This provocative book refurbishes the traditional account of freedom of will as reasons-guided "agent" causation, situating its account within a general metaphysics. O'Connor's discussion of the general concept of causation and of ontological reductionism v. emergence will specially interest metaphysicians and philosophers of mind.
All organised bodies are composed of parts, similar to those composing inorganic nature, and which have even themselves existed in an inorganic state; but the phenomena of life, which result from the juxtaposition of those parts in a certain manner, bear no analogy to any of the effects which would be produced by the action of the component substances considered as mere physical agents. To whatever degree we might imagine our knowledge of the properties of the several ingredients of a (...) living body to be extended and perfected, it is certain that no mere summing up of the separate actions of those elements will ever amount to the action of the living body itself. (shrink)
The objective probability of every physical event is fixed by prior physical events and laws alone. (This thesis is sometimes expressed in terms of explanation: In tracing the causal history of any physical event, one need not advert to any non-physical events or laws. To the extent that there is any explanation available for a physical event, there is a complete explanation available couched entirely in physical vocabulary. We prefer the probability formulation, as it should be acceptable to any physicalist, (...) though some reject the explanation formulation.) (3) Causal Exclusion. (shrink)
Is religious faith consistent with being an intellectually virtuous thinker? In seeking to answer this question, one quickly finds others, each of which has been the focus of recent renewed attention by epistemologists: What is it to be an intellectually virtuous thinker? Must all reasonable belief be grounded in public evidence? Under what circumstances is a person rationally justified in believing something on trust, on the testimony of another, or because of the conclusions drawn by an intellectual authority? Can it (...) be reasonable to hold a belief on a topic over which there is significant, entrenched disagreement among informed inquirers, or should such disagreement lead all parties to modify or suspend their own judgments? Is there anything about faith that exempts it from measurement against such epistemic norms? And if we would so evaluate it, how exactly should we understand the intellectual commitments faith requires? The volume's introduction provides a roadmap of the central issues and controversies as currently discussed by philosophers. In fourteen new essays written to engage nonspecialists as well as philosophers working in religion and epistemology, a diverse and distinguished group of thinkers then consider the place of intellectual virtue in religious faith, exploring one or more of the specific issues noted above. (shrink)
An expansive, yet succinct, analysis of the Philosophy of Religion – from metaphysics through theology. Organized into two sections, the text first examines truths concerning what is possible and what is necessary. These chapters lay the foundation for the book’s second part – the search for a metaphysical framework that permits the possibility of an ultimate explanation that is correct and complete. A cutting-edge scholarly work which engages with the traditional metaphysician’s quest for a true ultimate explanation of the most (...) general features of the world we inhabit Develops an original view concerning the epistemology and metaphysics of modality, or truths concerning what is possible or necessary Applies this framework to a re-examination of the cosmological argument for theism Defends a novel version of the Leibnizian cosmological argument. (shrink)
Many philosophers are persuaded by familiar arguments that free will is incompatible with causal determinism. Yet, notoriously, past attempts to articulate how the right type of indeterminism might secure the capacity for autonomous action have generally been regarded as either demonstrably inadequate or irremediably obscure. This volume gathers together the most significant recent discussions concerning the prospects for devising a satisfactory indeterministic account of freedom of action. These essays give greater precision to traditional formulations of the problems associated with indeterministic (...) accounts and to the range of theoretical avenues for pursuing resolutions. The first four essays set out different challenges (from both compatibilists and those skeptical of the possibility of free will) to the adequacy of standard indeterministic theories. The next seven essays meet one or more of these challenges. Each of the fundamental types of approach--simple indeterminism, causal indeterminism, and agent causation--is represented in these novel and sophisticated proposals. The collection finishes with two essays that debate whether compatibilism entails that freedom of choice is a comparatively rare phenomenon within an individual's life. Eloquently presenting some of the most compelling and accessible arguments surrounding this central philosophical issue, Agents, Causes, and Events makes a valuable contribution to courses in free will/action theory and metaphysics. (shrink)
