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Free Will Revisited

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aleph_0
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I was wondering: Is our ability to direct our consciousness inextricably linked to our awareness of our consciousness (i.e. can one be self-aware, but incapable of self-direction?) I'm inclined to say no, but I can't defend that position. Is self-direction a necessity or logical result of conceptual consciousness?

The ability to direct our consciousness is necessarily dependent on self-awareness, otherwise how would one know when redirection was necessary, or decide what to rediect onto? To be self-aware but incapable of self-direction is characteristic of mental disorder.

Self-direction is a necessity for conceptual consciousness, because concepts are not formed automatically. Also, you can volitionally do other things than form concepts all day. Simply focusing on being still and alert such as when out hunting is an act of volition. Self-direction is prior to the first thought.

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I was wondering: Is our ability to direct our consciousness inextricably linked to our awareness of our consciousness (i.e. can one be self-aware, but incapable of self-direction?)

Again, it depends on what you mean by this, because it is basically the definition of a psychotic -- someone who is aware of his own mind but has lost control over it, sometimes even going so far as to say someone else is controlling him from within. So, yes, that is possible, but it is a medical condition. Schizophrenia is similar, but more seems to be an inability to control his subconscious mind -- i.e. he has triggers of memories that he cannot completely control, though he can still think and has not lost control of himself. And this, too, is a medical condition. One can even lose any ability to be aware of oneself (one's consciousness), that is introspection can be lost due to brain injury. And this is a medical condition.

The brain has to be functioning correctly in order for one to have awareness of one's own mind and the ability to control it. Fortunately, modern medicine has found many solutions to these problems, as they tend to be certain areas of the brain that are not functioning and medication or surgery can lead them to function normally again.

That is not to say that anyone who denies free will in man must have a mental illness of some sort; that is not my position. Because often times this type of denial is philosophical in nature, rather than being medical. But basically, yes, it is possible to lose any of your abilities due to injury or illness.

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I meant, is "free" "will" a tautological phrase? i.e., isn't "free" intrinsic to "will?"

If so, it seems to make the original question much easier. (That is, I think I and others have gotten stuck on "free")

Yes, it is possible some people are stuck on the idea of "free" in the sense of being free from what. Do you have a will that is constrained somehow, or is it free? In Objectivism, free will is basically understood to be reason; that is, your ability to reason is your basic will. In fact, Objectivism does not recognize someone just coasting along and doing what he wants based on his past premises without thinking to be free will, but rather a kind of determinism of one's premises that one has accepted without question. To exercise one's free will means to be rational and to be constrained by the facts of reality.

But I don't think tautology is the term you are looking for, I think you are looking for a term something along the lines of redundant. "Rational selfishness" and "laissez-fare capitalism" are such phrases. The two terms basically mean the same thing, but one is redundant to stress a point.

One could say in Objectivism: free = will = reason

It's just that free will was taken up by the religionists to mean free of one's bodily restraints -- your soul longing to break free of your body to go to heaven -- when free will in Objectivism doesn't mean anything like that at all. It means having the power to direct one's consciousness; and to be rational means to be directing one's consciousness to the facts of reality and acting accordingly in compliance with man's life as the standard.

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  • 2 months later...

I just realized that this thread existed. I could have probably saved myself a correspondence of about 9 PMs to this guy "aleph_0".

In an early PM, he had said:

Take a man who is predetermined and he has the following determined mental and conceptual experience: He sees fruit, when he's hungry he eats it. He identifies it in his mind, without choosing to, he goes over to it, without choosing to, and he eats it, without choosing to. He held the belief that it was food and he was right. If asked, "Will eating the fruit cure your hunger and make you healthy, wealthy, and wise to eat the fruit?" he responds, "Naturally. It's delicious and nutritious." And he is right. And he arrived at the conclusion with a process of [determined] concept-application.

In this example, he applied the concept, yet where did the concept originate from? No answer. He continues with his insanity:

He "formed" or "acquired" the concept by being shown many fruit as a youth, and the concept of fruit came into his awareness. No active will. Moreover, he does the same for motor oil. You ask him, "Is motor oil salutary?" and he responds, "But of course. A barrel a day keeps the doctor away." Which he did by the same process described above, but which proceeds erroneously. In the former, he was rational; in the later, irrational. In the former, he was right and must have been right and could not have been wrong; in the later, he was wrong and must have been wrong and could not have been right.

He uses the word "erroneous", but how can his straw man be wrong? He ate the fruit because he had to eat it. He's not right or wrong, he's a robot. He allegedly "acquired" (again not explanation as to how he acquired, he just did) the concept by being shown over and over again. What aleph is describing but dares not say is that his straw man was programmed, with such concepts like "nutritious" and "fruit". There is no wrong...he does it because he cannot help it and he cannot do otherwise.

