Pro-Choice Determinists

I was just wondering how many determinists—people who believe that human free will is an illusion, because everything is determined by physical law—would describe themselves as “pro-choice.”

Comments 123
  1. d

    I believe that the intuition that one can make choices, in the libertarian sense, is an illusion. But that doesn’t mean choice is illusory in a deterministic sense.

    Under determinism, a “free choice” would really be the ability to act in accordance with one’s nature, free from certain kinds of constraints (excepting physics), like laws, or impositions of other people.

    In that sense, I don’t think choice is illusory – its real.

  2. SteveK

    I think DoctorLogic subscribes to this way of thinking. Maybe he’s out there lurking and can confirm.

  3. Holopupenko

    Oh brother… logic be damned:

    I believe that blue, in the color-based sense, is an illusion. But that doesn’t mean blue is illusory in a black-and-white world.

    Yes, folks, d‘s first paragraph was just that dumb.

    Is one, ahem, “free” when one adheres to and celebrates the “freedom” to make dumb statements… or is it that since free will is an “illusion” we therefore have a “get out of jail free” card to make dumb statements?

    I’m beginning to think the research linking autism to atheism (provided earlier) may have some merit: correlation might imply causation in that particular case. Talk about being “determined” by one’s physical shortcomings…

    The second paragraph is a poster-child example of dumbness: what if it were in the “nature” of a thing to actually have the capacity for free will? Is rationality (let alone free will) even possible “under determinism”? Why is d trying to change our minds on this: what is the point of his baseless and fad-laden assertions if free will is an illusion?

    If I oppose the force of gravity by intentionally picking up a rock, i.e., by intentionally operating against that force, doesn’t mean the very, ahem, “nature” of my intentionality is non-deterministic?

    Kinda reminds me that post-modernist troll, Jacob, from a few years ago. It’s all the rage to latch on to dumb ideas simply because their “new” or “progressive, it’s so easy not to think but to go with the flow on this kind of nonsense. But, if one wants to be true to one’s humanness, that takes virtue animated by grace.

  4. d

    The second paragraph is a poster-child example of dumbness: what if it were in the “nature” of a thing to actually have the capacity for free will?

    Well, Holo, what if it were? Well, then determinism would be false.. but this is an empirical question and I’m fine to go where the evidence leads. But to me, it looks like determinism is probably true.

    Is rationality (let alone free will) even possible “under determinism”? Why is d trying to change our minds on this: what is the point of his baseless and fad-laden assertions if free will is an illusion?

    Here’s the big pitfall in free-will discussions – compatibalists use different definitions of the terms “free will”, “choice”, etc than do libertarians, so people end up talking past one another.

    So to answer your question, yes, compatibalist free will is possible under determinism (the type I described above) but obviously libertarian free will isn’t.

    And I’m not aware of any problem between rationality, rules of logic, etc and determinism. You’ll have to show me where the problem is supposed to be.

    If I oppose the force of gravity by intentionally picking up a rock, i.e., by intentionally operating against that force, doesn’t mean the very, ahem, “nature” of my intentionality is non-deterministic?

    In my estimation, there’s nothing contradictory between intention and determinism, so no. Intentions could be determined by antecedent causes.

  5. Tom Gilson

    Empirical? How would you design that scientific experiment? If you can’t answer (and I guarantee that you can’t!) then it’s not empirical. Not every question is, believe it or not.

    And even if it were, by the way, is not your own experience part of the data set you would want to attend to?

    And I’m not aware of any problem between rationality, rules of logic, etc and determinism. You’ll have to show me where the problem is supposed to be.

    That’s not hard. I just did it over here:

    Lee,

    This is just wrong:

    Rationality being a result of chemical reactions is no less rational. Your brain can still influence it’s future states, and a rational deliberation (physical though it is), can still produce belief in something.

    I don’t care to go into it here, other than to say that your neurophysiology does not perform rational deliberations. That ought to be more than obvious, but I’m not going to belabor it here. Your “unless it is true” answer also fails, because without rational deliberation providing reasons to think something is true, then you have no reasons for thinking something is true—even if it is true. If you think that determinism is true, and if you happen to be correct in thinking it is true, you are not correct on account of your reasons, for it was neurophysiology that led you to that conclusion, not reasons. And neurophysiological processes are not identical with reasons.

  6. Tom Gilson

    You also wrote,

    In my estimation, there’s nothing contradictory between intention and determinism, so no. Intentions could be determined by antecedent causes.

    In that cause who or what is doing, i.e. responsible for, the intending?

  7. d

    Empirical? How would you design that scientific experiment? If you can’t answer (and I guarantee that you can’t!) then it’s not empirical. Not every question is, believe it or not.

    Well, there are those who have claimed, though I don’t think its a majority view anymore (could be mistaken), that quantum mechanics is non-deterministic – essentially making the universe non-deterministic.

    So it’s possible that determinism can be empirically falsified – some even think it has been.

    And even if it were, by the way, is not your own experience part of the data set you would want to attend to?

    Well, quite frankly, I don’t know what a “free choice” is supposed to feel like. As near as I can tell, I have desires, wants, feelings, and biological wiring that I do not choose – and my choices flow from those.

    I think, for the most part, peoples intuition’s towards libertarianism are knee-jerk and really not all that reflective. When I really try to examine the sources of my choices, my intuition says determinism.

  8. d

    In that cause who or what is doing, i.e. responsible for, the intending?

    Ultimately, physics and biology would be responsible (i.e. the cause) of the intentions.

  9. d

    As for rationality and determinism, you said:

    I don’t care to go into it here, other than to say that your neurophysiology does not perform rational deliberations.

    If you became convinced that determinism is true, do all the things you consider to be rational deliberations cease to be rational deliberations?

  10. Tom Gilson

    Quantum indeterminacy, if true, does provide an escape from determinism of one sort, but it provides no support free will. It is the freedom of the quantum event (whatever that might mean), not of the person, that QM could provide. Thanks, but no thanks.

    Ultimately, physics and biology would be responsible (i.e. the cause) of the intentions.

    Why biology? Why not just ultimately physical law, with all of it ineluctable, inescapable implications that nothing real happens except on the level of fundamental particles and fundamental forces?

    If you became convinced that determinism is true, do all the things you consider to be rational deliberations cease to be rational deliberations?

    Cease to be? No. If you become rightly convinced that physical determinism is true, then you did not get there by rational deliberations, you got there by something else that seemed like rational deliberations, and which somehow luckily landed you upon a right answer through no rational means. Now, if that seems unlikely or absurd to you, well of course you are correct. But that is what physical determinism entails. It means (among other things) that physical determinism is an absurd conclusion to accept.

    Now, if you become wrongly convinced that physical determinism is true, then your rational deliberations do not cease to be rational deliberations, either. They would remain, as they always were, deliberations in the category “rational.” Since they brought you to a wrong conclusion, of course they are a certain subclass of deliberations in the rational category: they are failed, or false, or erroneous deliberations of the rational sort. Irrational thinking is a species under “thinking in the rational category.”

  11. d

    Why biology? Why not just ultimately physical law, with all of it ineluctable, inescapable implications that nothing real happens except on the level of fundamental particles and fundamental forces?

    Well, its all ultimately physical law, and biology reduces to it. The “and biology” part was inconsequential, though it is often helpful to think of more proximate causes – like biology, rather than lower physical laws.

    Cease to be? No. If you become rightly convinced that physical determinism is true, then you did not get there by rational deliberations, you got there by something else that seemed like rational deliberations, and which somehow luckily landed you upon a right answer through no rational means.

    Then I simply don’t know what you mean by “rational deliberations”, and I’m not sure why “this something else” couldnt be called “rational deliberation” in a meaningful way. I can consider different possibilities, consider my values, and I can act according to the results of that thinking process – now if that whole process was caused or not, I don’t see that it makes a difference. I’m perfectly happy to call that rational deliberation, and I’m not sure why you are not. Perhaps you’ve just defined “rational deliberation” in such a way so that its dependant on some type of libertarian concept of will.

  12. Tom Gilson

    d,

    No, this is not the case, on physical determinism:

    I can consider different possibilities, consider my values, and I can act according to the results of that thinking process – now if that whole process was caused or not, I don’t see that it makes a difference.

    First, you yourself acknowledged that on determinism everything “reduces” to physics. Second, if a process is caused by physical necessity, then its result is caused by physical necessity. If your thoughts are caused solely by physical necessity, then their results are, too. Solely. If you think the thoughts that come at the end of your “deliberation” have anything to do with reasons, then you haven’t caught the fact that physical necessity was the cause for your thinking those thoughts–solely (if determinism is true).

    And physical necessity is not identical with reasoning. Never has been, never could be.

  13. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Well, there are those who have claimed, though I don’t think its a majority view anymore (could be mistaken), that quantum mechanics is non-deterministic – essentially making the universe non-deterministic.

    Quantum Mechanics certainly makes it harder to argue for a deterministic universe, but not impossible. In fact, it is a little known tidbit that complete determinism is one of the loopholes in Bell’s theorem (the wikipedia has an entry on this under counterfactual determinateness; if you have seen the proof you can piece together the facts). Thus, *if* strict determinism were true we could have a hidden, *local* variable version of quantum mechanics, thus restoring classical, strict determinism.

    So it’s possible that determinism can be empirically falsified – some even think it has been.

    How can determinism be empirically falsified? Do you have any references?

    I don’t care to go into it here, other than to say that your neurophysiology does not perform rational deliberations.

    If you became convinced that determinism is true, do all the things you consider to be rational deliberations cease to be rational deliberations?

    You misunderstand the nature of rationality — it is not restricted to the ability to make rational deliberations. Besides, how can a deliberation be rational if the deliberation itself is determined by causes that are completely outside the control of the deliberating agent? Under determinism it is the facts of the past — ultimately, the initial state of the universe — in conjunction with the laws of nature, that determine the deliberation itself, not reasons. Under determinism, why does one believe in determinism? Solely by reasons that are completely outside one’s control, not as the product of weighing the pros and the cons of the question.

  14. d

    First, you yourself acknowledged that on determinism everything “reduces” to physics. Second, if a process is caused by physical necessity, then its result is caused by physical necessity. If your thoughts are caused solely by physical necessity, then their results are, too. Solely.

    Yep.

    If you think the thoughts that come at the end of your “deliberation” have anything to do with reasons, then you haven’t caught the fact that physical necessity was the cause for your thinking those thoughts–solely (if determinism is true).

    Again, it seems as if you might be presupposing some libertarian definition of “rational deliberation”. But whether the entire process of deliberating, including all the interplay between our values, consciousness, desires, information and ultimately our actions, is causally determined or not, it makes no difference. That interplay still happens, and that’s what I call “rational deliberation”

    If you want to make it a problem for determinism that the whole process is a prisoner of physical necessity, well you’ll have to explain why – I don’t consider it much of a problem.

    And for what its worth, I don’t think libertarianism does any better – at worst, its incoherent, at best it reduces choices to luck.

  15. Holopupenko

    Ultimately, physics and biology would be responsible (i.e. the cause) of the intentions

    More dumbness.

    First tell us what an “intention” is before concluding (with NO evidence) physics and biology are “responsible”. We’re not interested simply agreeing so that your emotional needs are satisfied.

    If you define “intentions” as physical entities, then you’re a tautological nut: “physics and biology are ‘responsible’ for intentions because intentions are physical phenomena,” … really? If not, then you’ve undermined your whole argument. Either way, you’re in trouble…

    … but that works for you, doesn’t it? Because, you’re ultimately about a might-over-right imposition of your views rather than getting at the truth of the matter.

    And, stop with the quantum mechanical reductionist nonsense: you have little clue about that area of knowledge.

    Finally, I demand you show us–right now–where a “physical law” is: not the phenomena but the actual law. I want to see it: since you hold tenaciously (and without a shred of evidence) to “all reduces to physics and biology,” well then show us the object “law.”

  16. Holopupenko

    @16: “Yep.”

    Boy, now that’s what I call rigorously supporting one’s deep emotion needs with reasoned argumentation.

