Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Does free will contradict Objectivist causality?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

  • Replies 82
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Lex,

I know I asked you to start a different thread. Now, looking over that article, I have an additional suggestion: could you summarize the essence of the problem or contradiction as you see it. Otherwise, we risk going off on tangents. For instance, the author starts off by saying that Rand's views are deterministic and libertarian, and I can see how that could take on a life of its own without the discussion ever coming to the topic of free-will.

My suggestion is that you state your own understanding of the Objectivist position, and then explain the problem you see. I think this will sharpen the focus considerably.

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to post
Share on other sites

Alright.

Here is how I understand Objectivist Metaphysics.

Existence exists. What we experience are manifestations of real entities, even if we erroneously grasp their identity, or nature, which is a specific [blank space] that can viewed as a set of specific non-contradictory properties. Identity is what entity is and how it relates to other entities. This rule applies to change, or motion (or, if critic's quote is correct, action), as well. No entity can become just anything - it can only become what it has potential to become.

Suppose, I throw a ball. What happens, metaphysically speaking? First, I choose to throw a ball. I know that it won't fly on my mere whim, so I must first interact with it. Then I act - wave my hand with the ball in such manner to give s certain momentum to it. Thus, I change the ball's state (I'm not sure whether I change its identity, but I think I do - after all, momentum is a property). According to its identity, ball now must move - and it does move. That's how I throw balls :).

To generalize, any causal chain, like a path in a graph, is like identity -> action -> identity -> action and so on. However, it cannot start with action, it must begin with some entity's identity. Let's take another example. Suppose there is a universe in which there are just two balls and nothing more. In a point of time that we'll accept as starting point, they are motionless. Initially, there is no relation between them. But in a moment the whole picture changes: it is in nature of both balls to obey laws of gravity, so they start moving towards each other. Thus, a causal chain begins. It's worth noting that, at least on the macro level, this chain is predetermined - knowing balls' identity one can calculate system's state in any future point of time.

What I don't quite get is why man can choose how to act and balls don't. As I understand, volition is a property of a conscious being that in some state there is more than one way it can act. What I don't understand is how a man, who is in principle consists of a few zillions particles, just like a ball, is volitional, and ball isn't. It can be explained that particles are not deterministic, thus while ball has rather homogenous structure and variations in particles' behavior collapse, man's brain isn't. But having initial assumption that elementary particles have undefined momentum is a contradiction - every entity must have specific identity. But if we suppose that particle's momentum is definite, then man's brain is no different from the ball - it is just another particle system which is completely predictable. Thus, no free will.

The above is what I'm confused with - either there is law of causality that determines all thing does and can possibly do, or there is free will. The third case I can think of is that man's mind is more than his brain's faculty - but that would suggest Objective Idealist explanation, like Aristotle's forms. But it is completely inappropriate - any idea or concept is a product of man's mind - but causality existed long before man.

It may be that I misunderstand the concept of volition. Maybe volition is not randomness in action, but rather a property that in some cases being acts not automatically by simple laws or external "push", but after evaluating several alternatives in thought process. That would resolve a conflict, but it would mean that free will does not actually means that the man could have acted otherwise literally, but that he saw alternatives and acted after evaluating them, which just means that he's smart, yet completely predictable, given that predictor knows his nature. That hypothesis seems very plausible to me - I CAN predict how others will act in some degree, after all, and the better I know the person, the better I can predict how he'll act.

Link to post
Share on other sites
To generalize, any causal chain, like a path in a graph, is like identity -> action -> identity -> action and so on. However, it cannot start with action, it must begin with some entity's identity. Let's take another example. Suppose there is a universe in which there are just two balls and nothing more. In a point of time that we'll accept as starting point, they are motionless. Initially, there is no relation between them. But in a moment the whole picture changes: it is in nature of both balls to obey laws of gravity, so they start moving towards each other. Thus, a causal chain begins. It's worth noting that, at least on the macro level, this chain is predetermined - knowing balls' identity one can calculate system's state in any future point of time.

