Jump to content


Photo
- - - - -

Compatibilism and Orthodoxy


  • Please log in to reply
48 replies to this topic

#21 Bryan J. Maloney

Bryan J. Maloney

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 364 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 07 April 2011 - 06:14 PM

The rich are obviously blessed by God, since they are rich, and the poor are destined for Hell by virtue of their poverty--It's a remarkably American attitude.

#22 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 09 April 2011 - 01:33 PM

I don't know of any American who believes this. There is a lot of screwy theology in American Protestantism to be sure, but I don't know of any Protestant who says that if you are poor it means you are going to Hell. The attitude of course is really classic Phariseeism.

#23 Byron Jack Gaist

Byron Jack Gaist

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 615 posts

Posted 11 April 2011 - 05:06 AM

Dear Owen,

You wrote

I don't know of any American who believes this.

I too, would be surprised if any reasonably merciful human being explicitly professed such a belief. I don't know what the Pharisees in 1st century Judea believed, but I've noticed how some sayings in the book of Proverbs could be (mis)read that way perhaps.

The point is, I don't think Weber the sociologist is suggesting people "believe" this in any explicit theological sense, either. For Calvinists themselves - and I'd like to hear from someone with a Calvinist background if there are any on this forum to respond - wealth and poverty would be perhaps indications of one's possible predestined state of election, but even in strongly Calvinist circles it's surely not held as a hard-and-fast rule. What I think Weber suggested was that the Calvininst theology created a certain underlying social attitude or climate, rather than any explicit belief. Maybe that's what Bryan is suggesting about American attitudes, too?

You've made me curious about Phariseeism now!

In Christ
Byron

#24 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 12 April 2011 - 03:08 PM

Who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born blind?

I am vaguely aware of Weber's thesis, but must confess I have never read him. And sure I can recognize that the intellectual environment has enormous consequences politically and economically without requiring people to even recognize it let alone adhere to the various presuppositions behind it. I have read a little bit about the historical influence of Calvinism on politics from the political theory standpoint, and some of it is quite fascinating. For example, you can trace both Marxism and "capitalism" not only to certain strains within Calvinism, but also to the original geographic locations! What Weber may not have been aware of is that the most Calvinistic of all modern thinkers was Karl Marx.

My grandfather represented one aspect of Scottish Calvinism as it developed -- the very rationalistic version. He founded a non-denominational church that I went to as a kid, and it really was the quintessential expression of Scottish rationalism. It was the church that everyone attended in my small conservative town who wanted to be both a believer and a liberal. As I recall, we were loosely affiliated with the UCC nationally, and of course, they are primarily engaged in all kinds of "progressive" political activism. Adam Smith held the chair of moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, which was the center of the Scottish Kirk. He was the arch rationalist. On the other hand of course you still have the other strain of Calvinism which everyone focuses on which they would claim is the pure Biblical form of Calvinism, the pure Reformation form of Calvinism. But they do not look at the impact of Calvinism in its various secular manifestations -- political/economic and social. In fact, the biggest critics of Calvinism are people who are extremely Calvinistic and don't know it.

#25 Darlene Griffith

Darlene Griffith

    Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 253 posts

Posted 13 April 2011 - 03:44 AM

Owen,

I would say that the Scottish strain of Calvinism is different than the Calvinism in these United States, esp. the Scottish Calvinism of John Knox and that of the 17th - 19th centuries. The Puritans were Calvinists, but their form of Calvinism wasn't presumptuous like the current Calvinism of today. Puritans were consumed with the thought as to whether or not they were truly one of God's elect. So they lived accordingly and stressed the fear of God and living in obedience because they wanted to affirm their call and election. Modern American Calvinists are a bit more presumptuous, stressing that they are one of God's elect, and thus they can have assurance of their salvation. (Monergism)

As far as wealth is concerned, I think that mindset was among the Scottish magnates that came to this country and succeeded as well as their heirs. C.H. Spurgeon, an English Calvinist, did not teach that one would be wealthy, or successful if God was pleased with him. And current American Calvinism would allign itself with the same thinking as Spurgeon.

