Internecine War At Freethought Blogs: Philosopher vs. "Redneck" Edition: Free Will And The Real World Smackdown

As far as I have noticed, there has not been a blog war between any of the Freethought Blogs (or, er, since we all moved here anyway) so I was a little trepidatious of going and picking apart the every word of a quick comment on one of my posts by my new favorite blogger, Hank “Crazy Like A” Fox from Blue Collar Atheistparticularly when his comment represented to me a relatively familiar “blue collar” “common sense” challenge that the obvious truths of common sense are unprofitably lost in philosophical dissections counter experienced reality too significantly. But Hank seems raring for the challenge, writing:

Scrutinized and COUNTERED?? Dan, you madman, you think you can COUNTER my simple homespun redneck wisdom?

Do your worst, sir! Go ahead and be a phil-ossi-fer if you like!

Expect a visit from a couple of friends of mine, though. You’ll recognize them by the overalls and gappy teeth.

And banjos.

Dee-dee ding-ding-ding-ding-ding ding-dang.

So, to give my coming visitors something to be mad about, below the fold are Hank’s defense of free will and my replies interspersed. In the comment Hank is responding to I pointed to an apparent paradox in his position that one can be free if only one is willing to work hard to become free. I noted that since you could not choose to be willing to develop free will before you had free will this was a paradox in his position (by which I meant to imply his position was effectively undermined). Hank wrote in reply:

Two things always occur to me in any discussion of Free Will.

One is that the discussion of Free Will itself seems, in a significant way, to presuppose the conclusion that the thing exists. I have a hard time imagining robots carrying on such a conversation. The “this is me thinking about that” internal background says to me (yes, subjectively, but that’s as good as it gets in our own personal heads) that I’m not such a robot.

Whether or not robots could have the “subjective” and “internal” side of experience we have in consciousness is a distinct question from whether they could theoretically imitate (or even surpass) our ways of thinking purely by learning our various definitions, semantics, and syntax and generate conversations indistinguishable from ours. But even if they could formally emulate all these things, I share the suspicion that robots could not have an internal, subjective side of experience.

And I think it is interesting to raise the question whether without that side of experience, they could be inspired to analyze experiences that depend upon an internal subjective phenomenal consciousness in order to be understood or be (literally) felt as problems. They could possibly puzzle over what humans mean when referring to subjective experiences that they do not also have. But they could not be troubled about them the way we are—as trying to make sense of something actually experienced.

And since we have feelings that we feel naturally inclined to call “the feeling of acting freely” or “the feeling of making an unconstrained choice”, robots who lacked such conscious, subjective experience would lack such a feeling and so would not be curious to explain it (unless, again, they were trying to make sense of humans’ use of words for such feelings).

So, that is a really insightful point.

But it has little to do with either having or proving the existence of free will, all it tells us is what we feel like. Some people claim to feel God’s existence or to feel morally compelled, but that does not prove that either God or objectively binding morality exist either. (I think, in fact God does not exist. And I think that even though objectively defensible moralities can be developed and many of our moral feelings can often be vindicated, they are not proved by the fact that they feel strong. It is good (and maybe even necessary) that they feel strong when that helps us to function well. But whether or not they are appropriate feelings in any given case requires confirmation from rational reflection on them, I think.

Feeling free could be entirely an illusion. Or we could interpret correctly that we are free but misunderstand how we are free or to what extent we are free. I feel free (and I think from my reflective philosophical perspective I truly am free) when I get to do what I want. But what I want is something that comes to me and is determined for me by my brain in a number of ways by the basic biology of my organism, the particularities of my own idiosyncratic neuro-chemistry, my socialization, and my past experiences, etc. I could not entirely choose any of those things. And when I decide to freely act to get what I want because I rationally see it will be most satisfying to me, I cannot control that this is what rationally seems best to me. I am guided by my reason and my desires in these ways and these things guide me—I don’t guide them.

Even were I to deliberately guide them—say by practicing by will power to desire things I do not naturally like or by deliberately investigating arguments that might change my reasoning, I must first get the motivation to do these things from preexisting desires or reasoning processes (whether conscious or subconscious) telling me I should change my desires or reason differently.

