Friday, February 29, 2008

A Series on Freedom and Determinsm

This is a redated post.

My class in ethics will be covering the free will problem next week, so I am doing a series of posts on it. This is just to introduce a couple of the central concepts:

I’m somewhat frustrated with the textbook’s (Thiroux's) treatment of the freedom and determinism question, so I am going to present some of my own ideas on the subject. Well, for the most part I’m going to be following the chapter of William Hasker’s book Metaphysics: Constructing a World-View (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983) ch. 2.

First of all, what kind of freedom is involved in the freedom and determinism problem? The answer has to be the kind of freedom that is necessary for moral responsibility. The idea of moral responsibility implies that we can deserve something bad for doing something bad, and deserve something good for doing something good. For example, it is a commonplace idea, which seems to make sense, that one should not be blamed for the color of one’s skin, and that it is unjust to give advantages to one person over another simply on the basis of race. What underlies this conviction? Is it not the fact that persons do not choose their race; that one happens to be black, or white, or red, or yellow, and that it’s impossible that one’s race could be either merited or demerited.

What at least appears to threaten this conviction is the thesis of determinism. I think that because the concept of causation is not as clear as it might be, the textbook's definition of determinism as the thesis of universal causation is inadequate. For example, we often say that smoking causes cancer, but it does not necessitate cancer. Smokers do sometimes live cancer-free lives. Hasker provides some more clarification when he defines determinism as follows:

Determinism: For every event which happens, there are previous events and circumstances which are its sufficient conditions or causes, so that, given those previous events and circumstances, it is impossible that the event should not occur.

On the other hand, for Hasker, libertarianism is the thesis that:

Libertarianism: some human actions are chosen and performed by the agent without there being any sufficient condition or cause of the action prior to the action itself. (Thanks, Dennis for the correction).

Now the notion of a cause being sufficient is very important here. It is a necessary condition for me to buy your car that you offer it for sale. But your offering it for sale is not sufficient cause of my buying the car; I may choose not to buy it.

6 comments:

Dennis Monokroussos said...

Two quick comments. First, do you mean to write "the great agent" in your statement of Hasker's def. of libertarianism? Second, of course, his definition isn't one, but is only a necessary condition for libertarianism. On quantum physics, an action lacks a sufficient cause even if, say, an agent's will is wholly epiphenomenal.

Jim Slagle said...

A really good book defending libertarian freedom -- although hard to get a hold of -- is The Freewill Question by William Davis. It's pretty short, and he presents the argument from reason at the end of it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I think to be a more general account of libertarianism that takes into account Dennis' question, it might be better to go to a (token) universal causation thesis. Or, since causation implies nomic regularity, the thesis that every event token supervenes on the nomic regularities in physics (or something like that).

The 'token' formulation would help deal with the cigarette-cancer causation. Formulating it in terms of nomic regularities rather than causes lets it subsume quantum mechanics while sidestepping questions of whether quantum intedeterminism precludes causal explanation.

Ultimately, the libertarian notion of free will must involve the claim that humans don't simply follow the laws of physics. We aren't just complicated apples falling from trees, but actually exert some control over our apples.

Anonymous said...

'Libertarianism: some human actions are chosen and performed by the agent without there being any sufficient condition or cause of the action prior to the action itself. '

So Hasker admits there is nothing he can do to prevent himself committing murder and rape.

That statement is literally true.

No amount of prayer , Bible study, research in ethics, cognitive behaviour therapy etc etc etc will produce a condition sufficient to produce the act of choosing not to rape and murder.

Hasker clearly should be locked up for our and his safety.

Anonymous said...

Libertarianism is the doctrine that at time t in situation A, either state of affairs B or C will happen, and there is no information about situation A that will let an agent know which of B or C he will choose.

All the agent knows is that know matter how carefully he examines situation A, he will never find a logical reason why he chose B rather than C.

Anonymous said...

'Now the notion of a cause being sufficient is very important here. It is a necessary condition for me to buy your car that you offer it for sale. But your offering it for sale is not sufficient cause of my buying the car; I may choose not to buy it.'

And if I leave go of this mouse, gravity is a necessary condition for it to roll down the slope it is on, but not a sufficient condition.

I guess the theory of gravity is non-deterministic as there is a very important distinction between necessary causes and sufficient causes.

Gravity is not a *sufficient* cause.