The paper below by Dr. David P. Hunt was written for
a metaphysics conference convened in Rome by the
late Pope John Paul II during the Jubilee Year, 2000.
Written in 1984, the concepts examined in Dr.
Price's paper are still fresh and pertinent.

    by David P. Hunt
    Department of Philosophy
    Whittier College
    Whittier, CA  90608

    An ineliminable part of our concept of human personhood
    is the idea of free and morally responsible agency.  This
    idea is not metaphysically neutral; some metaphysical en-
    vironments will accommodate it better than others, and
    some may not accommodate it at all.  Among the proposed
    metaphysical presuppositions of free and morally respon-
    sible agency, perhaps the one that has been most often
    noted andaffirmed is the requirement that there be acces-
    sible alternativesto the agent’s action.  Let us call this
    the “Principle of Alternate Possibilities” (or PAP),
    formulating the principle this way:

    PAP: A person performs an action freely, in the
    sense required by moral responsibility, only if he could
    have done otherwise.

    If we are ever free and morally responsible agents
    (according to this principle), we must on at least some
    occasions face an “open future” in which the direction
    we actually take is not the only one possible for us.

    The idea that the future is in this sense “open” has been
    subjected to two important critiques in Western thought.
    One comes from arguments for fatalism: the view that the
    course of events is logically, conceptually, or metaphysi-
    cally necessary in such a way that the future is no more
    open than the past. In De interpretatione 9, for example,
    Aristotle worried that the prior truth of future-tense
    propositions might limit the future to a single predeter-
    mined path, a worry later shared by the Stoics and others.
    The problem is only exacerbated when classical theism is
    added to the picture, since these propositions about the
    future are then not only true but also known; thus Augustine,
    in De libero arbitrio III and De civitate Dei V, is forced
    to wrestle with the question how an infallible deity’s prior
    beliefs about the future could be consistent with the pos-
    sibility of alternative outcomes.

    The other important critique of an open future comes from
    determinism: the view that past states of the physical world
    causally determine all future states.  While a handful of
    rationalists, like Spinoza, have endorsed determinism on
    purely a priori grounds, it is most often maintained either
    as an empirical thesis about the kind of world we live in
    (making it dependent on a posteriori considerations and
    subject to revision in light of further evidence) or as a
    presupposition of scientific inquiry (revisable, at least
    in principal, should the presupposition outlive its useful-
    ness). While the deterministic threat to free choice owes
    much of its credibility to the rise of scientific natural-
    ism over the last 400 years, it has been with us at least
    since the advent of Democritean atomism.

    Arguments for fatalism and determinism, in their various
    forms, can be understood as reflecting a common underlying
    structure.One way to construct parallel arguments for fatal-
    ism and determinism, thereby bringing out what they share in
    common, is to begin by assuming what is to be disproved: that
    the future will include some action A that is free in the
    sense required by moral responsibility. It can then be pointed
    out that the positing of A presupposes something that is al-
    ready true: that it was the case that A will occur (the first
    version of fatalism), that God believed that A will occur
    (the second, theological version of fatalism), that physical
    states and laws sufficient for A’s occurrence were in place
    (causal determinism). But these facts, being about the past,
    are now necessary: no one can do anything about them now.  
    (“This alone is lacking even to God, to make undone things
    that have once been done,” Aristotle notes at Nichomachean
    Ethics VI.2.)  And these (now) necessary facts about the past
    also entail the posited action A. Because A is entailed by
    something that is necessary, it is itself necessary.  If A
    happens necessarily, however, the agent could not have done
    otherwise, and A fails to satisfy PAP.  So given the truth
    of PAP, our initial assumption about A--that it is free in
    the sense required by moral responsibility--must be rejected
    as false.

    There are a number of grounds on which arguments of this
    sort can be resisted.  (1) One way to defend free agency
    from such arguments is to charge them with a fallacy of
    inference.  Some arguments for fatalism, as Boethius and
    Aquinas pointed out, owe their illusion of success to a
    failure to distinguish necessitas consequentiae from
    necessitas consequentis; others, as William Ockham noted,
    mistakenly suppose that the necessity which (now) charac-
    terizes past events and states of affairs can be extended
    to any fact (however artificial) that can be represented
    grammatically in the past tense.  (2) Another way to
    challenge these arguments is to deny one of their factual
    premises: to maintain, for example, that the facts about
    God are such that He does not exist in time and so does
    not know the future as future (the classical position,
    representted again by Boethius and Aquinas); or to cite
    indeterminism at the micro-level as possible grounds for
    a liberum arbitrium (Epicurus’s “swerve”); or to dispute
    some other factual presupposition.  (3) Yet another response,
    following Hume and the majority of contemporary philosophers
    in the Anglo-American analytic tradition, is to develop an
    analysis of the agent’s power to do otherwise such that this
    power turns out to be perfectly compatible with the kinds of
    necessity at work in the arguments for fatalism and determinism.

