Wednesday 4 October 2017

Free Will (agency) requires one creation, many gods (small 'g')

Probably only Christians, and among Christians mainly Mormons, have an adequate metaphysical explanation for 'free will' or agency.

To have a coherent metaphysics seems to me to entail a coherent and purposive universe - which seems to require a single creation - or else (if there were no creation, or many) everything would ultimately be 'random', incoherent, contingent and arbitrary; and agency would have no meaning.

And it also seems to require the participation of agents (e.g Men, in this instance) - that Men are actually engaged with the universe, and can change it by and from their own distinctive natures. This seems to entail that Men are 'gods' - in the sense that they are sufficiently separated from reality not merely to be caused-by it (i.e. determined) - and also that Men are able to change reality from themselves, expressive of their nature - and not merely arbitrarily. In other words, these are the characteristics of gods.

So, the need is for a single creation and also multiple gods inhabiting the creation. In other words (at least by my interpretation) Christianity as it seems to be depicted in the Bible - in which there is one primary creation; but several gods including explicitly the Father and the Son, implicitly the Holy Ghost, and the Sons of God who are presumably also gods (since they are sons).

(Whereas if there is just one God and no gods; then the beings in the universe cannot plausibly have free will, having all been made by the one in their entirety. Or, at least, the free will of Men - and angels - which is absolutely essential to Christianity, cannot be explained and must therefore be accepted as a pure mystery.)

This makes a simple and coherent metaphysical system explanatory of free-will/ agency, understandable at a normal common-sense level.


Chiu ChunLing said...

Just a note on terminology, agency does not require free will, it only requires rational causality such that a defined entity can be the effective cause of some consequence. This makes that entity the "agent" of the result.

If the operations of the universe are rationally incoherent and there is no logically consistent way of defining entities so as to meaningfully identify them as the effective causes of some results, then agency is impossible, and if agency is impossible, then "free will" is meaningless (in an incoherent universe things can exist without being meaningful, but the assertion of their existence is still meaningless).

Thus the concept of agency, that persons may be the cause of their actions and thus the consequences of their actions, is required for free will to exist, but agency could still exist without any volitional principle in operation anywhere within the universe. Such a universe could not logically sustain the kind of personal meaning which human experience requires as a fundamental premise, but that does not mean that impersonal conceptualizations corresponding to the operation of meaning would not be possible (simply that no 'sane' human could understand them).

I also would distinguish between the idea of genuinely volitional beings and the existence of gods. God is defined by unconditional and universal love, such love being a continuously reiterated choice to support and encourage the increase of freedom for all beings. Any god would be likewise defined by love, but such love need not be universal or unconditional, a god might love perfectly nothing more than a given tree or river (bringing up an interesting point about love) and thereby qualify as a god. But love (of the divine type) being a choice, it is entirely possible to have any number of volitional beings of which only one made that choice. I do not oppose the position that there are gods, I only mean that the existence of volitional beings does not presuppose gods.

Another point about divine love is that, because it is purely voluntary, it can only be extended by volitional entities. But it can be extended towards beings that do not have volition in any meaningful sense. One good question about volition is whether, because of the extension of divine love towards some object lacking it, such volition can be produced from non-volition (rather than being magnified in a being that already has volition). I do not offer a definite answer, it would be nothing more than a guess at this point. Either answer is logically possible.

Of course, we assume by engaging in philosophy that the conceptual basis which is possible to humans has some intersection with the set of conceptualizations which correspond to the behavior of reality, and thus that personal experience of meaning as we know it is not necessarily invalid. Thus we are assuming that volitional beings exist (whether we are such beings ourselves or merely derive from their actions), and thus we are assuming that agency (a rational system of causality) exists. I don't intend to dispute or disparage these assumptions, merely to point out that they are assumptions we are necessarily making when we attempt to engage in meaningful thinking about truth.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - It is simplest to understand that this blog is written from a perspective of Mormon theology accepted as valid (the term 'agency' being a core part of this, used almost synonymously with how other Christians use free will) - so definitions from elsewhere need not apply; my usage explains the meaning.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Ah, but even from a Mormon perspective the term "agency" was originally chosen for reasons relating to its existing meaning. It enters Mormon doctrinal usage in the time of Joseph Smith, which may exclude or limit some later senses such as "secret agent", to which I do not refer but feel do have valid etymological derivations from the original sense.

I believe the Mormon Church has also given relatively directives to avoid confusing "agency" and "free will", perhaps in response to the rise of popular usages like "free agency" which (applied doctrinally) might imply a lack of accountability to God for personal actions.

However, you are right that the Mormon usage is associated with the concept of humans' own wills being ultimate effective causes of their own actions rather than humans being merely intermediate steps in a strong chain of deterministic causality. This is reflected in the phrase "they are agents unto themselves", as opposed to only agents of something else.