Modal Arguments and Divine Command Theory

Alexander Pruss recently posted an interesting modal argument against divine command theory.  First, I want to make some observations of modal arguments.  Then, I will discuss his specific argument.

I believe it was Inwagen in his article on modal skepticism that says he doesn’t know of a single person who has been convinced by a modal argument.  Part of the reason, I surmise, is that they often seem like a trick.  I think people often react to modal arguments in general as they do to the ontological argument, it’s simply a neat trick.  However, there are some good grounds for reacting in this way to modal arguments.  First, if you can construct a modal argument against the position the person is arguing for, then the arguments just cancel (assuming they have the same plausibility behind them, this is because it acts as a successful parody argument).  Second, it’s pretty well known that conceivability does not entail possibility.  Thus, if one is simply working from conceivability, then the argument faces more challenges.

However, Pruss is a modal skeptic himself and so his argument is all the more interesting.  The reason is this: certain modal arguments actually give an argument for the possibility premise.  As another example, Kripke gives his argument against physicalism by showing (i) that we can conceive of the situation in mind and (ii) that conceivability is the same as possibility in that case.  So if both of those portions are true, then Kripke’s argument for the possibility premise is air tight.  Pruss’ argument is in a similar vein in that he gives an argument for the possibility premise by saying, “[p]remise (3) seems to follow from divine freedom and the fact that God is under no obligation to command creatures.”

Nonetheless, this is no denial of divine freedom if God’s choice arises from His character.  To quote Pearce and Pruss (p.9) on an agreed upon point in free will studies, “a limitation on the will is not a constraint if that limitation arises from the agent’s character and/or choices in the right way.”  This seems easy enough as more recent divine command theorists like Adams have said that God’s commands flow from His loving nature.  If that is the case, this His commands flow from His character and thus they would be consistent throughout worlds without being a constraint on divine freedom.  We have now provided a premise that seems true on divine command theory, is consistent with the other premises in Pruss’ argument, and undercuts his support for the possibility premise.  Given that, divine command theory seems untouched by this argument.

What Does Explanation even Mean?

Take Pruss’ definition of the principle of sufficient reason: every contingent fact has an explanation.  Now, given my last post on showing what a term means, we can use the principle of sufficient reason as a test case.  More specifically, we will look at the word explanation.

So explanation has been taken to be synonymous with cause.  Thus: every contingent fact has a cause.  If that is true, then since libertarian free choices, they violate the principle of sufficient reason.  However, it seems like my libertarian choice really is explained by the following facts: I exist, I have libertarian freedom, and I have certain reasons to make the choice I do.  And so a casewise view of explaining a term would show that definition of “explanation” to be false.  Moreover, the same sort of thing also seems to hold for certain interpretations of quantum mechanics.

So what we have done here is start off with a definition and then used real life examples to see if that definition works.  This is the strategy I suggested in the post above.  The final part of the strategy is to give a new definition of the term.  Maybe it is this: a contingent fact is explained if given the facts that are proposed as the explanation of the fact trying to be explained, it is no longer seen as mysterious how the fact that is trying to be explained obtains.