^An interesting article my sister showed me. What I want to attack is a general line of thought that the idea of free will is illogical, and that we are all completely governed by physical laws.
To clarify, I am an incompatibilist. I do not believe free will is possible if all our decisions our determined by matters entirely out of control. If I move my right hand, and there was no physically possible way for me not to have moved my right hand, I did not make a decision out of free will. There’s an example that Locke brought up that clarifies this: imagine a man in a locked room that wants to stay in the room. Is he really free? If he is incapable of choosing the other option (leaving), then he is not making a free choice.
So, if all our decisions are physically necessary, then we do not have free will. Common ideas in determinism/science state that all of our decisions boil down to the physical makeup of our brain, and that this physical makeup follows strict physical laws. The physical processes all necessarily happen, and thus the decision that comes from it necessarily happens.
First, this line of reasoning makes a small assumption that free will is not physically possible. Basically, it assumes that we would need some sort of immaterial soul, that works outside of physical laws, to truly have free will. However, this is not necessarily true. Even if we do not yet understand how, free will is conceivably possible in an entirely physical realm. Without understanding the mechanics of our decisions on a complete basis, this cannot be dismissed.
For my argument for free will, I’m going to use a well-known argument for neo-dualism. Neo-dualism is a theory of mind that basically argues for a subjective account of mind rather than the objective. Basically, even though the mind is not made up of any non-physical substances, it cannot and should not be understood through it’s basic physical components. The facts about consciousness are experienced subjectively, not through knowing physical facts.
One of the arguments for this theory (and against functionalism) goes like this: Imagine that you are driving down a traffic-less highway. You suddenly come to and realize that you have been driving a bit without consciously thinking about it. Now that you are consciously aware of driving, is there a real difference between what you are currently doing versus what you were doing? The argument states that yes, there is an obvious difference in some way. If our minds are entirely functional, as functionalism states, then this distinction wouldn’t exist.
For free will, consider the same line of thought. Imagine that you have been moving your foot without consciously thinking about it. Now imagine that you consciously decide to move your foot. Is there a significant difference? If we classify our minds in terms of the atoms and their interactions, what is it really to be “aware” of moving your feet?
To distinguish between being “aware” of my foot versus not, there obviously has to be some conscious entity (which I doubt anyone will deny). This conscious entity can be aware or not aware of an action, even if the body is performing the exact same action.
To finish my argument, consider that the decisions people make are constantly affected by outside influences. This fact is undeniable, and the article above talks about how bashing the idea of free will affects people’s decisions. My argument is this: if outside influences can affect and direct our decisions, why can the conscious entity not? If the conscious entity is at all able to influence decisions, which I believe is clearly obvious, then we have free will to at least some extent.
- These distinctions might be a bit hard to understand, but I don’t want to get into detail about the theories of mind. If my argument doesn’t make sense, please ask/debate/argue in the comments. The idea of a “conscious entity” as best understood outside of physical components relates to the philosophical idea of qualia, if that helps anybody.
An ongoing debate in philosophy revolves around the definition of knowledge. Plato’s idea of ”justified, true belief” used to be the accepted definition. However, a few decades ago Edmund Gettier wrote an essay largely disproving this definition by using a few counterexamples. An example is:
Jeff thinks he is going to be promoted, since he thinks he overheard his boss saying that he would be. He also has ten coins in his pocket. He then infers that “the guy who is going to be promoted has ten coins in his pocket”. Later, Jeff finds out that it is actually Tom who is going to be promoted. However, through a strange coincidence, Tom also has ten coins in his pocket.
So Jeff’s original conclusion that “the guy who is going to be promoted has ten coins in his pocket” is true. It is also justified, since Jeff thought he was going to be promoted. But was it knowledge? Instinctively, most people would say no.
Now, this counterexample is a bit strange and seems like an odd situation. But it does work, according to the definition Jeff had knowledge of the promotion, but it seems that he, in fact, did not.
I want to describe knowledge a bit differently however. Basically, knowledge is a belief that would be affirmed true by an omniscient third person (like a god).
To start with, imagine all hypothetical scenarios where people think they have knowledge but don’t. In each scenario, the way we either prove or disprove the claim of knowledge is through our omniscient point of view. By this I mean since each situation is hypothetical, we create all the facts on our own, making ourselves omniscient in the scenario.
