The Incredibility of Free Will Defenses of Hell: A Response to Hart’s Fourth Meditation

by Keith DeRose, Ph.D.

In certain Christian circles, free will accounts are the go-to defenses of hell—and here I mean defenses of hell on which many humans are forever excluded from heaven. I blame C. S. Lewis, and particularly the “Hell” chapter of his The Problem of Pain, which has directly inspired some relatively recent, extremely popular defenses of hell, like the “How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?” chapter in Timothy Keller’s best-selling The Reason for God,1 and the treatment (that left me saddened and more than a bit surprised by its grim lack of hope) of the issue in N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope.2 Christian philosophers, too, often reach for free will if and when they seek to defend awful doctrines of hell.3

In the “Fourth Meditation” of his new book defending universalism, That All Shall Be Saved, David Bentley Hart sees the hope (not his word for it, and I admit it is odd to use “hope” where what is sought is so unbearably grim) for “infernalism” as pinned wholly on the free will defense: “Hence, the only defense of the infernalist position that is logically and morally worthy of being either taken seriously or refuted scrupulously is the argument from free will” (p. 171). But this hope is dim and is quickly snuffed out: “This argument too is wrong in every way, but not contemptibly so” (p. 172) we’re foretold, as Hart prepares to dispense with it.4

I was surprised to find myself agreeing with much of Hart’s attack. “Surprised” because, while I join Hart in being a universalist and in seeing little in thoughts about human free­dom to render infernalism (in Hart’s term) believable, I do accept the libertarian account of human freedom which the free will defenses utilize, and much of Hart’s attack is an attack on this libertarian view of freedom that I share with the infernalists. It turns out, as I’ll urge here, that the problems with infernalism remain even if one grants its free will defenders their libertarianism—though this sometimes involves changing the charge against the infernalists to one of incredibility, rather than impossibility.

Hart may not see much value in this effort, as he seems to find libertarianism quite bank­rupt. “Better to just talk folks out of this nonsense, than to show how it doesn’t help” may make more sense to him. But I think this is based on a misunderstanding of libertarianism—or at least of it in its best form. So, while my aim will be to show how libertarianism doesn’t help infernalism, let us start by getting libertarianism right—or, well, in the form I like.

1. The Libertarian Account of Freedom vs. Hart’s “Classical”Account

After setting up free will defenses as the infernalist’s only hope at the end of Part II of his Meditation, the first thing Hart does to address these defenses at the start of Part III is to set up a contrast between two approaches to human freedom, first stressing the great gulf between them:

Given how very radically the standard late modern concept of freedom (we can call it the “libertarian” model) differs from that of most of ancient and mediaeval intellectual culture, I want to make sure that the matter has been made perfectly clear. (p. 172)

Hart then characterizes the two views. But I wonder about his construal of his opposition (especially, I suppose, since I am among them). I am particularly worried about what seems the main contrast that Hart alleges here, where Hart’s own classical view comes first, and we then move to the libertarian account:

Freedom is a being’s power to flourish as what it naturally is, to become ever more fully what it is. The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree. The freedom of a rational spirit is its consum­ma­tion in union with God. Freedom is never then the mere “negative liberty” of indeterminate openness to everything; if rational liberty consisted in simple indeterminacy of the will, then no fruitful distinction could be made between personal agency and pure impersonal impulse or pure chance. (p. 172)

I take it all that’s needed to get classified as a libertarian is thinking that freedom is incom­patible with determinism, and yet thinking that we nonetheless often act freely (and so at least often aren’t determined to act as we do). So, yes, someone who thought that all that freedom requires is a lack of determinism, and even one who went so far as to say that our free actions are a matter of chance, would belong in that big tent and would count as a libertarian. But these would be odd libertarians.

Better forms of libertarianism are anxious to fruitfully distinguish between personal agency and chance, and hold that, while freedom is indeed incompatible with determin­ism, it is also at odds with our actions being just the upshot of random or chance events. We (more sensi­ble, and more actual, libertarians) think our freedom hangs on there being something, and something pretty cool, between being determined by some outside force to act as we do and our actions being just random or chancy.4 Making a very long story brutally short: in cases of free action, the agent themself causes both their decision to act (in cases where decisions are involved) and the act itself, where no previous events causally determine the agent to decide and to act as they do. On these “agent causation” views (so called because they involve the agent causing events to occur in a way that is not reducible to event‐event causal relations), the agent acts for reasons (at least in significant cases), and so not randomly or in a merely chancy way, but the agent’s reasons don’t cause them to decide or to act as they do. And, at least viewed from certain angles, that’s exactly how the process of deliberation seems to go.5

How does this better form of libertarianism compare with Hart’s “classical” account of free­dom? This contrast remains: While we are still libertarians, and so incompatibilists, Hart thinks that God can completely assure that we act in a certain way, while that act remains a free one for us.6 My highlighting the “right” form of libertarianism doesn’t erase that con­trast; it only makes clear that in rejecting the determination of our free actions by things over which we have no control, we libertarians need not, and in the best cases do not, flee to the opposite extreme of mere chance.

But we should not miss another crucial difference, especially since it affects how free will defenses of infernalism can be seen to fail. One of the most notable features of Hart’s view, at least to my libertarian eyes, is that our exercises of our freedom seem more securely valuable things for Hart than they are for me.

Don’t get me wrong: Creaturely freedom is of immense importance to me as libertarian.7 But it naturally functions as a necessary ingredient of and a precondition for the realiza­tion of certain important values and is no guarantee that anything of much value is gained by cases of our acting freely. Our lives may be quite empty if we’re never free, but that doesn’t mean just any free action is worth much.

For me, free actions that take us away from what we are intended to be are the reverse of valuable. For Hart, they’re not free: “We are free not because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well” (p. 173).

Another potentially important kind of case: Even our good actions may not be all that valuable in cases where, though we are free, it is absurdly easy to freely act rightly. All sorts of caveats are needed here. Much depends on just how our agent got into a position where it was so easy for them to do good. If it was through years of often difficult right living, it may be wonderful that they now do right with ease. And not to be too individual­is­tic about these values, this can hold if it was through years of effort by others, too. And in other ways. So the suggestion is not that the value of free actions strictly correlates with how hard it is to get oneself to do them. There may be great value to be realized in schemes where many free actions, easy and hard, are performed. But it is to say that there can be a special value to be realized, at least on occasion, by actions that are not only free but free and difficult. And also, that when we view God as seeking certain free actions, God probably does not only want that action performed freely. Rather, our freedom functions as a precondition for certain values that are perhaps best realized by our free actions taking place in situations where they are not only free but especially valuable. I would hope that free will defenders would see these points as fairly obvious additions to their libertarian picture.

2. Free Will Defenses of Hell and the Question They Should Face

On free will defenses, the good God seeks for the sake of which God allows the possibility of evil is free good actions. On free will defenses of hell in particular, the good God seeks is free ACCEPTANCE, we may say, where we use all‐cap ACCEPT and its cognates for whatever it is that one must freely do to gain salvation and avoid hell. This varies from hell-defender to hell-defender, and some of them aren’t as clear as one might like about just what one must freely do to make it to the party, but in many cases ACCEPTANCE seems fairly close to, you know, acceptance—acceptance or love of God and/or acceptance of the salvation God offers. But whatever exactly ACCEPTANCE amounts to, so long as a defense makes it something one must freely do, libertarian accounts of free will grant the key claim of the defense. Hart sees the defenders as arguing (I add the emphasis here) “that it does not lie in God’s power to assure that all will be saved, for the salvation of each person is contingent on his or her free choice, and God cannot compel a free act and yet preserve it in its freedom.”8 Hart attacks this claim; libertarians like me grant it. And that can seem a big difference. And perhaps for some purposes, it is. But I don’t think going with the libertarian here results in the credibility of infernalism.

For the free will defender of infernalism does not just face the question of why God doesn’t assure the salvation of all—as in, you know, render it completely impossible that any fail to be saved. Why did we get so stuck on that weak question, anyway? To avoid incredibil­ity, they need an answer for why God doesn’t do better at getting more ACCEPTANCE than they report God as securing. And libertarianism doesn’t secure for them an answer there.

(The context here is that we have put away accounts where God wants there to be damned persons for some awful purpose or other and are considering free will defenses as the hope for squaring infernalism with a picture where God wants each of us to be saved. The pressing question then is: Well, then, why doesn’t God get what God wants? Free will defenses can explain why even God may not be assured of complete success. Not to put too fine a point on it, the obvious comeback to this is: “Well, even so, why doesn’t God do better at getting more ACCEPTANCE?”)

Perhaps because the real question here is usually not squarely faced, answers are hard to come by. The two I can discern are truly incredible, at least in the forms in which I can see them. (If there are other answers I have missed, or better ways of developing the ones I’ve found, I will be happy to have provoked their advertisement.)

3. Free Will Pessimism

Lewis himself hints at a form of what we can call “free will pessimism”: Even if God were to pull out all the stops are really go for it, God would be unlikely to secure free ACCEP­TANCE from those who in fact die without ACCEPTING. This hint comes in Lewis’s answer to the objection of why God doesn’t give us chances to ACCEPT after we die:

A simpler form of the same objection consists in saying that death ought not to be final, that there ought to be a second chance. I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given. But a master often knows, when boys and parents do not, that it is really useless to send a boy in for a certain examination again. Finality must come some time, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.

“Second chance” here clearly means a chance after death. I know many think of Lewis as holding that there are such second chances.9 If he did, here, in answer to this objection, would be the place to say, “Well, I do think there will be such chances!” Instead, we get the contortion above, which really seems to be suggesting instead that by the time of their death, God knows, for each of the damned who have not ACCEPTED, that it would be useless to give them further chances to ACCEPT.10 This is to me so incredible on its face that I find myself straining for ways to make sense of it. Maybe Lewis’s ACCEPTANCE—and he isn’t at all forthcoming about just what one must freely do to avoid hell—is so thin and something so widespread (and so just about everybody will make it to heaven) that the only people who have failed to ACCEPT in this life are such hardened deniers that it actually is plausible to suppose they are permanently stuck in the way of DENIAL? But I think it’s beyond the guile of Lewis to be using such an unexpected notion of ACCEPTANCE without giving warning.

Maybe I find it so incredible that God wouldn’t be able to get more ACCEPTANCE in the life to come than God secures in this life because I’m picturing God actually trying to bring the DENIERS around. (Perhaps not unlike the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep who “goes after” the wanderer. Hey, for how long does that shepherd go after the lost sheep before finally giving up? Oh, yes, at least in Luke: “until he finds it.”) But Lewis’s master seems to be just contemplating, but rejecting as useless, the possibility of only giving the lad another crack at the test: there’s no mention of first unleashing the master’s great pedagog­i­cal skills in some enlightening geometry lessons first. Maybe Lewis is construing these further chances as just giving the dead one more chance at making the choice of whether to ACCEPT (taking the exam without further lessons), in which case, it’s maybe not so incredible to suggest that God doesn’t let it happen that DENIERS die in a state such that just giving them another chance to ACCEPT would have a decent chance of working? But even if so, what we would then need an answer to is why God doesn’t go beyond giving another chance to choose and, you know, help—make things clear, try to bring us around, maybe help us (maybe in a gentle way, if possible) get out of the ruts that keep us in DENIAL?

4. Autonomy Accounts

Which brings us to the free will defender of infernalism’s best hope: autonomy expla­na­tions, where by this I mean the kind of account that Michael J. Murray picked up from George Schlesinger’s “The Scope of Human Autonomy” and then developed in his own attack on “Three Versions of Universalism.”11 Here, “autonomy” is probably best construed as a malleable notion that can be filled out in different ways (hoping that some way can be found which makes the idea work), but the main idea is that autonomy goes beyond merely acting freely (as libertarians, and those we typically argue with, use “free”) to somehow having the real power, by means of one’s free actions, to substantially determine the way that the world, or at least one’s own world, turns out. One can be free in one’s actions without having these kinds of autonomy. Consider the customer at the drive-through joint of an analogy of Murray’s: They can freely order what they want, but if they order a hamburger, that’s what they get; while if they order something else, they’re sent back around to order again. Repeat as needed, until the “right” order is made.12 When they finally order (and then get) a hamburger, they do so freely, but they don’t seem to have had the real power, by means of their free choices, to obtain a different outcome. Freedom without autonomy doesn’t seem so free here. Some such appeal to autonomy seems to have the potential to answer the crucial kind of question with which I ended section 3: God could have attempted the kinds of interventions I’m imagining while leaving us free, and almost certainly with success, but only at the cost of our autonomy. It’s because God preserves our autonomy and not just our freedom that so many will be left out.