  17. Tom Gilson

    d,

    But whether the entire process of deliberating, including all the interplay between our values, consciousness, desires, information and ultimately our actions, is causally determined or not, it makes no difference. That interplay still happens, and that’s what I call “rational deliberation”

    It still happens, yes. But under physical determinism it can’t. This is one reason we know determinism is false. Your “yep” is just thoughtless. You’re not engaging in that interplay of which you have just spoken, because you’re not giving rational consideration to the arguments we’ve made.

    If you want to make it a problem for determinism that the whole process is a prisoner of physical necessity, well you’ll have to explain why.

    I have. So have others here. If you consider my answer here (for example) not to be an answer, then you’ll have to explain why.

    By the way, of course I’m talking libertarian free will. No apologies there.

  18. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Again, it seems as if you might be presupposing some libertarian definition of “rational deliberation”. But whether the entire process of deliberating, including all the interplay between our values, consciousness, desires, information and ultimately our actions, is causally determined or not, it makes no difference. That interplay still happens, and that’s what I call “rational deliberation”

    It makes no difference?

    You can call the process that goes on in your brain “rational deliberation” as much as you want (again, the nominalist stance that by changing the name of the thing we have changed its nature…), but under determinism you are nothing but a puppet and all your thoughts are nothing but the jerks occasioned by the string pulls of physical laws. You have come to a belief on determinism not because you have weighed the pros and cons and judged the pros weightier, but simply because of the relentless work of physical laws. Whether determinism is in fact true or not, it is irrelevant, because you have been overdetermined to believe that it is true. And since you are overdetermined to believe that it is true, I reject all your arguments for it — not that you have presented any for me to reject. Of course, you can reply that I myself am bound to reject determinism, but that should not bother you, should it? In fact, why are you here trying to convince us otherwise? Oh wait, you could not have chosen to act otherwise.

  19. d

    My “yep” was just an expression of agreement, indicating I took no particular issue with the paragraph under which it appeared. That’s it.

    It still happens, yes. But under physical determinism it can’t. This is one reason we know determinism is false.

    Just why can’t the previously mentioned cognitive processes occur under determinism (the interplay between consciousness, events, actions, etc)? You havent made any statements that even remotely support that charge.

    In the post you linked back too, you’ve alluded to the fact that you don’t consider “rational deliberation” to be identical with physical necessity. But that does nothing to support your claim above.

  20. d

    You can call the process that goes on in your brain “rational deliberation” as much as you want (again, the nominalist stance that by changing the name of the thing we have changed its nature…)

    This is confused. I’m not trying to change the nature of things, I’m attempting to give a coherent view of certain concepts under determinism. If libertarianism is false, your ideas about all of those things are false. Compatibalists, at least, have argued that our thoughts about all those things can be refined in such a way as to salvage them, under determinism.

    No post-modernism here, as Holo accused, or nominalism… just discussions of determinism (or lack thereof) and all the implications of it.

    but under determinism you are nothing but a puppet and all your thoughts are nothing but the jerks occasioned by the string pulls of physical laws.

    Sure, maybe that’s technically correct, though it seems to be purposefully cast in extremely deflationary rhetoric (perhaps to poison the well against determinism).

    I’d say it more like this: Under determinism, I am the proximate cause of my actions.

    You have come to a belief on determinism not because you have weighed the pros and cons and judged the pros weightier, but simply because of the relentless work of physical laws. Whether determinism is in fact true or not, it is irrelevant, because you have been overdetermined to believe that it is true. And since you are overdetermined to believe that it is true, I reject all your arguments for it — not that you have presented any for me to reject. Of course, you can reply that I myself am bound to reject determinism, but that should not bother you, should it? In fact, why are you here trying to convince us otherwise? Oh wait, you could not have chosen to act otherwise.

    Actually, thanks to determinism, I know that my actions and words will have some effect on you – they are a part of the causal river in which we all immersed. Maybe they won’t ultimately change your mind, but *something* in you will be affected.

    Under libertarianism, this is not the case, which is one of the more troubling aspects of the theory.

  21. Tom Gilson

    d, you say,

    This is confused. I’m not trying to change the nature of things, I’m attempting to give a coherent view of certain concepts under determinism.

    The confusion may be partly in Holo’s depiction, but it is also in the fact that a coherent rational view of things under determinism is a contradiction in terms.

    Sure, maybe that’s technically correct, though it seems to be purposefully cast in extremely deflationary rhetoric (perhaps to poison the well against determinism).

    If it is technically correct, then is there any way to salvage rationalism? Is there any non-deflationary depiction even possible?

    Under determinism, I am the proximate cause of my actions.

    What does that mean? What is the cause of you?

    Actually, thanks to determinism, I know that my actions and words will have some effect on you – they are a part of the causal river in which we all immersed. Maybe they won’t ultimately change your mind, but *something* in you will be affected.

    Under libertarianism, this is not the case, which is one of the more troubling aspects of the theory.

    That’s not what libertarianism teaches. Libertarianism acknowledges the reality of cause and effect; it just says that persons can be causal agents, that not all that persons do is determined by factors external to the person.

  22. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    You can call the process that goes on in your brain “rational deliberation” as much as you want (again, the nominalist stance that by changing the name of the thing we have changed its nature…)

    This is confused.

    There is nothing confused about my assertion. If you want to call the physiological processes that go on the brain “rational deliberation”, be my guest, but please do not try to convince me that those processes, completely determined by natural laws, can be identified with what is commonly called “rational deliberation”.

    I’d say it more like this: Under determinism, I am the proximate cause of my actions.

    The proximate cause but not the ultimate cause. And even “I am the proximate cause of my actions” faces enormous problems. What is this “I” that has causal power? Under determinism, all causal power is efficient causal power, and efficient causal power regulated by physical laws. Your actions are caused by a (complex) chain of necessary, physical causation. How do you smuggle an “I” that can act as a proximate cause, as distinct from efficient causation since the latter is all there is?

    Actually, thanks to determinism, I know that my actions and words will have some effect on you – they are a part of the causal river in which we all immersed. Maybe they won’t ultimately change your mind, but *something* in you will be affected.

    False.

    Premise 1: You cannot alter the past or the laws of nature.

    Premise 2: Under determinism, the future is completely determined by the past or the laws of nature.

    Conclusion: you cannot alter the future. Ergo, you cannot have any influence at all over my beliefs.

  23. SteveK

    d,

    Just why can’t the previously mentioned cognitive processes occur under determinism (the interplay between consciousness, events, actions, etc)? You havent made any statements that even remotely support that charge.

    Why?? Your answer goes counter to the experiences of everyone, even your own, so YOU must justify your argument – not us. So please, go ahead. Without changing the definition of the word ‘choose’, would you say an 8-ball chooses to roll into the side pocket? Would you say a child chooses to eat cereal for breakfast?

  24. d

    There is nothing confused about my assertion. If you want to call the physiological processes that go on the brain “rational deliberation”, be my guest, but please do not try to convince me that those processes, completely determined by natural laws, can be identified with what is commonly called “rational deliberation”.

    As I’ve already said – fine. Last thing we need is another drawn out argument over definitions 😉

    Keep that term ‘rational deliberation’ all to yourself, if you like! But it troubles me not that this thing you call ‘rational deliberation’ does not exist under determinism.

    I don’t even have a clear idea what you take it to be (especially if it requires libertarianism – which I consider a failure in almost every respect where the libertarians think it suceeds), much less why I should be concerned over its non-existence. So, at this point, its just not an impressive or noteworthy problem to raise against determinism – it certainly isnt fatal.

    The proximate cause but not the ultimate cause. And even “I am the proximate cause of my actions” faces enormous problems. What is this “I” that has causal power? Under determinism, all causal power is efficient causal power, and efficient causal power regulated by physical laws. Your actions are caused by a (complex) chain of necessary, physical causation. How do you smuggle an “I” that can act as a proximate cause, as distinct from efficient causation since the latter is all there is?

    Well, I’m not really going down the rathole of the philosophy of the self and what “I” is… there’s just not much there particularly pertinant to determinism.

    As for proximate causes, I was using it more in the legal sense, which is sort of like efficient causation, I gather. It simply means the closest cause.

    False.

    Premise 1: You cannot alter the past or the laws of nature.

    Premise 2: Under determinism, the future is completely determined by the past or the laws of nature.

    Conclusion: you cannot alter the future. Ergo, you cannot have any influence at all over my beliefs.

    Nope – determinism is a chain of causation. While my beliefs and words were caused, so to are they causes of the future.

    p1. Under determinism, future states of the universe are caused by prior states of the universe.

    p2. My words are included in some prior states of the universe.

    c1. Since my words are prior states of the universe, they can cause some future states of the universe.

    p3. Your future beliefs will be included in future states of the universe.

    c2. Therefore, my words could effect your future beliefs.

  25. JAD

    I notice that over at First Things Tom has apologized to Sam Harris (comment #5) for assuming that he was pro-choice. However, whether or not Harris is or isn’t there is another contradiction that can be pointed out. Harris has written a book about morality. But why bother if determinism is the basis for all human behavior. If it is then any kind of moral accountability or responsibility is illusory.
    http://firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2011/09/pro-choice-determinism/#comments

    Of course d is engaged here is similar non-sense. He is arguing for a point of view. But if my, or Tom’s or Holo’s etc. point of view is determined or pre-determined, then arguing with us is not going to change any minds. But then maybe d is predetermined to be argumentative… In that case (sigh!) we’ll never be able to shut him up…

  26. Tom Gilson

    d, this is not a debate over definitions, smily face or not. This is a debate over realities. The “rathole,” as you call it, of the philosophy of self is terribly pertinent under determinism. So is rationality.

    I think we all knew what you meant by “proximate cause.” I don’t think you’re getting what we meant by pointing out the weakness in that conception.

    Your p1. etc. to c1 misses the point, too. No one denied that your words have causal effect. What was denied was that you have causal effect. Which, by the way, gets you looking down into that “rathole” again, if you think it through carefully enough.

  27. Tom Gilson

    d, on further reflection, I feel the need to point out something to you, which is that it would do you good to pick up a good introductory philosophy book and give it a good read. When you say,

    As for proximate causes, I was using it more in the legal sense, which is sort of like efficient causation, I gather. It simply means the closest cause.

    … and when you present that in explanation of…

    Well, its all ultimately physical law, and biology reduces to it. The “and biology” part was inconsequential, though it is often helpful to think of more proximate causes – like biology, rather than lower physical laws.

    … what you’re showing is that you don’t understand what you are talking about. A proximate cause in the legal sense is not very much like an efficient cause. And biology is not a cause, proximate or otherwise. As you are using it here it is a level of analysis. This is basic.

    I’m not ragging on you, d, for I think you’re doing the right thing by engaging in discussion, as long as you approach it with openness to learning. I’m also not trying to be condescending; in fact, I’m trying hard not to be—but the fact is, with each comment you’re demonstrating as much what you don’t know as what you do. I think you want to do better than that, so I hope you’ll take some honest and realistic feedback, and some advice that you do some study so you can do as well as you obviously want to do.

    The best introductory text I know of for you is one that would help fill another gap in your knowledge banks: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Holopupenko has some disagreements with these authors. On this he and I are not in total agreement, but regardless, I think he would appreciate their treatment of basic logic and some of the basic questions of how to handle discussions of this sort.

  28. G. Rodrigues

    Keep that term ‘rational deliberation’ all to yourself, if you like! But it troubles me not that this thing you call ‘rational deliberation’ does not exist under determinism.

    Being the anti-rationalist you are — whether consciously so or not, it matters none — it is hardly surprising that it does not bother you that rational deliberation does not exist.

    I don’t even have a clear idea what you take it to be (especially if it requires libertarianism – which I consider a failure in almost every respect where the libertarians think it suceeds), much less why I should be concerned over its non-existence. So, at this point, its just not an impressive or noteworthy problem to raise against determinism – it certainly isnt fatal.

    You yourself quoted the expression “rational deliberation” from Tom Gilson’s post. In that post it has the sense “rational thought”, which is what I took it to mean. So the fact that under determinism, rational though does not exist is not a fatal objection?