What is seriously disturbing is that aleph is demanding morality from this robot-man even though he cannot help what he does. What results is a sick, twisted vision of justice in which a man could be judged as being wrong for actions which he had no control over! And...aleph sees nothing wrong with this! :D

Later, in the chat room, he says (in response to my saying that his view does not allow morality to exist):

Al_0: Yeah. You can, instead of thinking of ethics as deriving from man's primary causation, think of it as the study of what is best for an individual (minus the free will). You can thus still use the language of "should" (for instance, "you should eat fruit" will just mean, "fruit will be good for you") without appealing to a non-caused cause in man.

According to aleph, man would have to be reduced to the level of a non-conscious being - a robot of sorts (one that is capable of being destroyed), or that of a talking horse. Having values, but not having the ability to choose them. He claims that somehow reason and determinism are compatible.

His view of reason is, according to him, the ability to form concepts without reference to reality (after all, you do not have the ability to focus on one thing as versus another because there are no alternatives in your mind and no choices).

And...to make things worse, he insists that there is no contradiction in his assessment.

By the second to last email, he responds (to my demonstration that volition is axiomatic and the alternative of focusing or not focusing one's consciousness is the primary choice):

That just shows that one's mind sometimes comes into focus and sometimes does not. No volition involved.

He did not see the absurdity in such a claim. Apparently, man is conscious, but he does not direct his consciousness. Man is a raving lunatic detached from his mind, along for the ride, and unable to control what he does and does not think, what he focuses and does not focus on.

He describes the act of volition: "one's mind sometimes comes into focus and sometimes does not" and in the very next sentence asserts that the fact that there is an alternative open to man's mind is not evidence that volition exists and by acting on one of those alternatives demonstrates the validity of volition (somehow it didn't dawn on him that validity depends on volition). :P:dough: :dough: :dough: :dough:

If it were "determined", what proof would there be? Determinism always demands that there is an outside force controlling one's actions but offers no proof of this controlling force. It rejects the notion that volition is a type of causation.

I had asked him for similar proof regarding similar assertions about this alleged outside control, yet received none. The most I received was a response stating that when he received proof, he would pass it along to me. So, in other words, he'll always be "on the fence" on this one as it cannot be proved.

But, what's more, I received the 'ole "you prove free will exists" and "I reject volition as axiomatic". He wrote this blanking out the fact that he had to direct his consciousness first to 1) read my PM and 2) respond. There was an alternative, which he never acknowledged in all of our correspondence...and that was to ignore my PMs.

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I wrote a paper this week on the subject of Descartes and the problem of 'Certainty' against the fact that men can be erroneous in their reasoning. Hume objects to the whole problem of scepticism, claiming that man is no more than a machine, programmed to act reason a certain a way, with a prepared method, given by nature, by which his brain produces concepts. But which are best? Well, Hume's whole system breaks down into pragmatism: whichever is 'best'. By what standard? Blank out.

An excerpt:


Hume offers a solution: we can live by uncertainties, because the question of whether something is falsifiable, applied to human judgement, is 'superfluous': just as men breathe, eat and walk, so by 'absolute and uncontroulable necessity', they create judgements (Hume: Book I, Part IV). When we think of two or more ideas together, he posits, we form an unconscious 'customary connexion with a present impression', which may or may not "feel" true. In other words, judgements are just naturally formed emotions, that produce a feeling of being 'right'. We don't describe non-volitional emotions as true or false, so we shouldn't with reasoning.
But, men don't agree as to the "correct connections" between ideas. Two men can hold the same premises and come to different conclusions. How can a man be directed towards the correct judgement, if 'correctness' is still subjective. Hume's argument requires having the right neural connections proper to the job and he may argue that 'correct' are those connections which aids human survival. But how do we validate which neural connections are proper to human survival? Hume might respond that we observe different internal connections, and see which connections work - which bring us profit - and which connections fail. However, the question becomes eternally recursive, with no basic principle, as we must then ask what it means for a connection to "work". We must simply judge with the expediency of the moment as our only certainty, with a circular definition of 'expediency'. In other words, how do we know that course is to be any more desirable than another - by what standard?

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I just realized that this thread existed. I could have probably saved myself a correspondence of about 9 PMs to this guy "aleph_0".

In an early PM, he had said:

Just a point of ettiquette here. I hope you asked him before you chose to quote from back-channel sources. Otherwise, I think you should deal with the arguments within the thread.

Your post takes on a "look what else this numbskull said to me, privately" sort of air.

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Just a point of ettiquette here. I hope you asked him before you chose to quote from back-channel sources. Otherwise, I think you should deal with the arguments within the thread.

Your post takes on a "look what else this numbskull said to me, privately" sort of air.

Well...I was aware that it might come off that way...but he stopped posting to this thread, and I really just wanted to share the argument I was having to show the line of reasoning on this issue.

I believe he is still roaming the forum, so he is free to respond. If it is of any consequence, he did insult me via PM, implied that I meant a few things that I did not express (nor was my intention) so I'm not really that concerned about etiquette with regards to this particular person, but I've strained to keep that in the PMs between me and this particular individual.

Though, in the interest of obeying the rules, for the record, I really am trying to show the line of thinking between what I would call a "closet Determinist" and one who accepts free will.

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