Does God act only by general volitions?

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Does God act only by general volitions?

Arnauld devoted much of Réflexions to Malebranche's position that God acts by general volitions and not by particular volitions. In Book I of Réflexions, his focus is on the order of nature and he tries to show that Malebranche's claim that God acts only by general volitions is confused and even self-contradictory. In Book II, his focus is on the order of grace and he attacks Malebranche's claim that God does not distribute grace by particular volitions.

Arnauld begins his criticism in Book I by claiming that Malebranche confuses acting by general volitions and acting according to general laws. Arnauld grants that God acts according to general laws. But against the claim that God acts by general volitions, he provides an argument that is simple, and, his view, decisive: “Whatever [God] does, He does in particular, and not in general. But since to will and to do, in God, are the same thing, given that He creates each soul by a particular action, He must also will to create it by a particular will” (OA, 39:175).

In some passages, Malebranche's language suggests that God's wisdom dictates that He engage in the act of creating that best combines the goodness of the world created with the simplicity of the laws according to which the world is created, and not with simplicity of the volition whereby God creates (TNG, OM, 5:147). This suggests that for Malebranche God does will particular created effects, though He wills that they take place according to certain laws. But Arnauld did not think that this was Malebranche's view. For suppose that God creates the world according to a simple set of laws. Let these laws, as regards bodies, be the laws of motion. A world created according to such laws might be more perfect than a world not created according to general laws, or created according to a different set of laws. But that would be of no help to Malebranche. For he does not say that a world regulated by simpler laws is a more perfect world. Rather he maintains that creating such a world is a simpler act of creation in God Himself. But it is not at all clear how simplicity of laws according to which the world is created would make God's way of creating simpler, especially if God's creative activity includes the will to create every particular part of the creative world. Malebranche's real position, according to Arnauld, emerges in those passages in which he identifies the “ways” in which the word is created with the actions whereby God creates. For example, in the passage, “An excellent workman ought to proportion his action to his work; he does not accomplish by highly complex ways (voyes) what He can execute by simpler ones” (TNG, OM, 5:28). To this Arnauld objects that the volitions by which God creates are particular.

Arnauld next points out that Malebranche does not say, without qualification, that God creates by general volitions. Rather, Malebranche says that God's creative will is “the cause of a particular effect; but he calls it general, because he holds that God has this will only when He is determined to have it by an occasional cause, which must be a creature” (OA, 39:176). In other words, according to Malebranche, God causes particular effects in creation, but the contribution of God's volition, as opposed to the contribution of created occasional causes, is general. Later on, Arnauld says that, on Malebranche's view, it is really only the free volitions of creatures that can be said to determine God, in view of His general volitions, to produce a particular effect. For, according to Malebranche, God is the cause of every bodily event, including those which, together with the general laws, are supposed to determine any given consequent event. (OA, 39:230). But Malebranche is committed, so Arnauld argues, to the position that the free volitions of creatures are not caused by God (OA, 39:248-57).[21]

Arnauld goes further and says that Malebranche's position on God's creative will is, in fact, self-contradictory. For Malebranche “was not of the opinion of those philosophers who believe that God originally created all things, gave them the qualities necessary for their conservation and the powers they needed in order to act, and then left them to act without further involving Himself.” On the contrary, Malebranche insists that “God is the sole cause of everything in the world, up to the smallest movement of the smallest atom.” But he also holds that God “acts in the world only as a universal cause, whose general volitions are determined by the … changes … in creatures, as by so many occasional causes.” Arnauld tries to show that these two positions are inconsistent with one another (OA, 39:231-37).

Near the end of Book II of Réflexions, Arnauld takes up Malebranche's arguments for the claim, “God does not act, in the order of grace, by particular volitions,” as summarized by Malebranche in the Premier Eclaircissement to TNG (OA, 39:621). Malebranche says that the proposition in question can be proved by reason “in two ways; à priori & à posteriori; that is, by our idea of God, and by the effects of grace.” The chief “a priori” argument involves the claim that “to choose occasional causes, and to establish general laws for carrying out some work, indicates an infinitely more extensive knowledge than to act by particular volitions.” Arnauld retorts, “Is it something to be put up with, that human beings … should have the temerity to make themselves judges of what is a sign in God of greater intelligence and wisdom?” (OA, 39:624).

