Morriston on Sourcehood Accounts of Libertarianism and the Free Will Defense

Suppose one replies to the criticism of Plantinga's free will defense we've been discussing as follows: 

Since God is morally perfect essentially, he is unable to sin. However, he's still free and morally responsible. For even though he's unable to do other than what is good, he is the ultimate source of his actions. That is, he acts on his own reasons, and nothing external to God determines his actions. By contrast, if God created persons with a morally perfect nature, they could not be free or responsible. For such beings would not be the ultimate source of their actions. Rather, God would be the ultimate source, as he would be an external cause of their nature, which in turn would ensure that their actions are always good. The only way for God to create free creatures, then, is to create them with the ability to choose between good and evil. Therefore, while the freedom of created beings requires the ability to do evil, God's freedom does not. 

Let's call this The Sourcehood Response, since it appeals to a sourcehood account (as opposed to an alternative possibilities account) of libertarianism in response to the criticism we've been discussing. In "What Is So Good About Moral Freedom?" (The Philosophical Quarterly 50:3 (2000), pp. 343-358. ), Wes Morriston argues that the Sourcehood Response is unsuccessful. To see why, consider two finite persons, Alpha and Beta[1]. Alpha and Beta are both morally perfect, and thus unable to do what is morally wrong. They differ, however, in their origins: while Alpha was made to be morally perfect by external causes (e.g., God, or heredity and environment), Beta was not. Rather, Beta just popped into existence.

Here's the punchline: if the account of freedom and responsibility in play in The Sourcehood Response is correct, then we should say that while Beta is a free and morally responsible agent, Alpha is not. For while Alpha's nature was caused by an external source, no external source caused Beta's nature. And because of this, we should evaluate the following subjunctive conditionals differently:

1. If Alpha existed, she'd be free and morally responsible. (F)
2. If Beta existed, she'd be free and morally responsible.   (T)

But this doesn't seem right: whether their natures had an external cause doesn't seem to make a difference to the issue of whether they're free or responsible.  What matters here is that the actions of both are due to natures they did not create and for which they are not responsible. Thus, either being is free and morally responsible just in case the other one is.[2] The Sourcehood Response is therefore an unsuccessful reply to the criticism of the free will defense at issue.

Morriston anticipates a reply on behalf of the Sourcehood Response. Thus, someone might argue that the scenario depicted in Morriston's thought experiment is metaphysically impossible, on the grounds that it seems metaphysically impossible for a being to just pop into existence. In response, Morriston argues (roughly) that whether the scenario is metaphysically possible or not is irrelevant. For per impossible arguments clearly have epitemic force, and are often used for evaluating counterpossible conditionals.[3] The rejoinder is therefore unsuccessful.

[1] Here I've slightly modifided Morriston's thought experiment, replacing his 'the alphas' and 'the betas' -- groups of beings -- with just two people.
[2] Morriston argues for the stronger point that neither Alpha nor Beta is free or responsible for their actions (as each is subject to a nature it did not create), and that since this is true of Plantinga's essentially morally perfect God, neither is he. I'm not so sure about that, as I have compatibilist leanings. 
[3] I would add that counterpossible reasoning had better be legitimate; otherwise it'd be impossible in principle to evaluate competing philosophical theses, each of which is necessarily true if true at all.

Morriston's Paper on Plantinga's EAAN

In "Must an 'Origins Agnostic' Be Skeptical About Everything?" (Philo 11:2 (2008), pp. 165-176), Wes Morriston critiques the part of Plantinga's EAAN addressed to those who (like myself) are agnostic about the ultimate source or cause of our cognitive faculties. As with everything he writes, it's well worth reading.  Here is the link.

A Question

How do we spell out Plantinga's free will defense in such a way that:

(i) it's compatible with the claim that God is free.
(ii) it's compatible with the claim that there is freedom in heaven.
(iii) it doesn't lead to other, equally difficult questions. 


(For a powerful statement of the problem raised here, see Morriston, Wes. "What is so Good About Moral Freedom?", The Philosophical Quarterly 50:3 (2000), pp. 343-358. Two interesting papers on the problem of heavenly freedom are: Sennett, James F. “Is there Freedom in Heaven?,” Faith & Philosophy 16:1 (1999), p. 69-82; Pawl, Timothy and Kevin Timpe, “Incompatibilism, Sin, and Free Will in Heaven”, Faith & Philosophy 26:4 (2009), pp. 396-417.)

Review of Audi's New Book on Democratic Authority and the Separation of Church and State


Quote of the Day

One friend replied to [our] claim like this: "You agree that it is possible for one
essence to be transworld depraved, don't you? And you agree that it is possible for two
essences to be transworld depraved, right? Thinking things through from this starting
point, isn't it reasonable to believe that it is possible that every essence suffers from
transworld depravity?" How should we answer this question? Well, note that our friend
encourages us to think that for every natural number n, it is possible for there to be n
essences that suffer from transworld depravity. We concede that it is possible that there
are an infinite, nay, an indenumerable number of transworld depraved essences. Should
we infer that it is possible that every essence suffers from transworld depravity? Of
course not. Consider the following analogue to our friend’s reasoning: "I'm going to
show you that it is reasonable to believe that at no possible world do Bill and Jane marry.
You can imagine one world where they don't. And you can imagine two worlds where
they don't. So, is it not reasonable to think that at every possible world they don't marry?"
Seen for what it is, our friend’s argument is no better than this one.

