Free Willism, Determinism, and Compatibilism

doctoro
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Free Willism, Determinism, and Compatibilism

It's about high time we have a no holds barred, all-out verbal brawl on the determinism issue.  I've spent many hours on other forums, a barrel full of philosophical angst, and thousands of words on this issue.

 I began a determinist, and converted to a free-willist, then settled on compatibilism.

 All philosophy comes down to questions.

 The question here:

Are your actions  derived from free choices, or are they merely the result of a neverending chain of causes that are outside your control (determinism)?

 Jake and I debated this issue in the chatroom, but I think the forums will yield some good discussion.

To cut it short and summarize...

 I am a compatibilist.  By this, I mean that there are 2 "orders" of freedom.  The "orders" are my own way of explaining compatibilism.  Compatibilism is not a term that I came up with, but explaining with "orders" is my own invention.

 So the first order is the "ability" to make a choice.  By this, I mean that an action is either a possible choice or an impossible choice.

The second order deals with motivations behind an act.  These are almost always determined.  In fact, I cannot think of ANY possible scenario in which the motivation behind someone's action does not have some explanation that can be derived from prior events or causes.

So in this way, I say that we have many choices that are "possible" to make, and in that way, we have free will.  On the other hand, all of our choices are based on some kind of reasoning dependent on other influences or causes.  In this way, our choices are determined.

For this reason, our choices can be seen as both free AND determined.

 It is a mistake of language and semantics to assume that it is one or the other.  Furthermore, I would contend that the angst and debate on this question derive from misunderstanding of the issue.  Clearly define your terms, THEN debate it.  We're going to have to clearly define both free will and determinism in order to debate.  The surprising thing is that free willists and determinists define terms differently, but would essentially agree to the deductive conclusions made from such definitions.

 -----

 Examples:

1.  Should I choose a pastrami sandwich or a turkey club?

On the first order, you clearly have two choices.  You are ABLE to choose pastrami or turkey.  Those are possible choices.

On the second order, you may have a clear preference to choose pastrami because it tastes better to you.  BUT, you could STILL choose turkey just to rebel against your preference.  But even then, your choice to choose turkey would be based on a desire to rebel against determinism and your programmed preferences.  In this way, second order determinism is inescapably the result of prior causes.

2.  Can I choose to believe in God?

On the first order, you do not have any choice.  This is once again a problem of language.  What does belief even mean?  I define belief as a mental state, not as a choice.  In this way, I equate a belief to something like an emotion.  It is not possible for you to choose to be happy or sad.  Rather, it is possible for you to take actions to influence whether you are happy or sad.  You take actions, and happiness or sadness follows from those actions.  To be honest, I sometimes feel like I need to watch an emotional movie sometimes "just to feel alive".  I intentionally induce sadness just to bring myself closer to humanity.

In the same way, one can choose to study atheist literature, think about theism, and discuss with atheists.  The change from theism to atheism is an internal process that is not the result of an instantaneous choice.  In this way, there are many "choices" that cannot be made through a single act of volition, but only certain actions that may "affect" the state or consequences that you intend.  Think very carefully about this principle.  I think you will find that this process occurs for many of our supposed "choices".  The government institutes policies to "affect" problems -- such as bringing down crime rates.  The government cannot choose to decrease crime as though it were an instantaneous choice.  How ridiculous would it be if George Bush said, "I choose to end terrorism," and mean that by his sheer will, terrorist actions will simply stop?  This is the same thing as "willing" yourself to change beliefs.

On the second order, changing your beliefs is based on desires and prior influence.  This is why the rational response squad is so important.  Our ultimate goal is to foster a desire in people to "think for themselves" even if they provide arguments that defeat us.  Most of us agree, if we are posed with sufficient evidence, we will change our beliefs.  In this way, our goal is reason and debate; not mass conversion to atheism that is based on blind faith.  Atheism is an end result of a thought process that is not coerced.  In addition, we try to spur theists to READ, READ, and READ some more.  They need to think about these hard questions.  So on the second order of free will, that is, desires, we can truly influence someones desire to study in order to bring about the EFFECT of atheist belief, but we cannot ever simply tell someone that they need to "choose" atheist belief.

