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 creep in.

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" (p. 3).

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 with certainty.

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 concurrence.

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, 6:

    [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 choice.

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'" (p. 18).

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 compatibilist.

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 and compatibilism.

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 'natural compatibilism'.

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 better."