What I don't quite get is why man can choose how to act and balls don't. As I understand, volition is a property of a conscious being that in some state there is more than one way it can act. What I don't understand is how a man, who is in principle consists of a few zillions particles, just like a ball, is volitional, and ball isn't. It can be explained that particles are not deterministic, thus while ball has rather homogenous structure and variations in particles' behavior collapse, man's brain isn't. But having initial assumption that elementary particles have undefined momentum is a contradiction - every entity must have specific identity. But if we suppose that particle's momentum is definite, then man's brain is no different from the ball - it is just another particle system which is completely predictable. Thus, no free will.

Well the Objetivist view of identity as the beginning of the discussion would be correct as I understand it. However, determinism as necessitated by identity seems a place to start. You start with the ball analogy and imply that because of identity, determinism must be an inherent property of all things, of identity itself. THat sets up the contradiction I think. The phrase I highlighted in bold commits the fallacy of composition, and it is allowed by your implied premise. That is, the other way to think about it is: can something composed of elements that are inanimate, and "determined" have a property of volition?

Rand asserted that yes this was possible, but she did not specify the mechanism, rather she validated this through introspection. I understand that at the end of her life she was studying mathematics and neuroscience, and I might guess that this was some of what she was after.

It may be that I misunderstand the concept of volition. Maybe volition is not randomness in action, but rather a property that in some cases being acts not automatically by simple laws or external "push", but after evaluating several alternatives in thought process. That would resolve a conflict, but it would mean that free will does not actually means that the man could have acted otherwise literally, but that he saw alternatives and acted after evaluating them, which just means that he's smart, yet completely predictable, given that predictor knows his nature. That hypothesis seems very plausible to me - I CAN predict how others will act in some degree, after all, and the better I know the person, the better I can predict how he'll act.

The either-or dilemma in your thinking is set up because of your initial implication, but you can see here in your thinking that it is what is causing the issue. That is, it is not a case of either everything is determined or everything is "random". Randomness as "acausailty" is not a property of reality, it is an epistemological concept.

The way I understand volition is not as randomness, but as "self-startingness". That is the only property that Rand ever gave to the idea of volition, the choice to focus or not. Beyond that, everything could be determined, but it simply requires that this property exists to have the whole system then be "volitional". It does not seem so complex to me given what I know about biological processes, their complexity, and their seeming ability to do things like "self-assemble" (biological mechanisms do all sorts of things that thinking about masses and momentum would not predict - neglected aspects of your analogy if you will) that a property of man's consciousness could be that it is able to "start itself". But again, Rand did not delineate the mechanism, only the net result through introspection of her own mental processes.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Dr. Binswanger gave this analogy (but don't hold me to the reference): when one wakes up in the morning, there is sometimes a point at which you are not quite awake and don't feel like waking up, then you remember something you have to do, and you "push" yourself a bit. Similarly, when faced with (say) some observation, a person can "push" themselves to focus on it... or not. That elementary choice to think about a certain thing, or not, is what Objectivism calls volition or free-will.

.. Rand did not delineate the mechanism, ...
True, and neither has anybody else. It remains a mystery, for science to figure out. Rand explicitly metioned that it was the province of science (I assume she meant biology) to figure out how man manages to control his thinking apparatus. [i don't have the exact ref here, but see Q&A in ITOE].

I don't think determinism vs. choice to think is unique paradox of this type. Couldn't one make a similar argument for (say) life? A plant is dead or alive. Yet, a live plant is composed of fundamental constituents that are non-living. So, where then is life?

Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't think determinism vs. choice to think is unique paradox of this type. Couldn't one make a similar argument for (say) life? A plant is dead or alive. Yet, a live plant is composed of fundamental constituents that are non-living. So, where then is life?

Ooh, I like this. I keep coming back to the idea of some sort of iterative cycle that has a "tipping point" which is what comprises volition. The Binswanger idea is similar as well. I have to believe based on what I know of biology and the layers of animal behavior as well as my own introspection that such a mechanism is possible.

Link to post
Share on other sites
True, and neither has anybody else. It remains a mystery, for science to figure out. Rand explicitly metioned that it was the province of science (I assume she meant biology) to figure out how man manages to control his thinking apparatus. [i don't have the exact ref here, but see Q&A in ITOE].

I wouldn't call it a mystery and I don't think science (with the exception of logic / computer science / mathematics) has the answer.

