In his classic book, the Consolation of Philosophy (Book V), Boethius attempts to make an argument that libertarian free will and [divine] foreknowledge are not incompatible. His argument goes something like this:

  1. There is libertarian free will (with total depravity) [V, 2].

"There is," she said; "nor could there be any rational nature unless freedom of judgment should support the same. For whatever by reason can use it naturally has the judgment by which it may discern each one; by itself then it may distinguish avoiding or choosing. Truly everyone seeks what one judges one to be choosing, while one shuns what one evaluates one is avoiding.

  1. If no foreknowledge exists, then no necessity is added to future actions (and therefore there is no problem) [V, 4].

"Now for the sake of argument, so that you may turn to what should follow, let us propose that no foreknowledge exists. Then surely, as many things as pertain to this, which come from judgment may not be compelled toward necessity?

"Not at all."

  1. If foreknowledge exists and does not add necessity to future actions, then there is no problem [V, 4].

"Let us propose secondly [that divine foreknowledge] does exist, but it imposes nothing of necessity on things; the same freedom of will, as I believe, will remain whole and so complete.

  1. If foreknowledge does not add necessity to future actions but shows that they are necessary, then there is no problem [V, 4].

" 'But,' you may say, 'although foreknowledge of events is not a necessity for future things, nevertheless it is a sign they are of necessity coming.'

"Then in this case, even if there were no forethought, the outcome of future things would still be necessary; and every sign only shows what may be, while it does not cause what it designates.

  1. An event can occur without being necessary [V, 4].

"What here you may easily weigh will be allowed: and in fact as long as more subjects arise we observe them with the eyes, just as those drivers who perform in chariots in restraining and turning are watched, and in this way others also. Surely then necessity does not compel any of those things to so occur?"

"Not at all; for the effect of skill would be in vain if all things should be moved by compulsion."

  1. Just as the knowledge of a present event does not add necessity to the event, so knowledge of the future does not add necessity to the event [V, 4].

"For just as knowledge of present things brings in of necessity nothing for these which occur so foreknowledge of future things brings in of necessity nothing for these which are coming.

  1. Therefore, foreknowledge does not add necessity to the event.

Does this argument work? Why or why not? Would anyone not accept the premises of the argument or the argument's validity? Does Boethius's Divine timelessness/Eternalism/B-Theory of Time invalidate this?

  • 1
    The whole argument is equivocal on "foreknowledge". Boethius oscillates between what is now called "compatibilist free will", with "necessity" interpreted as coercion and "foreknowledge" as predestination without coercion, and "timeless foreknowledge" later derived from him by Aquinas, which is consistent with libertarian free will (presumably). There are doubts that "timeless foreknowledge" is sufficiently meaningful though, see SEP, Boethian solution. – Conifold Jan 5 '20 at 1:40

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