Sunday, December 12, 2004

Two Free Will Dilemmas

As I see it, there are two broad positions on free will, under which are various denominations of nuanced positions fall. First, there is determinism. Determinism is the view that sufficient causal conditions exist outside of agents that determine the actions or wills of agents. The second position is indeterminism. Indeterminism is the view that there are some choices where no sufficient causal conditions exist outside free agents that determine the wills or actions of free agents. Both positions have accrued problems that can be called "classic criticisms." I would like to pose just one of these for each position in the form of a dilemma. First, there is the dilemma for indeterminism:
(1) Either our choices have sufficient reasons for their existence or they do not.
(2) All events have sufficient reasons for their existence (PSR).
(3) Therefore, indeterminism must accept there are sufficient causes that explain free choices.
On the other hand, determinists must face this dilemma:
(4) One believes determinism because either it is freely chosen based on rational inferences or one is determined to believe it.
(5) Determinism cannot be freely chosen on the basis of one's own rational inferences.
(6) Thus, if determinism is true, then one has been determined to believe it. [4,5]
(7) If a belief is accepted because it has been determined, then it is not justified.
(8) Thus, if determinism is true, then one cannot be justified in believing it. [6,7]
While I will not pretend to offer a solution that is acceptable to everyone, I believe it is possible to arbitrate among these positions in favor of indeterminism. I believe that indeterminists can accept that there are sufficient conditions for free choices, which weakens the distinction made in (1). The most plausible indeterminist theories do not state that free choices are utterly uncaused and fundamentally random. Rather, they believe the causes and reasons for free choices exist within the agent. Since these causal conditions are within the agent--indeed, they might say that agents are the genesis for their choices, which would sufficiently explain their choices--they can accept one horn of the dilemma without the damning consequences.

As for the determinist's dilemma, I believe the weakest premise is (7), which can be rejected if one finds external "justification" or warrant plausible. I happen to believe that there are fundamental problems with externalism, so I believe that the dilemma holds for determinists. Of course, many people will find externalism very plausible, so they will not have a problem with this form of the dilemma. Like I said, I won't act like this is a non-controversial way to assess these dilemmas, but I think framing the free will debate in terms of these dilemmas is at least interesting, if not useful.