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Lecture 4: Divine Knowledge and Human Freedom

THE QUESTION of the nature of the link between divine knowledge and human freedom is systematically related to the topic which chiefly concerned us in Lectures Two and Three, namely Duns Scotus's account of the mental faculties of intellect and will. I shall start my discussion in this lecture by justifying the claim that these various topics are indeed systematically related, and thereafter I shall focus upon a line of attack on Scotus's teaching on free will.

We observed that Scotus held there to be an indivisible unity of the faculties of intellect and will in the human mind. The being of each is the same as the being of the other. This doctrine prompts the question why we speak of two faculties, when mind is an indivisible unity. Scotus's answer is that we start from the observation that there are at least two radically different sorts of mental act, understanding and willing, and we draw the conclusion that two such different sorts of act must be referred to different principles of action in the mind. We call one principle the faculty of intellect, that by which we understand, and we call the other the faculty of will.

This move would be resisted by a member of the Ockhamist Tendency. His chosen weapon would be a Razor. With the help of it he would seek to persuade us that for a faculty of intellect to exist is nothing more than for mind to be able to understand, and for a faculty of will to exist is nothing more than for mind to be able to will. He could point out that the doctrine of the unity of mind is not jeopardised by this account of the mode of existence of mental faculties for it is the very same mind that is able to perform these different sorts of act.

But Scotus, unlike some later Scottish philosophers, did not follow that path. While denying that mind has distinct parts, its various faculties, he believed there to be a basis in reality for distinguishing between intellect and will, a basis that does not consist simply of the difference between the different sorts of act. The distinction between the two faculties cannot just be the mind's being able to perform distinct sorts of act, for there must be something about mind that makes it possible for it to behave in this differentiated way. Scotus's solution, as we recall, is that mind, a unitary being, takes distinct forms, or, in his terminology, distinct ‘formalities’. Just as acts of mind take different forms, such as the form of willing, of understanding, of imagining, and of remembering, so also mind itself takes various forms, of a wilier, of an understander, of an imaginer, and a recollecter.

It follows that there is more to our faculty of will than just our acts of willing, for there is also that feature of mind in virtue of which we can will, namely, a particular sort of form or formality that mind takes. We identify any particular formality of mind, say the formality of will, in terms of acts of a distinctive form. The acts that mind performs in virtue of having that formality are acts of willing. As regards what it is about will in virtue of which we say it acts freely, Scotus's answer, we may recall, is that it is will's ability to produce contrary effects, so that in the very circumstance in which it produces a given effect it could produce a contrary one. It is not that it can produce both those contrary effects simultaneously, but rather that simultaneously it could equally produce either of them.

If there is no such thing as a human free will, as thus defined, then Scotus's philosophy of mind is mistaken at its core. Is Scotus mistaken in affirming that we have a free will? The question whether we have one is debated in modern times on the basis of a common perception regarding the universality of natural law. If all matter is governed by causal law then how can there be room for any free act by material beings? The question whether we have a free will was no less a topic of debate in the Middle Ages also, except that the chief obstacle to the affirmation of freedom was then perceived to come not from the realm of natural science but from that of theology. In brief, how can human freedom be compatible with predestination and divine prescience? These two theological doctrines jointly appear to imply that what we do, and what our state will be, are matters not in our hands, but in God's.

Duns Scotus discusses this topic in his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and it is a topic that Lombard himself deals with at the end of his Sentences, Book I. We shall see in Lectures Five and Six that the assent of faith, saying ‘yes’ as an act of faith, is essentially a free act. To argue against the freedom of our will is therefore by implication to argue against the possibility of faith. It is clearly important to deal with this most serious of the lines of attack mounted in the Middle Ages against the existence of human free will. Now that I have completed my examination of Scotus's concept of a free will, and am about to enter into an examination of the concept of the free assent of faith as developed by late-medieval Scottish philosophers, it is appropriate to pause to consider the central theological argument of the late-medieval period against free will, and to consider the response to it made within the Scottish philosophical tradition.

