Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Free Will (Garret W., 14/2)

Posted for Garret W.

The Existence of Free Will: In One of Its Many Forms

Free will is a concept that seems relatively simple in definition, but becomes a vastly complex concept when under the microscope. Part of the reason the issues seem to get complicated is that most of the time the argument is being made between pure free will and absolute determinism, the opposing notion that everything is predetermined by an external entity or force. This false dilemma has worked over time to spark efforts to better define free will (Richards, 142). Free will has numerous implications that cause it to be viewed in various, and sometimes contradictory, angles. Such angles include scientific, religious, and legal. While efforts of study in these areas are undoubtedly conducted under the inspiration of proving free will or not, it seems as if it’s a step ahead of the issue, as the argument isn’t around the existence of the base concept of free will, but the complicated implications of it working within a religious or scientific system. Holding free will to pragmatic issues and real life situations instead of hypotheticals and thought experiments yield a result that proves we are somewhere in-between free will and hard determinism, as there are things we know we can choose, but also things we know we can’t.

Naturally, this will rule out anyone who defines free will as a force against determinism, while saying they are both nonexistent, also known as incompatibilists (Bishop, 603). Their ideas vary, but most amalgams that they come up with seem to face a contradiction. Under these ideas, both free will and determinism are trying to exist as the defining characteristic of the world, without including the other. Though we must be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, that spectrum’s middle couldn’t contain a world create one way and dictated by the exact opposite. Basically, the top doesn’t fit the foundation and by all logic we know of, the structure should crumble. It doesn’t fit because it would ration that either free will or non-free will would have had to define the universe first, and then somehow an equal counter would have to come in and define it by some means to an opposite end, or vice versa. Either way, neither of them are in definition the way they are trying to be because they’re both in nonexistence, or else existing without opposition of the o. Yet some of the theory seems to be worked out to directly impose the idea that free will shouldn’t be defined by determinism. Again, it seems to be a view trying to change what we call free will entirely. What would we call night without the day? Certainly we could still use the term ‘night’, but it would no longer share the definition that it does with day in existence. With that, it seems logical to conclude that free will, especially in its simpler forms is in direct opposition to determinism, and vice versa.

Freedom of choice is the most basic form of free will and the only one that can be proven in the physical world, though it certainly has criticisms. One such theory is that we have an illusory or simulated experience of freedom of choice that is actually still predetermined by an external force (Bargh, 183). This is a quite dead and paradoxical end which yields no sort of change. The argument always boils down to the terminology of “know”. That I could blink, want to blink, feel like I chose to blink in a very quick decision that I seemed to have generated myself, and yet no action of mine played any part in any of it is a totally dismissible idea. How do you know you’re in control of your thoughts and actions? How do we know anything? We don’t. It’s simply a matter of intuition, deduction, and the fact that our minds go to intuition and deduction. To doubt something like choice to the extreme is to doubt that if I toss a rock in the air, gravity will make it fall back to the ground. A list could probably be made of a thousand and one details of why gravity would pull the rock, and yet, none of it can be counted as evidence, because we never know for sure that the rock won’t simply keep going out beyond our atmosphere to the edge of space the next time we throw it. If you’ve paid attention in class, then you should definitely have Kant in mind right about now.

While I can’t deny that there is no evidence of a natural law showing that the future will always resemble the past, I still go away from Kant’s theory knowing that if the assumption is safe and the consequences of being wrong nearly irrelevant, then the theory’s details become equally irrelevant. Therefore, in a matter of practicality, it doesn’t exist, or at least has no presence in this universe. That means I have to err on the side of the pragmatists in this. Since no details can be drawn to not knowing whether or not we have control, the argument and theory appear invisible in reason and in effect and are literally worthless to the world we know of. And as far as we know of, being useless to the world we know of, is being worthless entirely.

We accept everything that we cannot know, yet have never been proven wrong on as natural law, and freedom of choice should be no different. The objective then is to form a worthwhile idea of what free will is to try and discover its place within natural law, or whether it has any place at all. I have doubts that this world will ever be able to define technicalities of free will, but I do believe we can prove its basic form in the freedom of choice, obviously acting under the notion that simulated choice and actual free choice yield the same results.

It seems natural that most people would contain a sort of bias towards free will existing, when looking at it in the term of odds. Pascal’s wager seems to catch as much flak as support, if not more, but for the statistically minded people this should prove to be a worthwhile point. For everything to be determined, it must have something to have determined it, most popularly the theist God. Let it be whatever you wish. Say that even nature was the determining entity, it would still be acting as a cosmological deity, whether self-aware, sapient, or oblivious of intelligence—acting as only a force. Though the details of this belief can vary, it is still limited since one who believes in a predetermination must also believe in the cosmological determiner. However, free will can exist under the presence of a deity, or without the existence of one. Therefore, it seems that free will should be catching many more supporters than determinism off the chances alone. I’m not one for mob mentality, but if most of society is acting and reacting off a supposed existence of free will, than does the nonexistence of it pose any sort of change whatsoever? Then again, it’s also very apparent that free will doesn’t exist in entirety either. So what becomes more important is where we sit on the spectrum of free will versus determinism, and how that plays into our concept of natural law.

