Sunday, June 11, 2006

Comments on Mere Comments

In my last post on the important Bush / Beaumont summit, Flavis sent a link to an article on predestination. He asked for comments on it:

http://merecomments.typepad.com/merecomments/2006/06/being_and_causa.html

The author of this article is a (pontificator corrected me here, the author is a catholic) named Anthony Esolen. Let's start by giving some quotes from the Angelic Doctor himself that are relevant to what Esolen said.

Chapter 89 of SCG Book 3, Part 2, concerning "That the movement of the will is caused by God and not only the power of the will" Aquinas says,

“God not only gives powers to things but, beyond that, no thing can act by its own
power unless it acts through His power… man cannot use the power of will that
has been given him except in so far as he acts through the power of God. Now,
the being through whose power the agent acts is the cause not only of the power,
but also of the act… Therefore, God is for us the cause not only of our will, but
also of our act of willing.”

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles: Book 3: Part 2, (United States:
Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1955.), 36.


In the next section Aquinas shows that mans will is subject to divine providence. In this context he says, "since [God] is the cause of our act of choice and volition, our choices and will-acts are subject to divine providence." page 37. Concerning "How human events may be traced back to higher causes" Aquinas says "Of course, acts of choice and movements of the will are controlled immediately by God." He continues, "So, the movement of all wills and choices must be traced back to the divine will, and not to any other cause, for God alone is the cause of our acts of will and choice." page 40-41.

Clearly, for Aquinas, God's causal power extended beyond the fact of free will to the very acts of free will. No choice is made independently of God's causality. Of course this raises a ton of questions, but Aquinas has a keen ability to see potential questions and answer them.

The reason God must be the cause is because He is simple. Since He is simple, He cannot be affected by creatures. Also, because he is simple, His knowledge is immutable and His knowledge cannot be affected by creatures. God is related to the world as Cause is related to effect. God knows the world because God is the cause of the world. God's causality, like His knowledge, does not stop at the power of free will.

Fr. Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange states Aquinas' definition of predestination as "The type of the ordering of some persons towards eternal salvation, existing in the divine mind... The number of the predestined is certain to God, not only by way of knowledge, but also by way of principal preordination" You CANNOT say of Aquinas that he thought that God was passive with regard to our free choices. NOTHING is outside of God's providence and control.

Calvinists who use Aquinas often times don't realize how far Aquinas goes. Many of the Calvinists that I have spoken with suppose that we have free will with regard to most of our choices. Of course they claim that we are free only to choose among evil options before God regenerates us, but I often hear them make distinctions between common choices and the "choice" of salvation. For them, we are free to make whatever choices we want before and after salvation, but salvation is marked by it's being uniquely caused by God. (And though they almost always deny it, God causes our salvation against our will because, on their view, we would never will it apart from God's causing it.) For Aquinas, no choice is made independently of God; whether it be the choice of salvation or the choice of eating a banana or a candy bar.

If that is the case, the most obvious question deals with whether or not man is free. I don't think Aquinas was a compatiblist. (Though I think my philosophy professor disagrees) I don't know if Aquinas was a liberatarian. However, it does seem that Aquinas believed that we had a genuine ability to make choices. Not independent from God, but free none the less. I think that most Aquinas scholars hold that Aquinas held to some kind of dual causality. Some think that man's choices involve two efficient causes, where God is the primary efficient Cause and man is the secondary efficient cause. Others think that God is the formal Cause of our actions and that we are the efficient cause of our action. I am not qualified to debate the issue either way.

The point is that there are ways of affirming, without contradiction, that God and man are both involved in mans acts of free will. It is difficult to respond to Dr. Esolen's post because he is speaking more in theological terms. I would be interested in seeing what he makes of this post.

20 Comments:

Blogger Pontificator said...

Anthony Esolen is Catholic and the award-winning translator of Dante's *Divine Comedy*.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:50 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Ok, do you have any comments on the post?

