• Robert Lockhart
    Among the various qualifications and caveats regarding the elemental concept of human Free Will as a capacity for fundamentally autonomous thought and action which have over time been introduced as a possible means of reconciling this idea with those principles, such as the principle of Determinism, that ostensibly are antithetic to it and thus that have been introduced as a means of rescuing some hope for human behavioral autonomy, even if in a reduced form, there has been advanced the proposal that any philosophical enquiry intending to assess the possibility of such autonomy should properly begin by discriminating between those problems of choice presenting alternatives involving decision of a moral nature and those presenting alternatives involving decision of a nature which is purely amoral. The possible advantage argued for making such a distinction is that since, in principle, the aim of a purely philosophical enquiry concerning the possibility of Free Will is solely to consider the question of autonomy in such cases of choice as involve moral dilemma and since it is not self evident that the putative validity of the two cases of moral and amoral autonomy would be contingent on common factors, then perhaps from the viewpoint of a philosophical enquiry into the idea of behavioral autonomy a focus on those factors which ostensibly seem more relevant to the specific case of moral autonomy might be more profitable. The argument to further justify making the distinction proceeds as follows:

    Any theory attempting to demonstrate the validity of a concept of individual amoral autonomy, in thereby requiring to describe a mechanism of interplay between an individual's innate psychology and external stimuli, must inevitably be of a causal nature, i.e. would be a form of argument necessarily invoking a mechanism of cause and effect, and so to that extent presumably would most appropriately employ the methodology of neural science, this as distinct from an enquiry attempting to assess the validity of a concept of individual moral autonomy which would separately require to investigate the question of whether an individual is capable of acquiring knowledge of moral principles, at least within the context of the cultural norms characterizing their society - this presumably being a prerequisite to possessing any capacity of moral autonomy - and thus such an enquiry would be of a type appropriate to employing the methodology of philosophy as opposed to the causal reasoning of science. Indeed in the absence of a demonstration of the possibility in principle of an individual being able to acquire some form of moral knowledge then even a logical proof of the validity of a concept of individual amoral autonomy - let's say for example an argument to prove I was in principle fundamentally capable of autonomously choosing what sweat meat to prefer for dessert - could not of itself of course provide for the validity of a concept of moral autonomy.

    Concerning the idea of moral knowledge, it is a common observation that awareness of a moral principle can occur with varying degrees of perception, the most basic level of such perception being arguably that which is acquired vicariously - say as an example the moral knowledge conferred by the biblical injunction, "Thou shalt not kill" - but that relevant personal experience may enable an individual to gain a more fundamental level of perception regarding the validity of any given moral precept.

    Taking again the sixth Commandment for the purpose of an illustrative example, there exists the instance of the battle-hardened soldier who avows that subsequent to his experience of combat he finds himself fundamentally unable to kill again, though once this prospect as a raw recruit, while it had presented some degree of moral dilemma, nonetheless had in practice occasioned relatively less difficulty. Whereas it is of course possible that such post-combat reticence towards the idea of killing another could derive from psychological inhibition induced by trauma rather than from an individual acquiring any genuinely more profound personal conception of the terribleness of killing as an act, nevertheless at least some who have personally underwent such military experience do emphatically attest to the contrary, asserting that in practice the effort previously required of them in order to successfully overcome the challenges posed by combat related fear, etc has had the resultant effect of conferring an increased psychological robustness, rendering them more capable to meet personal challenge, and further that their inability to kill again does indeed result from what they consider to be a more objective and therefore more adequate recognition which they have acquired consequent on their experience of the terribleness constituted by killing as a brute act - though this being a type of concept, such individuals typically avow, which they consider it is impossible to satisfactorily communicate to others using solely vicarious means.

    Whilst it would seem impossible to externally validate the status of such testimony regarding the claim that it does in fact constitute within a given individual receipt of a type of objective knowledge it would nonetheless, if such testimony were valid and also allowing the principle that knowledge which is fundamentally objective in nature thereby is rendered unsusceptible to psychological qualification, seem to provide an example of moral behavior acquiring an independence from what otherwise could be the determining influence imposed by the interplay between psychology and environment.

    The defining characteristics of such putative moral knowledge might then be:

    a) That it is inimical to being described verbally and thus immune to being acquired vicariously but can be derived solely through personal experience.

    b) That it in principle permits moral autonomy and conversely, that to the degree an individual is deficient in such knowledge moral behavior would accordingly be prey to determination by external influence.

    c) That it constitutes a type of concept being neither intellectual or psychological in nature.

    An illustrative example of such a type of concept could perhaps be identified by citing the distinction which exists between the idea referred to by the term 'compassion' and that referred to by the term 'sentimentality'. The latter term is of course intended to denote a psychological emotion, it's' conception accordingly being reconcilable with an individual existing concurrently in a state of moral ignorance, and thus also in a state where morally relevant choice is susceptible to psychological qualification. (Infamously for example, Adolph Hitler was reported to possess an effusively sentimental attitude towards animals and children.) The former concept in contrast, while not of course regarded as being one susceptible to being perceived through any intellectual process and thus as being intellectual in nature, is proposed to be one inseparable from existing in a state of objective moral knowledge, and thereby to be a concept transcendent of psychology.

    The validity of such a concept of Free Will - based as it is on the theoretical possibility of a human capacity to accede to a state of objective moral knowledge which, in being objective and not therefore in principle susceptible to psychological qualification would not require to be predicated on first being able to demonstrate a capacity for amoral autonomy with all its psychological implications - would also be reconcilable with the principle of Determinism, personal experience being the causal factor considered capable of permitting a subsequent moral autonomy.

    In accordance with this argument then, the questions appropriate to a philosophical as opposed to a scientific enquiry regarding the possibility of Free Will might be:-

    a) Could a concept of morality as being comprised of irreducible objectively existing principles be meaningful?
    b) If so, what might then in turn constitute objective knowledge of such an absolute morality?
    c) Could such knowledge be acquired by human beings and, if so, then by what means?
    d) Fundamentally, how then might such knowledge, assuming it were acquirable, in principle act to permit a capacity of individual moral autonomy?

    To the extent that the essence of this theory attempting to describe what might, from a philosophical viewpoint, validly constitute free will could in practice be reduced to little more than the old adage, "We learn from our experience", then in that respect it is perhaps reminiscent of the ancient motto of Socrates when, in describing himself as a, "midwife of the mind", he would reveal a truth knowledge of which to some extent was already popularly, if subliminally, perceived.

    NB - Should anyone wish to provide comment I'd of course be interested though unfortunately time commitments will likely preclude my responding for some while.
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