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Does an Omniscient God contradict Free Will?

Does an Omniscient God contradict Free Will? Yes, a very age-old question, with many answers. The problem seemed to arise when we thought that if God knows what we will do or "choose" then it's metaphysically necessary for us to choose or do that, because what God knows IS true, thus it's true event A will happen if God knows it will. There's no Free Will because there's no chance that event A can NOT happen, in this view Free Will is just an illusion. But! Some Philosophers have objected by saying that God's knowledge is from or depends on our choice, it's formed by the choices we genuinely (freely?) make for ourselves, because God's omniscience is "logically simultaneous" with our choices. So God's knowledge doesn't write out history, history writes out God's knowledge. (By the way doesn't this make god a contingent being? Thus precluding God from "working" as an answer for the modal ontological and cosmological argument, since God is not a non-contingent being?) But I've never been convinced by...

First, I don't think it matters for the answer to your question whether the omniscient God is or is not the creator of the beings whose conduct He foresees. Thus suppose the rats are created not by God but by some fairy. God observes the rats and, knowing of each whether it is smart or dumb, foresees whether it will end up rewarded or punished. Can this new wrinkle in the story -- that the rats are created by some fairy rather than by God -- possibly make a difference to whether the rats have free will or not? I cannot see a reason for believing this.

(To be sure, the wrinkle makes a difference to God's responsibility: if He creates dumb rats Himself, then he is actively responsible for the suffering they predictably undergo in the punishment zone. If He's merely an onlooker, then He is at most passively responsible insofar as He could but fails to protect the dumb rats from pain.)

Second, I don't understand why there should be felt a tension between foreseeability by others and free will. The only way your conduct can be unforeseeable is for it to be indeterminate: ruled from moment to moment by quantum events, for example. Surely, that's not a good example of free will. On the contrary, I would think that good examples of your free will are quite predictable behaviors. Those who know you know certain things about your future behavior. They know, let's say, that you are deeply committed to stand by your sister. You have carefully thought about this commitment, fully embraced it, adjusted your other values and commitments to it, built your life around it. You and others assume that you could cut your sister loose if you so chose, but you and they (and she) know that you won't. Here the firmness of your commitment seems quite compatible with the freedom of your will (and others' foreknowledge is based on your commitment and not the other way around).

Returning briefly to the first point, suppose now that your firm commitment to your sister was part of a plan your mother hatched before giving birth to you. Knowing of her daughter's frailty, she deliberately had a second child who would stand by her first one. When you were old enough to understand, she explained all this to you and helped you appreciate the wonderful difference you could make to your sister's life. Your mother correctly foresaw that you would be moved by this appreciation and would become committed to standing by your sister. Again, I don't see how adding in this additional information about the history of your commitment to your sister undermines the initial judgment that your foreseeable loyalty to your sister is compatible with your free will.

The difficulty of the free-will problem seems to be not specific to certain scenarios (e.g., free will in a world with an omniscient creator god), but quite general: how to make sense of it at all.

First, I don't think it matters for the answer to your question whether the omniscient God is or is not the creator of the beings whose conduct He foresees. Thus suppose the rats are created not by God but by some fairy. God observes the rats and, knowing of each whether it is smart or dumb, foresees whether it will end up rewarded or punished. Can this new wrinkle in the story -- that the rats are created by some fairy rather than by God -- possibly make a difference to whether the rats have free will or not? I cannot see a reason for believing this. (To be sure, the wrinkle makes a difference to God's responsibility: if He creates dumb rats Himself, then he is actively responsible for the suffering they predictably undergo in the punishment zone. If He's merely an onlooker, then He is at most passively responsible insofar as He could but fails to protect the dumb rats from pain.) Second, I don't understand why there should be felt a tension between foreseeability by others and free will. The...

Can our social perceptions or cognition be subject to ethical judgement?

Can our social perceptions or cognition be subject to ethical judgement? I am thinking of a particular case here; let's assume, for instance, that in a certain country black people are extremely negatively portrayed by the media, in a stereotypical way. If somebody sees a perfectly innocent black person who has never done him harm, but because of widespread stereotyping sees him as dislikeable/dangerous/guilty, can we argue that he is morally responsible/guilty for such perceptions? Is the act of perceiving an innocent person as guilty immoral or, in terms of virtue ethics, unfair? What I'm wondering here especially is: since we can only be morally responsible for what is within our control, do we have enough control over our perceptions to consider them subject of moral judgement?

