(Basically: Do people sometimes act of their own volition?)
There are two ways to pretty much automatically FAIL this topic:
Failmode One: Ignore this prompt and mindlessly repeat the imbecilities of pretentious numpties from the internet. (Seriously, the one thing you must do here is think for yourself.)
Failmode Two: Ignore instructions in this prompt and mindlessly assume that determinism somehow magically rules out freedom. (Seriously, the whole point of this assignment is for you to figure out for yourself the actual relationship between determinism and free will.)
A paper that does nothing but repeat the maunderings of pompous bampots you found on the internet will receive zero points.
A paper that mindlessly assumes that incompatibilism is true will receive zero points.
Definition: Free Will
Before you get started, I want to make sure you realize that the term "free will" contains two words. It starts with the word "free," and ends with the word "will." Thus you need to make sure you understand that "free will" is a combination of two concepts: "freedom," and "will." In the term "free will," the word "free" is an adjective and the word "will" is a noun. Lets define the noun first.
"Will" is the capacity in human beings to choose to do things, or to desire to do things. When you do something out of your will, you do it because you have decided to do it. "Will" in this sense just means that you decided to do it. It doesn't necessarily mean that you wanted to do it, just that you did do it.
It's important to note that free willed actions only occur when the actor determines the action. If your body does something without you determining that it will happen, then it was not done of your will, and if it wasn't of your will, then it obviously wasn't your free will.
We also use the word "willing" to refer to people's desires. If we say someone did something "willingly," we mean that he did it without being coerced or pushed into it. If we say someone is "willing," it means that, if asked, she would do the thing without being coerced. Thus the phrase "he did it willingly" is synonymous with "he did it of his own free will."
"Freedom" means the absence of constraint. A person in prison does not have freedom because his movements are constrained. A caged bird does not have freedom because its movements are constrained by the cage. People can also be constrained and coerced by threats of force. A person held at gunpoint is constrained because, although he wants to leave, he does not do so because he fears that he would be shot if he did. He chooses to stay, so we can say that it is his will to stay, but he does not stay of his own free will, because he does not stay willingly.
"Free will" exists whenever a person's will is unconstrained and his actions are uncoerced. A bank teller who hands over money because a robber is holding a gun on her is not acting of her own free will. She unwillingly hands over the money because she chooses to avoid being shot. It would be absolutely wrong to say she did it of her free will because she was not free to refuse the robber's demands.
The doctrine that free will exists might be called "freewillism".
A person who believe in free will is a "freewillist".
"Determinism" is when things make other things happen. (Determinism is also referred to as "nonrandomness," "causality," and "things happening for reasons.") If John gets a desire for ice cream because he's a little hungry, a little heated and likes ice cream, then that desire was determined by those factors. If John buys ice cream because he desires ice cream, has money, and so on, then that purchase was determined by those factors. If John buys chocolate ice cream because he likes that flavor above all others, then that choice was determined by his preference.
Please note that being determined does NOT
mean we can figure out what caused it to happen. In
this context, "Determined" does NOT mean "figured
"Indeterminism" is when things happen for no reason whatsoever. (Indeterminism is also referred to as "randomness," "acausality," and "things happening for no reason at all.") If John gets a desire for ice cream, even though he is not at all hungry, not at all heated, and does not at all like ice cream, and is not at all affected by anything else that might make him desire ice cream, then that desire is undetermined. If John buys ice cream even though he has absolutely no desire for ice cream, and in fact does not decide to buy ice cream, then that purchase was undetermined by any factors. Conversely, if we know that some particular action was, random meaning that it was not determined, then we know that that action was not determined by the actor, which means he could not possibly have chosen to do it.
These are the relevant definitions of free will and determinism. Do we actually have any reason to think that free will and determinism contradict each other? If so, what is that reason?
Please note, if you write something like "these two definitions contradict each other because if an action is determined it isn't free" without giving an explanation of what specific part of one definition contradicts what specific part of the other definition, and how they contradict each other, you will receive zero points for that paper.
The above should be everything you need to write this paper. However, if you think you need more information, please fee free to skim through some of the copious information below.
If you still have questions about the definition of determinism, or the nature of free will, you may, but don't have to, read some of the following material,
Determinism is also known as "necessity" and "nonrandomness." Whenever you see one of these words in this reading, remember that here it means exactly the same as determinism. It should go without saying that the word "necessity" does not suggest that free will doesn't exist, and that the word "nonrandomness" also does not suggest that free will doesn't exist.
Determinism is the doctrine that events are not random. This means that every event that ever happens in a deterministic system is precisely caused by the ensemble of relevant conditions that immediately preceded it. A slightly different ensemble of conditions may or may not produce a significantly different event, but exactly the same conditions will always produce exactly the same event. This potentially applies to every object and condition in the universe, even humans. If you are a deterministic system, and if we could recreate exactly the same conditions that existed at eleven o'clock yesterday morning you would do exactly the same thing that you did do at eleven o'clock yesterday morning. If we were to recreate exactly the same conditions that existed just before the last time you ordered chocolate ice cream, you would order chocolate ice cream. (Of course, you wouldn't know you were orderining it again, because your memories would be exactly the same as they were just before the first time.)
The frustrating thing about this unit is the fact that many people out there outside of philosophy (and some inside, who should know better) have taken the word "determinism" and added things to it. Specifically, some people have added to determinism the idea that free will doesn't exist. This is a truly bizarre thing to do, and it is not the way the word is used in science and philosophy, but many, many people do this. (It's very much like racial prejudice, sexism and homophobia, in which people assume all kinds of horrible things about other people merely because the other person is a different race, or female, or homosexual, or . . .) So I want to get one thing straight from the very beginning, the term "determinism" does not include the idea that free will is absent. If I say that an action was determined I am absolutely NOT saying that it was not free-willed.
Indeterminism (or "randomness") is the denial of determinism. It is therefore the doctrine that events are random. Events that happen in indeterministic systems are not precisely caused by the ensemble of relevant conditions that immediately preceded them. In a system that is not deterministic, the exact same ensemble of conditions will not necessarily produce the same result. (In fact, a group of objects that are indeterministicly related to each other cannot really be called a "sysyem", because the concept of a system depends the objects being able to affect each other, and that requires at least some degree of determinism.) This also potentially applies to every object and condition in the universe, even humans. If you are not a deterministic system, then being in the condition of being absolutely determinined to do something has absolutely nothing to do whith whether or not you go it. Even if you experience yourself as choosing to order ice cream, that isn't necessarily what you will do. In fact, if your brain isn't deterministic, there is virtually no chance that you will actually do any of the things you choose to do.
