Freedom, Goodness, and Metaphysical Value – Part 1

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Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Introduction

God, according to Anselm of Canterbury, is the Greatest Conceivable Being.[1] This is an insight that should be valued, regardless of one’s opinion concerning the merits of Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God (which is based on this insight). Even if that argument fails, it still remains true that to see God as the maximally perfect being is to understand a profound truth about God. Let us call this insight Perfect Being Theology .[2]

Similarly, most theists want to maintain a view in which God is seen as the source and ground of objective moral values. Again, there may be a legitimate debate concerning the axiological (moral) argument for the existence of God. Even though I personally find this argument very useful in a cumulative case for Theism, it is not my purpose to defend that argument here. Rather, what I want to focus on is the concept of God as the foundation of moral values. Let us call this concept Axiological Theism .[3]

Yet another concept that plays an important role in most philosophically robust versions of theism is the concept of freedom. The issue that is most often raised in the context of freedom is the problem of the alleged incompatibility of divine sovereignty and human freedom . While my focus will not be on this problem per se , some of the same key concepts are very much a part of the puzzle that I intend to solve in this paper. The issue that I want to consider is the concept of freedom in its various forms, and its relevance to a conception of metaphysical value as it is expressed by Anselm’s idea of the greatest conceivable being. In what follows, I will explicate several definitions of freedom that are of relevance to philosophical discussions, some of which are often used unwittingly in an equivocating way. A brief analysis will reveal a potential problem that arises when the conjunction of Perfect Being Theology and certain views on the value of freedom are affirmed. The rest of my paper will aim to solve that problem, positing Axiological Theism as the “missing piece” that helps us to solve the puzzle.

Definitions of Freedom

It is a common practice in philosophical and theological discussions to distinguish between compatibilism and libertarianism as the two competing views of freedom, while determinism is the thesis that all events in the universe (including man’s actions) are controlled by previous conditions.[4] The debate between libertarianism and compatibilism centers on the issue of the compatibility of determinism and freedom.[5]

In order to gain further clarity, the following definitions provided by Quentin Smith will prove to be helpful. Focusing on Alvin Plantinga’s writings (especially his Free Will Defense) and previous responses given to them, Smith distinguishes between internal freedom , external freedom and logical freedom :

“A person is externally free with respect to an action A if and only if nothing other than (external to) herself determines either that she perform A or refrain from performing A.

[ . . . ]

[quoting directly from Plantinga]“And a person is free with respect to an action A at a time t only if no causal laws and antecedent conditions determine either that he performs A at t or that he refrains from so doing” (170-71). A person is internally free with respect to an action A if and only if it is false that his past physical and psychological states, in conjunction with causal laws, determine either that he perform A or refrain from performing A.”

[ . . . ]

A person is logically free with respect to an action A if and only if there is some possible world in which he performs A and there is another possible world in which he does not perform A.”
(Smith, 1997, 149)

Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that external freedom is very much akin to compatibilistic freedom, whereas external freedom is similar to the typical libertarian view of freedom. But logical freedom can be seen as yet another type of freedom, and its relevance becomes clearer when Smith applies it to the issue of morally good life:

“A person is logically free with respect to a wholly good life (a life in which every morally relevant action performed by the person is a good action) if and only if there is some possible world in which he lives this life and another possible world in which he does not.”
(Ibid.)

Armed with these definitions, Smith believes that he is able to demonstrate a logical problem with the idea that God allows evil. While Smith’s success in achieving his ambitious goal may be disputed on other grounds as well, my proposed solution to the version of the problem that Smith raises will (if successful) be sufficient to refute his central thesis which pertains to the metaphysical worth of logical freedom vs. being logically determined (which is defined as the lack of logical freedom).[6] I am not directly focusing my efforts into providing a point-by-point reply to Smith, and neither will I be quoting Smith’s discussion verbatim for every point that he makes in his article, but the following statement by Smith is clear and enough to merit a direct quotation for the purposes of illustrating the problem:

“Consider the assumption Plantinga makes at the outset: “A world containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. “

Now what does “free” mean in this quotation? Presumably, it means external + internal + logical freedom. But one must ask, Does a person who has only external and internal freedom have less metaphysical worth than a person who is free in these two respects and also has logical freedom? The answer implied by Plantinga’s own premises must be no, for God has internal-external freedom but not logical freedom, and God has the greatest possible degree of metaphysical worth. God does not have logical freedom because God has the property of maximal greatness, which includes the property of being wholly good in each world in which he exists.”
(Ibid., 151)

Notes for Part 1

1. For Anselm’s ontological argument, see chapter 2 of his Proslogion.
2. This term is used by Morris, 2002, 35.
3. Axiology is the philosophical study of goodness and value. See the entry in Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
4. See the definition in the glossary of Geisler & Feinberg, 1980.
5. See McKenna, Michael, “Compatibilism” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
6. This is not to be confused with logical determinism, which is also called logical fatalism. See the discussion of divine omniscience and human freedom in Moreland & Craig, 2003, 517-524.

Continue to Part 2

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