Grounds to Object to the Grounding Objection

Jacobus

Erasmus

(Kobus)

|

September 17, 2018

Perhaps the most common objection to Molinism is the so called Grounding Objection. Molinism, you may recall, asserts that God’s knowledge of the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) is explanatory prior to God’s creative decree. A CCF is a counterfactual that has the form: ‘If person P were in circumstances C, P would freely execute action A.’ (Note that refraining from executing some action A is itself an action). Hence, according to Molinism, before God chose a possible (or feasible) world to actualise, he knew the truth of all CCFs (where ‘before’ is used in the sense of explanatory or logical priority, and not in the sense of temporal priority).

The Grounding Objection, then, says that it is impossible for God’s knowledge of CCFs to be explanatory prior to God’s creative decree because, if CCFs are independent of God’s will or creative decree, then there would be nothing to ground CCFs. It is unfortunate that the advocates of the Grounding Objection usually do not explain what, exactly, they mean by ‘grounding’. Hence, we are left to try and identify by ourselves the supposed problem posed by the objection.

Nevertheless, scholars tend to use the term ‘grounding’, not to refer to causation, but in the sense of explanation. In this sense, to say that some proposition P is grounded is to say that there is an explanation or reason in virtue of which P is true. The Grounding Objection thus appears to make the following two assumptions:

(A1) Every CCF is grounded, i.e., has an explanation or reason in virtue of which it is true.

(A2) A CCF cannot be grounded if it is explanatory prior to God’s creative decree.

What should we think about (A1) and (A2)? It seems to me that the Molinist may question both assumptions. Let us first consider (A2). Why think that a CCF cannot be grounded if it is explanatory prior to God’s creative decree? The critic might argue that, since neither God nor any world has determined the truth of the CCFs, they lack grounding. The problem with this, however, is that a CCF is similar to an analytic proposition. An analytic proposition is true by definition. We might say that an analytic proposition is grounded by itself. For example, the proposition that Bachelors are unmarried is analytically true, that is, it is true by its very definition.

Now, a CCF might not be an analytic proposition, but it could, in a similar way, be true in virtue of its definition. Consider the following CCF:

(P) If person P were in circumstances C, P would freely execute action A.

The phrase ‘circumstances C‘ refers to a set of propositions relevant to the counterfactual. We could write out a CCF more explicitly by stating each circumstance. For example, (P) could be written in the following form:

(P) If person P were a male, had the name ‘Jones’, had free will, had a narcissistic personality disorder, was born in Germany, is in Cape Town at time t, … (and so on), he would freely execute action A.

Importantly, since a CCF is about free creatures, every CCF will include the circumstantial proposition that P has free will. However, that P has free will is an explanation or reason for why P freely executes some action. This is true regardless of whether or not P has a personal reason for executing action A. The very nature of free will implies that a free person can do something without having a personal reason for why they are doing it, or for why they chose to do that instead of something else (such as getting out of bed at 07h01:31 instead of at 07h01:30).

What all this means is this: If the critic insists that a CCF must be grounded, one may respond that a CCF may be grounded, not in God’s creative decree, but in its very definition. The circumstances mentioned in a CCF explain or ground the CCF. In other words, the circumstances provide the reason or explanation in virtue of which the CCF is true.

However, if you are not convinced by the above, then you may object instead to (A1), namely, that every CCF is grounded, i.e., has an explanation or reason in virtue of which it is true. Now, it is not totally clear why, exactly, the proponents of the Grounding Objection affirm (A1). Usually, they seem to defend (A1) by claiming that

(B1) A true contingent proposition is grounded by the existence of some existing object(s).

Unfortunately, (B1) entails that propositions about extinct objects are false, such as the proposition that Dinosaurs no longer exist. The critic should adjust (B1) as follows:

(B2) A true contingent proposition is grounded by the existence or past existence of some object(s).

However, what about future propositions, such as the proposition that It will rain in Cape Town tomorrow? (B2) will have to be adjusted as well:

(B3) A true contingent proposition is grounded by the present existence, past existence, or future existence of some object(s).

But what about negative existential propositions, such at the proposition that Unicorns do not and never will exist? Once again, (B3) must be adjusted:

(B4) A true contingent proposition is grounded by the present existence, past existence, future existence, or non-existence of some object(s).

We could continue down this road (see Tim Stratton and my article for a similar argument), but by now we can see that it is becoming more and more difficult to defend (A1). As I see it, it is just as difficult to defend (A1) as it is to defend the view that CCFs are brute facts. Why, then, should the Molinist feel pressured into affirming both (A1) and (A2)? I can think of no reason.

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About the Author

Jacobus

Erasmus

(Kobus)

Dr Jacobus Erasmus is author of the book "The Kalām Cosmological Argument: A Reassessment". He is currently a researcher at North-West University, South Africa and a computer programmer. He received his PhD in philosophy from North-West University and was awarded the Merit Prize in 2015 by the university’s School of Philosophy for superior performance for his doctoral dissertation. Dr Erasmus also holds an Honours Degree in IT. His main research interests include Natural Theology, Philosophy of Religion, and Metaphysics. www.JacobusErasmus.com

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