Even a determinist has to acknowledge that there is something like a 'free will' because even if you know everything about the current state of the universe you can never know what you yourself will do or think next (because you would have to include that knowledge, too, which ends up in an endless cycle) - which is a prerequisite for having no free will. And if you don't even know what you will do next then you cannot predict the future accurately. You can only decide what you will do next.

Spinning that thought further the only entity without a 'free will' (i.e. with no knowledge of what it does next) would be 'God'. 'God' must therefor be an 'omniscient' "entity" with no free will. Some people prefer to call that 'the universe including its laws of nature', i.e. reality, which fits perfectly in the whole system.

This is similar to what is called the 'halting problem' in computer science. There are problems for which it is impossible to determine how long they will run. This is proven and is no mystery.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that the problem with the apparent contradiction between matter and volition is that one is starting at the wrong place. The entity man is not a collection of particles, but rather is one entity that has certain abilities because he is a man, rather than a clump of stuff. And I think the concept of determinism is dependent upon the concept of volition -- i.e. volition or the ability to chose is realized before one grasps that rocks and sand do not have that ability; thus the concept of determinism is often used as a stolen concept to deny free will, but we wouldn't know about volition or non-volition except for the fact that we have free will, and then developed the idea of determinism as a contrast to that knowledge.

In other words, it is obvious that we qua individual have free will; but it is not so obvious that other things do not have volition -- i.e. primitive man has a difficult time grasping that the universe does not operate via spirits or that the tree or rock in front of him does not have a spirit.

Like many of the other conundrums set up by modern philosophy, there is no problem in the philosophic sense. Man qua man has volition, which is grasped as a very young child, but the knowledge of chemistry or physics doesn't come up until much later. And it is improper to try to use later knowledge to invalidate earlier knowledge. That is, it is improper to try to use a knowledge of subatomic particles acting according to deterministic laws to try to invalidate man's ability to have volition. Just as your arm does not act like a separate entity when it is attached to your body, so too, the atoms of which you are composed do not act qua atoms when they are attached to you -- you are the entity, not your spleen or your toenails; and qua entity a man has volition.

Also, the Objectivist understanding of causality is that an entity acts according to it's nature, not according to forces acting on it. For more info on this, see my website and do a search for: causality.

Link to post
Share on other sites
It may be that I misunderstand the concept of volition. Maybe volition is not randomness in action

Volition is definitely not randomness! Volition means that you determine your actions; randomness would mean that your actions are determined by chance.

The idea that it is you who determine your actions is in fact the one that is compatible with the Objectivist view of causality: the Objectivist view of causality is that every entity determines its own actions. The opposite view is that the actions of entities are determined by outside forces--which could be God (as the Calvinists hold), "the laws of physics" (as materialists hold), your consciousness (as subjectivists hold), wavefunctions (as quantum mystics hold), and so on--anything but the entity itself. For a human, this would mean that he is a toy of that whatever outside force we are supposed to believe is playing with him, and that, from his perspective, his fate is really up to chance: the chance of which way the outside force happens to push him. It would mean that he is not in control of himself, and thus has no influence on what happens to him.

In the Objectivist view, when a ball bounces, it does not bounce because God wants it to bounce so or because there is some mathematical function that says it must bounce. It bounces because it, the ball, is an entity whose nature it is to bounce. It is not external forces that make it bounce, but the ball itself. And the same applies to humans.

The key difference is that humans can think, and act based on their thoughts, while the ball has no such faculty.

he saw alternatives and acted after evaluating them, which just means that he's smart, yet completely predictable, given that predictor knows his nature. That hypothesis seems very plausible to me - I CAN predict how others will act in some degree, after all, and the better I know the person, the better I can predict how he'll act.

Unpredictability is another attribute that is commonly mistaken for volition. Yes, the fact that man has a free will means that you sometimes cannot predict his actions; say, when you are expecting a baby, you cannot predict what choices he will make when he grows up. But this is not the essential thing about volition. Besides, many other things are unpredictable too; for example, consider the weather. No one can predict how many hurricanes there will be in 2017 and which way they will head--but you certainly wouldn't seriously consider the idea that the atmosphere has free will, would you? And, as you pointed out, people too are predictable to some extent, depending on how close you are to them--just like the weather of tomorrow can be predicted much better than that of 2017. So a degree of unpredictability is associated with volition, but is not the essential characteristic that sets it apart from other things.

