On Sovereignty


A legacy post originally published on NOVEMBER 10, 2010 at 8:41 AM
🔗 On Sovereignty by Alexander Pruss

Suppose that I know that if I cause A, then either B or C will eventuate. Suppose that each of B and C furthers my plan, and neither of them furthers it better than the other. Then it does not seem that sovereignty would require me to know or decide prior to my decision to cause A which of B and C would eventuate. Sovereignty perhaps requires that nothing happens that is contrary to God’s plan, but it does not require that God’s plan should determine every detail.

Here is try at a notion of sovereignty built on this idea:

  • x sovereignly executes plan P iff x successfully executes P and if we let Q be what x strongly and knowingly actualizes in executing P, and we let K be all that x knows explanatorily prior to x‘s decision to strongly actualize Q, and we let W be the set of all worlds at which both Q and K hold, then no world in W better fits the goals of P than any other.

In other words, x is sovereign in the execution of a plan provided that, given what x does and knows, he can’t be disappointed in respect of the quality of the plan’s execution.

One way to ensure sovereignty in the execution of a plan is to strongly and knowingly actualize every little detail. This is a Calvinist or maybe Thomistic way. Another way is to know exactly how the details would turn out. That’s a Molinist way. Another way is the “chessmaster way” (not my terminology or original idea; I think the view has been developed by W. Matthews Grant and Sarah Coakley): to choose a plan in such a way that no matter how things turn out, the goal wouldn’t be any the less well achieved by the lights of the plan. One can do this in two ways: setting one’s goal appropriately (so that whatever turns out, fits–that’s not how chessmasters do it) or choosing the plan very carefully or some combination of the first two disjuncts.

This doesn’t give us a definition of monadic sovereignty, and I think that is not necessarily a bad thing. It may be that the notion of sovereignty has its home as connected to particular plans. But if one wants a monadic notion, one might try for something like this:

  • x is perfectly sovereign provided that it is an essential property of x that both x is perfectly free in his forming of plans and x is sovereign in the execution of all the plans that he forms.

But while it is plausible that God is sovereign in his actual plan of salvation, one might raise the van Inwagen question whether God couldn’t decide to execute a plan non-sovereignly if he so chose.

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