, plainly, something like Molinist middle knowledge or mere foreknowledge or theistic compatibilism would be needed for God to be justified in issuing the prophecy. Something like (1) that holds independently of theories of divine foreknowledge is not going to do the trick.

Suppose now Molinism is true. It seems to be one of the advantages of Molinism that it can explain prophecy. But what relevant proposition beyond (1) does God know in the Molinist case that justifies his announcement?

Here is one possibility:

  1. Trump will freely refrain from tweeting tomorrow.

But God’s knowing (2) is insufficient to justify God’s announcement. For imagine that the reason why Trump will refrain from tweeting tomorrow is that Trump likes to surprise people and nobody predicted that he wouldn’t tweet tomorrow. Then (2) can still be true—but if that’s the reason why (2) is true, then the truth of (2) won’t justify God in announcing that Trump won’t tweet.

I think what we want to say is that on Molinism what justifies God’s announcement is something like this:

  1. Claim (1) holds not just because God’s announcements are always true.

But now here is the problem. If claim (1) holds not just because God’s announcements are always true, there must be some further explanation for why claim (1) is true other than just because God’s announcements are always true. But what is that explanation? Presumably it lies in the truth of some Molinist conditional. But it seems that the most relevant Molinist conditional is (1) itself, and that just won’t do.

Here’s another way of putting the point. The Molinist’s best response to the grounding objection is to say that Molinist conditionals are true but ungrounded. Such a Molinist has to say that the only reason (1) is ever true is that God doesn’t make untrue announcements. But, plausibly, if the only reason (1) is true is that God doesn’t make untrue announcements, then God isn’t justified in issuing the announcement. So God is never justified in issuing the announcement.

If I were a Molinist, I would say that God cannot make prophecies that end up being explanatorily prior to the prophesied actions. But if one makes that restriction, one might as well accept mere foreknowledge.

Very large multiverses and trans-world depravity

Consider this standard bit of dialectic. One gives a Free Will Defense relying on the logical possibility of Trans-World Depravity:

  1. TWD1: In every feasible world, some significantly free creature sins at least once.

But the response is: “Yes, this shows that the existence of God is logically compatible with moral evil, but since TWD is exceedingly unlikely to be true, this does not help to counter the argument that it is exceedingly unlikely that God would create a world with no moral evil.” (Note: TWD1 is logically weaker than Plantinga’s TWD but does the job just as well. Cf. this.)

Why think TWD1 unlikely to be true? Well, confine our attention to strongly actualizable world cores (i.e., the aspects of the world that God would strongly actualize) containing involving a hundred independent significantly free choices with agential motives balanced between good and evil. For any such world core, the chance that all the choices would go right if the core were strongly actualized is something like (1/2)100. So we would expect one in 2100 such world cores to have the counterfactuals of freedom come out favorably, i.e., with all the choices being right. But there are infinitely many such world cores—each with a different collection of agents (to ensure independence between the counterfactuals holding of each core)—and so the probability that in some core the counterfactuals come out right should be extremely high (namely 1, given real-valued probabilities).

Now here is an interesting next step in that dialectic. Instead of working with the TWD, work with this:

  1. TWD1: In every feasible world containing uncountably infinitely many significantly free choices, at least one of these choices is wrong.

And then add the plausible intuition that it is likely that God would want to create a world with uncountably infinitely many significantly free choices (e.g., because he would probably want to create uncountably infinitely many significantly free people, perhaps in a multiverse).

The improbability response is much harder to make against TWD1 than against TWD1. Remember that the argument against TWD1 worked by generating a sequence of worlds with independent conditionals of free will each of which had a probability of (1/2)100 of being a counterexample to TWD1. But we can’t do that with TWD1. Given an uncountable infinity of significantly free choices, we would expect the probability that all these choices would be right if the world core were actualized is zero: it’s logically possible, but it’s even less likely than tossing a fair coin for every day of an infinite life and getting heads each time (for an infinite life would have countably many days). Granted, there is an uncountable infinity of world cores to try. But if the chance of each one being a counterexample to TWD1 is zero, without some special argument we can’t assume there is a meaningful and high probability that at least one is a counterexample.

