What is Free Will?

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ACB
 
Reply Wed 27 Jan, 2010 05:01 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;123095 wrote:
I don't mind allowing that it was up to him where to die, but it was not up to him whether to die.


OK, so fatalism allows free will, but guarantees certain results regardless of how that free will is exercised. It does not restrict actions, but it restricts the consequences of actions. Is that a reasonable summary?
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Wed 27 Jan, 2010 05:08 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;123120 wrote:
God wouldn't have known all that unless you were going to do it.


So, from this I would infer that God simply set things in motion but is not all-knowing, as many would argue.

If this is so, this must be why people who believe such things believe that God answers prayers, as He would not necessarily know the ultimate consequences (although He could likely logically deduce a probable outcome) of answering a prayer, so why not?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 27 Jan, 2010 05:13 pm
@ACB,
ACB;123121 wrote:
OK, so fatalism allows free will, but guarantees certain results regardless of how that free will is exercised. It does not restrict actions, but it restricts the consequences of actions. Is that a reasonable summary?


The servant chose to go to Samarra, but whatever he did, he would die. Fatalism is not a particularly clear doctrine, partly because, "Che Sera, Sera" can be understood as tautologically true, and, consequently the non-tautological interpretation of it has been thought to be true. Of course, that would be the fallacy of equivocation. Whether the choices themselves are fated is something else not clear. There is then a danger of Fatalism collapsing into determinism.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Wed 27 Jan, 2010 08:56 pm
@fast,
ACB wrote:
Is it the case that normal biological/chemical actions in the brain do not compel, whereas abnormal ones (of a certain kind) do?


I'd say, no, normal biological/chemical actions do not compel. But, this doesn't mean no biological/chemical actions can compel. I would suspect, for instance, that people with kleptomania are compelled to steal because of chemical imbalances.

Quote:
If this were as simple a matter as some people seem to think, it would not be such a contentious issue in philosophy.


Sometimes issues in philosophy aren't issues at all. Not to say that this isn't an issue, but philosophers can also be confused. And sometimes even more confused than the average person, I think.

Quote:
Or does the distinction between 'free' and 'compelled' depend purely on whether or not we experience the making of a free choice?


How would we distinguish between those choices we think we make, and those choices we really can make? To be compelled to do something implies that we did not want to do that thing. And I think, for the most part, we can trust, and distinguish between, what we want and don't want. I can easily tell if I'm being compelled to do something, as opposed to doing something of my own free will, and I think most people can.

It wouldn't make any sense to apply the term compelled to an action we aren't even aware of. My not wanting must be present; I must be experiencing the pressure of being forced to do something I don't want to do. Otherwise, being compelled doesn't even come into the picture. How could it? If it's not that I am doing something I don't want to do, then it's not about being compelled anymore. There are millions of things happening within my brain and body right now, and I think it would be silly to say I am being compelled to do all those things.

So, yes, I do think it mostly has to do with our experience. And, I don't think we should confuse chemical and biological causes with our making a choice, nor do I think we should doubt we have the ability to make choice simply because our choices are caused. I don't think there's anything complicated about making choice. But maybe I'm wrong.
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 12:03 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;123151 wrote:
I don't think there's anything complicated about making choice. But maybe I'm wrong.


But if you think about the process of what is involved in making a choice from a biological/neurological/electrochemical standpoint, it starts to look (at least to me) like an incredibly complex process.

I might wonder then, if we take as the premise that all of our actions have a biological/neurological/electrochemical origin, how we can say with any certainty what we are compelled to do, and what we choose to do?

The kleptomaniac in your example is compelled to steal, but kleptomania can be treated both psychiatrically and with medication (so I have read.) So if medication can be used to modify chemical reactions in our brains which change our behavior and sometimes our very personalities, how can we confidently say that anything we do, from choosing which restaurant to eat at to whether or not we brush our teeth in the morning has anything at all to do with any sort of freedom?

