(0:05) You make that sound like it's an easy question, like this is a starter question. But it’s
actually very hard.
So that's a good question, I think free will is...
Free will is…
Free will, I think is…
What free will is actually a pretty complicated question.
So, what is free will?
(0:31) Santiago Amaya:
Hello, this is Free Will Matters. My name is Santiago Amaya and I'm an associate professor
in Philosophy at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. I am very happy to host this podcast.
The problem of free will has been at the center of many discussions in Western Philosophy
for the last 20 centuries. But in recent years the problem has reappeared in a fresh form.
There are new and exciting developments in the field that make this a fascinating topic of
conversation. For this podcast we have invited various philosophers who work in free will.
Philosophy might be a daunting thing, but with their help we will get to know better the
what, the how, and the why of free will. Welcome.
I'm very happy to have as our guest today Kevin Timpe. Kevin is the William H. Jellema
Chair in Christian Philosophy at Calvin College. He works in many topics, including
metaphysics of free will, the philosophy of disability, and philosophical theology. Kevin is
the editor of The Routledge Companion to Free Will and the author of a monograph entitled
Disability and Inclusive Community.
Hello, Kevin. I want to begin our conversation today by asking you about the relationship
between the problem of free will and another big problem within Christian Philosophy,
what philosophers have called the problem of evil. Can you explain this problem to us, and
can you tell us how it connects with the problem of free will?
(1:58) Kevin Timpe:
The problem of free will is closely connected to how a lot of people think about the problem
of evil. Most generally, the problem of evil is the question about why God, if God were to
exist and is all knowing, all powerful, all loving, would he allow there to be evil? And one of
the leading questions, one of the leading answers to that question points to the value of free
will, particularly as libertarians or incompatibilists have understood it. If we have free will
and our having it is not compatible with God determining what we do with it, then if we
misuse that free will it's going to explain at least some of the evil that exists in the world.
I don't think, though, that pointing to libertarian free will solves all the problems of evil,
because there are other versions of the problem that don't seem to be quite as closely
connected to free will, problems about the suffering caused by earthquakes or diseases like
malaria or various things like that.
In addition to being a Christian philosopher, you're also known for your libertarian
position on the free will debate. I want to ask you about the relation between those two
things: to what extent one’s religious views makes it more likely that one finds some views
more persuasive than others? Is, for example, skepticism about free will compatible with
the Christian view of the world?
There’s certainly a strong correlation between how people think about free will and their
religious beliefs. There’s been a number of studies that find for instance, that religiously
inclined philosophers are significantly more likely to be libertarians than our naturalistic
philosophers. One reason for that connects to the problem of evil, in particular, how we
think about religious doctrines like hell, and heaven, and freedom. Whether or not, you
could be, say, a free will skeptic and still have a Christian faith depends a lot on sort of what
all we pack into what it means to have a Christian faith. There are, I know, Christian
philosophers who self-identify as free will skeptics; they just don’t think that for instance,
hell is retributive or that any people will end up there. And so, you've got to try to find an
equilibrium between your philosophical beliefs and your religious beliefs, but I think
there's a number of different places where you can land and still be internally consistent.
I want to ask you a little bit more about this relationship between free will and Christian
doctrine. As we've seen the problem of free will can be raised independently of one's
religious views. But some religious claims say the existence of heaven and hell would seem
to depend on us having some kind of freedom. So, here's a question: Does the Christian
doctrine of hell make sense if there is no freedom?
I don't think that the Christian doctrine of hell makes a whole lot of sense without belief in
free will, so long as you got two assumptions working there. I think that free will is the
control condition on moral responsibility and also the second assumption is, if you think
that hell is retributive in nature. So, if people don't have free will but free will is necessary
for holding you morally responsible for a long or perhaps infinite period of time, then you
lose the justification for hell understood as retributive in that kind of way. There are some
philosophers who think that the purpose of hell is formative or purgative and you can have
that sort of view without having the existence of free will. Derk Pereboom is an example of
a philosopher who has that sort of view. And there are some philosophers, even who are
libertarians, that think that given the kind of suffering that hell is traditionally thought to
have, then at some point God would just sort of override your freedom to make you into the
sort of person who no longer deserves to be in hell. Thomas Talbott is an example of a
philosopher who has that sort of view.
