Jun 13, 2005

Reconciling Divine Sovereignty and Free Will? - Part 2

In the last post, I pointed out that the Bible nowhere teaches that human beings have libertarian freedom. All that Scripture clearly teaches in this area is moral responsibility. Nevertheless, I noted that a critic could argue that, Scripture's silence notwithstanding, moral responsibility requires libertarian freedom as a necessary condition.

So, the second reason to reject libertarianism is that there is no compelling reason to believe that libertarianism—the ability to do otherwise— is a necessary condition for moral responsibility. To see this, let me introduce what is known in philosophical literature as the Frankfurt Counterexample. The contemporary philosopher Harry Frankfurt formulated an ingenious scenario or example in order to refute the notion that we need alternative possibilities or the ability to do otherwise in order to be responsible for our actions. He tells the following story.

Suppose there is a mad-scientist named Black and another man named Jones. Jones has been deliberating on who to vote for in the next Presidential election, either Bush or Hillary Clinton. Black would very much like Jones to vote for Clinton (this is why he is a mad scientist!). And let us suppose that Black has secretly implanted in Jones’ head a device which constantly monitors Jones’ every thought and action, and is also able, if Black pushes the right buttons, to control Jones’ thoughts and actions (but it doesn’t do this all the time).

Now, if Jones chooses to vote for Clinton on his own, then Black will do nothing. He will just sit back and let it happen. But, if Jones begins to choose to vote for Bush, then Black will intervene, push the right buttons and force Jones to vote for Clinton.

Now, let us suppose that Jones does decide on his own, without any manipulation from Black, to vote for Clinton. Two questions: Could Jones have done anything other than vote for Clinton? It wouldn’t seem so. Was he morally responsible for his actions? Indeed he was.

So, here is a case in which it is apparent that a person can be morally responsible without having the ability to do otherwise. I do not mean to suggest that this gives us all we might want in reconciling divine sovereignty and moral responsibility, but I do think it accomplishes this much: it shows that it is not at all obvious anymore that having the ability to do otherwise is necessary for moral responsibility.
[to be continued. . .]

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