    Well, I’m not really going down the rathole of the philosophy of the self and what “I” is… there’s just not much there particularly pertinant to determinism.

    Ah yes, the “rathole of the philosophy of the self”. What the “self” is it does not matter; that rational though is not possible under determinism is not a fatal objection… great wonder that by denying free will one embraces irrationality.

    As for proximate causes, I was using it more in the legal sense, which is sort of like efficient causation, I gather. It simply means the closest cause.

    You employed the expression first, and you are not even sure what it means? But, yes, I took it to mean “the closest cause”. No, it is not “sort of like efficient causation”. I will repeat myself:

    1. You are not the ultimate cause of your actions. Ultimate has several different meanings, but in this context it means that some of the necessary causes of an agent’s action originates in the agent himself and not outside him. That you are the proximate cause I will concede for now, but the fact is that you yourself are whole and completely caused by causes completely outside of your control and influence. Genuine freedom of action entails that you, at least in part, are the ultimate source for your own actions. If you are not, at least in part, the ultimate source of your actions how can oit be said that you control your actions? Everything less than that is not freedom. Given your penchant for renaming things, I have no doubt that you will object to my definition of freedom.

    2. Even being a “proximate cause” has severe problems. In order to say that you are a proximate cause, one must confidently locate a self that is an agent with causal power. But given that all causation is efficient causation — ultimately, interaction of particles described by physical laws — can you point me to where is this agent as distinguished from the fundamental particles that make up your body? If there is no such agent, how can one coherently say that oneself is the proximate cause of anything?

    Tom Gilson’s already pointed out that you failed to undermine the argument that, under determinism, you have no power to affect the future. The only thing your argument proves is that prior states of the universe could influence my beliefs; we already know that. We do not even have to subscribe to determinism to accept that. And even granting a causal relationship between you typing a bunch of words and the alteration of my beliefs, that relation is efficient causation, that is, my beliefs would be altered ultimately because of particle-particle interactions, not because of the cogency of your arguments. In other words, you can drop the pretense of having a rational debate.

  29. Lee

    Well, since Tom saw fit to include me in the discussion without notifying me, I suppose it’s only fair that I occupy the chair with my name on it.

    Here is the portion of my original comment there that I would like one or all of you to find fault with:

    1 Humans do not choose their desires.

    2 Human desires conflict, and the strongest determine their actions.

    – Therefore, humans do not choose their actions.

    Show me the break in the causal chain; give me an example of an action, in context, that goes against an agent’s strongest desires. Or perhaps an example of a desire that an agent chooses.

    Thanks,

    Lee.

  30. Bill R.

    I’m surprised no one has brought up the Argument from Reason yet; it would seem to be the clearest way to show d why rational thought is impossible under determinism, and why it matters.

    The problem is, I can’t find a good link or summary of it right now. The Wikipedia page really doesn’t do it justice. I remember writing a summary of the AfR on this blog for Gregory Magarshak a few months ago, but I can’t find it now. Tom, I know you probably have a lot of good resources related to the AfR… if you have the time, would you mind putting up a pointer or two? To be honest, I would benefit from it just as much as (and perhaps more than) d.

    Thesis defense in one week!

  31. G. Rodrigues

    @BillR:

    The only sources I know of are printed ones. C. S. Lewis’ “Miracles” and the Blackwell anthology on Natural Theology edited by W. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland. The relevant entry is the one by Victor Reppert, who in fact, has a whole book dedicated to it, “C. S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason”.

    The argument from rationality inevitably enters into problems of the Philosophy of the Mind. A good anthology of arguments against materialism that touches on many such issues such as consciousness and identity is “The Waning of Materialism” edited by R. Koons and G. Bealer. It is moderately tough-going, at least for me, as my background is in mathematics not philosophy.

    My google-fu is not strong but a rapid search, and the first relevant hits were:

    1. One small entry by Victor Reppert himself on the wikipedia version: http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2009/02/wikipedias-version-of-argument-from.html

    2. Victor Reppert discusses the argument here (the link is to an atheist site… something’s fishy): http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/victor_reppert/reason.html

    3. A summary of Lewis’s version (caveat: I have not read it, so do not know how good is it): http://danagonistes.blogspot.com/2004/11/argument-from-reason.html

    If, and this is a big if, I can scrounge up the time, I will reread V. Reppert’s defence of the AfR and post a summary of it.

  32. Bill R.

    Thank you, G. Rodrigues, for the links 🙂

    I was first introduced to the AfR when reading Miracles, and I found it powerful at the time, but I haven’t explored it very much since then. Although I have heard of Reppert, I haven’t read his book on the AfR. I, too, would love to read it, but it will probably have to wait until I have more time.

  33. Tom Gilson

    I know you’re in a busy season, Bill, but when time is available, Reppert’s book is not only well-argued but also pretty short. You won’t need as much time with it as you might think you would.

  34. d

    SteveK:

    Why?? Your answer goes counter to the experiences of everyone, even your own, so YOU must justify your argument – not us. So please, go ahead. Without changing the definition of the word ‘choose’, would you say an 8-ball chooses to roll into the side pocket? Would you say a child chooses to eat cereal for breakfast?

    Determinism doesnt go against our intuitions at all. Even libertarians have strong deterministic intuitons in most respects, they just feel like choice is an exception to the rules of cause and effect.

    Actually, no libertarian has ever given me a good description of what a causeless free choice feels like, and how one intuitively distinguishes it from a caused choice in which the agent is unaware of all the causes.

    I think the reality of libertarian intuitions are extremely overblown.

    JAD:

    Of course d is engaged here is similar non-sense. He is arguing for a point of view. But if my, or Tom’s or Holo’s etc. point of view is determined or pre-determined, then arguing with us is not going to change any minds. But then maybe d is predetermined to be argumentative… In that case (sigh!) we’ll never be able to shut him up…

    You are confusing fatalism (no matter what one does, things will end the same) with determinism (there is only one possible future).

    Determinism seems fatalistic in some ways, but the future unfolds on account of the things that happen, not in spite of them. Under determinism, my arguments could certainly effect others, and cause them to change their minds.

    Tom:

    d, this is not a debate over definitions, smily face or not. This is a debate over realities. The “rathole,” as you call it, of the philosophy of self is terribly pertinent under determinism. So is rationality.

    I think we all knew what you meant by “proximate cause.” I don’t think you’re getting what we meant by pointing out the weakness in that conception.

    Your p1. etc. to c1 misses the point, too. No one denied that your words have causal effect. What was denied was that you have causal effect. Which, by the way, gets you looking down into that “rathole” again, if you think it through carefully enough.

    Generally, one can casually refer human beings using terms like “I”, “me”, “you”, or “her” without first tackling any deep philosophical problems of the mind and self. Whatever the nature of the mind, self or what-have-you, those terms can simply refer to human beings. When I say “we are the proximate causes of our actions”, that’s how I mean it.

    Our choices are caused causes under determinism, but rather than just blame the big bang for every good or bad thing that comes our way, we like to look at smaller, more informative slices of the causal chain. Bob throws a baseball at a window, we can say Bob, the human being, was the proximate cause of the broken window, even in determinism-land.

    Compatibalists almost speak a different language than libetarians. It takes some extra effort on the part of both sides to understand one another. One can’t presume libertarian meanings of words in the determinist description of things, which I think is where the confusion is coming from.

    If one understands determinism, it should be the charitable interpretation that when a determinist says something like “I am the proximate cause of X”, he does not mean he is the causeless cause of X, or through some force of will, he causes X happen – that’s libertarianism.

    d, on further reflection, I feel the need to point out something to you, which is that it would do you good to pick up a good introductory philosophy book and give it a good read. When you say,

    Well, I wouldnt disagree with you, my philosophy is self-taught, and a little haphazard in the materials I have studied. I havent spent much time with Aristotle. It seems some of the posters here might do well to have a refresher on determinism and fatalism as well – and perhaps some modern challenges to libertariansim (such as the problem of present luck).

    … what you’re showing is that you don’t understand what you are talking about. A proximate cause in the legal sense is not very much like an efficient cause. And biology is not a cause, proximate or otherwise. As you are using it here it is a level of analysis. This is basic.

    When I said “biology”, I really was thinking “biological processes” – which are certainly causes.

    I’m not ragging on you, d, for I think you’re doing the right thing by engaging in discussion, as long as you approach it with openness to learning. I’m also not trying to be condescending; in fact, I’m trying hard not to be—but the fact is, with each comment you’re demonstrating as much what you don’t know as what you do. I think you want to do better than that, so I hope you’ll take some honest and realistic feedback, and some advice that you do some study so you can do as well as you obviously want to do.

    The best introductory text I know of for you is one that would help fill another gap in your knowledge banks: Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Holopupenko has some disagreements with these authors. On this he and I are not in total agreement, but regardless, I think he would appreciate their treatment of basic logic and some of the basic questions of how to handle discussions of this sort.

    Thanks for the suggestions!

    G. Rodrigues

    Genuine freedom of action entails that you, at least in part, are the ultimate source for your own actions. If you are not, at least in part, the ultimate source of your actions how can oit be said that you control your actions? Everything less than that is not freedom. Given your penchant for renaming things, I have no doubt that you will object to my definition of freedom.

    If choices are causeless, nothing in “you” can account for that choice – in fact, nothing can. So libertarianism fails to account for genuine freedom.

    2. Even being a “proximate cause” has severe problems. In order to say that you are a proximate cause, one must confidently locate a self that is an agent with causal power. But given that all causation is efficient causation — ultimately, interaction of particles described by physical laws — can you point me to where is this agent as distinguished from the fundamental particles that make up your body? If there is no such agent, how can one coherently say that oneself is the proximate cause of anything?

    I addressed this in my reply to Tom. Being a proximate cause only entails that:

    a) I am a living human being
    b) I cause stuff (though, not causelessly)

    Determinists don’t believe we have “causal power” in the libertarian sense, of course not.
    But determinism entails that we human beings, will play a part in the causing future states of the universe. Therefore, we are proximate causes.

  35. Tom Gilson

    d,

    You don’t know what determinism and libertarian free will are. This is evidenced here:

    Determinism doesnt go against our intuitions at all. Even libertarians have strong deterministic intuitons in most respects, they just feel like choice is an exception to the rules of cause and effect.

    Actually, no libertarian has ever given me a good description of what a causeless free choice feels like, and how one intuitively distinguishes it from a caused choice in which the agent is unaware of all the causes.

    I think the reality of libertarian intuitions are extremely overblown.

    Libertarians do not believe that choices are uncaused. We believe that the cause behind some choices is in the person as agent, and that in some (not all) cases, given entirely identical causal sequences leading to a decision, a person who decides A could have decided B instead. So a libertarian could have what you called “strong deterministic intuitions in most respects” and still be a libertarian; for determinism means that all decisions are determined by a strict chain of physical cause and effect.

    As a libertarian I do not have to believe in “causeless free choice.” I believe instead that some of my choices are caused by my own reasons, rather than by a physical chain of cause and effect.

    The reality of libertarian intuitions is not nearly as overblown as your distorted conception of those intuitions is.

    You say to JAD,

    You are confusing fatalism (no matter what one does, things will end the same) with determinism (there is only one possible future).

    Determinism seems fatalistic in some ways, but the future unfolds on account of the things that happen, not in spite of them. Under determinism, my arguments could certainly effect others, and cause them to change their minds.

    I say, no, he isn’t confusing those two things. You are confusing things. Determinism is a species of fatalism. It says, “no matter what one does, things will end the same, and by the way, what one does is going to be what one is determined to do, too.”

    Generally, one can casually refer human beings using terms like “I”, “me”, “you”, or “her” without first tackling any deep philosophical problems of the mind and self. Whatever the nature of the mind, self or what-have-you, those terms can simply refer to human beings. When I say “we are the proximate causes of our actions”, that’s how I mean it.

    Generally one can do that. But when the question has to do with determinism, and where personal agency is at stake, then personal identity is also at stake, and requires definition. In other words, you can’t revert to that kind of casualness on the one hand while undermining it on the other hand. That is the point of what I was saying in the first quote you quoted from me here.