The late-medieval philosopher to whom I shall turn for help is John Ireland. When, in the second of his magna opera, he wrote in defence of the faith, he invoked the name and arguments of Duns Scotus, whom he refers to as ‘Doctor Subtilis that was a great clerk of Paris and born of this land’.1 He then tells us that ‘the doctor subtle in his Book of the Sentences in the Prologue induces eight manner of ways to prove and persuade the faith’. The eight ways are thereupon reported and developed. Scotus is again invoked in Ireland's discussion of the relation between freedom and divine prescience.2 In turning to John Ireland, therefore, we are not moving from the shadow of the Subtle Doctor.

Ireland's most substantial work of theology was his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Only the second half of that huge commentary survives, the sole extant manuscript being in the library of the University of Aberdeen. The preparation of a critical edition, or at least of a good working edition, of that manuscript would be an invaluable contribution to the study of Pre-Reformation Scottish culture.

Another important source for his theological ideas is his Mirror of Wisdom, written in Scots for King James IV. It was from the Mirror of Wisdom that I took Ireland's remarks concerning Scotus that I cited earlier. The book was intended, at least in part, as a piece of advice concerning the duties of kingship—a literary exercise fraught with obvious dangers, though Ireland, who had been confessor to James HI, had the tact and discretion necessary for so risky an exercise as advising James III's son how to govern.

The appropriateness of a theological context for advice on governorship is based on the belief that God's governance of the universe, as described in Scripture, should serve as a model for the governance exercised by any earthly monarch. God established a perfect law for His creatures, and since He is also perfectly well-informed about us, He is able to reward and punish us exactly as justice requires. An earthly monarch must approximate as closely as possible to this model, first by legislating just laws, and secondly by having the fullest possible information about his subjects, for otherwise they may not receive their due recompense. The links between divine and earthly governance are plain. The key links are the perfection of the laws and the fulness of the ruler's knowledge. It is with the latter of these that I shall here be concerned.

Let us think about the role played by God's knowledge and, more precisely, about the implications that God's knowledge has for the free will or otherwise of His creatures. In Lecture Two I discussed the doctrine of intellectual determinism, the doctrine that intellect so constrains will that there is nothing that will can do except act in response to and in conformity with the directives of intellect. What I am probing now is a kind of intellectual determinism but on a universal scale, with God's knowledge constraining us absolutely so that it is impossible for us to perform acts other than those that God knew from all eternity we would perform. This is not precisely the same version of intellectual determinism as that discussed previously, for as regards that earlier version the agent's intellect was seen as determining his own acts of will, but in the theological case what is at issue is whether God's knowledge determines not the acts of His own will but the acts of every human will. Nevertheless there is an obvious similarity between these two cases. Each features the idea that an act of intellect determines an act of will, thereby leaving no room for a free exercise of will.

Ireland accepts the default position, that we human beings have a free will, and he investigates its implications for God's power. We are free to sin, but would it not have been better if, instead of punishing us for sinning, God had so arranged things that though free we would not sin? Is it that God did not have the power to do this? Ireland's answer is ‘no’. He believed that among creatures there are angels and those in a state of beatitude, who are free but who by God's grace do not sin. The concept of free will that Ireland appears to have in mind is that developed by Duns Scotus, according to whom to be free is simultaneously to be able to produce opposite effects. Freedom to keep God's law implies freedom to infringe that law. The possibility of sinning is therefore the price we pay for our freedom, just as unfreedom is a price other beings pay for the impossibility of their sinning.