Technical note: I opted for worlds with uncountably infinitely many significantly free choices, because if the worlds had countably infinitely many significantly free choices, it might be possible to make the “it’s extremely unlikely” argument go. Imagine a countably infinite sequence of independent significantly free choices, where the nth choice has probability 1 − 2n of going right. Then the probability that all the choices will be right is actually about 0.29. Using worlds like that, one could produce an argument that TWD0 (i.e., what we get when we remove “uncountably” from (2)) is very unlikely to be true.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

An unimportant hiccup with the Free Will Defense

There is a messy little gap in how the Free Will Defense is sometimes thought about—or at least has been thought about by me. First it is argued that the following Trans-World Depravity thesis is logically possible:

  1. (TWD) In every feasible world, every significantly free creature sins at least once.

Then from the possibility of TWD, one wants to conclude:

  1. God is justified in creating a world where some significantly free creature sins.

But (2) doesn’t follow from TWD. For TWD is logically compatible with:

  1. In every feasible world, every significantly free creaturely action is a sin.

And it is far from clear that if (3) were true, then God would be justified in creating any world with significant freedom. Indeed, if (3) were true, we might think that a perfect being would end up creating a world with no significant freedom. I am not sure about this, but it is at least clear that to argue for (2) given (3) is an uphill battle.

So, what we needs to work with is not just TWD, but something stronger, like:

  1. (TWD+) In every feasible world, every significantly free creature sins at least once, and in some feasible world there is a favorable balance of right to wrong exercises of significant freedom.

Of course, the kind of reasoning that leads Plantinga to accept the logical possibility of TWD would also lead one to accept the logical possibility of TWD+. So this is just a minor hiccup. (We may need some further specifications about that feasible world. But that’s not any more of a problem.)

And, in fact, we don’t need TWD+, but the weaker:

  1. (TWD1+)In every feasible world with significantly free creatures, at least one significantly free creature sins at least once, and in some feasible world there is a favorable balance of right to wrong exercises of significant freedom.

This leads to a choice point for when we teach the Free Will Defense to undergraduates. We can either skip over the issue, and just ignore the fact that (2) doesn’t follow from TWD. Or we can make this into an object lesson of how some objections to an argument don’t really affect the heart of the argument but require “merely technical” revisions, like the move from TWD to TWD+. Students can then have good, clean and educational fun in refining TWD in various ways.

Historical note: This is not actually a logical error in Plantinga. At least in God, Freedom and Evil, Plantinga does not claim that (2) follows from TWD. Rather, Plantinga just says that it is obvious that TWD is compatible with the thesis that God creates a world containing moral good. I think, though, to defend this quick claim, Plantinga will need to uphold something like TWD+.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Infinity, Causation, and Paradox -- cheaper [expired]

I notice that Amazon has two hardcover copies of the book for $25 shipped, which is about half of the regular price. [Expired]

Against the actual truth of transworld depravity

Here is an interesting result. If the Biblical account of creation is true, then Plantinga’s Trans-World Depravity (TWD) thesis is false. All this doesn’t affect Plantinga’s Free Will Defense which only needs the logical possibility of TWD, but it limits its usefulness a little by making clear that the defense is based on an actually-false assumption. (Quick review: Plantinga uses the logical possibility of TWD to argue for the logical possibility of evil. That argument would survive my critique. But he also suggests that TWD is epistemically possible, and hence could be the heart of a theodicy. That move does not survive, I think.)

I’ll take TWD to be:

  1. Every significantly free creature in every feasible world does wrong.

A feasible world is one that would eventuate from God’s strongly actualizing the strongly strongly actualized portion of it.

But now consider this thesis which is very plausible on the Biblical account of creation:

  1. At least one human made a significantly free right choice before any human made a free wrong choice.

For the first sin in the Biblical account is presented as Eve’s taking of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. But prior to that, indeed prior to Eve’s creation, Adam was commanded to take care of the garden (Gen. 2:15). It would have been a sin for Adam to fail to do that, and since this was before the first sin, it follows that Adam must have done it. Moreover, Adam being a full human being presumably had freedom of will, and hence was capable of refusing to work the garden. Hence Adam’s decision to obey God’s command to work the garden was a significantly free choice before any human made a free wrong choice.

Now, I don’t take the story of Genesis 2-3 to be literally true, but it tells us basic truths about the entry of evil into the world, and hence it is very likely that the structural claim (2) carries over into reality from the story.

I now argue that:

  1. If (2) is true, then TWD is false.

Right after the first human made a significantly free right choice, God had the power to prevent any further significantly free choices from ever being made. Had God exercised that power, the world would have contained a creature—namely, the human who made the significantly free right choice—that is a counterexample to TWD. Moreover, the world where God exercises that power is plainly feasible. Hence, (1) is false, since in (1) there is a significantly free creature that does the right thing.