3.  Can I choose to run if a criminal has a gun pointed to my head and tells me not to run?

On the first order, it is a possible action to run.  Yes, I will die.  But the fact that I am physically able to run means I have free will to do so.

On the second order, it is brutally obvious that I have a strong desire to live.  For that reason, we can predict with almost 100% certainty that I will not run.  Yes, my decision not to run is "determined" in this context.  Notice how I use quotations there.  The reason I do so is because I am referencing only the "second order" determinism definition.  Second order determinism means that factors, causes, and influences are the basis of all actions.  Who would disagree with that?  By first order "determinism," remember, I mean only the physical possiblity to do something. 

4.  Can I choose to be the greatest basketball player of all time?

On the first order, it is impossible.  This is not a possible choice for me in any way.  I am uncoordinated, I suck at sports, I'm only 6' 3", and even if I worked every day of my life to be the best basketball player ever, it will never happen.  Period, end of story.  You will also notice the subjective nature of the question.  What constitutes the greatest basketball player of all time?  I could define this in such a way as to be attainable.

On the second order of desires, I may have been influenced by a basketball coach father to be a great basketball player.  I might watch sports all the time and truly want to be a sports hero.  So what?  Desires don't ensure effects.

And this final example is crucial to any of you who are going to truly advocate determinism and "social conditioning."

Because NUMEROUS desires cannot be satiated or realized, you have a severe problem with hardline, rigid mechanical determinism.  If everything were determined, ALL of our desires would and could be realized.  All of the people trying to affect us in a certain way would succeed.  This is not the case.  You have all sorts of factors trying to influence a person, but at the core of a human being, it is impossible to predict someone's actions.

For determinism to be true, you would have to claim that an omniscient being with perfect knowledge could predict with perfect accuracy every action by every human before they are even born.  Do you truly believe this?  And do you think it's a valid question?

 In essense, you must concede that there are these two orders of free will.  Because all desires and "influencers" cannot effectively succeed in bringing about IMPOSSIBLE actions by an individual, you must concede that the existence of "POSSIBLE actions" is an important part of understanding determinism.  And if we have an array of possible actions, we have free will to choose some of those possible actions.  EVEN IF our possible actions are "determined" by a complex array of factors; the existence of possible actions PROVES that some "order" of free will exists.

To reiterate:

Free will is compatible with determinism because:

1.  "First order determinism" is defined as the physical possibility to do something or have an array of physically possible options.  In this context, we have free will amongst many options.

2.  "Second order determinism" is defined as actions that are influenced by prior causes or factors.  Virtually no action that I can think of escapes this definition of determinism.  There are degrees of "probability" that one will choose certain actions based on their desires and past experiences.  But I am skeptical, dear friends, that an omniscient being would have the ability to predict actions of individuals years in advance even with perfect knowledge.

Thus, I hold to "compatibilism". 


Yellow_Number_Five
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I don't think one "settles"

I don't think one "settles" for compatibalism, I think it's the only tennable position regarding the topic.

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. - Richard Dawkins

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Glad that you agree,

Glad that you agree, yellow5.  Most philosophy students I come into contact with hold to this position.  By "settle" on compatibilism, I meant that I had trouble deciding on free will or determinism, and I finally came to the realization that compatibilism is the most tenable position. 


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doctoro wrote: Glad that

doctoro wrote:
Glad that you agree, yellow5. Most philosophy students I come into contact with hold to this position. By "settle" on compatibilism, I meant that I had trouble deciding on free will or determinism, and I finally came to the realization that compatibilism is the most tenable position.

Libertarian free will makes no sense, I'm not even aware of any modern defenses of it by anyone of note. Radical determinism has its problems too, in a sense, compatibalism is the worst  solution, except for all the others.

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
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Then what's the alternative

Then what's the alternative to compatibilism?

How do you define free will?

How do you define determinism?

Do you deny that insofar as we are physically able to make certain choices, we have "free will"?

Do you deny that insofar as we are always motivated by some underlying desire or influence, our actions are determined?

Do you deny that there is a linguistic problem here that creates misunderstanding and confusion? 


