Thursday, June 25, 2009

Religious and non-religious determinism

The best way to look at determinism is to see it as the view that everything is inevitable. This can be looked at from a religious perspective, and a non-religious perspective. From a religious perspective, this is the doctrine of predestination. Before the foundation of the world, God decrees everything that is going to happen, from the Fall of Lucifer, to the Fall of Adam, to the death of Christ, to the fall of the Roman Empire, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, the Columbine murders, the 9/11 attacks, and the election of first Bush and then Obama. All of this was predestined by God.

If this were true, would you say that everything was God's fault, or could wrong actions also be blamed on the humans who performed them? If compatibilism is true, then it can be our fault, even if determinism is true. If incompatibilism is true, then we would have to have something called contra-causal freedom (we could have done otherwise from what we did under the exact circumstances) in order to be truly responsible for our actions.

If we take non-religious determinism, then there's no God to cause everything, but we are simply collocations of atoms doing what the laws governing those atoms guarantee we will do. What this would mean would be that if we knew the position of all the particles in the universe on January 1, AD 1500 at midnight, you could know that Hitler would massacre the Jews, that Obama and Biden would run against McCain and Palin and win in 2008, and that the Cardinals would get to the Super Bowl and lost narrowly to the Steelers. Again, we can ask if anything would really be anyone's fault if that were true, since we would be pawns, not of God, but of nature.

12 comments:

Ilíon said...

VR: "... If compatibilism is true, then it can be our fault, even if determinism is true. ..."

To assert that determinism, whether religious or non-religious, is true -- to assert that we are not free-as-matters -- and simultaneously to assert that we are responsible for our actions/behaviors is as rational a stance as to assert that a boulder is responsible for the avalanche it set off when it broke loose: such a stance is not merely totally lacking in logic, it’s anti-rational.

Darrin said...

What if the bolder didn't go down the hill because an avalanche set it off, but rather because it wanted to go down the hill?

Ilíon said...

Darrin: "What if the bolder didn't go down the hill because an avalanche set it off, ..."

The bolder didn't go down the hill because the avalanche set it off. Rather, in going down the hill, the boulder set off the avalanche.


Darrin: "... but rather because it wanted to go down the hill?"

Well, that's the point, isn't it?

In truth, can a boulder, or a man, will an end-state or condition and act so as to effect (regardless of the actual end-result) that state or condition? Can a boulder, or a man, introduce a novel chain of cause-and-effect into the mechanical universe?

If determinism were indeed true, than not only the boulder, but also the man, cannot in any wise introduce a novel chain of cause-and-effect into the mechanical universe.

legodesi said...

And in both cases, the value of thought vanishes.

Ilíon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilíon said...

Not just the value, but the very existence.

Mark Frank said...

The point of compatibilism is that in theory (although not in practice) it is possible to predict what agents will freely choose to do (or recognise it is completely random what agents will freely choose to do). So compatiblism does not "assert that we are not free-as-matters". It asserts that freedom is predictable.

You may not believe it - but it is not lacking in logic or anti-rational.

In practice we cannot predict with 100% certainty what agents will freely choose to do. It is just too darn complicated. But we can often predict with a lot of confidence that a hungry man will choose to eat. That ability to predict does not limit his freedom to make that choice.

legodesi said...

"It asserts that freedom is predictable."

Compatibilism seeks to harmonize determinism and libertarianism. Determinism is the view that all our actions are determined by antecedent conditions. It is by the universe being determined that one can in principle predict every eveny event that happens, if he has exhaustive knowledge of all events from the past till the present. But merely accurate predictions of our behavior doesn't make determinism true, and so it doesn't make determinism compatible with libertarianism.

Mark Frank said...

"But merely accurate predictions of our behavior doesn't make determinism true,"

Agreed - it doesn't make determinism true - but it shows that prediction is compatible with free choice.

"and so it doesn't make determinism compatible with libertarianism"

I don't get this. The words "and so" don't seem to represent any kind of inference.

Ilíon said...

Mark Frank: "I don't get this. The words "and so" don't seem to represent any kind of inference."

Let's see:

1) Victor Reppert said "If compatibilism is true, then it [our wrong actions] can be our fault, even if determinism is true."

2a) Ilíon described 'determinism' as the view and "assert[ion] that we are not free-as-matters" -- that is, as 'determinism' is the assertion that *all* events are fully determined and caused by prior states, it therefore logically implies we do not, for we cannot, freely will our actions
2b) and made reference to the simple fact that 'compatibilism' is the assertion of 'determinism' simultaneously with the denial of the logical implication (with respect to agent freedom) of 'determinism.'
2c) and said that "such a stance is not merely totally lacking in logic, it’s anti-rational."

3) Mark Frank chose to dispute in some odd manner what I'd said by misrepresenting 'compatibilism' as merely the "assert[ion] that freedom is predictable."

4) Legodesi chose to be patient with Mark Frank, and explained that "Compatibilism seeks to harmonize determinism and libertarianism," and explained why it is that "merely [making] accurate predictions of our behavior doesn't make determinism true," and concluded that a theoretical ability to make accurate predictions of another's behavior "doesn't make determinism compatible with libertarianism."

5a) Mark Frank agreed that "merely [making] accurate predictions of our behavior doesn't make determinism true,"
5b) and then incorrectly asserted that "and so it [a theoretical ability to make accurate predictions of another's behavior] doesn't make determinism compatible with libertarianism" is not a valid logical inference.


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Mark Frank said...

I think there may some confusion over what was behind Legodesi's sentence:

merely [making] accurate predictions of our behavior doesn't make determinism true

So let's get back to basics. Ilion wrote:

Ilíon described 'determinism' as the view and "assert[ion] that we are not free-as-matters" -- that is, as 'determinism' is the assertion that *all* events are fully determined and caused by prior states, it therefore logically implies we do not, for we cannot, freely will our actions

Well I am sorry that does not follow.

The statement:

(1) *all* events are fully determined and caused by prior states

does not logically entail

(2) we do not, for we cannot, freely will our actions

Darrin said...

It should be denoted that "free" means, for libertarians, "the externally uncoerced ability to select between two or more exclusive lines of behavior." I think I've represented the Arminian position correctly here.

For compatibalists, then, "free" means "free of external coercion." Period. So we're talking about freedom in a different sense except if we extract enough away from the detail to equivocate the two.

Ilion - "If determinism were indeed true, than not only the boulder, but also the man, cannot in any wise introduce a novel chain of cause-and-effect into the mechanical universe."

What about a compatibilist universe limits this? What about an Arminian universe enables this? It may be that you do not accept my definition of Arminian. What is yours, if that is the case?