Like I said, different strains of Calvinism - during different times in history and in different cultures/societies.

#26 Byron Jack Gaist

Byron Jack Gaist

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 615 posts

Posted 13 April 2011 - 05:36 AM

Dear Owen,

the most Calvinistic of all modern thinkers was Karl Marx

You never fail to evoke my curiosity! Can you say a bit more about this? I have heard it said that there was something puritanical about bolshevism, but it sounds like you have much more in mind.

In Christ
Byron

#27 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 14 April 2011 - 01:16 PM

One of the best resources on this as I recall -- it's been a while -- is "Pursuit of the Millennium" by Norman Cohn. But there are a number of other works if you search.

#28 J.D. Duttweiler

J.D. Duttweiler

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • Pip
  • 12 posts

Posted 14 April 2011 - 02:25 PM

To the extent that any theological system has a post-millennial eschatology it will have much in common (or vice versa) with materialistic utopian philosophical systems (e.g. communism). Once the Kingdom of God is understood in a materialistic manner rather than the reign of God through purification, illumination and glorification (theosis) in the heart of man, then it is a small step to strip elements of the divine from it and turn it into a purely humanistic system.

#29 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 14 April 2011 - 02:46 PM

This is said in a agreement with the above. But a very important question is why this residual aspect of the psychology of Christianity has remained for so long with western culture- even when it is savagely anti-Christian! In the history books and elsewhere I have not yet come across a discussion on this. But yet it is such an important question.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#30 J.D. Duttweiler

J.D. Duttweiler

    Junior Poster

  • Members
  • Pip
  • 12 posts

Posted 14 April 2011 - 05:27 PM

This is said in a agreement with the above. But a very important question is why this residual aspect of the psychology of Christianity has remained for so long with western culture- even when it is savagely anti-Christian! In the history books and elsewhere I have not yet come across a discussion on this. But yet it is such an important question.

If I understand your question, Father, I think there are two components to its (the Kingdom of God as materialistic) continued adherence in some theological systems, both of which ISTM, at least in part, are predicated upon a poor English translation of the phrase itself (and, of course, a lack of familiarity with or taking the Fathers' seriously): a) an overly literal reading of the English scriptures, particularly the apocalyptic books or passages, by certain quarters; and b) the stripping away of the supernatural or whatever cannot be rationally explained from the "essence" of the Christian faith in others. The "social gospel" movement in the early 20th century arose out of both the post-millennial revivalists movements of the mid to late 19th century and the spread of German "higher critical" methods which led to the "liberalizing" of mainstream American denominations. The fundamentalist (using the term in its most specific definition) reaction to that branched out in both pre-millennial and, to a far lesser extent, post-millennial directions. While pre-millennialism (with all its flaws) at least looks to Christ to establish "the Kingdom", post-millennialism views "the Church", or rather, individual Christians who rightly understand "the Word" and "their authority", as responsible, in some sense, to usher in "the Kingdom" and base much of their "missions" and requests for donations around these efforts. "Liberal" denominations, on the other hand, are left with little more in their Gospel than "social justice" and working to "bring about the Kingdom" through political action and entities here on this earth. Then there is Liberation Theology...

Lord have mercy!

#31 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 15 April 2011 - 01:00 PM

Dear Father,

Try "Science, Politics and Gnosticism" by Eric Voegelin. And "Pursuit of the Millennium" by Norman Cohn. And if you really want to get into a theory of consciousness, see "Plato's Theory of Man" by John Wild which analyzes the problem of deformation of consciousness through inversion, and/or Volume 5 of Eric Voegelin's "Order and History." Historians typically do not deal with these kinds of questions. they cannot.

#32 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 15 April 2011 - 01:56 PM

Thanks Owen for the suggestions. I'll try to keep the Voegelin books in mind especially.