The essential characteristic is well captured in the expression "free will" : it is being able to decide what you want. As a man with a free will, you can decide what you want to do this evening, what you want to accomplish next year, what you want to make out of the next decade--and, ultimately, what you want to do with your life. The outcome of each of these decisions depends on what you think (or whether you think at all); this is why we say that the fundamental choice is between rationality and irrationality.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Just as your arm does not act like a separate entity when it is attached to your body, so too, the atoms of which you are composed do not act qua atoms when they are attached to you

But you would agree that your arm acts qua arm when it is attached to you, wouldn't you? It acts according to its nature. The nature of an arm includes the fact that it will rise when you send a signal down your nerves indicating that you want it to rise. The fact that you can control what your arm does is not only compatible with, but relies on the fact that your arm has a specific nature and will always act according to that nature. If it weren't so, you wouldn't have a reliable way of raising your arm.

And the same goes for your atoms. They all act according to their natures--and not only does this not contradict the fact that you have free will, but is a requirement for the operation of your free will. If you couldn't count on your atoms doing what their nature dictates, your couldn't count on your actions being performed as you want them.

The fact that your parts--all your parts--have natures on their own does not mean that you cannot have a nature on your own. This seems to be a very widespread misconception. I've been trying to come up with a good name for it; perhaps it could be called "the primacy of the particles." It is the view that, essentially, only particles exist; that the composition of particles into entities is just a subjective appearance within our minds and has no metaphysical significance on its own--and that the identity of what we perceive as composite entities can be derived solely from the identities of their particles. The correct view, of course, is the primacy of existence, which recognizes as axiomatic the existence of all wholes as well as their parts.

Link to post
Share on other sites
But you would agree that your arm acts qua arm when it is attached to you, wouldn't you? It acts according to its nature.... The correct view, of course, is the primacy of existence, which recognizes as axiomatic the existence of all wholes as well as their parts.

Sorry for the delay in this reply, my home computer suffered a coma when it went into standby but wouldn't recover until I hit the reset button. Then half the programs wouldn't run right, so I re-installed Windows 98 (I know, clunker) and re-installed those programs; and now my "explorer" program keeps running an illegal process and must shut down. Sheesh.....

Anyhow, while it is true that an arm is an arm, it only functions qua arm if it is attached to your body. For example, an amputated arm will not heal itself when cut, and cannot lift anything. An arm is not an entity in the primary (metaphysical) sense, unless it is detached from the body; otherwise, it is only an entity in the secondary (epistemological) sense. When one says, "My arm hurts!" (instead of "I am in pain!") it only hurts because it is a part of you. But a part does not mean that it is an entity. Similarly, so long as one's tires on one's car are firmly attached, they don't act like tires rolling down the street -- your car qua metaphysical entity goes down the street.

Similarly, the atoms in one's body do not act like atoms, but rather are attached to you. For example, the water and carbon that makes up most of your body does not act like the ocean or like carbon soot. And those atoms go where you decide to go, so long as they are a part of your body.

So, metaphysically, we are not an assembly of parts -- since those parts do not exist qua biological functioning outside of a body (aside from simple chemical reactions).

Qua metaphysical entity, man has life and volition; qua composite parts they do not have those qualities if separated from the body.

Link to post
Share on other sites
So, metaphysically, we are not an assembly of parts -- since those parts do not exist qua biological functioning outside of a body (aside from simple chemical reactions).

Qua metaphysical entity, man has life and volition; qua composite parts they do not have those qualities if separated from the body.

We are not -simply and only- our parts. To assert that would be to commit the fallacy of Composition. We are our parts and the way they interact according to physical laws. That is what makes us a system, a whole integrated thing. So our operating modalities do not reduce simply to the chemical properties of our constituents. When we are dead, then our bodies decompose into their parts. Eventually we could become fertilizer for pushing up daisies. But not while we are whole and alive.

