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nakt
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Hey everybody, this is my first post. I'm primarily interested in metaphysical matters in philosophy, but I also like ethics.

One of the more fascinating topics, I think, in philosophy is the nature of the self and free will. I'm only casually acquainted with Rand's views on this, so maybe ya'll might be able to help me out here.

I think determinism poses some interesting consequences for virtually all of philosophy, but particularly for theorists who put all there eggs in the free will basket (Rand, Kant, etc.)

Free will is ultimately an illusion brought on by the way our brain works. The truth is that all your actions, intentions, and volitions are subject to deterministic rules. Your thoughts are biologically and physically determined by forces beyond your control. Your "self" is something determined by these same forces. You have no control over your thoughts or actions because "you" don't exist. "You" (and "I") are simply collections of molecules chemically and physically determined in the same way a rock is. This isn't pretty, but take comfort in the fact that you have no choice in whether you accept it or not.

Now, you might say that everything in your brain is your "self," thereby avoiding some issues. But this is also flawed. You respond to events not because you "decide" to, but because your brain is set up in a certain way and presented with imagery. You didn't decide how your brain is set up, and you certainly didn't cause the current state of the universe. I think that this is a particular problem for Rand, given her statements on "man being his own cause" and such.

Do you think that determinism is compatible with Objectivism? If so, how do you respond to the above objections?

/ I know, there's another thread on the page about Free Will. But that was mostly about clearing up an Objectivist's views on the nature of free will and causality, not really confronting determinism.

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Causality is completely compatible with Objectivism.

Determinism is a type of causality, it is also compatible with Objectivism.

Reductionism, the idea that no compound or complex entity really exists because it has more fundamental parts, is not compatible with Objectivism.

So right away we are off track here, this will not be a discussion of free will vs. determinism it will be about the validity of the method of reductionism in understanding any aspect of reality whatsoever.

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Well, yeah. What I'm saying is that Objectivism simply can't account for a truly deterministic world. Since determinism is, for all intents and purposes, demonstrated both philosophically and scientifically, I think we need to do some major work here. Determinism, it seems, provides a better explanation for the way everything works than vague notions of "self" and "consciousness" independent of outside physical forces. It seems, given what we know, that "I" don't really have a choice in what I do at all. In which case virtually all philosophies predicated on some form of free will are kind of screwed. How can any philosophy be meaningfully "life affirming" if there is no real subject for the "life" being affirmed?

But on a purely ontological level, how can an object exist except as a collection of its component parts? I'll grant that showing some form of real substance independent of a physical objects' composition would provide an answer to some problems presented, but I don't see the evidence for such a statement.

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Well, yeah. What I'm saying is that Objectivism simply can't account for a truly deterministic world. Since determinism is, for all intents and purposes, demonstrated both philosophically and scientifically, I think we need to do some major work here. Determinism, it seems, provides a better explanation for the way everything works than vague notions of "self" and "consciousness" independent of outside physical forces. It seems, given what we know, that "I" don't really have a choice in what I do at all. In which case virtually all philosophies predicated on some form of free will are kind of screwed. How can any philosophy be meaningfully "life affirming" if there is no real subject for the "life" being affirmed?

All of this would make perfect sense right up to the point where the evidence of our existence very strongly shows that human beings do have the freedom to make choices, to change their behaviors, to chose to think and act on those thoughts, or to chose to let others do their thinking for them and be told what to do.

Objectivism rejects Hard Line Determinism. The three Axioms that serve as the foundation for Objectivism are simple:

1) Existence exists.

2) Existence is Identity

3) Consciousness exists

If Consciousness does not exist, then how are you able to contemplate whether or not consciousness exists?

Certainly our brains - the centers of our consciousness, are made up of chemicals, but to suggest that one has no choice flies in the face of the fact that every day you make thousands of choices - you choose to get out of bed, you choose what you will eat for breakfast, you choose what to wear, and you (specifically you in this case) choose to then surrender your freedom of choice to the notion that you don't have a choice.

