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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

True-Counterfactuals?

“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

The verse above is often used as a proof-text to defend the philosophical notion of true-counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Calvinists, however, should never make such appeals.

First it should be noted that Calvinists do not draw a distinction between possible and feasible worlds. They are the same in number for the Calvinist because creaturely choices, which are always necessary and never free in the libertarian free will sense of the word, do not violate human responsibility. Accordingly, any possible world would have been feasible for God to actualize had he wanted; whereas within Molinism feasible worlds are considered a subset of possible worlds – the former being distinguished from the latter in that within the system of Molinism God could have actualized any feasible world without violating human responsibility yet he could not have actualized any non-feasible possible world (where men are responsible for all their choices) due to the non-cooperative intentions of the alleged free moral agent.

The Calvinist appreciates that repentance is an evangelical grace and not something that can be self-generated through agent-causation even in the presence of miracles. After all, if the reprobate will not believe Moses, then neither will he believe one who is raised from the dead! So – if Jesus was speaking in terms of true-counterfactuals, then at most all that he could have meant was that had he performed the same miracles in Tyre and Sidon, then God would have accompanied those miracles with the grace of repentance. What would then become of the Lord’s rebuke?!

If we are to take Jesus literally by allowing his words to support the existence of true-counterfactuals, then it would be arbitrary not to be equally rigorous in our literal interpretation by allowing the verse to be considered in light of man’s moral inability. Accordingly, we would be constrained to interpret the verse as teaching that had God actualized a world wherein similar miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, then God would have also chosen to effect by his sovereign grace repentance in Tyre and Sidon in that world. But such a literal interpretation would negate the prima facie rebuke Jesus obviously intended. After all, what sort of rebuke is it to say that God would have granted unmerited favor to a group of unworthy sinners had he performed miracles before them that were performed before another group that did not respond to such miracles in repentance and faith?

Jesus’ simple point was that the people of his day were even more hardened than those in Tyre and Sidon. To make this point he must suspend the doctrines of total depravity and effectual calling, but never does he establish a philosophy of true-counterfactuals and human autonomy. To suggest a philosophy of true-counterfactuals can be erected upon such a verse is to open the verse up to many problems, including a denial of sovereign grace, which happens to be consistent with the Molinist’s manipulation of the verse in view.

If there are true-counterfactuals of this sort, this verse certainly does not support such a claim.

Ron

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21 comments:

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hey Ron,

I have a question unrelated to your recent post (forgive me, I did enjoy it)

I'm curious as to your link to Whales EST. Do you recommend it, or know someone there?

~Joshua


Josh,

I provided the link because my former pastor, Robert Letham, teaches at the school.

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

Could you please define "true counterfactual"? Is this supposed to mean a state of affairs that exists in another possible world? If so, it seems like you've defined it as a false philosophical notion. Why can't we understand true counterfactuals to simply refer to a state of affairs that would exist had God decreed it? Or is this simply a "false counteractual" since God didn't actually decree it? Thanks.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Counterfactuals of creaturely choices are propositions that look like this: If Keith were in state of affairs X, Keith would choose Y. There is a possible world though in which Keith would choose ~Y given the same state of affairs prior to the choice. If is true that God could have, had he wanted, instantiated Keith's choice of Y or ~Y given the same history of the world prior to the choice to choose Y or ~Y, then what does it mean to say that there is a true-counterfactual of what Keith would choose given such a state of affairs? Such a counterfactual would presuppose things about God that I don't find in Scripture - such as he has a decided how you would have chosen had things been different. The passage to which I referred may not be properly construed to suggest such a notion.

I guess I'll be seeing a lot more of you now that school is passing away!

Blessings,

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

I can't tell where your definition ends.

I have understood counterfactuals to be simply, "If X were true then Y would be true."

However, from what I can tell, you are dragging possible worlds INTO the definition when the most basic definition need not have anything to do with possible worlds.

So what is a "true counterfactual?" Is this a term that applies to possible worlds semantics alone or does it have a more basic definition?

From what I gather, it is a possible worlds term and according to your view counterfactuals are always false and according to Molinists and Arminianists they might be true.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Keith - your writings are in italics and quotes:

I have understood counterfactuals to be simply, ‘If X were true then Y would be true.’”

Yes, that is correct of counterfactuals in the simplest of terms. So for instance, if the thief were honest, he would not have stolen. Such a proposition is somewhat tautological though, which is why in such an example we need not concern ourselves with the history that precedes the choice since honesty implies not steeling necessarily, apart from causal influences. Now what if we were to consider something like this: “If Keith were offered lobster and steak it would be true that he would choose lobster”? Wouldn’t we need to be concerned with the state of affairs (all the causal influences) prior to the moment of choice for such a truth value to be rendered? In what world does Keith choose lobster over steak? Is it in a world where Keith lives in Maine? How about Nebraska? Is Keith a Hindu who won’t eat meat, or an Orthodox Jew who won’t eat shellfish? Alleged counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are, therefore, concerned with relevant history and, therefore, with possible worlds.