Some might say that we pay a high price, but the question is whether it is unjustifiably high. Ireland's reason for thinking that it is not is a form of the so-called ‘free will defence’. If God had created us without a free will the world would have been, in Ireland's word, ‘imperfect’. Freedom is a great dignity in the world, sufficient to outweigh the value of human sinlessness. The metaphysical basis of the dignity of our freedom is the status of the human free will as imago dei voluntatis. God by an act of will created other beings, us, who also have a will. It is in this sense that we are said to be in the image and likeness of God.3 Ireland is explicit on this. It is not in virtue of our intellect but of our will that we have this relation to God. There are overtones here of Scotus's doctrine of the primacy of will over intellect and the related doctrine of the primacy of love over knowledge, for love resides in and is the highest exercise of the will, whereas knowledge resides in the lesser faculty, the intellect.

It is not clear how we should weigh the relative merits of free will and sinlessness, both of which characterise God; though we might suspect that John Ireland's first step towards weighing them was to note that God created us with the freedom to sin. For if the good God created us with such a nature, this implies that it is better that we be capable of sinning than that we not exist at all.

The fact that we freely sin is deployed by Ireland as the basis for a moral argument for the existence of God. The shape of the argument is this: reason and justice demand that we be recompensed according to our deeds. Other human beings cannot recompense us with any assurance of judging recompense aright, and creatures below us cannot do this either. There must therefore be ‘ane aboue the man’4 whose task this is. The argument is neatly summed up by Ireland as: ‘Homo potest peccare, ergo Deus est’—‘A human being can sin, therefore God exists.’5

Sin is a crime against the universe, for with sin ‘all the world would be broken in the perfection of it’.6 Sin produces therefore what would be a vacuum if God did not intervene. The vacuum in question is of course moral, not physical, and it can be filled by divine acts of justice whereby recompense is bestowed exactly according to deserts. In this context Ireland refers to Aristotle's disproof of the possibility of a physical vacuum. It is Ireland's view that there can no more be a moral vacuum than a physical one, where a moral vacuum is emptiness produced by an act for which the agent does not receive due recompense. Thus it is the failure of the universe to respond appropriately to sin that would be accounted a moral vacuum.

From John Ireland's perspective therefore the universe has a moral structure, in the sense that it is governed in accordance with principles of justice. There cannot be free agents without there being justice, for their virtues and vices attract due recompense. I cannot speak about recompense in this context without reference to hell, a central feature of John Ireland's world-view, though not of mine. Nowadays we do not find theologians, or philosophers, with much to say about hell. It may yet make a comeback on the agenda of theologians, but during the Middle Ages it was very much on the agenda.

Perhaps it should be added, out of respect for Lord Gifford's project, that at least from the perspective of a John Ireland it is appropriate to speak about hell under the general heading of natural theology. Ireland regarded the existence of hell as almost a postulate of practical reason, answering to the perceived need for punishment commensurate with wickedness. His sense of natural justice told him as much, and we should therefore not be too shy nor too embarrassed to speak about hell.

John Ireland was not too shy or too embarrassed. His conclusion, unexpected though logically well founded, is that it is wrong to conceive of hell as a perfectly bad place. Far from it. On the basis of a crucial principle of assessment it is as good as heaven. Hell is a just place, for it and heaven are pre-eminently the places where divine justice is done. In one sense hell is a more just place than heaven, for there are those in heaven, we are told, who are there by an act of divine mercy, not of justice. Indeed it appears to be Ireland's doctrine that all human beings who are in heaven are there by an act of divine mercy rather than justice. For Ireland dwells on the fact that ‘life and glory eternal are supernatural that exceed without proportion our fragility’, and concludes: ‘Therefore there is no human creature that by virtue of his proper nature may perform any work or operation meritorious of glory, joy and life eternal, but for that is required a gift of God and supernatural virtue that is called grace.’7 The contrast Ireland sees between heaven and hell is articulated in a phrase chilling in its enthusiasm: ‘His noble justice shines in hell in the punishment of the damned person, as His high and noble mercy in heaven.’8 Hell is a just place not because people behave justly there, but because God performs there His justly punitive acts.

