Scotist Contingency

One of the more exciting concepts I came across in the past few years was Duns Scotus’ view of freedom and necessity (cf. Willem van Asselt, Introducing Reformed Scholasticism).  Scotus delivers a model that allows both necessity in God’s fore ordination but an aspect of freedom in willing.  The following is taken from John Marenborn’s Medieval Philosophy: an historical and philosophical introduction

“Scotus will not allow that God’s foreknowledge is caused by the events themselves.  Rather, God’s knowledge of contingent truths is based on the knowledge of the free decisions of his own will, which determines which possibilities will be actual…

The libertarian, however, can respond that this doesn’t ultimately remove the problem, for God is still causing the situations.  Be it so, but Scotus is simply trying to do justice to the doctrine of God, and he does advance the argument beyond the previous causal paradigms.  Scotus’ response is something like this,

He considers that human actions are the joint result of the causality of the human agents and God.  But God is not seen as a direct cause of the human will’s acts.  As the first in an essentially-ordered series of causes, God is, rather, responsible for the agent’s causality itself: so the human will acts, and it is due to God’s will that it is able to act (289, 290).

This allows Scotus to say, given the divine decree, the human will has an element of contingency, yet the integrity of God’s decree is not compromised.  Scotus points out that the human will, regardless of the outcome of the divine decree, is logically able to will something differently.   This means that if I will x, it is not logically contradictory that I could have willed not-x. It is only a logical contradiction if I say I will x and not will x at the same time, but that is not what we are saying.   The divine decree does establish the paths events will take, but when we move to the temporal sphere, we are dealing with the modes and historical acting outs of these events.

Scotus’ model is not perfect, and even Marenborn is not entirely convinced.  I am not looking for a perfect model, though.  I am looking for one that allows me to formulate the doctrine of God and predestination with integrity.

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4 comments on “Scotist Contingency

  1. Justin says:

    I am not looking for a perfect model, though. I am looking for one that allows me to formulate the doctrine of God and predestination with integrity.

    I appreciate this approach. It’s why I keep coming back here to read more. 😉

  2. Canadian says:

    This attemps to put God at arms length of his own decree, as if he lifts his nose and looks the other way while the pedophile fulfills the decree, then turns in hot anger to punish the perpetrator for his action, which is determined. Yet the pedophile has no other option available to him, logically or otherwise. The actor is determined to follow the only script possible.
    The secondary causes are still directly caused by God, as all molecular action is predetermined. This does not remove him by one step nor is it real human freedom, as you hoped. Apply this to Christ and you have Him in the garden determined to choose the cross. His human will and energy are not freely following the Father, but are determined by a series of necessary causes. He does not freely save us as man but as God only. Monoenergism.

    Be honest, you really don’t think God is just responsible for the power of causality and ability to act, but of every atomic movement in the “essentially-ordered” events.

    • The secondary causes are not directly caused by God. That’s the whole point of secondary causes.

      This does not remove him by one step nor is it real human freedom, as you hoped.

      I think it does and you haven’t offered a cogent argument to the contrary.

      Apply this to Christ and you have Him in the garden determined to choose the cross. His human will and energy are not freely following the Father, but are determined by a series of necessary causes.

      We are using the words determined and necessary differently. I really don’t see how it is fruitful to talk past one another. You haven’t engaged any of the sources. You haven’t shown how my conclusions don’t follow. You’ve merely asserted you don’t like them. Fair enough, even I am not a full-blown Scotist.

    • olivianus says:

      You are conflating a formal cause with an efficient one.

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