• FreeEmotion
    138
    I have been reading the arguments regarding free will and determinism but I confess I have got somewhat lost in the woods. I understand the arguments for determinism but the arguments against determinism seem to be based on additional assumptions.

    For example, the Wikipedia entry for free will states the following:

    "Determinism suggests that only one course of events is possible, which is inconsistent with the existence of free will thus conceived."

    I cannot understand how the fact that only one course of events is possible rules out free will. It is conceivable that the one course of events is the result of innumerable decisions of free will. Peter Kreeft, the Catholic theologian, likens life to a novel where the end is known, but the story consists of agents acting freely.

    Wikipedia also goes on to state:

    "The puzzle of reconciling 'free will' with a deterministic universe is known as the problem of free will or sometimes referred to as the dilemma of determinism.[15] This dilemma leads to a moral dilemma as well: the question of how to assign responsibility for actions if they are caused entirely by past events"

    I really do not understand the logic of this argument. Morality exists regardless of whether free will exists or not.

    There are many such instances, I hope this forum will help me answer the questions for which I have not found sufficient answers.
  • Michael
    9.3k
    Morality exists regardless of whether free will exists or not.FreeEmotion

    The claim is that one cannot be morally responsible for an action that one did not freely choose to do. As an example, if I am pushed over and as I fall I break a vase then I am not responsible for breaking the vase, but if I choose to break it then I am. If we don't have free will (according to the incompatibilist at least), what we think of as choosing to break the vase is actually akin to us being pushed over and breaking it as we fall; a consequence of external forces and not a consequence of our own agency.

    I cannot understand how the fact that only one course of events is possible rules out free will.

    If only one course of events is possible then there is some constraint on our decision-making. If there is a constraint on our decision-making then we don't actually have a choice, as a choice requires more than one possible outcome.
  • jkop
    533
    You might want to look up compatibilism. It is basically determinism with the insight that there are many causal chains, and those that enable us to identify objects and states of affairs are not necessarily determined by others. For example, seeing the presence of two cold beers provides you with an opportunity to pick one, both, or none of them. Being thirsty or an alcoholic etc. may increase the probability to pick at least one, but you are still free to veto the desire. Even if you'd hate beer you are free to try it despite it. Imagine if we were total slaves to only one causal chain, we'd never go against a desire, never try new tastes and so on. We'd never start living in the first place. Free will is a necessary feature of living organisms.
  • Chany
    352
    Regarding moral responsibility- first, the issue is not whether morality exists, but whether we are morally responsible for our actions. In other words, can I be blamed or praised for my actions in such a way because I am responsible for them? So, for example, a hard determinist would say no, because we lack free will and what happened must have happened, given the prior events that led up to our actions.

    Regarding a single possibility- what Kreeft sounds like he is responding to is the problem of foreknowledge and free will, which is related to the free will debate, but does not comprise all of the debate. If there is only one possibility available to us to do, then we could not have done otherwise. If we could not have done otherwise, then in what sense is there free will?

    Of course, there is compatibilism (free will, properly understood, is compatible with determinism), but that follows a different definition of free will than what is commonly referred to.
  • Chany
    352


    Do you have the actual power to do otherwise and believe this power to do otherwise is somehow necessary for moral responsibility? Then you are not a compatibilist, but believe in libertarian free will.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    Do you have the actual power to do otherwise and believe this power to do otherwise is somehow necessary for moral responsibility? Then you are not a compatibilist, but believe in libertarian free will.Chany

    Yes, I also noticed that jkop began by mentioning and defining compatibilism and then seemed to be describing a form of incompatibilist libertarianism.