John Ireland's position might seem contradictory. On the one hand hell is the worst possible place in the world, and on the other Ireland sees it also as matching heaven in its virtuousness. But there is no contradiction. For the reprobate sinner hell must indeed seem the worst possible place for it is where he suffers the worst possible punishment, though, in accordance with a logical move made famous by Plato,9 the sinner should be grateful for the opportunity to endure a penal sentence whose severity prevents the world being imperfect. There is therefore, after all, something nice to say about hell.

Indeed it might even seem that hell is a better place than our world, the one we inhabit on our pilgrims' way, for people sin here yet do not necessarily receive here their divine recompense. There thus appears to be a moral vacuum in this world while people await what is their due, and in that sense this is a world of injustice, unlike hell where every person receives his full measure. But John Ireland would not accept this description. His is a more spacious perspective; we should attend to the totality, not to the parts separately. The punishments of hell would not be just were it not for the sins committed in this life. The justice lies not in this world alone nor in the next alone, but in the total situation of pain inflicted as due recompense for a free act performed against God's law.

We have now seen sufficient of the theological context within which Ireland sets up his problem concerning human free will. He expounds the problem in these terms: God has ‘infinite knowledge, wisdom, and all perfection’,10 and we must therefore ask ‘why He should punish people so greatly, considering that His knowledge is so great and immutable that men may not make it false nor change it by any manner of means. And thus they say that whatever a man does he shall be condemned since God has knowledge of it, and they say that it does not profit man to do good or evil.’

There we have it. God's knowledge cannot be falsified nor changed by any manner of means, and hence we shall do precisely what He knew we would. If it was always going to be the case that we would do what God knew we would, then our supposedly free agency is entirely circumscribed by God's knowledge. It is as if our acts are products not of our free will but of God's knowledge, from which it would follow that God, not ourselves, must be accounted the agent of the acts in question. In so far as it is God's knowledge, the content of His intellect, that determines us to do what we do, the doctrine Ireland sets out to attack may appropriately be described as a form of intellectual determinism. That doctrine has an immediate moral implication, for if intellectual determinism, in any of its forms, is correct, then wherein lies the justice of the divine punishments meted out to us in virtue of our sinful acts? Surely the punishment is just only if we sin freely. And according to the doctrine of divine intellectual determinism we do not do anything freely, nor therefore sin freely.

Ireland characterises this argument as the product of a ‘false and evil imagination’. Nevertheless he recognises that though fatally flawed it has some plausibility, and since it is false and also has a tendency to subvert morality it has to be met head on. He therefore replies in detail.

He is guided by the doctrine that God acts freely, a doctrine for which he provides a kind of cosmological proof. If the world were created by a necessary act, an act that God could not have prevented even had He wished to prevent it, then the world would exist necessarily. The world and everything in it would be eternal and, as Ireland puts the point: ‘God might then in no way leave them unproduced nor might he destroy them.’11 But on the contrary we see things come to be and cease to be. Things in the natural order have contingent, not necessary, existence, and that point, based upon common experience, is sufficient to undermine the claim that the world exists necessarily.

Yet God has knowledge or foreknowledge of everything that will be. And if He knows that they will be then necessarily they will be, and in that case when they exist they will exist necessarily and not contingently. But it has just been argued that since God acts freely all products of his acts are contingent and not necessary. What has gone wrong? Guided by Aquinas on this matter, Ireland argues that we have to be more careful about our use of the word ‘necessary’, and in particular we have to be clear about what is being said to be necessary when we argue that if God knows that a given event will occur then necessarily it will occur. In brief the necessity is not a feature of the event, nor even of the proposition that the event will occur. It is instead a feature of the logical relation between the two propositions (1) that God knows that the event will occur, and (2) that it will occur. What is necessary is this, that if God knows it will happen then it will happen. The event itself is contingent, for its occurrence is due in part to God's creative act, which was a free act. The contingent event might itself be a freely performed human act, and the fact that God knew from all eternity that it would be performed does not, according to the argument Ireland develops, contradict in any way the claim that the act is free.

