Thursday, April 3, 2008

More highlights from philosophy classes past

Yesterday afternoon, Chad Meister and I had our bi-annual debate in his Metaphysics class about God's foreknowledge and our freedom. It started six years when I wrote a response to a page that he had written that was inspired by Minority Report. Essentially I claimed that there is a distinction to be made between God (or pre-cogs, or MacBeth's witches) foretelling an action that is made with significant emotional involvement (like denying Christ three times or shooting the supposed abductor of my son) and some perfectly mundane, free choice.

So I composed a thought experiment in which I stop at Krogers and buy ice cream on my way home, having to make a choice between the vanilla and the mint chocolate chip (each of which I like equally well). But then suppose that God made a video of that future choice appear on my computer before I left work for the grocery store. I claim that revealing that to me would be enough for me to want to choose oppositely to what is on the video when I actually get to Krogers. Meister claims, then, that that is a flat out contradiction because the video shows what will happen, and so I couldn't choose otherwise (though he still claims it to be a free choice). Then I fall back on some Back to the Future-inspired space-time continuum gobbledy-gook about it being a different future than the one shown on the video tape (which was not a picture of the "me" that had knowledge of the video tape). And so it goes to where I say that God knows the future and we have free will, so long as he keeps his knowledge of our future free choices to himself. That's where the discussion has ended the last three times.

This time, however, I think we made some progress (or at least advanced the discussion a bit more). Meister's strong intuitions are that I cannot do otherwise than I will do. And I'm happy enough to affirm that, but I fear there is a problem when what I "will" do is revealed to me. Because that in some sense "fixes" the future. And my strong intuition is that I can still do otherwise when I get to that future choice if I really do have free will.

So I feel that there is a linguistic problem with our analysis. For Meister asks (with the law of non-contradiction lurking close by), "Is it possible for you to do otherwise than what you will do?" I want to claim that that is an incorrect verb tense and that we don't have a verb tense that works here. For in some sense it is like asking about an action that is already done, "could you have done otherwise?" to which we say "yes, but I didn't and can't undo it now." But that doesn't really work for that future action... I think I can "undo" my future free choice because it hasn't happened yet. Thus the video is not really of the actual future (or it is set).

And then I have to claim that there is a perspectival thing going on here, because it is my knowledge of my future free actions that causes the problem. I'm happy to affirm that God can know about them through simple foreknowledge without that causing the space-time continuum dilemma.

Someday I might try to write this more coherently...

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