July 19, 2006

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Truth-Makers, Truth-Conditions, and Middle Knowledge

Middle knowledge is a problem that has been bothering me for quite some time now. It goes like this: middle knowledge is knowledge of the truth or falsity of counterfactuals of freedom, where a counterfactual of freedom (sometimes called a counterfactual of creaturely freedom) is a statement about what some agent having libertarian free will would do in a purely hypothetical situation, i.e. one that never has and never will occur. Libertarian free will means that one is free because one could do otherwise than one actually does. So, for instance, if human beings (including me) have libertarian free will (as I believe they do), then the statement "if Kenny was offered $1 million to kill someone yesterday, he wouldn't have done it" is a counterfactual of freedom: yesterday has come and gone, and I can assure you that no such situation arose yesterday. It seems that middle knowledge ought to exist, because it seems that God ought to have it. First, there are a few places in Scripture that seemingly make claims about counterfactuals of freedom, but I find this to be unimportant to the discussion, as the Bible is presumably speaking in a 'loose and popular' sense and not in 'metaphysical rigor.' What I find more problematic is this: assuming that human beings have libertarian free will and that God has foreknowledge of their actions, but there is no such thing as middle knowledge, it would be the case that God wouldn't have known that Adam would sin if he hadn't created this world, the one in which Adam did sin. That is, because God created this world, and it is a world in which Adam sins, God knew from eternity that Adam would sin. However, if God had created a different world - say, for instance, one that didn't have any beings with libertarian free will (other than, I suppose, God himself) - God would never have known what would have happened if he had created Adam and Eve and the garden. Furthermore, if God has foreknowledge but not middle knowledge, then God does not now know with absolute certainty whether Adam would still have sinned if he had placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil three inches east of where he in fact placed it. This seems more than a little problematic!

So suppose that there is middle knowledge (and God, being omniscient, has it). In addition to allowing God to make more informed decisions, it is useful for theodicy, in that it allows us to take the step that William Lane Craig does in explaining the justice of the condemnation of those who are under non-ideal conditions with regard to Christian salvation in terms of what Craig calls "transworld damnation" (William Lane Craig, "Is 'Craig's Contentious Suggestion' Really So Implausible?," Faith and Philosophy 22 (2005): 358-361). Craig's interlocutor, Raymond Van Arragon, gave one definition of "transworld damnation" as follows, and Craig seems to accept his formulation: "The property of being such that in every feasible world in which one exists, one does not accept Christ" (ibid. 359, emphasis original). What this means is that we might say that for everyone who rejects Christ and is condemned to hell, there was absolutely nothing that could have been done, no evidence that could have been offered, such that he would accept Christ. Leibniz offers a similar defense from a more fatalistic perspective: he thinks that all properties are essential, and therefore person A's spending eternity in hell is an essential characteristic of person A, and if A's eternal fate were changed, A would no longer be A. In other words, according to Leibniz, it is logically necessary that (A exists)->(A will spend eternity in hell). Not a very comforting thought, but the idea, again, is that if A went to heaven, A would simply not be A.

Now, I don't know that I would want to accept Craig's claim, even if the problem of middle knowledge were solved, but there are clearly many reasons why a Christian would want to say that God has middle knowledge besides just this. So what is the problem of middle knowledge? It is the question of "in virtue of what are conterfactuals of freedom true?" That is, in general, when we say that a proposition is true, we mean something like the classic correspondence theory of truth (no, I haven't read the long article I just linked to) - we claim that it corresponds to some "way things are" out in the world. But what is the "way things are" out in the world such that counterfactuals of freedom are true? If it is facts about my character, I don't have libertarian free will (I act always according to my character, as in compatibilist free will). If it is divine will, I don't have libertarian free will (God compels my hypothetical actions). It seems that if I can actually do otherwise in actual situations, I should be able to hypothetically do otherwise in hypothetical situations! But since the hypothetical situation never happens (the proposition is counterfactual), I never have the chance to act one way or another.

This is known as the 'grounding objection,' and is discussed in another paper by William Lane Craig, which I just finished reading online, entitled "Middle Knowledge, Truth-Makers, and the 'Grounding Objection.'" I was hoping for a fantastic solution from Craig that would solve all of my problems but, alas, I was quite disappointed. Craig's paper actually only argues that oponents of middle knowledge have not demonstrated that counterfactuals of freedom need truth-makers, and that the whole theory of truth-makers is convoluted, controversial, and quite possibly false. Furthermore, even those who embrace the theory often hold that not all propositions need truth-makers. This is all well and good, but what, I ask, about truth-conditions?! Surely propositions must have truth-conditions! If a sentence is meaningful (i.e., actually expresses a proposition), there must be some condition in virtue of which it is true (or false). I'm not talking about verificationism here - that is, I'm not claiming that in order for a sentence to be meaningful there must be some process by which we can determine its truth. Rather, I am claiming that in order for a sentence to be meaningful there must be some way that existing things in the universe are such that the sentence is true or false. Craig doesn't seem to address this in either of papers I read, but perhaps he could do so with a kind of limited modal realism:

