On Galen Strawson’s Basic Argument

woodchuck64 recently said that “Logic easily disposes of libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility via something like Galen Strawson’s basic argument.” I replied that I felt this was false, and asked for elaboration, which he supplied by linking to this PDF.

The Pessimist’s argument woodchuck64 cited seems the same as Strawson’s basic argument outlined here:

The Basic Argument has various expressions in the literature of free will, and its central idea can be quickly conveyed. (1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself. (2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects. (3) Therefore nothing can be truly morally responsible.

I agree with woodchuck64 that most who reject this argument do so out of aghast reaction to it’s ramifications as opposed to sound refutation of one or more premises. While I won’t go that route, I can’t help but ponder these ramifications. Hitler’s actions become equivalent to the Japanese tsunami in Strawsonian morality: ultimately blameless events necessitated by prior causal interactions. More revoltingly, if true, Strawson seems to have successfully proven the illusion of rationality. Perhaps most revoltingly of all, if true, Strawson has proven that the very foundation of law-abiding civilization is an illusion. What does this mean for legislation founded on illusion? Interesting thoughts, but let’s cut to the chase.

I’ll go ahead and agree with P1, that nothing is causa sui. After all, this echoes basic Aristotle, which I support when endorsing the argument from kinesis. However, I deny P2, that one must be causa sui for ultimate responsibility to hold. Why must I cause myself to be ultimately responsible for my actions? I submit that one only need be the cause of one’s individual actions, not the cause of oneself, in order for ultimate responsibility to hold. As an interesting aside, those who accept P2 can no longer criticize the God of the Bible as an immoral monster, because the God of the Bible is not causa sui.

The problem, as I see it, is the claim that one is the cause of one’s individual actions seems ultimately unfalsifiable. How might we demonstrate that an individual could not have done otherwise in any given scenario? It’s not like we can rewind time to test the hypothesis and replicate our results.

Therefore, the claim that “logic easily disposes of libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility” strikes me as premature. Unless I’m missing something, it seems we have to suspend judgment.

115 Comments

  1. dguller says:

    I agree with cl. This argument does not work.

    With regards to P1, although it is true that nothing can cause itself, something can be the cause of its actions, which is all that is needed. For example, all biological organisms cause their own behavior via intrinsic mechanisms. Maybe that is all that is needed for free will and morality?

    With regards to P2, it assumes that for moral responsibility to be possible that my choices must be occur for no reason and without antecedent cause at all. Is this really what we want morality to be? Acting completely randomly without any reflection or thought? That is the behavior of a madman, and not a moral agent. I would say that for moral responsibility to be possible, my choices must be caused by my own deliberative processes and capacity for volition. And that is certainly possible within a deterministic universe, and does not require any spooky sui genesis capacity that would actually undermine morality.

  2. Rufus says:

    The argument is certainly valid, but one person’s modus tollens is another’s modus ponens.

    1. If x is morally responsible, then x is causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental aspects.
    2. I am morally responsible for my actions.
    3. Therefore, I am causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental aspects.

    I think the question turns on what is meant by “causa sui.” Strawson is ostensibly relying on Nietzsche’s conception and critique of “causa sui” as in incoherent concept. The idea seems to be that whatever is “causa sui” is the ultimate cause of itself in the sense of efficient causation. But “cause” has a variety of senses. We might consider the other three senses Aristotle lists: formal, material, and final.

    Aquinas’ second way hinges on the “efficient” sense by which something cannot be self-caused: “In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible” (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1002.htm).

    However, that God is His own sufficient formal cause is not so clearly incoherent. Classical theists understand this to simply mean that God’s existence and essence are identical.

    Could human free-will be something akin to formal self-causation (as, perhaps, the existentialism conceive of it). Or perhaps we are self-caused with regard to setting our ends and purposes.

    In a reductionist picture, final cause is reduced out to efficient causes and so it would not seem possible, but if formal causation is it’s own unique category I think it might be plausible to say that humans are free to set to their own purposes and that it is in this regard that they are morally responsible. Perhaps it is in this regard that humans have something unique to contribute to the causal nexus. Though we might all be determined to seek happiness, we are not ultimately determined with regard to which projects we select to fulfill that aim.

    Here is how I might imagine it: humans are efficiently and materially caused extrinsically, whereas formal and final cause are more intrinsic forms of causation. The formal cause is most likely not self-caused (I’d reject existentialism ultimately). However, it determines us such that we have a unique individuated feature, i.e. the ability to determine one’s own purposes in light of insufficient knowledge. This is why we are prone to both intellectual and moral error and why those errors are ultimately our own faults.

    This is just a musing and I am far from certain that it would push a wedge into this debate.

    Of course, if we reject Aristotle’s concepts of causation, this whole musing proves futile. But then, can we be confident that the only causes are extrinsic?

    Best,

    “Rufus”

  3. cl says:

    Strawson says his argument works given indeterminism or determinism but this is not yet fully clear to me. I only see that it works with traditional materialist reductivism, meaning that all material movement is predestined according to prior movement, and ultimately, chance [i.e. non-teleological] universal starting conditions. Under such a belief, it seems one is logically required to accept Strawson’s argument. However, given indertiminism and/or free will, I’m unsure.

    dguller,

    Do you think Strawson’s argument works given indeterminism and/or free will?

    Rufus,

    Thank you for another helpful contribution. Same question: Do you think Strawson’s argument works given indeterminism and/or free will?

    …can we be confident that the only causes are extrinsic?

    I believe the answer must be an unequivocal “no,” because at the quantum level it seems there is nothing extrinsic to matter to be a material cause. If we accept a basic understanding of QM as the observation that all material movement proceeds from an apparent nothing, it seems one must be committed to at least A) that the field or substrate appearing to inform material movement is not material itself, i.e. of a fundamentally immaterial nature; and, B) ultimate causality cannot be extrinsic per A.

  4. woodchuck64 says:

    cl, thanks for taking the time. My original comment was a tad hyperbolic in that I was trying to see if TaiChi (a very sharp non-theist philosopher-type) would disagree (which he did… slightly). I would more cautiously express my feelings about Strawson’s argument this way: I think his basic argument uses simple premises to cast serious doubt on libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility.

    However, I deny P2, that one must be causa sui for ultimate responsibility to hold. Why must I cause myself to be ultimately responsible for my actions? I submit that one only need be the cause of one’s individual actions, not the cause of oneself, in order for ultimate responsibility to hold.

    But one’s individual actions come from who one is. If one can’t change who one is (can’t be causa sui), one will always take individual actions that are consistent with who one is. If we blame one’s individual actions, we are by extension blaming who one is. If we blame who one is, that seems to imply that we think one must be causa sui or why would we bother blaming?

    For example, if God made me a sinner, it seems unfair of him to send me to hell for sinning. Or, if nature and genetics made Hitler who he is– a biological force of destruction like a tsunami or hurricane– it seems unfair of us to hold him ultimately responsible for the Holocaust (but note that lack of ultimate responsibility in no way prevents us from executing Hitlers if that is the best means to avoid mass murder; we can, in my view, create moral systems that don’t require ultimate moral responsibility).

    The problem, as I see it, is the claim that one is the cause of one’s individual actions seems ultimately unfalsifiable.

    I would call it true by definition of self/person/being. A self acts according to what it is. A self does not act according to what it is not. Maybe there is a better definition of self/person/being that escapes the dilemma here?

  5. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Do you think Strawson’s argument works given indeterminism and/or free will?

    If his premises are correct — but we both agree that P2 is problematic — then yes, because indeterminism presupposes the truth of P1. I mean, that is what indeterminism is supposed to be all about, i.e. something happening without a deterministic antecedent causal sequence, which is the definition of sui genesis.

    An additional point is that if indeterminism really means that choices are fundamentally uncaused, then that also undermines free will, because if our personality, beliefs, desires, and reasoning cannot affect our free will, then how can we be responsible for our choices? Free will becomes some wild, random phenomenon that operates in and of itself without any concern for us, which just seems bizarre.

    >> If we accept a basic understanding of QM as the observation that all material movement proceeds from an apparent nothing, it seems one must be committed to at least A) that the field or substrate appearing to inform material movement is not material itself, i.e. of a fundamentally immaterial nature; and, B) ultimate causality cannot be extrinsic per A.

    With respect to (A), why do you think that the underlying vacuum state from which virtual particles emerge and disappear is immaterial? It is certainly something physical in the sense of being governed by the physical laws of quantum mechanics. They are certainly real phenomena that exert a physical effect in the form of the generation of subatomic particles from which all material substances are formed.

    With respect to (B), you are correct that at some point, there are some entities that just exist, and that the rest of the phenomenal universe is derived from that fundamental substrate. I would not say, however, that that substrate is self-caused or sui genesis. I would say that I have no idea how it sustains its existence, but only that it does, in fact, exist as the ground from which the universe in all its complexity emerges.

  6. woodchuck64 says:

    dguller,

    This argument does not work.

    Strawson’s argument is only against libertarian (contra-causal) free will and ultimate moral responsibility (of the kind requiring uncaused, undetermined, totally free choices), which are quite different from the free will and moral responsibility you hold to based on your comments. Strawson’s argument is not aimed at your (actually our) kind of free will (compatibilism), which I believe leads to a moral responsibility based on pragmatic social necessity.

  7. Rufus says:

    cl,

    Think you are correct, though I always get a little anxious when QM is brought into the discussion. If all causes are extrinsic, then we are opened to the infinite regress problem. An intrinsic cause is a buck stopper. If free-will is possible at all, I think it must be a buck stopper in the same sense.

    An argument can be bad for three reasons: 1) the premises of the argument contain terms that are poorly defined, 2) at least one premise is false, or 3) the argument is invalid.

    As I noted previously, Strawson’s argument fails at least on my first criterion. I think this is made apparent by his conflation of indeterminism with free-will by which he sets up a false dichotomy. We often speak of a free person as “autonomous” or self-determining. It seems to me that since Strawson has assumed that there is not intrinsic causality and since he rightly rejects extrinsic “causa sui”, he is forced into the position of pitting pure extrinsic causation against the thesis that there are occasions of extrinsic indeterminacy. But this latter alternative is really randomness, which is far from freedom. So in a sense, I would agree that indeterminism solves nothing with regard to moral responsibility. But I would reject that as a notion of freedom. If freedom is anything, it is self-determination, but not of some metaphysically impossible boot-strapping variety. It is a self-determination that takes into account both what we are given and what we lack. We arrive on the scene with our material bodies, genes, and environment. But, our form is both finite and intentional. It is how we act in the face of our finitude that constitutes our freedom. We can choose to assent to a belief with insufficient justification and risk falling into error. We may act as though money is the most important value in the world, before having worked out what our real aims ought to be. We could even decide that helping the poor is our purpose, but not take the time to sufficiently work out how to do that. In each case, I think blame stops at the person who acted out of error. The heart of both intellectual and moral virtues is the wisdom to know when to act. We’ll never have all the information needed, but it takes a certain virtue to know when you have enough. I suspect my point here relate to problems with justified true belief — that it is ultimately an issue of virtue. Reductive materialists will say that this “wisdom” is a brain state that can be explained by extrinsic causes. However, I think this wisdom is a sign of an individuated-self that is morally and intellectually responsible. It is a self that stands apart from the cloud of atoms. I don’t trust a “wisdom” that reduces to extrinsic causes. There is nothing compelling to an intellectual argument made by a person admitting that their argument has emerged from within a large causal nexus which is itself without intention or intelligence. Nor do I think I can argue with a cloud — be it a random or extrinsically determined cloud.

    I don’t know if what I said here is at all right, but I’m procrastinating my own work, so I’ll leave it at that.

    -Rufus

  8. woodchuck64 says:

    Rufus,

    However, that God is His own sufficient formal cause is not so clearly incoherent. Classical theists understand this to simply mean that God’s existence and essence are identical.

    Could human free-will be something akin to formal self-causation (as, perhaps, the existentialism conceive of it). Or perhaps we are self-caused with regard to setting our ends and purposes

    I’m quite weak in this area, but I get the impression that Thomism (as discussed at Ed Feser’s Blog) supports God as self-sufficient efficient cause only because there must be one first cause. That would not seem to help human free-will (unless we are a part of God?). Is there some way I could wrap my head around formal self-causation?

  9. Rufus says:

    woodchuck64,

    If Feser says that Aquinas holds that God is His own efficient cause, then either I have misunderstood Aquinas, or he is wrong. I have never heard it put that way by any other “Thomistic” philosopher or philosophers of religion, so I’d be cautious to accept this interpretation.

    I am not sure if I can help with the formal self-causation point — it certainly is perplexing. The form, i.e. “what it is to be God” is traditionally thought to contain “that God is.” In other words, for God, “is” is always used both existentially and in terms of identity. This would make Russell recoil in horror, I’m sure. Russell, building off of Frege and ultimately Kant, wants to disambiguate the term “is.” But this disambiguation is based upon a posteriori concerns and so there is a real question as to whether God would be an exception to the rule. But this kind of conversation is way past my pay grade.

    -Rufus

  10. woodchuck64 says:

    Rufus,

    If Feser says that Aquinas holds that God is His own efficient cause, then either I have misunderstood Aquinas, or he is wrong

    Sorry, that should be self-sufficient efficient uncaused cause; mea culpa, I’m confusing uncaused with self-caused.

  11. woodchuck64 says:

    Rufus,

    If freedom is anything, it is self-determination, but not of some metaphysically impossible boot-strapping variety. It is a self-determination that takes into account both what we are given and what we lack. We arrive on the scene with our material bodies, genes, and environment. But, our form is both finite and intentional. It is how we act in the face of our finitude that constitutes our freedom.

    Very much agreed. Whether I can agree and still be consistent with my reductive materialist beliefs remains to be seen.

    What is intriguing, even spiritually intriguing, though, about a reductive view of free will is that it seems to force me to accept a more intimate connection with all other beings, all mass and energy. My volition might be an illusion if I just look inside my head, but if I look around me, to the constant ebb and flow of the constraints of my natural environment in the past present and future, to other beings and the deeply influential information packets they send out by voice and text over my lifespan, to the coding of my DNA which affects my behavior in every situation, each nucleotide placed in a particular way by eons of evolutionary cause and effect, I see the real will that shapes my every thought and action, and I wonder if I’m actually “all of that” in some way, not just the “me” I test with nerve endings.

  12. Garren says:

    “I submit that one only need be the cause of one’s individual actions, not the cause of oneself, in order for ultimate responsibility to hold.”

    Sure, if we amend that to ‘one only need to be the _ultimate_ cause of one’s individual actions.’ If outside forces determine an individual’s actions, then that individual is not the ultimate cause of such actions.

    On a side note, beware of any arguments that use the words ‘truly’ or ‘really.’ It’s a sign of quietly stipulated rather than commonly understood definitions.

  13. cl says:

    I’ve got a few things to add to this thread, but first, I was wondering if anybody can explain how Strawson’s argument works given free will and/or indeterminism? He says his argument works either way, yet, it seems to me the presumption of determinism is necessary.

  14. Rufus says:

    cl,

    Maybe I am not clear on what you mean by Strawson’s argument. Do you mean:

    (1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself.
    (2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects.
    (3) Therefore nothing can be truly morally responsible.

    If this is the argument, then of course this would be so, but that is a rather uninteresting point.

    If free will is causa sui, then P1 would be false given free will. But, Strawson isn’t saying that, since he takes P1 to be true. So it seems that Strawson is saying that if freedom or indeterminacy is true, causa sui would still be false. Since there is nothing that is causa sui, and the argument depends upon that fact, any other variety of freedom/indeterminism is irrelevant to the argument. So in a sense you are correct, he is presuming some sort of determinism in P1.

    Did I miss the point of your question?

    Rufus

  15. Garren says:

    cl,

    The relevant part of Strawson’s paper for assuming free will is, “Why does the dear old agent-self decide as it does? The general answer is clear. Whatever it decides, it decides as it does because of the overall way it is, and this necessary truth returns us to where we started [….].”

    It’s an argument against the conceptual possibility of free will. I used to think it was an empirical question, but now I suspect free will is an incoherent notion.

    By the way, I’m now in that ‘strange minority’ who answers No and Yes. (Brewing an explanatory post on that one.)

  16. tmp says:

    cl,

    Indeterminism seems easy: if you a suffering from libertarian free will(you make choices that are not caused by who you are), it’s unfair to hold you responsible for them. (It is, however, entirely reasonable to lock you up in a nice asylum until you have been cured and are competent to rejoin society.)

    In deterministic case, the one ultimately responsible is whatever it is that is responsible for existence of universe.

    The problem is, I believe, that neither “libertarian free will” or “ultimate moral responsibility” exist or even make any sense.

  17. tmp says:

    cl,

    I’ll try to put it better:

    If indeterminism is true, then ANY moral responsibility is not possible, because your actions are not determined by who you are.

    If determinism is true, then ULTIMATE moral responsibility is not possible, because who you are is ultimately determined by things outside of you.

  18. Ana says:

    I likewise reject P2. But I wondered whether a motivation for P2 is the fact that humans did not choose to exist. But yet a human is accountable for the actions he does during his existence that he did not choose to have.

    I tend to frustrate myself when I think about free will. Free will appeals to my intuition because I make choices in my daily life (moral and otherwise), and intuitively that seems as though that’s all that’s needed to establish free will: ability to personally make choices.

    But upon reflection, I think there has to be something more fundamental than the ability to make choices because theoretically, I could have been programmed to make the choices I’ve made, so the statement ” I have the ability to personally make choices” would still hold true.

    Free will… well what is our will free from?

    I’m tempted to think that only God has the fullness of free will, not us, what we have is, um, “local” free will, if that makes any sense at all.

    As a comparison, I think about humanity’s catalog of knowledge. Quite amazing. But, we’re not omniscient.

  19. dguller says:

    tmp:

    Exactly.

  20. dguller says:

    tmp:

    I would just add that ultimate free will is a fantasy that is unnecessary, and should be done away with.

  21. jim says:

    Here’s a good Strawson piece on free will Apologies if it’s already been offered in the thread. It’s always been one of my favorites.

  22. Garren says:

    Well, jim, no one can accuse you of being off topic.