Let me ask you a related question. As a libertarian, you obviously believe that freedom
requires the ability to do otherwise. Do you think that people who go to heaven retain that
ability? That is to say, do you think that people in heaven could do wrong?
I do think it's possible that we retain free will including the ability to do otherwise
sometimes in heaven. A friend of mine, Tim Hall, and I have written a number of papers
where we try to show how a libertarian conception of free will is compatible with the
traditional Christian doctrine of heaven. We think that there are certain kinds of actions
that you’ll no longer be able to perform given character formation. One of the examples is
we might not be able to drop kick the apostles but we might have a choice between singing
in the heavenly choir, or playing the harp, or going on a nice heavenly stroll. And so even if
our free will is the kind of thing that can’t be determined by God or factors outside of us,
character formation I think puts a lot of constraints on those kinds of activities, those kinds
of choices that we could do and would no longer be able to do given our character.
Kevin, suppose you became convinced that libertarianism was for one reason or another
false. What would be the most appealing fallback position for you?
Were I to become convinced that libertarianism is false, I think that I would have a view
that's very similar to Manuel Vargas’. There's a lot in his book Building better beings that I
think is very attractive to me. Vargas is a kind of compatibilist who thinks we do have to
give up a lot of the things that libertarians want. There's certain intuitions we have to give
up, there's certain ways of thinking about desert that we would have to give up, but he's got
this view that allows us to revise the kinds of beliefs we have about the kinds of agents that
we are. So what I appreciate about Manuel’s work is that he admits that if that
libertarianism ends up being false, if there's a fair bit that we have to give up, we have to
change or revise about our views. Whenever I read Manuel’s work I find myself very
attracted to it despite not being convinced yet by it, that libertarianism is false.
This is a question we've been asking to all of our guests. There are lots of things happening
in the free will debate. In your opinion, what are the most exciting recent things happening
in the field?
There have been a lot of really exciting developments on the field of free will. There’s been
great discussions about the role of luck that have been going on in the last few years.
People are looking at how issues about free will and issues in epistemology parallel each
other in really interesting ways. And I’ve been really pleased with the way that some of the
philosophers working on free will have been paying more attention to the empirical work
that psychologists, neuroscientists and other scientists have been doing. I think that what
we think about free will should be informed by those sorts of developments and it’s good in
my view to see philosophers taking that kind of data seriously.
OK, Kevin, so a related question. What do you think it’s the most important and outstanding
question that needs to be answered at this point in the debate?
It’s not easy to say what the most important or outstanding question that we need to be
thinking about is, in part, because if we were aware of what the question is, some of us
would be off working on it. One of the great things about being philosophers, when
something catches our attention, we pursue it and we go look into it. I’ve been working on a
series of papers looking at how different sorts of disabilities affect different aspects of
human agency and I think that’s a very important and promising question to think about.
There's also some philosophers that are doing really interesting or beginning really
interesting work on animal agency that I think it's gonna be relevant as well.
Kevin, let me get back to something you mentioned before, and I promise this is my last
question. You're a well-known and very well published philosopher of free will, but you're
also a very active disability advocate and I want to ask you about that too. Do you see a
connection between your work in philosophy and your advocacy work? Does your work in
any of these areas inform how you think about the other area?
My philosophical training actually played a strong role in me becoming a disability
advocate. We had a very bad experience with our son in the kind of education he was given
and there wasn't a whole lot we knew what to do other than to download various laws
governing education and to read them and to figure out how to argue with the school
district about how to make things better. So the ability to read complicated texts to make
arguments, both in writing and in person, played a very key role in us beginning the kind of
disability advocacy. And I found that the philosophical training I had was actually really
effective in bringing about changes for our son and then, after for him, for other students as
I have actually started to write more and more on how disability relates both to some of my
interest on agency but also to some of the structural dynamics that are at work in disability.
I have a recent paper that basically came out of my work as a disability advocate into how
the power dynamics of some of the meetings that we would have with school districts
would go. So the longer I’ve been doing that, the more there has been this close connection
between my work on agency and the kind of advocacy work that we’ve been doing.
Free Will Matters is part of the LATAM Free Will, Agency, and Responsibility Project. It is
produced by Cerosetenta thanks to a generous grant of the John Templeton Foundation and
with the support of Universidad de los Andes and the University of California in San Diego.
For more information, visit us at freewill.uniandes.edu.co