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Posted by on Dec 15, 2013 in Consciousness, Free Will and Determinism, Philosophy | 17 comments

Guest Post by Fiona Cooke – “Left or Right? Questioning the ‘I’.”

The Tippling Philosophers group that I frequent has a collection of very differing viewpoints, from reductionist style physicalism to Christianity; agnosticism to various degrees of spiritualism. Fiona, who is posting here, has had an interesting journey. She has had, and continues to have, experience with Eastern worldviews and practices (including yoga and meditation, and Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism). This comes through in her post. But what is interesting is her acceptance fairly recently of the illusion of free will, and how this has affected her take on, well, herself. The ever illusive “I”. I asked her if she could put her thoughts into a guest post for me, because it sounded really interesting, and here it is. Whilst she will admit that she is not philosophically trained, sometimes this can be liberating in being free from labels and suchlike.

See what you think. There is much to discuss here. Many thanks to Fiona for this.

Go Left or Go Right?

I walk down a road. An un-named road, with no clear destination in mind. Walking happens, I do not have to think about it.  I come to a fork and stop. There is left and there is right, which way should I go?

Hmmm. Left or right?

I look for clues; trail markers, fellow walkers, a big sign saying: “Fiona, Walk This Way.” Nothing.

Left or right?

I look for a difference between left and right. Is one wider, well-trodden, more inviting? Nope. Both are the same.

Left or right?

I think back to a different time, a different fork, and I wonder if the decision I made then will help with the decision I need to make now. It won’t.

Left or right?

With no clear indication as to which fork I should take, I decide.

I go right.

Did I make that decision after some deliberation or was I always going to make that decision?

Was I always going to go right?

And the more interesting question is:

Did I make the decision or did a decision happen and then the “I” that I think I am, take ownership?

Was the decision already made and then the separate entity called mind take charge and give the appearance of making a decision, of exercising free will?

If I close my eyes and stop my thoughts, just for a second or two, what is left is Awareness. If I sit in Awareness then I can watch my thoughts. I can watch a thought rise, meander through, and disappear.

I watch the thought “Raise your arm”, but my arm can remain still. I stand in the shower and watch the thoughts “Stay in, get out, stay in, get out. “ And somehow I find myself out of the shower, dripping on the mat wondering how that happened, when all I recall is being the referee who had not yet called “out” in a tennis match.

I watch a dog. He re-arranges his bed and then disappears outside. He returns with a bone and settles down to chew happily. Did he think “I will get my bone?” He does not have an “I”. He is not aware that he is a dog. He is a product of nature and nurture. He has been trained to sit, to come on command and to guard his bone. If I take the bone he will experience anger and react, but he will not own the anger.

If that dog reached a fork in the road would he stop and think about which way to go?

Left or right?

No. He would just go one way or the other. A decision would have been made, but he would not own that decision, he has no “I” to decide, to exercise free will.

I am no more than that dog.

As a child I was taught to believe in “I”. I was taught labels; me, you, table, chair. I was taught to think about my experience rather than be my experience. I was taught to separate myself from experience. So sitting became: I am sitting. Seeing became: I see the table.  As a child every action I took was instinctive. It happened as a result of my nature and prompts from my parents. Perhaps I could say that I was programmed, and that programming never stops.

The dog and the child do not see themselves as separate. They are part of the experience of life. Where is their “I”? The only difference between them and me now is the thought “I am”.

Feelings happen, thoughts happen, actions happen. They are all happening through a person called Fiona, but they do not happen to an “I”. That I is a thought, a construct that was taught, or perhaps built as a way of making sense of my place in the world. Things happen and my mind then takes ownership, so the feeling of anger becomes my anger, it becomes personal; thoughts arise giving the feeling more power, so that it is no longer a feeling that is passing through but something that is kept alive by more thoughts. Watch a child or a dog become angry. It is like the wind, it comes and then it goes.

My direct experience of life has not changed from the moment I was born. Nor will it have changed at the moment of my death. When I lift my face to the sun, the feeling of warmth on my skin will still feel the same. The single chime of a bell will still sound sweet and pure.  My thoughts about these things may change from day to day, minute to minute, but the experience itself will always remain the same. And ultimately that is all there is. It is an interesting that I only feel the need to defend a belief that I am not sure of. The truth needs no defence and that is where the truth is, in my direct experience of life.

