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debate with my friend about free will

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My friend and I have been discussing free will. He argues that man has no actual choice in his decisions because on a molecular level, man will always act the same way and therefore has no free will. He views men as robots, whose personalities and decisions are wired on a bio chemical level. Thus, he states that even with the absence of a God, each individual man will act in a set way, even when presented with a choice. What would the objectivist response to this be? I argue that man does have free will because we are volitional, and when presented with a choice we can choose to think rationally or irrationally, or to not even think at all, without any being having foreknowledge. He counters that because man is wired a certain way, there can never be true choice. I say that yes, the molecules that compose my brain will always tell me to think rationally and logically, but I still have free will. We both agree that there is no higher power with foreknowledge about what action we will choose.

edited for grammar

Edited by iplaydrums24

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From OPAR:

The principle of causality does not apply to consciousness, however, in the same way that it applies to matter. In regard to matter, there is no issue of choice; to be caused is to be necessitated. In regard to the (higher-level) actions of a volitional consciousness, however, "to be caused" does not mean "to be necessitated."

An ancient philosophic dilemma claims that if man's actions, mental or physical, have no causes, then man is insane, a lunatic or freak who acts without reason. (This anticausal <opar_65> viewpoint is called "indeterminism.") But, the dilemma continues, if man's actions do have causes, then they are not free; they are necessitated by antecedent factors. (This is the determinist viewpoint.) Therefore, either man is insane or he is determined.

Objectivism regards this dilemma as a false alternative. Man's actions do have causes; he does choose a course of behavior for a reason—but this does not make the course determined or the choice unreal. It does not, because man himself decides what are to be the governing reasons. Man chooses the causes that shape his actions.

To say that a higher-level choice was caused is to say: there was a reason behind it, but other reasons were possible under the circumstances, and the individual himself made the selection among them.

There is one further question to consider before we turn to the validation of volition. How does the law of causality apply to the primary choice itself? Since one cannot ask for the cause of a man's choice to focus, does it follow that, on this level, there is a conflict between freedom and causality?

Even in regard to the primary choice, Ayn Rand replies, the law of causality operates without breach. The form of its operation in this context, however, is in certain respects unique.

The law of causality affirms a necessary connection between entities and their actions. It does not, however, specify any particular kind of entity or of action. The law does not say that only mechanistic relationships can occur, the kind that apply when one billiard ball strikes another; this is one common form of causation, but it does not preempt the field. Similarly, the law does not say that only choices governed by ideas and values are possible; this, too, is merely a form of causation; it is common but not universal within the realm of consciousness. The law of causality does not inventory the universe; it does not tell us what kinds of entities or actions are possible. It tells us only that whatever entities there are, they act in accordance with their nature, and whatever actions there are, they are performed and determined by the entity which acts.

The law of causality by itself, therefore, does not affirm or deny the reality of an irreducible choice. It says only this <opar_69> much: if such a choice does exist, then it, too, as a form of action, is performed and necessitated by an entity of a specific nature.

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another interesting point he brings up is that because consciousness is metaphysical, and exists outside the realm of matter, it infers that there is chaos. He argues that if one believes in the existence of something metaphysical, than one believes in ideas outside natural law. He defines that as chaos, as there is something outside the laws that supposedly govern us

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consciousness is metaphysical, and exists outside the realm of matter

You might ask him to prove this silly little assumption. How does he know this in fact?

He is saying it is essentially a matter of faith, because it is outside of fact (i.e. the realm of matter or what an Objectivist calls reality).

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:D Devil's Advocate :P

The argument really boils down to whether or not consciousness is purely physical. If it is, then its processes are chemical in nature. All chemical processes, on the atomic level, interact in an entirely deterministic way, having neither the will nor the power to move against chemical balance. If consciousness is physical, then it is completely determined by outside atomic events.

Edited by Persephone

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Thanks to KendallJ for the quotes from OPAR.

