The Crux: Part Two
I want to start off by saying "Thanks!" to all of you who have so far contributed to the conversation regarding the philosophical matter at hand--I knew I could count on you! For those who have pending responses, I look forward to them eagerly. Can I just say that the possibility for such encounters as this--a meeting of my favorite and most respected minds contributing to a pot-luck banquet of deep thought across continents--is quite certainly the most fantastic benefit to the invention of the internet I have yet encountered. Wouldn't the ancient Greeks have been proud?
That said, I have exciting news! This week's topic of study in Metaphysics, coincidentally enough, just happens to be precisely our current area of inquiry--free will and its possibility relative to determinism, non-determinism, and logic in general! Isn't it fabulous when things coincide like this? Thus, with the reading for yesterday's lecture and the lecture itself, I now possess some valuable ingredients to add to our menu.
First of all, there are some useful technical terms, which of course aren't necessary but are nice to have sometimes just so we all know when we mean the same thing and when we don't. Plus, they make you sound so cool and philosophic. So, in case you were wondering:
- A compatibilist is a person who believes free will is compatible with determinism--that is, that you could have free will in a deterministic universe. (My analysis of the two types of compatibilists indicates that they achieve this belief through funny definitions of either free will or determinism.)
- An incompatibilist, not surprisingly, believes that free will is incompatible with determinism.
- A libertarian is an incompatibilist who believes that we do have free will (and thus, believes that the universe is not deterministic).
But the really interesting addition is an organized outline of precisely the "logical possibility" question I've been trying to isolate, as set out in several slightly different formulations in the article The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility by Galen Strawson. You can probably guess from the title what his verdict is regarding logical possibility of free will, which he bases on something he calls the Basic Argument. That argument looks something like this:
- Our actions are a function of how we are, mentally speaking.
- If (1) is true, we can only be truly free in our actions if we are truly free in our mental state, to a certain extent.
- We can only be truly free in our mental state if we have chosen our mental state.
- But we cannot be said to be choosing our mental state unless we already exist mentally, already equipped with some principles of choice (P1)--preferences, values, ideals--in the light of which we choose how to be.
- So in order to be truly free in our choice of a mental state, we must be able to freely choose our P1.
- But in order to choose P1 we must have some principles of choice P2 in the light of which we choose P1.
- This sets off an infinite regress, because in order to be free you must make a choice, but in order to have a choice you must have principles on which to base it, but you must also have chosen those principles, and so on.
This is the issue. So my previous question about logical possibility of free will can be restated with respect to this line of reasoning by asking whether the infinite regress is vicious--that is, whether it means that choice and thereby freedom is logically impossible or not.
There's a slightly different formulation of this argument later in the article, with some useful conventions upon which to frame the discussion:
Suppose one is in a situation in which one must choose between actions A and B. One will make this choice based on one's character or personality or motivational structure--one's CPM. One's desires and beliefs will provide reasons for A and B. One's CPM tells one which of those reasons to side with, and thus which action to choose. So in order to have freedom over one's choice, one must be able to choose one's CPM. Posit a self, S, which is independent of and yet has control over the CPM. The problem is, S will also have some structure on which it must base its decisions of what kind of CPM to construct. So in order to be free, one must also be able to choose one's S. And once again we hit the regress.
This can be looked at from the other direction, in a sense (instead of going back from the final effect to original causes, you can go forward from the original cause to try to get to the final effect), by starting with an initial S (self, or soul, or whatever). Now, imagine this initial S has no predispositions whatsoever--because only then can its choices be truly free. Is it possible for an S without predispositions to make a choice between various possible sets of principles, in an intentional rather than a random fashion? The difficulty we have with this concept is that our choices always are based on reasons. But are reasons inherent to the meaning of choice, so that an absence of reasons makes the choice meaningless? I think that is the real root of the question. And it seems to me that you can have a meaningful choice without reasons. In fact, that's exactly the meaning of the word choice. Reasons are things that back up the choice that is made, but the reasons themselves do not constitute the choice. Does this make sense? (I'm not sure, but it seems to me it might.)
But it's one thing to be able to call something a choice, and another to call it a moral choice. Can you have a moral choice in the absence of predispositions? Well, the S would have to start off knowing about "right/good" and "wrong/evil". Does knowing what dispositions and actions are "right" constitute a predisposition of itself? I think not--being disposed to do the "right" would be a predisposition, but knowing what the "right" is might not require a disposition to do the "right"; at least, so it seems to me. So I guess the proposition I'm making, without being entirely sure whether it's sound or not, is that something can be without predisposition, but can still have comprehension of good and evil, while maintaining a free choice between doing the good and doing the evil, but remaining morally responsible for that choice. If that is possible, then we have our leap from freedom into the land of determinism. If that leap is possible, it doesn't matter if the whole rest of the process is determined, because at that point a free choice has been made.
So, what do you think? Make sense? See a hole? Let me know! Thanks again for humoring me and brightening my life (whether you happen to be a philosophical type or not). Much love.