On the Necessity of Liberty
A Defense of Compatibilism
What follows is an edited version of an essay I wrote back in 2002. I am now much less sure of the truth of determinism, realize that these issues are much more complex than I understood back then, and regret the essay’s incautious tone. However, I still remain convinced that determinism, if true, is compatible with free will. I also think that, in spite of its flaws, the essay is still a good one, at least in the sense of being one that may be thought-provoking for those who are new to the debate. – Jason Zarri May 30, 2014
~ Part 1 ~
As regards the issue of human freedom, there are two basic philosophical positions. On the one side are determinists, who believe that every even has a cause, or at least conforms to the laws of nature, including human action. On the other side are libertarians (not in the political sense), who believe instead that human decisions arise from a causeless volition, or else that the will is the primum mobile immobilis (prime mover [itself] immovable) of its own action. In any case, there could not be a true explanation of the choice, which would show why the will tended one way rather than another, for it would not have a sufficient cause; although presumably one could still have a reason for acting as one did in, the sense that there is something that one wanted to achieve by acting as one did.
Many determinists have held that no satisfactory notion of free will has ever been developed, or that it is actually unintelligible, or that it contradicts science, our conception of nature, or even the very experience of decision-making which is sometimes offered as evidence of its existence. On the flipside, many libertarians allege that determinism, if true, would (1) render choice a sham, (2) rob us of our character by making it to be not truly our own, or (3) eliminate our responsibility for our actions and thus corrupt our sense of morality. In this essay it is my concern to respond to these allegations.
First, I respond that determinism has no such consequence; if anything, it is the truth of the libertarian view of free will that would make a mockery of human choice. I see the primary issue here as one of options. We tend to think that, because the options other than the one we chose were not chooseable under the circumstances, that they were, in effect, never really there at all; that they were not “open to us.”
I think this a mistake. We in effect reason like this: “If, given the circumstances, I had to choose as I did, then the other options may as well not have been there, because (it seems) if my choice was necessary, then I chose what I did irrespective of the alternatives.” This is certainly not the case, for whatever set of options we may be given, which option we choose depends upon all of the options present. The key thing to remember is that we choose what we do given the situation. If the options were different, then it is likely that our choice would have been different, because the process of deliberation would not have been the same. We must bear in mind that we reach a decision by comparing the various merits and demerits of the alternatives against each other. What makes us shrink from admitting our choices to be caused is not their necessity, but rather the fear that we were predetermined to choose one option irrespective of the others, either by fate or fiat of the divine will. Accordingly, I think an option is ‘open’ to us, first, if we are aware of it and it is thus present to us for our consideration; and, second, if we are mentally capable of making an uncoerced judgment about its preferability to the other options present.
Secondly, I maintain that, contra libertarians, the supposition of a causeless volition does not make our choice between our options any more free than it would be if determinism is true. In fact, it makes them less so. Libertarians say, in effect, that the selection of a course of action is determined neither by anything in that option itself nor by anything in its relation to the other options. For my part, I do not see how a choice could be called free if it is based on something other than the perceived merit in the thing chosen. To illustrate why I think so, imagine the floor of some parliament that runs a country. The members are debating a bill, informing each other of what they believe to be its various benefits and deficiencies. Just as they are nearing a decision, there is a loud crash. The windows have been broken, and the room is swarmed by a small militia, which forces the members to vote at gunpoint, causing the bill to be defeated, whereas it otherwise would have passed. Should this be called a free decision? If one believes that a causeless volition (the militia, in this example) is a better arbitrator of choice than a judgment determined by a consideration of the options, then I sincerely believe that that is—metaphorically of course—the sort of thing that one is buying into.
Furthermore, I question the cogency of saying that “I could have done otherwise” in a situation where I have made a causeless decision. In such a case, how would that differ from saying “My spontaneous causeless volition would have been different if my spontaneous causeless volition had in fact been different” ? Where is ‘freedom’ supposed to enter the scene? Even though the volition is causeless, once it is given, the choice is just as necessary as it is in my account. The only difference is that in my account the choice is necessitated by the options themselves, as considered by us, whereas on this account the choice is necessitated by a volition that wells up by chance.