This is all compatible with feeling my moment of choice as a completely unconstrained action in which I could have gone in any direction whatsoever. I am misinterpreting the feeling of doing what I want for a feeling of choosing the action at random, when in fact my act is chosen by desires and cognitive processes that are mostly functioning without my control. Only occasionally are their operations something I am observing consciously. And just as those cognitive processes hum along making decisions all day without my even thinking about them consciously, they are also making the decisions even when I am aware of, and paying explicit attention to, the competing ideas and desires that they are weighing.

Our cognitive processes are smart enough to eventually discover that they run based on a certain kind of logic and favor certain kinds of decision trees and weight various values and desires in particular ways, etc. They are able to then investigate whether they can ever make a choice that is not ultimately constrained by the logic and methods of ranking choices that were developed without any deliberate control or choices by themselves (or by the subjective consciously experiencing side of the mind) but rather through organic and social determinations and interactions.

It is quite possible that robots that could at least emulate (if not consciously experience) our thinking about the world could similarly come to investigate the limits of their own thoughts according to their own algorithmic determinations.

Second is a more general argument that there is a testing lab for all philosophical propositions that stands outside those artifacts-of-human-mind. Reality.

You pretty much have to alternate from the internal-philosophical to the Real-World-actual in order to examine your propositions for workability. That most of us do it without noticing, or that complex arguments can be advanced that deny any such Real World exists, presents us with a bit of a quandary. But again, I don’t think you can have the discussion without recognizing that the process itself is an argument for realness.

It is so easy to get bogged down in “yeah, but what about this? what about that?” that I generally avoid the subject altogether.

It’s possible that “There is a Real World” has to be something of an article of faith. But it appears — to me — to be the only workable conclusion humans have yet come up with.

I tend to suspect that, anytime we’re presented with a paradox, it’s because we’re getting bogged down in the imperfections of human semantics, or the assumption that what’s going on in our human heads is the most important or only consideration.

The only way out of these Gordian Knots of subjective mentation is … well, something on the order of Zen no-mind, where you stop attempting to insistently grasp the thing and sit back and try harder to just observe it.

I am not denying the real world. In fact, I will go one step further than you, I would not call the proposition “There is a Real World” an article of faith (at least not in the sense of “real world” which you mean here, i.e., the common sense world of experience). I think that it is actually an inference to the best explanation to think that we are not brains in a vat or minds in a Matrix or somehow deceived by an evil genius or a demon, etc. The best explanation of our experience is that we are not being manipulated to imagine a real world that does not really exist. I think that it would take an unjustified leap of faith to doubt the existence of the real world. I even think it is a foolish standard of knowledge which some philosophers use when they treat the small probability that we are systematically deceived as a basis to claim that we can never know anything (or never know anything with 99% certainty).

But believing in the real world is not the same thing as (a) accepting any particular account of what our real world experience of freedom is about or (b) thinking that the way things appear to us internally and subjectively in our consciousness is the only (or the best) way to think about them.

From physics we know that objects which strike us as solid are actually mostly composed of empty space. From biology, we know there are countless bacteria all in-between our human cells even though we are consciously oblivious of them. We also can infer that colored objects are not actually colored in themselves in the real world but that they look colored to us because of the ways that light reflecting off of them are interpreted by our eyes and brains.

So obviously understanding the real world does not mean accepting that things are ultimately best explained as identical with the way we experience them subjectively and internally.

Now, there is something to be said for not letting philosophical puzzles confuse us about realities or words which are understood very well for practical purposes in the life-world of everyday experience. Wittgenstein thought that many philosophical problems needed to be diffused by being shown to be pseudo-problems rather than solved. I am by no means a Wittgenstein expert, but he might be interpreted to argue it distorts perfectly good, practically effective concepts and confuses things when we take expressions or concepts out of the language games in which they function in readily understood ways and then modify them to try to make them fit an arbitrary, abstract conceptual scheme. Wittgenstein also claims that it is not philosophy’s purpose to change the world. And many philosophers agree with him in opposing revisionism. They do not think that it is philosophers’ place to correct common sense intuitions but only to explicate them and their implications and to show their internal connections.

I am somewhere in the middle on this. I think that philosophy should not define terms in ways that ignore all their practical salience. This is why I think it is a mistake to define knowledge as such an idealized thing that it is literally impossible to have any. I think that confuses things. For example, something meaningful is being said when we insist that we can know things through science, on the one hand, and that pseudosciences yield little to no knowledge, on the other. If we define knowledge so paradoxically that this plain truth is not acknowledged because “there is no true knowledge” on our definition, then I think we have revised too far.

