Does Ockham’s Razor Preclude a Libertarian Interpretation of 1 Peter 1:3?



(The Holistic Apologist)


May 7, 2017

Abstract: In my essay “A Molinist Perspective on 1 Peter 1:3” I defend the thesis that the relevant verse is underdeterminative with respect to whether it teaches Libertarian Free Will (LFW) or Divine Causal Determinism (DCD). One attempt that has been made to resolve this epistemic standoff has been through the employment of Ockham’s razor. More specifically it has been argued that determinist understandings of this verse (and verses relevantly like this) are preferable to Libertarian one’s since determinist views are more explanatorily parsimonious. In this essay, I shall argue that while determinist views on the matter are indeed simpler, nevertheless, the determinist objection errs in that it assumes that simplicity tout court is a sufficient condition in adjudicating between competing hypotheses. This foundering, I shall further argue, implies that the objector has misapplied Ockham’s razor.

An Explanation of Ockham’s Razor
Ockham’s Razor is the principle that states that we should not posit explanations beyond necessity. More specifically it states that when the evidence for two or more competing hypotheses that sufficiently explain something exists ceteris paribus, we should prefer the theory that posits the least amount of hypotheses or entities.

For example, suppose there is a phenomenon, P,  according to which there are two competing hypotheses, H1 and H2. The evidence we have for both hypotheses are equivalent. Further, both hypotheses sufficiently explain P. H1 does this by positing entities E1 and E2. H2 does this through positing the same entities plus entity E3. In this case, Ockham’s razor would compel us to prefer H1 since it is the hypothesis that sufficiently explains P while positing the least amount of entities.

Why Simplicity Alone Isn’t Sufficient In Adjudicating Between Two Competing Theories
Concerning verses such as or relevantly similar to 1 Peter 1:3, the determinist could run the argument that Ockham’s razor can be applied to exclude Libertarian interpretations. This is because a Determinist hermeneutic is simpler than a Libertarian one in so far as DCD either does not (1) posit agent causation (2) posit agent causation outside of God Himself (3) posit incompatibilism or (4) posit some medley of 1-3. In this respect, we admit that DCD is indeed the simpler hypothesis.

That said, what needs to be understood here is that simplicity alone isn’t sufficient in adjudicating between which, of any competing hypotheses, is best. For if a theory were always better than its competitor(s) simply by virtue of positing less entities while taking no other criteria in to consideration, then we would be compelled to accept many false theories irrespective of their lack of explanatory power, scope, plausibility, inter alia.

To illustrate the point, consider the competing theories purporting to explain the apparent resurrection of Jesus. Of these theories, one of the simpler views is the explanation that rejects the supernatural hypothesis by affirming that Jesus died, tout court. Well, if simplicity were a sufficient condition in deciding which theories are best, then we would be compelled to accept the superiority of this naturalistic explanation to the supernatual one despite the evident shortcomings of the former view. This is because the naturalistic explanation is simpler in so far as it does not posit the existence of the supernatural Thus, one can see that when simplicity, by itself, is taken as being a sufficient condition in adjudicating between competing theories, the relevant approach would compel us to accept a false view irrespective of any other factors that might count against it.

That noted, here is where the determinist’s objection fails: As noted before, Ockham’s razor only applies when the evidence regarding two competing hypotheses exists ceteris paribus. This feature, however, does not obtain with respect the overall pool of evidence vis-a-vis LFW and DCD. Concerning that, the evidence, as we shall see, favors Libertarianism.

An Argument For The Proper Basicality of “Mere Freedom”
At this point I shall briefly argue that when we survey some of our basic beliefs about ourselves and the world, we can conjoin two of these beliefs in order to infer that we possess knowledge of our own libertarian freedom.

First there is there is the properly basic belief that we possess mere freedom. By ‘mere freedom’ I just mean freedom that is underdeterminative with respect to whether it is compatibilistic or libertarian. Mere freedom, moreover, can be grounded via introspection. For those unfamiliar with this concept, introspection refers to the process of looking in to oneself, particularly, in to one’s own mental states. Such mental states would include things such as our own beliefs, desires, evaluations, intentions, and conscious experiences (e.g. experiencing anger, experiencing redness, experiencing softness, etc.). Through introspection it seems that we can be non-inferentially acquainted with our own free choices,  just as we are non-inferentially acquainted with other conscious experiences.

Moreover, a phenomenal conservative view of justification states that if it seems to [a subject] S that [some proposition] P, then, S has prima facie justification for believing that P. Given this view, it follows that if it seems to us that we have this conscious experience of our own freedom, then we will have prima facie justification for believing that, we, in fact, have it.

Additionally, granted the thesis of proper functionalism (PF) and that we meet its requirements, our experience of freedom would confer to us warrant of the relevant freedom.[1] Therefore, the evidence, on balance, favors the mere free will thesis as being the default position. We can summarize the argument as follows:

1. If my belief in my own mere freedom is properly basic, then I am warranted in holding to this belief.

2. Belief in my own mere freedom is properly basic.

3. Therefore, I am warranted in holding to this belief.[2]

Given some form of foundationalism (1) will be true by definition of ‘properly basic’. Therefore, the only disputable premise is (2).

Now, while the argument just delineated is sufficient in establishing mere freedom, still, it’s worth mentioning that the argument has it drawbacks. First, the argument can only ground the belief that oneself is free. This is because introspection, as being such, only grants us access to our own mental states and not other persons. We therefore cannot generalize our experience of freedom to other individuals based on this argument alone.