Volitional Determinism. If you choose to tap a particular key on a keyboard, and then actually tap that particular key, the mental part of you tapping the key of your own free will is called the "volition" of that act. Thus a "volition" is the mental part of someone actually doing something. "Volitional determinism" is just the doctrine that, whatever else is going on, one's volitions are not random. What this means is that everything in one's decision-making process happens for reasons. One's hopes, dreams, desires, impulses and volitions don't just show up randomly from nowhere, but instead come from the person you happen to be. If volitional determinism isn't true, then nothing you do is the result of anything about you. If volitional indeterminism is true, then your desires, hopes, dreams, ideas, impulses, and volitions don't matter, because they absolutely cannot affect what you do.
General Determinism (usually just "determinism") is the doctrine that everything in the universe, not just our volitions, but everything, is determined. If general determinism is true, volitional determinism will certainly be true and quantum indeterminiacy will be false. If quantum indeterminacy is true, general determinism will be false. However, if general determinism is indeed false, volitional determinism can easily still be true. This is because volitional determinism is logically compatible with quantum indeterminacy. Quantum indeterminacy, which may or may not be true, is the doctrine that at least some behaviors of at least some subatomic particles are indeterminate to the extent that the state of a particle at time t-1 is at least sometimes not completely determined by it's state at t-0. However, this indeterminacy is strictly bounded, and seems limited to very small particles and in fact supports determinism at the level of atoms and molecules. Thus it is perfectly possible for your brain to behave completely deterministically while at the same time billions of subatomic particles in your brain are behaving with a significant amount of indeterminism. (Isn't physics fun!)
It's also important to realize that all of the machines that you rely on to get through your daily life only work to the extent that they are deterministic. Consider an old-fashioned clockwork clock, and imagine how useful it would be if it was not deterministic. Say you want to get up at six o'clock for an important job interview, so at precisely eight o'clock the previous night, you set the clock to read precisely eight o'clock, and the alarm device to go off when the clock next reads six o'clock. The clock is probably wound, and you let it start operating at precisely eight o'clock. Inside the clock, there is a deterministic mechanism that works continuously, even when nothing appears to be happening on the clock face. Because the clock is now set to read eight o'clock, one second of normal operation of this internal mechanism will cause the clock to then read eight o'clock and one second. Once the clock face is in this new state of reading eight o'clock and one second, a second of operation by the internal mechanism will have a different effect. In this case, that one second of operation will cause the clock to read eight o'clock and two seconds. If the clock mechanism is working normally, the state of the clock face plus one seconds worth of the workings of the internal mechanism will always cause the face to change so that whatever time it showed before, it will now show one second after that time. We rely on clocks to tell the time because they are constructed to change their state at a precisely determined rate.
You can view a clock as a device in which its present state always determines its immediately following state. If the clock reads 5:59 and 59 seconds, that determines that in one second it will read six o'clock, which in turn determines that the alarm device will ring, and wake you up in time for your important job interview. However, if the clock stopped being deterministic at precisely 6 o'clock, the fact that it was in precisely the correct state to make the alarm ring would not make the alarm ring. This is what indeterminism means. Indeterminism means that states that are precisely set up to make some particular thing happen do not necessarily make that thing happen.
Imagine that the Libertarian Chronometer Company produces what they call a "free will clock." They advertise that the clock has "free will" because it is not deterministic. Let us imagine that the clock is only in deterministic in a way that is restricted to telling the time, so it can't hurl insults at you, or turn into a butterfly, or explode. The clock is only considered "free willed" in regards to telling the time, because it is only indeterministic in regards to telling the time. You buy one of these clocks, take it home, set the alarm, set the clock to eight o'clock, let it start, and it immediately changes to read five minutes to three, then it reads twenty four minutes past seven, and all of these changes come at irregular intervals, because the state of of this clock does not determine its immediately following state. As long as it is operating, the clock will read completely random times at completely random intervals. It will also bring its alarm at random intervals. Good luck getting to that job interview.
Let me be perfectly clear here. In this class, "determinism" only refers to determinism. It does not refer to programming, predetermination, predestination, fate, karma or any other kind of force external to the person that eliminates or negates her free will. It should also be unnecessary to add that "determinism" absolutely does not refer to lack of free will or coercion.What Determinism Isn't
I think the reason many people think that determinism rules out free will is that they mistake it for certain other conditions that do seem to rule out free will, like coercion, predestination, programming and predetermination. Determinism is, of course, none of these things. Coercion is important here because it is the one thing that most commonly, in real life, eliminates free will. Coercion is not determinism because it is the nature of coercion to come to us as a force from the outside of us, force that prevents us from doing what we want to do, or which makes us do things we don't want to do, and determinism, in so far as it affects our behavior, is an internal process that makes us have thoughts and ideas and feelings and desires and impulses and voiltions. It is part of the proces that makes us the people we are, not a force that stops us from acting on the volitions we have. Predestination is a similar concept, in that it holds that, magically, what people actually do can have no effect on their futures. Under predesitination, if you are fated to be a fashion designer, nothing you do in the way of playing sports, training, practicing, going to sports camps, taking steroids and bribing umpires will avail you anything because, magically, no matter what you do, one day you will find youself waving a fistfull of swatches and screaming at a gaggle of anorexic models as you prepare for the big Paris show that will absolutely make your career. This idea has nothing to do with determinism, because determinism says that, within physical limits, our actions can determine what happens to us, and predestination says that, even within those limits, when fate takes a hand, our actions cannot determine what happens to us.
Determinism is Not Coercion
Coercion is an external force that prevents people from what they want to do. Volitional determinism is an internal condition that determines what people want to do. It doesn't prevent anyone from doing anything. What it does do is allow a person's mental states to determine what he does. This is important because it is coercion that prevents people from acting on their own free will. Since the only alternative to a free-willed action is a coerced action, people who believe that determinism is incompatible with free will will have to show how an internal condition of determinism can reach outside of a person to create an external condition of coercion.
Determinism Is Not done By People.
When an event is determined, that means it was caused to happen by the immediately preceeding conditions. It does not mean that the event was determined by somebody,
Determinism Does Not Say That Things Are Already Determined.
If you think determinism is the doctrine that things are determined ahead of time, you are absolutely wrong. Deteriminism is when events are determined by the immediately preceding conditions. Nothing is determined until the moment it happens. so don't ever say that "deteriminsm is the doctrine that events are determined" without pointing out that they are determined at the instannt they happen, and not a moment before.
Determinism Is Not Programming.
Programming, as I understand it, is the idea that people are really not making the decisions they think they are making as they got through their lives. Under the idea of determinism, everything you do, you do for reasons. When you eat something cold, you don't do it randomly, but for some reason, such as because you feel hot. When you choose lowfat frozen yoghurt, it's not random, it's for some reason, such because you're trying to lose weight. That's what determinism says. Under the idea of programming, you might think that you're choosing to eat something cold because you feel hot, and that you choose lowfat frozen yoghurt because you're trying to lose weight, but in fact you're only doing these things because some unknown other person took over your mind. Programming is when an external agency replaces with your normal decision making process with a program that makes you do certain pre-planned things at certain pre-planned times instead of you doing what you decide to do when you decide to do it. Determinism, in contrast, says that you determine what you do and when you do it, not some externally imposed program.
