Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: A Compatibilist Reconciliation

Dissertation, University of Arkansas (1996)

Steven Cowan
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
This dissertation attempts to reconcile the apparent inconsistency between a strong view of divine sovereignty and human moral responsibility. God's absolute sovereignty over his creatures entails that human beings cannot do otherwise than they do. If so, then it would seem to follow that human beings cannot be held morally responsible for their actions. The notion that God has Middle Knowledge is often defended as a way out of this apparent inconsistency. It is argued, however, that counterfactuals of freedom have no truth value. Thus, it is admitted that God's sovereignty is not compatible with human beings having indeterministic freedom. Nevertheless, two considerations motivate an attempt to find a plausible compatibilist theory of moral responsibility. First, a strong case can be made that moral responsibility does not require alternative possibilities. Second, it is unlikely that indeterminism can ground moral responsibility due to the arbitrariness of indeterministic actions. Building on the work of Susan Wolf, John Martin Fischer, and Eleonore Stump, a compatibilist theory of moral responsibility is offered based on a teleological view of human agency. If an agent has a will that is designed to pursue the good as the intellect represents it, and her will is not directly manipulated, then she is morally responsible for her actions as long as her intellect is functioning properly, she knows the difference between right and wrong, and she has values that developed naturally through cognitive interaction with the world. This "Teleological Compatibilism" is immune from the standard objections raised against other compatibilist theories of responsibility. Given the plausibility of this compatibilist account, divine sovereignty and human responsibility can be shown to be consistent
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