The Political Limits of Agency

March 9, 2004 | 42 comments
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Mormons frequently invoke the idea of “agency” (whatever that means) in political discussions. We generally invoke it in liberal ways, as a justification for not regulating some for of behavior. What I want to question is this easy link between “agency” and liberalism.

In the formulation given by John Stuart Mill, liberalism invokes freedom as a reason to abstain from regulating self-regarding activity. I think that when Mormons invoke the idea of “agency” to make liberal arguments they generally do so in some sort of a vaguely Millian way. However, given the theological uses to which the concept of “agency” is put, I don’t think it fits nicely into some version of John Stuart Mill. Here’s why.

Mill explicitly limits freedom by invoking the “harm principle.” Freedom cannot provide a reason to abstain from regulating activity that hurts others. Rawls provides an alternative formulation that seems to avoid some of the ambiguity of the concept of harm by saying that we should maximize the liberty compossible with the like liberty of others. Thus, on this version of liberalism, freedom has limited justificatory force.

The problem is that theologically, “agency” has a much broader reach. This is because they concept generally gets invoke in the context of a theodicy that seeks to explain why God allows the evil choices of others to harm the innocent. The answer is that it is only by allowing such moral evils that we can have the freedom to sin, repent, be righteous, etc. The theological concept of “agency” is invoked to JUSTIFY God’s refusal to exercise his power to keep the wicked from violating the liberty of others. In other words, “agency” is invoked to REJECT the Millian harm principle. Extending the theological concept of “agency” niavely into the political realm seems to counsel in favor of anarchy (it its darkest, Hobbesian version) rather than liberalism.

So is there any use to which the idea of “agency” can be put in political theory? I think so, but it is difficult. If you look at the Mormon speculation on the idea of “intelligences” you find a metaphysical concept of agency. (The key text here is B.H. Roberts, “The Immortality of Man”.) In at least some of this thought, the “intelligences” that are co-eternal with God are seen has having freedom and self-awareness without beginning or end. It might be possible to build this metaphysical claim into a political theory. But it will be difficult, at least in part because we cannot view God as the author of this freedom, and it therefore lacks whatever normative force might come from such authorship.

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42 Responses to The Political Limits of Agency

  1. clarkgoble on March 9, 2004 at 2:54 pm

    Nate, I think you are adopting a theodicity Mormons don’t necessarily embrace. I don’t think Mormons embrace agency to justify God’s refusal to exercise power. Rather Mormons embrace necessity to justify God’s bestowing agency. i.e. the only way we can progress, which is God’s aim, is by experiencing moral evils. Moral evils aren’t allowed because of freedom but the exact opposite.

    Now for people like Platinga I think the argument you make is very sensible. Mormon notions of premortality and the plan of salvation really offer us very unique perspectives though.

  2. Steve Evans on March 9, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Clark: “I don’t think Mormons embrace agency to justify God’s refusal to exercise power.”

    I disagree. Read Alma 14:10-13 — prophets forbidden to use God’s power to save others from suffering, that God’s judgments might be just (i.e., that he may fully judge the wicked for the use of their agency). Even if you interpret the scripture differently, the fact that I, as a Mormon, embrace agency to justify God’s refusal to exercise power defeats your assertion. So there!

    “The only way we can progress, which is God’s aim, is by experiencing moral evils.” That’s a pretty debatable way of putting it. A more accurate way, in my view, would be to say that the only way we can progress is to make good choices. This is not necessarily the same thing as experiencing moral evils.

  3. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 3:04 pm

    Nate,

    Great, great post! I have wanted to see a discussion on this for some time. To many of us glibly shoot off “agency” agruments in politics without really thinking this through. I think it is interesting that Brigham Young, as Hugh Nibley pointed out years ago, when speaking as to the reasons for forming the Brigham Young Academy (later BYU), specifically stated that it was to help the saints to combat three distinctly evil man-made philosophies, and John Stuart Mills’ was one of them! I have encountered members who will even argue with the Church’s positions on pornography, narcotics, and homosexual rights, for example, because somehow regulation of these activities by government is a “denial of agency”. Something is defintely amiss here!

