• Bitter Crank
    8.9k
    "Free Will" and "Determinism" are perennial favorites in philosophical discussions. I end up wondering, again and again:

    "What are discussions of free will really about?" I can not simultaneously be subject and object in an analysis of my own behavior and thoughts (which is the basis for thinking about free will and determinism). I can't observe anyone else's mind. I am stuck with this problem and I believe you are too.

    The material universe which would allegedly determine everything is infinitely more complicated than we can grasp. We can't obtain enough information, even if we could process it all, to show how the long history of the physical universe has determined that I will write these words.

    In the close-up and very short term I can observe determination or free will at work. Blood sugar drops and one then feels hunger. In the kitchen there are 4 foods: a can of tomatoes, an apple, a donut, and a raw pork chop. Is the food that I ate the result of an exercise in free will? Or a mechanical choice-behavior driven by material factors? You would mechanically choose the donut and be satisfied. (What actually happened was that I freely willed to make a sandwich of the donut and raw pork chop. Later I became violently ill.)

    In a longer-term context, Christians theologians and believers have been nattering on about free will for 2000 years (figuratively, if not literally). "Free will" is usually believed to figure into "salvation" so it is a hot issue for believers worried about "eternal damnation". Had history worked out somewhat differently, would the discussion of free will been over millennia ago?

    OR, is "free will" a perennial discussion BECAUSE we can not separate our minds into distinct "subject" and "object", preventing us from obtaining a clear view of what causes our own thoughts and behaviors? In other words, discussions of free will are determined by the limited capacities of our minds?
  • CasKev
    411
    Even with freedom to choose between alternative courses of action, you still had no control over the inputs that created you (that would be quite paradoxical). So there's an ability to make choices, but all based on whatever inputs went into the mix. Even seemingly random thoughts and choices only arise and are available because the inputs formed you and shaped your mind and personality.
  • tim wood
    5.6k
    Answer, yes, until disputants exercise enough sense to at least think about defining their terms. Until then, on its face no such discussion is worth reading or listening to.
  • unenlightened
    5.3k
    Yes. Whenever I make a decision, it is necessarily on the basis that what I decide is undecided until I decide. At the same time, It is necessarily on the basis that my decision acts deterministically. It's not a matter of defining a way out, but of living the paradox. These words will change you in ways you cannot control - or you may ignore them.


    And, I meant and.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.9k


    If enough sufficiently predictive science had accumulated 2000 years ago, we might have already done away with the notion of free will. Determinism could remain as a possibility (it's not an either or dilemma) but it might be riddled with quantum caveats, such as epistemic limitations based around our ability to measure systems and our ability to calculate/simulate outcomes, or inherent indeterminacy among specific attributes of some quantum particles...

    Christianity can eventually get there though. In fact I think that Jesus' message of infinite forgiveness is best supported by the tentative assumption of determinism in the first place (when every action everyone does is determined by physical causes instead of some ethereal and inherently blameworthy component of their being, it makes no sense to hold individuals ultimately morally accountable for their actions). It is very easy to forgive someone when you recognize the external and uncontrollable causes which contributed to their behavior (note: forgiveness is different from pretending no crime was ever committed; we can forgive transgressors but we still need a justice and rehabilitation system for our own protection), and while we must still hold individuals accountable for their own actions to some degree for pragmatic reasons, the idea that bad people deserve to suffer becomes incoherent. It clearly delineates revenge as immoral, and permits the moral forgiveness of anyone for any reason (though it does not permit absolution from pragmatic reprisal). Rehabilitation becomes the only sensical approach to punishment where affordable, and all other moral intuitions remain unaffected by the presumption of determinism.

    The idea of free will as a component of the soul is why Christians have such a hard time learning to stop worrying and love determinism, but with some slight finagling it can be made compatible (god has a pre-determined plan/works through determinism, and your soul can be influenced by external causes, and therefore can be forgiven for its moral faults). Then, we just have to say "hell" was a bluff all along, and that god only threatened us with hell because he is a wise king of kings, or whatever, knowing that it was exactly what we needed to find our way.

