The (in)coherence of hard determinism as an alternative to free will

#1
In another thread, Typoz wrote:

Free will is an interesting one. Not everyone accepts there is such a thing. But holding such an idea may be self-fulfilling, in that if one believes one is unable to change, then one won't.
Being a little oblivious to thread etiquette, I responded at length in that thread, and at Typoz's polite suggestion, have repeated (with minor edits for context) that response in this new thread so as not to create a diversion in that original thread:

First: yes, totally agreed that belief in lack of free will is self-fulfilling.

Second: the notion of "no free will" seems incoherent to me. Typically, it is justified by determinism: we do what we do because we are caused to do it, not because we will it freely. OK, so what I do now is the result of a prior cause, which is the result of a prior cause, which is the result of a prior cause, back and back, either:

  1. To a definite start, or,
  2. Endlessly.

Let's take these one at a time. If there was a definite start, then conditions were such as to "generate" the ensuing history of the universe, i.e. there was a "spark" from which all of the wonders of life in their uniqueness originated. But this is creative since within it is contained the entirety of the rest of the universe, and how could such creativity be manifest except through a (creatively) free will?

If, on the other hand, causation regresses endlessly, then rather than considering an "initial spark", we can consider, "the fullness of the infinite regress in all of its uniqueness". You can tweak a cause anywhere in the regress and, magically, the entirety of the regress shifts to accommodate that cause and its endlessly changed regressions and progressions. But why is one "tweaked" version of infinity preferred over another? What "holds it in place"? And why is the entire causal chain as it is, in all of its creative glory? Surely, again, we have to recur to some (perhaps battle of) (creative) free will(s).

So, it seems to me that no matter how you look at it, the determinist alternative necessitates a creative free will in any case, and thus is incoherent as an alternative to free will - and yes, I'm conflating "free" with "creative", but really, is this such a controversial move? It seems pretty innocuous to me. And I'm also assuming that creativity on that ultimate level is impossible without free will, which perhaps is more controversial, but seems supportable: what would creativity look like in the absence of will? I haven't seen an answer to that before (then again, nor have I looked for one).

Finally, it seems to me totally bizarre to suggest that, yes, it feels exactly like we are making choices, but no, those choices aren't real but are instead wholly determined. Determined by what, exactly? I haven't been able to get a good answer to this from determinists. "Determined out of nothing in particular" seems to be what they would answer if they were consistent. But wouldn't a more realistic answer be, "Determined by a more powerful will"? Which, again, brings us back to the incoherency of determinism (as an alternative to free will).

P.S. I personally believe anyway that infinite regress, in the absence of certain mitigating qualifications, is incoherent of itself, I included it simply because it is a popular choice amongst some determinists.
 
#2
Thanks for this. Don't worry too much about the etiquette (though I'll just mention that you may also edit/delete any previous posts if you feel they are now superfluous).

As to this topic, it progressed more rapidly than I expected from a more or less throwaway remark into a detailed discussion. I have some thoughts on the subject, but don't want to rush to reply.
 
#5
@Typoz, thanks man, will take your tip on board, consider that other post toast (it's a roast, my host says post-haste). Looking forward to your response, if you choose to make one.

@malf, you might have gathered by now that I don't consider RationalWiki to be the most... reliable... of sources. Perhaps I will read and respond to the link you provided, perhaps I won't. If you could summarise the points it makes with respect to my argument above, you would perhaps advance the discourse most effectively. Otherwise... (I will leave that to your ample imagination).

@DasMurmeltier Good eyes are a blessing. (Intended sincerely, not sarcastically, as if that were in doubt).
 
#6
Anyway, on the topic of free will, I tend to approach the matter in a practical rather than a theoretical one. (Though I don't claim one approach is better than the other). From my position, free will starts not in any actions we make in our interaction with the external reality, but in our inner experience. Here from moment to moment we may choose from which perspective to view the position in which we find ourselves. Say something happens which may make us feel an emotional response. We have many choices as to how to interpret and respond to that emotion. This may take some effort, for example one may discuss matters with other people, we may meditate, or any number of other things.

Of course there are extreme circumstances where one may be swept along by something too large to handle, I don't suggest we have superhuman capabilities. But the discussion started in the context (from my perspective at any rate) of those things which we do out of habit. Even if we continue to carry out exactly the same habitual actions, we still have choices as to how to view our situation.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#7
Second: the notion of "no free will" seems incoherent to me. Typically, it is justified by determinism: we do what we do because we are caused to do it, not because we will it freely. OK, so what I do now is the result of a prior cause, which is the result of a prior cause, which is the result of a prior cause, back and back, either:

To a definite start, or,
Endlessly.