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Fleenar Mavis said...

Matt- Thanks for the post.

"The number of the predestined is certain to God, not only by way of knowledge, but also by way of principal preordination."

Any thoughts on how to understand this given God's eternality? Also, which book of Lagrange's is this from?

7:01 AM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Fleenar, sorry for not giving the reference. The LaGrange book was "Predestination: The meaning of predestination in Scripture and the church" pages 184-185.

I don't know that I understand your question. Is there a problem in particular you are thinking of that deals with the relation of God's predestination to His eternality?

Also, I am certainly not qualified to answer this authoritatively. I have studied the topic some and am always interested in disussing it.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Fleenar Mavis said...

Matt-

Well, I'm curious what you guys think of the meaning of "pre" in predestination given that God is atemporal.

I'm not authority either... at all.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Fleenar,

When talking about God's eternality and predestination, the "pre" in predestination, would not necessarily be a chronological "before" creation, but an ontological "before" creation. God is not temporally located. Rather, His existence is more ontologically basic than the existence of the world. God must be for the world to be, but the world doesn't have to be in order for God to be.

Is that what you are asking about?

7:55 PM  
Blogger Douglas Beaumont said...

Matt,

Moving from the sublime to the drab, the way to make your posts smaller is to use the "Edit Html" mode when writing your articles. Place (span class="fullpost") right after the first paragraph and place (/span) at the very end of your article (NOTE: the () above need to be replaced with <>). I believe this comes up automatically, but you won't see it if you are in "Compose" mode.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Thank you Doug. You are brilliant beyond comprehension!

5:27 PM  
Anonymous fleenar mavis said...

I'm curious what you guys think about the nature of human freedom.

Do you hold the libertarian view?

If man is a secondary cause, in what sense is he free?

Also, what does it mean to say that man is a secondary cause for Thomas?

Thanks for any help.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Fleenar,

I hold to a libertarian view. At this point I am not entirely sure if my view of free will is compatible with Aquinas' view. I think it is but I could be wrong about that.

I believe God is the primary cause in that He is the sustainer of our free will. As the primary efficient cause of our free acts, He sustains our power to be the secondary efficient cause. How all this works, I have not idea. I don't know HOW it works, just like I don't know HOW an eternal God produces a multiplicity of effects from a single eternal creative act.

What I argue is not that I know HOW God can be the primary and man be the secondary cause of our free will, rather I say THAT it is true because God is simple, eternal, immutable, etc. and this is a way of being philosophically coherent while speaking of God's soveriegnty and mans free will.

Consider the Trinity. I have no idea HOW there can be One Being and Three Persons. But, from special revelation, I know THAT it is the case. I can also defend the doctrine by showing that it is not contradictory or incoherent.

The soveriegnty / free will debate, as I understand it is like this. I can affirm two efficient causes of the same act without knowing HOW it is the case and without affirming a contradiction. I am not saying that God is the cause of my free act and God is NOT the cause of my free act. Nor am I claiming that I am the cause of my free act and not the cause of my free act.

If you would like some argumentation on why I affirm two efficient causes, let me know. I'll give it a shot. :)

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Fleenar Mavis said...

Matt-

Thanks. I completely agree with your knowing that without knowing how distinction.
I'm comfortable with the two efficient causes bit too.
I have a couple more questions though. God and I are both efficient causes to my free acts. I want to have a more robust understanding of why we say God is primary in this. We at least say it because He is the Being that gives us our being and sustains us to be able to choose. He is primary in that we couldn't even be to choose without Him.
Is there more to it or other senses in which He is primary?
Also, can you give me your definition of libertarian free will?
Thanks.

7:19 AM  
Blogger DanielDeHaan said...

Matt-

I've really been enjoying this discussion and I am also comfortable with the two efficient causes bit. But I'd like you to make an argument for it, if you have time. I think that would help me understand it better, and if you'd give a definition of the libertarian free will and how you agree or disagree.