    I havent spent much time with Aristotle. It seems some of the posters here might do well to have a refresher on determinism and fatalism as well – and perhaps some modern challenges to libertariansim (such as the problem of present luck).

    I see no evidence that anyone here has confused determinism and fatalism. The “problem of present luck” has not come up in this discussion, so I have no idea why you think anyone here is lacking in understanding on it.

    You wrote to G. Rodrigues,

    If choices are causeless, nothing in “you” can account for that choice – in fact, nothing can. So libertarianism fails to account for genuine freedom.

    Who ever said that libertarianism means choices are causeless???

  36. SteveK

    d,

    Determinism doesnt go against our intuitions at all.

    Sure it does, and I will give an example using one of your own statements.

    When I really try to examine the sources of my choices, my intuition says determinism.

    According to this statement, the source of you trying to examine the source of your choices is not *you* – yet this statement says that you think you are really trying to examine the sources of your choices.

    You’re not trying, yet it seems like you are. That’s unintuitive.

  37. Bill R.

    I know you’re in a busy season, Bill, but when time is available, Reppert’s book is not only well-argued but also pretty short. You won’t need as much time with it as you might think you would.

    Thanks, Tom. I will put it on my short list. After my thesis is defended and submitted, my wife and I plan to take a good, long vacation with plenty of time to catch up on reading 🙂

  38. d

    Libertarians do not believe that choices are uncaused. We believe that the cause behind some choices is in the person as agent, and that in some (not all) cases, given entirely identical causal sequences leading to a decision, a person who decides A could have decided B instead. So a libertarian could have what you called “strong deterministic intuitions in most respects” and still be a libertarian; for determinism means that all decisions are determined by a strict chain of physical cause and effect.

    As a libertarian I do not have to believe in “causeless free choice.” I believe instead that some of my choices are caused by my own reasons, rather than by a physical chain of cause and effect.

    Appealing to agent causation only kicks the stone down the road. An agent’s reasons either must be caused (in which case, you’re conceding to a form of determinism), or they are causeless (meaning that a choice has no ultimate cause, though in my lexicon it would have a ‘proximal cause’).

    By some mysterious magic, just maybe the agent causation escapes the dilemma somehow, but there has been no satisfactory, plausible account of it by libertarians, that I have ever encountered, despite much reading on the subject.

    I say, no, he isn’t confusing those two things. You are confusing things. Determinism is a species of fatalism. It says, “no matter what one does, things will end the same, and by the way, what one does is going to be what one is determined to do, too.”

    Determism entails that the future is inevitable, but it also entails that the future is inevitable because events in the past cause it to occur. So JAD and others display a fundamental misunderstanding of determinism when claimig things like, “You can’t change X”. Of course you can – determinism requires that such change is possible – its that sort of change which brings about the inevitable future.

    Generally one can do that. But when the question has to do with determinism, and where personal agency is at stake, then personal identity is also at stake, and requires definition. In other words, you can’t revert to that kind of casualness on the one hand while undermining it on the other hand. That is the point of what I was saying in the first quote you quoted from me here.

    But at the same time – it should be common knowledge among such experts that determinists don’t believe that the self, whatever it may be, is unbound by causation, or that it has some dominion over causation.

    To a determinist, we take part in causality – we don’t have power over it. In short, one needs to leave libertarian presumptions off the table, if one is going to understand the meaning of a determinist. Again, this should be common knowledge for such experts.

    When a determinist says “I cause X”, one might uncharitably interpret that as a determinist being inconsistent – but one might more charitably interpret that to have a meaning different from a libertarian, one that is consistent with a deterministic view.

    Not trying to be snarky here, I know there are plenty of errors in my thinking as well – but let’s hold everyone’s feet to the fire when the situation demands it.

    I see no evidence that anyone here has confused determinism and fatalism. The “problem of present luck” has not come up in this discussion, so I have no idea why you think anyone here is lacking in understanding on it.

    The evidence that people are confusing determinism and fatalism are the claims along the lines of “argumentation is futile, for it can’t change the future state of the universe”. But under determinism, it must. It can’t change what is inevitable, but again, it should be commonly known that determinists don’t really claim that choices change what is inevitable.

    I mention issues like the problem of present luck, only because of the tremendous overconfidence some seem to have in libertarianism’s ability to account for things like personal responsibility, genuinely free moral choices, or the existence of rational deliberation.

    BTW – is anybody else having issues with the “Edit Comment” function? It doesnt seem to work – the popup window displays, but the comment box is never populated, and “save” and “cancel” remain grayed out.

  39. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Tom Gilson already responded to most points. I would only add the following:

    Our choices are caused causes under determinism, but rather than just blame the big bang for every good or bad thing that comes our way, we like to look at smaller, more informative slices of the causal chain.

    “We like”? So now this is a matter of liking? As Holopupenko rightly scorned, this is the perfect example of an emotional hang-up. And should I remind you that under determinism, your likings are overdetermined by the Big Bang and the relentless operation of physical laws, and could not be any other than what they are? So you like to look at “smaller, more informative slices of the causal chain”. Well, I like to look at ultimate causes.

    I addressed this in my reply to Tom. Being a proximate cause only entails that:

    a) I am a living human being
    b) I cause stuff (though, not causelessly)

    Determinists don’t believe we have “causal power” in the libertarian sense, of course not.

    I see that you have not addressed my first point. Tom Gilson has shown that you have failed to address my second point. You keep repeating that you can be a proximate cause, but fail to address the point that you (something which you have not deigned to clarify what is exactly) have no *independent* causal power: for to have independent causal power would mean that you could act in a different way such that a different fact would obtain — but this is what determinism denies. To put it in other words, in order to explain any of your actions there is absolutely no need to make reference to yourself. You are a proximate cause? So what, apply Ockam’s razor and you can be safely erased from the explaining picture.

    I also note that you have replaced “I” by “living human being”. What do you think that buys you? You can replace living human being by dog, rock or whatever physical object you care to name, it is all the same under determinism.

    But determinism entails that we human beings, will play a part in the causing future states of the universe. Therefore, we are proximate causes.

    The same causal power that the 99th domino in a row of hundred dominoes has when he is the proximate cause of the falling of the last domino — a completely hollow freedom.

  40. d

    The same causal power that the 99th domino in a row of hundred dominoes has when he is the proximate cause of the falling of the last domino — a completely hollow freedom.

    This is true, but this is not a fact I find troubling or scary – especially since libertarians have thus far only managed to replace the dominoes with a roulette wheel.

  41. d

    I see that you have not addressed my first point. Tom Gilson has shown that you have failed to address my second point. You keep repeating that you can be a proximate cause, but fail to address the point that you (something which you have not deigned to clarify what is exactly) have no *independent* causal power: for to have independent causal power would mean that you could act in a different way such that a different fact would obtain — but this is what determinism denies. To put it in other words, in order to explain any of your actions there is absolutely no need to make reference to yourself. You are a proximate cause? So what, apply Ockam’s razor and you can be safely erased from the explaining picture.

    Whether one talks about events at the lowest levels of causation (ie, big bang inevitably caused Bob to break the window), or at higher levels (ie, Bob broke the window), depends on what one is hoping to accomplish.

    If you’re hoping to discover the ultimate and most precise reason why Bob broke the window, you’ll have to examine things at the lowest levels. If you want to say, determine whether Bob we should hold Bob responsible for the window repair, you might look at it from higher, but less precise levels.

    Under determinism, we know that if we require Bob to pay for the window repair, his future choices to throw balls at windows could be affected in such a way that dissuedes him from doing the undesirable deed of breaking people’s windows.

    So we still have plenty of reasons to examine things at the higher levels, with questions like, “who caused X”.

  42. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    The same causal power that the 99th domino in a row of hundred dominoes has when he is the proximate cause of the falling of the last domino — a completely hollow freedom.

    This is true, but this is not a fact I find troubling or scary – especially since libertarians have thus far only managed to replace the dominoes with a roulette wheel.

    Earlier you complained that “there has been no satisfactory, plausible account of it by libertarians”, where “it” is the “dilemma of agent causation”, now you speak of “roulette wheel”. Actually, the accounts and explanations of libertarian free-will are a dime-a-dozen. The last one I have read (rather, still reading it) is Alexander Pruss’s “The Principle of Sufficient Reason”, chapter 7.

    note: For the record, I favour Aristotelian-Thomistic accounts and the so-called Hylemorphic dualism. D. Oderberg’s “Real Essentialism” is a good modern introduction, although it does not touch the subject of free will directly.

  43. Tom Gilson

    d, on the edit comment function, have you tried it in a different browser? I’d be interested to know more details, if there’s a problem that needs solving.

  44. Tom Gilson

    d, you say,

    Appealing to agent causation only kicks the stone down the road. An agent’s reasons either must be caused (in which case, you’re conceding to a form of determinism), or they are causeless (meaning that a choice has no ultimate cause, though in my lexicon it would have a ‘proximal cause’).

    And the problem with that is … ? The “proximal cause,” to use your language, is the agent’s free decision.

    When a determinist says “I cause X”, one might uncharitably interpret that as a determinist being inconsistent – but one might more charitably interpret that to have a meaning different from a libertarian, one that is consistent with a deterministic view.

    Do you remember when earlier you had said that we didn’t need to bother with defining the word “self” in this discussion? I put it to you that the libertarian-associated view of self is (or at least can be) consistent with the normal-language view of the word. I put it to you that the determinist’s view of the word “self” cannot be consistent with the normal-language view of the word. So if I am being charitable and taking the word “self” according to a meaning that is consistent with a deterministic view, then I am taking it to mean something far different from what the word normally means.

    Specifically I am saying that on determinism there is no agent-self:
    1. Per Dennett and others, there is no real consciousness in me; it is an illusion, a theater of the mind at best, watching what goes on and falsely thinking that it holds some mastery over events.
    2. There is no continuity of identity except through the accumulation of memory, but (and this is a big discussion I can’t begin to go into) that is not the kind of continuity that can lead one reliably to conclude that I, Tom Gilson, am now identical (apart from some slightly different history of experience) to the Tom Gilson who was typing the first paragraph of this comment.
    3. There is no I making choices on behalf of myself; I (whatever “I” means) cannot do that.

    If you want me to charitably regard your view of “self” in the manner a determinist might view “self” (that is, in a manner a determinist must view self, given determinism), then this is what I will do to comply charitably. I will take it that you are talking about a “self” with no true consciousness, no continuity of identity, and of course no free will.

    And you thought this was an inconsequential point of definition!

    The evidence that people are confusing determinism and fatalism are the claims along the lines of “argumentation is futile, for it can’t change the future state of the universe”. But under determinism, it must. It can’t change what is inevitable, but again, it should be commonly known that determinists don’t really claim that choices change what is inevitable.

    You missed my point where I said that determinism is a species of fatalism. You miss the point that the very argument that you said will change the future was fated to be, or determined to be. If you carry the causal chain back far enough, determinism is 100% fatalistic.

    So d, although I appreciate your hanging in here and trying to learn, I would suggest that you take your learning process as a learning process, and quit telling us that we’re misunderstanding, making needless calls for definition, etc. You are (not to put to fine a point on it) wrong.

  45. Tom Gilson

    Cute:

    This is true, but this is not a fact I find troubling or scary – especially since libertarians have thus far only managed to replace the dominoes with a roulette wheel.

    But where is the evidence for it? Where have you argued it? Where is there any sign of your having paid sufficient attention to our accounts of agent-causation within the broader stream of causation?

  46. d

    Tom

    I’ve only tried in Chrome, on Linux, and Safari on OSX – it doesn’t seem to work on either. I can try Firefox next, on both platforms to see if that makes a difference.

  47. Tom Gilson

    So we still have plenty of reasons to examine things at the higher levels, with questions like, “who caused X”.

    Reasons? REASONS?! What do reasons have to do with our decisions under physical determinism?? What do your neurons know about reasons? What do the chemical reactions in your brain know about them?? How on earth could you possibly think that reasons could influence anyone’s behavior, given physicalist determinism?

