My position on free will has been evolving. For the latest and better explanation, please see "Free Will Without Dualism".



Over the course of a year or so, as I blogged and debated about free will, I came to realize that the term, "free will", misleads the debate.  People think of free will as will power or volition or some other concept that requires an active, conscious, "free", choice.  Such thinking inexorably leads to the philosophical problem of (mind/body) duality.  Duality contradicts determinism by breaking the chain of causality.  Causality, in turn, is the foundation of our physical laws and can be empirically confirmed by anybody, anytime, by observation.  Contradicting causality is an invitation to argue nonsense.

Despite these seemingly iron-clad reasons to deny free will, I've always believed in free will.  Not unbridled free will; rather, free will constrained by causality.  Such a free will is better thought of as self-determinism: the ability to understand and anticipate causality and, by doing so, influence our futures in self-determined ways.  Most of what follows will attempt to clarify what that means.

I'm a compatibilist.  I believe that free will is compatible with causality/determinism.  In fact, I will argue that free will is a consequence of human interaction with the world around us.  This is a key concept.  Free will is a consequence (effect): not a goal we pursue or stance we adopt (cause).  Free will is an integral part of the human condition because of our human imagination.  Imagination gives us a temporal advantage over causality by mentally playing out potential scenarios that might occur.  This process is automatic.  We're inured to it.  By thus anticipating the future, this information becomes an important part of the causal factors flooding our brains.  Prescient imagination is a process of mental feedback that (usually) prepares us for the future -- it's at the heart of self-determinism.  And self-determinism IS free will.

Because time is linear, the future hasn't happened yet. Future events unfold everywhere simultaneously, yet are locally unique. The birth and death of an entire galaxy is irrelevant to us if it's so remote we can't even see it. While the senseless death of a starving child in Africa is tragic and heartbreaking, you'll undoubtedly never know about it. The point is that causality permeates the entire universe and makes its mark on everything: whether or not any particular event seems momentous or even noteworthy. But how do these events affect the future? Will anything we do make a difference in the grand scheme of things? The Big Bang has predetermined the demise of the universe . . . so aren't our own lives equally predetermined?

With this frame of reference, I propose that the future does NOT exist and can only be predetermined for inanimate objects (unless they fall under the control of animate beings).  I would go so far as to claim that intelligent life can't be intelligent without a temporal advantage over causality.  Wherever intelligent life leaves an impression, the future is far from predetermined. What I'm talking about is the distinction between animate and inanimate modes of response to causality -- the difference between us and rocks. This distinction is most clear when we use humans as our example. This is because humans, unlike other life forms, clearly manifest ALL the key phenomena of life -- motility, consciousness, intelligence and, yes, free will.

The law of causality states that: "every material effect must have an adequate antecedent cause". This is true of both animate and inanimate objects. The difference between the animate and inanimate modes of response to causality is that inanimate objects have only one potential reaction to an event while animate beings have variable potential reactions to an event. One major reason for this is that animate beings are complex systems. They have many functional parts that integrate, holistically, into single entities. Animate beings are much more complex and much less predictable than inanimate objects.  Although this distinction is important, it's not essential to my argument for compatibilism.
 
Human identity and experience presents a problem for determinism. We all live as if we have free will: we work, play, think and plan as if we have free will. On the other hand, we can see that causality determines all events. How do we reconcile the difference? First, we need to acknowledge there might not be a difference. What if human interaction with the world around us (causality) actually creates free will?

Allowing no exceptions to causality, we must accept that effects can't exist without a cause. Therefore, the processes of the brain, such as memory, thought, analysis and imagination, can be thought of as effects caused by the brain. Of these effects, imagination is most relevant to free will . . . because imagination can be prescient. We can extrapolate cause and effect into the future to imagine potential scenarios that might occur. We then evaluate these potential scenarios and gauge the likelihood (and to what extent) they might actually happen. This is, essentially, the process of planning. We use our experience and intelligence to estimate future outcomes, then plan the steps and contingencies necessary to best ensure -- or avoid -- those outcomes. Of course, short term, simple, plans are more likely to succeed than long term, complicated, plans. Depending on our skill at prognostication, our success rates vary from person to person. But, on the whole, short term plans usually succeed. I know this, without question, from my professional experience as a project manager.