    A lot of this stems from a lack of agreement on what “agency” is. Here’s my definition (a long one): Agency is the collective right of all intelligent beings to freely choose whether to worship God in Truth, or not. This right has always existed, and without it inteligence itself could not exist, as agency implies intelligence. On an individual level, all are granted agency in an ultimate sense, but it is possible for agency to be adversely affected by our own individual foolishness and/or the sinful actions (well-meaning or not) of others. Nevertheless, in the ultimate sense, no one can be denied Agency, though for temporary periods in mortality a person may not be able to fully exercise his agency (such as the mentally ill, children before the age of accountability, etc.). The Atonement covers all of these situations, such that Agency in the ultimate sense is preserved, and all men, at some point in their existence as humans, will have the opportunity to choose whether they follow the straight and narrow path, or not.

    In a political sense, since government is nothing more than the collective right of a society to self-defense, and contitutes organized force, it is a matter of extreme concern to God that such force NEVER be used in such a way as to constrict agency. God is relatively indifferent to governmental forms, being willing to inspire men, to the degree they trust in Him, to work out such forms in the best way to suit the circumstances there societies are in. Kingdoms, republics, judges, etc. are all fine so long as agency is respected. Unfortunately, because of the existence of Satan, and because men from the time of Cain has sort to use force for gain (the “Mahan” principle), God instituted government as a principle specifically to use force to defend agency. Laws against abortion, pornography, liquor, etc. can be appropriate, depending on how they are designed, since the societal anarchy that results from the addictions caused by these practices lead men away from God and provide the excuse for Satan to gain control of government and use it to impose his own order. Laws that specifically acknowledge God and His sovreignty may also be acceptable provided they do not dictate forms of actual worship (“In God We Trust Is Okay”, voluntary prayer in schools is okay, written prayers in school are not and state churches are not, etc.). Laws that seek to compel individuals, not to refrain from sinful activity that harms themselves or others, but to take the next step and compel them to actually live Gospel principles, while well meaning (maybe), are also wrong. (Stop and think about this: obviously enforced church attendance would be wrong, but how about enforcing the fast offering at the point of the sword? Wouldn’t that be priestcraft? What would we call the Welfare State?)

    Sorry for being so long winded, but I’ve thought a lot about this, and found few members who have. Elder H. Verlan Anderson wrote wonderful stuff on this, but for some reason his writings are shunned and apostate nuts take his stuff out of context. My point is that a general LDS political philosophy is possible, some have tried it (H. Verlan Anderson), but it would find itself in disagreement with A LOT of what we now call both Liberalism and Conservatism (as well as Libertarianism).

  4. clark on March 9, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    One more quick point. I think there is a difference between the ontological concept of freedom and the larger level. However all concepts of freedom are considered as a “sphere” within which things are free. Thus, to use BoM language, mortality is a probationary period – or sphere – wherein we are free from what is outside. Our minds are (ideally) an other such sphere. This basic conceptual approach to agency then can be applied to any level of existence one wants.

  5. clark on March 9, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    One more quick point. I think there is a difference between the ontological concept of freedom and the larger level. However all concepts of freedom are considered as a “sphere” within which things are free. Thus, to use BoM language, mortality is a probationary period – or sphere – wherein we are free from what is outside. Our minds are (ideally) an other such sphere. This basic conceptual approach to agency then can be applied to any level of existence one wants.

    Steve – I think there is a difference between what you are arguing for and Nate’s application of theodicity. (Why evil exists) Certainly God’s intervention *denies* the sense total freedom of the sense some theologians argue for. And God is an interventionist God in Mormon theology. But then I think this simply points out that any conception of total agency is perhaps flawed. The inside of the afore mentioned sphere is always contaminated by the outside.

    Getting back to Alma, I don’t think God withholds action to allow agency but due to a more consequentialist view of events. i.e. he withheld action *in this case* so as to bring about some other means. i.e. it is still done out of expediency and not due to agency as prime.

