Opening Notes on Muller’s Divine Will and Human Choice

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Muller, Richard A. Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017.

This book is more than a continuation of the Muller/Helm debate on Jonathan Edwards’ view of free choice.  It clarifies what was actually debated and explores recent attempts in Reformed historiography that appropriates Duns Scotus’s view of synchronic contingency. In doing so, it explores many issues in metaphysics which older Reformed writers considered vital but sadly have disappeared from today’s scene.

In fact, according to the index Jonathan Edwards doesn’t play a role.  The conversation goes something like this:  scholars like Antonie Vos argue the Reformed used Scotist synchronicity (we’ll unpack these terms later), which allowed them to avoid divine determinism as perhaps found in Thomas Aquinas.  Helm, by contrast, counters no, they were in fact determinists and Scotist synchronicity doesn’t actually solve anything.

Muller takes a more middle position.  The Reformed did in fact use Scotist concepts but only insofar as it allowed them to affirm God’s decree and rational human choice (Muller 34).

Some Terminology

Synchronic contingency: “the contingent is something present that presently could be otherwise given the unactualized but nonetheless remaining alternative possibility or potency” (37). Let’s pretend that Socrates is sitting. He can either sit or run, sit at one time and run at another.  He can’t do both. However, his sitting is only an historic necessity, not an absolute one.

Possibility: having the potential or capacity for existence or being true. Something could be otherwise.

Power of simultaneity: he can’t do both at the same time.

Simultaneity of potency: the possibility of running exists simultaneously with the actuality of sitting.

Composite sense: Socrates cannot be sitting and running.

Divided sense: Socrates can be sitting and running, albeit not simultaneously.

For Scotists such as Vos, the divine will intervenes between a divine necessary knowledge and a divine free knowledge of all actuality (51). This means that the divine knowing “yields a sense of the continuing presence of possibles.” This corresponds to the potentia absoluta even while their contraries are known in the potentia ordinata.

In other words, God’s willing p does not exclude the synchronic possibility of the opposite state of affairs.

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One thought on “Opening Notes on Muller’s Divine Will and Human Choice

  1. Pingback: Notes on Reformed Thought on Free Choice | Ephraim's Arrow

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