THE METAPHYSICS OF FREEDOM
by David P. Hunt
Department of Philosophy
Whittier, CA 90608
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:
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
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)
THE SUPER BOWL AS RELIGIOUS FESTIVAL
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.
christiancentury.org. 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
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
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
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)
Welcome to The Reference Room.
This page is comprised of academic and theological papers.