But this abstract potential is hard to make good on. Once I start to push on the notion of autonomy in play, I can’t get a credible defense of infernalism to emerge. Certainly not a credible Christian account. For the Christian God doesn’t seem always so concerned about our autonomy, at least where autonomy is construed in a strong way. Many whom the infernalists would count as saved will report having been pursued by God in such a way that they felt they didn’t have much real power ultimately to escape, though perhaps they could avoid ACCEPTING for a while. Or are these cases of autonomy? Though God acted in such a way that they would almost certainly eventually ACCEPT, were these sheep that God was going after nonetheless free to stay lost, and to stay in a state of lostness, and is the mere freedom to have attained this very different outcome (even if it was incredibly unlikely to be exercised as persistently as would be needed to successfully resist) enough to secure autonomy? If so, well, first, then it seems even our drive-through guy has autono­my. While the lousy fish sandwich he longed for (my addition to the story) wasn’t in the cards for him, and while he was almost certainly going to end up accepting a hamburger, he was free to continue to reject the hamburger and attain some different outcome (of just circling around forever, or doing so until he ran out of gas, or died, or whatever happens in this example to one who just never goes for the hamburger). And if autonomy is that thin (if it’s just freedom by which one could possibly attain a very different outcome, however unlikely it is that one would attain such a substantially different outcome), it seems clear that God could secure a lot more ACCEPTANCE than God does, and more than infernalists construe God as securing, without violating our freedom or our autonomy. Surely God could intervene after death more effectively than God actually does before death, at least in the cases of many people, while leaving them merely free to never ACCEPT. Our pressing question isn’t answered.

Or am I still not getting autonomy right? I need help from infernalists to grasp a way of working that out that is thin enough to render it plausible that the Christian God is not one to violate our autonomy, yet thick enough to explain why God doesn’t get more ACCEP­TANCE than infernalists suppose. And I’m skeptical this needle can be threaded, because I’m not seeing why, on such an account, God wouldn’t do (after our deaths, if needed) for all something close to what just about any Christian sees God doing for some. That should work, at least a whole lot of the time. (And truth be told, my money is on all of the time, even as my views compel me to allow for the bare possibility of some failure.)

Hart would see clearly the reasons such defenses of infernalism are incredible, as those who have read his Fourth Meditation know, and Hart’s account of freedom allows him to express the problems here more sharply. Such defenses of infernalism have God accepting tremen­dous costs in order to abide by some supposedly free choices13 made largely by some badly messed up people. On Hart’s view, that’s incoherent, because those aren’t even truly free choices. But if you’re with me, rather than Hart, on freedom, you can still see with Hart the folly of supposing God accepts an infernally terrible ending to the story of salvation for the sake of those choices. You just have to instead say that those choices aren’t really so valu­able, even if you have to admit that, though pretty worthless, they are free. And you can see with Hart the incredibility of supposing God would fail to gain ACCEPTANCE where the choice of whether to ACCEPT is made in a valuable way, even if you think a choice could be free but still quite valueless.

5. An Alternative Account, from a Libertarian Universalist Perspective

Not just the defenders of infernalism, but I, too, think that, at least on some important ways of construing ACCEPTANCE, God wants our free ACCEPTANCE, but in many cases does not get it from us in this life. I like my account of why this is (or at least my start of such an account: it leaves a lot to be filled in) better than the ones we’ve been considering on behalf of infernalism. And it even connects up with a more general story of what this often horror-strewn life of ours is for.

God could no doubt get a very good rate of ACCEPTANCE by means of schemes which would leave us free to ACCEPT or not, but would make it absurdly easy for us to ACCEPT and extremely likely we would. Why does God instead leave us to choose in the messy, often difficult, circumstances of this often sad life, in which, God must have known, the chances of ACCEPTANCE are much lower? Why does God not, for each of us (as reportedly God does for some), directly intervene in our lives and clearly show us our options (while leaving us free to choose among them), instead leaving us faint hints and often relying heavily on the not-always-so-entirely-beautiful feet of others to bring us good news?

The key to a reasonable account from a libertar­ian perspective is to recognize that while God does indeed want our free ACCEPTANCE, that can’t be all that God wants here. That’s more of a necessary precondition for what God is really shooting for, which is, at least in many cases, ACCEPTANCE which is not only free but which is made under circumstances in which it is espe­cially valuable. This will include circumstances in which it isn’t easy to do, or isn’t so clearly the pru­dent choice, or for all one can clearly see may be all based on a lie, or is done through a valu­able connection through a messenger. Something like this seems the way to go, because, first, as I’ve been stressing, if all God sought was our free acceptance, surely God could do better than this! And second, it just is plausible, isn’t it, that free ACCEPTANCE can be especially valuable in such ways?

This fits in with a more general account of how God operates with us, graciously working with us and through us, calling us forward, in advancing God’s Kingdom (as some of us have been taught to talk) in many ways, including, but not limited to, bringing others into it, often doing so under tough circumstances, and realizing the special values that are scored when things are done in the muck and mire. In fact, if you think the life to come is one lacking in muck and mire, then realizing the special values that can only be realized in the muck and mire starts to look like a part of what this sad life must be for. This is our chance for that! Let’s not blow it.

This should seem plausible for libertarian Christians generally, I would hope. So perhaps the free will defenders of infernalism, who seem to be in the market for a reasonable account of why God doesn’t secure more free ACCEPTANCE in this life, can join in adopting such an account?

But it’s a trap! It’s fine for me to think God has this reason for at least sometimes making it hard for us to choose rightly in this life, because I think that when someone does not freely ACCEPT under the often tough circumstances of this life, they will be given the opportunity (or maybe opportunities, though I doubt more will be needed) to make a clear-eyed and clear-headed choice to ACCEPT under extremely favorable circumstances in the life to come in which it’s almost unthinkable that they’ll fail to ACCEPT.14 Why not? What’s hard to see is why, after having us choose in tough circumstances where there may be special values so realized, but in which, predictably enough, there’s a lot of bad choosing, God would consign those who chose badly to hell, rather than giving them another, more clear-headed (and actually free, if Hart is right about freedom) choice that they will almost surely (or just surely, for Hart, if I’m reading him right) make rightly.

For, after all, as one should have been rather uneasily thinking as I was carrying on a couple of paragraphs above about how great it is to ACCEPT when doing so is difficult: “Hey, wait, if that’s so great, why is ACCEPTING made so easy for some?” This is an instance of a general problem for schemes on which special values are thought to be realized in various sorts of muck and mire, a nagging type of objection such schemes are subject to: “Well, then, why not more of that kind of muck and mire? Why do some of us ‘miss out’?” For instance, if Marilyn Adams is right that in the life to come, horrendous suffering from this life will be “defeated” for the sufferers in the way Adams claims,15 one might wonder why some of us then “miss out” on this opportunity by not suffering so horrendously? I think we just have to face up to it that, while there are special values of various kinds realized in various sorts of muck and mire, that doesn’t mean that it’s vital that each of us realize in our lives each of those types of values. This is perhaps best handled by a certain kind of collectivist view: while we don’t all realize each of the kinds of values in our lives, we will in the end be happy to be on a team, some of whom realized this kind of value in their lives, some of whom that kind, and some of whom yet another kind. Hooray for us! I find such team-oriented thinking comes naturally to me as a Christian, for I feel I’ve been taught by the gospels, and by some of Paul’s reflections, how centrally important it is to all of us that one of our teammates, one of us, actually won this damn game.

At any rate, somehow or other, I think we all have to reconcile ourselves to the thought that, however much value might be realized by difficult ACCEPTANCES, God does seem to accept easy ACCEPTANCES, too. Which makes it harder to understand why God wouldn’t arrange for a chance for easy ACCEPTANCES by those who did not ACCEPT in this often tough life—especially if what God is supposed to have done instead is consign those who don’t ACCEPT in this life to a horrible, infernal fate.

Thus, while Hart’s “classical” account of freedom makes for a case against the infernalists that is sharper, in the way noted in the last paragraph of section 4, I hope that my liber­tar­ian approach, by sharing the notion of freedom with these defenders of infernalism, can present an alternative, non-infernalist picture to them which can make better sense of the values I think come naturally to the libertarian account of freedom that I share with them.16

 

Footnotes

[1] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Penguin Books, 2008.

[2] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008. I discuss Wright’s position in a (public) Facebook note, “N.T. Wright, Kingdom Come Christianity, and the Focus Problem.”

[3] In his book That All Shall Be Saved (Yale University Press, 2019), David Hart mentions two prominent philosophers here: “Christian philosophers as sober and respected as the Catholic thinker [Eleonore, to fix the spelling] Stump and the Reformed thinker Alvin Plantinga have argued that it does not lie in God’s power to assure that all will be saved, for the salvation of each person is contingent on his or her free choice, and God cannot compel a free act and yet preserve it in its freedom” (p. 182). He is right about Stump: She makes just such a claim in the paper Hart cites, and it plays a key role in her defense of hell. But I think he gets Plantinga wrong. At least, I don’t know of any place where Plantinga makes such a claim or argument—and Hart cites no place. And, indeed, it would be odd if he had, because Plantinga seems to have leaned toward universalism. (On this, see “Is the Soul Immortal?”, a segment of an interview of Plantinga in the Closer to Truth series.) Plantinga is of course famous for his free will defense, but this is a defense from the general problem of evil; to apply it specifically to the problem of hell would require added, very substantive claims (such as claims about the propriety of requiring free actions by persons in order for them to avoid hell). William Lane Craig famously (or infamously, depending on which circles one moves in in philosophy) applied Plantinga’s machinery specifically to the problem of hell in “‘No Other Name’: A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation through Christ,” Faith and Philosophy 6 (1989): 172‐188. Marilyn McCord Adams (a universalist Christian philosopher) pointed out some of the problems of Craig’s attempt in “The Problem of Hell: A Problem of Evil for Christians,” in E. Stump, ed., Reasoned Faith (Cornell UP, 1993): 301‐327; at pp. 306‐319.

[4] OK, I admit that some using libertarianism in their apologies for hell just state the one side of this—the incompatibility of freedom with determinism—and don’t say anything about more than a lack of determinism being needed for freedom. But in their cases, it seems best not to take their silence as an indication that on their view no more is required. Rather, they’re just stating the ingredient of libertarianism that is active in their defense of hell and not speaking to what else may or may not be required for freedom. In some cases, they may not have even considered whether something else may be required. But if libertarianism can be filled out in a more plausible way, that should be good for these defenders, whether or not they’re aware of these further aspects.

[5] As Timothy O’Connor, one of the most prominent current libertarians, describes the phenomenology of deliberate action, it fits well with the “agent causation” form of libertarianism that he advocates: “It does not seem to me (at least ordinarily) that I am caused to act by the reasons which favor doing so; it seems to be the case, rather, that I produce my decision in view of those reasons, and could have, in an unconditional sense, decided differently.” That’s O’Connor, “Agent causation,” in T. O’Connor, ed., Agents, Causes, and Events (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995): 173‐200, at p. 196. Though it’s now a quarter of a century old, I still recommend that paper to readers who can get their hands on it as a good statement of the agent causation approach to freedom.

[6] Whether Hart’s view is one of (divine) determinism seems tricky: It’s apparently in some way an “of course” matter—but with Kantian complications: “For those who worry that this all amounts to a kind of metaphysical determinism of the will, I may not be able to provide perfect comfort. Of course it is a kind of determinism, but only at the transcendental level, and only because rational volition must be determinate to be anything at all” (p. 178). What’s important for our purposes, though, is what I have in the text above: This all shakes out in such a way that God can completely assure that we perform some act, while we yet do it freely.

