Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Post by AgnosticBoy »

My position on free-will is that we possess it to some degree in that we can never be fully controlled or influenced. I believe our cognitive ability to know things and our wanting to be free all enables us to some free-will.

- Knowledge is power. Having knowledge of something gives you the ability or understanding to be able to do something.
- We have a natural instinct to want to be free or to not be under the control of some thing or someone (e.g. a dictator, etc.)

Given these two factors, how could I ever be fully controlled by something or someone?

Just to elaborate...

If I knew that someone or some thing was trying to control or influence me, then I would think my natural instinct would kick in. Knowing about the influence or control would make me want to do things differently or to at least make sure that the controlling factor (my parents said so) is not the only reason. Or I may even decide if I want to follow or give in to that influence or controlling factor since parental influence/control is sometimes a good thing.

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Does our ability to know what controls or drives our decisions enable us to act contrary to or without said controls? If yes, is that proof against determinism?
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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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AgnosticBoy wrote: Fri Dec 25, 2020 7:58 pmDoes our ability to know what controls or drives our decisions enable us to act contrary to or without said controls?
No; I don't think so. I know that the drive to intake oxygen and to expel carbon dioxide is what compels me to breathe. That doesn't mean I can simply stop breathing and self-suffocate just by wishing it with some magical degree of willpower.

So clearly, if the drive is high enough, one cannot overcome it.

Now let's address drives that do not necessarily conquer all; drives that are low enough to overcome. In this we must evaluate why we want what we want, and how much we want it.

1) Let's say we have a Vulcan in front of us, and he says, clearly I have free will, for I overcome all drives that are surmountable.

2) Now we have someone else who says, I overcome some drives, and some I give in to. I weigh 500 pounds, but I choose that because I like oreos that much, however, I quit smoking because I don't like smoking that much; cigarettes are dirty and not worth the health problems, and sometimes I desire to smoke, but I still don't, so clearly I have free will.

3) Lastly we have a hedonist who says, I give in to all my desires, and I desire to have free will, so clearly I do.

Two questions:

Let's address 3 first. Does he have free will just because he wants it? Has his definitional argument succeeded in defining free will into existence?

If neither 1 nor 3 have free will, does that also mean 2 doesn't?

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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Post by Miles »

AgnosticBoy wrote: Fri Dec 25, 2020 7:58 pm My position on free-will is that we possess it to some degree in that we can never be fully controlled or influenced. I believe our cognitive ability to know things and our wanting to be free all enables us to some free-will.

- Knowledge is power. Having knowledge of something gives you the ability or understanding to be able to do something.
- We have a natural instinct to want to be free or to not be under the control of some thing or someone (e.g. a dictator, etc.)

Given these two factors, how could I ever be fully controlled by something or someone?

Just to elaborate...

If I knew that someone or some thing was trying to control or influence me, then I would think my natural instinct would kick in. Knowing about the influence or control would make me want to do things differently or to at least make sure that the controlling factor (my parents said so) is not the only reason. Or I may even decide if I want to follow or give in to that influence or controlling factor since parental influence/control is sometimes a good thing.

Debate topic
Does our ability to know what controls or drives our decisions enable us to act contrary to or without said controls? If yes, is that proof against determinism?
It is not.



Discussions about free will usually center around an affirmation and/or a denunciation of it. Typically, very interesting notions on both sides come out of such conversations, many well thought out and others not so much. Whatever the case, there's frequently been a problem with what is meant by "will" and free will," so much so that the issue can quickly become mired in misunderstanding. To avoid this I've found the following definitions to be pretty much on point and helpful.

Will is the capacity to act decisively on one's desires.

Free will: "The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate."

For many people the notion of free will is important because without it would mean each of us is nothing more than an automaton; a "machine" that performs a function according to a predetermined set of instructions, which is anathema to the notion personal freedom. If people lack freedom of choice how can they be blamed or praised for what they do? For Christians this has the added consequence of robbing the concept of sin/salvation of any meaning. So most people are loath to even entertain the idea of no free will. Free will is almost always regarded as a given, and often touted in some religions---Christianity comes to mind here.

Any exception to free will is often regarded as an interfering constraint. "I am free to to do this or that unless someone/thing comes along and prevents it. Of course this isn't what the issue of free will is about at all. Free will is about the idea that, aside from any external constraints, "I could have chosen to do differently if I wished." So I think another valid way way of looking at free will is just that: the ability to do differently if one wished. "I got a haircut yesterday, but I could just as well have chosen to have hot dog instead."