Also, what are the arguements for Aquinas being a compatiblist?

Thanks,
Daniel

12:06 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Fleenar,

I'd like to do a quick post now and continue it tomorrow when I have more time to be accurate in what I say. :) By libertarian, I hold the standard "power of contrary choice" view. Given all anticedent conditions, I can really choose among two options.

My quick answer about God being the primary cause is simply that because God is ontologically prior to our existence and the existence of our free choices. His power, which sustains our free choices, is primary. His power of will is independent of anything external to Him. Ours is not. Even our free choices depend on His sustaining power. Thomists typically describe our free will as "piggybacking" on God's free will.

Unfortunately Dr. Norman Geisler usually presents the Thomistic view as God creating the "fact" of free will but not the "acts" of free will. (i.e. his book "Chosen but Free") I think this is confusing, especially to contemporary philosophers of religion. I asked Dr. Geisler if he was just putting Aquinas' view in laymans terms and he admitted that he was. He too holds to some kind of dual causality.

danieldehann, I don't know that I could give you the arguments for Aquinas being a compatiblist. I have a vague idea of why my professor leans toward this view, but I'll have to ask him about it and get back with you.

Also, I want to give you a decent presentation of the argument for dual causality, and I don't have time to do a good job right now. I'll try to get one to you tomorrow.

God Bless,
Matt

5:51 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

danieldehann,

WARNING: This is not an air-tight argument. I am merely giving you a quick overview of my understanding of the reasoning for a dual causality view.

Sorry for not getting back to you. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the case for dual causality is based more on starting from a particular view of God's nature and then trying to account for free will.

If God is simple, then He is not affected by creatures, He is totally self-sufficient, His knowledge is not based on anything in creation, He is related to the world as Cause is related to effect.

This view of God maintains that God created everything (including free will) and that nothing would exist apart from God's sustaining power. This view also entails that God knows the world as the cause of the world.

The jist is this: God must, in some way, cause all things that take place in the created order. Free choices do not fall outside of this domain. So, they too, must in some way be caused by God.

However, to resolve the problem of theological fatalism, it may be said that there are two efficient causes. By reflecting on our choices, it we see that we are really free. By arguing for God's nature (simple) it follows that God is the cause of the created order. (This is a comprehensive efficient Cause)

We can then affirm, without contradiction that man is the efficient cause of his own actions (based on reflection) and that God is the efficient Cause of man's actions (based on cosmological argument, etc.)

Does this basic line of reasoning make sense to you? Do I need to clarify, elaborate, etc???

God Bless,
Matt

9:06 PM  
Blogger DanielDeHaan said...

Thanks Matt,

I think I need some points elaborated and clarified.

"However, to resolve the problem of theological fatalism, it may be said that there are two efficient causes. By reflecting on our choices, it we see that we are really free. By arguing for God's nature (simple) it follows that God is the cause of the created order. (This is a comprehensive efficient Cause)

We can then affirm, without contradiction that man is the efficient cause of his own actions (based on reflection) and that God is the efficient Cause of man's actions (based on cosmological argument, etc.)"



I think understand all the moves you are making here, and I see why they are needed. I just don't understand how you made them. I think I understand what it means that God is the comprehensive efficient Cause, but how do we then get to how man can also be an efficient cause of his choices. Just because experiance seems that way? I don't understand how this duel efficient cause works.

Thanks a lot,

Laus Deus Semper

Daniel

10:12 PM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

Daniel,

I am a little confused. You said that "I think I understand all the moves you are making here, and I see why they are needed" But then you say "I don't understand how you made them".

I'll try to be concise here. Do you hold to the following:

1. God is simple.
2. God is not affected by creatures.
3. God knows, not by looking at the world to find out what will happen, but because He is the cause of the world.
4. Man has libertarian free will.

Which one of the above to you disagree with or require an argument for?