The evidence for man's volitional consciousness is perceptual. To deny my volitional nature is to deny the *introspective* evidence available to me--I can perceive that I could have done otherwise. Whenever I chose A over B I know introspectively that I could have done otherwise and chosen B over A. As Dr. Peikoff points out in OPAR the type of causation that occurs when one billiard ball strikes another is one form of causation, but this does not exhaust the field.

The law of causation stipulates that an entity will act according to its nature. In other words, given a specific nature, an entity can act only in a specific way under the same circumstances. Volitional choice is a type of action that a specific type of entity (man's consciousness) can and must take given a certain set of circumstances. Causation here only stipulates that man's volitional consciousness must act to choose (given a certain set of circumstances), not what that particular choice must be. The action here is *the act of choosing*, not the choice of A over B. My nature is such that I can chose either A or B, but I *must* choose (even the act of not making a choice is in effect a choice--the choice not to act).

The source of this action is the agent itself--a volitional consciousness is neither indetermined nor determined, but self-determined.

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The evidence for man's volitional consciousness is perceptual. To deny my volitional nature is to deny the *introspective* evidence available to me--I can perceive that I could have done otherwise.

All you perceive by introspection is the sensation of having free will. And materialists dont deny that the sensation exists, they just deny that it implies that the brain isnt deterministic. They believe that the sensation of free will can be explained via neuroscience without having to assume that people actually have free will.

The argument that our perception of free-will necessarily implies that free-will exists, is dubious - the fact that we have a sensation of free-will may be explainable in a purely reductionist/materalist way. Noone is denying that the sensation exists, theyre denying one particular interpretation of it.

As Dr. Peikoff points out in OPAR the type of causation that occurs when one billiard ball strikes another is one form of causation, but this does not exhaust the field.
If all mental processes have one-to-one correspondence with events in the brain, and if the brain is itself describable in terms of particles which obey the fundamental laws of physics just like particles do anywhere else in the universe then no, there arent any forms of causation which cant be reduced to those described in the standard model of physics (asssuming physics isnt significantly wrong). Non-deterministic free will would imply that particles in the brain literally obey different physical laws than particles which make up any other object. If you want to commit yourself to that claim then fine, but be aware how strong it is.

Short version: your friend is committing the fallacy of composition. Atoms and molecules by themselves are not decision-making machines, but that does not imply that certain organizations of atoms do not result in decision-making machines.

While its obviously possible for a system to have properties which its components dont, physical science generally takes the reductionist view that the properties of a system can be fully explained in terms of its components. For example, humans can give birth to children whereas atoms cant give birth. But the process of human birth is explainable in biological terms, which are in turn explainable in terms of chemistry/physics all the way down to the basic interactions of particles. However free-will isnt really like this, since its not clear how a bunch of determinstic-ish components could ever produce a non-deterministic system.

Do you think that a computer program could ever have free will? If I were to deny that computers could have free-will because they were always following a program which was entirely determinstic, would this be an example of the composition fallacy?

Edited by eriatarka

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While its obviously possible for a system to have properties which its components dont, physical science generally takes the reductionist view that the properties of a system can be fully explained in terms of its components.

Yes, and that is where they get it wrong.

Do you think that a computer program could ever have free will? If I were to deny that computers could have free-will because they were always following a program which was entirely determinstic, would this be an example of the composition fallacy?

Well, the nature of computers is such that they do what they are programmed to do, so it is correct to conclude from this that they are, in this sense, deterministic. What would be incorrect is to reason from the individual components of the computer, rather than from the nature of the computer qua entity: "The computer is made up of particles that don't have free will, therefore the computer does not have free will."

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They believe that the sensation of free will can be explained via neuroscience without having to assume that people actually have free will.

<snip>

If all mental processes have one-to-one correspondence with events in the brain, and if the brain is itself describable in terms of particles which obey the fundamental laws of physics just like particles do anywhere else in the universe then no, there aren't any forms of causation which cant be reduced to those described in the standard model of physics (assuming physics isn't significantly wrong).

There can be no scientific fields of study, such as neuroscience and physics, without free will. One chooses to try to understand existence and man's place in it, including how his body components work.

