Molinists and Ockhamists on the Loose

, posted by Godismyjudge

[Editor’s note: This post comes from a Molinist perspective. SEA does not specifically advocate Molinism, but allows members to hold to either divine simple foreknowledge or Molinism.]

This post is a response to Mark Linville’s argument against the way Ockhamists and Molinists reconcile God’s foreknowledge with human freedom in his article, “Ockhamists and Molinists in Search of a Way out.”

Linville’s Agument

Using Hasker’s arguments based on the combination of the necessity of the past and God’s essential omniscience, Linville concludes that Ockhamists cannot hold counterfactual power over the past (i.e. if I do X, the past would have been different). Rather Ockhamists must hold to actual power over the past (i.e. I have the ability to move from the possible world I am in to a different one with a different past). Linville concludes that this is the only valid way for Ockhamists to reconcile God’s foreknowledge with libertarian freewill.

However, “actual power over the past” lets compatibilists off the hook on the consequence argument, since the consequence argument1 is based on the unalterability of the past. But Molinists are committed to an independence thesis,2 so they cannot assert actual power over the past. So, while Ockhamists can escape Hasker’s arguments by asserting actual power over the past, and in doing so let compatibilists off the hook, Molinists cannot, because of their commitment to the independence thesis. Let’s look at the various parts of the argument.

Hasker’s argument for the incompatiblity of divine foreknowledge and freedom based on the combination of the necessity of the past and God’s essential omniscience

William Hasker has offered a forceful version of this argument for the incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and libertarian freedom. Suppose that Clarence will have an omelet tomorrow morning, that God is essentially omniscient, and that omniscience entails foreknowledge. Suppose, further, that the past is unalterable in such a way that it is never within anyone’s power to bring about any past states of affairs. Then the following seems to be true:

(1) It is not within Clarence’s power to bring it about that God has never believed that Clarence would have a cheese omelet tomorrow.
(2) It is not possible that Clarence will refrain from having a cheese omelet and yet that God has always believed that Clarence would have a cheese omelet tomorrow.

(1) is thought to result from the premise of the unalterability of the past.

(2) follows from God’s essential omniscience.

But then (1) and (2) seem to entail

(3) It is not within Clarence’s power to refrain from having a cheese omelet tomorrow.

(Mark D. Linville. Ockhamists and Molinists in Search of a Way Out. Religious Studies, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), 501.)

1 and 2 are true. The past is indeed unalterable. Further, God is essentially omniscient so the combination of God’s true belief that Clarence will eat an omelet and Clarence refraining from eating the omelet is logically impossible. However, all that follows from 1 and 2 is that Clarence will not refrain from eating the omelet; not that he cannot. The argument fails to distinguish between the causal ability to eat the omelet and the logical implications of actually doing so. Is Clarence able to eat the omelet? is a different question than If he eats it, what are the logical implications?  So Hasker’s argument subtly and invalidly slides from causal possibility and use of ability to logical possibility and the ability itself.

The Difference Between Counterfactual Power over the Past and Actual Power over the Past

(CPP) God has always believed that S does A at t, but it is within S’s power to do something such that, where he to do it, God would always have had a different belief about what S does at t.

(CPPi) The actual world, W, includes God’s always having believed that S does A at t. But there is a world W* such that W* includes S’s refraining from doing A at t and God always having believed that S refrains from doing A at t, and it is within S’s power to bring it about that W* is the actual world.

(CPPi) is bolder than (CPP) in that it claims that, not only is there a world in which the agent does and God believes otherwise, but that at the time the relevant choice is made, it is within the agent’s power to bring it about that that world is the actual world. This is a sense of counterfactual power with a causal element. (CPPi) commits one to the view that, for every autonomous agent, whenever that agent freely chooses from among possible alternatives it is partly up to that individual which world is the actual world. (509)

CPP is a resonable statement of conterfactual power over the past and CPPi is a good formulation of actual power over the past. I disagree that a “causal element” need be imputed to the Ockhamist and that they must accept CPPi. S is able to refrain from doing A and were S to do so, W* would be the actual world. So the connection between S and W* isn’t causal, it’s a counterfactual dependence. S’s actions can be the basis of truth of non-A and the truth of non-A is logically related to W*.

Actual Power over the Past Lets Compatiblists off the hook on the Consequence Argument

Shall we say, then, that agents may have causal power over their actions, but only counterfactual power over the causal antecedents of those actions? If the Plantingean is permitted such a distinction, I fail to see the relevant difference between the cases that would justify our denying such a move to the compatibilist with regard to determinism. (506)

Linville makes two mistakes. First, the causal antecedents in the case of Ockhamism (God’s past belief) does not determine or necessitate our actions. But, in the case of determinism, the causal antecedents do determine our actions. So, in the case of Ockhamism, the ability is actual and the hypothetical use of that ability corresponds to a hypothetical past; but in determinism the ability itself is only hypothetical and not real.

Second, in Ockhamism, we have counterfactual power over logical antecedents, not causal antecedents. I am able to choose chocolate or vanilla. Let’s say “I will choose chocolate” is true. I am able to choose vanilla and have the counterfactual power to bring it about that “I choose vanilla” is true (i.e. if I choose vanilla, then my action is the basis of truth of the proposition “I choose vanilla,” but I don’t cause a truth, only a basis of truth).

This counterfactual power entails the counterfactual power to bring it about that God’s past belief that ‘God believed “I will eat chocolate” is false. It, however, does not entail that I have the ability to retroactively cause God not to have believed “Dan will eat chocolate” (the power is counterfactual, not factual); nor does it entail that God believed “Dan will eat chocolate” and “Dan will eat chocolate” is false. Rather, it entails that I have the causal ability to choose vanilla, such that if I were to do so, God would have believed “Dan will eat vanilla.”


Linville’s arguments are thought provoking, but small, subtle mistakes lead in steps to large mistakes in the conclusion — that Molinism is reducible to a form of compatibilism. Molinism reconciles God’s providential governance of the world, and libertarian freedom, and it stands up against Linville’s argument.


1 The Consequence argument has many specific and nuanced forms, but the basic picture is: if determinism is true, the laws of nature and the past determine everything, including my acts. But I cannot control the past, or laws of nature, so I cannot control their consequences, including my acts.

2 The truth of conterfactuals is logically prior to anything anyone actually does.