Molinism and the Grounding Objection

Since I am attracted to the theory of middle knowledge (Molinism) as a way of reconciling God’s providence/foreknowledge and human freedom, I face the primary objection to the theory: the grounding objection. The grounding objection can be stated like this:

According to the argument, there appears to be no good answer to the question of what grounds the truth of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. They cannot be grounded in God because determinism would follow—the necessity of God’s being or His will would transfer to the counterfactuals. Additionally, the prevolitional character of middle knowledge speaks against grounding counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in the will of God.

First, what is a counterfactual of creaturely freedom (CCF)? They are statements that take the form “If it were the case that x was in circumstances C, then X would perform action A.” The classic CCF Molina liked to discuss was Peter’s denial, which might be styled like so: “If it were the case that Peter was in the circumstances described by Luke 22:54-56, then Peter would deny Christ” (call this P).

Second, Molina believed that God knew the truth value of P, “before” God created the world. But how? If Peter’s choice is not causally determined by God or physical substances in creation, then it seems that there nothing that makes P true. It seems that their needs to be something that exists to determine the fact of the matter. A professor of mine spells this ‘truth-maker assumption’ out more formally:

(TA): Necessarily, for any proposition p, if p is contingently true then there are some xs such that, necessarily, if the xs exist then p is true (Crisp, 2007:90).

But why believe (TA)? After all, there is nothing that exists that grounds the truth value of the claim, “There are no unicorns.” Perhaps a reply would be that there exists a null set of states of affairs in which unicorns are a constituent, and the existence of this null set is what grounds the truth of the claim “There are no unicorns.” Perhaps, then, sets of states of affairs do the work.

Nonetheless, it seems that the Molinist has a way out. My reading of Alfred Freddoso and Thomas Flint deploys the following strategy that reasons from cases we are likely to judge to be true. The enumerated points state the necessary and sufficient conditions of what it takes for a truth claim to be grounded.

1. The statement “It was the case that ‘Peter decides to deny Christ’” is now grounded if and only if the statement “‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ is now grounded” was the case.

From (1) we can deduce that God knows the moral choice of Peter’s decision, because it occurred in the past. On this there is wide agreement between Molinists and anti-Molinists.

2. The statement “It will be the case that ‘Peter decides to deny Christ” is now grounded if and only if the statement “‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ is now grounded” will be the case.

From (2) we can deduce that there was a time when God knew what Peter would do before he did it, and that there was a time in our world when Peter was not. Both Molinists and most anti-Molinists agree (save Open Theists).

3. The statement “It might be the case that ‘Peter decides to deny Christ’” is now grounded if and only if the statement “‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ is now grounded” might be the case.

From (3) we can deduce that God knows what Peter possibly will do, and there is a general agreement that God has this knowledge without the creation of the world (that is, “before” creation). Not every anti-Molinist agrees with this, because they insist that something has to exist or possibly exist in order to ground the truth about what “might” or “might not” occur. I will comment on this below.

Now call the world we inhabit Alpha:

4. The statement “It would be the case that ‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ (if God were to create Alpha)” is now grounded if and only if the statement “‘Peter decides to deny Christ’ is now grounded” would be the case (if God were to create Alpha).

From (4) we can deduce that God would know what Peter would do if he created the world in which we now inhabit. But Molinists and anti-Molinists don’t agree on this at all! But why? What is it that makes the statements in (4) unknowable that doesn’t make the statements in (2) unknowable? If we agree that the statements in (2) are knowable, then Peter’s existence doesn’t seem to matter (nor does it matter for the know-ability of [1]). If the statements in (4) are unknowable because Peter is merely a hypothetical person who could possibly “never exist,” then the statements in (3) are unknowable. But since there is wide agreement that the statements in (3) are knowable, the condition of “possibly never existing” doesn’t seem to matter. But if one thinks it does matter and we don’t agree on the truth-status of the statements in (3), then the burden of proof rests on the anti-Molinist to furnish a reason to think “x does not exist” and “x could possibly never exist” is a substantial distinction with modal import for what is knowable or not. I make the (modest) claim that the statements in (4) are possibly known by God, which is enough to undermine the claim that it is impossible that God know what someone like Peter would do before the creation of Alpha, and the grounding objection needs more work to be taken seriously.

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