Questions for those who believe in free will

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Rational Atheist
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Questions for those who believe in free will

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Post by Rational Atheist »

I'm trying to understand the belief in free will. For those who believe in free will, do you believe that your actions are determined by a chain of prior causes or not? If you do, you're a determinist and do not believe in free choice, since you can't control the causes that took place before you were born. If you don't believe your actions are determined by a chain of prior causes, or don't believe that that causal chain extends to before your birth, then you believe that at some point before your action, an event occurred for no reason whatsoever (purely random). How could this possibly get you free will either? No combination of determinism nor indeterminism (randomness) gives you "free will" in the sense of authorship of and responsibility for your actions. How can you believe anyone is ultimately responsible for what they do?

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #91

Post by The Tanager »

blackstart wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:56 amHere is what I consider to be both an interesting and balanced article on the whole subject taken from the Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/a ... n-illusion

Although it is quite a long article, I would suggest it is well worth reading in its entirety.
Thank you for posting this. I will certainly take a look, but wanted to share a few thoughts on the other parts you wrote as well.
blackstart wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:56 amMy own take on the subject of free will and determinism is very much akin to that of the compatibilist. Choice is described simply as the act of choosing between two or more options, but that says nothing about the process that leads to the act of choosing. I cannot gainsay the logic that suggests that choices are either fully deterministic(the result of everything that led up to them) or they are random or that they involve some randomness. Whether consciousness is involved or not, does not change the logic.
It may not change the logic of being determined or random, if I understand you correctly, but this doesn't argue in favor of determinism. Don't let an equivocation on 'determined' fool us here. Under this language, the view of determinism asserts that our choices are ultimately determined by things other than our consciousness, while the free will view asserts our choices are ultimately determined by our consciousness.
blackstart wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:56 amIt also seems to me that, according to present evidence, decisions are made according to the neuronal activity of the brain.
If I understand you correctly, then this also fits both determinism and free will. Free will believers would say that the mind works through the neuronal activity.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #92

Post by blackstart »

The Tanager wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 11:24 am
blackstart wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:56 amHere is what I consider to be both an interesting and balanced article on the whole subject taken from the Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/a ... n-illusion

Although it is quite a long article, I would suggest it is well worth reading in its entirety.
Thank you for posting this. I will certainly take a look, but wanted to share a few thoughts on the other parts you wrote as well.
blackstart wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:56 amMy own take on the subject of free will and determinism is very much akin to that of the compatibilist. Choice is described simply as the act of choosing between two or more options, but that says nothing about the process that leads to the act of choosing. I cannot gainsay the logic that suggests that choices are either fully deterministic(the result of everything that led up to them) or they are random or that they involve some randomness. Whether consciousness is involved or not, does not change the logic.
It may not change the logic of being determined or random, if I understand you correctly, but this doesn't argue in favor of determinism. Don't let an equivocation on 'determined' fool us here. Under this language, the view of determinism asserts that our choices are ultimately determined by things other than our consciousness, while the free will view asserts our choices are ultimately determined by our consciousness.
blackstart wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 10:56 amIt also seems to me that, according to present evidence, decisions are made according to the neuronal activity of the brain.
If I understand you correctly, then this also fits both determinism and free will. Free will believers would say that the mind works through the neuronal activity.
Thanks for your interest.
On your first point:
By determinism I mean the idea that all events are determined by previously existing causes. This could well include the experience of consciousness if one accepts that it is a product of the brain. It may well be, of course, that the brain makes its causal decisions outwith consciousness.