    So long as people think this life is somehow a test of moral character, the free-will concept is required to underpin it.

    So long as science continues to yield its fiendishly (almost satanic) high level of reliability and utility in describing causal relationships, determinism to some degree will be a necessary consideration.
  • Marcus de Brun
    450
    Schopenhauer presents the definitive logic on the subject of the impossibility of a freedom of the will.
    I have read nothing to date that undermines his position. Debate upon the subject merely illustrates a lack of understanding or familiarity with Schopenhauer.

    Unfortunately for Philosophy it is often the vehicle used express and protect preconception, rather than the means to arrive at the truth of conception.

    Philosophy is a whore and will sleep with anyone.
    M
  • Wayfarer
    10.4k
    What are discussions of free will really about?"Bitter Crank

    I honestly think that many of them are driven by what Eric Fromm called 'the fear of freedom'. The freedom that is offered by the modern conception of the individual is actually scary, because, on the one hand, many traditional roles and social structures have been stripped away, and at the same time we're told we can 'be whatever we want'. And that can be quite a frightening responsibility. So I think a large part of the attraction of determinism, is the idea that we really aren't free in that way; we can hand it off to biology, genetics, or whatever.
  • Damir Ibrisimovic
    129
    ... discussions of free will are determined by the limited capacities of our minds?Bitter Crank

    Yes... :)

    My Joke:
    -----
    Since Libet's findings started to trickle out ---
    there was plenty of nonsense about our Free Will... :)
    What???!!! My Free Will is useless???!!! I'll give it up... :gasp:
    Here, my friend, take it and tell me what to do... :worry:

    Now, how could I give up something I do/did not have... :cool:
    -----

    I have started this joke on 22 May 2011. It offers several scenarios to prove that we have Free Will. They are so simple that experiments can be conducted in a cafe, for example... :)

    Deterministic [cause & effect driven universe] paradigm is now in progress of being replaced by [agents driven universe] paradigm... :)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_adaptive_system ... :)

    Enjoy the day, :cool:
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k
    'Free will' wasn't even a thing until some boofhead Church father decided to make it the cornerstone of his theology. There's nothing 'perennial' about it - the very idea is just an overladen cultural meme that had a date of birth at a very late point in (Western) human history; it will have a date of death.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.9k
    nothing 'perennial' about itStreetlightX

    Well, perennials keep coming up. As opposed to annuals which you have to plant again.
  • All sight
    333
    Three kinds of free will, in Christian theology. The freedom from coercion or force, the freedom of premeditation (purposely implying crime, as you're still a slave to craving, and sin). The former being circumstantial, and the latter innate to all reasoning beings. Finally though, there is a liberation from sin, and the freedom to live as one ought, or virtuously and righteously. This is acquired with practice.
  • SophistiCat
    1.5k
    Yes, we are. On one message board that I once frequented (now defunct), which wasn't even specifically for philosophy, a subsection within its only philosophy section was created just for free will discussions.

    Unlike, say, Kierkegaard's esthetics or structural realism, "free will" is the sort of subject where most people feel they can jump in without any learning or reflection. Most free will discussions are therefore trivial and confused, with people talking past each other, without even stopping to think about what free will is, or why they think of it the way they do. And I am speaking as someone whose attitude towards this subject has changed - an all too rare occurrence - from learning more about it.