As good a definition as any of a _philosophical_ conundrum is a problem all of whose possible solutions are unsatisfactory. The problem of understanding the springs of action for morally responsible agents is commonly recognized to be such a problem. The origin, nature, and explanation of freely-willed actions puzzle us today as they did the ancients Greeks, and for much the same reasons. However, one can carry this ‘perennial-puzzle’ sentiment too far. The unsatisfactory nature of philosophical theories is a more (...) or less matter, and some of them have admitted of improvement over time. This, at any rate, is what we self-selecting metaphysicians tend to suppose, and I will pursue that high calling by suggesting a few improvements to a theory of metaphysical freedom, or freedom of the will. (shrink)
“Free Will” is a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives. Which sort is the free will sort is what all the fuss is about. (And what a fuss it has been: philosophers have debated this question for over two millenia, and just about every major philosopher has had something to say about it.) Most philosophers suppose that the concept of free will is very (...) closely connected to the concept of moral responsibility. Acting with free will, on such views, is just to satisfy the metaphysical requirement on being responsible for one's action. (Clearly, there will also be epistemic conditions on responsibility as well, such as being aware—or failing that, being culpably unaware—of relevant alternatives to one's action and of the alternatives' moral significance.) But the significance of free will is not exhausted by its connection to moral responsibility. Free will also appears to be a condition on desert for one's accomplishments (why sustained effort and creative work are praiseworthy); on the autonomy and dignity of persons; and on the value we accord to love and friendship. (See Kane 1996, 81ff. and Clarke 2003, Ch.1.). (shrink)
In what follows, I shall presuppose the ecumenical core of the causal powers metaphysics. The argument of this paper concerns what may appear at first to be a wholly unrelated matter, the metaphysics of free will. However, an adequate account of freedom requires, in my judgment, a notion of a distinctive variety of causal power, one which tradition dubs ‘agent-causal power’. I will first develop this notion and clarify its relationship to other notions. I will then respond to a number (...) of objections either to the possibility of a power so explicated or to its sufficiency for grounding an adequate account of human freedom. (shrink)
We explain the thesis that human mental states are ontologically emergent aspects of a fundamentally biological organism. We then explore the consequences of this thesis for the identity of a human person over time. As these consequences are not obviously independent of one's general ontology of objects and their properties, we consider four such accounts: transcendent universals, kind-Aristotelianism, immanent universals, and tropes. We suggest there are reasons for emergentists to favor the latter two accounts. We then argue that within such (...) ontologies, emergentism about properties pushes one to the stronger claim that there are emergent individuals, though not individuals which are dual to person's bodies—substance emergentism, but not substance dualism. (shrink)
Freedom and moral responsibility have one foot in the practical realm of human affairs and the other in the esoteric realm of fundamental metaphysics—or so we believe. This has been denied, especially in the metaphysics-bashing era occupying the first two-thirds or so of the twentieth century, traces of which linger in the present day. But the reasons for this denial seem to us quite implausible. Certainly, the argument for the general bankruptcy of metaphysics has been soundly discredited. Arguments from Strawson (...) and others that our moral practices are too deeply embedded in human life to rest on anything as tenuous as a metaphysical doctrine far from the thoughts of ordinary people would seem to prove too much: we can easily imagine fantastic scenarios far from the thoughts of ordinary people—involving, say, alien manipulation or massive deception—that, if true, would clearly undermine claims to freedom and responsibility. For still other philosophers, the separation of the moral life from (some) metaphysical issues is prescriptive, not descriptive: it is a recommendation that we revise ordinary moral thought by severing its allegedly problematic links to metaphysics. (Some philosophers appear to hover undecided between such a prescriptive project and a Strawsonian descriptive claim.) We suspect that the prospects of retaining the binding force of ordinary moral thought, were such a reconceived moral practice widely embraced, are bleak. A transition to something closer to moral nihilism seems at least as likely. In any case, our interest here is in descriptive metaphysics, not revisionary. -/- To say as we do that freedom and moral responsibility have a partly metaphysical character is not to suggest that they can be had only if some highly specific version of a particular metaphysical framework is correct. Instead, we suggest in what follows, it is a broadly neo-Humean metaphysics that is not hospitable to freedom (for reasons distinctive to the metaphysics), while a broadly neo-Aristotelian metaphysics is. But we also think (and it is the main aim of our paper to show) that different versions of the neo- Aristotelian metaphysics lead to rather different metaphysical accounts of free and responsible action. Specifically, we will argue that (1) the most satisfactory account of human freedom within the broadly neo-Aristotelian metaphysics is agent-causal, but that (2) two different versions of the general metaphysics will lead to important differences in the agent-causal account of freedom. Adjust the details of your general metaphysics, and the details of your account of freedom are transformed in significant ways. Action theory cannot properly be pursued in isolation from general metaphysics. (shrink)
