on freewill: additional thoughts

“Every instinct that is found in any man is in all men. The strength of the emotion may not be so overpowering, the barriers against possession not so insurmountable, the urge to accomplish the desire less keen. With some, inhibitions and urges may be neutralized by other tendencies. But with every being the primal emotions are there. All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike some one they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.”
― Clarence Darrow, The Story of My Life

I hope it will be a while before I write on this topic again.

We have been having a discussion with Marvin on his blog post titled two undeniable truths and since the post is short, I will copy it here for ease of reference.

He wrote

A) Assuming perfect determinism (and I always do) then it is a fact that every decision we make is inevitable.

B) Every choice we make is either freely made by us alone for our own reasons (free will) or it is a choice we are forced to make by someone else (unfree will). Both A and B are undeniably true. And both are always true at the same time in every decision we make.

A is straightforward. However, I would like to add for clarity that the freewill vs determinism debate is really about actions.

B is where Marvin gets so mixed up in a web he seems unable to untangle himself from. A while ago, I did say the freewill vs determinism debate continues to take place because of how freely we use words. Two, because words have different meanings. When writing on the above, I use the word choice specifically to mean awareness of alternatives. Any other meaning, other than this, in this discussion only works to confuse the debate. For example, I have a choice of coffee or tea in the morning. This awareness tells you nothing about what I will actually do. That settled, Marvin’s insistence that our actions are determined and we have freewill is so confused, I can’t begin to express how contradictory this sounds.

A and B cannot both be true.

Marvin’s problem is to insist that since the motives that determine our action are ours, we have freewill. Problem with this is we don’t will what our motive will be.

In the comments, Marvin gave this example, and I will quote it at length,

Billy wants to go out but doesn’t want to wear his jacket. His mother says, “It’s too cold outside, either you wear the jacket or you stay indoors.” So he wears the jacket, but does so against his will. The reason for wearing the jacket is his mother’s reason. It is external to Billy.

When Bill is older, and no longer required to follow his mother’s advice, he is autonomous. He can choose for himself, of his own free will, whether to wear the jacket or not, and live with the consequences of his choice. Having experienced the consequences of not wearing a jacket on a bitterly cold day, Bill decides to wear the jacket. But this time it is for his own reasons. It is internal rather than external.

It is a decision Bill makes on his own, for reasons that are his own. And that is what the English speaking, human species of biological organisms on this planet have decided to name “free will”. Bill’s decision fixes his “will” at that moment. And the fact that it was by his own reasons, and not by reasons imposed upon him against his will by his mother, that we say his will is “free”.

And I pointed out to Marvin, that Billy isn’t acting his will by wearing the sweater. If the motive of going out is great, Billy will bear the inconvenience of wearing a sweater. Wearing the sweater is a manifestation of the will. The mother’s condition is a cause. And as I have said countless times, all our actions have antecedent causes. In the case of Billy, we can easily show the cause of his wearing a sweater. It is not always easy to map out the causes to our actions as we did in this case.

So when Marvin goes ahead and writes

Exactly. Meanings are derived from real world phenomena. The real world phenomena that are called “free will” are those where a person decides for himself or herself what they will do.

I am certain we are not talking about the same thing. What he describes in this statement are unknown in the real world. There are causes to every action. Unless he can name one where this isn’t the case, I am open to persuasion.

I will close this already very long post with the words of Henri d’Holdbach

Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant. He is born without his own consent; his organization does in nowise depend upon himself; his ideas come to him involuntarily; his habits are in the power of those who cause him to contract them; he is unceasingly modified by causes, whether visible or concealed, over which he has no control, which necessarily regulate his mode of existence, give the hue to his way of thinking, and determine his manner of acting. He is good or bad, happy or miserable, wise or foolish, reasonable or irrational, without his will being for any thing in these various states.”