COMMENTS ON MICHAEL MURRAY'S
"LEIBNIZ ON DIVINE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF
FUTURE CONTINGENTS AND HUMAN FREEDOM"
Alfred J. Freddoso
University of Notre Dame
1. The big picture: Sleigh's Leibniz vs. Murray's Leibniz
Shortly after receiving Mike Murray's rich and engaging paper, I got
a frantic note from Bob Sleigh warning me not be taken in too easily. (Such
was my introduction to the Leibniz Society!) Attached to the note was a
paper in which Sleigh argues for what he calls the "naive" claim
that Leibniz is a causal compatibilist with regard to human freedom and
that this is why, in his account of God's foreknowlege of future contingents,
he is able to dispense with both Molinist middle knowledge and Bañezian
predeterminations. In short, God's knowledge of future contingents derives
entirely from His prevolitional knowledge of the various possible worlds
and His postvolitional knowledge of His own providential decrees; and because
the connections between free acts of will and their natural causal antecedents
are physically necessary, there is no need to invoke either middle knowledge
or divine predeterminations, both of which had been posited by their champions
precisely on the broadly 'libertarian' assumption that there are not and
cannot be physically necessary connections between genuinely free acts
of will and their natural causal antecedents.1
Murray argues, in contrast, that Leibniz himself accepts this assumption,
thus spurning straightforward compatibilism, but that he nonetheless rejects
both Molinism and Bañezianism because neither satisfies all three
of the principles identified by Murray as the Leibnizian criteria for an
adequate account of God's foreknowledge of future contingents. In particular,
Molina's full-fledged libertarianism violates the Principle of Sufficient
Reason, whereas Bañez's doctrine of divine predeterminations violates
both the Principle of Spontaneity and the Principle of Prevolitionality.
Notice that if, as Sleigh contends, Leibniz is just a straightforward compatibilist,
then the resulting account of divine foreknowledge does indeed satisfy
all three of these principles. But Murray contends that Leibniz is only
a quasi-compatibilist who discovered within the Dominican tradition a notion
of necessity that is weaker than physical necessity and yet strong enough
to serve as an infallible, and infallibly knowable, link between free acts
of will and their natural causal antecedents.
I am torn in two directions here. On the one hand, my (admittedly meager)
knowledge of Leibniz inclines me to side with Sleigh's contention that
Leibniz ultimately ends up being a compatibilist despite having flirted
at times with the idea that free acts of will are not physically necessitated;
I will explain below why I am not convinced by Murray's contrary interpretation.
On the other hand, Sleigh's Leibniz is a lot less interesting to me than
Murray's Leibniz. All the 16th century scholastics realized that if, in
the manner of compatibilism, one reduces freedom to mere voluntariness
or spontaneity, then there is no problem reconciling divine foreknowledge
with creaturely freedom so conceived. But in the eyes of both Molina and
Bañez this would be to abandon the doctrine that rational beings
have true dominion over their own acts of will--precisely the error the
scholastics accused the Reformers of having made.2 Murray's
Leibniz, by contrast, proposes to do something that in my own thinking
on this topic I had long ago come to regard as impossible, viz., fashion
a coherent middle position between Molinism and Bañezianism without
abandoning what I called before the broadly libertarian assumption.3
This project I find fascinating, despite my skepticism about the possibility
of its being successfully carried off.
I will spend most of my remaining time discussing relevant aspects of
the scholastic treatments of freedom, correcting along the way a few infelicities
in Murray's presentation of the scholastics. Then I will identify some
problems with Murray's interpretation of Leibniz.
2. Freedom in the Scholastics
It is no mean task to describe both tersely and accurately the dispute
between the Dominicans and the Jesuits over human freedom. Murray makes
a creditable attempt at it, but some errors or at least ill-sounding claims
a. God's general concurrence with free acts of will.
