Saturday, October 29, 2005

Paradise Lost: Milton and Modal Logic

I recently sent the Maverick Philosopher a query, and while I'm waiting for a reply, I've decided to post the same query here:
I'm working on an article on Milton's Paradise Lost, and perhaps you can clarify something for me.

Say that God creates Lucifer with libertarian free will and gives him a free choice between standing firm in heaven or falling into hell.

Say also that God knows by his foreknowledge that Lucifer will choose to fall into hell.

Query: Is there a difference between the following two cases:

1. God, prior to but knowing Lucifer's choice to fall, decrees that if Lucifer should fall, then Lucifer is to be punished eternally.

2. God, prior to but knowing Lucifer's choice to fall, decrees that if any angel should fall, then that angel is to be punished eternally.

My intuition is that the former case poses a problem for Lucifer's libertarian free will but that the latter case does not. I have this intuition because the former case specifies an individual, whereas the latter case refers to a class.

Is my intuition misleading me?
Some points might need clarification.

Libertarian free will indicates a free will not subject to any causal chain, either internal or external.

God's foreknowledge foresees all future free decisions but does not cause these decisions.

What God decrees for the future will certainly occur.

I'm posing this query at large here on my blog because others surely have far superior skills in modal logic than I do and can perhaps enlighten me on the differences between the above two cases.

If they do differ, which perhaps they don't.


At 12:38 AM, Blogger James Brush said...

I’m by no means an expert (or even very knowledgeable) in modal logic, and I haven’t read Paradise Lost since high school (but it has a special place in my heart since it was the work that really opened my eyes to literature), so I may not be offering much of worth here, but here it goes…

You're right that in the first decree, Lucifer is being singled out. I wonder if being singled out in a decree would create a more causal relationship since Lucifer’s fall then could be (at least partially) motivated by animosity about being singled out or a desire to prevent his fall (“if he should fall”) and having it backfire as so often happens in literature when characters with spotty foreknowledge of their fates try to alter their destinies.

If this is the case than libertarian free will as you’ve defined it is lost because then Lucifer’s knowledge that he might fall becomes a factor in his choices. Of course this all hinges on whether or not Lucifer is aware of the decree. If he isn’t aware of the decree than it seems the two cases are essentially the same.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

As you probably have read by now, the second case describes God's decree in Paradise Lost.

As for Lucifer's free will being infringed by the first decree if he were to 'overhear' it, I don't think that this would be true if he has libertarian free will. He might point to God's decree as a motive for his malice and cite the decree as a reason and perhaps even refer to it as a 'cause,' but it wouldn't really have caused his malice if he has libertarian free will.

Anyway, I'm awaiting the commentary of Bill Vallicella, our Maverick Philosopher who's always insightful and also happens to be an expert in modal logic, among other abstract things.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Bill Vallicella said...


I wouldn't call this a problem in modal logic since nothing in the logic hinges on possibility and necessity and related notions.

The problem is one of theological fatalism. In both cases, God knows that L. will choose to fall at some future time t. What God or anyone knows is true. So it is true that L. will choose to fall at t. The conflict, real or apparent, with L's libertarian freedom of the will is the same in both cases.

Suppose that Jones believes that every bachelor is unmarried, and suppose that Smith is a bachelor. It doesn't follow that Jones believes that Smith is unmarried: Jones may be unacquainted with Smith.

But God is acquainted with Lucifer. So if God decrees that any angels who fall will be punished, it follows that God decrees that if L falls, he will be punished.

Alles klar?


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