Arnauld quotes Malebranche's statement, “The à priori proofs are too abstract to convince most people of the truth I am proposing. It is more à propos to prove it à posteriori,” and goes on to consider the a posteriori arguments (OA, 39:625-43). He is less sarcastic in dealing with these arguments than with the a priori ones. He says that there are “three or four of them, but they all amount to the same thing: There are graces that are inefficacious, and this would not occur if God gave His graces by particular volitions.” He mentions three such arguments, based on the premise that graces are given to sinners who are not entirely converted; on the premise that grace often falls upon hearts disposed in such a way that the grace does not bear fruit; and, finally, on the premise that graces given to sinners sometimes end up making them even more guilty.

Arnauld assumes that these arguments have to do with “the true grace of Jesus Christ, as defined by St. Augustine: Inspiratio dilectionis, ut cognita sancto amore faciamus, an inspiration of love given to us so that we should do the good with holy affection.” Such grace is efficacious if it infallibly has its effect. But the effect in question may be either proximate (prochain) or remote (éloigné). As in the famous example of Augustine, a grace may be efficacious in that it produces the desire to be chaste, and yet not efficacious in that it fails to produces chastity itself. Similarly, Malebranche's arguments assume that “Every grace has the effect for which God gives it.” But once again, this phrase may refer to the effect for which God gives the grace by His absolute will, or to the effect that grace tends to produce by its nature and which for which God gives the grace by His antecedent will. Arnauld grants that if God gives efficacious graces by particular volitions, then there are none that fail to have the proximate effect, which God intends they have by His absolute will. But they may well fail to have remote effects to which they tend by their nature and which God wills only by His antecedent will. For example, if an efficacious grace has the effect that a sinner repents, only to lapse back into sin, then the grace had the proximate effect God intended it to have by His absolute will, even though it failed to have all the effect to which it tended by its nature and which God willed by His antecedent will. In this way, he disposes of Malebranche's three a posteriori arguments.

Arnauld ends Book II with a consideration of what he takes to be Malebranche's master argument. It is a fourth a posteriori argument. He quotes from the Troisième Eclaircissement: “There is no other way than [by saying that God does not act by particular volitions] to reconcile the proposition in Holy Scripture, ‘God wants to save all men,’ with this proposition, ‘Not all men are saved’” (OA, 39:637). Arnauld rejects this argument mainly because, like the other three a posteriori ones, it assumes that “God wills, by a true volition, the salvation of all men, and the conversion of sinners” (OA, 39:641).

Arnauld agreed with Malebranche that God could have brought it about that all men are saved and did not do so. But he favored an Augustinian view that “all men” in this context means “all sorts of men,” that is, men of all races, occupations, etc. He did not entirely reject the Thomistic view that God's will for the salvation of all men is God's “antecedent will” rather than His “consequent will,” that is, God's will other things being equal rather than God's will all things considered. Arnauld points out that Malebranche's position might be thought to be a version of the Thomistic one, but adds that according to St. Thomas God's antecedent will is a wish rather than an absolute volition (une velleité plutôt qu'une volonté absolue) (Réflexions, OA, 39:198, cf. 39:576).[22] Arnauld firmly rejects any notion that God wills the sanctification and salvation of each and every person in a strong sense of “will” such that His will would be carried out unless there were something to prevent it, or, in Malebranche's words, to hold it in check.[23]