How does planning relate to free will? Here's the interesting, awesome, part. Our ability to mentally anticipate cause and effect represents a temporal advantage over causality. Causality must wait for the future to unfold in the present but we can keep steps ahead of causality by extrapolating it into the future. In other words, we can (in our imagination) go where causality can't . . . and bring back conclusions that greatly affect our actions. Steered by these conclusions, our actions take us, step by step, through specific futures.

We all act based on forecasts of events likely in our potential futures. There are other causal factors involved, like experience, heredity, education, circumstances, etc., but it's prescient imagination that steers our actions in self-directed ways. When determinism meets human imagination, it becomes self determinism: free will.

The claim that free will (volition) is antithetical to determinism is a false dichotomy stemming from any assertion that assumes free will violates causality/determinism. If that's how you define free will then, of course, free will would be impossible. After all, EVERYTHING is determined. Right? Free will is not a conscious process or goal of itself, requiring effort to exercise: it's an on-going, natural, human, reaction (effect) to the world around us (cause).

Volition, of itself, is not free will. That would make free will indeterminate -- and we know that's not possible: EVERYTHING is determined. Volition, desires, plans -- whatever you want to call them -- are just causal factors (albeit, important ones) that combine with a flood of other causal factors to influence our actions.

The compatibilist view sees free will as natural and within the confines of physical laws. Undetermined or indeterminate actions would be anything but free will: acting without reason or purpose is not free will. Neither is acting randomly. So, claiming that free will is not deterministic means that, if we do have free will, then we must act without reason or purpose, or we must act randomly, or some combination thereof.  This is, of course, nonsense.

We KNOW we act with purpose. We don't stumble through life continually shocked to find ourselves doing things we don't want to do. That would make planning impossible! We KNOW we've planned our own dinners, careers, families, retirements and funerals. Our experiences represent continuous empirical evidence for free will.

Our ability to plan is so natural and human that we take it for granted. We're inured to it. The future and planning is a larger consideration in our lives than most people realize. Planning, as a prescient form of imagination, is caused by the brain's interaction with the world around us (causality). Free will is the effect -- the consequence -- of our prescient imaginations.

It's a paradox. We have no choice but to exercise free will. We are causally self-determined. Free will is a necessary and natural part of our humanity.

Our individual destinies are NOT written in the stars (may the force be with you) -- our destinies are ours to make. We (as well as ALL life forms) might eventually face extinction as the universe grows cold and fades away. Human destiny might be extinction but our individual destinies are ours to make. Most of us will die obscure deaths but a select few -- as long as humanity survives -- will be remembered by history because they exercised their free will to fundamentally change our world.

Tags: causality, destiny, determinism, free, paradox, self-determinism, will

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Replies to This Discussion

It's a paradox. We have no choice but to be self-directed. We are causally self-determined. Free will is a part of human nature.

Our individual destinies are NOT written in the stars (may the force be with you) -- our destinies are ours to make.


I found these words to be beautiful.
Hi Mike,

Thanks for your reply.

I haven't revisited this blog post for a while. Rereading it, I decided to make some minor revisions. The quotes you cited are among the revisions I've made.

Free will has an inextricable relationship to cause and effect; causality. The human penchant for taking credit for everything has led to the concept of free will as a cause instead of an effect. This, unfortunately, puts free will in direct opposition to determinism. The fact is: free will is subject to causality/determinism. We are only marginally free.

But, as it turns out, that's enough.
I have joined this group as i have just written a book to be published on free will called 'Free Will? An investigation into whether we have free will of whether I was always going to write this'.

I am a determinist (by nature!) but am always interested in the arguments, and maintain that compatibilism is for people who understand determinism but just can't let go of free will otherwise it undermines their notions of moral responsibility etc.

Anywho, I have just recorded this video looking into free will and heaven - see what you think.

johno

Hi Johnny P,

You statement that, "compatibilism is for people who understand determinism but just can't let go of free will", implies that free will somehow contradicts or violates determinism. Given my original post, which explains how free will is a consequence or product of the interplay between the world around us (causality/determinism) and our brains, it would have been better if you had explained how or why free will and determinism are at odds -- without throwing God and the supernatural into the mix.

