Naturalism, Determanism & Freewill

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Naturalism, Determanism & Freewill

I just thought i'd share this. Sorry its a bit long

Naturalism, Determanism & Freewill

One of the objections people have to a naturalist worldview is that if naturalism is true then "Determinism follows...and therefore freewill is an illusion" or "There's no freewill." or "Then we're simply rag dolls to the laws of nature"

What do we make of this?

1. Determinism does not necessarily follow

Metaphysical Naturalism, at its most fundamental level is simply the view that all reality is natural. Which is to say the cosmos is non-sentient. All minds, and all the contents and powers and effects of minds, are entirely caused by natural [i.e. fundamentally nonmental] phenomena. This could be true in a universe with random (uncaused) events.

2. Indeterminism fails to save freewill

When one who maintains a belief in freewill claims determinism is incompatible with freedom, he is directly implying that indeterminism is. Of course, this is nonsense since indeterminism simply entails that not all events are caused [i.e. random]. If someone attempts to enter randomness into the equation it simply makes things worse, since if one claims that our choices are 'uncaused' then it's no longer true "I choice X" for the self precedes the event and if the choice was uncaused then the 'self' could not be the cause of the choice. All other attempts to force randomness into the picture are pathetic and unthoughtful.

3. 'Libertarian freewill' is an oxymoron.

Libertarian freewill has be defined as:

A. The power or ability to rationally choose and consciously perform actions, at least some of which are not brought about necessarily and inevitably by external circumstances

B. "given a choice...nothing determines which choice is made" - HP Moreland

The libertarian view of freewill can be powerfully convincing when one asks "If determinism is true, then at any point in time, could you have done other than what you did?" - The answer is a very clear "No." This seems so uneasy, you think "my goodness, this means I do not have the freedom to change the future! I have no freedom ah!" This is misguided, it can be demonstrated in a simple thought experiment:

"Image two parallel universes, identical in every detail, and imagine a man in each universe, identical in their character, knowledge, desires and everything else, standing in totally identical circumstances. Now imagine that one of these men chooses to kill his wife, but the other man chooses not to. What could possibly explain this? Since the two situations and the two men are identical in every respect, there can be no cause whatsoever for either man's choice. This is what Moreland's theory entails.

But this has an unacceptable consequence. For it means that neither these men's desires, nor their knowledge, nor their moral character - nothing at all - can be blamed for having caused their choice. Moreland even agrees: "no description of our desires, beliefs, character, or other aspects of our makeup and no description of the universe prior to and at the moment of our sufficient to entail that we did it" (138-9). But this means that we could not even say that the first man was evil and the second good, since that would assume the first man's badness caused him to kill, while the other man's goodness caused him to refrain. But these men are indentical, so one cannot be evil and the other good. Moreland might say he is evil or good after the deed, but that means we could not say he did what he did because he was a good or bad man. In fact, we could not say at all why he acted. What quality in either man that is uniquely a part of "him" can be blamed for causing his particular choice? There is none.

Now imagine that this man is you, and in one universe you kill your wife, in the other you do not. What would you think of yourself then? You would know that nothing causes your actions - not your character, nor your environment, nor the surrounding circumstances, nor your knowledge, not even your love of your wife. Nothing. Your choice to kill or refrain is purely a result of happenstance: whichever the universe you are in is a mere luck of the draw. Imagine how you would feel, having learned that it is nothing but the result of unpredictable randomness whether you kill your wife or not at this very moment. Shocking, yes? Imagine that you refrain from killing, but could step into a time machine, run the universe back a million times, and watch yourself again each time, and then saw that sometimes you killed and sometimes you didn't, even though each time all the circumstances including your thoughts, desires, character, everything were the same. There would be no rhyme or reason to why you did this one or the other. It would be a mere shake of the dice. This is the nightmare of a world that Moreland's theory describes. - Richard Carrier: Sense And Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism

The libertarian notion of freewill entails that our actions have no casual relationship to what makes us a person (desires, knowledge, character). As a child some of us may have touched a hot pot of boiling water, after such an event we learn not to do it again. As adults when we tap into our memories when making choices, when the cookies are done we tap into a past memory of being burned, or simply tap into the existing knowledge of heat and it's relationship to pain, so we put on gloves. Memory is information that is physically stored in the brain, we know this through simple experiments where patients when parts of the their brain are stimulated will report 'hearing a song' or 'smelling cookies', so to make a choice that's informed by past experience (memory) requires there to be a casual/deterministic relationship. Libertarian freewill entails a bloody murder of such events being possible. Libertarian freewill defenders would have us believe that such deterministic events would render an action 'not of ones freewill'

Richard Carrier continues:

Moreland defines libertarian free will as "given a choice...nothing determines which choice is made" (137). Nothing guarantees that a particulkar choice will be made, not even reasons, values, or knowledge. What he means is that thought we will always choose according to some 'desire' that we posses, which particular desire of the many we have that wins out is not determined in adnvced by anything but "us" (in some obscure sense of the word). this is how he explains it: "When agents will A, they could have also willed B without anything else being different inside or outside of their being" (137-8). So even if I want most of all not to raise my hand, according to Moreland, I might raise it anyway, presumably as long as I have minuscule desire to do it. Of course, this seems counter-intuitive right from the start. If the strongest desire in me is to stay still, how can I be caused to raise my hand by a weaker force?