If you have no choice, if you have no consciousness, if you have no self - then you are not a living being.

At which point, the objectivist stops considering you, because the Axiom of Consciousness says that we *are* living beings with conscious choices to be made.

I'd tell you to have a nice day, but you don't have a choice in the matter.

So --- bye...

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But on a purely ontological level, how can an object exist except as a collection of its component parts?
On a pure ontological level, this is more than a collection of this and this. Didja ever think about that Mr. Smartypants? The major work that needs to be done here is understanding the physical nature of free will. Free will itself cannot be rationally denied, but of course we don't understand the physical basis of the thing that humans can do, namely choose freely. But then we don't really understand how bumblebees can fly, though the obviously do.
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Minor quibble - that's seemingly an urban legend. Here's the Straight Dope.

John, that's not a minor quibble. That's actually a fundamental aspect of the inductive evidence for free will and a MAJOR reason that the line of argumentation by the poster takes on a tone of rationalism.

No one would dare assert that Bumblebees are made of up of constitutents that behave according to the known laws of physics and therefore they CAN'T fly. The fact that they do is obvious and self-evident, so therefore the only way to address it is that our understanding must be incomplete.

That error is the fallacy of composition, whether one is discussing the atoms that make up the brain or the discrete laws of physics that bumblebees "obey".

The fact that man has free will is evident and obvious. Objectivism simply asserts that determinisim is not necessarily the only form of causality. I believe this is Peikoff's address of this issue in OPAR.

The poster is simply asserting about volition what no self-respecting person would assert about Bumblebees.

/ I know, there's another thread on the page about Free Will. But that was mostly about clearing up an Objectivist's views on the nature of free will and causality, not really confronting determinism.

'

Oh trust me. There are mutliple threads on the subject and you are not at all the first person to attempt to assert your claim. Keep looking. Wasn't TuringAI involved in the last attempt at this?

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The poster is simply asserting about volition what no self-respecting person would assert about Bumblebees.
Yeah, I guess I was being a bit too subtle. The mathematical "possibility" of the perceptually-obvious was established about 8 years ago, causing a huge sigh of relief in both the human and bumblebee world, where doubts persisted about their still-unproven ability to fly. Fortunately, bumblebees having very limited consciousnesses and certainly no free will, had no choice but to fly around gathering pollen.
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Wow, good responses!

Certainly our brains - the centers of our consciousness, are made up of chemicals, but to suggest that one has no choice flies in the face of the fact that every day you make thousands of choices - you choose to get out of bed, you choose what you will eat for breakfast, you choose what to wear, and you (specifically you in this case) choose to then surrender your freedom of choice to the notion that you don't have a choice.

Okay, it does seem to me that I make thousands of choices every day. But in a truly deterministic universe, I could not have made any other choice. Ultimately, Objectivism needs to either:

1) Deny determinism as whole (a response seemingly denied by empirical observation)

2) Deny determinism's effects on free will.

I think 2 is probably the better bet, but I don't know how an Objectivist might construct such an argument. Like I said, even if you group all of your body in with your "self," accepting that the chemicals and neurons that determine your emotions and thoughts are "you," this doesn't help free will. Those volitions were still determined by the outside state of the Universe.

If you have no choice, if you have no consciousness, if you have no self - then you are not a living being.

Granted. I'm just saying this applies to everyone. Objectivism, Kantianism, Virtue - these theories of the self and right action fly out the window.

No one would dare assert that Bumblebees are made of up of constitutents that behave according to the known laws of physics and therefore they CAN'T fly. The fact that they do is obvious and self-evident, so therefore the only way to address it is that our understanding must be incomplete.

That error is the fallacy of composition, whether one is discussing the atoms that make up the brain or the discrete laws of physics that bumblebees "obey".

Well, bumblebess might not behave according to the known laws of physics as we currently understand them, but that doesn't mean that they are somehow magic. They obviously fly, yeah, but that doesn't mean they're exempt from the laws of nature. Similarly, we don't fully understand how our brains work, but this doesn't mean that our brains are somehow outside the physical laws of the universe.