But some revisions and corrections to common sense can improve our abilities to interact with the real world truthfully and fairly just as much as science’s constant amendments and complements to our common sense beliefs clearly do.

And free will is one of these areas. It is a serious issue to come to terms with that people are not as free as they feel like they are or as we want to believe that they are. We think it is unfair to morally blame someone who is drugged without their consent and forced to do something heinous. If it turns out that all the evidence indicates to us that everyone who does something heinous is effectively guided by a brain that may as well be drugged since they cannot fundamentally control it no matter how much they are told to, then it really matters that we be consistent and not morally blame them—or at least not blame them and treat them in the same way we tend to do now.

I once read a story about a guy who had molested his daughter and gone to jail before they discovered a brain tumor that inhibited his self-control. When they removed the tumor his desire for his daughter was gone. The tumor came back and so did his pedophile inclinations. If we really care about not blaming people who cannot have done otherwise than they did, then we really need to look at treating someone like that with more compassion and constructive attempts at behavioral and cognitive therapies or surgeries, and with less prison bars and hatred. If all of us, criminals and heroes alike, are similarly a function of programming (even if not in as drastically noticeable ways) that we cannot ultimately control then we all deserve more understanding and less vilification than is encouraged in our present morality—a morality which the free will defenders, including many retribution-hungry religious people, are sometimes passionately eager to protect, even if there is evidence that it is in fact unjust according to their own free will standards for blaming.

I am not against all corrective punishment or against protecting the public from dangerous people or for allowing people to rationalize their way out of responsibility. I just think that responsibility should be understood differently. Humans are responsible but more the way a hurricane is responsible for what it does. We can still be liked or disliked for being objectively the way we are. I can love that a specific person is an excellent model of a flourishing human being the way I can love any other excellent instance of a kind, regardless of whether she actually chose to be who she is (she did not). I can also dislike someone for being unpleasant or a failure in various ways but not blame them in the sense that I attribute these things to decisions that he could have made otherwise to be as he is.

This is a matter of being fairer and truer in our assessments of people and their responsibilities.  It is about finding the most humane and fairest techniques to help everyone flourish as much as possible and with serious, rigorous appreciation for the very real limitations–and possibilities—that their particular brain programmings allow. The fictional “completely free, totally unprogrammed” will is like the concept of God—it is an outdated superstitious obstacle to getting people to engage and improve reality more truthfully and more fairly. And, despite popular opinion, we can be good without them both.

Your Thoug—er, I mean, TAKE THAT, “REDNECK”!!!

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Cuttlefish

    *sigh*

    Re: the brain tumor example. As I mentioned in your last thread, whether or not we should punish that person, because of “responsibility”, is completely independent from whether punishment would work, and would help the situation. Punishment (and btw I am actually not advocating for punishment; reinforcing good behavior would be preferred) has worked wonders even in cases where the undesired behaviors were seen as reflexive, not chosen.

    What you are doing is throwing out *half* of the “free will and responsibility” can of worms. You rightly say that determinism means the person is not responsible for those actions. You don’t, though, recognize that punishment (or reward, for that matter) does not require moral responsibility.

    I agree completely that free will is as fictitious a concept as god, and as outdated and useless. But you have not gone far enough.

    In other words, YOU AND THE REDNECK ARE BOTH WRONG!

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I completely agree that behavior modification, including punishment and reward are still valuable. I said explicitly that I am not against all punishment. I am for using reality-based methods and attitudes though.

      I am just saying our attitudes do not have to be as hateful as many of us get when morally condemning others. And, the limited, soft-determinism compatible senses of “free will” can remain. I am not for chucking the word. I am attacking the specifically libertarian “completely unprogrammed” sense of “free will” more narrowly.

      The harder questions, and these may be part of what you intend to get at, are these: “If people no longer feel they are responsible because they no longer believe in free will, will this create a morally destructive feedback loop whereby they stop feeling guilty or blameworthy and then are immune to feeling their punishments are fair, and so immune to having their punishments be effective? And if it is more effective to persuade people to change when they falsely believe they are actually more responsible and more capable of totally free change then they are, then does the lie of libertarian free will (assuming it is a lie) become justified morally, on consequentialist grounds, for everyone’s own good—even the otherwise unrepetent villain’s?”

      That is the harder question.

