• Paul Michael
    26
    The definition of free will I will be using here comes from Trick Slattery. Free will is the ability to choose between more than one viable option or action, in which the choice is “up to the chooser”. The reason I’m using this definition is because it seems to capture what most people mean by free will.

    Do you have free will regarding your thoughts? Well, first notice that your thoughts occur linearly through time in succession. This means that you think your thoughts one at a time, one after another. Thus, every thought is your next thought at some point in time. According to Slattery’s definition of free will, you must always have more than one viable option to choose between for your next thought in order to have free will regarding your thoughts. However, it’s never possible for you to have more than one viable option to choose between for your next thought.

    To illustrate this, let’s say you want to freely will your next thought. You would have to think of the options yourself, as they couldn’t just present themselves to you externally or in any other way. But as soon as you think of the first option, you’ve already thought your next thought. And you couldn’t have freely willed it, as that would have required you to think of more than one viable option to choose between, which just pushes the problem back a step.

    If you can never freely will your next thought, then you can’t freely will any of them, since all thoughts are your next thought at some point in time. Your thoughts initiate your deliberate actions, whether the thoughts be fully conscious or subconscious. If you can’t freely will any of your thoughts, how can you freely will any of your actions which are based on and initiated by your thoughts?
  • AJJ
    838
    Your thoughts initiate your deliberate actions, whether the thoughts be fully conscious or subconscious.Paul Michael

    I think this is the problem, and it’s even in the language you’ve used: our thoughts might be given to us, but our “deliberate actions” come from us. We have a thought to do one thing and a thought to do another; options and a choice.
  • Paul Michael
    26
    I think this is the problem, and it’s even in the language you’ve used: our thoughts might be given to us, but our “deliberate actions” come from us. We have a thought to do one thing and a thought to do another; options and a choice.AJJ

    I agree that our deliberate actions come from us. However, if the thought which leads me to do one action over another is itself not freely willed, how can you be said to freely will the action?

    Here’s an example. Let’s say I think about doing action A or action B. Both A and B are present in my mind. I’ve already established that I couldn’t have freely willed to think about doing action A or action B, since no thought is freely willed. In order to do one of the two actions, I must think a thought which leads me to do one over the other. But the thought that leads me to do one over the other is itself not freely willed. So I can’t freely will the action.
  • AJJ
    838


    What would you say accounts for some thoughts generating actions and others not?
  • Paul Michael
    26
    This is an interesting and good question. I’m by no means an expert in this, but I would say that there are “pure” thoughts and action-initiating thoughts. If you’re just sitting there thinking about something, those thoughts are not leading you to perform an action. But if you desire to get up from where you’re sitting and go get a glass of water, for example, the thoughts which lead you to do this are action-initiating thoughts.

    This is just my take on it, however. What would you say about this?
  • AJJ
    838


    I expect desire is going to be characterised as being itself a kind of thought. Perhaps it’s right to say that all thoughts generate actions unless prevented by another thought; an action happens when a thought generates no opposing thoughts.

    This actually lends itself to another conception of free will that I’m sympathetic to: freedom isn’t found in the ability to make choices, but in making the *right* choices. On this account we’re free when those thoughts that generate our actions are the “right thoughts”, but this assumes other stuff. On a materialist account of things what you say might be right.
  • tim wood
    8.1k
    Free will is the ability to choose between more than one viable option or action,Paul Michael

    This appears to define free will in terms of prior constraint. Is that what "free" means to you - is that all that "free" means to you?

    Better to start with a brief investigation of both free and will and then free will, to try to establish what, for purposes of discussion, these things exactly are. This done, no paradox. In your example of free thought, "free" stands for a kind of accessibility. Try rethinking what "free" itself by- and in-itself might really mean.

    And to me there's a dual aspect. To be sure, being free implies the absence of that which limits the freedom. But it also implies that which can determine the freedom. The only thing that can itself freely determine is reason. Example: you like vanilla; you may freely choose between chocolate and vanilla, so you freely choose vanilla. But you're not free in that you like vanilla, thus you are subject to and not free from your wanting, preferring, the vanilla.