Arnauld and Leibniz

On February 11, 1686, while the controversy between Arnauld and Malebranche was at a peak of intensity, Leibniz wrote to Landgrave Ernst von Hessen-Rheinfels, asking that the Landgrave send Arnauld a summary of “a short discourse” on “questions of grace, the concourse of God and creatures, the nature of miracles, the cause of sin and the origin of evil, the immortality of the soul, ideas, etc.” (The Leibniz-Arnauld Correspondence, Die Philosophischen Schriften von Leibniz, herausgegeben von K. I. Gerhardt, Vol. 2, hereinafter LA, 11). The ensuing correspondence occurred at a crucial point in the development of Leibniz's philosophy. The Discourse on Metaphysics, the final version of the short discourse, marks the beginning of Leibniz's mature metaphysics, and it shows the influence of the correspondence with Arnauld.

Leibniz had corresponded with Arnauld some fifteen years earlier, in connection with Leibniz's efforts to reunite the Christian churches. These efforts took a new turn in March, 1672, when Leibniz, then just 25 years old, left Mainz for Paris on a secret political mission for his patron, Baron Johann Christian von Boineburg, who was in turn minister to Johann Philipp von Schönborn, the Elector of Mainz. Both men were converts from Lutheranism to Catholicism. Leibniz's diplomatic mission was a failure, but he had other reasons for wanting to visit Paris. He was eager to enter into the brilliant intellectual life of the French capital, and he stayed there, with a brief sojourn in England, until 1676, making the acquaintance of a number of leading intellectuals. During this time, he undertook for the first time the serious study of mathematics. But he also continued to work toward a philosophical position that he hoped would help reunify the churches.

Before coming to Paris, he had discussed the project of reunifying the churches with his patron Boineburg, and had corresponded with Arnauld, in 1671, about the Eucharist, proposing an account of the real presence that he thought would be acceptable to both Lutherans and Catholics. But it was Leibniz's interest in theodicy, and related problems about justification, that flourished in Paris. There, in 1673, he composed Confessio Philosophi, a dialogue in Latin between a theologian and a philosopher that is sometimes referred to as “his first theodicy.” Thirty-seven years later in the Theodicy, Leibniz says, “While I was in France, I communicated to M. Arnauld a dialogue I had written in Latin on the cause of evil and the justice of God. This was not only before his disputes with R. P. Malebranche, but even before the book on The Search after Truth had appeared. The principle that I here maintain, that sin was permitted because it was involved in the best plan for the universe, was already employed there, and M. Arnauld did not seem hostile to it” (Theodicy, #211).

Soon after Leibniz's arrival in Paris, both Boineborg and von Schönborn died, and Leibniz turned for support to another important German noble and convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism, Johann Friedrich von Braunschweig-Lüneberg (Hannover). On 26 March 1673, Leibniz wrote as follows to Johann Friedrich:

The famous Arnauld is a man of the most profound and wide-ranging thought that a true philosopher can have; his aim is not only to illuminate hearts with the clarity of religion, but, further, to revive the flame of reason, eclipsed by human passions; not only to convert heretics, but, further, those who are today in the greatest heresy—the atheists and libertines; not only to vanquish his opponents, but, further, to improve those of his persuasion. His thoughts, then, come to seeking how, so far as it is possible, a reform of abuses, frankly wide-spread among dissidents, would overcome the cause of the division. In this design, on several points of importance, he has made the first step and, as a prudent man, he goes by degrees. I am distressed that we have lost von Boineburg just when I have struck up an acquaintance with Arnauld; for I had hoped to bring these two minds, so similar in their honest soundness, on the road to a closer agreement, The Church, as well as the Fatherland, has sustained a loss with this man (Quoted in Sleigh 1990, 15-16).

There is no record of any response by Arnauld to the Confessio Philosophi, but when Leibniz returned to the problems of theodicy, in 1686, he once again sought Arnauld's cooperation by sending Arnauld the outline of the Discourse on Metaphysics that I mentioned above. The outline sent to Arnauld was no more than a list of the propositions that were to appear as the titles of the thirty-seven sections of the Discourse; the entire correspondence was carried out through the intermediary of Hessen-Rheinfels; and the copies of letters received by the two major correspondents were sometimes defective. These facts, together with the extreme subtlety of the philosophical contents of the letters, have made interpretation of the correspondence very difficult.