It is simple, so, so simple. Within my direct experience there is only this moment. Everything else is a thought. The thought that I am typing is just a thought. There is typing, that’s all. Confusing yet simple when you see it.

What are those pictures called? Where you can see a vase or two heads? I remember staring and staring, seeing only the vase and feeling intense frustration because I knew there was something else, something I was not getting. And then it clicked. It was just a different way of seeing. And once seen it cannot be unseen, of course there are two head, just as there is no “I”. So, so simple.

I can label my experience thus: I am sitting at the table. I am typing. I stop to think. I scratch my calf, and sip some tea. I gaze at the washing up to be done and think about getting up to do it but then decide to wait until later. I hear the sound of a car passing and then silence.

Or I can look at only direct experience thus: There is sitting and typing. Pausing and drinking tea happens. Thoughts about washing up appear, along with some tension. Sitting continues. There is the feeling of coldness and goose-bumps. The heating is turned up followed by the sound of the radiator clicking.

Nothing in the experience changes, but without the “I” it is so much easier. Everything is just happening, and continues to happen but there is no I that makes it happen or controls it in any way.

In watching my mind can I honestly say that the thought “I will make a cup of tea” causes me to get up and put the kettle on? Or has the decision already been made somewhere outside of my awareness with the thought that I will make it happen appearing after? Has my mind tricked me into thinking that I made the decision?

I watch the philosophers debating about free will and quoting their ‘isms. Determinism, behaviourism. They choose an ‘ism and then become an ‘ist. Just as a religious fanatic becomes an ‘ist. It is all belief. They look to the thoughts and words of others and take them as their own. Philosophy and religion are like choosing a brand of tea. You drink PG Tips, I drink Tetley. This then appears to become a platform from which to quote bigger and better, to prove with words and knowledge that Tetley is where it is at.

Many men have philosophised for many millennium. They have developed ideas and theories. They have devoted their lives to what? Finding the meaning of life? Answering the question: Why are we here? Has any of this thought, argument, knowledge changed any one thing within their direct experience of life? The sun or their face is still the sun on their face. Whether there is free will or not they will still go left or go right.

Richard Rose, in Psychology of the Observer, described will as “a reaction to react in a fixed, planned reaction.” Art Ticknor paraphrases this as “we have witnessed a pattern of action in certain circumstances and react with determinism to change the pattern when those circumstances arise in the future. If the reaction pattern changes according to our wishes then we say we have exhibited will power.” He goes on to say “The belief in doer-ship is simpler to investigate yet harder to dislodge. There is plentiful evidence of our being an agent of thought and subsequent action, but claiming to be its principle cause rests on the argument: I didn’t see anyone else doing it; therefore, I claim the title.

For me, there has been nothing sweeter than the realisation that there is no “I” and therefore no free will. For how can there be free will without anyone to own it? Free will is a concept, an idea, a thought, a theory, a belief.  Yet whether we have it or not it changes nothing. Not A Thing. The feeling of the sun on my face will remain the same with or without free will. Without the idea that I control things I can just allow life to happen. I reach a fork in the road, thoughts happen, a decision is made, or maybe a decision is made and thoughts happen. Whatever the order, I go right. Maybe I should have gone left, but with no “I” having made the decision there is no blame or regret should the right path be a bumpy one.

If I stand aside and just allow life to flow it all happens wonderfully. I drink tea, warm my face in the sun and take the right fork. Nothing could be simpler.

Fiona Cooke. 10/12/13

  • Guy

    Guy finally accepts that there is no such thing as Free Will
    I was lying on my chaise longue, wearing nothing but a flimsy peignoir, watching various appetites emerge and subside in my consciousness (a yen for a marmite and quince jelly muffin came and went, a desire to embrace maoist Marxism tempted me for a while, a leaning towards graeco-roman sexual indulgence of the sort practised by the Emperor Tiberius on Capri toyed with my emotions), but, realising that the sense that I could choose to yield to or reject one or all of these was merely an illusion, I fell back on the chaise and lapsed back into my state of reverie. I sensed an enclosing mist come over me. Was I drowning? I struggled and strove with a sense of rising up through darkening waters towards a distant light. As I rose towards awareness, strangely and unaccountably, I found myself typing on a reconditioned Lenovo X61 Thinkpad laptop. I was typing this missive and I had a prescience that this was inevitable – it was always going to happen. There was no way in which I could not have found myself sitting, wearing a peignoir, on an empire model chaise longue, a laptop on my lap, typing. I lamented my fate. Why me? Why had my genes, the accidents of history, a butterfly’s wing flapped in Japan in the Satsuma period, the eruption of Krakatoa all conspired to lead me to this? I felt I was a plaything of fate, a bagatelle to the whims of a blind and drunken watchmaker, a leaf driven hither and thither on a wanton wind. I lay back and wept hot tears of despair.

