Grounding Counterfactuals

Many Molinists remain unmoved by the objections to their theory, but for some, the dreaded grounding objection can cause a little discomfort.  The metaphysics of grounding can be seen a species of the metaphysics of Truth-making-a theory with considerable intuitive appeal concerning the relationship of the world and truths about it.  According to the truth-maker thesis, truth and being are co-extensive.  Propositions function as truth bearers, but not because truth or falsity are in them as such.  Rather truth or falsity are ascribed to a proposition in virtue of something else-a truth-maker.

It is suggested that truth-makers are needed so that truths don’t merely “float in a void”-that is, in order to preserve the intuition that propositions have their truth value because of something and not simply as a brute fact.  But what would qualify as a truth-maker?  Various responses have been offered but more commonly, truth-makers are usually taken to be certain facts or states of affairs that correspond to propositions. 

Now the Molinist argues that propositions of the kind:

(1) If David were to remain in Keilah, Saul would (freely) besiege the city,

have a truth value, namely, they are true.  God, by virtue of a most profound and inscrutable comprehension, knows what each person would freely choose in whatever circumstance they might be in.  So antecedent to any creative act–to any other existing state of affairs–there are a whole host of true propositions.  But then if the truth-maker thesis is correct, what would make these propositions true?  Let us suppose that the following counterfactual were true:

(2) If Wittgenstein had struck Popper, Russell would have risen to his defense.

Well truth-maker theorists would insist that (2) is true if and only if there is a state of affairs where Ludwig Wittgenstein strikes Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell then jumps to defend him from Popper’s fists.  But of course, (2) is a counterfactual and states of affairs that are counterfactual never actually obtain.  There seems to be no metaphysical basis for insisting that (2) is true then. 

As best as I can tell, there is only one good response to this objection (but then again I’m a novice).  The response goes as follows:

It is true that states of affairs that are counterfactual never actually obtain.  But it isn’t true that they never obtain.  For David Lewis might be right: the world we are part of is but one of a plurality of worlds, and there are inhabitants in each of these worlds.  There is the actual world of course, and this is the world that we inhabit.  But Lewis argues that possible worlds are on the same ontological status as our world-the actual world.  That is, there are no ontologically privileged worlds-not even ours, the actual world, for actuality is an indexical concept (like “now” or “here”); for any individual x, the world that x inhabits is actual for x

It is easy to see then that the grounding objection is harmless to the Molinist if he were to grant this theory.  What makes a counterfactual conditional true is that there is a world significantly similar to ours in which a certain state of affairs obtains even though it does not obtain in ours.  So what grounds the truth of (2) then is that there really is possible world where the counterparts of Wittgenstein, Popper, and Russell act in the way (2) says they did. 

But are Molinists prepared to live with the metaphysical consequences of such a theory…


2 Responses to Grounding Counterfactuals

  1. Kenny says:

    I discussed the possibility of using modal realism to get out of this on my blog a while back. I think it’s going to be really problematic theologically. In fact, I think that it would be more problematic than denying that God has middle knowledge at all… But I think that denying middle knowledge is pretty problematic, nonetheless.

  2. Steve Cowan says:

    The Lewis view of possible worlds is highly prolematic as you suggest and that is a reason to reject this as a way of grounding counterfactuals of freedom. Nonetheless, even if we grant the plausibility of the Lewis view, I don’t see how it helps the Molinist. Why would what (say) Saul’s counterpart on Alternate-Earth does bear any relation or relevance to what Saul would do any more than what his doppleganger on Alpha Centauri does?

    Also, for what it’s worth, a compatibilist anti-Molinist such as myself has no trouble grounding counterfactuals per se. What we have trouble with is grounding counterfactuals _of freedom_. If Saul does not have libertarian freedom (i.e., his actions are somehow determined), the what grounds the counterfactual concerning David and Saul are the causal conditions that determine Saul’s choice inthat situation (which, presumably, an omniscient being without middle knowledge could know).

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