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.


At 12:59 PM, December 12, 2004, Blogger Chris said...

Thank you John!

I saw the same problem that you pointed out for the determinist dilemma, namely that it relies on an internalist notion of justification. Due to its lack of popularity these days, presuming internalism might be considered taboo by many. So, being one who cherishes the idea that we have free choice, I'd like to offer a simple argument for indeterminism.

(1) It seems as though we have free will and indeed humans naively believe that we have free will.
(2) Either (a) There is a divine creator or (b) Evolutionary theory is true.
(3) Our conception of a divine being makes it likely that, if one exists, He would not deceive us.
(4) Evolution does not typically select for epiphenomenal traits, although it does happen on occasion.
(5) If (a) then we are not being deceived (from (3)) into believing that we have free will ((1)), thus, we do indeed have free will.
(6) If (b) then there is a high probability that our seeming free will is not epiphenomenal (from (4)), and so given (1), it is likely that free will exists.
(7) It is highly likely (from (5) and (6)) that free will exists.

I came up with this argument about a year ago, and I like it because it doesn't bring in things like the principle of sufficient reason. We all believe in the principle of sufficient reason, but how can we know whether something like free will in an agent is sufficient to cause bodily action? We would first have to decide dualist questions, and even questions within monism about whether the mind is not a mere epiphenomenon. These are both open questions, and if the free will debate merely supervenes on these, then there is no point in talking about it until they are solved.

Obvious ways to debunk my argument:

(1) Premise (2) does not exhaust all possibilities. What of the malevolent demon?
(2) Premise (4) is false. (I would have to be shown this. As far as I know, traits that are causually efficacious in a beneficial way are selected for more often than epiphenomenal traits.)

I think that another interesting way one might argue for indeterminism is an argument from intentionality. It is clear that consciousness does things that we do not see elsewhere in the universe, such as represent things that are detached from the scope of one's perceptions. We can even represent non-existent objects with which we have had no causal rapport. If mere physical processes are all that occur, then why is it that my seemingly purposeful actions always correspond one-to-one with the representations I am having? That is, why do I cower when I have representations of monsters, and why do I smile when I have representations of friends? These are difficult questions that the determinist must consider. I guess his obvious answer would be that the representations and the actions have a sufficient cause in the same neural processes. I think this is an onerous position to hold, however, and indeed one that our neuroscience will eventually prove false.

Alright, enough ranting. I was just so excited to find a new post on here that I went a little crazy.

At 8:54 PM, December 13, 2004, Blogger cocodrylo said...


To begin with your first dilemma for indeterminism, I do not see that it is really a dilemma. Premise 2 simply stipulates that all evens have sufficient causes, in which case it obviousloy follows that you must accept that there are sufficient causes that explain choices.

As for your second dilemma, the one for determinism. I flat out reject 7 and I do not even claim to be an externalist. I think an internalist could accept that a belief is determined and justified. For instance, if I believe that 2+2=4, I cannot believe otherwise, and yet I think there could be internalist arguments for justifying such a belief (it's apriori - if you believe that such a distinction exists).

a fortoiri, when we have inductive arguments we still might be determined to believe the conclusion. Let's say that I believe that the sun will rise tomorrow because it's risen every day of my life and every person in the world believes it to be so and all historical records indicate that it will rise. In this instance, I feel perfrectly justified, and I find it extremely difficult to believe that it will not rise tomorrow. In fact, I cannot believe it will fail to rise tomorrow. Sure, someone may assent to the claim publicly, but I find it intuitively compelling to say that no rational person could believe otherwise (even Hume said that people would call him a madman if he denied it).

Also, regarding the general structure of your argument against the determinists, its fairly common to charge a determinist with being determined to take their position (I don't think your argument is naive or anything like that, although I do think it doesn't work). I don't find a problem with doing so. In fact, argumentation is an effort to convince someone to believe something by causing certain states in the believer (regardless of the mental substance issue).

As for your claim that causes/reasons can exist within the agent, determinism finds absolutely no problem with what you are saying, depending on how you say it. If we make some fairly clean distinction between internal causes and external causes, such that internal causes are ones that fit well within a fairly clear notion of "internal," then there is no need for a libertarian conception of free will. What I mean is that we tend to mean by "internal" something such as a brain, internalized experiences (learning) etc. - all of them seem causal.