What, according to Murray, is the main difference between the Dominican
and Jesuit accounts of God's foreknowledge of future contingents? The Dominicans,
he tells us, maintain that in each creaturely action, including a free
act of will, God acts on the agent by moving it to exercise the
relevant causal power and also on the patient by endowing it with
the new form or perfection that constitutes the effect.4 Thus,
God's awareness of His own causal activity is sufficient for His knowing
future contingents with certainty. By contrast, the Jesuits hold that "what
we will in fact do or what we would do in a possible but non-actual circumstance
must be known [by God] independently of any divine causal activity"
This way of putting the difference is rather misleading. The Jesuits,
no less than the Dominicans, insist that in every creaturely action God
is an immediate cause, along with the relevant secondary causes, of the
effect produced.5 To put it succinctly, all creaturely
actions, including free acts of will, are simultaneously God's actions
as well. Consequently, the Jesuits do not hold that "what we will
in fact do or what we would do in a possible but non-actual circumstance
must be known [by God] independently of any divine causal activity."
What we will in fact do freely is known by God only on the condition that
He will cooperate in our free acts by His general concurrence; likewise,
what we would freely do in possible but non-actual circumstances is known
by God only on the condition that in those circumstances He would cooperate
in our free acts by His general concurrence.
The real difference between the Jesuits and Dominicans appears only
when we ask the further question of whether the existence and character
of God's concurrence with a free act of will is in any sense determined
by the freely acting secondary agent. The Jesuit position is this: God
wills to grant His concurrence in a particular set of circumstances for
a given range of free acts of will that are open to the agent in those
circumstances; given this readiness on God's part to concur, it is up to
the created will whether God concurs at all and, if so, which precise act
He concurs in. To put it loosely, God's general concurrence is neutral
with respect to the alternatives open to the free secondary agent, and
so, within this framework that has been freely established by God, just
which act, if any, God concurs in is asymmetrically dependent on the free
agent. It follows that God's intention to confer His general concurrence
on free agents is not a sufficient basis for His knowing how those agents
will exercise their freedom. This is where middle knowledge comes in.
According to Bañez, by contrast, God's general concurrence is
not neutral with respect to alternative acts of will or asymmetrically
dependent on the free agent. Rather, the dependence runs in the opposite
direction, so that God can truly be said to causally predetermine acts
of will--though (Bañezians maintain) in a manner consistent with
their freedom. So on this view God's intention to confer His general concurrence
on free agents is a sufficient basis for His knowing future contingents
To sum up, the dispute here is not over the question of whether God's
general concurrence is required for free acts of will. Both sides agree
that it is. Rather, the dispute has to do with the nature of that concurrence.
In fairness to Murray, he does say once or twice that on the Dominican
view, but not on the Jesuit view, God's general concurrence determines
the precise nature of the effect--and this is close to the truth on at
least one interpretation.6 However, in other places he
is a bit less careful and gives the impression that it is the doctrine
of divine general concurrence itself that separates the two sides.7
b. Bañez's conception of freedom.
I turn now to the Bañezian conception of freedom. Murray intimates
that the Dominicans are anything but libertarians.8 Leibniz, he tells us,
"agrees with the Dominicans, in virtue of the Principle of Sufficient
Reason, that there must be some conditions which obtain antecedent to any
free choice which 'explain' why a free creature chooses to do a particular
action" (p. 5).
A distinction must be drawn here between the question, just discussed,
of how free acts of will are related to God's general concurrence and the
very different question of how the faculties of intellect and will are
related to one another in free acts. As intimated above, Bañezians
as such--at least as I understand them9--do not deny the
broadly libertarian assumption that there are not and cannot be physically
necessary connections between genuinely free acts of will and their natural
causal antecedents. To be sure, the Jesuits maintain that the Bañezian
theory of divine predeterminations rules out genuine freedom because it
entails that acts of will have a malignant sort of asymmetric dependence
on God's absolute decrees. Still, it is absolutely crucial to note that
this criticism does not involve the charge that Bañezian predeterminations
violate the broadly libertarian assumption. Rather, the Jesuits are claiming
in effect that this libertarian assumption does not capture fully the causal
prerequisites for a free act of will. And the main disagreement here is
just the one, sketched out above, concerning the nature of God's general
Let us now turn to the separate question of how intellect and will are
related in free acts. I concede at once that on this score some 16th century
Thomists held views that look very much like straightforward causal compatibilism.