    It would go a long way towards making such discussions more worthwhile if participants were at least somewhat aware of the history of the subject; its relation to freedom, voluntary action, agency, autonomy, responsibility, control, determination; the role it plays in law, ethics, psychology, sociology. There is, of course, massive literature on free will in philosophy, including experimental philosophy (yes, that's a thing).
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    It would go a long way towards making such discussions more worthwhile if participants were at least somewhat aware of the history of the subject; its relation to freedom, voluntary action, agency, autonomy, responsibility, control, determination; the role it plays in law, ethics, psychology, sociology. There is, of course, massive literature on free will in philosophy, including experimental philosophy (yes, that's a thing).SophistiCat

    :up:
  • Bitter Crank
    8.9k
    freedom, voluntary action, agency, autonomy, responsibility, control, determinationSophistiCat

    Because 'determination' is not singular, consistent, or unidirectional, and we seem to have some degree of freedom (so that we can make voluntary choices with executive agency), we can be held responsible--at least to a significant extent.

    We can do whatever we want to do (provided armed guards aren't standing in the way), but we can't choose to want it.

    So it is that exempting an adult from the responsibility for actions taken with personal agency is a very big deal. That the innocent by reason of insanity (an odd phase) are few in number is a measure of how much we don't want to let people off the hook of responsibility.

    I like to go to the local farmers market. All the behavioral cues are there: "fresh", "locally produced", "Organic" (maybe), "farm to table in one step", and so on. There's is a festive community atmosphere (unless it's cold and raining). Quite often a small band will play for publicity. I may think I am freely willing to bike over there and buy food but, in fact, I am being driven to this market by a set of cultural beliefs and habits of long standing. Beliefs are deterministic, and I did not freely choose most of the beliefs I have. Preferences, also never deliberately put together, are also deterministic. Habits are deterministic. Lots of personal and social features drive our behavior.
  • javra
    1.1k


    Very true. Yet, to me at least, the only meaningful distinction is between a Humean Compatibilism and that of Determinism. If determinism, than all agency is an illusion—as is all responsibility. If compatibilism (again, as per Hume and not as a semantically altered version of what yet remains a metaphysical determinism; the latter being our typical modern understanding of the term) then—though we can never choose the alternatives we choose between at any given instance of choice, nor choose the very impetus to make choices—the very act of choosing between the given alternatives at any given time will ontologically be dependent on nothing else but the chooser/agency in a metaphysical self-caused manner—i.e. via a metaphysically valid freewill (which is not the same as indeterminsim when interpreted as ontological randomness due to lack of causal determinism)—thereby leading to a noncontradictory justification for responsibility in the choices one does make ... and to the ontic reality of agency.

    ---

    Edit for greater completion of argument: Freewill does get complicated by influence(s). Tell someone they need to do X to not go to hell but instead be welcomed into heaven and you will have influenced their choice, for example. But, under compatibilism, their choice will yet remain their responsibility—together with their choice to believe these notions of hell and heaven to be BS and the person to be a malevolent manipulator, for example. Influence upon some choice does not amount to a causal determination of what will be chosen. Alternatively: holding a gun to someone's head will strongly influence their choice, but it will not causally determine it.

    ---

    But for the determinist, of course we’ve been predetermined to endlessly debate free will v. determinism; agency is an illusion, we’re all predetermined automata, and anything we do, believe, will, etc. is part of a fully deterministic whole. Talking about “living within an illusion” philosophies … this is it.
  • CasKev
    411
    Beliefs are deterministic, and I did not freely choose most of the beliefs I have. Preferences, also never deliberately put together, are also deterministic. Habits are deterministic.Bitter Crank

    I agree. To the people who promote free will, I would keep asking 'Why?' like my determined 2-year-old does. I think they would quickly determine that behind every will, there was a preceding way...
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    'Free will' wasn't even a thing until some boofhead Church father decided to make it the cornerstone of his theology.StreetlightX

    Aristotle was the first philosopher to identify the tertium quid beyond chance and necessity as an autonomous agent power.

    Aristotle knew that many of our decisions are quite predictable based on habit and character, but they are no less free nor we less responsible if our character itself and predictable habits were developed freely in the past and are changeable in the future.