An Ode to Hume’s Skepticism
The legacy of David Hume, like the appearance of the Moon,
is sometimes waxing, sometimes waning,
but hopefully never, forever fading.
The Treatise fell dead-born from the press,
The Enquiries had more success,
and the Dialogues should still impress
all those who in clerical garb do dress.
But be you “friend” or be you “foe”;
please, do not betide him woe.
For concerning all subjects whatsoever,
he strove to be skeptical in equal measure.
Skepticism, being no exception,
itself came under his inspection.
At Pyrrho’s doctrine he looked askance,
but in the Academy’s he saw a chance
to get vain reason to abdicate its pride,
letting humble experience show forth its light far and wide.
And Hume himself, though he could have been humbler,
helped to wake Kant from his dogmatic slumber.
So everyone, pray, of every school,
consider Hume may be errant, but surely no fool.
Would it not do us much good to admit,
’tis the height of folly to seek more knowledge than our nature will permit?
Finally, to any philosophers who meet this maxim with dread,
I say: Beware of rushing in where fools would fear to tread!
THE RATIONAL MAN
A rational man took a stroll one day,
and chopped some logic along the way.
Quoth he: “What should a logician say?
Does the law of bivalence hold fast come what may?
How could my mind know it, assuming it’s true,
when with such abstract facts it has nothing to do?”
Repeating to himself the words ‘what’ and ‘why,’
he took little notice of passers-by.
Some laughed, some sang, some played, some cried,
but all the while he tried and tried
to discern what might happen once one has died.
As the day wore on, the skies grew dim,
the path rose up, and the air grew thin,
while he wondered at the heavens and the moral law within.
In his thoughts faint memories stirred, yet were silenced by the din.
One thing too painful to ponder: the life that could have been.
The Phantom of the Qualia
Lyrics for a Musical Philosophical Parody
(The following is “mashup” parody of [and tribute to!] “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Music of the Night” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera and the debate over the ontological status of qualia in the philosophy of mind. Thanks also to Peter Hollens and his wife Evynne Hollens for their Phantom of the Opera Medley on YouTube, which is what inspired this post.)
In sleep she sang to me, in dreams she came.
Her voice; it calls to me, and speaks my name;
and in this labyrinth, where brains are blind,
The Phantom of the Qualia is here, and soothes my mind.
Qualia, qualia, defy some’s comprehension,
but qualia, qualia are the stuff of intellection!
Quite magically the senses, they break the mind’s defenses,
enthralling us in taste and sound and sight,
the power of this “phantom of the night”!
Let this Phantom lead your journey to a strange possible world
Leave all thoughts of the one you think is real!
Let her song guide you where you wish to be…
Only then will you belong to she!
She has called you,
to the seat of sweet qualia’s throne,
to this kingdom where all must pay homage to qualia, qualia;
you have come here, with one purpose and one alone
Since the moment you first heard her sing,
you have needed her with you to serve you, to sing;
about qualia, qualia!
See here: Shut up Capitalism! Beyond the Superhero.
A Geeky Idea for A “Pluralistic Realism” Essay Contest: Zen-ish Reasons to be A Lot Nicer to Each Otheradmin : May 2, 2014 1:43 am : Articles and Books, Blog, Philosophy, Philosophy ofs, Regious Studies
A Geeky Latin-ate Comededic Philosophy / Paradox Student and Philosopher Dude
(or, in your essay, “By [insert your own name-ish thing and sub title]“)
Ok, have I gotten your attention? The idea here is simple but also complex: Write your own essay inspired by this very post, submit to to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the most well-argued and complex yet concise ones will be posted for free on Scholardarity.com (Scholardarity.org).
Thanks, and Best Wishes!!
My “translation” (there’s different ones) of the ‘Our Father':
“Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom Come,
Thy Will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this Day, our Daily Bread, and
forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And do not bring us to the time(s) of trial, but deliver us from evil (or ‘the evil one’).
(For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, For Ever, and Ever and Ever.)
Translated by Jason Zarri.
Welcome one and all to the 159th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival! To submit your work for the next one, please see the the Philosophers’ Carnival homepage.
We have a large and diverse set of entries this time, so gather ’round, step up, step in, and prepare to ponder some philosophical perplexities!
