On free will

by Voltaire.

Before you say not again, Voltaire argues that all our actions are caused. And when there are two competing activities, the dominant idea will take precedence. He writes

The will, therefore, is not a faculty that one can call free. A free will is an expression absolutely void of sense, and what the scholastics have called will of indifference, that is to say willing without cause, is a chimera unworthy of being combated.

Free will by Voltaire

He concludes by saying we can only do what we will, but we can not will what we will do.

Schopenhauer in his essay on Freewill wrote

A free will would therefore be one that was not determined by grounds; and since everything determining something else must be a ground ± a real ground, i.e., a cause, in the case of real things ± a free will would be one that was determined by nothing at all. The particular manifestations of such a will (acts of will) would therefore proceed absolutely and quite originally from itself,without being brought about necessarily by antecedent conditions, and thus without being determined by anything according to a rule. In the case of such a concept clear thinking is at an end because the principle of sufficient reason in all its meanings is the essential form of our whole faculty of cognition, yet here it is supposed to be given up. However, we are not left without even a terminus technicus for this concept; it is liberum arbitrium indifferentiae. Moreover, this is the only clearly determined, firm, and settled concept of that which is called freedom of the will. Therefore one cannot depart from it without falling into vague and hazy explanations behind which lurks a hesitant insufficiency, as when one speaks of grounds that do not necessarily bring about their consequents. Every consequence of a ground is necessary, and every necessity is a consequence of a ground. From the assumption of such aliberum arbitrium indifferentiae, the immediate consequence that characterizes this concept itself and is therefore to be stated as its mark is that for a human individual endowed with it, under given external circumstances that are determined quite individually and thoroughly,two diametrically opposed actions are equally possible.

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will

May you will what you will in this coming year!


If you have time, I suggest this post. The history of the free will problem

Man a machine

by Julien Offray de La Mettrie is one those books I recommend you read during your December break. He writes somewhere

I do not mean to call in question the existence of a supreme being; on the contrary it seems to me that the greatest degree of probability is in favor of this belief. But since the existence of this being goes no further than that of any other toward proving the need of worship, it is a theoretic truth with very little practical value. Therefore, since we may say, after such long experience, that religion does not imply exact honesty, we are authorized by the same reasons to think that atheism does not exclude it.

or

Let us not lose ourselves in the infinite, for we are not made to have the least idea thereof, and are absolutely unable to get back to the origin of things. Besides it does not matter for our peace of mind, whether matter be eternal or have been created, whether there be or be not a God. How foolish to torment ourselves so much about things which we can not know, and which would not make us any happier even were we to gain knowledge about them!

or

[..]It follows that the study of nature can make only unbelievers; and the way of thinking of all its more successful investigators proves this.”

and to end this post, he says about the soul

The soul is therefore but an empty word, of which no one has any idea, and which an enlightened man should use only to signify the part in us that thinks. Given the least principle of motion, animated bodies will have all that is necessary for moving, feeling, thinking, repenting, or in a word for conducting themselves in the physical realm, and in the moral realm which depends upon it.

On free will

It is possible that I have shared this link before but I will share it again because it deals with one of those topics in which I have a very keen interest in especially as what it would mean to our legal systems to finally admit that there is no freedom of the will. What has piqued my interest today is

a weaker belief in free will correlates with poor academic performance.

and

Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.

which made me ask myself if this is really the case. I have no belief in the existence of freedom of the will and i find these findings don’t reflect my position. I know. Statistics and all. But I know there are a majority of my readers who are freewill skeptics. How do you judge yourselves? Poor academic performers? Lack creativity- Jeff I am lookin’ at ya?

I will conclude as Tolstoy does in War and Peace

It was necessary to renounce the consciousness of an unreal immobility in space and to recognize a motion we did not feel; in the present case it is similarly necessary to renounce a freedom that does not exist and to recognize a dependence of which we are not conscious.

Tolstoy, War and Peace

Have a freewill free day.

Unbelievable? Chapter 7

On suffering

Justin wants you to know that god is present in your suffering and sees the future even if you can’t. So stop complaining.