    One generation after Aristotle, Epicurus argued that as atoms moved through the void, there were occasions when they would "swerve" from their otherwise determined paths, thus initiating new causal chains. Epicurus argued that these swerves would allow us to be more responsible for our actions, something impossible if every action was deterministically caused. For Epicurus, the occasional interventions of arbitrary gods would be preferable to strict determinism.

    http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/tertium_quid.html
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    I agree. To the people who promote free will, I would keep asking 'Why?' like my determined 2-year-old does. I think they would quickly determine that behind every will, there was a preceding way...CasKev

    Answers to stubborn "why?" questions need not lead to a regress when the events at issues are acts of the will or of the intellect such as the intentional actions or beliefs of a rational agent. When you ask someone why it is that she believes something to be true, she can give you her reasons for believing it. Those reasons may appeal to empirical facts. You may then ask why those empirical facts obtain, or how did it come about that she has the capacity to know them. But those followup "why?" question then would have shifted to a different topic and hence wouldn't lead to a troublesome regress. It would simply point back to to questioner's inexhaustible curiosity (or obnoxiousness).

    And likewise in the case of actions: the agent may provide the reasons why she thought her action to be the right thing to do. She needs not be thereby straddled with the burden of explaining what justifies the premises which those reasons rest upon (or explain why the circumstances obtained in which this was the right thing to do). The burden may rather shift to the enquirer to explain why, according to her, the proposed reasons might be bad.
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k
    Why yes I am aware of the prevalence of third-rate scholarship on the issue, cited frequently by philosophical dilettantes happy to anarchonisticly and omnivorously assimilate all discussions of freedom into the two-bit reductivism of 'free will'.

    “Augustine’s fateful turn reoriented Western Latin culture away from the Platonic intellectualist conception of human moral nature as either clear-sighted or confused and benighted (and in either case within the natural order) and toward the idea of a human person as fundamentally moral or immoral, responsible or irresponsible, obedient or sinful through choice of action rather than through understanding and character. In the Platonic tradition, by contrast, the body’s corruption was responsible for the mind being morally clouded; hence moral ignorance—not active sin but the Greek hamartia, “missing the mark”—was the result of the problems inherent in embodiment.

    Aristotle’s view was a nuance on the Platonic: his was an account of moral action as stemming from moral character. In this theory, early socialization shaped desire, enabling a person to have the capacity for moral discernment and understanding, as well as deliberative reasoning. Augustine, in contrast, explicitly rejected the body as the source of ignorance or error, neither of which, in any case, could in his view ever account for sin. .... Augustine’s reduction of all internal mental operations—thoughts, emotions, feelings, judgments, learning—to acts of will is a new theory of moral psychology. This new theory amounted to nothing less than a shift in worldview—initiating a decisive break with the past by focusing on the freedom of the will and a concomitant demotion of nature. It is this worldview that we have inherited.” (Heidi M. Ravven, The Self Beyond Itself).

    --

    "The passage from the ancient world to modernity coincides with the passage from potential to will, from the predominance of the modal verb “I can” to that of the modal verb “I will” (and later, “I must”). Ancient human beings were people who “can,” who conceive their thought and their action in the dimension of potential; Christian human beings are beings that will. [For the ancients] ... it is not a matter of founding responsibility in the subject’s will, but of ascertaining it objectively, according to the various levels of possibility of the subject’s actions. To the preeminence accorded by modern people to the will, there corresponds in the ancient world a primacy of potential: human beings are not responsible for their actions because they have willed them; they answer for them because they were able to carry them out ...

    We are so accustomed to refer the problem of action to the will that it is not easy for us to accept that the classical world thought it, by contrast, almost exclusively in terms of knowledge. ... The primacy of will over potential is brought about in Christian theology through a threefold strategy. It is a question, first of all, of separating potential from what it can do, of isolating it from the act; in the second place, of denaturalizing potential, of separating it from the necessity of its own nature and linking it to contingency and free choice; and finally, of limiting its unconditioned and totipotent nature in order to render it governable through an act of will... The Christian conception of the will, which modern ethics will inherit, frequently without benefit of an inventory, is a peremptory absolutization of the modal verb “I will,” which, separated from every possible content and all possible meaning, is used in vain: “I will to will"." (Giorgio Agamben, Karmen).
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    Why yes I am aware of the prevalence of third-rate scholarship on the issue....StreetlightX

    You miss the point. Sure, you have the theistic willing agent coming eventually into hard opposition with scientific determinism during the Enlightenment. But Aristotelian metaphysics already took a position that was more complex than this simple dualism.

