Feinberg's Linguistic Fallacy

I am 722 pages into John Feinberg's magisterial No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, currently reading his defense of compatibilist specific sovereignty and still unconvinced. Overall, his theological approach is pedagogically helpful. Whereas some authors paint beautiful word pictures so as to persuade the reader by way of pathos, Feinberg relies heavily upon careful, logical explanation and abundant illustration. With matters as complex, consequential, and contentious as theology (particularly the doctrine of God), the latter is the most responsible approach to systematic theology with its apologetic nature.

While this thoroughgoing logical, sequential method is vital for careful analysis and evaluation of various positions, it makes the author exceedingly vulnerable. Every logical connection he draws and justification he makes is subject to open scrutiny—an immense burden, not to mention when writing an 800 page volume.

Overall, I have found the book helpful in crystallizing theological issues, and have been persuaded by his articulations of many of his positions. One such issue, however, as I mentioned, of which I am undecided is his defense of compabilist specific sovereignty, i.e. the idea that God maintains absolute causal control over all the minutiae of human history by way of his unconditional, eternal decree (not based on foreknowledge), but that humans, in a very real sense, exercise free will over their decisions and thus actually influence history.

As I said, I am unconvinced of his case, for one primary reason: I believe that he abuses language and commits a gross linguistic fallacy throughout his case. In essence, he engages in continual question-begging. For example, in response to the indeterminist allegation that

(I) "in order for an act to be free, we must be able to say that the agent could have done otherwise than she did," and

(II) "no causally determined act could be free, since determinists typically say that . . . the agent could not have done otherwise" (720),

he argues that "Before we can decide whether a determinist can say that an agent could do otherwise, we must understand what being able to do otherwise means. . . . There are various senses in which 'can' and 'could' may be used" (722). In so doing, he fails to recognize the nature of language as signifying that which is concrete in order to communicate meaningfully what is actual. For the indeterminist means something actual when he makes the above allegation, i.e. he has a certain definition of "can" or "could". By arguing for a different definition of "can" or "could", the determinist argues past the indeterminist, for they are not affirming the same thing by the same expression. Unfortunately for Dr. Feinberg, his entire compatibilist case rests on this type of argumentation, the redefinition of the key terms of the debate.
Lest anyone confuse me to be offering a decisive refutation of Feinberg's account of compatibilism, don't. I recognize that I cannot argue from a blank statement from the particular to the general as regards the linguistic fallacy I cited. All I am doing is making an allegation with an example, not attempting to thoroughly justify the allegation.

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