A question came up the other day in class about the nature of morality, consequences, and responsibility. A student asserted that we are guided by divine providence and in that sense seem to be predetermined to certain actions. Our conversation led to an interesting observation: if God is in all of us, then is He not also the cause of our actions? In these next blog posts, I want to see if I could come to an answer for this question.
First I think it is helpful to note that in order for an act to be subjected to moral scrutiny and judgment, it must necessarily be free. In other words, actions of a moral kind cannot be condemned or commended if they are performed under coercion or out of ignorance. The drunken man’s murdering action is of a less degree of seriousness—less because drunkenness does not alleviate the ignorance and the decision to get drunk in the first place—than that of a man who murdered purposefully and with premeditated contemplation. Yet, what our original question seems to indicate is that all human actions have as its author two causes: the human subject and God. From what I know, several positions exist in coming to answer this question.. Among these different positions are the theological determinists/compatibilists and their counterpart, the theological incompatibilists. I find the theological incompatibilists’ position quite attractive.
I think it is worthwhile to note that the problem we’re trying to work through seems to suggest that God is the immediate cause of all actions of creatures because it has been said that God is in the creature most intimately. Aquinas holds that God is in all things most intimately since He is their Cause of existence. Aquinas does make the careful distinction that God is not in creatures and things as part of their substance or accidents; rather, God is in creatures as the agent which holds them in existence and therefore is in them most intimately.
If Aquinas is indeed correct in his argument that God is in every creature intimately and is therefore the cause of their actions, then would this not take away from the freedom of rational creatures who thinks they are acting freely? This would also mean that if God is the cause of all the of the creature’s movements then the creature is passive in the action itself and thus to speak of morality is absurd. The question and criticism must not go unnoticed since it also denies free will on the part of the rational agent in that all actions are cause by God. If the criticism is indeed correct then any discussion at all about the merits and morality of the rational creature’s actions is superfluous and meaningless.
This problem is considered by Durandus de Saint Pourcain. Durandus argues that God is the immediate cause of every action of the creature but that this does not take away from the freedom of the creature at all. Durandus first considers the argument that God is the immediate cause for an action because he is the cause of being. Durandus lays out the objection as such: if God is the cause of being of a creature and the actions which flow from the creature flows from its very being, then it logically follows that God is the immediate cause of such actions. However, as Durandus is quick to point out, this conclusion is false in that it concludes on a faulty assumption. To say that God is the cause of the being does not entail necessarily that actions by that being are caused by God. Yet, as we shall see, Durandus’ conclusion based on this objection is also problematic.