Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

The Fallacy of Composition

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

Whenever I discuss the topic of free will, determinists use the "the brain is made of atoms thus our actions are determined" argument. I understand that ultimately determinism is self refuting but this argument has always made sense to me (assuming I'm free to decide what's reasonable and what's not :wacko:) . Then I read about the fallacy of composition.

I will be taking philosophy this coming fall and would like to be able to defend free will (presumably) from the professor in front of the class. This means I need to understand my argument inside and out. I looked up free will with respect to the fallacy of composition and found surprisingly few links to choose from. In "An Essay on Free Will" by Peter Van Inwagen (via google books) there is a quoted passage which it appears Van Inwagen is going to refute:

To say that if all the parts of a system are determined then the whole system is determined is not to commit the fallacy of composition, for determinism is clearly the sort of property that "carries over" from parts to whole.

Unfortunately, this quote inside of the paper is at the end of the page and google books is missing the next page. This reasoning does seem sound to me. There has never been an example of a system (as far as I am aware) where determinism hasn't "carried over" from parts to whole. The fallacy of composition seems to arise from ignoring the relationships between the parts of the system. In this case, determinism is the relationship.

Is the fallacy of composition not a proper refutation of this oh so common determinist argument?

help.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 135
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I will be taking philosophy this coming fall and would like to be able to defend free will (presumably) from the professor in front of the class. This means I need to understand my argument inside and out.

You don't need to make an argument for the axioms, so don't fall into that trap. Volition is directly observable introspectively, and is axiomatic regarding human consciousness. Any argument he makes against it is refuted by your own observations about the nature of your own mind. And you don't need to convince him that either he or you have volition. You have free will, and that is all you need to know to be able to refute him.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You don't need to make an argument for the axioms, so don't fall into that trap. Volition is directly observable introspectively, and is axiomatic regarding human consciousness.

Good point. I'll keep that in mind. I do still need to defend the axioms from attempts to disprove them.

And you don't need to convince him that either he or you have volition. You have free will, and that is all you need to know to be able to refute him.

I don't plan on changing the professors mind, but rather the students who are listening to the discussion. I know I have free will for other reasons but I'll need more than that to shoot down this argument. It would also be nice to be able to refute this argument quickly since it's used so often. I'm also just curious about the fallacy of composition at this point.

Edited by eficazpensador
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The fallacy of composition is not really a good argument for volition, but rather a good argument against those saying that a whole can only have the composition of the parts. For example, the door of a car cannot be driven, nor can any of the individual parts taken by themselves, however one can certainly drive a car. And there is really no need to defend the axioms as the attempt to refute them is self-refuting. If someone said existence does not exist, then why is he saying anything to you, who don't exist? See what I mean? If someone wants to claim volition is illusionary, tell him you choose not to accept his statement :wacko:

There is a certain point at which it is no sense arguing with certain people, because they are just arguing for the sake of arguing and have no knowledge to present to you. You'll have to come to understand this about philosophy professors, and then dismiss them, while at the same time regurgitating what they say so you can pass the tests.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If someone wants to claim volition is illusionary, tell him you choose not to accept his statement :wacko:

Yeah, I guess I'll just show that it is self defeating.

You'll have to come to understand this about philosophy professors, and then dismiss them, while at the same time regurgitating what they say so you can pass the tests.

Ughhhhhhhhh.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To say that if all the parts of a system are determined then the whole system is determined is not to commit the fallacy of composition, for determinism is clearly the sort of property that "carries over" from parts to whole.

This reasoning does seem sound to me. There has never been an example of a system (as far as I am aware) where determinism hasn't "carried over" from parts to whole.

If you were to say "all the parts of a system are determined according to the law of gravity,so the whole system is determined according to the law of gravity," then that indeed makes sense.

Add in as many additional laws as you want, and it'd still make sense.

The problem with Van Inwagen's statement is that there actually is no Law of Determinism that says that every action of a particle is determined by its environment.