Some people interpret determinism as saying that people are presently equipped with programs that will control their future actions. It is true that some psychological theories claim that people have habitual ways of reacting to situations, called "scripts," that cause them to behave in certain ways. Couples who repeatedly enact exactly the same argument over and over again can be said to be operating on scripts. The presence of scripts in a person's mind can be said to reduce that person's free will because that person will tend to meet the same situation with the same response every time, instead of re-thinking, and possibly making a new decision with each new occurrence. If a person's script is so powerful that he cannot change the way he reacts to certain situations, then the script could well be seen as having eliminated his free will.
For instance, consider the case of a woman who has been programmed to always form relationships with arrogant men. You can make up your own story of how she got to be programmed. You can assume she was programmed by events in her childhood, or perhaps that she was the victim of a mad scientist. The one thing you cannot do is assume that she was programmed by volitional determinism, because volitional determinism cannot, and does not, program people. Anyway, assuming that this woman is programmed, we will infer that she is unable to resist overtures from arrogant men. Even if it is the case that she is well aware that all her previous relationships with arrogant men have been painful and psychologically harmful, even if she is absolutely determined to never again go out with another arrogant man, the fact that she is programmed means that she will never be able to say no if an arrogant man asks her for a date.
Determinism contradicts the view that people are programmed. Determinism says that the woman in the above example does not have to be programmed to always accept dates with arrogant men. Rather, it is a says that the next time an arrogant man asks this woman out, the decision will be determined by the conditions that exist in her brain at that time, which will include all her memories of painful experiences with arrogant man, and all her previous resolutions never to date one again. If the woman's decision is determined, rather than programmed, she will be able to resist the arrogant man's overtures, and indeed, will probably do so.
The doctrine of scripts is not the doctrine of determinism. Determinism says nothing about whether or not people are programmed. The theory of determinism says nothing about future behavior, and in fact says nothing specific about human beings at all. It just says that things do not operate randomly Although some people assume that determinism means that people are programmed, and illegitimately and confusingly refer to this theory as "psychological determinism," it is absolutely wrong to assume that the doctrine of volitional determinism is the same as this doctrine of psychological "determinism."
If you think that volitional determinism implies that people are programmed, then you will have to show how the mere fact that the volitional system does not operate randomly creates programs that prevents people from ever changing how they react to things. If you cannot show that nonrandomness in the brain creates programs that act on the volitional system as a kind of external control, then you rationally should conclude that it does not, and that determinism does not imply that people are programmed.
Determinism Is Not Predetermination.
Predetermination is a similar idea to programming. Under predetermination, what you do is not determined by you at the time you decide to do it. Rather it is determined some time before you would make the decision. This would seem to destroy free will (unless its you doing the predetermining) but determinism says that this cannot happen, because it says your decisions are not predetermined, it says they are determined, at the time you make them, by your present needs, wants, desires, impulses and volitions.
Sometimes I see students write things like "determinism rules out free will because, if our actions are predetermined, then they are not chosen by us." The problem with this is that determinism does not say actions are predetermined. Determinism just says that actions are determined, which is a very different thing. If an action is predetermined, that means that some external agency decides what you are going to do for you have had a chance to make up your own mind about what you are going to do. Determinism does not say that your actions are predetermined because it does not say that there is any external agency that can decide your actions for you before you make up your mind. It just says that, when you do make up your mind, do so in a nonrandom manner. Volitional determinism just says that your decisions are determined by the conditions that exist inside your brain at the time immediately preceding your decision. No external force is involved, and the determination is made only at that point in time where you make the decision.
For example of predetermination, consider the example of a man who has been predetermined to buy a doughnut with his morning coffee tomorrow. (Again, you can make up your own story about how he became predetermined to buy that doughnut. Whatever story you tell, make sure you remember that whatever it is has nothing whatsoever to do with determinism.) If the man is predetermined to buy that doughnut, then his brain state at the time he makes the decision will have nothing whatsoever to do with what he does. He is going to buy that doughnut, no matter what. Even if he is absolutely determined to lose weight, even if he has come to hate donuts, even if he has decided absolutely not to buy that doughnut, he will buy it. That's what "predetermined" means. And it is also the opposite of determinism. Determinism says that his brain state, which includes all his desires and decisions, will determine whether or not he buys the doughnut. Volitional determinism implies that decisions are not predetermined, because it clearly implies that decisions are only determined at the time that they are made, and not before.
Remember, determinism just says that our decisions are not random with respect do what is going on in our brains at the time we make them. If the man's desire to lose weight is stronger than his hunger and his craving for sugar, he will decline the doughnut. If hunger and craving are stronger, he will buy the doughnut. You may think that a condition in which a person's decisions are not random with respect to his present brain state is not a state of free will, but you cannot legitimately say that the nonrandomness of this person's decisions means they are predetermined.
Predetermination is not determinism. Determinism not only says nothing about whether or not people's decisions can be determined for them in advance, it actually contradicts this idea by saying that people's decisions are determined by their brain states of hope, fear, desire, determination and conscious thought at the time of the decision.
If you want to think that determinism implies that decisions are predetermined as well as determined, you have to prove two things. First, you would have to show how a person's decision can be both determined by the conditions that exist at the time of the decision and by some different set of conditions that existed at some previous time. Second, you would have to show how determinism creates the conditions in the human brain that allow previous conditions to determine present decisions. Good luck with that.
Determinism Is Not Predestination.
Sometimes, students write things like "determinism rules out free will because, if our fate is already decided for us, and there is nothing we can do to alter it, then we have no free will." There are two things wrong with this. First, it misunderstands determinism. Second, it misunderstands free will.
Predestination is best illustrated by the story of the Appointment.in Samarra. A man has a servant. This servant came in one day in a state of extreme distress. He tells his master that he was just in the marketplace and he saw Death there too. He would not have been scared, except that Death gave him a funny look, and that panicked him. The servant begged his master to lend him a horse, so he could go and stay with relatives in the distant town of Samarra. The master agreed, but after the man had ridden away, he became very angry and decided to give Death a piece of his mind. So the master hurried to the marketplace and confronted Death. "Why did you give my servant that funny look," he demanded. "I'm sorry," Death replied, "but I was very surprised to see him here. You see, I have an appointment with him tonight in the distant town of Samarra."
