Defining Free Will, Fairly

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Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #1

Post by Purple Knight »

I think there was one of these before, but I want to start one with the emphasis on hammering out a definition that is fair to both sides. In other words, a definition of free will that does not render itself definitionally false (thus rendering the people who believe in it stupid) or render itself definitionally true (thus making the people who doubt it stupid).

So to be fair to the people who believe in brown rabbits, we are not going to define rabbits as nonbrown.

I would also like to focus on arriving at a definition that is fair to the concept most people have of free will, rather than defining it as something else. For example, on the question of randomness, the idea that claim to randomness is what free will is does not pass this particular muster, since no one is claiming a random number generator hooked up to the decay of a radioactive isotope has free will.

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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

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Post by mgb »

Miles wrote: Thu Oct 14, 2021 6:15 pm Although as a hard determinist my objection to this is in assuming there's an ability to choose.
How do you define determinism? How is it different from random?

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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #12

Post by Aetixintro »

[Replying to Miles in post #3]

I may add that one is required to be truly free to exercise Free Will.

so that it becomes "In being free (enough), to have the ability to have done differently"

And therefore "In being free (enough), the ability to choose between different possible courses of action."

Most Free Will philosophers reason that sufficient freedom must be in place to have true Free Will choices.

(Now that I've read philosophy for 21 years+.)
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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #13

Post by Miles »

mgb wrote: Wed Oct 20, 2021 6:11 am
Miles wrote: Thu Oct 14, 2021 6:15 pm Although as a hard determinist my objection to this is in assuming there's an ability to choose.
How do you define determinism? How is it different from random?
Determinism is the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. IOW, events that are completely determined by previously existing causes.

Randomness, as I often use it in contrast to determinism is an action with utterly no cause whatsoever. A concept often attributed radio active decay events. They're said to simply pop into existence. (I don't buy it)

So, it doesn't matter if the A that produces B happens to be a random or nonrandom event, either one can act as the cause of B---determined B. All of which leads to the simple fact that so-called "choices" are not acts that are freely made, but acts determined by some previously existing cause. You "chose" X over Y because, and whatever that because was it functioned as the determinant of X. It comes down to the fact that X had to happen. To be otherwise would require that something different preceded X, BUT there wasn't anything different, so X was inevitable. Therefore, it should apparent that the terms "choice," "choose," and "chosen" have no real meaning at all. "Choice" and all its cognates are simply illusions and misnomers.


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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #14

Post by Purple Knight »

Miles wrote: Sat Oct 16, 2021 12:19 am
Purple Knight wrote: Fri Oct 15, 2021 8:53 pmSo this is in the vein of defining free will fairly. Those who believe in it certainly would prefer to have free will than not to have it. Would you want the ability to have done differently as long as you're constantly looking around you, taking in the information, and making the logical choice for the best benefit?
What anyone prefers has nothing to do with what free will would look like to me.
Nor should it. But it does bring up the important question of whether you and those who believe in free will are talking about the same thing.

The people who believe in free will want the free will. They seem to think it is precious. I don't know if they're talking about the ability to act illogically, which is what the ability to act randomly - to have done differently - boils down to.

Having a true random number generator in one's head (notwithstanding the idea that such a thing may be impossible) that randomly causes one to discard the logical decision - the result of taking in all available information and acting on it to one's best ability - and go off and do something else, this would satisfy your definition of free will, but most people wouldn't want it, so it's definitely not what the people who believe in, and treasure, free will, are talking about.

In other words I think, for most people, free will and determinism being opposed like this might be a false dichotomy.

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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #15

Post by AgnosticBoy »

Miles wrote: Wed Oct 20, 2021 3:08 pm Determinism is the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. IOW, events that are completely determined by previously existing causes.

Randomness, as I often use it in contrast to determinism is an action with utterly no cause whatsoever. A concept often attributed radio active decay events. They're said to simply pop into existence. (I don't buy it).
The positions on free-will are not limited to causation or no causation (randomness). Free-will and causation can be compatible if we consider what is doing the causing or how causation works. You even left this option open in your definition for determinism when you stated it as being "causes external to the will". "Causes external to the will" does not cover all causes, particularly, the ones that may be caused by human will. If that is not what you intended then you should've made your statement more absolute by saying that determinism is the doctrine that all events have a cause, and that includes any cause (even those caused by human will).