-Daniel Howard-Snyder and John Hawthorne, “Transworld Sanctity and Plantinga’s Free Will Defense”, Int’l. Journal for Philosophy of Religion 44:1 (1998).

On the Modal Analysis of Libertarian Freedom in Plantinga's Free Will Defense

Central to Plantinga's free will defense is his notion of significant freedom, which is, roughly, libertarian freedom with respect to moral actions. Plantinga attempts to capture a necessary condition of significant freedom in terms of the actions of a given agent at different possible worlds. Very roughly, an agent S is significantly free with respect to a moral action A only if there is a metaphysically possible world W at which S performs A and there is a distinct metaphysically possible world W' at which S does not perform A.

I worry that possible-worlds analyses of libertarian freedom -- like possible-worlds analyses of most things -- are too coarse-grained to capture the essence of the notion. So, for example, I'm inclined to think that an omnipotent and morally perfect being could be significantly free even if there is no metaphysically possible world at which such a being performs a wrong action. It seems to me that such a being would have the power or the ability to do wrong; it's just that such a being would never exercise that power, in virtue of their moral nature. To use a term common in the literature on dispositional properties, the ability to do wrong is a "masked" disposition in God.

Similarly, it seems to me that a morally virtuous created being could be significantly free even they never perform a wrong action in some metaphysically possible world. Like God, such a being would have the power or ability to do wrong; it's just that their moral nature is such that they would never exercise that power. As with God, then, the ability to do wrong in such creatures is a "masked" disposition.

But suppose someone is unsatisfied about all this without the prospect of a "worlds" analysis of freedom. Fine. Hyperintensional analyses are all the rage these days, and so one could appeal to impossible worlds and non-trivial counterpossible conditionals to account for the sense in which such beings have such an ability.

Is there a punchline? It will take some time to flesh out the point properly,  but intuitively, the worry is that if modal analyses of signifcant or libertarian freedom are inadequate, then this will cause problems for Plantinga's free will defense, and for his account of transworld depravity.

Is Plantinga's Free Will Defense A Successful Reply to the Logical Problem of Evil?

I've lost my grip on why Plantinga's free will defense (FWD) is supposed to be a successful reply to the logical problem of evil. Perhaps someone can straighten me out.

The core of Plantinga's FWD is the claim that there is a metaphysically possible world at which every possible free creature God could've created would freely do wrong at least once in their life.  Call this thesis 'Possible Unrestricted Transworld Depravity' (PUTWD). Now it seems to me that a minimal requirement for the success of Plantinga's FWD is for PUTWD to be a live epistemic possibility. But I'm not seeing why I should think it's successful in even this weak sense. For it seems not implausible to me that at every possible world at which God exists, there are at least some free creatures God could've created that aren't transworld depraved (or more weakly: such a thesis seems to be at least slightly more plausible than Plantinga's PUTWD). So, for example, it's not implausible that at any possible world W God could've created, God can create  tokens of a type of creature that has libertarian free will, but also has a nature that makes it "grossed out" by the thought of doing wrong (on a par with, say, eating a shit sandwich), and that makes them delight in what is right and good. Such creatures have the power to do wrong; it's just that their inclinations are strongly against it. As such, the possible worlds at which they freely do wrong aren't "close" (in the Lewis-Stalnaker sense) to W, in which case God can't actualize them -- i.e., they aren't "feasible" worlds.  

I take it that this is plausible to religious theists of an orthodox stripe (Isn't God supposed to be free in this sense? Aren't the redeemed in Christian heaven supposed to be free in this sense?). Furthermore, it's not implausible to me that at every possible world in which God exists, there are creaturely essences of the sort mentioned above that God could've actualized. But if that's right, then PUTWD isn't a live epistemic possibility. But if it isn't a live epistemic possibility, then Plantinga's FWD isn't a successful reply to the logical problem of evil in any interesting sense. Or so it seems to me.

The main point I'm putting on the table is that while it may be true that at every metaphysically possible world, a subset of the infinite number of possible free creatures God can create at that world is transworld depraved, it's not implausible to think that at every metaphysically possible world, another subset of the infinite number of possible free creatures God can create is not, in which case PUTWD seems undercut.

UPDATE: Joshua Rasmussen has already made the point I'm trying to make here. See his paper, "On creating worlds without evil – given divine counterfactual knowledge", Religious Studies 40 (2004), pp. 457-470. Thanks to P.M. for the pointer.

What God Would Have Known... the title of J.L. Schellenberg's forthcoming book , which offers a large number of novel arguments against Christian theism. I...