Let's take these one at a time. If there was a definite start, then conditions were such as to "generate" the ensuing history of the universe, i.e. there was a "spark" from which all of the wonders of life in their uniqueness originated. But this is creative since within it is contained the entirety of the rest of the universe, and how could such creativity be manifest except through a (creatively) free will?
First of all, you're ignoring the possibility that some events are random. Second, you're using a loaded definition of creative that involves some sort of free will already, thus begging the question of whether libertarian free will is a coherent concept.

If, on the other hand, causation regresses endlessly, then rather than considering an "initial spark", we can consider, "the fullness of the infinite regress in all of its uniqueness". You can tweak a cause anywhere in the regress and, magically, the entirety of the regress shifts to accommodate that cause and its endlessly changed regressions and progressions. But why is one "tweaked" version of infinity preferred over another? What "holds it in place"? And why is the entire causal chain as it is, in all of its creative glory? Surely, again, we have to recur to some (perhaps battle of) (creative) free will(s).
I'm not really sure what you're saying here, but, again, you're ignoring the possibility of random events.

Finally, it seems to me totally bizarre to suggest that, yes, it feels exactly like we are making choices, but no, those choices aren't real but are instead wholly determined. Determined by what, exactly? I haven't been able to get a good answer to this from determinists. "Determined out of nothing in particular" seems to be what they would answer if they were consistent. But wouldn't a more realistic answer be, "Determined by a more powerful will"? Which, again, brings us back to the incoherency of determinism (as an alternative to free will).
Our choices are partially determined by prior events and the current state of affairs, and partially random.

The problem with libertarian free will is that no one can explain how an agent makes a free choice. It can simply be a deterministic and random process, or we wouldn't have a free choice. So there must be a third aspect to the decision-making process. Can you describe that third aspect?

~~ Paul
 
#8
Edit: Long, drunken and bombastic post falsely alleging mistakes in the RationalWiki article linked to by @malf removed. If this is against forum policy, please let me know and I will replace the original - I have a copy saved. It's just not something I particularly want on the permanent record.
 
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#9
@Typoz, thanks, I see where you're coming from. Basically (from what I can tell) you accept the reality of free will in the first place, which leaves you free to focus on the practical, no? I think the key word in all that you said is this: "effort". In a sense, this is a synonym for "will". And in the context of habit, it offers, especially when combined with creativity, a way out. Does that seem fair?
 
#10
@Paul C. Anagnostopoulos, firstly, I already accepted that I was conflating creativity with freedom. I asked: "is this such a controversial move? It seems pretty innocuous to me". You seem to be responding: "Yes, it is controversial, because the events in question could, rather than being viewed as 'creative', be viewed as 'random', and we could instead conflate randomness with freedom". So far so good? Please correct me if I'm wrong. If so, then I would respond with this: randomness needn't entail structure, whereas creativity does. And we would not have a universe without structure. So, it seems to me that (free) will hangs on the interplay between randomness and structure. There are whole essays to be written about this, but hopefully that gives you something to (dis)agree with.

As for your question, "Can you describe that third aspect?", I would have to say, delightedly: "NO, I cannot, and I would not in any case want to have recourse to so reductive an answer!"

Cheers for the thoughtful challenges.
 

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#11
"How does simply not believing in something make it so that it no longer applies to you?" Ha! So here we have the implicit admission that the thing which is not believed in actually exists i.e. free will is real. For if we can speak of it being wrong to say that "it" no longer applies to somebody, then "it" must actually apply (and exist) in the first place (to be wrongly denied as applying). And thus we have the implicit admission that free will exists, which all along was being denied. My God, can RationalWiki be any more incoherent?
There is no admission here that libertarian free will is real. The author is simply pointing out that point (2) is not necessarily true.

"Particularly when it can be argued that the act of choosing to disbelieve in free will is, in itself, a demonstration of free will". Precisely, my friends! No matter how you cut the mustard, free will is the end result.
Whoa! Again, the author is arguing against the validity of point (2). That is not an argument in favor of free will.

~~ Paul
 
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Paul C. Anagnostopoulos

Nap, interrupted.
Member
#12
@Paul C. Anagnostopoulos, firstly, I already accepted that I was conflating creativity with freedom. I asked: "is this such a controversial move? It seems pretty innocuous to me". You seem to be responding: "Yes, it is controversial, because the events in question could, rather than being viewed as 'creative', be viewed as 'random', and we could instead conflate randomness with freedom". So far so good? Please correct me if I'm wrong.
I don't care if you conflate creativity with freedom. What you can't do is simply assume that either of those things involves libertarian free will. You appear to have done so when you said "... and how could such creativity be manifest except through a (creatively) free will?"