Those who most disagree with this are hard determinists, people claiming that everything we do has a cause. And because everything we do is caused we could not have done differently---no, you could not have chosen to have a hot dog---therefore it's absurd to place blame or praise. A pretty drastic notion, and one rejected by almost everyone. So whatever else is said about the issue of free will ultimately it must come down to this very basic question: Are we free to do other than what we did or not? I say, No you were not. Free will is an illusion.


Here's how I see it.

There are only two ways actions take place; completely randomly, or caused. By "completely" randomly I mean utterly randomly, not an action which, for some reason, we do not or cannot determine a cause. This excludes things such as the "random" roll of dice. Dice land as they do because of the laws of physics, and although we may not be able to identify and calculate how dice land it doesn't mean that the end result is not caused. This is the most common notion of "random" events: those we are unable to predict and appear to come about by pure chance. The only place where true randomness, an absolutely uncaused event, has been suggested to occur is at the quantum level, which has no effect on superatomic events, those at which we operate.* And I don't think anyone would suggest that's how we operate anyway, completely or even partially randomly: what we do is for absolutely no reason whatsoever. So that leaves non-randomness as the operative agent of our actions. We do this or that because. . . . And the "cause" in "because" is telling. It signals a deterministic operation at work. What we do is determined by something. Were it not, what we do would be absolutely random in nature: for absolutely no reason at all. But as all of us claim from time to time, we do have reasons for what we do. And these reasons are the causes that easily negate randomness.

So, because what we do obviously has a cause, could we have done differently? Not unless at least one of the causal events leading up to the Doing in question had been different. If I end up at home after going for a walk it would be impossible to end up at my neighbor's house if I took the exact same route. Of course I could take a different route and still wind up at home, but I would still be in the same position of not ending up at my neighbor's. To do that there would have had to be a different set of circumstances (causes) at work. But there weren't so I had no option but to wind up at home. The previous chain of cause/effects inexorably determined where I ended up. So to is it with what we do. We do what we do because all the relevant preceding cause/effect events inexorably led up to that very act and no other. We HAD to do what we did. There was no freedom to do any differently.

What does this all mean then? It means that we can never do anything differently than what we are caused to do. Our life is solely determined by previous causal events, including intervening outside events (also causes), and nothing else. Even our wishing to think we could have done otherwise is a mental event that was determined by all the cause/effect events that led to it. We think as we do because. . . . And that "because" can never be any different than what it was. We have no ability to do or think anything other than what we're caused to do. In effect then, free will does not exist, nor does choosing, selecting, opting, etc.. Everything we chose, select, or opt for is predetermined.

This means that blame and praise come out as pretty hollow concepts. As I mentioned, if you cannot do other than what you did why should you be blamed or praised for them? To do so is like blaming or praising a rock for where it lies. It had no "choice" in the matter.

Of course we can still claim to have free will if we define the term as simply being free of external constraints, but that's not really addressing free will, and why free will exists as an issue. The free will issue exists because people claim "I could have done differently if I had wished." Problem is, of course, they didn't wish differently because . . . .

This, then, is my argument---a bit shortened to keep it brief---against free will as it stands in opposition to determinism.



*Any proposition that the mind can be affected by random quantum events has to take into consideration the fact that "quantum states in the brain would decohere before they reached a spatial or temporal scale at which they could be useful for neural processing." This argument was elaborated on by MIT physicist, Max Tegmark. Based on his calculations, Tegmark concluded that quantum systems in the brain decohere quickly and cannot control brain function.
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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 amSo, because what we do obviously has a cause, could we have done differently? Not unless at least one of the causal events leading up to the Doing in question had been different.

...

Of course we can still claim to have free will if we define the term as simply being free of external constraints, but that's not really addressing free will, and why free will exists as an issue. The free will issue exists because people claim "I could have done differently if I had wished." Problem is, of course, they didn't wish differently because . . . .
That's my thinking as well. In all cases there is a cause. In my examples above:

1) He has chosen to overcome his desires because of his culture. If no one told him his emotions were bad, he wouldn't think that.
2) He has chosen as he does because he has a very high pleasure response to high-calorie foods. Some people have; some do not.
3) I would hope we could all agree that this fellow is an animal regardless of what he thinks he is.