Besides, physics is significantly wrong in their view of causality, because causality -- i.e. philosophy -- is more fundamental than physics. They have the view that a thing acts according to what acts on it, which is Aristotle's efficient causation interpreted out of context; that is, out of context to his entire view of causation. An entity acts according to it's nature, not according to what acts on it. In other words, the law of identity --what something is -- is more fundamental than causality. And man is an entity that has free will -- the power of choice. This observation is more fundamental than physics or neuroscience; and in fact, is the fact that makes physics and neuroscience possible.

The stance that the determinists take is a direct contradiction to that which is observed. It would be like saying that the glass in front of me doesn't exist, but only its components exist -- components of what? blank out. or that the glass cannot hold water, because the individual molecules of the glass cannot hold water -- the individual what? blank out.

The point is that what is observed is more fundamental than that which is rationalistically deduced. So their mistake and their contradiction involves more than a mere fallacy of composition -- it involves a denial of that which is observed. They want to say that atoms and other particles are the fundamental, but they are blanking out that the epistemological fundamental is direct observation. In the extreme cases, it represents evasion on a massive scale. And it comes from Kant's idea that we do not observe reality the way it really is.

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The argument that our perception of free-will necessarily implies that free-will exists, is dubious - the fact that we have a sensation of free-will may be explainable in a purely reductionist/materalist way. Noone is denying that the sensation exists, theyre denying one particular interpretation of it.

The claim that what I perceive is not actually what I perceive is as old as Plato and reaches its pinnacle with Kant—it has no basis in reality and is simply arbitrary.

If there is no free will then there is no such thing as science, logic or any other form of knowledge--the determinist was simply determined to think that his choice to believe determinism is true and I was simply determined to believe that what I perceive is actually what I perceive. Perception is not dubious, it is an irreducible primary. Indeed, it is the fact that I can perceive that I could have done otherwise that makes my volition an axiomatic primary, together with the rest of existence which, well, I know exists because of perception.

The fact that volition is perceived is an ostensive validation for the existence of free will, no less than the fact that I perceive this keyboard I'm typing on is an ostensive validation of its existence.

Edited by RichardParker

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All chemical processes, on the atomic level, interact in an entirely deterministic way, having neither the will nor the power to move against chemical balance.

What do you mean by acting "in a deterministic way"? Even "randomness" is simply unpredictability, which assumes a rational mind perceiving and trying to predict the future.

Edited by brian0918

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However free-will isnt really like this

Neither is chaotic motion. The end result can be perceived, so you can say, "hey, that's chaotic motion", but it cannot really be broken down to anything simpler. Consciousness, like chaos, is an emergent property of a system.

Do you think that a computer program could ever have free will?

Yes, but I believe that people could continue to deny that it has free will, even if it does - the implication being that our free will is not all that they think it is.

If I were to deny that computers could have free-will because they were always following a program which was entirely determinstic, would this be an example of the composition fallacy?

I'll first ask you to clearly define what you mean by "deterministic".

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Thus, he states that even with the absence of a God, each individual man will act in a set way, even when presented with a choice. What would the objectivist response to this be? I argue that man does have free will because we are volitional, and when presented with a choice we can choose to think rationally or irrationally, or to not even think at all, without any being having foreknowledge. He counters that because man is wired a certain way, there can never be true choice. I say that yes, the molecules that compose my brain will always tell me to think rationally and logically, but I still have free will. We both agree that there is no higher power with foreknowledge about what action we will choose.

There is a fundamental problem with this discussion, highlighted. A case in point is one that I made fallaciously recently: I put a milkbone and a beggin' strip in front of my dog, thus "presenting him with a choice." He goes for one before the other, thus demonstrating choice. Another example, equally as false: I put random signals into a latching AND gate, presenting it with the choice to latch "high" or "low" based on the totality of its inputs at a certain point in time. It goes "high" indicating that the trigger occurred when all inputs were high. It was presented with a choice and acted in a way determined by its inputs. Deterministic, certainly. Choice, right?

Wrong.