That said, Plantinga’s TWD is stronger than it needs to be for his defense. All he really needs to work with is:

  1. Every feasible world that contains a significantly free creaturely right choice contains a free creaturely wrong choice.

And the world where God intervenes and prevents significantly free choices after the first human significantly free right choice is not a counterexample to (4), since prior to the creation of humans there was already sin by angels.

Note, though, that someone who wants to defend (4) by invoking the prior sin of angels needs to hold that the first humans would have sinned in their first significantly free choice had God not created angels or not given angels significant free will, no matter what circumstances the first humans were placed in. In other words, the defender of (4) has to hold that the actual righteousness of the first human significantly free choice has a strong counterfactual dependence on angelic freedom. The only plausible way I know of defending something like this is to say that angelic free choices are a part of human causal history and that essentiality of origins is true. So, interestingly, to hold that the weakened TWD thesis (4) is true seems to require both invoking the sin of angels and essentiality of origins.

Moreover, the defender of the actual truth of (4) would need to hold that the first angelic wrong choice preceded the first angelic significantly free right choice. For suppose an angelic significantly free choice came before any angelic sin. Then, again, God could have suspended free will right after that choice, and not created humans at all, and we would have a feasible world that is a counterexample to (4). Next, suppose that the first angelic significantly free choice was simultaneous with the first angelic sin. Presumably, the two were committed by different angels. But God could have suspended the freedom of those angels who in the actual world sin (this does not even require Molinism: God doesn’t need to know that they would sin to suspend their freedom), and plausible the simultaneous significantly free right choices of the other angels would still have eventuated. And then God could have suspended freedom altogether, thereby furnishing us with another feasible world that is a counterexample to (4).

One can modify (4) in various ways to get around this. For instance, one could say this:

  1. Every feasible world that contains a significantly free creaturely right choice and that contains many generations of significantly free creatures contains a free creaturely wrong choice.

But note that if (5) is true, then one needs to invoke more than the value of freedom in saying that God is justified in creating a world with evil. One needs the value of multi-generational freedom.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Truth, life and deontology

Absolutists who think that lying is wrong even to save a life are sometimes accused of thinking truth to be more valuable than life. Whether or not absolutism about lying is true (I think it is), the accusation is a misunderstanding of the structure of deontological prohibitions. For it would be silly to suppose that a deontologist who thinks it’s wrong to kill one innocent in order to save ten thinks that one life is more valuable than ten! If there is a mistake in deontology, it is not the mistake of thinking 1 > 10.

Deontology and future hypothetical wrongs

Molinism makes possible a curious kind of moral dilemma. God could reveal to Alice that if Alice doesn’t kill Bob today, she will kill Carl and David tomorrow (all these being innocents), and if she does kill Bob today, she won’t kill anyone tomorrow. Should she, thus, kill Bob today in order to prevent herself from murdering Carl and David tomorrow?

One might think that the possibility that Molinism allows for such a moral dilemma is a count against Molinism. But even without Molinism, one could have a probabilistic version of the dilemma where God reveals to Alice that if she doesn’t kill Bob today, she is very likely to kill both Carl and David tomorrow, and if she does kill Bob today, she is very unlikely to kill anyone tomorrow.

One way to make consequentialism fit with deontological intuitions is to set a high, perhaps infinite, disvalue on wrong action. That would imply that in the dilemma Alice should kill Bob in order to prevent the two murders tomorrow.

I think this is a mistake. Just as on deontological grounds it would be wrong for Alice to murder Bob to keep Eva from murdering Carl and David, so too it’s wrong for her to murder Bob to keep herself from murdering them. A eudaimonist may disagree here, holding that we should be promoting our own flourishing, so that when the choice is between committing two murders tomorrow and one today, we should go for the one today, but when the choice is between oneself committing one murder and another party committing two, we should let the other party commit the two. So much the worse, I say, for that kind of eudaimonist.

What makes it wrong for Alice to murder Bob is that the we shouldn’t perform bad acts. It’s not that we should minimize the number of bad acts performed, by others or oneself, but that we shouldn’t perform them. Of course, all other things being equal we should minimize the number of bad acts performed, by others and oneself, but a bad act is an act not to be done. And the lesson of deontology is that certain acts, such as intentionally killing without proper authority, are bad acts in virtue of their nature.

But isn’t killing Bob today the lesser evil?