From what I gather, it is a possible worlds term and according to your view counterfactuals are always false

Not necessarily. If it is true that had I been offered lobster and steak for lunch (given the same history as today prior to the offer – which would require a different possible world since the offer was not made today), and if is indeed true that I would have chosen lobster given such an option – then such a truth would exist because of God’s sovereign determination. For such a truth to exist, however, it would have to be a would-counterfactual; yet where has God revealed that such counterfactuals indeed exist? Does God have a world-2 in mind, and if he does, how would we know?

and according to Molinists and Arminianists they might be true.

The Molinist would assert that there are such truths, yet they are riddled with arbitrariness and inconsistency. For the Molinist, in any feasible world (i.e., one God can instantiate) in which Jones would choose x (in circumstance c) – it is also true (given Molinism) that Jones “might not” choose x in c. {The molinist needs the might-counterfactual in order to preserve LFW.} Consequently, the Molinist ends up with contradictory truth values. The truth value of what would occur (which Molinism requires to preserve God’s exhaustive omniscience) is incompatible with the truth value of the metaphysical contingency that the Molinist requires to preserve libertarian freedom. After all, what does it mean to say that it is true that Jones might choose x if Jones indeed would choose x? With respect to counterfactual logic, if it is true that Jones might do x, then it is actually philosophically false that Jones would not do x; and if it is true that Jones might not do x, then it false that he would do x. Accordingly, given LFW, there can be no true counterfactual of creaturely freedom regarding what Jones would do; and if there are no such counterfactuals, then God cannot know them as true.

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

That's rich; I'll keep wading through this. The first part was particularly illuminating and makes a lot of sense.

I'm confused about the second part, though. You say that counterfactuals are not necessarily false, yet you never offer an instance in which they are true. Also, what is the difference between a "would counterfactual" and a counterfactual? Don't all counterfactuals involve would? And are "might counterfactuals" a subset of "would counterfactuals" or a different set altogether?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

"That's rich; I'll keep wading through this. The first part was particularly illuminating and makes a lot of sense."

Glad to hear it! :)

"I'm confused about the second part, though. You say that counterfactuals are not necessarily false, yet you never offer an instance in which they are true."

If they are true, it is because God has made that determination. And even if he has, he has not revealed that to me. Nor has he revealed any particular counterfactual of creaturely freedom to me, even if there are any.

Counterfactual is a general class so to speak; would has to do with what a man would choose. Might has to do with what a man "might" choose. "Might" is a philosophical surd that is intended to protect the metaphyiscal impossibility of LFW. Might and would are contrary truths when dealing with choices, and yet Molinism affirms both!

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

If they are true, it is because God has made that determination.

Then why would it be a counterfactual if it was determined in which case it would be fact? (Hey, I just presented a counterfactual!)

So might-counterfactuals are bad... makes sense. And would-counterfactuals "might" exist, we just don't know.

God's conversation with Lot contains would-counterfactuals.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

When I say "if they are true" I am not talking about something that happens in this world. It's counter to this world, yet factual in the sense that it would have occured had the antecedent of the if-then proposition obtained.

So - if it is true that had Keith gone to the U of D, he would have majored in happy hour, all I can say is that if that is indeed true, it is because God has made that determination in his mind. I simply have no reason to believe he thinks counterfactually. Nor do I think it is impossible that he does either. I just don't think we can know. And yes, might counterfactuals must be wrong. Would-C's can be true I suppose but again, they wouldn't be CF's of creaturely freedom; they'd be due to God's determination.

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

That makes sense. I think could-cf's are presented in scripture because we are not omniscient. We have to think in terms of counterfactuals, how else would we live? So I think when God speaks to us in counterfactuals it is only for our sake.

I mentioned Lot and God's conversation, though I messed up---it is actually Abraham and God. Anyway, look at this counterfactual:

23 And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24 Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
26 So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”


This is clearly a would-counterfactual, and we know it to be true because God said it is true. There were not 50 righteous in Sodom, but we know that if there would have been then God would have saved the city.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Keith,

God was not saying anything like, if you do x, I will do y. The state of affairs was already current. God was simply saying - there are not fifty righteous. There's no possible contingency that can be derived by this.

Ron

razzendahcuben said...

God was not saying anything like, if you do x, I will do y.

The verse doesn't say anything about Abraham doing something, so I don't understand your complaint. God said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes."

That's a counterfactual under the most basic definition of counterfactual. If X were true, Y would be true. X = 50 righteous existing in Sodom, Y = God sparing the city

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Keith,

If I was not thinking of an odd number, but was thinking of some number, I'd be thinking of an even number. Would you call that a counterfactual?