An argument has been made by theists and Justin repeats it, that why do atheists complain about suffering if we live in an indifferent world. This question does seem to me to miss the point. The atheist is telling the theist, you have made such and such claims about the universe and were that the case, the following should be expected as matter of course. In an indifferent universe, suffering is embedded in the nature of the universe. In a world with an omnibenevolent being, suffering is allowed to exist. And if that is the case, then either god is not willing or not able to eradicate suffering.

Justin says because there are many arguments for god, god must exist. No argument would be necessary for god were the existence of god obvious.

He quotes this statement of CS Lewis

My argument against god was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust. A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust.

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, my argument against god collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancy. Thus in the very act in trying to prove god did not exist, in other words that whole reality was senseless, I found was forced to assume that one part of reality- namely, my idea of justice- was full of sense.

First, was he a theist or atheist? Leaving that aside, do we really need transcendence to say this is not fair? Is a toothache the order of things so that one can’t complain if they have a toothache? Must a god be posited to claim that a toothache is pointless? My idea of justice as a reasonable person leads me to the conclusion that we live in an indifferent universe where unless humanity works together to alleviate the suffering of others, their pain and burden becomes unbearable.

Jeff’s favorite argument. Freewill. Justin wants us to believe that it would be a greater evil for god to intervene, which we are told he has done before, than to allow freewill. Basically, we are told to accept that god is inadequate in coming up with scenarios where we maintain our idea of freewill without causing harm to others or ourselves. Where is omnipotence and omniscience when you need it? To Justin it was better in the eyes of god for the African holocaust to happen because of freewill than to intervene to stop it. How many of you find this argument convincing?

Justin says we live in a spiritual war zone and also that suffering draws people to god. I don’t know about you. But for me, there is no logical contradiction in a world where there is a god and there is no suffering. There is nothing that would come in the way of an omnipotent god who wanted to draw people to himself. No human connivance would prevent this from happening.

On free will

First a thought experiment

Buridan’s Ass

an ass

A donkey who is much happier than the one in our experiment. (Wikimedia Commons)

Variations on this experiment date back to antiquity, this formulation was named after the philosopher Jean Buridan, whose views on determinism it ridicules.

Imagine a donkey placed precisely between two identical bales of hay. The donkey has no free will, and always acts in the most rational manner. However, as both bales are equidistant from the donkey and offer the same nourishment, neither choice is better than the other.

Question: How can it choose? Does it choose at all, or does it stand still until it starves?

If choices are made based on which action is the more rational one or on other environmental factors, the ass will starve to death trying to decide on which to eat- as both options are equally rational and indistinguishable from one another. If the ass does make a choice, then the facts of the matter couldn’t be all that determined the outcome, so some element of random chance or free will may have been involved.

It poses a problem for deterministic theories as it does seem absurd to suppose that the ass would stand still forever. Determinists remain split on the problem that the ass poses. Spinoza famously dismissed it while others accept that the donkey would starve to death. Others argue that there is always some element of a choice that differentiates it from another one.

and a guardian article

What Does It Mean to Have Free Will?

Freedom is a mystery ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Is the title of a post by Joseph Laporte.

Since the post by Joseph is quite long, I will only attempt to respond to the first section. the second section where he tries to reconcile Scotus and Aquinas, I will leave to theologians, but I encourage you to read it if you have time. But before I do that, I would want to define freedom of will as other philosophers have done.

While not defining freewill, Sam Harris in his book, Freewill, writes

Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have.

and for the moment we will leave it at that.

In a prize winning essay on Freewill, Schopenhauer defines freedom as

simply the absence of everything that impedes or obstructs

He goes further to note there are three distinct notions of freedom, viz;

  1. physical freedom- which is the absence of material obstacles of any kind. In this physical meaning, animals or humans are free when no physical, material obstacle impedes their actions
  2. intellectual freedom
  3. moral freedom- is simply whether we act out of necessity

Schopenhauer in his exposition on freedom, argues further that

a free will would be one that was determined by nothing at all.

Leaving Schopenhauer momentarily, I turn to Chapman Cohen, who says of the freewill believer, that they hold

intentional action is the unconditioned expression of absolutely free beings, and is what it is because of the selective action of an undetermined will.