First let’s look at how pure free will is easily dismissible. As far as we know, through the same evidential tactics used in all science, you had no choice in your very existence. You didn’t choose to be born, nor did you chose where or when. Now the theories of a ‘before-life’, afterlife, and any separate universe or dimension where you were conscious of this one exist in variety, but at the very root of those theories is that we are completely unaware of these separate planes, should they exist. Therefore, they have no presence in what we know of and, should free will exist, the only thing affecting your decisions would be the mere notions of them and such notions had little sway over you as a child, where you contained an obvious lack of choices. Again following the pragmatism path, we can’t really hang on the notion that free will does or does not exist in a universe other than our own, and in our universe, the individual seems to have no choice in their initial existence. Beyond that, you don’t get to choose who your parents are. Nor do you get to choose how your mother birthed you, nor matters that would be crucial to the birth like which hospital or doctor.

For those of you in support of free will, yet recognizing these as limitations, it might be fruitful to consider why such limitations would exist. Another easily provable fact is that we have no real jurisdiction on other wills. You cannot honestly control another being, and in many cases cannot impede on their free will at all. So I’m suggesting here that decisions of your initial birth could somehow be impeding upon the wills of your parents, but we can go much farther. Look at the soldiers who endure torture until they die never having revealed secrets they held that others wanted. Obviously it’s by no choice of their own that they experience pain, but it is by choice that they don’t give into it. What seems logical is that free will may not be fully realized when considering that everyone has one and one cannot control or abuse another. Yet it seems reasonable that when it does limit will, it would be done so on a spectrum of morality determined by something above humanity. This comfortable thought is where the compatibilists put their stake, though they also vary widely on the means (Carnap, 11).

Whatever the differences may be, it’s clear that in the end result, whether attempts at persuasion or intimidation work, it is simply a coercion to make a target pick one option out of their choices. Though influenced, they still had the freedom to choose any possibility. So an individual has the freedom to choose and yet at the same time is limited by possibility. The persuader may have given their target the cause, but that alone doesn’t give up control over the effect. This area is actually closer to a group of determinists, whose cosmological determiner is past causes, believing that everything that happens has a previous cause (Bargh, 128). I don’t see how their view discounts free will in any way, so maybe it is just a possibility of the spectrum. Of course, using that theory brings about the problem of the First Cause and creates the same paradox. Despite this, everyone can take something valuable away from this theory. Nearly every human life that has been lived has seemed to follow the goal of generating causes to farm desired effects. Desired effects may be on the side of determinism, though causes could be of free will. While previous effects may generate new causes the creation of it should not automatically equal control. 

No matter what you believe about cause and effect, it still seems pragmatically undeniable that one will does not have control over another. For most of us the abuse of others’ will, whether free or dictated would and does desecrate the sanctity of life. For many people, belief in free will protects that sanctity and dissolves the problem of evil, yet the problem exists either way. Most wars are fought, not under the claim that the generals have no control over what they themselves are doing, but because they can’t control what others are doing. This exists within the theory of free will and yet colors war as a means to an end.

Look at issues without morale implications. You have the freedom to eat what you want, yet you have to have a balance to remain healthy. You have the freedom to sleep when you want, yet many people suffer sleeping disorders, and again you must gain a certain amount to remain healthy. You can’t choose what you look like, but you can build muscles, dye your hair, and get actual surgeries on your face, body, and even teeth. Holding free will to more measurable, pragmatic problems like these shows a clear line of yes and no, operating under the notion that simulated free will and actual free will are essentially the same thing. The reason this kind of conclusion doesn’t seem to yield many results for many people would be that it has almost no religious or non-religious aspect and thereby doesn’t address any of the ‘big’ questions. True, it’s easier to think out the more trivial problems. It would be interesting to hear what someone born blind or handicap would have to say about free will. Those conditions appear to defy the earlier proposed notion that free will would be determined by a cosmic force’s moral compass, but it seems obvious that it is determined by some law of nature as we both have it and don’t have it.

Most people want more from free will than the most basic form of freedom of choice, and that’s why we have the complicated warring theories that combine free will and determinism, or lack thereof, in a plethora of ways. Though I hold a firm belief in the sacredness of truth, I simply don’t see what matters beyond the fact that we know what we choose as a later effect. So long as we feel morally responsible for the decisions we make, or perceive we are making, the truth could be anything. Only what we can trace the consequences of in this world should be given consideration, and beliefs aside, we know that our concept of free will is powerful enough whether its actual existence is a real thing or not.


Works Cited:

An argument by Rudolph Carnap described by: C. James Goodwin (2009). Research In Psychology: Methods and Design (6th ed.). Wiley.

John A Bargh (2008). "Chapter 7: Free will is un-natural". In John Baer, James C. Kaufman, Roy F. Baumeister. Are We Free? Psychology and Free Will. Oxford University Press.

Robert C Bishop (2010). "§28.2: Compatibilism and incompatibilism". In Raymond Y. Chiao, Marvin L. Cohen, Anthony J. Leggett, William D. Phillips, Charles L. Harper, Jr. Visions of Discovery: New Light on Physics, Cosmology, and Consciousness. Cambridge University Press.

Janet Richards (2001). "The root of the free will problem: kinds of non-existence". Human Nature After Darwin: A Philosophical Introduction. Routledge.

1 comment:

  1. Sophisticated discussion, raising important issues! To pick one:

    "free will can exist under the presence of a deity, or without the existence of one" - that depends, of course, on what we mean by all the terms in play. If an omniscient eternal being knows what I'll choose (or have chosen, it comes to the same thing for a being who sees all eternity in a single sweeping glance), my will cannot be free in the most robust sense.

    In the end, as you suggest, the practical point is what matters most: belief in a version of free will capable of securing our commitment to personal mutual responsibility is crucial.