Trying to bypass this problem, Moreland argues that desires and reasons and other things "influence" but do not "caused" our actions and choices. But it remains unclear just what the difference is suppose to be. my knowledge that a wall stands before me certainly causes me to choose to change the direction of my walk. My desire to live certainly causes me to avoid leaping out of windows. Yet Moreland would not say that walls and windows deprive us of our free will. So he has to elaborate somehow.

"Suppose some person," Moreland asks, "freely performed some act...say raising an arm in order to vote" (138). He says that this person "exerted [his] power as a first mover (an initiator of change) to bring about" the motion to vote. But what about the request to vote in the first place? Actually being in a circumstances that calls for a vote is itself a necessary condition for raising a hand to vote. Correct. But this does not mean the circumstances will be a sufficient cause of the action, and Moreland's point is that something else is necessary, which is unrelated to anything in or outside us.

But this thing is not our reason, knowledge, character, desires or anything at all really. And that creates a problem, for instance, Moreland includes in his theory the premise that this person "brought about [the choice] for the sake of some reason" which entails another necessary cause - the reason - without which the hand would never be raised. And this reasons will certainly correspond to a brain state, and a chain of causation can be followed as we examine the path of all the calculations and knowledge that are in turn necessary causes of that reason arising in our brain. So he is forced to reject even the obvious theory that reasons cause us to act.

The libertarian notion of freewill is so devastatingly absurd it's hard to believe anyone actually defends it. One only has to think about it for no longer than 5 minutes to learn it fails to match our intuitions on what is meant by freewill. However the idea keeps popping up. I personally think it's because when someone first learns about the issue of freewill, they are often presented the issue as a "determinism vs freewill" which presupposes there's no compatibility between the two. When you say "determinism vs. freewill" you're basically giving subtle credit to the libertarian view by implying that those views are at war. The truth is determinism (in a largely statistical sense) is a necessary condition for a free act, under the position I'm defending. Hearing "determinism vs. freewill" is like hearing "computer vs. windows xp"

What freewill really is.

An analogy from Freedom Evolves By Dan Dennett

"Recall the myth of Cupid, who flutters about on his cherubic wings making people fall in love by shooting them with his little bow and arrow. This is such a lame cartoonists' convention that it's hard to believe that anybody ever took any version of it seriously. But we can pretend: suppose that once upon a time there were people who believed that an invisible arrow from a flying god was a sort of inoculation that caused people to fall in love. And suppose some killjoy scientist then came along and showed them that this was simply not true: no such flying gods exist. "He's shown that nobody ever falls in love, not really. The idea of falling in love is just a nice--maybe even a necessary–fiction. It never happens." That is what some might say. Others, one hopes, would want to deny it: "No. Love is quite real, and so is falling in love. It just isn't what people used to think it is. It's just as good–maybe even better. True love doesn't involve any flying gods." The issue of free will is like this. If you are one of those who think that free will is only really free will if it springs from an immaterial soul that hovers happily in your brain, shooting arrows of decision into your motor cortex, then, given what you mean by free will, my view is that there is no free will at all. If, on the other hand, you think free will
might be morally important without being supernatural, then my view is that free will is indeed real, but just not quite what you probably thought it was. (p222)"

The freewill debate seems to be less about if we have it, but rather what we mean. All of us, even those who claim freewill is an illusion, have the strong conviction that our actions are the result of our will. We want to do stuff, so we do it. So if libertarian freewill fails to match what people actually mean in practice, what works?

Compatibilism is the position that a free action is an action that is the result of the desires of the agent. If there is an agent who receives data from the world, calculates virtual futures (possible outcomes), and acts out in accordance with his/her desires then such an agent has freewill. This entire process requires there to be deterministic relationships between the environment & the agent.


The claim that 'materialism/determinism' is incompatible with freewill is only true if one is referring to the libertarian view of freewill. Since the notion of libertarian freewill is absurd and false, the point becomes mute. The best definition of freewill is the view that actions that are the result of desires. Such a view is not only compatible with determinism but requires its truth.