Proposition 8 in Leibniz's outline is: “In order to distinguish the actions of God from those of creatures, it is explained wherein consists the notion of an individual substance” (LA,8). The notion of a substance is, for Leibniz, the notion of a thing that acts. To explain the notion of a created individual substance, therefore, he has to explain the notion of a created agent, which requires that he distinguish correctly between the actions of creatures and the actions of God. Part of Leibniz's account of the notion of an individual substance is given in Proposition 13: “The individual notion of each person includes once and for all everything that will ever happen to him,” so that “one sees in [that notion] a priori proofs of the truth of each event, that is, why one [event] has occurred rather than another” (LA, 8). The debate between Arnauld and Leibniz begins here. Proposition 13, Arnauld said in his first letter to Leibniz, implies that “once God decided to create Adam, everything that has happened since and will ever happen to the human race was and is obliged to happen with a more than fatal necessity” (LA, 27). For example, given proposition 13, if Adam exists, then necessarily Adam is father of Cain and Abel as sons, grandfather of their children, great-grandfather of their children, etc., and everything that will ever happen to all of them is already determined.

After a complicated three-way exchange of letters, Arnauld withdrew his complaint in a letter dated September 28, 1686. At the outset, Arnauld assumed that according to Leibniz whatever is contained in the individual notion of a person is contained there as a necessary property of the person. But in response to Arnauld, Leibniz says that he does not “ask for more of a connection here” than that which obtains between an individual substance and its “external denominations” (LA, p. 56). Given this understanding of the way that individual notion of a person contains everything that will ever happen to him, Arnauld was prepared to concede that Leibniz's position did not involve fatalism (LA, 63-64).

Arnauld adds that he continues to have difficulty with Leibniz's account of “the possibility of things” and his conception of God as choosing the actual world out of an infinity of possible worlds, a point on which Leibniz agreed with Malebranche. But Arnauld says he does not want to go into that difficulty. Instead, he asks Leibniz to clarify his “hypothesis of concomitance or agreement between substances,” and his statement that if a material thing is not merely an appearance, like a rainbow, or an accidental aggregation of parts, like a pile of stones, it must have a “substantial form.” Leibniz had mentioned both of these points in his immediately preceding letter (LA, 64-66, 58). According to the hypothesis of concomitance no created substance ever acts upon any other created substance. But every later state of any given created substance is caused by an earlier state of the same substance, and the histories of the individuals are coordinated by God so that they fit together into the history of the actual world. Leibniz also says that one substance, x, may “express” another substance, y, more distinctly than y expresses x, and in that case, one may say that x causes changes to occur in y. He uses this position to explain the relation of mind and body. Arnauld asked him to explain his view further by applying it to the example of a man who feels pain when his arm is wounded, and the example of a man wants to take off his hat and raises his arm. Arnauld also raises seven objections to Leibniz's claims about substantial forms (LA, 66-67) and defends the Cartesian view that extension is the real nature of matter, which he takes to imply that bodies have only varying degrees of “improper unity” (LA, 88).

Leibniz provided the further clarification Arnauld requested in several long letters, which drew two replies from Arnauld. Arnauld continued to find Leibniz's position unclear. “I have no clear notion,” says Arnauld, “of what you mean by the word ‘expression’, when you say that our soul expresses more distinctly (all other things being equal) what pertains to its body, since it is an expression even of the whole universe in a certain sense” (LA, 105). He takes Leibniz's views about substantial forms to be a strange and unsuccessful attempt “to ascribe true unity to bodies [in particular the bodies of animals] which would not otherwise have it” (LA, 107).