  • http://disnotblog.blogspot.com/ Eugen

    Hi Jonathan

    You are an expert on free will so I would like to see what you think of this….

    Say we observe single bacterium in the lab. Bacterium is pretty much chemical automated system at work. Specialized proteins-chemical sensors on the membrane are sensing for “food” molecules in the environment. When “food” molecule attaches to the “sensor” it triggers cascade of molecular changes inside the bacterium with a result of activating “propeller” motor to move bacterium in the direction of the “food” molecules. Does bacterium possess free will to choose between going after “food” molecules or not? Of course it doesn’t. It’s just a preprogrammed machine made of chemical components and as a whole just reacts to environment. It has no choice.

    Take a look at the spider in your garden. It is more complex creature with more complicated behavior than the bacterium. Can he decide not to build a net and relax instead? Does he just react to environment? Yes, it just follows “program”, it has no choice.

    Now look at couple of birds out of your window in the spring. They flew from the south and are now building the nest in the tree. Do they have a free will to choose not to build a nest and “take it easy” this year or maybe even stay down south instead of flying thousands of kilometers? No, they are preprogrammed to do this every year. They have no choice.

    When I compare these creatures with humans I see that we are made of same chemical units (cells). Difference is that we have a choice in everything because of our ability of self-awareness. The self-awareness gives us power of knowing what we are doing unlike bacterium, spider or a bird. Going to extreme, I can even choose not to eat or seek shelter if I’m suicidal. I have a choice, the other creatures don’t. It seems to me that humans are “free chemicals” as opposed to other creatures, the “preprogrammed chemicals”.

    • Phasespace

      Perhaps. Or perhaps the act of choosing is still determined by “preprogrammed chemicals,” but the reaction pathways are too complex to easily see the programming.

      I’m not sure that being “self-aware” gets around this problem. What if self-awareness is just a different manifestation of the highly complex neural network in our brains. Brains with literally billions of interconnections that make it impossible to fully trace all those preprogrammed chemical reactions?

      Personally, I think discussions of these ideas are intensely interesting, but at the end of they day, I’m left feeling like something is missing from these discussions and I can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is. For example, I think the notion of contra-causal free will is entirely incoherent, but I still think we do make choices, maybe not in the contra-causal free will sense, but still choices are made of some sort.

      • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        Cheers! Beat me to it.

        Dennett says that being self-aware and able to plan, predict and rationalise give us ‘free will’. But these are reliant on programmed neural networks themselves, and are potentially epiphenomenonalistic at that!

      • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        Phasespace

        quite possibly – could this be the illusion at work. We feel like we are making free decisions.

        Also, there is heaps of evidence to suggest the mind makes up intention all of the time when it is the missing part of the jigsaw. The idea is that it is always a missing part of the jigsaw, so always gets made up (see left right hemisphere brain issues / corpus callosum etc).

        • Phasespace

          Yeah, I agree. I kind of have the feeling that a lot of these questions won’t get satisfactorily sorted out until neuroscience catches up with the philosophical questions. I have a feeling I’m going to be waiting awhile, but steady progress is starting to be made, which is exciting.

  • http://disnotblog.blogspot.com/ Eugen

    Decisions directed just by chemical changes in our brain should work only for the benefit of human survival. For ex. understanding of arts is completely useless for our survival. Worst of all are emotions, they are the most useless for survival and are actually reducing our chances of the same. Maybe I’m not reasoning correctly?

    • Phasespace

      Well no. Have you ever seen any of the species of birds of paradise? Or perhaps more obviously, a peacock’s tail? Those kinds of adaptations are definitely not to the benefit of the survival of the species. Yet they evolved anyway due to sexual selection.