On a pure ontological level, this is more than a collection of this and this

No, it's simply a large, complex collection of atoms. As is everything (well, except energy - that's made up of energy!). You and I are matter; there's no evidence for anything else in us (and Objectivism would deny the presence of a soul or similar entity). Matter behaves according to the laws of nature, ergo we do as well. Given that every effect has a cause, the state of the universe now was determined by the state of the universe in the past. Why would humans be exempt from this?

If Consciousness does not exist, then how are you able to contemplate whether or not consciousness exists?

My consciousness would simply be an illusion. Even if I am in some real sense "conscious," that consciousness has no meaning because it won't give me free will.

Look, I think there are answers, and I think I have free will. But the answers lie in things that, from what I understand of it, Objectivism denies. Obviously, having a soul outside the physical universe would provide an answer (though would also give issues of its own). I think the sort of difference between an object as a formal concept and as a physical object, similar to what Aquinas and Kant said, might provide some answer. But Objectivism denies the first and doesn't seem to provide much ground for the second.

I'll consider determinism accounted for if you show one of two things:

1) A difference between the "thing in itself" and the "physical accidents." You would also have to show that the thing in itself would not be determined by the physical universe.

2) Some sort of thought example where somebody could truly make a choice in a deterministic universe.

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Okay, it does seem to me that I make thousands of choices every day. But in a truly deterministic universe, I could not have made any other choice. Ultimately, Objectivism needs to either:

Again, that's Hard Determinism - which Objectivism rejects simply by nature of the fact that Objectivism is based on the three axioms I listed already. We take AS GIVEN that Consciousness exists. Objectivists, as believers in causality, would be Soft Determinists - or Compatabilists.

Hard Determinism says we have no free will - that free will is an illusion. You have said you think you have free will. You have a conflict. Consider:

IF we have no free will, but we think we have free will, then we must act as if we have free will, and so the denial of free will is pointless, and one may as well proceed as if we have free will and stop wasting time on nonsense, as the alternative (acting as if we have NO free will) is fatalistic.

If we have free will, then the denial of free will is a denial of reality.

In any event, the denial of free will leads to a contradiction with the evidence of our observation that we DO have free will. No contradictions exist in nature, so when a philosophical contradiction is reached, it follows that one or more premises is false. Do you therefore deny the experiences you yourself have had (ie: deny reality) that tell you that you have free will, or do you deny the idea that you do not have free will.

1) Deny determinism as whole (a response seemingly denied by empirical observation)

2) Deny determinism's effects on free will.

Neither.

3) Conclude that the inanimate universe has experienced a chain of events by which certain aspects of the universe - those known as living beings - have through cause and effect, developed the ability to examine the universe and consciously choose a course of action by freedom of will.

Our minds tell us we have free will - since effect does follow cause, it is logical that freedom of will is the effect of a chain of causes that we do not yet understand, but must exist because free will exists.

Look, I think there are answers, and I think I have free will. But the answers lie in things that, from what I understand of it, Objectivism denies.

I think you should spend more time studying objectivism.

Obviously, having a soul outside the physical universe would provide an answer (though would also give issues of its own).

Yes, starting with the logical paradox of there being an existence outside of existence. Lets skip the mysticism please.

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"You" (and "I") are simply collections of molecules chemically and physically determined in the same way a rock is.

No point in arguing with someone who's just a collection of molecules.

I'm primarily interested in metaphysical matters in philosophy, but I also like ethics.

How do you justify an interest in ethics, given that man is an automaton who cannot make choices?

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Sure there is a point in arguing ethics if you believe in pure determinism. His collection of molecules arrived at this point, to reach this debate, argue this point. This will occur and will have an impact on him, you and everyone who comes into contact with it. Of course theres a point in asking the question, and arguing its merits. Perhaps the better question is, does the answer mean anything? In other words, even if we were merely a collection of molecules, automatons as you may put it, free will is not necessarily meaningful to that end. In other words, a robot that performs a task mindlessly has no free will, as far as more complex being as ourselves are concerned. However, can it be too outlandish that humans are merely automatons designed to carry out far more complex actions, and far more complex calculations? I mean after all, if there were a robot whose only purpose was to sit and contemplate free will, at least from the perspective of that robot and those like it, they have achieved free will in performing their function, and achieving goals they or their situation has chosen.