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doctoro wrote:Then what's

doctoro wrote:

Then what's the alternative to compatibilism?

I'm agreeing that there isn't a viable alterantive.

Quote:

How do you define free will?

Libertarian free will holds that actions are without any cause.... I don't think it's a viable concept.

Compatibalism holds that cognitions have a causal role in our actions.

Quote:

How do you define determinism?

Radical determinism holds that cognitions are epiphenomena - i.e. they exist, but have no causal role in behavior.

Quote:

Do you deny that insofar as we are physically able to make certain choices, we have "free will"?

I don't know if this is really 'free will'. My reason is this: our desires are not chosen. And from whence do cognitions arise? Are they not determined?

It's a puzzle... whatever exists to 'choose' may itself be given to us deterministically....

 

 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'


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Quote: JEREMY:  Do you

Quote:

JEREMY: 

Do you deny that insofar as we are physically able to make certain choices, we have "free will"?

TODANGST: 

I don't know if this is really 'free will'. My reason is this: our desires are not chosen. And from whence do cognitions arise? Are they not determined?

It's a puzzle... whatever exists to 'choose' may itself be given to us deterministically....

 

 

We essentially agree that all actions are governed by causes, desires, and influences.

The fact that this is the case allows us to change the desires and influences of other people in order to cause certain effects.  But then, our willing to change others is governed by our desires and causes.

It's a recursive nightmare.

You seem to deny that the actual ability to make certain decisions that are available to you (ie the choice between pastrami or turkey) has any relevance to the determinism issue.

I wholeheartedly disagree.

If you have a range of possible options, EVEN IF you are governed by desires or influences to make the possible options, you have "FREE WILL" to do so.

This is a semantic battle.  You're saying that "libertarian free will" holds that actions do not have causes other than the epiphenomena of the brain.  Fine, I agree that according to your definition of "libertarian free will," we have none.

I'm going to have to use a new word then, "Possible Choice Free Will."  Do not confuse this with your concept of "libertarian free will".  "Possible Choice Free Will" relates directly to what I was discussing regarding "first order free will".  How can you deny that if we have 2 or more options, and no one is holding a gun to our heads, these choices are actually available, and we have "free" choices?  The concept of freedom in the United States deals with allowing us to have more options available without threat or fear of punishment.  We try to increase the availability of choices.  "Libertarian free will" is a completely useless concept to discuss regarding such an issue as "freedom".

This is a lot of terminology, and I fear I'm going to lose everyone just inventing new terms.  But bear with me.  Let's do away with terminology altogether.  I sometimes think that just rephrasing the questions and answering them is a better way to go.

Q:  Do our actions have causes? 

A:  Yes, all of our actions have causes. 

Q:  Are you "free" to choose if you have multiple options open to you?

A:  YES!  It all depends on how you define "free will".  In that "libertarian free will" is a useless concept when discussing our "possible options," we must define "free will" differently in some cases.

Suppose I grant that I have misinterpreted the traditional concept of compatibilism.  I will grant it and throw away my use of the term.

These definitions were crucial, and language is getting in the way of us understanding each other.

I don't care if free will and determinism is compatible.

 I simply care that

A)  If I have numerous available options to me, that is good.  I am "free" (not libertarian "free&quotEye-wink to make decisions if I am not coerced or forced to make decisions unwillingly.

B)  All our decisions have prior causes and are not capricious or based on whim.

 -------------------------------------------------

Here is my summation and epiphany on this problem:

Our goal in society is to allow humans to "freely" act on their desires without intervention -- provided their actions do not harm others.  We must first determine our ethical boundaries for human action, then create laws to restrict only those human actions that cause harm.  Because being "free" to follow your own desires without intervention is a good thing, our concepts of "freedom" and "free will" must be defined differently in certain contexts.

In this way, "libertarian free will" must be discarded in some circumstances.

We are essentially debating two different questions, but using the same terminology for both.  To answer the questions correctly, we must step outside of our own "terminology bubbles" and accept different definitions when discussing the other's question. 


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I agree with the consensus:

I agree with the consensus: compatibilism is the only tenable position.

