Analysing Breuer’s Account of Free Will

Analysing Breuer’s Account of Free Will January 10, 2021

Thanks to Luke Breuer for producing his piece on free will the other day and how he thinks you can shoehorn in some level of freedom in a very deterministically constrained reality.

First and foremost, please read my piece “Free Will: “We are influenced, but not determined” – the 80-20% approach invalidated”. In it, I conclude:

Which is all good and well, but what about the issue at hand? Well, when people claim we are, say, 80% determined, but that 20% of an action is still freely willed, we have EXACTLY the same problem – we have just moved that argument into a smaller paradigm, into the 20%. Assuming that we forget the 80% fraction which is determined so not being of interest to the LFWer, we are left with the 20%. But this is devoid of determining reasons. So what, then, is the basis of that 20% in making the decision? The agent cannot say, “Well  my genetically determined impulses urged me to A, my previous experience of this urged me towards A, but I was left with a 20% fraction which overcame these factors and made me do B” because he still needs to establish the decision as being reasonable.  OK, so if that 20% is not just random or unknown (but still grounded in something) and had any meaning, then it would be reasoned! The two horns of the Dilemma of Determinism raise their ugly heads again. We are left with reasoned actions or actions without reason, neither of which give the LFWer the moral responsibility that they are looking for.

I don’t think there can be an excluded middle to the caused–uncaused dichotomy. I can make no sense of something being neither caused or uncaused in totality.

How the analogy fails

Breuer’s analogy is broadly summed up as follows:

Agents don’t cause, they are caused. Plus perhaps some pure randomness. Neither causation nor explanation are permitted to “bottom out” in the agent. The agent is a spacecraft with no ability to emit even infinitesimal thrust; if placed on the\ Interplanetary Superhighway, his/her/its course will ultimately be [impersonally] determined + possibly some randomness.

It fails because he sees the superhighway as all the causal influences not the trajectory of the spacecraft and claims the thrust of the spacecraft can still have an effect.

Well, yes; but what I am saying is that the thrust is itself determined. It is programmed, if you will. And if we take my analogy further, what would allow the programming of the ship to make decisions free? Surely anything will supervene on the base programming it has received.

The problem, as Daniel Dennett accepts, is in the word “free” – what can free even mean in a libertarian free will sense that doesn’t look like random. And this is why Dennett rightly claims that free will needs determinism and causality to make any coherent sense.

The soul etc

It seems that Luke doesn’t really offer anything substantive other than saying, “There could be another option and it could be based in something like the soul, whatever that may be.”

This, to me, isn’t good enough. Not only does there not appear to be anything coherent in terms of the metaphysics of causality to allow for this poorly defined notion of free will, but there is no vessel in which this asserted possibility can be grounded – or, indeed, how it could float.

Perhaps Luke can react to these points or flesh out his original position more?

Thanks again to him, though.

 

Agents don’t cause, they are caused. Plus perhaps some pure randomness. Neither causation nor explanation are permitted to “bottom out” in the agent. The agent is a spacecraft with no ability to emit even infinitesimal thrust; if placed on the Interplanetary Superhighway, his/her/its course will ultimately be [impersonally] determined + possibly some randomness.


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