Is it possible that even our perception of ourselves as autonomous beings is in itself simply a result of these same biological/neurological/electrochemical actions?

Again, I'm not making a case one way or the other. I'm just interested in other people's opinion on the subject.

Now I must have more coffee.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 12:40 pm
@TickTockMan,
TickTockMan;123283 wrote:

I might wonder then, if we take as the premise that all of our actions have a biological/neurological/electrochemical origin, how we can say with any certainty what we are compelled to do, and what we choose to do?

The kleptomaniac in your example is compelled to steal, but kleptomania can be treated both psychiatrically and with medication (so I have read.) So if medication can be used to modify chemical reactions in our brains which change our behavior and sometimes our very personalities, how can we confidently say that anything we do, from choosing which restaurant to eat at to whether or not we brush our teeth in the morning has anything at all to do with any sort of freedom?

.



I am sorry, but I do not understand the above argument. What has the the chemical etc. origin of our action to do with whether or not it is compelled? Suppose I lift my arm to get something off a shelf, and there are all kinds of chemical etc. causes which enable me to do this. What would those causes have to do with whether I was compelled to lift my arm? I wasn't compelled to lift my arm. I did it (as I already said) in order to get something off the shelf? I could have not lifted my arm, if I had chosen not to. (Unless you know something I don't know about it).
 
memester
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 01:04 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;123289 wrote:
I am sorry, but I do not understand the above argument. What has the the chemical etc. origin of our action to do with whether or not it is compelled? Suppose I lift my arm to get something off a shelf, and there are all kinds of chemical etc. causes which enable me to do this. What would those causes have to do with whether I was compelled to lift my arm? I wasn't compelled to lift my arm. I did it (as I already said) in order to get something off the shelf? I could have not lifted my arm, if I had chosen not to. (Unless you know something I don't know about it).
"compelled" is where you alternate back and forth, it seems.

To me, you need to talk about force, not compulsion, in order to clean things up.

i.e. "a force is exerting pressure on my arm". not "a compulsion is exerting pressure on my arm".
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 01:09 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;123289 wrote:
I am sorry, but I do not understand the above argument. What has the the chemical etc. origin of our action to do with whether or not it is compelled? Suppose I lift my arm to get something off a shelf, and there are all kinds of chemical etc. causes which enable me to do this. What would those causes have to do with whether I was compelled to lift my arm? I wasn't compelled to lift my arm. I did it (as I already said) in order to get something off the shelf? I could have not lifted my arm, if I had chosen not to. (Unless you know something I don't know about it).


This wasn't really meant to be an argument for anything one way or another, but I suppose if I were to treat your answer as a counter-argument, I would have to ask whether you might consider that your decision, for example, to raise your arm and get something off of a shelf might have a chemical etc. process as a precursor as well as an enabler for this specific action.

At the risk of infinite regress (is that the right term?) what are you reaching for on the shelf and why? How far back on the causal chain can this go before we bypass abstraction and descend into absurdity?

Or am I already there?
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 01:48 pm
@fast,
TickTockMan wrote:

I might wonder then, if we take as the premise that all of our actions have a biological/neurological/electrochemical origin, how we can say with any certainty what we are compelled to do, and what we choose to do?

The kleptomaniac in your example is compelled to steal, but kleptomania can be treated both psychiatrically and with medication (so I have read.) So if medication can be used to modify chemical reactions in our brains which change our behavior and sometimes our very personalities, how can we confidently say that anything we do, from choosing which restaurant to eat at to whether or not we brush our teeth in the morning has anything at all to do with any sort of freedom?


Isn't my wanting my wanting, no matter what chemical processes cause it? Isn't my being compelled my being compelled, no matter what chemical processes cause it?

We're bound by this body, Tick, so this absolute freedom you're hinting at just doesn't make sense. Unless you want to get all metaphysical on us, and then I'd just show myself out. Yes, the klepto. can take medication in order to not be compelled to steal any more. This doesn't mean his not being compelled anymore is less "authentic" simply because we cured his being compelled chemically via medicine.