With that said, I don't believe that human will would cause anything by itself. Instead, it can manipulate the chain of causation to reach any outcome (anything humanly possible). Theoretically-speaking, you can come up with any goal (whether it be in the form of a behavior or a moral standard to abide by), then I can set the chain of causation in motion (assuming I knew how, and that it's humanly possible) to reach that goal. There is plenty scientific documentation of people being able to deliberately change their behavior. We can do this with the aid of technology (gene therapy?), therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy), and perhaps many other ways that we haven't thought of yet.

I find it hard to believe that I can be aware of all of the factors that control me, but yet I can't do anything to alter the process.
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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #16

Post by Miles »

AgnosticBoy wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 1:55 pm
Miles wrote: Wed Oct 20, 2021 3:08 pm Determinism is the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. IOW, events that are completely determined by previously existing causes.

Randomness, as I often use it in contrast to determinism is an action with utterly no cause whatsoever. A concept often attributed radio active decay events. They're said to simply pop into existence. (I don't buy it).
The positions on free-will are not limited to causation or no causation (randomness). Free-will and causation can be compatible if we consider what is doing the causing or how causation works. You even left this option open in your definition for determinism when you stated it as being "causes external to the will". "Causes external to the will" does not cover all causes, particularly, the ones that may be caused by human will. If that is not what you intended then you should've made your statement more absolute by saying that determinism is the doctrine that all events have a cause, and that includes any cause (even those caused by human will).
As I see it, the Will does not refer to desire, which might function as a cause, but rather to the capacity to act decisively on one's desires. It's the mental power used to control and direct your thoughts. Your thoughts function as the cause in the Free Will scenario, not your will. And as such, one's will is at the mercy of whatever one thinks, which is strictly determined by antecedent events.

I find it hard to believe that I can be aware of all of the factors that control me, but yet I can't do anything to alter the process.
So, how do know you're aware of all of the factors that control you? I find such a claim rather presumptuous, but that's just me. :mrgreen:


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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #17

Post by AgnosticBoy »

Miles wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:40 pm
AgnosticBoy wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 1:55 pm "Causes external to the will" does not cover all causes, particularly, the ones that may be caused by human will. If that is not what you intended then you should've made your statement more absolute by saying that determinism is the doctrine that all events have a cause, and that includes any cause (even those caused by human will).
As I see it, the Will does not refer to desire, which might function as a cause, but rather to the capacity to act decisively on one's desires. It's the mental power used to control and direct your thoughts. Your thoughts function as the cause in the Free Will scenario, not your will. And as such, one's will is at the mercy of whatever one thinks, which is strictly determined by antecedent events.
So if even human will and thoughts are determined, then there is no point in bringing up causes "external to the will" in your definition for determinism. Even if the will and thoughts caused events (these causes obviously not external to the two), then that would still fall under determinism. This is why I recommended for hard determinists, like yourself, define determinism in absolute terms by saying that it's the doctrine that all events have a cause (doesn't matter what or who is doing the cause).

But then of course there is a reason why that position may be untenable when you consider that free-will can be compatible with causation. That's where soft determinism or compatibilism comes in.
Miles wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:40 pm Your thoughts function as the cause in the Free Will scenario, not your will. And as such, one's will is at the mercy of whatever one thinks, which is strictly determined by antecedent events.
I don't see why thoughts AND human will can't be involved with free-will. Either way, freedom in my view of free-will is not centered on being outside of causation. Instead, my view of freedom applies to the ability to achieve any outcome or goal (anything humanly possible). Given our awareness or knowledge of the causal chain, we can use it (by allowing or tampering with certain inputs or outputs), to reach a desired goal.
Miles wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:40 pm
AgnosticBoy wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 1:55 pmI find it hard to believe that I can be aware of all of the factors that control me, but yet I can't do anything to alter the process.
So, how do know you're aware of all of the factors that control you? I find such a claim rather presumptuous, but that's just me. :mrgreen
I question if it's even necessary to be aware of all of the controlling factors. Do you agree that knowledge is power? If true, then the more you're aware or knowledgeable of, then the more free-will or freedom you can have in your life.
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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #18

Post by Miles »

