Edwards on Habits

, posted by Godismyjudge

Background – LFW and responsibility

Under LFW, we are the causal source of our choices (i.e. nothing causally predetermines our choices); we are responsible for our choices. There’s nowhere else to go to. We can’t back track to something else – we are responsible. Under CFW, since our actions are causally predetermined, we can trace back the cause of our actions to something outside of us. Thus, we keep searching for the source of our actions to find out what’s ultimately responsible. When Calvinists say God is the ultimate source, we say they make God ultimately responsible for sin. Even if God establishes a system in which only secondary causes get punished and the primary cause does not (as Calvinists suppose), that doesn’t change the fact that God is ultimately responsible for sin. The issue isn’t one of God’s power or sovereignty, it’s a matter of His goodness and holiness.

This is a classic Arminian argument, but Edwards attempts to turn the tables on Arminians, by arguing against the link between LFW and responsibility.

Outline of Edwards’ arguments in parts III.VI and III.VII:

  1. Under LFW, our mind is in a state of indifference at the time of choice
  2. But reason tells us that the stronger the inclination, the more virtuous or evil the action
  3. Thus, LFW’s basis of responsibility contradicts reason (because we cannot at the same time be indifferent and have a strong inclination)
  4. If our minds were indifferent, we would expect an equal number of results (i.e. if we choose between A & B 100 times, we would choose A 50 times and B 50 times). Why should we be blamed if that’s the way it turns out?
  5. But this eliminates the possibility of good and bad habits – which people in fact have.
  6. If the Arminian objects and says motives do incline the mind, giving it a net bias, then they destroy LFW, which requires indifference. The motive would be predetermining the will.

My Response

I reject #1 as a misrepresentation of the Arminian view, but I don’t think that leads to the determinism of #6.

Edwards equivocates indifference of the will with indifference of the mind. Arminians sometimes use indifference to describe LFW. Arminius himself said: “The liberty of the will consists in this — when all the requisites for willing or not willing are laid down, man is still indifferent to will or not to will, to will this rather than that.” (link) However, the idea is not that given actions preceding a choice, man doesn’t care about what he is about to choose. Rather, it’s that given all preceding causes, man’s will isn’t resolved one way or another by those causes. We desire and have reasons to choose either alternative, so our minds are not indifferent. Thus, given causes preceding a choice, our will is indifferent, but our mind is not.

Since I disagree with #1, I have to deal with #6.

The biggest problem with point #6 is that Edwards assumes deterministic causation is true. This point has already been dealt with here.

In point 6, Edwards uses the term “net bias”. This is also part of the problem. There’s a difference between figuring out if an option is good or not versus figuring out if this option is better than that option. The first precedes choosing, the second is the choosing process itself. We don’t have a desire to both do and not do something. Rather, we have desires to do two different things at once. Desires don’t compete head-to-head, it’s a competition for scarce resources (i.e. we can only choose one of the options at a time). So although we have reasons (i.e. we are not indifferent in the sense of not caring), we don’t have a “net bias” before the choice.

So much for point #6, which basically resolves Edwards argument. I did however want to say a few words about points #2, #4 and #5.

Point #2 seems true. But since we reject #1, this is no problem for LFW. If we either choose quickly, or are unwilling to change a choice, or even if the choice is joined with a strong emotion, this tends to heighten praise or blame. This reminds me of the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25.

Edwards’ argument regarding expecting a choice for option A as often as option B versus habits in people’s behavior has a consistency issue. If you assume LFW is true (as Edwards did in point 1) you must also assume Agent/indeterministic causation is true. But the reason Edwards expects a person to choose A an equal number of times as B is because he holds to deterministic causation. But these are contradictory assumptions. Deterministic and indeterministic causation are mutually exclusive.

On a probability scale between 0 and 1 (0 meaning never, 1 meaning always) we can choose so long as the probability is between 0 and 1. It could be .5, but it could also be .8. So long as it’s possible for us to choose either way, we have LFW.

Under deterministic causation, given preceding causes we are always at 0 or 1, never is there a probability that something else might happen. In point #1, Edwards assumes LFW is hypothetically true, so the probability of an act is neither 0 or 1. Where does Edwards go? .5 Why? Because he doesn’t think indeterministic causes, which increase probability, but don’t eliminate possibility, exist. But if you assume LFW is true, you must also assume indeterministic/agent causation is also true. So Edwards is being inconsistent.

Habits are patterns of human behavior. Typically they are based on either prior choices or broader choices. If you choose to be a Cowboys fan, you tend to choose to like Cowboys players. There can be exceptions, and you can always rethink the broader choice of being a Cowboys fan or not, but so long as you’re a Cowboys fan, you will tend to favor Cowboys players. The opposite is unlikely, but not impossible.

Part of a Critique of Jonathan Edwards’ Enquire into the Will at Arminian Chronicles.