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

Post #1

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 #2

Post by Aetixintro »

[Replying to Rational Atheist in post #1]

Let's say you're looking for information. The direction of your inquiry is the exercising of Free Will, I think. Yet I'm compatibilist.

If you believe you're a Determinist, you can go either way in becoming good or bad. What's the likely result of a World like ours? How will the account for goodness look in the eyes of a Determinist?
Let's take the course of Civilization for the last 2000 years. Is it good or is it bad?

I say it's the direction of your view, how you use your eyes that should come into account as well. ;)

2 links:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compatibilism
I'm cool! :) - Stronger Religion every day! Also by "mathematical Religion", the eternal forms, God closing the door on corrupt humanity, possibly!

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #3

Post by Mrs.Badham »

Yeah, the idea of free will is funny.
I don’t know for sure, but I believe we do have free will because there are choices.
I can choose to stay up and watch TV, or I can go to bed. You might say that my choice will be determined by a chain of prior causes. But if I kept the “Free Will Argument” in mind the entire time I was deciding, and stepped out of the chain. Was aware of the chain, and then made my decision. I think I could fairly say I used free will.
Whether it’s free will or not, it feels like free will. And that’s good enough for me.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #4

Post by Miles »

Mrs.Badham wrote: Thu Mar 04, 2021 9:45 pm Yeah, the idea of free will is funny.
I don’t know for sure, but I believe we do have free will because there are choices.
I can choose to stay up and watch TV, or I can go to bed.
So why do you "choose" one over the other? Just an instance of pure randomness?

You might say that my choice will be determined by a chain of prior causes. But if I kept the “Free Will Argument” in mind the entire time I was deciding, and stepped out of the chain.
Why would keeping the “Free Will Argument” in mind somehow free you of the chain of cause-effects that determines how you operate? And how do you do that; step out of the chain?
Was aware of the chain, and then made my decision. I think I could fairly say I used free will.
I guess you could say that, but it hardly follows, now does it. Is being aware that in combat you could be shot and killed prevent you from being shot and killed? Logically there's little difference.
Whether it’s free will or not, it feels like free will. And that’s good enough for me.
Is that how philosophy and sciences works: by feelings? But heck, if it's good enough for you, so be it. Living the illusion is good enough for lots of people.



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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #5

Post by Mrs.Badham »

I guess my point is that no matter what I choose, it could be argued either way. What decision would prove free will, and what decision would prove determinism? Is it watching TV an example of free will?
When I say “step outside the chain”, I mean “not simply react”. Flinching when someone acts like they’re going to punch you, is simply reacting.
Actually you make a good point, realizing you could be shot will help you not get shot. You could take actions that will help you avoid getting shot.
The thing is, I can’t see the future, so regardless of whether my choices are free or determined, they feel free to me.

When I look at something I know for sure has no choices, like say a tree, I see a huge difference between myself and it. The wind blows, and it’s leaves rustle. The rain falls and it gets wet. I react. I move. I open an umbrella.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #6

Post by William »

It is conceivable that free will is an illusion able to be experienced as a real thing due to the limited parameters involved with the individual in relation to the seeming limitless of the universe.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #7

Post by Miles »

Mrs.Badham wrote: Fri Mar 05, 2021 4:12 pm I guess my point is that no matter what I choose, it could be argued either way. What decision would prove free will, and what decision would prove determinism? Is it watching TV an example of free will?
Only if you had a real choice to do so, but in as much as there's no such thing as choice, watching TV is not an example of free will. Nothing is.

Perhaps the "decision" to read a piece I wrote some years ago concerning free will and determinism might convince you of the reality of determinism:



"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 and thoughts. 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 anything other than what we're caused to do. In effect then, free will does not exist, nor does choosing, selecting, opting, etc..

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.
source"

When I say “step outside the chain”, I mean “not simply react”. Flinching when someone acts like they’re going to punch you, is simply reacting.
Actually you make a good point, realizing you could be shot will help you not get shot. You could take actions that will help you avoid getting shot.
The thing is, I can’t see the future, so regardless of whether my choices are free or determined, they feel free to me.
Thing is, having no say in what you do---all is determined--- there is no such thing as choosing not to react.


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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #8

Post by John Bauer »

[Replying to Rational Atheist in post #1]

I don't believe in free will—my belief in moral accountability won't allow it—but I am interested in hearing answers by those who do believe in free will. (Sorry, this is the only means I know of subscribing to a thread.)

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #9

Post by Mrs.Badham »

Miles wrote: Sat Mar 06, 2021 3:48 pm
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.
I can't disagree that everything I do has a cause. Nothing I do is random, and my decisions will be based on past events. But I'm not a dice. A dice does not have consciousness. I don't believe that randomness is necessary for "Free Will".

Everything I do has a cause, but if I have to choose between more than one thing, I will use my free will.

I think "Free Will" would be easiest to understand when someone willingly, knowingly does something that is not in their best interest. Something that they know they will regret. Dice regret nothing.


Am I correct in understanding that determinists don't believe in consciousness? Don't believe in learning? Is a determinist just a passenger.

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Re: Questions for those who believe in free will

Post #10

Post by John Bauer »

Mrs.Badham wrote: Sat Mar 06, 2021 7:01 pm
Am I correct in understanding that determinists don't believe in consciousness?
I don't think so. I'm something of a determinist (compatibilism) and yet I believe in consciousness. I sort of gravitate toward the view of David Chalmers on this question, which he calls "naturalistic dualism." On this view, mental states supervene "naturally" on physical systems (e.g., brains) whilst they are nevertheless ontologically distinct from and not reducible to physical systems (Wikipedia, s.v. "David Chalmers"). Supervenience is the key issue here.

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