    There is an issue, though, with contrasting compatibilism with the traditionally incompatibilist idea that free will requires the 'ability to do otherwise'. There now is a variety of compatibilism that incorporates this requirement but maintains that the 'ability to do otherwise' (or 'PAP', principle of alternative possibility, in the literature) is compatible with determinism. Endorsers of this new variety of compatibilism (e.g. Michael Smith, Kadri Vihvelin and Michael Fara) also endorse a view called "new dispositionalism" (by one of its detractors: Randolph Clarke) that adapts to abilities a (revised) conditional analysis of dispositions first proposed by David Lewis. The core idea is that when an agent performs an action in a deterministic world, that doesn't entail that this agent didn't have the ability to do something else but only that this ability was not actually exercised. This is much more to this new dispositionalist form of compatibilism, and the idea isn't without trouble, but it is worth mentioning that some sophisticated contemporary compatibilists now accept the requirement for alternative possibilities that was traditionally only insisted upon by incompatibilists.
  • TheMadFool
    7.9k
    Determinism, in my view, is the belief that the past completely determines the future. Maybe that's a bit confusing, bringing time into the picture. Another, perhaps better, way to see it is as any event being completely at the mercy of another which precedes it.

    Free will is classicaly represented through choice. A person has free will if s/he can choose, well, freely, as in, not under any influence s/he can't override.

    Given the above, it follows that determinism precludes free will. This I think is what they call hard determinism.

    The question then is, do we possess free will? The ramifications are important e.g. moral responsibility, fate, etc.

    Here's where I'm puzzled. To me free will is demonstrable - just set up multiple choice question - and therefore provable through experimentation. Yet, no philosophy book mentions of such experiments! Why? Is it because it's impossible to count and reckon ALL the factors that may influence our choices? As you can see, this is a practical problem. Is it because we can never override some of these influences? This is, what I call, a theoretical problem. I'd be grateful if someone would answer this question.

    That said, there's another point I'd like to make. The laws of nature, as discovered in science, are inviolable and immutable over time and space. We're are put in a box, so to speak, whose walls are formed by these so-called laws of nature. We may see a choice that violates these laws, for instance one can imagine oneself levitating, BUT we can't make that choice. So, in a way, we are in a deterministic world. There's some degree of freedom (apparent) e.g. whether to drink coke or pepsi but these choices are restrained at some point along the way, for we can't drink through our ears. I wonder if such constraints extend to other domains of choice.

    So, in some crude sense, we are living in a deterministic world; well, at least a semi-deterministic world.
  • Mariner
    376
    Determinism and free will are not opposites. They are polar complementaries. One does not make sense without the other.

    Free will requires predictability to be meaningful, and predictability is dependent on [a degree of] determinism. But absolute determinism (the clockwork universe, down to and including individual decisions and fleeting thoughts) lacks truth-value, since truth is a property of propositions, and the link between the terms in a proposition must be free (else the proposition is not a proposition, but rather a term-disguised-as-proposition).

    If we want our dialogues to be meaningful, we must accept both free will and determinism.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    I cannot understand how the fact that only one course of events is possible rules out free will.FreeEmotion

    Because some understandings of free will, such as my own, have it that free will only makes sense if more than one course of events is possible, and we make a choice between those.

    It is conceivable that the one course of events is the result of innumerable decisions of free will.

    How though? At any given point, only one course of events is possible on the alternate view. Where is freedom entering the picture?

    Peter Kreeft, the Catholic theologian, likens life to a novel where the end is known, but the story consists of agents acting freely.FreeEmotion

    Again, how would they be acting freely?

    I really do not understand the logic of this argument. Morality exists regardless of whether free will exists or not.FreeEmotion

    The idea there is that if Joe murdered Paul, Joe had no choice in the matter. Only one course of events was possible, and that course of events was determined long before Joe even existed. Joe was merely a "pawn" in that course of events.

    What I've never been able to make the slightest lick of sense of is compatibilism. It's always seemed incoherent to me.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    For example, seeing the presence of two cold beers provides you with an opportunity to pick one, both, or none of them.jkop

    If detereminism is the case, how do you have that opportunity? It would merely be a matter that you don't know which course of action you MUST take. (Otherwise determinism isn't the case.)
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    The core idea is that when an agent performs an action in a deterministic world, that doesn't entail that this agent didn't have the ability to do something elsePierre-Normand

    If they had the ability to do something else then the world in question isn't deterministic. You can't simply rename the ideas and say "There, compatibilism works."
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    Determinism and free will are not opposites. They are polar complementaries. One does not make sense without the other.