One familiar affirmative answer to this question holds that these facts suffice to entail that Descartes' picture of the human mind must be mistaken. On Descartes' view, our mind or soul (the only essential part of ourselves) has no spatial location. Yet it directly interacts with but one physical object, the brain of that body with which it is, 'as it were, intermingled,' so as to 'form one unit.' The radical disparity posited between a nonspatial mind, whose intentional and conscious (...) properties are had by no physical object, and a spatial body, all of whose properties are had by no mind, has prompted some to conclude that, pace Descartes, causal interaction between the two is impossible. Jaegwon Kim has recently given a new twist to this old line of thought.(1) In the present essay, I will use Kim's argument as a springboard for motivating my own favored picture of the metaphysics of mind and body and then discussing how an often vilified account of freedom of the will may be realized within it. (shrink)
I propose a theory of freedom of choice on which it is a variable quality of individual conscious choices that has several dimensions that admit of degrees, even though - as many theorists have traditionally supposed - it also has as a necessary condition the possession of a capacity that is all or nothing. I argue that the proposed account better fits the phenomenology of ostensibly free actions, as well as empirical findings in the human sciences.
In what follows, I will contend that the commonsense view of ourselves as fundamental causal agents - for which some have used the term “unmoved movers" but which I think might more accurately be expressed as “not wholly moved movers” - is theoretically understandable, internally consistent, and consistent with what we have thus far come to know about the nature and workings of the natural world. In the section that follows, I try to show how the concept of ‘agent’ causation (...) can be understood as a distinct species (from ‘event’ causation) of the primitive idea, which I’ll term “causal production”, underlying realist or non-Humean conceptions of event causation. In section III, I respond to a number of contemporary objections to the theory of agent causation. Sections IV-V are devoted to showing that the theory is compatible with ordinary reasons explanations of action, which then places me in a position to respond, in the final section, to the contention that we could never know, in principle, whether the agency theory actually describes a significant portion of human activity. (shrink)
This essay will canvass recent philosophical accounts of human agency that deploy a notion of “self” (or “agent”) causation. Some of these accounts try to explicate this notion, whereas others only hint at its nature in contrast with the causality exhibited by impersonal physical systems. In these latter theories, the authors’ main argumentative burden is that the apparent fundamental differences between persona and impersonal causal activity strongly suggest mind-body dualism. I begin by noting two distinct, yet not commonly distinguished, philosophical (...) motivations for pursuing an agent-causal account of human agency. In the course of discussing the account developed by some philosophers in response to these consideration, I reconsider both the linkage of agent causation with mind-body dualism and its sharp cleavage from impersonal (or “event”) causation. (shrink)
Timothy O’Connor and Philip Woodward defend a version of a compositional theory, according to which an incarnate deity has two natures, each of which is a distinct component of its being. They then extend this model to permit multiple incarnations. Finally, they consider an objection to this model based on the theological idea that Christ’s work is necessary for ushering in a united community of all divine-image-bearing creatures. In response, they speculate that no such all-encompassing community would be possible, given (...) the vast differences between such creatures. Accordingly, they speculate that each incarnation could help to bring about a unified community of the relevant sort of divine-image-bearing creatures, and that each of these communities would, in its own way, participate in the common goal of union with God. (shrink)
In this paper, I examine some main threads of the identification stage of Scotus's project in the fourth chapter of De Primo, where he tries to show that a first efficient cause must have the attributes of simplicity, intellect, will, and infinity. Many philosophers are favorably disposed towards one or another argument such as Scotus's (e.g., the cosmological argument from contingency) purporting to show that there is an absolutely first efficient cause. How far can Scotus take us from this starting (...) point towards the ultimate aim of establishing the existence of a being more recognizably identifiable as God? (shrink)