If we are going to argue within a dualist conception of mind, we are left with no distinct advantage for libertarianism. Even in this case, the principle of sufficient reason still operates in spite of the lack of material sufficient causes. According to your definition of indeterminism, we can still accept determinism as I have just shown - so I think you should rework your definition of indeterminism.

If you intend internal causes differently, pushing the causes into the agent (regardless of how its conceived) this only pushes back the same determinist questions. Why does an agent choose one action over another? Why are the causes and reasons within the agent such that they are? Within or outside of the agent, the same questions arise. Libertarians are now in a quandry, since they no longer have anywhere to run. Does God (or do our genes) make the agent such that he/she would choose A over B? No, since this would not make on free.

Does the nature of the internal part of the agent make it such his sufficient causes for action are themselves not sufficently caused? This will do nothing to aid the libertarian, since we would have a causal chain that begins without a cause. If the grounding for all future sufficient causes for action has no cause for itself, it is then obvious that the agent himself did not sufficiently cause this. This is no way to conceive of responsibility of an agent. If we want to say that he did, then we just beg the question of why he would cause it in manner A over manner B like the paragraph above.

In sum, pushing causes inside still requires answering the question of why these causes (within the agent) exist. If they exist because of some type of causer (God), then the agent cannot be responsible. If they exist for no sufficient reason at all, then this does not lead us to believe that the agent could be responsible either. It's almost the same as the "dilemma of determinism" (in the old fashioned sense) that has yet to be solved, only inside the agent.



I like your argument, but I think that both horns of your disjunction do not necessarily lead to your conclusion. For (5) and (1), I would simply say that I never had a naive view of free will. I can recall my freshman years in high school before I ever had any conception of philosophy. Calvanism seemed to make the most sense to me because of my strong commmitment to some rudimentary intuition of the Principle of sufficient reason - maybe that's why I'm a philosopher. In any case, I think that many people actually doubt that free will exists in many circumstances. And God, expecting reasonable people might expect them to become determinists if determinism is true.

As for (3) and (6). I do not see why free will is an epiphenomenal trait. You might have to define epiphenomenal here, but it seems that in human life, there are many, many illusions that we think (or thought) are true, but in fact are not. Astronomy (Copernicus) and the Muller-Lyre illusion are some of many examples. So I would say that evolution can lead, and often times does lead to false beliefs and intuitions - especially beliefs not relevant to survival (humanity has made survival more or less guaranteed on a large scale so far, so no more selection really occurs).

You said:That is, why do I cower when I have representations of monsters, and why do I smile when I have representations of friends? These are difficult questions that the determinist must consider.I see no reason here why a libertarian is in a better position at this point. Evolution could obviously account for some of these, in that all animals seem to react to false representations. Mice, when running around in mazes, dream about the mazes (they have the same brain wave patterns when asleep). Claiming that there is a cause for these does not seem to be mysterious at all to me.

anyway, long responses from q

At 2:17 PM, December 16, 2004, Blogger Johnny-Dee said...

Thanks for the comments. I agree, cocodrylo, that my first dilemma needs some work to articulate the main problem. I think you give it a push in the right direction, though. I had in mind something like the infinite regress that is the bane of indeterminism. The solution, which I am well-aware does not satisfy you, is that agents are "self-moved." So, they can generate indeterministically the causes for what they will. Certain types of libertarians say that it is a category mistake to ask for the sufficient causes behind these self-moved events. Since self-moved events are defined as those without sufficient causal preconditions. Of course, you might press that all libertarians have done is create a category of events that saves our asses (referring to Buridan's, of course) without giving any real explanation.

As for the dilemma on determinism, I don't think I buy your rejection of 7. While certain conclusions are entailed logically by certain inferences, it does not follow that they are deterministically inferred. In order for one to be rational in accepting a logical entailment, one must be able to "see" the inference, not just be caused to generate the right conclusion. How does one "see" the inference? I suggest (once again, noting this may be controversial) that the peculiar notion of intentionality (i.e., thinking about and towards) plays a role here, and intentionality seems to require an indeterministic view of free will. In other words, it seems like an equivocation to say that since the conclusion is determined by the premises that the rational agent was determined to believe it.