  23. cl says:

    I’m not sure if I want to respond in detail here, or answer some of these questions in another post. For now, I’ll take these:

    tmp,

    If indeterminism is true, then ANY moral responsibility is not possible, because your actions are not determined by who you are.

    What if one causes their own actions?

    jim,

    That was the PDF cited in the OP, so, we’re on the same page.

    dguller,

    With regards to P2, it assumes that for moral responsibility to be possible that my choices must be occur for no reason and without antecedent cause at all. Is this really what we want morality to be?

    Is it scientific to frame the question in terms of what we want?

    I would say that for moral responsibility to be possible, my choices must be caused by my own deliberative processes and capacity for volition.

    I tend to agree, but:

    …that is certainly possible within a deterministic universe, and does not require any spooky sui genesis capacity that would actually undermine morality.

    How so? How does “spooky sui genesis” undermine morality?

    Lastly:

    I would just add that ultimate free will is a fantasy that is unnecessary, and should be done away with.

    Why? Because you say so? Elsewhere, when it behooves you, you admonish me to rely on RCT’s as top-dollar when it comes to knowledge. Are your comments the results of RCT’s? If not, what evidence can you give to support them? If none, shouldn’t I evaluate your claims with a “very low” probability of being true?

    It boggles my mind that this type of “reasoning” doesn’t strike you as the least bit inconsistent. When I say something you disagree with, I need RCT’s. Yet, when you want to dispense with free will, or claim that disembodied minds are “science fiction and fantasy,” pure assertion will suffice. Don’t you see any sort of problem there? You seem to hold yourself to a completely different set of standards. I’m not trying to put you on the spot, I’m just wondering how I might best go about debating under such conditions.

  24. jim says:

    Ah, sorry for the redundancy, then. I was just sort of skimming, saw Strawson’s name, and immediately thought to fetch the article. It’s one I’ve referred to a lot over the years.

  25. jim says:

    If anyone’s interested, there’s a lot on free will over at naturalism.org…just in case that hasn’t been linked to, as well. LOLOL!

    http://www.naturalism.org/freewill.htm

  26. cl says:

    That hasn’t been linked to in this thread, or this OP, but that is in fact what started my foray into Strawson’s philosophy. There are heaps of informative articles in that link, so, I’m glad you mention it.

    I feel like I’m currently in a stalemate with myself on the topic of ultimate moral responsibility. As I hinted at in the OP, I don’t think this discussion can ever be resolved. No matter which way we cut it, a presumption seems necessary. It’s like, “Strawson’s argument is true if determinism is true, but false if determinism is false.” Well, that’s a problem. We can’t decide “what’s true” about morality until we know what’s true about existence. The answer to the former question depends on the answer to the latter. Is determinism falsifiable? I’ll have to read this again.

    I’m still not sure how I feel about this. In a way, it’s like a huge weight removed, as I’m now leaning towards the position that ultimate moral responsibility is a futile discussion [outside the normative question, that is]. At the end of the day we’re all forced to sleep with the enemy.

  27. cl says:

    Ana,

    …upon reflection, I think there has to be something more fundamental than the ability to make choices because theoretically, I could have been programmed to make the choices I’ve made, so the statement ” I have the ability to personally make choices” would still hold true.

    Would it? Envision two scenarios:

    1) we were programmed to make the choices we made;

    2) we were programmed to make choices.

    To me, 1 seems incompatible with free will, 2, not as much so. Your thoughts?

  28. tmp says:

    cl,

    “What if one causes their own actions?”

    You mean like something that has created itself and is its own first cause? If you make something that causes its own actions, you are still ultimately responsible for whatever it is that you made does, because you made it that way. And if you are made to make poor choices, you cannot help what you are. And if you pop into existence randomly, then nobody is ultimately responsible. Key word here is ultimate; garden variety moral responsibility is easier.

    You make choices according to your nature, and your nature comes from somewhere(is caused by something). Indeterminism seems to imply that your nature does not affect your choices, but even insanity(you take actions that are not determined by anything) has been caused by something.

  29. dguller says:

    Cl:

    Still on vacation. Responses will be brief.

    >>Is it scientific to frame the question in terms of what we want?

    I was speaking loosely. My point was that do you really think a free will that is akin to a madman’s behavior and without the capacity to result in any personal responsibility at all is something worth having?

    >> How so? How does “spooky sui genesis” undermine morality?

    Because if something happens without ANY antecedent causes or reasons, which is what “sui genesis” is, then it would be a random event. You might as well blame me for the outcome of a roll of the dice. Does that make sense?

    >> Why? Because you say so? Elsewhere, when it behooves you, you admonish me to rely on RCT’s as top-dollar when it comes to knowledge. Are your comments the results of RCT’s? If not, what evidence can you give to support them? If none, shouldn’t I evaluate your claims with a “very low” probability of being true?

    No, they are not. RCT’s are the best evidence in terms of deciding whether a causal pattern holds in the real world, but they are often unperformed, unethical, impractical, unnecessary or just impossible, and so we have to rely upon other kinds of evidence. I mean, we do not have to do an RCT to figure out if 2 + 2 = 4, for example. We also do not have to do an RCT to see if a parachute will save someone falling out of a plane, because it is essentially an all-or-nothing phenomenon without much interpretation involved or chance for biases to distort results. We can discuss the mechanics of scientific evidence further after my trip.

    And my evidence for the absurdity of ultimate moral responsibility in the sense of requiring a choice to occur in a total vacuum outside the nexus of reasons and causes is that our personality, values, beliefs, and so on are themselves a nexus of reasons and causes that is wedged within the wider world of reasons and causes outside of us. A choice would have to be detached from everything that makes us who we are, and so how can I be responsible for a choice that had nothing to do with ME? Oh, and an RCT would be completely irrelevant to this, because this is not an empirical claim at all, but a philosophical one. I am saying that it does not MAKE SENSE conceptually to have ultimate moral responsibility. I am NOT saying that ultimate moral responsibility makes sense, but does not exist in the empirical world.

  30. Ronin says:

    This is an interesting topic, for sure. I would like to just mention the following:

    The will has also recently become a target of empirical study in neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Benjamin Libet (2002) conducted experiments designed to determine the timing of conscious willings or decisions to act in relation to brain activity associated with the physical initiation of behavior. Interpretation of the results is highly controversial. Libet himself concludes that the studies provide strong evidence that actions are already underway shortly before the agent wills to do it. As a result, we do not consciously initiate our actions, though he suggests that we might nonetheless retain the ability to veto actions that are initiated by unconscious psychological structures.

    Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

    If we indeed retain any ability to “veto” these actions that seem predisposed prior to us willing them, then, we at least have some sort of deciding factor in the matter.

  31. tmp says:

    cl,

    I try to formulate this better, again. Perhaps I should start keeping drafts for a while to avoid posting twice. Oh well.

    Ultimate moral responsibility has the same problem as ultimate anything: infinite regression.

    One certainly is the cause of one’s actions, but something(s) has caused one to be as one is in the first place(and is thus ultimately responsible).

    Indeterminism is silly, because it undermines the point of, for example, raising your children: if how you raise your children does not (at least partially) determine how they will act as adults, then what’s the point? Also, it would mean, that there can be no mitigating circumstances for moral judgement: insanity or external coercion are not a factor, because they do not affect how one acts. Nor would past behavior be indicator of future behavior: there would be no reason, for example, to disallow convicted child molesters from working with children, because the fact that they are pedophiles with proven poor impulse control does not determine their actions.

  32. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    In a way, it’s like a huge weight removed, as I’m now leaning towards the position that ultimate moral responsibility is a futile discussion [outside the normative question, that is

    When I first realized the incoherence of ultimate responsibility, it was also a huge weight removed: the realization that if a rational God existed, he would not blame me or reward me for anything at all since the ultimate blame or reward for my actions must be his. God as Ultimate Judge, deeply concerned with the sin and obedience of his creatures and ready to dole out eternal pain or pleasure in response, was a relief to put behind me.

    (But I should add that the Universalists may yet demonstrate a persuasive version of Christianity without God as Judge, so I’m keeping an eye out.)

    Now, my moral responsibility comes directly from the realization that I care about other people and that my actions affect other people. I can’t hide behind excuses like “genes made me do it”, “my upbringing made me do it”, because I am my genes and I am my upbringing. The rational thing to do is take responsibility for my actions and become a better, happier person for it.

  33. cl says:

    Rufus,

    Sorry to leave you hanging. I want to reread all your comments in this thread before I continue our line of discussion.

    tmp,

    If you make something that causes its own actions, you are still ultimately responsible for whatever it is that you made does, because you made it that way.

    It seems to me that true free will is simply not an option for you, and that’s not a position I can argue you out of.

    Indeterminism seems to imply that your nature does not affect your choices…

    By indeterminism, all I mean is that one could have chosen otherwise in any given instance.

    One certainly is the cause of one’s actions, but something(s) has caused one to be as one is in the first place(and is thus ultimately responsible).

    Well sure, if you want to simply assume the “something” is not their own actions, but what if one’s own actions are the cause of how one is?

    Indeterminism is silly…

    I hate to break it to you, but every indication from physics is that indeterminism is reality.

    …if how you raise your children does not (at least partially) determine how they will act as adults, then what’s the point?

    Again, it seems we’re holding different definitions of indeterminism. You seem to be endorsing a variety similar to dguller’s.

    dguller,

    My point was that do you really think a free will that is akin to a madman’s behavior and without the capacity to result in any personal responsibility at all is something worth having?

    Whether or not we think it’s worth having is a moot point, one that only distracts from the conversation. I’m trying to get to the truth here.

    …if something happens without ANY antecedent causes or reasons, which is what “sui genesis” is, then it would be a random event. You might as well blame me for the outcome of a roll of the dice. Does that make sense?

    No, it doesn’t. It seems to me that nothing can happen [e.g., transition from potency to act] without antecedent. Even if I have free will, my decision to respond to your comment requires antecedent. However, if Strawson’s premises are correct, then we are in fact praising and blaming everybody for rolls of the dice. If that’s all you meant to point out, then, yeah, I understand that.

    And my evidence for the absurdity of ultimate moral responsibility in the sense of requiring a choice to occur in a total vacuum outside the nexus of reasons and causes…

    I think this is where we disagree. I don’t define free will thus. One doesn’t need to choose within “a total vacuum outside the nexus of reasons and causes” in order for their choice to be free. One only needs the ability to have chosen otherwise, all else the same.

    Ronin,

    Thanks for the link. Despite having been admonished otherwise by actual neuroscientists, materialists like Luke Muehlhauser have bastardized Libet’s findings to justify bold assertions such as “free will does not exist,” but people should know that other conclusions are possible. In a few days, I’ll be linking to a paper that tackles the Libet question–along with the Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen paradox–in greater detail. Fascinating stuff.

    woodchuck64,

    When I first realized the incoherence of ultimate responsibility,

    I must have missed the memo. Honestly, I’ve not seen anything that would support this conclusion. It seems to me that this conclusion can only be supported by begging the question. Same with the converse.

    The rational thing to do is take responsibility for my actions and become a better, happier person for it.

    Of course, a person who believes in ultimate moral responsibility could do the same, right?

  34. tmp says:

    cl,

    We seem to be speaking a bit past each other, but…

    “It seems to me that true free will is simply not an option for you, and that’s not a position I can argue you out of.”

    True free will, for me, is the ability make the choice that I would have made according to my own personality. If I would choose differently, then I would not be me(or, some external force was overriding my will). Determinism allows this. Indeteminism allows no will at all(your will cannot determine your choices).

    “Well sure, if you want to simply assume the ‘something’ is not their own actions, but what if one’s own actions are the cause of how one is?”

    So you are seriously arguing, that your upbringing has no effect on your choices? Or the fact that you are human? (You are not ULTIMATELY responsible for your upbringing or even the fact that you are human.)

    “I hate to break it to you, but every indication from physics is that indeterminism is reality.”

    Humm, let’s say there is a kitten: “pet kitten”, “leave kitten alone” and “strangle kitten” are all possible.

    If yor actions are (mostly) deterministic, then if you love kittens the most likely act is to pet the kitten, if you are indifferent, then the most likely act is to leave it alone and if you absolutely hate kittens you are going to strangle it. A little randomness in execution does not make this indeterministic in any meaningful sense, as long as your own personality is the ruling factor in the choice.

    If your actions are (mostly) indeterministic, all choices are (nearly) equally likely. If randomness is the ruling effect on you choices, you are a very dangerous person.

    “Again, it seems we’re holding different definitions of indeterminism. You seem to be endorsing a variety similar to dguller’s.”

    This is probably true. I have seen it explained many times, and it ALWAYS seems like (literal) insanity to me. I must be getting something wrong. But if your actions are mostly determined by your personality and will, then you are for the purpose of this kind of discussion deterministic. If they are not, you are dangerously insane. I just can’t get over that.

    Anyway, I’m a subjectivist so for me “X is morally responsible” equals “I hold X morally responsible” and “is X morally responsible” equals “can I reasonably hold X morally responsible”. The problem with moral responsibility is the same as with objective morality: even if it did exist as a feature of the world and not as a feature of our subjective worldview, it’s near impossible to find in the world and then point it out in an unambiguous way that makes people agree. And it’s really hard to make simple principles that satisfactorily cover all cases(see Desirism;). I agree, that people are morally responsible for their own actions(mitigating circusmtances notwithstanding), but I ultimately think so simply because I think so. So, I don’t claim to know, but some things just seem too silly to be true, or end in really unfortunate results if taken to their logical conclusion.

  35. cl says:

    Rufus,

    If all causes are extrinsic, then we are opened to the infinite regress problem.

    I agree.

    An intrinsic cause is a buck stopper. If free-will is possible at all, I think it must be a buck stopper in the same sense.

    Not sure what you mean there. Do you just mean that if free-will is possible, it’s a brute fact of sorts? If so, I agree.

    It seems to me that since Strawson has assumed that there is not intrinsic causality and since he rightly rejects extrinsic “causa sui”, he is forced into the position of pitting pure extrinsic causation against the thesis that there are occasions of extrinsic indeterminacy.

    Yes, I agree. That’s why I said his argument seems to require the assumption of determinism. Though, he says it works given indeterminism as well, so, I may be reading something wrong.

    We can choose to assent to a belief with insufficient justification and risk falling into error. We may act as though money is the most important value in the world, before having worked out what our real aims ought to be. We could even decide that helping the poor is our purpose, but not take the time to sufficiently work out how to do that. In each case, I think blame stops at the person who acted out of error.

    I agree.

    There is nothing compelling to an intellectual argument made by a person admitting that their argument has emerged from within a large causal nexus which is itself without intention or intelligence. Nor do I think I can argue with a cloud – be it a random or extrinsically determined cloud.

    Well-said. I agree.

    If free will is causa sui, then P1 would be false given free will. But, Strawson isn’t saying that, since he takes P1 to be true. So it seems that Strawson is saying that if freedom or indeterminacy is true, causa sui would still be false. Since there is nothing that is causa sui, and the argument depends upon that fact, any other variety of freedom/indeterminism is irrelevant to the argument. So in a sense you are correct, he is presuming some sort of determinism in P1.

    Did I miss the point of your question?

    No, at least, it doesn’t seem that way. I think it’s just that Strawson’s argument is wholly unpersuasive unless we assume determinism.

    tmp,

    So you are seriously arguing, that your upbringing has no effect on your choices?

    No, that’s not what I’m arguing at all. I’m arguing that:

    1) ultimate moral responsibility cannot be true given determinism [I agree with Strawson in that regard];

    2) ultimate moral responsibility can be true if we are in fact the cause of our actions.

    This is probably true. I have seen it explained many times, and it ALWAYS seems like (literal) insanity to me. I must be getting something wrong.

    Here’s what Strawson says about free will in the article I linked to:

    I mean what nearly everyone means. Almost all human beings believe that they are free to choose what to do in such a way that they can be truly, genuinely responsible for their actions in the strongest possible sense; responsible period; responsible without any qualification; responsible sans phrase, responsible tout court, absolutely, radically, buck-stoppingly responsible; ultimately responsible, in a word – and so ultimately morally responsible when moral matters are at issue. Free will is the thing you have to have if you’re going to be responsible in this all or nothing way. That’s what I mean by free will. That’s what I think we haven’t got and can’t have.

    You wrote:

    The problem with moral responsibility is the same as with objective morality: even if it did exist as a feature of the world and not as a feature of our subjective worldview, it’s near impossible to find in the world and then point it out in an unambiguous way that makes people agree.

    I agree. For me, this testifies to the absolute necessity of God. If I were an atheist, I would be an error theorist when it comes to morality, hands-down, for precisely the reasons you allude to.

  36. cl says:

    Man, what is it with people being so cocksure? I just noticed the following line from Strawson’s paper:

    Tamler In your book you ask us to consider a man who wants to live according to the truth. He wants to consistently deny the existence of free will and DMR. We can imagine that this person will tone down his resentment of others, and maybe he won’t be as consumed in self-indulgent bouts of guilt. But, you argue, in ordinary situations of choice this man may hit a wall. In these situations, we’re unable not to think that we will be truly or absolutely responsible for our choice, whatever we choose. Ok, granted there will be an initial impulse on this man’s part to see himself as deserving of blame (or praise) for a particular action. On the other hand, he knows that this conception of free will is incoherent and impossible. So the question is: is it possible that our natures are flexible enough that-after due reflection-this commitment to free will and DMR can be softened, or even eliminated?

    Strawson I think this question may be the only really interesting question left in the free will debate, because the answers to the rest are really pretty clear by now.

    I think the answers to the other questions are far from clear, and this attitude strikes me as a tad arrogant. This reminds me of Luke Muehlhauser declaring philosophy of religion and mind “settled issues.”

  37. tmp says:

    cl,

    “2) ultimate moral responsibility can be true if we are in fact the cause of our actions.”

    Then you need some kind of metaphysical quality, that stops the normal chain of responsibilty(usually tracks cause and effect), and says that the buck stops here(you can not stop cause and effect, because if you did, then you would be claiming that your upbringing does not affect your actions, or that you are responsible for how you were raised). Free will. Or possibly soul(gained at birth or so, and may have indeterministic initial quality); something that is fundamentally you and is the most important part determining how you act. Indeterminism is really undescriptive and horrible word to describe it, because you absolutely need this (responsible) quality to determine your actions, or you cannot really be held responsible for what you do.