I'm not sure what is meant by a "feasible world" in the transworld damnation discussion, but suppose it means a world that would have occurred had God acted differently than he actually did. That is, God acts differently, and then leaves the other beings with libertarian free will to act as they wish. Now suppose that all feasible worlds exist - perhaps on a lower ontological plane than the actual world, or perhaps we should say like David Lewis that 'actual' is simply an indexical term, picking out one of the feasible worlds and they are all on the same ontological level. Now we will need to claim that you and I are in fact 'transworld entities' - that is, we are made up not just of our selves in the actual world but of our counterparts across all feasible worlds. If this is the case then we actually do choose whether counterfactuals of freedom about us will be true or false, and middle knowledge is saved. However, the whole transworld damnation thing only works if God picks out certain feasible worlds to create. So perhaps we should say that only the people who exist in the actual world are 'real' and God has created all of the feasible worlds which contain one or more 'real' people, and that he does so specifically so that counterfactuals of freedom will have meaning.

At this point, I think we are worse off than we started. (1) It's still not clear that God really has middle knowledge, because he only knows about what free beings do in worlds he creates (he just created a lot of worlds). (2) What happens to the merely 'feasible' people (those who do not exist in the actual world)? Are there 'feasible' heavens and hells? Or will those people simply cease to exist at the end of the actual world? (3) Are merely feasible people actually people with moral value and so forth? (4) If the feasible worlds are real, how do I know I'm in the actual world and not one of those? Furthermore, how do I know I'm a 'real' person (transworld entity) and not merely feasible? If I'm merely feasible, doesn't that mean that God still doesn't have (complete) middle knowledge about me?

In short, problem not solved, by me or by the Craig papers I read. Does anyone have better suggestions? Craig seems to have written a lot on the subject. Perhaps one of his other papers solves this problem?

Posted by Kenny at July 19, 2006 1:44 PM
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Some Odd Brute Contingincies in Plantinga's Free Will Defense
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Of course I don't have a solution, and I agree that all this 'feasible worlds' stuff is more problematic than where you began. However, it made me think of quantum mechanics- perhaps you could have some sort of equivalent of a wave-form collapse into the "real world"? Since an electron, etc, travels all possible paths in theory but collapses into one "location" (within the limitations of the uncertainty principle) when observed, perhaps God has "created" all possible worlds but has made them collapse into one "real" one. (Of course, this would require you to accept quantum mechanics...)

Posted by: Lauren at July 19, 2006 2:44 PM

In order for this to solve the problem, we would each have to freely make decisions in all feasible worlds (all possible worlds presumably includes those in which we make other decisions than we do, so the existence of all possible worlds makes things worse, rather than better). Your idea could be developed interestingly in that direction, but we would still have this apparent problem (which we might eventually be able to swallow) where God has to create all the feasible worlds in order to know what happens in them (i.e. in order to have middle knowledge). The fact that there is a sort of "wave-form collapse" into the actual world won't fix that. And there's still the problem of 'feasible people.'

Posted by: Kenny at July 19, 2006 2:54 PM

I'm pretty sure if I stuck my hand in the fire it would hurt - so I'm not going to do it; and I'd like to dissociate myself from any feasible bob stupid enough to try it. If I can have middle knowledge, it can't possibly be that mysterious and problematic. I'm also fairly confident that a decent blogger like Kenny wouldn't kill someone at any price, so I don't feel a need to test that one either. God, knowing Kenny much better than I do could be completely confident about Her judgement without recourse to feasible worlds. Am I missing something here? It looks to me like a linguistic muddle rather than a real problem. Cheers, bob.

Posted by: bob at July 30, 2006 9:57 AM

Bob, the real problem has to do with certainty, and/or with knowledge as opposed to justified belief. You can say what I would do in certain well-defined situations like this one what I would probably do, and you can have a high degree of accuracy. From your perspective, based on what you know of me, it might be that you can assert that if I were offered money to kill someone there was a 95% probability I would refuse. God knows me perfectly (better than I know myself) and, therefore, the probability in his judgment will approach certainty (say, 99.9999999%). However, if free will means that I can always do otherwise, then I am not constrained to act according to my character, and, therefore, even if God has perfect knowledge of my character, there will always be some possibilty, however small, that I will act contrary to my character and thus defy his prediction. Of course, God has foreknowledge, so he is never surprised by my future actions, but as to my counterfactual actions it seems problematic to say that he has certain knowledge, since there is no fact about the world other than my character which makes those statements true, and I am free to act contrary to my character.

Posted by: Kenny at July 30, 2006 12:05 PM

Ok, now it's a problem of free will as much as of knowledge; but I still think it's in the language. As I write, I'm free to edit, I can put what I want, but once I've posted it's fixed & I can't change it Freedom consists in the ability to determine things in time. From the position of eternity such concepts do not apply; what was free becomes determined through time. From outside time freedom & necessity are matters of perspective - look from the beginning of time and everything is free, look from the end and it's all determined. In other words free will doesn't mean 'I can always do otherwise', it only means I can do otherwise at the time.Once I click the 'post' button, that's it, choice determined.