      Now, it is true that there is a lot of debate about just exactly why we evolved to have big brains and the question hasn’t been settled by any means. Having said that though, there are plenty of examples in nature of different capabilities evolving and then getting repurposed for something else. And emotions most definitely have a survival benefit for social species like humans. You might argue that they get in the way of logical thinking in the modern world (and I’d agree that this happens), but it’s hard to say whether or not we’d be where we are today without them.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Just to add to what PS said. Naturalists believe that every aspect of humanity, emotional and physical, cognitive and so on, must have evolved, and so must have either sexually selective aspects, or characteristics which promote sexual reproduction, or survival benefits.
      Evolutionary psychologists look at behaviour and psychological dispositions or characteristics (such as emotion etc) and look to explain them in terms of evolution.
      If you look at someone like Steven Pinker in How The Mind Works, there is ample explanation as to how humour, anger, love and joy arose and what jobs they do etc.
      Emotions certainly aren’t useless for survival, especially in a highly social species.

      • http://disnotblog.blogspot.com/ Eugen

        Thanks Jonathan and Phasespace.

        1. Bacterium’s pre programmed chemical decisions are much more successful in keeping species surviving. They have been around for billions of years, no arts,no emotions, no understanding of anything. just a super efficient business of surviving. That’s what I would expect of nature, robustness and simplicity.

        2. If chemical changes inside our brain make decisions for us than would you say that our decision making is the same as one of bacteria, just more complex?

        • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

          You’ve got to define successful and in what context. Yes, bacteria prevail. But as far as complex organisms go, we are rocking the world just now. We are even reproducing when one would imagine we have mutations which are counter-productive, in some senses.

          Compassion in humanity has meant that many more gene combinations are now prevailing.

          On 2) – yes. Made more complex by intention, prediction, reflection etc. But all these things need explanatory grounding, as well as being explicable neurologically. Determinism does this. Thus there are philosophical grounds for determinism which are yet to explain free will, and scientific / biological grounds.

          Determinism is a better explanatory hypothesis by a country mile, by absolutely huge explanatory distances, than libertarian free will. Which is why most philosophers deny LFW (and the ones who expect it are almost all theistic philosophers – they doctrinally need free will).

          • http://disnotblog.blogspot.com/ Eugen

            Thanks for a long professional answer for (2.)

            My foggy idea about this issue is that chemicals, no matter how many you pile up, cannot develop self awareness any more than one bacterium can. No matter how many silicon chips we pile up ( rather meaningfully connect) or make them run algorithms they will not develop self awareness. I must then belong to the LFW group.

            (by chemicals I always mean bio-chemical arrangements that make living things)

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Edited it so it made more sense now!

            It sounds like you are expressing Lewis and Reppert’s Argument from Reason?

            The problem is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot establish the grounds for having the ability to choose otherwise in a causal circumstance. This is why LFW fails so completely.

            If I can be so cheeky as to copy a piece from a reply to a guy called Guy on this matter:

            So this is what Guy asked about, a quote from me:

            ‘Libertarian free will demands that an agent is an originator of a causal chain. This is the language of libertarians. But this means that an axiom grounds a decision, a ‘just because’ when we regress that causal chain. Until this is coherently explained, LFW will always struggle to get off the ground.’

            He asked me to explain, so here goes. Determinism states that for every effect, there is an antecedent cause. Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is sometime called contra-causal free will because it has to contradict this. The understanding is that at some point, causality must be grounded, ideally in the agent (called agent causation). What this means is that the causal chain must not pass through the agent, but must be grounded in the agent. They must be the originator of a causal chain.

            This is where all the problems start coming. An antecedent cause is an answer to a ‘why’ question. Why did that happen? Because of x. Why x? Because of y, and so on until the Big Bang.

            Agent causation, and LFW, demand that the agent owns that decision, that they ground the causal chain. What this means is that in answer to repeated why questions, there eventually has to be a brute fact, an axiom. This follows soemthing called Munchausen’s Trilemma which states there are 3 ways to ground knowledge (http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/11/01/the-munchhausen-trilemma-what-grounds-a-claim/):

            1) infinite regress (what determinism almost does and then gets back to the axiom of the Big Bang or similar)

            2) circular reasoning – invalid in some cases and weak – reasoning in circles (I believe the A theory of time because it proves God; I believe in God because it proves the A theory of time)

            3) axiom – brute fact/self-evident claim

            Agent causation has the agent grounding causality in an axiom. Which amounts to ‘just because’.