Your video doesn't address the (alleged) incompatibility between free will and determinism. It just restates an age-old argument framed by supernatural gobbledygook. Free will, in this classic argument, has simply been dragged into debunk God. This is a non-issue . . . or at least an artificial one . . . because it involves hypotheticals (God and the supernatural) that have never been shown to exist. With all this imaginary baggage, it's no wonder people get so confused about free will.

As far as I can see, the only thing your video argument establishes is that free will is incompatible with a personal God that intercedes in human affairs . . . and does not address the validity of free will at all.

Finally, my argument for free will is more practical than philosophical.
goodness, i was just introducing myself before looking at more depth into the argument. it was late last night! the video is not directly connected, but since this is an atheist website, then the relevance is somewhat self-evident.

anyways, let's look at what you say. i understand you argument and broadly agree with what you say, but it is another case of compatibilists redefining what free will actually means. however, as you probably realise, the classic notion of free will is incoherent since you cannot have free will without reason (that is random) and free will with reason is determined by the reason (in simple terms).

however, declaring that you are self-determined is no different than claiming you are fully determined. in other words, there is still a refutation of the Principle of Alternative Possibilities. if i chose X at point T and left life running for 5 minutes, and was to rewind back to point T, then I would alwsys choose X due to the causal circumstance being exactly the same. Now, just because some of those variables were self-determined as a result of being able to understand our own futures and causal circumstances is neither here nor there - we are determined to choose that which we do choose. And we choose that which we choose as a result of our own genetic make-up, our learning up to point T, and our environment, all of which, at point T, is outside of our control.

and so, by defining free will as self-determination does not get us anywhere near an acceptance of free will, but actually closer to determinism, since we were not able to choose differently at any point. I think, at the heart of proper free will theories, lies the Principle of Alternative Possibilities. Which I refute.

however, i do agree with your notions of causality, and your theory in general, just not your conclusions (for it necessarily redefines free will - as you yourself admit).

Cheers

johno
Hi johno,

I do NOT admit to redefining free will. I claim that the term, free will, is not well defined because people around the world disagree on its meaning. The dictionary has several definitions and if you look at different dictionaries, you'll find even more.

If you can do what you want to do; make plans and execute them; change your mind and revise your plains, then you have free will. My model of self-determinism explains how we do all these things, thanks to mental feedback.

But to claim that free will does not exist BECAUSE our decisions are fixed and predetermined by causal factors (experience, external stimuli, genetics, personality, etc.) confuses and obscures the fact that, thanks to mental feedback, WE MAKE CHOICES BASED ON OUR OWN JUDGMENT OF THEIR CONSEQUENCES. This extrapolation of causal factors, into the future, informs our choices and represents the advantage over causality we need to make causality work for us instead of vice versa.

If you want to claim we could not have made any other choice . . . well, I say that it was, nonetheless, a choice and that choice involved judgment, so unless you change the reasons, there's precious little motivation to change the choice. Free will is about making choices and we clearly are capable of making informed, reasoned, choices.

We use mental feedback to anticipate -- and respond accordingly -- to causality. Sure, our choices are confined by causal factors; that's just another way of saying we are limited by the realm of possibilities.

When our brains interact with the world around us, mental feedback is the mechanism through which we choose what to do with what causality presents to us. Whether or not we could have made other choices does not change the fact that a choice was made . . . and made based on what we want. That is free will.
hi there

however, in what you have said, you are begging the question an awful lot.