Such a theoretical law may make sense from a philosophic sense (and I think determinists kinda count on the sanction of their volitionist victims here) but it's not valid science.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Unfortunately, this quote inside of the paper is at the end of the page and google books is missing the next page. This reasoning does seem sound to me. There has never been an example of a system (as far as I am aware) where determinism hasn't "carried over" from parts to whole. The fallacy of composition seems to arise from ignoring the relationships between the parts of the system. In this case, determinism is the relationship.

Properties that are applicable at all scales have conservation laws, such as the conservation of mass or momentum. There is no such thing as conservation of determinism.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The argument from a determinist view is primarily an argument from physics. We have formulated physical laws which predict with enormous accuracy the behavior of particles. No one says that the particles actually go and check the set of equations to figure out where to move next (well, not anyone I'd take seriously), but simply that they describe their behavior in every context we've found.

All of the equations of physics are deterministic (or stochastic, which amounts to the same thing). As a result, as far as anyone can tell all the particles in the universe act in a deterministic/stochastic manner. The determinist argument is basically complete at that point, since then you simply have to say that "All the evidence that science has accumulated about the workings of the universe suggest that every individual particle, and thus the universe as a whole, behaves deterministically. We're part of the universe, so we are deterministic."

I haven't ever found a satisfactory way around this (I discount the "well its an axiom" argument because it does not address the flaw in the above argument). The only way I have ever seen is to say that there is some magical stuff we've never seen before scientifically that makes people (and perhaps just life in general) different than everything else in the universe. Perhaps its not magic, but there must be something else that no one has ever seen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is the same flaw as in the poorly formed induction "All swans I've seen are white, therefore all swans are white."

The real irony in this example is when the entity doing the counting is a black swan, but exempts himself from the the counting.

edit: deleted requote

Edited by Grames
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"All the evidence that science has accumulated about the workings of the universe suggest that every individual particle, and thus the universe as a whole, behaves deterministically. We're part of the universe, so we are deterministic."

The correct answer is that observation understood conceptually overrides rationalistic conclusions. The syllogism is not the root of logic, non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality as given by observation is logic. And you observe that you wrote your reply of your own free will.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The correct answer is that volitional consciousness (not "free will" which is just a rationalistic concept) is not incompatible with deterministic behavior of the system which produces said consciousness, but is in fact required for it to be possible. This simple observable fact completely obviates the need for any conflict between mechanical determinism and the essential conception of "free will."

I doubt anyone who replies will agree, but I don't care.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In this topic, don't use reference to the fallacy of composition EVER. The only need for the defence of volition is to point out that that it is directly observable. Reference to contradiction etc, while nice bells and whistles, are secondary to that. The mere fact that someone opposed to a this-worldly volition can create some enormous intellectual edifice and place very high values thereupon still doesn't mean that it can't be brought down by a simple light flick. The aphorism "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" is bollocks; it simply isn't necessary to get into the kind of quantity of verbiage that opponents use. The moment you start introducing logic and fallacies and making a big deal out of it by responding with similar quantities of words, you're both granting them sanction for creating that verbiage in the first place and also putting yourself on the path to rationalism.

However, in a big presentation where you've got marks to gain in class you're going to have to say SOMETHING that has an acceptable amount of intellectual material in it. That's easy, really. Once you've done the assertion of the existence of free will, go on to note the fact that the question "how can volition arise when the fundamental constituents of everything are determined?" is also secondary to that simple defence. The mere raising of it is in no way whatsoever a valid means of casting doubt upon the existence of volition. In a debate or presentation you will also need to identify that fact. THAT volition exists is fact. HOW volition exists is as perplexing as all hell - but this does not in any way shape or form detract from the THAT.