Again, this is what I mean by mystifying the ability to make choice. We must stop considering the ability to make choice through some metaphysical lens; we do not transcend this body. We must acknowledge our body and its limitations, and, more importantly, what it is bound by, such as the chemical processes. Yes, our compulsions and desires can be influenced chemically, but this does not mean that they are now not our wants and compulsions. All we're acknowledging here is that our compulsions and desires can have physical influences, physical causes. But you and I both know that.

Quote:

Is it possible that even our perception of ourselves as autonomous beings is in itself simply a result of these same biological/neurological/electrochemical actions?


Perception does have biological etc. causes, doesn't it?
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 02:28 pm
@Zetherin,
TickTockMan;123283 wrote:

Is it possible that even our perception of ourselves as autonomous beings is in itself simply a result of these same biological/neurological/electrochemical actions?

Again, I'm not making a case one way or the other. I'm just interested in other people's opinion on the subject.

Now I must have more coffee.
"Fasten your seatbelts and es-tinguish all smokin' materials." --Buckaroo Bonzai's nemesis (maybe he was a nemesis... it's not clear)
We make a distinction between animals and plants. One of the main criteria is that animals possess will, which is a way of describing the way they move. An amoeba moves of its own volition, so it's an animal. When we say this, we're positing will as something that can be possessed. We're not really explaining what will is, or how an animal comes to have it.

Oak trees also move... mainly by growing bigger, but the tree's movement is not volitional movement. That doesn't mean trees aren't conscious. To know whether they are or not would require what's known as second sight... the ability to know without evidence.

So you can't really say we're wrong about animals having will. We aren't explaining the nature of reality when we say that... we're just giving language to our experience. If you agree with me that ameoba's move of their own volition, I haven't proven anything about free will. I've just demonstrated that we agree on the name for a certain kind of movement.

Zetherin;123306 wrote:
Again, this is what I mean by mystifying the ability to make choice. We must stop considering the ability to make choice through some metaphysical lens; we do not transcend this body. We must acknowledge our body and its limitations, and, more importantly, what it is bound by, such as the chemical processes. Yes, our compulsions and desires can be influenced chemically, but this does not mean that they are now not our wants and compulsions. All we're acknowledging here is that our compulsions and desires can have physical influences, physical causes. But you and I both know that.
You're saying that the experience of making a choice stands. So even if your action has been dictated by "physical causes," you still made a choice.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 03:10 pm
@fast,
Arjuna wrote:

You're saying that the experience of making a choice stands. So even if your action has been dictated by "physical causes," you still made a choice.


Pretty much. Except there's no need for "physical causes" in parenthesis. There are indeed physical causes.

But if making a choice is not experiential (and I asked this before earlier), how can we distinguish between having the ability to actually make a choice, and our just thinking we're making a choice but aren't really?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 03:15 pm
@Arjuna,
Arjuna;123312 wrote:

You're saying that the experience of making a choice stands. So even if your action has been dictated by "physical causes," you still made a choice.


Is there some particular experience of making a choice? Isn't what you mean by asking whether someone has experienced making a choice, only whether the person has made a choice? It is like having the experience of owning a computer. There is no experience of owning a computer. The experience of owning a computer is just owning a computer.
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 05:09 pm
@kennethamy,
Zetherin;123316 wrote:
Pretty much. Except there's no need for "physical causes" in parenthesis. There are indeed physical causes.

But if making a choice is not experiential (and I asked this before earlier), how can we distinguish between having the ability to actually make a choice, and our just thinking we're making a choice but aren't really?
I put physical causes in quotes because I was quoting you. I think making a choice is experiential. It's more dramatic when it's an important decision and I don't know what to do.

Some would say that computers can't make choices, even though one could write a program that would reproduce the appearance of choice. Since the computer can only follow its program, it's lacking one the main ingredients of choice: uncertainty.