Posted by: bob at August 1, 2006 1:36 PM

Bob - that's a fine solution to the problem of free will and foreknowledge, but it doesn't solve the problem of free will and middle knowledge, because with counterfactuals of freedom you never "click the post button", in the past, present, or future. Not only have you not made the decision yet, but you never make the decision, even from an eternal perspective.

Posted by: Kenny at August 1, 2006 1:40 PM

Not so! I did click the button, and there's the post. I didn't click it in the past, how could I, I clicked it when I clicked it, I didn't have to, but I did. I take it that God is outside time and the only way I can concepualise this is to say something like all time is 'present' to him - I have to be aware of the verbal contradiction in that (the past/future is present), but then, God 'knows''at all times'the non-counterfactual of my actual decision. There are no ifs or buts for God. For me though... If I had realised how poorly I had made my argument, God knows, I would have changed it before I clicked. Why though, should His counter-factual knowledge constrain my hypothetical freedom any more than his actual knowledge constrains my actual freedom? I just love the idea of a world that remains perfect because the tree of knowledge is moved three inches; I can almost see Him raising an eyebrow & saying 'If only it was that easy!'Oh, but I just said there were no ifs -Damn!

Posted by: bob at August 3, 2006 3:45 AM

God's knowledge of your actual actions is knowledge of what you have done or will do (depending on one's perspective in time). To speak from an eternal perspective we might say that it is simply knowledge of what you do (present tense). However, God's (putative) knowledge of your counterfactual actions is not knowledge of what you in fact do, but of what you would do, so the fact that God can see all of time, as being outside it, has no bearing whatsoever, since there is no time he can look at to establish what you would do in some counterfactual situation, since the situation never occurs.

Posted by: Kenny at August 3, 2006 6:44 AM

Who do you think has free will? You might say everyone; I would say no one. To have free will requires you to be intelligent (not necessarily clever). To understand everything (both seen and hidden) that is taking place and only to think and act logically without emotions clouding your mind. To have free will means that you should continually think and act only from the result of logical, intelligent thoughts. It is clear to any thinking person that this is impossible. To do things without even thinking about them negates immediately free will. If you have free will, you have it all the time. You cannot say I have it now but did not have it then.
If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things..Rene Descartes
If you are an adult you have been in affect been severely brainwashed by everything that has taken place in your life. Your country of origin, culture, parents, friends, religion, education, books read, films, art, music, radio, TV, newspapers etc have all played a major part in your identity and how you view the world and your existence. Imagine that you suddenly came into existence with no previous identity or memory but you could think intelligently, read write and talk. You would have NO preconceptions at all. If in that theoretical situation what you make of the world and civilisation, what obvious conclusions would you come to? What would your first impressions of the world be? Would it be a world of intelligence, harmony, love or the complete opposite? Would each individual be concerned and want the best for every other individual. Would all share lovingly? Would there be no anger, hatred, murder, torture. Would there be an absence of greed? Would there be an absence of nonsense puerile religions? The answer is obvious. You would find a world of chaos with an awesome history of violence, pain and suffering. THINK, in your theoretical uncontaminated position could you possibly say that any one of them had free will? Do you think that the person who designs and makes nuclear weapons has free will? Do you think that the men and women in Russia who make the hundreds of thousands of Kalashnikov rifles that are used to kill have free will? Do the millions of men and women in the west who buy their pampered pets expense food while people starve have free will? Does the leader of a country or the head of a religious organisation living in luxury while others have only poverty with no hope have free will? Does the suicide bomber who blows himself up and everyone in his vicinity and thinks that he is going to paradise to be served by servile virgins have free will? Do the millions who smoke, over indulge in alcohol or are addicted to drugs have free will? Do ALL the six billion plus people on this planet who go about their daily lives and cannot see anything clearly have free will? The list could go on and on and I�m sure that you would be in there somewhere.
If a just one person said to me..this world is ugly and worthless and if I could not change it completely I would without pain to anyone remove it I would know two things. The first is that the person would be intelligent. The second is that while he might not have complete free will he/she would be more than half way there.
If you reply that, the answer is a man called Jesus or Muhammad not only have you not understood any of the previous and have no free will but you also have no intelligence.
Why is the world as it is? Why do people cling on to the lie that there is more good than bad when it is obviously not so. Why do people think that they have free will when they do not? That is catch22. Only by having free will can you know and understand the answer to that question.
Robert robert77@fsmail.net

Posted by: Robert at July 11, 2007 8:59 AM

Robert, you have a rather strange definition of free will. It is not entirely different from certain compatibilist notions, and similar accounts are sometimes developed in connection with divine freedom, but you have not given an account of libertarian free will, which is what is relevant to this post.

Posted by: Kenny at July 11, 2007 12:11 PM

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