What's outside the agent's control is, I think, somewhat narrower than what you call "perceptions or cognition." Suppose new DNA evidence reveals that a black man on death row is actually innocent. And suppose the jurors who declared him guilty say that they couldn't help seeing him as guilty when he was brought before them. I think we should be most reluctant to accept this excuse. Perhaps they could not have avoided a certain negative emotional rection to the accused (given the racism of their society and upbringing). But perceiving a person as guilty (of some crime) involves a good bit of judgment on the basis of testimony and other evidence. And here we can examine whether the jurors weighed the evidence carefully, deliberated thoroughly, and so on. As a juror one is not bound to let one's emotional reactions prevail. One can, and one ought to, try one's utmost to put these reactions aside and to judge the case on the basis of the evidence alone.

Now let's look at the narrower question whether we can be morally responsible for our immediate emotional reactions, for the "gut" dislike we sometimes experience for people with certain characteristics. Your argument for a negative answer -- such reactions are not sufficiently under our control -- is plausible when one considers merely the time at which the emotional reaction occurs: at this moment one indeed cannot avoid having it. But when you take a larger time frame, then the reaction is avoidable: when one finds oneself disliking people of a certain kind, then one can make an effort to get to know some of them, for example, and to try to form relationships and friendships that may gradually transform this emotional reaction. (Or may not: you may never be able to shake off your negative emotional reaction to educated people who manifestly don't care about their over-sized ecological footprint.) Those who never make such an effort can be morally responsible for their unwarranted negative emotional reactions.

Consider this parallel case. A driver hits a child that is running across the road. The driver says that he should not be held morally responsible for the accident because, given how fast he was going and how much alcohol he had consumed, he was simply not able to prevent his car from hitting the child. Even if we agree with this driver about the facts, we won't agree with him about his moral responsibility. He could have avoided the accident earlier: by drinking less, by taking a taxi instead of driving himself, or by driving more slowly. Similarly for racist (and analogous) emotional reactions: even if they are unavoidable at the time they are experienced, they may well have been avoidable earlier and are then morally attributable to the person.

What's outside the agent's control is, I think, somewhat narrower than what you call "perceptions or cognition." Suppose new DNA evidence reveals that a black man on death row is actually innocent. And suppose the jurors who declared him guilty say that they couldn't help seeing him as guilty when he was brought before them. I think we should be most reluctant to accept this excuse. Perhaps they could not have avoided a certain negative emotional rection to the accused (given the racism of their society and upbringing). But perceiving a person as guilty (of some crime) involves a good bit of judgment on the basis of testimony and other evidence. And here we can examine whether the jurors weighed the evidence carefully, deliberated thoroughly, and so on. As a juror one is not bound to let one's emotional reactions prevail. One can, and one ought to, try one's utmost to put these reactions aside and to judge the case on the basis of the evidence alone. Now let's look at the narrower question whether...

I am not schooled in philosophy but do enjoy thinking about philosophical

I am not schooled in philosophy but do enjoy thinking about philosophical questions. In the gaps of time I have in my ordinary day-to-day existence, I have given some thought to better understanding human behavior and have come to believe (or, more accurately, am trying to further refine my basic belief) that human beings "can not but act in their perceived best interests." I believe that each decision that an individual makes represents the sum of that individual's accrued experiences, which informs that individual's "decision" (and I believe the concept of "decision" to be a bit of a fiction, but I will use the term because I do not know a better term). I believe that, when confronted with a decision, an individual weighs, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the gravity of the decision and the individual's degree of experience, sophistication, intelligence, etc., the sum of his/her experiences and ultimately makes a decision based on his/her perceived best interests at the time. I believe this...

Procrastination and weakness of the will (as when people continue to smoke and to eat a lot of red meat even while they understand the health risks and want to lead a long healthy life) are obvious problems for the view you are entertaining. Another problem is moral and altruistic conduct. You are kind to a stranger, or generous to a rival, at some cost to yourself -- are you acting in your own (perceived) best interest? Not in any ordinary sense. Agents themselves will often deny that they decided on the basis of what was in their own best interest: "Here I tried to act in his best interest, not my own."