    Free will requires predictability to be meaningful, and predictability is dependent on [a degree of] determinism. But absolute determinism (the clockwork universe, down to and including individual decisions and fleeting thoughts) lacks truth-value, since truth is a property of propositions, and the link between the terms in a proposition must be free (else the proposition is not a proposition, but rather a term-disguised-as-proposition).

    If we want our dialogues to be meaningful, we must accept both free will and determinism.
    Mariner

    The free will side was never saying that nothing is predictable, that causality never obtains, etc. The debate is between what you're calling "absolute determinism" and whether any ontic freedom obtains whatsoever. If you're not forwarding that "absolute determinism" is the case, then you're no determinist.

    It's similar to say, the realist/idealist distinction in that realists aren't saying that nothing is mental or ideal in nature. Rather, the idealists are saying that we can't know or that nothing is NOT mental or ideal in nature.

    Or say the nominalism/realism on universals distinction. Realists on universals aren't saying that nothing is simply conceptual or just a name or anything like that. Rather, nominalists are saying that things are ONLY conceptual or names, and there are no real types whatsoever.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    If they had the ability to do something else then the world in question isn't deterministic. You can't simply rename the ideas and say "There, compatibilism works."Terrapin Station

    According to a dispositional analysis of powers, the fact that an object doesn't exercise a power on some occasion doesn't show that the object didn't have this power on that occasion: only that is wasn't actually exercised. This is a common sense difference between the non-actualization of an existing power and a lack-of-power, which can be recognized irrespective of the truth of determinism.

    For instance, a sugar cube has the (passive) power of dissolving in water. We call this power solubility. The general circumstance consisting in this sugar cube being immersed in water can be construed as a triggering condition (or triggering cause) for the actualization of this power. We don't say of the sugar cube, when is it kept dry, that it is not soluble at that time, only that it didn't actually dissolve. It's still soluble. A conditional analysis of solubility (in water) would look like this: "X is soluble in water if and only if X would dissolves if it were immersed in water" where the conditional is understood as a causal counterfactual. The counterfactual conditional is true even in circumstances where the antecedent isn't true.

    In order to adapt this sort of analysis of powers (or dispositions) to the problem of free will, you may have to identify the 'triggering condition' of the agent's practical abilities with some feature of this agent's rational will. In that case, the agent who choses to steal a book didn't actualize her power from refraining to do so. This doesn't show that she didn't have the power from refraining to do so, anymore than a sugar cube remaining dry shows that it isn't soluble. An incompatibilist may object that the 'triggering' condition that was missing for the agent to refrain from stealing the book (having a honest character, say) isn't something that the agent had any control over at the time of acting if the world is deterministic. But it is far from obvious that rational agents relate to their own rational/moral characters in an extrinsic way such as to restrict their freedom. This is a much more difficult argument to make than it seems.
  • Mongrel
    3k
    In order to adapt this sort of analysis of powers (or dispositions) to the problem of free will, you may have to identify the 'triggering condition' of the agent's practical abilities with some feature of this agent's rational will. In that case, the agent who choses to steal a book didn't actualize her power from refraining to do so. This doesn't show that she didn't have the power from refraining to do so, anymore than a sugar cube remaining dry shows that it isn't soluble.Pierre-Normand

    A determinist like Schopenhauer simply notes that apriori every event can only have one outcome. If the outcome of a die roll is that the 5 is face up, it is not possible that the 2 is also face up.

    Talk of the "power of the die roll to produce a 2 face up" is an analysis of logical possiblity.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    According to a dispositional analysis of powers, the fact that an object doesn't exercise a power on some occasion doesn't show that the object didn't have this power on that occasion:Pierre-Normand

    That's fine, but determinism, if we're indeed talking about determinism, DOES imply that the powers in question are not available. Otherwise we're not talking about determinism. We're talking about something else and calling it determinism.