On your second point:
The problem with this is that neuronal activity is a physical process and all physical processes(as far as we know) are subject to cause and effect, making them deterministic in nature. For the free will believer they would have to demonstrate that there is something else besides the physical process at work.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #93

Post by The Tanager »

blackstart wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 12:08 pmOn your first point:
By determinism I mean the idea that all events are determined by previously existing causes. This could well include the experience of consciousness if one accepts that it is a product of the brain. It may well be, of course, that the brain makes its causal decisions outwith consciousness.
The logically possible options are determinism, personal agency, and randomness. What is your reason for ruling out personal agency?
blackstart wrote: Thu Apr 29, 2021 12:08 pmOn your second point:
The problem with this is that neuronal activity is a physical process and all physical processes(as far as we know) are subject to cause and effect, making them deterministic in nature. For the free will believer they would have to demonstrate that there is something else besides the physical process at work.
Every position has their own burden. You have equated being 'subject to cause and effect' to 'making them deterministic in nature'. Why? Agreeing that neuronal activity is a physical process and all physical processes are subject to cause and effect does not rule out personal agency as the cause. What is the premise that causes you to go from cause and effect to determinism?

Also, I did finally read the article. Did you feel certain points were especially enlightening?

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #94

Post by blackstart »

[Replying to The Tanager in post #94]

Hi The Tanager, (incidentally the summer tanager was one of the birds I saw on a brding trip to the U.S. some years ago)

Interesting points. It seems that your objections revolve around the idea of what you regard as personal agency. I would have to say that the idea of personal agency, afik, relies ultimately upon the idea of free will and hence I would treat it as such. Physical determinism relies upon the idea that all events rely upon antecedent events and for me that would also include the idea of the capability of the individual to influence their actions.
Even If one takes take the idea of determinism out of the physical arena of causes and effects, then the same logic still applies. We do things and make choices for reasons. The only alternative to the idea that we could have done things differently, given exactly the same circumstances, is to introduce at least a degree of randomness, and that doesn't help the idea of free will at all.

I found the article a reasonable exploration of some of the ideas and problems that surround the current thinking on free will and determinism. Incidentally you might like to look at some of the comments on the article, many of them critical, here:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/ ... eterminism

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #95

Post by The Tanager »

blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmHi The Tanager, (incidentally the summer tanager was one of the birds I saw on a brding trip to the U.S. some years ago)
I've never seen one in person, but I also never have gone birdwatching. I chose the name from a Sufjan Stevens song. They are beautiful birds, though.
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmInteresting points. It seems that your objections revolve around the idea of what you regard as personal agency. I would have to say that the idea of personal agency, afik, relies ultimately upon the idea of free will and hence I would treat it as such.
Yes, it does. Although, "free will" is in the libertarian sense not the compatibilist sense. I'm not sure what you mean by "treat it as such," though.
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmPhysical determinism relies upon the idea that all events rely upon antecedent events and for me that would also include the idea of the capability of the individual to influence their actions.
In the compatibilist sense of individuals influencing their actions, right? If so, then why rule out the libertarian sense of influencing their actions?
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmEven If one takes take the idea of determinism out of the physical arena of causes and effects, then the same logic still applies. We do things and make choices for reasons.
There is a difference, though, between making a choice non-randomly (i.e., I choose this because of A, B, and C) and having a reason(s) determine the choice you made.
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmThe only alternative to the idea that we could have done things differently, given exactly the same circumstances, is to introduce at least a degree of randomness, and that doesn't help the idea of free will at all.
Why do you think this? Why can't personal agency choose different things in the same circumstance? When I'm faced with eating a smoothie, cereal, egg scramble, and oatmeal for breakfast throughout this coming week, why is my choice either determined by physical forces or random? I like all four options. Some are healthier than others. Some require more work than others. Why is each choice determined or random? Why am I not choosing to eat healthy one day rather than "it being healthy" determining that I made that choice that day? Why couldn't I have ignored "this is the healthiest option" on that day? And then, a different day, I decide to ignore "it being healthy" and go with Lucky Charms. Why is my decision then being determined by different reasons rather than me choosing to side with the reason I want to?

