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The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge.

Zagzebski, Linda Trinkaus. The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge. New York: Oxford University Press,1991. vii + 215 pp. $29.95--It has appeared to many that if God knows exactly what we are going to do before we do it (that is, possesses foreknowledge), and God's beliefs cannot be wrong, then we never have it in our power to refrain from doing what we do and thus never really act freely. Zagzebski's goal is to demonstrate that appearances are in this case deceiving, that incompatibilistic human freedom is compatible with God's infallible knowledge of all that (from a human perspective) has occurred, is occurring, and will occur in the future.

Zagzebski begins by assessing the three standard solutions to the foreknowledge dilemma. The Boethian (and Thomistic) solution denies that God knows what we will do before we do it by denying that God's beliefs are in time. Ockhamistic solutions accept that God exists in time but either deny that God's beliefs are really about the past or contend that God's beliefs about the past are unique in that they do not require that the past be necessary, that the past be fixed and unalterable. The "middle knowledge" solution assumes that God's knowledge of the future is based on counterfactuals of freedom--on his knowledge of what will in fact occur under every possible set of conditions--and that the truth of such counterfactuals is not incompatible with human freedom.

Zagzebski rejects the middle knowledge solution because she believes its proponents can offer no plausible explanation for God's knowledge of counterfactuals. The other two solutions she considers incomplete. The solution she offers in their place is what she identifies as Thomistic Ockhamism. It is Ockhamistic in that she believes that God exists in time and takes seriously the necessity of the past. But it is also Thomistic in that she believes that the difference between our beliefs and God's beliefs is not simply that ours are infallible and God's are not. Rather, the important difference, as she sees it, is that our knowledge is divided into discrete units while nothing that God knows is essentially distinct from His knowledge of anything else. For example, our knowledge of what we did last year is distinct from our belief that 2 + 2 = 4 or from our belief that it will snow tomorrow, while such is not the case for God. God's knowledge is essentially a simple vision: a single indivisible state of knowing.

But if this is so, she argues, then we have a solution to the foreknowledge dilemma. If God's knowledge is essentially a single indivisible state of knowing, then this same simple vision contains both the accidental belief that I freely choose to do certain things (in this world) and the accidental belief that I freely choose not to do these same things (in other possible worlds). Thus it cannot be said that what God knows essentially necessitates what I do in this or any other world.

Much of what Zagzebski argues is highly controversial. Her claim, for instance, that God's knowledge is essentially a single indivisible state of knowing will initially strike many as dubious. Moreover, her Augustinian contention that God can respond to whatever free creatures choose to do in such a way that His ends will always be accomplished is rejected by many. I know of no other book, however, that so clearly sets forth the full range of traditional and contemporary perspectives on the foreknowledge dilemma. It will therefore prove to be of great value to the philosophical community.
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Author:Basinger, David
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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