That having been said, our operation is strictly according to physical laws. We are physical entities through and through. There is nothing about us that is exempt from physical laws. Mind/Body dualism is pure balderdash. We -are- our flesh.

Bob Kolker

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sorry for the delay in this reply

I usually take much longer than you in replying to posts, and even reading replies to my posts, so I didn't even notice a delay. :)

Anyhow, while it is true that an arm is an arm, it only functions qua arm if it is attached to your body. For example, an amputated arm will not heal itself when cut, and cannot lift anything. An arm is not an entity in the primary (metaphysical) sense, unless it is detached from the body; otherwise, it is only an entity in the secondary (epistemological) sense. When one says, "My arm hurts!" (instead of "I am in pain!") it only hurts because it is a part of you. But a part does not mean that it is an entity. Similarly, so long as one's tires on one's car are firmly attached, they don't act like tires rolling down the street -- your car qua metaphysical entity goes down the street.

I think we may be splitting too many hairs here. The essential point is, and it seems to me we both agree on this: that entities are not merely a sum of their parts.

Link to post
Share on other sites
That having been said, our operation is strictly according to physical laws. We are physical entities through and through. There is nothing about us that is exempt from physical laws. Mind/Body dualism is pure balderdash. We -are- our flesh.

I'm not sure I would support a mind / body dualism, even though some Objectivist scholars think about it that way. However, no one has yet shown how our consciousness is understood in terms of physical laws (i.e. the laws of physics). I think it is obvious that there must be some kind of relationship between the two, as we are composed of matter, but no one has yet shown that, for example, the resistance to change of mind is equivalent to the resistance to change of motion of the particles that comprise the brain (or something along those lines). Thinking does require effort and and input of food energy, but no one has mapped out the relationship. Also, our awareness of existence and our volition would be difficult to put in terms of "deterministic matter"; which is the crux of the issue of this thread. In other words, is awareness a physical property? and if so, in what units of measurements? height? weight? color? mass? etc.

I think we may be splitting too many hairs here. The essential point is, and it seems to me we both agree on this: that entities are not merely a sum of their parts.

I wouldn't put it that way. It is not as if we are assembled from a batch of arms and legs that are put together into a human. In that sense, the arms and legs were never parts -- not like nuts and bolts are part of a machine. We are what we are and have the capabilities that we have because we are what we are (including the matter we are made of), but it is not as if those "parts" can exist in isolation on their own without being attached (incorporated into) a body that is alive.

In other words, life and consciousness are not parts, they are more like attributes, in that they cannot be separated from a body; and the arms and legs that can be separated from the body don't last long on their own (at least not without refrigeration), unlike nuts and bolts which don't decay simply by existing without being attached to a machine. The operation of a living being comes about due to the fact that it is what it is, and not because the parts, in and of themselves, are alive -- and these living entities come together to form a sort of cooperative commune.

In at least one of her essays (including Galt's speech), Miss Rand said or implied that the difference between living and non-living matter was a difference in kind.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi:)

Volition is about the degree to which a man throws out his internal antenna when seeking for how *this* situation differs from similar situations encountered in the past. It's like when you put on the gas in your car. When going ahead, even if the freeway seems stalled, you usually put on the gas a *little*. That corresponds to having your intuition ready to advise you when you need to up the degree of awareness needed to understand or be in control at that moment in time.

That by the way is the reason I don't let myself get drunk. That dulls my intuition so that my actions are based upon the emotion of the moment which may have *no* relation to the reality in front of me.

That last situation of having my emotions in control with no intuition in the background to warn me if the situation is inappropriate---that is the nearest to "determinism" in the mind of a man.

Put in other words, "determinism" when applied to a mind means something very different than determinism when applied to a billiard ball!

best wishes,

Mike

Link to post
Share on other sites
In that sense, the arms and legs were never parts -- not like nuts and bolts are part of a machine.

Well, the English language does call them "body parts," and I believe even medical terminology uses that expression.

But let us not dwell on macroscopic parts and cut right to the chase: to the molecules and atoms that comprise your body. Would you dispute their identity as molecules and atoms? Do you see an incompatibility between their identity as atoms and molecules, and the identity of the man they belong to as a man? (I am asking because I don't, and my main point throughout this thread has been that there is no such incompatibility--but now I'm not sure about what you think.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, it is still unclear to me:

1) Is it in the nature of an elementary particle to act in only one way in any situation?