    Also, ultimate responsibility seems to disallow making exceptions for the genuinely insane and the like.

    “Strawson quote”

    Ah. I read that, but there was some time before I posted. Thank you.

    “If I were an atheist, I would be an error theorist when it comes to morality, hands-down, for precisely the reasons you allude to.”

    You say this like it was a bad thing…

  38. cl says:

    You say this like it was a bad thing…

    Not at all. I say that because it’s the logical conclusion of atheism. If there is no God, if there is no morality “outside” of us which we are to be held accountable to, then morality becomes one big game of “I prefer.”

  39. tmp says:

    cl,

    As a side note, this discussion really would need a side discussion of what exactly moral responsibility (or responsibility in general) is…

    Anyway, I agree with Strawson that something is needed, but not necessarily that that something does not exist.

    If you assert that you are the sole cause of your actions (and the sole cause of how you are), then you explicitly deny the effect of any external influences, like your upbringing. This is silly. I agree that you may have an unique quality(that you are solely responsible for) that is the ruling cause of your actions, and this qualifies for responsibility, but not necessarily ultimate responsibility.

    Or, that the whole thing is fully deterministic, and there is something that stops responsibility but not cause and effect. That one is possible too. Or some combination.

    “morality becomes one big game of ‘I prefer.’”

    And again, this is a bad thing exactly how? :)

  40. cl says:

    If you assert that you are the sole cause of your actions (and the sole cause of how you are), then you explicitly deny the effect of any external influences, like your upbringing.

    You keep saying that, but I don’t see the money. Nothing in being the sole cause of one’s actions precludes external influence. That is, I might be influenced by my upbringing, but at the end of the day, I still have the ability to choose.

    I agree that you may have an unique quality(that you are solely responsible for) that is the ruling cause of your actions, and this qualifies for responsibility, but not necessarily ultimate responsibility.

    How do you define ultimate moral responsibility.

    And again, this is a bad thing exactly how?

    Just take a look around. One person thinks it’s okay to cheat the system, and so they do, but in so doing, they cause privation to those who don’t. I certainly don’t want morality to be one big game of “I prefer,” but since it’s not about what I want, if I were an atheist, I’d have no choice. That’s all I meant.

  41. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    Sorry, I missed your point.

    I feel like I’m currently in a stalemate with myself on the topic of ultimate moral responsibility. As I hinted at in the OP, I don’t think this discussion can ever be resolved. No matter which way we cut it, a presumption seems necessary. It’s like, “Strawson’s argument is true if determinism is true, but false if determinism is false.”

    I believe Strawson’s argument works fine for non-determinism, both premises should still be true. (1) That nothing can be causa sui seems true under both determinism and non-determinism. If my ultimate behavior can not be reduced to deterministic particle behavior (say because of quantum indeterminancy), that doesn’t change the fact that I still can’t be causa sui. Causa sui hinges on our concept of self and being, not on determinism or non-determinism from what I can see.

    And (2), in order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects, also seems true regardless of whether determinism is true or non-determinism is true . So I’m not getting why the argument is false if determinism is false.

    Now if someone does reject premise (1), I’d like to know if that reason can be argued logically and/or empirically, or if the rejection is mainly on the basis of our very strong intuitions that we have free will and ultimate moral responsibility.

  42. cl says:

    That nothing can be causa sui seems true under both determinism and non-determinism.

    How so? This seems like pure assertion.

    And (2), in order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects, also seems true regardless of whether determinism is true or non-determinism is true .

    I agree to that.

    So I’m not getting why the argument is false if determinism is false.

    It seems to me that determinism is the only state of affairs which precludes causa sui. One cannot be both causa sui and determined, right?

    Now if someone does reject premise (1), I’d like to know if that reason can be argued logically and/or empirically,

    I’d like for someone to show how P1 is true. Originally, I was thinking of P1 in terms of “causing the existence of one’s self.” Now, I’m thinking of it in a less-strict sense of, “being cause of one’s own actions.” In this latter sense, I think P1 is false.

  43. tmp says:

    cl,

    “You keep saying that, but I don’t see the money. Nothing in being the sole cause of one’s actions precludes external influence. That is, I might be influenced by my upbringing, but at the end of the day, I still have the ability to choose.”

    Uhm, being the sole cause of one’s actions precludes external influence by definition, although I did include being the sole reason for the exact nature of the action taken into being the sole cause, which was not necessarily obvious.

    And you keep saying that your choice is not influenced by your upbringing. Is it even possible that YOU are influenced by your upbringing, but your (moral, not purely professional) CHOICE is not (influenced by who you are, and thus indirectly influenced by your upbringing, which ultimately originates outside of you)? I’m not saying you do not have ability to choose, I’m saying your upbringing and your life have influence on the choice you make. You are (mostly) responsible for the choice you make. There are things outside of you that are at least partially responsible for how you are(and indirectly, also partially responsible for the choices you make). This is really hard to evaluate, so for most practical purposes it makes sense to hold the agent wholly responsible, but there is no real objective reason to say that the buck definitely, ultimately, stops here. This here, is the problem.

    “How do you define ultimate moral responsibility.”

    I don’t. I don’t believe it exists, and I have a hard time conceptualizing it, but for any single act it would probably be when you honestly cannot point single external influence that affected that choice. Which is likely impossible. Also, I think to be really ultimate, you’d need to be responsible for bringing yourself into existence.

  44. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> I think this is where we disagree. I don’t define free will thus. One doesn’t need to choose within “a total vacuum outside the nexus of reasons and causes” in order for their choice to be free. One only needs the ability to have chosen otherwise, all else the same.

    Well, since there is no way of ever knowing whether one could have or would have chosen otherwise, this is a useless definition, no? The only relevant sense that I can make of this is that if I ever find myself in a similar situation, then I can learn from past mistakes, and choose a different course of action. This is certainly possible in a deterministic universe.

  45. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    I’d like for someone to show how P1 is true. Originally, I was thinking of P1 in terms of “causing the existence of one’s self.” Now, I’m thinking of it in a less-strict sense of, “being cause of one’s own actions.” In this latter sense, I think P1 is false.

    Causa sui is defined to mean that one is the ultimate cause or origin of at least some crucial part of one’s mental nature (for the purposes of moral responsibility). That seems obviously true. Yes, we can cause our own actions, but we do that because of prior existing desires and beliefs. True, we can sometimes cause our desires and beliefs, but, again, only if we have certain prior existing desires and beliefs. This regress must start somewhere, and it can’t logically start with us or it implies that beliefs and desires can form by conscious free choice in the absence of all antecedent beliefs, desires, and reasons. A self that forms beliefs and desires out of thin air–and note that this necessarily excludes “non-causa sui” beliefs and desires that come from genes, environment, experience and prior existing spiritual matter such as the soul; it must be a complete and utter vacuum– is an exceedingly strange concept of self, even an incoherent concept of self I’d say.

    Or is there a simple and intuitive definition of self that can be shown to make P1 false, not the weird concept I’ve outlined?

  46. cl says:

    tmp,

    Uhm, being the sole cause of one’s actions precludes external influence by definition,

    No it doesn’t. It precludes external causation. Causation is not influence.

    And you keep saying that your choice is not influenced by your upbringing.

    False, but if you wish to misrepresent what I’ve said despite being told otherwise, I can’t do much about that.

    dguller,

    Well, since there is no way of ever knowing whether one could have or would have chosen otherwise, this is a useless definition, no?

    No, it means Strawson’s argument–and any rebuttals to it–are essentially useless, which is what I was getting at earlier in the thread.

    The only relevant sense that I can make of this is that if I ever find myself in a similar situation, then I can learn from past mistakes, and choose a different course of action. This is certainly possible in a deterministic universe.

    I don’t think that’s true. In a deterministic universe, you would only have the illusion of choosing a different course of action.

    woodchuck64,

    Causa sui is defined to mean that one is the ultimate cause or origin of at least some crucial part of one’s mental nature (for the purposes of moral responsibility).

    I understand that.

    This regress must start somewhere, and it can’t logically start with us or it implies that beliefs and desires can form by conscious free choice in the absence of all antecedent beliefs, desires, and reasons.

    This strikes me as, “This can’t be so ‘cuz I say so.” This is why I think Strawson’s argument is simply begging the question.

    …is an exceedingly strange concept of self, even an incoherent concept of self I’d say.

    So, when it comes down to it, that’s your support for P1? That it’s converse seems strange to you? Surely you can see why that’s not persuasive, right?

    Or is there a simple and intuitive definition of self that can be shown to make P1 false, not the weird concept I’ve outlined?

    I still fail to see how P1 is true, unless of course we simply assume it.

  47. Ana says:

    I’m going to expand on what I said previously, and that might clarify my overarching point:

    “I could have been programmed to make the choices I’ve made, so the statement ” I have the ability to personally make choices” would still hold true.”

    It is an observable phenomenon, that people make choices in this world ( for example, today in the morning I made the choice of eating plain yogurt, though there was also peach and strawberry flavored yogurt in the fridge, as well as non-yogurt foods in the house) …

    [ This following part is where we might disagree ]

    … However, that does not (upon deeper reflection, despite intuitive inclination) itself tell me, that I have free will. I made the choice, but why did I make that choice – the “why” is the part that is relevant to the free will issue. Was that choice born in me, or did some ‘programmer’ put it inside of me, etc?

    This is why I said “I think there has to be something more fundamental than the ability to make choices” for our actions to be called freely willed.

    In other words, I don’t think the word “free will” has a monopoly over the phrase “ the ability to make choices”, whereas, it could have a monopoly over a qualified version of that phrase.

  48. tmp says:

    cl,

    “No it doesn’t. It precludes external causation. Causation is not influence.”

    “False, but if you wish to misrepresent what I’ve said despite being told otherwise, I can’t do much about that.”

    I think I have hit a language barrier; I’m not wishing to misinterpret anything, that’s genuinely what I got out of your responses. I have been trying to say “External events shape our personality, and this has influence on our choices(they are part of the cause our choices are what they are)” and understood your response as “No, they don’t. The reasons(causes) for our choices are entirely internal.”. Oh well, at least this has not degenerated to insults. :)

  49. dguller says:

    Cl:

    >> No, it means Strawson’s argument–and any rebuttals to it–are essentially useless, which is what I was getting at earlier in the thread.

    You mentioned that free will requires one to be able to choose alternatively if everything else remains the same. I replied that there is no way to know if this is true, and thus it is useless. Do you reject that free will requires this useless condition?

    >> I don’t think that’s true. In a deterministic universe, you would only have the illusion of choosing a different course of action.

    Not at all. I can choose a different course of action in a future situation that resembles a past situation, because I learned that one course of action results in a deleterious result. That is the only sense of “could have chosen otherwise” that makes sense to me, and this sense is fully consistent with a deterministic universe.

    >> No it doesn’t. It precludes external causation. Causation is not influence.

    Causation IS influence. Our influences can only influence us if they can CAUSE various changes in us. If they could not, then they would not be influences.

    >> This strikes me as, “This can’t be so ‘cuz I say so.” This is why I think Strawson’s argument is simply begging the question.

    No, it is just a fact that much of our beliefs and desires are formed outside of our conscious volition, and thus a significant part of what influences our choices is not free. And if our will can be influenced by such factors, then it cannot be sui genesis, because it does not occur in a vacuum, but rather within a nexus of causal influences, which is why a self-caused will is incoherent.

  50. tmp says:

    cl,

    Ah. Sorry. I kinda pooped this discussion. I read the OPM, read the PDF, occasionally peeked for responses and when answering, had mostly forgotten the original post. Oops. Reread.

    “Why must I cause myself to be ultimately responsible for my actions?”

    Because your cause would be ultimately responsible for how you are. Even if you had libertarian free will, your cause would be responsible for giving you one.

    “I submit that one only need be the cause of one’s individual actions, not the cause of oneself, in order for ultimate responsibility to hold.”

    But your cause would be ultimately responsible for your ability to be ultimately responsible for your individual actions.

    So the question is a matter of definition: Can you be held responsible for making another ultimately responsible for his actions? My brain hurts.

  51. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    This regress must start somewhere, and it can’t logically start with us or it implies that beliefs and desires can form by conscious free choice in the absence of all antecedent beliefs, desires, and reasons.

    This strikes me as, “This can’t be so ‘cuz I say so.” This is why I think Strawson’s argument is simply begging the question.

    A reductio ad absurdum, actually. Of course if you don’t think it absurd, I’d want to know why because such arguments only work if we all agree on things that are absurd.

    …is an exceedingly strange concept of self, even an incoherent concept of self I’d say.

    So, when it comes down to it, that’s your support for P1? That it’s converse seems strange to you? Surely you can see why that’s not persuasive, right?

    P1 is the premise that self can not be causa sui. ~P1 is the premise that self is causa sui. If I’ve successfully disproved ~P1, I’ve proved P1. I’m arguing against ~P1, pointing out that it implies an incoherent (or at last very weird) concept of self: a self that forms beliefs and desires from thin-air, without those beliefs and desires being caused by anything outside it or inside it (as a consequence of its non-self-caused being). If you don’t find that persuasive, I have two questions for you (a) did I make a mistake in the logical derivative of a definition of self from the premise “self is causa sui”? Or (b) am I wrong to say a self that forms beliefs and desires from thin-air is weird or incoherent?

  52. Ana says:

    woodchuck64,

    I have a question for you (not related to the topic of this thread) — how do you do that quote imbedding (that white quote box imbedded into the larger yellow box) ?

  53. cl says:

    Ana,

    This is why I said “I think there has to be something more fundamental than the ability to make choices” for our actions to be called freely willed.

    I tend to agree. I tend to go a little further, and say that the ability to have chosen otherwise all else the same is a prerequisite for free will. Also, I’m a bit hesitant in asking, “why did we choose X,” because it presumes that there is a deterministic, causal reason, when “pure spontaneous choice” might be a brute fact.

    tmp,

    I have been trying to say “External events shape our personality, and this has influence on our choices(they are part of the cause our choices are what they are)” and understood your response as “No, they don’t. The reasons(causes) for our choices are entirely internal.”

    Well then, at least we’ve identified the rough spot. I was just frustrated because, after I said emphatically that “this is not what I’m saying,” you continued with arguments that relied on “this is what I’m saying.” We can be influenced this way or that, but at the end of the day, we choose whether to serve that influence or not. I have never disagreed that external events influence our choices. I remain skeptical of the claim that external events NECESSARILY GOVERN all of our choices. That external events influence our choices doesn’t preclude free will.

    Even if you had libertarian free will, your cause would be responsible for giving you one.

    True, but this cannot absolve the agent of ultimate moral responsibility. If I give you some money, and you go buy a gun then mow down a crowd, am I responsible for the choice YOU MADE with the money? Of course not. You could have given that money to charity.

    dguller,

    Do you reject that free will requires this useless condition?

    No. I reject that the condition is useless. To say that it is useless is to imply that claims are only useful if they can be scientifically validated.

    Causation IS influence.

    I disagree. Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force. This is different from causation.

    …if our will can be influenced by such factors, then it cannot be sui genesis,

    I disagree. That others might influence me towards X does not mean I am not causa sui in certain mental respects.

    woodchuck64,

    Why can’t beliefs and desires form by conscious free choice? Acceptance of P1 simply assumes they can’t. That’s what I meant by begging the question.

    I’m arguing against ~P1, pointing out that it implies an incoherent (or at last very weird) concept of self: a self that forms beliefs and desires from thin-air, without those beliefs and desires being caused by anything outside it or inside it (as a consequence of its non-self-caused being).

    What, besides the presumption of determinism, makes that incoherent or weird? Again, that’s what I mean by begging the question.

    If you don’t find that persuasive, I have two questions for you (a) did I make a mistake in the logical derivative of a definition of self from the premise “self is causa sui”? Or (b) am I wrong to say a self that forms beliefs and desires from thin-air is weird or incoherent?

    As for (a), no, it doesn’t seem that you made such a mistake. As for (b), well… I wouldn’t say you were wrong, because that it is weird is just your opinion. However, I think we need something more than opinion to make the argument work, and, I’ve already stated that I don’t think this argument can be resolved. Both P1 and ~P1 require a presumption that cannot be proven or falsified.

  54. woodchuck64 says:

    Ana, I just add an extra nesting of blockquote tags, remembering to make sure I leave the first two open and the last two closed. Let me see if an example makes it through the html cleaners:
    <blockquote>
    <blockquote>
    I said
    </blockquote>
    You said
    </blockquote>

    cl,

    a self that forms beliefs and desires from thin-air, without those beliefs and desires being caused by anything outside it or inside it (as a consequence of its non-self-caused being).

    What, besides the presumption of determinism, makes that incoherent or weird?

    It’s incoherent to me under determinism or nondeterminism because “beliefs” and “desires” don’t form from thin-air (in the absence of prior beliefs and desires while also not being caused by the nature of self) in my experience. Here is my experience of how beliefs or desires form, and I expect this to be identical to your experience (that is, I’m trying to make an objective argument).
    1. beliefs and desires can come from other beliefs and desires.
    2. beliefs or desires can come from experience (or from God working in our lives if he exists)
    3. beliefs or desires can come from inside (i.e. genes, or the soul if it exists)
    4. beliefs or desires can might possibly come from quantum affects (not sure, but I’ll keep this possibility open just in case to show that nondeterminism is not being ruled out)
    5. beliefs (and desires to some extent) can come from conscious non-random choice, but only if antecedent beliefs or desires exist (you can’t make a conscious non-random choice without something to go on).
    6. beliefs (and desires to some extent) can come from random choice, i.e. a coin flip.

    None of these allow self to be causa sui (in the sense of being the ultimate cause of beliefs or desires, but not existence) as previously argued. So, given our shared experience of beliefs and desires, why should we believe self is causa sui? Why should I believe that beliefs and desires form from thin air (not from the nature of being and in the complete absence of prior beliefs and desires)?

    Does believing that self is causa sui require a belief in God first? Is it an article of faith like the Trinity? Note that similar claims are made that logic disproves the Trinity, but Christians call it a mystery, a concept that must be taken on faith. Is causa sui similar?

  55. cl says:

    woodchuck64,

    Here’s how I would word 1 & 2, my alterations in brackets:

    1. beliefs and desires can [be influenced by] other beliefs and desires.
    2. beliefs or desires can [be influenced by] experience (or from God working in our lives if he exists)

    As I’ve been arguing, influence does not preclude one being causa sui in certain mental respects.