AgnosticBoy wrote: Fri Oct 22, 2021 2:14 pm
Miles wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:40 pm
AgnosticBoy wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 1:55 pm "Causes external to the will" does not cover all causes, particularly, the ones that may be caused by human will. If that is not what you intended then you should've made your statement more absolute by saying that determinism is the doctrine that all events have a cause, and that includes any cause (even those caused by human will).
As I see it, the Will does not refer to desire, which might function as a cause, but rather to the capacity to act decisively on one's desires. It's the mental power used to control and direct your thoughts. Your thoughts function as the cause in the Free Will scenario, not your will. And as such, one's will is at the mercy of whatever one thinks, which is strictly determined by antecedent events.
So if even human will and thoughts are determined, then there is no point in bringing up causes "external to the will" in your definition for determinism. Even if the will and thoughts caused events (these causes obviously not external to the two), then that would still fall under determinism. This is why I recommended for hard determinists, like yourself, define determinism in absolute terms by saying that it's the doctrine that all events have a cause (doesn't matter what or who is doing the cause).
Good point.

But then of course there is a reason why that position may be untenable when you consider that free-will can be compatible with causation. That's where soft determinism or compatibilism comes in.
Compatibilism simply qualifies terms so as to hold onto the notion of free will. As Philip Pecorino, Ph.D. says in his Introduction To Philosophy:

"Compatibilism does not maintain that humans are free. Compatabilism does not hold that humans have free will. Compatibilism is determinism with a slight modification for the sake of appearances and for our language use. It is a position taken because of the perceived need to have some idea of accountability or responsibility for human behavior."
Miles wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 2:40 pm Your thoughts function as the cause in the Free Will scenario, not your will. And as such, one's will is at the mercy of whatever one thinks, which is strictly determined by antecedent events.
I don't see why thoughts AND human will can't be involved with free-will.
Because free will has never been shown to exist, it remains an illusion emerging from a need to feel we are in charge of our actions, and in particular a necessary element in the Christian concept of sin and salvation.



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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #19

Post by mgb »

AgnosticBoy wrote: Fri Oct 22, 2021 2:14 pmThis is why I recommended for hard determinists, like yourself, define determinism in absolute terms by saying that it's the doctrine that all events have a cause (doesn't matter what or who is doing the cause).

But then of course there is a reason why that position may be untenable when you consider that free-will can be compatible with causation. That's where soft determinism or compatibilism comes in.
All it takes is one event to topple the house of cards. If one event is not physically determined there is a chain of causes and effects that are different forever. Did you read this post from the other thread? viewtopic.php?p=1052710#p1052710

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Re: Defining Free Will, Fairly

Post #20

Post by AgnosticBoy »

mgb wrote: Sat Oct 23, 2021 6:33 am
AgnosticBoy wrote: Fri Oct 22, 2021 2:14 pmThis is why I recommended for hard determinists, like yourself, define determinism in absolute terms by saying that it's the doctrine that all events have a cause (doesn't matter what or who is doing the cause).

But then of course there is a reason why that position may be untenable when you consider that free-will can be compatible with causation. That's where soft determinism or compatibilism comes in.
All it takes is one event to topple the house of cards. If one event is not physically determined there is a chain of causes and effects that are different forever. Did you read this post from the other thread? viewtopic.php?p=1052710#p1052710
I believe your view is still compatible with determinism since there is still causation involved. The only different aspect is that the cause is not strictly physically based! This brings to mind REne Descartes view where he brings up the soul, and then some automatically consider the soul to be the source of free-will since it is outside of the physical space.
Since, according to the dualist, the mind is non-physical, there is no need to suppose it bound by the physical laws that govern the body. So, a strong sense of free will is compatible with dualism but incompatible with materialism.
Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Either way, I believe any valid theory of free-will must be able to show some element of freedom. Some try to explain freedom as being outside of causation, and I think that's a nonstarter. I explain freedom as being part of a mechanism of causation that basically involves the ability to manipulate the causal chain and use it achieve any result or outcome. We have the ability to be active in that process unlike those things that are passive (e.g. rocks, trees, and many of the lower animals). Some might say that my position only goes against genetic determinism or behaviorism, and that leaves out the forces and laws at the level of chemistry, physics, quantum physics, etc. But then I question if those even play a major role in behavior. Scientists that accept the concept of emergence disagree that all things and life can be reduced and explained using physics. But even if laws on that level played a role, then why wouldn't we also be able to tamper with those to achieve a certain goal using technology (e.g. time travel or reverse causation)?! The only limitation in our ability would then be epistemological or technological, and not an inherent or ontological one.

Free-will: Being able to achieve any goal or outcome.
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