2) If so, how is it possible that man, who consists of such particles, can act in different ways in a situation?

I think that if (1) is true, then (2) cannot be true. The fact that man is more than his particles does not mean that there are some properties of man that mystically appear whan he is assembled from the particles and cannot be explained in terms of these particles' interaction. Or, am I wrong here?

Link to post
Share on other sites

If my computer -- which is still having problems -- will cooperate, let me see if I can explain this more fully according to my understanding, which I think is the Objectivist understanding of the issue.

The fundamentals of knowledge are the axioms. Epistemologically, one cannot get beneath these axioms. Every bit of knowledge that we have rests on them. The axioms are existence, identity, and consciousness. One can put this simply in the statement: There is (existence) something (identity) that I am aware of (consciousness). In your any grasp of anything, these axioms are functioning. These axioms do not state that the three things mentioned -- existence, identity, and consciousness -- exist independently nor that they are separable substances; so I don't think there is any grounds via the axioms or further observations that man's consciousness exists or can exist separated from the human body. In this regard, I reject any sort of dualism insofar as such a separate existence of consciousness is projected by the dualism. A human being is an integrated being of both mind and body. It is not as if there exists a body and then poof a mind or a consciousness is added to it. To put this another way, being a human is integral to being conscious and having volition; and no amount of knowledge about matter, particles, quantum quarks or anything else about existence can invalidate the fact that we have a consciousness and that it is volitional.

Regarding the idea of parts: Sure, one can say medically that we have parts, insofar as these can be removed from the body (i.e. one's arm can be amputated). But, so long as they are attached to the body, they don't act the same way they do when they are detached. When an arm is attached to the body, it heals itself as part of a living being; when it is detached, it no longer has this functionality. The whole body (including the mind) is the entity -- we are one thing, one being; rather than a collection of things that somehow acts together. In this sense, the various medical parts of the body are not separate entities, and they don't function as separate entities.

How molecules can come together, say in vitro, in the womb, and a human being is made from scratch is not known in the details. But it does happen and it happens consistently, and it is not magic or a miracle. We don't know yet how these molecules can come together and form a being that has consciousness and volition; but not knowing does not mean that it cannot happen. It does happen -- it is a fact of life. And claiming that we cannot possibly have volition because these molecules do not is to invalidate your entire knowledge about yourself. If you hold that view then you are making a very big mistake or you are being evasive about the fact that you do have volition and that you are reading this posting by your own free will.

However, when molecules and atoms come together in a certain way, a new entity is formed that has new properties. A simple example is table salt, which is made of sodium and chlorine. Sodium is a very chemically reactive solid at room temperature; chlorine is a very reactive gas at room temperature. If one tried to ingest, either sodium or chlorine qua molecule or atom, one would get severe chemical burns that could kill oneself. However, the tasting and digestion of table salt is pleasant and good for us. The combination of sodium and chlorine into table salt gives a new metaphysical entity that has properties that differ from either sodium or chlorine. That is a fact of reality.

Similarly, somehow, when we are created from molecules in the womb, a new entity is born that has properties that differ from the constituent elements -- including having consciousness and volition. This is a fundamental fact about being a human, rather than a collection of molecules. And for someone -- say a philosopher or a scientist -- to come out and deny that we have consciousness and volition is to invalidate all of the conclusions he has reached about the nature of existence. If he didn't choose to study it of his own free will and using his own consciousness, then what is he? a zombie? he just couldn't help it? he has discovered that he does not have free will and accepts this of his own free will? I mean, the contradictions are obvious.

One does not have to have omniscience in order to know something. We -- meaning philosophers, whether professional or amateur -- do not have to have to have omniscience in order to know that we have free will, and that we know this without a doubt. So, I do not have to know the details of how we came to have consciousness and free will in order to invalidate the skeptics. Use your introspection to realize that you are reading this post by your own free will and that you will reply (or not) using your own free will.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Well, it is still unclear to me:

1) Is it in the nature of an elementary particle to act in only one way in any situation?

