Thursday, December 10, 2009

Is Determinism an Unnatural Belief?

Steve Hays has argued against my claim that determinism is an unnatural belief by appealing to a poll of professional philosophers. I replied as follows:

You go to professional philosophers to determine whether determinism is a natural belief? People who have had naturalistic determinism pounded into their brains from day one in grad school? You're kidding, aren't you.


Most of these people think there is no libertarian free will, because they think the mind is the brain, and since physical particles can't have libertarian free will, neither can we.

J. P. Moreland has an essay in Philosophy and Theology (1997) entitled "Naturalism and Libertarian Agency" in which he argues, quite successfully in my view, that libertarian agency simply doesn't fit at all well with a naturalistic world view.

The kind of compatibilism most philosophers they espouse is the kind espoused by people like Daniel Dennett in Elbow Room (MIT, 1984). That is, it's compatible with holding people responsible for their actions in a way that is aimed at modifying their behavior. I find out who's responsible for the action so that I can decide whose behavior I need to correct., or reinforce as the case might be. The kind of a free will that might justify eternal punishment is, on Dennett's view, not a variety of free will worth wanting.

The idea that we are, in some absolute sense, guilty before God for the things we have done, and liable to everlasting punishment for such misdeeds even though our actions are determined, ultimately, by divine choice, is a thesis that people like Dennett would find simply horrifying and barbaric.

You have to reconcile determinism with a very strong form of moral responsibility that most secular compatibilists would reject. You might want to try polling those philosophers on whether they accept the idea of retribution, period, much less eternal retribution.

As for Christian philosophers, well, I've seen discussions of foreknowledge and free will in which the Calvinistic alternative was not even considered. It was pretty much the Molinists and some other libertarians against the open theists.

The hoi polloi, as Vytautas would call them (including introductory philosophy students), invariably accept libertarian free will. They have to be exposed either to naturalism or to Calvinism before they will even consider the idea that our actions are all determined.

I think belief in free will comes naturally to us, while soft determinism seems really bizarre when most people first hear about it. I remember explaining it to a chess friend of mine who said "Didn't you just contradict yourself?" Of course, compatibilism might be true for all that. But most compatibilists are compatibilists because they don't want to bail out of moral responsibility, but can't accept libertarianism in virtue of their overall philosophical commitment to naturalism.

24 comments:

Steven said...

I think you're about right on determinism not being a folk belief. The guy on the street, when he thinks of free will and how he has it, is thinking of something like libertarians conceive of it as.

Victor Reppert said...

Note to Steven: Somewhere, in the bowels of the ASU library, there is a copy of my master's thesis, entitled "Moral Theories and Free Will," which I completed in 1984 under Dr. Michael White. You might want to track it down, just for fun.

Anonymous said...

"Naturalism and Libertarian Agency" in which he argues, quite successfully in my view, that libertarian agency simply doesn't fit at all well with a naturalistic world view."

Of course, the immediate problem here is that guys like Bob Kane, and the other materialist Christian philosophers, are giving awefully good reasons to suppose the libertarianism fits in just fine with a "souless" naturalism.

Color me biased, but I'll take Kane on LFW over spread-thin Moreland any day of the week.

Blue Devil Knight said...

"The hoi polloi, as Vytautas would call them (including introductory philosophy students), invariably accept libertarian free will. "

Have there been cross-cultural anthropological studies of this? For instance, is it shared by Chinese citizens, would it have been so in the USSR? How would you word the question in a poll? If there were a nation in which naturalistic materialism was "pounded into people's heads" (e.g., the USSR), and you found they didn't "believe in free will", would that go against your theory? Does it go against your theory that you find people "believe in free will" who were raised in a Christian country and had libertarianism pounded into their heads from a young age?

My point is I'm not sure what rides on this question, and obviously we can't answer it by consulting our intuitions and social circles. For that matter, assume every human "naturally" believes X. That wouldn't make X true. I'm much more interested in the truth than in the anthropology of people's beliefs.

For that matter we know determinism is likely false, so these categories need to be updated to catch up to early 20th century physics. Quantum mechanics showed us that even for electrons determinism is likely false, but that doesn't mean electrons have free will. I don't understand why philosophers still insist on posing the debate in terms of "free will versus determinism."

Anonymous said...