"If you can do what you want to do; make plans and execute them; change your mind and revise your plains, then you have free will."

this is either begging the question or a tautology. it is a tautology if what your reason and rationality tell you to do equates as what you want to do. it is begging the question to say 'what you want to do' since it employs the ability to choose otherwise.

essentially, you can forget all you have said and boil it down to one point and pone point only:

do you believe in the principle of alternative possibilities? ie, is there a possibility at the point of choosing a or b that if you chose a, and rewound to the exact same causal circumstance, that you could choose b?

the thing is you use reason and rationality as some kind of magic entity that is not itself determined. but of course reason and rationality is itself causally determined! we can see this as rationality changes throughout our lives, being determined by internal and external factors. me choosing to steal a bike at age 10 was determined by my causal circumstance then, and choosing not to do so 10 years later again is determined by my causal circumstance. and 10 years further on, to rail against antisocial behaviour and crime shows rationality affected to an even greater degree by constraining variables.

you seem to imply that your mental feedback is itself not determined, but this begs the question again.

johno
Hi johno,

We're obviously going to disagree forever. You keep drawing conclusions that simply demonstrate that you're not understanding the nuance of free will as self-determinism. For instance, you state that "you use reason and rationality as some kind of magic entity that is not itself determined". How do you make that conclusion? Did I not explain how causality does not stop at the skull . . . that our brains are also subject to causality? EVERYTHING IS SUBJECT TO CAUSALITY. When our brains interact with the world around us (causality), it is causality that determines what choices are available to us. Now, that causality includes a wide range of causal factors: intelligence, heredity, experience, education, ethics, ambitions . . . but the most important causal factor is mental feedback. Mental feedback allows our brains to anticipate and evaluate the various ways we could respond to causality. Our own unique priorities and values frame the potential choices we could make and then we do, in fact, choose; often after much indecision and analysis. Like it or not, that is making a choice -- regardless of the pointless question of whether or not we could have chosen differently. There's no break with causality involved here. No magic. No hocus pocus. Causality always limits the scope of our choices. The choices we make depends on what we value and want to achieve. Choices make us who we are. Our identities are tied to our choices.

Actually, it's your claim that we can not do anything other than what we do that is the tautology here. It is an unfalsifiable assertion; thereby disqualifying if for scientific investigation. It's just a philosophical idea without confirmation, much less objective empirical evidence.
----------------------------
tau·tol·o·gy

1. needless repetition of an idea, esp. in words other than those of the immediate context, without imparting additional force or clearness, as in “widow woman.”
2. an instance of such repetition.
3. Logic:
    a. a compound propositional form all of whose instances are true, as “A or not A.”
    b. an instance of such a form, as “This candidate will win or will not win.”
----------------------------

I was hoping to avoid a long, step-by-step, explanation but that now looks unavoidable.

Almost every act we perform is empirical evidence for free will. Perhaps a list of examples would be the best way to illustrate this. I will first give an example of causality in the world around us (a), then give an example of a free will response (b).

1a.) The sun goes down, causing temperatures in the desert to drop precipitously.

1b.) Happy campers in the desert put on warmer clothes OR build a fire OR crank up a generator and heat up their tent or camper.

2a.) Gravity is proportional to mass.

2b.) NASA and JPL scientists and engineers calculate that their space probe can't carry enough fuel to propel it past all the outer planets. So they use Saturn's gravity to generate the sling-shot effect and accelerate their space probe on a trajectory beyond our solar system.

3a.) The final exam is in 2 months.

3b.) You attend all classes and study diligently OR you skip some classes and cram on the last weekend OR you skip all classes and borrow another student's notes to study just before the test.

In all 3 cases, we know or anticipate future events (causality) and PURPOSEFULLY CHOOSE actions DESIGNED to compensate for causality or to use causality for our own PURPOSES. We are "free" to the extent we successfully anticipate causality and prioritize actions to achieve our ends (will).

We are so inured to our ability to anticipate causality (the future) that we are completely unaware of the mental feedback processes THAT ARE, THEMSELVES, CAUSAL FACTORS OF THE BRAIN. The feedback provided by our brains frame the range of potential responses. We are thus not absolutely free -- we can't successfully choose actions that disagree with causality. But we can successfully choose actions that conform to the scope of causality. And those choices, whatever they might be, stem from our own unique personality, history, ethics and ambitions. If 2 people (even identical twins) were subjected to the exact same conditions, there would be no guarantee that they would respond exactly the same. In fact, the greater the number of people exposed to the exact same conditions, the greater the number of different responses you will get. If we are what we do, then identity is evidence of free will. Our choices make us unique. We own our choices. Being limited by causal factors is simply another way of saying we are constrained by the laws of nature. That, in no way, diminishes our self-determinism; our free will.
hi free thinker

i am often in agreement with much of what you say. and then there is your last paragraph. incidentally, i don't think saying 'there is no such thing as an alternative possibility' as being tautologous. you haven't explicitly addressed PAP, although your last paragraph does quite clearly state that people have the ability to choose alternatively. this is essentially what we need to debate as this is the area of substance that defines our positions.

