Saturday, May 24, 2008

Moreland's brief defense of libertarian free will


Mike Darus said...

Moreland is defective on several points:
1) His definition of libertarian free will is self refuting and impossible "nothing determines that either choice is made. Rather, the agent himself must simply exercise his own causal powers and will to do one alternative, say A. When an agent wills A, he also could have chosen B without anything else being different inside or outside of his being. He is the absolute originator of his own actions." We will always say that if the situation were different, we would have made a different choice. There are causal factors that influence our decisions. No decision is free according to this description. One of the issues to answer is "How free is free?" The apostle Paul in Romans 6-8 suggests we are slaves of sin and do not have the freedom to do good unless we are enabled by the Holy Spirit. Then when we are enabled by the Holy Sprit, we are slaves to righteousness, which ironically is true freedom.
2) Moreland confuses determinism with compatiblism and fails to differentiate the two. His criticism of compatibilism is actually a criticism of determinism.

Anonymous said...

Clearly people choose A because they are good and B because they are evil.

So how can there be nothing different about somebody who choose to murder rather than somebody who chooses not to murder?

God sees a person's heart.

Moreland might not be able to see a persons heart when a person chooses murder.

So Moreland might see nothing different inside the being of a murderer.

But God can see further than mere humans like Moreland.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

I really think that these sorts of post do more harm than good. Moreland is not offering an unbiased introduction to the topic. He knows that his audience lacks the expertise and the sophistication to properly consider the issues he's addressing. What precisely is the point of Moreland's writing these columns?

The article starts off with a falsehood:
It is widely acknowledged that if scientific naturalism is true, then there can be no such thing as free will.

No, it is not widely acknowledged. There are many able philosophers who deny that a consequence of naturalism is the non-existence of free will. Moreover, the quotation he lifts from Searle does not even show that _Searle_ thinks that naturalism is incompatible with freedom. He thinks it is incompatible with "radical" freedom, and that's a very different claim.

His argument for the incompatibility of naturalism and free will is pretty terrible and shows no sensitivity to the literature on moral responsibility.

As for his argument against naturalism, it's hard to take seriously the crucial assumption, "I think it is self-evident to us that free will is real".

I take it that by self-evident he cannot mean that anyone who understands the relevant proposition is thereby in a position to see that it is true. Perhaps by self-evident he wishes to include something broader like that which can be known by understanding the relevant concepts or introspection. But, I know of no philosopher who thinks that introspection can tell us whether we are free. For as Moreland himself illustrates, you could have two subjects in precisely the same psychological states one that would be regarded as unfree by him and one regarded as free. For him the difference would be found in the causal antecedents of these states an agent has no access to. So on _his_ view of free will regardless of whether naturalism is true we could not know ourselves to be free by introspection. So what the heck does he mean when he says it is self-evident that we are free if he's going to have to concede that this is not known through the understanding or introspection!?!

Nacisse said...


I've always liked biased introductions myself - I'm not sure what's wrong with them?

but why can't he mean by self-evident what you take him not to mean? it can't be because there are people that understand the relevant proposition and yet don't see the truth ('free will is real'). because self-evident is non-believe entailing - you just have to be in a position to see it is true - you don't have to actually see the truth. you can still have informed sceptics - that would not seem incompatible with being self-evident in your first sense.. maybe you had some other reason in mind..?

Clayton Littlejohn said...

Hey Nacisse,
David Armstrong wrote a really good introduction to universals and made it clear that it was biased. I suppose that's okay. If you misrepresent the field you are discussing in the course of writing a piece that displays a certain bias, that's different. I think this is something that Moreland has done.

I doubt he could say with any plausibility that the existence of free will is self-evident in the first sense because (a) he'd be committed to the view that most philosophers who think about the issue are conceptually confused or self-deceived. That's a bold claim and (b) because it is an existential claim and few such claims can be known with self-evidence.

Let me say a bit about that second point. If p is self-evident in the narrower of the two senses I used, a subject with the grasp of the relevant propositions is in a position to see/understand that p is true in virtue of the grasp of these concepts. Let 'p' be the proposition that free will exists. Can we not imagine a world in which a subject grasps just the same concepts we actually do where there is no free will? I think I can easily imagine this. However, such a subject would be in no less good a position than we in 'seeing/understanding' that p is true. But, by hypothesis, p is not true in this imagined world.

To respond, someone would have to say either (a) they cannot conceive of such a subject or (b) that while they can conceive of such a subject, this is not a genuine possibility precisely because the existence of free will is a necessary condition on a subject's grasping the concepts needed to understand p.