      But people can have limited, determined free will and still be reasoned with and, at least theoretically, be punished or convinced to be better even though they are incapable of doing otherwise than what they find rationally convincing.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    Our cognitive processes are smart enough to eventually discover that they run based on a certain kind of logic and favor certain kinds of decision trees and weight various values and desires in particular ways, etc. They are able to then investigate whether they can ever make a choice that is not ultimately constrained by the logic and methods of ranking choices that they developed without any deliberate control or choices but rather through organic and social determinations and interactions.

    There’s an assumption there about how we work, about what is going on behind the scenes. I am inclined to doubt that assumption.

    If it turns out that all the evidence indicates to us that everyone who does something heinous is effectively guided by a brain they cannot fundamentally change no matter how much they are told to, then it really matters that we be consistent and not morally blame them—or at least not blame them and treat them in the same way they do now.

    This sort of reasoning often comes up in discussions of free will. To me, it seems to read as if you are saying: “The person who did something heinous did not have the free will to choose otherwise. Therefore we should use the free will that we presumably also don’t have, so as to not punish them as we do.”

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      This sort of reasoning often comes up in discussions of free will. To me, it seems to read as if you are saying: “The person who did something heinous did not have the free will to choose otherwise. Therefore we should use the free will that we presumably also don’t have, so as to not punish them as we do.”

      We should use the kind of free will we do, not the kind we do not have to punish him differently. As rational beings and as equipped with the justifiable moral feelings we have, we should look at evidence and respond to it and hopefully our moral feelings will align appropriately—and maybe shaming people by pointing out their hypocrisy will help this happen given how their reason and feelings work.

      This will all happen in the normal way that our cognitive and emotional processes take in information and act on it. It is not qualitatively different than what the computer does—we are just conscious of some of these processes as they happen and, in our case, sometimes the conscious experiences are part of the input that our cognitive and emotional processes take into consideration. But the consciousness is not the cause, it is more like a TV screen on which we observe what the cognitive processes determine.

    • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

      We should use the kind of free will we do, not the kind we do not have to punish him differently.

      Then perhaps we would better spend our time investigating what kind of free will that we actually do have.

      It is not qualitatively different than what the computer does

      I happen to think that how we work is very different from what a computer does. But perhaps that’s a discussion for a different time and a different place.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      Then perhaps we would better spend our time investigating what kind of free will that we actually do have.

      Of course. But it is always also valuable to disabuse people of false, confused, and deeply ingrained notions that get in the way of their accepting better ones.

      I happen to think that how we work is very different from what a computer does. But perhaps that’s a discussion for a different time and a different place.

      My curiosity is piqued whenever you think the time is right to make the case!

  • Hank Fox

    Whew! — 2,600 words. I’m gonna have to read this carefully to get the full sense of it. And then there’s that annoying “sleep” thing I have to do periodically.

    But don’t think you’re off the hook, Camel boy. I’ll be up first thing in the morning loading the rhetorical guns.

  • http://onefuriousllama.com onefuriousllama

    I finally understand what Hemant Mehta meant when he said I should stick to shorter posts…

    I wanted to read that, I really did! The body was able but the will was… oh look, a new tiny shiny thing on Twitter…

    But seriously, it looked fascinating!

  • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

    I’ve long thought the whole debate pitting determinism against free will is miscast. If one is thinking about time evolution, the alternative to deterministic is: stochastic. And every claim that determinism is contrary to free will can be recast to a claim that randomness is contrary to free will.

    Those who want “free will” as yet something different need first to define what that means. Or at least, show that there is a possibility for something different.

    • reighley

      I second the motion for a clearer definition of free will.

      It strikes me, since I tend to think of the will in terms of a stochastic process, that philosophy has cast as a dilemma a question that should really have a real numbered answer. We ask our selves “Is the will free?” when really we should be asking “How free, in seconds or decibels or standard deviations, is the will?” Surely those who hold that the answer is neither zero nor infinity have the weight of evidence on their side.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      rturpin and reighley—are you two only thinking that considerations of stochastic factors affect physical determinist disbelief in libertarian free will or would they affect psychological determinism too?

      I am a little unclear what you think the stochastic challenges to determinism would be. Could you spell them out in a little more detail?

      I think though that it is true that randomness is as much the enemy of freedom as determinism—in fact, it is worse.