to use the SEP:

"Incompatibilists think that something stronger is required: for me to act with free will requires that there are a plurality of futures open to me consistent with the past (and laws of nature) being just as they were—that I be able ‘to add to the given past’ (Ginet 1990). I could have chosen differently even without some further, non-actual consideration's occurring to me and ‘tipping the scales of the balance’ in another direction. Indeed, from their point of view, the whole scale-of-weights analogy is wrongheaded: free agents are not mechanisms that respond invariably to specified ‘motive forces.’ They are capable of acting upon any of a plurality of motives making attractive more than one course of action. Ultimately, the agent must determine himself this way or that."

and then as i think your position entails:

"Finally, there are those who believe freedom of will consists in a distinctively personal form of causality, commonly referred to as “agent causation.” The agent himself causes his choice or action, and this is not to be reductively analyzed as an event within the agent causing the choice. (Compare our ready restatement of “the rock broke the window” into the more precise “the rock's having momentum M at the point of contact with the window caused the window's subsequent shattering.”) This view is given clear articulation by Thomas Reid:

I grant, then, that an effect uncaused is a contradiction, and that an event uncaused is an absurdity. The question that remains is whether a volition, undetermined by motives, is an event uncaused. This I deny. The cause of the volition is the man that willed it. (Letter to James Gregory, in 1967, 88)
Roderick Chisholm advocated this view of free will in numerous writings (e.g., 1982 and 1976). And recently it has been developed in different forms by Randolph Clarke (1993, 1996, 2003) and O'Connor (2000, 2005, 2008a, and 2010). Nowadays, many philosophers view this account as of doubtful coherence (e.g., Dennett 1984). For some, this very idea of causation by a substance just as such is perplexing (Ginet 1997 and Clarke 2003, Ch.10). Others see it as difficult to reconcile with the causal role of reasons in explaining choices. (See Feldman and Buckareff 2003 and Hiddleston 2005. Clarke and O'Connor devote considerable effort to addressing this concern.) And yet others hold that, coherent or not, it is inconsistent with seeing human beings as part of the natural world of cause and effect (Pereboom 2001, 2004, and 2005)."


all in all, i feel that alternate possibilities are not possible. ie in 1b) your campers will always choose hte option that is reasoned by themselves, and only that options. no amount of rewinding, ceteris paribus, will change that.

discuss...
Hi Johnny P,

You're not getting the central concept of self-determinism. It truly IS a hard concept to convey, so I share a large part of the blame in this difficulty.

I'll try again.

Much of the difficulty arises from the use of the word, "free", in the term, "free will". To be truly free would require supernatural agency. We CAN'T act contrary to natural law, so we are constrained by nature. Free will, therefor, exists in context of the most basic of natural laws: causality.

We need to bear this in mind throughout our discussion. If causality is contradicted (which it's not), then my argument for free will is flawed (which it could be anyway . . . but you'll need to persuade me).

With that background, I think the greatest difficulty in understanding self-determinism as free will is the notion that we CAUSE our actions. That is NOT the case. What we need to appreciate is that, because causality is often a chain-reaction of events, cause and effect are relative and depend on perspective. For instance, one could say that 65 million years ago, a global die-off of dinosaurs was caused by the impact of a huge meteor in a Mexican peninsula. But we could more accurately describe the cause by going back a step and claiming that the global die-off was caused by a collision of huge meteors in the meteor belt that sent one of them ricocheting to Earth. With that perspective, the collision of meteors was the cause -- and impact with Earth was the effect.

Now, let's apply true causality to the human brain.