And in defense of their position they invoked considerations reminiscent
of Leibniz's appeals to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Here is how
Suarez describes their position in Disputationes Metaphysicae 19,
[Certain] disciples of St. Thomas ... contend that it
is altogether impossible for the will to be determined to a free act unless
there is antecedently in the intellect a definitive practical judgment
... by which the intellect, here and now with all things considered, pronounces
the definitive verdict that the person is to choose this ... One can argue
for this claim as follows: Since the will is a rational appetite, it can
be led only toward an object that is cognized and proposed by reason. Therefore,
until reason judges determinately what is to be chosen, the will cannot
choose; otherwise, it would tend toward an uncognized object. For in the
absence of a judgment there is no cognition that is true, since through
a mere apprehension [of a thing] one does not yet cognize whether the thing
is or is not such-and-such. Therefore, conversely, once the definitive
judgment 'This is to be chosen' is in place, the will is unable not to
choose, since otherwise it would be led without reason in that case as
well, and it would formally or at least virtually be led toward an uncognized
object. For in not choosing, the will--through either a formal or virtual
act--would reject the object, or will not to embrace a given means, in
the absence of any reason or judgment. Therefore, it is repugnant to the
will to operate in such a way.
If we assume that the definitive practical judgment in question results
from the agent's previous states and is causally influenced "in the
right way" by the agent's present dispositions, habits, and passions,
then the position outlined here by Suarez seems very close to the position
that, despite their differences, both Murray and Sleigh attribute to Leibniz.
Is it also, as Murray boldly asserts (p. 14), St. Thomas's position? The
best treatment of St. Thomas I know of, found in a forthcoming paper by
David Gallagher, suggests that the answer is no.10 Gallagher
argues that on St. Thomas's view a free act of choosing and the corresponding
definitive practical judgment mutually cause one another. The act of choosing
is an efficient cause of the practical judgment and renders that practical
judgment the definitive one; that is, in choosing freely one wills to be
led by this practical judgment rather than by some other. The judgment,
on the other hand, is a final cause of the act of choosing, since it proposes
the object of the choice under some aspect of the good.
Notice that this position, whatever its problems, preserves the broadly
libertarian assumption alluded to above and has none of the deterministic
consequences that Suarez fears. For even though the agent's speculative
judgments about the goodness and fittingness of possible objects of
choice are antecedent to the act of choosing, the final and definitive
practical judgment is not; rather, it is both naturally and temporally
simultaneous with the act of choosing. So, given Gallagher's work, I for
one stand ready to contest Murray's assertion that St. Thomas himself "would
endorse the claim that ... the dispositions of one's intellect, will, and
passions, dispositions which are cultivated by one's own history of choosing,
can in fact determine the outcome of a choice, even one which is free"
(p. 14)--at least if 'determine' here means 'necessitate', as Murray clearly
intends it to.
Let me clarify this point a bit further. Murray is certainly correct
in maintaining that, according to St. Thomas, our habits, dispositions,
and passions have a profound influence on our free choices and make it
easier for us to choose in some ways rather than in others. But this hardly
distinguishes St. Thomas from Molina or Suarez. As Leibniz himself famously
pointed out, influence is one thing and necessitation is quite another.
Anyone who has ever acted out of character or successfully resisted a strong
temptation will surely agree.
To be sure, according to some Thomists, the definitive practical judgment
is an antecedent act of intellect that necessitates an act of will. Is
this Bañez's position, too? I don't think so. In his commentary
on Summa Theologiae I-II, Bañez deals with the relevant question
in a section entitled "Must the better good always be chosen?"11
His answer is, in effect, both yes and no. One is often able to choose
what has been antecedently judged via a speculative judgment to
be a lesser good in the circumstances. But, says Bañez, in choosing
this lesser good one makes at least an implicit practical judgment
to the effect that here and now this good is better than the alternatives.