Still, there is the interesting question about how much control we have over our beliefs. If we have no control over any of our beliefs, then (7) is clearly false. I would agree that we don't have direct control over some of our immediately formed beliefs, but it seems that we do have control over some of our beliefs. This is most striking for our higher-order beliefs where we seem to decide whether we accept, reject or remain agnostic about some topic. Since believing either determinism or indeterminism is of this higher-order category, (7) seems relevant. Of course, my whole discussion of rational justification leans unashamedly on internal justification. If a critic finds internalism unsound, they will most likely find the reasons offered here unimpressive.

At 9:19 PM, December 16, 2004, Blogger cocodrylo said...

Johnny-Dee :)
You Said:
Since self-moved events are defined as those without sufficient causal preconditions. Of course, you might press that all libertarians have done is create a category of events that saves our asses (referring to Buridan's, of course) without giving any real explanation.(1) Well, I think that libertarians have not even saved their own asses. I would think they did if somehow "self-moved events" were conceivable as being "intentional self-moved events," and libertarians gave an account of how this is possible. However, I don't think it is possible. Adding the term "intentional," I think, gives a more proper and explicit sense of what libertarians want. However, it also leaves them with a problem once it is no longer tacit: how is it that a self-moved agent intentionally causes her own decisions? To cut to the chase, let us deal with the first decision that she makes.

Why is her first decision A rather than B? If you claim that it is "self-moved," how is her action "intentional" as well? We cannot claim that her first decision comes from some previous sufficient cause within her "self," since the first cause is the one in question. Then how is it self-caused? If there is not a sufficient cause, then it seems hard to say that it is "self" caused, since, obviously, the self could not have been the sufficient cause. I'm not sure, but I fail to see how calling something self-caused gets around the problem rather than masking it.

(2) Even if we grant that self-causation is somehow indeterministic and also able to exist within the agent, we are still left with the need for us to believe that we are actually such. If we rely on a phenomenological argument, then we are left with the response I gave to Chris. But I still feel no reason to grant that (1) has an adequate answer.

In order for one to be rational in accepting a logical entailment, one must be able to "see" the inference, not just be caused to generate the right conclusion. I don't see how it us "up to" an individual to "see" an inference. For example, if I am told by scientists that they found certain dinosaurs and that they have concluded that there is a new species, I cannot doubt such a claim without other specific reasons. Since I am not a paleontologist and have no reason to doubt, I really don't have any reason to doubt and in fact I cannot doubt that they are probably right. If I can find no reason to offer why I doubt them, people would rightly call me unreasonable.

I would agree that we don't have direct control over some of our immediately formed beliefs, but it seems that we do have control over some of our beliefs.It doesn't seem so to me. Obviously, for higher-order beliefs there does seem to be a larger degree of disagreement (i.e., "God exists" vs. "most tomatoes are red"), but the fact that there is more disagreement on a given proposition does not entail that we are free to believe either its affirmation or negation. Whenever I believe a claim, I usually have reasons backing them up. If these reasons did not exist, I doubt that I would believe the claim. So I would say that those reasons are sufficient for my belief. And I think this is neutral regarding internalism or externalism.

Anyway, I hope thats not a whole bunch of blather


At 1:31 AM, December 22, 2004, Blogger Clayton said...


A quick question about (7)...

It seems that there is something very paradoxical about thinking to oneself 'p but I believe it because I choose to'. Yet, it seems that this is precisely the sort of voluntarism that you are saying is defended by the justificatory internalist and required for justification by rational inference. Yet, when I'm making inferences (at least ones that seem rational to me) I don't feel that there is the slightest bit of latitude when I arrive at p by careful deliberation--rather, I'm compelled to believe p out of recognition (or so it seems from the inside) that p is true. It isn't that it seems from the inside that the belief is caused. The important point seems to be that from the first-person perspective, belief cannot be a product of the will but only arise from conclusive grounds and that if anything, the demands of belief rule out the possibility that the will or agency plays any role at all in the rationalizing of belief apart from directing one's attention to those grounds. Compare this conception of the role of the will with the conception that the will's role is to convert grounds into normatively good ones through rational endorsement. I can't imagine what reason there would be to endorse this sort of epistemic view, but it seems that without this sort of view, the will, free or not, would have no generative role to play in the justification of belief.

At 11:04 AM, January 03, 2005, Blogger Johnny-Dee said...