    • http://www.russellturpin.com/ rturpin

      I see no conflict between physics and psychological free will. In fact, I suspect it’s possible to build machine intelligence that will experience free will. (The notion that a machine intelligence can fully interrogate its own state is false. The problem is that there have to be mechanisms performing that interrogation, whose operation is then opaque to the machine intelligence. That creates the same issue of not being able to fully explicate one’s own choices, actions, and subjective experiences.)

      I mean “stochastic” in the traditional sense. The Bohr interpretation of quantum mechanics is stochastic: the wave function collapses to a particular value, and all one can say about it prior is the calculation of a probability distribution (as the square of the wave function.)

    • reighley

      It isn’t that I think that stochastic considerations pose a challenge to physical or psychological determinism. It is simply that in both cases I would prefer to phrase the issues in statistical terms. Consider the statement of psychological determinism I just cribbed from wikipedia “we must always act upon our greatest drive”. Either it is true by definition, because we identify somebodies greatest drive based on their actions; Or it is obviously too strong : we need to present some measure of the “greatest drive” and then ask how often it is reflected in our actions.

      I disagree that randomness poses a threat to free will, since free and rational agents will often act randomly when they don’t have enough information to make their decisions. It is unclear to me anyway how we could distinguish in practice (or even in theory) between a truly random event and one which was arrived at by a computationally complex decision process based on a large body of information.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      When I say randomness is the bigger threat to free will, I mean that if not only occasional actions were random but all of them were (and not determined by a relatively unique programming that gave us a distinctive, generally consistent personhood of our own) that it would reduce our actions to less than free and worse than determined—chaos.

  • http://skepticlawyer.com.au/ skepticlawyer

    Punishment isn’t very helpful to anyone’s case here, because the law punishes people for all sorts of reasons, and often produces effects analogous to punishment even where free will is known (ie, has received judicial notice) to be absent. A mentally ill person who goes on a violent rampage and whose counsel raises insanity (a complete defence, if proved) is still incarcerated, but not usually in your local supermax. However, the difference between your local supermax and, say, Broadmoor, is one of degree, not kind.

    That’s because one of the things punishment is for is to protect the public. It’s not the only thing, but it’s very important. Protecting the public is very ends-directed: if we lock up person x because they are at a high risk of reoffending (something that can often be established with considerable precision), then their intent preceding the crime is important for drafting an indictment (murder, manslaughter, unlawful killing?), but not important when considering the end: protecting the public.

    Another reason for for punishment is desert: whether the person deserved to be punished, which is the law’s way of dealing with the public’s natural thirst for retribution when it comes to very serious or violent crime. Now retribution may seem a nasty thing, but desert theorists have done some of the most important work in empirical criminology. It’s now known, for example, that prison is a more effective deterrent than the death penalty: it operates at the other ‘end of the snake’ so to speak — on intent, and the formation of intent.

    Another reason again is rehabilitation: that it may be possible, with some offenders, to moderate their behaviour and allow them to participate as full members of civil society after they are freed. This is the ‘cutest and cuddliest’ of all rationales for punishment, but it too can have sharp teeth: the USA often has excellent rehabilitation and training programmes for convicted felons in death penalty states, because the death penalty slakes the public’s appetite for harsh punishments, allowing prisoners inside for non-capital crimes to gain something from prison, rather than leaving unemployable. In Britain and the EU, there is still considerable support for the death penalty, but because it has been removed, the general public persists in seeing prisons as comfortable hotels and there is continual spiteful demand to make conditions harsher.

    Rehabilitation theorists have done important empirical work on which offenders can be rehabilitated. Sexual offenders (especially rapists) are hard to rehabilitate, but certain murderers can be rehabilitated, especially where there has been an historic involvement with organised crime and the murderer is removed from an environment where he can ‘fall in’ with organised crime upon release.

    There are various punishment rationales I haven’t even mentioned (because this is already a lengthy comment), but punishment and free will are separable things, because lawyers have to deal with the world as it as, and as people are observed to behave in given sets of circumstances (something amenable to statistical analysis), not with the underlying basis for that behaviour.

  • Hank Fox

    I’m riposting HERE first. More to come.

  • usagichan

    A couple of thoughts that occurred to me reading the various posts about free will – firstly the focus seems to be on a vary practical aspect of the concept, that of the morality of punishment. While this is of course an extremely important side issue, the morality of punishment and the concept of free will do not seem to me to be analagous. Despite the fact it seems to be the most concrete reason to examine the concept of free will, it is only of tangetial interest to me personally (and I hope it remains that way). I am more interested in the extent to which as an individual I have something that can be desctribed as free will, the extent to which I actually control it and what it means to me.