    Don’t give me any nonsense about how brains process reasons physically, okay? They can’t. They don’t. Brains (on determinism) don’t process anything, except in the sense that they are the locus for a whole lot of inevitable, necessary, unalterable physical reactions; and physical reactions are influenced only by things like the proximity of reactive agents, or Ohm’s law, or field effects, and the like. They are absolutely never influenced by reasons.

  48. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    If you’re hoping to discover the ultimate and most precise reason why Bob broke the window, you’ll have to examine things at the lowest levels. If you want to say, determine whether Bob we should hold Bob responsible for the window repair, you might look at it from higher, but less precise levels.

    So Bob could not have done otherwise than breaking the window and yet you want to hold him responsible for the fact?

    Under determinism, we know that if we require Bob to pay for the window repair, his future choices to throw balls at windows could be affected in such a way that dissuedes him from doing the undesirable deed of breaking people’s windows.

    This is completely surreal. “we know that if we require Bob to pay for the window repair, his future choices to throw balls at windows could be affected”? How do you know that? “Future choices”? “dissuedes [sic] him”?

    @Tom Gilson:

    I use Firefox (Linux, Kubuntu) and had the same problems that d reported. Do you want me to try another browser such as Konqueror?

  49. Tom Gilson

    Comment editing should work now. I have a page caching plugin called W3Total Cache, which includes a function to “minify” scripts. That seems to have been the culprit. I’ve shut down that function. Please let me know if you have any further problems.

  50. d

    Rodrigues:

    So Bob could not have done otherwise than breaking the window and yet you want to hold him responsible for the fact?

    Of course – this is standard determinism stuff!

    Determinists reject retributive punishment – indeed, determinism really renders it meaningless. Bob isn’t held responsible because he deserves it, he is held responsible because if he is, at least in theory, his future choices will be affected in a desirable manner.

    How do we know Bob’s choices will be affected if we hold him responsible? Well, we don’t for sure – but there’s lots of historical support for the idea that holding people responsible for actions can affect their future choices.

  51. SteveK

    d,

    To a determinist, we take part in causality – we don’t have power over it.

    Yes, so please stop using words like “try”, “reason”, “indend”, etc. Under determinism, and as a participant with no power whatsoever, there is only “do”. No try.

    Yoda explains.

  52. Tom Gilson

    Let’s rephrase this.

    So Bob could not have done otherwise than believe in retributive correction and yet you want to hold him responsible for the fact?

    Of course – this is standard determinism stuff!

    Determinists reject retributive correction – indeed, determinism really renders it meaningless. Bob isn’t held responsible because he is wrong, he is held responsible because if he is, at least in theory, his future choices will be affected in a desirable manner.

    How do we know Bob’s choices will be affected if we hold him responsible? Well, we don’t for sure – but there’s lots of historical support for the idea that holding people responsible for actions can affect their future choices.

    Don’t like that? Let’s rephrase it again.

    So Bob could not have done otherwise than disbelieve in determinism and yet you want to hold him responsible for the fact?

    Of course – this is standard determinism stuff!

    Determinists reject retributive correction – indeed, determinism really renders it meaningless. Bob isn’t held responsible because he deserves it, he is held responsible because if he is, at least in theory, his future choices will be affected in a desirable manner.

    How do we know Bob’s choices will be affected if we hold him responsible? Well, we don’t for sure – but there’s lots of historical support for the idea that holding people responsible for actions can affect their future choices.

    Now let’s rephrase it one last time:

    So d could not have done otherwise than believe in determinism and yet you want to regard his conclusions something to be praised?

    Of course – this is standard determinism stuff!

    Determinists reject the concept of that people deserve praise – indeed, determinism really renders “deserving” meaningless. d isn’t praised because he deserves it, he is praised because if he is praised, at least in theory, his future choices will be affected in a desirable manner.

    How do we know d’s choices will be affected if we hold him responsible? Well, we don’t for sure – but there’s lots of historical support for the idea that holding people responsible for actions can affect their future choices.

    Are you getting the point? You are treating beliefs as Skinnerian behaviors. That’s not what they are.

  53. Tom Gilson

    What in the world does “take part in” mean, in “we take part in causality”? A rock takes part in causality when you shoot a bird with a slingshot.

  54. SteveK

    d knows what retributive punishment means, but he then goes on to say he rejects the term because it has no meaning under determinism. Which is it, d? You’ve just demonstrated that determinism is false because you know the term has meaning.

  55. Lee

    Tom:

    I don’t ” disbelieve in the existence of choice”, I disbelieve in the existence of choice outside the chain of physical causation, i.e. ultimately free choice.

  56. Tom Gilson

    Define “choice,” please, within the chain of physical causation. Surely you recognize how such a thing must fly in the face of human experience and normal-language understandings of “choice.” So I’d like to know what you think it really does mean.

  57. d

    So d could not have done otherwise than believe in determinism and yet you want to regard his conclusions something to be praised?

    I would never say my conclusions deserve praise. Praise and punishment would both be actions that increase or decrease the desirability of future actions.

  58. Bill R.

    Determinists reject retributive punishment – indeed, determinism really renders it meaningless. Bob isn’t held responsible because he deserves it, he is held responsible because if he is, at least in theory, his future choices will be affected in a desirable manner.

    This is really insidious stuff, and shows why determinism is such a deeply dehumanizing philosophy. Under a determinist theory of punishment, Bob is not treated as an end in himself, but as a means to some other end (be it social harmony, or whatever). We can do whatever we want to Bob, as long as it influences his choices in a manner that we find desirable. (And we’re not really responsible for what we do to Bob, anyway).

  59. d

    “Choice” would be defined something like “a decision to act, caused (proximately) by the desires of the chooser”.

    Compatibalists will argue that desires are determined, in tune with what Lee claimed in a previous post – but to act in accordance with one’s desires, free or mostly free from imposition, is a compatibalists version of “free choice”

  60. d

    This is really insidious stuff, and shows why determinism is such a deeply dehumanizing philosophy. Under a determinist theory of punishment, Bob is not treated as an end in himself, but as a means to some other end (be it social harmony, or whatever). We can do whatever we want to Bob, as long as it influences his choices in a manner that we find desirable. (And we’re not really responsible for what we do to Bob, anyway).

    On the contrary, a determinist would see no intrinsic good in the suffering of Bob, and it can offer ample justification for his humane rehabilitation, over retribution.

  61. Tom Gilson

    d, you wrote,

    I would never say my conclusions deserve praise. Praise and punishment would both be actions that increase or decrease the desirability of future actions.< ,/blockquote>

    WOW! Tyranny alert! Who decides which conclusions will receive praise or punishment? Your answer appears to be, those who have some stake in “the desirability of future actions,” and of course also those who have the power to deliver praise or punishment. Have you read 1984? Do you disagree that there is something praiseworthy in knowing and affirming what is true? OUCH!

  62. Tom Gilson

    On the contrary, a determinist would see no intrinsic good in the suffering of Bob, and it can offer ample justification for his humane rehabilitation, over retribution.

    Do you know anything about Stalinist “rehabilitation”? You’d better bone up on your history and not just your literature. You are talking about the tools of repression and tyranny indeed. I would be terrified to live under a leader who believed what you believe. And I would have good reason to be terrified: I’ve read Solzhenitsyn. (More literature for you to catch up on.)

  63. Tom Gilson

    You scare me, d.

    No, actually you terrify me. Not that I think that you personally have any power to threaten my freedoms or my safety, but because you represent the kind of thinking that would disconnect behavioral manipulation from what is actually true or actually praiseworthy (or actually false or actually blameworthy). You represent the kind of thinking by which the Soviet dictators put dissidents in psychiatric wards for “rehabilitation.” You represent the use of power, as Bill said, to treat persons as means rather than ends. You don’t believe in freedom of the will, and you are willing to put your beliefs into action by siding with the philosophies of those who have denied freedom of the citizen.

    If you understood history you would be terrified of yourself as well.

  64. d

    Well, I think we both agree that Stalinist style “rehabilitation” isn’t a desirable thing! It makes for a pretty undesirable state of affairs, actually, as history has shown.

    As a determinist and a consequentialist, I would say Stalinist style retribution has been soundly demonstrated to make the world a worse place!

  65. d

    And Tom,

    For what its worth, it scares ME that many people tend to divorce praise and punishment from any actual purpose, and instead think of them as fulfilling some vague notions of “intrinsic goodness”.

    Even if we decided things are intrinsically good or bad, nobody is in any authoritative position to declare what is and isn’t good or bad – we all have to rely on evidence, reason, and can ultimately only bring about a world which values these things by consensus (in other words, might makes right).

    Even opinions about what God is or believes ultimately fall on that sword – so nobody really has an advantage there.

  66. Tom Gilson

    Re your 3:40 pm comment: You simply do not understand what you are aligning yourself with. That’s frightening, too.

    d, you’re on a very dangerous path.

  67. Lee

    “Define “choice,” please, within the chain of physical causation. Surely you recognize how such a thing must fly in the face of human experience and normal-language understandings of “choice.” So I’d like to know what you think it really does mean.”

    An act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities. (google web definition)

  68. Tom Gilson

    TERROR ON THE BLOG!!!

    d, can’t you see what you’re saying??!!

    For what its worth, it scares ME that many people tend to divorce praise and punishment from any actual purpose, and instead think of them as fulfilling some vague notions of “intrinsic goodness”.

    You are divorcing “actual purpose” from what is good or bad!!! You are setting up behavioral manipulation independent of right and wrong!!!

    And if you were right (you aren’t, but let’s run with it hypothetically) in saying, “nobody is in any authoritative position to declare what is and isn’t good or bad,” then is it not still the case that someone would be in an authoritative position to declare what behaviors get reinforced and/or punished? And if that power (for that’s what it would be) has no good or bad to refer to, then it can do whatever it damn well pleases (and I use that hell-related word quite intentionally and advisedly). What makes you think that this power would rely on evidence, reason, or consensus?

    It is the belief in God that has granted this world its notions of the equal worth of human beings, of kings (and other potential tyrants) being accountable to an authority higher than themselves, of the importance of restraining power, and (in short) the major belief foundations underlying the practice of freedom. So you are quite historically in error to suppose that nobody has an advantage there.

    Study your history! Here’s a great place to start. Take your pick. But don’t choose ignorance, for it leads to corruption, the abuse of power, and the termination of human freedom.

  69. d

    Tom,

    I disagree – I mean I can somewhat empathize with the suspicions you hold towards my views – but none of these are really that much different than the mountains of philosophy out there that comes from a non-theist perspective, which has given to us by many a thoughtful, moral, good people who value things like freedom.

    I think the evidence and history makes it obvious – freedom (in the sense of the law), is vitally important in order to have a world where humans flourish, and are happy. Equally as important is the strict limitation of powers granted to any governing body. Bad things happen when those two things are not respected.

    That’s why I’m content to discuss my views on blogs, relying on my meager powers of persuasion, and have absolutely no desire to become a tyrant and enslave everyone in the name of my beliefs!

  70. Tom Gilson

    d, you still don’t understand what you have aligned yourself with, and what you have turned your back on. Please read one of the books I recommended in my last comment. For your sake. You have an emotional and quite human desire to reject tyranny, but your beliefs align perfectly with those of tyrants nonetheless. Please pay attention. You are in danger of becoming that which you detest.

  71. d

    Under determinism there are not two possibilities. Your definition contradicts determinism.

    From our epistemic perspective, it can appear as if there is more than one possible future, and considerations of those possibilities can affect our choices.

    There’s nothing in determinism that states we are perfect predictors.

  72. d

    Tom,

    There are alternate explanations for the emergence of rights, and limitation of powers of our governing bodies.

    It could really be that people began to see the value of these things first – and then used their religious beliefs to later justify them. Hey, its nice that Christian’s were able to offer some religious support for these ideas, even if it may have been after the fact – that’s great.

    But the emergence of these ideas did not bountifully spring from, or come uncontroversially, even from within Christianity – all of them, including the value of science, took revolutions within Christian thought. And much of this only occurred after a long, long period after the emergence of Christianity.

    Some Christians saw them as valuable, others did not. It took revolutions in Chrisiainity to shift the Catholic church towards the idea that human progress was a good thing, and that its role wasn’t just to preserve the morality of impoverished people, as they toiled and suffered.