    3 seems to directly support causa sui, unless we’re presuming determinism.

    4 seems to be an affirmation of determinism, not indeterminism. If our beliefs “can come from” quantum effects, then our beliefs are determined by quantum effects.

    5 strikes me as false, particularly the second half. A baby clearly forms beliefs and desires without existing beliefs and desires.

    6 strikes me as contradictory. A true choice is not random.

    So, given our shared experience of beliefs and desires, why should we believe self is causa sui?

    We don’t share the same views here. Given my response–which I think is a more accurate depiction of beliefs and desires in the real world–I see much room for one to be causa sui in certain mental respects.

    Does believing that self is causa sui require a belief in God first? Is it an article of faith like the Trinity? Note that similar claims are made that logic disproves the Trinity, but Christians call it a mystery, a concept that must be taken on faith. Is causa sui similar?

    I don’t think it is similar. I think causa sui is simple, so incredible simple that we easily miss the point. We are accustomed to thinking that everything has a discernible cause, but to me, consciousness is a buck-stopper. It is night, whereas causality is day. You need both to have a balanced view of reality.

    As as aside, many materialists call the brain a mystery, but that’s a topic for an upcoming post ;)

  56. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> No. I reject that the condition is useless. To say that it is useless is to imply that claims are only useful if they can be scientifically validated.

    So, you accept this condition as necessary for free will. Fine. How do you validate it? Forget about “scientifically validated”. How do you validate it at all using any means whatsoever? It seems that all you have is the feeling that you could have done otherwise. Is that enough to establish a metaphysical principle like this?

    >> I disagree. Influence is the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force. This is different from causation.

    “Compelling force” seems like causation to me. How can X compel Y to do Z unless X can somehow cause some change in Y to do Z? Either something can exert a causal influence or effect on something else, or it cannot affect it at all. I mean, you are even using the word “force”, which is essentially related to causation. I mean, if X is a force working upon Y, then X must be causing Y to do something. I just don’t think that you can avoid this conclusion, and it seems that you are just using different words that all are related to causation without actually saying “causation”.

    >> I disagree. That others might influence me towards X does not mean I am not causa sui in certain mental respects.

    In what respects, though? Say that your background set of beliefs, experiences, culture, and so on, all affect you in a certain situation to be influenced to choose X, Y or Z, and say that your ultimate choice is a sui genesis phenomenon. What made you choose X, for example, over Y or Z? Without some antecedent conditions, the choice appears to be utterly random, because everything that makes you who you are have limited your choices to three options, and yet something else happened to make you pick one over the other two. And if it is random, then does your account of free will make it akin to the random rolling of the dice? How does that help you develop personal responsibility for our choices?

  57. cl says:

    Alright, so… the beer thing didn’t work out, and here I am back at my computer. I’ve not even looked at the Pam Reynolds thread, and I’m not going to, at least, not for another few days or so. Like them reactors, it needs time to cool.

    That said:

    How do you validate it?

    You can’t, at least, not that I can see. That’s why Strawson’s argument–and any rebuttals to it, including mine–are forever crippled. I’ve already said this. Not to be rude, but listen and reread threads more.

    “Compelling force” seems like causation to me.

    I thought the same thing, actually. How about, motivating force?

    How can X compel Y to do Z unless X can somehow cause some change in Y to do Z?

    Lil’ Johnny is a Rollin’ 60s Crip. Lil’ Blake is your average, good schoolkid. Lil’ Blake sees the “benefits” of Lil’ Johnny’s lifestyle, and is influenced by them. He desires them. He is motivated to attain them. However, he can choose whether or not to cede to that influence.

    What made you choose X, for example, over Y or Z?

    Nothing “made” Lil’ Blake avoid Lil’ Johnny’s temptation. He chose to. Buck stops there. The notion of deterministic, materialist causation is woven into the very fabric of your language, yet, you fervently deny any bias, whatsoever!

    And if it is random, then does your account of free will make it akin to the random rolling of the dice?

    Conscious, deliberate choice is not random.

  58. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> You can’t, at least, not that I can see. That’s why Strawson’s argument–and any rebuttals to it, including mine–are forever crippled. I’ve already said this. Not to be rude, but listen and reread threads more.

    If you cannot validate or confirm it, then how can it be an integral part of your definition of “free will”? I mean, what if I said that free will depended upon Zarfnar. What is Zarfnar? I have no idea. Does that help anything? No, and that is why I said that the ability to have done otherwise is useless. We do not know if we have this ability at all, and thus cannot use it to ground our concept of free will.

    >> I thought the same thing, actually. How about, motivating force?

    It is still a force, and thus causative. I’m afraid that you can’t avoid this fact, no matter what you choose to call it.

    >> Lil’ Johnny is a Rollin’ 60s Crip. Lil’ Blake is your average, good schoolkid. Lil’ Blake sees the “benefits” of Lil’ Johnny’s lifestyle, and is influenced by them. He desires them. He is motivated to attain them. However, he can choose whether or not to cede to that influence.

    First, Blake SAW Johnny living his life, which means that his brain was causally influenced by Johnny’s behavior, and when that was combined with Blake’s underlying beliefs, desires and goals, then he made his choice. The bottom line is that there is no point in this process for a sui genesis free will to occur. Seriously, where would it happen?

    >> Nothing “made” Lil’ Blake avoid Lil’ Johnny’s temptation. He chose to. Buck stops there. The notion of deterministic, materialist causation is woven into the very fabric of your language, yet, you fervently deny any bias, whatsoever!

    First, I do not deny any bias. Of course, I have biases. I’m like everyone else.

    Second, if you are saying that there was no cause or reason that was the tipping point to make Blake choose one option over the others, then his choice becomes random, which – as you mentioned – is incoherent, because “Conscious, deliberate choice is not random”. As I said, my problem with sui genesis volition is that it is incoherent on a conceptual level, because it takes something that cannot be random and makes it random.

  59. cl says:

    dguller,

    If you cannot validate or confirm it, then how can it be an integral part of your definition of “free will”?

    Confirmability is not essential to usefulness. You accept all sorts of things in other areas that cannot be validated or confirmed. This is no different.

    I mean, what if I said that free will depended upon Zarfnar. What is Zarfnar? I have no idea.

    Sure, but you *DO* have an idea of what “the ability to have done otherwise” means. This is another one of those uncharitable analogies that makes caricature of something I said.

    We do not know if we have this ability at all, and thus cannot use it to ground our concept of free will.

    Feel free to improve on my base definition. Believe me, I’m not opposed. I’d love to come up with something that would allow me forcefully make my case, and I imagine you’d love to come up with something that would allow you to falsify my case.

    It is still a force, and thus causative. I’m afraid that you can’t avoid this fact, no matter what you choose to call it.

    I’m afraid you simply can’t see the difference. I’ve given an example showing that influence is not causality OF CHOICE. I don’t know what else to say. Take it back to “baby” level. Babies have none of the existing things you allude to, yet, they make choices. My daughter goes and grabs a book off the shelf. The first time she did this, it was not because of my influence. It was not because grabbing a book off the shelf facilitated her life goals as dictated by existing beliefs and desires.

    …if you are saying that there was no cause or reason that was the tipping point to make Blake choose one option over the others, then his choice becomes random, which – as you mentioned – is incoherent, because “Conscious, deliberate choice is not random”.

    I disagree. Conscious, deliberate choice WAS the tipping point, hence, his choice remains non-random.

    The bottom line is that there is no point in this process for a sui genesis free will to occur.

    Cool, then we can stop there, because–as with disembodied minds–your mind is already made up. Just as I said: determinist, materialist bias literally oozes from your language.

    [META]

    First, I do not deny any bias. Of course, I have biases.

    That’s good. Now, please… all 3:

    1) Do you deny that your bias is probably responsible for at least some of your staunch skepticism regarding dualism?

    2) Do you deny that you put the cart before the horse by declaring disembodied minds “science fiction and fantasy” on an admitted paucity of exposure to the pertinent literature, and before even hearing my “tip of the iceberg” arguments?

    3) Do you deny that a scientifically-minded person has a responsibility to investigate the totality of evidence before making CONCLUSIVE statements about hypotheses, and that you failed in that regard?

    [/META]

  60. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Confirmability is not essential to usefulness. You accept all sorts of things in other areas that cannot be validated or confirmed. This is no different.

    First, that is true, but are you saying that the ability to have done otherwise is not necessarily true, but only of pragmatic usefulness? In other words, this is an unverifiable idea that we must pretend to believe in for the sake of morality? Perhaps you mean something else?

    Second, what other “sorts of things in other areas” are you referring to? As far as I know, everything that I believe has some evidentiary support, but some is better justified than others. And if you are saying that we have beliefs that fall short of full verification, then you are correct, and we are in agreement, but I am not taking about full confirmation, but only SOME kind of evidence and support for your belief in our capacity to have done otherwise. The only evidence that I can see for this belief is the FEELING that we could have done otherwise, but I think that this subjective feeling is just insufficient, because there are many beliefs that we feel must be true, but are actually false. And should we build free will and personal responsibility upon so flimsy a foundation?

    >> Sure, but you *DO* have an idea of what “the ability to have done otherwise” means. This is another one of those uncharitable analogies that makes caricature of something I said.

    That is true. My analogy was a poor one.

    >> Feel free to improve on my base definition. Believe me, I’m not opposed. I’d love to come up with something that would allow me forcefully make my case, and I imagine you’d love to come up with something that would allow you to falsify my case.

    Personally, I think that free will is only interesting as a ground for personal responsibility, and so that real question is what conditions are necessary to hold one another responsible for our actions, because without such responsibility, societal relations should utterly break down. I think that if a person is not externally restrained; not externally compelled; is able to appreciate and understand the reasons for and consequences of their actions and communicate them to others; does not have their internal judgment processes compromised by disease, drugs, trauma; and so on; then they can be held responsible for their actions.

    As far as I can tell, this is all possible upon a deterministic account, and thus there is no need for a sui genesis component at all. To demand one for “real” free will and responsibility would be analogous to demanding that Cupid MUST fire a love arrow into someone in order for their love to be “real” love. The latter is a myth that was rejected without any detriment to the reality of love, and the myth of sui genesis libertarian free will is another myth that should be rejected, but would not compromise the reality of free will and personal responsibility.

    >> I’m afraid you simply can’t see the difference. I’ve given an example showing that influence is not causality OF CHOICE. I don’t know what else to say.

    I understand what you are saying, but my response is that a choice that is not caused by antecedent reasons and causes is an utterly random one, which is inconsistent with what we need for personal responsibility and free will in the first place, a fact that you endorse.

    >> Take it back to “baby” level. Babies have none of the existing things you allude to, yet, they make choices. My daughter goes and grabs a book off the shelf. The first time she did this, it was not because of my influence. It was not because grabbing a book off the shelf facilitated her life goals as dictated by existing beliefs and desires.

    Remember that infants initially act reflexively, which is a behavior independent of any underlying cognitive awareness, beliefs, desires, and so on, and that over time, on the basis of such reflexive behavior, beliefs and desires are developed, which then form the basis for reflective and intentional behavior. I doubt that there is a definitive point when this happens, as it is a gradual process that contains many intermediate steps that we lack concepts for. It is similar to deciding upon when a youth is to be held responsible for their actions. There is no definitive point that we can identify, but there is the gradual and progressive acquisition of a variety of capacities that eventually coalesce around the requisite abilities.

    Now, as for your daughter’s grabbing a book off the shelf, it was not a random or reflexive action, but there was likely something about the visual experience of the book that caught her interest, and she had previous experiences where interacting with objects in a tactile manner was enjoyable and informative. Maybe she saw you picking up books and looking upon them with interest, and so her curiosity guided her behavior. Behaving in a way that is informative, enjoyable, or satisfying curiosity could be conceived as primitive desires that she wanted to satisfy. Again, none of this occurs in a vacuum and requires some sui genesis event. I think a better explanation is that she did what she did on the basis of a background set of beliefs, memories, desires and capacities rather than as a sudden rupture in space-time in which a Choice was made utterly independent of antecedent causes or reasons.

    >> I disagree. Conscious, deliberate choice WAS the tipping point, hence, his choice remains non-random.

    You are just asserting this. If an event occurs without a cause or reason, then it is random. What else does “random” mean? In other words, if something happens and we have no idea what causes or reasons led up to it, then we call that event “random”. And you yourself admitted that a random will is not what is necessary for free will or personal responsibility. Again, how could his choice be non-random if it occurred independent of any previous reasons or causes?

    >> Cool, then we can stop there, because–as with disembodied minds–your mind is already made up. Just as I said: determinist, materialist bias literally oozes from your language.

    I have stated my conclusion, and am awaiting your response. You seem to object to me concluding ANYTHING at all without adding the caveat: “but I may possibly be wrong about this in the future”. I think that what I have written on this website has made it clear that my conclusions are always tentative, and open to revision. We are having a dialogue, and I will state what I believe and why, and you will respond, and then I will respond, and on we go until we can arrive at the truth, if possible. I find it very frustrating that when I offer reasons and state a conclusion, then you take this as evidence of my bias and closed-mindedness. You speak often of the principle of charity, but fail to demonstrate it on occasion in our conversations.

    >> Do you deny that your bias is probably responsible for at least some of your staunch skepticism regarding dualism?

    Sure, it is possible, but so what? If I was a thief and I said that theft was immoral, then does that nullify my assertion? Of course not. The assertion is valid even if I am a hypocrite in making it. You keep trying to make this about my individual psychological make-up and occasional intemperance of language, and I want to focus on the evidence.

    >> Do you deny that you put the cart before the horse by declaring disembodied minds “science fiction and fantasy” on an admitted paucity of exposure to the pertinent literature, and before even hearing my “tip of the iceberg” arguments?

    Yup, I did.

    >> Do you deny that a scientifically-minded person has a responsibility to investigate the totality of evidence before making CONCLUSIVE statements about hypotheses, and that you failed in that regard?

    Yup, I failed.

    Are you done focusing on me? Can we now focus on the GOOD evidence that you have for disembodied minds? How many times do I have to ask for it before you will provide it? So far, all your evidence is inconclusive. Or will you just keep repeating my flaws, many of which were not even asked about, including the fact that I swear at people who cut me off, that I get irritable at my wife sometimes, that I do not call my mother as often as I should, that I do not eat as healthy as I should, and so on? Do you only have discussions with angels? Or do you have a special attraction to ad hominem fallacies?

  61. cl says:

    dguller,

    First, that is true, but are you saying that the ability to have done otherwise is not necessarily true, but only of pragmatic usefulness?

    I’m saying I believe it’s true, Strawson believes its false, and we’re between a rock and hard place because the claim itself seems unfalsifiable.

    The only evidence that I can see for this belief is the FEELING that we could have done otherwise, but I think that this subjective feeling is just insufficient, because there are many beliefs that we feel must be true, but are actually false. And should we build free will and personal responsibility upon so flimsy a foundation?

    I tend to agree, which is why I asked if you had any ideas for bettering the situation.

    Personally, I think that free will is only interesting as a ground for personal responsibility, and so that real question is what conditions are necessary to hold one another responsible for our actions, because without such responsibility, societal relations should utterly break down.

    While I tend to agree there, too, for the purposes of traversing Strawson’s argument, I’m more interested in the ontological aspects of free will vs. determinism. We cannot create a system of applied ethics that coheres to reality until we know what the reality of the matter. If we do have free will, then, it seems our justice system is justified. However, if we don’t, well… on what grounds can we punish people for that which they aren’t responsible for? Our whole legal system reduces to bullying and control, as opposed to justice.

    I think that if a person is not externally restrained; not externally compelled; is able to appreciate and understand the reasons for and consequences of their actions and communicate them to others; does not have their internal judgment processes compromised by disease, drugs, trauma; and so on; then they can be held responsible for their actions.

    Again I tend to agree, but think about it: the very materialist determinism you believe means that every act from every person is externally compelled in a way that undermines everything you just wrote. Sure, we can lock somebody up, but why not drop the whole pretense of responsibility entirely, if in fact all actions reduce to an atomic dance predetermined by the physical laws at the first instance of t > 0.

    As far as I can tell, this is all possible upon a deterministic account, and thus there is no need for a sui genesis component at all.

    I’ve never argued that sui genesis is necessary in order to have a functioning legal system. If all we’re talking about is the pragmatic issue as opposed to the ontological one, yeah… we don’t need to be causa sui. It just means we’re talking about something that cannot rightly be called justice anymore.

    Remember that infants initially act reflexively…

    Does “reflexively” = “randomly” on your view?

    There is no definitive point that we can identify, but there is the gradual and progressive acquisition of a variety of capacities that eventually coalesce around the requisite abilities.

    The point of the “baby” thing is to falsify your claim that external, antecedent factors necessarily precede choice.

    Now, as for your daughter’s grabbing a book off the shelf, it was not a random or reflexive action, but there was likely something about the visual experience of the book that caught her interest, and she had previous experiences where interacting with objects in a tactile manner was enjoyable and informative.

    Possibly, but at some point, she had no previous experiences to draw on. That’s what I’m getting at.

    You are just asserting this.

    We seem to be in agreement that I have no other choice. Neither does Strawson. That’s why I think this argument is a stalemate.

    I find it very frustrating that when I offer reasons and state a conclusion, then you take this as evidence of my bias and closed-mindedness.

    Well, I apologize. Perhaps I jumped the gun this time, because this time–as opposed to the disembodied minds situation–you actually did offer some arguments and dialog BEFORE dismissing it out of hand. Still, I think that it’s best to say “I believe,” because this reduces bias. One is biased to the degree that claims of the variant “X does/does not exist” get too ingrained into their mind.

    The assertion is valid even if I am a hypocrite in making it.

    I appreciate your candor–I really do–but that’s invalid as can be. The assertion is valid if its premises support its conclusion, and it is sound if its premises are true. That has hardly been demonstrated, so, I reject the assertion and attribute it to bias.

    Can we now focus on the GOOD evidence that you have for disembodied minds? How many times do I have to ask for it before you will provide it?

    Don’t you think it’s a little bit selfish to demand control of my blog? Sure, I love writing about disembodied minds, but I try not to get too into writing ruts, if you know what I mean. I try to keep the blog versatile, fresh, and dynamic. To trot out post after post after post on the same topic will only tire me out and likely decrease the quality of the writing.