[7] I think the best explication of the meaning of “free” in debates between compatibilists and incompatiblists, and in many other philosophical and theological settings, and so the account that best captures how libertarians use the term, makes use of examples that the debaters (or at least some key ones) can agree upon, on both sides of the line dividing the free from the unfree. So, you contrast ordinary actions, where it is agreed that the agent has the kind of control over their action that’s needed for them to be at all morally responsible for it, with a case where even compatibilists agree that the agent is not responsible for what they have done (or apparently done), because they were caused to act as they did by an outside force (for the compatibilist, an outside force that did not work in the way that allows the agent to be free): perhaps cackling evil scientists have our agent’s brain wired, and are remotely causing them to perform certain actions. We then all say that for one’s action to be “free” in the relevant sense is for it to have that (perhaps complex) property (a) the possession of which sometimes (in one natural use of the term: we are here fixing in on one meaning that “free” naturally takes on in some settings) leads us to call an action “free” (and the lack of which sometimes, in the same natural use of the term, leads us to deny that an action is “free”); is had by these actions and not by those (at least apparent) actions (in each case, referencing our examples); and (c) the having of which means that the agent has the kind of control over their action needed for them to be at all morally responsible for it. The incompatibilist then claims that to be “free” in that sense is incompatible with one’s action being causally determined by things over which one has no control, while the compatiblist of course holds that being “free” in that same sense is compatible with being determined to act as one does—so long as the determination works in the right way (as it evidently does not in cases like that of the cackling scientists). So voilà, a substantive disagreement. I explain at greater length how I think “free” is best understood in these settings in Horrific Suffering, Divine Hiddenness, and Hell: The Place of Freedom in a World Governed by God, which currently exists only as a partial and rough draft.

[8] Hart, p. 182. Many free will defenders, while libertarians, believe that God possesses comprehensive “middle knowledge.” On such “Molinist” schemes, God can assure (as I think “assure” works) that we act in certain ways, while we remain free—though which free acts God can assure depends on which conditionals of freedom are true. These defenders instead use the claim that it’s possible that God can’t assure the free acts God would otherwise want to run their defense. But I will here skip this complication, by simply construing free will defenders as arguing in the way Hart suggests—which I think is the more natural way for the free will defense to go, anyway.

[9] Many, including Plantinga (see the “Is the Soul Immortal?” interview of Plantinga referenced in note 3, above), take Lewis to be advocating for further chances in his novel The Great Divorce. I think this is a mistake. Though the characters in the novel have the chance to move from hell to heaven, I think this is one of the “transmortal conditions” that, in his “Preface” to the novel, Lewis warns us are “solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us.” Lewis makes this supposal, I think, to help drive home a main point of the book, which concerns how we get horribly stuck in various ruts that have us “choosing against joy.” How stuck can we get? So stuck that even if we were in hell and had the chance to move to heaven, we might well choose against doing so. I think that in the part of the “Hell” chapter of the non‐fiction The Problem of Pain that we are now considering, Lewis suggests that he doesn’t believe in further chances (though see the following note).

[10] At least that’s how the passage reads to me. I suppose it could also be read as Lewis thinking further chances may be given to some, but that they will eventually run out when God sees that it’s useless to offer still more chances. But this is also, to my thinking, a weirdly pessimistic view: Wouldn’t God be able to win over just about everyone, given enough time?

[11] George Schlesinger, “The Scope of Human Autonomy,” in Kelly James Clark, ed., Our Knowledge of God (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1992): 215‐223. Michael J. Murray, “Three Versions of Universalism,” Faith and Philosophy 16 (1999): 55‐68.

The best autonomy defense I know of is Jonathan Kvanvig’s, originally in The Problem of Hell (Oxford UP, 1993) and later updated in Destiny and Deliberation (Oxford UP, 2011). However, in Kvanvig’s hands, this isn’t a defense of infernalism: On his view, annihilation, and not some infernal fate, is the bad outcome. I also suspect that Kvanvig does not think that as many will be excluded in the end as your typical infernalist supposes. (He seems open to the possibility that none will be.) But he faces the same question do as our infernalists: How could it happen that some fail to be saved? And he develops the autonomy approach to that problem‐‐the “problem of non‐heaven,” we might call it‐‐as well as you will find autonomy answers developed anywhere.

[12] In keeping with the basic structure of Murray’s paper, whereby the same argumentative machinery is employed multiple times, with slight twists, as different versions of universalism are countered, different versions of this story are used; here we have the version that’s toward the middle of p. 63.

[13] Autonomy goes beyond, but still involves freedom. It’s freedom that can effectively make for a great difference in outcomes.

[14] Thus, I think it is overwhelmingly probable that all will freely ACCEPT, and thereby be saved, and I think this should be enough for me to count as a “universalist.” If you disagree on that point of terminology, you can change the title of this section to “An Alternative Account, from a Libertarian Near‐Universalist Perspective.”

[15] First in her paper, “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 63 (1989): pp. 297‐310; and then in her book of the same name, Cornell UP, 1999.

[16] Thanks to Jonathan Kvanvig and to Samuel Watkinson for comments on an earlier draft of this.

* * *

Keith DeRose is the Allison Foundation Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. He is best known for his work in epistemology and philosophy of language, and especially on the topic of skepticism. He is currently writing a book on the problem of evil, entitled ‘Horrific Suffering, Divine Hiddenness, and Hell: The Place of Freedom in a World Governed by God.’ More information is at https://campuspress.yale.edu/keithderose/

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88 Responses to The Incredibility of Free Will Defenses of Hell: A Response to Hart’s Fourth Meditation

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    CS Lewis’s analogy of the boy who is never going to pass the exam fails because *God made the boy* – part of Hart’s argument (IIRC) is that it would be monstrous of God to set us up to fail – to create a creature incapable of accepting him and then have them suffer in eternal torment for failing to do that which, by nature, they are incapable of.
    I think part of the problem is that “acceptance” is the wrong word. It is not enough that we accept God, or even the point – the point of our existence is sanctification / theosis (depending on your terminology) – that we become that which God intended us to be, to be creatures who don’t simply accept God, but also become like him and share in his glory (in so far as mere creatures are capable of this). This is why “acceptance” can be easy or hard depending on the circumstances and what it takes to make us as we should be.
    Hart’s argument is not that if we don’t order the burger we won’t get what we want, and instead we all have to go round again until we comply and order it. We have free will (in the libertarian sense) to order what we want, and we will get what we ordered, but *if we don’t like it* we then get to go around again and order something else. Hart’s point is that if we order the “lousy fish sandwich”, if we are truly free to make our own decisions we will realise it is horrible once we taste it and so, unless prevented from doing so, will go round again of our own free will and order something else. If we are made such that only the burger will satisfy our hunger, if we are free to go on ordering whatever we like forever, eventually we will order the burger and realise that that is what we wanted all along.
    (For myself, I would say that the issue of “acceptance” is not about just accepting God, but also freely doing so, and understanding why we are doing so, and “accepting” and freely and open-eyedly participating in the necessary transformation into what God wants us to be and what we need to be to truly accept him. We need to learn that we want the burger, and that it is truly good for us, and why, if it is to truly do us our greatest good.)

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    • mercifullayman says:

      Freedom and Determinism, in the Hart sense, or really any other are compatible things. There is a tension that existentia allows over essentia within the actuality of agency and time. We work, as humans, against determinism everyday. Where all of the arguments seemingly go south is that they are a zero sum game. It isn’t all or nothing. It is all or potentially everything. Nature, in its own way, is deterministic. We see that everyday. It works itself out…..and yet, it is only the Human, who deep within the confines of oneself, not only acknowledges this, but breaks free from it. Imagine the power we harness over nature and yet what we still have yet to glean. Freedom is the fusion of subject and object reaching out to each other. It’s where grace gets missed in all of this. The “universal rain” (as Origen says) that covers us all, can either be used or not used, but the rain never stops. Inevitably, it will flood a crop, or it will grow one. Mankind is reaching out to God as much as God reaches out to us. The balance isn’t so much in autonomy, which is an existential feeling of now. But rather, in freely cooperating in the love that has been reaching out to us from the beginning, and at that freely. Freedom lies at the heart of all being. It is the “existentia” of even the Divine itself, and as such, it can only be ultimately realized in one final way, in itself finding the one it loves. Second chances aren’t about “well, you messed that choice up, let’s try again,” but authentically learning to realize that the false worlds we create are never real in and of themselves. That what transcends good/evil….the right/wrong…..is ultimately a reality that is what ever was meant to be. Libertarian free-will is a will that wants to cleave to here and now without realizing what is to come…without realizing what is at stake. It objectives being as a concrete act even in its negative, and thus, pushes man into a deeper humanism which detracts from the divine mission as such. Freedom is really a libertarian hope imbued with grace. It is the creative act that accepts grace as the launch point into the real. Anything other than that will always fall into a concretization or objectification that holds you to the ground of this world…..and in a sense…..calls out for this world to remain as it is. There is enough Hell that we choose now as “acceptable.” That is enough for all of us, God included.

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      • Keith says:

        Freedom and Determinism, in the Hart sense, or really any other are compatible things
        Well, I certainly disagree! I’ve been working on the best arguments for both compatibilism and incompatibilism. Those sections will be in the next draft of my book that I post – which will be soon. [The version that’s up right now has the section titles for that part up, but has them as still-to-be-written sections. They’re written now, but I’m waiting to finish a few more sections before posting a new version.] I definitely think incompatibilism comes out on top.
        But here, other than clearing up a misunderstanding about libertarianism that might lead some to reject it for bad reasons, I’m not getting into that debate, but assuming libertarianism [incompatibilism plus the claim that we do sometimes act freely]. This can be seen as granting the Free Will Defenders a key part of their case — though I’m then granting them something that I, too, accept. What I am out to argue here is that even when they’re given their libertarianism, the Free Will defenders of infernalism still fail.

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        • mercifullayman says:

          I actually agree with you, in a sense, in terms of finality and it’s overcoming, but would disagree that what is playing out as “freedom” now isn’t actually freedom as it stands. That was the point. I fall into that Neo-Kantian/Berdyaevian school where a world that exists beyond isn’t so bound by a deterministic world that exists now….and ultimately, time/history/etc can never fully be realized until past, present, and future, are overcome by an actuality that is being built by each of us as creative agents. Freedom, to me, is a very real thing. In fact, it is ultimately the most real thing that can be. In a sense, it also is the thing that makes us most like the divine, and may even be the ground of the divine itself. Yet, to assume that determination isn’t an actual thing within the here and now, actually stifles man’s purpose within existence itself. Freedom needs something to overcome, or it isn’t every fully free. It merely becomes an illusion that in itself is determined. It needs tension. It needs contradiction. It needs tragedy.

          Yet in the end, to be fully free…to be fully divine, deified, changed….requires that God overcome even that tension which makes us fully His from the start. We, in the end, ever fully become free when we work alongside the divine. When the freedom that grounds us becomes singular….we have entered the real, and are no longer slaves to the necessity of a thousand epochs, nature, or cultural milieus.

          To be “free” in any real sense, is to be motivated to reach out to God as He reaches to us.

          (That may not play well with most here, but it’s what makes the most sense to me.)

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  2. dianelos says:

    Very interesting and substantial read.

    So I think that DBH’s sense of free will entails what modern philosophers call “libertarian free will” (rather confusingly, I might add, for there is no other kind of free will). DBH only speaks against libertarian free will in the sense that it does not capture what really matters in free will, namely not just to choose freely but to choose well.

    Now a central premise in DBH’s argument is that God would not make a world in which it would be even possible that a single creature would experience never-ending torment. DeRose seems to think that such is indeed incredible but, given creaturely free will, is nevertheless possible.

    I disagree. We are made in the image of God, and one autonomy our loving maker has not given us is the power to delete his image from ourselves. Indeed without that image we wouldn’t be persons in the first place. In other words absolute depravity is metaphysically impossible. In practical ethics what is logically possible is not always metaphysically possible, and we experience that fact even in our current everyday condition. So, for example, I am as imperfect as the next person, but there are some choices so stupid or evil that I will never in fact make, even though I am completely free to do so. For example when I wish to go downstairs it is impossible that I will choose to jump out of the window instead of taking the stairs; when I meet a crying child on the street it is impossible that I will choose to kick her, and so on. Now for the saints in heaven this condition covers all of their existence: it is metaphysically impossible that they will choose any sin even though they are free to do so. The converse is not true: there is no condition in which it is metaphysically impossible for us to avoid choosing sin, precisely because we are eternally made in the image of God – the divine spark always remains in us. Thus even the most sinful among us will at some time accept God’s loving invitation to join him in the Kingdom. We are simply not made with the freedom of becoming infinitely stupid, which given our good creator couldn’t be otherwise. To be given autonomy from the good would be a curse not a gift. So, I say, DBH is right: From the beginning infernalism was an impossibility.

