The Dallas Examined Life Philosophy Group Message Board › Free will and determinism - Wait...what?

Free will and determinism - Wait...what?

Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 327
Those are excellent questions. I only wish I had excellent answers to them : )

First, I'm glad that we at least agree that the mind does abide by the law of cause and effect, at least for the most part (there's likely a bit of random noise in the mix).

I'll have to get back to you on that. This is a very confusing point for me and I haven't worked out a way to formulate it even to myself, let alone to anyone else. The brain certainly operates through physical cause and effect and any mental event must be carried out or realized through or at least happen in close correlation with brain processes. Exactly how the two sets of events relate to each other is a big part of the problem for me.

Furthermore, could it be more like a gradient and less like a hard line?

I would think so. Abstraction and free will probably happen on a gradient. I would also think that some degree of both abstraction and free will are found in very many species.

But do the rules and concepts of abstraction have causal power? If they do, then we have to adopt a greatly expanded idea of 'cause' beyond what science currently holds. If they don't, then either 1) reasoning is completely epiphenomenal, rendering all thought and language meaningless, a fact that we could never know through reason, or 2) the mind may not be completely ruled by cause and effect and yet still, somehow, retain causal power. How this would be possible is a whole other tangle of problems.

Do the norms of reasoning cause us to think, or try to think, in certain ways, and if so, how? Is what I am seeking after, in this case possible truths about free will and determinism, causing me to type these keys? In what sense do such norms even actually exist? Am I typing these keys for the reasons I am thinking about right now? If not, then this whole thing is an exercise in futility.

You might respond that reasons and brain events are really the same thing, just described differently, like the difference between 'H2O' and 'water'. But brain events cannot be true or untrue, valid or invalid, good or bad, etc. Brain events cannot be about anything, so that they are different from ideas and reasons, regardless of how they might be causally related.

You wrote at the beginning of this thread that you were a hard determinist, that you believed in causal necessity, that given a set of events, one and only one result could possibly occur. Maybe I misunderstood you, or your thinking has evolved since then. I know that mine has. It's the absolute causal necessity idea that I think has problems, just as I think that complete acausal freedom has problems.

I feel that the answer, if there is one and we can know it, must lie somewhere in the middle between total necessitation and total acausality, that determinism does not have to mean necessitation,and vice versa. I feel that there must be some looseness in the causal joints of the world and that cause may exist on a spectrum and possibly on multiple levels. I also believe that there may be non-physical aspects of the world where cause and effect don't necessarily rule, although necessity may.
Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 330
Well, we kicked this around almost till the last dog died. I know that I learned a lot and was able to get a better handle on some of the concepts. I got away from it for a while (mainly for the sake of my own mental health or what's left of it!) and tried to forget about it, but some thoughts kept surfacing. They're probably not original or mark a great advance in understanding but, for better or worse, I thought it would be a good idea to make a note of some of them here, in case anyone is still interested. Comments are welcome.

Necessity: does not apply to causes but only to deduction in which one statement necessarily follows from another. "Follows" as used in logic is a different meaning from "follows" when applied to the causes and effects in concrete reality. The latter has to do with probabilities and potential, not necessity. So determinism applied to concrete physical reality does not mean necessity but the limiting of a range of probabilities or possibilities. This range can be more or less narrow, more when applied to a rock, less so when applied to human actions.

Genetic fallacy: I think it's a mistake to suppose that the nature of a thing can be completely understood by knowing its causes. A thing is more than what causes it; a thing is also what it does and what it is. If causes were all there were to the nature of things, then the concepts of 'possibility' and 'potentiality' would have no real meaning and would refer to nothing real.

If universal necessitation is true, then there could be no real potentiality but only actuality. Nothing that could have happened did not happen and nothing that could currently happen is not actually happening. For if everything that is exists necessarily and there's no middle ground between necessity and impossibility, nothing could be probable or possible.


'Freedom' is not the contrary of determinism but is made possible by it. Freedom is the contrary of necessity which does not apply to concrete reality. So freedom does not suddenly and magically appear with human action but is the result of the nature of reality itself. Causes do not necessitate events but merely determine them, 'determine' meaning more or less sharply limit the range in which events are likely to occur. So there is a certain looseness in the nature of causation itself which is why we see potentiality, change, novelty, etc. and why the genetic fallacy is indeed a fallacy. Human action is merely a more extreme example near one end of this spectrum and why a rock would be an example lying near the other end.

Freedom is never total. Total freedom is a contradictory term. Freedom cannot be freedom from but within the world.

Determinism understood as necessitation is only true read backwards, retrospectively, after the fact. The present does fully 'determine,' i.e. logically imply. the past in a way that the past does not logically imply the future. Prospectively it does not hold. The future is different from the past because the past's potential has already been exhausted by actuality in a way in which the future's has not been. The future is 'open' in a way in which the past's is not.

If necessitation is true, how could science lay claim to universally valid statements? Each opinion would be equally valid because equally necessitated as any other opinion. If all judgments are equally necessitated, they'd all be on the same level and impossible to judge some as true and others as false. One's reasoning processes would be no more binding than a series of twitches.

I realize that these are some sweeping statements that haven't all been argued for due to lack of space and time but serve more as a sketch with flaws intact.





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