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The Boethian solution to the problem of future contingents and its unorthodox rivals

Jonathan Roger Evans, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


One concern bothering ancient and medieval philosophers is the logical worry discussed in Aristotle's De Interpretatione 9, that if future contingent propositions are true, then they are settled in a way that is incompatible with freedom. Another is if we grant God foreknowledge of future contingent events then God's foreknowledge will determine those events in a way precluding freedom. ^ I begin by discussing the standard compatibilist solution to these problems as represented in Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy and then examine theories that allegedly deviate from the Boethian solution. Boethius's solution to these separate problems involves showing that both problems operate on an ambiguity in the scope of the modal operator ‘necessarily’ present in the articulation of the problem. Once the ambiguity is removed we see that both disambiguations fail to offer a sound argument against the compatibility of free action with either God's omniscience or future contingent proposition's being true. The only difference between the solutions is that before executing the scope distinction strategy in the theological problem, Boethius reminds us that God knows future contingents rather than foreknowing them, since God is timeless. ^ The rest of my discussion examines positions that allegedly deviate from the Boethian solution: positions held by Peter de Rivo, William Ockham and Plotinus. I argue that Ockham doesn't in fact deviate from the Boethian solution to the theological problem as is commonly held. Instead of offering a compatibilist position where God's omniscience includes foreknowledge, Ockham denies that God foreknows the future advocating instead a more sophisticated Boethian position. The other two philosophers, Rivo and Plotinus, deviate from Boethius, but unfortunately neither position appears philosophically plausible. Rivo's incompatibilist solution to the logical problem is inconsistent with his retention of the Boethian solution to the theological problem and is probably implausible on its own. Plotinus's compatibilist account fails not because it claims that necessity and freedom are compatible, but because the account of moral responsibility Plotinus offers to justify the compatibility fails. ^

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Recommended Citation

Evans, Jonathan Roger, "The Boethian solution to the problem of future contingents and its unorthodox rivals" (2001). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3034374.