• Michael
    7.1k
    Assume that "X" refers to a real thing. Now assume that John defines "X" as being Y, that Jane defines "X" as being Z, and that the real thing referred to by "X" cannot be both Y and Z. In this context it makes sense to argue that either John or Jane are wrong in their account of what it means to be an X. John is wrong if the real thing referred to by "X" isn't Y and Jane is wrong if the real thing referred to by "X" isn't Z.

    Now assume that "X" doesn't refer to a real thing. Does it make sense to argue that either John or Jane are wrong in their account of what it means to be an X? Given that there is no real thing referred to by "X", there is no fact of the matter.

    To give a more meaningful example, consider free will. John defines "free will" in one way and Jane defines "free will" in a different way. Unless the term "free will" already refers to a real thing it doesn't seem to make sense to argue that one or the other is wrong in their account of what it means to have free will. The same is also true of the terms "choice" and "moral responsibility".

    So if John defines "free will", "choice", and "moral responsibility" in such a way that they don't refer to real things, and if Jane defines "free will", "choice", and "moral responsibility" in such a way that they do refer to real things, what would John mean if he were to argue that Jane's account of what it means to have free will, choice, and moral responsibility are wrong? It's certainly not the case that her account fails to describe the real things referred to by these terms. Is it just that her stipulative definitions are not the lexical definitions (assuming that they're not, and that John's are)? If so then what makes the lexical definitions more significant than the stipulative definitions? Obviously there's the issue of successful communication, but given that this can be addressed by explaining the stipulative definitions ahead of time, it isn't really relevant.

    Again to give a more meaningful example, assume that determinism is the case, that John is an incompatibilist, and that Jane is a compatabilist. John's stipulative definitions – which, for the sake of argument, are the same as the lexical definitions – are such that the terms do not refer to real things and Jane's stipulative definitions – which, for the sake of argument, are not the same as the lexical definitions – are such that the terms do refer to real things. Do we have free will? Do we make choices? Are we morally responsible for our actions? According to John, no. According to Jane, yes.

    And if John were to say that Jane's "free will" isn't really free will, isn't he just saying that Jane's "free will" isn't what he (and, for the sake of argument, most others) mean by "free will"? If so, is this significant?
  • Barry Etheridge
    349
    All you're describing here is an undecidable proposition which means that, by definition there is no such thing as wrong and right from the point of view either of the participants in this 'debate' or observers of it even if one of them is describing an ontological reality because it is impossible to know that this is the case. Significant? Perhaps, as a problem that we should be aware of and maybe a clincher to prevent descent into scholasticism.
  • andrewk
    1.4k
    Yes, the trouble as I see it with the free will debate is that, while non-libertarians like Hume have a definition of free will that is pragmatic and identifies a phenomenon that most people would agree exists, the libertarians reject that definition but do not have any definition to propose in its place that doesn't ultimately dissolve in undefinable terms.

    The resolution of the undefinable term problem is to construct epistemological definitions of otherwise undefined terms like 'could have done otherwise'. But the libertarians do not accept such definitions.

    As I see it, the compatibilist position is that a person 'could have done otherwise', based on an epistemological interpretation of that phrase and that, since that's the only interpretation that anybody has been able to suggest so far, that's the maximum sort of free will that anybody could imagine.
  • tom
    1.5k
    As I see it, the compatibilist position is that a person 'could have done otherwise', based on an epistemological interpretation of that phrase and that, since that's the only interpretation that anybody has been able to suggest so far, that's the maximum sort of free will that anybody could imagine.andrewk

    Are you sure? Compatibilism seems more like "a person is to blame for their choices, even though 'choice' doesn't exist".

    "Could have done otherwise" doesn't mean anything under determinism. If "could" refers to anything real, then determinism does not hold at that point - i.e. either the laws of physics are wrong, or our understanding of them. I don't think compatibilists complain too much about physics.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.2k
    Are you sure? Compatibilism seems more like "a person is to blame for their choices, even though 'choice' doesn't exist".

    "Could have done otherwise" doesn't mean anything under determinism. If "could" refers to anything real, then determinism does not hold at that point - i.e. either the laws of physics are wrong, or our understanding of them. I don't think compatibilists complain too much about physics.
    tom

    The phrase "could have done otherwise" can point to a human ability. Abilities are similar to dispositions. Dispositions exist (i.e. they are actual properties of things) even when they are not actualized. A sugar cube is soluble because it would dissolve if it were immersed in water. Even if you don't immerse it in water, it remains soluble. You don't say that it was insoluble during the time when it was dry. Even when the sugar cube is dry, it retains the disposition to dissolve in water.

