Yesterday in class we read Calvin, which was interesting in the way that people with little exposure to the classics of Christianity reading them for the first time is interesting (i.e. "he's Calvin, so he must want to force his religious views into everything having to do with government," except that he very clearly does not, for comprehensible historical reasons). There was one objection that came up several times which I find, frankly, to be puzzling: Calvin's view is a bad one because his commitment to predetermination means you're being manipulated by forces outside your control. (This is not Calvin's view, but leave that aside for the moment)

I find this objection to be puzzling because I assume it's a view to which most of my students are committed anyway: if you're a materialist or if you follow Darwin, there's nothing but this view available to you: choices, dispositions, and options are given by large and structured forces which are completely out of your control and/or the cause-and-effect nature of all physical bodies eliminates the space for 'choice' in any relevant sense (Hobbes will be an interesting point of comparison). There is, of course, a sentimental attachment to free choice of the will that motivates some of the rejection of Calvin, and provides incentives not to follow the logic of materialism through to its consequences, but even so: kind of odd.

(It's also possible, I suppose, to be an indeterminist or a libertarian on questions of free will, but I assume the consequences of those views would be unpalatable as well. In fairness, these are questions I avoided dealing with for as long as possible in college (philosophically ending up with two-standpoint compatibilism long before I had any interest in Calvin), so I suppose I can't blame them for not wanting to do so, either.)

1 comment:

Miss Self-Important said...

Funnily enough, your students' view is exactly the one A.Gutmann puts forward in her "refutation" of Plato in Democratic Education - she wouldn't want to be ruled by even a perfectly wise philosopher-king who really did know her good because that would infringe on her ability to make choices for herself, even bad ones.