    Also, I remain completely mindboggled as to why you want to discuss it at all, since you have already stated only replicated controlled studies can flip the switch for you. What’s the point of more blog posts?

    At any rate, stick around. I’ve got a few more posts down the pipeline that argue for disembodied minds.

    Or will you just keep repeating my flaws…

    Now that I seem to have gotten through, I’ll be much less inclined to focus on them, but it’s never been about your flaws from a personal level. It’s been about flaws as confounding factors in a sound reasoning process.

    Or do you have a special attraction to ad hominem fallacies?

    Pointing out bias isn’t an instance of the ad hominem fallacy. I’ve not said, “dguller is biased therefore all his objections are false.” I’ve articulated my problems with your objection strategy. My rejection of your objections has nothing to do with the alleged bias.

    Honestly, I give you a lot more credit than you seem to think, but at the same time, it would be unscientific for me to NOT address the issues of bias, right?

  62. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> I tend to agree, which is why I asked if you had any ideas for bettering the situation.

    I think that it is best to just drop that condition, and focus on more fruitful areas.

    >> While I tend to agree there, too, for the purposes of traversing Strawson’s argument, I’m more interested in the ontological aspects of free will vs. determinism. We cannot create a system of applied ethics that coheres to reality until we know what the reality of the matter. If we do have free will, then, it seems our justice system is justified. However, if we don’t, well… on what grounds can we punish people for that which they aren’t responsible for? Our whole legal system reduces to bullying and control, as opposed to justice.

    First, I suppose that it depends upon what you mean by “free will”. If you mean a capacity to radically break from the space-time nexus of causality by virtue of a God-like capacity to intervene spontaneously into the natural world, then why such a grandiose conception of our volitional capacity? I know that it certainly feels like this is what is going on, but we subjectively experience many things that cannot possibly be consistent with the reality of the situation.

    Second, the issue is whether in order to be responsible for one’s actions one must have a libertarian version of free will. I do not believe that this is necessary, and that if a person makes a choice that is not externally coerced and is internally generated by appropriate and functioning cognitive processes that are consistent with their background set of beliefs, goals and desires, then they can be held responsible for that choice. I do not see any inconsistency between this and justice.

    >> Again I tend to agree, but think about it: the very materialist determinism you believe means that every act from every person is externally compelled in a way that undermines everything you just wrote. Sure, we can lock somebody up, but why not drop the whole pretense of responsibility entirely, if in fact all actions reduce to an atomic dance predetermined by the physical laws at the first instance of t > 0.

    No, because the various subsystems that consist of my personality are internal to me, much as my beliefs, goals and desires are internal to me, and thus my choices based upon them are ultimately due to me and not some external factors. You seem to think that I am somehow separate from these processes, which is consistent with your belief in disembodied cognition, and thus if these physical processes determine my choices, then my choices are somehow coerced on the outside.

    I think that is not how things play out at all, especially if these processes are constitutive of my personality to begin with. In other words, I am composed of different subsystems operating in parallel outside my awareness, and when these subsystems generate thoughts, feelings and behaviors, then I take ownership of them, because they are constitutive of my very identity. Another way to look at it is to imagine that there is an external object, which impacts our eyes, which ultimately results in vision, and then to say that if only our eyes got out of the way, then our vision would really experience the external object. The mistake here is to think about the eyes as a physical impediment between an object and our vision when it is, in fact, essentially constitutive of the visual experience itself.

    >> I’ve never argued that sui genesis is necessary in order to have a functioning legal system. If all we’re talking about is the pragmatic issue as opposed to the ontological one, yeah… we don’t need to be causa sui. It just means we’re talking about something that cannot rightly be called justice anymore.

    Why not?

    >> Does “reflexively” = “randomly” on your view?

    No, but a reflex is also not uncaused. It is part of a causal sequence, and has definitive causes to explain its occurrence.

    >> The point of the “baby” thing is to falsify your claim that external, antecedent factors necessarily precede choice.

    I never said that the factors had to be “external”. I only said that for us to be responsible for our choices, then our choices must be caused by elements in our personality, such as our beliefs, desires, goals and so on. This is inconsistent with a sui genesis conception of free will, which occurs completely independently of any antecedent causes or reasons, whether external or internal.

    >> Possibly, but at some point, she had no previous experiences to draw on. That’s what I’m getting at.

    That is fine, but irrelevant if reflexes are considered. That is sufficient to explain the acquisition of various proto-beliefs and proto-goals that can develop into a sufficient foundation for future choices and decisions. One does not require any sui genesis element at all.

    >> We seem to be in agreement that I have no other choice. Neither does Strawson. That’s why I think this argument is a stalemate.

    I disagree. The argument is not at a stalemate. An uncaused free will is necessarily random, which is incoherent, and thus an uncaused free will should be rejected altogether. I have explained why an event without sufficient antecedent causes or reasons is a random one. You would have to offer reasons to refute this contention, because your conception of free will hinges upon your ability to do so, I think.

    >> I appreciate your candor–I really do–but that’s invalid as can be. The assertion is valid if its premises support its conclusion, and it is sound if its premises are true. That has hardly been demonstrated, so, I reject the assertion and attribute it to bias.

    Exactly. But it has nothing to do with whether I am a hypocrite, biased, or whatever. It is solely based upon the evidence at hand, which is why I find it monumentally time wasting to focus upon my personality quirks rather than the evidence.

    >> Don’t you think it’s a little bit selfish to demand control of my blog? Sure, I love writing about disembodied minds, but I try not to get too into writing ruts, if you know what I mean. I try to keep the blog versatile, fresh, and dynamic. To trot out post after post after post on the same topic will only tire me out and likely decrease the quality of the writing.

    Ultimately, this is your blog, and you can do whatever you want on it. I am not asking for writing posts that make the same points, but for posts that make NEW points that were not raised in previous ones that we have discussed. I think that the posts that we have discussed utilize information that is inconclusive, and so I would like some data that is more conclusive, please.

    >> Also, I remain completely mindboggled as to why you want to discuss it at all, since you have already stated only replicated controlled studies can flip the switch for you. What’s the point of more blog posts?

    Because I want to know why YOU believe in disembodied minds. You are obviously a highly intelligent and rational individual, and I am very curious why someone like you would adhere to a set of beliefs on the basis of inconclusive evidence rather than just suspend your judgment about the matter, and look at the findings of conclusive evidence instead to determine what we believe to be true and false. I am interested in what your epistemic standards are. I have laid mine on the table.

    >> At any rate, stick around. I’ve got a few more posts down the pipeline that argue for disembodied minds.

    Yay!

    >> Now that I seem to have gotten through, I’ll be much less inclined to focus on them, but it’s never been about your flaws from a personal level. It’s been about flaws as confounding factors in a sound reasoning process.

    Then you should focus on the alleged errors in my premises and line of reasoning and not on my personality quirks or individual psychology at all. The former is relevant to the veracity of my claims. The latter is not, and actually is quite fallacious, and a complete waste of time.

    Again, just because I have biases does not mean that everything that I say should be rejected. What I say stands or falls on its own merits, not on my tone of voice or general flavor of phrases.

    >> Pointing out bias isn’t an instance of the ad hominem fallacy. I’ve not said, “dguller is biased therefore all his objections are false.” I’ve articulated my problems with your objection strategy. My rejection of your objections has nothing to do with the alleged bias.

    Then why do you keep bringing it up, if not to compromise the veracity of my claims? What other possible relevance is there? You might as well talk endlessly about how I seem to be using a keyboard to type my responses. Yes, I do, but so what?

    >> Honestly, I give you a lot more credit than you seem to think, but at the same time, it would be unscientific for me to NOT address the issues of bias, right?

    No, it is not unscientific to point out the possibility of bias, but bias only is relevant to why I believe certain things, and has nothing to do with the reasons for those beliefs, which stand or fall on their own merits, independent of my personal biases. Find flaws in my reasoning, not in my psychology.

  63. woodchuck64 says:

    cl, sorry for the delay in responding.

    3. beliefs or desires can come from inside (i.e. genes, or the soul if it exists)

    3 seems to directly support causa sui, unless we’re presuming determinism.

    I’m trying to assume nothing about determinism or non-determinism; just comparing experience and understanding of how beliefs/desires form.

    If under non-determinism, (some) beliefs or desires can come from your genes and/or soul, to be truly the cause of those beliefs or desires, you must also be the cause of your genes or soul in some sense. Are you saying that we can be the cause of our genes/soul in some sense? Because I was assuming you were not allowing that degree of causa sui in your definition.

    4. beliefs or desires [might] possibly come from quantum affects (not sure, but I’ll keep this possibility open just in case to show that nondeterminism is not being ruled out)

    4 seems to be an affirmation of determinism, not indeterminism. If our beliefs “can come from” quantum effects, then our beliefs are determined by quantum effects.

    If quantum indeterminacy is an accurate model of reality, determinism is not true. I then assume that if determinism is not true, indeterminism is true, but maybe I’m not getting how you’re using the term. Is indeterminism more than just the negation of determinism?

    5. beliefs (and desires to some extent) can come from conscious non-random choice, but only if antecedent beliefs or desires exist (you can’t make a conscious non-random choice without something to go on).

    5 strikes me as false, particularly the second half. A baby clearly forms beliefs and desires without existing beliefs and desires.

    Are you saying a baby makes a conscious choice without previous existing beliefs and desires? I would say a baby is born with (primitive) beliefs and desires, per item 3, not that any choice is made to have those beliefs/desires. Note that my list is covering all ways that I can see that beliefs and desires form; no particular item should be taken as saying that is the only way beliefs and desires can form.

    I see much room for one to be causa sui in certain mental respects.

    With the clarifications above, which of my items listed allows causa sui, or which item that I did not list allows causa sui? The only one I can come up with is definitely not in my experience:

    7. (some) beliefs and/or (some) desires form apart from the nature of self/being and in the absence of prior beliefs and desires and also non-randomly.

    This might allow self to be causa sui, but not only is it not in my experience but I’m not sure I even comprehend it.

  64. mpg says:

    I’m trying to follow your thinking on P1, cll, as having read the thread I’m still a little vague on what you’re getting at. Would this be a fair way of paraphrasing you?

    a) On determinism, a self is always and only a node in a causal chain.
    b) On indeterminism (libertarian free-will) a self is the ground of a decision making causal chain.

    If so, I think I’m in agreement with you. If not, could you elaborate further?

  65. cl says:

    woodchuck64,

    I’ll get back to your last comment, hopefully later today.

    mpg,

    Thanks for stopping by. It seems to me you’ve put it quite succinctly. You seem to have accurately paraphrased 6 or 7 comments worth of my rambling. Thanks! You might enjoy the next post, which is an extension of this one.

  66. cl says:

    woodchuck64,

    Are you saying that we can be the cause of our genes/soul in some sense?

    I don’t think we choose the genes we’re born with, but I do think our choices can shape our genes. I’m saying we’re free to act within our genetic environment, and in that sense, we’re causa sui in certain mental respects. I might have a genetic tendency towards, say, depression, but this doesn’t mean that I cannot choose to do things which result in happiness, it just means I have a bigger bully on my genetic block, so to speak. Regarding the soul, I see it as clay for the molding, a blank slate of sorts, yet still ultimately incapable of resisting sin throughout adulthood.

    If quantum indeterminacy is an accurate model of reality, determinism is not true. I then assume that if determinism is not true, indeterminism is true, but maybe I’m not getting how you’re using the term. Is indeterminism more than just the negation of determinism?

    For the purposes of this discussion, I’m sticking with determinism as Strawson seems to have laid it out: the idea that one couldn’t have done otherwise. Of course, this is not the only definition of determinism. In fact, Dennett and Taylor argue explicitly against this definition.

    Are you saying a baby makes a conscious choice without previous existing beliefs and desires?

    It seems that way to me, and I would differentiate this from the “out of thin air” and “for no good reason” characterizations that have popped up a few times in this thread. I take consciousness to be fundamental, with matter secondary, a causal terminus of sorts; the initiator of a causal sequence, above and beyond a mere node in a causal sequence, as mpg aptly put it above.

    With the clarifications above, which of my items listed allows causa sui, or which item that I did not list allows causa sui?

    It seems to me that 3 still allows one to be causa sui in certain mental respects. 4 also seems to at least provisionally allow one to be causa sui in certain mental respects. I mean, if one’s nature is NOT wholly determined by outside factors, then, can’t they be causa sui in certain mental respects?

    Although, whichever way we cut it, I still think the argument is hopelessly intractable, since we both seem forced to resort to unfalsifiable premises. Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t have a productive discussion, it just means closure might not be forthcoming.

  67. cl says:

    dguller,

    I think that it is best to just drop that condition, and focus on more fruitful areas.

    Yeah, I know that’s what you think: such as?

    First, I suppose that it depends upon what you mean by “free will”. If you mean a capacity to radically break from the space-time nexus of causality by virtue of a God-like capacity to intervene spontaneously into the natural world, then why such a grandiose conception of our volitional capacity?

    I don’t think the proposition is grandiose at all.

    I do not see any inconsistency between this and justice.

    I do: it’s not just to punish people for bad luck.

    I only said that for us to be responsible for our choices, then our choices must be caused by elements in our personality, such as our beliefs, desires, goals and so on.

    I agree, but without causa sui, isn’t this exactly what we AREN’T responsible for?

    An uncaused free will is necessarily random, which is incoherent, and thus an uncaused free will should be rejected altogether.

    I think that’s a distortion of what it means to be random, and I don’t believe your opinion justifies your assertion.

    I have explained why an event without sufficient antecedent causes or reasons is a random one.

    You appear to assume that intent cannot qualify as an antecedent cause or reason. I argue that an intentional act is not random.

    It is solely based upon the evidence at hand, which is why I find it monumentally time wasting to focus upon my personality quirks rather than the evidence.

    I chose to highlight your bias primarily to explain my own lack of motivation towards further attempts to persuade, secondarily to suggest that one or more of your conclusions should be taken with serious skepticism. I stand by both, and personally, I find it a “monumental waste of time” to debate with people who give strong indications that their minds are already made up. That’s you, to a tee. The only potentially redeeming factor I see is your stated willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads, but thus far, I’m still pretty skeptical of that. Still, I have no choice but to give you the benefit of the doubt and proceed–dguller willing.

    …I would like some data that is more conclusive, please.

    I’m not a scientist. I can’t give you “conclusive data.” As I’ve said, you’re going to have to wait decades if you want anything remotely classifiable as “conclusive, replicated, scientific data” on NDE, and of course, even then, there’s always the possibility that the data is flawed, now isn’t there?

    …I am very curious why someone like you would adhere to a set of beliefs on the basis of inconclusive evidence rather than just suspend your judgment about the matter…

    Quite simply, I find the TOTALITY of evidence conclusive: materialism cannot sufficiently explain the panoply of human observations.

    Then you should focus on the alleged errors in my premises and line of reasoning and not on my personality quirks or individual psychology at all. The former is relevant to the veracity of my claims. The latter is not, and actually is quite fallacious, and a complete waste of time.

    It is true that the former are relevant to the veracity of your claims. However, the latter are relevant to your capacity to reason veraciously, so they most certainly remain fair game for criticism. I’ve only departed from cogency if I make some variant of the argument, “dguller is biased, therefore his arguments fail.” I’ve not gone there, because I know better. There is no fallacious reasoning on my part here.

    Then why do you keep bringing it up, if not to compromise the veracity of my claims? What other possible relevance is there?

    Two reasons: 1) to explain why my motivation has waned; and, 2) to alert others to valid warrant for skepticism. These have nothing to do with the desire to compromise the veracity of your claims. A veracious claim cannot be compromised: it can only be denied.

  68. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    It seems that way to me, and I would differentiate this from the “out of thin air” and “for no good reason” characterizations that have popped up a few times in this thread. I take consciousness to be fundamental, with matter secondary, a causal terminus of sorts; the initiator of a causal sequence, above and beyond a mere node in a causal sequence, as mpg aptly put it above.

    I’ve tried before but I’ve never been able to see the difference between being a “causal terminus” and being “out of thin air” or “random” or “for no good reason”. They all seem the same to me. Imagine a consciousness empty of all desires and beliefs; now imagine that consciousness forming a desire or decision (freely, apart from the nature of that being) to, say, eat the forbidden fruit. It stills seem random and out of thin air, and still very much not in line with my experience or understanding of how beliefs, desires, and decisions form.

    Although, whichever way we cut it, I still think the argument is hopelessly intractable, since we both seem forced to resort to unfalsifiable premises.

    The premise that mind can cause itself (in regard to ultimate beliefs and desires) is vastly more difficult to accept on logical or experiential grounds than its converse, though. To accept it one has to understand how consciousness can form beliefs without those beliefs being from prior beliefs, without being from prior experience, without being from the nature of being (i.e. derived from the “substance” of consciousness in some way), without being random, and without being “out of thin air” in some sense. I don’t understand how that can be, I have no tools of reason to make that fit in my brain.

    But I can understand why someone would tell me that I have to accept the premise that the mind can cause itself because our moral intuition of free will and moral responsibility requires it. In that kind of argument, though, moral intuition, rightly or wrongly, has taken precedence to logic and experience.

  69. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Yeah, I know that’s what you think: such as?

    Such as the neurobiology of decision-making and volition, the role of emotions and reason in determining what choices we make, the role of culture and societal influences, the role of genetics, the phenomenology of decision-making from our subjective standpoints, and so on.

    >> I don’t think the proposition is grandiose at all.

    I really don’t know what to say to that.

    >> I do: it’s not just to punish people for bad luck.

    That would happen under any account, deterministic or indeterministic, and thus is irrelevant.

    >> I agree, but without causa sui, isn’t this exactly what we AREN’T responsible for?

    No, we are responsible for them, because they are manifestations of our underlying personality. If I choose something that is totally out of character, then it is more likely that I was under some kind of influence that was distorting my decision-making capacity, such as drugs, mental illness, or something. If my character is evil, and I behave in an evil way, then I am responsible for my actions. And if our will was sui genesis, then I would still be responsible for my actions even if I was under the influence of drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and so on, which would truly be unjust, I think.

    >> I think that’s a distortion of what it means to be random, and I don’t believe your opinion justifies your assertion.