There are propositions about the future of whose truth we are certain, such as that the mean temperature in Aberdeen in June will be higher (just) than the mean temperature in December, that there will be a full moon next week, and that there will be a high tide tomorrow in Aberdeen harbour at 7.16 pm. There are natural laws covering such facts, and our knowledge of those laws gives rise to our certainty that given events will occur. Whoever regards God's knowledge of the future as a bit like ours, will be inclined to regard our actions as determined, because an obvious explanation for the fact that God knows what will happen is that He knows the laws from which, with suitable other data, the future course of events can be inferred. However I know of no medieval philosopher who thought that this was a suitable model for understanding what God's knowledge of the future is like. Certainly John Ireland would have rejected it as an outlandish model, and would perhaps have given it the name ‘anthroposcientism’.

In a key passage he writes: ‘It is necessary that God who is the judge, the rewarder and punisher of all good and evil see and know at once all the works and deeds of word, heart, mind, intention, thought and cogitation of every man that is or was or ever shall be.’12 God, then, knows the inner lives of us all, and knows them simultaneously. In a phrase to which Ireland makes explicit reference Boethius in the Consolation of Philosophy affirms that God ‘looked out from the high turret (or “watch-tower”) of providence’.13 The picture is of God looking down upon human beings and seeing in a single, simple glance everything pass below Him. Boethius undoubtedly held that all events past, present, and future are simultaneously present to God. St Thomas Aquinas speaks in the same terms, and in doing so reflects Boethius's picture of God as looking down upon the created order, though Boethius speaks about God as in a high tower, and Aquinas's preferred metaphor is that of a person standing on top of a hill who is able to see simultaneously the travellers on the path which goes round the hill, even though the contours of the hill prevent each traveller from seeing those coming behind him. Thus does God, who is above the created world, see simultaneously the events which are related to each other in the relation of temporal before and after.14

That all events are simultaneously present to God has an implication drawn both by Aquinas and by John Ireland who seems to have had Aquinas's doctrine in mind, and who was certainly familiar with the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae in which Aquinas expounds it. I quote Ireland: ‘When I see something, such as a man sit or stand, I am certain that he sits or stands. But my sight neither puts nor causes necessity in him. Likewise with the spiritual eye and sight of God. Though He sees this evil person fall into sin and persevere therein, and finally be condemned, yet God's knowledge is not the cause why he falls into sin and perseveres in it.’15 Ireland's point, or at least an important part of it, is clear. Our acts, future to us, are present to the divine gaze, and so of course God knows that they will happen. But what he knows with certainty will happen are free acts. That I am certain of the occurrence of a human act does not imply that the act is not free. My certainty of it is due to the fact that I am now watching it unfold before me. Likewise if we suppose that all acts future to us are present to God, in the same timeless instant in which all acts past and present to us are present to God, then the fact that God knows with certainty what we shall do does not imply that those acts, when we get round to performing them, are not freely performed. Hence God's so-called ‘foreknowledge’ is not foreknowledge at all even though it includes knowledge of events which are future in relation to us now. Instead it is knowledge of what is immediately present to the knower. That is, God's knowing and the object known are simultaneous.

There does not purport to be in this a proof that human acts are free. There purports to be at most a criticism of one argument to the effect that our acts are not free, the argument criticised being that God knew from all eternity that our acts would be performed and hence if we do not perform them we would thereby falsify God's knowledge. His knowledge cannot be falsified, and therefore we are absolutely constrained to perform the acts God knew we would perform. The criticism is simply that our present knowledge of the occurrence of a human act unfolding before us does not imply that the act is not free, and by the same token God's knowledge of a human act unfolding before Him does not imply that it is not free. The difference between the two cases is that we do not know of the occurrence of human acts lying in the future in relation to us now, whereas nothing lies in the future in relation to God.