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    • Keith DeRose says:

      Now a central premise in DBH’s argument is that God would not make a world in which it would be even possible that a single creature would experience never-ending torment. DeRose seems to think that such is indeed incredible but, given creaturely free will, is nevertheless possible.
      Hmm, I don’t really, positively think that’s possible — though before opining that it’s impossible, I guess I’d have to think carefully about the possibility of possible creatures, very different from any we’ve experienced, perhaps beyond any actual demons, for whom such a fate God would allow. I suppose I doubt God would allow any such creatures to exist.
      But, anyway, what I think is possible, even if immensely improbable (perhaps even a probability of zero?) is that one of us might forever fail to ACCEPT, in the type of postmortem circumstances God would provide. But even if that were to happen, God would have options for such a one other than neverending torment! I would definitely think God would choose one of those better options.
      (In a way, one of us forever failing to accept, while possible, isn’t the kind of thing that will have ever happened: you will never reach a point in time at which someone has forever failed to ACCEPT. Still, God would of course have options for how to handle long periods of time of non-ACCEPTANCE)

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  3. Counter-Rebel says:

    If you’re a libertarian who thinks free choices can’t be deterministic, then sorry, you can’t be a (staunch) universalist, only a hopeful one. No matter how unlikely, a coin could land tails every throw.

    A universalist, I believe in a model of free will called modest libertarianism, where free choices are compatible with both determinism and indeterminism. The memory of the bad consequences of being sinful will make it inevitable that the sinner eventually turns back to God, who is the only One that can permanently satisfy their desire for happiness. So one can take the short road and indeterministically choose God, or one can take the long road and exhaust their (godless) desires until they are left with no alternative but to turn back. What makes that last choice deterministic yet free is the fact that the determinans (the element that determines the outcome)–in this case, the memory of the sin-induced pain–was freely acquired. Memory is a great thing because it allows for self-correction, and I think memory is the key to how universalism and freedom both obtain. I also believe that free choices are a matter of luck, despite attempts to deny it, which is why eternal hell is an evil, demonic doctrine. (If you want a concrete example of deterministic free choices, think of when you’re driving and you automatically generate the intention to turn left when the road curves left.)

    By the way, adding reasons to libertarianism doesn’t change the fact that it’s random. You’d just be choosing randomly with respect your desires. There’s no feeler set of reasons to endorse the A-reasons. Denying free choices are random opens the door to self-righteousness and thinking you’re morally superior to others, or could be. You’re not. At best, you’re morally luckier than others. We should be disgusted at the thought of eternally torturing coins for landing on tails.

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    • Counter-Rebel says:

      *deeper set of

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    • dianelos says:

      “If you’re a libertarian who thinks free choices can’t be deterministic, then sorry, you can’t be a (staunch) universalist, only a hopeful one. No matter how unlikely, a coin could land tails every throw.”

      Actually the last claim is false. If you keep tossing a coin it is logically possible that it will land tails every throw, but it is not metaphysically possible. It won’t actually happen. In the real world if you keep tossing a coin then sooner or later it will land heads. How do I know that? Because the mathematics of probability theory tell me that the probability that in an infinite sequence of throws the coin will always come tails is 0. So it won’t happen.

      Here is the proof: If you throw a coin N times you will get 2^N possible outcomes of which only one is of getting only tails. So the probability of getting only tails is p(N) = 1 / 2^N. Thus if N is infinite then p(N=infinite) = 0.

      Universalism is a claim about the real world, so we should only discuss what is possible or impossible in the real world.

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      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        My principle issue with “infernalism” is it requires that God should give up tossing that coin and abandon someone to their fate. This to me is the impossibility. If someone with less of a grasp of probability equations wants to believe that such an infinite regression is possible, so that someone gets stuck there and God just keeps trying for ever, I’m fairly chill with that.

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        • dianelos says:

          Yeah, only universalism is not really like tossing a coin for it’s not a random process: The creature even at its most depraved retains the image of God in them and therefore has a sense of goodness and capacity for rational cognition. The example with the coin serves to elucidate the difference between logical and metaphysical possibility, and thus make it easier to understand why even though it is logically possible that some creature will for ever freely choose separation from God it is impossible that this may occur in actual reality.

          One may also think that even if it were possible for a creature to be so stupid as to behave like a random coin and choose against God 50% of the time (or 99.99% of the time), even then at some point they would repent. Reality is made in a way that even though we may freely choose our orbit there is no such thing as being outside of God’s gravitational pull as it were. As Tom says “to be, to exist at all, is to be invited into relationship with God”.

          Certainty about the truth of theism is not given to us, but DBH is right in observing that on the assumption that there is God certainty about universalism is given to us. In my own condition p( God ) = about 0.9 but p( universalism | God ) = exactly 1. Why (as I claim) certainty about God is not given to us is explained by John Hick’s soul building theodicy by the way. So even though God’s relative hiddenness is a natural evil, it is not something to worry about. For we can understand why if there is God then God would be relatively hidden.

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    • Pretty Lamb says:

      Quote:
      “If you’re a libertarian who thinks free choices can’t be deterministic, then sorry, you can’t be a (staunch) universalist, only a hopeful one. No matter how unlikely, a coin could land tails every throw.”

      Eternal conscious torment is a theoretical impossibility even with “libertarian free-will”; because even using such an abstract concept of a will capable of making totally arbitrary choices, the idea that the will can determine itself with fully aware specificity and with everlasting perseverance is nonsensical. This is to make an idol of the will, to make it brutally omnipotent. To think of the will as this indifferent god stood on a high peak wholly apart, abstracted from all else that exists, able to choose x or y arbitrarily and for as long as it likes – is purely a myth constructed out of logical word-games and thought experiments. I wouldn’t necessarily call that libertarianism, more like a hyper-abstractivism that decontextualises the “will” and “willing” from everything real and cosmic. It’s just a defect of language, of grammar, that allows people to conceive of the dynamic in such algebraic and static terms.

      The human will is a power, and like any power it needs a resource. Eventually the will must run out of its resources, its energy, and then it must call upon a higher power again to even have the capacity to go on willing. The irony is that the resources by which malign spirit rebel against God are themselves received from God, so the only way that such a rebellion could continue for eternity would be if God were to provide for it, to will it Himself . . . And why would God do that? Because He enjoys hearing Himself being accused, cursed, and reviled? A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. The consequence of eternal hell is that God would be a self-loathing manic depressive.

      A Zoroastrian dualism might allow for it, at least imaginatively; but as soon as we admit the oneness of God we can’t even imagine it, at least not without twisting God inside out and, like I said, making Him a kind of neurotic.

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    • Keith DeRose says:

      If you’re a libertarian who thinks free choices can’t be deterministic, then sorry, you can’t be a (staunch) universalist, only a hopeful one. No matter how unlikely, a coin could land tails every throw.
      .
      Well, I try not to get hung up on terminology (so my note 14 here just instructs those who take the terminology of “universalism” a different way from what they can call the position I’m outlining), but if we must….
      If you think it overwhelmingly probable that all will be saved, I think you should probably be counted as a “universalist,” for the reason I’ve had up on my little universalism web page all these years: “After all, you believe it is overwhelmingly probable that all will be saved, and in contested theological matters, we can’t expect to reach beyond that level of certainty anyway. (Indeed, due to the usual causes — human fallibility on such tough questions — we’re not even going to get up to that level of certainty, nor even close to it, on this or any other tough matter, anyway.)”
      But I go to discuss the matter a bit further there, and, for those who worry, or who think God would worry, about the bare possibility of failure, I sketch out an option (“Option 2”) on which God could render it absolutely certain that all will be saved. This all in the Appendix on Free Will and Universalism (Appendix B) here:
      https://campuspress.yale.edu/keithderose/1129-2/#b
      .
      .
      I believe in a model of free will called modest libertarianism, where free choices are compatible with both determinism and indeterminism
      .
      That sounds like compatibilism, and so not like a form of “libertarianism,” to me. I would suggest replacing “modest libertarianism” with another name

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      • Counter-Rebel says:

        Compatibilism is usually presented in a way such that indeterministic choices aren’t needed at all. On my view, there has to be at least one indeterministic choice. What I said about determinans isn’t novel:

        “Libertarians disagree about precisely where indeterminism is required in the process that produces a free act. Some hold that every free act must be undetermined, that is, lacking a factor that is both prior to and logically sufficient for the act. Others hold that a given free act could be determined, provided that the determinans is something for which the agent is responsible in virtue of performing some prior undetermined act that resulted in the determinans. We can think of these as ‘strict’ and ‘broad’
        accounts of what it is for an act to be free in the libertarian sense.” -W. Matthews Grant, “Divine Universal Causality and Libertarian Freedom,

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    • Keith DeRose says:

      By the way, adding reasons to libertarianism doesn’t change the fact that it’s random. . .
      Oh, on the contrary, an action performed for a reason, especially a well-considered one, where one’s acting for that reason isn’t just the causal upshot of mindless little events, but is the exercise of the agent’s basic judging power, would be the very epitome of one not done randomly.
      . . .You’d just be choosing randomly with respect your desires
      No, the position is that when deciding which among one’s desires one will act toward satisfying, one chooses based on a reason, in the key cases of deliberate actions, and so, again, and again paradigmatically, non-randomly.
      It’s true that there are often what are, and what the agent recognizes as, reasons for going any of several directions (and sometimes the various reasons answer to different desires the agent has). Here, the agent acts for what they judge to be the best reason (or where they don’t have the time or energy, for what they take to be a good enough, and so far as they can tell quickly, as good as any, reason). We should not construe that situation in a way that generates a pernicious infinite regress (which would be a problem for anyone who thinks it’s possible to act for reasons). Why did the agent judge reason A better than B? This should be treated as already answered: they found it a better reason, for the same relatively-good-making features of A that they already cited in saying why they judged A better in the first place. Wasn’t that random? No, it’s a judgment of what’s a better or stronger reason. It may well be mistaken, and if you keep pressing for deeper reasons, of course, they will eventually (and, actually, probably pretty quickly) bottom out (at I suppose what one might well call “basic reasons”: one may find this bottoms out *immediately*), but it isn’t random.

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      • Counter-Rebel says:

        “would be the very epitome of one not done randomly.” You can say that, but it’s not true. There’s no explanation for why (i.e. it is random that) they did A over B. It’s not completely random, granted, but it’s still random that the A-reasons took ascendance over the B-reasons. The disjunction (“either A or B”) is explicable, but not the disjunct.

        “No, the position is that when deciding which among one’s desires one will act toward satisfying, one chooses based on a reason….” True, but it doesn’t contravene the fact that it’s random. There’s reasons for doing A, but there’s also reasons for doing B.

        “Here, the agent acts for what they judge to be the best reason” Is the judgment of the best reason (say the A-reason) part the input state, which leads to the choice of A? If so, then that’s determinism. If the judgment is part of the output state (the choice), then when you say they chose A because they judged it better, you’re basically saying they chose A because they chose A.

        “Why did the agent judge reason A better than B? This should be treated as already answered: they found it a better reason, for the same relatively-good-making features of A that they already cited in saying why they judged A better in the first place.” It appears you’re saying they judged A better (found it better) because they found it better (judged it better), which is to say A because A. That’s an “explanatory solecism,” to use a term from Graham Oppy.

        Imagine Lucifer chooses B over A. Then God rewinds the clock 100 times. In some replays, he chooses A-because-of-A-reasons. In others, he chooses B-because-of-B-reasons. On any given replay, it’s just a matter of luck that one won out over the other. You can’t say he chose A because A-reasons, because those A-reasons would’ve been in the input state had B won out. The same *unchosen* input state (which is all the agent has at its disposal for setting up the outcome) leaves it open what output arises. It’s also unchosen that it’s serendipitous–he has a faculty that generates intentions in an unpredictable, spontaneous manner. “BAM! CRAP! The wrong choice popped out!” That’s random.

        Neil Levy: “[W]e can’t invoke the reasons already in play because they do not provide a reason for choosing the option actually chosen rather than an alternative, and that is sufficient to show that there is no reason at all [Me: it is random] for how the agent-causal power is exercised. Since the agent’s reasons exhaust their force–causal or otherwise–in rationalizing each option, the agent can’t rationally select any particular option for the very reasons that made it attractive in the first place; not without illicit double counting of reasons. … [A]ny contrastive explanation which cites only the reasons that structure agents’ options does not explain why the agent-causal power was not exercised completely blindly.”