It's about why we want what we want. There's a reason, every time. There aren't people who go about doing absolutely random things; you couldn't find such a person if you wanted, and even if you did, what is the value in that? He would have less value than anyone on my list, to my thinking.
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 amIf people lack freedom of choice how can they be blamed or praised for what they do?
To me this is a false dichotomy. People can be praised because we are machines who can be programmed. Yes, external factors influence behaviour. So you praise or reward to get more of that behaviour and you punish to get less of it. Am I wrong?

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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Purple Knight wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 1:09 pm
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 amIf people lack freedom of choice how can they be blamed or praised for what they do?
To me this is a false dichotomy. People can be praised because we are machines who can be programmed. Yes, external factors influence behaviour. So you praise or reward to get more of that behaviour and you punish to get less of it. Am I wrong?
People can be praised or not. The reason either would happen is because the person praising or not praising was caused to do so . They had no choice in the matter. And this cause could well be the result of one's intentions (to reward or punish) or something else. The intentions themselves being a result of a causal chain of events that led to their existence. The desire to praise the person was no less caused than was the actual praising itself.




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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 3:59 pmThe desire to praise the person was no less caused than was the actual praising itself.
Of course. I'm addressing the idea that because people are automatons, it's wrong to punish or reward them for their actions. I don't think it is. I think punishment is about deterring the behaviour (the desire to do so being the cause of the punishing person's actions), not some principle that people who do X must be punished and people who do Y must not be, because justice.

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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Post by Miles »

Purple Knight wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 10:58 pm
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 3:59 pmThe desire to praise the person was no less caused than was the actual praising itself.
Of course. I'm addressing the idea that because people are automatons, it's wrong to punish or reward them for their actions.
Thing is, we have no choice in the matter. We can no more choose to punish or not punish them, reward or not reward them, than they did in in committing their actions. However, good could come of it if our actions, whatever they may be, lead to the betterment of society down the line.

I think punishment is about deterring the behaviour (the desire to do so being the cause of the punishing person's actions), not some principle that people who do X must be punished and people who do Y must not be, because justice.
Yup. Punishment and reward can certainly have beneficial influences.


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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Purple Knight wrote: Fri Dec 25, 2020 9:40 pm
AgnosticBoy wrote: Fri Dec 25, 2020 7:58 pmDoes our ability to know what controls or drives our decisions enable us to act contrary to or without said controls?
No; I don't think so. I know that the drive to intake oxygen and to expel carbon dioxide is what compels me to breathe. That doesn't mean I can simply stop breathing and self-suffocate just by wishing it with some magical degree of willpower.

So clearly, if the drive is high enough, one cannot overcome it.
Agreed. I don't believe that a necessary criteria for free-will involves being able to exercise it towards every single matter or situation. I find it conceivable that we can have free-will in some cases but not in other cases.
Purple Knight wrote: Fri Dec 25, 2020 9:40 pmNow let's address drives that do not necessarily conquer all; drives that are low enough to overcome. In this we must evaluate why we want what we want, and how much we want it.

1) Let's say we have a Vulcan in front of us, and he says, clearly I have free will, for I overcome all drives that are surmountable.

2) Now we have someone else who says, I overcome some drives, and some I give in to. I weigh 500 pounds, but I choose that because I like oreos that much, however, I quit smoking because I don't like smoking that much; cigarettes are dirty and not worth the health problems, and sometimes I desire to smoke, but I still don't, so clearly I have free will.

3) Lastly we have a hedonist who says, I give in to all my desires, and I desire to have free will, so clearly I do.

Two questions:

Let's address 3 first. Does he have free will just because he wants it? Has his definitional argument succeeded in defining free will into existence?
I believe the hedonist in your example has free-will just as long as he has the ability to choose another option. He doesn't have to choose it to show that he has free-will. Hopefully, you were not trying to show otherwise because my point probably points to some loopholes.
Purple Knight wrote: Fri Dec 25, 2020 9:40 pmIf neither 1 nor 3 have free will, does that also mean 2 doesn't?
I wouldn't say #2 has free-will because his choices are driven by likes and desires. I believe examples 1 and 3 show free-will.

