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Aug 24, 2011

Free Will and Determinism, part 2

Introduction: http://www.themindisaterriblething.com/2011/08/free-will-and-determinism.html
Part 2: http://www.themindisaterriblething.com/2011/08/free-will-and-determinism-part-2.html
Part 3: http://www.themindisaterriblething.com/2011/08/free-will-and-determinism-part-3.html
Part 4: http://www.themindisaterriblething.com/2011/08/free-will-and-determinism-part-4.html
Part 5: http://www.themindisaterriblething.com/2011/08/free-will-and-determinism-part-5.html
Part 6: http://www.themindisaterriblething.com/2011/09/free-will-and-determinism-part-6.html
Part 7: http://www.themindisaterriblething.com/2011/09/free-will-and-determinism-part-7.html


At the end of the previous post, I indicated that I will be addressing the following refutations of incompatibilist arguments:


  • Refutation attacking the nature of the “Necessity of the Past” and the “Laws of Nature” as identified by the Consequence Argument.


  • Refutations that attack the nature of Free Will as presented by incompatibilist arguments.


  • Practical issues that arise with incompatibilist arguments.

With the implication that this is the order I intend on addressing them. However, responses to the introduction have caused me to rethink this, and I'll be tackling the second one first: Refutations that attack the nature of Free Will as presented by incompatibilist arguments.

Before that, a clarification. In the introduction I stated:

If there exists no clear definition or conception of Free Will, then how can it be used in any sort of logical argument or philosophical discussion? It can’t. At least not if one expects to have any sort of constructive conversation.
This can be interpreted in a manner which not not entirely correct. Or, more simply, this statement is false.

This was pointed out to me by commenter Bauer:

[I]t is false to suppose that we need a full and uncontroversial definition [of Free Will] —as you seem to imply.
Yes, this is true. Bauer explained this using an example of the definition of "bachelor." I will also add to this with another explanation.

The existence and properties of atoms have been pondered and studied since the ancient Greeks. However, our current understanding of the atom, within the domain of Quantum Mechanics, is less than a century old, and isn't even complete now. So, if it isn't complete, how can we fruitfully talk about atoms?

We can talk about atoms through reductionist methods by discussing what properties and behaviors they have. For the purposes of discussion, we can reduce atoms to a collection of properties (While acknolweding that atoms are more than just those properties, may have more properties than we know about, and whose properties may be different than what we have identified). Instead of talking about atoms as completely described entities, we focus our conversation instead on the properties attributed to atoms, and then talk about the consequences of having those properties. If we conclude that a property should result in some behavior or consequence, and atoms have said property, then, logically, we can attribute that behavior or consequence to atoms. Alternatively, if we can show that atoms do not exhibit the behavior or result in consequences that are entailed by some property, we can prove that atoms do not have that property.

In this same manner we can have a constructive conversation about Free Will without needing to produce a complete and uncontroversial definition; we can assign properties to Free Will and then talk about what those properties require or entail.

Now, to the matter at hand:



In incompatibilist arguments, Free Will has been described as:



  • Being able to have done otherwise than what was done.



  • Being the ultimate source of one's actions.



  • Having some power over the facts of the future.

Being Able To Do Otherwise:

Free Will is most often described as having some sort of control over how events unfold. An action was performed freely when, if we were to do it over again, we could have done other than what we actually did. This appeals to us on an emotional level, as many times we think about actions we have taken and consider "what if" we had chosen otherwise, for better or for worse.
The question, then, does our ability to conceive of counterfactual scenarios reflect the logical possibility of those scenarios having actually taken place? Not if determinism is true, say incompatibilists.Some have challenged this perception of Free Will. Philosophy Harry Frankfurt presents the following scenario:

Jones has resolved to shoot Smith. Black has learned of Jones's plan and wants Jones to shoot Smith. But Black would prefer that Jones shoot Smith on his own. However, concerned that Jones might waver in his resolve to shoot Smith, Black secretly arranges things so that, if Jones should show any sign at all that he will not shoot Smith (something Black has the resources to detect), Black will be able to manipulate Jones in such a way that Jones will shoot Smith. As things transpire, Jones follows through with his plans and shoots Smith for his own reasons. No one else in any way threatened or coerced Jones, offered Jones a bribe, or even suggested that he shoot Smith. Jones shot Smith under his own steam. Black never intervened.
In this case, Jones cannot do otherwise than to shoot Smith, yet when he does so without Black's intervention, we still conclude that he acted freely.