Predestination is the claim that our fate is already marked out as, and that there is nothing we can do to avoid ending up there. However, predestination does not rule out free will. The man in the story went to Samarra of his own free will. He was not coerced. Nobody dragged him there. He struggled to avoid his fate, but his fate caught up with him anyway. Notice that the story does not say that he did not have a choice in what he did. The story just said that he did not have a choice in what eventually happened to him.
Secondly, and more importantly, predestination is enormously different from determinism. Determinism simply does not say that there is any inevitable fate picked out for us in advance. If anything, determinism contradicts predestination because it says that events are determined by present conditions, not by arbitrarily assigned destinies.
If you want to say that determinism implies predestination, you are going to have to come up with how determinism can arrange for someone's destiny to be picked out in advance, and then you're going to have to give an argument that shows that the mere fact that people's decisions are non-random with respect to their present brain states inevitably creates the arbitrarily chosen destinies necessary for predestination to be true. Again, good luck with that.
Determinism is Not Nofreewillism
Determinism is the doctrine that events are determined by the immediately preceeding conditions. Nofreewillism is the doctrine that free will doesn't exist. Not only are these doctrines different, they don't have even one single solitary term in common. So it should be obvious that determinism isn't nofreewillism. In fact, saying "determinism is not nofreewillism" is like saying "basketball is not the rejection of cheese production."
Indeterminism Is Not Freedom
If you think free willed actions cannot be determined, please write me a five page essay explaining how your "free" actions can still be your actions when they are completely random with respect to your mental state at the time you made them. (An if you think your free actions aren't random, then you think they're determined, because random and nonrandom are the only choices you get.)
Determinism is Nonrandomness.
If you think they're different, write a paper explaining how they're different. And then consult the definitions above to figure out where you went wrong.Indeterminism is Randomness
It just is. Deal with it.
Freewillism (a word I made up) is the doctrine that free will exists. It is the doctrine that, whatever else is true, people at least sometimes act on their own free will.
Nofreewillism (another word I made up) is the doctrine that free will does not exist. It is the doctrine that, whatever else is true, people at never act on their own free will.
Coercion is a condition such that some person is being forced to do something against his will. It has nothing to do with whether or not a system is deterministic. Coercion is also the only condition that can remove free will from a physically capable human being. If an action was coerced, then it was not free. If an action was free, then it was not coerced. Coercion only exists when there is an outside force controlling what someone does. A condition would only remove someone's free will if it created an outside force that overruled the volition-creating processes in that person's brain.
For instance, say that Pierre's internal state has determined that he will go to church today. Unfortunately, a group of ninja have decided to take him to a Kurosawa film festival, so they surround Pierre, menace him with their scary black katana, and force him to go to the festival and watch The Seven Samuari. Now in this case, Pierre's actions were not determined by his own internal processes, and so they were not free.
A desire is a feeling that I'd like to do something. For instance, if I met an irrational person in public, I might find myself feeling that it would be fun to say things that utterly humiliated that person. ( I wouldn't do it of course, I'm much too nice.)
An impulse is a feeling to do something. In the example above, if I found myself feeling an internal pressure to come out and say vicious, cutting and hurtful things to that irrational person, that would be an impulse to humiliate him. (Of course, being as I'm such a nice guy, I suppress that impulse, and don't humiliate him.)
A volition is the mental part of what I actually do, or try to do. If I suppress that impulse because I decided to do so, then suppressing the impulse was one of my volitions. If I go for it instead, but still because I decided to do so, then yielding to the impulse would be my volition in this case.
An uncontrollable impulse is an impulse that genuinely overrides my volition. If I find myself saying brilliantly witty and cutting things to that irrational person without having decided to do so, or despite my best efforts not to do so, then I didn't do so of my own volition. My will was overridden by my impulse. Real uncontrollable impulses will often be followed by a sort of shock reaction, since they reflect a lack of self control, and fail to reflect what the person really wanted to do.
This topic is complicated for two reasons. First, there is a lot of confusion about the meanings of the terms involved, and so we have to be very careful about the definitions of those terms. Second, many people have a strong emotional reaction to this topic that takes the form of a strong prejudice in favor of exactly the wrong position. Many people find it extremely difficult to think logically about the relationship between determinism and free will, and find themselves automatically assuming something that is not only unsupported by evidence but which logically cannot be true.
Imagine that you are asked to teach a class in physiology, and the last unit in the class concerns the physiology of respiration. Imagine that, for some reason, you are using the term "oxygenism" to mean the doctrine that air contains oxygen. Since you know that the air on planet Earth contains oxygen, you know that oxygenism is true. Imagine that you begin to tell your class about oxygenism, but one student politely interrupts to ask if you believe in oxygenism. You say that you do, and he replies "but breathing exists!" You ask another student if she believes in oxygenism, and she says "oh no, I don't believe in oxygenism because I believe that breathing exists." You take a survey of the class, and you find out that most people in the class believe that if there is oxygen in the air, nobody will be able to breathe that air. From this, they all believe that the fact that you are all breathing proves absolutely that there is absolutely no oxygen in that room whatsoever. Not only do they believe that oxygenism is false, but they also tend to believe that the word "oxygenism" means "breathing is impossible."
When you tell these students that oxygen is necessary for breathing, they find it extremely hard to accept, and some of them find it hard to believe that the phrase "there is oxygen in this room" doesn't just mean "no one can breathe in this room." If you say, "there's oxygen here," they reply "how can you say that? We're breathing! If we're breathing, you can't say we're not breathing!" You point out that you didn't say that they were not breathing, just that there is oxygen in the room, and they look at you as if you have just said "the foot of the end of your left leg is not your left foot" or something equally bizarre.
If you see the previous two paragraphs as describing a surreal, even insane situation, then you have some idea of how I feel when I hear somebody say something like "I think determinism isn't true because I believe that free will exists." From a logical perspective, this is exactly like saying "I think oxygenism isn't true because I believe that breathing exists." As I will demonstrate over the course of these last three units, determinism is even more necessary for free will than oxygen is for breathing, and to think otherwise is to completely mistake the natures of both determinism and free will. (It should of course go without saying that the word "determinism" is not simply a way of saying "there is no free will.")
The first part of this unit will consist of my best efforts to convey the correct definitions of terms like "determinism," "free will," "predictability," and so on. This is vitally important because, if you don't understand the real definitions of these terms, you will not be able to see the real logical relationships between these concepts. After clarifying our terms, I will discuss the work of Laplace and D'Holbach, and the relationship between predictability and determinism (which Libertarians gets wrong, by the way). The whole point of this unit is to get you to understand the correct logical relationship between predictability and determinism. Understanding this relationship is vital in understanding the relationship between determinism and free will, and failure to understand this relationship can and does lead to some very bad thinking about determinism and free will.