    You might object, saying that reason itself is chosen based on desire. And that seems a problem. But it is resolved in recognizing that freedom implies possibility and choice. The question remaining how to make the choice, and for that reason as a tool may be applied to the question of which or what to choose. Thus it can be reason all the way down, and for a free will properly understood, it must be.

    It remains to be said that reason itself can be imperfect or incomplete. And so a choice may seem reasoned by some standard and unreasonable by another. Thus reason as art - and God the only perfect reasoner. But for the perfect reasoner, all choices are always already with perfect reason made, and thus free will perfected understands no choice!
  • TheMadFool
    13.7k
    I'm happy with the limited version of free will we have. I call it the It could be worse argument for free will. Just imagine yourself as an ordinary man on the Clapham omnibus. You've got more freedom than a man coerced to act in a certain specified way, say with a cocked gun's muzzle pressed against your temple and a finger wrapped around the trigger.
  • InPitzotl
    830
    The definition of free will I will be using here comes from Trick Slattery. Free will is the ability to choose between more than one viable option or action, in which the choice is “up to the chooser”.Paul Michael
    I'll be granting this definition.
    However, it’s never possible for you to have more than one viable option to choose between for your next thought.Paul Michael
    I think you're concluding this prematurely.
    To illustrate this, let’s say you want to freely will your next thought. You would have to think of the options yourself, as they couldn’t just present themselves to you externally or in any other way. But as soon as you think of the first option, you’ve already thought your next thought.Paul Michael
    Here you are introducing a hidden premise that the viable option being selected must be the content of the next thought. I don't think this is justified.

    In actual practice among us humans, there are non-normative conditions such as intrusive thoughts and inattention. They highlight that in the normative case (to contrast with such non-normative cases), focus is a meaningful human capability. If we take the feeling seriously and convert it into a position, a person who feels like they are in control of their thoughts feels like that they have control over what they focus on. This implies there are things they may choose not to focus on, which implies that there are viable options to choose from, and that the person with focus is selecting from one of those viable options of what type of thing to focus on.

    By the given definition of free will, this choice of what to focus on meets the choice condition, but does not require a person to think their thought before they think it. Rather, the person chooses what kind of thing to direct their thinking towards, and the thoughts that happen (assuming their choice is attained) are about that kind of thing. Since this matches your definition of free will over what thoughts they have, and does not require the person to think the thought before they have the thought, it follows that you're wrong about their having to think their thought before they thought it in order for their thought to be a result of free will by the definition you have given.
    Your thoughts initiate your deliberate actions, whether the thoughts be fully conscious or subconscious. If you can’t freely will any of your thoughts, how can you freely will any of your actions which are based on and initiated by your thoughts?Paul Michael
    It appears that the logic you're employing here is that if Y follows from X; and X is not a selection from a viable set of options, then Y is not a selection from a viable set of options. This does not seem to follow.
  • Pantagruel
    1.9k
    Do you have free will regarding your thoughts? Well, first notice that your thoughts occur linearly through time in successionPaul Michael

    This would be your first mistaken assumption. People do not think purely sequentially. Trivially, the Zeigarnik effect shows this, where the mind tends to continue to work on unsolved or unresolved problems until it reaches a solution, when you suddenly remember the name of an actor that escaped you in conversation yesterday, for example. Eureka.
  • Paul Michael
    26
    I can see where the argument goes off the rails, thanks for the response.
  • Paul Michael
    26
    Interesting point, didn’t consider that. InPitzotl also helped me understand why the OP isn’t a good argument.
  • TheMadFool
    13.7k
    thoughts occur linearly through time in succession.Paul Michael

    That's a good point! So-called random thoughts may actually be linked, Think of faucets - there are many in the house and prima facie it would seem that these faucets are completely independent of each other but...beneath the walls...a network of pipes connect them all.

    Failure to see an association between thoughts is not the same as there being none.