        I’d recommend that all universalists add the luck objection (especially Peter van Inwagen’s Rollback Argument) to their arsenal. You can believe in libertarian free will while also accepting the conclusion of the luck objection, as I do. We’re still responsible for our choices; we’re just not *ultimately* responsible. We’re (un)lucky coins. We’re guilty, but in a deeper sense, we’re innocent.

        “Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience.” -David Bentley Hart

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        • Keith DeRose says:

          Resist falling into Lewis Carroll problems!
          Why did you choose A over B?
          Well, here are the nice features of A I was going by
          Doesn’t B have nice features, too?
          Yes, but I was liking A better, for what I take to be good reasons
          But why?!!!
          Well, because of the nice features about A I cited a moment ago. I was judging those better reasons, at least for me, at least right now, than the reasons for B
          But couldn’t you have instead taken a greater liking to B’s nice features, and chosen that instead?
          I could have
          Aha, so your choice of A was random!
          No, it was for the reasons cited
          But your choosing those reasons over the reasons for B was random
          No, I judged the reasons for A better
          But why?!!!
          I’ve already told you what I find so nice about A, I judge those better than the reasons for B. I may be wrong, but there’s nothing random about it
          Random! Random! Random! Random!

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          • Counter-Rebel says:

            Resorting to childish mockery doesn’t refute my argument. And you have a PhD.
            “but I was liking A better, for what I take to be good reasons”
            If you liked A better, and chose A as a result of that, then that’s determinism. If you could’ve chosen B despite liking the A-reasons betters, then I still don’t know why A-reasons-looking-better was efficacious rather than not. You didn’t answer my question: is the judgment that A is better part of the input state, or is it in the outcome?
            “I’ve already told you what I find so nice about A, I judge those better than the reasons for B.” Again, is that part of the input or the outcome?
            “Random! Random! Random! Random!” Yes, as I explained.

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          • Keith DeRose says:

            If you liked A better, and chose A as a result of that, then that’s determinism
            No, on the view in question, that’s not determinism. (If by “result” you mean my choosing A is causally determined by some prior event, then that’s determinism – but it’s also not getting the picture right.) My liking A better is not on the agent-causation picture an event which then causally determines the event of my choosing A. The whole idea is that there are events that are caused by the agent in a way not reducible to causation by events concerning the agent, with choosing/judging being some of the prime examples [the details vary from theorist to theorist here] of things agent causation theorists hold are irreducibly caused by the agent — things done for reasons, and so not randomly, but not causally determined by events earlier in some causal chain. The choosing/judging is, in cases of deliberation, done for reasons, and so not randomly, but also not determined by prior events. If you take relations involving the agent and their reasons — their liking their reasons, their finding their reasons attracted, their being moved by those reasons — as events that then causally determine the agent’s choices, then you’re making the choices determined, but at the cost of getting the view wrong. I like O’Connor’s description of how deliberation can seem to operate, and I like versions of agent causation on which this seeming is accurate: “It does not seem to me (at least ordinarily) that I am caused to act by the reasons which favor doing so; it seems to be the case, rather, that I produce my decision in view of those reasons, and could have, in an unconditional sense, decided differently.” The idea is that there are things that we, the agents, do, in light of reasons, where we are not causally determined to act by any prior events, including events involving our reasons

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Counter-rebel, you have asserted your claim about randomness and Dr DeRose has responded. You disagree. I don’t think there is any point in discussing this any further. Let’s consider this line of discussion closed.

          Like

  4. Tom says:

    Thank you Keith for sharing this.

    Forgive the link, but it’s elsewhere here in Fr Al’s blog and it’s very relevant to Keith’s post. Note Hart’s response regarding libertarian choice in the comments section. It speaks to Keith’s post here.

    https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/at-liberty-to-become-free/

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Yes indeed – what is missing in talk of ACCEPTANCE and the construct of libertarian freewill proposed by Keith is the rationale of intentionality. Value doesn’t quite cut it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Tom says:

    Thanks again for this post, Keith. I too am a libertarian (not a ‘voluntarist’ – though some conflate the two) and a universalist. But I’m not at all merely a hopeful universalist. I’m quite confident of the ultimate salvation of all.

    Let me offer my tentative take on what it is Hart rejects when it comes to discussions about created agency and their final rest in God, because I did (and perhaps still do) struggle with this aspect of his argument. But first, a few key portions of your post:

    “But whatever exactly ACCEPTANCE amounts to, so long as a defense makes it something one must freely do, libertarian accounts of free will grant the key claim of the defense. Hart sees the defenders as arguing (I add the emphasis here) ‘that it does not lie in God’s power to assure that all will be saved, for the salvation of each person is contingent on his or her free choice, and God cannot compel a free act and yet preserve it in its freedom’. Hart attacks this claim; libertarians like me grant it.”

    And then:

    “How does this better form of libertarianism compare with Hart’s ‘classical’ account of freedom? This contrast remains: While we are still libertarians, and so incompatibilists, Hart thinks that God can completely assure that we act in a certain way, while that act remains a free one for us.6 My highlighting the ‘right’ form of libertarianism doesn’t erase that con¬trast; it only makes clear that in rejecting the determination of our free actions by things over which we have no control, we libertarians need not, and in the best cases do not, flee to the opposite extreme of mere chance.”

    And from Footnote 6:

    “Whether Hart’s view is one of (divine) determinism seems tricky: It’s apparently in some way an ‘of course’ matter—but with Kantian complications: ‘For those who worry that this all amounts to a kind of metaphysical determinism of the will, I may not be able to provide perfect comfort. Of course it is a kind of determinism, but only at the transcendental level….”

    ——–

    I few thoughts.

    ) One thing libertarians need to address (which seems to me to be Hart’s fundamental complaint) is reducing the ‘freedom’ for which we are created to libertarian choice, as if we’re “free” the less defined we are by constraints (particularly constraints of nature). We can never be free in this sense, I don’t think. And our being free in the libertarian sense is perfectly compatible with (a) libertarian agency being only the means for becoming free in (what Hart argues is) the final, eschatological sense where deliberation re: the Good has given way to the will’s fixed orientation toward God, no longer able to misrelated.

    1) That said, I take Hart to grant that we are presently free in this lesser, libertarian sense, provided we understand this sense as circumscribed by the will’s transcendental orientation. And this is where Hart is spot on I think. We may be (presently) free in a libertarian sense to misrelated ‘within’ this orientation, so say no to God on occasion (and it may be true, as I believe, that it is only under the terms of deliberative, libertarian agency that the will makes its way progressively into its final rest), but we are not free to misrelate ‘outside’ the possibility of Godward becoming. No ‘no’ we utter to God can be final, but learning to say ‘yes’ can come to final rest.

    2) I’m kicking myself for not being able to find the exchange here (over a year ago) in which I asked Hart about all this, particularly his TASBS comment about God being able to assure the outcomes of our choices. I took that (as you seen to) to mean all choices, any time, any place. What I discovered in that exchanged (unless I’m not remembering it accurately) is that all Hart meant by that “assurance” was defining the will’s final, eschatological end. It’s the assurance of teleological grounding. No other “final end” can be achieved through any exercise of the will. As he says in the third quote I posted above, this assurance is a kind of determinism “but only at the transcendental level.” That is, God determines (assures) the only final end in which the will (even understood to be presently free in the libertarian sense) may come to rest.

    3) What is not in doubt for me as a libertarian, is that the majority view of Hell as irrevocable torment, and annihilationism as well, are equally impossible final ends for any world created ex nihilo by a loving God. Hart’s ‘moral’ argument leaves final universal reconciliation the only possible, final ‘end’ or consummation to creation. But I agree with you as a libertarian that that end has be reach though the exercise of libertarian choice. For me, the transcendental orientation of the will precludes all other ends and keeps the will open to God as its only final rest. This does not give us a terminus ad quem, a line in the sand, at which point some other means of securing creaturely surrender comes into play. If universalists require such a line to be confident and assured, then there’s no assurance. But why require that? If no other end is possible, and God’s love and grace are the source and ground of our existence, and God always lies within the scope of choice, and God is in no rush, and we’ve no place to go – what’s the problem? So, I’m perfectly comfortable with a more indeterminate (open-ended) timeline, in which creatures, ‘soon or later’, will come around to resting their deliberative wandering in surrender to God.

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      “A’ few thoughts! I live in typo hell.

      Like

    • David says:

      Hi Tom. Was this the exchange with DBH that you were thinking of?

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2021/01/26/when-hell-becomes-dogma-freedom-for-perdition/

      If so, please stop kicking yourself. If not…. please stop kicking yourself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Thanks David. That does look like it, though there might’ve been an earlier exchange too. But your link covers it well enough. In what you link to, Hart seems to dismiss libertarian agency en toto, but in response to my earlier post here he admits there is a libertarian exercise of the will within the transcendental orientation that delimits all desire. Thus, libertarian agency survives that delimitation. So I’m unsure how to understand him. I’d like to think his dismissals of libertarian choice are limited to versions that collapse into full voluntarism.

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    • Keith DeRose says:

      Thanks for all that, Tom. All very helpful, esp. about the meaning of “free”. It may be best to respond to you and Fr Adian together, which I’ll do below

      Like

  6. Iain Lovejoy says:

    The free will defence of infernalism boils down to the question not as to whether God can make a rock so heavy even God can’t lift it, but as to whether God can make a child so stupid and stubborn that even God can’t educate it. (And then of course to the question as to why on earth God would do so, even if God could?)

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Keith, would it be accurate to say that your primary disagreement with Hart circles around his classical assertion that humanity is teleologically oriented to God as its final end and supreme happiness and therefore enjoys an ineradicable desire for God which ultimately energizes all volitional acts?

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  8. CS says:

    Hart’s greatest virtues were never precision or clarity. His work suffers, because it fails to define terms plainly. Readers are left to fill in the gaps. That said, I think there are multiple levels of equivocation going on in this dialogue between DeRose and Hart.

    DeRose seems to be concerned with metaphysical freedom. In particular, he’s interested what philosophers call the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP). PAP says that agents must have the possibility of choosing otherwise in order to be free. Philosophers split up the metaphysical debate on free will into compatibilism and incompatiblism. Incompatiblists (like O’Connor) think that freedom requires PAP. Compatiblists don’t. Importantly, both Hart and DeRose are incompatiblists. Both think that metaphysical freedom requires PAP. (See Hart’s discussion of Lisbet in “Being Consciousness Bliss” for more). Incompatiblism is not at issue in the debate.

    Libertarian accounts of free will like O’Connor’s are a particular kind of incompatiblist view about free will. I think that Hart is probably an agent-causal libertarian himself. I say probably, because Hart never states his views explicitly, even though much of his writing points in that direction.

    At any rate, when Hart attacks libertarianism, he’s using libertarianism in a different sense than DeRose is using it. Hart is using libertarianism to refer to views about rational agency, whereas DeRose is using libertarianism as a synonym for incompatiblism. Can agents perform an action that is not based on any reason? If so, Hart wants to call those people libertarians. He thinks choice not based on reason is arbitrary, worthless, or explanatorily inadequate. It is no better than acting on chance.

    I think Hart’s own view of rational agency is something like the following:

    Hart subscribes to the guise of the good thesis, which says that all intentional action is action performed for a purported reason. The guise of the good thesis rules out the possibility that agents can intentionally act for no reason at all. In other words, the guise of the good thesis rules out libertarianism with respect to rational agency. However, it doesn’t rule out metaphysical libertarianism, because under the guise of the good thesis, the world often presents us with more than one reason for action, and we get to choose which reason from among those reasons to act for.

    Now, imagine a scenario where, instead of the world presenting us with several reasons for action, the world presents us with only one. Here’s an example: a kid standing next to you falls in the street. You can save him from getting hit by a truck. Here you have a reason to save the boy that defeats any other reasons for action you might have in that moment. In other words, you have only one rational choice. The question is whether you lack freedom in any morally problematic sense. Hart will say no. He’ll say that you aren’t less free in any problematic sense for not having a range of rational choices to choose from.

    DeRose can reply in at least two ways by asserting: (1) you can always act contrary to reason and not save the boy and (2) if you really don’t have the option to not save the boy, you aren’t free.