A number of years ago when I still had the time to devote to this subject I basically came to the conclusion that you can see these changes in western society from the time of the Schism. For example the Crusades are a case study in everything we are saying here: worldly means to establish a kind of ideal kingdom in Jerusalem. Of course when the Crusaders passed through Constantinople, the Byzantines didn't get it. They thought that these were just warriors from the west wanting to recover areas lost to the Arabs. The Byzantine Emperor gave them his (uneasy) blessing, giving them aid, and asking that they remember that the lands they were going to pass through had once been under the authority of the Emperor.

However as we all know the Crusaders promptly ignored what the Emperor had advised and established a political & religious reality so radically different & audacious from what had gone before that few historians notice this or comment on it. For where the established Christian world of the time had already many centuries of experience of various kinds of coexistence with conquerors & the conquered; the Crusaders are the first to establish the pattern that from then on becomes common in the west- the quest for the ideal kingdom in which its inhabitants are defined in terms of their loyalty to it. And the means to establish this kingdom are now in the service of the Church rather than being of the Church in the former traditional sense. This is a radical cultural change by any measure that basically represents a revolution in thought or perspective that occurred in the west from the early medieval period on.

From my research this change began earlier than this however. Likely it began during the shift from the late Roman society in the west to the establishment of the so called 'barbarian' kingdoms. I have found interesting evidence both from St Gregory of Tours and in Anglo Saxon religious records (both 6thc) of warnings from the Church against powerful forces that were distorting society in the sense of using the message of the Church to achieve very worldly ends. This is the time when increasingly the local bishop would be the brother of the local lord.

Somehow though we cannot just stop at this level of analysis. The east also underwent centuries of barbarian depredation and influence on the royal court. The east also saw the close relationship between the Church and political power. We need to turn then not only to the old recognition of dislocation & chaos which occurred in the west as the western Roman Empire was breaking down. We need to look further into what accompanied this breakdown- or rather shift to the establishment of another kind of society- that was unique to the west. My own strong sense is that if we just stop at the chaos we'll never understand what occurred. Chaos in itself is never the basis of any kind of social or cultural reality- rather the response to this is what creates the society. In other words to understand what happened in the west we should not just stop at the fact that the local lord most often now had a brother who was the local bishop. We need to look at the ideals of this new society and understand their force and attraction for the rest of the society.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#33 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 16 April 2011 - 06:06 PM

Another author who examines medieval millennarianism is Margorie Reeves. I suppose we are straying from the topic of the thread, but while one can certainly see all kinds of historical parallels and antecedents, there seem to be certain structural constants in consciousness. In other words, there is something about consciousness that tries to out think reality, and claim to be able to view reality from a perspective that is outside of it. Millenarianism for example, is apparently a constant in Chinese tradition, one of the things that Mao was able to exploit successfully -- so it is not just a Western European, or heretical Christian idea. One of the problems is what are we to make of history? We try to get outside of history but that cannot be done. We are part of it, in the middle of it. Yet one of the constants in history is the attempt to step outside of history. One of the manifestations is the periodization of history, claiming stages of progressive development, culminating in the present, where things are just nigh perfect, if it weren't for the enemies of progress still having too much influence. This is when things can get really nasty, because if I am blamed for holding up history, then I am in big trouble! The periodization of history goes back at least as far as the Sumerian King List. But I remember a speech by Newt Gringrich in which he also divided history into three periods, beginning with primitive, advancing into modern, and culminating in the information age, the beginning of which just coincidentally coincided when he was first elected to Congress!!!! The whole point he was trying to make is that the person who has the fastest, most efficient access to information has the most power over history!

So what is history, really? It is certainly not a succession of facts and events placed on a timeline, because there is a plurality of histories in that sense that head off in various directions. Voegelin argued that history is a symbolic form of existence. The Israelites for example were in many ways the first people to exist as a historical people. In a sense, God created history for them. It was not just a case of them having their own history.

In Christianity I think it is a bit more complicated, because you could say that Christianity is really a-historical, or even anti-historical. Because everything that "happened" is still present. There is no real past, present and future in Christianity. So all of these historical speculations are really the antithesis of true Christianity. But at the same time this can easily lead to error, such that the believer no longer considers himself bound by the same laws as the rest of us. He has in effect stepped outside of history because he believes he has become so spiritually potent.