Yet imagine Alice is debating whether she should eat ice cream, with its having been revealed to her that if she eats ice cream today, tomorrow she will kill Bob, and if she does not, then tomorrow she will kill Carl and David. In that case, it is clear: she should eat the ice cream. For the eating of ice cream isn’t the sort of act that is bad in virtue of its nature (unless a very strong form of moral veganism is true). Note, however, that if she eats the ice cream today, then her killing of Bob tomorrow is still wrong. (If you disagree, it may be simply because you disagree with Molinism, and you hold that the inevitability of her killing Bob takes away her freedom; if you think that, then go for a probabilistic version of the story.) This is true even though it is a lesser evil than her killing Carl and David.

In the original case, we can look at Alice doing two things when killing Bob:

  1. Killing Bob

  2. Bringing it about that she doesn’t kill Carl and David.

Her action is bad qua (1) and good qua (2). But we learn from Aquinas that for an action to be right, it must be right in every respect. So her action is wrong simpliciter.

On the other hand, in the ice cream version, in consuming the ice cream, Alice is doing two things:

  1. Eating ice cream

  2. Bringing it about that she doesn’t kill Carl and David.

Now her action is good or neutral qua (3) and good qua (4). In fact, it’s right in every respect. But her later killing of Bob is still wrong.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Causal powers, imperfection, free will and divine simplicity

Here is a plausible connection between normativity and causal powers:

  1. If x has a power to ϕ in C, and x is in C but does not ϕ, then x qua having that power imperfect.

  2. x is imperfect simpliciter if x is imperfect qua having ϕ for some ϕ that x has in virtue of its nature.

(I think one can make biconditionals out of these.)

But here is a problem. By omnipotence, God has the power to make reality be such that there are horses and they are all green, and he has the power to make reality be such that there are horses and they are all red. And he has these powers in the same circumstance C, namely that of creation. He exercises only one of these two powers. So it seems that God is imperfect qua having at least one of these powers. But he has these powers in virtue of his omnipotence and hence in virtue of his nature. Hence it seems that God is imperfect simpliciter.

Here is my best solution. Revise 1 to:

  1. If x has a power P such that P is a power to ϕ in C, and x is in C but does not successfully exercise P, then x qua having P is imperfect.

This sounds like it is equivalent to 1. After all, this seems like a necessary truth:

  1. If P is a power to ϕ in C and x successfully exercises P in C, then x must ϕ.

But actually 4 need not be true. For the same entity, P, could be both a power to ϕ in C and a power to ψ in C. And if so then when the possessor of P ψs in C, that would be a successful exercise of P.

This fits really well with divine simplicity on which all of God’s causal powers are ontologically the same, and indeed are identical to God. Given that, God’s powers are always fulfilled as long as God exercises one of them. (And perhaps even ensuring that God is alone would count as an exercise of God’s creative power.)

Here is another interesting thought. When I exercise free will, I have the power to ϕ and the power to ψ where ϕing and ψing are incompatible. It seems at first sight that one of these powers is unexercised, and hence thus far I am imperfect by 1. But perhaps sometimes the power to ϕ and the power to ψ are ontologically the same entity, either my nature or a single accident of me, in virtue of which entity I can ϕ and I can ψ. If so, then either ϕing or ψing could suffice for perfection qua having that power.

And now here is a very speculative thought. When we choose between right and wrong on earth, maybe the power to choose the right and the power to choose the wrong are distinct entities. Thus, we are imperfect even if we choose the right, for the power to do the wrong is unexercised. However, this sort of imperfection is not found in heaven, because there we lack the power to choose the wrong, due to the perfection of our character. But the same question will still come up in heaven when we choose between two incompatible goods, say reciting a piece of prose or reciting a piece of verse. However, perhaps, our mind will have such a deep internal unity in heaven that our abilities to choose between the various incompatible goods will be grounded in a single entity, and so no matter what we choose, we will thus far be perfect. (Not that I think it is disastrous to admit certain kinds of imperfections in heaven, so perhaps we don’t need recourse to this.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Causal theories of normative statuses

Utterances cause a variety of outcomes. For instance, a request often causes an action by another person, while saying “Alexa, turn on the lights” can cause the lights to turn on. This is not the paradigmatic thing that happens with performatives. With performatives, the outcome is (at least partially) constituted by the utterance. When the Queen utters the words of knighting, the newly created knight’s knightliness is not caused by but constituted by the utterance. One plausible argument for this is that causation has a speed of light limit, but knighting does not: the Queen could knight someone a light-year away, effective immediately.

So we have two kinds of outcome for an utterance: causal outcomes and constituted outcomes. It is plausible that sometimes utterances have both kinds. For instance, knighting someone can both constitute them as a knight and cause them to do knightly deeds.

