Four-dimensionalism and Fatalism

Reading the chapter on “Fate” in Richard Taylor’s Metaphysics, I was suddenly struck by the fact that four-dimensionalism w/r/t time seems to entail fatalism w/r/t human action. Now, the next chapter in the book (“Time and Becoming”) makes clear that Taylor is no four-dimensionalist — he takes the “flow” or “passage” of time as basic to its nature. However, some parts of his argument for fatalism depend on a view of time that I take to be intimate with the 4-dimensionalist view: all creatures are extended through time as well as space, and their time-components can furnish necessary and sufficient conditions for one another. Taylor takes it that this picture of time — such that a necessary condition for some event to happen at time is that that event’s consequences will occur at time n+1 — entails fatalism. To use his example, a naval commander can only give an order to launch a sea battle if that sea battle will in fact occur the next day; if the battle were not going to occur, then the commander could not have given the command. But this seems to mean that his command is, in a sense, in the can, along with every other event in the spatio-temporal universe. And if we are four-dimensionalists w/r/t time, then it is easy to see why this must be — from God’s perspective on time as a single four-dimensional, delicately-articulated and baroquely-embellished manifold, every event at a given moment is already always fitted to the events that precede and follow it.

But what does that mean for human freedom? Do we really only have the illusion of deliberation, volition, or decision? I haven’t seen that Taylor really addresses this, but perhaps we should say the following — when God wills the world, perhaps he wills that a sufficient condition for some event at time n+1 be my free decision so to act at time n. To see how God’s willing might supervene on my willing, we need a decently non-competitive account of divine and human agency, along the lines I sketched in the previous post.

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