Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Free Will

So y’all are probably wondering about my view on free will. I’m an unrepentant compatibilist. That’s right: not only does free will exist, it exists in a deterministic universe. And we can ignore quantum indeterminacy because 1. the significance of quantum effects on traditional, volitional mechanisms is nil or near enough, and 2. even assuming the contrary, there’s no reason to prefer indeterminate causes of our choices over determinate ones.

I admit I used to find the idea of determinism terrifying, but nowadays not only do I like it, but I find the opposite idea incoherent. Deterministic free will I comprehend easily—simply realize that even though any particular neural state is entirely predetermined by a previous configuration of the universe, it is nonetheless the routing of those causal processes through sentient beings that gives them their moral significance and autonomy. Free will is defined as those actions a deterministic universe results in you doing. Non-deterministic free will, however, just doesn’t congeal into anything.

And this isn’t a dictionary dodge. If there was a definition of free will different from the one I’m giving, and it was clear I was simply hammering that one into a new shape for the ends of my argument, then I’d be breaking the rules. But it’s not clear what that alternate definition is, so there's no fault in crafting a definition where one has yet to be proferred.

To be clear then, I believe 1. all my actions are predetermined—an omniscient demon could, given a particular layout of the universe, calculate precisely what I’d be thinking in a decade—and 2. I am responsible for my actions (save those prompted by coercion)—I remain unabashedly free to make the choices I make. And while the conjunction of these beliefs is quite counterintuitive, ultimately they mesh without problem.

So as deep philosophical problems go, spill your energy elsewhere. Save your concern for our need of a decent theory of knowledge, the moral realist vs. skeptic debates, how to define liberty if there is a sensible means of doing so.

Make no mistake—as materialists go, I'd be a lousy one. I am indeed disappointingly mystic, what with my beliefs in Platonic ideals, moral facts, and the validity of intuition. But so long as the mystically identified thing is objective, then it determines, and so long as it determines, compatibilism’s a cakewalk.

Hours slept last night: 5

Listening: Ozawa, Honegger—Jeanne d'Arc au Bûcher. I'm a sucker for the ondes martenot--really martenots of any kind.

Number of Supreme Court Justices Met: 2 of 9

SCOTT: When I see her, I just want to kill a sabre-toothed tiger.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I saw Kozinski and Volokh yesterday, at seperate law schools. (Reinhardt, too, but I detest him.)

Clara

Wild Pegasus said...

I'm not following this one.

If it is all determined, then why are my neural states any more or less a product of will than the orbit of the moon?

And if they are equally determined, isn't morality just special pleading?

- Josh

Scott said...

Clara,

In law school, we learn that Kozinski and Volokh are not Supreme Court Justices.

Silly girl.


Josh,

That's what will is--neural states that your (prior) neural states have contributed to and, in part, determined. The moon and you are equally determined--but determination is not the distinction that makes the difference between what is will and what isn't.

That doesn't sound like special pleading to me, but your mileage may vary. Anyway, Dennett's written much of worth on the subject of compatibilism. Check him out if you're interested.

Wild Pegasus said...

That's what will is--neural states that your (prior) neural states have contributed to and, in part, determined. The moon and you are equally determined--but determination is not the distinction that makes the difference between what is will and what isn't.

I'm seeing distinction, but no difference. The position of the moon has been contributed by previous states, worked through the laws of physics, over time. You're saying the brain is the same, but different. Different how, if determinism be true?

Where can I accessibly start on Dennett's works?

- Josh

Scott said...

Different in that it is a brain, a sentient machine. The moon has no awareness of what it is, nor does the sun purposefully set the moon a-swingin'. A human mind seems quite different in that it is aware of itself, in that it has purposes and ends.

Dennett's Freedom Evolves is written for the layman, therefore I was able to understand some of it. It's got a heavy bibliography including entires on other works of his on the subject, if you wish to move beyond it.