Arnauld's last letter to Leibniz is dated August 28, 1687. Leibniz tried to get Arnauld to continue the discussion, but Arnauld was fully occupied with other projects. On August 31, 1687, Arnauld wrote to Hessen-Rheinfels, saying, “It would be preferable if [Leibniz] gave up, at least for a time, this sort of speculation, and applied himself to the greatest business he can have, the choice of the true religion… a decision that is of such importance for his salvation” (LA, 110).

Evidently Arnauld had less interest in Leibniz's philosophy than Malebranche's, and less patience with it. This is not surprising, given that Arnauld considered his work in philosophy subordinate to his work as a theologian. The fact that Malebranche was a Catholic made his philosophically motivated departures from the tradition all the more dangerous in Arnauld's eyes. It also gave Arnauld some hope that he could lever Malebranche out of his position by pointing out its heterodox implications. Leibniz did not pose a similar danger, nor were there grounds for a similar hope in his regard, unless, of course, he heeded Arnauld's advice and converted to Catholicism.

Arnauld's Compatibilism

Throughout his enormously active life as a philosopher and theologian, Arnauld was above all concerned to defend the doctrine that human beings, after the fall of Adam, can perform meritorious actions, but only if the actions are the result of a supernatural grâce efficace par elle-même. Arnauld claimed to find this doctrine in the writings of Augustine; he defended Jansen's version of the doctrine against the charge of heresy, even though Jansen's version was significantly different from that espoused by Arnauld himself; and he attributed the doctrine to Aquinas. But Arnauld, like Augustine, Aquinas, and Jansen, also held that actions are meritorious only if they are free. For this reason, Arnauld is sometimes said to be a “compatibilist.” For example, Robert Sleigh says, “It is worth noting that Leibniz and Arnauld both ascribed compatibilism to St. Thomas and that both accepted compatibilism as well” (Sleigh 1990, 29).

I will argue that the position Arnauld defended and attributed to St. Thomas is in fact quite different from what is nowadays referred to as “compatibilism.” I will also describe a development of Arnauld's treatment of free will during the last decade of his life, at the time when he was wrestling with Malebranche's theory of nature and grace. At that time, Arnauld adopted the position that the human will is free when and only when it is a “potestas ou facultas ad opposita.” But first, it is necessary to provide some background for the notion of grâce efficace par elle-même.

6.1 The Congregationes de Auxiliis and seventeenth-century controversy about grace

The point of departure for the disputes about grace and free will in seventeenth-century Europe was the inconclusive ending of the Congregationes de Auxiliis Divinae Gratiae.[24] These were ad hoc committees of Cardinals convoked to resolve a dispute between the Jesuits and Dominicans about grace, predestination, and free will. The dispute was concerned with a work by the Jesuit Luis de Molina, whose lengthy title indicates the scope and complexity of the dispute: Concordia Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratia Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione ad Nonnullos Primae Partis Divi Thomae Articulos (The Agreement of Free will with the Gift of Grace, Divine Foreknowledge, Providence, Predestination and Reprobation, according to several articles in the First Part of St. Thomas). The work was published in 1588 and was immediately attacked by the Dominican school of Salamanca, led by Domingo Bañez. The Congregationes were convoked by Pope Clement VIII with the aim of resolving what had become a widespread struggle between the two orders. His hope was frustrated; the meetings began on January 2, 1598 and were terminated on August 28, 1607 (the feast day of St. Augustine!) by Pope Paul V, who declared that neither side was heretical and that both sides had merit.