It is a commonplace of philosophy that the notion of free will is a hard nut to crack. A simple, compelling argument can be made to show that behavior for which an agent is morally responsible cannot be the outcome of prior determining causal factors.1 Yet the smug satisfaction with which we incompatibilists are prone to trot out this argument has a tendency to turn to embarrassment when we're asked to explain just how it is that morally responsible action might (...) obtain under the assumption of indeterminism. Despair over the prospect of giving a satisfactory answer to this question has led some contemporary philosophers to a position rarely, if ever, held in the history of philosophy: free, responsible action is an incoherent concept.2. (shrink)
A central argument of Alfred Mele's Free Will and Luck (2006) is that the problem of luck poses essentially the same problem for all the main indeterministic accounts of free will. Consequently, there is no advantage is certain theories (notably, agent-causal theories) in their capacity to respond to the problem of luck. I argue that Mele has not made a persuasive case for these claims.
Many philosophers judge that typical agent-causal accounts of freedom improperly sacrifice the possibility of rational explanation of the action for the sake of securing control, while others judge that the reverse shortcoming plagues typical event causal accounts. (Of course, many philosophers make both these judgments.) After briefly rehearsing the reasons for these verdicts on the two traditional strategies, we undertake an extended examination of Randolph Clarke's recent attempt to meet the challenge by proposing an original, "integrated agent-causal" account of human (...) free action. We argue that Clarke's account fails. In a final section, we sketch a more promising route to integration. (shrink)
We present an original emergent individuals view of human persons, on which persons are substantial biological unities that exemplify metaphysically emergent mental states. We argue that this view allows for a coherent model of identity-preserving resurrection from the dead consistent with orthodox Christian doctrine, one that improves upon alternatives accounts recently proposed by a number of authors. Our model is a variant of the “falling elevator” model advanced by Dean Zimmerman that, unlike Zimmerman’s, does not require a closest continuer account (...) of personal identity. We end by raising some remaining theological concerns. (shrink)
A good deal of attention has been given in recent philosophy of religion to the question of whether we can sensibly attribute to God a form of knowledge which the 16th-century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina termed "middle knowledge". Interest in the doctrine has been spurred by a recognition of its intimate connection to certain conceptions of providence, prophecy, and response to petitionary prayer. According to defenders of the doctrine, which I will call "Molinism", the objects of middle knowledge are (...) all the true counterfactuals of the form, 'If C were to occur, then S would freely do A', where C specifies a particular set of circumstances. (Such propositions are usually referred to as "counterfactuals of freedom" - hereafter "CFs".)' I will try to assess the current status of two distinct questions: (1) Are there true CFs? and (2) Could God know true CFs if there are any? Obviously, Molinism must answer both questions affirmatively. Most of the discussion has focused on the first question. I hope to show that this approach has been a dialectical mistake on the part of critics of Molinism, for the difficulties of giving an affirmative answer to question (2) are, I believe, far easier to state clearly and convincingly. (shrink)
Over the last several years, a number of philosophers have advanced formal versions of certain traditional arguments for the incompatibility of human freedom with causal determinism and for the incompatibility of human freedom with infallible divine foreknowledge. Common to all of these is some form of a principle governing the transfer of a species of alethic necessity (TPN). More recently, a few clear and compelling counterexamples to TNP (and a variant of it) have begun to surface in the literature. These (...) attacks on TNP are developed along somewhat different lines (and were apparently worked out independently of each other). I will show that despite the differences in presentation, however, all of the compelling counterexamples that have been offered turn on a common (and overlooked) basic feature. Once this feature is recognized, I suggest, one is naturally led to restrict the principle in a way that renders it immune to these counterexamples. (I further argue that the restriction I suggest has independent justification.) I then go on to consider two further attempts to show the invalidity of TNP for power necessity, ones that would not be forestalled by my restriction on TNP, and I argue that they are unsuccessful. In a final section, I compare my modified version of TNP for power necessity with a principle suggested in Ginet (1990). (shrink)