"For that matter we know determinism is likely false, so these categories need to be updated to catch up to early 20th century physics. Quantum mechanics showed us that even for electrons determinism is likely false, but that doesn't mean electrons have free will. I don't understand why philosophers still insist on posing the debate in terms of "free will versus determinism.""

Perhaps because there are many naturalists who, when it comes to questions of mind and will, are spooked stiff by the drubbing classical materialism was dealt by quantum physics and now spend a lot of time acting as if it does not exist for all practical purposes.

Besides, maybe electrons do have free will. Sure, it sounds crazy, but so does indeterminism.

reborn1995 said...

The paper: Moral Responsibility and Determinism:
The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions", by Shaun Nichols and Josh Knobe, deals with this very sort of testing of intuitions that you're talking about. It's expiremental philosophy; i know some people are skeptical of that sort of approach. But it's still good stuff to chew on i think.

--Guy

Victor Reppert said...

I think your conviction that Christianity would lead people to conclude that libertarian free will is true would be rather upsetting to my Calvinist brethren.

Of course QM is indeterministic, and I think the real problematic determinism from the point of view of materialism is the determination of all non-physical states by physical states. If physical states determine mental states, then it seems to me you've got the ultimate responsibility for human action outside of the control of persons, even if QM determinism is true and basic particles move ina random and undetermined way.

I thought Bill Hasker's critique of what he calls DK-libertarianism (Dennett-Kane libertarianism) was pretty effective myself. I didn't think Kane was a naturalism, though he is not a mind-body dualist. In fact, he seems to have developed a form of the AFR in the early 70s.

Anonymous said...

Victor,

Of course you think Hasker answered Kane, and other think he didn't. So you've got to move the ball on this one.

And, Kane is not a naturalist, and I never intimated that he was (he's a Christian), I just said a naturalist could use his theory; which is, of course, true. This serves to undermine your resting on Moreland.

At any rate, materialism + libertarianism is becoming more and more popular these days.

Steven said...

Note to Steven: Somewhere, in the bowels of the ASU library, there is a copy of my master's thesis, entitled "Moral Theories and Free Will," which I completed in 1984 under Dr. Michael White. You might want to track it down, just for fun.

Will it be worth my while? I've got other books in from the library already that I want to read.

Give me some more specifics about it.

Victor Reppert said...

More for fun than anything else. I defended the claim that on the assumption that what we are utilitarians looking for ways to modify behavior, compatibilism makes some sense. Even if determinism is true, we might want to cause people to act in certain ways, and we might want to figure out who brought about an action, so that we can change a pattern of behavior. Thus, punishing criminals for various utilitarian reasons makes sense even if determinism is true.

However, if we are retributive deontologists, then compatibilism makes no sense. If we are not trying to modify behavior, but are asking whether someone is really to blame for what they did, then compatibilism doesn't make sense. The ultimate causes of our actions are beyond our control, and we are not responsible for those causes.

If you read many compatibilists, such as Moritz Schlick, and J. J. C. Smart (these were two that I mentioned in my thesis), you find that they have a concept of responsibility that is quite different from the concept of responsibility that is involved when we say that a person deserves to be punished in hell (or even in prison) for what he or she has done.

bossmanham said...

Dr. Reppert,

I have actually wondered if determinism was actually more prevalent a belief than LFW. It seems to those of us who hold to LFW, especially in America where free thought is encouraged, that LFW is a given. But if we look at the rest of the world, many of the pagan religions actually hold to a determinism of some form. Add to that the naturalists who are determinists and it would seem to me that LFW is the minority view. Of course I don't have any figure to back that up. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

many christian cults and pagan religions hold to libertarian free will too. a simple course in world religions, reasding primary texts and commentaries, makes that clear. in fact, contrary to popular belief, Islam holds, for the majority, to libertarian free will. they, like so many American evangelicals, chalk up allah's sovereignty and man's freedom to a "mystery."

Gordon Knight said...

Students in my classes tend to like free will, but there are also some determinists. What I do not find is any compatibilists.

When I was talking about the principle of alternative possibilities and was careful to say this is controversial, they look at me like I am crazy "Isn't that just what it means for someone to have free will"

Dear Victor: some of us believe the elementary particles may well have free will.

Tom Clark said...

Victor: "You have to reconcile determinism with a very strong form of moral responsibility that most secular compatibilists would reject. You might want to try polling those philosophers on whether they accept the idea of retribution, period, much less eternal retribution."