On the other hand, there's such a thing as random number generators. Now the computer has uncertainty. So it looks like the missing piece is agenda. But if we program the computer to seek a certain goal... doesn't it now have an agenda?

So maybe now the missing piece is experience. The computer can't reflect on making a decision. But if we program it to run through the decision over and over... isn't it now doing what we do when we reflect on experience? If not... what is the missing piece? Or is there one?

kennethamy;123317 wrote:
Is there some particular experience of making a choice? Isn't what you mean by asking whether someone has experienced making a choice, only whether the person has made a choice? It is like having the experience of owning a computer. There is no experience of owning a computer. The experience of owning a computer is just owning a computer.
Kierkegaard might give you a big juicy kiss for saying this. Or not. He was apparently a jerk.
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 05:22 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;123306 wrote:

We're bound by this body, Tick, so this absolute freedom you're hinting at just doesn't make sense. Unless you want to get all metaphysical on us, and then I'd just show myself out.

No worries. Although I occasionally don the metaphysical hat just for fun and profit (I create surreal art), I find it pretty impractical for day-to-day living.

Zetherin;123306 wrote:
Again, this is what I mean by mystifying the ability to make choice. We must stop considering the ability to make choice through some metaphysical lens; we do not transcend this body. We must acknowledge our body and its limitations, and, more importantly, what it is bound by, such as the chemical processes.
Agreed.

Zetherin;123306 wrote:
Yes, our compulsions and desires can be influenced chemically, but this does not mean that they are now not our wants and compulsions. All we're acknowledging here is that our compulsions and desires can have physical influences, physical causes. But you and I both know that.

I am interpreting this to mean in essence that though we may not have control over all of the influences or processes that cause us to do or think this that or the other thing, by virtue of the fact that they arise within our sphere of perception, no matter how accurate or faulty it may be, we have to accept ownership of our actions and any subsequent consequences.

Isn't this sort of what Nietzsche was suggesting about fate and existentialism? Before he went insane, I mean.



Zetherin;123316 wrote:
Perception does have biological etc. causes, doesn't it?

See below.
Zetherin;123316 wrote:

But if making a choice is not experiential (and I asked this before earlier), how can we distinguish between having the ability to actually make a choice, and our just thinking we're making a choice but aren't really?


Exactly. How can we ever know with any certainty that the chemicals in our brains aren't just giving us the perception that we have the ability to make a choice, when really it's just a chemical illusion?

But this just puts me back to one of my original questions about free will, the nature of reality, the brain in the vat, and all of that stuff: If we're all playing along, what does it matter?
 
ACB
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 07:10 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;123151 wrote:
It wouldn't make any sense to apply the term compelled to an action we aren't even aware of. My not wanting must be present; I must be experiencing the pressure of being forced to do something I don't want to do. Otherwise, being compelled doesn't even come into the picture.


What about hypnotism? If a hypnotised person is caused to perform a bizarre or uncharacteristic act without experiencing any pressure of being forced to do it, must we say he did it of his own free will?

Can we never be compelled without realising it?
 
TaylorC
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 07:30 pm
@Zetherin,
What about Spinoza's thoughts on free will...

"There is in the mind no absolute or free will; but the mind is determined in its turn by another cause, and this by another, and so on to infinity."

and also

"Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire."
 
Arjuna
 
Reply Thu 28 Jan, 2010 09:59 pm
@TaylorC,
ACB;123376 wrote:
What about hypnotism? If a hypnotised person is caused to perform a bizarre or uncharacteristic act without experiencing any pressure of being forced to do it, must we say he did it of his own free will?

Can we never be compelled without realising it?
I think people are often compelled without realizing it... like when a man becomes angry with his wife and only later realizes he was actually angry at his boss.

TaylorC;123378 wrote:
What about Spinoza's thoughts on free will...

"There is in the mind no absolute or free will; but the mind is determined in its turn by another cause, and this by another, and so on to infinity."

and also

"Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire."
Free will means that a person becomes the determiner. It's not a matter of passively wanting something. To will an action means that the self imposes. The self is a center of will.

