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The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents from Aristotle to Suarez

The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents from Aristotle to Suarez

by William Lane Craig

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Brill Academic Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
Brill's Studies in Intellectual History Series , #7
Product dimensions:
6.36(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.02(d)

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The ancient problem of fatalism has resurfaced with surprising vigor in the second half of the twentieth century, especially in its theological form. Already in the first decade of this century, the dean of Polish logicians Jan Lukasiewicz had been moved by the threat of fatalism to draft a multi-valent logic, which he interpreted in terms of three truth values, assigning the third value to future contingent propositions. The theological application of Lukasiewicz's views was made in 1953 and again in 1962 by the Oxford tense logician A. N. Prior, who argued that an omniscient being need not know future contingents. Similar views had been expressed by Charles Hartshorne. G. E. M. Anscombe's reinter- pretation of Aristotle's De interpretation 9 renewed interest in the problem of fatalism and sparked an interpretive controversy over the famous sea battle chapter. In a number of essays in the late fifties and early sixties, Richard Taylor found himself moving ever closer to embracing fatalism, which he definitively did in 1962. Three years later Nelson Pike borrowed Taylor's insights in defending an argument for theological fatalism, thus generating a debate within the pages of the Philosophical Review which continues down to this day. Suddenly literature on this subject appeared everywhere in the journals: Taylor and his defender Steven Cahn battled their many critics; philosophers of religion of various theological stripes both sprang to Pike's defense and issued refutations of it.

About the same time in several other areas of philosophical inquiry, fatalistic motifs were also cropping up, for the most part independently of the debates surrounding Taylor and Pike. In 1954 and again ten years later, Michael Dummett argued that the logical objection to backward causation is parallel to the argument for fatalism, only the tenses being different, so that rejection of fatalism entails the logical possibility of backward causation, and an extensive debate over the logical possibility and problems of retrocausation ensued. Proponents of time travel similarly charged that their detractors were committing the same logical fallacies as the proponents of fatalism. Meanwhile, as the experimental evidence for the parapsychological phenomenon of precognition grew, philosophers disputed whether precognition and future contingency are compatible, thus closely paralleling the debate going on among the philosophers of religion. In 1969 Robert Nozick passed on to the philosophical public a puzzle known as Newcomb's Paradox, and in the devisive discussion which followed, many saw this puzzle as a paradigm illustration of the problem of theological fatalism.

The contemporary debate has been accompanied by a revival of interest in the historical treatments of the problem of fatalism and, in particular, theological fatalism. The interpretive controversy over the so-
called standard and non-standard interpretation of Aristotle has already been mentioned. Prior and Pike in their articles appealed to discussions of the problem by Augustine, Boetiiius, Aquinas, and Ockham. William Rowe opened a dispute on the proper understanding of Augustine with regard to divine foreknowledge and human freedom. Anthony Kenny re- examined Aquinas's contribution to the subject. Especially great was the interest stirred in Ockham's views by the translation of several of his works, particularly his Tractatus on divine foreknowledge and human freedom, translated by Adams and Kretzmann. Most recently Alvin Plantinga's rediscovery of Luis Molina's doctrine of middle knowledge has fanned the fires of that old controversy, and Freddoso's forthcoming translation of Molina's Concordia will undoubtedly be met with great interest. So rich are these earlier discussions that Kenny opines, "Nine- teenth and twentieth century treatments of these matters have added very little to the work of earlier philosophers and theologians."*

Unfortunately, despite the renewed interest, these earlier works remain largely misunderstood. The names of many historical figures are bandied about as labels for positions which are not recognizably theirs.
In the case of other figures, these writers are simply ignored. Aristotle's views on the subject can only be determined by a careful exegesis of the Greek text. Augustine's views are portrayed in contemporary literature in basically opposed ways. The Boethian concept of eternity, so crucial to his solution to theological fatalism, has been recently miscontrued by its defenders. Philosophers have been quick to criticize Aquinas's views without complete understanding. Duns Scotus's very provocative contribution to the debate, including his rejection of Thomas's position, has never been translated and so is little known or understood.
Undoubtedly, however, it is Ockham's views which have been the subject of the most distortion in contemporary debates, and what passes for "Ockhamism" in many quarters today is a gross caricature of what he held. Molina's views have been known largely only from secondary literature, since a translation of his Concordia has not been published; his creative and fertile work on this subject merits careful study. Finally,
Suarez's works on divine foreknowledge and middle knowledge have never been translated and are therefore generally unknown; yet his writings on this subject rank second in importance only to Molina's.

Hitherto, there has not yet been a study of monograph length devoted to the historical debate over theological fatalism. There is the article "Future Contingents" by Calvin Normore in Cambridge History of Lato Medieval Philosophy, which, given its length, can only sketch the general lines of each figure's position. Two unpublished dissertations on this subject do exist: J.R. Cassidy's "Logic and Determinism: A History of the Problem of Future Contingent Propositions from Aristotle to Ockham" (1965) and Paul Streveler's "The Problem of Future Contingents from Aristotle through the Fifteenth Century" (1970), but these also tend to sacrifice depth in favor of breath in their surveys of the problem's history. The closest thing to a published monograph on this subject is the recent, fine collection of papers originally presented at a conference at Ohio State University in 1982 and edited by Tamar Rudavsky under the title Divine Omniscience and OmmPotence in Medieval Philosophy.** This collection is especially helpful in bringing to light Islamic and Jewish perspectives on theological fatalism, as only one essay in the volume treats Christian perspectives on this problem, which will be the focus of our attention in the present book.

The present work attempts to present in-depth case studies of the views of eight of the most important thinkers who have dealt with the problem of theological fatalism. It is not intended to be a history of the debate nor to catalogue all the various options proffered as solutions to the problem. Indeed, my primary interest is in seeing how Christian thinkers commit- ted both to divine knowledge of the future and to freedom reconcile those commitments. It is for this reason that the otherwise interesting contribu- tion of a thinker like Gersonides, who denied the validity of the Principle of Bivalence for future contingent propositions and consequently God's knowledge of future contingents, is left aside. Our interest lies with those philosophers or theologians who wanted to adhere both to future contingency and God's knowledge of such events.

The research for this book was conducted principally during two sabbaticals, first as a visiting scholar at the University of Arizona in Tucson in 1982-83 and subsequently at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 1985. Expressions of acknowledgement to the various individuals who assisted me in the research and writing of this work may be found in the appropriate individual chapters. But I should like to acknowledge here the hard work of my secretary Jo Lewis, who was responsible for the production of the typescript.

Santa Barbara, California WILLIAM LANE CRAIG

*Anthony Kenny, The God of the Philosophers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974), p. 13.
**Tamar Rudavsky, Divine Omniscience and Omnipotence in Medieval Philosophy.. Islamic,
Jewish, and Christian Perspectives, Synthese Historical Library (Dordrecht, Holland: D.
Reidel, 1985).

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