    Likewise, you can say of Sue, who got to work late, that she could have arrived at work on time to mean that she had the capacity and opportunity. That the capacity wasn't actualized when she got late doesn't entail that the capacity itself wasn't there. If Sue gets late to work while having the capacity and opportunity, then she can be blamed (unless she had a good excuse to arrive late intentionally). Only if she didn't have the capacity (e.g. being paralyzed by a stroke) or didn't have the opportunity (e.g. because her car had been stolen), or both, do we normally say that she could not have done otherwise.
  • Michael
    7.1k
    Are you sure? Compatibilism seems more like "a person is to blame for their choices, even though 'choice' doesn't exist".tom

    They would likewise define "choice" in a manner compatible with determinism, and so argue that we do have and make choices. To argue that this isn't what a choice is doesn't make much sense unless "choice" already refers to a real thing, and that the compatabilist's description of this thing is mistaken. But, of course, that would entail that we have and make choices anyway.

    Unless all they're arguing is that the compatabilist's definition isn't the lexical definition, but then why does that matter?
  • Barry Etheridge
    349
    Only if she didn't have the capacity (e.g. being paralyzed by a stroke) or didn't have the opportunity (e.g. because her car had been stolen), or both, do we normally say that she could not have done otherwise.Pierre-Normand

    That's precisely the distinction that determinists argue is fallacious. Everything which occurs to make Sue late, including her 'choices', on this particular day is an incapacity equal to accidents and emergencies like those you describe. There is no point at which Sue can independently intervene in the course of events to change the inevitable outcome of her arriving after the appointed time. She can sit there all day saying she shouldn't have had that last sip of coffee or she should have had the right fare ready for the bus but she did and she couldn't not have.
  • tom
    1.5k
    They would likewise define "choice" in a manner compatible with determinism, and so argue that we do have and make choices. To argue that this isn't what a choice is doesn't make much sense unless "choice" already refers to a real thing, and that the compatabilist's description of this thing is mistaken. But, of course, that would entail that we have and make choices anyway.Michael

    This is what I don't get. Under determinism, what happens is a sensitive function of the initial conditions at the big bang, or if you prefer the conditions at any other time. Choice cannot exist, neither can "testability". Playing word-games to preserve moral responsibility seems utterly futile.
  • Michael
    7.1k
    Playing word-games to preserve moral responsibility seems utterly futile.tom

    Why is it the compatabilist who's playing word games and not the incompatabilist? Why is it that the incompatabilist has the 'correct' definition of "free will", "choice", and "moral responsibility" and not the compatabilist?

    This is what I don't get. Under determinism, what happens is a sensitive function of the initial conditions at the big bang, or if you prefer the conditions at any other time. Choice cannot exist, neither can "testability".

    How do you get from "what happens is a sensitive function of initial conditions" to "choice cannot exist"? What if the compatabilist defines "choice" in such a way that it, too, is a sensitive function of initial conditions? Then making choices can (and maybe does) occur even if determinism is the case.

    What you seem to be suggesting is that the compatabilist's definition is wrong and that the incompatabilist's definition is right. What makes it so? Unlike something like "planet", you – as a hard determinist – can't defer to a real thing referred to by the word "choice" and argue that the incompatabilist successfully describes it and that the compatabilist doesn't.

    All you can really do is argue that the compatabilist's definition isn't the lexical definition (assuming, for the sake of argument, that it isn't), but then why does that matter?
  • m-theory
    1.1k
    either the laws of physics are wrong, or our understanding of them. I don't think compatibilists complain too much about physics.tom

    Well not all laws of physics are deterministic.

    At its core, quantum mechanics can be regarded as a non-classical probability calculus resting upon a non-classical propositional logic.

    Defining an appropriate form of determinism for the context of general relativistic physics is extremely difficult, due to both foundational interpretive issues and the plethora of weirdly-shaped space-time models allowed by the theory's field equations.

    Determinism is often an interpretation more so than a necessary conclusion.
    This is especially true of the foundations of quantum theory, which are by definition probabilistic.

    Debates about free will often dissolve into debates about interpretations of physical laws and the nature of causality.

    In fact I would say the thing that compatibilist and incompatibilist argue about the most is over how to interpret causality and not how to define free will.
  • unenlightened
    2.5k
    Choice (or if you insist, "choice") determines and is itself determined under determinism by initial conditions. At the end of the road I have a choice to go left to the promenade, or right to the headland. Which way I go is determined by my choice, which is itself determined by my reasoning about whether I want to pass the shop and buy some milk, or get some exercise going up the hill, and various other factors.

    God may know what I will choose tomorrow, but that does not mean I won't choose, because if I don't choose I'll be left standing at the end of the road forever. By contrast, I have no choice about where the roads lead, because my thinking does not change geography.

    So even under determinism, one can distinguish having a choice from having no choice. One can similarly distinguish having a free choice from a coerced choice. The mad axeman slaughtering everyone who turns for the promenade coerces me to head for the headland rather than lose my head.