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Of course theres a point in asking the question, and arguing its merits. Perhaps the better question is, does the answer mean anything?

Could you elucidate the point, if the answer in fact has no meaning?

I mean after all, if there were a robot whose only purpose was to sit and contemplate free will, at least from the perspective of that robot and those like it, they have achieved free will in performing their function, and achieving goals they or their situation has chosen.

Could you please elucidate how exactly one "acheives" free will if their function is "chosen" by the situation?

You are contradicting yourself.

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Thats the point. Human beings, at least from a certain perspective have been created by the universe. Their composition and actions are influence by previous conditions. In other words, human beings achieve consciousness because the universe has effected them in a way that has caused them to do so. If humans were created and perfectly influenced by this universe, their actions, desires, and goals are determined as such. Therefore, "free will" both does and does not exist. Humans act as they see fit, and as they desire, but these desires were not determined by themselves. Thus they have free will but this will is predetermined by outside influences. Compatibilism is irrelevant, it doesn't matter whether or not humans could have chosen something else, as what they have and will chose is what they desired. The origin and cause of those desires clearly being beyond their control, has no effect on whether or not this choice is "free."

Though, as I said, the answer doesn't matter. Whether or not humans actually could have chosen something else is irrelevant, as they will act as they desire, regardless of whether or not other actions were possible.

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Thats the point. Human beings, at least from a certain perspective have been created by the universe. Their composition and actions are influence by previous conditions. In other words, human beings achieve consciousness because the universe has effected them in a way that has caused them to do so. If humans were created and perfectly influenced by this universe, their actions, desires, and goals are determined as such. Therefore, "free will" both does and does not exist. Humans act as they see fit, and as they desire, but these desires were not determined by themselves. Thus they have free will but this will is predetermined by outside influences. Compatibilism is irrelevant, it doesn't matter whether or not humans could have chosen something else, as what they have and will chose is what they desired. The origin and cause of those desires clearly being beyond their control, has no effect on whether or not this choice is "free."

Though, as I said, the answer doesn't matter. Whether or not humans actually could have chosen something else is irrelevant, as they will act as they desire, regardless of whether or not other actions were possible.

Nothing can both exist and not exist simultaneously. This is a contradiction. A is A.

Go back to Symbolic Logic 101 - you missed a step or 300.

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In this case I don't necessarily think thats true. From the perspective of the actor, who acts because it is what they desire, they are acting upon free will. Their desires and composition may be beyond that control, but they either do not know or do not care, their desires are their desires and they act upon them. However, to a third, perfectly understanding party there is no free will, as they have been created and influenced perfectly into acting upon these "desires."

Free will is more complicated then the letter A. It is after all, an abstract concept, not an object to be perceived.

To use an example. Imagine if you were forced to wear goggles that inversed color, temporarily to make blue appear orange and orange appear blue. They are sedated and the goggles are placed on them, without their knowledge. They are asked to choose an orange, and eat it. One orange is orange and looks delicious the other is blue and looks repulsive. The user is unaware that their perception has been influenced, and chooses the orange that appears orange to them. To this individual they have acted upon free will. To a third party observer, this individual had been influenced, and lacks free will in this choice. I would argue that this situation exists for all individuals, at all times and the existence of free will depends upon perspective.

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3) Conclude that the inanimate universe has experienced a chain of events by which certain aspects of the universe - those known as living beings - have through cause and effect, developed the ability to examine the universe and consciously choose a course of action by freedom of will.