As far as Laplace could tell, the universe is completely deterministic. In fact, until the advent of quantum mechanics, nobody had any reason to think that the universe was not absolutely deterministic. On the basis of the evidence available to Laplace, the only even remotely reasonable conclusion would be that the universe is completely deterministic. It is important to recognize that Laplace did not simply assume that the universe is deterministic. He decided that the universe is deterministic because absolutely all of the evidence available to him supported that idea, and he had absolutely no reason to think that there was any randomness in the universe at all.
Based on the then overwhelmingly supported conclusion that the universe is deterministic, Laplace came to the further conclusion that if he knew the present vectors of every particle in the universe, and all the laws of nature exactly, and he had the power to perform all relevant computations in a reasonable time, he would be able to not only predict all future events exactly, but also figure out everything that had ever happened in the past. Determinism, plus absolutely complete knowledge of the present, plus absolutely complete knowledge of physical law, plus infinitely rapid computing power of infinite capacity means complete knowledge of past and future. What is wrong with this picture?
The first thing to realize is that Laplace did not know about quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics implies that some events, such as the precise instant that some atom will undergo radioactive decay, are inherently indeterministic, and therefore inherently unpredictable. If it is ever the case that some larger scale event depends even slightly on some quantum mechanical event, that larger scale event will be indeterministicly and therefore unpredictably affected by the quantum mechanical event. Since we cannot rule out the possibility of large-scale events depending on quantum mechanical events, we can not say that the universe can be completely predictable.
The second, and more important thing to realize is that Laplace said "if." He never said that he could collect all this information. He never said he could know the laws of nature exactly. And he never said that he could perform the incredibly large number of computations in the comparatively infinitesimal time required to make predictions. He said "if." Laplace's "if" is not only a big "if," it is probably the biggest "if" ever iffed.
To get some idea of what I mean by "big if," imagine that you are wandering across a desert on a foggy night, and you come across a big wall of stone. You travel along this wall for several hours, and, as day finally breaks, you come to a corner. You look around the corner, and the wall of stone appears to go on forever in that direction. You look back, and the wall of stone appears to go on forever in that direction also. You look up, and you see the corner of this wall of stone going up, and up, and up into the misty distance without any visible end at all. Intrigued, you get out your cell phone, and call a friend of yours who happens to live at the top of a mountain about a hundred miles away. Your friend says that he can see the object you're standing by from where he lives, but he can't make out what it is because it's too big for him to see all of it from where he is. You then call a friend who is flying in an airplane a thousand miles away. He sees the object too, but it is still too big for him to make out what it is. Finally, you call a friend who lives on the moon, and she is far enough away to be able to just barely see the whole object all at once. It is the word "if." Now think about how big the word would have to be for it to be visible from the moon. Laplace's "if" is more than a billion, billion, billion times bigger than that.
In terms of the relationship between determinism and predictability, Laplace's observation is highly misleading. Yes, it is true that if the universe is deterministic, and all the necessary information was known, and we somehow did have the computing power to make all the necessary calculations, then we would be able to predict the entirety of past and future history. But there is absolutely no way that we can ever begin to have more than practically infinitesimal portion of the knowledge and computing power required.
Consider a deterministic device that is something like an analog clock in that it has hands that sweep around its face at various rates, except that each of the hands takes a different number of seconds to go around. Let's call it a "harmonic clock," or maybe a "harlock." First let's consider a harlock with two hands, one of which goes around once a second, and the other goes around once every two seconds. If the hands always start all pointing straight up, what is the minimum time after which they will be all pointing straight up again? Well, if there's only these two hands, the answer is two seconds.
It's important to remember that the harlock can only work this way if it is deterministic. If we specify that any given hand takes a certain number of seconds to go around the harlock face, then it follows that that absolutely has to be a deterministic mechanism inside the harlock. There is absolutely no other way to make this happen. Indeed, the very concept of making some particular thing happen requires deterministic processes.
Suppose the harlock has three hands. Well, after three seconds, the first hand will have gone around three times and will be pointing straight up again, but the second hand will have gone one and one half times and will be pointing down. It is only after six seconds that all the hands will be pointing straight up again.
Suppose the harlock has four hands, the new hand going around once every four seconds. Can you work out for yourself the minimum time before which all the hands will be pointing straight up again? Remember, if all deterministic systems are predictable, you will be easily able to predict the future behavior of this very simple system. (It's 12 seconds.)
Now suppose the harlock has five hands. How many seconds this time? (60.)
Now, imagine that you have to sit down and keep solving this problem for larger and larger numbers of hands. When would you give up? At what point would you say "I simply do not have enough time to keep doing this?" Even if you have the mathematical ability to solve the problem, at a certain point the calculations will become too complicated for you to do in any reasonable time. Even if you bring in a computer, at a certain point, the time involved for even the fastest computer will become prohibitive.
Systems have to be deterministic in order to be predictable at all, but systems are only predictable to the extent that the significant variables can be known at the necessary calculations can be done by human beings with or without technology. Even with the fastest, most powerful computers, most deterministic systems are far too complicated to be predictable.
If you still think that determinism implies predictability, imagine a harlock with a billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion hands. It's still perfectly deterministic. What is the shortest time before all the hands are pointing up together at the same time? You have ten minutes.
Determinism does not imply predictability, but it does imply some things that many people find deeply disturbing. For instance, it implies this:
Consider several hundred completely deterministic universes, all of which contain a person called Petra. All of the Petras are EXACTLY the same at this time, and all of the universes are also EXACTLY the same at this time, at least in so far as they concern Petra. (We will call the Petra in the first universe Petra-1, and so on.) At the time of which I write, each Petra is deciding whether or not to have a third glass of apple juice. Because they are all exactly the same, each Petra is at exactly the same point in her decision-making process. In fact, Petra is just about to form her volition, which means she is about to experience the mental event that will make her take, or not take, that glass of apple juice. Because determinism is completely true in all of these universes, and all of the Petras are exactly the same and in exactly the same circumstances, all of them will form exactly the same volition. Let's say they take the drink. Now, the incompatibilist looks at this fact, which is a logical consequence of determinism, and says that because each Petra was determined to do exactly what she did, she could not have done otherwise, and therefore none of the Petras have free will.
