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part 1: free will and determinism

From: Alex N.
Sent on: Saturday, November 27, 2010 5:31 PM
Hi Philosophers:

Instead of scanning a reading to everyone, I've decided (especially since we are short on time before the next meetup) to summarize it myself. I will post it in two parts. Hopefully this will encourage you to attend the meetup if you are not planning to do so already. I will post the second part either later tonight or early tomorrow.


Summary of Elliott Sober on Free-Will & Determinism

Regardless of your position on philosophy of mind (dualism, identity theory, functionalism, etc.), everyone agrees that the mind and physical world causally interact. Mental states bring about effects in the world, and one's environment causes mental states. Moreover, the physical world (i.e. one's environment and physical makeup (genetics, etc.)) influence the sort of mind we have. Acknowledging this, one can question: Given my beliefs and desires, how can I do otherwise than what I do? And insofar as I am not in control of my beliefs and desires (we don't desire to desire, and even if we did, we don't desire to desire to desire, etc.), how can I be said to have free will?

Two examples of not having free will:
(a) Brainwashing, e.g. Manchurian Candidate. When person A brainwashes person B, then A's actions are an expression of B's wants, not A's.
(b) Compulsion (compulsive hand washing or kleptomania). These people are 'powerless' to change their behavior, even when they concede it is destroying their lives.

If we agree that these are good examples of no-free-will, then to what degree are other categories of behavior free? If brainwashing robs us of our freedom, then how about our upbringing by our parents? how about the indoctrination of education? If compulsion robs us of freedom, then how is 'normal rational deliberation' really any different? We may not wash hands 200 times a day, but we wash our hands whenever they are dirty. Is the number of washings really relevant to the question of freedom?

Two facts about causality:
(i) A cause doesn't have to be a sufficient condition for its effect. Eg.: We'd agree that striking a match caused it to light. However, there are other necessary conditions for the lighting to occur: match must be dry, their must be oxygen, etc.
(ii) Causes often aren't necessary conditions for their effects. Eg.: We can strike a match to get it to light, but there are also other ways, too (magnifying glass, etc.).
So, we should distinguish between a cause vs. the whole cause of an effect (eg. the whole cause of a match lighting is the entire set of conditions that would necessitate its lighting (striking it, dryness, oxygen present, etc.).

In the case of the whole cause, the effect is necessitated (the match must light). This underlies the concept of determinism. Given a complete specification of all causally relevant facts about the match at the present time, there is only one option about what will happen next. -- Suppose we only have a partial description of an event, eg. that we will roll a pair of fair dice. Then, we can try to calculate what may happen next (eg. 1/36 chance of double-6's). But, on a complete description of the system in which dice are rolled (eg. exactly how they will be rolled, exact description of the surface, wind conditions, etc.), then there is no doubt about the outcome.

Under the Newtonian model of the world, all particles are bound up in a deterministic system. Knowing completely the present state of the system necessitates the future outcome of that system. Even though conscious living creatures are extraordinarily complex, 'determinism percolates up' and so, if all matter is deterministic and if a person's mind is a material thing, then human behavior is physically determined.

In the 20th century, with the rise of quantum theory, at least one interpretation of that theory ('the Copenhagen interpretation' after Niels Bohr's hometown) says that the behavior of particles is not deterministic, that even a complete description of a system will always give more than one possibility about the outcome. --Does this mean indeterminism is true? Not necessarily, for a different interpretation than the Copenhagen may prove superior OR quantum theory may be replaced one day by a better, deterministic theory.

Two versions of the 'problem of freedom' argument:
1. Distant Causation Argument (DCA)
This argument asserts that our behaviors are caused by factors beyond our control (genes, environment, etc.).
2. Could-Not-Have-Done-Otherwise Argument (CNO)
This argument asserts that we can't act other than the way our beliefs and desires cause us to act.

Does indeterminism make us free?
-Considering the DCA argument and presuming indeterminism is correct, then our behavior is a consequence of our genes, environment, and chance. If determinism robs you of freedom, chance seems to rob you as well.
-Considering the CNO argument and presuming indeterminism is correct, then our behavior is a consequence of our beliefs, desires, and chance. Again, if determinism robs you of freedom, chance seems to rob you as well.

Thought experiment: Suppose you are now a deterministic system, and I offer you a brain implant that will insert a tiny roulette wheel into your deliberation process? Before the surgery, you were a slave to your beliefs and desires. After the surgery, you are a slave to your beliefs, desires, and the roulette wheel, since the threesome now absolutely fixes your behavior.

Another thought experiment (Dreske & Snyder, 1972): Suppose a roulette wheel connected to gun aimed at a cat, such that if the ball lands on '00' the gun is fired. Suppose I spin the roulette wheel, and it lands on '00' which fires the gun and kills the cat. It would still be the case that I caused the cat to die, even in an indeterministic system, since the death of the cat traces back to my spinning the wheel. For this to be true, it isn't required that my spinning the wheel made it inevitable that the cat would die (see: two facts about causality, above).

The realization here is that causality is equally home in an indeterministic universe as in a deterministic universe. Thus, the real problem is not whether we can reconcile determinism with free will, but whether we can reconcile causality with free will.

Difference between determinism & fatalism:
Fatalism says that the outcome is fixed regardless of any prior state, whereas determinism says that the outcome depends on the prior state, such that a different prior state could fix a different outcome.

A menu of positions on free-will:

Note on terminology:
In logic, two statements are 'incompatible' if they cannot both be true. If one is true, the other must be false. However, both incompatible statements may be false. Eg., 'my shirt is red all over' and 'my shirt is green all over' are incompatible statements, but if you only know that 'my shirt is red all over is false,' you thereby don't know the truth value of 'my shirt is green all over.' -Two statements are 'compatible' if they can both be true at the same time, as in 'my shirt is red all over' and 'my shirt is torn.'

Incompatibilism and compatibilism:
If we think of the two statements "Determinism is true" (D) and "We are free" (F), then compatibilism and incompatibilism would generate 7 possible positions:

I. Incompatibilism:
A. Hard Determinism: D=true, F=false
B. Libertarianism: D=false,F=true
C. (unlabeled): D=false,F=true
II. Compatibilism:
A. Soft Determinism: D=true,F=true (or at least: F=not false (we are not necessarily unfree))
B. (unlabeled): D=true,F=false
C. (unlabeled): D=false,F=true
D. (unlabeled): D=false,F=false

(Sober takes position II.C: we cannot assume determinism true, but some of our actions can be performed freely, and both D & F are compatible concepts.)

Basic arguments:
1. Hard determinism: If D, then not-F; D; therefore: not-F. (via modus ponens)
2. Libertarianism: If D, then not-F; F; therefore: not-D. (via modus tollens)
3. Soft Determinism: F; D; therefore, F and D (via conjunction)

Central proponent is C.A. Campbell. He argued that, by introspection, we comprehend that sometimes our behaviors are 'out of character.' It follows that character cannot determine our behavior.
Problems: (a) Introspection is a poor guide to truth, as Freud etc. point out (Skinner considered it an illusion). (b) Campbell's position implies that, when we act out of character, our actions aren't determined by what our minds are like. This is highly dubious. (c) Campbell assumes 'out of character' means a person's actions aren't caused by agent's character, but we can dispute this meaning; eg., when a person acts courageously 'out of character,' we are likely to say: 'evidently, he had it in him.' (d) Campbell argues 'backwards' from introspection to the conclusion that our actions are not causally determined, whereas the proper order should first be a scientific inquiry about physical determinism and psychological causation of behavior. (e) Campbell assumes incompatibilism, and does not argue for it.

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