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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Libertarianism by any other name...

... is libertarianism. But non-libertarianism by the same name is of course something different. Confusion abounds...

Most libertarians hold to the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP). Yet a growing number of libertarians are abandoning their libertarian roots and embracing a Frankfurt version of libertarianism, which is no libertarianism at all. These “libertarians” don’t think they need to hold to PAP. These Frankfurt-libertarians hold to Frankfurt Counterexamples (FCE), which are aimed at bringing to naught the view that a moral agent is responsible for an action only if he could have acted contrary. The aim is to bring reconciliation between responsibility and determinism by arguing that responsibility does not require the freedom to do otherwise. The counterexamples can get quite creative, involving demons and chemicals and all sorts of will-altering stimuli.

With regard to all these scenarios that posit chips in brains and the like (certain FCE's), they can be refuted thusly with respect to their usefulness: Either determinism is true or it isn’t. There is no third option. If determinism is true, then these illustrations of demons, drugs and chips are all moot; for all would be determined and responsibility would become a non-entity for the libertarian incompatibilist. Accordingly, if determinism is true, then these silly scenarios (FCE’s) do not achieve their intended usefulness, which is to show that responsibility need not be accompanied by alternative possibilities. Without responsibility (due to the assumption of determinism), one cannot show that responsibility can be upheld at all, let alone apart from alternative possibilities (AP). In other words, FCE’s don’t save the day by providing an alternative source of responsibility if determinism is indeed true. There simply would be no responsibility to be found (anywhere) in the face of determinism given a commitment to LFW as a necessary condition for responsibility.

A Reformed “grounding objection” refutation:

Now if determinism is false, then of course the demon who would operate the chip could not know whether he actually would need to operate the chip in order to achieve his desired end until after the critical point of choice; there would be no grounding of the truth value of what the agent with the implanted chip would do under any set of circumstances. (Obviously such an argument should not be palatable to Molinists but strangely enough it’s employed by more than just Open Theists and Calvinists.) If the demon wants the agent to choose X, then the only way in which he could ensure that he does choose X is to externally cause him to choose X necessarily, which of course does not protect moral responsibility (in such cases) from a libertarian perspective. If the demon sees that it is very probable that the agent will choose X, then the demon might roll the dice and leave the agent alone in order that he choose X “freely”. Obviously in such cases given the contingent nature of LFW the desired end might not obtain, but the choice would be free and in accordance with libertarianism. Consequently, given libertarian freedom as a necessary condition for moral accountability, AP must therefore always apply in such instances of choosing with moral relevance since the demon, in order to ensure his desired outcome, would always have to preempt the unknowable choice with a short-sharp-shock. Pure contingency defies truth values that can be foreknown, therefore, the only way that AP can be taken away is to eliminate them entirely by external causality (simultaneously undermining libertarian moral accountability). It is impossible to ensure a desired outcome in this hands-off Frankfurter manner given radical free agency.

Desperation even more - will formation:

In a last ditch effort a wannabe libertarian might posit that the foreknowledge required to pull off this mad-scientist routine is bound up in the insights into an agent’s will-forming, which is to say that the a future creaturely choice can be known with certainty due to the predictability of a will that has been formed over time. The problem with such an idea is that will forming theorists don’t explain the sufficient condition(s) that must be met in order for a choice to no longer be purely contingent. Why do certain constraints upon the will that are brought to bear from prior (alleged) libertarian choices have more determining power over future choices, to the point of making those future choices metaphysically necessary (i.e. having no feasible alternative possibility), than other types of constraints? And if there can be no distinction made, then why should we believe that there are any?