Hegel, of course, is the most significant or should I say influential "thinker" in the world today. Virtually everyone is a Hegelian without knowing it. He asserted that the Protestant Principle was that the mind of God and the mind of man (i.e. Hegel) had become one, ushering in the end of history. Historical consciousness is overcome by pure spiritual consciousness.

The purification of consciousness, therefore, is a necessary precondition to avoiding all of this nonsense. One way to do that simply is to look at the doctrine of historical progress, which tends to be the premise behind all of these movements. The world will come to an end some day and the end will be just like the beginning: nothing. So where is the progress? We can take this same principle down to nations, civilizations, even families. The problem is that the idea of historical progress has a firm possession over the minds of 99% of the world's population today. If we could just purge our minds of that one falsehood, we would all be a lot better off.

#34 Fr Raphael Vereshack

Fr Raphael Vereshack

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 4,420 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Monastic Cleric

Posted 16 April 2011 - 08:06 PM

There is something strange going on with all of this. The idea of progress was the myth created to replace Christianity (or to make it more up to date/progressive). But there really has been some sort of 'progressive' movement in society to the degree that this myth has become its defining value. In other words the idea of progress has not just left man going nowhere while he is under the impression that he is going ever higher and higher. Instead inasmuch as he has pursued the idea of progress man has been going increasingly around in circles focused on the self defined as the measure of all things. To the point that the idea of progress as a social value becomes increasingly defined in terms of the individual self and its fulfillment according to its own whims and self defined desires. To present day man this represents the latest and highest stage in his evolution from the 'restrictions' the past- ie that he is increasingly 'free' to pursue his own self created reality and 'find' himself at last in this little point that he increasingly turns around upon. This little self that becomes nothing the more you focus on it and exalt it.

How different from the movement which we are all urged to make with Christ as He enters Jerusalem on this Sunday!

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#35 Owen Jones

Owen Jones

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 3,341 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 16 April 2011 - 08:53 PM

Which means that the problems and temptations that Christians face are a lot more complicated than just materialism. One has to take into consideration the intellectual environment when considering what diverts our attention, or works at war with true faith.

#36 Bryan J. Maloney

Bryan J. Maloney

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 364 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member

Posted 28 April 2011 - 03:39 PM

In a judicial/legalistic mindset, we can make society "better" by imposing the "correct" laws. Nevertheless, for the legalists, complete and perfect power to "improve" is in their own hands. All that lacks is correct application. There is no limit, for legalists, in how much "progress" they can enact entirely on their own authority.

In a medical/biological mindset, we can get out of the way of society "healing" by removing obviously pernicious influences and doing what we think is likely to be a "healthy diet". However, "improvement" is always a matter of "probably not as bad as it was" and "we'll have to see". Likewise, any "progress" is actually in the hands of forces outside the power of the physician/biologist and may be limited by the nature of mortality, itself, and apparent "progress" may actually turn out to be unhealthy, so caution is strongly advised.

The legalist/biologist contrast is something I noticed when comparing my upbringing in Western Christian organizations vs. the very "medical" feel of some of the Fathers' writings.

Those who would use the power of the state to impose the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, such as the Crusader Kingdoms, etc., in Christ's words "have their reward".

#37 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 05 May 2011 - 03:54 PM

I'd like to return to the OP's original question: Is compatibilism compatible with the Orthodox understanding of free will? Looking through the thread, I'm not sure if anyone has really addressed the question. I think it is accurate to say that most (all?) Orthodox theologians reject compatibilist construals of free will and assert instead a libertarian understanding: an action is free if and only if the agent could have chosen otherwise. The cause of a human action ultimately and exclusively resides in the actor himself. It is not sufficient that I choose to do what I want to do. I must also be free to do otherwise. This seems to be the position of St John of Damascus: "We are left then with this fact, that the man who acts and makes is himself the author of his own works, and is a creature endowed with free-will." St John's principal concern is to protect God from any responsibility for human wickedness. This leads St John to a rejection of divine determinism:

We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things. For He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them. For it is not His will that there should be wickedness nor does He choose to compel virtue. So that predetermination is the work of the divine command based on fore-knowledge. But on the other hand God predetermines those things which are not within our power in accordance with His prescience. For already God in His prescience has prejudged all things in accordance with His goodness and justice.