This essay will canvass recent philosophical discussion of accounts of human (free) agency that deploy a notion of agent causation . Historically, many accounts have only hinted at the nature of agent causation by way of contrast with the causality exhibited by impersonal physical systems. Likewise, the numerous criticisms of agent causal theories have tended to be highly general, often amounting to no more that the bare assertion that the idea of agent causation is obscure or mysterious. But in the (...) past decade, detailed accounts of agent causation have been offered (chiefly by Randolph Clarke and Timothy O’Connor), and they have occasioned more specific objections in turn. These recent accounts and objections to them will be my primary focus in what follows. But first I will identify two distinct motivations that have been advanced for adopting an agent causal approach to human agency and the ontological and metaphysical commitments common to any version of this approach. (shrink)
The concept of emergence has seen a significant resurgence in philosophy and the sciences, yet debates regarding emergentist and reductionist visions of the natural world continue to be hampered by imprecision or ambiguity. Emergent phenomena are said to arise out of and be sustained by more basic phenomena, while at the same time exerting a "top-down" control upon those very sustaining processes. To some critics, this has the air of magic, as it seems to suggest a kind of circular causality. (...) Other critics deem the concept of emergence to be objectionably anti-naturalistic. Objections such as these have led many thinkers to construe emergent phenomena instead as coarse-grained patterns in the world that, while calling for distinctive concepts, do not "disrupt" the ordinary dynamics of the finer-grained (more fundamental) levels. Yet, reconciling emergence with a (presumed) pervasive causal continuity at the fundamental level can seem to deflate emergence of its initially profound significance. This basic problematic is mirrored by similar controversy over how best to characterize the opposite systematizing impulse, most commonly given an equally evocative but vague term, "reductionism." The original essays in this volume help to clarify the alternatives: inadequacies in some older formulations and arguments are exposed and new lines of argument on behalf the two visions are advanced. (shrink)
Recent studies within neuroscience and cognitive psychology have explored the place of conscious willing in the generation of purposive action. Some have argued that certain findings indicate that the commonsensical view that we control many of our actions through conscious willing is largely or wholly illusory. I rebut such arguments, contending that they typically rest on a conflation of distinct phenomena. Nevertheless, I also suggest that traditional philosophical accounts of the will need to be revised: a raft of studies indicate (...) that control over one’s own will among human beings is limited, fragile, and – insofar as control depends to an extent on conscious knowledge – admitting of degrees. I briefly sketch several dimensions along which freedom of the will may vary over time and across agents. (shrink)
Reid takes it to be part of our commonsense view of ourselves that "we" -- "qua" enduring substances, not merely "qua" subjects of efficacious mental states -- are often the immediate causes of our own volitions. Only if this conviction is veridical, Reid thinks, may we be properly held to be responsible for our actions (indeed, may we truly be said to "act" at all). This paper offers an interpretation of Reid's account of such agency (taking account of Rowe's recent (...) commentary), with particular attention to the issue of the causation of and responsibility for an agent's "causing" of his volition. (shrink)
I Introduction This essay will canvass recent philosophical accounts of human agency that deploy a notion of 'self' (or 'agent') causation. Some of these accounts try to explicate this notion, whereas others only hint at its nature by way of contrast with the causality exhibited by impersonal physical systems. In these latter theories, the authors' main argumentative burden is that the apparent fundamental differences between personal and impersonal causal activity strongly suggest mind-body dualism. I begin by noting two distinct, yet (...) not commonly distinguished, philosophical motivations for pursuing an agent-causal account of human agency. In the course of discussing the accounts that some philosophers have developed in response to these considerations, I reconsider both the linkage of agent causation with mind-body dualism and its sharp cleavage from impersonal (or 'event') causation. (shrink)
The church-going philosopher who settles in for an extended reading of Dan Dennett’s new book will find himself in a familiar circumstance. What one confronts is a lot more like an extended sermon than it is a typical philosophical treatise. And, whatever one’s Sunday morning habits, one can’t help but admire the preaching skills artfully displayed. The delivery is powerful and assured; the argument is streamlined, peppered with evocative and delightful illustrations that will be recalled long after the particular points (...) have faded from memory; dangerous errors are clearly identified, and while we are urged to pity rather than to hate their purveyors, we are also repeatedly warned about the fateful consequences of their mistakes; tropes are repeated to growing effect; finally, the tone is one of earnest exhortation, relieved intermittently with some well-chosen humor, while it lays the necessary foundations for several closing points of practical application. (shrink)