    Imagine now the first thought you ever had (I'm about 99% certain that you won't recall it), itself initiated by factors beyond your control, set the ball rolling and you are what you are (thought-wise) because of that first thought!
  • Paul Michael
    26
    Imagine now the first thought you ever had (I'm about 99% certain that you won't recall it), itself initiated by factors beyond your control, set the ball rolling and you are what you are (thought-wise) because of that first thought!TheMadFool

    That would be thought-determinism in a nutshell, wouldn’t it? :grin:
  • TheMadFool
    13.7k
    That would be thought-determinism in a nutshell, wouldn’t it? :grin:Paul Michael

    I dunno!

    THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER. — Multivac (The Last Question)
  • dimosthenis9
    497
    If you can never freely will your next thought, then you can’t freely will any of them, since all thoughts are your next thought at some point in time. Your thoughts initiate your deliberate actions, whether the thoughts be fully conscious or subconscious. If you can’t freely will any of your thoughts, how can you freely will any of your actions which are based on and initiated by your thoughts?Paul Michael

    Even If I can't choose what my next thought would be, I have always the ability to filter them via Logic. And then filter my actions also. That works fine for Free Will, imo.

    Well in fact Will can never be fully free indeed, I believe that also.But yes there is some part of our decisions (life) that we can actually have "a say" on. That is "free will" or as to be more specific that's the part of the Will that is free.
  • SatmBopd
    27
    Two things.
    First, I do not think we can be certain that thoughts follow each other linearly, one after the other. Spoken and written words seem to do this, but notice that we don't think the way we write, we have to write in order to make our thoughts into tangible, measurable, concrete and separate things. When we walk down the street we are met with innumerable stimulus, internal and external, and our thoughts sort of wade through and respond to them don't they? Rather than one linear posses (I at least think) that it's generally more vague and intuitive.

    Second, I'll usurp the problem of not being able to will my next thought, by merely trying to will one of my future thoughts. To do this, I will summon a bunch of options, which as you said happens more or less automatically and I don't will them there, fine, but then watch:
    I'll just make a concerted effort to make a digestible but substantial list of options to think about, and freely choose between them.

    Our free will may have some boundaries, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
  • Present awareness
    108
    Thoughts do not come from the future, they come from the past. If you put your finger on a red hot element, your finger is already burned by the time you think to remove it. Consciousness exists in the present moment, but all that we are consciously aware of has already happened. The light we see has already passed through our eyes and the sounds that we hear have already vibrated the ear drum. We have already made our choice before the choice we made, registers in our consciousness. We have the freedom to think and instantly become aware of those thoughts or to choose and instantly become aware of that choice. If we don’t have free will, whom is it that chooses between chocolate cake, or ice cream?
  • god must be atheist
    3.5k
    I think no matter whether thoughts are linear, crooked or circular, the actions of a person are always in response to the environment. When someone comes up with a wholly original thought, it is still connected to prior knowledge and experience.

    Therefore our actions are directed by our conscious or sub-conscious conclusions what me must do.

    If will is defined as "thought that results in an action" (for the same of the argument that this thread is evolving toward) then our will is based on our past learning and on innate intuition and on our subsequent interpretation of these.

    Which part of these are part of free will?

    The prior experience is usually not self-instigated, although some of them are (such as declaring your love for an aspiring sexual partner.) Intuition is DNA driven, mostly, and some are mixed with observations that we don't raise to the conscious level. The third component is the analysis of past experiences and of analytical thoughts that one must arrange and make sense of.

    The third component also is influenced by the same two effectuation: by prior experience and by DNA driven behaviour.

    So in conclusion there is no chance for any of these components to be random.

    Exceptions exist in mentally diseased people.
  • DingoJones
    2.5k


    Where are the thoughts coming from if not from yourself?
    Wouldn't thoughts that come from your sub conscious or from biological processes (a fear response for example) elsewhere in your body still be “you”? In that way aren’t you simply making choices elsewhere than your conscious mind?
  • Alkis Piskas
    530

    Free will is the ability to choose between more than one viable option or action, in which the choice is “up to the chooserPaul Michael
    It's very good that your brought up a definition of the key term of your topic. Really few do this!
    However, it doesn't seem to describe "free will", which has to do with the power of acting rather than an ability to choose that your description refers to, which does not even refer to "freedom of choice". Because I can be free to choose between two options but I might not be able to do that, i.e. I could not know what to choose.