The philosophical debate between compatibilists and libertarians has been quite lively over the past twenty years. It's a very complex, difficult subject. Unfortunately, as far as I know, Orthodox philosophers have not really participated in this debate.

Compatibilists in the Thomist school believe that divine predestination and free will can be fully reconciled as long as we understand that God is the infinitely transcendent cause and source of the universe and not an object within it. Divine causality does not compete with creaturely causality. God is not an outside cause in the way that creatures are. Let me quote a long passage from Fr Herbert McCabe, O.P.:

It is with God's activity as it is with his presence. He does not take up space. If I fill up a basket with apples and oranges, the more apples there are, the less room there is for oranges, and vice versa. The apples and the oranges compete for the available space. But apples and God do not compete for available space. We can say that God is everywhere, that there is no such thing as a place where he is not, for wherever there is anything God is there holding it in being. God is not, of course, himself spatial. He has no size or position or shape. But we can nevertheless say that he is present everywhere. Clearly he is not alongside his creatures. We do not say that the more apples there are in the basket the less room there is for God. The apples do not have to shift over to make room for God. The presence of God does not leave less room for the apples. On the contrary, it is because of the presence of God that the apples are there at all. We can say, "There is nothing here except an apple," just because God is there too. The apple is not moved to one side by God. It is where it is because of God.

Now it is the same with causality as with spatial presence. Created causes compete with each other. This activity is due to me and to that extent it is not due to causes other than me. Usually an activity is due partly to me and partly to other causes. The other causes make a difference to my activity. My activity is like this, though it would have been like that but for the interference of some other causes. That is how we detect the operation of other causes. The more other causes operate, the less the activity is due to me; the less responsible I am for it, the less it is a free action.

But the activity of God does not make any difference to my activity. It makes it what it is in the first place. It is because of the activity of God that I have my own activity to begin with. God is not alongside me, competing with me, an alternative to me, taking up space that I could have occupied or doing things that I might have done.

All created causes make a difference to the world. They are parts of the world which impose themselves on other parts of the world. When the hurricance has pssed by, you can see that a hurricane has passed by; the world is different from what it was before. But God's creative and sustaining activity does not make the world different from what it is--how could it? It makes the world what it is. ...

God's activity, then, does not compete with mine. Whereas the activity of any other creature makes a difference to mine and would interefere with my freedom, the activity of God makes no difference. It has a more fundamental and important job to do than make a difference. It makes me have my own activity in the first place. I am free: I have my own spontaneous activity not determined by other creatures, because God makes me free. Not free of him (this would be to cease to exist), but free of other creatures.

The idea that God's causality could interfere with my freedom can only arise from an idolatrous notion of God as a very large and powerful creature--a part of the world. We see an ascending scale of powerful causes. The more powerful the causes, the more difference it makes. And we are inclined to locate God at the top of the scale, and to imagine that he makes the most difference of all. But does not make the most difference. He makes, if you like, all the difference--which is the same as making no difference at all. (Faith Within Reason, pp. 73-76)


This passage probably needs to be read slowly several times. As far as I can tell, an Orthodox theologian will agree with McCabe's analysis of divine transcendence and the relation of God with the world. But McCabe, with St Thomas Aquinas, then goes on to claim that precisely because divine causality does not compete with creaturely causality, it is perfectly possible to assert that God determines our free actions:

God cannot share a world with us--if he did he would have created himself. God cannot be outside, or alongside, what he has made. Everything only exists by being constantly held in being by him. I am free in fact, not because God withdraws from me and leaves me my independence--as with a man who frees his slaves, or good parents who let their children come to independence--but just the other way round. I am free because God is in a sense more directly the cause of my actions than he is of the behaviour of unfree beings. In the case of an unfree creature its behaviour is perhaps its own (in the case of a living thing--for this what we mean by a living thing), but is also caused by whatever gave it its structure and whatever forces are operating on it. We can give an account of the behaviour of the dog (or we would like to be able to give an account of the behaviour of the dog) in terms of such causal factors. ... God does bring about the action of the dog, but he does so by causing other things to cause it.