An internal critique using Molinistic premises:

Finally, there is a subtle equivocation with these scenarios that utilize FCE’s. By addressing the equivocation we can attack the absurdity of the position more powerfully (on Molinistic terms!), while granting exhaustive omniscience for the demon and also allowing for the pure contingency of choice that libertarian freedom requires. In those cases where the agent chooses without outside chip-influence, he must do so (for the libertarian) from a metaphysical posture that is free. Accordingly, metaphysically speaking he in fact could choose contrary in no less a sense than if he was not wired to an implanted chip. It is only in those cases that he is actually externally prevented from choosing what he would that he could not choose contrary to how he would. What is relevant is that when he chooses freely he does so in a metaphysical sense, which presupposes true alternative possibilities of the metaphysical kind. The impossibility of choosing otherwise is only a logical one, constrained by the fact that it is true that the action will be physically prevented if it would occur: If the agent would choose ~X feely, then he’d be externally caused to choose X necessarily. Yet notwithstanding, when he would choose X freely, he indeed could (metaphysically speaking) choose ~X, otherwise he would not be able to choose X freely! {It boggles the mind why Molinists would undermine their own hard-fought distinctions between would-counterfactuals and might-counterfactuals by employing such novel attempts to move toward certain deterministic tendencies.}

This all reminds me of certain movements within Romanism. At one time (before 1994 and certainly 1965) it meant something to be a Romanist. Now one thinks he can deny Trent and still be Romanist.

Happy Christmas!


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Anonymous said...


Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Not at all but I hope it is useful.


Anonymous said...


Would you be willing to come over and help this guy?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

No, but I'd be happy to talk with him two-way. It would be more efficient that way. I believe he has my email address. If not, he can post me here w/ his number. I won't publish the post.



Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

That was quite an unfortunate exchange I'm sorry to say. The lack of understanding isn't even on my radar screen. It's the attitude that breaks my heart.

Anonymous said...

I posted on my blog the following question: "How do we understand the 'inability' involved in the teaching of total depravity?"

My point in the answer, mainly, is to discern whether the teaching as it is properly construed is compatible with human beings having libertarian freedom of the will.

You could no doubt be more helpful than the anonymous posters who visited my blog, so I'll ask you the question.

You said you'd respond, so I await your reply.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

I tried sending this to what I believe to be your email address:

Hi Steven,

I hope you're enjoying your Christmas break from your "official" studies, not to be confused with your recreational studies! :)

I'd be happy to discuss this subject but I'd prefer to do it over the phone if you would be agreeable. I just think it would be easier. I don't bite. I've done this many times before and it has always, without exception, proved more profitable.


Semper Reformada said...


I know you've written a lot on Molinism, so sorry for the dumb question, but are counterfactuals Biblical? In other words, can we say (Bibilically and logically) that God knows what we WOULD do in any given situation?


Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Here's my view on counterfactuals:

If we would do x in circumstance y, then of course God would know we would for our doing so would be according to his determination.

Anonymous said...

This question isn't directly related to the post, but it does have to do with Calvinism and Arminianism.

Luke 7:30 says "the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves..."

This verse seems to fit much better in an Arminian scheme where God's purpose/intention is that the Pharisees and lawyers is that they not reject Jesus, but they do anyway. A Calvinist would want to say that God's ultimate purpose/intention wasn't that the Pharisees and lawyers repent, but that their hearts be hardened as an example of God's wrath, correct?

What do you think?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Good question. Great verse. Apart from the whole counsel of God, that would be a difficult verse. Let me say this. Wouldn’t the Arminian have to say with the Calvinist that God’s “ultimate” purpose was that the Pharisees and lawyers reject God’s counsel, which I am happy to call in this narrative God’s “purpose.” Or was God’s ultimate purpose on that particular issue actually thwarted? Even if God were to base his divine decree on foreknowledge as Arminians fancy, all God’s purposes still have to come to pass, even in the Arminian system. The difference the Arminian has with the Cavlinist on that matter is that God must first consult man’s will before establishing a decree and purpose, but once it is established it cannot be thwarted. That should settle the matter. Both camps have some reconciling to do.

Now some will take “purpose” to mean mere “counsel”, which rejecting within a Calvinistic construct is consistently maintained, but I don’t think we need to soften the word. I do think the translation of “purpose” is indeed a proper one. Accordingly, I reconcile the passage simply by observing that there are apparent purposes (and apparent longings) for men that God does not purpose (or desire) to bring to pass. When taken as an isolated abstraction from the entire decree, God always desires good over evil, but only as an abstracted ideal; good is desired, not evil. Yet when we consider the entire decree, which we must, God obviously desires the evil he decrees in order to serve his ultimate purposes.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. That was a helpful response.