Friday, July 23, 2010

Free Will

Andrew and I covered this topic previously, I believe, but the NYTimes has the logical argument for why we don't have free will:
The argument goes like this.

(1) You do what you do — in the circumstances in which you find yourself—because of the way you then are.

(2) So if you’re going to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you’re going to have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are — at least in certain mental respects.

(3) But you can’t be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all.

(4) So you can’t be ultimately responsible for what you do.

The key move is (3). Why can’t you be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all? In answer, consider an expanded version of the argument.

(a) It’s undeniable that the way you are initially is a result of your genetic inheritance and early experience.

(b) It’s undeniable that these are things for which you can’t be held to be in any way responsible (morally or otherwise).

(c) But you can’t at any later stage of life hope to acquire true or ultimate moral responsibility for the way you are by trying to change the way you already are as a result of genetic inheritance and previous experience.

(d) Why not? Because both the particular ways in which you try to change yourself, and the amount of success you have when trying to change yourself, will be determined by how you already are as a result of your genetic inheritance and previous experience.

(e) And any further changes that you may become able to bring about after you have brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by your genetic inheritance and previous experience.

If I remember correctly, both Andrew and I felt this was an overly complicated logical game with no real relevance to what happens in the real world.

2 comments:

Andrew Stevens said...

I don't know if you're talking about me or somebody else, but I absolutely do believe in free will. I think most of that argument lies on premises which are asserted without proof. I.e. the assertion "It's undeniable that the way you are initially is a result of your genetic inheritance and early experience." But of course this is deniable. I'm not actually saying that particular premise is false, but claiming that your premise is undeniable doesn't make it so.

In general, actually, I think the argument against free will is a surprisingly strong one. Surprising because it's so obviously untrue. Of course we have free will. It's absolutely absurd to say that I was destined to choose Coke over Pepsi the other day and that I am somehow deceived in thinking that I was weighing my options and making a choice. This is so ridiculously implausible, you have to have a serious knock-down absolutely certain argument for me to buy it. (Not that it matters since I won't have any choice in whether or not I buy it. See how silly things get when you don't believe in free will?)

Most obviously untrue arguments (like the arguments against moral realism or skeptical arguments generally) turn out to be not even very strong when you look at them closely, usually relying on a premise which seems plausible, but actually doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you consider it carefully, but the argument against free will is actually very hard to refute.

But as far as "no real relevance" goes, I would agree with that. If we don't have free will, it's not clear to me that argumentation makes any sense (not that we could stop doing it if we tried). This is sort of the paradox of the deterministic argument. If it's true, then we don't have any choice in whether we accept it or don't accept it, so our accepting it probably provides no evidence whatsoever that it's true.

FLG said...

Yes, I was talking about you.

 
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