    Simple material determinism was itself already wrong for Aristotle. He argued for the reality of chance or tychism as well. And then still there had to be the Tertium Quid - the insertion of agency into the story. Which today we would understand in terms of semiotics or embodied modelling relations - the information dimension.

    So there was something to be said way back then. But also the right kind of answer was on offer, if you are charitably inclined.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    Why yes I am aware of the prevalence of third-rate scholarship on the issue, cited frequently by philosophical dilettantes happy to anarchonisticly and omnivorously assimilate all discussions of freedom into the two-bit reductivism of 'free will'.StreetlightX

    Alas, the Augustinian predicament doesn't merely afflict significant parts of the philosophical scholarship about the conundra of freedom, determinism and responsibility. Many of the same issues that arise from problematizing the relations of the spirit to the flesh also arise from problematizing the relations of the mind to the material body. This is of course prevalent in the social and cognitive sciences. The latter issues stem from the modern shift from a metaphysics of natural substances, their powers, and the natural (and/or social-conventional) circumstances of exercise of those powers, to a metaphysics of universal laws and the events that are subsumed under those laws. Fortunately, some of the scholarship about the topics surrounding "free will" aren't beholden to the later reductionist view. They are rather committed to explaining how the alleged problems in accounting for agency and responsibility in a natural world tend to dissolve when our attempts at naturalizing those familiar phenomena appeal to rather more relaxed (embodied and situated) Aristotelian conceptions of nature, life, rational agency and causation.
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k
    Fortunately, some of the scholarship about the topics surrounding "free will" aren't beholden to the later view. They are rather committed to explaining how the alleged problems in accounting for agency and responsibility in a natural world tend to dissolve when our attempts at naturalizing those familiar phenomena appeal to rather more relaxed (embodied, situated and irreducible) Aristotelian conceptions of nature, agency and causation.Pierre-Normand

    Yeah, I'm aware of those moves, but I'm still of the mind that 'free will' has been so compromised by hundreds of years of theological poison that it needs to be dropped altogether. It's not 'freedom' I have a problem with, so much as 'the will'. It's that connection - unnecessary, overdetermined and intellectually disabling - that is what needs to be broken forever. A good dose of Spinoza - superior by far to Aristotle on this issue - would do everyone alot of good.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    Yeah, I'm aware of those moves, but I'm still of the mind that 'free will' has been so compromised by hundreds of years of theological poison that it needs to be dropped altogether. It's not 'freedom' I have a problem with, so much as 'the will'. It's that connection - unnecessary, overdetermined and intellectually disabling - that is what needs to be broken forever.StreetlightX

    My main point was that the original sin that you ascribe to theology has been co-opted by modern (late-seventeenth to eighteenth century) metaphysics and the modern scientific conception of the natural world that co-evolved with this metaphysical shift. So, merely scrubbing dubious notions (such as the purely mental acts of 'volitions') because they are tainted by their theological origins will leave the roots that currently nourish the philosophical confusions on the topics surrounding rational agency and personal responsibility firmly in place.
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k
    So, merely scrubbing dubious notions (such as the purely mental acts of 'volitions') because they are tainted by their theological origins will leave the roots that currently nourish the philosophical confusions on the topics surrounding rational agency and personal responsibility firmly in place.Pierre-Normand

    I don't doubt this, but I think a good first step is in putting to question the very vocabulary involved: freedom, but no 'will' please. This I think would have at least a primarily disorienting effect, which, given just how entrenched the idea is, would have value in itself.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    So, merely scrubbing dubious notions (such as the purely mental acts of 'volitions') because they are tainted by their theological origins will leave the roots that currently nourish the philosophical confusions on the topics surrounding rational agency and personal responsibility firmly in place.Pierre-Normand

    Yep. Surely it is Newtonian determinism that sustains the now neurological-level debate?

