Saturday, March 7, 2009

What if chocolate is sold out?

Steve provided a response in our ongoing discussion of choice and determinism.

For the most part, I agree with Steve's explanation of how dictionaries/lexicons work and only resist his characterizing my position as falling outside the parameters he so skillfully lays down.

Paul and I reviewed 9 dictionary definitions of "choose". 8 of them use either "alternative" or "possible" or both within the definition. Wiktionary did not; it used synonyms (including "decide"). I cited this as a failing on the part of the Wiktionary and argued that the definitions provided in the other 8 dictionaries ruled out determinism.

So my contention is that the question of why dictionaries and lexicons are what they are is not relevant to the business at hand. The questions should be: “what does the dictionary say” and “does that conflict with determinism”? Since dictionaries speak of possible alternatives and determinism rules out possible alternatives, it seems like an open and shut case.

Steve: i) To choose=to make a decision.

ii) Or, if you prefer a definition from one of your own, how about this:

“A choice is the formation of an intention or purpose to do something,” R. Kane, “Libertarianism,” J. Fischer, et al, Four Views On Free Will (Blackwell 2007), 33.


The first definition descends to a tautology and the second is handcrafted to fit Kane's unique philosophical theory. Neither is suitable for understanding scripture, though Kane's definition is useful for understanding Kane. I have already made my case against leaving out essential ingredients and technical, philosophical definitions.

Steve: However, if you insist, we could even include “alternatives” in our definition of choice. That doesn’t get you anywhere close to LFW, for there’s a difference between the hypothetical options I contemplate–on the one hand–and whether that process of deliberation matches accessible alternatives in the real world–on the other.

It’s child’s play to come up with many examples in which the conceivable alternatives I imagine to be possible are not, in fact, available to me.


I generally think of choices at three levels: 1) contemplation, 2) choice and 3) execution of choice. Let’s take chocolate/vanilla ice cream. Related to #3 there's a set of alternative possibilities: I can eat chocolate and I can eat vanilla. Likewise related to #2 there's a different set of alternative possibilities: I can choose chocolate and I can choose vanilla. #1 corresponds to #3. I think about eating chocolate and I think about eating vanilla.


The dictionary defines choose as selection between possible alternatives (or options). Steve trades options for "hypothetical options" (#3 for #1). Doing so misses the dictionary (common sense) definition. Thinking about eating chocolate should not be confused with eating chocolate.


Steve uses several examples of "failed attempts" to disprove LFW. These are situations like thinking you can eat chocolate but you can't (i.e. #1 without a corresponding #3). Let's say chocolate is sold out. I can't eat chocolate, but I can fail in the attempt. Given Steve's understanding of choice (which includes #1, but not #3), #3 is irrelevant to choice. It doesn't matter if we can eat chocolate or not, we are still choosing. On the other hand, if choice does involve #3, failed attempts don't disprove LFW. The level 3 possible alternatives moves from "I can eat chocolate/I can eat vanilla" to "I can eat vanilla/I can fail in the attempt to eat chocolate". Maybe not what we had in mind, but possible alternatives none the less.

Determinism cuts off alternative possibilities at the source (level 2 – I cannot choose chocolate). If determinism is true, there are no alternative possibilities at level 2 or level 3. If I am predetermined to eat vanilla, eating chocolate is impossible; I can neither eat chocolate nor fail in the attempt.

What are we to understand by "hypothetical options"? Could it mean me imagining I am eating chocolate? Could it mean the thought "if I choose chocolate, I will eat chocolate"? Could it mean "if I am predetermined to eat chocolate, I will eat chocolate"? It's unclear what Steve means. Let's say it's the first. Why call it "options" unless we also imagine ourselves choosing chocolate. In that case we are to the second. But what if chocolate is sold out? I might think it's a hypothetical option, but I would be wrong. Given the hypothesis (if I choose chocolate), I still don't get to eat chocolate. What about the third ("if I am predetermined to eat chocolate, I will eat chocolate"). Even if chocolate is sold out, this one entails a counter-factual past in which chocolate is not sold out. That works, but does anyone think this is the key ingredient in the normal definition of choice? In short, not only does Steve trade options for "hypothetical options", he really shouldn't be calling what he has in mind "hypothetical options".

Why wouldn’t libertarianism, if true, entail the possibility of time travel? To do otherwise is only incompossible if you can’t repeat the past–up to a certain point, then do something different. But if you have the ability to do otherwise, then you should be able to repeat the past–up to the point where you do otherwise.

Here’s a surprising statement. And perhaps not unrelated to this interchange:

Me: However, since the [God’s] decree is done and immutable, it is fair to say all counterfactuals are no longer possible, given the decree. So Calvinism seems unable to maintain the existance of alternative possibilities.”

Steve: …Alternate possibilities exist because alternate possibilities inhere in God’s omnipotence. The finite world does not exhaust the unlimited resources of divine omnipotence. There are many unexemplified possibilities: things which it was within God’s power to do, but he refrained from doing.


Normally people think we are able to choose otherwise before the choice but not after the choice. This seems due to time and perhaps also cause and effect. But in any case, normally we think possibilities lapse. No crying over spilt milk. Steve seems to be calling this into question. One can only speculate as to why. Does he think God time-travels? Does he disregard time as we know it? Does he think maybe we will wake up tomorrow and God chose Esau all along? In a world with turducken, I am not one to look down on innovation. Perhaps Steve can explain what's going on here.

In the meantime...we have the freedom to choose otherwise than we will choose and had the freedom to choose otherwise than we did. If God alone had LFW (the uniwiller theory) and has issued one simple, eternal decree, all possibilities should be spoken of in the past tense.

Steve: What’s the value of having libertarian freedom if you can never explore the consequences of each alternative in advance of committing yourself to just one course of action?

God knows the heart and will judge us based on our choices. We trust Him to take care of the consequences.

Regarding divine repentance and Gen 6:6.... In reviewing my analysis of texts regarding "divine repentance", Steve seems to conflate the definitions of the words and the range of interpretations left open by the definitions of the words. I am not saying you can look up interpretations in a dictionary; I am saying definitions can bar things from inclusion within the interpretation.


In analysing Gen 6:6 we should not confuse repentance with remorse. Lexicons provide "a change of heart" or "relenting of a past course" as a possible definition for naham; although another definition is remorse. In particular, the LXX's enthumeomai excludes remorse and only includes a change of course. So in this case "antropromorphism" is overly complex and per Occham's razor should be avoided.

If God’s knowledge of the outcome derives from the outcome, then God is ignorant of the future. He only knows the future when the future is past. He only knows the future after the fact.

God's knowledge is temporally prior but logically after the outcome, so God still foreknows in a temporal sense. On the other hand, if God's knowledge isn't based on the outcome, then it's not knowledge of the outcome.

The critic is not objecting to God’s conduct. Rather, the critic is objecting to Paul’s doctrine of God.

Steve: "Finding fault" is conduct. The passage doesn't say why would God still find fault or if no one resists His will. It says why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"

Steve: It would also behoove him to read Cunningham’s article on “Calvinism, and the Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity.”

Thanks for the suggestion.

2 comments:

Arminian said...

Good job again.

I am not sure if this has been mentioned, but it is telling that Wictionary is the only dictionary that Steve can get any semblance of traction from, since it is not a reputable dictionary.

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks. Yes, that is intersting to note... especially since Steve charaterized my argument as "the Wictionary method".

God be with you,
Dan