Ordinarily, what happens is that the intellect simply adverts its attention
to the lesser good while ignoring the greater good. And, Bañez tells
us, "the fact that the intellect stops considering the one and turns
its attention toward the other stems from the freedom of the will, which
applies the intellect to considering the one good and does not apply it
to considering the other."12 Though there is room
for debate here, I take this to be just the view that Gallagher ascribes
to St. Thomas. So I am dubious about Murray's claim that the Dominicans
in general, and St. Thomas in particular, thought that free choices could
be necessitated by their natural causal antecedents (whether physically
or in the more mysterious way that Murray labels "virtual determinism").
c. Explanation and the Jesuit conception of freedom.
The Jesuits define a free faculty as one which, given that all the prerequisites
for acting have been posited, is able to act and also able not to act,
or is able to act in one way and also able to act in some contrary way.
However, what we will must always be an object that is seen as good in
some way. For the root of freedom lies in our intellectual capacity to
perceive different aspects of goodness and evil or of fittingness and unfittingness
in the potential objects of choice. So on the Jesuit understanding of freedom
there is always a sufficient reason, in the sense of 'enough of a reason',
for a genuinely free choice, and this reason is always rooted in the good
(or apparent good) that the agent judges to be present in the object of
Thus, contrary to what Murray says in a few places, on the Jesuit view
a genuinely free act of will does indeed have an explanation in terms of
its antecedents. To be sure, such explanations do not provide 'sufficient
reasons' in Leibniz's sense, i.e., necessitating reasons, and thus cannot
serve as the foundation for absolutely certain foreknowledge of free acts.
But, so it seems to me at any rate, a non-necessitating reason is still
a reason and can thus serve as a good explanation. In general, I think
it's unwise for libertarians to let compatibilists dictate what is required
for an adequate explanation of a human action. For this is precisely one
of the issues at stake in the debate between them.
3. Murray's interpretation of Leibniz
According to Murray, "what sets Leibniz, and the Dominicans in
view here, apart from contemporary compatibilists is that Leibniz refuses
to characterize the relationship between dispositions and actions as causal"
(p. 15). I have already urged that "the Dominicans in view here"
do not include St. Thomas or Bañez. Still, the position Murray attributes
to Leibniz is as intriguing as it is mysterious. Murray acknowledges the
mysteriousness but is confident that he is interpreting Leibniz correctly.
His strategy is to cite a number of texts under the assumption that they
all fit together into a coherent whole that constitutes Leibniz's considered
view of freedom. The main problem, I will argue, is that the texts simply
do not support the claim that Leibniz held what Murray calls "virtual
determinism" or that he thought of "moral necessity" as
a distinct alethic modality.
Murray first cites the "private miracle" text. Sleigh admits
that if this text represents Leibniz's final position, then we are forced
to grant that Leibniz is not a compatibilist. But he quickly adds that
by the time Leibniz wrote the Theodicy, he no longer subscribed
to the view expressed in the text. However, even supposing that Sleigh
is mistaken on this point, Murray is still in trouble. For the "private
miracle" text, including the sections not quoted by Murray in his
paper, is unremittingly libertarian in content; as far as I can tell, it
contains nothing that Molina or Suarez themselves would have hesitated
to say!13 So I am a bit startled by Murray's twofold
contention that (i) "[the "private miracle"] passage contains
one of Leibniz's clearest descriptions of this 'modality-less-than-causal'"
(p. 15) and that (ii) "in this passage ... Leibniz argues that there
are three levels of necessity which govern various sorts of phenomena in
the world: metaphysical, physical, and a third type..." (p.16). The
plain fact is that in this text there is absolutely no hint at all of any
"third type" of necessity.
How, then, did Murray come to think otherwise? Easy. He simply assumed
from the beginning that Leibniz was never a libertarian and so must always
have believed that the connections between free acts of will and their
natural antecedents are necessary in some sense. But in the "private
miracle" text, he explicitly says that the connections between free
acts of will and their natural antecedents are neither metaphysically nor
physically necessary. So he must be claiming that these connections are
"morally necessary." I am no Leibniz scholar, but to me this
looks like a piece of highly wishful interpretation.