Fine. Let's assume that there are beings that can choose a course action freely, outside of any constraints on their decision making. I'll grant you that this is somehow possible. Show me that you are such a being. Show me that, given what we know of the physical universe, human action is not causally determined. That's the issue. And appalling to some axioms of what being a human is all about doesn't help; it just shifts your job a further step.

Our minds tell us we have free will - since effect does follow cause, it is logical that freedom of will is the effect of a chain of causes that we do not yet understand, but must exist because free will exists.

This is just Descartes' proof of God all over again. "I have an idea of God, therefore it must come from something. That something is God." The illusion of free will can just be a meaningless organ of the mind - a mental appendix that has no real meaning. Just because your mind tells you something via introspection doesn't make it true of yourself.

This is a contradiction. A is A.

Thanks for the tautology lesson! Stop repeating Rand like a catechism and study her thoughts. That's what we're looking at.

Furthermore, what he's saying isn't really a contradiction. He's saying that you do what is desired and that is, on some level, a "free choice" (in the Lockean and Hobbesian sense - your body could have done something somewhat different), but it is still causally determined by the universe and not truly free (in the Spinozan and Kantian sense).

To use an example. Imagine if you were forced to wear goggles that inversed color, temporarily to make blue appear orange and orange appear blue. They are sedated and the goggles are placed on them, without their knowledge. They are asked to choose an orange, and eat it. One orange is orange and looks delicious the other is blue and looks repulsive. The user is unaware that their perception has been influenced, and chooses the orange that appears orange to them. To this individual they have acted upon free will. To a third party observer, this individual had been influenced, and lacks free will in this choice. I would argue that this situation exists for all individuals, at all times and the existence of free will depends upon perspective.

This is interesting. So, we might be subjectively free but not objectively free. Definitely a good way of looking at the problem, and possibly the source of a great deal of confusion over what we mean by free.

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Why in the world do you people who claim you don't have free will come onto this board and try to convince us that we don't have free will? If we didn't have free will, then you are wasting your time and ours, aren't you? Or do you think that you have the right formulaic utterance that will get us to realize we don't have free will? In other words, if we don't have free will, then it doesn't matter what you say, unless you have the programming settings that will change our minds to a setting of denying free will.

But, since we do have free will, then why are you trying to convince us otherwise? We can either accept your arguments or reject them. But telling us that free will just doesn't fit into your metaphysics isn't going to convince us because we know by observation that we have free will, so it is an aspect of existence, and you simply don't see it right in front of your face.

Or are you trying to say that you are not responsible for what you post or what you do or what you think? If this is your position, then we ought -- of our own free will -- treat you like some run-amuck savage who hasn't learned how to control himself. If your postings on this thread and other are no more controlled than vomit after a drinking binge, then why ought we to take your posts into consideration at all? What is the point of arguing if you don't have free will? I don't try to argue with spiders and flies, because I know for a fact that they don't have free will and that I could argue with them until I am blue in the face and it won't do me any good.

But wait, you said we have no more free will than a rock, didn't you? Do you go around trying to convince rocks to form a home for you? Do you think a rock would even listen to you? If we are but rocks with no free will, don't you feel rather foolish expecting us to build a home for you on this forum?

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Why in the world do you people who claim you don't have free will come onto this board and try to convince us that we don't have free will? If we didn't have free will, then you are wasting your time and ours, aren't you? Or do you think that you have the right formulaic utterance that will get us to realize we don't have free will? In other words, if we don't have free will, then it doesn't matter what you say, unless you have the programming settings that will change our minds to a setting of denying free will.

But, since we do have free will, then why are you trying to convince us otherwise? We can either accept your arguments or reject them. But telling us that free will just doesn't fit into your metaphysics isn't going to convince us because we know by observation that we have free will, so it is an aspect of existence, and you simply don't see it right in front of your face.

Or are you trying to say that you are not responsible for what you post or what you do or what you think? If this is your position, then we ought -- of our own free will -- treat you like some run-amuck savage who hasn't learned how to control himself. If your postings on this thread and other are no more controlled than vomit after a drinking binge, then why ought we to take your posts into consideration at all? What is the point of arguing if you don't have free will? I don't try to argue with spiders and flies, because I know for a fact that they don't have free will and that I could argue with them until I am blue in the face and it won't do me any good.