(In evaluating this argument, you might want to think about whether determininism sets up the universe so that if Petra had formed the opposite volition, something would have happened to force her to take that drink.The only way an action can fail to be free willed is for something to close off the other choices. Incompatibilism thus says that if determininism is true, then if we had intervened in one of those universes to make Petra form the opposite volition, to refuse the drink, something would have happened (say a gang of ninjas dropping from the ceiling) to force her to take that drink. If there were no ninjas, or anything else to make Petra take the drink, then she could have done otherwise, if she had chosen to do so. And if she could have done otherwise, had she chosen to do so, then she did take the drink of her own free will.)Argument for Compatibilism
The first argument for compatibilism is very simple. First, we have ample evidence that free will exists. In fact, it is impossible to make sense of many people's actions without referring to free will or it's absence. We can also easily distinguish between freely willed acts and acts that were not freely willed. In fact, "free will" is just a name for the difference between acts that are done out of the agent's own choices, and acts where the agent was coerced into acting against his own choices. Given that this difference exists, free will exists. (Duh.) Second, we have overwhelming evidence that volitional determinism is true. Determinism is known to be true for everything except some narrowly defined aspects of quantum mechanics. (Our science and technology simply would not work if determinism wasn't true.) Quantum mechanical indeterminism occurs on two small a scale to significantly affect the operations of the brain, so the brain, including the part that does volitions, is deterministic. Since free will exists and determinism is true, they are compatible.
(AKA, the Argument for Necessitism)
If volitional determinism isn't true, then one's volitions are not determined by one's immediately preceeding mental states. This means that if you are in, say, a mental state of being just about to order two scoops of ice cream, and volitional determinism fails to be true at that moment, then your state of being about to order two scoops of icecream will not determine what you do next. You may ask, what will determine what I do next? The answer is, if volitional determinism isn't true, then nothing will determine what you do next. If volitional determinism isn't true for you at that moment, then what you do next will be completely random with respect to your previous state. To get some idea of what this will be like, write down a list of things that you could do at this point. Start with ordering ice cream, but then add on everything else you could possibly choose to do at that moment. You could leave the store without ordering, so put that down. You could do little dance, so put that down. You could sit down, or spin around, or scream, or take your shoes off, or gibber mindlessly, or .... well, there's probably hundreds, maybe thousands of different things you could do at that moment. Now, pick one of those things at random. (Don't let your present state determine what you pick, because that would be acting under determinism, and we're assuming that determinism isn't true here.) If you have appropriate dice, make a couple of dice rolls and see what comes up.
Say you have two six-sided dice, and there are eleven things you could do:
Now, roll those dice and see what you get. That's what you do.
So, when what you do is not determined by your mental state, do you act with free will? If you see othe people acting randomly, do you say to yourself, ah-ha! There's people acting wih free will? When your needs and desires do determine what you do, do you say, "oh no! I did what I decided to do, that means it wasn't a free willed act!" I really don't think you say any of these things. I think that you only ever think you have free will when your mental states determine what you do. Which means that you need volitional determinism to be true in order to have free will. If determinism isn't true for you, you don't have a will at all, let alone a free one.
If you still don't understand, read the story Escape from Hell Mountain
Let us say that at five p.m. exactly, the following series of events begins:
5:00:00 Nigel sees his wrinkly face in the mirror, which causes -
5:00:01 Nigel realizes he's getting older, which causes -
5:00:02 He remembers Dr. Plasticus's advertisment, (I'll carve you younger!) which causes -
5:00:03 He has an impulse to call Dr. Plasticus, which causes -
5:00:04 He remembers he dislikes vain people, which causes -
5:00:05 He worries that he's become vain, which causes -
5:00:06 He decides not to call Dr. Plasticus, which causes -
5:00:07 He realizes he's going to stay wrinkly, which causes -
5:00:09 He realizes it's going to get worse as he ages, which causes -
5:00:10 He remembers that he's finding it harder to get dates, which causes -
5:00:11 He realizes he doesn't want to grow old alone, which causes -
5:00:12 He decides he can live with being a vain person, which causes -
5:00:13 He changes his mind again and decides to call Dr. Plasticus
This is what determinism says about a human decision process. In a deterministic decision process, every state of mind is precisely caused by the immediately preceding state of mind. What Nigel did at 5:00:13 was determined by his state of mind at 5:00:12, which was determined by his state of mind at 5:00:11, and so on backwards and backwards in time.
It's important to remember that determinism does not say that what happened at 5:00:13 was determined by everything that happened from 5:00:00 to 5:00:12. Determinism just says that what happened at 5:00:13 was determined exactly by what happened at 5:00:12. The other events are only important because they led up to his state of mind at 5:00:12, which in turn caused his action at 5:00:13.
Determinism says that when we make decisions, what we decide to do is caused by our state of mind, which is a physical state, at the time we make the decision. Free will says that when we make free decisions, what we decide to do is caused by what we want, what we think and how we feel at the time we make the decision. In other words, free will requires that what we do be determined by our brain state at the time of the action and not by something outside of ourselves, or anything else that isn't our own decision process.
For instance, the following process, in which an uncaused action occurs at 5:00:13, ends with an action that is neither a determined action nor a free action.
Nigel remembers that he's finding it harder to get dates, which
5:00:11 He realizes he doesn't want to grow old alone, which causes -
5:00:12 He decides he can live with being a vain person, which doesn't cause -
5:00:13 Nigel jumps into the air and twiddles his toes three times before landing.
In this case, determinism was magically suspended between 5:00:12 and 5:00:13, so that what Nigel did at 5:00:13 was a truly undetermined action. According to soft determinism, Nigel calling Dr. Plasticus was a free and determined action. According to libertarianism, Nigel calling Dr. Plasticus was not a free action because it was a determined action. According to libertarianism, Nigel jumping into the air and twiddling his toes three times before landing, can be a free action because it was undetermined, (which means random.)
This is why soft determinists have a problem with a vision of "free will" that insists that a "free" will has to be an undetermined will. They think that a "free will" that consists entirely of random actions wouldn't be worth having.
Libertarianism, the philosophical belief about determinism and free will, is a double doctrine. Libertarianism fundamentally holds that the following two separate propositions are true:
L1. Free will exists, and
L2. Volitional Determinism is false.
I give L2 as "volitional determinism is false" instead of just "determinism is false" because many libertarians are willing to accept that such things as steamrollers, ocean liners and computers operate deterministically while denying that the will-making part of the human brain does so. They are therefore willing to accept that their cars, their coffee machines and their alarm clocks are deterministic while not accepting the same for the essential parts of their brains.
As well as these two doctrines, libertarians also tend to believe the following:
L3. Determinism rules out free will. (Belief in this proposition is called “incompatibilism.”)
To make this clear, L3 (incompatibilism) is the belief that free willed actions can't be determined actions and determined actions cannot be free willed actions. Incompatibilism holds that if a particular action was determined by its immediately preceding conditions, that particular action could not have been free willed, and that if a particular action was free willed, that particular action could not have been determined by its immediately preceding conditions.
To illustrate incompatibilism, imagine that you get the idea to buy ice cream, go into Coldstone, wait in line, get into line, reach the counter and, at the last second, don't buy ice cream after all. Further imagine that there is a reason that you don't buy ice cream at this point, and that this reason is that, at this point, you no longer feel like having ice cream. To an incompatibilist, the fact that your action to not get ice cream was determined by you no longer feeling like ice cream means that your action to not get ice cream was not a free-willed action. To incompatiblists, any action that is caused by the immediately preceding conditions cannot be a free action.