    Define “random” then. My understanding of random is something that occurs without a definitive cause. For example, rolling dice is considered to be random, because although there are innumerable causes influencing the movement of the dice, there is none that is definitive, and thus we consider it random and due to chance. So, if there is no definitive cause, then an event is random. I would think that sui genesis will, by definition lacking any causes at all, definitive or not, would qualify as random.

    >> You appear to assume that intent cannot qualify as an antecedent cause or reason. I argue that an intentional act is not random.

    Intent does count as an antecedent cause or reason, but I can intend to do something, but fail to follow through with it. If you mean that intending to do X is just equivalent to willing to do X, and thus if you have the former, then you necessarily have the latter, then I would say that intending to do X would have to be part of the sui genesis component of will, and thus still be random. And if you disagree with this, then perhaps if you could clarify exactly where in the sequence of thoughts to actions the sui genesis will intervenes to cause a choice?

    >> I chose to highlight your bias primarily to explain my own lack of motivation towards further attempts to persuade, secondarily to suggest that one or more of your conclusions should be taken with serious skepticism. I stand by both, and personally, I find it a “monumental waste of time” to debate with people who give strong indications that their minds are already made up. That’s you, to a tee. The only potentially redeeming factor I see is your stated willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads, but thus far, I’m still pretty skeptical of that. Still, I have no choice but to give you the benefit of the doubt and proceed–dguller willing.

    Really? You presented evidence that YOU YOURSELF admitted was inconclusive, and then you consider me to be biased by not agreeing you’re your conclusions regarding that evidence? That’s an interesting way to have a dialogue with someone.

    >> I’m not a scientist. I can’t give you “conclusive data.” As I’ve said, you’re going to have to wait decades if you want anything remotely classifiable as “conclusive, replicated, scientific data” on NDE, and of course, even then, there’s always the possibility that the data is flawed, now isn’t there?

    You said that you have lots of posts in the pipeline, and several lines of evidence that were sufficient to convince you of the truth of disembodied and immaterial minds. Are you now saying that it is all inconclusive, and that it would take decades to arrive at conclusive evidence at all? If that is true, then why do you believe so intensely in disembodied minds? It cannot be due to the evidence, since you appear to be admitting that it is insufficient.

    >> Quite simply, I find the TOTALITY of evidence conclusive: materialism cannot sufficiently explain the panoply of human observations.

    Again, 100 inconclusive studies do not add up to a conclusive body of evidence. As the statisticians like you say, “garbage in, garbage out”. In other words, when you analyzing data, if the data itself is flawed or inconclusive, then the ultimate conclusions that one derives from the data will also be flawed or inconclusive.

  70. cl says:

    dguller,

    Such as the neurobiology of decision-making and volition, the role of emotions and reason in determining what choices we make, the role of culture and societal influences, the role of genetics, the phenomenology of decision-making from our subjective standpoints, and so on.

    Feel free to connect any or all of those to our discussion as you see fit.

    That would happen under any account, deterministic or indeterministic, and thus is irrelevant.

    That’s not true. Conscious, non-coerced decisions can hardly be called luck.

    No, we are responsible for them, because they are manifestations of our underlying personality.

    But without being causa sui, we have no control over this. How can we be responsible for that which we have no control over?

    Define “random” then.

    Non-intentional. Rolling dice qualifies. The act of rolling the dice is certainly intentional. However, the outcome is not, unless one uses mind power to affect it.

    Really? You presented evidence that YOU YOURSELF admitted was inconclusive, and then you consider me to be biased by not agreeing you’re your conclusions regarding that evidence? That’s an interesting way to have a dialogue with someone.

    No. I’ve explained this. I considered you biased before I even wrote the Pam Reynolds post. I consider you biased because you declared disembodied minds “science fiction and fantasy” when you hadn’t even given the pertinent literature 5-10 hours of study by your own admission. But we’ve been up and down this tree. You admitted you put the cart before the horse, and I’m willing to leave it there–if you are.

    Are you now saying that it is all inconclusive, and that it would take decades to arrive at conclusive evidence at all?

    No. I’m saying that regardless of what I post, you can always find an out. That’s how this game works. You can always appeal to some variant of, “well maybe X,” regardless of what I say.

    Are you now saying that it is all inconclusive, and that it would take decades to arrive at conclusive evidence at all?

    I’m saying it will take decades to meet the bar you set regarding NDE: controlled, replicated trials.

    If that is true, then why do you believe so intensely in disembodied minds? It cannot be due to the evidence, since you appear to be admitting that it is insufficient.

    I’ve admitted no such thing. All I’ve admitted here is that the Pam Reynolds case isn’t of the same caliber as replicated, controlled trials. As I’ve said before, I find the totality of evidence sufficient. Materialism cannot explain the totality of human observations, and it is a misnomer.

    As the statisticians like you say, “garbage in, garbage out”.

    So I’m a statistician now? That’s news to me.

  71. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Feel free to connect any or all of those to our discussion as you see fit.

    They are more fruitful areas of inquiry regarding our volitional capacities and moral responsibility, I think.

    >> That’s not true. Conscious, non-coerced decisions can hardly be called luck.

    Yes, but our decisions are influenced by a variety of background issues, which are largely outside of our control, and thus luck plays an important role under both deterministic and indeterministic accounts. And again, under your account even the decisions themselves are just random and thus based upon luck.

    >> But without being causa sui, we have no control over this. How can we be responsible for that which we have no control over?

    We do have control over how we process that background information. I mean, say I have a background belief that theft is wrong, and I am confronted with a choice about whether to steal something. I then have a variety of underlying cognitive processes engage with the issue, most of which occur completely outside my conscious awareness, the pros and cons of theft versus no theft, the emotional salience of the different aspects, the possible consequences, my memories of prior thefts and avoiding theft, and on and on. A decision is ultimately made out of this maelstrom of factors, and since that decision was made by the subcomponents that I consist of, I am responsible for it. Remember, I am not an extensionless point, but am spread out over a variety of components and parts over space and time, and that spread IS me.

    >> Non-intentional. Rolling dice qualifies. The act of rolling the dice is certainly intentional. However, the outcome is not, unless one uses mind power to affect it.

    So, you are saying that “random” is “non-intentional”? Okay. So, when a rock falls to the earth, it is “random”? After all, there is no intention involved in a rock falling to the earth, unless you want to say that the rock has an intention, which would be stretching things, I think. I mean, if a rock can have intention, then the brain can cause consciousness. I think that you just refuse to accept that if an event does not have a definite cause, then it is random, and a sui genesis will meets this criteria. Also, I asked you where in the sequence of events from thought to action does sui genesis will occur? Do you have any details to provide in this matter?

    >> No. I’ve explained this. I considered you biased before I even wrote the Pam Reynolds post. I consider you biased because you declared disembodied minds “science fiction and fantasy” when you hadn’t even given the pertinent literature 5-10 hours of study by your own admission. But we’ve been up and down this tree. You admitted you put the cart before the horse, and I’m willing to leave it there–if you are.

    First, you wrote about Pam: “As for the question: Is this case conclusive? Of course not.” At the Pam thread on April 8, 2011 at 7:08 PM.

    Second, either you have conclusive evidence or you do not. If the former, then present it. If the latter, then why cling so tenaciously to this position if the matter is inconclusive? What do you consider “conclusive” to begin with?

    Third, these are all simple questions, and focusing upon my psychology AGAIN does nothing to resolve them.

    >> No. I’m saying that regardless of what I post, you can always find an out. That’s how this game works. You can always appeal to some variant of, “well maybe X,” regardless of what I say.

    And if X is an empirically demonstrated and valid possibility that any scientific study would try to rule out, then the matter is inconclusive. Again, you seem to fail to understand this. Hang out with some scientists and researchers, and see what they do when they read a research paper. They SHRED them, engaging in critical appraisal of the literature. I am not being harder upon your studies than I am with any other study that I have read. Truth is a serious enough matter that we cannot be lazy and cut corners. I think that you will agree.

    >> I’m saying it will take decades to meet the bar you set regarding NDE: controlled, replicated trials.

    Then provide me with the best evidence that you have so far. Perhaps you are clinging to it without genuine justification?

    >> I’ve admitted no such thing. All I’ve admitted here is that the Pam Reynolds case isn’t of the same caliber as replicated, controlled trials. As I’ve said before, I find the totality of evidence sufficient. Materialism cannot explain the totality of human observations, and it is a misnomer.

    You have failed to address my question: Do 100 inconclusive studies make a conclusive case?

    >> So I’m a statistician now? That’s news to me.

    That was a typo. It was supposed to read “as the statisticians like to say”, not “like you say”. Sorry.

  72. cl says:

    woodchuck64,

    Imagine a consciousness empty of all desires and beliefs; now imagine that consciousness forming a desire or decision (freely, apart from the nature of that being) to, say, eat the forbidden fruit. It stills seem random and out of thin air, and still very much not in line with my experience or understanding of how beliefs, desires, and decisions form.

    To me it seems intentional, willed, and volitional, and this is very much in line with my experience.

    The premise that mind can cause itself (in regard to ultimate beliefs and desires) is vastly more difficult to accept on logical or experiential grounds than its converse, though.

    That’s a matter of opinion. That consciousness can initiate a causal sequences with no prior beliefs or experience makes perfect sense to me, and it seems this is what each of us do from birth. Even before birth, in the womb. It’s the difference between act and potentiality in the Aristotleian sense.

    To accept it one has to understand how consciousness can form beliefs without those beliefs being from prior beliefs, without being from prior experience, without being from the nature of being (i.e. derived from the “substance” of consciousness in some way), without being random, and without being “out of thin air” in some sense.

    I don’t think understanding the “mechanics” of some phenomenon is a necessary prerequisite for accepting said phenomenon. I accept the veracity of many things I don’t understand, and in those cases, observation is sufficient. Observation necessarily precedes explanation.

    I don’t understand how that can be, I have no tools of reason to make that fit in my brain.

    Honestly I think it all boils down to starting assumptions. I completely understand why my position doesn’t make any sense to you. We have different starting assumptions. That’s why I think this argument is hopelessly intractable: our starting assumptions, i.e. our premises, are unfalsifiable. We’re stuck, woodchuck, we’re stuck!

    But I can understand why someone would tell me that I have to accept the premise that the mind can cause itself because our moral intuition of free will and moral responsibility requires it. In that kind of argument, though, moral intuition, rightly or wrongly, has taken precedence to logic and experience.

    I’m not sure if that was meant for me, but I don’t argue that we can be causa sui in certain mental respects because it jibes with moral intuition. I argue that we can be causa sui because it seems logical to me, and because it fits in with my observations. Again I fall back to mpg’s excellent summation: I believe self is the ground of a causal chain.

  73. cl says:

    dguller,

    …under your account even the decisions themselves are just random and thus based upon luck.

    Sure, if you wish to deny everything pertinent that I said in my last comment, I suppose.

    A decision is ultimately made out of this maelstrom of factors, and since that decision was made by the subcomponents that I consist of, I am responsible for it.

    You are not ultimately responsible for it, whether you smuggle in reductionism or not.

    …I am not an extensionless point, but am spread out over a variety of components and parts over space and time, and that spread IS me.

    Of course, but if *YOU* are really just a bunch of matter obeying laws of physics you had no control in establishing, then you’re just a machine with skin. We don’t prosecute machines precisely because they simply obey the laws programmed into them.

    So, you are saying that “random” is “non-intentional”?

    I am saying that lack of intentionality is an essential property of randomness. Thank you for asking, though.

    So, when a rock falls to the earth, it is “random”?

    It all depends. If it was thrown, then, no, it wasn’t random. If it breaks off the side of a crumbling precipice, I’d say that can qualify as random. Is the Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun random? I don’t think it is, because I believe the universe was formed from intent.

    I mean, if a rock can have intention, then the brain can cause consciousness.

    LOL! I’d have to agree. I’m not saying rocks are capable of intentional action.

    I think that you just refuse to accept that if an event does not have a definite cause, then it is random,

    I think that both random and non-random events have definite causes. Throwing a rock off a precipice is as definite a cause as erosion or a meddling badger.

    Also, I asked you where in the sequence of events from thought to action does sui genesis will occur? Do you have any details to provide in this matter?

    I’m not entirely certain I understand your question in the way you intend, but my preliminary answer is, “at the start.”

    First, you wrote about Pam: “As for the question: Is this case conclusive? Of course not.” At the Pam thread on April 8, 2011 at 7:08 PM.

    Correct. Like I said last comment, I’ve never denied that the Pam Reynolds case isn’t of the same caliber as replicated, controlled trials, so I’m not sure what you’re getting at there.

    What do you consider “conclusive” to begin with?

    That’s exactly what I was just about to ask you! Since anything can be doubted except one’s own doubt, it’s hard for me to come up with a definition of conclusive that would force agreement. I suppose that I consider “non-amenability to alternative interpretations” as an essential property of conclusiveness. Let’s start here: if you claim to have an apple in a box, and you show me a box with an apple, I would say that’s conclusive. Aside from the most atrocious solipsism, there is no way a reasonable person can wriggle around that. However, let’s say Fred has been accused of murder. Motive has been established. His DNA has been found at the crime scene. We have a witness who testifies that they overheard Fred say, “I wanna kill that bitch!” and Fred has no alibi. Is this conclusive? Why or why not? Or, perhaps conclusiveness is not always Boolean: in that case, to what degree is the case against Fred conclusive?

    Here’s what I need from you: 1) your definition of both “conclusive” in general, and “conclusive evidence” in particular; and, 2) an example or two thereof.

    Third, these are all simple questions, and focusing upon my psychology AGAIN does nothing to resolve them.

    I’m not focusing on your psychology. I’m focusing on your reasoning. Bias is a part of one’s reasoning, is it not? Like I said, I’m more than willing to drop this whenever you are. You’ve conceded what I needed, and we’ve got better fish to catch.

    And if X is an empirically demonstrated and valid possibility that any scientific study would try to rule out, then the matter is inconclusive. Again, you seem to fail to understand this.

    You’re contradicting yourself. Just a few lines up, you quoted me saying that the Pam Reynolds case is inconclusive. How could I say that if I didn’t understand the very criteria of conclusiveness you allege I don’t understand? If I misunderstood science here, I would be saying that Pam’s case was conclusive. Yet, I’ve said the opposite. Right?

    Truth is a serious enough matter that we cannot be lazy and cut corners. I think that you will agree.

    Like I said, stick around. It’s a cumulative case, not something I can just whip out for you in an afternoon or even a month. I write off what I feel at the moment, as opposed to forcing things because other people think I haven’t got a hill of beans to stand on. Also, try to keep in mind that I’m not in the narrow context of NDE, only. NDE are but one part in a larger case against mindless materialism, and you can always address existing posts which challenge mindless materialism. I have plenty that you haven’t commented on yet.

    You have failed to address my question: Do 100 inconclusive studies make a conclusive case?

    100 inconclusive studies are 100 inconclusive studies. It’s that simple. However, do you believe we can’t reliably infer anything at all from an inconclusive study? I don’t. Also, it frustrates me that you demand conclusive studies when your worldviews are being challenged, but apparently don’t require them when your worldviews are being asserted. As just one recent example, where is your conclusive study supporting your claim that an atom is mostly empty space?

  74. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> You are not ultimately responsible for it, whether you smuggle in reductionism or not.

    Let me ask you this. Does the sui genesis will have parts, or is it simple?

    >> Of course, but if *YOU* are really just a bunch of matter obeying laws of physics you had no control in establishing, then you’re just a machine with skin. We don’t prosecute machines precisely because they simply obey the laws programmed into them.

    First, I have no problem with being a “machine”, if you mean a complicated organism made up of multiple parts that ultimately determine my behavior.

    Second, perhaps in the future once machines become sufficiently complex to demonstrate conscious awareness, then they will become prosecuted.

    >> I am saying that lack of intentionality is an essential property of randomness. Thank you for asking, though.

    Okay, but that leads to a variety of problems. For example, it would mean that HIV causing AIDS is a random event. However, it is not random at all. The HIV virus is a necessary and sufficient condition for AIDS to occur, and thus cannot be considered random. There is nothing random about it, except for why an HIV-infected individual ended up having sexual intercourse with a non-HIV-infected individual, but again, that is because there are so many causal factors involved in that event, none of which being likely determinate, and thus the actual interaction is just random. Nothing has to do with whether there were intentional factors at all, and actually, this example is still random despite there being two intentional actors making decisions.

    >> It all depends. If it was thrown, then, no, it wasn’t random.

    Right, but that is because there is a determinate cause of its motion, i.e. being thrown by someone. Without the throwing, there would be no motion of the rock at all. It does not matter if it was an intentional action. If someone was sleepwalking and threw a rock, the rock’s motion would not be a random event, except in the sense that no-one can explain why the individual threw the rock to begin with. However, the actual motion of the rock, which is what we are interested in, is not random, and only because it had a clear cause of its motion.

    >> If it breaks off the side of a crumbling precipice, I’d say that can qualify as random.

    Right, but that is because there is no determinate cause of its breaking off. There were likely a near-infinite number of micro-events that contributed to its breaking off, none of which was determinate, and that is why it is random. It has nothing to do with intentional action at all.

    >> Is the Earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun random? I don’t think it is, because I believe the universe was formed from intent.

    So, then ultimately, there is no such thing as a random event at all.

    >> I think that both random and non-random events have definite causes. Throwing a rock off a precipice is as definite a cause as erosion or a meddling badger.

    Wait, wait. I thought that there was no such thing as a random event? The whole universe, and everything in it, was formed by prior intent, which – by definition – means that nothing in it is random, but now you are talking about “random events”. What changed?

    >> I’m not entirely certain I understand your question in the way you intend, but my preliminary answer is, “at the start.”

    At the start of what? Before or after the initial thought of a possible course of action?

    >> Correct. Like I said last comment, I’ve never denied that the Pam Reynolds case isn’t of the same caliber as replicated, controlled trials, so I’m not sure what you’re getting at there.

    I’m trying to understand why you believe in Pam’s case so fervently. We agree that the matter is inconclusive, and thus requires further study. Instead of just leaving it at all, you are actually saying that, in fact, Pam’s case is TRUE, even though the evidence is inconclusive. I am curious about how one infer from “I just don’t know” that “I know!”