                                  (CONTINUED ON PAGE 2)

    by Joseph L. Price                
    Joseph L. Price is associate professor of religion
    at Whittier College, Whittier, California.
    This article appeared in the Christian Century, February 22, 1984, p.190.
    Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission.
    Current articles and subscription information can be found at www. This material was prepared for Religion Online by
    Ted & Winnie Brock.

    When the Dallas Cowboys are at the top of their game,
    winning routinely and decisively, one of the favorite
    quips which circulates in north Texas concerns Arlington
    Stadium, where the Cowboys play their home games.
    The stadium has a partial roof which covers much of the
    stands but none of the playing field. Cowboy fans say
    that God wants to able to see his favorite football team
    more clearly.

    This is the attitude which ancient societies brought to
    their games. In ancient Greece, for example, the
    Olympics were only one set of athletic contests which
    were performed in honor of the gods. Among the
    Mayans in Central America, the stadium was attached
    to an important temple, and the stands were adorned
    with images of the gods and reliefs of sacred animals.
    The ball game started when the high priest threw the
    ball onto a circular stone in the center of the field: the
    sacred rock, the omphalos, considered the sacred
    center and associated with creation mythology. Thus
    the game was connected to the Mayan story of the
    world’s origins.

    Professional football games are not quite so obviously
    religious in character. Yet there is a remarkable sense
    in which the Super Bowl functions as a major religious
    festival for American culture, for the event signals a
    convergence of sports, politics and myth. Like festivals
    in ancient societies, which made no distinctions regard-
    ing the religious, political and sporting character of
    certain events, the Super Bowl succeeds in reuniting
    these now disparate dimensions of social life.

    The pageantry of the Super Bowl is not confined to the
    game itself, nor to the culture heroes who attend it --
    e.g., Bob Hope, John Denver, Dan Rather and other
    celebrities -- for the largest audience watches the game
    via television. And the political appeal of the festival is
    not restricted to its endorsement by political figures such
    as President Reagan, who pronounced the 1984 Super
    Bowl’s benediction. The invocation is a series of political
    rituals: the singing of the national anthem and the
    unfurling of a 50-yard-long American flag, followed by
    an Air Force flight tactics squadron air show.

    The innate religious orientation of the Super Bowl was
    indicated first by the ritual of remembrance of “heroes
    of the faith who have gone before.” In the pregame
    show, personalities from each team were portrayed as
    superheroes, as demigods who possess not only the
    talent necessary for perfecting the game as an art but
    also the skills for succeeding in business ventures and
    family life.

    For instance, one of the most effective segments was
    about Joe Delaney, the former running back for the
    Kansas City Chiefs who died while trying to save two
    children from drowning. In a functional sense, Delaney
    was being honored as a saint. The pregame moment
    of silence in honor of the life and contributions of
    George Halas, the late owner of the Chicago Bears
    and one of the creators of the National Football League,
    was even more significant: I am not sure whether the
    fans were silent in memory of ‘Papa Bear” or whether
    they were offering a moment of silence to him.
    Nevertheless, the pause was reminiscent of an act of

    Bronco Nagurski, a hall of famer (which stands for
    official canonization), had the honor of tossing the coin
    at the center of the playing field to signify the start of the
    game. The naming of a Most Valuable Player at the end
    of the game was a sign of the continuing possibility for

    But the Super Bowl and its hype could not dominate the
    consciousness of many Americans without the existence
    of a mythos to support the game. Myths, we know, are
    stories which establish and recall a group’s identity:
    its origin, its values, its world view, its raison d’être.
    Two dominant myths support the festivity and are
    perpetuated by it. One recalls the founding of the
    nation and the other projects the fantasies or hopes
    of the nation. Both myths indicate the American identity.
    The first concerns the ritual action of the game itself.
    The object of the game is the conquest of territory. The
    football team invades foreign land, traverses it
    completely, and completes the conquest by settling in the
    end zone. The goal is to carry the ritual object, the
    football, into the most hallowed area belonging to the
    opponent, his inmost sanctuary. There, and only there,
    can the ritual object touch the earth without incurring
    some sort of penalty, such as the stoppage of play or
    the loss of yardage.

    This act of possession is itself reflective of cosmogonic
    myths, for, as Mircea Eliade has noted, “to organize a
    space is to repeat the paradigmatic work of the gods”
    (The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion
    [Harcourt, Brace, 1959], p. 32). Conquering a territory
    and bringing order to it is an act equivalent to
    consecration, making the space itself sacred by means
    of recalling and rehearsing the primordial act of creation.

                                   (CONTINUED ON PAGE 2)

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