It is widely, though perhaps often only implicitly, held that the normative statuses involved in marriages, promises and reasons of request are constituted outcomes of performative utterances.

It is, I think, worth thinking about what reasons we have to accept this performative constitution thesis. For here is another possibility: these social statuses are constituted by contingent normative properties that are caused to exist by the utterance. In such a case, the utterances producing these statuses are not performatives, but function causally, like the “Alexa, turn on the light” example.

If naturalism is true, so is the performative constitution thesis. For if naturalism is true, then normative properties supervene on physical properties, and there is no plausible physical property that is caused by uttering a promise on which the relevant normative property could supervene. Here is a quick argument: Any physical property that can be produced by promising can be produced impersonally by random quantum phenomena, but such random quantum phenomena will not result in the relevant normative properties of promise. Hence the physical act of promising must be a part of the supervenience base of the relevant normative properties.

But if naturalism is false, then we have a new possibility. It could be that marrying, promising and requesting non-physically cause relevant normative properties. The quick argument above no longer works, since random quantum phenomena need not have the power to produce these normative properties. In fact, even the speed-of-light argument concerning knighting doesn’t work, because non-physical causation need not have a speed-of-light limit.

Do we have good reason, beyond an incredulous stare, to dismiss the causal theory of these normative statuses?

I think classical theists have some reasons to opposed the causal theory. First, God has the power to directly cause all the kinds of effects we have the power to cause. So if I can cause myself to have the normative property of having promised you a dollar, God can directly cause me to have his normative property. But that’s absurd: for while God can directly cause me to promise you a dollar, it is a contradiction for the state of having promised to be caused by any means other than the making of that promise.

This is, however, only a limited opposition to the causal theory. For while God cannot directly cause me to be in a promissory state, it may well be that God can directly cause me to have the paradigmatic normative property constituting the promissory state, namely an obligation of performance with exactly the kind of weight that the promise carried. Thus, the first argument is compatible with a hybrid causal-constitutive view on which my making a promise causes the obligation but constitutes the obligation as a promissory one. Compare how my carving a statue would cause the statue but constitute it as hand-made.

The second argument against the causal theory is this. By divine simplicity, God’s contingent properties are all constituted by contingent entities outside of himself. But when God promises something, he acquires a contingent obligation. By divine simplicity, that obligation must be constituted by something contingent outside of God. And the most plausible candidate is that the it is constituted by the physical manifestation making up the promise (e.g., the voice that the promisee heard). So in the case of divine promises, neither the original causal theory nor the hybrid theory is plausible.

That said, the second argument is not very strong. For contingent beliefs are internally constituted in us and yet by exactly the same divine simplicity argument externally constituted in God. So while the fact that God’s promissory normative statuses are externally constituted gives us some reason to think ours are, this is far from conclusive. Moreover, what goes for promises may not go for other things. God (qua God) cannot marry. So the argument doesn’t apply to marriage.

In summary, if naturalism is false, then it could be the case that some of the normative statuses that are generally thought to be constituted by performative utterances are in fact caused by utterances, though classical theists have some reason to prefer the performative constitution theory in many cases.

Finally, note that there is a third option besides constitution and causation: something I call quasi-causation. If I pray for an effect, and as an outcome of my prayer, God produces the effect, I don’t want to say that my prayer caused God to produce the effect. It just seems contrary to divine transcendence to suppose we can cause God to do things. Yet there is something like causation going on here. Similarly, it could be that sometimes a normative status is not caused but merely quasi-caused by an utterance.

Catholics, in fact, are liable to think that the quasi-causal theory is at least true of one aspect of one case: sacramental marriage. In sacramental marriage, there is an intrinsic change in the parties entering the marriage as a result of the exchange of the marriage vows. But because the change happens due to God’s gracious activity, it probably cannot be said to be caused by the marriage vows. Rather, the change is quasi-caused by the marriage vows. However, it is not clear whether the relevant intrinsic change is a change with respect to a normative property.

All in all, there are many open questions here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Artifacts, Aristotelianism and naturalism

One of the main reasons I don’t believe in (complex) artifacts is that the existence of an artifact would have to depend on our intentions. Whether some stones make up a sculpture depends on whether they were piled with the intention of making a sculpture or just tossed in a heap to provide raw materials. And it is incredible that just because one thinks about something in a particular way while executing a series of physical actions, a material object comes into being, and if one doesn’t think in this way, but executes the same series of physical actions, there are just raw materials in a heap rather than a thing. This just seems like magic.