According to classical theism, contingent beings find the ultimate explanation for their existence in a maximally perfect, necessary being who transcends the natural world and wills its acts in accordance with reasons. I contend that if this thesis is true, it is likely that contingent reality is vastly greater than what current scientific theory or even speculation fancies. After considering the implications of this contention for the extent of divine freedom, I go on to discuss its relevance to the problem (...) of evil as an obstacle to rational theistic belief. (shrink)
Throughout the 1990s, Jaegwon Kim developed a line of argument that what purport to be nonreductive forms of physicalism are ultimately untenable, since they cannot accommodate the causal efficacy of mental states. We argue that, while the argument needs some tweaking, its basic thrust is sound. In what follows, we lay out our preferred version of the argument and highlight its essential dependence on a causal-powers metaphysic, a dependence that Kim does not acknowledge in his official presentations of the argument. (...) We then discuss two recent physicalist strategies for preserving the causal efficacy of the mental in the face of this sort of challenge, strategies that (ostensibly) endorse a causal powers metaphysics of properties while offering distinctive accounts of the physical realization of mental properties. We argue that neither picture can be satisfactorily worked out, and that seeing why they fail strongly suggests that nonreductive physicalism and a causal powers metaphysic are not compatible, as our original argument contends. Since we also believe that robust realism concerning mental causation should not be abandoned, we take the argument of this paper to strongly motivate an account on which the mental is unrealized by and ontologically emergent from the physical. In a final section, we sketch what an ontologically emergentist account of the mental might look like. (shrink)
Fyodor Dostoevsky understood this practical dimension well, and it is embodied in his literary treatment of the problem of evil in his masterpiece, The Brothers' Karamazov.1 In what follows, I will interpret the powerful existential repudiation of Christianity based on the facts of human suffering voiced by the antagonist, Ivan. After noting some similarities of Ivan’s case to that given by the French existentialist philosopher Albert Camus in his novel, The Plague, I then turn to Dostoevsky’s response, expressed through the (...) final discourse of the Elder Zossima. My goal here is solely to interpret and to set in a clearer focus the way Dostoevsky approaches the problem of evil. At the end, I briefly note some outstanding issues facing his strategy for resolving it. (shrink)
A lengthy argument for the existence of a being possessing most of the attributes ascribed to God in traditional philosophical theology is set forth by John Duns Scotus in the final two chapters of his Tractatus De Primo Principio.1 In 3.1-19, Scotus tries to establish the core of his proof, viz., that "an absolutely first effective is actually existent." It is an ingenious blend of elements that figure in standard versions of the cosmological and ontological arguments. However, while the reader (...) of De Primo is apt to be deeply intrigued by the suggestiveness and originality of Scotus' discussion, attempting to organize and interpret the various threads of argument is a challenging task. This no doubt partially explains the relative neglect of Scotus' argument in contemporary discussion of theistic proofs. In what follows, I offer a reading of the argument as well as my critical assessment of it. I will contend that Scotus is unable to achieve all that he wants, in that a critical aspect of his official version of the argument is centrally flawed. However, the text also seems to suggest a modified version of the proof which relies on intuitive support for a possibility claim. I maintain that this form of the proof is sound. Furthermore, owing to the comparative weakness of its underived premises, Scotus' proof can be seen to offer a novel and appealing alternative to the more widely advertised versions of the cosmological and ontological arguments. If I am right, then, Scotus' De Primo has an important contribution to make to the contemporary discussion of an issue of perennial philosophical concern. (shrink)
I have argued elsewhere that human free action is governed by objective probabilities. This view, I suggested, is strongly supported by our experience of motivated decision-making and by our having emerged from probabilistically-governed physical causes. Leigh Vicens criticizes these arguments. She also argues that an account of human freedom as probabilisticallyunstructured indeterminacy is less vulnerable to challenges to the plausibility of libertarian views of freedom. In this article, I explain why I am not persuaded by Vicens’s arguments.