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #96

Post by blackstart »

The Tanager wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 7:31 am
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmHi The Tanager, (incidentally the summer tanager was one of the birds I saw on a brding trip to the U.S. some years ago)
I've never seen one in person, but I also never have gone birdwatching. I chose the name from a Sufjan Stevens song. They are beautiful birds, though.
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmInteresting points. It seems that your objections revolve around the idea of what you regard as personal agency. I would have to say that the idea of personal agency, afik, relies ultimately upon the idea of free will and hence I would treat it as such.
Yes, it does. Although, "free will" is in the libertarian sense not the compatibilist sense. I'm not sure what you mean by "treat it as such," though.
Simply that I see it as akin to the idea of free will. However I see no reason to think that the idea of personal agency is particularly undermined by determinism.
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmPhysical determinism relies upon the idea that all events rely upon antecedent events and for me that would also include the idea of the capability of the individual to influence their actions.
In the compatibilist sense of individuals influencing their actions, right? If so, then why rule out the libertarian sense of influencing their actions?
Given that we are influenced by our nature, nurture and environment etc. I would suggest that these exert a large influence on our actions.
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmEven If one takes take the idea of determinism out of the physical arena of causes and effects, then the same logic still applies. We do things and make choices for reasons.
There is a difference, though, between making a choice non-randomly (i.e., I choose this because of A, B, and C) and having a reason(s) determine the choice you made.
Surely, there are only two alternatives. If we do not choose between A.B and C randomly, we choose because of reasons(either conscious or unconscious).
blackstart wrote: Sat May 01, 2021 3:46 pmThe only alternative to the idea that we could have done things differently, given exactly the same circumstances, is to introduce at least a degree of randomness, and that doesn't help the idea of free will at all.
Why do you think this? Why can't personal agency choose different things in the same circumstance? When I'm faced with eating a smoothie, cereal, egg scramble, and oatmeal for breakfast throughout this coming week, why is my choice either determined by physical forces or random? I like all four options. Some are healthier than others. Some require more work than others. Why is each choice determined or random? Why am I not choosing to eat healthy one day rather than "it being healthy" determining that I made that choice that day? Why couldn't I have ignored "this is the healthiest option" on that day? And then, a different day, I decide to ignore "it being healthy" and go with Lucky Charms. Why is my decision then being determined by different reasons rather than me choosing to side with the reason I want to?
To run with your idea of choosing between four alternative foods, presumably you choose whichever suits you(for whatever reasons). I am saying that, given exactly the same circumtances, you could choose no other unless an element of randomness is involved. Another way of putting this would be to imagine that we could return to the exact point that you made your choice. That is what I mean by exactly the same circumstances. I suggest that you could not choose any other option because all the reasons for making your choice at that particular time would remain exactly the same. I would have thought that this is essentially a logical position. Do you disagree?

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #97

Post by The Tanager »

blackstart wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 10:24 amSimply that I see it as akin to the idea of free will. However I see no reason to think that the idea of personal agency is particularly undermined by determinism.
It's not undermined in a compatibilist sense of personal agency but it is in a libetarian sense of personal agency.
blackstart wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 10:24 amGiven that we are influenced by our nature, nurture and environment etc. I would suggest that these exert a large influence on our actions.
I agree. Yet I think influence is different than determinism. Compatibilism, from my understanding, asserts more than just influence; it asserts determinism by physical factors.
blackstart wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 10:24 amSurely, there are only two alternatives. If we do not choose between A.B and C randomly, we choose because of reasons(either conscious or unconscious).
Yes. But I think the confusion comes when a determinist then equates "choosing X because of reasons" with "those reasons determining the personal will to chose X.
blackstart wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 10:24 amTo run with your idea of choosing between four alternative foods, presumably you choose whichever suits you(for whatever reasons). I am saying that, given exactly the same circumtances, you could choose no other unless an element of randomness is involved. Another way of putting this would be to imagine that we could return to the exact point that you made your choice. That is what I mean by exactly the same circumstances. I suggest that you could not choose any other option because all the reasons for making your choice at that particular time would remain exactly the same. I would have thought that this is essentially a logical position. Do you disagree?
If that is all you mean, then I agree. I fail to see why you call yourself a compatibilist rather than a libertarian, though.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #98

Post by blackstart »