    And what one can distinguish has meaning. My having a determined choice means that my choosing determines the event, and having no choice means that my choosing has no effect.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.2k
    This is what I don't get. Under determinism, what happens is a sensitive function of the initial conditions at the big bang, or if you prefer the conditions at any other time. Choice cannot exist, neither can "testability". Playing word-games to preserve moral responsibility seems utterly futile.tom

    Whenever you are deliberating about what to do, you are making a principled and pragmatically justified distinction between those options that you either lack the capacity or opportunity to do, on the one hand, and those options (W, X, Y, Z, etc.) that are genuinely open to you, on the other hand. When you then settle for one of those options -- to do W, say -- and proceed to do it, it doesn't reveal the other options -- X, Y, Z, etc. -- retrospectively not to have been really open to you. It's not just because you do not chose to do something that you are thereby shown not to have had the opportunity or capacity to do it at all. That you merely didn't chose to do any one of those things only reveals that you didn't have a good reason to do them, or that you didn't engage in practical deliberation as well as you should have, maybe. The fault would thus lie within yourself (in your rational or moral character, say) rather than in the external antecedent physical circumstances of your action (where those "circumstances" include your own antecedent neurophysiological states).

    You may then appropriately kick yourself for not having done the right thing. If you would rather hold the universe causally responsible for your not having made the right choice, owing to the past physical conditions required for you to make the right choice not having been realized, it may reveal that you are philosophically confused. You forgot that you are a part of the empirical/material universe and of its unfolding rather than the past physical "state" of the universe being external to you. On the former view, you are an embodied rational animal endowed with real cognitive abilities, whereas on the latter view you are just a temporally unextended node in a chain of physical events. The latter view portrays you has having fewer powers than a simple sugar cube is commonly held to have. Physical theory doesn't force this metaphysically extravagant picture of human beings upon us.
  • mcdoodle
    990
    When I first visited the old forum determinism/freewill was the topic that fascinated me most. The greater clarity that the habit of philosophical debate brings gradually cured me of this fascination.

    I have a very minority position on the issue in general. First, I think determinism is a mystery and pointless to debate: empirically there is no model imaginable that can demonstrate determinism to be present or absent, it is a prejudice we bring to the table with our thinking, often citing supposed 'laws' of this and that or 'principles' of sufficient whatever.

    Second, I think 'free will' is an idea unrelated to determinism. Its history is theological and in contemporary debates it remains akin to theology, a way of relating a person's view of psychology to their view of ontology.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.2k
    Second, I think 'free will' is an idea unrelated to determinism. Its history is theological and in contemporary debates it remains akin to theology, a way of relating a person's view of psychology to their view of ontology.mcdoodle

    It is a good thing, even when one is a naturalist, that one's philosophy of mind not conflict with one's metaphysics or with one's ontological understanding of living beings. One's desire to avoid such conflicts need not be a covert attempt to save supernatural belief.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.2k
    So even under determinism, one can distinguish having a choice from having no choice. [...]
    And what one can distinguish has meaning. My having a determined choice means that my choosing determines the event, and having no choice means that my choosing has no effect.
    unenlightened

    Quite so!
  • mcdoodle
    990
    It is a good thing, even when one is a naturalist, that one's philosophy of mind not conflict with one's metaphysics or with one's ontological understanding of living beings. One's desire to avoid such conflicts need not be a covert attempt to save supernatural belief.Pierre-Normand

    There is a converse, though: that people's claims about philosophy of mind maybe be covert claims about metaphysical naturalism. I am an ardent advocate of science as a method and a body of work but against metaphysical naturalism, and I think the two things are confused in determinism/freewill debates.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.2k
    I am an ardent advocate of science as a method and a body of work but against metaphysical naturalism, and I think the two things are confused in determinism/freewill debates.mcdoodle

    Naturalism has many guises, some of which are distinguished in the various essays collected in De Caro and Macarthur, Naturalism in Question, HUP, 2004. I am partial to the sorts of naturalism espoused by Hilary Putnam, John McDowell and Jennifer Hornsby (who each have an essay published in that volume). Can you elaborate a bit on what sort of naturalism you are labeling metaphysical naturalism?
  • tom
    1.5k
    How do you get from "what happens is a sensitive function of initial conditions" to "choice cannot exist"? What if the compatabilist defines "choice" in such a way that it, too, is a sensitive function of initial conditions? Then making choices can (and maybe does) occur even if determinism is the case.Michael

    I agree that compatibilists define "choice" in a manner that is determined by conditions that obtain at distant times. For example, I choose tea now, rather than coffee, because the big-bang determined that I would. Compatibilists define that as my choice despite it being pre-determined by the big-bang.

    Fair enough. I should be judged for my decision to drink tea. I am guilty of drinking tea, and should be punished for it. I forgive you your bigotry, you are incapable of doing otherwise.
  • tom
    1.5k
    Well not all laws of physics are deterministic.m-theory

    Which laws of physics are not deterministic?

    Determinism is often an interpretation more so than a necessary conclusion.
    This is especially true of the foundations of quantum theory, which are by definition probabilistic.
    m-theory

    Both General Relativity and the Standard Model are time-symmetric theories.

    At a less prosaic level, the removal of the free will axiom from QM renders all physical theories deterministic.
  • Michael
    7.1k
    Is this an agreement or a sarcastic deflection?
  • tom
    1.5k
    Please provide the laws of physics that are non-determinisic.
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