Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Moral Responsiblity: A Philosophical Introduction to Available Models. Part 1

Part 1: Introductory Remarks 

1 Introduction

Because this post is concerned with evaluating theological concepts, I go into some detail expositing the conceptual systems under consideration. While I may not utilize or critique every aspect of the systems which I outline, it will be helpful to have a thorough understanding of their conceptual details and equipment. In what follows I set forth three kinds of libertarianism and two kinds of compatibilism. It is not my intention to evaluate these positions in this set of posts. Rather, I only intend to lay the concepts before us so that we may have a thorough understanding of what we are evaluating before I present my model of divine providence and human freedom. 

2 Preliminary Remarks

A few preliminary remarks concerning my definitions and use of terms will be helpful before we get underway. First, incompatibilism is the thesis that in so far as a human action is determined (i.e. inevitable), it is not free. Libertarianism is the account of freedom which naturally follows from incompatibilism and affirms that to be free an agent must have sufficiently robust alternative possibilities.

Conversely, compatibilism affirms that a human action may be free and nevertheless determined. By free I mean a certain type of control over one’s actions which is sufficient to bolster moral responsibility ascriptions. I will take moral responsibility to be that property of an agent by which she may be considered morally blameworthy or praiseworthy for her actions. An agent is a person who is, among other things, a proper recipient of moral attitudes.

3 Moral Responsibility and Human Freedom

There has always been a very intimate association—intuitively, philosophically, and theologically—of moral responsibility with human freedom. David Widerker and Michael McKenna echo this long standing tradition in a recent anthology by suggesting two propriety conditions for morally responsible agency: an epistemic and a freedom condition.

Take first the epistemic condition. For an agent to be morally responsible for what she has done, she must have had some understanding of (or at least she must have been able to understand) the moral significance of her behavior…Turning to the freedom condition, it seems natural to hold that an agent must, in some way, have been in control of what she did if she is to be morally responsible for it.

John Fischer and Mark Ravizza affirm similar sentiments when they insist that,


Ordinarily, we simply assume that we and other human beings are persons and are at least sometimes morally responsible agents. Thus, we assume that we (most of us) at least sometimes have the kind of control that grounds moral responsibility and personhood. Typically, this assumption is deemed so obvious as not to command any attention or elicit even the slightest bit of controversy.


And unquestionably, moral responsibility is linked very closely with central scriptural teachings. Entire orthodox formulations like divine judgment and reward, substitutionary atonement, and original sin are borne out on the assumption that man is in fact morally responsible for his actions. What is not clear, however, are the mechanistic intricacies of responsibility conferral. Evidently, a responsibility conferring mechanism is the implication of moral responsibility ascriptions. Of course, the leading candidate for such a mechanism has always been ‘free will.’


After surveying a wide array of ancient Jewish and Greek texts as well as the Johanine Gospel, Carson concludes that “Responsibility is certainly linked to ‘free will’ in some fashion;” but, he asks, “how is free will to be defined?”


Two answers have been given to this question: libertarianism an compatibilism. Thomas Tracy accurately identifies what generally seems to be the distinct theological motivations for these two positions. He says,


The incompatibilist is concerned that theological determinism both (a) denies certain great goods in human moral life and relation to God and (b) makes God the cause of sin. The theological compatibilist, on the other hand, may worry that a stronger understanding of human freedom both (a) carries with it a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian understanding of divine grace, and (b) lacks the resources to give a sufficiently strong account of divine sovereignty.


This seems to be a fairly accurate description of the theological motivations for the two positions under consideration. The motivation for my own position, however, will emerge from textual and hermeneutical considerations as well as conceptual considerations sensitive to recent developments in philosophical action theory rather than from developed theological concepts like providence and sovereignty. Of course, these doctrines will play a role in my decisions in so far as they are organic to the texts under consideration. My concern, however, will be with textual rather than theological strata. To facilitate this goal I offer an outline of both positions—libertarianism and compatibilism—followed by a brief discussion of how each position has related its central doctrines to divine providence and (derivatively to) foreknowledge.


To be continued…….. on Part 2


One Response

  1. Nice Drew. You guys can be the new Christian Wikipedia…great resources.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: