I was told Hashem created us with free will; so we can make a choice to do good or evil, right? Well, Hashem knows what we are going to do in 10 minutes. So do we really have free will? Hashem can see the future!
I would like to offer a different approach. I don't believe God's knowing what we will do in the future contradicts free will. The first step is to define free-will. I would like to offer a suggestion that free-will is when one is the cause of their own good or evil. The main emphasis is that mankind is the cause. Now, let me offer the following example to resolve the issue. Let us say that Person A, Mark, is watching a fire start at the bottom of a house. If you ask "Mark", do you know that the house will burn down? He would respond of course. Now, just because "Mark" has knowledge that the House will burn down, does that make him the cause of the house burning down? Of course not. Knowledge does not equal causation. Similarly, as we established before, Free-will is where Man is the cause of his own good or evil. Just because God knows what man will do, does not make him the cause. Man is the cause. So, really the question just drops away. I hope this helps.
Note: My answer ended up vastly exceeding the maximum character limit for a post, so I have split it into two parts. The first part follows here, while the second part can be found in a separate post.
Below I have tried to provide a survey of the different approaches of the rishonim to this contradiction. All the sources are from their own writings, not from secondary sources. None of the sources were written in English; where professional translations exist I have cited those (and indicated thus), and otherwise I have provided my own translations (also indicated). I have not provided the text in its original language, as I have already far exceeded the maximum post length.
Note that a lot of the sources are somewhat vague or not entirely clear with respect to the precise parameters of the resolution of the contradiction. I have done my best to provide brief summaries of what I think each one is saying; it is certainly possible that I have misunderstood them and therefore misrepresented them. Hopefully, the full citations will allow readers to judge for themselves what was actually meant.
To briefly summarize, as the content below is quite lengthy, there seems to be three types of resolutions:
- Even though free will and Divine foreknowledge appear to be contradictory they are not actually mutually exclusive.
- Free will and Divine foreknowledge are mutually exclusive, therefore the doctrine of free will must be rejected/modified in some way.
- Free will and Divine foreknowledge are mutually exclusive, therefore the doctrine of Divine foreknowledge must be rejected/modified in some way.
Most of the sources (at least claim to) use the first approach, and indeed that seems to be the approach that has won out in contemporary Jewish thought, but a couple of sources do utilize the second or third approach.
It would perhaps be fitting to preface the below content with a comment of R. Issachar Eilenberg in his commentary to Sotah 2a in reference to this topic:
And I say that this matter was not given to be researched and investigated until the coming of the Messiah.
Now for the actual content, in chronological order:
R. Saadia Gaon was the first rabbinic author to explicitly lay out the contradiction and attempt to address it, but it is not entirely clear what his answer is. It sounds like he is saying that God's knowledge doesn't force human action, because God's knowledge is itself a result of human action. That is to say that the person did not have to choose X because God knew the person would do X; rather, God knew that the person would choose X because the person actually chose X.
Emunot V'Deiot 4:5
Furthermore, one might perhaps also say: "Inasmuch as God knows what is to be before it happens, He must also know that man will rebel against Him. But in that case it would be impossible for man not to rebel, since otherwise what God foreknows would not be realized." The resolution of this doubt, however, is more obvious even than that of the first one. It need not be pointed out that the person who makes the above-mentioned assertion is really unable to prove that the Creator's foreknowledge of things is the cause of their coming into being. His assertion is, therefore, nothing else than an erroneous assumption or deliberate invention.
Its untenability is made clear by the realization that if God's foreknowledge of anything could be the cause of its coming into being, then all things would have to be eternal, having existed always since God has always known of them. What we profess, therefore, is that God has a knowledge of things as they are actually constituted. He also knows before anything happens to them that it will happen. Furthermore He is cognizant of what man's choice will be before man makes it.
Should it be asked, therefore: "But if God foreknows that a human being will speak, is it conceivable that he should remain silent?" We would answer, simply that, if a human being decided instead of speaking to be silent, we would merely modify our original assumption by saying that God knows that that human being will be silent. It would not be proper to assume that God knows that that person will speak, because what God foreknows is the final denouement of man's activity as it turns out after all his planning, anticipations, and delays. It is that very thing that God knows, as Scripture says: The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man (Ps. 94:11), and also For I know their imagination how they do even now (Deut. 31:21).
(Rosenblatt translation, p. 191)
While not meant as a philosophical discussion of this contradiction, Rashi has a comment that seems to relate to this. The Talmud in Sotah 2a states:
R. Samuel b. R. Isaac said: When Resh Lakish began to expound [the subject of] Sotah, he spoke thus: They only pair a woman with a man according to his deeds; as it is said: For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous. Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Johanan: It is as difficult to pair them as was the division of the Red Sea; as it is said: God setteth the solitary in families: He bringeth out the prisoners into prosperity! But it is not so; for Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: Forty days before the creation of a child, a Bath Kol issues forth and proclaims, The daughter of A is for B; the house of C is for D; the field of E is for F! — There is no contradiction, the latter dictum referring to a first marriage and the former to a second marriage.
Commenting on the phrase "But it is not so", Rashi writes:
Do they in fact pair them up according to wickedness and merit? But before their formation, when his wickedness and meritoriousness are not known, they announce his match. And if you'll ask that everything is revealed before God, [the answer is that] everything is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven. As is stated in Tractate Niddah: "the angel appointed over pregnancy takes a drop and brings it before the Omnipresent and says before Him, 'what will be with this drop? Strong or weak? Wise or foolish? Rich or poor?'" But he does not say to Him 'righteous or wicked', since that is not in the hands of Heaven.
Here Rashi seems to be explaining the Talmud's objection as follows: How can Reish Lakish claim that a man's match is made dependent on his deeds, if his match is announced before his deeds are known. Rashi then addresses a possible question on this objection, namely that this is God we're talking about and God is omniscient. Rashi's answer to this objection seems to be that while God may know whether a person will be strong, smart, rich, etc. even He does not know what the person's deeds will be, since there is a rule that man's deeds are outside the control of Heaven and man has free choice to either do good or do bad.
The simplest explanation of this seems to be that man is able to have free will to do either good or bad, because God does not know in advance what man's actions will be. Indeed, this appears to be the understanding of the Ohel Moshe, who writes, commenting on Rashi's statement of "all is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven":
And so to with regard to knowledge. And with this I answer the question of many and great [people], see Rambam Laws of Repentance Chapter Five.
This citation is to where Rambam discusses the contradiction between foreknowledge and free will. Thus, the Ohel Moshe seems to be saying that he resolves this contradiction by following Rashi that man's deeds are excluded from God's control, even insofar as God's foreknowledge of them.
This is perhaps supported by Rashi's comments elsewhere. The Mishnah in Avot 3:16 states:
Everything is seen, and permission is given.
This statement has been taken by other commentators as the very embodiment of the contradiction under discussion: God foresees all human actions, yet humans still have free will. Rashi, however, writes the following in his commentary1 to this statement:
All that man does in his private chambers is seen and revealed before the Holy One Blessed Be He.
It thus seems that rather than interpreting this in a temporal sense, Rashi interprets it in a spatial sense. That is to say, that it is not a warning that God knows what you will do even before you do it; it is a warning that God will know what you do no matter where you do it. This, again, fits with the idea of God not knowing what man's actions will be prior to their actualization.
On the other hand, commenting on a different Talmudic passage, Rashi indicates that God does know the future actions of man, though without saying anything about free will. The Talmud (Shabbat 32a) states:
The School of R. Ishmael taught: 'If any man [hanofel] fall from thence': this man was predestined to fall since the six days of Creation, for lo! he has not [yet] fallen, and the Writ [already] calls him nofel [a faller]. But reward [zekut] is brought about through a person of merit [zakkai], and punishment [hobah] through a person of guilt.
Rashi, explaining "since the six days of Creation", writes:
As it is written (Isaiah 41:4), He that called the generations from the beginning. For it is revealed before Him the generations and their actions and their punishments.
Here Rashi seems to be explaining that God does know all of man's future actions.
In the context of the clash between predetermination and Divine justice, R. Bahye Ibn Paquda seems to be most accepting of the view that maintains that we should act as if we have free will, though in reality everything is controlled by God.
Chovot Halevavot 3:8
'There have been long controversies among the sages about how to reconcile predetermination with divine justice. Some of them said that all human actions are performed with man's free choice, ability, and power, that God entrusted man with this power and gave him dominion over his actions, so that He has nothing to do with them, and man himself earns either his reward or his punishment.
'Others attributed all the actions of men and the other creatures to the Creator, and claimed that every act performed in this world, either by man or by creatures not endowed with speech, is done only by permission of the Creator, by His decree and power and His rule. They said that nothing escapes Him or is overlooked by Him, even something as tiny as a hair.
`When these sages were asked about reward and punishment, they said that the form of reward and punishment is something of which we are ignorant, as we are of how it is distributed. God is just and does no evil. His promise of reward and punishment is true. It never fails. But our minds are too weak to grasp the meaning of His wisdom, and His justice and His grace are too clear and too manifest for us to suspect His judgments. There is no God but Him.
`Still others decided to believe in both schools, that is, to believe in both divine justice and in predetermination, claiming that whoever examines these matters too closely cannot escape sin and failure, no matter how he does it. They said, "The right way is to act in the belief that man's actions are entrusted to him, so that he earns reward or punishment, and to try to do everything that may benefit us before God both in this world and the next. On the other hand, we should rely on Him with the submission of those who know that all actions, movements, benefits, and misfortunes lie under God's rule and power and depend on His permission and decree, decisive argument against man, but man has no argument against his Creator."
'This is the closest way to deliverance of all those mentioned above, for it is right and just that we admit our ignorance of this aspect of the Creator's wisdom, because our minds are weak and our discrimination short. Indeed, there is some benefit in our ignorance; this is why it was hidden from us. Were it to our advantage to know this secret, the Creator would have revealed it to us.
(Mansoor translation, p. 210-211)
R. Judah HaLevi argues that God's knowledge does not cause human action, but is merely an awareness of what the human choices will be:
There is still another objection, viz. that these matters are outside the divine omniscience, because the absolutely potential is naturally an unknown quantity. The Mutakallims considered this matter in detail, with the result that the divine knowledge of the potential is but casual, and that the knowledge of a thing is neither the cause of its coming into existence, nor of its disappearance therefrom. There is, withal, a possibility of existence and non-existence. For the knowledge of events to come is not the cause of their existence, just as is the case with the knowledge of things which have been. This is but a proof that the knowledge belongs to God, or to the angels, or the prophets, or the priests. If this knowledge were the cause of the existence of a thing, many people would be placed in paradise solely for the sake of the divine knowledge that they are pious, even if they have done no pious act. Others would be in Gehenna, because God knows them to be wicked without their having committed a sin. Man should also be satisfied without having eaten, because he knows that he is accustomed to be satisfied at certain times.
(Hirschfeld translation, p. 282)
R. Abraham Ibn Daud distinguishes between two types of possibility. There are certain things where multiple outcomes are possible from our perspective, but only due to our ignorance. There is no inherent possibility of multiple outcomes since one out come is definitely true; we just don't know which one. In these cases, God who is not ignorant knows the true outcome. The other type of case is where multiple possible outcomes truly exist. God designed it this way because otherwise there would be no point of anything.
Emunah Haramah The Sixth Principle
We already made known to you in the first book that just as God, may He be exalted, created things and gave to them certain necessary attributes like rationality to man — because when one is a man he is rational in all respects, that is, [he is] internally rational and he can conceive — and just as He created things and gave to them impossible attributes like rationality to a stone, so God created things and gave to them certain possible attributes. This is no deficiency in His knowledge, may He be exalted, because there are two kinds of possibility. [One kind of] possibility is possibility with respect to ignorance, an example of which is whether the king of Babylonia died today or is alive. [The reason that it is a possibility is] because we, the men of Spain, do not know this [state of affairs]. Rather, both alternatives are equal to us. This is because of our ignorance of what is remote from us. But since [this] matter in itself is not possible, of necessity one of the alternatives is correct, and God, may He be exalted, knows in [cases] like this that one of the alternatives is necessary as it is in itself. For example, [He knows] whether there will be an eclipse this month. [The reason for this is] that this [event] is possible to those who are ignorant of astronomy and the equinox of the stars, but in itself one of the alternatives is necessary, and God, may He be exalted, knows the necessary alternative. God already made this known to the masters of astronomy and equinoxes. To them it is not a possibility as it is a possibility to the masses. All the more so would it [not] be to God a possibility, because this kind of possibility, which is [a possibility] with respect to ignorance, does not occur to God, may He be blessed and exalted.
The second [kind of] possibility is [that] which is possible because God, may He be exalted, gave it possibility. He created it [as] a thing that [can] bear one or the other of two contrary attributes. How a possibility like this occurs or [does] not [occur] is not remote from God's knowledge, may He be exalted. [In both cases] He, may He be exalted, created that possibility. If a sophist would be sophistical and say, 'Is God, may He be exalted, ignorant of the end of the matter?' we [would] say [in response that] this is not ignorance. The desire of one who says this is to reverse all of the attributes. For example, [he wants to say] that He gives to eclipses either necessity or impossibility in all respects, and [he claims that] God did not create anything that has a possible attribute or its contrary. By this [kind of reasoning would follow] the destruction of the world and the corruption of civilization in this world as well as life in the world to come. [The reason for this is] that it [would be] vanity for a man to plow and to build buildings and to plant plants and to subjugate beasts and to increase acts of mercy and to choose weapons with which to fight, since what will happen already is decreed. Similarly, it [would be] vanity to worship God, may He be exalted, since prosperity or its opposite already is decreed. The matter is clear that the truth is the opposite of this. [The reason for this is] that God created contingents [that are] possible and He knows the contingents such as eclipses. [The reason for] this is that all of their causes are not from Him by a primary intention. Rather, some of them are from Him, may He be exalted, by a primary intention, and this is by His knowledge of all of their attributes, which [renders] necessary for them what is necessary and [renders] impossible for them what is impossible. And some of them are entrusted to nature by the will of God, 4 may He be exalted, so that they benefit him who properly uses them and they harm him who uses them in [a way that is] less or more than what is proper. God, may He be exalted, already decreed that there be causes in this way.
(Samuelson translation p. 248-249)
Perhaps the most classic answer is that given by Rambam, where he essentially says that though it seems like a contradiction it actually isn't, but we can't really understand why it's not.
One might ask: Since The Holy One, blessed be He, knows everything that will occur before it comes to pass, does He or does He not know whether a person will be righteous or wicked?
If He knows that he will be righteous, [it appears] impossible for him not to be righteous. However, if one would say that despite His knowledge that he would be righteous, it is possible for him to be wicked, then His knowledge would be incomplete.
Know that the resolution to this question [can be described as]: "Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea." Many great and fundamental principles and lofty concepts are dependent upon it. However, the statements that I will make must be known and understood [as a basis for the comprehension of this matter].
As explained in the second chapter of Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, The Holy One, blessed be He, does not know with a knowledge that is external from Him as do men, whose knowledge and selves are two [different entities]. Rather, He, may His name be praised, and His knowledge are one.
Human knowledge cannot comprehend this concept in its entirety for just as it is beyond the potential of man to comprehend and conceive the essential nature of the Creator, as [Exodus 33:20] states: "No man will perceive, Me and live," so, too, it is beyond man's potential to comprehend and conceive the Creator's knowledge. This was the intent of the prophet's [Isaiah 55:8] statements: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways, My ways."
Accordingly, we do not have the potential to conceive how The Holy One, blessed be He, knows all the creations and their deeds. However, this is known without any doubt: That man's actions are in his [own] hands and The Holy One, blessed be He, does not lead him [in a particular direction] or decree that he do anything.
This matter is known, not only as a tradition of faith, but also, through clear proofs from the words of wisdom. Consequently, the prophets taught that a person is judged for his deeds, according to his deeds - whether good or bad. This is a fundamental principle on which is dependent all the words of prophecy.
Ra'avad famously critiques Rambam's answer, both methodologically and substantively. His own answer – which he admits is insufficient – is not entirely clear. He seems to be saying that God knows the future not in an objective deterministic sense, but that He knows the relative strengths of all the different factors and can thus know which factors will win out and therefore know what will actually occur.
Hilchot Teshuva 5:5
This author did not act in the way of the wise men, for a person does not begin a matter if he does not know how to complete it. But he began with difficult questions, and left the matter in difficulty and returned them [the readers] to faith. And it would have been better for him to leave the matter in the simpleness of the simple ones and not awaken their hearts and leave their minds in doubt, where perhaps a [bad] thought will come in their hearts for a moment about this. And even though there is no complete answer for this, it would have been good to provide a partial answer and say:
If the righteousness and wickedness of a person were dependent on the decree of God, we would say that His knowledge is His decree and we would have the very difficult question. But now that God has removed this dominion from His hand and given it to the hand of man himself, His knowledge is not a decree; rather, it is like the knowledge of the astrologers who know from another source what the ways of this person will be. And it is known that all happenings of man, small or big, God gave over to the power of the constellations, but He gave him intellect to give him the strength to escape from under [the influence of] the constellations. And that is the power given to man to be good or evil, while God knows the power of the constellations and its moments (?) whether the intellect has the power to let him escape from its [the constellations] hand or not, and this knowledge is not a decree. And all of this is not sufficient [to fully answer the question].
R. Joseph Ibn Kaspi seems to assert that God knows the future not through any causative act, but by mere dint of the fact that He is capable of analyzing all the factors and arriving at a correct prediction of what will happen. This seems similar to Ra'avad's explanation, but with a greater emphasis on the fact that God seems to be merely "guessing" and just always guesses correctly.
Ralbag seems to follow the same idea as Ra'avad and Ibn Kaspi – that God's knowledge of the various factors enables Him to "figure out" what will happen – with an important difference. Ralbag argues that because man has free will, it is possible for him to choose to do something contrary to what God had assessed he would do. Therefore, God's knowledge is not complete; it is merely a "best guess", with the possibility for it to be proven wrong.
Ralbag devoted Book III of his Wars of the Lord to a discussion of God's knowledge, but perhaps his clearest exposition of the contradiction is in his commentary to Genesis Chapter 18:
The sixteenth lesson is in ideas. And it is to teach us something amazing of God's knowledge of things, which was hidden from all [my] predecessors whose words have reached us. And it is that that which God may He be exalted knows of actions in this low world is independent of what man [actually] does. That is that He knows the actions of people that are fitting according to what was prepared for them from the day of their creation, based on the celestial causes that God may He be exalted placed as guidance over the human species. [However,] human choice rules over this arrangement of their actions based on the celestial causes. And it is therefore possible that what people actually do is different from what God may He be exalted knew [they would do] based on the arrangement of their actions. And this is because He knows their actions from the side in which knowledge of them is possible, and that is the side in which they are arranged and quantified. But on the side in which they are contingent there can be no knowledge, for if we suppose that knowledge of them is possible then their contingency cannot be upheld. And therefore it says metaphorically that God may He be exalted saw whether the people of Sodom and Gomorrah actually did the evil that He knew from them, because it is possible that what they had done was different from what God may He be exalted knew from them. And we have explained this topic of God's knowledge of things in Book III of Wars of the Lord. And we explained there that this view is necessary on the basis of philosophy as well as on the basis of Torah.
For the continuation of this answer see this separate post.
It is interesting to note that the question may have a formulation in the Tanach itself. In the book of Iyov, Iyov asks God:
Hast Thou eyes of flesh? or seest Thou as man seeth? (Iyov 10:4)
The Malbim (19th century) explains this verse as saying, since God is omniscient and already knows the future, man can't be held responsible for his sins.
(The Malbim himself doesn't seem to find this question particularly troubling since he manages to resolve it with only a few words: "והאל יתברך הוא למעלה מן הזמן," God is above time.)
I see that the issue of the Rambam was raised above, but I can not fit the comment above, so here it is. The question the Rambam is asking (in Teshuvah 5:5), I believe, is how to reconcile Hashems knowledge with the premise that Hashem knows what man will do. What the Rambam is trying to clarify is how Hashem knows what man will do. If the way Hashem knows is the same way a watchmaker knows how a clock works, which is that he knows all the causes that went into making the watch, therefore he can predict the results by tracing the chain of causality. Similarly one might suggest that the way Hashem knows what we will do is because he created the world and knows all the causes that went into the creation. So, if he knows all the causes he can trace the chain of causation from the beginning of time and know exactly what will happen in the future. However, if this is the way Hashem knows, then this would preclude Free Choice. Because, Free choice is where man is the cause of his own actions, their is no other cause. Meaning that man is operating outside the chain of causality and is the prime mover of the decision. Therefore if the way Hashem knew what man will do, is via this chain of causality, Hashem would not be able to know what man will do if Man has free choice. So the Rambam is setting up a contradiction between the way Hashem knows things and the premise that man has free will. I believe the Rambam answers the problem by saying that the way Hashem knows things is not through knowing the chain of causality (as a human creator of something might know) but rather the way Hashem knows things is through a different way that does not contradict free will. This third way of knowing is something we can not fully grasp. Hence, the contradiction is removed.
Note: This is a continuation of this answer which needed to be split into a separate post due to exceeding the maximum character length for a post.
R. Isaac Ben Sheshet was asked to explain the difference between Ra'avad's view and Ralbag's view. After providing his opinion as to the differences he also gave his own view, which seems to be similar to that of R. Saadia Gaon wherein God's knowledge is seen as a result of whatever man chose to do rather than as the cause of what man chose to do.
Shu"t Rivash #118
There is a great divide between the view of the sage R. Levi of blessed memory and the view of Ra'avad of blessed memory. For the view of R. Levi is that God's knowledge does not encompass that which man will do with his free will prior to the action being actualized, but only that which is fitting for him to do based on what is set for him by the celestial bodies. For if His knowledge encompassed that which [man] will do with his free will notwithstanding what is set for him by the celestial bodies, His knowledge would be decreeing [the action] and free will would be nullified. And with the nullification of free will the commandments, warnings, rewards, and punishments of the Torah would be nullified.
This view contains a great degradation – attributing deficiency to God's knowledge. And, moreover, according to his words it doesn't help if God knows man's action that was done with free will after he did it, if He doesn't know it. And if he does know it then there is an increase and a change in His knowledge, since He did not know it before and now He knows it – for the knowledge was generated to Him – and this is a great degradation. And if He does not know it even after it became actualized then He does not apprehend the actions of man, [in which case] reward and punishment are nullified and all the promises of the Torah said about this are nullified.
The view of Ra'avad of blessed memory is that God knows everything from two sides. He knows that which is set by the celestial bodies, and he knows whether the power of the intellect is strong enough to overcome the celestial bodies – whether this man's intellect is stronger than the celestial bodies or vice versa. And in this way He knows that which man will do before he does it. But once there is dominion in the hand of man to do good or evil, this knowledge is not a decree; it is rather like the knowledge of astrologers, where they know from an external source what the matters of this person will be. So, too, God knows from the perspective of the strength of the person's celestial influence and from the perspective of the strength of the intellect what this man will do – whether he will overcome the power of the celestial influence or not. This is what appears from the opinion of Ra'avad of blessed memory, and the rabbi was still not satisfied with this and he wrote "and all this does not suffice".
But what appears to me to answer this question is that we are forced to believe that man has free will over his actions, in order to uphold the commandment(s) of the Torah and its reward. This is made clear in the Torah [by verses such as] "see what I have placed before you etc." [and] "and you shall choose life". And we also should believe that God's knowledge encompasses everything man will do with his free will, before it becomes actualized. For we must not place any deficiency in His knowledge, heaven forfend. But this knowledge does not force anything, because once it is granted that man has free will and it is possible for him to do the opposite, then when God knew that he would do Action X He knew that he would do it with his free will and that it would be possible for him to do the opposite. This being the case, this knowledge does not force [anything], since the knowledge was that he would do that action with his free will. If [this knowledge] would force [a particular action] then this knowledge would contain a mixture of truth and falsehood, which is impossible. And this is why we say that man's action does not follow God's knowledge of that action before it is actualized; rather, His knowledge follows that action that was done with free will and with the possibility of doing the opposite, despite God knowing it before it became actualized. And with this man remains free and the knowledge of God [remains] complete, without any deficiency and without removing man from his free will.
R. Hasdai Crescas discussed this topic at great length as well. He begins by asserting as fundamental that God knows man's future actions without it impinging on man's free will:
Light of the Lord 2:1:1
Three points are necessarily affirmed according to the roots of the Torah, so far as we can apprehend: first, that God's knowledge encompasses the infinite; second that God's knowledge extends to the nonexistent; and third, that God has knowledge concerning possible alternatives without their nature as possible being changed.
(Weiss translation p. 121)
Later in the chapter he elaborates on why this is so:
Concerning the third, namely, that God knows alternative possibilities – that is, that He has knowledge of which of two alternatives will be realized, without the nature of the possible changing: the necessity of this according to the Torah is evident. For if God's knowledge were to compel the alternative that He knows will be realized, there could be no element of command in the prescriptions and proscriptions of the Torah. For unless it is assumed that the one who is commanded acts voluntarily and not by compulsion or necessity, there is no possibility of commanding him. This is self-evident. Indeed the [contrary] notion is self-contradictory. For if God's knowledge were to compel one alternative, then this [compelled] alternative was never a possible thing. For what it means for a thing to be possible is that it might exist and might not exist. But if one alternative is compelled, then it is not a possible thing. Yet it was assumed to be a possible thing. It therefore follows necessarily that God's knowledge that one alternative will be realized does not make the nature of the possible necessary. This is the third point.
(Weiss translation p. 122-123)
He mentions how upholding the possibility of free will would seem to contradict God's foreknowledge:
The second is as follows. It is posited that God knows which one of two possible alternatives will be realized, while the contrary alternative remains possible. Yet it is evident with respect to any possible thing that when its existence is posited, no absurdity arises. Nevertheless, when we posit its existence [i.e. the existence of the contrary alternative], two absurdities do follow: the first, a change in God's knowledge and thus in his essence – inasmuch as the intellect is constituted by what it knows; the second, that the earlier knowledge was not in fact knowledge but was an erroneous conjecture. All this is the height of absurdity and nonsense.
(Weiss translation p. 126)
He praises Rambam's approach:
This, it appears, is the Rabbi's approach to resolving these difficulties. It is a comprehensive approach, correct and excellent and beyond doubt, regardless of how the term "knowledge" is understood – that is, whether it is thought to apply by way of absolute equivocation, as the Rabbi would have it, or whether it is predicated by way of priority and posterity and indicates, as it seems to us, an attribute of God's essence – since knowledge is essential to Him, as we saw in Book I Part III.
(Weiss translation p. 137)
Then he offers another approach, which seems reminiscent of R. Abraham Ibn Daud's:
The second [specific] difficulty [in relation to the third point] is based on the idea I that, if we posit as possible the contrary alternative to the one God knows [and it is that contrary alternative that is realized], two absurdities necessarily follow: the first, a change in God's knowledge; and the second, that His previous knowledge was not knowledge but was an erroneous conjecture. It is evident that this difficulty is inescapable if we draw an analogy between our knowledge and God's – unless we posit, regarding the alternative that He knows, that from one perspective it is possible, and, from another, necessary. And then, from the perspective from which the alternative is necessary, there is no change in God's knowledge or in His essence and, from the perspective from which it is possible, the status of possible is not annulled for possible things.
This will become clear in what I shall now say. There is no doubt that if a thing is necessary from one perspective, it does not follow that the thing is necessary in itself. This will be evident in things that are possible in themselves and exist now perceived by sense. For in the case of human knowledge, once it is known that a possible thing exists, its existence is positively necessary. And its contrary is not existent from any perspective. But this necessity does not change the nature of the thing's possibility and does not compel the thing's necessity in itself. Therefore, God's having knowledge with respect to things that are subject to choice does not compel their necessity in themselves and does not change at all the nature of the possible. This will indeed be clarified more expansively in Part IV, God willing. There the truth with regard to this matter will be established beyond doubt. In fact, most of those who have engaged in speculation have stumbled with respect to this issue, because they could not conceive of a necessity which the Torah's divine justice can accommodate. This suffices with respect to what we intended in this chapter.
(Weiss translation p. 140-141)
In Light of the Lord 2:5:2 he lays out the contradiction even more clearly:
It was already established in Part I of this Book that God's knowledge encompasses all particulars qua particulars, even if they are nonexistent and have not come into existence. It is therefore necessary that when God knows which one of two possible alternatives will come into existence, that is the one that will necessarily come into existence. For otherwise what he has is not knowledge, but conjecture or error. Therefore, inescapably, what was presumed to be something possible is actually necessary.
(Weiss translation p. 192)
He concludes that chapter with the following statement:
All of this is patent proof that the nature of the possible does not exist. This is the intent of this chapter.
In the following chapter he explains the "true view", which is a compromise wherein actions are necessary in some respect but possible in another respect:
We assert that, since there are arguments that entail the existence of the nature of the possible, and arguments that entail its nonexistence, the only remaining option is for the nature of the possible to exist in one respect, and not to exist in another. What are these respects? If only I knew!
I say that, when we investigate the arguments that entail the existence of the possible, what emerges is that the only way in which they entail its existence is in respect of itself.
(Weiss translation p. 193)
And shortly thereafter:
It is evident, then, that in all the arguments from the point of view of speculation, what is entailed is the existence of the nature of of the possible in the things that are – in respect of themselves but not in respect of their causes.
(Weiss translation p. 194)
He then applies this to the contradiction with Divine foreknowledge:
So, too, it is evident that the arguments deriving from God's knowledge of the future, and the prophets' prediction of future events – especially regarding those things dependent on choice – fail to disqualify possibility in respect of the thing itself. Indeed, things are possible in respect of themselves and necessary in respect of their causes; and it is from their aspect as necessary that knowledge precedes their existence.
(Weiss translation p. 195)
He later adds a twist:
If, however, we have no alternative but to say that the nature of will in fact entails that one wills or does not will without an external mover – and this view is the correct one according to the Torah – it is then possible that a distinction along the lines of that drawn in Part I of this book applies. According to this distinction, things are possible both in respect of themselves and in respect of their causes, but are necessary in respect of the cause that is God's knowledge V just as the possible, when it is posited as existent and known, is possible in respect of itself but necessary in respect of its existing at the time and in respect of its having become known. If God's knowledge of things precedes their coming to be, then, since a thing that is possible is not necessary before it comes to be, it follows that things are possible, not in respect of God's knowledge, but in respect of themselves. And since God's knowledge is not subject to time, His knowledge of the future is like our knowledge of things that exist: it does not entail constraint and necessity in the essence of things. If, however, we were to object, saying: "Does God's knowledge derive from existents?" as per the last two difficulties, we would respond: "We do not know how God knows, since His knowledge is His essence." This is the Rabbi's approach, in our view.
(Weiss translation p. 196)
He summarizes his explanation:
The principle that emerges from these considerations is that it is inescapable that that which is possible is necessary in respect of its cause and possible in respect of itself — so long as choice is not involved. And with regard to things in which choice is involved, if we say that the nature of will necessitates that it can will something or not will it with no external mover — and this is the correct approach according to the Torah — these things will be possible in respect both of their causes and of themselves, but necessary in respect of God's knowledge. And since they are possible in respect of themselves, industriousness is fitting with respect to them, as are the prescriptions and proscriptions, and as are their being subject to reward and punishment. For if the person were to choose the alternative, God's knowledge would be of the alternative. The only remaining question is: how does God know things that are possible? But we have already answered this, both in accordance with the view of the Rabbi and in accordance with our own view. Generally, since God confers existence on all other existents, His knowledge of them is fitting and necessary. Either way, the root of the entire matter is possibility in one respect, necessity in another. This is inescapable.
(Weiss translation p. 197)
R. Joseph Albo gives a broad overview of the topic. He begins by clearly laying out the contradiction.
Sefer HaIkarim 4:1-3
But the question whether His knowledge determines one of the two alternatives or not, is one that requires careful investigation. The problem is this: If God's knowledge does determine the act, then a person is under compulsion in his conduct, and should not receive reward or punishment for the things he does, since he does them under necessity, for a person deserves praise or blame only when the initiative of his acts is his own and there is no compulsion. On the other hand, if God's knowledge does not determine the act, then the act may be realized contrary to God's knowledge, His knowledge would then be in disagreement with the facts, and it would not be knowledge, but ignorance and error and falsehood.
(Husik translation, Vol. IV Part 1 p. 3)
Now if the possible must exist and it can not be that God does not know particular things, for it would be a defect in His nature, the question arises, How can God's knowledge be in agreement with the truth and at the same time fail to determine one of the two possible alternatives? How can these two propositions be compatible, being seemingly contradictory at first sight?
(Husik translation, Vol. IV Part 1 p. 5)
He cites R. Saadia Gaon's answer and says that this is R. Judah Halevi's as well. But then he rejects it because knowledge that can be proven false is not actually knowledge.
Saadia Gaon in his book, "Emunot ve-Deot," says that God's foreknowledge of the possible things is not the cause of their existence, just as His knowledge of that which has already come into existence is not the cause of its having some into existence. The thing retains its own nature, Similarly His knowledge of possible things is not the cause of their existence, and hence they retain their character as possible things. For if His knowledge were the cause of their existence, they would always exist, like the natural species. But since we see new individuals appearing every day, it follows that their existence is not determined by His knowledge. And therefore they retain their character as possible things. These are the words of the Gaon, and the author of the Cusari in the fifth book of that treatise adopts the same view. But this is not satisfactory, for it is very much like saying that God does not know possible things. For if He knows them, and yet their existence is not determined by His knowledge, it might turn out that His knowledge would be different from the actual result, and this would not be knowledge but ignorance.
(Husik translation, Vol. IV Part 1 p. 5-6)
He then quotes later authorities (presumably R. Hasdai Crescas) but rejects their view as well because it comes too close to doing away with free will.
Some one of the moderns' solved this (difficulty by saying that a thing may be necessary if we consider it in relation to its causes, and possible if we consider it by itself. Take, for example, the question of rain tomorrow. Considered by itself, it is possible; considered in relation to its causes, namely the rise of the vapors, the great quantity of moisture and similar things already in existence, it is necessary. God, therefore, knows that it will rain tomorrow, because, considered in relation to its causes, it is necessary, though considered by itself it is possible. The author in question expatiates at length in making his solution appear plausible.
But if we examine this view carefully, we shall find that unlike the first opinion this one is very close to the view that all things are determined and that the possible does not exist. For since the things are necessary considered in relation to their causes, if God knows the causes, they are actually necessary. What good is there then in saying that they are possible considered by themselves, as long as they are determined and necessary from that side which brings them into existence, namely the causes? For they can not come into existence in any other way. They are possible in the theoretical sense that the causes might have been different and then the effect would have been different. But in reality the effect is necessary when the causes are there and God knows them. It would follow then according to this opinion that there is no thing that may equally be or not be when considered in relation to its causes. For if the causes determining the two opposite alternatives are equal, the question arises again, what is it that determined one of the alternatives in preference to the other? If it is the knowledge of God that determines, the category of the possible is done away with; and if we retain the possible, God's knowledge is taken away, unless indeed we say that the possible exists only logically and conceptually, but not actually. But this is contrary to hypothesis. Much has been said in the solution of this question. But if we examine it all we find that it is of the nature described above, namely some of it approximates to the first opinion, and some of it approximates to the second opinion. Therefore I do not think it necessary to quote it here, so as not to prolong our discussion needlessly. My own opinion will be explained after I have made an introductory observation in the following chapter.
(Husik translation, Vol. IV Part 1 p. 6-8)
He ends up accepting Rambam's explanation.
But if you ask, how is it possible to maintain both of these opinions, viz. to maintain the reality of the contingent and at the same time to hold that God's knowledge embraces it? Our answer is the same as that of Maimonides, who says: that since God's knowledge is essential in Him and not something added to His essence, the investigation of the character of His knowledge is tantamount to an investigation of His essence. But His essence is absolutely unknown, hence the character of His knowledge is also absolutely unknown. As there is no comparison or similarity between His existence and the existence of other things, so there is no comparison between His knowledge and the knowledge of others. Hence though if we picture His knowledge on the analogy of our own, a great many objections follow, such as that we must either deny the reality of the Contingent or assume that His knowledge embraces that which we can not conceive as knowable, for He would have to know the infinite, or His knowledge would change with the change of the objects, and other difficulties of this sort — this would follow only if we conceive of His knowledge on the analogy of our own, but since His knowledge is not of the same kind as ours, these difficulties do not follow. God's knowledge is infinite, and infinite knowledge is not liable to these difficulties.
(Husik translation, Vol. IV Part 1 p. 18-19)
If we understand the words of Maimonides concerning God's knowledge in this manner, all the objections adduced by later writers will disappear. The result of all this is that God's knowledge, being infinite, embraces everything that happens in the world without necessitating change in God, and without destroying the category of the contingent. It also embraces the infinite. I have selected this view as the best in this matter. Our Rabbis also adopt it, expressing the idea anonymously and without naming any opponent thereof : "All is foreseen, yet permission is given." "All is foreseen," signifies that God's knowledge embraces everything that happens in the world, and that nothing happens by accident without being known in advance. "Yet permission is given," signifies that the category of the contingent is real and God's knowledge does not destroy it. This is the truth in reference to this matter, though our knowledge is not sufficient to understand the possibility of this thing. This much will suffice as a brief discussion of God's knowledge.
(Husik translation, Vol. IV Part 1 p. 23-24)
1. See here for a question about whether "Rashi" on Avot is actually Rashi.
If you want a philosophically rigorous analysis of this issue, I recommend the following article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/free-will-foreknowledge/
Yes, we do. IMHO, this is the only Divine attribute we have been granted in absolute terms. As long as we are aware of the consequences through the law of cause and effect, we can do almost anything we feel like to. (Gen. 4:7) And HaShem respects our freewill, although He advises us what to choose that it be well with us. (Deut. 30:15,16)
Moses asks Gd to send in the hands of who you send, (Ex. 4:13). One of Rashi's explanations is that Moses was arguing that he wasn't going to fully accomplish his task, and that Gd should choose someone who actually would. He hasn't even sinned yet! But in devarim, we see Moses praying to enter the land until Gd tells him to stop, (Deut. 3:23-26). Didn't he already know that his prayers were in vain?
Also see Kings II 21:10-15 and 22:15-20. Gd has decided to destroy the temple. His anger will not be extinguished, (22:17). Even Josiah will only merit to delay the destruction, per Hulda's words. Yet Jeremiah, (Jer. 4:1-2), still calls for repentance and promises aversion of exile.
Taking these at simple face value, (pshat), one can draw 2 conclusions. The first is that the future is predetermined, and there is nothing we can do to change it. The second is that we still have free choice, even to change that future!
If I may, I'd like to offer a parable. When an author writes a book, he knows how it will end. He creates heroes and villains, who meet with various ends. The author has it all planned out, but as the pages turn, the plot transpires on a different plane, where there are possibilities and varied outcomes, and suspense and uncertainty. From the author's point of view, there really isn't any free choice. Things aren't fair. The villain didn't get to choose bad over good. He was created to be bad. But from the book's perspective, within the story, the villain makes decisions, evil ones that lead to his ignominious end.
Gd is the Author. We are the characters. The difference between our story and a novel is that in our story, the Author will occasionally tell us what happens in the next chapter, and what will absolutely happen.
The danger of knowing the next chapter is the reason that Jacob was unable to reveal the 'end' to his children. If we knew what happened in the end, we would just sit and wait for it, and consequently we wouldn't bring it about. If someone spoils the ending of a book, why read it? Perhaps that is why prophecy is so esoteric. Take the admonition in Deuteronomy. In hindsight, Gd flat out told us how then next 3000+ years were going to pan out. But He did it in a foggy 'either or-ish' format, because if we knew what we were in for, we would have just laid down in the desert to wait for death.
The greatness of prophets like Moses and Jeremiah, or kings like Josiah is that they have the ending of the story spoiled, the accept it as being a part of the plan, and play their role in their respective chapters. Essentially, they take on the role of actors, emulating Gd who, in the context of our story, is playing along. Moses stopped praying because it was time for him to make his exit. His act was over. Jeremiah and Josiah didn't just give up because they knew it was their job to speak and rule to a people who needed to repent and stay on a straight path, even though they never would.
So whether or not we have free choice really depends on how you look at it. Insofar as we exist, we absolutely do. Outside of reality, where Gd so-to-speak resides, we do not, but we also do not exist on that plane.
Edit: I have subsequently heard from my Rabbi that Mordechai antagonized Haman intending for Haman to try to wipe out the Jews, because he knew that they would be saved, and that they needed to repent. He also told me that he has seen in the Baalei Tosafos on Pirkei Avot that one of the things passed down from Sinai was knowledge historical events.
Humans have free will and G-d does not change human nature. Maimonides states: “Humans are given free will. If a person wants to take the good path and be righteous, he is free to do so; and if he desires to take the evil one and be wicked, he can do so ... The Creator doesn’t preordain man to be good or evil” (Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 5:1–23)."
The notion that G-d is all-knowing and knows "what we are going to do in 10 minutes" is an assumption and may not be true. Ralbag, for one, holds that G-d does not know people as individuals, but only the celestial species of humans. For example, G-d can only know how people might act. He seems to say that G-d does not know humans.
The fact is that even through psychology we can predict human behavior. If someone gets abused when he is little, we know pretty much the feeling that he will have to live through for the rest of his life! Now, why do we even try then, since it has already been decided? If I tell a child not to eat too much candy because she will get sick, she won't really believe me until she eats too much candy and gets sick on her own! So G-d can keep telling us, when we get to the end of death, not to do this and that; but somehow I feel as if we are going to try it. Just look at Adam and Eve!
According to this, life is just a trial. We have the ability to use any trick that's up our sleeves — which I think we have outdid ourselves in already; I think G-d is even shocked at how low we went! But it is nevertheless evident that these tricks don't work. Now we know that we have no business to be on the moon (because we have found nothing that important except for a rock); now we know that a nuclear bomb is never a good idea, not even a gun! Now we know, the land belongs to G-d, thus to all! We think that heaven is a place we go when we die, but this is wrong: No one individual gets to go to heaven; its either we all go or none of us will.
And those who died, even if they are in the clouds, cannot possibly be happy watching us suffer, so they are looking at us, in what is supposed to be heaven, and it seems a lot more like hell because they can look but they cannot do anything. They know the truth but cannot say it; we are torturing them! They are waiting on us so we all can go to heaven together here on this earth!