Philosophy of Action and Philosophy of Religion


The world’s major monotheistic religions typically maintain that God freely chose, in the libertarian sense, to create the universe for a reason or purpose. Philosophers of religion often argue that the idea that God makes a free choice to create for a purpose is deeply flawed. In parallel with these philosophers of religion, philosophers of action typically argue that the idea that human beings make free choices to act for purposes is also flawed. I begin my article by briefly summarizing what is involved in the idea of a human agent freely choosing for a purpose. I then examine criticisms of this idea by philosophers of action and suggest how they might plausibly be rebutted. I conclude by suggesting that if these criticisms by philosophers of action are suspect, then there is good reason for thinking that the same or similar criticisms by philosophers of religion are suspect. According to the world’s monotheistic religions (e.g., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), God is an immaterial, metaphysically necessary being who chose to create our metaphysically contingent universe. This contingent universe includes the existence of both material and immaterial beings (souls or minds which, in the case of human beings, possess material bodies). God’s choice to create our universe was an undetermined, mental action with a fundamental or ultimate teleological explanation in the form of a reason, purpose, or goal, where that reason includes the possibility of human beings experiencing the great good of eternal beatitude, blessedness, or happiness. In order to understand how God might be the free creator of our universe, monotheists have often used their own free agency as human beings who make undetermined choices to act for purposes as an analogue for divine activity. The thinking here is that if immaterial, embodied souls are free to choose to act for ends that are believed to be good, then there is at least some justification for thinking that an immaterial, disembodied mind freely chose to create our universe for a reason that it knew was good. What, then, is involved in our choosing to act for a purpose? In general, a teleological explanation of a choice to perform an action involves an agent (1) conceiving of or representing a future state of affairs in the content of a propositional attitude such as a belief or a desire, where that future state of affairs is an end or goal to be brought about because of its goodness; (2) conceiving of or representing in a belief the means to the realization or © Blackwell Publishing 2006 Philosophy Compass 1/6 (2006): 662–670, 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2006.00041.x


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