I can't think of any reason to accept (a) or (b), I'm just pointing to regions of logical space that I think no one wants to occupy. To have a judgment with existential commitment it is typically held (and by that I mean nearly universally in the history of philosophy) that you need more than just the ability to grasp concepts. You need some sort of particular experience. I suppose such experience would be given by introspection (hence the broader understanding), but the introspective argument for free will is itself pretty much a non-starter for reasons that Moreland is clearly aware of.

Nacisse said...

if p is false yet it is still possible for some subject to be in the same position of grasping the same concepts it would seem to me that that would show that we can be wrong about (supposed) self-evident propositions. I don't think I'd need to defend the view that dogmatism and indefeasibility are necessary for self-evidence so if the hypothetical you present is possible then it would just seem to show that Moreland (or whoever) can be wrong about what they take to be self-evident. unless I'm misunderstanding the problem here...

anyway, i have the intuition that my will is free. I suppose this rational capacity for apprehending self-evidence could be malfunctioning or could be over-ridden by other things or just wrong but I don't see the problem of saying ''I think it is self-evident to us that free will is real.'' still... don't you share that intuition (as described by Moreland) Clayton?

Clayton Littlejohn said...

if p is false yet it is still possible for some subject to be in the same position of grasping the same concepts it would seem to me that that would show that we can be wrong about (supposed) self-evident propositions. I don't think I'd need to defend the view that dogmatism and indefeasibility are necessary for self-evidence so if the hypothetical you present is possible then it would just seem to show that Moreland (or whoever) can be wrong about what they take to be self-evident. unless I'm misunderstanding the problem here...

No, I think that's just one facet of the problem. There can be worlds in which someone grasps the same general truths we do but isn't free. In _that_ world, their judgment that they are free is false. That suggests that if our judgment that we are free is true and known to be true, it's not grounded in knowledge of general propositions without existential commitment.

I think that so far we're actually in agreement. Maybe you can say more about the "intuition" that we are free. I suggested that we cannot know on the basis of introspection that we are free. If you're not disagreeing with me on that point, knowledge by intuition does not consist solely of knowledge by introspection. So, what is it? Typically when people talk about intuitive knowledge, they think of the knowledge one has that a certain claim would be true under some hypothetical scenario. But that can't be what you mean, because your intuitive knowledge is not knowledge of how things would be if certain assumptions were true but knowledge of how things actually are. I'm not sure what you take intuition to be.

Nacisse said...

I was thinking of how Robert Audi outlined what an intuition was in his book 'the good in the right'. he listed 4 characteristics which were: being non-inferential, firmly held, minimal comprehension, and pretheortical. so I guess I'd go with that and say if the idea of free-will meets those requirements it would seem we have the intuition of being free agents. he was talking about moral intuition, but they seem like a fine kinda test in general - although I haven't given much thought as to how it would work with free-will exactly... but I do find myself with the idea of being free; I would not give it up easily; I like to think I have some understanding of what the idea means; and it is not dependent on any theory..

Clayton Littlejohn said...

It's been a while since I've seen that book. (I was a student of his back in Nebraska. Big fan.) I don't think those can be sufficient. By that test perceptual knowledge, memorial knowledge, testimonial knowledge (on many views), introspective knowledge, and (arguably) apriori knowledge would all count as knowledge by intuition. Those have to be _necessary_ conditions. Typically, intuitive knowledge was taken to be knowledge one has of the conceptual connections between things and that's why I was saying that I don't think it can be knowledge of propositions with existential import. So, for example, Ross thought that we could have intuitive knowledge of the moral relevance of certain right-making and wrong-making features. It would be the knowledge that allowed one to move from the empirical judgment 'Were I to X, it would cause him pain' to 'There is something that counts against my X-ing'. Intuition is what enables one to grasp the connection between an act's causing pain and the act having a wrong-making feature. I don't see that introspection plus intuitive apprehension of certain conceptual truths gives you the basis for the judgment that you are free. So, unless intuition is broadened beyond knowledge of certain conceptual truths, I don't think intuition is what is doing the work.

Of course, this is largely semantics. Regardless of whether the capacity is the capacity involved in intuitive knowledge, memorial knowledge, etc... the basic problems are the same. Moreland has laid out decent reasons for thinking that regardless of whether opt for a compatibilist or incompatibilist conception of freedom, an empirical investigation into the causal origins of our mental states is necessary for knowledge that we are free. He offers no empirical evidence to back his judgment that we are free and acts as if he's caused some problem for the naturalist easily solved by the theist. It strikes me as exceptionally sloppy thinking on his part. I'd surely demand more from students if they were to touch on these issues in coursework and what bugs me is that I have more than a handful of students who read stuff from TrueU and are left with the impression that this is careful work that reflects an expert's unbiased judgment about the views best reflective of the opinions of the philosophical community. It is no such thing.