    In reply to (1), Hart is going to point out that you can choose not to save the boy only if you are making some sort of rational mistake. For example, you mistakenly believe that saving the boy is outweighed by some other reason like keeping your pants clean. However, what Hart doesn’t allow is for action based purely on the will based and not on any reason. Rather, like O’Connor, Hart is going to say that all intentional choice is choice for a reason. Thus, Hart is not a libertarian with respect to rational agency, even though he is metaphysical libertarian with respect to free will.

    In reply to (2), Hart is going to deny that morally valuable freedom requires PAP. Instead, he’s going to assert that the only valuable kind of freedom is the freedom to act in accord with reason. The freedom to not save the child is worthless. People might even be justified in forcing you to save the boy if you refused. Mutatis mutandis, God may be rationally justified in forcing you to love the Good.

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  9. DBH says:

    Keith

    Thanks. I think you’ve misstated a few issues, and your arguments for libertarian freedom are somewhat off the mark. But I am glad you agree with my general conclusion.

    I’ll write on the matter at greater length in a week or so on my new Substack newsletter:
    https://davidbentleyhart.substack.com/

    Liked by 4 people

    • Pretty Lamb says:

      DBH,

      Thanks for finally making a site where I can keep track of your work/output. Please keep linking to your various interviews & podcast appearances there because I have to keep searching for them!

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Zach Manis says:

    Keith,

    Thanks for you post. The discussion at this point seems to be entirely in-house agreements and disagreements among universalists of various stripes. I’ll pose a contrasting view, starting here:

    “Perhaps because the real question here is usually not squarely faced, answers are hard to come by. The two I can discern are truly incredible, at least in the forms in which I can see them. (If there are other answers I have missed, or better ways of developing the ones I’ve found, I will be happy to have provoked their advertisement.)”

    Here are some advertisements:

    https://undpress.nd.edu/9780268010966/hell/

    https://global.oup.com/academic/product/sinners-in-the-presence-of-a-loving-god-9780190929251?cc=us&lang=en&

    The latter is my own book; my apologies for the shameless self-promotion. But if you haven’t taken a look at it yet, I hope you will. I think it’s certainly relevant to your latest project on divine hiddenness and hell.

    But back to the main point. The “other answer” that you haven’t addressed in your post is a view that takes the capacity for self-deception to be essential to creaturely moral freedom, which in turn plays an essential role in the formation of personal identity. In its developed form, that answer seems to me not to fall into either of the accounts you’ve discussed—the denial account or the autonomy account. There are connections to both, of course, but I think it goes significantly beyond both of these accounts as well. In my OUP manuscript, the discussions of self-deception are spread throughout the book, but please see especially chapter 6.

    I’m currently working on a version of the book for a popular audience, and in one of the chapters in that manuscript, I bring together—and in some ways further develop—the main points about self-deception and personal identity. It’s just a draft at this point, but I’d be happy to send it to you if you’d like.

    Cheers,
    Zach

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      The curious and circular argument being that “self-deception” is somehow a function of freedom, rather than the effect of a prior and often inescapable bondage (unless another set us free)? How does one deceive oneself unless one is already to some extent deceived about oneself? It is a circle one can never enter from the outside. I read your book, and found the argument utterly unconvincing, Zach. In fact, I found it gloriously self-refuting. (Mind you, that puts you in genial company. The Great Divorce refutes itself in much the same way.) Relative freedom is not absolute freedom, and absolute freedom alone suffices for the free-will defense.

      Like

      • Zach Manis says:

        Hi David,

        The necessary condition of moral freedom is not self-deception, but rather the *capacity* for self-deception. The exercise of self-deception doesn’t require that one is already deceived.

        The phenomenology of self-deception is all too familiar. We’re tempted to engage in it whenever we have a strong desire that conflicts with what we know to be right. When we give in to this temptation, it has consequences for our character, especially in its cumulative effects over time.

        The capacity for self-deception does require that one is not morally perfect. A morally perfect agent would experience no temptation to self-deceive. Which is why the divine presence model is most naturally wed to an Irenaean view of the fall rather than an Augustinian one.

        I don’t see a vicious circle. If my view required an incomprehensible fall from moral perfection, then it would have a problem. But of course that isn’t my view.

        Cheers,
        Zach

        Like

        • DBH says:

          And yet the circle is clearly there. It requires a will that is clearly deceived as to the desirability of the end it prefers to the good of proper to its own nature. You can continue to refuse to see the obvious circularity of your argument if that suits your purpose; but your argument remains manifestly false. Defectibility of the will requires defect of knowledge and reason; defect of reason and knowledge is a limit upon competency and therefore upon freedom. This is not even a very interesting argument. What you’re saying is clearly false. Your phenomenology may be psychologically accurate (though I happen to think it isn’t). What it cannot possibly be is an account of fully free self-determination. It is a description of the slavery of the will from which a good God would free his creature, by whatever means necessary.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Furthermore, if we take the fallen will to be a necessary condition of what it means to be human then freedom will be defined by the terms of its fall. In contrast, if we can take Christ as the example of a human who is perfectly free, then the freer one becomes the more one is constrained to do what is right and good. This is in sharp contrast with understandings of the will which constitute the ability to do otherwise as the conditions of its freedom. I would certainly hope that Christ isn’t perfectly free in that sense, e.g. to be able to as he did otherwise. Is God able to do otherwise?

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          • David says:

            Hi DBH. Given that ‘Defectibility of the will requires defect of knowledge and reason’ am I correct to assume that, in your view, pre-fallen humanity’s, ‘before’ it made its supratemporal determination to fall, was subject to such defects – because, in order to fall, humanity had to be within the circle of ignorance?

            Does that then not mean we should describe pre-fallen humanity as subject to a ‘slavery of the will from which a good God would free his creature’? But if even the ‘very good’ Adamic humanity is subject to ignorance and subject to slavery, why not describe it as fallen?

            I suppose one answer would involve saying that, while supratemporal humanity may indeed be automatically subject to some ignorance, it is not so ignorant that it *automatically* falls – otherwise, the Fall would be a tragic necessity and not truly contingent..But if the will is ignorant both ‘before’ and after the Fall, there must be some distinction between the ‘sin-necessitating ignorance’ we currently find ourselves in, and the sinless ignorance of pre-fall supratemporal humanity. Is there anything we can say about these two states and the transition between them or is it just a mystery?

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          • CS says:

            Hi DBH,

            At this point, something like David’s question– How did The Fall happen in the first place? — keeps me from becoming a full-throated proponent of your views. Without the capacity for sin being baked into the cake of human nature, I don’t see how Evil could have entered the world. I hope, at some point, you address this question in Leaves in the Wind. I’m happily a subscriber.

            Best wishes.

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          • Counter-Rebel says:

            @CS & David –

            In an interview with Tony Golsby-Smith, DBH says:
            “This fullness of humanity is Adam made in the perfect image of God’s eternal son. This undifferentiated humanity falls at the moment of its creation (as Maximus the confessor puts it in three places) and Jesus Christ is therefore the “Lamb slain from the foundations of the cosmos” (Revelation 13:8) and the second Adam to whom all of humanity must remain united in order for the image of God to be preserved.” (Link to partial and imperfect transcript: https://copiousflowers.com/2021/06/14/humanity-created-after-the-image-fo-god-in-the-beginning-was-nothing-less-than-the-totality-of-all-human-beings-throughout-time-united-in-a-single-body-divinized-joined-to-christ-and-thoroughly-plung/?fbclid=IwAR3uV2fvqBUuEktqwj79jPtfRZRUZ6Uc4d-iLpin90k7uFHUuVU9a4PiB3Y )

            Perhaps someone more informed than me can summarize Maximus’ view of the fall. For now, here’s a quote from Immanuel Kant that could shed light on Adam’s first sin–

            “Innocence is indeed a glorious thing, only, on the other hand, it is very sad that it cannot well maintain itself, and is easily seduced.”

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          • Counter-Rebel says:

            Mea culpa. That was a quote from the blogger behind Copious Flowers, not DBH. He was discussing the subject of DBH’s interview. The quotes from DBH were above what I quoted.

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          • Zach Manis says:

            “It is a description of the slavery of the will from which a good God would free his creature, by whatever means necessary.”
            By whatever means necessary? Including those that destroy personal identity? What would that accomplish?
            There’s a world of difference between being healed of the disease of sin because you *want* to be healed and have asked God to heal you vs. being “healed” against your will.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Zach: “There’s a world of difference between being healed of the disease of sin because you *want* to be healed and have asked God to heal you vs. being “healed” against your will.”

            This might hold if we were talking about an entity who violently imposes his will upon us through some kind of brain-washing. But this cannot obtain for the God who is the transcendent source of our willing who wills the good that we ultimately desire for ourselves. Precisely for this reason not only will he not abandon us to our Kierkegaardian self-enclosure, but he will find a way to liberate us from our enslavement to self, hatred, and rebellion. That is his tough love, a kind of tough love that we, as finite beings, cannot accomplish for others but which absolute and infinite Love certainly can accomplish in us and for us.

            I do not doubt that this liberation will entail profound suffering for the obdurate. Here is where C. S. Lewis’s vision of the life of the damned in The Great Divorce goes astray. Life in the grey town is too banal and boring. Contrast this with the horror of the outer darkness as described by George MacDonald in “The Consuming Fire,” where the damned are stripped of light, community, and all possibility for either the satisfaction of desire or the assuagement of boundless agony and intolerable loneliness. The finite spirit cannot everlastingly maintain its delusions and illusions under such conditions. Sooner or later the false self will shatter, and in that moment it will find the Savior waiting to bring it into Truth, Life, Ecstasy, Freedom, Joy.

            Liked by 1 person

          • mercifullayman says:

            The only issue I see with any and all of this(by this I mean the whole thread, not you) is that, at times, and to borrow a terrible metaphor/analogy…. it comes off as that we are torn between an existentialist/personalist view of liberty, not as always complete autonomy per se, but what is actualized in my life and an inverted “Manchurian Candidate” view. Both of these views point towards each other and say you’re wrong, and yet both have merits for why they work. We have people here asking if irrationality is a ground for a pre-existent fall(some really great mystics and Idealists love you), while yet at the same time, have people asking when mother(God) is going to call with the right configuration of cards to ensure we carry out our orders that we’ve been made for. (Which, btw, if you’ve read the book, this doesn’t feel as far off as one might surmise when discussing teleological ends in the midst of a freedom/determinism narrative…..it is the rational end dealing with the potency of an existentialist view….and some church fathers love you.)

            That’s the whole point of the mystery, at least as I see it. Both sides are going to inevitably miss pieces of the whole(pre-fall/post-fall). It’s an existential fact, and Dostoyevsky noted this more clearly than anyone. People chide him for the contradictions in his writing, as they do Heraclitus, yet there is something about the fact that the story of the “Grand Inquisitor” isn’t just about love in the face of ontic freedom. Everyone seems to neglect, that it isn’t Alyosha’s story after all, but Ivan’s (one of the famed “sons of darkness.”) The point was never meant to be made that “love is the answer for true freedom as it is true freedom.” That is a secondary “hopeful” reading. The kiss, never changed one inch of the Inquisitor as far as we know. Had it, Dostoyevsky would have let us know. (As we know, all of his figures were ideas of his own, personalizations that required fleshing out for himself and to which he always gave an answer that fit.) The Inquisitor’s “rationally” accepted realization and the ramifications as such, led him to that answer for control(in the here and now)…he realized what freedom entails…a lot of unhappiness here and now(which, just to restate…He is using his faculties properly.) The point of the story is that ultimately someone leaves that room….but who? And if the Inquisitor does leave changed, he’s only leaving because he realizes that Christ is the only answer to the tension of humanity and true ontic freedom. He could just as easily leave Christ there, and It isn’t just love, it’s also rational assent that is independent of a telological causation. Jesus comes to stop the Inquisition and is yet imprisoned by it. Love can lose IN THIS WORLD and it’s tragic, and yet, it’s also real. Yet, it may not in the next. And maybe that kiss isn’t so much about the here and now, but yet what will be gleaned beyond the here and now(“I wish it were not so, but yet it must be.” So to speak. This echoes MacDonald) . The joyful acceptance of the kiss, when it comes, is the “Birth of God in man and the birth of man in God” as Berdyaev would say. It just is unclear as to when that may occur….but it cannot occur until man realizes his own need for the God/Man. All we know, is that is it is both subjects reaching to each other.