I agree with Frankfurt's assessment: the ability to do otherwise in terms of outward action does not properly map Free Will as we perceive it. However, I don't think this dispels incompatiblist notions. Rather it causes us to think carefully about how we model Free Will. Talking about possible actions is merely a convention. To do something freely, we must have first freely chosen to do it. In many cases, what we do is done as a result of a free choice. Frankfurts rather exotic scenario is the black swan to this kind of induction. But rather than disproving incompatibility, it just forces us to talk about Free Will as what it truly is: Free Will. The freedom here is in the choosing, not necessarily in the doing. In Frankfurt's example, Jones' choice was free, even if he could not have done otherwise than to shoot Smith. In choosing to do so, his action was free (as a result of a free choice). If he chose otherwise, then his action, though resulting on the same outcome, would not have been free, having been a result of Black's choice.

Acknowledging Frankfurt's criticism, we can reform our incompatibilist argument:


  • If a person chooses of her own free will, then she could have chosen otherwise.


  • If determinism is true, no one can chose other than one actually chooses.


  • Therefore, if determinism is true, no one chooses of her own free will.

While this makes the first premise more acceptable in terms of the objection, it makes the second premise questionable, at least at first glance.

Commonly determinism is thought of as causal, macroscopic determinism. This is thinking that has motivated ancient philosophers to believe the world is run by laws of nature which can be articulated and generalized. This got a boost with Newton which strengthened the formulations of such laws by converting them into mathematical statements. Modern physics which acknowledges events which are random and uncaused, strikes a significant blow to this kind of determinism.

This is not the only kind of determinism, however. Determinism in the sense used here, is to say that all facts are determined by some preexisting state of affairs. Another type of determinism is theological. If there is a being with perfect knowledge, then A) whatever he knows is true, that is, his knowledge of something entails its truth and B) he knows everything. The combined affects of these is if there is a being with perfect knowledge, then the truth of every proposition is entailed. This is a very simplistic representation, and I intend to explore this further in subsequent posts.

In short, the restatement of the second premise is nothing controversial. If determinism is true then everything, our actions AND choices are, therefore, determined. Free Will requires that our choices be free, ergo determinism and Free Will are incompatible.

It is understandable that the second premise can cause ill ease as it cross domains with another debated philosophical concept: mind-brain dualism. The restatement of the second premise, combined with an instinctual understanding of determinism as causal determinism, seems to presume materialism. That is, our choices are simply a result of the natural operation of our brain, a purely physical object, which is then subject to causal, physical determiniation. It would not be correct to simply presume the truth of materialism or the answer to the mind-brain dualism, but the alternative is to suggest that some non-physical entity outside of our brain ultimately makes the choice, which brings us to:



Being the Ultimate Source of One's Actions:

In alignment with Frankfurt, we could perhaps rephrase this as "Being the Ultimate Source of One's Choices."

Here the waters get a little muddy. What does it mean to be an "ultimate source?" It means that, when tracing back the causes of some event which is proposed to have been a result of a free choice, A) we eventually come to a stop and B) when we stop, we resid at some iniating decision within ourselves. This also raises the question of what "we" are in the philosophical sense. Here we generally rely on our perceptions. I perceive myself as making a choice and being the source of the choice.

By itself, this is questionable. If something outside of us was the cause of our choices, we wouldn't perceive it because it's outside of ourselves. But just because we don't perceive something doesn't mean it isn't there.

Determinism is incompatible even with this because it requires that all things, including our choices, are entailed by some preexisting state of affairs. So, in tracing back the causes of some event which we perceive as having freely chosen to do, we will eventually come to our perception of the inital choice. Then we ask the question: was that choice entailed by some preexisting state of affairs? If determinism is true, then yes and, since we have reach the limit of our perception, what entails that choice exists outside of ourselves.

Here we implicitly limit what can we can be a source of to that which we perceive, but the argument holds water regardless. While the limitation of "ourselves" to "our perceptions" can be debated, what isn't debatable is the fact that we are beings that occupy a finite space of time. Tracing back a causal chain of events necessarily takes us to prior and prior events. Eventually we will reach a point in time before we exist, and such causes would then by "outside" of ourselves; we would not be the ultimate source of our actions.



Lastly, we have:


Having Some Power over Facts of the Future:

This is actually a combination of the previous concepts. That is, we have power over some fact of the future if we A) could have chosen otherwise, and the decision of choices was a result of that power or B) we are the ultimate source of some chain of events that we have power over by virtue of the fact that we initiated that chain of events.

This issue depends on how facts of the future can be determined which, the argument states, are as a result of the facts of the past and the laws of nature, which I will address in the next post.

1 comment:

Democurus said...

I apologize for formatting issues. I'm still getting the hang of this.