    And we can even see the template for our government and its founding principles in governments that predated Christianty. We’ve as much to thank Solon the Athenian for our founding principles, as much as we can thank Jesus.

    Not to mention, plenty of people are quite capable of duping others into thinking they are a prophet, a mouthpiece for God – even Jesus – and coax people into doing all sorts of bad and destructive stuff.

  73. SteveK

    d,
    If you don’t mind, please comment on what I said here.

    The term has no meaning under determinism, yet you know the meaning. What put the meaning in your head – the mechanism of determinism, right? Then determinism is false according to your statement.

  74. Tom Gilson

    As a matter of historical fact:

    People saw the reality of human equal worth after reading the Bible, not before. They drew that inference from the Bible. The Bible was clearly the cause of that belief’s appearing in history.

    People saw the importance of limited power for governments because they understood what the Bible said about equal rights, and because they understood that kings were not divine, and because they understood that all humans are flawed.

    Science did not require a revolution in Christian thought. It required Christian thought. Read James Hannam, The Genesis of Science (read your history!). It took a long time after the emergence of Christianity, yes, but not as long as often thought, and the delay is attributable to the Goths and Visigoths and etc. (not to mention some screwy over-devotion to certain Greek views on exploring nature), not to Christianity.

    The idea of human progress is a uniquely Christian invention. Study your comparative history! It comes from the Christian idea of the value of work; it comes from the Christian idea that drudgery is an evil; and it comes from the quite uniquely Christian belief that history moves in a direction rather than being cyclical or static.

    Solon the Athenian did not believe in the universal equal moral worth of humans; and even if he did, he would have had no philosophical foundation on which to base that belief.

    Study your history!

  75. Lee

    “Under determinism there are not two possibilities. Your definition contradicts determinism.”

    It contradicts fatalism, not determinism.

  76. Tom Gilson

    Incomplete answer alert. The relevance of Christianity to drudgery is in seeing it as an evil inflicted upon real persons even if those persons were slaves. The relevance of the Christian view of work and drudgery us that these concepts motivated the idea of making the world possibly abetted place for persons

  77. d

    SteveK:

    If determinism is true, the traditional concept of “deserve” becomes nonsense (and therefore so does the retribution theory of punishment) , but that doesn’t mean one can’t think about what it could mean if some other theory (like libertarianism) were true.

    So nothing is falsified here, at least not by that account.

  78. SteveK

    d,

    …but that doesn’t mean one can’t think about what it could mean if some other theory (like libertarianism) were true.

    Perhaps you missed this…what put the meaning in your head – the mechanism of determinism, right?

    Edit: So the mechanism of determinism put the idea in your head that the term has meaning, and that the term has no meaning if determinism is true. Which is it?

  79. Tom Gilson

    Lee, would you explain how it is not determinism, please? I don’t deny it’s fatalism. I have said here that determinism is a species of fatalism, so if I think X is determinism, I’m not going to dispute that X is fatalism. But I think you want to say that this particular X is fatalism but not determinism. I’d like to know how you came to that conclusion.

  80. d

    People saw the reality of human equal worth after reading the Bible, not before. They drew that inference from the Bible. The Bible was clearly the cause of that belief’s appearing in history.

    Clearly the cause? There’s a few possibilities to untangle here:

    1) The Bible caused the belief in equal human worth, in this instance
    2) The Bible was incidental with respect to the emergence of the belief in equal human worth
    3) The Bible is necessary for belief in equal human worth

    Clearly, a lot of support can be marshalled for (1). If (1) can be demonstrated, clearly that’s a good talking point for Christianity and the Bible, and I’d be happy to give Christianity praise if it really were the impetus that brought about the widespread acceptance of that belief.

    However, (2) is also possible. It could be that the misery the world suffered from the lack of such a belief became so bad, that the value of equal worth was undeniable – and so, many Christians sought justification for it through their religious tradition. I’m not sure that history can do much to conclusively say which is more plausible – (1) or (2)

    As for (3), I think that is obviously false. Surely, plenty of other philosophies can espouse, and have espoused, values very similar or identical to it. Christianity simply isn’t necessary for that value at all.

    People saw the importance of limited power for governments because they understood what the Bible said about equal rights, and because they understood that kings were not divine, and because they understood that all humans are flawed.

    Possibly, or those people, like our founders, could have seen the undeniable devestation, corruption and misery that inevitably comes from totalitarian rule. Even some in pre-Christian times must have recognized this fact, like the previously mentioned Solon, and experimented with democratic governments, elected officials, and clear transitions of power – and many such pre-Christian experiments were instrumental to the founding of our nation.

    Science did not require a revolution in Christian thought. It required Christian thought. Read James Hannam, The Genesis of Science (read your history!). It took a long time after the emergence of Christianity, yes, but not as long as often thought, and the delay is attributable to the Goths and Visigoths and etc. (not to mention some screwy over-devotion to certain Greek views on exploring nature), not to Christianity.

    Just like the value of human worth, we can untagle this a little more. For science, was Chrisianity:

    (1) the cause (in this instance)?
    (2) incidental?
    (3) necessary?

    And like the previous example, good support can be brought to bear for (1) and (2) and one can probably debate the merrits of each possibility at length, but (3) – which is where your position seems to lie – is clearly false, given the history of pre-Christian era sciences.

    The idea of human progress is a uniquely Christian invention. Study your comparative history! It comes from the Christian idea of the value of work; it comes from the Christian idea that drudgery is an evil; and it comes from the quite uniquely Christian belief that history moves in a direction rather than being cyclical or static.

    Belief in cyclical notions of human progress and decay actually necessitates a belief in human progress.

    Solon the Athenian did not believe in the universal equal moral worth of humans; and even if he did, he would have had no philosophical foundation on which to base that belief.

    Because Christianity can only provide a philosophical justification for that belief? A bold claim, one that really is quite impossible to reasonably maintain.

  81. d

    And look, I’m not out to deny or diminish any important contributions to our intellectual history, on the part of Christianity… it surely contributed a great deal.

    But many of these claims are tenuous at best.

  82. Tom Gilson

    d,

    I’m sorry, but your litany of could bes and possiblys doesn’t stand up against actual historical information. Have I already mentioned that I would encourage you to study your history? In fact, haven’t I recommended a book or two?

    For example:

    However, (2) is also possible. It could be that the misery the world suffered from the lack of such a belief became so bad, that the value of equal worth was undeniable – and so, many Christians sought justification for it through their religious tradition. I’m not sure that history can do much to conclusively say which is more plausible – (1) or (2)

    History can say which is more plausible, actually. The world’s misery never produced that belief anywhere else, for one thing. If “the value of equal worth was undeniable,” why was it not undeniable somewhere else, too? Second, other philosophical systems can quite easily deny the value of equal worth. Look at Hinduism for one obvious example. Third, the Christian value of human equal worth is not an ad hoc, after-the-fact add-on. History shows that biblical values informed decisions and attitudes while they were being formed.

    In other words, you are wrong on this point.

    As for (3), I think that is obviously false. Surely, plenty of other philosophies can espouse, and have espoused, values very similar or identical to [universal equal human worth]. Christianity simply isn’t necessary for that value at all.

    Could you name one such philosophy that arose independently of Christian thinking? If not, then it’s not so obviously false, is it?

    Possibly, or those people, like our founders, could have seen the undeniable devestation, corruption and misery that inevitably comes from totalitarian rule. Even some in pre-Christian times must have recognized this fact, like the previously mentioned Solon, and experimented with democratic governments, elected officials, and clear transitions of power – and many such pre-Christian experiments were instrumental to the founding of our nation.

    Solon’s democracy had almost nothing in common with our rights-based government. Who got to vote? What protection was there for the minority from the majority? Sure, our nation got the idea of voting from the Greeks, but it got its ideas of rights, freedoms, liberty, and the protection thereof from biblical values.

    Just like the value of human worth, we can untagle this a little more. For science, was Chrisianity:

    (1) the cause (in this instance)?
    (2) incidental?
    (3) necessary?

    And like the previous example, good support can be brought to bear for (1) and (2) and one can probably debate the merrits of each possibility at length, but (3) – which is where your position seems to lie – is clearly false, given the history of pre-Christian era sciences.

    Read your history. Read Hannam’s The Genesis of Science. Read something about the real history of pre-Christian era sciences. Please, I beg of you, quit spouting your ignorance!

    Belief in cyclical notions of human progress and decay actually necessitates a belief in human progress.

    What?! What kind of belief in human progress were we talking about?

    Solon the Athenian did not believe in the universal equal moral worth of humans; and even if he did, he would have had no philosophical foundation on which to base that belief.

    Because Christianity can only provide a philosophical justification for that belief? A bold claim, one that really is quite impossible to reasonably maintain.

    Okay. Here’s the deal, d. You don’t know your history. You don’t know the history of science, of ideas, of Christianity. You spattered this comment with could bes and possiblys, making it painfully obvious that you don’t know what you’re talking about, especially since most of your could bes and possiblys could not possibly have been.

    But you also sprinkled it with assessments like “obviously false,” “clearly false,” and “quite impossible to reasonably maintain.” Those are authoritative statements, made by one who has virtually no knowledge of the matter. That’s a failure not only of knowledge, my friend, but also of integrity.

    Study your history! And for your own integrity’s sake, please be silent on that of which you know so obviously little. Again, I’m not trying to be condescending. But you are so confident about so many things on which you are wrong, surely you must re-assess yourself, your opinions, and especially your confidence in your opinions.

    You do know what “closed-minded” means, in the negative sense? It means being confident of your opinion, without having any good reason for that confidence. It comes from (among other things) not paying attention to opposing views. Believe me, I’ve read multiple opposing views on these things. Why don’t you?

    Unless you prefer to be closed-minded.

  83. Lee

    Certainly! I believe the difference lies in predictability. Fatalism is the idea that all events are predetermined, from start to finish. Determinism, in my view, is the idea that the future is fluid, but the the events in the next moment are determined by the state of the previous moment. I can readily admit my ignorance on quantum theory, but from what I understand of it, there is true randomness at some fundamental level of reality, making the type of prediction inherent to fatalism impossible in principle. So while it is true to say that if you had all of the relevant information, you could predict the future course of events into infinity, I don’t think it’s possible to have that information, so even at the level of individual decision, there remains more than one possible course of events. That’s not to say that an agent freely chooses between A and not-A, that is still determined by the agent’s desires, etc., but a and not-a remain possibilities nonetheless.

    Hopefully that makes sense 🙂

    Lee.

  84. JAD

    I’m suspicious. I’m beginning to think that d is a sock puppet of Gregory Magarshak. For sure the subject is different but some of the stubbornness, style, lengths of posts etc. is very similar. Has anyone else noticed this?

  85. Tom Gilson

    That makes sense, Lee. It’s not what I would consider standard definitions, but I don’t mind using those terms that way for now.

    You say A’s choice is determined by A’s desires. Does A really have a choice? That’s still the question. A’s desires come from somewhere, and if that source of desire is determined by physical necessity and/or quantum chance, then A is still a puppet of non-personal forces, right?

  86. G. Rodrigues

    @Lee:

    Certainly! I believe the difference lies in predictability. Fatalism is the idea that all events are predetermined, from start to finish. Determinism, in my view, is the idea that the future is fluid, but the the events in the next moment are determined by the state of the previous moment.

    You are grievously confused. Whether we can predict the future is irrelevant for the discussion at hand; the only thing relevant is that the *defining* characteristic of determinism is that at any given possible instant there is only one possible future, and thus by necessity, human agents have no alternative possibilities to choose from. You admit as much when you write “Determinism, in my view, is the idea that the future is fluid, but the the events in the next moment are determined by the state of the previous moment.” This just means that the future is univocally determined by the past, and ultimately by the initial state of the universe. Since humans have no power either over the laws of nature or the past, they have no power over the future.

    note: An illustrative example are classical systems exhibiting chaotic behavior. Their behavior is not predictable in practice due to exponential divergence in the phase space trajectories but are still completely deterministic (although an infinite intellect with the capability of making measurements with infinite precision could make such predictions).

