Edwards on the Incompatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will

Keywords: necessity, fatalism, foreknowledge, omniscience, free will


In the book “Freedom of the Will”, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) put forward a strong argument for theological fatalism. This argument, I suppose, can be considered as the universal basis for discussion between Fatalists and Anti-Fatalists in the 20th century, especially in the context of the most powerful argument for fatalism, introduced by Nelson Pike.

The argument of Edwards rests upon the following principles: (a) if something has been the case in the past, it has been the case necessarily (Necessity of the past); (b) if God knows something (say A), it is not the case that ~A is possible (Infallibility of God`s knowledge). Hence, Edwards infers that if God had foreknowledge that A, then A is necessary, and it is not the case that someone could voluntarily choose ~A. The article argues that (i) the Edwards` inference  Kgp → □p rests upon the modal fallacy; (ii) the inference „God had a knowledge that p will happen, therefore „God had a knowledge that p will happen” is the proposition about the past, and hence, the necessarily true proposition“ is ambiguous; thus, it is not the case that this proposition necessarily entails the impossibility of ~p; (iii) it is not the case that p, being known by God, turns out to be necessary.

Thus, we can avoid the inference of Edwards that if Kgp is a fact of the past, then we cannot freely choose ~p. It has also been shown that the main provisions of the argument of Edwards remain significant in the context of contemporary debates about free will and foreknowledge (Theories of soft facts, Anti-Ockhamism, theories of temporal modal asymmetry, „Timeless solution”). Additionally, I introduce a new challenge for fatalism – argument from Brouwerian axiom.

Author Biography

Oleh Bondar, Nanjing Normal University (China)

PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow


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How to Cite
Bondar, O. (2020). Edwards on the Incompatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will. Sententiae, 39(2), 29-45. https://doi.org/10.31649/https://doi.org/10.31649/sent39.02.029


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