  6. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 3:20 pm

    Nate,

    You’re right on target. It’s not that we can’t progress without experiencing moral evils, but God does have to permit certain evils in order that the judgements He brings are just. God is quite capable of intervening to stop moral evils, but he only does this to preserve the ultimate results of moral agency. Alms’s converts who were burned alive had made saving choices, and their dying wouldn’t change that; their murderers had not fully made those choices, and would never have if God had permitted Alma to use the priesthood to stop them. Agency cuts both ways. We are free to choose righteous or evil, but once the choice is made God is not denying agency when he steps in and allows the Lamanites to destroy the Ammonihahites, after their murders. It’s not a denial of agency for a society to ban hardcore pornography, precisely because by so doing those who engage in the acts depicted in those publications (rape, incest, etc.) are then left without excuse, and a just judgement, in both the secualar and spiruitual sense, can be brought upon them.

  7. Steve Evans on March 9, 2004 at 3:27 pm

    Clark, dude, I know what theodicy means (only one “t”, BTW, and technically it’s the justification of God, not of evil)… and I still don’t agree that God bestowed agency out of necessity. Is free agency a gift, in your opinion?

    And, I guess you and I differ in the interpretation of Alma. Oh well *sigh*. I arrived at my interpretation b/c it’s a lot easier to swallow God’s preservation of agency as a reason for suffering than to justify ex ante his own judgments.

  8. clarkgoble on March 9, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    Steve — the aside wasn’t for you but for anyone else following the thread. I’ve been criticized in the past for treating public discussions as if they were one on one so I try to “speak to the crowd” as it were.

    As to your other point, that’s what I was getting at. There are multiple senses of agency depending upon the “sphere” one is speaking of. As Nate said, there clearly is some ontological sense of freedom. But then clearly the ability to interact requires that this be violated in some sense. (The potential for violence)

    I think that this confusion is what I disagree about. In the sphere of this moral probation, I think clearly expedience has a lot to do with it. But clearly there are other senses of agency which also apply.

    The problem is thus being clear not only what we mean by agency but what “sphere” we speak of.

  9. MDS on March 9, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    “Clark, dude, I know what theodicy means”

    Yeah, it is the companion work of theiliad, right?

  10. Nate Oman on March 9, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    Gary: I happen to LIKE John Stuart Mill, and George Q. Cannon regularlly quoted from him during the anti-polygamy battles. See, e.g., his extended discussion of _On Liberty_ in his pamphlet _Review of the Decision of the Supreme Court in the Case of George Reynolds v. the United States_. Furthermore, I am not ready to completely rule out liberal readings of the concept of agency, I simply think that you will need to find a way of justifying them on the basis of Mormon metaphysics rather than a simple translation of Mormon theodicy (whatever it is) into the realm of politics.

    It is interesting to notice the link here between liberal justifications for the state and theological solutions to the problem of evil. They are both, in a way, theodicies.

  11. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    I’m a little confused. Isn’t the title of this post “The POLITICAL Limits of Agency?”. I understand the debate on Agency itself, but it appears that no one other than myself is discussing the actual political aspect of this, which is the one area I see the issue of Agency (and its misunderstanding) constantly come up. Of course, it may be that what I’ve contributed here is a little confusing (not the first time, see today’s threads on the Perfection and Progession of God).

  12. Steve Evans on March 9, 2004 at 3:56 pm

    MDS: great one! Really, really great.

  13. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Nate,

    Thanks. I respect your admiration of Mill, even if I don’t agree. It also doesn’t trouble me that the Church searched for every argument it could muster to defend itself against the government on the polygamy issue, even some weak ones, and I don’t blame them.

    If I understand your other point, you are wanting feedback on the FOUNDATION of an LDS political theory, based on LDS metaphysics, rather than the theory itself, at least on this post. Sorry for putting the cart before the horse there in my earlier threads.

  14. Nate Oman on March 9, 2004 at 4:06 pm

    Gary: I am just trying to complicate the parade of anti-agency triumphalism that my initial criticism of agency arguments provoked ;->.

  15. brayden on March 9, 2004 at 5:23 pm

    One small point (that has turned into a much longer one that intended) – Although God does respect and provide the means for our agency, he also recognizes the existence of constraints that might impose on our agency and, at times, offers assistance to help get us on the right track. In Mormonism we are fond of saying something like, “God only helps those who ask,” but this is clearly not true. Sometimes God comes down out of heaven and, usually through an angel or the Holy Ghost, intervenes on someone’s behalf. The example of Paul’s vision is a good example of this. Paul wasn’t really doing anything to merit such a heavenly vision, but God saw fit to help him correct his ways.

    Similarly, we might say that the state is a useful corrective for constraints to human agency (here I’ll use it in the form of modern liberalism). Regulation, for example, is often conceived as a way to correct for market failures and enhance consumer choice. Another example is affirmative action. If some individuals are subject to overly-constraining circumstances that inhibit their ability to compete with others in labor markets, an affirmative action policy is often used to “level the playing field.” My point is that scriptures and personal experience provide instances where God has intervened on the behalf of his children in order to make choices easier for them in the future. It is not implausible then that a Mormon theory of the state would propose similar kinds of solutions to societal problems of individual choice and achievement.

    Still, there is one major problem with what I’m saying here. It’s not clear from the scriptures when God sees it as appropriate to intervene. There is no general set of guidelines telling us when to expect deity to intervene on our behalf. Instead we are left with cryptic messages from general authorities like, “God is involved with your existence more than you know.” What does that really mean? When can I expect him to get involved other than when I ask for help? Satisfying answers to that question would help us to better understand when it is necessary for the state to take action on the part of constrained individuals; that is, if we take seriously the idea that Mormon theology has something to say about the way we manage our state and economy.

  16. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 6:07 pm

    Brayden,

    Good points. I think this is the really problem of any political theory, especially one that holds human freedom to be a positive good. Here are some other issues that have to be addressed:

    *Is our desire to create a government program that intervenes in people’s lives (forcing employers to hire who we think they should hire, telling people how to run their businesses, etc.)basd on a desire to emulate God, or to “play God”? Motive seems play a huge role here, because while God is perfect and always just, we are not.

    *Can we foresee all the consequences of a government program that intervenes in the normal flow of people’s lives? Is it possible the intervention may ultimately make matters worse? God of course knows all things, but we do not.

    *Is it possible that the above to factors are so compelling, that a system of government would be best that so narrowly restricts the power of government as to make almost all human interaction strictly a matter between the individual and God? Noticing the reluctance of God, through his prophets, to dictate so many rules to us, but instead to teach correct principles, could this be seen as an appropriate model for government? (In other words, you have to be doing some pretty bad things before church discipline is involved…)

    Again, I keep hearkening back to the conditions that prompted God to create government in the first place: to combat the violence of Cain and his followers. Government is force, and when we step beyond the “policemen” role of government and try to make it act as a daddy, employer, business, philanthropist, etc., we risk succumbing to the temptation to “play God” instead of “worshiping God”. Any LDS political theory has to take in to account the principles and warnings of D&C 121, as well as Mosiah 29, D&C 98, 101, 134, etc.

  17. Clark Goble on March 9, 2004 at 6:21 pm

    It would seem that before one can look at the political implications of the ontological conception of agency, one must first consider what agency is. My point, perhaps not clearly made, is that this in turn depends upon an analysis of the “what” and “where” of agency. i.e. what has agency and where does it have it. I think we tend to assume it is an absolute when it is not.

    While Blake and I disagree on some points, I think that both of us agree that many discussions of agency assume a notion of “self” that is problematic.

    As I said I see agency as not something good in and of itself but as a necessary way to some consequence. I think that view is necessary to understand God’s activities. This commits us to some view of consequentialism which may mean that agency has less political impact than some would prefer.

    That is, if valuing agency is a means to an end, then those ends count higher in our analysis than agency.

  18. Nate Oman on March 9, 2004 at 7:07 pm

    OK Clark, I am just confused by what you are saying here. It seems that we can understand agency in terms of some decision by God or in terms of some metaphysical condition of the soul’s freedom. I don’t see that it can — in Mormon theology — be both. When you say that “agency” is insturmental to some end are you understanding it in terms of a choice that God makes about the structure of mortality (constrained by whatever metaphysical existents there be) or are you saying that it is both “insturmental” and metaphysically independent of God? If the latter, then it seems that your position is incoherent, since you are ascribing teleology based on the laguage of divine creation to a mere ontology that is independent of God.

  19. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 7:18 pm

    Clark,

    I don’t know if I can express it in the terminology that Nate uses, but I share his confusion. My understanding of the Scriptures is that Agency, like Element, is co-eternal with God. He didn’t create it; it’s a Law He must obey. If something is intelligent, then it has agency, or else it isn’t intelligent at all. Either something has agency, and can act for itself, or else it doesn’t, and is something that is acted upon. The big problem then, to use a practical example that relates to my last thread, is that governmental systems that seek to “do good” and “right wrongs” run the risk of creating the EXCUSE in individuals that they are not free to act, but are just being acted upon, and so the Gospel Plan is impeded. God does not GRANT agency, but must acknowledge it, and works to preserve it because without it, or even with its’ being interfered with, our ability to be saved is jeopardized. In other words, Agency is not a means to an end, but a constant, whose effectivity can be adversely affected, primarily when man-made conditions (such as a wicked king) create a false mindset in human beings that they are not free to choose between good and evil, or that evil is preferable to good, etc. Perhaps now I’m doing the confusing…

  20. Clark Goble on March 9, 2004 at 8:23 pm

    It obviously can’t be both which points to our notion of agency being more complex than we use it.

    I’m not arguing for *a* conception of agency but rather pointing out that there are many based upon how the “who, what, and where.”

  21. Gary Cooper on March 9, 2004 at 8:53 pm

    Clark,

    I think you’re right, the more I consider it. Agency does need to be defined with regard to “who, what, where…”

  22. Clark Goble on March 9, 2004 at 9:40 pm

    Nate, I’ll hopefully get caught up on my blog tonight and write some things up there. It is an interesting topic.

    I think what I’m arguing is that our notions of agency lead to contradictions. This suggests that agency doesn’t have a stable meaning which would allow it to be used as a “premise” in an argument. My approach is admittedly a tad deconstructive. But I think this reduces the problem to the problem of what has agency. Once again I think this is the problem of a simple self. i.e. are there truly *independent* things which are free. If there are then I think agency can be used in the traditional sense. If there are not (i.e. a holism of some sort) then clearly this notion of a simple self with agency breaks down.

  23. brayden on March 9, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    If I understand what you are saying Clark, I think I agree with you. A sociology professor in my department once said to me, “There’s no such thing as ‘agency.'” Of course, he wasn’t talking in the scriptural sense. For him agency implies that individuals make choices independently – i.e. of their own volition. Most sociologists, and most social scientists in general, would argue that their is no such thing as independent action. If this is what the term “agency” means then of course I would suggest that agency is more of a rhetorical device than anything else since it is hard to imagine the kind of social vacuum that would have to exist for true agentic behavior to be performed.

    Another useful way of thinking about agency is to conceive of it as a continuous variable. People have more or less of it. No individual is completely unconstrained in their actions, but then again some people are more constrained than others.

  24. Logan on March 9, 2004 at 10:41 pm

    Nate,

    Going back to your original post, I’m interested in why you think that agency leads to a Hobbesian sort of anarchy. It seems as though you are saying that the Mormon concept of agency would argue against any sort of government, which would put us back into the “state of nature.” But isn’t Hobbes’ view of human nature (and thus the state of nature) just one of many? I don’t know why our view of agency necessarily implies Hobbes’. Why not Locke’s or Rousseau’s? They both have more optimistic views of human nature and how humans would interact without a government imposed on them.

    If we took a pure Lockean view of government, where laws are made with at least tacit consent and people could overthrow an oppressive government, couldn’t that allow for laws that don’t overthrow people’s agency?

    (I’m a novice at this political theory stuff, so feel free to set me straight.)

  25. Steve Cannon on March 9, 2004 at 11:44 pm

    I hope you’ll forgive me for stepping back a bit. I always feel like I have to go back to first principles. In my view, the problems of the political consequences of the doctrine of agency come from agency’s doctrinal problems. Similarly, the doctrinal problems come from problems generic to the concept of free will.

    The problem of free will is unfortunately not a problem from sociology, but from physics. (If it were from sociology we wouldn’t need to take it too seriously.) Given particular initial conditions, physical law either predicts all results (in the classical case) or gives probabilistic predictions for results (in the quantum case). Free will is therefore simply an approximation that deals with the degree of isolation of certain physical systems from the universe as a whole.

    But the deterministic facts take a lot of the fun out of a lot of philosophy; particularly the theology part of philosophy. My guess is that scriptural agency is a construct necessary to allow God to talk about morality. Without postulating agency you don’t have responsibility or sin. And even though the agency postulate is technically contrary to fact, it may still be useful. It is the source of all morality. (As an aside, I therefore respectfully object to Gary’s definition of agency since it has God in the definition. I feel that I must, as a Mormon, use agency in the definition of God.)

    If one agrees with the reasoning above agency is not something that a political body gives or takes. It’s not even something that God can take without changing into something else. (Without agency, what’s the meaning of human good or evil?) It’s simply an a statement of the rules of religious and moral discussion. Political systems that restrict freedom excessively are better argued against using historical examples and market arguments.

    There. See. I managed to bring it back to politics in the end.

  26. Clark Goble on March 10, 2004 at 5:40 am

    I put up some initial thoughts on this over on my Blog:

    http://www.libertypages.com/clark/00006.html#2

    I didn’t touch on everything there yet. Hopefully I can do that more tomorrow. But hopefully the above can sketch out a bit where I’m going with my thoughts using a spatial metaphor.

  27. Nate Oman on March 10, 2004 at 11:13 am

    Logan: The reason that it leads to a Hobbesian kind of anarchy is because the theological role of the concept is to warrant (I can’t think of a more neutral term) moral evil by others. It is explicitly linked to misbehavior, so it seems that if you want to draw direct political implications from the theological concept, you can’t draw the Millian libertt-limited-by-the-harm-principle conclusion, but rather the Hobbesian liberty-warrants-violence conclusion.

  28. lyle on March 10, 2004 at 5:00 pm

    (Skimming to catch up). I’ve read/studied/written about this subject extensively. In fact, I’m creating a Political Doctrine of Agency as an attempt to create a new baseline for political discussion.

    So…
    1. The scriptures/early LDS Church leaders explicitly state that “Agency is a gift from God.”
    2. Given the pre-mortal council, Agency must also be a power/characteristic of each Spirit-Child/individual. No agency, no choice between Lucifer or Jesus.
    3. Pop Mormon theory would have us believe that as Spirit Children, we lived much as we live now; i.e. we lived and learned back then…hence, why some of us have talents/interests in one area and not others (i.e. you took math 101, i failed grammar 97).

    To invoke the “Veil of ignorance” argument (Rawls?) which has been briefly discussed here before; or a similar type of argument:

    even if we can’t remember having made the choice to accept God’s plan; Mormons can theorize that this was a concrete historical event that is central to the Spirit (even if unremembered) of every living individual.

    Sum: Freedom, Agency & liberty are all universal concepts that resonate within each individual human being. Therefore, they can be used as a base-line from which to justify any and all political/policy choices.
    Sum: I would suggest that Family, and what is pro-Family, is the other universal concept upon which to weigh/measure politics/policy. See Richard Eyre’s site for more info. http://www.eyre04decision.com/weekly_column.html

    Suggestion: Let’s take concrete political/public policy issues, and try to analyze/measure them via agency & the family.

    Some possibilities:
    1. Whether to grant DC statehood and/or cede DC back Maryland and/or allow DC residents to vote for MD governor/MD representatives and senators
    2. Legalization of Drugs
    3. Immigration
    4. Global trade/outsourcing of jobs
    5. Prohibition
    6. Prostitution
    7. Marriage or Gay Partnerships
    8. Proper Role of the State/Government
    9. Redistribution of wealth/tax policies

  29. Steve Evans on March 10, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    lyle: “The scriptures/early LDS Church leaders explicitly state that “Agency is a gift from God.” ”

    Where, exactly? You could be right and I’m just drawing a blank.

    As for these: “Freedom, Agency & liberty are all universal concepts that resonate within each individual human being. Therefore, they can be used as a base-line from which to justify any and all political/policy choices….I would suggest that Family, and what is pro-Family, is the other universal concept upon which to weigh/measure politics/policy.”

    I disagree with ANY concept being truly universal, especially ones that resist definition like the ones you’ve chosen.

    I side with Steve Cannon: historical examples and market arguments are better for your suggested debate topics than the fluid concepts you bring up.

  30. Clark Goble on March 10, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    Steve I think 2 Ne 2 can be taken as arguing for agency being a gift. However it isn’t explicitly stated.

    D&C 101:78 does say, “the moral agency which I have given unto him…” Exactly how expansively we should take this is presumably up for grabs. I tend to read it like Lyle.

  31. lyle on March 10, 2004 at 9:17 pm

    Steve,

    somehow I doubt you would disavow your life (esp. your own) or “free speech” as universal values.

    and…some of my suggestions are historical examples…and market ANALYSIS, not examples, are what is needed here. Let’s look at some CONCRETE examples if you are so worried [ :) ]re: fluidity of the concept.

    Clark came up with two from Canon…if you want a list of more sources; just do a search of Ensign articles and the Journal of Discourses.

  32. Steve Evans on March 10, 2004 at 11:32 pm

    lyle: “somehow I doubt you would disavow your life (esp. your own) or “free speech” as universal values.”

    You bet I would. My life is not a “value”, nor is it universally appreciated; “free speech”, without a definition, is neither a value nor is it universal.

    I’m not sure what you meant by the rest of your post.

    Clark: the D&C scripture comes close, but IMHO no cigar, to showing that the principle of free agency is bestowed on us somehow rather than innate.

  33. Clark Goble on March 11, 2004 at 3:45 am

    To a degree I agree Steve. I think though that the problem is that we have many senses of agency. Moral agency clearly is provided for us by God because he withholds judgement for a space. (i.e. there is a clearing within the temporal action of law) That is what Lehi discusses in 2 Nephi 2.

    However is this agency as Mormons typically discuss it? I think Mormons discuss it more as free will and not moral agency in the way the Book of Mormon discuss it.

    Personally I do not think that “free will” of the sort typically discussed can be found in the scriptures. Blake disagrees with me, of course.

  34. Gary Cooper on March 11, 2004 at 2:04 pm

    Lyle,

    If you’re “creating new Political Doctrine based on Agency”, please keep us all abreast of your progress. It sounds like it would be very interesting. Be sure and read H. Verlan Anderson (“Many Are Called But Few Or Chosen” is his best book on this), as he tried it.

  35. Steve Cannon on March 11, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    Lyle,
    It’s certainly a very Mormon assumption that a value can’t be important without being universal. But Steve clearly shows importance and universality are not identical. Also, I’m very curious if in developing your political theory of agency you end up allowing gay marriage. The tricky thing about Mormon theories is that they are typically more about apology than prediction. And a theory that can’t predict is dubious. For example, pre-1978 mormon racial theory turned out to be apology. People who used it to predict ended up eating crow.

    Clark,
    Certainly the scriptures contain many different versions of agency. 2 Nephi 2 is tricky though. It’s not clear to me that the earth is our experience of agency since through the redemption “…they have become free forever.” Also the message is not so much about agency as opposition. And I must note while Lehi says “…God gave unto man that he should act for himself.” He also says “…there is an opposition in all things. If not so…there is no God.” Meaning the concept of agency is not predicated on God, though God may have something to do with our experience of it.

  36. clark on March 11, 2004 at 4:45 pm

    Steve, I guess that’s my point. The issue is what we mean by agency. The fact is that agency in 2 Ne is possible only because of the atonement. That doesn’t mean it isn’t the agency the scriptures discuss. It simply may mean that the what modern Mormons *assume* agency means is wrong. I agree about opposition as well, by the way. But I think in part that relates to a choice only being a choice if there are alternatives and a recognition of differences. (Obviously more is discussed on this, but related to agency I think that this notion of difference is key)

  37. D. Andrews on April 6, 2004 at 1:46 pm

    What a fascinating discussion; and so many of you have obviously thought about this with open minds and wisdom!

    You have identified the main point of contention which seems to split LDS.