Now you can simply always overrule such agents. You might say that an agent's conscious conduct necessarily is conclusive evidence that she must be taking herself to have some interest that she takes this conduct to promote -- perhaps an interest in being regarded (by others or at least by herself) to be kind or generous, or a strong interest in smoking, eating red meat, or procrastinating. But if you say this, your point is in danger of disengaging from empirical reality. It is then no longer a proposed insight into human behavior (which can be empirically investigated and supported or refuted with evidence), but becomes a stipulation or axiom of your thinking which is wholly immune to empirical assessment (and indeed, you once call your point a premise).

Insofar as you are interested in understanding human behavior, you want to avoid interpreting your point as a stipulation. You want to interpret it instead as an empirical hypothesis. You then need some empirical criteria for the predicate "believes at time t that doing X is in her own best interest". And you can then empirically investigate whether indeed, whenever a person decides at time t to do X she also believes at time t that doing X is in her own best interest.

You ask for an accessible read for a busy salaryman. I would recommend Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons, and there especially the long discussions of the self-interest theory (attractively named "S") in Parts I and II. This is not an empirical theory about how people decide, but a normative theory about how they have most reason to decide. Nonetheless, you will learn a lot from the differentiations and difficulties Parfit discusses in regard to what it means to act self-interestedly. You will see how very hard it is to give clear meaning to your phrase "acts in her perceived best interest".

Procrastination and weakness of the will (as when people continue to smoke and to eat a lot of red meat even while they understand the health risks and want to lead a long healthy life) are obvious problems for the view you are entertaining. Another problem is moral and altruistic conduct. You are kind to a stranger, or generous to a rival, at some cost to yourself -- are you acting in your own (perceived) best interest? Not in any ordinary sense. Agents themselves will often deny that they decided on the basis of what was in their own best interest: "Here I tried to act in his best interest, not my own." Now you can simply always overrule such agents. You might say that an agent's conscious conduct necessarily is conclusive evidence that she must be taking herself to have some interest that she takes this conduct to promote -- perhaps an interest in being regarded (by others or at least by herself) to be kind or generous, or a strong interest in smoking, eating red meat, or procrastinating....

If I for example went out in my car and somebody pulled up at a junction waiting

If I for example went out in my car and somebody pulled up at a junction waiting for me, do you think his life would be different later on because of the wait at the junction, thus altering the time to get to his destination and also the chain reaction of other people delaying or speeding up their journies? In other words, is everything meant to be, like the order of the universe? (Note you could have missed an important event by answering or not answering this question.)

From what we know, the answer would seem to be yes. The effects of small events like the one you describe will reverberate through our modern traffic, trade, and communications systems and will have a slight impact on the schedules of many people (probably excepting only those who die shortly after your drive). In many case, this impact will suffice to affect the DNA of future persons, which depends on which one of any man's 20 million functional sperm cells (per ejaculation) will get a role in reproduction.

As time goes on, you can be increasingly confident that, had you not taken your drive, none of the people who is in fact be born would have been born without it. A few years down the road, all newborn human beings, animals, etc., will owe their existence to your little outing. And these beings will be displacing a similar multitude of beings who would have been born then if you had not taken that drive.

From what we know, the answer would seem to be yes. The effects of small events like the one you describe will reverberate through our modern traffic, trade, and communications systems and will have a slight impact on the schedules of many people (probably excepting only those who die shortly after your drive). In many case, this impact will suffice to affect the DNA of future persons, which depends on which one of any man's 20 million functional sperm cells (per ejaculation) will get a role in reproduction. As time goes on, you can be increasingly confident that, had you not taken your drive, none of the people who is in fact be born would have been born without it. A few years down the road, all newborn human beings, animals, etc., will owe their existence to your little outing. And these beings will be displacing a similar multitude of beings who would have been born then if you had not taken that drive.

My question concerns existentialism and determinism. I understand that a

My question concerns existentialism and determinism. I understand that a "movement" like existentialism is very nebulous and diverse. Many of the thinkers given the name "existentialist" hold varying views on various subjects. But one theme, at least as I understand it, that runs through many existentialist works is the idea of freedom, Sartre's "condemned to be free" for example. From what I understand the sum of an individual is composed of their actions, we are what we do. As such we have a responsibility towards our actions. But I was wondering how some of the major existentialist thinkers would address determinism, specifically determinism based on scientific physical laws. It would seem that if this type of determinism were correct, it would undermine the existentialist view of freedom.