You will allow two more instances to refer to Schopenhauer and D’Holdbach before we look at the post by Joseph. D’Holdbach writes

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.”

while Schopenhauer in almost the same line of thinking, writes

[A]s little as a ball on a billiard table can move before receiving an impact, so little can a man get up from his chair before being drawn or driven by a motive. But then his getting up is as necessary and inevitable as the rolling of a ball after the impact. And to expect that anyone will do something to which absolutely no interest impels them is the same as to expect that a piece of wood shall move toward me without being pulled by a string.

I have gone to great length in defining what other philosophers who have written about freewill have written to help give the issue some clarity. We can now look at the work by Joseph.

He, while referring to tradition by St. Augustine, says to act freely is to act without constraints. He says, per Augustine,

the mark of freedom is to be able to bring about an effect as an “uncaused cause.”

The question we must ask at this point is whether such is possible? Do you know of a scenario in your life or of your neighbour’s life when an act of will was without cause? That there was no desire, no motive? You acted without cause or does ignorance of proximate cause translate to no cause?

The same originalist position, Joseph tells us, is shared by Dons Scotus, who argued

we are “total cause” of what we freely will.

To this statement of Dons Scotus, I, following Schopenhauer must ask, can we will what we will?

The other school of thought is represented by Thomas Aquinas who Joseph tells us argued that you choose to act but god causes you to make that choice. The school that has developed for an interpretation of this line of thought has become known us

“freedom-for-excellence” — freedom understood as acting virtuously for true human happiness.

I find it quite illogical, as Joseph writes about Aquinas, that

 God causes me to choose whatever I choose to do, but I still do what I do freely.

In which universe would one call this freedom? Introducing god to the equation does not make it any easier. How does one know their choice is the action of a god? To be truly free, as the volitionist would have us believe, we would have to be the causa sui of our actions.

How does acting virtuously for true human happiness amount to having free will as Joseph would want us believe when he writes

Here behavioral scientists could appeal to freedom-for-excellence as an example of one genuine kind of freedom that seems compatible with my being caused to act as I do

Keep in mind freedom for excellence is where god does the choosing and you do the acting. In this causal chain, whatever the outcome, one must be a contortionist to see this as a case of freedom.

I am not sure, when Joseph writes that

Freedom-for-excellence is a genuine kind of freedom; it is a kind of freedom worth having

if he is still talking about freewill or, he, like compatibilists Marvin and Dennett, is arguing for a freedom worth having. Freedom worth having brings us no closer to an understanding of freewill. It tells us nothing of what freewill is.

I don’t see how Joseph, can still maintain he is talking about freewill when he believes

 [P]inckaers says we act freely when we act virtuously to achieve excellence, even though we are forced to conform to moral laws. These laws enhance freedom, rather than spoiling it, because by conforming our behavior to them we are able to achieve excellence, in the same way that by conforming our behavior to grammar rules we are able to achieve linguistic excellence.

For, by accepting the effect of laws on our actions or as would say, manifestations of the will, he is moving over to the determinists’ position. In this case, therefore, there is a contradiction in his position that he should address. If we are, as he argued earlier, originalists, then the action of laws are irrelevant. On the other hand, if there are laws or even a god influence in our actions, the argument for uncaused cause is no longer be sustainable.

It is quite evident in Joseph’s and the church fathers’ insistence on freewill comes from this theological problem, that

 if God is the cause of my actions, and if I choose to do evil, then it appears that God is the cause of my evil actions. How, then, could anyone be allowed to suffer punishment, much less eternal punishment? We’re just victims of circumstances and events outside our control.

As I said at the beginning, I see no need in trying to respond to his attempts at reconciling Dons Scotus and Aquinas for both positions do little to advance the cause of free will. I contend further that Joseph has not only failed to tell us what freewill is, but has also failed to demonstrate that it is possible. He has instead tried to reconcile the theological problem stated above which it is my contention he cannot get away from without altering the meaning of words, that is, talking gibberish.

If you have read this post up to this point, know you could not have acted otherwise than you did.