On definition continued

“The mental process of choosing is the function that we call “free will”.”

“The belief that free will is only an illusion leads to bad moral results.”

The two quotes above are from my friend who i’ve been debating on this issue of free-will.

Let me deal with the first quote in light of what I said in my previous blog.

So this guy wants to say that the act of choosing is the content of the term “Free-will”. All well and good but what about the question of why we choose what we choose? Does calling choice free-will make answering that question any easier? Also why make up another term when we already have a perfectly good one (choice)?

Of course many people sloppily equate choice with free-will. In fact this has been the means by which many people have dishonestly convinced people that they have free-will in the traditional sense of the term.

Let’s flesh out the traditional definition of free-will.

      1. Free-will is a theory of choice. That is to say it is attempting to explain why we make the choices we make and what is happening during choice making.

      2. Free-will states that choice is autonomous. This means that choice is something independent of the causal framework within which everything else operates. A good example to elucidate this further is to imagine two worlds exactly alike. If free-will were true then a person could make a different choice in one world to the other without changing anything else apart from the choice. This means that if you were to ask him why he made the choice he would give the same answer in both worlds despite making two different choices.

      3. Free-will states that the choice is under the control of the individual who makes the choice. The definition above is what seperates free-will from determinism and this principle is what seperates free-will from chaos/randomness.

By calling free-will choice what do we call the possibility above? It seems to me that by doing this we make ourselves blind to part of the conceptual land-scape that surrounds the issue of choice.

Why would someone want to do this? The answer is given in the second quote. It is a technique of social engineering. In the past people were controlled by the idea that they were responsible (another term the compatabilist has tried to manipulate away from its original and common meaning) for their actions. This responsibility rested upon a belief in free-will. The compatabilist is trying to take the authority and social benefits that seemed to result from belief in free-will and keep them whilst maintaining determinism. To do this he’s trying to change the content of the term in academic circles in the hopes that the masses – who don’t really look into things – will say amongst themselves “Did you hear the universities say free-will and determinism are not contradictory?”.

This of course will make the normal man think he is stupid because the idea of free-will he has in his head is imcompatible with determinism yet authorative people in suits with degrees are saying otherwise.

This process should be familiar to anyone who has read George Orwell’s “1984” it is the process of double-speak.

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3 thoughts on “On definition continued

  1. Let me be clear about what I am saying. (1) Everything, including free will, exists within a deterministic universe. (2) Therefore, the idea that free will conflicts with determinism is false.

    The free will “versus” determinism debate is not about grand issues. It is about a silly paradox. Paradoxes often arise from linguistic errors.

    The silly paradox arises from the concept of “inevitability”. Normally, when we use the term, we are speaking of things beyond our control. If my choice is inevitable, then it must be beyond my control, and if it is beyond my control then it is not free, right? Wrong.

    An inevitable event is the result of the interplay of all of the relevant causes. The mental process of choosing is certainly an effect of prior causes, but it is also the cause of future effects.

    The effect of gravity upon a body is a relevant cause of it’s staying on the ground. The effect of the mental process of deciding to engineer a way to overcome gravity is the relevant cause of a body walking on the Moon.

    Deterministic inevitability is only true when it takes all causes into account. And the mental process of imagining ways to work our will upon the environment in which we find ourselves is just as much a causal factor as gravity.

    The ability to imagine ways to deal with the environment and then carry out those actions evolved in many species. Every species which uses tools and teaches its young to use them has evolved a brain sufficient to produce thought. And this allows it to imagine and test ways to obtain what it needs to survive.

    When the boy decides he would like to chance playing outside without his coat, we say that the decision reflects his will. If he is free to act upon that decision we say he does so of his own free will.

    If his mother compels him to wear the coat anyway, we say he is not wearing it of his own will, but rather because of hers.

    There is a genetic will that comes with our DNA, that motivates us to survive. There is also a conscious will that comes from thinking and deciding for oneself what to do next.

    Both are rooted in biological substance. A part of the brain produces conscious thought. Another part keeps the body’s autonomic mechanics functioning.

    All of this, including the mental process we call “free will”, clearly exists within the deterministic universe. Therefore, any thought that there is a conflict between them is an illusion.

  2. Philososophia – “This of course will make the normal man think he is stupid because the idea of free-will he has in his head is imcompatible with determinism yet authorative people in suits with degrees are saying otherwise.”

    – I think this is a good point. The consensus is that the intuitive notion of free-will that the layman thinks of is the “could have done otherwise” in the exact circumstances, and thus they naturally think that determinism is incompatible with free-will, and thus moral responsibility. Whilst modern day compatibilism have a relatively strong argument for free-will, which I ultimately think is wrong, they are certainly guilty of a revisionist definition of free-will that does not reflect the intuitive notion.
    ——-
    – Another aspect though is I think you do a disservice to Libertarians, this group believe we actually do have free-will. “The strongest philosophical position in the metaphysical debate that we do have free will is called Libertarianism: they argue that a free decision “must be caused by the agent, and it must not be the case that either what the agent causes or the agent’s causing that event is causally determined by prior events” (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy) This view is known as agent causation.” (taken from my blog: https://fieldytheory.wordpress.com/ (for others reading this reply).

    We both obviously think this group are wrong in regards to free-will, but I often think that people think that actually free-will has to be caused by some mysterious posited substance. The major proponents of this group try to explain it in naturalistic – although I believe in an unconvincing – manner

    ——
    Philososophia – “Why would someone want to do this? The answer is given in the second quote. It is a technique of social engineering. In the past people were controlled by the idea that they were responsible (another term the compatabilist has tried to manipulate away from its original and common meaning) for their actions”

    – I think, in the past, people really believe they were morally responsible for their actions because they had the faculty of free-will. The phenomenology of free-will is so ubiquitous and powerful that it seems easier to believe in and less easier to be discounted by philosophical argument. In the past you could always retain the belief that science would one day explain the faculty or mechanism of free-will in a way that does not presuppose determinism. It sounds implausible, but this is what Libertarians themselves do now. However, with the rise of the behavioural, cognitive and neurosciences it is easier to dismiss the notion of free-will due to implications of certain experiments and data. It adds empirical bones to the philosophical theories making them easier to digest.

    ——

    – Lastly, ” A good example to elucidate this further is to imagine two worlds exactly alike. If free-will were true then a person could make a different choice in one world to the other without changing anything else apart from the choice. This means that if you were to ask him why he made the choice he would give the same answer in both worlds despite making two different choices” … classical philosophical technique! I enjoyed that explanation, despite the Libertarian disservice.

    I just found out Schopenhauer was a hard determinist, I love Schopenhauer – that has made my day: “Man is free to do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills” The Hard Determinist says that obviously, then, there is no ‘free will’

    • I love schopenhauer also – – – I’ve read his “world as will and representation” a fair few times. I think his idea of space is a good grounding for Heidegger’s idea that space is presupposes dasein. That being-in-the world or being-the-there in which “here” and “over-there” and “being-in” are more primordial than the mathematical 3-dimensional cartesian idea of space.

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