Consciousness is the interaction of our brains and sensory organs with the world around us. If any 1 of these 3 components NEVER existed, there could be no consciousness. Please don't confuse that assertion with cases in which consciousness existed but was lost due to injury or illness. In such cases, experience has had a chance to inform our brains. My particular claim is that if we NEVER had a brain or sensory organs or a world around us (or any combination thereof), there would be no experience to be informed or conscious of.

But once we ARE conscious, we soak up experience like a sponge. This would not be possible without feedback mechanisms in the brain. Without feedback, we could not access memory or have thoughts or experience. Everything from the outside world would pass through us like light through glass.

Feedback is not only key to consciousness, it's also key to free will. Feedback allows us to anticipate and analyze causality and the world around us. Science has yet to discover any direction for time except forward. This means that causality can only unfold in the present. Mental feedback, by allowing us to anticipate the future, gives us a crucial advantage over causality (which I'll develop, below).

Intelligent humans beings use this advantage as naturally as a fish breathes water. It's virtually impossible to disassociate the future from human actions. Everything we do anticipates the future: whether that be half a second or half a century from now.

Causality exerts its influence on EVERYTHING. But, when it comes to animate beings, causality is merely an influence -- it's not a controlling factor. It is INANIMATE matter that is controlled by causality. Inanimate matter has just one possible reaction to any event. But animate beings have VARIABLE POTENTIAL REACTIONS to any event. Animate beings are NOT physically predictable in the same way that inanimate matter is. This distinction between the modes of response by inanimate matter and animate beings is important when considering causality and free will. It's the difference between a rock and a human.

Despite that fact that other animals appear to have consciousness and even some modest intelligence, I'll be limiting my explanation of free will to humans.

So I've established that both consciousness and free will rely on our brains interacting with the world around us AND that both would be impossible without feedback mechanisms in the brain. I've also distinguished between the animate and inanimate modes of response to causality and established the temporal advantage over causality we gain by anticipating the future. These are all important concepts to self-determinism (a.k.a. "free will").

Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to understanding self-determinism is the notion that we create or cause free will. This is not true. Causality does not stop at our skulls. We are not islands of liberty in a universe of causality. Our free will is no more independent of causality than our consciousness is. Causality defines the scope of our consciousness, experience and free will. Thanks to mental feedback, causality merely limits us instead of controls us. We can respond to causality now based on what we expect from causality in the future. This is just another way of saying we are intelligent. Intelligence, it can be argued, isn't possible without reasonably informed foresight.

So, if we don't create or cause consciousness and free will, how can we have free agency? The answer is: we don't have free agency without interacting with the world around us. Thus consciousness and free will are PRODUCTS of the interaction between intelligent human brains and the world around us. We don't generate them on our own. We are not causes unto ourselves. We are confined by causal factors -- of which our brains and mental feedback are secondary only to the world around us.

Please keep that in mind: free will, like consciousness, is a product of, and is dependent on, causality -- not an independent, spontaneous, cause unto itself.

Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty.

Causal factors are those parts of causality that affects events and our actions. Heredity, intelligence, reflex, instinct, memories, experience, ethics, education, plans and ambitions are causal factors we acquire at conception or over time. Stimuli and events from the world around us, on the other hand, are real-time in the present. In our interaction with the world around us, mental processing is the last step before action. Our brains contain all the causal factors we were born with or built up over time. They factor into our actions as applicable to the situation. Mental feedback is the real key to free will which, like the world around us, operates in real-time in the present.

Please don't forget: mental feedback is a causal factor too. But it's a unique causal factor. When you think about it, "mental feedback" is a paraphrase of "self-conscious". With mental feedback, ALL the causal factors involved in a situation -- including forethought and anticipation -- get (virtually) instantly evaluated by the brain before a thought, idea, choice or action emerges.

Everything leading up to our emergent thoughts, ideas, choices and actions are integral parts of a causal chain-reaction. Self-aware mental feedback is the key causal factor factoring into ALL our actions. The very human quality of self-consciousness plus the temporal advantage we have over causality is a powerful combination. As far as we know, it's unique in the universe. Our self-aware intelligence is evolved to anticipate, recognize and analyze causality and in so doing choose causal paths into a future of our own making. Because we are self-aware AND future-aware, our own mental feedback leads to choices and actions that suit us: within the constraints of all the causal factors involved -- of which mental feedback is the most dominant causal factor of all.