God bring about my free action, however, not by causing other things to cause it, he brings it about directly. The creative act of God is there immediately in my freedom. My freedom is, so to say, a window of God's creating; the creativity of God is not masked by intermediate causes. In human freedom we have the nearest thing to a direct look at the creative act of God (apart, says the Christian, from Christ himself, who is the act of God). We are free not because God is absent or leaves us alone, we are free because God is more present--not of course in the sense that there is more of God there in the free being, but in the sense that there is nothing, so to say, to distract us. God is not acting here by causing other things to cause this act, he is directly and simply himself causing it. So God is not an alternative to freedom, he is the direct cause of freedom. We are not free in spite of God, but because of God. (God Matters, pp. 14-25)


McCabe thus challenges the libertarian belief that human freedom requires God to give human beings "space," to withdraw himself, if you will, so that they may act freely. Freedom does not mean independence from God; it means independence from creaturely determinism. Our free and spontaneous acts are genuinely and authentically free, and they are free because they are directly caused by God.

How might an Orthodox philosopher respond to this? I can follow McCabe pretty far along his argument. I think he is absolutely right when he says that we all tend to think of God as an individual agent, albeit an infinitely powerful agent, within the world; but this is not the Christian understanding of God. God is the transcendent Creator. His relationship with the world is defined by his transcendence. Our freedom cannot therefore imply our independence from God. How can we be independent of the source of our being?

But at some point as I think about these matters my brain simply shuts down. I cannot grasp it.

Is compatibilism compatible with Orthodoxy? I do not know. I do not know if Orthodox philosophers have really grappled with the construal of divine transcendence and human freedom as presented by McCabe (and before him, Aquinas). The one exception I have come across is Sergius Bulgakov's discussion of human freedom and divine causality in his book The Bride of the Lamb. He seems to have read Aquinas, though I cannot say whether he has properly understood him. I would love to sit McCabe and Bulgakov down in a nice cozy living room and listen into their conversation on this incomprehensible mystery.

#38 Perry Robinson

Perry Robinson

    Regular Poster

  • Members
  • Pip
  • 18 posts

Posted 05 May 2011 - 10:32 PM

Fr. Kimel,

Let me make some distinctions here that might help us get a clearer grasp. Compatibilism is a weaker thesis than Soft Determinism. The former is merely the thesis that determinism and freedom/moral responsibility can both be true, but not that either of them is. Soft Determinism is the thesis that they are both compatible and both are true.

Libertarianism is the thesis that determinism and freedom/moral responsibility are incompatible (they both can’t be true-ergo Incompatibilism) and that there is freedom/moral responsibility and so determinism is false. Libertarianism is also the thesis of UR +AP, namely Ultimate Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities. What does that mean? These are conditions on freedom and responsibility. The ultimacy condition is not that there are no antecedent contributing causes to an agent’s actions, but that they are not sufficient causes. So if we were to trace back all of the causes for some action of yours and move past the point (going temporally backwards) where you made the decision and executed an intention, there would always be some cause left out, namely you as the agent. The ultimacy condition then entails that an agent is the terminus or ultimate explanatory end of all their actions.

The responsibility condition is that in order for the agent to meet the ultimacy condition it has also to be the case that they are the source of the kind of character that they end up having in order to be responsible for it. But for that to be the case, they have to be able to choose between the kind of characters available to them, and that implies choosing between alternative possibilities. So a plurality of options for freedom and moral responsibility is implied by the UR conditions. So Libertarianism is more than the AP condition

As for Thomism, I don’t think God as a transcendent cause really helps since I think it violates the UR conditions as well as the AP conditions. While Thomas thinks AP’s are available to us here on earth due to ignorance and the fact that created goods are not good under all descriptions and so cannot unfailingly move the will, he doesn’t think this is so in the eschaton, why is why he thinks that AP’s are not a necessary condition for freedom.