    We don't say of the sugar cube, when is it kept dry, that it is not soluble at that time, only that it didn't actually dissolve. It's still soluble.Pierre-Normand

    We don't say that because people don't actually think in determinist terms most of the time. What's the case in the world doesn't hinge on what we think or how we talk about it. If determinism were true, then it wasn't actually possible for a sugar cube that was kept dry to dissolve in water. We could think, "If things had been different, it could have dissolved in water," but if determinism is true, then things could not have been different, and that sugar cube never could have dissolved in water. If determinism were true, then counterfactuals are just complete nonsense. And conditionals would only have semantic relevance insofar as they're about epistemic gaps.

    In order to adapt this sort of analysis of powers to the problem of free will, you may have to identify the triggering condition of the agent's abilities with some feature of this agent rational will.Pierre-Normand

    I can't quite figure out that sentence.

    In that case, the agent who choses to steal a book didn't actualize her power from refraining to do so.

    We can't talk about possibilities that aren't actualized if determinism is the case. There ARE NO possibilities that aren't actualized in that situation.

    This doesn't show that she didn't have the power from refraining to do so, anymore than a sugar cube remaining dry shows that it isn't soluble.Pierre-Normand

    Again, a sugar cube that wasn't dissolved in water never had the possibility of being dissolved in water if determinism is the case.

    An incompatibilist may object that the triggering condition that was missing for the agent to refrain from stealing the book (having a honest character, say) isn't something that the agent had any control over at the time of acting if the world is deterministic.

    If the world is deterministic, it's simply a matter of causality. Causality determined, long before the agent even existed, that the agent must steal the book.

    But it is far from obvious that rational agents relate to their own rational/moral characters in an extrinsic way such as to restrict their freedom.Pierre-Normand

    I can't really parse that sentence, either, but it doesn't seem to be in a context of determinism being the case.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    A determinist like Schopenhauer simply notes that apriori every event can only have one outcome. If the outcome of a die roll is that the 5 is face up, it is not possible that the 2 is also face up.

    Talk of the "power of the die roll to produce a 2 face up" is an analysis of logical possiblity.
    Mongrel

    For sure, this is a common way to be a determinist. In his book The Refutation of Determinism, Michael Ayers (London: Methuen, 1968) calls this sort of determinism actualism. Actualism, as applied to human and natural powers (e.g. the powers of objects) yields the denial that objects (or humans) have unactualized powers. But the sort of conditional analysis of dispositions and abilities proposed by the new dispositionalists show that actualism isn't the only option. (And their view was anticipated by Michael Ayers although he isn't, himself, a compatibilist or a determinist)
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    For sure, this is a common way to be a determinism. In his book The Refutation of Determinism, Michael Ayers (London: Methuen, 1968) calls this sort of determinism actualism. Actualism, as applied to human and natural powers (e.g. the powers of objects) yields the denial that objects (or humans) have unactualized powers. But the sort of conditional analysis of dispositions and abilities proposed by the new dispositionalists show that actualism isn't the only option. (And their view was anticipated by Michael Ayers)Pierre-Normand

    In other words--"We could change the topic and thus be compatibilists."

    Sure, they could do that, but then they're simply not determinists (too).

    An alternate approach, which seems to be Dennett's, is to change the topic and claim to be a compatibilist without actually being a libertarian too.

    So then we have to wonder why people are so eager to consider themselves compatibilists when they're simply changing the topic, changing the ideas that the terms represent, while they're still incompatibilists (as they must be if they're to be coherent) when it comes to what the terms traditionally represented.
  • Michael
    9.3k
    So then we have to wonder why people are so eager to consider themselves compatibilists when they're simply changing the topic, changing the ideas that the terms represent, while they're still incompatibilists (as they must be if they're to be coherent) when it comes to what the terms traditionally represented.Terrapin Station

    Compatibilism only really requires believing that free will and determinism are compatible. It doesn't require that free will requires the ability to have done otherwise. For some, to have free will is just for one's self to be the cause of one's actions. Nothing about this requires that one's self could have caused a different action, or that one's self isn't in turn caused by some other event.