 

The simplest acceptance of cause--->effect governance of the universe yeilds determinism. It should seem obvious. But... the world of the small, the atomic, the quantum, or what have you... is not the world that we "live in" so to speak. It isn't useful or meaningful, in a broad sense, to describe every day life in terms of physical laws. That, and even if we accept that the universe is deterministic--which I see no reason to dispute--we still "feel" as though we have "free will" ... some sort of agency in the world. Never mind the fact that we should consider ourselves, and others, accountable for our actions regardless.

 

I see the dilemma as analagous to the consciousness dilemma, or perhaps a broader consideration of that somewhat similar dilemma.

 

We can at least potentially describe and pinpoint every last structure and synaptic firing in the brain, but that doesn't quite get at an explanation of our subjective perception of consciousness, though perhaps it's quite possible. This isn't, of course, to say that they are really two different, or separate, things; they aren't. It's just to say that in communicating the "difference" between subjectively experiencing conciousness and objectively describing it require different vocabulary... at this point. Who knows what the future may bring?

 

I think the "free will" vs. determinism conundrum is much the same. Two different ways of communicating about the same thing...

... unless we're talking about religious conceptions of "free will," in which case it's way off the bullshit meter.


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doctoro wrote: We

doctoro wrote:

We essentially agree that all actions are governed by causes, desires, and influences.

Yes.

Quote:
 

The fact that this is the case allows us to change the desires and influences of other people in order to cause certain effects. But then, our willing to change others is governed by our desires and causes.

It's a recursive nightmare.

Absolutely... Freud had one answer. He was a determist, but he held that since our actions were over-determined (too many causes to keep track of) that essentially, 'free will' actually encapsulated human behavior accurately...

But this is not an ultimate solution. 

Quote:
 

You seem to deny that the actual ability to make certain decisions that are available to you (ie the choice between pastrami or turkey) has any relevance to the determinism issue.

I don't recall saying this or ever intending to say this.

My position is this: The ability of the brain to make selections between given options is compatibalism.

And my concern is: isn't the 'thing' that makes the choice, determined?  If so, then do we have a problem?

 

Quote:

If you have a range of possible options, EVEN IF you are governed by desires or influences to make the possible options, you have "FREE WILL" to do so.

But what is actually 'free' here? If our desire is determined, then isn't 'choosing' is simply matching a pre-set desire?

See the concern? 

 

Quote:

This is a semantic battle. You're saying that "libertarian free will" holds that actions do not have causes other than the epiphenomena of the brain. Fine, I agree that according to your definition of "libertarian free will," we have none.

Just to make things clear: Epiphenomena is not a cause, it's an after effect without causal role. The Skinnerians called it 'brain garbage". It works like this: X occurs, and behavior Y follows, along with epiphenomena - thoughts that one believes have a causal role. The thoughts could be removed, and the causal connection still holds.

However, there are no good reasons to believe that this describes anything other than Pavlovian behaviors anymore, because cognitions can clearly be shown to have a causal role in behavior. The most famous example would be the work of Bandura, who showed that merely introducing the concept of a reward could bring behavioral change. 

Quote:
 

 I'm going to have to use a new word then, "Possible Choice Free Will." Do not confuse this with your concept of "libertarian free will".

I'm not. You're not following me here. My points on libertarian free will have nothing to do with compatibalism. 

 

Quote:

"Possible Choice Free Will" relates directly to what I was discussing regarding "first order free will". How can you deny that if we have 2 or more options, and no one is holding a gun to our heads, these choices are actually available, and we have "free" choices?

Here's how: Choice relates to placing the 'choices' in a heirarchy.... the choice between being tossed in a well and being paid 50 dollars is made by ranking the 'choices' along a heirarchy that we might calll 'desirable things'

Our desire, however, is pre-set and yet it is our desires that  rank the choices. Ergo, what's 'left' to be free?

Possible response: desires themselves are recursive, and ammenable to alteration.... 

  

Quote:

 The concept of freedom in the United States deals with allowing us to have more options available without threat or fear of punishment.

You speak of external restraints on choice, but what if 'choice' itself is internally restrained?

And just to make things clear,  I'm not referencing libertarian free will. I am talking about compatibalism.  I only brought up the term to show how it fails. 

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'