God was not telling Abraham what someone would do if something else had occured; there was not causality in view. Counterfactuals are concerned w/ causality, such as the CCFs.

If there were fifty righteous men, then their choices in life would have been different. So for this to be used as you think, then it would mean - If God would have chosen to cause more men to be righteous, he would not have been wrathful toward them. It's nonsense. The point of the verse is, "Abraham look all you want; they're unrighteous and I'm going to express my anger."

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/causation-counterfactual

razzendahcuben said...

I see how your example is a tautology, I don't see how mine is, though.

God was not telling Abraham what someone would do if something else had occured; there was not causality in view.

I don't understand why you wrote this. The verse is saying, very clearly, that had X been the case then God would have done Y. And why wouldn't this involve prior states of affairs and therefore causal influences? The state of affairs producing only 5 righteous in Sodom obviously wouldn't be the same state of affairs that would produce 50 righteous.

So it seems like the example of Abraham is not a tautology and it does involve prior states and therefore causal influences, so I don't see why you reject it as a would-counterfactual.

I wasn't talking about could-counterfactuals, if that is part of the problem.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Keith,

Say a man says to his son, “only if you find a million dollars under the bed, I'll buy you a car." If the man knows it to be true that there is not a million dollars under the bed, then saying such a thing only implies that the man will not give a gift to his son. We cannot infer that the man would do so under any possibly true state of affairs; the reason being, he predicated the promse on something he knew to be false. What does it mean to say: “If there is no law of contradiction (i.e. if something impossible occurred), I will do x?” Accordingly, for God to say he would do x, given y, he is obviously saying what he would do given a false premise (y). Consequently, it’s unintelligible to interpret him literally because literally it would be a philosophical non-sequitur given the false premise. (You're only out is to say God thinks in terms of other worlds, which I don't think you will be able to prove.) Accordingly, the prima facie interpretation is where this point begins and ends. It is simply that Abraham could have looked all he wanted; he still wasn’t going to find something contrary to the very reason God was going to bring judgment. To try to build a philosophy of counterfactuals upon this is simply a dead-end.

Ron

Keith said...

Is your point all along that possible worlds don't exist? As in, it is impossible for God to instaniate any world besides this one?

But even if that was case, why would it prevent God from communicating with man in terms of possible worlds?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Keith, possible worlds exist because possible worlds need only be logically consistent. What I am trying to say is that I don’t believe I have seen any sound let alone valid argument from the philosophers of the day that lead me to believe God has a priority of worlds, which brings into the question whether he thinks in terms of true counterfactuals of creaturely choices. He certainly doesn’t do so in the libertarian freedom sense of choices but I find nothing that supports this notion even given a Reformed view of the will, which he determines and inclines. All the texts that are classically employed to suggest that God thinks in terms of true counterfactuals of creaturely choices do not imply the conclusion. Does God know as true that had he not caused me to marry Lisa I would have done x? If he does, then he has a priority of worlds that suggest he would have ordained I do x and not y had he not ordained my marriage. Why should I believe he has such priorities?

As for was it possible for God to have instantiated another world, I’ll say he could have had he been so inclined. Having said that, could the eternal inclination have been different? If so, on what basis does one draw such a conclusion if inclinations of choice are not chosen according to more primitive inclinations. And if inclinations of choice are chosen by choices that are inclined, then how does one avoid an infinite regress? On top of that, since time cannot be eternal, how could such sequence, which presupposes time, have been possible? How can there be anything not necessary with a perfectly wise and eternal God?

Ron

razz said...

I don't quite understand... What is "priority of worlds"?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Sure thing. By priority of worlds I mean that if it is true that had I not been predestined to meet Lisa, then God would have caused me to remain single - then God would have had a "higher priority" to instantiate a world where I would have remained single over a world where I'd marry a woman named Zelda. :)

Ron

razz said...

So God does have a priority of worlds, and I assume it is in accordance with His perfect will. (He desires to instantiate a perfect world vs an imperfect world.)

Returning to your earlier post:

Why should I believe he has such priorities?

Why not believe He has such priorities? If possible worlds are not in and of themselves irrational then why wouldn't God know all possible worlds since He is omniscient?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

"So God does have a priority of worlds, and I assume it is in accordance with His perfect will. (He desires to instantiate a perfect world vs an imperfect world.)"

Well, he certainly had a #1 world (this one), but I would not assume that he has a priority of worlds after that.

"Why not believe He has such priorities?"

With respect to creaturely choices, I can't assume that he does because I have seen no evidence of such.

"If possible worlds are not in and of themselves irrational then why wouldn't God know all possible worlds since He is omniscient?"

God does know all possible worlds.

Ron