Tuesday, October 21, 2008

a brief meditation about open-theism

A quick and easy route to open-theism or something near enough...

A few years ago, Hilary Bok wrote a really fun book titled Freedom and Responsibility. Essentially, she articulates a compatibilism that is deeply Kantian in spirit. The book is definitely worth reading.

In her book, she uses a marvelously fictive device called “the pocket oracle.” The pocket oracle is a perfect predictor of your own future actions (where your choices number among your actions).

Well, what would happen if one consulted such an oracle?

Consultation of such an oracle, I think, would almost completely, if not completely, rob one of ignorance. If one takes ignorance (or some degree of ignorance) to be a crucial ingredient of genuine deliberation, and if one takes deliberation to be a crucial ingredient of intentional action, and if one takes the intentional component of action to be a crucial ingredient of anything that deserves the name “action,” then anyone who knows his/her own future cannot be a genuine actor.

This little chain of inferences is totally general with respect to the nature of the agent. The agent could be human or divine. It doesn’t appear to change the dynamic of the inferences one bit.

So, take these notions and apply them to God. I think it becomes really clear why one would be motivated towards something like an open-theism. If one would like to preserve the view of God as a genuine agent, a divine personage who is creatively active in the space-time world, then it makes perfect sense to deny that future contingent propositions have a truth-value (which implies that even an omniscient being could not know them).

Notice that this doesn’t really have any direct tie with the kinds of considerations that normally move persons to adopt open theism—viz., worries about God having an alibi for the problem of evil. Instead, the present considerations have to do with the metaphysics and psychology of agency, not with any worries about theodicy.

The options are pretty clear for the theist: (a) affirm something like open-theism, (b) deny that the little chain of inferences is true, (c) middle way: grant that the chain is true for human agents but deny that it is true for divine agents (why the asymmetry?), or (d) punt the whole discussion to one of “mystery” yet continue discussion as an interesting and philosophically fruitful intellectual exercise.

I’m sure I’m missing some other options (e.g., Classical inclusions of premises about time and timelessness... which would actually be a way of articulating option (c)), but these are the ones that are most obvious to me.

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