Saying that the self is completely determined is basically saying that there is no self... or that what we call self is an illusion... like a robot that seems to be a center of will, but it's really only a machine.

So the question comes down to this: is a human basically a complex machine? If we are only machines, we could dispense with a lot of our emotions. It would no longer be necessary for humans to feel guilt or shame since responsibility would be a false idea.

Anger and disappointment could be shed, because humans have no power to affect the world. We can't fail or succeed... since these are only labels for the effectiveness of the will... which we've realized we don't own.

Neither would there be any cause for pride or exhultation. But beyond that, we could go ahead and dispense with our preoccupation with meaning. Meaning is only the residue of an illusion. Humans are only gears in a clock. They turn according to the structure of the whole. Drawing out a map of the clock only reveals that we can all just calm down and stare off into the distance, waiting to turn back into the dust from which randomly came... or take up arms and go kill other people if that's what the clock says it's time to do. It doesn't make any difference.

This is the view of the final equality. We're all equally mechanistic.

When the quarterback hears the two-second warning and decides to lead the team to victory against the odds... this is will. The notion that the quarterback is only a machine is a viewpoint removed from the experience of the quarterback.. or from the experience of any of us.

All any of us really know is what it feels like to be alive.
 
bfz
 
Reply Fri 29 Jan, 2010 04:41 am
@fast,
Marvin the Paranoid Android - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 29 Jan, 2010 06:24 am
@ACB,
ACB;123376 wrote:
What about hypnotism? If a hypnotised person is caused to perform a bizarre or uncharacteristic act without experiencing any pressure of being forced to do it, must we say he did it of his own free will?

Can we never be compelled without realising it?


Of course. Or addicted to some substance, but we deny it. Post-hypnotic suggestion (as in The Manchurian Candidate- novel and two films-see the film with Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Harvey- is an excellent example). Sometimes our wants are compelled, and when that happens, if we do what we want, we are not doing it of our own free will. But those are special cases. The mere fact that our wants have a cause is no reason to think that actions resulting from those wants are not free.

---------- Post added 01-29-2010 at 07:32 AM ----------

TaylorC;123378 wrote:
What about Spinoza's thoughts on free will...

"There is in the mind no absolute or free will; but the mind is determined in its turn by another cause, and this by another, and so on to infinity."

and also

"Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire."


Yes. Spinoza thought that determinism was incompatible with free will. But what he understood by determinism is logical determinism, not causal determinism, since Spinoza believed that all causal relations were logical relations. (It was this view that Hume called, Spinoza's "horrible hypothesis") But Spinoza did not mean by determinism what is meant by determinism.. In fact, Spinoza's last chapter of Ethics is called "Of Human Freedom". So, in fact he believed in human freedom, but not in "free will" because of his view about causation.
 
ACB
 
Reply Fri 29 Jan, 2010 07:31 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;123420 wrote:
Of course. Or addicted to some substance, but we deny it. Post-hypnotic suggestion (as in The Manchurian Candidate- novel and two films-see the film with Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Harvey- is an excellent example). Sometimes our wants are compelled, and when that happens, if we do what we want, we are not doing it of our own free will. But those are special cases. The mere fact that our wants have a cause is no reason to think that actions resulting from those wants are not free.


Thank you. I am trying to pin down the meaning of "compulsion". According to Zetherin (see his post #384), we are only compelled if we think we are being compelled, i.e. if we have the sense of being pressured to do something we don't want. But you are arguing that in some (special) cases we can be compelled unknowingly, i.e. with no sense of pressure.

How do we distinguish between (internal) compulsion and non-compulsion? Does it depend (as I suggested earlier) on whether the brain processes involved are normal or abnormal? If so, which specific type(s) of abnormality negate freedom, and which do not? Is compulsion an all-or-nothing matter, or are there degrees of compulsion (e.g. in the case of a mild addiction)? And so on. I think more detail is needed to resolve this issue.
 
 

 
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