Another way to think about L3 might be to say that libertarians conceive of free actions as uncaused actions. I might even go so far as to say that libertarians often seem to define free willed actions as uncaused actions. I personally emphatically reject the idea that free events must also be uncaused, random events, and so I will generally treat libertarianism as merely asserting that determinism rules out free will, and not as saying that freedom is randomness. I should also point out that libertarians often seem to base their arguments for libertarianism on incompatibilism, or on the definition of free actions as uncaused actions, or on both. I hope to prove that this does not work.
Finally, in order to hold their doctrine, Libertarians MUST believe that:
L4. Lack of determinism does not rule out free will.
Look again at L1 (free will exists) and L2 (determinism is false). If it is true that free will exists and determinism is false, it has to be true that determinism being false does not rule out free will. This means that libertarians have to believe that it is possible for an action to be both free and undetermined.
To illustrate L4, imagine again that you get the idea to buy ice cream, go into Coldstone, wait in line, get into line, reach the counter and, at the last second, don't buy ice cream after all. But this time also imagine that there is absolutely no reason that you don't want to buy ice cream at this point. Nothing in your mind, or anything at all, has changed to make you no longer want ice cream. In fact, you still want ice cream, you have decided to get ice cream, and that you have even willed yourself to order ice cream, but you don't. Instead, you throw your hat at the server for absolutely no reason. You didn't want to throw the hat. You didn't feel any impulse to throw the hat. You didn't even think about your hat at all. You just threw it. (I'm not saying that this is a plausible scenario. I'm just setting this up to illustrate a logically necessary feature of libertarianism.) In this scenario, your action of throwing your hat instead of ordering ice cream was an uncaused action. To an incompatibilist, the fact that your action of throwing your hat was not determined by you does not mean that the actions was not your free willed action. To an incompatibilist, it makes perfect sense to say “that person's action was not determined by anything inside her, and it was her free willed action.”
I personally support a competing doctrine with the weak-sounding name of “soft determinism.”
Soft determinism is also a double doctrine. Soft determinism fundamentally holds that the following two separate propositions are true:
SD1. Free will exists, and
SD2. Determinism is true (at least as far as human volition is concerned.)
In order to hold their doctrine, soft determinists MUST believe that:
SD3. Determinism does not rule out free will. (Belief in this proposition is called “compatibilism.”)
To make this clear, SD3 (compatibilism) is the belief that free willed actions can be determined actions and determined actions can be free willed actions. Compatibilism holds that if a particular action was determined by its immediately preceding conditions, that particular action could still have been free willed, and that if a particular action was free willed, that particular action could still have been determined by its immediately preceding conditions. (Personally, I think that if an action was free-willed, that proves that that particular action was determined. If it wasn't determined, it couldn't have been free willed. But more on that later.)
To illustrate compatibilism, imagine that you get the idea to buy ice cream, go into Coldstone, wait in line, get into line, reach the counter and, at the last second, don't buy ice cream after all. Further imagine that there is a reason that you don't buy ice cream at this point, and that this reason is that, at this point, you no longer feel like having ice cream. To a compatibilist, the fact that your action to not get ice cream was determined by you no longer feeling like ice cream does not mean that your action to not get ice cream was not a free-willed action. To compatiblists, an action that is caused by the immediately preceding conditions can be a free action.
Another way to state SD3 is to say that soft determinists do not conceive of free actions as uncaused actions, and do not define free willed actions as uncaused actions. To a soft determinist, a free action is one that you did of your own volition rather than being forced to do it. To a soft determinist, “freedom” is defined as lack of constraint by forces beyond your control.
As well as those three doctrines, soft determinists also tend to believe the following:
SD4. Lack of determinism does rule out free will.
To illustrate SD4, imagine again that you get the idea to buy ice cream, go into Coldstone, wait in line, get into line, reach the counter and, at the last second, don't buy ice cream after all. But this time also imagine that there is absolutely no reason that you don't want to buy ice cream at this point. Nothing in your mind, or anything at all, has changed to make you no longer want ice cream. In fact, you still want ice cream, you have decided to get ice cream, and that you have even willed yourself to order ice cream, but you don't. Instead, you throw your hat at the server for absolutely no reason. You didn't want to throw the hat. You didn't feel any impulse to throw the hat. You didn't even think about your hat at all. You just threw it. (I'm not saying that this is a plausible scenario. I'm just setting this up to illustrate a point about soft determinism.) In this scenario, your action of throwing your hat instead of ordering ice cream was an uncaused action. To a soft determinist, the fact that your action of throwing your hat was not determined by you means that the actions was not your free willed action. To a soft determinist, it makes absolutely no sense to say “that person's action was not determined by anything inside her, and it was her free willed action.”
Hard determinists generally believe both HD2 and HD3, and accept HD1 as a logical consequence of combining those two beliefs.
Both libertarians and soft determinists believe in free will, although they may define it differently.
Both libertarians and hard determinists believe in incompatibilism.
Only soft determinists believe in compatibilism.
Volitional Libertarians believe that free will exists and Volitional Determinism is false.
Soft Determinists believe that free will exists and Volitional Determinism is true.
Both soft determinists and libertarians agree that free will exists.
Now, in order to settle the dispute between soft determinism and libertarianism, we need to be very clear about what we mean when we talk about determiniate and indeterminate decision making. To make it clear what I'm talking about, suppose you decide to go Starbucks and have an espresso. Assume that, all through this example, you never change your mind about what you want. And finally, assume that. magically, the the first part of what you do as a result of this unalterable decision will be determinate, and the second part will be indeterminate. This is to say that, between the two actions, your volitional system, the part of you that makes you do stuff, will switch from deterministic to indeterministic operation, and nothing else will change. The first part is easy to explain. You want to go to Starbucks and buy an espresso. The first part of that is going to Starbucks, and this is the deterministic bit, so your decision to go to Starbucks means that you go to Starbucks. The second part is more complicated. You've decided to buy an espresso, but because this part of the example is indeterministic, that decision cannot possibly determine what you do next. It's true that you absolutely do not change your mind. You stick firmly to your decision to buy an espresso and do not waver. There's nothing else in Starbucks that you want, and nothing else in there can possibly satisfy you, but that doesn't matter because your next action is not determined, which means you cannot possibly determine what you do next. So, what will you do? Well, no-one can predict indeterministic events, but we can simulate the situation. You will need a large hat and a good stock of sticky notes. Turn over a stack of sticky notes and take off the bottom sheet so that you're looking at the adhesive side of the top note. Write "buy an espresso" on the part that doesn't have adhesive, and then fold the note neatly so it sticks to itself and you can't read the words. Now do the same thing for absolutely everything else you could do in that Starbucks. Start with listing all the things you could buy, each on a seperate sticky note, and put all the folded, sealed notes into your large hat. Then think of all the other things you could do in a Starbucks (keep it clean) and write each of those on an individual note (hmm, gonna need more notes, and a bigger hat). Okay, let's say there are ten thousand different things you could do in a Starbucks, each one is represented by a different sticky note. Now, to simulate an undetermined event, shake the hat up good and pick just one folded sticky note out of all the ten thousand things you could do, and that's what you do. That's what an indeterministic event is like. You'd like to do one particular thing, but you can't make yourself do that thing because that would be an internal state of your brain determining what you do, and this is not a deterministic situation
What's the point? Well, in the dispute between libertarianism and necessitism, your personal position will depend on whether the "go to Starbucks" event or the "do some random thing" event fits you own intuitive sense of what free will really is. If your picture of free will is such that it fits with determined decisions (go to Starbucks) and not with indeterminate ones (do random thing there, even thou you've firmly decided to get an espresso," you're a necessitist. However, your picture of free will is such that you think that whatever you did at random was free willed, and the event where what you decided to do determined what you did was not freewilled, then you're a libertarian.
