Two Philosophical Objections which make Molinism-Middle Knowledge Untenable

For readers who are not familiar with the term “truthmaker”, note the following clarifications:

Definition 1 – Truth bearers are those things that are made truth by truthmakers. A truth-bearer is an entity that is said to be either true or false and nothing else. Examples: Sentences, propositions, judgments, beliefs (propositional attitudes or opinion about the meaning of a sentence) etc

Definition 2 – Truthmakers are those things that make something true. A truthmaker for a truthbearer is that entity in virtue of which the truthbearer is true.

The idea of truthmaker is premised on the correspondence theory of truth. A sentence is true because of the way the world is, in contrast to the suggestion that the world is the way it is because of which sentences are true. For example, if a certain man exist, then a statement that the man exists is true, and vice versa. But there is a priority between these two states of affairs. It is the case that the statement is true because of the way the world rather than the case that the world is the way it is rather because the statement is true.

Timothy O’Connor provides two objections that make Molinism untenable.

Objection 1: Molinism posits truths without truthmakers

The problem with Molina’s view is that it is a way of having your cake and eating it, too! There are actually two fundamental problems here. First and foremost is that Molinism posits a breathtaking number of contingent truths without any truthmakers. The items in question are a special subset of the set of subjunctive conditionals, many of which are counterfactuals, propositions about what would have happened under purely hypothetical circumstances. The truth of some counterfactuals is entirely unproblematic. Consider the counterfactual If I were to hold out the pen in my pocket and then let go (and no extraordinary force were to be brought to bear), it would fall to the ground. This is obviously true and knowable by us, let alone an omniscient being. Why? Because it has a basis in certain facts about gravitational force, how physical forces in general interact, and facts about the pen. None of us may know all the details, but we know enough in a general sort of way to know that this counterfactual is true.

Now think about counterfactuals about how we would freely act under specific hypothetical circumstances. There undoubtedly are relative tendencies in us to act in certain ways rather than others, and in some cases, the outcome of a hypothetical scenario approaches certainty. But if we have a significant measure of freedom, it is entirely in doubt how we would act in certain other scenarios. In many actual scenarios, it is, within a fixed range of possibility, up to us at the time of the action to determine what we will do. But how is this consistent with supposing that, prior to our action (and indeed, prior to our existence) there already was a definite fact of the matter about how we would act? What could be the basis of these supposed purely counterfactual truths that are the objects of divine middle knowledge? Not facts about what our characters would be in the hypothetical situations, since these, by hypothesis, do not make inevitable what we would do. (At most, they make certain actions more probable than others.) And no plausible alternative basis appears to be in the offing. It seems our Molinist offers us truths without truthmakers.

Objection 2: Molinism, by stipulation posits truthmakers not in free agents but elsewhere, precluding human (and diving) freedom.

The second problem with Molinism is independent of the first. Stipulate some ontological basis for the counterfactuals of freedom that are true logically prior to God’s creation decision. Some of these concern what we would do under conditions that actually come to pass. It now seems that our actions under these circumstances cannot be free, since there is a truthmaker for what we will do prior to our doing it – a truthmaker that does not reside in us, since it obtained prior to our existence. The existence of these truthmakers is beyond our control; they are necessary for us in the way that features of the past are necessary for us. From these truths, furthermore, our actions logically follow. But Jonathan Edwards was surely right that “those things that are indissolubly connected with other things that are necessary, are themselves necessary.” In other words, Molinism is (contrary to intention) most naturally taken as a covert form of the doctrine that our actions are predetermined, rather than freely undertaken. The theologian who is happy to accept this consequence should pause once he recognizes that the same argument applied to God’s alleged middle knowledge of His own actions. (Molina denied that God has middle knowledge of his own free actions, perhaps for just this reason. But how can this asymmetry be sustained in a principled way?)

Source: Timothy O’Connor. Theism and Ultimate Explanation: The Necessary Shape of Contingency (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), pp. 136-137.


Truth-bearers are representations that are either true or false; truth-makers all obtain as facts. There are no non-obtaining facts. Truthmakers therefore cannot be said to be true or false. The relationship between truthbearer and truthmaker appears intuitively simple, but the exact relationship between them is hotly debated among philosophers. Note briefly three prominent but problematic theories:
a) Virtue theory. A truthmaker is that in virtue of which something is true. However the meaning of the phrase “in virtue of” is unclear. Does it mean just by existing, or because of some resemblances?

b) Entailment theory. A truthmaker is a thing the very existence of which entails that something is true. This may include a more rigorous requirement of necessitation: A truthmaker is a thing that necessitates something being true. Some object X necessitates the truth of Y if and only if it is metaphysically impossible for X to exist, and yet Y not be true. This theory leads to the problem of trivial necessitation.

c) Essentialist theory. A truthmaker of a proposition is something such that it is part of the essence of that proposition that it is true if that thing exists. X is a truthmaker for Y only if it is part of the essence of Y that it be true should an object like X exist. The problem is that the concept of essence is vague and contestable.

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