2) If so, how is it possible that man, who consists of such particles, can act in different ways in a situation?

I think that if (1) is true, then (2) cannot be true. The fact that man is more than his particles does not mean that there are some properties of man that mystically appear whan he is assembled from the particles and cannot be explained in terms of these particles' interaction. Or, am I wrong here?

The principle that a system can be explained completely in terms of its constituent parts is not self-evident, as you seem to be suggesting. We have lots of inductive evidence that this is the case for physical systems, but there would be no contradiction if we observed some new sort of system (such as the mind) that displayed emergent properties not explainable in terms of its parts (other than that the given collection of parts, when arranged in the given fashion, produce an entity with such properties).

Rand was not a determinist as the linked essay claims. The Objectivist law of causality is not the same as determinism. The difference is perhaps subtle, but very significant. The law of causality states that actions are not independent existents apart from the entities that act; actions are not just floating out in reality waiting to latch onto some object. An action does not exist until it is brought into existence by an entity. The action an entity performs at a given point in time is an aspect of its identity, and thus it is correct to state that an entity can perform only one action at a given time (for otherwise, the entity would have a contradictory aspect to its identity). In its normal physical manifestation, the consequence of this fact is essentially determinism: the action arising from the identity of a purely physical object is something simple such as "move left", or "rotate". However, there is nothing that a priori rules out the possibility of other, fundamentally different types of actions, such as "select between two or more alternatives" (i.e. the action of choice). Just as with all other entities, at any given time the identity of the human mind gives rise to (and necessitates) a certain type of action: to choose between alternatives (the most basic being focus or nonfocus).

The obvious question now is: where does the content of the choice come from? It seemingly arises from nowhere, and isn't that a violation of causality? The answer is that the content does not arise from nowhere; it arises exactly from your conscious selection. The question equates volitional selection with randomness, but these concepts clearly designate two very different things. An entity that selects between alternatives randomly (as some believe occurs on the quantum level) is impossible, because its actions truly come from nowhere, and as stated above, actions do not exist until brought into existence by the identity of the entit(ies) involved. But in the case of human choice, introspection will tell you that you have control over your actions, and randomness is just as much opposed to volitional control as determinism. Your actions do not come from nowhere; they are caused by the content of your choice. The content of your choice does not come from nowhere; it comes from your act of choice (1). Your act of choice does not come from nowhere; it comes from the identity of your mind. So there is indeed an unbroken causal sequence. It can be a bit difficult to wrap one's head around statement (1), but its truth can be observed through introspection, and it does not violate the law of causality as formulated by Objectivism.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Well, it is still unclear to me:

1) Is it in the nature of an elementary particle to act in only one way in any situation?

2) If so, how is it possible that man, who consists of such particles, can act in different ways in a situation?

I think that if (1) is true, then (2) cannot be true. The fact that man is more than his particles does not mean that there are some properties of man that mystically appear whan he is assembled from the particles and cannot be explained in terms of these particles' interaction. Or, am I wrong here?

Again, this is the fallacy of composition. New properties arise all the time in combinations of things, and you are right, those properties can be explained by the interactions of it's consituent parts. What makes you so sure that the property of "self-starting" does not arise from a particular combination of constituent particles. Again, if you look at volition as a "randomizer", then you are making a mistake in epistemological method. "Randomness" does not exist in reality. Volition is causal self-starting.

By the way, it would help in the discusison if you would grab someone's argument and try to work with it, rather than simply stating that you still don't get it, adn restating your argument. The answer was in the responses to you, and we have no idea where you're getting stuck. So all I did was repeat the essentials of my previous argument here.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I thought this excerpt from OPAR might help.

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.

The content of one's choice could always have gone in the opposite direction; the choice to focus could have been the choice not to focus, and vice versa. But the action itself, the fact of choosing as such, in one direction or the other, is unavoidable. Since man is an entity of a certain kind, since his brain and consciousness possess a certain identity, he must act in a certain way. He must continuously choose between focus and nonfocus. Given a certain kind of cause, in other words, a certain kind of effect must follow. This is not a violation of the law of causality, but an instance of it.