A curious fact about the debate over free will is that two of the major players share a key assumption, develop exactly parallel arguments, and yet draw exactly opposite conclusions. Furthermore, discussion of these two parallel arguments reveals another curious fact about this debate, and that is the fact that the assumption of Incompatiblism leads inexorably to the conclusion that free will absolutely does not exist. Finally, a last curious fact is revealed in libertarian reactions to this conclusion. And by "curious" I mean "hilarious," or "pathetic," or perhaps "mind-numbingly stupid."
The two players here are libertarianism, at least as represented by Libertarians and, on the other side, hard determinism as represented by B. F. Skinner. The two beliefs shared by the two players are 1. Incompatiblism, and 2. The belief that lack of free will rules out moral responsibility. These two beliefs are often combined in the phrase "determinism rules out moral responsibility." (I want to make sure you remember that this phrase represents two separate beliefs, the undoubtable truth that lack of free will rules out moral responsibility, and the highly debatable claim that lack of randomness rules out free will.)
The shared argument goes as follows. First, there is a clear and obvious fact that people who are coerced into committing crimes are not held morally responsible for those actions. Lack of free will is considered a legal defense and a moral excuse in a wide range of cases. We do not consider it morally wrong to kill someone in self-defense, when lethal force against unprovoked aggression was the only available means of defending one's innocent self, or innocent others. If one commits a crime as the only alternative to being shot, all blown up, or seeing one's loved ones harmed, that is usually considered to absolve one of moral responsibility. Where one's free will is removed by coercion, or by some other process that removes free will, one is not considered morally responsible, or is at least considered less morally responsible, for the crimes one commits.
Second, it is held, quite reasonably, that an act was only done of one's own free will if one could have done otherwise than one did. A bank teller who is being ordered at gunpoint to fill a bag with cash could theoretically choose to refuse. But in such a case she would have a high expectation of being shot, and so in a court of law at least, she is considered to have been unable to do other than she did. Conditions such as "he would have seriously injured me if I had refused" or "she would've beaten my child" are generally taken to mean that one could not have done otherwise, and that when one handed over the money, one was not doing so of one's own free will.
Thirdly, it is held that if one's action was determined by a freely operating but deterministic process occurring in one's own head, that means that one could not have done otherwise than one did. If, for instance, one performs a violent mugging, and the volition to commit the mugging came from a deterministic process including such factors as a desire for money, a disdain for others, and so on, the Incompatiblist holds that this internal deterministic process of coming to a decision based on one's needs, desires and values means that one could not have done otherwise. In other words, Incompatiblists such as Libertarians and B. F. Skinner hold that if you're volitional process is deterministic, you could not ever have done otherwise than you did.
Libertarians and B. F. Skinner share this logic. But they come to opposite conclusions. Libertarians offer something like the following argument.
Skinner, on the other hand, offers something like this.
You will notice that Skinner's argument has something that the Libertarians' argument does not. Skinner's argument is based on evidence, the Libertarians' is not. Skinner's argument for that first premise is pretty simple. As human behavior is better and better studied, it becomes more a more predictable. Since it is logically impossible for something to be predictable without being deterministic, all this adds up to strong evidence that human behavior is deterministic. When you add in the fact atomic and molecular interactions, such as occur in the human brain, are all deterministic it follows that the evidence for determinism in the human brain is absolutely overwhelming.
Could the Libertarians offer any evidence for the existence of moral responsibility? It is hard to see how they could. People don't like to think that moral responsibility doesn't exist. Some people get really upset if you even mention the idea. And there's plenty of evidence that people believe it exists. But there's tons and tons of evidence that millions of people believe in the existence of gods that you don't believe in, so what's the good of people believing in moral responsibility?
The evidence for determinism in the relevant parts of the human brain is overwhelming, and so if Incompatiblism is true, there is no free will. Live with it.
According to some physicists, I should point out that determinism only holds above the subatomic level. Atoms are deterministic systems. Molecules are deterministic systems. Things made of atoms and molecules are deterministic systems. But the things that atoms are made of are not entirely deterministic. Werner Heisenberg won the Nobel Prize for pointing out that physics made much more sense if we assumed that there was a certain degree of indeterminism at the subatomic level. This was a stunning achievement in theoretical physics, and it qualifies Werner Heisenberg as an absolute genius. In physics.
In philosophy, Werner Heisenberg wasn't so hot. In fact, he made rather a fool of himself. (So don't bring this up if you meet him at a party.) The problem is, a lack of determinism in the human brain would not result in the ability to do other than which we choose to do, it would absolutely destroy our ability to choose to do everything. If there is any indeterminism in your decision-making process, you will do stuff at random. Your ability to control what you do depends on your needs determining your preferences, your preferences determining your desires, your desires determining your choices, and your choices determining your actions. If your preferences come at random, your desires occur at random, your choices are made at random, and your actions are also random, you will cease to exist as a person, and will instead be a randomly flailing body that imprisons a mind that flickers helplessly from one disconnected thought or feeling to another. If you know what it is like to be schizophrenic, or to have a grand mal seizure, then you have the beginnings of an idea of what it would be like to have a brain that was not deterministic.
Lack of determinism destroys free will. If Incompatiblism is true, and the presence of determinism destroys free will also, then the fact that determinism is either present or absent would mean that there is no free will. In fact, given that indeterminism makes free will impossible, committing yourself to the idea of Incompatiblism is pretty much committing yourself to the denial of free will.
The big question is, is incompatibilism true? I don't think it is, but a lot of people disagree with me.Copyright © 2020 by Martin C. Young