    Free will has to do with action. An action that has been taken or not taken, a decision that has been made or not made. It can be judged only after one has acted or refused to act. On the other hand, freedom of choice is something existing before acting. We use to say, "He quit his job on his own will", "He does what his wife tells him to; he has no free will", etc.

    Free will has always to do with acting. And it implies no constraints. If I do or not do something because I am forced to it under a threat, I am not doing or refuse to do it with my own free will. If I do something without thinking or being fully aware of it, I do it without my free will.

    The reason I’m using this definition is because it seems to capture what most people mean by free willPaul Michael
    I'm not sure that this is so, but if it is true, then you shouldn't call it "free will" but something else. Because this will affect your thesis, i.e. there's no free will. Which is totally wrong, based on simple logic as well as thousands of examples in life. (I gave already a couple of them.)

    Do you have free will regarding your thoughts?Paul Michael
    My answer is sometimes yes, other times no. Thoughts can be produced both voluntarily and involuntarily.

    every thought is your next thought at some point in time.Paul Michael
    Right. One thought can produce another one and so on, in a chain. And if I can't control this "flow", alas, I'm at the mercy of my subconscious! No control! I'm doomed! Fortunately though, I can get control on time, before I don't lose it! See, exerting my free will, I can stop it, start a new thread of thoughts or do something else. All that, thanks to my free will! You see, one thought producing another can be done completely consciously, as in producing arguments in a discussion, solving a Math problem, proving a hypothesis, and so one. This is actually what I'm actually doing right now. I'm not dictated by external force, spirit or some magic power what to write. I consciously construct every thought that I am noting down by typing it. The whole process is totally controllable and based on free will.

    It's not the first time that I come across a thesis postulating that there is no (actually) free will. And it is so strange, because life is plently of examples of free will. It is something almost self-evident So, I guess it all has to do with wrong definitions ...
  • SpaceDweller
    181
    Do you have free will regarding your thoughts? Well, first notice that your thoughts occur linearly through time in succession. This means that you think your thoughts one at a time, one after another. Thus, every thought is your next thought at some point in time. According to Slattery’s definition of free will, you must always have more than one viable option to choose between for your next thought in order to have free will regarding your thoughts. However, it’s never possible for you to have more than one viable option to choose between for your next thought.Paul Michael

    Aren't thoughts, one at a time, limitations of a mind?

    Using same analogy you have free will to visit WC or not until end of your life.
    Obviously you have a choice and free will but due to limitations of your body you won't withstand.

    We have free will to think or not to think about anything, but that's not possible because of limitations, it's impossible to think nothing. but that's mind-body limitation not absence of free will.
  • neomac
    1
    According to Slattery’s definition of free will, you must always have more than one viable option to choose between for your next thought in order to have free will regarding your thoughts. However, it’s never possible for you to have more than one viable option to choose between for your next thought. — Paul Michael

    In this line of reasoning there seem to be 2 assumptions that do not make much sense to me:
    1.“Having options” is equated to pondering options simultaneously
    2. Free choice between “options” presupposes free choice in thought processes

    Against the first assumption, I’d say that one may have “options” simultaneously displayed before his/her eyes (like ice-cream flavours) but one does not ponder them simultaneously, the best one can do is to compare 2 options at a time. Therefore there is no need to ponder “options” simultaneously to choose between them. Pondering “options” can be done sequentially.
    Against the second assumption, I’d say that, first of all, this presupposition between thoughts and choices is not included in the provided definition of “free will”. Acting according to what is deliberated by thought doesn’t mean that actions are caused by thoughts (consider the case of “acrasia” e.g. I decide to stop smoking because is bad for health but I can’t stop it) but that one’s actions or dispositions to act are rational.
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