    Under determinism, any suggestion we actually choose from real, alternative possibilities can be nothing more than an illusion foisted by the brain. Besides, the idea that “at the level of individual decision, there remains more than one possible course of events”, that is, that ignorance of the actual future constitutes a basis for freedom, is so preposterous that defies qualification.

    I can readily admit my ignorance on quantum theory, but from what I understand of it, there is true randomness at some fundamental level of reality, making the type of prediction inherent to fatalism impossible in principle.

    Quantum Mechanics makes arguing for determinism harder, but since that is exactly what you are doing, it is irrelevant for the current discussion. And I do not want to sound condescending, but my suggestion is to simply admit your ignorance of Quantum Mechanics and speak not of it.

    Late note: it just occurred to me that thinking that the lack of predictability (that is, lack of knowledge) of the future is a basis for choice is the negative version of the mistake committed by those that think that God’s Omniscience necessarily entails Predetermination.

  87. JAD

    Determinism grows out of a reductionistic view that every explanation can be ultimately reduced to a physical explanation. And since we observe determinism in the physical world, everything, even if it is counter intuitive, can be explained deterministically. But how do we know that is true? Can it be proven scientifically?

    I think that an “extreme matrix” view (going beyond what is portrayed in the movie, The Matrix) of reverse reductionism, in which everything can be reduced to mind or thought, and that the physical world is just an illusion, is a better explanation than a physicalist-deterministic kind of reductionism.

    Of course there is a third possibility: that the subject/object dualism which underlies theism truly reflects the way the world really is. That is what I believe, but not just because it’s a belief, but because it is the best explanation.

  88. Lee

    Does A really have a choice? That’s still the question.

    That depends on what you mean when you say ‘A’. More below.

    A’s desires come from somewhere, and if that source of desire is determined by physical necessity and/or quantum chance, then A is still a puppet of non-personal forces, right?

    A is the person, the sum of the desires, so in that sense, a puppet can’t be puppeteer to itself. There is no ‘A’ being led around by the nose, A is doing the leading. The ‘A’ you keep talking about as a puppet is, in my humble opinion, the illusion.

    G:

    If there is a fork on a road, and no one ever desires to take the left fork, is it still a choice? If God offers you everything you desire, with no downside, on one hand, and offers to take away everything you hold dear, with no upside, on the other, is it still a choice if there is no possibility(i.e. you never would) of you taking the second offer?

    that ignorance of the actual future constitutes a basis for freedom, is so preposterous that defies qualification.

    Basis for freedom? I thought I was pretty clear up front that I don’t think such freedom is anything but an illusion. My point is only that if you can’t, even in principle, predict the course of events, then human desires select between two(or more) possible outcomes. This doesn’t free them from causation, obviously.

    Late note: it just occurred to me that thinking that the lack of predictability (that is, lack of knowledge) of the future is a basis for choice is the negative version of the mistake committed by those that think that God’s Omniscience necessarily entails Predetermination.

    I think the failure of fatalism entails the failure of an omniscient being to predict the future. The only way to say a god could predict the future is to ascribe to fatalism, all else is just intellectual hand-waiving.

    If there really is freedom of the will, ultimate freedom from the chain of causation, and there is no possibility even in principle of predicting the outcome of moment to moment human action, true freedom, God couldn’t know the future because there would be nothing to know. This has always presented me with a problem when considering the claim that God has a plan. However, I don’t think omniscience entails knowing things it is not possible to know, so I don’t agree that it entails fatalism.

  89. Lee

    And I do not want to sound condescending, but my suggestion is to simply admit your ignorance of Quantum Mechanics and speak not of it.

    So I am mistaken about there being truly random events at the quantum level? or are we both in the same position of ignorance?

  90. Tom Gilson

    Lee,

    I have trouble understanding how you can hold this position:

    A is the person, the sum of the desires, so in that sense, a puppet can’t be puppeteer to itself. There is no ‘A’ being led around by the nose, A is doing the leading. The ‘A’ you keep talking about as a puppet is, in my humble opinion, the illusion.

    I am actually going to reject your distinction between fatalism and determinism. As G. Rodrigues said, it matters not whether some calculation system can predict what’s going to happen next; what matters is that what happens next is what must ineluctably happen next, by physical necessity. It also matters not that there might be some random input into the system, for once that input enters, then physical necessity rules (on physicalism); and no person can control a truly ontologically random event, by definition. So I will use the word determinism instead of fatalism.

    What is A, the person A, that is? A is a subsystem in a larger system of physical necessity and/or chance. You create artificial boundaries around A when you say A is the puppeteer, or that A is the sum of A’s desires. Let us suppose (I am simplifying here) that A’s character, personality, or characteristic response set is the sum of A’s desires. Then A’s desires are the sum/product/integral/differential of a whole lot of influences over which A has no control. These are the strings that control the puppet—and A doesn’t hold them.

    This topic interacts with the above discussion on identity, by the way: if all that happens, happens by physical necessity, then what makes the person the unit of analysis? Consider a computer. Is it defined by its motherboard? Its CPU? Its hardware? Its hardware+software? What is the relevant unit of analysis? Well, they all could be, depending on the question. But if the question is, what causes the computer’s output, then the answer is all of the above, plus the information input, plus the energy input, plus the hardware on which the output appears, plus the apparent chance variations in any of the above, plus any number of other variables and/or constants in the stream.

    But that’s not all. We could also ask, where is the relevant locus of a computer’s output? The voltages on the CPU? The signal sent to the LCD screen? The pixels on the LCD screen? The light emitted from there? The answer again is, any of the above. If there’s no human observer or downstream system, particularly, there is no one point of output that’s more relevant than any other. Crucially, though, once the chain of causation is initiated, the downstream outputs are tied so tightly to the upstream events that they are as if the same event. Suppose we said tha

    So what causes A’s output? First, what is the relevant output locus? Maybe it’s not that A’s desires cause the output; maybe the desires are the relevant output. Maybe A’s cognitions or beliefs are. Maybe A’s behaviors are. I don’t know why we couldn’t regard A’s desires as analogous to the output from the CPU chip in a computer. They are not the visible output, but they are an output of prior system effects nonetheless, and equally determined. So when A has cognitions or behaviors downstream from A’s desires, does A have any more ownership of those cognitions or desires than a computer monitor has of its pixel display?

    Maybe you will want to say that although A has no control, still it is still A’s desires involved, so that A owns the actions that A produces in expression of A’s desires. But again I ask, what makes A, the person, the relevant unit of analysis, on physical determinism, as if there were some boundary around A’s input and output that makes A, a purely physical system, distinct from the purely physical system of which A is a component?

    If there is a fork on a road, and no one ever desires to take the left fork, is it still a choice? If God offers you everything you desire, with no downside, on one hand, and offers to take away everything you hold dear, with no upside, on the other, is it still a choice if there is no possibility(i.e. you never would) of you taking the second offer?

    Free will is not the doctrine that every choice is a viable choice, but rather that there are viable, non-determined choices.

    then human desires select between two(or more) possible outcomes.

    Funny: you’ve anthropomorphized human desires. No, there is no selection going on there. There is only the following of the determined course.

    If there really is freedom of the will, ultimate freedom from the chain of causation, and there is no possibility even in principle of predicting the outcome of moment to moment human action, true freedom, God couldn’t know the future because there would be nothing to know.

    There are multiple solutions to that problem. One is that God stands outside of time, another is Molinism. Your reversion to impossibility here is way premature.

  91. Tom Gilson

    Concerning truly random quantum events, and ignorance thereof, I would suggest that the implications for personal choice and agent freedom are the same whether quantum events are random and uncaused, per Copenhagen, or part of some larger and as-yet undetected causal stream. Either way, every single event occurs mindlessly as determined by physical necessity, once the random event happens, if it does. So let’s not let that controversy confuse us into thinking it could offer either more help or more confusion on this topic. Physicalism is physicalism either way.

  92. d

    Heh, Molinism.

    One of the few philosophies that could, by comparison, even make a determinist who professes belief in multiple possible futures the picture of clarity and sanity!

  93. Lee

    I’m going to spend some time thinking about the first part of your comment. I found myself nodding along as I read, uncomfortable in the knowledge that I was supposed to disagree with you! I’m hoping some more time spent pondering will make my next response in that line of discussion more fruitful. Until then,

    Free will is not the doctrine that every choice is a viable choice, but rather that there are viable, non-determined choices.

    Such as?

    There are multiple solutions to that problem. One is that God stands outside of time, another is Molinism. Your reversion to impossibility here is way premature.

    I don’t know what it means to stand outside of time, nor how that solves the problem were it possible. If, however, this were possible, the only way to know the future would be to view it. In order to bring about His plans, God would have to resort to trial and error, constantly adjusting the conditions then checking the outcome until he achieves a desirable result. That kind of reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day.

    Also, there would have to be an end to human life, or else he would still be attempting to tease out the desirable result of an infinite number of future events. Or perhaps he only plans up to a certain point in the span of human existence, leaving a rudder-less ship afloat in the sea of chance after some grand purpose is achieved. Sobering, to say the least.

    Molinism, it seems to me, suffers from the same objection. There doesn’t seem to be any justifiable reason for how God could come to that knowledge if the actions are truly free actions. It seems to me that no matter how many times God views a future instance of choice, or a possible instance of choice, by a free agent, the next instance could turn out differently. I certainly can’t prove that such ‘middle’ knowledge is impossible, but the mere possibility doesn’t give me any reason to accept it as true, or probably true. The counter-intuitive nature of the claim, alongside an utter lack of evidence in support, leaves me honestly skeptical.

  94. Lee

    I’m evidently missing something important, so I’ll simply leave my most recent comment to the wolves and rest my (apparently insane and hopelessly ambiguous) case as it stands. I enjoyed the discussion immensely, thank you for having me!

    Lee.

  95. Lily

    This truly is an interesting question; obviously I have gotten to the conversation late, but do appreciate all of the thoughts on this subject. Thank you for the post.

  96. Victoria

    I came across this article today…

    http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1062950–do-humans-really-have-free-will

    What is wrong with this picture, especially this quote?

    Once upon a time, many philosophers drew a rigorous distinction between the brain and the mind. Known as dualists, they accepted that the brain was a biological entity, composed of flesh, blood and nerves, but believed that the mind was set apart, formed of some more exalted material or not made of physical stuff at all.

    For dualists of a religious bent, the term “mind” was closely linked to the idea of a soul.

    But there aren’t many dualists left anymore, or not among the ranks of philosophers employed by degree-granting academic institutions.

    “A lot of people who are not philosophers believe in some sort of dualism,” says Walter Glannon, professor of philosophy at the University of Calgary. “But most philosophers are not substance dualists. Most philosophers are materialists. They do believe the mind is generated and sustained by the brain.”

  97. Tom Gilson

    What’s wrong with it? It’s nonsense, that’s what’s wrong with it.

    If I understand correctly, there are two ways in which it could be thought that the mind is generated and sustained by the brain. There are of course variations on these. One is epiphenomenalism, the view that thoughts are figuratively excreted by the brain; they are “riders” on top of the brain’s electrochemical circuitry. I wrote about this a while ago,

    I’m reminded of a comic strip from years ago in which a tiger (I think) jumped up on an elephant and growled out, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you!” The elephant, quite unperturbed, just continued on its way. Whereupon the tiger on top said, “Okay, now that I’ve got you, where am I taking you?” If thoughts “ride along” on top of the brain’s machinery, they’re as powerless to direct its ways as the tiger is to tell the elephant where to go. Less so, in fact: they don’t even have claws.

    Your thoughts direct exactly nothing, on that view.

    The other way in which brain can generate and sustain the mind is the one envisioned here, in which mind has even less usefulness than in the epiphenomenal version. It makes a mockery of all decision-making, including philosophers’ decisions to believe it.

    I’d like to know how serious anti-dualist philosophers make sense of this. I’ve read Dennett on this (Freedom Evolves and Consciousness Explained). I’d still like to know how philosophers make sense of this.