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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Post by AgnosticBoy »

Miles,

Thanks for the informative reply. I used some of it as a guide on what to research on the topic. I'll go through some areas where I disagree or definitely agree.
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 am Will is the capacity to act decisively on one's desires.
I believe free-will has to go deeper than just wants or desires because even that can fall under determinism. I find oftentimes that what I want is based on how I think. If i change my thinking, then my desires and other feelings follow. When I was younger I used to desire one type of girl but as I got older, I found some negatives about the type that I used to desire, so now I desire another type of girl. Due to this example, I would replace desires with something deeper like "intentional" or perhaps even intentional desires.
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 amFree will: "The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate."
I can agree with this.
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 am Here's how I see it.

There are only two ways actions take place; completely randomly, or caused.

So, because what we do obviously has a cause, could we have done differently?
...
What does this all mean then? It means that we can never do anything differently than what we are caused to do. Our life is solely determined by previous causal events, including intervening outside events (also causes), and nothing else. Even our wishing to think we could have done otherwise is a mental event that was determined by all the cause/effect events that led to it. We think as we do because. . . . And that "because" can never be any different than what it was. We have no ability to do or think anything other than what we're caused to do. In effect then, free will does not exist, nor does choosing, selecting, opting, etc.. Everything we chose, select, or opt for is predetermined.[/quote]
I agree that everything has a cause, but I don't see this as ruling out free-will. I'd first want to know what is doing the causing. Is it the self or is it some external or impersonal factor? I know you might also want to question what is the self or consider the materialistic paradigm that it's a construction of the brain but then I can counter by brining up how materialism doesn't explain consciousness. I look at the "self" as being related of the problem of consciousness.
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 am*Any proposition that the mind can be affected by random quantum events has to take into consideration the fact that "quantum states in the brain would decohere before they reached a spatial or temporal scale at which they could be useful for neural processing." This argument was elaborated on by MIT physicist, Max Tegmark. Based on his calculations, Tegmark concluded that quantum systems in the brain decohere quickly and cannot control brain function.
source


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Interesting stuff!

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Re: Knowledge argument against Determinism

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Post by Miles »

AgnosticBoy wrote: Sun Dec 27, 2020 11:16 pm Miles,

Thanks for the informative reply. I used some of it as a guide on what to research on the topic. I'll go through some areas where I disagree or definitely agree.
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 am Will is the capacity to act decisively on one's desires.
I believe free-will has to go deeper than just wants or desires because even that can fall under determinism. I find oftentimes that what I want is based on how I think. If i change my thinking, then my desires and other feelings follow. When I was younger I used to desire one type of girl but as I got older, I found some negatives about the type that I used to desire, so now I desire another type of girl. Due to this example, I would replace desires with something deeper like "intentional" or perhaps even intentional desires.

Ah, my definition above is for "Will," not "Free will." And don't forget that even our intentions or even intentional desires are not utterly random in nature (come about for absolutely no reason), but have been caused (determined). They pop into mind because . . . . . . . . .
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 amFree will: "The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate."
I can agree with this.
:approve:
Miles wrote: Sat Dec 26, 2020 2:43 am Here's how I see it.

There are only two ways actions take place; completely randomly, or caused.


So, because what we do obviously has a cause, could we have done differently?
...
What does this all mean then? It means that we can never do anything differently than what we are caused to do. Our life is solely determined by previous causal events, including intervening outside events (also causes), and nothing else. Even our wishing to think we could have done otherwise is a mental event that was determined by all the cause/effect events that led to it. We think as we do because. . . . And that "because" can never be any different than what it was. We have no ability to do or think anything other than what we're caused to do. In effect then, free will does not exist, nor does choosing, selecting, opting, etc.. Everything we chose, select, or opt for is predetermined.
I agree that everything has a cause, but I don't see this as ruling out free-will. I'd first want to know what is doing the causing. Is it the self or is it some external or impersonal factor? I know you might also want to question what is the self or consider the materialistic paradigm that it's a construction of the brain but then I can counter by brining up how materialism doesn't explain consciousness. I look at the "self" as being related of the problem of consciousness.
First, remember that I said "This, then, is my argument. . . against free will as it stands in opposition to determinism."

Secondly, if your will is not ruled by determinism (it supposedly being free) why did you do A rather than B? If there was no controlling influence (it wasn't determined) than what prompted that particular action? [does it act randomly?] That you are unable to put your finger on the cause: was it the self, or an impersonal factor, or whatever else, is immaterial. Whatever it was, caused (determined that) you would do A rather than B. And the construction of the mind, be it self or consciousness, is immaterial.

Whatever you do is because you are forced (determined) to do X and not something else, regardless of how the mind is perceived.


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