But wait, you said we have no more free will than a rock, didn't you? Do you go around trying to convince rocks to form a home for you? Do you think a rock would even listen to you? If we are but rocks with no free will, don't you feel rather foolish expecting us to build a home for you on this forum?

Dude, calm down. I don't know about hubris, but I'm just debating an issue of philosophical importance. I mean, I'm not trying to convince you that you have no free will, I just find this to be an interesting argument. Most philosophical theories have to confront determinism at some point and find an answer for it. Locke and Hobbes did so by changing what is meant by "free will." Kant did so by playing with metaphysics. Others have simply thrown up their hands and walked away from the problem.

I have no agenda; I just seek truth. The best way to find truth in philosophy is via discourse. I've talked to a lot of different people with a lot of different philosophical theories in my time, but I've never really found out what Objectivists have to say about these issues. And reading various authors only does so much; it's best to talk to those who adhere to a philosophy.

When I say that I don't buy an argument, or that I think one is flawed, that isn't me just hating on you - I'm just trying to engage in a philosophical debate. I can't say that I'm an Objectivist, because I clearly am not one, but I'm interested in Objectivism in the same way I'm interested in Nietzche or Buddhism - as a topic to be explored and studied for sake of knowledge. Curiosity, if you will. What is more human?

And I think that I've posted in a fairly coherent manner. I've brought forth a proposition for debate: that "Given what we know of the universe, we have no free will." I think there are answers, but I just want to know how an Objectivist responds to them. My posts here don't include trash like "omgz teh objectivism HAS NO ANSERWS for mah kewestions!" They are rational responses to my arguments and yours. I hope that we can all learn something from this debate.

Again, I don't really hold that we have no free will. I think that humans have the power to truly initiate a causal series - to act as the prime mover of themselves. But the arguments presented here wouldn't convince me of that fact or any other. Indeed, I've had my understanding of Rand and her works slightly increased. Again, IT'S JUST A DEBATE; I DON'T REALLY FEEL THAT YOU DON'T HAVE FREE WILL.

As for your arguments:

But telling us that free will just doesn't fit into your metaphysics isn't going to convince us because we know by observation that we have free will, so it is an aspect of existence, and you simply don't see it right in front of your face.

What's that observation? I don't see free will, just as I don't see causation. It's something that might be inferred, but it's going to take some work. I've already shown how your introspective faculties can't be used to justify your brain's operations - your brain plays tricks on you all the time.

Now, if you want to say that free will is something that, like causality, can't be proven either way, that's fine. Plenty of philosophies do this. Kant's trancendental argument is essentially that - "it doesn't matter either way and we can't prove either system, so we'll have to assume people have free will for now." That's a satisfactory argument, because hard determinism can't really be proven when it comes to the mind - body problem.

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Dude, calm down. I don't know about hubris, but I'm just debating an issue of philosophical importance.

You think it is of philosophical importance. I don't.

I mean - say you're right just for a moment - Of what possible value is it to beings who believe they have free will to be convinced that, in fact, they have NO free will and thus become fatalists? It's a path of self-destruction, based on musings that lead to conclusions that any child could tell you contradict the nature of reality from simple, honest, childlike observation.

I think you're trying to argue that 0 = 1, and that is a waste of time, so forgive me if I stop indulging this pseudo-intellectual, masturbatory exercise on your part. If philosophy is to be of value, it needs to concern itself with better things than this.

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I mean - say you're right just for a moment - Of what possible value is it to beings who believe they have free will to be convinced that, in fact, they have NO free will and thus become fatalists? It's a path of self-destruction, based on musings that lead to conclusions that any child could tell you contradict the nature of reality from simple, honest, childlike observation.