The problem I have just been discussing was a major battlefield in medieval theology. George Lokert and William Manderston, two leading Scottish theologians in the generation following Ireland, wrote treatises devoted to the topic.16 John Mair also contributed to the discussion. For the remainder of this lecture I shall attend to the concept, central to the topic at issue, of a gaze which takes in simultaneously past, present and future events. This concept has generated a considerable literature, and my excuse for adding to it is that the concept has not before been discussed with specific reference to John Ireland. I shall begin by commenting briefly on the concept of simultaneity at issue.

When we see temporally successive events we see them successively. It is not merely that the events themselves are temporally successive, but that the seeing is also, in that either there is a single visual act which has successive parts, even if parts that are continuous with each other, or there are successive visual acts. According to Boethius and Aquinas a basic element in the concept of cognition sub specie aeternitatis is precisely that even where temporally successive events are seen, they are seen simultaneously. Of course we ask: If one thing is before another, how can the two be seen simultaneously? Is there a model that enables us to understand this concept? We all know what it is like to have the kind of privileged perspective possessed by the person in a watch-tower or on top of a hill. Boethius and Aquinas tell us that seeing the world sub specie aeternitatis is a bit like seeing from such a vantage point. If so, then we can indeed form the theological concept at issue.

But how helpful are these metaphors? Some, for example Anthony Kenny,17 have pronounced them of no help whatever, on the grounds that the concept of simultaneity they were designed to elucidate is incoherent, as is proved by the fact that on the basis of that concept a contradiction can be generated. The generation of the contradiction is easily accomplished. If all events that occur throughout history are simultaneously present to the divine gaze, then the birth of Duns Scotus and the birth of David Hume are simultaneously present to it. Since they are simultaneous with the same thing those two births were simultaneous with each other. Yet they occurred four centuries apart and therefore were not simultaneous with each other. And that contradiction surely reveals the incoherence of the concept of simultaneity employed by theologians who hold that all events in history are simultaneously present to God's gaze.

Nevertheless I am not yet prepared to abandon hope that a persuasive account of the concept, an account establishing its coherence, can be given. I have to say that I have not myself found the metaphors of Boethius and Aquinas helpful. In particular, as regards Aquinas's mountaineering metaphor, whatever its other defects it trades too heavily upon the verbal identity of spatial and temporal idioms. X can be before Y or after Y in a temporal sense and in a spatial one. In Aquinas's model, though one traveller is walking before another spatially, he is not walking before the other temporally, for the man on top of the hill sees them simultaneously and therefore they are walking simultaneously. This does not help me to understand how two things which do not happen simultaneously can be seen simultaneously. I shall now work towards what I find a more illuminating metaphor.

A proposition that I utter takes time to come into existence in its entirety. Yet it is, or is likely to be, expressive of a thought that I am having, and it is not nearly so clear that my thought need take time in coming into existence in its entirety. What I say when I express my thought that Glasgow Cathedral is a beautiful building takes time to say. But the thought was present in my mind in its entirety from the moment when it was in my mind at all. There was no temporal order of construction, if indeed the thought has parts from which it can be supposed to have been constructed.

Whether a thought, that is, an act of thinking (actus intelligendi) has parts or not was the subject of debate in the Middle Ages. Gregory of Rimini, whom John Ireland invokes in the course of his discussion of divine foreknowledge and human free will, held that in itself a thought does not have parts. It has them only in the sense that the utterance which expresses the thought has them, or in the sense that what the thought is about has them.18 But since the thought does not in itself have parts, the thought cannot be constructed out of parts—and this point is the basis of the possibility of the thought's being present in its entirety in the mind the moment any of it is.