Logic, Language and Mathematics
Over at enigMania, enigMan inquires,
Do we need non-classical logic to resolve the Liar paradox? Or do we need to see that the natural context of classical logic – natural language – has a slight but ubiquitous vagueness? When something is as much the case as not, it is a borderline case; and similarly, self-descriptions like ‘this is false’ are about as true as not. And when there is no sharp division between something being the case and it not being the case, then the precision of any mathematical logic is inapposite.
This post sums up 10 years of thought about the logical paradoxes of modern mathematics.
And at M-Phi, Catarina Novaes discusses Tarski’s and Carnap’s criteria for the adequacy of formalizations. She asks,
In particular, a key question which is unfortunately not asked often enough is: what counts as a ‘good’ formalization? How do we know that a given proposed formalization is adequate, so that the insights provided by it are indeed insights about the target phenomenon in question?
Continuing our logico-mathematical theme, at NewAPPS Jon Cogburn sums up what we’ve learned about the logical positivists, especially Carnap, through the re-evaluations of Michael Friedman. Cogburn suspects that Carnap may have known more of Hegel than he let on in his published writings, and thinks the Aufbau may be a covert response to Hegel’s critique of sense-certainty.
Finally, Tristan Haze of Sprachlogik develops an account of propositions inspired by the middle Wittgenstien (i.e., of the Philosophical Remarks / Philosophical Grammar Period).
Philosophy of Art
Transitioning to the philosophy of art we have an entry from Pseudonoma of Seynsgeschichte, who discusses the significance of Heidegger’s lecture Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes . The submitter has commented:
Without any of the glib summarizing one usually gets from Anglophone interpreters of Heidegger, the author demonstrates the necessity for Heidegger to dwell on art by indicating a logical impasse which follows from trying to understand origin by way of philosophical definition. The failure of the approach to the essence of origin in terms of thinking requires the thinker to move into the domain of art.
Andrew Huddleston of Aesthetics for Birds talks about opera staging, which is
…the phenomenon of avant-garde productions, of the sort that are common in Germany especially. These are the kind that present the opera in non-traditional ways, not just by altering its costuming and setting (a fairly tame and widespread practice), but by diverging far more drastically from what the text, stage directions, and past performance practice would lead one to expect.
Christopher Bartel, also of Aesthetics for Birds, discusses the ontology of Punk and Rock recordings , and how they differ from each other and from musical recordings of a more classical sort.
At Certain Doubts, Andrew Moon asks his readers whether it is possible “… for any (purported) occurrent belief that I have, that a demon could delete that belief and I still be in the same conscious state.”
Brandon Watson of Siris responds to the above entry.
At Wo’s Weblog, Wolfgang Schwarz critically engages with Tyler Burge’s Origins of Objectivity.
Richard Chappell of Philosophy, et cetera thinks that not only are these three forms of consequentialism compatible, but that consequentialists should accept all of them.
Eric Schwitzgebel of The Splintered Mind invites us, when theorizing morally, to ask ourselves: “to what extent and in what ways am I a jerk?” You’re a mean one, Mr. Schwitzgebel!
At FsOpHo, Luis Rosa proposes a counterexample to a thesis of John Turri’s about justification.
Finally, at Alexander Pruss’s Blog, Alexander Pruss discusses different views of time, and what they have to say about why it would be bad for you to cease to exist.
That’ll do it for this edition of the Carnival. The next one will be at Kenny Pearce’s blog on February 10th.
An idea regarding charitable giving
Today I had an idea regarding charitable giving that as far as I know hasn’t been implemented, at least on a large scale: Why not have “charity cards”, credit cards which automatically donate a certain percentage of what you spend to charity whenever you make a purchase? For example, if you spend $100.00 on something and have a 2% threshold, that would automatically generate a corresponding $2 donation to a charity of your choice. I think that would be good because such “microdonations,” which most of us wouldn’t bother to make separately, would eventually ad up. They would also require no special effort, which I think is a great psychological barrier to giving. If a lot of people ended up using charity cards, it could easily generate millions (or more) in donations. So instead of getting “points” or filer miles, why not have cards that automatically generate microdonations?