Second, for the same reason, introspection cannot ground belief in incompatibilism. Again, introspection simply doesn’t grant us access to anything extra-mental to us. That includes states of affairs that might obtain, God Himself, the laws of nature, antecedent circumstances, or whatever. Our experience, in of itself, would therefore be underdeterminative in adjudicating whether or not anything distinct from ourselves as agents causally determines our choices. We therefore need some further evidence to establish incompatibilism.

An Argument for The Proper Basicality of Incompatibilism
Consider the following argument for the proper basicality of incompatibilism:

1.  If belief in the objective reality of incompatibilism is properly basic, then we are warranted in holding to this belief.

2. Belief in the objective reality of incompatibilism is properly basic.

3. Therefore, we are warranted in holding to this belief.

This argument, in many of its aspects, is identical to the first. For example, like the previous argument, the first premise is true by definition of ‘properly basic’. Introspection, however, will not be appealed to in order to justify the second premise. Instead, I shall argue that it can be known as true via the faculty of intuition.

Before explaining what this faculty is, it’s important that we first understand what it is not. The faculty of intuition, in the philosophical sense of the word, does not denote that one’s belief is based on a gut feeling, irrational hunch, guess, or anything like that. Instead, it refers to that faculty which purports to, and sometimes does, ground our beliefs regarding abstract matters such as morality, mathematics, metaphysics, etc. Moreover, beliefs generated by this faculty are called intuitions.

That said, one way philosophers commonly describe the faculty of intuition is on the analogy of perception. Just as we know about physical reality by having sensory perceptions which are grounded in our sensory faculties (e.g. vision, hearing, touch, etc.), so can we know about abstract reality by having intellectual perceptions (intuitions) that are grounded in the faculty of intuition. In the case at hand, incompatibilism would seem to be a metaphysical intuition, similar to other one’s such as the following:

There are no round squares
There are no married bachelors
No event precedes itself
No object is larger than itself
Everything that has a shape has a size
Nothing can be red all over and green all over

With respect to the incompatibilist intuition, it can be expressed as the proposition that “No free choice is caused by any thing or event distinct from the agent themselves which causes them to act”.

One noteworthy feature about the way this intuition is expressed is that it takes no position concerning whether or not events such as our own antecedent brain states are actually identical to ourselves as agents. Instead, the intuition implies that if these brain states are not identical to ourselves as agents, then they do not causally determine our choices.

Another relevant feature about this incompatibilist intuition is that it doesn’t assume the truth of either event or agent causation. Instead, the intuition implies that determinism is incompatible with agent causation should agent causation obtain. As such, the intuition is compatible with both Libertarianism as well as hard determinism.

Finally, if we assume phenomenal conservatism and PF in the same manner as done before, then we can justify as well as warrant our belief in the argument’s second premise.

An Argument For LFW
So far we’ve established that mere freedom and incompatibilism are both properly basic. Moreover, recall that LFW just is the conjunction of both of these properly basic beliefs. Therefore, if we take both of these beliefs and conjoin them with each other we can infer from them that we, as particular individuals, are warranted in believing that we ourselves possess LFW. Here’s a sketch of such an inference:

1. If I am warranted in believing (1) that I possess mere freedom and that (2) incompatibilism is true, then I am warranted in believing that I possess LFW.

2. (1) and (2) are both warranted

3. Therefore, I am warranted in believing that I possess LFW.

Premise (1) is analytically true. Moreover, we’ve already proven the second premise using our previous two arguments. So we can infer from both premises that we are warranted in believing in our own LFW.

This argument, moreover, is significant because it implies that the objection purporting to show that Ockham’s razor rules out Libertarian interpretations of verses such as or relevantly similar to 1 Peter 1:3 is unsuccessful. This is because, as we have seen, Ockham’s razor only applies when the evidence for competing hypotheses exists ceteris paribus and this feature simply does not obtain with respect to the evidence concerning LFW and DCD. The relevant objection therefore misapplies Ockham’s razor, which is what we sought to demonstrate.

To recap, I began this essay with an explanation of Ockham’s Razor. I then argued that this principle can only be successfully applied when the evidence for competing hypotheses exists with all other factors remaining the same. For if it didn’t, the principle would commit us to prefer a theory over its competitor(s) irrespective of the preferred theories lack of explanatory power, scope, plausibility, etc. Following this, I argued that belief in one’s own freedom and incompatibilism are both properly basic. I then argued that we can conjoin these properly basic beliefs in order to infer that we are warranted in believing that we, ourselves, possess LFW. Additionally, we saw that this conclusion implied that the main objection that this essay sought to respond to had misapplied Ockham’s razor. Libertarian interpretations of verses such as or relevantly like 1 Peter 1:3 thus remain in the pool of live options.


[1] PF is an externalist theory of knowledge that distinguishes between justification and warrant. On PF, to say that a belief is justified is merely to assert that one’s belief has some positive epistemic considerations, inferential or non-inferential, that make the belief rational to hold to. Warrant, in contrast, on PF, is distinct from justification in that warrant is that ingredient which turns mere true belief into knowledge. On PF [a subject] S’s belief is warranted iff  (1) S’s belief was formed by properly functioning cognitive faculties (2) S’s cognitive environment is sufficiently similar to the one for which the cognitive faculties are designed for (3) The design plan that governs the production of such belief is aimed at producing true belief and (4) The design plan is a good one in so far there is a high statistical (or objective) probability that a belief produced under conditions (1-3) will be true. For a further explanation and defense of PF see Warrant and Proper Function by Alvin Plantinga.

[2] Nothing about this argument uniquely relies on the truth of PF, externalism, or a distinction between justification and warrant. I just so happen to accept PF. Moreover, this is not to assert that this argument is compatible with every theory that disagrees with PF, externalism, or a distinction between justificaiton and wrrant, but only some.


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