The Tanager wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 11:42 am
blackstart wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 10:24 amSimply that I see it as akin to the idea of free will. However I see no reason to think that the idea of personal agency is particularly undermined by determinism.
It's not undermined in a compatibilist sense of personal agency but it is in a libetarian sense of personal agency.
blackstart wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 10:24 amGiven that we are influenced by our nature, nurture and environment etc. I would suggest that these exert a large influence on our actions.
I agree. Yet I think influence is different than determinism. Compatibilism, from my understanding, asserts more than just influence; it asserts determinism by physical factors.
blackstart wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 10:24 amSurely, there are only two alternatives. If we do not choose between A.B and C randomly, we choose because of reasons(either conscious or unconscious).
Yes. But I think the confusion comes when a determinist then equates "choosing X because of reasons" with "those reasons determining the personal will to chose X.
blackstart wrote: Sun May 02, 2021 10:24 amTo run with your idea of choosing between four alternative foods, presumably you choose whichever suits you(for whatever reasons). I am saying that, given exactly the same circumtances, you could choose no other unless an element of randomness is involved. Another way of putting this would be to imagine that we could return to the exact point that you made your choice. That is what I mean by exactly the same circumstances. I suggest that you could not choose any other option because all the reasons for making your choice at that particular time would remain exactly the same. I would have thought that this is essentially a logical position. Do you disagree?
If that is all you mean, then I agree. I fail to see why you call yourself a compatibilist rather than a libertarian, though.
I don't call myself a compatibilist. What I said was that 'My own take on the subject of free will and determinism is very much akin to that of the compatibilist.' In other words I see it as being quite similar in that, given no outside restraining influences, I feel and act as if I am completely free to do what I want. However, I would add that what I want is the result of reasons and, given eaxctly the same circumstances, I could do no other. That's where the deterministic part comes in.

So, even though I know that all atoms are virtually composed of space, when I sit down, I expect and feel the material solidity of what I am sitting on. This is the way nature allows me to function in the natural world I inhabit.

Similarly, I suggest that everything I do and think is determined by cause and effect (leaving aside quantum mechanics, which may be responsible for a random element)) so that I cannot make total free will decisions. However, this does not stop me functioning in the natural world under what I consider to be the illusion of free will, because this is the way that nature intended me to act. In essence, the fact that I live my life as if free will existed is not evidence that it actually does.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #99

Post by Purple Knight »

One of the things I think trips people up is that when we say freedom, we generally mean the opposite of slavery. And when we say slavery, we know that's something horrible, not choosing what you can do and being whipped half to death and the like.

But so what if we don't actually control our actions? So what if outside factors do? We don't actually experience any of the horror of being "slaves" to the laws of physics.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #100

Post by The Tanager »

blackstart wrote: Tue May 04, 2021 11:14 amI don't call myself a compatibilist. What I said was that 'My own take on the subject of free will and determinism is very much akin to that of the compatibilist.' In other words I see it as being quite similar in that, given no outside restraining influences, I feel and act as if I am completely free to do what I want.
Sorry for my misunderstanding.
blackstart wrote: Tue May 04, 2021 11:14 amHowever, I would add that what I want is the result of reasons and, given eaxctly the same circumstances, I could do no other. That's where the deterministic part comes in.
Why do you think what you want is the result of reasons as opposed to, say, what you want can be explained using reasons, i.e., they are the describing the same thing?

And why does "given exactly the same circumstances, I could do no other" favor determinism over free will. I believe that I would freely make the same choice in the same situation every time.
blackstart wrote: Tue May 04, 2021 11:14 amSimilarly, I suggest that everything I do and think is determined by cause and effect (leaving aside quantum mechanics, which may be responsible for a random element)) so that I cannot make total free will decisions. However, this does not stop me functioning in the natural world under what I consider to be the illusion of free will, because this is the way that nature intended me to act. In essence, the fact that I live my life as if free will existed is not evidence that it actually does.
Free will is hardly ever about being totally free in our decisions. We can be constrained by various factors and still not be determined to one choice in the midst of that.

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