SocraticGadfly: A la Samuel Johnson, I refute #determinism thus

November 17, 2015

A la Samuel Johnson, I refute #determinism thus

Inspired by Daniel Klein's new book, "Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It," I came to an "a ha moment" on philosophical determinism.

Yes, a lot of people call it physical determinism, but, I generally believe they're wrong. And, I'll state that bluntly. More on that further down the road.

First, though, another reason they're wrong. Per good, common-sense epistemology, like Raymond Smullyan's "An Epistemological Nightmare," most don't believe in their own claims to be determinists.

Along the lines of that claim of mine, I present these rhetorical thoughts.

For determinists, if you really think all your life is determined, do you:
1. Stop consciously desiring things?
2. Stop consciously planning things?

If you claim that such desires and plans are themselves determined,
1. How do you justify that?
2. Do you really believe that means you shouldn't stop consciously desiring and planning things, because you can try to hide what seems like willingness in a "meta"?

And, I'm quite confident that, whether I have in mind evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, a couple of commenters on blogs of philosophy professor and online friend Massimo Pigliucci, or a Facebook friend and lover of Sam Harris, that they of course do not cross any of those hurdles. To riff on Johnson, I have kicked their "determinism" rock and found it to be made of papier-mâché.

So, what gives?

I don't know whether it should be labeled more as a Wittgensteinian misuse of language, or a Gilbert Ryle category mistake, but I am pretty sure of "what gives."

Such people think that the rejection of ontological dualism and embrace of philosophical naturalism necessarily entails philosophical dualism. Note: I am using "necessarily" not in an everyday general language sense but more precisely in its logical sense.

And, of course, philosophical or metaphysical naturalism in no way entails philosophical determinism on matters of the will.

Now, that said, in some narrow, quasi-tautological sense, does non-dualistic naturalism lead to some narrowly defined physical dualism? Of course. Again, that's quasi-tautological at most, and straight-out tautological at least.

This is why, once again, the likes of Jerry Coyne should leave philosophy to philosophers, and the likes of Slamming Sammy Harris, if he's promoting philosophical or mental determinism himself, should stop claiming to be a philosopher.

Beyond that, as regular readers here know, I've strongly rejected the whole "polarities" of the "free will vs. determinism" issue by saying "mu" to it, as well as noting that determinism's central physicalism claim has the same problem as Aristotle's Prime Mover on infinite regress, noting that human evolutionary biology and the evolution of consciousness would give determinists yet another thought experiment hot potato, riffed on Dan Dennett (I'm a better thinker than him on this issue, and that's that, Dan) to say that there are varieties of both free will and determinism not worth considering, said "mu" to the polarities again, called determinism of the Coyne type "simpleminded," and, most recently, said free will might be a spandrel, using that word just like Stephen Jay Gould.


Marvin said...

Ordinary free will and ordinary determinism get on famously.

Free will is just us making decisions for ourselves. An unfree will is when someone else forces us to choose or act against our will.

Ordinary examples are all cases where we act voluntarily rather being required, or behave autonomously. You'll actually find "free will" carved into the definition of those terms in the SOED.

A dramatic example of unfree will was when one of the Boston Marathon bombers hijacked a car and forced the driver to aid in his escape. Because the driver was not acting of his own free will he was not guilty of "aiding and abetting" the crime.

Note that there is no suspension of causation in these examples.

Philosophers and theologians are actually arguing about "freedom from causation" rather than free will. And to end the confusion they should really just say what they mean.

Every decision we make of our own free will is also inevitable. This shouldn't come as any shock, because if we had good reasons to make that choice the first time then those reasons led us inevitably to that choice.

So both determinism and free will are there simultaneously in every choice we make. But of these two facts, autonomy and inevitability, only one has any practical use.

Inevitability makes itself irrelevant by its very ubiquity. Everything that happens is inevitable. But that fact doesn't tell you anything you can use when making any decision. After all, if we knew which choice was inevitable, we would never have to make a choice to begin with. But we don't. We still have to complete our deliberation and decide which option was inevitable.

The specific causes of specific effects are useful. This knowledge can help us control ourselves an our environment. But the specific fact of inevitability itself is like a constant that is always on both sides of every equation. It can be subtracted from both sides without affecting the results.

Gadfly said...

Well written, but I think you're actually, mainly, espousing what I defined as the normal belief in determinism, cases such as the car driver for the Boston bombers aside. I don't think you're onto anything more profound than that.