By emphasizing human freedom and responsibility, existentialists are not asserting a claim in physics -- such as "it is false that human beings are mechanisms fully determined pursuant to physical laws of nature."

Rather existentialists are making two different points. One is phenomenological. We are condemned to be free or forced to decide. You must decide whether to enlist in the army, whether to pull the trigger, and so on. Physical determinism, even if you could somehow know that it's true, could not take away this predicament of being forced to choose.

The other is a normative point about how we ought to think about our decisions and agency. I ought to take full responsibility for the effects of my decisions. And when there is the slightest doubt about the reach of these effects, I ought to assume that this reach is greater rather than smaller.

Existentialists urge this point retrospectively: I ought not to deflect responsibility by thinking/saying that things just happened ("I could not bring myself to act differently"). And they also, and especially, urge it prospectively: I must lead my life on the practical assumption that it is up to me to change the world, that the whole future of humankind is my responsibility.

This practical instruction, too, is not much disturbed by physical determinism. For suppose again that physical determinism is true and you know this. You might then appeal to it to deny your responsibility ("if I shoot, I will have nothing to do with this man's death, it's all just molecules interacting according to immutable laws"). But you might also accept responsibility ("if I shoot, then I will be the cause of this man's death.") Here the second point touches the first: You are still confronted with the choice between these two attitudes.

By emphasizing human freedom and responsibility, existentialists are not asserting a claim in physics -- such as "it is false that human beings are mechanisms fully determined pursuant to physical laws of nature." Rather existentialists are making two different points. One is phenomenological. We are condemned to be free or forced to decide. You must decide whether to enlist in the army, whether to pull the trigger, and so on. Physical determinism, even if you could somehow know that it's true, could not take away this predicament of being forced to choose. The other is a normative point about how we ought to think about our decisions and agency. I ought to take full responsibility for the effects of my decisions. And when there is the slightest doubt about the reach of these effects, I ought to assume that this reach is greater rather than smaller. Existentialists urge this point retrospectively: I ought not to deflect responsibility by thinking/saying that things just happened ("I could...

Why do we imagine that one may/should compensate for a lack of skill with hard

Why do we imagine that one may/should compensate for a lack of skill with hard work? Do we really have any reason to believe that one's capacity for (or at least one's inclination to) "hard work" is any more under our control than one's "skill" level? - ca$h money hobo

Skill level is under one's control to some extent: one can become more skilled -- in juggling, say -- through practice. One has less control over how far one can improve one's skill, and how fast; that's more a matter of inborn endowments (dexterity), upbringing, environment.

Hard work, as you say, is similar. One has a lot of control over how hard one works, but much less over the limits of one's capacity for hard work, though these limits can normally be expanded with practice. One's inclination toward hard work, similarly to the limits of one's capacity for hard work and limits to the skill level one can reach, is under one's control only to a small extent.

How does all this bear on the proposed norm that one should compensate for a lack of skill with hard work? Not much, I think. For even if one's inclination to, and the limit of one's capacity for, hard work were rigidly fixed, one could still compensate by working hard up to one's limit even if this goes against one's inclination. That's all the proposed norm can reasonably be demanding.

BTW, I find the norm implausible in its suggestion that those with better skills (and better natural endowments, perhaps) have less reason to work hard. I don't see why this should make a difference.

Skill level is under one's control to some extent: one can become more skilled -- in juggling, say -- through practice. One has less control over how far one can improve one's skill, and how fast; that's more a matter of inborn endowments (dexterity), upbringing, environment. Hard work, as you say, is similar. One has a lot of control over how hard one works, but much less over the limits of one's capacity for hard work, though these limits can normally be expanded with practice. One's inclination toward hard work, similarly to the limits of one's capacity for hard work and limits to the skill level one can reach, is under one's control only to a small extent. How does all this bear on the proposed norm that one should compensate for a lack of skill with hard work? Not much, I think. For even if one's inclination to, and the limit of one's capacity for, hard work were rigidly fixed, one could still compensate by working hard up to one's limit even if this goes against one's inclination. That...