            Eg – why did you hit that man?

            Because I was angry.

            Why were you angry?

            Because I am volatile (genetics and upbringing)

            Why …? Why…?

            The LFWer believes that you cannot keep giving reasons for these things because the reasoning will pass through the agent and abrogate responsibility or suchlike by having antecedent causality regress past the agent. But the LFWer must then believe that some kind of ‘just because’ grounds the decision. But this then makes the root cause of the decision synonymous with random, and by definition a-rational.

            As Robert Kane (famously one of the very few naturalist LFWers):

            “(The Indeterminist Condition — Second Form): Given all past circumstances relative to t and all laws of nature, (i) it can be the case that S makes J at t, and (ii) it can be the case that S does other than make J at t.” (Free Will and Values, p.33)

            He actually spells out his own difficulties really well:

            “Some awkward consequences do seem to follow, If the agent might either make a choice or do otherwise, given all the same past circumstances, and the past circumstances include the entire psychological history of the agent, it would seem that no explanation in terms of the agent’s psychological history, including prior character motives and deliberation, could account for the actual occurrence of one outcome rather than the other. (p.53)

            “I can understand how the outcome of my deliberation may have been different, if I had known other facts, considered other consequences, imagined other scenarios, etc. But what I cannot understand is how I could have reasonably chosen to do otherwise, how I could have reasonably chosen B, given exactly the same prior deliberation that led me to choose A, the same information deployed, the same consequences considered, the same assessments made, and so on.” (p.57)

            “This way of stating the argument shows what is at stake in the charges of arbitrariness, irrationality, etc., made against the indeterminist condition. If the choice of A was the reasonable outcome of my deliberation, then the choosing otherwise (the choice of B), which may have occurred given the same past circumstances, would have been “arbitrary,” “capricious,” “irrational,” and “inexplicable,” relative to my prior deliberation. Similarly, if the choice of B had been the reasonable conclusion of my deliberation, then the choice of A, had it occurred, would have been arbitrary relative to the prior deliberation, In general, where the indeterminist condition is satisfied, and the outcome is the result of prior deliberation, at least one of the outcomes (choosing or doing otherwise) must be arbitrary or irrational in relation to the prior deliberation.” (p.57)

            I could go on, but the problem is evident: the LFWer must ground a decision with causal reasoning, otherwise a freely willed decision is arbitrary or irrational. But by doing so they invoke determinism, the very thing they are trying to get away from.

            This is why Dennett argues that free will NECESSITATES determinism. Yes, it kinda invalidates its freeness, but it makes it rational and non-arbitrary! That is what compatibilism seeks to do.

            Guy, I would suggest, possibly, that compatibilism (where most modern philosophers are) is the place to look for sensible and coherent free will. It just means redefining it a little.

            JP

            So if that makes sense, perhaps that clears up the debate a little?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Edited my previous one for clarity.

            Are you referring to the Argument from Reason, a la Lewis and Reppert?

            As for LFW, the idea is that there is no rational way to ground a freely willed decision, to be able to do otherwise, in the same causal circumstance. A decision needs to have reasons to stop it from being random. But reasons are determining. So we have a problem. If I may copy and paste a comment to a guy called Guy now, to save me some time, it should express my position!

            So this is what Guy asked about, a quote from me:

            ‘Libertarian free will demands that an agent is an originator of a causal chain. This is the language of libertarians. But this means that an axiom grounds a decision, a ‘just because’ when we regress that causal chain. Until this is coherently explained, LFW will always struggle to get off the ground.’

            He asked me to explain, so here goes. Determinism states that for every effect, there is an antecedent cause. Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is sometime called contra-causal free will because it has to contradict this. The understanding is that at some point, causality must be grounded, ideally in the agent (called agent causation). What this means is that the causal chain must not pass through the agent, but must be grounded in the agent. They must be the originator of a causal chain.

            This is where all the problems start coming. An antecedent cause is an answer to a ‘why’ question. Why did that happen? Because of x. Why x? Because of y, and so on until the Big Bang.