As for your question, "Can you describe that third aspect?", I would have to say, delightedly: "NO, I cannot, and I would not in any case want to have recourse to so reductive an answer!"
Cheers for the thoughtful challenges.
Ah yes, this is a standard gambit: You cannot describe the third, free way of making decisions because that would be reductive and thus deterministic/random. But then why should anyone believe you have a model of libertarian free will that is coherent and not simply a just-so claim?

~~ Paul
 
#13
There is no admission here that libertarian free will is real. The author is simply pointing out that point (2) is not necessarily true.


Whoa! Again, the author is arguing against the validity of point (2). That is not an argument in favor of free will.

~~ Paul
Thank you, Paul, I see that in my haste I have misinterpreted the passage in question. I accept your correction.
 
#14
I don't care if you conflate creativity with freedom. What you can't do is simply assume that either of those things involves libertarian free will. You appear to have done so when you said "... and how could such creativity be manifest except through a (creatively) free will?"
Well, do you have any other ideas for where creativity and freedom might originate? Or in what they might consist?

Ah yes, this is a standard gambit: You cannot describe the third, free way of making decisions because that would be reductive and thus deterministic/random. But then why should anyone believe you have a model of libertarian free will that is coherent and not simply a just-so claim?
I would say that it is (most likely - I don't deal in certainties at this level) so because nothing else makes sense, as I tried to argue. Libertarian free will seems to be the only man left standing. In any case, here's a "glimpse" at a process: (pseudo)determinism imposes a structure within which free will can choose between random events. The manner in which that choice occurs is non-reductive, nevertheless the choice when viewed from the present is "deterministic" i.e. causal, even if unpredictable when viewed from the past.
 
#15
@Typoz, thanks, I see where you're coming from. Basically (from what I can tell) you accept the reality of free will in the first place, which leaves you free to focus on the practical, no? I think the key word in all that you said is this: "effort". In a sense, this is a synonym for "will". And in the context of habit, it offers, especially when combined with creativity, a way out. Does that seem fair?
That's almost a fair summary. But there is a very important matter which I should explain.

One may regard the existence of free will as being my hypothesis, rather than something which I accepted from the start. The rest is simply an experimental verification of the hypothesis, not in a laboratory, but in life. I'm very much of the opinion that the things we discuss here are not abstract theories which matter to no-one, but real down-to-earth practicalities which affect the way we live.

The word "effort" I used mainly to emphasise that like anything in life, such a playing a musical instrument, or carrying out the activities by which one earns a living, with practice one gets better at it.

Creativity I think is a little different. It is certainly relevant, but I'm not sure of its role here. Sometimes the most creative acts can seem almost effortless and free-flowing, rather than requiring a continuous act of will.
 
#16
Thank you, Paul, I see that in my haste I have misinterpreted the passage in question. I accept your correction.
In my defence, I suspect that I am not the only one who would have made such an awfully bombastic mistake after a six pack of cider and a bottle of wine (but maybe I'm kidding myself). (It was a toss up whether it was worse to leave the mistake unexplained and look like a fool or admit to such excess (and potentially look like a fool anyway). I have no idea whether I've made the right choice. I go through periods of sobriety and then periods of excess, I'd prefer to be sober but... the temptations of the flesh...).

That's almost a fair summary. But there is a very important matter which I should explain.

One may regard the existence of free will as being my hypothesis, rather than something which I accepted from the start. The rest is simply an experimental verification of the hypothesis, not in a laboratory, but in life. I'm very much of the opinion that the things we discuss here are not abstract theories which matter to no-one, but real down-to-earth practicalities which affect the way we live.

The word "effort" I used mainly to emphasise that like anything in life, such a playing a musical instrument, or carrying out the activities by which one earns a living, with practice one gets better at it.

Creativity I think is a little different. It is certainly relevant, but I'm not sure of its role here. Sometimes the most creative acts can seem almost effortless and free-flowing, rather than requiring a continuous act of will.
Nice one. I'm just curious: what evidence would you have accepted that you did not have free will? i.e. what would have contradicted your hypothesis?

Perhaps effort and creativity have a complex relationship? You start out totally uncreative. You make an effort, practice hard, and you become good at "fitting into preconceived patterns". Then, somehow, the "fitting into preconceived patterns" makes you good at breaking out of them. Of course, other things can do that too, like meditation or (God forbid) drugs. But it seems that again it comes back to this relationship between structure (preconceived patterns) and creativity/randomness (breaking out of them). Or maybe I'm just in that inebriated loop where I repeat the same idea.
 
