Sunday, August 02, 2009

Paul Helm on Calvin and the Stoics

If you are interested in the relationships, both similarities and differences, between Calvinism and Stoicism, I highly recommend Paul Helm's excellent recent philosophical post on Calvin and the Stoics (link). The article is also helpful in terms of explaining how Calvinism is not fatalism, a pit into which William Lane Craig, with many of his followers, falls.

-TurretinFan

8 comments:

low intellectual said...

I've read the article, but I'm not sure I understand what Helm is saying. Would you mind outlining Helm's argument here as to why Calvin's "co-fatedness" or "co-decreed" is not some sort of fatalism? Thanks.

Turretinfan said...

The very short explanation is because God decrees not only the ends, but also the means to those ends.

low intellectual said...

Yes, I think that's what Helm means by "co-fatedness" or "co-decreed", i.e., both the means and the ends are decreed. What I don't understand is how exactly does decreeing both the ends and means absolve Calvinism of the charge of being some sort of fatalism. Thanks.

Turretinfan said...

Fatalism has to do with the ends being appointed essentially regardless of the means, or - as it were - despite the means.

low intellectual said...

I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I fully understand the distinction between a “means to an end” and an “end.” Isn’t an appointed event in time an appointed event in time, regardless if one calls it a “means to an end” or an “end”? Why does it matter whether one calls it a “means to an end” or an “end”? Thanks.

Turretinfan said...

It's strange to me that the means/end distinction is not immediately apparent.

The label "means" expresses a functional relationship that is different from "end." Something is a "means" if it is related to an "end" in a particular way.

low intellectual said...

Yes, I understand that is the difference between an "end" and a "means to an end," but why must the distinction be made between an "end" and a "means to an end" in order to avoid the charge of fatalism? If I lift a pencil to write a novel, both the lifting of the pencil (means) and the writing of the novel (end) were appointed. Thanks.

Turretinfan said...

It's not about avoiding charges. It's about the differences between the concept of fatalism and the concept of determinism. In fatalism, the end point is fixed, but the path to that end-point is essentially unfixed.

For example, if you are fated to die in a car crash, that will happen whether you seek out cars as often as possible or try to avoid them with all your might. No matter what you do, it will end up that you die in a car crash - anything that you might do to the contrary will be preempted, and things will be arranged, somehow or other, such that you die that way.

Determinism, in contrast, does not accord that same kind of freedom to the means. If you are to die by a car crash, that also entails that you will be in a car, that you will be brought to the car for such-and-such reason, and so forth. It's all part of a plan (or in the case of material determinism, just the natural result of the momentum of atoms).