            Agent causation, and LFW, demand that the agent owns that decision, that they ground the causal chain. What this means is that in answer to repeated why questions, there eventually has to be a brute fact, an axiom. This follows soemthing called Munchausen’s Trilemma which states there are 3 ways to ground knowledge (http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/11/01/the-munchhausen-trilemma-what-grounds-a-claim/):

            1) infinite regress (what determinism almost does and then gets back to the axiom of the Big Bang or similar)

            2) circular reasoning – invalid in some cases and weak – reasoning in circles (I believe the A theory of time because it proves God; I believe in God because it proves the A theory of time)

            3) axiom – brute fact/self-evident claim

            Agent causation has the agent grounding causality in an axiom. Which amounts to ‘just because’.

            Eg – why did you hit that man?

            Because I was angry.

            Why were you angry?

            Because I am volatile (genetics and upbringing)

            Why …? Why…?

            The LFWer believes that you cannot keep giving reasons for these things because the reasoning will pass through the agent and abrogate responsibility or suchlike by having antecedent causality regress past the agent. But the LFWer must then believe that some kind of ‘just because’ grounds the decision. But this then makes the root cause of the decision synonymous with random, and by definition a-rational.

            As Robert Kane (famously one of the very few naturalist LFWers):

            “(The Indeterminist Condition — Second Form): Given all past circumstances relative to t and all laws of nature, (i) it can be the case that S makes J at t, and (ii) it can be the case that S does other than make J at t.” (Free Will and Values, p.33)

            He actually spells out his own difficulties really well:

            “Some awkward consequences do seem to follow, If the agent might either make a choice or do otherwise, given all the same past circumstances, and the past circumstances include the entire psychological history of the agent, it would seem that no explanation in terms of the agent’s psychological history, including prior character motives and deliberation, could account for the actual occurrence of one outcome rather than the other. (p.53)

            “I can understand how the outcome of my deliberation may have been different, if I had known other facts, considered other consequences, imagined other scenarios, etc. But what I cannot understand is how I could have reasonably chosen to do otherwise, how I could have reasonably chosen B, given exactly the same prior deliberation that led me to choose A, the same information deployed, the same consequences considered, the same assessments made, and so on.” (p.57)

            “This way of stating the argument shows what is at stake in the charges of arbitrariness, irrationality, etc., made against the indeterminist condition. If the choice of A was the reasonable outcome of my deliberation, then the choosing otherwise (the choice of B), which may have occurred given the same past circumstances, would have been “arbitrary,” “capricious,” “irrational,” and “inexplicable,” relative to my prior deliberation. Similarly, if the choice of B had been the reasonable conclusion of my deliberation, then the choice of A, had it occurred, would have been arbitrary relative to the prior deliberation, In general, where the indeterminist condition is satisfied, and the outcome is the result of prior deliberation, at least one of the outcomes (choosing or doing otherwise) must be arbitrary or irrational in relation to the prior deliberation.” (p.57)

            I could go on, but the problem is evident: the LFWer must ground a decision with causal reasoning, otherwise a freely willed decision is arbitrary or irrational. But by doing so they invoke determinism, the very thing they are trying to get away from.

            This is why Dennett argues that free will NECESSITATES determinism. Yes, it kinda invalidates its freeness, but it makes it rational and non-arbitrary! That is what compatibilism seeks to do.

            Guy, I would suggest, possibly, that compatibilism (where most modern philosophers are) is the place to look for sensible and coherent free will. It just means redefining it a little.

            JP

            Hopefully that gives some degree of clarity!

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Edited my previous one for clarity.

            Are you referring to the Argument from Reason, a la Lewis and Reppert?

            As for LFW, the idea is that there is no rational way to ground a freely willed decision, to be able to do otherwise, in the same causal circumstance. A decision needs to have reasons to stop it from being random. But reasons are determining. So we have a problem. If I may copy and paste a comment to a guy called Guy now, to save me some time, it should express my position!

            So this is what Guy asked about, a quote from me:

            ‘Libertarian free will demands that an agent is an originator of a causal chain. This is the language of libertarians. But this means that an axiom grounds a decision, a ‘just because’ when we regress that causal chain. Until this is coherently explained, LFW will always struggle to get off the ground.’