Any non-rational being can be "presented with a choice," so to speak. The fact that it acts in one of the ways presented "as a choice" does not mean that it has made a choice. Non-rational entities do not recognize that there is a choice to be made. They simply act in accordance with their nature, given the facts of reality as presented by their senses and processed in accordance with their experience. A rational mind is able to recognize choice, and develop alternative choices, project each into the future to determine which, according to his system of values, holds the best value to him, and act based on that choice.

It is the recognition of, and development of, alternative choices (including to think or not to think) that separate those entities demonstrating free will from those merely acting in accordance with their natures, but appearing to the conceptually-challenged (and ain't we all?) mind to be making a choice.

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If all mental processes have one-to-one correspondence with events in the brain, and if the brain is itself describable in terms of particles which obey the fundamental laws of physics just like particles do anywhere else in the universe then no, there arent any forms of causation which cant be reduced to those described in the standard model of physics (asssuming physics isnt significantly wrong). Non-deterministic free will would imply that particles in the brain literally obey different physical laws than particles which make up any other object. If you want to commit yourself to that claim then fine, but be aware how strong it is.

The problem with this entire view is that it makes the explicit assumption that physics qua physics somehow contradicts the existence of a volitional consciousness. Physics per se is silent on the issue of consciousness. This, in fact, is a clear example of the fallacy of composition--the sum cannot be anything more than its constituent parts. By this line of reasoning, the perceived properties of water would have to be denied and abandoned since the individual gases hydrogen and oxygen (in isolation) clearly do not demonstrate any of the causal properties of liquid water.

Even if, as you say, "mental processes have a one-to-one correspondence with events in the brain", this says absolutely nothing about what the effect(s) of any such correspondence might be. While, in the absence of any means of direct perceptual observation, we would be forced to try to predict what such effects might be, in the case of volition we clearly have direct perceptual evidence. But this materialistic reductionist view attempts to do the precise opposite--it tries to convince us to abandon perception, when it is easily available, for the sake of a rationalistic deduction detached from perceptual reality.

This is Descartes at his worst, and even he would never have gone so far as to deny volition, which, is certainly a "clear and distinct perception."

Edited by RichardParker

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All you perceive by introspection is the sensation of having free will. And materialists dont deny that the sensation exists, they just deny that it implies that the brain isnt deterministic.

"The sensation of having free will..." hmmm, I'll bite on that little issue. How exactly do you determine that this sensation is only that? Just as you say that "The argument that our perception of free-will necessarily implies that free-will exists, is dubious" so I could assert that the argument that our sensation of free-will necessarily implies that free will does NOT exists is also dubious.

Your statement is not a refutation of the introspective argument, but an invalidation of the senses as valid.

Good luck with that one. But then this whole conversation is superfluous anyway, since your response to it is determined. I never had any hope of changing your mind if it was not to be...

I like Brian's use of the term emergent property. In that vein, the assertion of determinism in composition becomes self-fulfilling, doesn't it? The syllogism looks like this:

Atoms are deterministic

Brains are made up of atoms,

therefore, brains are deterministic too.

I have a problem with the first premise, and question its development. The concept of determinism precludes any other form of causation, or identity. Peikoff and Rand take the inductive generalization differently.

Atoms (indeed) everything is causal. It behaves with an identity and nature.

Atoms have certain natures. They behave one way independantly (i.e. deterministically), and take on other properties in systems (replicating, living for example). Whose to say that they don't take on additional properties, such as volition in other combinations? That inductive generalization seems quite plausible, and coupled with the fact of existence of man and out ability to introspect, I think it's hard to rule the possiblity of a volitional mechanism being part of a system of atoms. Just as an atom doesnt' possess life, but in certain combinations is capable of being part of a living system, so a particular atom doesnt' possess volition, but in certain combinations can exist as part of a volitional system.

The refutation of the very strong evidence we have through introspection, is that this is just a feeling of volition. Well, how do you know that? It is an invalidation of the senses, not a refutation. If the claim that the feeling is volition is dubious, then the claim that is it NOT volition is just as dubious.

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