Also, you said, "I don't understand HOW this dual efficient cause works." HOW it works is not known. We don't have any other examples of a "dual efficient" cause. I can't point to any finite example that would show you HOW dual efficient causality works.

This is the problem that Craig and Moreland fall into when they talk about God and Time. They try to explain HOW it is that an eternal God relates to a temporal world.

A lot of what we claim about God is affirmed without having a concept of the thing we are talking about. The Trinity, for example, is affirmed, but we don't have a concept of what the trinity is like, rather we affirm truths about God. (namely that He is three persons in one essence)

I'll wait to hear back from you.

In Christ,

Matt

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Fleenar Mavis said...

Matt-

Have you read Stump's chapter in AQUINAS on free will?

Between her and Davies there are a few things that seem important. First, Stump says that for Aquinas, ultimately man must be the efficient cause of his acts. If something outside of man causes his acts they are no longer free acts.
The second principle is that God moves things according to their nature. This seems related to the third thing which is that God causes some things contingently.
Last, that man isn't free in an unqualified sense. We can't choose to act against our own happiness. But we can choose which ends to pursue and what means to pursue them by to reach that happiness.
So, a couple questions arise from this for me.
First, if God moves our will according to our nature, does this mean he isn't an external cause? And thus not doing violence to freedom?
Second, what do you think about saying both God and man are the ultimate causes of man's acts, in different senses? I'm in a discussion with a Calvinist and he said that God has to be the ultimate cause, and thus man can at best be a secondary cause.
I also have other questions:
Do you accept PAP?
Have you read or thought about the self-referential problem of denying free will? Something akin to Lewis' argument in Miracles seems possible. And Grisez and Boyle have a book on it. Sorry for the long post.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Matthew Graham said...

FM,

What is PAP? We could discuss this by way of email if you like??

I think Stump has a different view from say Garrigou-LaGrange. I have heard, though I don't know for sure, that Stump holds that God is the formal cause of mans actions while man is the sole efficient cause. Honestly, I don't know much about Stumps position. I'll have to read up on it.

You asked,

"if God moves our will according to our nature, does this mean he isn't an external cause? And thus not doing violence to freedom?"

I am not sure I understand your question. God is distinct from His effects. The relation between two efficient causes may be more intimate than the relation between an efficient cause and some instrumental cause, but Gods causal power is not intrinsic to mans free will. (the effect)

According to Garrigou-LaGrange, God's will is primary and man's is secondary. He is the ultimate cause of our actions, while we are the immediate cause. (there is another word that I am looking for, not immediate but something else, sorry)

The problem with the Calvinist is that he thinks that since God is the ultimate cause of our free actions, then God must be the efficient cause and man must be relegated to the intrumental cause of his own actions. This is analogous to saying that God is the author of a letter and we are the pen.

If that is the case, then we ARE left without free will. The cause is not synergistic, it leaves no room for another agent. However, so long as there is nothing contradictory about the notion of two efficient causes, then it seems to be a satisfactory claim that allows for soveriegnty and free will. There really ARE two agents even if we can't describe the precise nature of the relationship between the two.

I'll have to read up on stump and get back with you. You have any thoughts on the subject? On Stumps view?

6:57 PM  
Blogger DanielDeHaan said...

Matt,

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you.

What I was trying to say was that I see how all the points you are making are needed for the argument. But I didn't understand how they were all connected to each other.

As far as your four points go, I guess I don't understand number four that well. I guess I'd like more of an argument for, or an explaination of what libertarian free will is.

I follow why my question about how dual causality is sort of mute.

Also I haven't read Davis or Stump's interpretation of Aquinas and Free-will, however, I just read Gilson's interpretation of it in "The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy," and I found it to be very elucidating. Unfortunately he leaves some things unexplained at the behest of his general thesis that their exists a "Christian Philosophy" that is uniquely Christian. From what FM was saying above it sounds very similar to Gilson's take.
I'll reread it and try to give a summary soon.

Thanks again Matt,


DDH

10:26 PM  

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