    >> That’s exactly what I was just about to ask you! Since anything can be doubted except one’s own doubt, it’s hard for me to come up with a definition of conclusive that would force agreement.

    First off, I think that we can doubt our own doubt. I can say that I doubt X, but if my actual behavior is completely inconsistent with doubting X, then I cannot be thought to doubt X at all, but am only lying to myself. Doubt, like any psychological state, is not just a feeling in the mind, but is a behavioral capacity, as well.

    >> I suppose that I consider “non-amenability to alternative interpretations” as an essential property of conclusiveness. Let’s start here: if you claim to have an apple in a box, and you show me a box with an apple, I would say that’s conclusive. Aside from the most atrocious solipsism, there is no way a reasonable person can wriggle around that.

    Agreed.

    >> However, let’s say Fred has been accused of murder. Motive has been established. His DNA has been found at the crime scene. We have a witness who testifies that they overheard Fred say, “I wanna kill that bitch!” and Fred has no alibi. Is this conclusive? Why or why not? Or, perhaps conclusiveness is not always Boolean: in that case, to what degree is the case against Fred conclusive?

    I would say that the matter is conclusive, especially if the DNA tests were run by independent labs, and that the witness has no motive to lie about Fred. The bottom line is that that is a case where both the high quality and low quality evidence is in agreement, and confounding factors have been ruled out as much as possible. I think that this would be a good example of a conclusive case.

    >> Here’s what I need from you: 1) your definition of both “conclusive” in general, and “conclusive evidence” in particular; and, 2) an example or two thereof.

    My definition will necessarily be imprecise, because it lacks mathematical precision. Overall, I would have to say that something is conclusive when the evidence in support of it is far more likely than evidence that rejects it. Now, what does “far more likely” mean? In research studies, the arbitrary cut-off is 95% likelihood of being true, i.e. a p-value of less than 0.05 indicates statistical significance. I think that is something close to what I would say, because it is intuitively obvious that if something is > 95% likely to be true, then one would be hard-pressed to reject it.

    And as for examples, the fact that HIV causes AIDS, for example, or the theory of evolution.

    >> You’re contradicting yourself. Just a few lines up, you quoted me saying that the Pam Reynolds case is inconclusive. How could I say that if I didn’t understand the very criteria of conclusiveness you allege I don’t understand? If I misunderstood science here, I would be saying that Pam’s case was conclusive. Yet, I’ve said the opposite. Right?

    Because you keep denigrating “mere possibility” as insufficient to demonstrate the need to reject your claims. Ruling out confounding factors is absolutely essential to science, and whenever you denigrate this necessary process, you show that you do not understand science.

    >> Like I said, stick around. It’s a cumulative case, not something I can just whip out for you in an afternoon or even a month. I write off what I feel at the moment, as opposed to forcing things because other people think I haven’t got a hill of beans to stand on. Also, try to keep in mind that I’m not in the narrow context of NDE, only. NDE are but one part in a larger case against mindless materialism, and you can always address existing posts which challenge mindless materialism. I have plenty that you haven’t commented on yet.

    Okay, no problem. I can wait.

    >> 100 inconclusive studies are 100 inconclusive studies. It’s that simple. However, do you believe we can’t reliably infer anything at all from an inconclusive study? I don’t.

    I think that we can conclude what made the studies inconclusive to begin with, and plan future studies to rule out the confounding factors that are making the study inconclusive. Other than that, you cannot infer anything reliably from them. That is what inconclusive means. We just don’t have enough within the study itself to know if it is true or false, and thus we have to suspend our judgment until better evidence comes up. I mean, if the evidence was inconclusive that X caused Y, then we cannot just start asserting that X does or does not cause Y. We just do not know. And inferring anything from a state of utter ignorance does not equal knowledge, except of the fact that we are ignorant.

    >> Also, it frustrates me that you demand conclusive studies when your worldviews are being challenged, but apparently don’t require them when your worldviews are being asserted. As just one recent example, where is your conclusive study supporting your claim that an atom is mostly empty space?

    Well, an atom consists of a nucleus, which contains protons and neutrons, and surrounding electrons. The radius of the atom is typically 10,000 times the size of the radius of its nucleus. The question is what is going on in the space outside the nucleus and within the atomic radius, and that is essentially where the electrons are. According to QM, they exist in a cloud of probability that results in a various orbitals. It is an open question whether they really are clouds, or whatever this is just a mathematical calculation. So, if the electrons are actually distributed in the space outside the nucleus in a cloud, then the atom is not mostly empty space, but is filled with electron clouds, but if the electrons are discrete entities, but whose location in space we cannot know in advance, then the atom is mostly made up of empty space, because electrons have about 2,000 times less mass than protons, and are much smaller than them.

    I hope that this is enough. Or are you asking for the specific empirical experiments that demonstrate all of this? I’m afraid I will have to refer you to a textbook of chemistry and physics. But certainly paranormal phenomena are not on par with the atomic theory of reality, which I think we will agree is a well-validated empirical theory.

  75. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    We’re stuck, woodchuck, we’re stuck!

    Ah, but the woodchuck, a tenacious woodland creature, keeps chucking wood.

    To accept it one has to understand how consciousness can form beliefs without those beliefs being from prior beliefs, without being from prior experience, without being from the nature of being (i.e. derived from the “substance” of consciousness in some way), without being random, and without being “out of thin air” in some sense.

    I don’t think understanding the “mechanics” of some phenomenon is a necessary prerequisite for accepting said phenomenon. I accept the veracity of many things I don’t understand, and in those cases, observation is sufficient. Observation necessarily precedes explanation.

    It’s not just mechanics, though, but more basic issues.
    1. Events that occur non-deterministically occur randomly by definition. It seems wholly arbitrary to exclude consciousness from this definition. For example if black swans are dark swans, should we expect to find a black swan that is not a dark swan?
    2. Beliefs are composed of complex information and representations; we don’t see complex information and representation forming spontaneously without an observed mechanism (like the brain and its sensory processing of environment), why should consciousness be an exception? (Consciousness is of course free to use the brain and sensory processing to create information but it can not use those for causa sui beliefs by definition since then the brain and sensory processing are prior and responsible.)

    (1) seems like a logical problem that has to be resolved before the premise can be considered at all. (2) seems to require proof of dualism or some sort of supernaturalism before one can accept it.

    Now compare the original premise that nothing can be causa sui. I can accept this as logically and evidentially sound without making any negative assumptions about dualism, God or the supernatural; that is, God can still exist, dualism can still be true, and the supernatural may still exist even if nothing is truly causa sui (i.e. something like Calvinism). So I think this premise is making less assumptions about reality and is therefore a better one (in the absence of resolution to (1) and evidence for (2)).

  76. cl says:

    woodchuck64,

    Events that occur non-deterministically occur randomly by definition. It seems wholly arbitrary to exclude consciousness from this definition. … Beliefs are composed of complex information and representations; we don’t see complex information and representation forming spontaneously without an observed mechanism

    I’m not saying it should be excluded. I’m saying consciousness is the observed mechanism. Intentional acts are determined. I don’t know where we can go from there. We have different starting assumptions, and it seems neither of us can falsify the other’s. Materialism underwrites your starting assumption, and something like libertarian free will underwrites mine. I’m not trying to be a stalwart, I just don’t see any feasible resolution here. Whatever we say about morality is speculation until we’ve got a grip on ontology.

    You say 2 requires proof of dualism. I don’t think it does. It just requires justifiable reason to doubt determinism, which I think we have.

  77. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    I’m not saying it should be excluded. I’m saying consciousness is the observed mechanism. Intentional acts are determined.

    But if so, ultimate beliefs are indistinguishable from random beliefs and it seems strange to base moral responsibility on random beliefs (note this is different from saying ultimate beliefs are based on the ultimate nature of consciousness). Further, observing others and my own mind leads me to conclude beliefs are not random but instead based on prior beliefs and experiences, creating a regress that probably continues all the way to the Big Bang (and beyond?). Truly random beliefs in practice would look like insanity since they would be totally unpredicted and totally unexpected: for example, a happy, emotionally healthy person suddenly believing live is worthless and committing suicide.

    I don’t know where we can go from there. We have different starting assumptions, and it seems neither of us can falsify the other’s. Materialism underwrites your starting assumption, and something like libertarian free will underwrites mine.

    As mentioned, Calvinism makes much of the same arguments I’ve made against causa sui while not having materialism as a starting assumption. Check here for example:

    If you ask whether a person can choose against their nature (i.e. libertarian freedom) the answer, I believe, must be “no.” A person’s nature makes up who they are. Who they are determines their choice. If there choice is determined, then the freedom is self-limited.

    Theist/Atheist starting assumptions are not really the main reason we disagree, as demonstrated by the Theist argument above which has my complete agreement; there must be something else.

    You say 2 requires proof of dualism. I don’t think it does. It just requires justifiable reason to doubt determinism, which I think we have.

    Point 2 (in support of causa sui) posits that information can come from the non-material. Even if determinism is false, I think we must require some kind of evidence or reason to believe that information and representation can come from non-matter (note that this is different from saying consciousness in connection with a brain and sensory processing can create information, which it can).

  78. mpg says:

    cl

    Thanks for the welcome. And thanks for the clarification. I should clarify, while I instinctively agree with you, I logically don’t agree with you.

    I instinctively agree with you as I feel like I am the ground of a causal (decision-making) chain. But Strawson puts a stone in my shoe. I can’t help but say, that the reason for my ‘free’ decisions is my nature. To get around that, I feel I’m making a strategic move rather than an evidential one. Strawson truly isn’t assuming determinism. Rather, he’s arguing that the source of a self’s decision making is the self’s nature. It’s actually analagous to Craig’s DCM theory: the values rooted in an objective, (inflexible, necessary) nature. Now, in order to overcome this, if he is right, we have to say that our natures are also caused by ourselves. We must be ontologically prior to our natures, which seems, at first view, absurd.

    My gut impression is we can’t be so quick to dismiss Strawson’s argument. I don’t think your objection to P1 is powerful enough yet. But I agree that we might be talking in a different language to Strawson and other hard determinists.

  79. dguller says:

    Woodchuck:

    >> Truly random beliefs in practice would look like insanity since they would be totally unpredicted and totally unexpected

    Exactly. I made this very point above. A sui genesis will that is completely unconstrained by antecedent reasons or causes would make us all madmen, which is not the kind of free will that any of us wants, and is certainly not conducive to moral responsibility, because typically an insane individual who acts without reason or cause is not held responsible at all!

  80. dguller says:

    Mpg:

    >> Rather, he’s arguing that the source of a self’s decision making is the self’s nature. It’s actually analagous to Craig’s DCM theory: the values rooted in an objective, (inflexible, necessary) nature. Now, in order to overcome this, if he is right, we have to say that our natures are also caused by ourselves. We must be ontologically prior to our natures, which seems, at first view, absurd.

    I tend to go back to Dennett’s principle: “if we make ourselves very small, then we can externalize everything”. Take our free will. There is our subjective experience of exercising our free will in which we appear to be in control and that the choice in question completely comes from us. There is also the set of neurobiological pathways in the brain that appear to process the various aspects of information that results in our choices. If you conceptualize your free will as something separate from the volitional apparatus in the brain, i.e. “make yourself really small”, then it appears that the volitional apparatus in the brain is FORCING “you” to make choices, i.e. “you can externalize everything”. However, the solution is to make yourself sufficiently large and spread out over space and time that there is enough of you out there to assume responsibility for your choices.

    If you extend these points to the issue that you raised, then by seeing your nature as constitutive of your self – i.e. to spread yourself out enough to encompass your nature, and not to view it as some outside or “external” thing that is tyrannically exerting its influence upon “you”, which has actually shrunken too much – you are no longer plagued with the idea that you must be prior to your nature in order to prevent it from forcing its effects upon you. Instead, “you” are partly your nature, and separating the two is just a confusion, and is the result of shrinking yourself too much, which has resulted in externalizing nature, which appears to be the real powerhouse behind your choices.

  81. woodchuck64 says:

    dguller,

    Exactly. I made this very point above. A sui genesis will that is completely unconstrained by antecedent reasons or causes would make us all madmen, which is not the kind of free will that any of us wants, and is certainly not conducive to moral responsibility, because typically an insane individual who acts without reason or cause is not held responsible at all!

    Agreed, you made a lot of good points in this thread. It would be frightening indeed to imagine that my beliefs or my choices could at any time depart completely from my experiences, desires, thoughts, hopes and dreams, exactly like being suddenly possessed by a demon or alien mind.

    But what is the best way to respond to the claim that only a tiny part of choice/belief may actually act this way? Imagine if 99% of our beliefs/choices are determined by genes, environment, fabric of reality, consciousness, etc., but 1% is actually sui-genesis/causa-sui. My thoughts are (1) this would be extremely hard to distinguish from 100% determinism so seems to violate law of parsimony, (2) if ultimate responsibility comes from sui-genesis/causa-sui beliefs/choices only, then we can only be 1% responsible for our decisions. Any thoughts?

  82. cl says:

    woodchuck64,

    But if so, ultimate beliefs are indistinguishable from random beliefs and it seems strange to base moral responsibility on random beliefs (note this is different from saying ultimate beliefs are based on the ultimate nature of consciousness). … Truly random beliefs in practice would look like insanity since they would be totally unpredicted and totally unexpected: for example, a happy, emotionally healthy person suddenly believing live is worthless and committing suicide.

    I agree. Intentional acts aren’t random, though.

    As mentioned, Calvinism makes much of the same arguments I’ve made against causa sui while not having materialism as a starting assumption.

    Well remember, I submit that determinism / indeterminism are the problematic starting assumptions, and we can see this in my befuddled reaction to your “regress that probably continues all the way to the Big Bang” comment.

    Theist/Atheist starting assumptions are not really the main reason we disagree, as demonstrated by the Theist argument above which has my complete agreement; there must be something else.

    That comment assumes that I endorse the Calvinist ontology you allude to. Just because I’m a believer doesn’t mean I’m sold on Calvinist predestination [i.e. determism]. It’s “cl/woodchuck64” starting assumptions that I think are problematic here. On your view, all our beliefs and choices are determined by the state of affairs at T = 0 [or perhaps even beyond]. So of course causa sui is going to seem odd. In your mind, you’re thinking, “How can I be ultimately responsible if the ultimate cause of my nature ergo my choices took place billions of years before I was born?”

    It would be frightening indeed to imagine that my beliefs or my choices could at any time depart completely from my experiences, desires, thoughts, hopes and dreams, exactly like being suddenly possessed by a demon or alien mind.

    While that may be true, that you find a proposition frightening is no real reason to deny it, right? This is actually one of Strawson’s criticisms against people who reject his argument: that they often do so because the idea of not having ultimate responsibility is frightening.

    Besides, when I say that we can be causa sui in certain mental respects necessary to challenge Strawson’t argument, I’m not advocating a complete severance of the causal chain. You and dguller seem to frame this as false dichotomy: either every belief and choice is the result of previous beliefs and choices, or all our beliefs and choices are random. I’m saying free will is like money: we can spend it on whatever we wish, something positive, or something negative, and we are wholly responsible for the choice we make.

  83. dguller says:

    Woodchuck:

    >> But what is the best way to respond to the claim that only a tiny part of choice/belief may actually act this way? Imagine if 99% of our beliefs/choices are determined by genes, environment, fabric of reality, consciousness, etc., but 1% is actually sui-genesis/causa-sui. My thoughts are (1) this would be extremely hard to distinguish from 100% determinism so seems to violate law of parsimony, (2) if ultimate responsibility comes from sui-genesis/causa-sui beliefs/choices only, then we can only be 1% responsible for our decisions. Any thoughts?

    Well, I think that including sui genesis volition is a non-starter. It ultimately would mean a completely random will, despite what cl seems to think. An uncaused choice is a random one by virtue of the fact that there is no definitive cause or set of causes that allows us to predict behavior. And even if there was, then how exactly does it work? Is it a simple substance, or a composite substance? If the former, then how does it do anything as variable as choice? If the latter, then we are back to the same problem as my choices being made by subconscious brain processes, except that now they are immaterial processes outside my awareness.

    I have no problem with my choices being generated by volitional mechanisms in my brain, and as long as they are functioning properly, then I am responsible for the choices that they make. This is because these mechanisms are part of my personal identity, just as much as the brain pathways that store my beliefs, memories, goals and desires. I am not a tiny immaterial entity that is buffeted my the brain-body-environment interaction. I AM the brain-body-environment interaction as generated by various recurrent loops in the brain. That is the idea behind the new idea of the mind being embedded, embodied, enactive and extended. The 4e model, so to speak.

  84. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> Besides, when I say that we can be causa sui in certain mental respects necessary to challenge Strawson’t argument, I’m not advocating a complete severance of the causal chain.

    But you are advocating, what, a partial severance of the causal chain? Being part of the causal chain is like being a virgin. You either are one, or you aren’t one. There is no “partial virginity”!

    I mean, there is the causal nexus, which represents the totality of events in space-time bound by various causal sequences. A causa sui libertarian will would necessarily have to be at least partially outside this nexus, and that would mean that there is a component of free will that is completely severed from the causal chain. And the component outside the causal nexus is the only “free” part of free will, and why is it free? Because it is completely severed from the causal chain! And why does it have to be outside the causal nexus? Because that is supposed to explain how we “could have done otherwise”, even if all causal antecedents were the same! I’m sorry, but you cannot endorse “could have done otherwise” as an essential part of free will, and still have will within the causal nexus.

    >> You and dguller seem to frame this as false dichotomy: either every belief and choice is the result of previous beliefs and choices, or all our beliefs and choices are random. I’m saying free will is like money: we can spend it on whatever we wish, something positive, or something negative, and we are wholly responsible for the choice we make.

    First, I do not endorse that dichotomy at all. I can have a belief or choice that is the result of a hallucinogenic drug, and not “previous beliefs and choices”.

    Second, the dichotomy that I endorse is: either our volitional capacity is a part of the natural world within the causal space-time nexus, or it is outside the natural world and the causal space-time nexus.

    Third, I am saying that an event is random if there is no determinate cause(s) or reason(s) for the event to have occurred, which would have allowed it to be predicted. That is just what we mean by “random”. The result of a coin toss is random, because there is no determinate cause or reason for the coin to have come out heads or tails, and that is not because there is NO causes at all, but because there are TOO MANY, each of which is exerting a tiny effect, and effectively all cancelling each other out. When you apply this to uncaused free will, then it becomes random, because there are no determinate causes for its choices, because there are no causes at all!

