Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom IV
I have the image above from Wikipedia, which confidently informs me that "Augustine of Hippo wrote that original sin is transmitted by concupiscence and enfeebles freedom of the will without destroying it." The anonymous contributer then cites an article on "Free Will" in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press, 1997), edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. The statement that Augustine 'affirmed' free will surprises me, for I thought that he had denied it. Unfortunately, I cannot check the article to see what the anonymous Wikipedia individual was referring to, for I do not have the book that contains it.
Well, that's my opening gambit, and it ain't much of one, but I liked the image of Augustine -- his eyes lifted up -- deeply engaged in moral and theological reasoning, for it's indicative of the deep waters into which I've gotten myself (my eyes also lifted up as I sink beneath the waves).
For instance, in an earlier post defending free will, I had innocently noted that "a 'should' entails a 'could.'" To this, Dominic Bnonn Tennant posted a response, asking:
[O]n what basis do you say that a "should" entails a "could"? All men should be perfect. Are you arguing that all men could be perfect? An imperative in no way leads one to infer an indicative.I've been hesitating to reply to this because I felt that I needed better grounding in the philosophical thinking on this issue. I don't want to go about reinventing the wheel. The wheel has already been invented, improved, possibly even 'perfected', so my own wheel is likely to be a crude one, vastly inferior. But I'll make some suggestions and ask some questions.
First, the suggestions.
Bnonn's statement that "All men should be perfect" is a Christian one, probably based on Matthew 5:48:
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (King James Version)I borrow this verse, both in English and Greek, from the Blue Letter Bible, as one might have expected. I admit that I've always been somewhat puzzled by this imperative, for it seems to be exhorting people to be something beyond their power. Possibly, one should understand the imperative to mean, "Try to be perfect, and you will learn that this is impossible, for the law is intended to teach you that you will fail" -- if one were to apply a Pauline hermeneutic here (cf. Romans 5:13-17 and Galatians 3:19-25, among other places). But maybe the point goes a bit further, namely, that perfection is possible, ultimately, if one accepts the grace offered and the glorification promised (again applying a Pauline hermeneutic, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:42-54). Perhaps one needs help to be perfect, but if one should be perfect, then one ought to accept that help.
ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι, ὥσπερ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς τέλειός ἐστιν (Textus Receptus)
I'll get to my questions in a moment, but I should note an example that Bnonn provided to illustrate that an "ought" does not always imply a "could":
Say a man embezzles a million dollars, and is subsequently caught. At trial, because of mitigating circumstances, the judge agrees to defer jailtime if the man simply pays back the money. Unfortunately, most of it has already been squandered. Surely we'd agree that the man ought to pay back the money (in fact, even if he were not so ordered, he still ought to pay it back) -- yet certainly he cannot pay it back. The imperative does not imply an indicative.I think that the issue would be more complex than this. Of course, the man should not have embezzled the money in the first place, and presumably, he had a choice about that. Since he is guilty of a crime, he must make some sort of restitution or be punished (or both). One way would be for him to repay the money, and he should do this if he can. If he lacks the funds now, he could be required to pay back in installments. There is some possibility of repaying, even if the man currently lacks the money. By contrast, we would never say of a murderer that he should bring the dead man back to life, for that is not only currently impossible but also utterly beyond all human possibility. Returning to the embezzlement case, if for some reason -- let us assume -- we know that the man would not, ever, be able to repay, then the legal system could provide for punishment instead. The reasoning would be: "Since the man is guilty, then he should repay the funds if he can, but since he cannot repay the funds, then he should be punished with prison time." A legal system would be foolish to insist that the man should repay if he cannot. It would, rather, insist that the man serve time in prison.
Now for my questions.
How would an imperative make sense if the act demanded were impossible? I can understand that an imperative might be given to teach a lesson, e.g., "Okay, be perfect by your own efforts if you think that you can be (but you'll find that you cannot)." But would that be a genuine imperative? Or rather a means of teaching a lesson? In the embezzlement example above, however, the moral assumption is that the man had a choice between embezzling or not embezzling. If he were forced at gunpoint to embezzle, we would likely not hold him responsible. Or, to put things another way, we would not hold the man's computer responsible for the embezzlement, for the computer had no choice, being merely an instrument of the man's will. Would we say that the computer should not have carried out the man's will? Wouldn't that be demanding of a computer that it ought to act in a way that it cannot act? Would such a demand make any sense?
I'm not sure if I've adequately responded to this part of Bnonn's objections to my view that an "ought" implies a "could." Probably, I've merely chiseled a rough-hewn wheel from philosophical stone.