  98. G. Rodrigues

    @Victoria:

    I have not read the article, but I would like to address the following snippet you quoted:

    “A lot of people who are not philosophers believe in some sort of dualism,” says Walter Glannon, professor of philosophy at the University of Calgary. “But most philosophers are not substance dualists. Most philosophers are materialists. They do believe the mind is generated and sustained by the brain.”

    I am not a philosopher, but arguments from popularity do not impress me. And on what rests this presumption for materialism? As far as I can see, the few arguments advanced are all very weak. I will deal with just one (although my response will touch on a couple more).

    Materialism is itself a nebulous term and I will not bother to make it precise. Sometimes it is identified with physicalism, sometimes with the idea that the mind is reducible to brain states. The former is strictly stronger than the latter.

    Argument from the appeal to Science: this the favorite argument of the science fetichists. From the impressive successes of materialist science, and through an inductive generalization, it is claimed that there is no place for non-material entities. I find this argument laughably weak.

    First the argument is an inductive one and highly questionable at that. Why should we suppose that the successes in some areas will automatically translate in successes in other areas? The induction is based on a reduction of knowledge to empirical science. Mathematics has been spectacularly successful. The objects it deals with are obvious not material, but are we justified in making the leap that there are non-material realities? A Platonist would respond with a resounding yes (by the way, I am not a Platonist).

    Second, what counts as material? Presumably, what the strict empirical sciences like physics can account for. But then the argument is strictly circular. Is it a great a wonder that a man restricted to look through a microscope cannot find any stars? No. But it would be ludicrous that because a microscope cannot detect stars to decree that the latter do not exist.

    In order to gain some traction, one would have to reduce all sciences to physics. Reductionism works for chemistry, that much I am willing to grant, but already at the level of biology it fails miserably. Not to mention when we step up to the level of the sciences dealing with human beings and on to the social sciences. Not a whiff of materialist reduction can be found in history or economy. Phenomena like consciousness, identity and unity of the self, intentionality and mental causation, etc. have *not* been explained by any version of materialism, are intractably difficult to deal with and in fact, constitute the springboards for powerful arguments *against* materialism.

  99. Victoria

    @Tom, @GR
    I agree completely, and to add…
    It would be like saying that since we understand the physical basis on which a PC works (semiconductor logic circuits) we know everything there is to know about that PC, and have explained all of its software.

  100. Tom Gilson

    Not a whiff of materialist reduction can be found in history or economy.

    Economic reductionism (not materialist reductionism by any means, but reductionism nonetheless) has been tried, and all the attempt has accomplished has been to support your point. It failed miserably, and continues to do so.

  101. d

    Argument from the appeal to Science: this the favorite argument of the science fetichists. From the impressive successes of materialist science, and through an inductive generalization, it is claimed that there is no place for non-material entities. I find this argument laughably weak.

    I wouldn’t put it that like that. A more reasonable materialistic scientist might say there is no reason to yet appeal to the supernatural or immaterial to explain X.

    The other thing to consider is materialisms relative strength (or weakness) compared to other philosophies, like dualism. At present, we know material exists, but we don’t know the immaterial exists. And at present, it looks like the mind could possibly be explained without resorting to the immaterial (there’s been few if any findings within the modern field of neuroscience that seem overtly friendly towards dualism), and its not even clear what problems about the mind/brain that immaterial stuff can actually solve, if any at all.

    It really just introduces yet another black-box into the mix – and one with no clear explanatory value, at that. So materialism clearly has the stronger position, even if it is a weak one.

    First the argument is an inductive one and highly questionable at that. Why should we suppose that the successes in some areas will automatically translate in successes in other areas? The induction is based on a reduction of knowledge to empirical science. Mathematics has been spectacularly successful. The objects it deals with are obvious not material, but are we justified in making the leap that there are non-material realities? A Platonist would respond with a resounding yes (by the way, I am not a Platonist).

    On the other hand, why would one be dismissive of an enterprise that has really earned us so much knowledge, in other areas? No good reason I can see. And given that so many intuitions to which we seem tragically and naturally inclined have been overturned by this enterprise, why are we still giving these intuitions such undue trust to get us across such huge explanatory chasms, like mind/brain problems? Definitely, for no good reason.

    Second, what counts as material? Presumably, what the strict empirical sciences like physics can account for. But then the argument is strictly circular. Is it a great a wonder that a man restricted to look through a microscope cannot find any stars? No. But it would be ludicrous that because a microscope cannot detect stars to decree that the latter do not exist.

    If this is a problem for the materialist, it surely is a bigger problem for the dualist. About the only thing concrete one can about the immaterial is that its “not matter”. But what are its properties? What does it do? How does it act? How can you identify it? How do you even know it exists at all?

    All serious questions, in response to which, the dualist can offer nothing but dubious conjecture.

  102. Tom Gilson

    d, you say,

    At present, we know material exists, but we don’t know the immaterial exists. And at present, it looks like the mind could possibly be explained without resorting to the immaterial (there’s been few if any findings within the modern field of neuroscience that seem overtly friendly towards dualism), and its not even clear what problems about the mind/brain that immaterial stuff can actually solve, if any at all.

    Our knowledge that material exists is dependent on a serious infrastructure of epistemology, and in fact apart from some major assumptions, we don’t “know” that the material exists any more than we know that the immaterial exists. Are you aware of that? Did you read the quote about microscopes and telescopes? Sure, you quoted it, but did you read it?

    Findings within the field of neuroscience are not expected to be overtly friendly towards dualism; they are expected to be neutral. Neuroscience can detect physical events. It cannot detect non-physical events.

    But immaterial stuff can solve all kinds of difficult problems, with consciousness, rationality, meaning/purpose, and free will being at the top of the list. Are you aware of that?

    I’ve asked twice, “are you aware of that?” and I’m asking it for three reasons. One, if you’re not aware of it, then I need to explain further. Two, if you’re not aware of it, then you are being way too confident in your assertions; you are making authoritative-sounding statements from a place of ignorance. You’re using words like we know, we don’t know, clearly, definitely, no good reason, nothing but dubious conjecture. Three, you sound as if you’re not aware of the things I’m asking you about. So I conclude that you are indeed making authoritative statements from a position of ignorance. I would think you would rather not do that!

    On the other hand, why would one be dismissive of an enterprise that has really earned us so much knowledge, in other areas?

    Dismissive? Who’s being dismissive? Why would one call it dismissive to suggest that science is really great at what it’s really great at, and it’s not really great at what it isn’t? Who’s being dismissive when all they’re saying is don’t over-extrapolate? Suppose we were to extrapolate the size of the universe backwards for 14.7 billion years or so. It would not be the least bit dismissive to say that this would lead us to a singularity. Suppose we were to extrapolate backwards another four or five billion years. It would not be dismissive in that case to say, “Hold on a minute! You can’t do that!” That’s what’s going on in what G. Rodrigues wrote. To consider that dismissive is just wrong.

    Were you aware of that? (See above.)

    About the only thing concrete one can about the immaterial is that its “not matter”.

    Really? Were you aware that one can say more than that? (See above. I’ll explain if you want me to. In the meantime, for your own intellectual integrity, please quit making authoritative assertions on things you do not know. It’s not hurting any of us one bit, but your cavalier attitude towards intellectual integrity is doing serious damage to both your mind and your heart. I care about that, d, and I hope you’ll catch on to what you’re doing to yourself.)

  103. Victoria

    And of course, behind this entire discussion is the worldview of Christian theism and in particular its high view of the life, death, burial, and yes *resurrection* of Jesus Christ; the materialist simply ignores or dismisses this out of hand, or tries to explain it away.

  104. G. Rodrigues

    @d:

    Tom Gilson already said the more important things, so I will content myself with a couple of humdrum comments.

    I wouldn’t put it that like that. A more reasonable materialistic scientist might say there is no reason to yet appeal to the supernatural or immaterial to explain X.

    Thanks for making my point even more forceful. If you follow the “more reasonable materialistic scientist”, then you are not even allowed the luxury of asserting that there are no supernatural entities; the best you can squeeze of this is a sort of agnosticism in regards to supernaturalism.

    there’s been few if any findings within the modern field of neuroscience that seem overtly friendly towards dualism

    The idea that when neuroscientists discover some neural correlate of this or that mental event or process, this is some sort of evidence to the fact that the mind is reducible to, or supervenient upon, neural processes is what the philosopher of the mind Tyler Burge aptly characterized as “neurobabble”. There is absolutely nothing in the neuroscientific evidence to support reductive materialism.

    And by the way, what version of dualism are you referring to? Cartesian dualism? Property dualism? Hylemorphic dualism? All of them?

    It really just introduces yet another black-box into the mix – and one with no clear explanatory value, at that. So materialism clearly has the stronger position, even if it is a weak one.

    One of the reasons why the mind-body problem in all its miriad ramifications is so intractable for materialism is because the mechanistic conception of nature leaves out huge swaths of phenomena, for example, sensory qualities. The solution? Sweep them under the rug, which in this case means kick them up to the level of the mind and cross your fingers in the hope that they can be explained away. Of course the same strategy does not work for the mind itself and thus the pretty pass we are in today. Already Malebranche (died in 1715 — almost 300 years ago) argued powerfully over the paradoxical quality of a mechanistic philosophy: in the measure that it kicks up a whole range of phenomena to the level of the mind, it necessary entails a radical mind-body dualism.

  105. Victoria

    @GR – I was going to comment as well on d’s statement

    I wouldn’t put it that like that. A more reasonable materialistic scientist might say there is no reason to yet appeal to the supernatural or immaterial to explain X.

    Thanks for making my point even more forceful. If you follow the “more reasonable materialistic scientist”, then you are not even allowed the luxury of asserting that there are no supernatural entities; the best you can squeeze of this is a sort of agnosticism in regards to supernaturalism

    A classic example of the fallacy of begging the question. Reductionism in science is something of a two-edged sword: on the one hand, it narrows the focus to very specific details of the ‘system’ under study; on the other hand, there is always the danger of falling into the trap of forgetting that there is more to the universe than just that system – one loses the more comprehensive view, like Hamlet’s Horatio 🙂

  106. JAD

    d wrote:

    The other thing to consider is materialisms relative strength (or weakness) compared to other philosophies, like dualism. At present, we know material exists, but we don’t know the immaterial exists. And at present, it looks like the mind could possibly be explained without resorting to the immaterial (there’s been few if any findings within the modern field of neuroscience that seem overtly friendly towards dualism), and its not even clear what problems about the mind/brain that immaterial stuff can actually solve, if any at all.

    Wrong! It is not self evident that matter exists, so I don’t know that it exists and neither do you. I only know about matter because I am a self conscious being with a mind. That is my immediate experience; that is self evident. The knowledge of my self and my self existence is a “properly basic belief.”

    That their are people and things that are not my self is something that I have deduced aposteriori from my experience of my existence. (see my earlier comment @ 103)

  107. dgosse

    If I might interject… Having read only the first dozen and last half-dozen comments it occurs to me that one of the difficulties to be overcome in this thread is one of definition. I have come across d.’s arguments before and think (?) I begin to understand it. If I may elucidate…

    d. thinks that deliberation and intention are possible in a deterministic universe because he thinks the term “determinism” is analogical to the verb “determine” which means come to a decision. The concepts he argues for as deterministic are the willful (free) evaluation of circumstances, actions, and consequences which (with logical necessity) lead him to “determine” a course of action. Since he “determines” a course of action based upon “logical necessity” then “determinism” must be true.

    “Libertarian free will” is, by definition, impulsive and arbitrary for the determinist of d.’s variety. “Libertarian” and “free” indicate caprice and not “logical necessity”.

    But reflecion and choice are not products of “determinism” which posits that all human thought and action is a chemical process similar to mixing two chemicals to make a compound. The chemicals do not “determine” (decide, choose) to become the compound, the reaction is determined by forces inherent in the chemicals and their admixture. The mixing sodium and chloride makes salt.. every time. Socium and chloride could not decide to make a container for the salt. They can not discuss the consequences which inhere in the action of becoming salt.

    Libertarian free will does consider actions and consequences, beliefs and implications. The fredom to choose between options is fundamental to rational (the determining of relations) thought.

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