Aquinas and the free will defense

W. Matthews Grant, Fordham University


The dissertation is divided into two parts. The first part constitutes a critique of the two most popular versions of the Free Will Defense to the problem of moral evil, one based on a neo-Molinist account of the relationship between providence and freedom, the other on the movement known as Open God Theology. I argue that the Molinist version fails, because we have reason to reject its doctrine of Middle Knowledge. I maintain that the Open God version fails in its claim to be offering a biblically based conception of God's relationship to human action. The second part of the dissertation begins by defending Aquinas's claim that God causes our actions—that our actions are every bit as much God's creatures as anything else. This thesis provides an additional reason to reject the Free Will Defense, which erroneously supposes that free creatures can act independently of divine causality. Yet the claim that God causes our actions also leads to difficulties. Many have thought that Aquinas's position entails theological determinism, eliminating human freedom and rendering God responsible for sin. I maintain, on the contrary, that Aquinas's views do not commit him to theological determinism. Not only are his views compatible with a libertarian conception of human freedom; they leave God no more responsible for sin—perhaps even less so—than does the Free Will Defense. Although I concede that the attempts most often used by Aquinas and his contemporary defenders to show that his teaching is compatible with human freedom leave him vulnerable to the charge of theological determinism, I maintain that Aquinas provides other resources that can be employed successfully in his defense. I argue that determinism presupposes a certain logic or explanatory scheme that Aquinas's understanding of God, and, in particular, of divine simplicity, will not accommodate. Consequently, the kinds of inferences needed to make theological determinism intelligible do not apply in Aquinas's case.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Grant, W. Matthews, "Aquinas and the free will defense" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3045124.