A central question at the meetings of the Congregationes had to do with the relation of supernatural grace to meritorious, free acts of will. It was assumed on both sides that a human being cannot perform a meritorious act of will without supernatural assistance from God, that God sometimes gives this assistance, and that it is sometimes part of God's providential plan that the recipient freely cooperate and thus perform the act in question. Meritorious acts of will include, among others, the decision to pray, to seek forgiveness for past sins, and to perform a good action for the love of God. It was assumed by both Jesuits and Dominicans that God's providential plan is infallibly realized. Hence both sides agreed that supernatural grace is, in at least some cases, infallibly efficacious (Vansteenberghe 1928, #2140). The issue was whether the supernatural grace in question is efficacious by itself, in other words, intrinsically efficacious, or whether it is efficacious only by virtue of the independent, divinely foreknown cooperation of the one who receives the grace (Vansteenberghe 1928, #2154-65). Several sorts of supernatural grace were distinguished. For our purposes, the most important distinctions are (a) between habitual grace (especially the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity) and actual grace; (b) between external actual grace (e.g., hearing a good sermon) and internal actual grace (grace consisting in internal, mental acts); and (c) between internal actual grace of the intellect and internal actual grace of the will. The question was whether the actual grace of the will that infallibly produces a meritorious act of will is efficacious by itself, or whether instead its efficaciousness is explained in part by God's knowledge that the recipient would cooperate with the grace.

6.2 Bañez, Jansen, and Arnauld on the nature of efficacious actual grace of the will

Jansen and Arnauld, like Bañez, defended the position that actual grace of the will is sometimes intrinsically efficacious.[25] But they disagreed about the nature of such grace. According to Bañez, efficacious grace is the supernatural counterpart of “physical premotion.” The elusive notion of physical premotion is part of a general account of God's causation of the actions of creatures. According to this account, God is a cause of a creature's action by bringing about in the creature a “premotion” that results in the creature's carrying out the action in question. For Bañez, then, the actual grace in question is a sort of supernatural beginning of volition that is produced in the human being by God and that infallibly results in a meritorious act of will. Jansen rejected this notion, arguing that it is an obscure hypothesis that explains nothing. He held that efficacious grace is, instead, a feeling of love, which he called a “delectatio victrix (victorious pleasure)” and which infallibly leads to a meritorious act.

Arnauld accepted neither of those views. In a work published in 1656, he considers two positions on the nature of efficacious grace, in so far as it is the principle of good will: “Some say that such grace consists in the mercy of God and in an inherent form [in the creature],” while others say that it consists “only in the mercy of God, which brings about (operatur) the interior movement of the mind.” Arnauld says “I am not far” from the second position, which he attributes to “Bradwardine, Estius, Tiphanius, and many other [Thomists]” (Dissertatio theologica quadripartita, OA, 20:237).

When Arnauld returned to questions about efficacious grace and free will toward the end of his life, he was more categorical: “The true opinion of St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and St. Thomas concerning actual grace, is that of Estius, who posits nothing created by God in the will in between the will of God, which he calls uncreated grace, and the free movement of the human will which the uncreated grace produces in the human will.” Jansen was “surely mistaken,” Arnauld adds, when he defined actual grace as a non-deliberate “victorious pleasure” (Letter to du Vaucel, 8 May 1693, OA, 3:636).[26] In a short treatise on human freedom written almost a decade earlier, Arnauld illustrates his criticism of Jansen (without mentioning him by name) with an example: “Suppose that a man who is not very generous is approached by a beggar who asks him for alms. He deliberates, proposes to himself the commandment of Christ, and gives alms for the sake of God” (De la liberté de l'homme, OA, 10:620). Hereinafter Liberté). Jansen assumes that there is a non-deliberate act of victorious pleasure in between the man's deliberation and his decision to give alms for the sake of God, and that this non-deliberate pleasure is the actual grace that enables him to act in a meritorious way. Arnauld rejects this position and instead identifies the efficacious grace with God's merciful will that the man arrive at the deliberate decision to give alms for the sake of God.

Yet Arnauld also assumed that the man's decision, like any meritorious act of will, was free. Arnauld's basic position on the compatibility of the intrinsic efficacy of grace with the freedom of the volitions produced by the grace, is that we know from Scripture and Tradition, supported by philosophical reflection on God's omnipotence (a) that the grace of Christ is intrinsically efficacious; and we know “from our own experience” (b) that our volitions of the relevant kind are free. Hence we know that (a) and (b) are consistent, even though we have “great difficulty” in seeing how they fit together (OA, 10:436).[27]

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