    Science's mechanical view of nature is what has been at issue. Freewill just becomes the most convincing argument against the modern understanding of the mind being a product of machine-like information processes.

    A good dose of Spinoza - superior by far to Aristotle on this issue - would do everyone alot of good.StreetlightX

    Spinoza is pretty irrelevant to dealing with the causal level here issue. Aristotelian biology sorts it.
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k
    Spinoza is pretty irrelevant to dealing with the causal level here issue.apokrisis

    :lol:
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    I don't doubt this, but I think a good first step is in putting to question the very vocabulary involved;: freedom, but no 'will' please. This I think would have at least a primarily disorienting effect, which, given just how entrenched the idea is, would have value in itself.StreetlightX

    I find it useful to speak of the will and of the intellect as distinct faculties albeit ones that a rational animal can only possess conjointly. Those faculties are sets of powers, to decide what to do (and do it), in one case, and to judge how things are, in the other case. It's useful for engaging with Aristotelian and Kantian scholarship about theoretical and practical reasoning. My own view on "the will" is a mishmash of Kantian and Aristotelian notions(*), so I'm using the word "will" to distinguish the power (the will, proper) from its acts or exercises (acts of the will). Acts of the will are paradigmatically intentional actions and, at the same time, expressions of practical knowledge. However, bits of practical knowledge can remain unexpressed, when the time to act hasn't come. In that case, an act of the will can take the form of an (as of yet) unrealized intention.

    (*) It owes much to Anscombe and Wittgenstein too.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    Science's mechanical view of nature is what has been at issue. Freewill just becomes the most convincing argument against the modern understanding of the mind being a product of machine-like information processes.apokrisis

    Yes, I think the third-rate literature that @StreetlightX deplores, because of the confused ways in which it problematizes 'the freedom of the will', can be viewed as a reductio of the attempt to account for agency and practical knowledge from a third-personal disengaged view on the material process of decision making. If agency rather is viewed as a natural (and social) phenomenon that can only be disclosed as intelligible from an empathetic and engaged participatory perspective, then there is nothing problematic in asserting that the will is a power that is being freely exercised by mature and responsible fellow rational agents.
  • apokrisis
    5.1k
    If agency rather is viewed as a natural (and social) phenomenon that can only be disclosed as intelligible from an empathetic and engaged participatory perspective, then there is nothing problematic in asserting that the will is a power that is being freely exercised by mature and responsible fellow rational agents.Pierre-Normand

    Indeed. We are neither meat machines nor ensouled creations but the third thing of socially-constructed and biologically embodied agents.
  • StreetlightX
    6.4k
    Yes, I think the third-rate literature that StreetlightX deplores, because of the confused ways in which it problematizes 'the freedom of the will', can be viewed as a reductio of the attempt to account for agency and practical knowledge from a third-personal disengaged view on the material process of decision making.Pierre-Normand

    I was referring to the idea that 'free will' was in any way at stake in philosophies before its contrived invention by the modern Church fathers. Simply a historical point, with the OP in mind: i.e. that 'free will' is a perineal problem is a bunch of historically myopic trash. That said, I can take embodiment and the rest of it; but the will can go into unintelligible hell where it belongs.
  • Damir Ibrisimovic
    129
    In other words, discussions of free will are determined by the limited capacities of our minds?Bitter Crank

    I was optimistic that this discussion could be ended by my joke... :)

    Obviously, I was wrong. We are doomed to endlessly debate this issue, for we can not/will not accept the solution... :)

    Enjoy the day, :cool:
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