  85. woodchuck64 says:

    cl,

    Well remember, I submit that determinism / indeterminism are the problematic starting assumptions

    Okay, that’s fine. I just didn’t want you to think I believe in determinism because I’m an atheist. Rather, I think that determinism (at least the determinism that is compatible with quantum indeterminacy) is logically and empirically on much better ground than indeterminism and that’s why I believe it (along with Calvinist theists). As a young Christian, everyone I knew rejected Calvinism because predestination was too tough a pill to swallow for its depiction of God, not because there was anything clearly wrong with Calvinist reasoning.

    While that may be true, that you find a proposition frightening is no real reason to deny it, right?

    If uncaused choice is meant to entail a natural part of my behavior, and I don’t find anything frightening about my natural behavior as it relates to beliefs or choices– that is, I always find myself making decisions that reflect beliefs and desires I already have–then I would be inclined to think uncaused choice is not a natural part of my behavior. (That would be assuming uncaused choice is not buried deeply within deterministic beliefs and desires and is barely perceptible– but that was the next issue I brought up.)

    false dichotomy: either every belief and choice is the result of previous beliefs and choices, or all our beliefs and choices are random.

    I alluded to the middle ground in that post. It’s just that whatever part of beliefs and choices that are not entirely the result of prior beliefs/choices/experiences/genes/soul/etc still have this strange arbitrary quality to them that seems an unusual basis for moral responsibility. Such strangeness does not seem consistent with our experience and it also doesn’t seem to have any evidence for it (although admittedly I don’t know how to look).

  86. woodchuck64 says:

    dguller,

    This is because these mechanisms are part of my personal identity, just as much as the brain pathways that store my beliefs, memories, goals and desires. I am not a tiny immaterial entity that is buffeted my the brain-body-environment interaction. I AM the brain-body-environment interaction as generated by various recurrent loops in the brain. That is the idea behind the new idea of the mind being embedded, embodied, enactive and extended. The 4e model, so to speak.

    I agree. Analyzing the implications of “no such thing as sui genesis/causa-sui” initially seems as absurd as “uncaused cause”, but then it forces us to rethink what it means to be self and being (not to mention responsibility and free will).

  87. dguller says:

    Woodchuck:

    >> Analyzing the implications of “no such thing as sui genesis/causa-sui” initially seems as absurd as “uncaused cause”, but then it forces us to rethink what it means to be self and being (not to mention responsibility and free will).

    Absolutely.

    I would only add that rejecting as absurd and nonsensical various concepts that were once thought as essential to explain and justify a particular phenomenon does not eliminate or invalidate the phenomenon in question. To bring up Dennett again, because I find him so compelling, he has been charged with denying that both consciousness and free will exist at all, because he rejects certain metaphysical assumptions that appear to underlie consciousness and free will.

    As he has written in response, an ancient Greek who rejected that Cupid’s arrows caused love in human beings does not thereby reject the phenomenon on love itself, but only some mythical baggage that has culturally been associated with it. Similarly, rejecting one popular account of qualia, for example, does not mean the rejection of consciousness itself, and rejecting sui genesis libertarian will does not mean the rejection of free will itself.

  88. dguller says:

    And here is another thought about determinism versus indeterminism. From the God’s eye view from nowhere, seeing the totality of events in space-time from outside space-time, whether our choices were caused by deterministic or indeterministic mechanisms, they appear to be fixed regardless, and thus indeterminism does not help matters much, even from this account.

  89. mpg says:

    dguller

    I have no problem with the notion that part or some of my decisions are deterministically caused. My worldview has ample space for that. But I cannot get around the idea that part or some of my decision making is completely controlled by me. Maybe your compatibilist thinking on the ‘large self’ would solve the problem, (again my worldview is very amenable to such an idea).

    Just wondering if part of the problem is that arguments for libertarian free will are the source of the difficulty. I mean, in my case, while I tentatively hold to some limited notion of libertarianism, I don’t think all the arguments for libertarian free will are crap, and amount to little more than semantic dodges (I’m looking at you contra-causal free will arguments). Just a thought.

  90. dguller says:

    Mpg:

    >> Just wondering if part of the problem is that arguments for libertarian free will are the source of the difficulty. I mean, in my case, while I tentatively hold to some limited notion of libertarianism, I don’t think all the arguments for libertarian free will are crap, and amount to little more than semantic dodges (I’m looking at you contra-causal free will arguments). Just a thought.

    I would agree. The problem is when we make the move from “I experience my will to be outside the causal chain” to “my will IS outside the causal chain”. After all, my will can be inside the causal chain, but feel like it isn’t. And you add to this the idea that anything inside the causal chain cannot be free, and you’re off to the races!

  91. mpg says:

    dguller

    I hear you. I do take my experience as my main (and only) evidence for my (limited) free will. No free will argument done that for met, that’s for sure. But I also understand that I could be being deceived.

    I suppose my ‘get-out’ clause is that I am, like J BS Haldane, convinced that “the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose”. I feel comfortable with the ‘faith’ statement that: 1. I think I have free will. 2. I think I have free will because, to some extent, I do have free will.

    I won’t take you on in an argument to that effect, on an objective analysis I lose. But I think it can suffice as reason for me to hold to free will, until it can be shown that my experience is false. I mean, after all, my experience could be true, right? ;-)

  92. mpg says:

    dguller

    Following on from my last comment, the thing I really fear is that if I can be so wrong about my experience of free will, then, basically, everything goes. I mean, my experience of myself is the only thing I truly know, and if Strawson is right, I don’t even know that. I think it creates an existential and epistemological crisis that nothing rescues me from. Radical scepticism seems to be the only realistic option, (and Plantingan-like appeals fail too). Just another thought.

    PS. Do you have a blog, dguller?

  93. lackofcheese says:

    mpg,
    The point being made isn’t that your own personal experience is somehow ‘false’ – that would be silly. I have much the same experience you do, and I don’t consider it ‘false’ – I just understand it differently.

  94. dguller says:

    Mpg:

    I think that it is helpful to remember that no-one is saying that free will is an illusion in the sense that it is unreal and false. It just lacks a specific metaphysical quality of being an immaterial entity that is essentially disconnected and outside the causal nexus. Everything else about it is perfectly real and true, and good enough to ground personal responsibility, even on objective grounds. Like I said, the trick is to realize that you are not a simple substance that is outside the natural world somehow, but tyrannically forced by the natural world to make choices in a coerced fashion, but rather that you are composed of sub-processes that are distributed in space and time, and that as long as those sub-processes are operating properly, you are individually responsible for your actions. You are not something outside those sub-processes at all, and thus it makes no sense for them to force your to do things against your will, because they ARE your will!

    As for your second concern about radical skepticism, I think it is misplaced, because radical skepticism is fundamentally incoherent for the very reasons that you identified. If I can be skeptical about everything, then I cannot even know if I am being skeptical, because maybe I am really being certain, but an evil demon has crossed my wires without my knowing it. In addition, because “skepticism” and “doubt” are psychological and linguistic categories, they depend upon an objective world with language-using individuals to contain any content whatsoever, and if there is neither an objective world nor language-using individuals who taught me language and ensure that my use is correct, then I cannot even have the concepts of “skepticism” or “doubt” to begin with!

    That was Wittgenstein’s insight. In other words, in order to have any concept whatsoever presupposes a background set of relatively stable beliefs and dispositions in a relatively stable community of individuals in a relatively stable objective world. Doubting all of that is akin to sawing off the branch that you are sitting upon, and that is why you experience vertigo and a free fall sensation when you have these thoughts. They just eat themselves, and leave you spinning your wheels in the air! So, you can happily believe that some subjective experiences that feel true and that we feel that we know for certain can still be false, but it does not follow that ALL subjective experiences that we experience as certain and indubitable are false. That just does not follow at all.

    And no, I do not have a blog.

  95. dguller says:

    lackofcheese:

    Exactly right.

  96. cl says:

    lackofcheese,

    That little profile photo of yours is too good! However, I’m wondering how you and dguller concur here: if free will does not exist, and we really do not have free will, then isn’t it accurate to say that we are having a false experience?

  97. lackofcheese says:

    cl,

    I’m indifferent to the semantics of the term ‘free will’, but on the whole I’d probably identify as a compatibilist, as does dguller.

    If ‘free will’ is associated with the human experience of making a choice, then it makes perfect sense from a compatibilist perspective; I wouldn’t call it a false experience.

    Perhaps you could elaborate on what it is you’re describing as false?

  98. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> That little profile photo of yours is too good! However, I’m wondering how you and dguller concur here: if free will does not exist, and we really do not have free will, then isn’t it accurate to say that we are having a false experience?

    Free will does exist. If we make a decision, and (1) we are not being externally coerced, (2) we have consciously deliberated upon the various options available in a rational fashion, (3) our decision is consistent with our background set of beliefs, desires, goals and dispositions, and (4) are able to execute our decision without constraint, then we have exercised free will. I deny that our experience of (1) to (4) is false in any way, and I think (1) to (4) captures significantly what we generally mean by “free will”, making it very real.

  99. mpg says:

    dguller

    I think I over stated. I wasn’t arguing that all intuitions would be therefore false, rather that any one of my intuitions could be false, and I, none the wiser. This seems to be a lower order scepticism than the one articulated by Wittgenstein.

    However, I think you’re right.

    On compatibilism. I think my intuition is not that my mind is potentially separate from my body. At least, I think that is a learnt notion rather than a deep intuition (if you look historically, there certianly isn’t a unanimous notion of cartesian-type dualism). It is that my mind lies outside the causal chain. In this sense, it seems quite clear that my intuition is wrong, if determinism is true.

    But again, as a nondualist, compatibilism poses no ideological problem for me. I sense that it is non-Calvinist christianity that is most disturbed by the implications of libertarianism’s potential falsity.

  100. mpg says:

    dguller

    And lastly, I think that ontic indeterminism is probably true, so I guess I would think that human decision-making is random, if limited libertarianism is false.

  101. dguller says:

    mpg:

    Agreed.

    Just one question: what is ontic indeterminism, and why would its truth imply that human choice is random?

  102. mpg says:

    dguller

    Ontic indeterminism is the position that the universe actually IS indeterministic. That is, while some, even most, of the events follow a simple cause-effect paradigm, there are some events (Quantum Physics, human decision making) which are not completely determined by prior events. As such, if I ever rejected free will, I would still hold that human will is indeterministic, which would leave me with the only possibility, that human will is random, chance.

  103. cl says:

    Unless I’m missing something, this whole ontic indeterminism thing seems to be a pretty good description of how I view things. Although, there is a sense in which I believe the universe is deterministic, too, above and beyond the cause-effect chain. On my view, human choice in virtue of God’s laws determines the operation of the physical universe. Entropy becomes a contingent state of affairs, and this is internally consistent with the idea of an eternal cosmos–which seems to be the original intent according to the Bible. I’m tempted to describe this as metadeterminism, to distinguish from the determinism of garden variety causal-chains.

  104. dguller says:

    Mpg:

    >> Ontic indeterminism is the position that the universe actually IS indeterministic. That is, while some, even most, of the events follow a simple cause-effect paradigm, there are some events (Quantum Physics, human decision making) which are not completely determined by prior events. As such, if I ever rejected free will, I would still hold that human will is indeterministic, which would leave me with the only possibility, that human will is random, chanc

    First, how would ontic indeterminism be consistent with an omnipotent deity? Wouldn’t it imply that such a deity could not know what would happen in indeterministic situations?

    Second, even if we accept quantum mechanics as a paradigmatic case of indeterminism, then it does not follow that free will is equally indeterministic. QM is a well-validated empirical theory whose predictions are so precise that we must take it seriously, and that is the only reason why we tolerate its bizarre features, such as its indeterminism.

    Third, it is not even clear that QM is genuinely indeterministic in your sense. Remember, determinism simply states that a set of causal events is necessary and sufficient for an effect to occur. QM is certainly PROBABILISTIC in the sense that we cannot predict with certainty what will happen, but we have probability calculations that map the behavior of particles very well. Now, just because something involves probability calculations does not make it indeterministic. The weather is a good example of a deterministic system whose non-linear dynamic nature makes accurate predictions beyond a certain timeframe impossible, and thus appearing indeterministic from our epistemic perspective. So, something may be deterministic, but appear indeterministic due to our limited cognitive and calculating abilities, and then we call it “ontic” indeterminism, or whatever.

  105. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> On my view, human choice in virtue of God’s laws determines the operation of the physical universe.

    If your claim is moderate, then I think I would agree, but I suspect that you have grander cosmic implications, and thus would appreciate your elaboration upon this point.

  106. lackofcheese says:

    dguller,

    So, something may be deterministic, but appear indeterministic due to our limited cognitive and calculating abilities, and then we call it “ontic” indeterminism, or whatever.

    I think you used the wrong term here; that would merely be called “uncertainty” rather than ontic indeterminism.

    As you said, even if there is an element of indeterminism in QM, it hardly implies that free will is also indeterministic. I don’t see what reason mpg has to think that human choice is indeterministic rather than something we don’t yet fully understand.

    cl:
    >> On my view, human choice in virtue of God’s laws determines the operation of the physical universe.
    If your claim is moderate, then I think I would agree, but I suspect that you have grander cosmic implications, and thus would appreciate your elaboration upon this point.

    Yeah, it’s not very clear what cl means here; clarification is in order.

  107. dguller says:

    Lackofcheese:

    >> I think you used the wrong term here; that would merely be called “uncertainty” rather than ontic indeterminism.

    As far as I understand things, determinism has to do with whether a particular set of causes will necessarily have a particular set of events, and indeterminism rejects this by claiming that the same set of causes can have different effects under identical circumstances. In other words, if you take a set of causes that end up having a particular effect, then if you were to replay that same scenario with the same set of causes, then something else might have happened instead. Ultimately, this has to do with predictability and certainty about the future.

    There are two ways of looking at this, one is an ontological perspective and the other is an epistemological perspective. From the ontological perspective, the universe is either deterministic, meaning that in truth there is only one possible causal sequence that can unfold, or indeterministic, meaning that even with the same initial set of conditions, different causal sequences can follow. From an epistemological perspective, it is all about whether we are able to accurately predict future events on the basis of knowing initial conditions. For a small set of issues, we can predict things with excellent accuracy, but in others, we are just awful at prediction.

    Now, one can believe in ontological determinism, but epistemological indeterminism. This is my preference, because I believe that the universe is deterministic, but due to our limited cognitive and predictive capacities, we are unable to make accurate predictions about the future, meaning that the future appears open to us, but in reality it is essentially closed.

    I hope this helps.

  108. cl says:

    I was referring to my belief that what we call “reality” would be different if humans didn’t sin [feel free to insert your own moral term there if the word “sin” offends]. I don’t think we’d have a universe with death and suffering if humans didn’t sin. Paradise wouldn’t have been lost, if a more poetic expression helps.

  109. dguller says:

    cl:

    >> I was referring to my belief that what we call “reality” would be different if humans didn’t sin [feel free to insert your own moral term there if the word “sin” offends]. I don’t think we’d have a universe with death and suffering if humans didn’t sin. Paradise wouldn’t have been lost, if a more poetic expression helps.

    First, reality with sin is different from reality without sin, because one contains a property that the other lacks, but this is utterly trivial and not profound.

    Second, was there “death and suffering” before humans evolved on this planet? I’m pretty sure that animals suffered and died for millions of years before “sin” began.

    Third, why believe that there was even a paradise to have lost? As far as I can tell, there has never been an idyllic period of human history where there was no pain or suffering, and peace and bliss reigned supreme. And without a paradise to begin with, the issue of paradise lost is moot.

  110. lackofcheese says:

    We can (and should) never be absolutely certain of what we do know. Also, there are quite clearly facts about reality we cannot know. For example, even if we knew exactly how everything in the universe worked, we still couldn’t perfectly predict the future of the entire universe, because being inside the universe the prediction device would necessarily contain less information than the whole universe. It is also possible that there are other entirely real aspects to the universe that are simply unknowable.

    On the other hand, there are things we do not currently know, but have little reason to think we will never know – the workings of consciousness are probably the best example of this.

    Both of these are epistemological in nature, but there is a distinction between the two – unknown vs unknowable – though they are both relatively uncontroversial.

    As for the ontology, that’s an interesting question, especially when it comes to QM. One surprising point is that Bell’s Theorem provides strong evidence against a “local hidden variable” ontology.

    The many-worlds interpretation – which I’d say is the most sensible one – is deterministic, local, and has no hidden variables; but then the question remains as to why there is an apparent probabilistic aspect to quantum measurement (the Born rule).

    On the whole, I mostly agree with your preference for ontological determinism and epistemological indeterminism, though I’m not sure how quantum probabilities fit into the picture.

  111. lackofcheese says:

    For clarification, that was a response to dguller’s discussion of different concepts of ‘determinism’.

    I also agree with his criticisms of the idea that suffering is the result of sin, especially with regards to animal suffering.

  112. dguller says:

    Lackofcheese:

    >> even if we knew exactly how everything in the universe worked, we still couldn’t perfectly predict the future of the entire universe, because being inside the universe the prediction device would necessarily contain less information than the whole universe.

    That is an excellent point that I never considered before. Thanks.

    >> As for the ontology, that’s an interesting question, especially when it comes to QM. One surprising point is that Bell’s Theorem provides strong evidence against a “local hidden variable” ontology.

    I’m definitely no expert in QM, but I wonder how much of the bizarre interpretations have to do with confusing epistemology with ontology. I can understand that probability calculations with QM are essentially due to our ignorance, and not part of the ontology of subatomic particles, but I’ll have to defer to the experts here.

    >> On the whole, I mostly agree with your preference for ontological determinism and epistemological indeterminism, though I’m not sure how quantum probabilities fit into the picture

    Great points. I have some books on QM that I’ve been meaning to get around to. To get a better grip on your points I think I’ll pull them off my shelf and get at them very soon. :)

  113. mpg says:

    dguller

    BTW, I am not a theist. I am a Buddhist.

  114. dguller says:

    mpg:

    Me, too. Sort of.

  115. mpg says:

    dguller

    Ha, funny.

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