#17
Nice one. I'm just curious: what evidence would you have accepted that you did not have free will? i.e. what would have contradicted your hypothesis?
Well, if one asks about evidence, one is perhaps asking for measurements. I have none. As I said, I'm talking about life rather than a laboratory. From my point of view it can be verified at any moment, this is a continuous ongoing experiment, the data keeps flowing but I don't write it down, I simply observe. If every time I perform the observation I get the same result it doesn't matter that I didn't record it. Perhaps this sounds too vague? Maybe I've been carrying out the experiment for so long that I take it for granted that others will understand. Right now I'll simply say briefly that I'm talking about the inner mental state, and how it responds to my choices.

I realise that sounds very vague. My point is simply this: everyone can carry out observations of their own inner state. There's no need to listen to me.

Perhaps effort and creativity have a complex relationship? You start out totally uncreative. You make an effort, practice hard, and you become good at "fitting into preconceived patterns". Then, somehow, the "fitting into preconceived patterns" makes you good at breaking out of them. Of course, other things can do that too, like meditation or (God forbid) drugs. But it seems that again it comes back to this relationship between structure (preconceived patterns) and creativity/randomness (breaking out of them). Or maybe I'm just in that inebriated loop where I repeat the same idea.
I'll venture a thought here - not one for which I've any particular evidence, it is just an idea. Perhaps the nature of existence is itself creative.
 
#18
Well, if one asks about evidence, one is perhaps asking for measurements. I have none. As I said, I'm talking about life rather than a laboratory. From my point of view it can be verified at any moment, this is a continuous ongoing experiment, the data keeps flowing but I don't write it down, I simply observe. If every time I perform the observation I get the same result it doesn't matter that I didn't record it. Perhaps this sounds too vague? Maybe I've been carrying out the experiment for so long that I take it for granted that others will understand. Right now I'll simply say briefly that I'm talking about the inner mental state, and how it responds to my choices.

I realise that sounds very vague. My point is simply this: everyone can carry out observations of their own inner state. There's no need to listen to me.
I understand what you're saying, and I wouldn't expect the hypothesis to be falsified anyway because I don't believe it is false. Just curious in a hypothetical sense if any type of experience would have led you to conclude, "Well, dang. I thought I had free will but it seems I don't" (admitting the apparent absurdity that coming to a conclusion like that is pretty much an act of free will anyway, although saying as much to a hard determinist would start an argument).

I'll venture a thought here - not one for which I've any particular evidence, it is just an idea. Perhaps the nature of existence is itself creative.
I like it. And, to me, that means free willing too. I know that Paul challenges me on this, but really, how can anything be creative without at the same time being wilful?
 
#19
Just curious in a hypothetical sense if any type of experience would have led you to conclude, "Well, dang. I thought I had free will but it seems I don't" (admitting the apparent absurdity that coming to a conclusion like that is pretty much an act of free will anyway, although saying as much to a hard determinist would start an argument).
As I said, it's an ongoing experiment. If it was contradicted by the results always, I'd take it as false. If it was contradicted on some rare occasion - that would not be conclusive, it would require further data.

In a sense it is like any other phenomenon in science. We put forward a hypothesis, and test it. No matter how many times the results are positive, can we ever say that something is proved? We could try again tomorrow and find it false. I don't see any particular difference between my views on free will and those of other scientific matters. At least that's in the practical sense. One can bring to bear arguments from other fields of knowledge, but then we are talking about a complete all-encompassing world view, something which I don't claim to possess.
 
#20
As I said, it's an ongoing experiment. If it was contradicted by the results always, I'd take it as false. If it was contradicted on some rare occasion - that would not be conclusive, it would require further data.

In a sense it is like any other phenomenon in science. We put forward a hypothesis, and test it. No matter how many times the results are positive, can we ever say that something is proved? We could try again tomorrow and find it false. I don't see any particular difference between my views on free will and those of other scientific matters. At least that's in the practical sense. One can bring to bear arguments from other fields of knowledge, but then we are talking about a complete all-encompassing world view, something which I don't claim to possess.
Fair enough. I suppose it's a matter of degree too. If you woke up tomorrow and decided that you'd really like to fly upon the back of a dragon, and - presto - the winged creature appeared and beckoned you to climb aboard, then you might have somewhat more faith in your hypothesis. And then if you could barely even think and couldn't even get out of bed, your faith in your hypothesis might to flag a little.

Perhaps then again though it's more a matter of one-time validation. If even once you experience free will, then that proves that it exists. A hard determinist though would counter that we can be fooled. (To which I would counter: by whom? And does that entity itself have free will?)
 
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