Desire and de-desire…

You are sitting at a coffee shop (hopefully not Starbucks?) when you begin to eavesdrop on two philosophy grad students bickering.

“A person is free to act as he desires,” says the one, wearing an orange sweat shirt and blue jeans, “but he is not free to choose his desires. He may choose to suppress some of his desires, but that is just because he has an overriding desire. Follow that back far enough, and it’s electrons and quarks doing what they do.”

You always knew there was something elementally compelling about materialism. You raise the mug to your lips, but are caught in mid-sip by the other fellow’s retort.

“But,” he says, “what if I have a desire, call it d1, to divest myself of a certain other desire, d2? Can I really be said to have d2, since I don’t desire to have it, and, consequently I ‘de-desire’ its object? Conversely, if I still have d2, can I really be said to have d1? Presumably, if I am subject to my desires, then having d1 entails not having, or effectively suppressing, d2. But the very presence of d1 requires that d2 still be operative.”

You pretend to be sipping slowly from your mug, making a subdued but apparently engrossed show of perusing the funnies.

“What are you driving at?” asks the first fellow in orange.

“I mean,” answers the second fellow, wearing a dark green flannel shirt and khakis, “what decides between these antagonistic desires? Brain states? But then, why refer to desires at all?”

Suddenly, the fellow in orange notices you noticing them, and asks you for your opinion on the matter.

What would you say? With whom would you side? Why?

Is freedom the capacity to choose rightly?

Freedom as distinct from rationality

Michael Liccione has recently proposed identifying freedom as the capacity to choose rightly – see his post on Philosophia Perennis of September 9, 2008.  (It is fair to add that he makes this identification with an important qualification, to which I will turn later.)

It seems to me that to identify freedom, the control that we ordinarily think we have over our decisions and actions, in these terms is very problematic, and remains so even with the qualification he provides.

To identify freedom as a capacity to choose rightly is to identify freedom as one instance of the capacity for rationality.  For (I take it) a capacity to choose rightly is a capacity to make decisions or choices that are justified, because and for the reasons that justify them.  A capacity to choose rightly is a capacity to be rational in one’s choices and decisions.

But freedom, while it may necessarily require an accompanying capacity for rationality, is not to be identified with it.  And that is because freedom is a very special capacity.  It is, as Anselm (whom Michael Liccione quotes) rightly saw, a power – a capacity to determine.  Though what view we should take of the precise nature of this power is something we must now discuss.

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More Scattered Thoughts On Obedience

God does not ask of us virtue, moralism, blind obedience but a cry of assurance and of love from the depth of our hell–Paul Evdokimov

It is very easy to simply let the Magisterium tell you what to believe. I have a couple of friends who keep insisting that Rome should take care of many things, such as liturgical abuses or implementing her decree on the Old Latin Mass. Recently someone asked me why the Church does not define such and such a doctrine. For example, the question of in vitro and frozen embryos are very important and it would be great to hear from Rome about these issues. Someone recently asked me why the Magisterium has not defined anything about ensoulment. I wonder, however, whether there are tendencies to substitute reasoning with the Magisterium. The response I gave to the person who asked me about ensoulment was, “Who cares?” The Magisterium is not a substitute for critical thinking. It is not a substitute for the heart.

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Are universes clickable?

Over at the conservative blog What’s Wrong with the World (‘W4’ for short), Lydia McGrew critiques what she calls The Fallacy of the Clickable Universe. Here’s how she starts:

When philosophers talk about the Problem of Evil (aka “the POE”), they sometimes cast the question like this: “Why did God create a universe in which Adam chose to sin rather than a different universe in which Adam did not choose to sin? Was there no possible universe God could have created in which Adam did not choose to sin?” Then they go on to discuss these questions.

I think this is a confusing way for philosophers to cast the issue.

The reason that I think it is confusing is that it implies that God, in an act of creation, makes an entire world-history, an entire possible world with all that happens in it. I call this the Fallacy of the Clickable Universe. The picture it always gives me is of a pretty Microsoft Desktop arrangement, with a tasteful blue background, and all the possible worlds laid out on it as little icons. God has a mouse. He decides which one to create by clicking on it, and when he does so, that whole universe, history and all, is then fated to come into existence.

But that’s not right.

Such a topic ties in rather nicely with that of Apolonio’s post God and Infinite Choices; but the W4 combox discussion, unlike that of Apolonio’s post, centers on the issue of God’s knowledge of future contingents. And that, it seems to me, is how it should be.

For the question Apolonio addressed in his post, namely whether God can be accounted less then perfectly good if he doesn’t actualize the best world he can, cannot be usefully raised unless we first settle the question what it means (or ought to mean) to say that God actualizes a possible world. And answers to the question whether and/or how God knows what free beings will do surely affect, even if they don’t t settle by themselves, the question what it means (or ought to mean) to say that God actualizes a possible world.

There are other questions here too, such as that of whether ‘universe’ and ‘actual world’ have the same referent. But let’s try to tackle one question at a time.

Questionis disputanda: Is freedom the capacity to choose rightly?

Obj. 1. It would seem that freedom is not the capacity to choose rightly, but the capacity to choose rightly or wrongly. For if one can only choose rightly, then one is not free to choose wrongly; hence one is predetermined to do right, which is incompatible with the capacity to choose.

Obj. 2. Moreover, the Apostle says: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (Romans 5:20). That holds for human beings, who ex hypothesi enjoy some measure of freedom. But if freedom were only the capacity to choose rightly, then nobody could actually sin; for an actual sin is a free choice to do wrong. But the sin that abounds is actual sin; ergo etc.

Obj. 3. According to the Gospel, all will be judged by God on the Last Day according to their deeds, so that the Son of Man will praise “the sheep” on his right and condemn “the goats” on his left (Matthew 25: 31ff ). But if freedom were only the capacity to act rightly, then no actual sin could be a free act. And by general agreement, nobody can be reasonably held to account for an act that is not free. Therefore, “the goats” could not be justly condemned, which would be incompatible with divine justice.

On the contrary, St. Anselm defines freedom of choice as “the power to preserve rectitude of will for its own sake” (DLA 3). Such a power can only be exercised by acting rightly. Ergo, freedom of choice entails only the capacity to act rightly.

I answer that

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Freedom is for Worship

The setting is first century second Temple Judaism. It is hard to fully describe the worldview of second Temple Judaism because it was pluralistic. We know that there were many eschatological movements and it is safe to say that “eschatology” in that time meant a restoration of Israel and the cosmos under the one God. For example, the Qumran community believed that they were the true Israel which God would vindicate. In the end, there will be a battle between good and evil, those who walk the ways of righteousness and those who walk in the ways of Belial, the ways of darkness, and God will destroy darkness, “destroy it forever” (1QS ch.4). Those who followed evil were not simply the Romans, but the Jews associated with the Temple. The Temple, they believed, was plagued by Hellenistic influences which they saw as evil.

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God and Infinite Choices

William Rowe, in Can God be Free? (2004), gives us three propositions

A) There necessarily exists an essentially omnipotent, essentially omniscient, essentially perfectly good being who has created a world.

B) If an omniscient being creates a world when there is a better world that it could have created, then it is possible that there exists a being morally better than it.

C) For any creatable world there is a better creatable world. (pg. 120)

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