This is how the interaction of our brains with the world around us PRODUCES free will. It's not the free will of unbridled liberty. It's the free will that leads us into futures of our own choosing.

When determinism meets self-conscious human intelligence, it becomes self-determinism.
ok, thanks for that. there is lots to unravel there.

first of all, i generally agree with you notions of causality etc, i just think you are redefining free will, which i think you accept. however, the problem comes here:

"Causality exerts its influence on EVERYTHING. But, when it comes to animate beings, causality is merely an influence -- it's not a controlling factor."

now, you have essentially already admitted that causality is a necessary component in actions. not a sufficient one, in logical terminology. therefore, it is simply fallacious to state that it is not a controlling factor. it is a determining factor within the feedback loop. just because there is a feedback loop that feeds into 'decisions' (concerning the future etc) does not sidestep the issue of determinism. in fact, it highlights it. just because it is unique to, or 'owned by', the agent, does not mean it is not determined.

and here is the crux:

"But animate beings have VARIABLE POTENTIAL REACTIONS to any event. Animate beings are NOT physically predictable in the same way that inanimate matter is."

you need to prove that one. chaos theory, for example, does not actually mean things are unpredictable or chaotically (random). It simply means that there are so many variables that humans cannot effectively predict the outcome. this is the same case with human actions and behaviour. for a good idea of this, listen to Massimo Pigliucci differentiate between soft sciences (psychology, behaviourism etc) and hard sciences (physics etc). humans and animate objects are predictable from the point of laplace's demon, just not by our small brains, and our lack of knowledge of the variables. and here, the variables, as you rightly indicate, are self-knowledge / anticipation of the future etc. but they are still variables.

you are still not tackling the issue of the Principle of Alternative Possibilities, and it looks like you support the theory, which i refute.

also, you wave away differences between other animals and humans allowing for us to have free will but no other animals. the difference is a sliding scale, although there is a big gap to us. this, though, is dependent upon language other than anything else. if other animals had the grasp of language that we do, they would also develop simultaneously, the ability to be equally conscious (coextensive theories of development).

the biggest question you need to ask yourself is what determines the mental feedback? ie, your mental feedback is different to mine and will result in different decisions. as such, it is implicit that mental feedback is itself determined (biologically, and thus on the supervening mentality). you are positing a sort of magic mental feedback without understanding that it, itself, is determined.

"Thanks to mental feedback, causality merely limits us instead of controls us."

no, it is still determined: though some might appear as self-determined. the fact is, the 'self' is determined. who you are that at the point of making a decision is no longer in your control. your self, at the time of deciding, is already defined. so self-determined effectively becomes determined-determined.

it sounds like you are dangerously close to naturalist philosopher Robert Kane and his SFAs, or Self-Forming Action, a theory laden with problems.

I understand what you are saying, that the uniquity of the mental feedback process is the 'free' in free will. There are lots of things about me that are unique - my voice, fingerprints, retinas, ear lobes etc etc. they are still determined by other factors.

"ALL the causal factors involved in a situation -- including forethought and anticipation -- get (virtually) instantly evaluated by the brain before a thought, idea, choice or action emerges."

this is a deterministic process. yes, the variables my be unique to us, but the uniquity of, as free will philosophers call, the 'causal circumstance' is not an important factor - it has no bearing over whether the process is free or not.

all of this is irrelevant though, if you cannot establish the Principle of Alternative Possibilities. As the great Harry Frankfurt said: "The principle of alternate possibilities is false. A person may well be morally responsible for what he has done even though he could not have done otherwise. The principle's plausibility is an illusion, which can be made to vanish by bringing the relevant moral phenomena into sharper focus."

see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_possibilities

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_otherwise_in_the_same_circumstances


Also, if you wanted to employ your free will towards a great cause, please buy my book: (UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Free-Will-investigation-whether-always/dp/0...

(US)
http://www.amazon.com/Free-Will-investigation-whether-always/dp/095...

cheers

johno

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