Thursday, May 18, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 1

There are people who deny that God is sovereign and there are people who deny that man has any moral responsibility, but let's let those be assumptions for the sake of this discussion. You don't have to believe in either to ponder the question of whether the idea of a sovereign God is consistent with the idea of people having moral responsibility.

Let's start with compatibalism. Compatibalism is the view that we always act according to the strongest motive we have. Let's say you're a diabetic sitting in front of a chocolate cake. In a situation like that, you've got two competing desires. You've got a desire to eat the cake because you know it will taste good. But you've also got a desire to not eat the cake because you know it will make you sick. The thing that determines what your choice will be, whether to eat the cake or not, is which desire is the stongest.

Whenever somebody does something, you can always ask, "Did you mean to do that?" All intentional acts are done for a reason. That's what it means for them to be intentional. If they're not intentional, then they're accidents. You didn't mean to do them.

This is true in even the most seemingly neutral choices. For example, suppose you've got two glasses in front of you, both with the same drink. It may seem that there is nothing which would cause you to prefer one over the other. Yet you will eventually choose one over the other. Does it makes sense to even ask why? Well it's impossible to choose either without some sort of inclination to move. The mind, at some point, must get itself fixed on one or the other and then choose it.

It's impossible to move without being enclined to move. So some kind of inclination, preference, predisposition, motive, desire, or whatever is necessary for any intentional act. Acts that lack any mental predisposition include things like reflexes (e.g. when somebody hits you on the knee) or muscle spasms, shakes, twitches, or any kind of involuntary physical movement. It's involuntary because it's not done out of a mental disposition, and so it's not a choice.

The will is the faculty of choice. Any act of the will is a choice. That's why we say that some actions, like twitching, are not under the control of the will, and are therefore not choices. They are done involuntarily. If choosing is acting on a motive, then any act of the will is determined by the motive it acts on.

That's compatibalism.

Part 2

to be continued...

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