Twenty years ago the scientist, who died yesterday at the age of 60, had a life-threatening bout of cancer. Many readers will remember the way he wrote about that episode, not only for its personal candor but also for the fact that he found comfort in a statistical analysis of his chances of survival.
The Problem of Foreknowledge and Free Will Moses Maimonides has set out the problem in the traditional manner: If thou sayest 'He knows', then it necessarily follows that [that] man is compelled to act as God knew beforehand he would act, otherwise God's knowledge would be imperfect. The thrust of the argument does not apply only to doing good or ill, but indeed to every human act, from the most mundane to the most significant.
The argument could just as well read: It is clear why theologians are troubled by the challenge of foreknowledge and free will. For most religions insist that God has given human beings free will and thus human beings can choose right from wrong, and that in some religions at least wrongful acts are sinful and worthy of divine punishment, while good acts are righteous and worthy of divine reward.
But many of these same religions will also insist that God is omniscient, that is, God knows everything and thus has perfect foreknowledge.
Yet, on the face of it, each of these two claims appears to contradict the other.
But why should secular philosophers and jurists also be concerned with this conundrum? First is that many, perhaps most, contemporary philosophers and jurists are keen to preserve the viability of the concept of free will.
Our legal institutions, our very sense of what is praiseworthy and what is blameworthy, turn on the notion of free will.
It is at the conceptual bedrock of our civilization that persons are creatures having the capacity of deliberation, that we have the ability to recognize right from wrong, that we have the ability to choose to a large extent what we do and what we do not doand — most especially — we are responsible for what we choose to do and responsible for what we choose not to do.
Second is that the challenge to the existence of free will is posed not just by God's foreknowledge but by any foreknowledge whatsoever. The religious version of the puzzle arises because God is said to have omniscience, that is, knowledge of everything. But the problem would arise if anyone at all that is, anyone whatsoever were to have knowledge of our future actions.
This generalized version of the problem has come to be known as the problem of Epistemic Determinism "epistemic" because it involves knowledge; see Epistemology. For example, if my wife were to know today that I would choose tea rather than coffee for my breakfast tomorrow, then one could argue paralleling Maimonides's argument that it would be impossible for me not to choose tea tomorrow at breakfast.
The two concepts — i foreknowledge and ii human freedom — seem to be utterly incompatible. The challenge, then, that is, the problem posed by epistemic determinism is to find a way to show that either foreknowledge of human beings' future actions does not exist; or free will does not exist; or 3 the alleged logical relation between foreknowledge and the exercise of free will is mistaken that is, foreknowledge is not incompatible with the exercise of free will.
Historically, some theologians have tried to solve the puzzle by invoking unique properties of God. For example, some have argued that God is 'outside of time' or that 'His knowledge is timeless' and thus His knowledge is not foreknowledge at all, that is, God's knowledge does not occur before or during, or after, for that matter any events in the world.
The trouble with such solutions is a they leave non-theistic versions of the puzzle untouched for example, my wife's knowing that I will drink tea tomorrowand b we can construct a revised version of the puzzle explicitly invoking God's timelessness, for example: God is omniscient and His knowledge is timelessthat is, God knows timelessly all that has happened, is happening, and will happen.
Therefore, if He knows timelessly that a person will perform such-and-such an action, then it is impossible for that person not to perform that action.
Some other theologians have argued that God has a 'special way' of knowing. Unlike human beings and other sentient creatures who must causally interact with the world for example, read a report, see an event, examine evidence [such as ashes, skid marks, etc.
Such a notion of 'direct knowledge' is problematic in itself; but more importantly, it is hard to see how it solves the problem at hand, indeed how it even addresses the problem. For, again, as was the case with arguing that God's knowledge is outside of time, the same two objections can be raised to this putative solution: God knows directly that is, without sensory data all that has happened, is happening, and will happen.
Therefore, if He knows directly that a person will perform such-and-such an action, then it is impossible for that person not to perform that action. Contemporary philosophers, especially secular ones, seek a solution elsewhere.
We are disinclined to pursue solutions that call upon special properties of God, especially since any such solution leaves the 'secular' version of the problem untouched. The focus of attention has shifted dramatically. Secular philosophers argue that the supposed incompatibility arises out of a very subtle but seductive logical fallacy.
So unobvious is this fallacy that it escaped detection by Maimonides and hundreds perhaps even countless thousands of other persons.
The error has come to bear the name "The Modal Fallacy. Three Kinds of Determinism There are three distinct versions of determinism: Each has been alleged to pose a threat to the exercise of free will, indeed it has been claimed of each version that its existence is incompatible with the existence of free will.
Logical determinism is most frequently couched as the problem of "future contingents.[AAA] Atlas of Ancient Archaeology, Jacquetta Hawkes (ed), Barnes and Nobles: [AAF] Answering a Fundamentalist, Albert J. Nevins, M.M., Our Sunday Visitor.
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