    I studied the prophets on politics (and those they drew from) for many years. And still do! At first I was rather of the opinion that “if it’s wrong/immoral it should be illegal!”

    I now realize that that is a half-truth. I’m not saying that my present view is entirely right, but I do believe it more refined than my initial views.

    Perhaps I could refer members of this board to two web sites and, should you wish, we could take it from there.

    The first is a short article on the matter of agency. You may find this quite basic but, whether you do or not, I would draw your attention to the reference at the end, to a talk that President Hinckley (possibly then a Counsellor and not Prophet) commended – it’s entitled Persuasion vs Force and I found it most interesting in the light of comments made. I’m not saying I 100% agree with or disagree with it, but do check it out! If you look at the intro page to it you can read President Hinckley’s short comments on the article.

    The second reference – I believe – contains the answer to the point of contention heretofore mentioned. It’s very long but I would recommend reading this. I believe it is the most near-to-perfect earthly political philosophy I’ve ever come across to date:

    http://www.joelskousen.com/Philosophy/philosophy.html

    D. Andrews,
    LDSfreedomPortal.Net

  38. D. Andrews on April 6, 2004 at 1:49 pm

    What a fascinating discussion; and so many of you have obviously thought about this with open minds and wisdom!

    You have identified the main point of contention which seems to split LDS.

    I studied the prophets on politics (and those they drew from) for many years. And still do! At first I was rather of the opinion that “if it’s wrong/immoral it should be illegal!”

    I now realize that that is a half-truth. I’m not saying that my present view is entirely right, but I do believe it more refined than my initial views.

    Perhaps I could refer members of this board to two web sites and, should you wish, we could take it from there.

    The first is a short article on the matter of agency. You may find this quite basic but, whether you do or not, I would draw your attention to the reference at the end, to a talk that President Hinckley (possibly then a Counsellor and not Prophet) commended – it’s entitled Persuasion vs Force and I found it most interesting in the light of comments made. I’m not saying I 100% agree with or disagree with it, but do check it out! If you look at the intro page to it you can read President Hinckley’s short comments on the article.

    http://www.ldsfreedomportal.net/agency.htm

    The second reference – I believe – contains the answer to the point of contention heretofore mentioned. It’s very long but I would recommend reading this. I believe it is the most near-to-perfect earthly political philosophy I’ve ever come across to date:

    http://www.joelskousen.com/Philosophy/philosophy.html

    D. Andrews,
    LDSfreedomPortal.Net

  39. Adam Greenwood on April 6, 2004 at 2:27 pm

    Where’s the philosophy? It looks like a smorgasbord of libertarian cliches with a smattering of LDS references.

  40. D. Andrews on April 7, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    It’s a book, so it’s pretty big. The idea is that central government deals with the basic protection of life, liberty and property and that all other levels of government are formed by mutual agreement among like-minded citizens. This means that fundamental rights are protected AND everyone’s religion (or philosophy) and differing standards of behaviour are also protected without anyone violating the preferences of another.

    One of the problems with libertarianism is that it does not allow those who wish to live by higher standards to have that environment vouchsafed – so this is solved in Skousen’s proposition.

    One of the problems wit conservatism is that those who do not wish to live by higher standards may be penalized – this is again solved by Skousen’s proposition.

    So, one higher standard a Christian territory (formed by initial mutual consent) might make law is that stores cannot open on the Sabbath.

    EVERY person decides whether or not to enter such a compact; they are not born into it, no more than we are born into baptism.

    Terms or labels such as libertarian are often a little confusing as they mean different things to different people, or at least give rise to differing emotions or reactions. You’d need to read the whole thing to grasp it.

    I’m not saying it’s perfect but it seems most closely in harmony with those principles of just government based on the natural laws of God. And though the details are of man, I do not personally believe the principles are.

    D. Andrews.

  41. Opiniatrety on March 13, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    Two Philosophy of Religion Links
    (1) Ran across Nate Oman’s discussion of the role of agency in LDS theology and political philosophy–two subjects about which I know nothing, though they have a pretty big impact on my life at the moment. In the original post,…

  42. Zachary Chapman on October 9, 2005 at 5:48 am

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