Consequently, I can’t see how simply saying that divine causality does not compete with creaturely causality really helps, since it seems to violate at the least the ultimacy conditions. It is also difficult to see what real difference if any between divinely caused agents and manipulated agents. Since the latter are not morally responsible, it seems as if the former aren’t either.

The analogy that McCabe gives doesn’t seem to help since it conflates God’s exercise of power sustaining things in existence with an agent’s use of the power that is kept in existence. God’s exercise of his sustaining power doesn’t compete with my exercise of my power of choosing since my exercise of the albeit dependent power is not God’s exercise of it, nor could it be without violating the ultimacy condition. This is why Thomas says the following,

"Now there is no distinction between what flows from free will, and what is of predestination; as there is no distinction between what flows from a secondary cause and from a first cause. For the providence of God produces effects through the operation of secondary causes, as was above shown (Question 22, Art. 3). Wherefore, that which flows from free-will is also of predestination.”

Thomas Aquinas, ST, Ia. Q. 23, a.5.

For Thomas, human free actions are like the activity of secondary causes (which raises serious Christological problems as well.) McCabe is right that divine causality doesn’t compete with mine at one level and mine couldn’t compete with God’s on the divine level, but this leaves the space open for God’s causal activity to work within my will and that certainly seems to undercut my willing activity as mine. So God’s activity does, for Thomas, make a difference to my activity, either in determining it qua secondary cause or by narrowing down my options to one and only one option.

In the successive paragraphs, McCabe seems to gloss God’s activity relative to my will in a weaker sense than Thomas wishes to. If that is so, then his view is Thomistic to that extent and it becomes difficult to see how his view is a species of Soft Determinism at all.

His claim that God’s action could only interfere with my freedom if God were a very large creature seems off. It does so because if God’s willing through secondary causes is predetermining as Thomas says it is, then if it weren’t predetermining my exercise it certainly seems possible for my actions to have turned out differently than they would have if God does predetermine through secondary causes. Hence a more robust view of freedom emerges, one that doesn’t preclude God’s sustaining power, but distinguishes between the former and my exercise of it. That is to say, a nature may be moved through secondary causes, but a person is a whole different ball of wax. To treat persons like natures in this respect seems to present us with some serious Christological problems, as I stated above. So I do not think seeing divine predetermination through secondary causes presents a problem only if we misconstrue it as a kind of creaturely control. Rather it seems to remain an intuitive problem because it tends to gloss persons as natures which operate through their respective secondary causation. The problem is that, as passed on from Augustine, the fundamental notion operating here is Stoic-a choice is a kind of natural impulse emanating from an object.

So McCabe isn’t saying anything new or anything that moves Orthodox and non-Orthodox Libertarians from their philosophical fortresses.

I can’t see how an Orthodox theologian could agree with McCabe’s gloss on divine transcendence since it depends on a view of God qua self subsisting being that the Orthodox reject. (See “An Absolutely Simple God? — Frameworks for Reading Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite,” The Thomist 69.3(July 2005): 371-406.)

If Thomas’ and McCabe’s position were really helpful we wouldn’t have the following answer from Thomas to the question of why some are damned and some are saved.

"The reason for the predestination of some, and reprobation of others, must be sought for in the goodness of God. Thus He is said to have made all things through His goodness, so that the divine goodness might be represented in things. Now it is necessary that God’s goodness, which in itself is one and undivided, should be manifested in many ways in His creation; because creatures in themselves cannot attain to the simplicity of God. Thus it is that for the completion of the universe there are required different grades of being; some of which hold a high and some a low place in the universe. That this multiformity of grades may be preserved in things, God allows some evils, lest many good things should never happen, as was said above (Question 22, Art. 5). Let us then consider the whole of the human race, as we consider the whole universe. God wills to manifest His goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, as sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of His justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others… Thus too, in the things of nature, a reason can be assigned, since primary matter is altogether uniform, why one part of it was fashioned by God from the beginning under the form of fire, another under the form of earth, that there might be a diversity of species in things of nature. Yet why this particular part of matter is under this particular form, and that under another, depends upon the simple will of God; as from the simple will of the artificer it depends that this stone is in part of the wall, and that in another; although the plan requires that some stones should be in this place, and some in that place. Neither on this account can there be said to be injustice in God, if He prepares unequal lots for not unequal things.”