The definition, however, is difficult to use in actual life. If someone believes they have knowledge, they cannot affirmatively say whether or not an omniscient being would affirm their knowledge. No one actually can, so it would appear that true knowledge is not possible. However, consider all the scenarios I brought up in my last post (such as the possibility that we are a brain in a vat, experiencing “life” through signals sent to us from a machine). Can we truly know that this possibility is not reality?
This level of doubt is brought up in Descartes’ Meditations. He struggled with the idea that he could be constantly deceived by an evil demon, and that none of the physical world actually existed. Since it is conceivably possible, can any one of us say that we truly know of the existence of the physical world?
I want to argue that, yes, we can. A common mistake people make is the need for a 100% guarantee of truth. In Descartes’ Meditations, the only thing that he could truly guarantee was that he was a thinking being, since he could not logically be made to think that he was thinking without, in fact, thinking (Descartes would go on to “know” a lot more, but he used faulty logic for it). But that can’t be the only thing we can truly know. Consider the actual possibility of an evil demon existing, and having the motive of deceiving you for your entire life. Now consider the much more likely possibility that reality does in fact exist. The chance of the evil demon is so low that it can be ruled out as a logical possibility. Using this method, we can come to have true knowledge without a 100% guarantee.
For example, imagine that Lily claims to have knowledge that there is a tree in her backyard. She has seen it there before, and she has no reason to believe that the tree is gone. It is conceivably possible that the tree has been randomly cut down since the last time she saw it, and it is also conceivably possible that she is being deceived by an evil demon to believe that there is a tree there. However, both possibilities have a low enough chance that Lily is justified in assuming that the tree exists. Her claim is that an omniscient third party would affirm her belief as knowledge, and she can do so without a 100% guarantee of it.
To sum up my point, each time a person claims knowledge that person is claiming that they are not currently being deceived about that knowledge. The only way that we could guarantee knowledge is if we were omniscient. However, knowledge is still possible because of the necessity of ruling out tiny possibilities, such as the idea that we are being constantly deceived.
- I’m not sure how many people are interested in the theories of knowledge, but I wanted to get my opinion out there. I’ll be writing about the meaning of life and Camus’ theory of the Absurd in my next post.
I want to put up a small list of things that most people assume, even though we can’t rule them out as logical possibilities:
1. We aren’t being deceived by an evil demon about our entire existence (Descartes’ Meditations).
2. We aren’t a brain in a vat experiencing signals that we interpret as life.
3. There isn’t an invisible rhino traveling at light speed that will cast us into eternal limbo if it hits us (thunderf00t)
4. There isn’t a place of eternal torture that we are going to if we don’t choose the right religion.
5. The laws of physics won’t change from one moment to the next (challenged by Hume).
6. There are other minds that exist in other people.
I’m going to refer to these in my next post, so I wanted to bring them up now. The next post will be up within a few days.
The debate about free will revolves around the question of whether or not we all have destinies, or a fate. A strict determinist would claim that all of our lives are pre-determined and that we only have an illusion of free will. Basically, our lives are already set and there is nothing we can do to change them.
I have some issues with determinism. First, there is absolutely no way to prove its validity. If destiny did exist, there would be no way for us to find out. Similarly, if there are no destinies, there would still be no way to prove it. For the sake of debate, I want to bring up a certain scenario to consider.
Imagine that you can see the future. A man walks in asking you if he will get promoted at his job in the next month. You look into the future and realize that if you tell the man that he will get the promotion, he will slack off and he won’t end up getting promoted. If you tell him that he won’t get promoted, then he will work harder and end up being promoted.
So, even if you can see the way that the events will turn out, does the man still have free will? You know the way he will act after your prediction, but there is no possible way for you to tell him his future accurately. Would this show evidence of the impact of our decision on our destinies? An explanation could be that you are destined to choose a certain way, and that therefore the man is destined either way as well. However, it seems to me at least that it doesn’t work this way. If destiny was clear, you would be able to accurately predict the future regardless of human decisions. The fact that the man’s actions would change based on what you say make it seem, at least to me, that free will exists and has an impact on what happens to us.
A random quote I like on the topic: “My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will” – William James