I keep reflecting on issues concerning free will, moral agency, and soteriology. In my past posts on this subject I’ve offered critique more than offering something constructive. However, I’ve recently read a book that I think helped move my ideas in a more constructive direction.
First, for new readers, a recap of positions I’ve argued for in past posts. Consider these my Eight Theses, propositions you'll be exposed to if you read this blog regularly:
1. We are living in what I’ve called the post-Cartesian world. That is, with the rise of neuroscience and behavioral genetics, Cartesian dualism is growingly untenable.
2. A casualty in the post-Cartesian world is what I’ve called strong volitionalism. Strong volitionalism generally takes the form of “free will” or notions of “radical autonomy.”
3. Thus, in the post-Cartesian world weak volitional models will begin to predominate. Weak volitional models will have more anemic visions of human will, agency, and autonomy. The will is more contingent.
4. Given the contingent nature of the will, traditional notions of moral agency will need to be revised. Specifically, moral luck becomes an important issue that needs to be dealt with.
5. Moral luck will reconfigure notions of moral praise or blame with notions of moral fortune or misfortune.
6. These post-Cartesian adjustments will need to be accommodated by theological systems both systematically and practically.
7. Systematic theological considerations will need to focus on post-Cartesian views of the cross, salvation, afterlife, eternal reward/punishment, and theodicy.
8. Practical theological considerations will need to focus on post-Cartesian spiritual formation, social justice, missions, and evangelism.
Sprinkled throughout this blog are posts where I have (and many of you have) commented on issues #1-8. Sometimes we have discussed the post-Cartesian situation (e.g., are we really in it?). Sometimes we have debated free will vs. determinism. Sometimes we have wondered about salvation or evangelism in the post-Cartesian situation. Sometimes we have wondered about the implications of determinism for theodicy. And sometimes we’ve wondered about the specter of nihilism in the post-Cartesian world.
What has troubled me in my prior posts and comments on these topics is that I seem to do a lot of complaining. I’ve complained a lot about how theologians should more seriously consider the post-Cartesian situation of theology. However, complaining may be fine but it’s not very helpful. Yet, my own efforts at a constructive response to the post-Cartesian situation have been piecemeal and, thus, to me at least, unsatisfactory.
However, a recent book by Harry Frankfurt entitled Taking Ourselves Seriously & Getting It Right has suggested to me a path by which I could pull some of my ideas together into a more parsimonious package.
There are a few points that intrigue me about Frankfurt’s ideas. First, he is a weak volitionalist. Second, he has carved an interesting pathway through the thorny and tired “free will vs. determinism” debate. He doesn’t solve the debate, but he does allow for interesting conversations to proceed as that debate rumbles on. Third, Frankfurt links the will with love. And finally, Frankfurt links both the will and love with normativity (i.e., our ethical concerns). And it is this linkage between will, love, and morality—clearly a connection of deep interest to both psychologists and theologians—which is the key insight that I’d like to build on.
Basically, Frankfurt sees both love and the will as key facets of normativity. Thus, Frankfurt starts off this book with this:
…love is constituted by desires, intention, commitments, and the like. It is essentially—at least as I construe it—a volitional matter. In my view, then, the ultimate source of practical normative authority lies not in reason but in the will.Clearly, love, will, and normativity are foundational concerns for theology. Thus, any attempt to link the three in a weak volitional manner must surely pique our interest, particularly in our post-Cartesian situation.
So, in the coming posts I’ll work through Frankfurt’s analysis with an eye on creating a post-Cartesian theology (practically and systematically).