In the next cited passage (the "Spinoza passage") we do indeed
find an explicit mention of moral necessity, a kind of necessity which,
according to Leibniz, "constrains the wise to do good." Who are
the wise? Those who approach the condition of the blessed in heaven. And
what is that condition? According to all the scholastics and Leibniz as
well, it is the condition of those who are confirmed in the good to such
an extent that they act by physical necessity in accordance with virtue.
Hence, the "moral necessity" in question is a species of physical
necessity--not the blind physical necessity by which non-rational creatures
act, but the "happy and desirable" physical necessity (or approximation
thereof) that results from the free cultivation and intensification of
the virtues. Once again, there is absolutely nothing in this text that
the Jesuit libertarians would take issue with. On their view freedom of
choice, rightly conceived, is a means to an end, and that end is complete
liberation from evil and sin. One who approaches this end finds it easier
and easier to make good choices and easier and easier to avoid evil choices,
even to the point of not entertaining the latter at all. In short, the
true goal of the exercise of free choice is to freely become a person incapable
of choosing evil. With this in mind, notice Leibniz's stipulation that
"moral necessity contains an obligation imposed by reason, which is
always followed by its effect in the wise" (p. 16). There is
no indication that this necessity is a feature of every free human
action, good or evil, as would have to be the case if Murray's interpretation
were correct. So, once again, the cited text could have been written in
good conscience by a full-fledged libertarian; and once again the text
provides no warrant for the claim that, according to Leibniz, there is
some "third type" of necessity connecting every free act
of will with its natural antecedents.
The next two texts make explicit Leibniz's distinction between (i) the
first essential laws of the series--also known as the laws of general order--which
embody God's comprehensive providential decrees for all of space and time
as a whole, and (ii) the causal or natural laws subordinated to these laws
of general order. Murray finds in these texts evidence that, according
to Leibniz, "laws governing the relation between dispositions and
choices would not be subject to such subordinate [natural laws], although
they could be known by one who knows the 'first essential laws of the series'"
This interpretation, too, seems rather strained to me. First of all,
neither of these texts so much as mentions free acts of will, antecedent
dispositions, or moral necessity. Second, suppose that everything in our
world happens by physical necessity. In that case, there are any number
of possible worlds distinct from ours that have the very same natural
laws and in which everything likewise happens by physical necessity, and
in each of these worlds there is a distinction between natural laws and
the laws of general order, where the latter determine the initial conditions
and other parameters not strictly entailed by the natural laws themselves.
So the mere fact that within a given possible world one can distinguish
the general laws of order from the natural laws does not by itself entail
that there are any effects in that world not brought about by physical
necessity. I conclude that the distinction between general laws of order
and natural laws is wholly neutral as regards the debate over the nature
of human freedom. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that these
two texts could have been written by a proponent of any of the major
competing accounts of human freedom. So it is hard to see how anything
in them can be used to sustain the claim that Leibniz was a "virtual
determinist" rather than a full-fledged libertarian or a straightforward
In the next passage (the "Hobbes text") Leibniz contends that
we cannot choose our "present wills, which spring from reasons and
dispositions," but that at best we can choose our future wills. Notice
that even a full-fledged libertarian can admit that in many circumstances
we have only the freedom of contradiction, where our only two choices
are to will a given object or to refrain from willing that object, and
not the freedom of contrariety, where we have the additional power
to will the opposite. But even if we take the Hobbes text to be inconsistent
with libertarianism, it is certainly not inconsistent with straightforward
compatibilism. So once again there is no convincing evidence for Murray's
claim that Leibniz is here carving out a middle position between libertarianism
In summary, then, I am not persuaded that Leibniz has a distinctive
position on freedom. At times he leans toward libertarianism, at times
toward compatibilism. Sleigh thinks he settles on the latter. Perhaps so;
perhaps not. But in the texts cited by Murray I see no evidence at all--clear
or even ambiguous--of a distinctive via media.
1. Sleigh's thesis is a bit more complex than this.
According to him, Leibniz claims in addition that even if, per impossibile,
the Molinist conception of freedom were coherent and correct, there still
would be no need for middle knowledge, given that God has exhaustive knowledge
of each complete individual concept. This Leibnizian claim seems to me
very dubious, but it would take too long to argue the point here.