Sorry, I haven't responded in good time. Part of the reason is that I wanted to do a little more homework on the subject before posting another response to your criticisms. I think you are raising really good objections, and I believe that I will ultimately have to give my dilemma for determinism a hefty overhaul to make it work. What I had in mind was something like the exchange between Norman Malcolm and Alvin Goldman in Philosophical Review [Malcolm, "The Conceivability of Mechanism," Phil Rev 77 (1968); Goldman, "The Compatibility of Mechanism and Purpose," Phil Rev 78 (1969)]. In this exchange, Malcolm argues that a strictly mechanical process of knowing would not confer rationality. I think I was making the mistake of believing that determinism would be committed to some mechanistic process that bypasses agency, intentionality, and some other non-physical aspects of personhood. I see that I really "stepped in it" by failing to see that this assumption isn't true. I also, think I made the faulty assumption of saying indeterminism entails personal agency. Personal agency seems to entail indeterminism, but I don't think indeterminism entails personal agency. I clearly need to work on making some of my most important terms more clear. As it turns out, I might have a completely different argument by the time I'm done.

With that said, I think the dilemma holds if determinism is seen as a result of causally closed physical system. But I would readily grant that one can be a determinist without being committed to a causally closed physical system (although, I don't see how one could avoid being a determinist who believes in a causally closed physical system).

One final word--I'm not intending to endorse some type of radical epistemic voluntarism. What I am trying to say is that rationality is more than a mechanistic process. I wouldn't say that someone was rational for drawing the conclusion "Q" from premises "P" and "if P, then Q" if that person had no idea how they drew that conclusion from the premises. Suppose they said, "when I see "P" and "if P, then Q" I just find myself beliving "Q", although I have no idea why." That person might be lucky or strange, but I'm not inclined to say that person is rational. Also, consider higher-order beliefs. Why is it that Holmes makes the right inferences and Watson doesn't? They both have access to the same information. (And I don't think Watson was stupid either.) I think the answer lies somewhere in the field of personal agency. This is still probably too short to satiate everyone, but I trust this confession will help show what I was trying to get at on the determinism dilemma.

At 12:13 AM, January 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think I was making the mistake of believing that determinism would be committed to some mechanistic process that bypasses agency, intentionality, and some other non-physical aspects of personhood." ... Being a hard determinist i cannot help but comment. Not a professional, but... I dont think determinism is committed to bypassing agency - The harder question for me is ownership of an act or a decision. I think we can provide that even in a causally determined world there is still a 'level' the causation reaches that can be considered an agental level. Perhaps when the p1 (physical) state is accompanied by an m1 (mind state), provided m1's arent present in the same sense at other levels of causation. I will not comment on the physical or nonphysical nature of m1 as that's a longer story. If we derive owership through origination, control, history, et all there is difficulty under this view. Perhaps the agent remains, the observer, maybe even intentionality too, but lots of other ideas need to be overhauled.
I also have some problems with (7) - i guess i agree with it but i must say... A belief is not justified simply in virtue of being determined, but it does not follow that determined beliefs cannot be/are not justified. Obviously we need some more than simply "i believe that i am an ant and am justified as believing that because i came to believe it through the causal path of the universe." Here one can see that if the 'divine' non-deciever view is endorsed, one must figure out why there CAN be determined unjustified beliefs.
Personally i think that the whole mess is influenced too heavily by the phenomenal feel of agency. While this feels great i dont see it as containing backing for the types of ownership or agency that some of us desperately want.

At 1:39 PM, January 06, 2005, Blogger Khristi Lauren said...

Extremely thought provoking. I like.

At 9:33 PM, February 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what is it with all this worry about divination? Do true analytic philosophers really think there is some god hovering around or whatever? Please give me an f-ing break. We are talking about serious thinkers here. I recommend all of you caught up in the god problem relinquish yourselves to the title of 'theologists' and not philosophers. Philosophers are supposed to be able to let the evidence and the logic lead to an intuitive stance. God-isms tend to produce people who have obviously fallacious beliefs which they are out to defend from the start. Sure, what if? But really. Is it something about Michigan that breeds that stuff? R.Allen has put me on the floor, clutching my sides in laughter - god has little or no place in these debates. I have read the bible, sure i was raised 100% athiest, but come on now. Lets all debate the virtues of murdering phillistines' goats now too. Please.

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