It has, however, just occurred to me that I may have been thinking too much like a naturalist. We human beings already have a broad array of amazing non-natural powers. By promising, I create an obligation for myself, and by requesting, I create a reason for you. By reproducing, two humans produce a new thinking being. Why couldn’t human beings (and perhaps other tool-using animals) also be gifted with the basic power to create a form for a bunch of physical objects, a power which they exercise by executing some physical movements with particular intentions, much as I change my own normative status by using my vocal chords with particular intentions?

That our intentions should affect what material objects there are is also a bit less magical when one has an Aristotelian ontology. For on an Aristotelian ontology, “material objects” are not purely material: they have immaterial form. Yes, all this is a bit magical. But on Aristotelian ontology, all beings are a little magical, and we are especially so, being minded.

That said, I still find it hard to believe that we can create artifacts.

But all this suggests an interesting argument against naturalism:

  1. We can bring complex artifacts into existence.

  2. Mereological universalism is false.

  3. If naturalism is true, we can bring complex artifacts into existence if and only if mereological universalism is true.

  4. So, naturalism is not true.

But I am still not sure (1) is true.

Presentism and haecceities

Suppose that times are maximal consistent present-tense propositions. Then if we are to make sense of eternal recurrence—reality being exactly alike at two different times—it seems we need haecceities for events or tropes. Thus, a certain kind of presentist needs haecceities.

Semantic externalism and time

Here is a curious thing. Suppose that I’ve been lying in bed trying to fall asleep for a while. I’ve lost track of time. At t1, I know: “I haven’t fallen asleep yet.” At a later time t2, I know: “I haven’t fallen asleep yet.” It seems quite possible that my internal mental state at t1 and at t2 is exactly the same. Yet what I know at t2 is logically stronger than what I knew at t1: for that I haven’t yet fallen asleep by the later time entails that I hadn’t fallen asleep by the earlier time.

So it seems that I gained some information, without any change in my internal mental state. This means is that we need to have some semantic externalism with respect to time.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Goods arranged evilly

St Augustine holds that God creates and sustains everything that exists other than God himself. Thus, he reasonably and correctly concludes:

  1. Everything that exists is good.

Augustine then concludes further:

  1. Evils are privations of goods.

I think (2) doesn’t follow from (1). Compare van Inwagen’s view on material composition:

  1. Everything that exists is simple or alive.

But we shouldn’t conclude from (3) that:

  1. Ordinary artifacts are privations of simple or living things.

Granted, it follows from (3) that ordinary artifacts don’t really exist, and it likewise follows from (1) that evils don’t really exist. But that does not mean that ordinary-language sentences affirming the existence of artifacts or evils should be analyzed as sentences affirming a privation.

On the contrary, famously, van Inwagen suggests that the ordinary claim that there is a table here is to be understood as claiming that there are simples arranged table-wise. As far as (1) goes, then, it could be that analogously a claim affirming the presence of an evil could be understood as claiming that there are goods arranged evilly. And in some cases this seems a better story than the privation theory. For instance, suppose Alice thinks that platypuses do not exist. What makes there be an evil here is not the lack of something, but the presence of two kinds of discordant good things: Alice’s mental acts of thinking platypuses not to exist and the platypuses themselves. The mental acts and the platypuses are jointly arranged evilly. But there is no evil.

This much more neatly handles the two-nose problem for Augustine’s theory, a problem I once came across in an article that I don’t remember the author of. It is an evil for a human to have two noses, but that evil does not seem to consist in the lack of anything. (We could say: a lack of harmony, but the harmony here doesn’t seem to be a real being, but is entirely just a matter of the arrangement of things.) But we can certainly say that there are two goods, the noses, but they are arranged evilly by virtue of being on the same face. There isn’t, however, a third thing beyond the noses, an evil. There is no ontological problem with God creating the two-nosed human. He creates two goods, the two noses. He foresees that they will be discordant, but he does not will them qua discordant. So he does not intend the evil. There are further theodical questions, but the Augustinian problem is solved.

Of course, there are privative evils. The person who has zero noses suffers from a privative evil, and perhaps when Bob thinks unicorns do exist, the evil of his mistake fits with the privative theory (this depends on the exact formulation of the privative theory).

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

1923 public domain P. G. Wodehouse

Finally, 1923 works are entering the public domain in the U.S. For fellow fans, here are two P. G. Wodehouse works:

  • The Inimitable Jeeves: mobi (Kindle), epub
  • Leave It To Psmith: mobi (Kindle), epub