I'll admit that it has little practical use. Even if I'm right - again, I stress that the positions advocated in a philosophical debate are not necessarily those advocated by the debater in real life - then we cannot do much about it. While holding people accountable for actions they cannot control would be wrong, I think wrongness and rightness hinge on definitions of "person" that include free will. It wouldn't be wrong or right in such a world - it would just be the movements of particles and energy. This is one of Kant's arguments against determinism - we can't know if we truly have free will, so we might as well follow the moral law.

And again, you're observations of your free will are no proof of its existance. Philosophers across time have argued for the existance of God from their idea of God, but this is no objective proof of his existance. And before you say "Well, everyone sees free will," remember that the empiricists (David Hume in particular) did not see such a concept in the world. But yes, childlike would describe the depth of your arguments at this point.

I don't see how the argument is "masturbatory," either. iIf that's the case, then this whole site is, as well. I don't think this discussion is just to give me some sort of pleasure, it is to engage others in healthy argument. That you are getting so bent out of shape about a simple debate speaks wonders.

If philosophy is to be of value, it needs to concern itself with better things than this.

Given that the argument over determinsim is an argument over what we cherish most in ourselves, I think it is very important. I doubt many people will have a direct effect on their lives from this discussion (and I certainly hope they have better sense than to adopt some form of nihlist fatalism), but how many people have had their lives significantly affected by Rawls or Descartes or Kant? And those philosophers are considered some of the most important in western philosophy. I'd say that the lives of ordinary people have only been truly affected by four philosophers: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx. Kant has arguably had an affect on the way governments handle nation building after wars, as well as being the inspiration for the "Democratic Peace Theory of Today." But that doesn't mean every other philosopher's works are worthless - it just means that many have neither enough adherants or practical political use to have an everyday affect on society.

And remember that many issues in hard science have little practical use. That Large Hadrion Collider that will be started up in June will likely never directly affect my life. Quantum physics, while interesting, is only worthy because it is a search for truth. What is more worthy? Should we throw away all knowledge deemed "self-masturbatory" and "useless." What a horrible world!

And how anti-life-affirming, too. The nature of man is to seek truth. Would you deny him this as well?

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A circular argument is one which assumes the validity of the conclusion when stating the premises. What kind of argument is it that uses the conclusion to disprove its own premises?

In Objectivism, the idea of reductionism is rejected because it is identified as relying upon a fallacy. That fallacy is the stolen concept: using a concept while denying another concept upon which the former logically depends. Specifically, reductionism relies upon a very sophisticated and abstract knowledge that the world consists of a variety of subatomic particles and the forces they exert upon one another to deny the existence of scientists, their instruments of measurement and their methods of gaining knowledge.

The objection which the fallacy of the stolen concept raises is not metaphysical or ontological. The existence of scientists does not make possible the existence of subatomic particles. The objection is epistemological: it is the knowledge of scientists that makes our awareness of the existence of subatomic particles possible, so attacking the knowledge (or existence!) of scientists is also an attack upon the right to treat ideas concerning subatomic particles as knowledge.

Scientists are humans using a human means of perception and cognition, relying upon the evidence of their senses, to craft instruments and methods of investigation which are then used to probe and validate knowledge of subatomic particles. Breaking the chain of knowledge at any point renders invalid any claimed knowledge about the object at the end of the chain, subatomic particles. To begin with a worldview informed by ideas of subatomic particles and their physics to invalidate consciousness, volition, and the evidence of the senses is to convert ideas of subatomic particles from knowledge into floating abstractions. Floating abstractions are not to be used as premises in rational arguments.

The idea that all knowledge is inherently systematic, that concepts are necessarily related to one another and that they can be and should be arranged hierarchically in terms of the fundamental and the derivative may be novel to many people. When a person has not yet considered the issue seriously he will not understand what is meant when the fallacy of the stolen concept is identified and will likely skip over it as so much opaque jargon. But there is a profound philosopical perspective at stake here well worth considering explicitly.

The whole of the universe exists in noncontradiction with itself, so our knowledge of it should be similarly structured. Any entity which exists, exists completely and so if we know something we must strive to know it with certainty. Anything which exists both affects and is affected through its relationships to everything else which exists, and so our knowledge should be fully integrated with every idea related to every other idea.