            He asked me to explain, so here goes. Determinism states that for every effect, there is an antecedent cause. Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is sometime called contra-causal free will because it has to contradict this. The understanding is that at some point, causality must be grounded, ideally in the agent (called agent causation). What this means is that the causal chain must not pass through the agent, but must be grounded in the agent. They must be the originator of a causal chain.

            This is where all the problems start coming. An antecedent cause is an answer to a ‘why’ question. Why did that happen? Because of x. Why x? Because of y, and so on until the Big Bang.

            Agent causation, and LFW, demand that the agent owns that decision, that they ground the causal chain. What this means is that in answer to repeated why questions, there eventually has to be a brute fact, an axiom. This follows soemthing called Munchausen’s Trilemma which states there are 3 ways to ground knowledge (http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2013/11/01/the-munchhausen-trilemma-what-grounds-a-claim/):

            1) infinite regress (what determinism almost does and then gets back to the axiom of the Big Bang or similar)

            2) circular reasoning – invalid in some cases and weak – reasoning in circles (I believe the A theory of time because it proves God; I believe in God because it proves the A theory of time)

            3) axiom – brute fact/self-evident claim

            Agent causation has the agent grounding causality in an axiom. Which amounts to ‘just because’.

            Eg – why did you hit that man?

            Because I was angry.

            Why were you angry?

            Because I am volatile (genetics and upbringing)

            Why …? Why…?

            The LFWer believes that you cannot keep giving reasons for these things because the reasoning will pass through the agent and abrogate responsibility or suchlike by having antecedent causality regress past the agent. But the LFWer must then believe that some kind of ‘just because’ grounds the decision. But this then makes the root cause of the decision synonymous with random, and by definition a-rational.

            As Robert Kane (famously one of the very few naturalist LFWers):

            “(The Indeterminist Condition — Second Form): Given all past circumstances relative to t and all laws of nature, (i) it can be the case that S makes J at t, and (ii) it can be the case that S does other than make J at t.” (Free Will and Values, p.33)

            He actually spells out his own difficulties really well:

            “Some awkward consequences do seem to follow, If the agent might either make a choice or do otherwise, given all the same past circumstances, and the past circumstances include the entire psychological history of the agent, it would seem that no explanation in terms of the agent’s psychological history, including prior character motives and deliberation, could account for the actual occurrence of one outcome rather than the other. (p.53)

            “I can understand how the outcome of my deliberation may have been different, if I had known other facts, considered other consequences, imagined other scenarios, etc. But what I cannot understand is how I could have reasonably chosen to do otherwise, how I could have reasonably chosen B, given exactly the same prior deliberation that led me to choose A, the same information deployed, the same consequences considered, the same assessments made, and so on.” (p.57)

            “This way of stating the argument shows what is at stake in the charges of arbitrariness, irrationality, etc., made against the indeterminist condition. If the choice of A was the reasonable outcome of my deliberation, then the choosing otherwise (the choice of B), which may have occurred given the same past circumstances, would have been “arbitrary,” “capricious,” “irrational,” and “inexplicable,” relative to my prior deliberation. Similarly, if the choice of B had been the reasonable conclusion of my deliberation, then the choice of A, had it occurred, would have been arbitrary relative to the prior deliberation, In general, where the indeterminist condition is satisfied, and the outcome is the result of prior deliberation, at least one of the outcomes (choosing or doing otherwise) must be arbitrary or irrational in relation to the prior deliberation.” (p.57)

            I could go on, but the problem is evident: the LFWer must ground a decision with causal reasoning, otherwise a freely willed decision is arbitrary or irrational. But by doing so they invoke determinism, the very thing they are trying to get away from.

            This is why Dennett argues that free will NECESSITATES determinism. Yes, it kinda invalidates its freeness, but it makes it rational and non-arbitrary! That is what compatibilism seeks to do.

            Guy, I would suggest, possibly, that compatibilism (where most modern philosophers are) is the place to look for sensible and coherent free will. It just means redefining it a little.

            JP

            Hopefully that gives some degree of clarity!

          • Phasespace

            Jonathan,

            I just wanted say that that was a really nice and relatively simple explanation of the problem with LFW. Thanks for pointing out that quote by Kane.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Thanks PS. Appreciated! I have expressed it in so many ways on so many occasions, it is difficult to remember where and to whom!

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