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Compatibility Of Divine Foreknowledge With Human Freedom Philosophy Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

In this essay I will discuss Leibniz’s position that divine foreknowledge of all events is compatible with human freedom and why it is that I agree with his position. To do so, I will first discuss Leibniz’s position. Next, I will discuss what divine foreknowledge is and what human freedom is, so that it will be much easier to understand Leibniz’s position. Following these descriptions I will provide Leibniz’s conclusion and then show that his position is in fact correct due to the lack of contradiction between the two concepts that would have made divine foreknowledge and human freedom incompatible.

Leibniz believes that divine foreknowledge, meaning God’s prior knowledge of every action, occurrence or event, is compatible with human freedom (Schlösser) which means that there is no contradiction between the two and that they go hand-in-hand. This mention of compatibility shows that Leibniz believes that divine foreknowledge works with human freedom and does not disrupt freedom in any manner. Before venturing on with Leibniz’s position, it is best to first describe the two concepts in which Leibniz is considering which is Divine foreknowledge and human freedom.

Divine foreknowledge is the knowledge of the world and everything within it which is preordained by a divine figure, which in this case is God (Schlösser). This concept of divine foreknowledge assumes that everything in the past and things in the future, that have not occurred yet, have already been seen and put in place by God. The concept of divine foreknowledge can be related to a priori truths (Leibniz 31) because the ability to know and see everything prior to its occurrence leaves no room for truth without all possible facts. What I mean by this is that, since God has created all and has the ability to see everything in that past, present and future, it is impossible for the truth/knowledge to be without factual backgrounds and is therefore a priori. Divine foreknowledge also follows the principle of contradiction which relates to “all truths that concern possible or essences and the impossibility of a thing or its necessity” (Leibniz 19). There is quite a difference in terms of human knowledge as human knowledge contains both a priori and non a priori truths. The reason for this is because humans do not possess the unlimited knowledge as divine foreknowledge does. This means that humans are incapable of knowing everything in the past, present and future which deems their knowledge very limited and cannot possess the ability to know everything with complete factual backing. There are truths in human knowledge which are a priori such as “there is no effect without a cause” (Leibniz 31) but there are also non a priori truths that humans are subject to such as, a hundred people on Earth, weigh the same as a hundred people in an unknown universe, which cannot be proved because this unknown universe has no factual backing to it to prove this claim, yet the truth/claim still exists. A good example of divine foreknowledge, given by Leibniz, is Julius Caesar and his rise to dictator and emperor of Rome (45). Leibniz writes that it is within Caesars “notion”, or nature, as predetermined by God, that Caesar would overthrow the Roman Empire (45). Leibniz does not say that to do the opposite (i.e. not overthrow the Empire) would be impossible but seeing that it has been predetermined it is impossible (45). That may seem confusing, but what Leibniz means is that Caesar always had the choice to do the opposite but chose to overthrow the Empire, and the foreknowledge of this event is irrelevant in the choice that was made. Leibniz states that to find a “connection between the subject, Caesar, and the predicate, his successful undertaking, he would in fact be showing that Caesar’s future dictatorship is grounded in his notion or nature” (45), which is a predetermination of God but still is founded on free will as the decision to “[cross] the Rubicon” and “[win] rather than [lose] at Pharsalus” was based purely on reason and not cause (45). With this example, Leibniz is able to show not only how divine foreknowledge works, but also its connection and compatibility with human freedom.

Human freedom, as described by Leibniz, is any action that is committed purely out of personal views, beliefs, goals, et cetera (Schlösser). This action cannot be influenced by any other source outside of one’s own self, else the action cannot be deemed as free (Schlösser). Also, it is merely reasons that guide us rather than the cause, which means we do things based primarily on a reason to do so instead of committing actions consistently for the same cause as everyone else, which is to say we were being controlled at every moment. Human freedom is different, in a sense, than that of divine freedom. Human freedom is limited purely by the person committing the action and his/her morals, beliefs and values (Schlösser) that back the action, while divine freedom is somewhat similar in its limits where the actions are limited purely by doing the right thing and not the wrong. Overall both freedoms are similar in that they are limited by some form of morality or belief, one of the only differences being that there is still the free will to choose one’s action (Schlösser) over preordained divine freedom which is already set in stone. Therefore if free will is based primarily on one’s own self and nothing else, then it is safe to assume, still, that God’s foreknowledge of these events is compatible.