    As an example, consider a deterministic universe in which a button is pressed and as a consequence of this a ball is dropped onto china plate, breaking it. What is responsible for the china plate breaking? The ball, even though the ball breaking it was determined by the button being pressed. So by the same token, one's self can be responsible for one's actions even if some external force is responsible for one's self.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    Compatibilism only really requires believing that free will and determinism are compatible. It doesn't require that free will requires the ability to have done otherwise. For some, to have free will is just for one's self to be the cause of one's actions.Michael

    Which is redefining the libertarian side, and thus one isn't a compatibilist on the traditional senses of the terms. One has merely changed the topic, apparently out of some normative desire to be considered a compatibilist. The person with the view you note is a determinist. They don't buy the libertarian side.

    But yeah, I agree with you that determinists can still back moral responsibility in the sense you're talking about. I was explaining to the OP the traditional objection though (in my comment about Joe murdering Paul).
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    That's fine, but determinism, if we're indeed talking about determinism, DOES imply that the powers in question are not available. Otherwise we're not talking about determinism. We're talking about something else and calling it determinism.Terrapin Station

    When you are saying that the powers in question "are not available" you are merely pointing out that they are not exercised in the actual circumstances, which is something that is accepted by dispositionalists. But to ascribe a power to an object, according to them, is not the same thing as saying that it was actualized. It is not either to say that it could have been actualized consistently with the past state of the universe and the laws of nature remaining the same. Maybe it was indeed necessary that the power would remain unmanifested. But according to the conditional analysis of powers, this is no ground for the denial of the object's possessing the power. Rather, the ascription of the power is akin to the attribution of some sort of intrinsic structural 'causal basis' to the object that explains why objects of that sort manifest this specific power when and only when the triggering conditions are realized. This is perfectly consistent with determinism, and with common sense, according to which attribution of dispositional attributes to objects (e.g. solubility in water, to sugar) is true irrespective of the possible truth of determinism. If theoretical physicist were to prove tomorrow that the fundamental laws of the universe were deterministic, it would not follow that they would have discovered that dry sugar cubes aren't soluble in water.

    I grant that issues get more complicated when "new dispositionalism" gets adduced to defend the compatibility of determinism with the requirement for alternative possibilities for freedom and responsibility. One issue concerns the problem of "ultimate responsibility" when the antecedent features of the rational/moral character of agents are construed as antecedent conditions that determine their choices "externally", as it were. (That is, as determining conditions that aren't under those agent's control anymore). But such objections also rest of very problematic presuppositions about the nature of rational agency. For some recent statements of the objections to new dispositionalism, see Randolph Clarke, Dispositions, Abilities to Act, and Free Will-The New Dispositionalism, and Chistopher Evan Franklin, Masks Abilities and Opportunities Why the New Dispositionalism Cannot Succeed. I don't think, though, that Clarke's and Franklin's objections are definitive though they point to genuine problems with the current proposals.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    When you are saying that the powers in question "are not available" you are merely pointing out that they are not exercised in the actual circumstances,Pierre-Normand

    No, I'm not. I'm saying that there's not the possibility in any sense. If you say that the possibility obtained, you're not a determinist. Hence not a compatibilist.
  • Michael
    9.3k
    Which is redefining the libertarian side, and thus one isn't a compatibilist on the traditional senses of the terms.Terrapin Station

    I'm not sure what you mean by this. Just that compatibilists and libertarians have different conceptions of free will? Sure.

    One has merely changed the topic, apparently out of some normative desire to be considered a compatibilist.

    Or maybe the libertarian and the determinist have merely changed the topic, apparently out of some normative desire to be considered an incompatibilist?

    You seem to be suggesting that the definition of free will that is incompatible with determinism is the correct one?
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    I'm not sure what you mean by this. Just that compatibilists and libertarians have different conceptions of free will? Sure.Michael

    Compatibilism can only work by changing the topic.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    Or maybe the libertarian and the determinist have merely changed the topic,Michael

    Nope. What I'm talking about is what the terms referred to. That was the debate.

