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Boethius on Foreknowledge

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Dominic Martin

BOETHIUS ON FOREKNOWLEDGE [1] The problem of (Divine) foreknowledge: (F1) If S chooses A freely, then S’s choice of A was not necessitated, i.e. not necessary. (F2) Suppose that S chooses A. (F3) God knows in advance that S will choose A. Proof: (F3a) God is omniscient. (F3b) All times, including the future (relative to us), are now present to God. (F3c) God knows what happens at all times, including at times future relative to us. (F3d) If S chooses A at some time, then at times earlier relative to us, God knows that S will choose A. (F3e) Hence if S chooses A at some time, then God knows in advance that S will choose A. (F4) Whatever God knows must be so. (F5) Thus S will have to choose A. (F6) Thus S’s choice of A is necessary, i.e. necessitated by God’s foreknowledge. (F7) Thus S’s choice of A is not free. (F8) This line of argument holds for any agent and any choice. Therefore: There is no free choice. Boethius notes that by (F4), whatever God knows must be so; hence it is not possible for it to be otherwise. Yet that is just to deny any freedom, or more exactly, to deny that there is any genuine alternative possibility. Thus there is no human freedom; providence should make fatal- ists of us all. Boethius is a believer in freedom, though, and therefore takes another approach: he maintains that foreknowledge neither compels nor necessitates (5.4.4–9). He spends most of 5.4–6 working out the details of this approach, which he does by considering two difficulties at length. Before turning to the details, though, we should be clear on his strategy. Boethius does think that there is foreknowledge. His move is to deny that foreknowledge has the consequence of being freedom-cancelling. The strategy is novel but logically sound. [2] Note that there are really two separate problems involved here: (a) Does God’s foreknowl- edge turn future contingents into (noncontingent) necessary outcomes? (b) How is knowledge possible of something future that is genuinely contingent? Boethius, to his credit, keeps (a) and (b) distinct, and you should keep them in mind as when considering his responses to the two main difficulties. [3] The First Difficulty (5.4.10–14): Foreknowlege points to some underlying necessity. That is, it wouldn’t be possible that there be foreknowlege if there weren’t some fundamental necessitating condition that makes events be as they will be. Boethius replies (5.4.15–20) that future contin- gents need be no more necessitated than present contingents; after all, every present contingent was a future contingent earlier. And just as present contingents are not necessitated, as we can see by considering an example, so too neither are future contingents. [4] The Second Difficulty (5.4.21–23): You can’t have foreknowledge of matters that are not nec- essary of their nature–you can have fo
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