In fact Gregory's was a minority report in the Middle Ages. Most philosophers followed William Ockham in holding that a prepositional thought does indeed have parts, corresponding roughly to the parts of the spoken proposition.19 But even so, the fact that the propositional thought has parts does not by itself imply that it has, or at any rate must have, a temporal order of construction. And here we cannot ignore the fact of experience, which I think is a fact, that sometimes we see something ‘in a flash’ or ‘all at once’, where we are completely unaware of any temporal ordering that the construction process might have. We are, then, sufficiently familiar with the experience of having a thought which did not come to us in any perceptible extension of time. And yet the spoken expression of that thought takes time where the whole significative element in the utterance is also in the thought. Is God's instantaneous grasp of the temporal world to be understood on the model of our instantaneous grasp of the sense of a proposition whose utterance takes time?

It might be claimed that the reason it is possible to have a thought instantaneously is precisely that a thought does not have a temporal structure. And it may be argued that since the world does have such a structure the fact that we know what it is to have a thought instantaneously gives us no insight into God's instantaneous knowledge of the world.

But there are thoughts and thoughts. Two kinds of case in particular seem to me worthy of close consideration. The first is poetry. There are cases of a poem suddenly occurring to a poet. A poem has to be read with due attention paid to its tempo, especially to the changes in speed, and it seems to me at least probable that the concept of the poem as an auditory experience is part of the overall concept of the poem that comes to the poet in an instant.

For our purposes this kind of example is particularly relevant because we are now dealing with an object, a poem, which is intrinsically temporal. Even in the very instant in which the poem occurs to the poet it possesses its own temporal structure.

I see no reason to reject the possibility of a poem occurring to a poet in an instant. And it is surely obvious that the complex temporal structure of a poem has a semantic function within that context. Change the temporal structure and you risk changing the meaning. I am not of course suggesting that all poetic composition is like that. Of course a poet might spend a month composing the poem, phrase by phrase, if not word by word. I am speaking only about what can happen when the fortunate poet, blessed by the muse, is presented with the completed work in its graceful, bewitching integrity all in an instant. The muse presents the work and suddenly the poet has it all when the moment before he had none of it.

I shall turn now to what I believe to be the best kind of example, that of musical composition. Musical concepts occur to composers as poetical ones occur to poets. I do not know sufficiently what Mozart had in mind when he remarked that a symphony had occurred to him, and neither do I know enough about the famous occasion on which Schubert, in the midst of a conversation with friends in a cafe, suddenly took the menu and wrote the score to Ständchen. But in any case no-one supposes that it takes the same time to have a musical idea and to give a performance of that same piece of music.

There are two points here. First, it was said of Beethoven that he could run his eye down a musical score and know just what the music sounded like. There was no question of his reading the music at the speed at which he would give a public performance of it. Perhaps in the space of a few seconds any gifted score-reader could grasp as much of the music as he could by listening to a much longer public performance given at the ‘correct’ speed, where by ‘correct’ I mean of course ‘correct for a public performance’. Who is to say how fast an inner performance needs to be for it to be correct? As Thomas Hobbes remarks in a different context: ‘For thought is quick.’ The unfolding of the inner life of the spirit cannot to be measured by clocks which mark the passage of physical time.

Secondly, I wish to maintain that a musical idea can be presented by the muse, handed over in its entirety, in such a way that the composer does not have any part of it until he has it all. Nevertheless, in such a case the temporal structure is intrinsic to the musical idea, just as the temporal structure is intrinsic to the poem.

I have mentioned three musical geniuses, but in this kind of case it is not necessary to attend only to what geniuses do. Any composer must have the experience of getting ideas in an instant, even if they are not very good ideas. It is the fact that they are conceived in their entirety, the fact that they are immediately present from first note to last, which is important here, and not the aesthetic quality. In such an idea sustained in the mind of the composer the end truly is in the beginning.

