Monday, March 26, 2007

Fate

Fatalism is the view that everything that happens is somehow fated or perhaps determined or decided with certainty beforehand - there is no way of avoiding what is fated to happen and one has no control over whether such fated occurrences come to pass. One is powerless in the face of fate. Often, people try to argue that various views about God or the future lead to an objectionable sort of fatalism and, since fatalism is false, we ought to reject such views. One such view that has been attacked is the view that for every proposition p about the future, it is determinately true or determinately false that p. So for the proposition that I will go to school tomorrow or perform a certain action eleven years from this date, it is either determinately true that I will do this or determinately false. But some people want to object that this means that fatalism is true and that we have no control over the future since it's already determined for us.

Here's the sort of argument that seems to be in many peoples' minds:

1. If all propositions about the future are determinately true or determinately false, then no one has any control over their future.
2. But we do have control over our futures.
3. So, by 1 and 2, not all propositions about the future are determinately true or determinately false.

To make this argument go against the further view that such propositions are true or false because future times and events actually exist, we can add the following:

4. If not all propositions about the future are determinately true or determinately false, then not all of the future does exists.
5. So, by 3 and 4, not all of the future exists (the open future view).

To make this relevant to issues over open theism (the view that God doesn't know everything about the future), we could further add:

6. God knows about something if and only if that thing exists.
7. So, by 5 and 6, God does not know all of the future.

Why think any of these statements are true? 7 follows from 6 and 5. 6 seems reasonable - one can't know something if there isn't anything there to be known. 5 follows from 3 and 4. 4 seems reasonable - how could every bit of the future exist if parts of it are still indeterminate? 3 follows from 1 and 2. 2 seems fairly common-sensical and accords well with our general experience of the world. 1, however, seems to be the most interesting premise - the one that I think we need to push on if we are to avoid open theism or "open future" views on the one hand and fatalism on the other. 1 is the crux in arguments for fatalism or an open future.

I think something like the following reasoning seems to be lurking in the background for premise 1:

0. If the future is not as real as the present then 1 is true.
0.1. The future is not as real as the present.
Therefore, 1 is true.

Notice, though, that if we reject 0.1, this argument for 1 won't work - we can insist that the existence and full reality of the future on par with the present grounds the determinate truth of claims about the future without entailing fatalism. The reasoning many open-future people seem to be using is that we seem, metaphorically, to be "moving" from the real present into a not-so real future so that, if the future is determinate it can't be because of our free actions since those free actions do not yet exist and so are not fully real - it is as if there is a cosmic play written out that we must inevitably follow, one that is independent of us and constraining us. Indeed, if God knows our futures and the future is not real then that must be because something is constraining us, perhaps God himself. Otherwise, there is no way he could know what we will do.

But now consider the badly-named static view of time, according to which all times are equally real and on a par with each other. I exist and act just as much in future moments as I do in past or present ones. On this view, there isn't necessarily any cosmic blueprint that my future is forced to follow since it is my future - my future free decisions and actions - that make it determinately true or determinately false that I will perform some specific action in the future. So my future is under my control and exists as a result of decisions under my control. It is only when we deny that it is me who makes it true that I will do something - when we deny that I act and exist as much in the future as in the present or past - that we will be tempted to say that determinate truth or falsity about my future actions means such things are outside my own control. So it seems we need to deny the reality of the future in the first place to get the argument for the unreality of the future (1-5) off the ground. And that's clearly a question-begging move - which puts open-theism, with its reliance such arguments, on very shaky ground.

7 comments:

Jacob said...

I know this was a while back, but I'm very interested in this. Are you still open to dialoguing? I'm an Open Theist of Tuggy's variety so this is pertinent to me.

Say you "freely" eat an egg sandwich on this day of 2020. So that event is part of your future. It seems to me then, that by virtue of that being an event of your future, there are no other branches on the tree at that juncture. There are no other possibilities. Do you agree? If so... I take it that you don't think alternative possibilities are necessary for you to "have control." Am I correct?

D. Ian Spencer said...

Hi Jacob, hopefully you see this - for some reason I wasn't notified about your comment by Blogger like I normally am, so I just saw it today and published it.
My initial reaction to your comment would be to think that perhaps you are confusing what is possible for me at the moment of my eating a sandwich in 2020 and what is possible for me at the present in 2014. In 2020, my eating of an egg sandwich renders it no longer an option for me to otherwise at that time since, in 2020, the eating of that sandwich is no longer causally downstream from me, as it were. In 2014, however, 2020 is still causally downstream from me - there is nothing which forces me to choose to eat that sandwich or not and hence the options are open. The fact that 2020 includes an act of me eating an egg sandwich does nothing to change this. There is nothing in reality which forced me to eat an egg sandwich in 2020 or determined me to do so. I had the option of doing so or not in 2014 but not in 2020. Sure, in 2020 there are no other ways you could go AT THAT TIME, but that doesn't prevent there being other options in 2014. You could represent this with a tree of branching possibilities if you'd like, with the actual world taking particular branches and not others. Hopefully I've made some sense here!

Jacob said...

Great! I'm glad you were notified. Thanks for the response.

I can see how you got what you did from what I said, but that's not what I meant. Let me clarify:

Assume that it is *now* the case that the proposition "I freely eat an egg sandwich on this say of 2020" is true. Imagine yourself taking some binoculars up the tree and viewing the future. Do you see the above truth out there? And if so, are there any other branches at that juncture?

Just for the record, I don't think the above proposition could be true because I believe it involves a contradiction. But I'm curious about where you're at.

D. Ian Spencer said...

"Assume that it is *now* the case that the proposition "I freely eat an egg sandwich on this say of 2020" is true. Imagine yourself taking some binoculars up the tree and viewing the future. Do you see the above truth out there? And if so, are there any other branches at that juncture?"