The law of identity is not to be applied piecemeal. Knowledge is not to be atomized.

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An interesting post and one that I think does a better job of highlighting how the law of identity actually applies to determinism.

Fine, humans are human. Granted. And only humans can observe nature. If I may, I’ll try to formalize this line of reasoning (or at least what I believe to be your line of reasoning!):

1) Humans have senses and cognition – this is what it is to be human.

2) They use these faculties to infer the laws of nature.

3) The laws of nature cannot be used to deny humans’ existence.

I think there’s a flaw here. It’s true to say that denying the existence of observational faculties would be a stolen premise, but I think you can change the argument and show how we can still use science to deny free will.

A stolen premise works (or, rather, fails) by using the conclusion to deny a necessary premise. For instance, we cannot deny our existence because a necessary precondition of denying is existence. But I’m saying that existence does not hinge upon free will. Objects exist as well. And we can construct a view of the universe that has everything in it, that is fully consistent with itself, but doesn’t have beings with free will. Given that free will requires us to presume enitities that exist both within and without of the causal nature of the universe, doesn’t hard determinism provide a better “story?” Everything works the same; everything appears the same, but people are objects and possess no freedom to choose because they are affected by the same laws as everything else.

Now, I know Rand says that only living objects “exist,” but this seems to be based on a different definition of “exist.”

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I think Grames makes an excellent point, but for me there is a gap in the reasoning. I totally agree and understand with the points you made, however, I don't understand why a lack of free will implies said scientists cease to exist. I could see how removing free will might change the definition you are applying to scientists. If you designate that free will is a prerequisites for being human, and therefore for being a scientist and having the necessary faculties for making such discoveries. However, I don't see how free will is needed to study or observe subatomic particles, in fact plenty of machines involved in recording and evaluating these particles have no free will whatsoever. I would be willing to accept that a "human" requires free will to exist, after all that is one potential definition of "human." However, that seems to fall apart by the fact that determinism would prove that these entities who "discovered" it were not "human." What you want to call the scientists after such a point is irrelevant. But, at least to me, it seems that even under another name they still have the same properties, a la rose by any other name smells as sweet. In this case its not a rose, its scientists (humans) by any other name discover as adequately.

Excellent post, I just feel theres something missing.

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What someone was trying to get at earlier is that in Objectivism reason means volitionally adhering to the facts of reality in any conscious mental process. In other words, reason is free will. The free will you have is to face reality in full focus versus not exercising one's free will and drifting along on any momentary impulse.

The only way one can have knowledge of subatomic particles is to volitionally adhere to the evidence of the sense in one's thinking process; so, to try to use the existence of subatomic particles as a means of denying free will is to try to use knowledge that is based on free will (and there is no other) to deny free will, which is the fallacy of the stolen concept. Or to borrow a phrase, it is grand larceny to deny free will while affirming the product of free will, which is all human knowledge.

The existence of free will or reason is validated via introspection, and any child who decided not to do what his mother told him to do knows that he has free will; he knows with full conscious knowledge that he has the ability to go along with what she said or to do something different, and that it is his own choice.

If you are denying free will based upon some later knowledge, then you are denying the obvious for the sake of some theory spun out of grand larceny in denial of observation.

But, dude! if you want to consider your self nothing more than an entity that merely reacts to things like a rock, then by all means live your life that way. Why should we care if you want to deny yourself as a human being? Maybe someone will buy you and you can become their pet rock, since you are effectively saying you are no different from a rock. Just remember that when they go to paint you some pretty little color so as to put you on their shelf that you are not to resist in any way whatsoever.

You are just a rock. Accept it and make us all happy philosophers. Because some of us know that accepting ideas have consequences. You might be able to get rid of you feelings of guilt by claiming you have no free will; but you will also not take any pride in any of your achievements, because a rock rolls down hill through no effort of its own free will, because it doesn't have any.

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