I have deliberately taken as my example the poet and composer rather than the person to whom there occurs a poem or a musical composition by someone else. It is true that a line of Hopkins or a phrase of Mozart can come to mind in an instant. But I wish to include in my model something corresponding to scientia approbationis. Aquinas affirms that God's knowledge is the cause of what is known in so far as that knowledge is combined with will.20 God's knowledge may, then, be compared with the knowledge that an artificer has of the things that he makes. Of course we cannot in this life know the extent to which the sudden inspiration of the poet or composer is an adequate model for the gaze which is sub specie aeternitatis. But I do think that this model is more helpful than Boethius's watchman in a high tower or Aquinas's mountaineer in providing us with some conception of how God can simultaneously perceive things that are temporally successive—He does so in somewhat the same way that the poet holds in his mind simultaneously the temporally structured poem with which he has suddenly been presented by the muse.

Here, then, we have a means to understanding John Ireland's claim that the world throughout its history is simultaneously present to God. The way is therefore open to argue, as Ireland does, that the fact that the world is present to God no more necessitates the events which God sees than the fact that given events are present to us necessitates the occurrence of those events. We recall that Ireland asks ‘why [God] should punish people so greatly, considering that His knowledge is so great and immutable that men may not make it false nor change it by any manner of means. And thus they say that whatever a man does he shall be condemned since God has knowledge of it, and they say that it does not profit man to do good or evil.’ Ireland is able to reply that though God knows the free acts of human beings and has known them from all eternity, those acts are not any the less free on account of God's knowledge of them. And if they are free and if they infringe the laws promulgated by the Lord of the universe, then in accordance with principles of wise governance, no injustice is perpetrated if God punishes the lawbreakers.

Scotus had made the concept of free will central to his philosophy of mind. The gravest attack on that concept came, as we have seen, from the direction of theology. We have now observed the defence mounted by John Ireland in an attempt to neutralise the attack. In relation to the subject matter of this series of lectures, the significance of Ireland's defence of the doctrine of human free will lies in the fact that the will is inextricably linked with the assent of faith. The relation between faith and will is the topic of Lecture Five.

  • 1.

    F. Quinn (ed.), The Meroure of Wyssdome by Johannes de Irlandia, vol. II, p. 106. I have modernised Ireland's spelling here and elsewhere in the chapter.

  • 2.

    Ibid., p. 147.

  • 3.

    Ibid., p. 115.

  • 4.

    Ibid., p. 119.

  • 5.

    Ibid., p. 121.

  • 6.

    Ibid., p. 119.

  • 7.

    Ibid., p. 130.

  • 8.

    Ibid., p. 150.

  • 9.

    Gorgias, 480a–d.

  • 10.

    Meroure, vol. II, p. 135.

  • 11.

    Ibid., p. 136.

  • 12.

    Ibid., p. 121.

  • 13.

    Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy Loeb Classical Library, London 1968, IV, VI, lines 121–2 ‘qui… ex alta providentiae specula respexit’.

  • 14.

    ‘Unde nobis, quia cognoscimus futura contingentia ut talia sunt, certa esse non possunt: sed soli Deo, cuius intelligere est in aeternitate supra tempus. Sicut ille qui vadit per viam non videt eos qui post eum veniunt; sed ille qui ab aliqua altitudine totam viam intuetur, simul videt omnes transeuntes per viam’ Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1, 14, 13 ad 3.

  • 15.

    Meroure, vol. II, p. 143.

  • 16.

    William Manderston, Tractatus de futuro contingenti; George Lokert, Questio subtillissima de futuro contingenti.

  • 17.

    A. Kenny, ‘Divine foreknowledge and human freedom’, in A. Kenny (ed.), Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays, pp. 255–70, see esp. p. 264.

  • 18.

    Gregory of Rimini, Super Primum et Secundum Sententiarum, lib. 1, prol. q. 1, art. 3.

  • 19.

    William Ockham, Summa Logicae Pars I, cap. 3, P. Boehner, G. Gal, S. Brown (eds), pp. 11–14.

  • 20.

    ‘Unde necesse est quod sua scientia sit causa rerum secundum quod habet voluntatem coniunctam’ Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1, 14, 8c.