ST, Ia. Q. 23, a. 3.

Such a view is entirely odious to the Orthodox and not a few non-Orthodox as well. For Thomas, the diffusion of divine goodness necessitates that some people be damned in order for that diffusion to be complete. So God selects some people for salvation and passes over others because he loves some people more than others. But McCabe’s view seems entirely incapable of giving any other answer than this given by Thomas. Consequently, McCabe’s position, like Thomas’ puts us in a worse position in addressing the problem of evil. In fact, it puts us in an impossible position to address it, which is why the appeal to “mystery” pops up in an ad hoc manner to save the system in the end.

There is also a substantial difference between Thomas and the Orthodox on God’s relation to the world. For the latter, God is also the formal cause of creation through the divine energies, which is not the case for Thomas, since via his construal of divine simplicity excluding the divine energies, such a view would render creatures the divine essence. So in an odd sort of way, God’s relation to creatures is metaphysically closer via the energies or logoi than it is for Thomas via secondary causation, yet without the distasteful effect of rendering creatures free acts divinely predetermined.

Consequently, I simply don’t see a need, as McCabe does for some reason to make God the direct cause of our actions. Such a view seems to veer close to Occasionalism. Even if that isn’t so, it still renders human choice in Christ unacceptably determined by the divine will and so is tantamount to the same Monotheltism proffered by the heretic Pyrrus, among others. In the main though, I can’t see what value there is, without Occasionalism of saying that God acts directly rather than mediately since both would run counter to the Ultimacy conditions on freedom.

On the contrary then, there is nothing that directly confronts the Libertarian view in what you offered from McCabe. It is just an alternative proposal and one that begs the question, at best, if not leaves us in a worse position relative to the most pressing objections to Christianity, the problem of evil and divine goodness. McCabe seems to missconstrue the Libertarian view. It is not that the Libertarian thinks of independence from God relative to free volitional activity in terms of sustaining power. If it did, he would have a point, but it doesn’t. I know of no Libertarian who thinks of it this way at least in the last century. John Cassian certainly didn’t, nor did Maximus.

Independence from creaturely determinism is certainly a plus, but in shifting it up to the metaphysical zero point doesn’t really help. Making our actions directly caused by God via secondary causation seems to have a reducing effect on persons and their actions to a kind of impulse, which seems to get matters wrong.

In short, if McCabe’s proposal, (which is nothing really new, but the same old Thomistic line) really advanced past old divisions, he would be able to retain the UR and AP conditions on libertarian freedom. That is, he’d be able to say, our actions are free in terms that Libertarians spell out and are also caused by God. But this is what he doesn’t say and cannot say. Which is why he has to pair down free will to something more diminished in terms of spontaneity that precludes alternative possibilities at the end of the day.

So no, Compatibilism or rather Soft Determinism is not compatible with Orthodoxy and I know of no Orthodox writer who has advanced such a view, at least not without stiff resistance.

Edited by Perry Robinson, 05 May 2011 - 10:53 PM.


#39 Father David Moser

Father David Moser

    Moderator

  • Moderators
  • 3,581 posts
  • Orthodox Christian Member
  • Verified Cleric

Posted 05 May 2011 - 10:36 PM

Perry,

Thanks for your post - I just want to point out that all the formatting tags make it very hard to read. The Monachos discussion group does not support much outside formatting and so when you try to insert a bunch of fonts and sizing and so on that are not part of the internal Monachos editor, they don't work well and make your text hard to read. You might want to slide on over to the test section and try some posts to see what works and what doesn't.

Fr David

#40 Aidan Kimel

Aidan Kimel

    Very Frequent Poster

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 440 posts

Posted 08 May 2011 - 06:23 PM

Thanks, Perry, for the response. You've given me a lot to chew on.




0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users