    I remember one of the first video-games I played on the old ZX-Spectrum. The game was called Manic Miner, and the player had to navigate a series of moving obstacles, jumping from platform to platform, before the air ran out (a countdown timer). The point is that, while the game gave the illusion of control, in fact in order to progress within the game the players actions were rigidly constrained. As games have developed, one aspect of games design that has been the focus of considerable development effor thas been how to give the player an illusion of freedom of action within the rigidly deterministic confines of a computer program… and developers have got very good at providing an illusion of freedom. Given the extent to which the illusion of freedom has been developed in the world of computer games, and the length of time that the internal ‘software’ of the human brain has been under development, I wonder whether we will ever be able to determine the extent to which free-will as a meningful component to human actions, actually exists.

    As an adjunct to the concept of free will (and at this point I would like to disassociate the following with the morality of punishment – I am interested in a more general day-to-day application of the concepts) I am also interested in the concept of responsibility. If I do have free will, my experience suggests that it is constrained by a hierarchic series of checks on my behaviour, ranging from the basic (and seemingly fundamental) disinclination to cause harm or suffering, to the social niceties that lubricate my daily interactions with other people. I think it was Hume (I’m sure Daniel will correct me if my memory lets me down) who suggested that the reason that we don’t tread on the bandaged foot of an injured individual is that we would not want another to tread on our own injured foot. I am not sure whether that is the case for me, or whether I subconsciously model the pain and take steps to avoid that as though it were my own pain.

    The other thing that interested me is the concept that has been challenged that humans are different from computers. It seems to me that there are two potential aspects of this. Firstly that human thought is fundamentally different from any computer program that currently exists. Secondly that there is some quality in human thought that makes it impossible to create an analagous process mechanically. As far as I am aware, whilst there is some interesting work being carried out in computing, especially in terms of adaptive/ evolutionary algorithms, there is nothing even approaching the basic building blocks that would be needed as a precursor to genuine computer intelligence. However, I don’t see this as a fundamental limitation, but a technical one. Whether or not it is an insurmountable technical challenge, I don’t believe that there is anything intrinsic to human intelligence or awareness that can not be achieved through other means. The real challenge to me is understanding what a sense of self is, rather than drawing exceptionalist conclusions based on an intuitive model rather than an analytical one.

  • usagichan

    Just re-read the post and I need to clarify the business about stepping on the bandaged foot of an injured man – the distinction I was trying to make was between the intellectual disinclination to avoid doing something to someone that I would not want done to myself, as the result of a conscious evaluation of desired states (sort of ‘if everyone went round treading on injured feet and my foot got hurt, then people would tread on my bandaged foot which would be an undesirable general position’), and the ability to sympathetically experience the pain of others so that I make decisions to actively avoid other people’s pain as though it was my own.

  • Beth

    But what I want is something that comes to me and is determined for me by my brain in a number of ways by the basic biology of my organism, the particularities of my own idiosyncratic neuro-chemistry, my socialization, and my past experiences, etc. I could not entirely choose any of those things.

    What is “me” if it is not composed of the basic biology of my organism, the particularities of my own idiosyncratic neuro-chemistry, my socialization, my past experiences, etc.?

    It seems to me that those are the things that make each of us what we are. What does the concept of free will mean when separated from our physical bodies and past experiences?

    While it’s true, we cannot entirely choose those things, I don’t see why that invalidates free will. Do we lack free will because we cannot choose to breathe underwater through gills?

    And when I decide to freely act to get what I want because I rationally see it will be most satisfying to me, I cannot control that this is what rationally seems best to me. I am guided by my reason and my desires in these ways and these things guide me—I don’t guide them.

    I don’t see this as impinging on free will either. When an engineer decides to build a bridge, he wants it to stay erect, not collapse from it’s own weight. The equations describing the design will guide his decisions on what materials will be used, etc. So? It is his decision to build the bridge in the first place that is analogous to free will while the rational choices about how best to achieve that goal (what materials to use, how to fasten parts together, etc.) are what is guided by reason.

    It seems to me that free will is consciously choosing what goals we will attempt to achieve and which actions we will take among different options available to us, not about the use of reason to identify the most effective choices given our resources and constraints [em]after[/em] goals have been decided on.

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