    You seem to be suggesting that the definition of free will that is incompatible with determinism is the correct one?Michael

    I'm saying that changing what we're talking about isn't actually saying that both sides of what we were talking about can work together.
  • Mongrel
    3k
    For sure, this is a common way to be a determinist. In his book The Refutation of Determinism, Michael Ayers (London: Methuen, 1968) calls this sort of determinism actualism. Actualism, as applied to human and natural powers (e.g. the powers of objects) yields the denial that objects (or humans) have unactualized powers. But the sort of conditional analysis of dispositions and abilities proposed by the new dispositionalists show that actualism isn't the only option. (And their view was anticipated by Michael Ayers although he isn't, himself, a compatibilist or a determinist)Pierre-Normand

    But I'm not getting how the dispositionalist is offering an option. Determinists don't disagree that talk of logical possibility is valuable.
  • Michael
    9.3k
    Nope. What I'm talking about is what the terms referred to. That was the debate.Terrapin Station

    Again, I'm not sure what you mean by this. You seem to be suggesting that the definition of free will that is incompatible with determinism is the correct one?
  • Michael
    9.3k
    But yeah, I agree with you that determinists can still back moral responsibility in the sense you're talking about.Terrapin Station

    And according to this, "As a theory-neutral point of departure, then, free will can be defined as the unique ability of persons to exercise control over their conduct in the manner necessary for moral responsibility". Therefore, if one believes in causal determinism but also in moral responsibility then one is a compatibilist rather than a hard determinist.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    It's like if someone said (first), (A) "This dress can either be all blue--'dreblue'--or it can be all orange--'dreorange,' but not both."

    But then someone comes along afterwards and says, (B) "Wait--it can be both blue and orange. We can make this part blue and that part orange"

    Well, that's fine, but it's changing what was being talked about, namely that it could either be all blue or all orange but not both.

    So the person who said (B) wasn't really saying something about (A). Maybe they'd use the same terms--the (B) person might say, "So, you see, the dress is both dreblue and dreorange." But it's not. They've changed what "dreblue" and "dreorange" are referring to.

    They can obviously do that, but it has nothing to do with the conversation that the person who said (A) was broaching.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    But I'm not getting how the dispositionalist is offering an option. Determinists don't disagree that talk of logical possibility is valuable.Mongrel

    That depends on what it is that you want them to offer as "an option". Since they are compatibilists, they are not offering "an option" for agents to "chose otherwise" consistently with the past state of the universe (and the laws of nature) remaining the same, as most traditional incompatibilist libertarian required. Rather, they are offering an compatibilist analysis of "could have done otherwise", as opposed to traditional compatibilists who rather accept the lack of alternative possibilities and rather argue for the compatibility of free will and responsibility with this alleged lack of options.
  • Michael
    9.3k
    It's like if someone said (first), (A) "This dress can either be all blue--'dreblue'--or it can be all orange--'dreorange,' but not both."

    But then someone comes along afterwards and says, (B) "Wait--it can be both blue and orange. We can make this part blue and that part orange"

    Well, that's fine, but it's changing what was being talked about, namely that it could either be all blue or all orange but not both.

    So the person who said (B) wasn't really saying something about (A). Maybe they'd use the same terms--the (B) person might say, "So, you see, the dress is both dreblue and dreorange." But it's not. They've changed what "dreblue" and "dreorange" are referring to.

    They can obviously do that, but it has nothing to do with the conversation that the person who said (A) was broaching.
    Terrapin Station

    So what did the first person who talked about free will mean by the term?

    But this reasoning is problematic anyway. The first people to use the term "atoms" to refer to the atoms of the Standard Model meant by the term "indivisible". But atoms are nonetheless divisible.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k
    That depends on what it is that you want them to offer as "an option". Since they are compatibilists, they are not offering "an option" for agents to "chose otherwise" consistently with the past state of the universe (and the laws of nature) remaining the same, as most traditional incompatibilist libertarian required. Rather, they are offering an compatibilist analysis of "could have done otherwise", as opposed to traditional compatibilist who rather deny alternative possibilities and rather argue for the compatibility of free will and responsibility with this denial.Pierre-Normand

    It would be silly to frame the whole thing around the "could have done otherwise" phrase. You can just state it as "there is more than one possibility that has a >0 probability of obtaining."
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