Edited by KendallJ
Link to post
Share on other sites

The paragraph that was posted is full of useless tautologies. The fact that everything acts in accordance with its nature is impossible to deny when "its nature" is defined as anything an object could be defined to do. After all, you could say that a particle's nature is to "behave randomly," just as you're trying to apply some magical state of "behaves volitionally" to the human mind. Nor do I think the concept of "emergent behavior," or complex systems in general, were understood by Rand (or several posters here). They are, by definition, defined entirely by the mechanistic processes of reality as applied to a given set of interacting objects.

Here's the true and obvious answer which makes comprehending the nature of reality much simpler.

It is true that particles behave according to their nature (defined to be the one specific possible action based on its current physical state-- any other definition is absolute nonsense).

It is true that human brains are made of particles.

It is therefore true that the human brain is subject to the same mechanistic laws that all other particles are subject to.

It also is true that we have free will.

It is therefore true that determinism and free will are not incompatible with one another, since they both exist at the same time.

The nature of free will is to act in accordance with our choices. Our choices are not random and arbitrary-- they are based on the current state of our minds. Where is this supposed contradiction? I don't see it.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The paragraph that was posted is full of useless tautologies.

The fallacy of crying 'tautology' - the last refuge of the incompetent critic.

The fact that everything acts in accordance with its nature is impossible to deny when "its nature" is defined as anything an object could be defined to do.

Wrong - at least, partly. It does not mean that things act according to whatever nature we describe them as having - it means that they act according to whatever their nature actually is. The law of causality really is just that simple, and if you want to throw it out as tautological, then you might as well throw out the entire scientific field. It rests upon the notion that things behave in a certain way, and that they will behave in that same way in the future. They also have over two thousand years of experience to prove this, too, if you're interested.

After all, you could say that a particle's nature is to "behave randomly," just as you're trying to apply some magical state of "behaves volitionally" to the human mind.

No you couldn't, because a particle very obviously doesn't behave randomly. We observe that it behaves according to its various properties, and that different particles also have more specialised properties, such as radioactive particles, which decay incredibly quickly.

We don't 'apply some magical state' of volition to the human mind; we are aware that we are volitional.

Nor do I think the concept of "emergent behavior," or complex systems in general, were understood by Rand (or several posters here). They are, by definition, defined entirely by the mechanistic processes of reality as applied to a given set of interacting objects.

First off, no one claimed she understood emergent behaviour. She never claimed to understand the field of neurobiology, or the process that allows men to be prime movers; she simply proved that it was true, that we have a fundamental choice to focus or not.

Emergent processes may be mechanistic - and the human mind does not operate, you should note, by whim, but by a logical, reasoning process, even when someone is trying to be irrational - but the point is, is that they do have a different nature to the previous mechanisms that set them in order.

It is true that particles behave according to their nature (defined to be the one specific possible action based on its current physical state-- any other definition is absolute nonsense).

It is true that human brains are made of particles.

It is therefore true that the human brain is subject to the same mechanistic laws that all other particles are subject to.

It also is true that we have free will.

It is therefore true that determinism and free will are not incompatible with one another, since they both exist at the same time.

No, what we're doing, is saying that things act according to what they are, that that's what the Law of Causality is, and it's the principle by which entities act, whilst you're stamping your foot, shouting "No! No! No! It's all deterministic, I tells ya!"

You introduce an unnecessary step to your argument, the bit which I bolded. Why is this bit true? We can't say the human brain is deterministic, and we can't say that things act in the weird Billard Ball notion of causality - because they don't! Things very obviously do act according to their nature.

We know we have free will, but we don't know, and it is a contradiction to say, that it is also deterministic. It is an unnecessary step. The Law of Causality, as described by Ayn Rand, is the only law of causality that makes sense, when applied to the world around us, and used to predict what will happen.

Edited by Tenure
Link to post
Share on other sites

Tenure, normally I am up for a "good debate," but the problem here is that you've utterly failed to comprehend my post. It would take a post of approximately essay length to attempt to unravel the twisted strings which somehow connect your reply to the actual content of my post. On top of that, most of the content of your replies was absurd. Discourse is impossible under such a circumstance so I'm not going to reply.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...