            Also, just as in the story of the girl and the giving of the ticket back….it seems to be more precisely about the fact that God is only found in the suffering of humanity. The tension of false freedoms and the ramifications that play out in eternity are the crux of the life we are experience now, and that’s ok. When we read that all things workout to those who love the Lord….it doesn’t say immediately or in this world/aeon. It will come to be eventually. Christ does appear in that story too….He’s the tear. It’s similar to the parable about Judas climbing the tower after seeing a glimmer of light, and after millennia finally reaching the top, only to hear Christ say, “I’ve been waiting on you.” It is opportunity blended with grace blended with reality….deep into the abyss of who we are as humans….a true reality where the illusions that we create, which are freely made in the strictest sense of the word, are shown to be fabrications. It doesn’t negate their realness. To say the evil we encounter is privative and “not real” is the stupidest expression one can say. It’s why it takes multiple views to try as reason around the existence we all face. It merely shows the crap we need experience has any any lasting effect…an eschatological event horizon will obliterate them as a black-hole does light…yet the light was real…we’d never imply it wasn’t, and yet it can be overcome . It shows that the subject is living in a world in which the “I” was only accepting an objective stance. The emphasis was always on the object of themselves and not who they truly were meant to be….the subjective of existence.

            (I do find it fascinating that so many people, when dealing with God, much like some of the silver age Russians would point out, put emphasis on the verbs around God instead of the subject of God. If you say God is something, even being, you’ve committed the same sin you accuse others of….panentheism. You’ve made him an object as much as anyone else has. And yet, maybe that’s the point….we all swim in the same waters. Some may prefer certain strokes to others to get where they are going and that’s ok.)

            When one discusses “realization” as “self-deception” that comes off as merely psychological jargon for “objectification” or “concretization.” You’ve moved from the internal to the external as your guiding principle. It isn’t new. You’ve used the rubric of a thousand enslaving worlds to justify yourself, and yet you feel justified because THOSE THINGS SAY THEY ARE REAL. It is objectification before it is self-deception. It’s the notion of collective assent before it is individuated acceptance. You’ve lost the sense of what it means to be a true subject in the face of an object. The fathers, as well as a host of idealists and psychologists like Lacan would be upset.

            Anyway….late night rambling over. Just musing away. If it’s too fecund, I apologize but it’s what’s been ruminating over the past few days.

            Like

          • mercifullayman says:

            Also,
            Forgive my typos. Late night musings on a phone is hard for us paeans.

            Like

        • JBG says:

          Zach Manis: “The phenomenology of self-deception is all too familiar. We’re tempted to engage in it whenever we have a strong desire that conflicts with what we know to be right.” “A morally perfect agent would experience no temptation to self-deceive.”

          Temptation to self-deceive?

          Are you sure you don’t mean rationalization rather than self-deception?

          I find the notion of “self-deception” incoherent. Deception is an intentional manipulative act inflicted upon an unknowing subject, typically to gain some advantage over them.

          One cannot actually deceive oneself. Which part of me is the deceiver and which is the deceived?

          Furthermore, if I know I am “deceiving” myself, how is it that I am actually deceived (unknowingly duped)? Or on the other hand, if I don’t know that I am “deceiving” myself, how am I guilty of deception (an intentional act to dupe)?

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            JBG, both “self-deception” and “self-deceive” are listed in the dictionary, so clearly it’s possible to use them in meaningful way. But I gather it’s a controversial matter: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-deception/

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          • Zach Manis says:

            JBG: Rationalization is a form of self-deception. It’s what we do when we *want* to believe our actions are justified, and so tell ourselves (and often others as well) a story about how they’re justified, and then we rehearse it to ourselves until we *actually* believe they’re justified.

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        • dianelos says:

          “When we give in to this temptation, it has consequences for our character, especially in its cumulative effects over time.”

          Right. The opposite path of not giving in to temptation but doing the right thing has consequences for our character too; the former is called perdition the latter repentance.

          “The capacity for self-deception does require that one is not morally perfect. A morally perfect agent would experience no temptation to self-deceive.”

          I think there are two notions of creaturely moral perfection:

          A. To not experience temptation.
          B. To experience temptation and overcome it.

          Which is the greater? It’s kind of a trick question for moral perfection is not a static state but a dynamic condition of life; what matters is not the state but how the state came about. So even though it would seem obvious that A is greater than B, in fact B is the greater for it leads to A. Conversely, to be made from the beginning to not experience temptation renders the notion of personal morality incoherent.

          In this context please observe that Christ in the gospels did experience temptation; he had to struggle in order to obey the Father’s will – and this makes Him morally perfect.

          Like

    • CS says:

      Zach – what’s your argument for the capacity for self-deception being a necessary condition of personal identity?

      Like

      • Zach Manis says:

        CS, I’d be happy to send you the chapter from my new manuscript that develops the argument – the same one I was offering to send to Keith. Let me know if you’re interested.

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    • Rob says:

      Question: why is your book $84 even in Kindle format? I’m interested in reading it but that’s quite a bit to ask.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        An author has no control over the price of his book.

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      • Zach Manis says:

        Rob: Agreed — and Al is exactly right about author control over price. That’s one of my main motivations for writing the new book. I wanted to be able to present the main arguments in a form that’s shorter, more accessible, and affordable.

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  11. Keith DeRose says:

    I was going to respond to Tom and to Fr Adian, but a couple of other comments came in – incl. from DBH himself. But I think I should just go with what I planned, which may help with understanding some big differences in approach, even if it doesn’t respond to the most recent comments.
    Fr Aidan asks, in nicely big-picture way:
    Keith, would it be accurate to say that your primary disagreement with Hart circles around his classical assertion that humanity is teleologically oriented to God as its final end and supreme happiness and therefore enjoys an ineradicable desire for God which ultimately energizes all volitional acts?
    And, you know, I don’t think that’s the primary disagreement here. It may not even be a disagreement at all. I’m all for something like that as the final end of humankind. Our disagreement, or at least what seems our primary difference at play here, is narrower, concerning how to respond to free will defenses, and differences in basic approach to issues of free will seem somehow at the base of it.
    Tom speaks of different senses of “free”:
    And our being free in the libertarian sense is perfectly compatible with (a) libertarian agency being only the means for becoming free in (what Hart argues is) the final, eschatological sense
    And, yes, it seems some difference in meaning may be causing trouble here.
    The draft of my book that I have up right now, while incomplete (I’m working on it!), does have my explication of the relevant meaning of “free” in what I hope to be close to its final form. So, for those who really want to get into it, that’s at pp. 73-84 of the current draft, which is here:

    Click to access 3H-9-16-20.pdf

    But I think for current purposes, we can just go with what I have right here, much more compactly, in my note 7 above — though I’m about to cite from my longer discussion just my example of clear case of an action that is “free” in the relevant sense.
    My account is an attempt to explicate the meaning of “free” in many theological and philosophical discussions. It is supposed to be neutral between compatibilism and incompatibilism — in fact, it’s supposed to give the sense of “free” that compatibilists and incompatiblists are using when they argue about whether such “freedom” is compatible with determinism. I view this as a substantive dispute, not a matter of each of these disputants using “free” in a different sense. They mean the same thing by “free”, but substantively disagree about whether freedom in that sense is compatible with determinism.
    But here, we might actually have different senses of the term floating around on us. Tom’s (following DBH?) “free in the final, eschatological sense,” sounds like something different, maybe some variety of “True Freedom” (“Ah, but to be *Truly* Free…..”) As Tom indicates, there are no doubt connections between “freedom” as I explicate it, and such True of eschatological freedom.
    I think current (by which I guess I mean, starting in the 1960s) free will defenders, and specifically free will defenders of hell, are using “free” in the way I’m trying to explicate, and their proposals should be understood in that way. That wouldn’t mean they deny that this (I guess “this” here is our human existence!) is all aimed at some great end state (though infernalists will think many will not arrive at the end state aimed for). But they do think free (in the sense I’m trying to explicate) ACCEPTANCE (again, a squishy term I’m using here) is needed.
    It seems DBH’s and my reasons, or at least our most important reasons, for finding defenses of infernalism based on such a foundation to be hopeless are quite similar. But as I find the free will defenders of infernalism to be using “free” in a coherent and sensible way, and even agree with their libertarianism [freedom in the relevant sense I’m explicating is incompatible with determinism plus we do often act freely in that sense], my angle of approach is different.

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    • Keith DeRose says:

      I only meant to give the link to my book draft — but in my browser, at least, the draft itself appears here! Guess that’s fine

      Like

    • CS says:

      Keith, thanks for a great post.

      After reading it, I am not clear about what is required, on your view, for an agent to be free under libertarianism. Do agents, when faced with a choice, need the ability to choose otherwise in order to be free? Are agents free so long as they cause their actions? Here’re are two concrete examples that illustrate to the gist of my questions:

      (1) Alice can choose to enter one of three doors. All doors lead down different paths to the same destination. She is free, because, no matter what door she chooses, she could have chosen a different path.

      (2) One door lies before John. John’s action of walking through the door is free, because John’s action was caused by himself, not by any cause outside of himself.

      Under libertarianism, is John free? Is Alice free?

      A possible objection your picture focuses on the idea that ACCEPTANCE is more valuable when it occurs in difficult circumstances. Would you say that the more difficult the ACCEPTANCE the more valuable it is? If so, would this imply that God should subject the strongest members of his flock to the harshest circumstances? Does that make a world where we are all Job, the best possible one?

      Thanks in advance if you decide to reply!

      Like

      • Keith DeRose says:

        I’m imagining that Alice and John have the option to not to walk through any door. This even if they are told they “must” choose a door and walk through it, and will be severely punished if they don’t. This would block their “freedom” in some good, ordinary senses of the word, but in the sense I’m focused on, they are free to refuse and get punished. (On this, see esp. sect. 29, pp. 77-79 of the draft of my book.)
        If I’m imagining your cases correctly, then I’d say their action is free, as they have alternatives they could follow instead (not walking through any door).
        But crucial to significance of your cases (if my sense of where you might be going with this is right), note that there are important things here that our agents are *not* “free to do.” John seems unfree to enter the region beyond the door at any place but at his single door. (Here, in keeping with what I take to be the spirit of your question, we ignore possibilities like Alice’s breaking through the wall.) Alice seems unfree to enter the region other than at some path (one of the 3) all to a single destination. She would seem unfree to end up at any other “destination” – though so far as I can tell, she can (perhaps unwisely), and is free to, never make it to any destination?
        But “free to” is tricky. If we imagine Alice’s case so that some outside force really will eventually push Alice through some door and then down one of the paths to that destination, whether Alice goes along with this or not, but in the meantime Alice can choose which door she goes through and then when (so long as it’s before the time of forcing) and how she reaches the destination by one of the paths, then, when she walks to the destination, she was free to reach it at a different time and in a different way, she was not free to avoid reaching that destination.

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        • CS says:

          This is helpful! Thank you for taking the time to clarify for me.

          Just to put what you said in my own words– if Jane must choose to enter one of the three doors, Jane would be free with respect to which path she takes, but she would be unfree with respect to the destination. Freedom with respect to the destination would require Jane to have the option of refusing to enter any door. By analogy, an agent needs to have the option of refusing ACCEPTANCE to be free in that choice.

          What I gather from this is that the Principle of Alternative Possibilities– the idea that a choice is free only if the chooser can choose otherwise– is a necessary condition of libertarian freedom as you understand it. Accordingly, given your understanding of libertarian freedom, the agents described in DBH’s picture of the world are unfree with respect to ACCEPTANCE. This is the crucial difference between your view of freedom and his.

          Furthermore, you describe some conditions which make free ACCEPTANCE more valuable, namely difficult conditions. On your picture, because free ACCEPTANCE in difficult conditions is more valuable than unfree ACCEPTANCE of any kind, God has a reason to create a harsh world where people are free to ACCEPT Him or not. But, God also has a reason to make ACCEPTANCE easier after death, because ACCEPTANCE in easy conditions is better than no ACCEPTANCE at all. Finally, on your view, we always have libertarian freedom to reject ACCEPTANCE, even in easy conditions.

          Some universalists will go a step farther than you and say that unfree ACCEPTANCE is better than no ACCEPTANCE at all. Others, like DBH, will distance themselves even farther from your view by rejecting libertarian freedom in favor of something else.