Thanks for the continuing discussion! I'm not quite clear what you mean by "at that juncture". I was thinking you meant the actual moment/event of me eating the sandwich, at which point of course there would be no further opportunity to do otherwise. And maybe I'm still not understanding you, but it seems like the scenario you describe is mixing up possibility and actuality. By "looking up the tree", the only thing I can think of that this might mean is examining what all the future possibilities are. This will include eating a sandwich at time t in 2020 on one branch and also not eating a sandwich on a different branch. If it's actually true, however, that I eat a sandwich at t, that means that it is the former branch that accurately describes the actual world and not the latter. So looking up the tree and looking at what the future is actually like are two different things (although related by the fact that the actual future must also be a possible future). We shouldn't confuse actuality with necessity - the fact that p does not preclude the possibility of not p.

"Just for the record, I don't think the above proposition could be true because I believe it involves a contradiction."

I don't see how it's contradictory, but maybe you can explain that. It seems to me that if that's contradictory, we have no free will at all since I think "I freely eat breakfast on Christmas morning, 2012" isn't contradictory at all and I see no formal difference between that and "I freely a sandwich on this day of 2020". You might think reality doesn't cooperate with the latter (because, say, the open view is true and freedom requires an indeterminate future and 2020 is in fact future), but it might have cooperated (because, say, both the open view is true and it is in fact 2020 and I am in fact eating a sandwich).

Jacob said...

Okay... maybe to help me get clear on where you're at you could tell me what kind of possibility you are referring to when you say the proposition asserting that you eat the egg sandwich in 2020 "might" have cooperated. And I assume that by "cooperated" you mean "been true," correct?

As to why I think "I freely eat an egg sandwhich in 2020" is contradictory, it has to do with how I explain truths. I, following other Open Theists (including Tuggy) think truth supervenes on being or requires a truthmaker. As far as what makes truths about future events true is concerned, I think they are explained by how they are implicated by present causes. So if you say that "I eat an egg sandwich in 2020" is true, then in my view you are saying that because it is guaranteed to be so by present causes. It follows from this that if we mean to imply alternative causal possibilities when we speak of "freedom," then we haven't consistently thought through what it means for an event to be guaranteed by present causes. Put another way, if we say the objective probability of a future event is 1, we can't also say the objective probability of that same event is less than 1.

Looking forward to your response :)

D. Ian Spencer said...

To avoid complications, assume that there are no looping world-lines, backwards causation, etc. - there is a single, constant, uniform direction of time without any relativistic wrinkles or atemporal causally active entities to deal with and causation moves exclusively in that direction (I don't think this is actually true, but it's easier to bracket such things at the outset). The kinds of possibility most obviously relevant for free action/free will are time and person indexed - what is possible for x at t may not be what is possible for x at t+1. And for an action A performed by x at t to be free, for all times t' such that t'<t, it must both be possible at t' that x perform A at t and also possible at t' that x not perform A at t' (this isn't quite right, actually, since we would need to take into account the effects of character/self- formation and the like (actions which are the determined result of a freely chosen character should themselves count as free even in the absence of some of these alternative possibilities, ceteris peribus), but again let's idealize for the moment).
How do we decide what is possible at t' for A? Well, take everything that is located at t' and see which propositions about other times this set of things will make true (technically, we would take the things located along the surface of a point's past-directed light cone, but it's easier to talk about it this way). If the contents of t' make it true (or entail that is true - I'll just say "make it true" from now on to summarize) that x does A at t, then that proposition is inevitable-at-t' (this modality's version of necessity). Given that t'<t, it follows that x was not free in doing A. However, if the contents of t' do NOT make it true OR false that x does A at t, that proposition is possible-at-t. If all times prior to t are like t', then x doing A may be free (and if being free is identical with having such alternative possibilities, we would say that x doing A at t IS free). And all this is compatible with "I eat a sandwich in 2020" being true and I being free with respect to that action even though it is now 2014 since it is my future action making that proposition true, NOT anything prior to it. So not eating a sandwich in 2020 is possible-in-2014 even if it is true that I eat a sandwich in 2020 and hence it is inevitable-in-2020 that I eat a sandwich in 2020. Nothing is forcing my eating a sandwich in 2020 and nothing is making that proposition that I am eating one in 2020 true other than the actual eating of it itself.

D. Ian Spencer said...

Second comment: "As to why I think "I freely eat an egg sandwhich in 2020" is contradictory, it has to do with how I explain truths. I, following other Open Theists (including Tuggy) think truth supervenes on being or requires a truthmaker. As far as what makes truths about future events true is concerned, I think they are explained by how they are implicated by present causes. So if you say that "I eat an egg sandwich in 2020" is true, then in my view you are saying that because it is guaranteed to be so by present causes. It follows from this that if we mean to imply alternative causal possibilities when we speak of "freedom," then we haven't consistently thought through what it means for an event to be guaranteed by present causes. Put another way, if we say the objective probability of a future event is 1, we can't also say the objective probability of that same event is less than 1. "

What you've just described is the proposition being false (or indeterminate?), not contradictory - which is just the point I was making. Lack of a truth maker does not make something contradictory.
And of course, since I believe in a real future, I would of course deny that propositions about the future are made true or false always and solely by what is in the present (but that was probably obvious about me already!). I see no reason to accept such a view about propositions about the future unless one is already committed to denying that there is a real future and hence need are in need of some alternative truth makers. Of course, if such a view WERE true, then true propositions about the future WOULD be inevitable-at-t, which is precisely why I think that in order to truly convincing, the fatalistic argument requires something like a denial of a real future. Hopefully my two comments today make some better sense of what I've been saying!