Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Versions of Incompatibilism

In philosophical discussions, and especially in philosophy of religion, the term "incompatibilism" comes up in wide variety of contexts. I've discerned five different types of incompatibilism.
  1. Moral incompatibilism: The thesis that human moral responsibility is incompatible with thoroughgoing causal determinism.
  2. Ontic incompatibilism: The thesis that foreexistence is incompatible with future contingency. More precisely, the thesis that if a unique and complete sequence of future world states were to (tenselessly) exist, then the future would be causally determined.
  3. Alethic incompatibilism: The thesis that foretruth is incompatible with future contingency. More precisely, the thesis that if the future could be fully and accurately described in terms of what either 'will' or 'will not' happen, then the future would be causally determined.
  4. Epistemic incompatibilism: The thesis that infallible foreknowledge is incompatible with future contingency. More precisely, the thesis that if a perfect knower (like God) could exhaustively and infallibly know the future in terms of what either 'will' or 'will not' happen, then the future would be causally determined.
  5. Providential incompatibilism: The thesis that foreordination is incompatible with future contingency. More precisely, the thesis that if a perfectly provident being (like God) were to efficaciously foreordain all of the details of the future, then the future would be causally determined.
There are, of course, complex debates surrounding each of these. I happen to be an incompatibilist in all five senses, but regardless of how these debates turn out, it is important to keep these issues distinct. Many thinkers are incompatibilists in some of these senses but compatibilists in others.

Incidentally, if moral incompatibilism (1) is true, then, given how I've defined (2)-(5), it follows that moral responsibility is incompatible with foreexistence, foretruth, foreknowledge, and foreordination.


At 9/12/2008 9:10 PM, Blogger Ian said...

Hi Alan, nice to see you back in the swing of things!

Question: in these definitions does future contingency just the same thing as lack of causal determinism?

Also, in your last paragraph, I'm not entirely sure what you're saying. Are you saying that it follows from 1-5 taken together that moral responsibility is incompatible with all those things? If so, I'd agree - that's certainly a valid inference.
If not, the only other way I can see to interpret what you're saying is that if 1 is true (regardless of whether 2-5 are true) then moral responsibility is incompatible with all that stuff. That, of course, doesn't follow. So I'm thinking you meant the first, but I just wanted to get clear.

Personally, I'd probably agree with your number 1. I disagree with 3 and 4 since I think 2 is pretty clearly wrong (being the libertarian B-theorist that I am!). As for 5, I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'foreordination' - could you spell that out a little more carefully? There are readings of 5 I would probably agree with and others I might not.

Also, as a side note, I find it interesting that there's an important (surface, at least) disanalogy between 1 and 2-5 - 1 is about the incompatibility of something with causal determinism whereas the others are about the incompatibility of something or other with future contingency. It would be interesting to see what 1-5 would look like if they were all put into the same form.

At 9/14/2008 12:23 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Hi Ian, good to hear from you.

In response to your question, yes, I take affirmation of future contingency to be basically the same thing as denial of causal determinism, though I would want to define "causal" broadly to include more than just physical or nomic causation.

In my last paragraph what I meant, but perhaps didn't say clearly enough, was that combining 1 with any of the others 2-5 yields a further incompatibility thesis. Thus, combining 1 and 2 would imply that moral responsibility is incompatible with an ontically settled future.

I'm glad that we agree on 1, and I'm not at all surprised that you don't accept 2-4 given our differences on the metaphysics of time and on divine timelessness. As for 5, what I'm thinking of there is the debate over whether God exercises "meticulous" or "general" providence. According to the first, God ordains "whatsoever comes to pass" (Westminster Confession). According to the second, God ordains some, but not all, of what comes to pass. Calvinists, Thomists, and Molinists are committed to meticulous providence. Open theists and process theists are committed to general providence.

Your final observation regarding the disanalogy between 1 and 2-5 is one that had occurred to me too. The difference, I think, has to do with the fact that moral responsibility is often seen as a reason "for" future contingency, whereas the others usually come up in contexts where someone is trying to argue "from" future contingency.

At 10/08/2008 4:18 PM, Blogger Rob R said...

Hello, I agree with 4.5 of your versions of incompatibilism. I don't particularly care though for elaboration of # 2. It seems intelligible to me that you could have a world as described by the B theory of time where the parts further in the time line, the "future" parts, are not necessary in light of the "past" parts. They are only necessary by virtue of the fact that a B type world does not change.

To further elaborate this, you could have two possible worlds, both of the B type worlds where they are exactly similar in time line up to a point but then diverge, and further, they both have the same causal laws. In other words, for these worlds, the past parts do not fully explain or lead to all of the future parts.

I accept number 2 not because I believe tenslessness leads to causal determinism but because I don't believe that in the B theory, the alternative to our future choices are truely accessible. Is this because of our past? Is this because of causation? Not necessarily, but because our future is frozen with a definition and form that rules out alternatives.

At 10/08/2008 4:26 PM, Blogger Rob R said...

To explain my view further, I think there is a difference between what I would call weak indeterminism and robust indeterminism. Weak indeterminism merely suggests that the past causally speaking does not dictate ie cause what the future will be like though the future has definition and in fact cannot be any other way, and this is my view of B theorist libertarians.

robust indeterminism involves the type of causal indeterminism where the causal laws dictate an openness in the future. A definite future is incompatible with this sort of causation. In this view, you have an entity, like a libertarian free person, who has features that when placed in certain circumstances and has a certain psychological makeup such that he cannot fail to have a moment where he truely can choose amongst any of several paths.

At 10/31/2008 1:46 PM, Blogger Gordon Knight said...

Hello Rob et. al

The topic of the relationship between the B-theory and libertarian free will has always puzzled me. If the B theory is true, then the future, in itself, has the same ontological status as the past-it is fixed, "accidentally necessary."
I was talking to a B-theorist about this and he said "well, you just have to be a compatiblist of some kind". But apparently all B-theorists are not of this mindset.

At 12/11/2008 1:00 PM, Blogger Alan Rhoda said...

Rob and Gordon,

Regarding the B-theory and libertarian freedom, there is at least an apparent tension between them.

If the B-theory is right, then the future is eternally fixed in the same way that the past is. I don't have power over the past. Ergo, it looks like I don't have power over the future either. But if I'm free, then I do have power over the future. Hence the tension.

To put it another way, if I am convinced of the B-theory, then I believe that from my current temporal perspective all of my future states exist simpliciter. But then how can I simultaneously hold myself free when I deliberate? It seems that I can't choose otherwise than how I do eventually choose lest (per impossibile) I alter what by its very nature cannot be altered.


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