July 26, 2012

Leibniz, Lewis, and Freedom to Break Laws/Divine Decrees

In his classic paper, "Are We Free to Break the Laws?", David Lewis argued that although we are not free to break the laws of nature, we are free to perform certain actions such that, if we performed them, a law would have been broken. This is supposed to allow compatibilists to secure alternate possibilities: it's true that in order for me to raise my arm right now, either the past or the laws of nature would have to have been different, but it's not true that if I raised my arm right now I would thereby alter the past or the laws of nature. In the nearest possible world where I will to raise my arm now, there is some slight difference (known as a 'divergence miracle') in the past, leading me so to will. My arm consequently goes up. As a result, it is true that if I were to will to raise my arm I would raise my arm.

In Leibniz's early (1672-3) Confessio Philosophi, he appears to employ a similar tactic against those who claim that the divine decree of election removes the possibility of salvation from the reprobate. That is, the Calvinists say that God, from eternity, chose certain people ('the elect') to be saved, and only these people can possibly come to faith. The rest of humanity ('the reprobate') is therefore doomed from the start. Not so, says Leibniz, for "If someone loves God constantly, he makes clear by that act that he was predestined from all eternity; therefore we are able to be predestined if we will it" (Confessio Philosophi, tr. Sleigh, p. 61, emphasis original). In other words, in order for you to come to faith, you would have to have been predestined, but it's not the case that by coming to faith you would somehow make God predestine you. The important thing, for both Lewis and Leibniz, is that the Hobbesian conditionals come out right: if I had willed to raise my arm, I would have raised my arm, and if I will to embrace the faith, then I will embrace the faith and be saved. This despite the fact that my raising my arm requires a difference in the past or the laws of nature, and any member of the reprobate embracing the faith requires a difference in God's decree, and neither of these are things any human being can bring about.

Posted by Kenny at July 26, 2012 3:30 PM
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