2. Indeed, to my mind the most compelling consideration
against Sleigh's interpretation is a non-textual one: I find it extremely
difficult to believe that a philosopher as acute and well-informed as Leibniz
could have thought to reconcile Jesuit and Dominican, Arminian and Calvinist,
and, ultimately, Catholic and Protestant, by reverting to what Sleigh calls
3. For those who are disinclined to think of Bañezians
as libertarians, see section 2b below as well as Luis de Molina, On
Divine Foreknowledge (Part IV of the "Concordia"), translated,
with an introduction and notes, by Alfred J. Freddoso (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1988), esp. pp. 24-28 and 41-42.
4. In the case of a free act of the will, the will itself
is both the agent of the act and its patient. In technical terminology,
the will elicits an act (e.g., an act of intending or an act of choosing)
which has as its principal effect an accidental modification of the will
itself. This is why such an act is called an immanent act.
5. For more on this point, see my "God's General
Concurrence with Secondary Causes: Why Conservation is Not Enough,"
Philosophical Perspectives 5 (1991): 553-585.
6. The interpretation I have in mind is the one spelled
out above, viz., that on the Jesuit view it is up to the free secondary
agent to determine just which particular act of will God concurs in. However,
it is important to see that there is another interpretation which would
not separate the Jesuits from the Dominicans. For both agree that it is
the secondary agent's contribution that gives the act its species, i.e.,
makes it the sort of act it is. Take as an example Peter's act of willing
to follow Christ. Both the Jesuit and Dominican agree that this act's being
an act of willing to follow Christ--rather than, say, an act of heating
water or an act of willing to eat a piece of fish--is a function of Peter's
nature and of his mental states at the time of the action. What they disagree
about is whether it was up to Peter to determine that it was this act,
rather than some other, that God concurred in--as the Jesuits insist--or
whether instead it was God who determined that Peter would elicit an act
of the species in question.
7. One further note. On p. 4 Murray reproduces an argument
which, he suggests, persuaded Leibniz, at least for a time, that the doctrine
of God's general concurrence is incoherent. It is worth pointing out that
this argument, which betrays a misunderstanding of the doctrine, was known
at least as early as the 13th century and was refuted, satisfactorily to
my mind, by every major scholastic from then on, including Aquinas. Durandus
alone seems to have found it convincing.
8. At one point Murray says that the Jesuits regarded
the Dominicans as 'hard determinists'. I'm not sure what this means. As
I understand it, a hard determinist is one who believes that there are
no free actions because all putatively free actions are necessitated by
their causal antecedents. Since the Dominicans never deny that there are
free actions, they are not hard determinists. Nor do I know of any Jesuit
who charged the Dominicans with denying that there are free actions. Instead,
the Jesuits claimed that the Dominican conception of divine predeterminations
in fact entails that there are no free actions.
9. Here I take my cues mainly from Bañez himself
in his commentary on Summa Theologiae I-II, ed. V.B. de Heredia
(Madrid, 1942), vol. 1, and from the 20th century Bañezian Reginald
Garrigou-Lagrange, The One God (St. Louis, 1943), pp. 461 and 465.
10. See David Gallagher, "Free Choice and Free
Judgment in Thomas Aquinas," forthcoming in Archiv für die
Geschichte der Philosophie.
11. See Bañez, op. cit., q. 13, a. 6,
dub. 3, Utrum electio debeat fieri de meliori bono, pp. 308-314.
12. Bañez, op. cit., p. 312.
13. Someone might object that in the full text Leibniz
asserts that "the mind never chooses what at present appears the worst,"
a claim that would have to be rejected by a full-fledged libertarian. The
fact is, however, that Suarez did not think of himself as absolutely committed
to the opposite. As he rather cautiously puts it in Disputationes Metaphysicae
19, 6, #13, "Even when the objects or means are judged to be unequal,
I deem it more probable (though by no means certain) that the will is not,
by dint of that judgment, determined necessarily to will the one that is