Leibniz has shown what it means to have free will and what divine foreknowledge is, as I have discussed. What must now be discussed is what makes divine knowledge so compatible with human freedom? At first, it seems as if God already knows what’s going to happen before it even occurs, but then it couldn’t be possible for humans to have free will as their every action had been preordained. However, this is not the case. It may be the case that God does has foreknowledge of every event, even prior to its creation, but what allows for human freedom to exist is that it is the person who commits the action at that point and time (Schlösser). God may have pre-existing knowledge of what you are going to do, but God does not control your actions every step of the way. It is still the person who makes the choice based on their own reason (Schlösser). Unlike a machine (Schlösser), humans have the option to choose a different path regardless of divine foreknowledge. This can be seen in the world everyday with overbearing amounts of sin. These sins were also predetermined but not prevented by God (Schlösser), because if all foreseen sinful acts were prevented than there would be no existing human freedom and therefore divine foreknowledge would, instead, not be compatible with human freedom as the two concepts would create a contradiction. That being said, since there is sin in the world, it means that God has allowed for humans to make their own decisions based on their own reasons, beliefs, nature, et cetera, which means that human freedom does exist, even when the event at hand had been foreseen by God. Therefore, Leibniz can conclude that divine foreknowledge is in fact compatible with human freedom.

I am in complete agreement with Leibniz’s position on human freedom and divine foreknowledge. Leibniz’s concept of divine foreknowledge not interfering with human freedom appears to be sound in its explanation. There would be more issues concerning freedom if divine foreknowledge had any effect directly on human decision in real-time. This means that as the decision to act is being made, a divine being is there to bend our choices to the right decision (i.e. a puppeteer). If this is the case then there would not be any free will in existence because, as Leibniz notes in his explanation of free will, our will is being governed by some external force (Schlösser). Therefore the action committed is not a free choice but a controlled one. I believe Leibniz is correct in saying that divine foreknowledge is not a problem for human freedom because this knowledge of all events is predetermined long before the existence of such events and therefore has no direct effect on human freedom to choose between the right and wrong decision. There is another way to look at this scenario that may better solidify Leibniz’s claims (other than the Caesar example). To stray away from divinity for a moment, let’s say that there is an ordinary man who can see into the future. This man has a vision that a teenage thug is going to steal a purse from a store in downtown Toronto. Moments later a teenager walks into a purse store. At this very moment, the teenager has the choice to do the right thing and rather purchase a purse or leave the store empty handed. The other option is to do the wrong thing and steal the purse. This choice is what determines the existence of free will. The teenager chooses to steal the purse for her own reasoning and leaves the store. I will now pose the following question: is the man’s ability to foresee this theft a disruption of the existence of this teenager’s freedom? The answer is simply, no. This vision, or foreknowledge, is simply an ability to foresee other humans making their choices to do good and bad things and not the ability to command or change a person’s mind to choose right over wrong, as this would disrupt human freedom. This example provides a well-rounded and more up to date explanation of Leibniz’s claim. The only difference would be that the man with visions could choose to stop the person from doing what is wrong, which is a little different from God, who has known about all events prior to their creation but will not interfere with free will. To make the example a little more satisfying, we can say that the time between the vision and the action is mere milliseconds, so that no disruption will be provided to intervene with free will. All-in-all the mere fact that God allows for sin to occur and that he is all knowing shows that this divine figure does not wish to intervene in human free will and change the outcomes. Just like the man with the visions, God has foreseen a human’s every action but what God see’s is free will in action as the person chooses to commit right and wrong actions. By no means does foreseeing an event occur, grant that that something or someone is being controlled. If it were the case that foreseen actions were tampered with, then human freedom would not exist. The same can be said for the man with visions. If the man decided to assist those people he foresaw in charging their ways to the right decision (not taking into account the very minute time gap put in place between vision and action) he would also be interfering with another person’s free will, but at the same time is making use of his freedom of choice in order to help this person. This means that the man must implement his free will in order to do the right thing (although it can be argued whether interfering with another person’s free will can in fact be considered the right thing to do). Therefore this example shows that the mere foreknowledge of an event does not mean that it contradicts free will, which means that divine foreknowledge is in fact compatible with human freedom and also that Leibniz is correct.

In conclusion, I have discussed Leibniz’s position, that divine foreknowledge of all events is compatible with human freedom, by providing an explanation of what divine foreknowledge is and what it means to have free will in accordance with Leibniz. I then grouped the two concepts and explained why Leibniz thought they were compatible and then provided Leibniz’s example of Julius Caesar and divine foreknowledge to show this. I then concluded this essay with why I agree with Leibniz’s position and provided an example of my own, regarding a man who has visions of the future, to provide a better understanding of Leibniz’s position without the use of divine characters. After careful consideration of Leibniz’s position and reasoning I have concluded that Leibniz is correct in his position and divine foreknowledge poses no contradiction to human freedom and is indeed compatible with it.

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