It's been my experience hanging out at the Garden of Forking Paths (a blog dealing with free will and moral responsibility) that the majority of compatibilists are deontological retributivists who believe people deserve punishment whether or not it serves any consequential good - a very strong form of moral responsibility. But a methodologically sound poll on this would be interesting.

Speaking of which, have people seen Chalmer's and Bourget's recent poll on philosopher's positions? See http://philpapers.org/surveys/ for some interesting data, including percentages of free will compatibilists (59%) vs. libertarians (14%). Discussions going on at Leiter Reports and Garden of Forking Paths.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, that poll was what started this whole discussion, and my original post was an argument that whatever this poll might mean, it is a poor indication of how natural or unnatural belief in determinism is. People need to be pushed by belief in naturalism or Calvinism or something like that before they will abandon their naive libertarianism.

Victor Reppert said...

I think there are standard and non-standard forms of materialism. I consider a form of materialism to be standard if it holds to three theses.

1) Reality at the basic level is mechanistic. There is no teleology, no intentionality, no subjectivity, and no normativity at the basic level.

2) The basic level (typically called physics) is causally closed.

3) Higher level states (such as the biological, the mental, or the sociological) supervene upon the physical. Given the physical, the higher level states must be exactly as they are.

It seems to me that if you accept this picture, nothing like libertarian free will can be coherently maintained. Now if one is trying to call oneself a materialist and reject part of this picture, in other words, if one adopts a non-standard form of materialism, in virtue of the fact that, say, everything in the mind has a spatial location, then you might be able to find room for libertarian free will.

Which always makes we wonder about Christians, like van Inwagen, who call themselves materialists. Do they really conform to the standard definition of materialism?

reborn1995 said...

the basic conclusion in the paper i cited is that people's intuitions typically run deterministic with respect to physical objects and indeterministic with respect to persons.

--Guy

Tom Clark said...

Re poll: Oops-duh, teach me to read a bit more closely...

Re the unnaturalness of determinism: I suspect people are natural born determinists, always looking for causal regularities to exploit in guiding successful behavior. But as Guy points out, and as researched by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, people also tend to be natural born, intuitive dualists, who suppose minds are somehow self-caused originators of action in a way bodies aren't. Hence the intuition of LFW.

I suspect a majority of philosophers end up compatibilists because many are naturalists and non-supernaturalists. As you say, it's hard to build a case for LFW within a materialist framework. So among philosophers the LFW intuition is discarded in favor of what science suggests is the case about us, which is that there's nothing immaterial inside us calling the shots. Moreover, adding something non-deterministic to the material picture doesn't give us the sort of origination or control required for LFW and strong responsibility.

Robert said...

Victor wrote:

“J. P. Moreland has an essay in Philosophy and Theology (1997) entitled "Naturalism and Libertarian Agency" in which he argues, quite successfully in my view, that libertarian agency simply doesn't fit at all well with a naturalistic world view.”

Someone responded with:

“Of course, the immediate problem here is that guys like Bob Kane, and the other materialist Christian philosophers, are giving awefully good reasons to suppose the libertarianism fits in just fine with a "souless" naturalism.


Color me biased, but I'll take Kane on LFW over spread-thin Moreland any day of the week.”

I agree with Victor, Moreland makes a good case that libertarian agency does not fit well with a naturalistic world view. Most physicalists also reject LFW.

Second, Kane is not a “materialist Christian philosopher” (I asked him about his view) he holds a Thomistic view (body and soul function as a unit, though at death the soul is separated from the body). I believe that some who do not understand the Thomistic view will mistake it for materialism when it is not.

Third, the comment about “I’ll take Kane on LFW” over Moreland doesn’t make sense. Both are proponents of LFW. It is not as if they are working against each other at all. Both are opposed to calvinism/necessitarian beliefs.

Robert

Robert said...

Blue Devil Knight wrote:

"I don't understand why philosophers still insist on posing the debate in terms of "free will versus determinism."

Just curious BDK, and how do you suggest the debate be framed?

Robert

Robert said...

Tom wrote:

“I suspect a majority of philosophers end up compatibilists because many are naturalists and non-supernaturalists.’

