Metaphysics (Review of Hasker)

Hasker, William.  Metaphysics: Constructing a World View.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 1983.

This review will only cover certain sections of Hasker’s work.

He defines freedom as “Freedom of choice” or “freedom of the will” (30).

He defines determinism as “For every event which happens, there are previous events and circumstances which are its sufficient conditions or causes, so that, given those conditions it is impossible that the event not occur” (32).

Libertarianism: “some human actions are chosen and performed by the agent without their being any sufficient condition or cause of the action prior to the action itself” (32).

compatibilism: “there is no logical inconsistency between free will and determinism” (33).

Objection: must the compatibilist accept this definition? Indeed, given Hasker’s (otherwise decent) definition of freedom for a compatibilist (the agent could have acted otherwise if he had wanted to) it’s hard to see why the compatibilist must accept the hard determinist view of freedom. Hasker’s following example is a good critique of determinism, not compatibilism since he sees “Max” as guilty because of a chain of causes and he never once introduces the idea of psychological causes which he previously admitted.

He says, however, that is an illusion because on the compatibilist gloss it could not have been otherwise. But that’s not the argument. The argument is that if it were otherwise (subjunctive mood) Max could have done other than x. I do not see the argument meaning that there had to be two equally viable existence-options. This is the distinction older Reformed scholastics called between the necessity of the consequence (a necessity arising from the contingent act) and the necessity of the consequent thing (necessity).

I understand Hasker will balk at that distinction. Fair enough, but given his earlier criteria (logical consistency (p. 26) he must allow the distinction as a viable option.

Speculative criticisms of free will: Hasker asserts that libertarianism is not “Pure chance” (44). Okay. I still ask, “is man’s decision to act floating in a realm of contingency?” I have not seen Hasker offer anything like God’s Providence to challenge this question. I can only assume the answer is yes.
Cons and Pros


Uneasy relationship between philosophy and theology. I agree with Hasker that we shouldn’t dismiss philosophy ala Karl Barth. It’s not clear, though, whom Hasker would allow to adjudicate competing claims. He wants philosophy to be “Free” (23) from theology. This unwittingly justified Van Til’s (and even Schaeffer’s, yikes!) charges of autonomy.

His opening chapter seemed to endorse a form of classical foundationalism. I say “seemed” because he hinted at something like it but didn’t develop it (a recurring problem in this book).

If he is a foundationalist, and his project rests upon foundationalist’s assumptions, and if foundationalism is proved wanting, does his project necessarily fall as well? Maybe.

While he gives a lucid discussion of libertarian free will, it’s hard to see how God’s providence factors in. In fact, he seems to rule it out: “he [the determinist] regards his efforts, choices, and actions as inevitable parts of the necessary and unalterable order of things” (38). If I then add the verse, “Declaring the end from the beginning” (Is. 46:10), it’s hard to see how Hasker can give that verse anything but poetic exaggeration. He does deal with predestination, but dismisses it (and divine foreknowledge) outright (51).

Hasker at this point in his career (1983) does not accept open theism, but he is pretty close (He denies that God knows future contingencies, p.53. Hasker holds that, but offers another argument: Divine Timelessness. God doesn’t know my future actions because there is no future for God. This is hard for the reader of Paul to accept, “chosen before the foundation of the world”).
The book is outdated beyond repair. The bibliography has few works past 1979. I don’t want to be a chronological snob, but it’s hard to do philosophy of religion without interacting with Plantinga or the a-theologians (Dawkins, Dennett).


While his brevity is fatal to his work in some areas, it does make it relatively easy to read. In this sense the book is a good intro to the subject–but only that. The book is decently written and accessible, something few–if any–books on metaphysics can say.
I found his take on emergentism as a solution to the mind-body problem interesting. I think there are difficulties, and I suspect that communicative categories are superior, but I won’t dismiss it outright.

He gives a number of interesting criticisms of pan(en)theism and process theology that I hadn’t thought of (if we are part of God and we get saved, is God saving himself? If not everyone is saved, then is part of God damned?)

Should you get the book? Sure, Why not? It is cheap, well-written, and accessible. However, it is woefully inadequate.

About Ephraim's Arrow

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, charismatic gifts
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