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  12. Chris Walsh says:

    I’m incllined to the view most famously expressed by C.A. Campbell that we only ever exercise libertarian free will in the strict sense when there is a conflict between what we most want to do and what we perceive to be our duty. I wonder what Keith and DBH think of this view and what bearing it might have on the matters under discusion

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    • Zach Manis says:

      Campbell’s essay “Has the Self ‘Free Will’?” is one of the most helpful introductory essays on libertarianism ever written, IMO. I don’t agree with all of its conclusions, but it’s a great place to start. Especially when paired with Chisholm’s “Human Freedom and the Self.” Essential first readings for anyone interested in the free will debate.

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    • DBH says:

      That’s the classic Scotist division between the affectio iustitiae and the affectio commodi. Remember, though, that the conflict between the two is embraced within the single natural intentionality of the will toward the Good. The question then becomes: Under what aspect is the Good to be chosen? Which, again, makes it clear that a simple opposition between libertarian and compatibilist accounts of freedom is too crude to be of any value.

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      • mercifullayman says:

        DBH,

        As I know you value Berdyaev, and I know that his “rational” end of freedom is the same as yours, but not in a Neo-Platonic sense, much more as a Kantian in his separation of the spheres that ultimately unite… Is that solely where you depart with he, Shestov, and Dostoyevsky? In the end, the freedom of this world, as it is “free” but leads to constraint when it devolves into self-will and slavery by degrees, as he suggests (and as you probably already surmise/know, makes a much better reading of Augustine only as it pertains to freedom, he abhors the rest)….any sort of “coercion,” whether we view it as an essential means or not is always taken to task by him as not truly free. How did you move past his notion of “existenia” as ontology (in your youth) within this world, versus his acceptance of ontology as rooted not in the “good” per se (the good can be societal and enslaving per “slavery and freedom”), but Christ in esse? Is his view misguided, or is he merely rationalizing what is the immanent to fit the transcendent and meld them together. That’s the vibe he at least suggests. It feels kind of neo-chalcedonian in scope, but not as clear. I’m not suggesting he’s right in every case, but the examples you pull from the Ivan in both the Inquisitor and the Ticket, echo similarities with subtle departures and I want to know where your own personal shift occurred. His rational in his work on Dostoyevsky is still stunning….and dare I say still not answered fully as to how to balance the contradiction in regards to choice and its limits

        Huge Fan….just reaching for clarity here. Is he a product of his time in his socio-political reactions to totalitarianism? Or, is he really hanging onto a libertarian choice that only manifests as real here but is always never real in the end? His essays from “Towards a New Epoch” in 1947 seem to suggest he’s maybe more open to an immanent choice than I thought. And he even kind of backs the Scotist question, while not its ends, in “Slavery and Freedom” as well.

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        • mercifullayman says:

          Forgive my typos….currently rocking my 18 month old to sleep who has been severely under the weather. When I think of Ivan, I think of this rejoinder, and I will always appreciate Dostoyevsky and Berdyaev for at least trying to make sense of a fallen world and its tragedy because it always necessitates a God who stands in every cough with us.

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  13. Tom says:

    At this point I don’t know how to doubt that the highest, truest form of freedom is, as Hart and others have said, the will’s final rest in an irrevocable disposition for the Good, i.e., becoming unable to sin, achieving final rest in God. If libertarian choice exists, it exists to become this, over time and through proper use.

    But I don’t see a problem for libertarians who affirm the eventual-final salvation of all. So long as your definition of libertarian choice is not that of an Enlightenment voluntarism, which no libertarian need sign-on to (and which makes using the term “libertarian” quite alright) one can rule out the free-will defense of hell on the grounds that created wills (however libertarianly free en route they might be) can never be at liberty to foreclose upon the possibility of Godward movement. That God always lies within the scope of the possibilities of created becoming (as its ever-achievable end) is itself God’s gift of being, and so always antecedent to any actual exercise of the will. To be, to exist at all, is to be invited into relationship by God. We can misrelate (libertarianly, if you will) within this invitation, but we can never void our ontological grounding.

    And Keith, if there’s no meaningful sense in which one can succeed finally in having refused God forever (since an infinite future will always lie ahead of us), why admit such a possibility for consideration? Perhaps you conceded this too. The thread’s grown. And if we cannot succeed at refusing God forever, we can also never succeed at securing an irrevocable foreclosure of the future through any single choice made at any given point in time (Jerry Walls’ view in The Logic of Damnation, right?), nor can we achieve it through the solidifying effects of a lifetime of bad choices (as John Manousssakis and Zach Manis argue). The eventual salvation of all becomes the only conceivable final end to the story, and as far as I can tell, this is perfectly consistent with it’s also being the case that deliberative, libertarian choice is the means by which we come to that rest.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. dianelos says:

    Robert Fortuin above writes:

    “if we can take Christ as the example of a human who is perfectly free, then the freer one becomes the more one is constrained to do what is right and good.”

    There is something wrong with that idea. Is it reasonable to say that to know arithmetic “constrains” how one solves an mathematical problem? When walking in a forest is it reasonable to say that one’s use of compass “constrains” one’s movements? Surely freedom is not about behaving in crazy ways.

    As DBH in TASBS points out, true free will is rational free will – which does not constrain us but rather empowers us to do what we by nature desire to do. Conversely the person addicted to sin is not thereby less constrained, on the contrary they have become enslaved to sin and have lost their power to choose freely.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      I will stand by my comment Dianelos. Telos is a constraint to the aimless. The northbound are exactly such: bound to their boreal destiny, rendering a choice of paths other than a bearing to the north as utterly irrational, without telos, without logos.

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      • dianelos says:

        Yes, but the wording is important. Consider the following propositions:

        A. Faith in God liberates us from addiction to sin and gives us the power to choose to live and thus to be like we actually want.

        B. Faith in God constrains us into following his commandments and takes away our freedom to choose to ignore him.

        Strictly speaking both propositions are true, but the second one is grossly misleading. Existentially speaking the difference is enormous: To know God, to understand that reality is theistic, does come with a sense of great liberation and not at all with a sense of being constrained.

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        • Tom says:

          I think the difference becomes evident once one clarifies precisely what it is that’s constrained, i.e., the scope of possibilities the will may rationally deliberate vs the actual exercise of the will in resolving one’s choice. Dianelos is objecting to the latter since he holds that our telos does not itself always constrain a ‘particular choice’, even if it does constrain (shape define? delimit?) the scope of possibilities. Robert wants to say the will is circumscribed (which is how I’m reading Robert’s ‘constrain’) within a certain deliberative scope of consideration. I wouldn’t use ‘constrain’ myself because I wouldn’t want people to conclude that God’s being our telos is the determining explanation for all the choices people make. But maybe I’m misunderstanding Robert.

          it might be worth considering that what counts as ‘rational’ is perspectivally determined. Any choice for sin would be from God’s vantage irrational, given what he knows. But we don’t share his vantage. We have to grow and choose our way into an ever-increasing consciousness, right? So Eve, per the story, doesn’t (on my view) make a purely irrational choice, even if from God’s point of view what else could any sinful choice be but irrational? But within the scope of her own vantage, she reasoned her way toward choosing – she perceived what she understood to be certain advantages, and so she choose, not irrationally either. But as one chooses rightly, and perceives the Good (which is one’s telos) with increasing clarity, one becomes the Good one has spent a lifetime choosing.

          I don’t know that ‘constrain’ the best word to describe either the sense in which the will is circumscribed by its transcendental grounding to possibilities which can never exclude God, or in the sense that the deified will comes to see/choose God always and only. But once you unpack what you mean, no one’s mislead – yes? no?

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I don’t see such a contradiction Dianels. In my understanding constraint is liberation, following the words of a certain Paul who called himself……a slave to Christ. Strong words indeed, clashing with the modern understanding of freedom and liberty. A “liberty” which revolves around the idea that freedom consists in the ability to choose to do otherwise. But a choice away from our telos is irrational, void of meaning and truth; and so such a freedom, a “freedom to do otherwise” is quite contrary to the type of freedom and fulfillment I gather from the Gospels and from Paulus. Our freedom is determined, and terminates in Christ. Yes that is a constriction, and a blessed one at that. The Telos in whom we terminate is not a shallow reduction, a single and narrow determination. The one God, our single destination, is the fullness of plenitude, the very pleroma of life and beauty and truth and goodness itself. This pales everything in comparison, not that we can speak of a comparison, strictly speaking. But it shows the choice to do otherwise, the sacred cow of modernity, to be a hellish wayward turn substituting the One Telos with the multitudinous, scattered, and disordered fragments.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            And by the way, I believe this “freedom to do otherwise” to be the very Hell that Christ came to save us from. The “Orient from on High” came to orient us to Himself and to Himself alone.

            Blessed constraint!

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          • Tom says:

            Robert: …by the way, I believe this “freedom to do otherwise” to be the very Hell that Christ came to save us from.

            Tom: I thought we were closer on this question.

            I’d agree the deliberative power of choice (understood in libertarian – not voluntaristic – terms) yields itself, through its proper exercise, to an unfailing disposition for the Good in which actually willing the Good isn’t the conclusion of a deliberative process between conflicting desires and/or values. But I suppose this deliberative journey as such to be our God-given beginning, the necessary terms in which we move from origin to end in God, not the hell God saves us from.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Tom, while our present condition is a given, I believe it be abnormal.

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          • Tom says:

            Well, I don’t mean the fallen, privated/sinful state of our deliberative capacities of course, but deliberation per se, as what must have been our God-given beginning (which makes falling even possible). So yes, deliberative agency with respect to the Good would be a very “abnormal” end, but it’s a very normal beginning, if through its means the end is realized. There’s nothing abnormal about finite conscious agents having to deliberate their way to final union with God. What other mode of becoming toward such an end is imaginable?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Indeed, it’s what we do with the given situation that gets us in trouble.

            The “to do otherwise” will be no more, it will be swallowed up, when God is at the last the All in all.
            This I believe to be the triumph of Pascha. Hades emptied, the “otherwise” emptied and shamed of its preposterous pretense to be an other to God.

            So yes, I have to confess and to repeat – I believe this ‘freedom to do otherwise’ to be the very Hell that Christ came to save us from.

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          • Tom says:

            We’re sorta talking past each other I think.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Possibly. Bottom line for me is that the “to do otherwise” is not a normal situation, even though it is redemptive in the sense in that God makes good come from it ultimately. But it isn’t normal. Is it normative in the fallen sense? Yes it is our norm, there’s no escaping it. But this is fallen time, the “to do otherwise” is not how things were meant to be, nor how they will be.

            Perhaps this clarifies.

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          • Tom says:

            Then we just disagree, which is OK.

            You’re not considering the capacity for deliberative choice as such, i.e., antecedent to any misuse of that capacity, as the very condition for choosing awry. All you’re seeing is this faculty in its already fallen, enslaved state. I’m not suggesting that it constitutes our end, I’m just saying whatever our God-given (good, unfallen) ‘beginning’ is, it is not our end, and by definition is somewhat less than our end (in the sense every infancy is less than its mature end), but that doesn’t make it, qua beginning, “hell” or even “abnormal,” not if it’s a good, God-given beginning. Our misuse of that beginning brought in hell.

            Anyhow…Hugs Bro! Say hi to CA for me!

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Tom,

            I can see support for your position in the Eastern Orthodox view of the Theotokos. She didn’t sin, she didn’t make that choice to do otherwise, even though presumably it was within her capacity and ability to do so. But she is also quite exceptional.

            I can only see my hell, this is true.

            CA says “hi” and Gavin gives hugs. 😉

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            You’re misunderstanding my view then, because it’s the capacity for deliberative choice relative to the Good which I’m talking about, not the sinful enslavement of that capacity in its fallen state.

            Look, you say it yourself; she didn’t sin “even though presumably it was within her capacity and ability to do so.”

            But you’ve clearly said the very capacity to do so is the hell Christ came to save us from.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Tom : “But you’ve clearly said the very capacity to do so is the hell Christ came to save us from.”

            Robert: Hence the blurp about my own existential predicament (which I believe to be the experience of 99.999631% of all people) – I am not the Theotokos. The capacity I have misused, and this is that hell then from which I am saved, existentially speaking. I know what you are getting at, theoretically and in the abstract, indeed, it is not the capacity that is the hell itself.

            Liked by 1 person

          • dianelos says:

            Robert: “I believe this ‘freedom to do otherwise’ to be the very Hell that Christ came to save us from.”

            Liked by 1 person

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