Noel Hendrickson, in “Against an Agent-Causal Theory of Action” (this volume), carefully and intelligently probes aspects of the agent-causal account of free will I present in Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will. The central target of his criticism is my contention that agent-causal events, by their very nature, cannot be caused. Here, I respond to his argument on this point.
I have argued elsewhere that human free action is governed by objective probabilities. This view, I suggested, is strongly supported by our experience of motivated decision-making and by our having emerged from probabilistically-governed physical causes. Leigh Vicens (2016) criticizes these arguments. She also argues that an account of human freedom as probabilistically-unstructured indeterminacy is less vulnerable to challenges to the plausibility of libertarian views of freedom. In this article, I explain why I am not persuaded by Vicens’s arguments.
As striking as conscious experience, thought, and deliberate action are, their irreducibility to physical processes within their subjects is hotly debated. I shall ignore these debates entirely, as my purpose in this essay is constructive. Assuming that these mental qualities and processes are indeed irreducible to impersonal, non-purposive physical phenomena, I want to propose the very general form a non-reductive explanatory account of their underpinnings and dynamics should take. A suggestive label for my proposal is ontological emergence.
Consider the idea of God in classical philosophical theology. God is a personal being perfect in every way: absolutely independent of everything, such that nothing exists apart from God's willing it to be so; unlimited in power and knowledge; perfectly blissful, lacking in nothing needed or desired; morally perfect. If such a being were to create, on what basis would He choose? Let us assume (as perfect being theologians generally do) that there is an objective, degreed property of intrinsic goodness, (...) such that every possible object is intrinsically good to some degree. We need not assume that this property is 'well ordered' in the sense that every object is comparable to every other, only that it is 'partially ordered' in the sense that every object belongs to one or another well ordered set of objects and has less goodness than God Himself. We thus replace the image of a linear 'great chain of being' with that of a branching structure whose branches reconnect only at their limit, which is God. And let us further suppose that whole systems of objects and their total histories -- possible worlds -- are likewise partially ordered by their intrinsic goodness. Now, if one or more of these creative options on each of the branches are of maximal overall value, is it inevitable that He would choose one of those? It seems passing strange that God would opt for less than the best when creating the best involves no cost at all. Yet supposing the choice of the best is inevitable for a perfect Creator seems at odds with the common assumption that God is perfectly free in choosing what He will. Perhaps, though, there is no set of one or more best creative choices. For every option, there is a better, with no finite upper bound on the ranked series. Here, matters are more puzzling. It appears that no matter which option God might choose, He must do so in the knowledge that there are options of arbitrarily greater value. It seems an odd constraint for a perfect being to have to live with.. (shrink)
Review of On a Complex Theory of a Simple God: An Investigation in Aquinas' Philosophical Theology, by Christopher M. Hughes. (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion) Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989. Pp. xi + 281. $34.95.