Right, in most universities a form of “scientism” is prevalent (i.e. science is the best way of obtaining truth so science has the highest priority and anything that wants to be accepted must seek to be as scientific as possible). When I was in college I remember the psychology department was run by a bunch of Skinner type behaviorists who had “physics envy” and wanted Psychology to be as “scientific” as possible. But the real scientists and physicists laughed at the Behaviorists and their **imprecise** methods! :-)

“As you say, it's hard to build a case for LFW within a materialist framework. So among philosophers the LFW intuition is discarded in favor of what science suggests is the case about us, which is that there's nothing immaterial inside us calling the shots. Moreover, adding something non-deterministic to the material picture doesn't give us the sort of origination or control required for LFW and strong responsibility.”

Much of what you say here is true. And again if you want a “scientific explanation” for human actions, then an immaterial human soul is an entity that you really don’t want to have around. Gotta got rid of it and so the brain alone is substituted for the immaterial soul, the brain is then the cause of all of our actions and the brain of course is as fully determined as particles are, right? :-)

Robert

Tom Clark said...

Robert: "And again if you want a “scientific explanation” for human actions, then an immaterial human soul is an entity that you really don’t want to have around. Gotta got rid of it and so the brain alone is substituted for the immaterial soul, the brain is then the cause of all of our actions and the brain of course is as fully determined as particles are, right? :-)"

Well, we want *some* sort of explanation for action in terms of reasons and causes. It isn't clear to me how anything, material or immaterial, that's undetermined in its actions can at the same time have a reason (or be caused) to act one way or another. It's difficult to *explain* an undetermined act, particularly in terms of an agent's characteristics (her reasons for action, personality, etc.) since these *didn't* determine it (since the act is undetermined).

Robert said...

Hello Tom,

The words of mine that you cite are a bit sarcastic about the near obsession of some in **demanding** scientific/physicalist explanations where no immaterial factor can be involved, for everything.

“Well, we want *some* sort of explanation for action in terms of reasons and causes.”

Check out Searle’s RATIONALITY IN ACTION and G. F. Schueler’s REASONS & PURPOSES for good examples of “reasons based explanations” of voluntary actions.

“It isn't clear to me how anything, material or immaterial, that's undetermined in its actions can at the same time have a reason (or be caused) to act one way or another.”

Here is an example. I hold to substance dualism believing that our human nature consists of both a material aspect (brain and body) and an immaterial aspect (the soul or spirit of a man). I believe both aspects work in conjunction not separately. I also believe we do our voluntary actions “for reasons”.

My own term is “importances”. We all have a set of importances, what we consider important, the reasons for our actions. We always act for reasons when we do voluntary actions. We may differ in our set of importances but everyone has them and acts in line with them.

A person who is a suicide bomber may seem “irrational” to some who have a different set of importances (the person considering their action to be irrational has the importance of preserving their life over giving it up for a political or religious reason). And yet to the suicide bomber one of their importances may be that they be so committed to their cause that they are willing to die for the cause and do so by means of a suicide bomb. When they commit suicide they does so in line with **their** importances, what they consider important.

“It's difficult to *explain* an undetermined act, particularly in terms of an agent's characteristics (her reasons for action, personality, etc.) since these *didn't* determine it (since the act is undetermined).”

What do you mean by “undetermined act”?

I would say that all events have causes.

And when we act for reasons, we the agent, are the cause of our own voluntary actions. I would also differentiate between a necessitated event (given certain causes and absent certain intervening factors, the event must occur) and an event that though caused is not necessitated (Searle makes this same distinction between some events that have sufficient causes and others that while caused do not have sufficient causes). I raise my arm in a class to ask a question. My arm is caused to rise by me, the personal agent. But I did not have to raise my arm, so my action while caused is not necessitated.

Robert

Anonymous said...

"Second, Kane is not a “materialist Christian philosopher” (I asked him about his view) he holds a Thomistic view (body and soul function as a unit, though at death the soul is separated from the body)."

Unfortunately Robert is very unfamiliar with the literature and points being made to serve as a reliable dialogue partner. It was ***NEVER*** argued that Kane was a materialist, it was argued that his view is one that fits in wither materialism and needs no "immatereial soul" to work. He gives a strictly naturalist account of LFW, as his books make clear.

Since Robert has also, on numerous occasions, been critical and condescending of Kane, calling his views on free will unChristian and even implying that Kane is not a Christian, I wonder if Robert let this info slide when he talked to Kane.