As to that question, the only valid further details one can add (and get class marks for) is something like this:

The fact is that every atom within the body is, ostensibly, moving about in a determined manner. Many phycists reckon there's a fundamental indeterminism at work at a level deeper than that, but by the time one gets to blobs of atoms on up the variations smooth out to leave behind a net determinism, one that can be calculated and predicted with extreme precision (what this suggests about the indeterminism is a separate topic). Yet volition does exist. Its existence is therefore necessarily saying that there is something directing the motion of atoms within human brains other than the currently-known forces of nature and the prior energy states of those atoms. The mystics-of-spirit claim this something else to be supernatural, but we may perfectly legitimately rule that out automatically as an explanation. So, the real bottom line is, we do not as yet have a sodding clue why free will exists nor do we know how to connect it with what we currently know of the forces of nature. I've long held the idea that volition today is in the same position that gravity was in at the time of Newton, something that was also considered supernatural. There were those who rejected it because they rejected the supernatural, and there were those who accepted it again because they accepted the supernatural. Likewise with volition, where pretty much nobody but ourselves thinks volition can be something entirely this-worldly and doesn't need a supernatural explanation.

***

I have never liked the reliance upon the Fallacy of Composition for the defence of volition. I don't use the FOC because it falls utterly flat. Even someone without specialised knowledge of how to apply the fallacy properly can know very well that something is amiss with its usage here. The reason is that the motion of objects far larger and more complex than the human brain are completely determined, because the constituent particles of them are determined. Consider, for example, weather patterns in Jupiter, or the formation of all the galaxies for that matter. The attempt to exempt the human brain from this principle is an instance of the fallacy of special pleading, which any skilled opponent of volition is likely to point out.

I strongly suspect that the raising of the FoC in relation to human brains by many defenders of worldly-volition is merely the throwing up of a fog, not out of any straightforward intent to point out fallacy (though of course many people are indeed motivated by that, as mistaken as they are in doing so), but because the fog-thrower is afraid of the polemic consequences of confessing ignorance. Given that we're facing energised opponents both on the anti-volition side (the mystics of muscle) and the pro-volition side (the mystics of spirit), I can understand the motivation for not wanting to appear weak, but that is still no excuse. So, I nevertheless say this: STOP IT - have the courage to say the three words "I. Don't. Know." Admit your ignorance, and stand your ground on the simple fact THAT it exists, and that direct observation is the only thing any honest man needs to validate its existence. Tell your interlocutor of the separation of those two issues, ie demonstrate that ignorance of the HOW does not interfere with the certainty in the THAT, then make your judgement of your him if he persists in conflating the two. After that, it's best just to leave the details of the how to the physicists and neurologists et al because you've got buckley's chance of figuring it out.

JJM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[Volition's] existence is therefore necessarily saying that there is something directing the motion of atoms within human brains other than the currently-known forces of nature and the prior energy

Here's where your reasoning goes haywire. You had no statement that justifies the use of "therefore" in this sentence.

You are positing the necessity of some unknown force that is neither deterministic nor non-deterministic in nature. Suppose there were some new force of nature discovered: it is still going to be deterministic or non-deterministic (if you even acknowledge that indeterminacy can exist in nature). The fact that all existing deterministic and non-deterministic forces of nature fail to satisfy your criteria for volition to be possible means that any newly discovered ones would similarly fail to describe volitional behavior in your view.

If you don't think that volition can exist within any deterministic or non-deterministic system, you are implying the existence of some kind of some kind of supernatural mind-force that controls the atoms of the brain.

If you think that volition can exist within a deterministic or non-deterministic system, you have no evidence that existing laws of nature would be insufficient to facilitate such a volitional system.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The correct answer is that volitional consciousness (not "free will" which is just a rationalistic concept) ...

What distinction do you make between these two ideas? I treat them as synonyms. Example: Conceptual consciousness has the attribute of volition, or free will.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm going to risk coming across like an ignoramus here, and try this from another angle - in the same way that one can voluntarily choose to clench one fist, or the other, is it not possible that one can voluntarily select one series of synapses in the brain, or another, opening up a complex, but self-guided path through a neural network? With a near- infinite number of variables.

What I know about the brain is dangerous, but I think a synapse is something like a connector/switch.

This hypothesis would mean basically that the brain is overseeing the brain, like a Super Id, and I have no idea where I'm going wih this yet --- so will somebody put me out of my misery?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

........so I guess I've 'described' the thought process. So if thought is self-directed, this surely leads to and pre-supposes consciousness, which in turn leads to self- volition.

Aren't I glad I don't have to argue this with a professor. :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This hypothesis would mean basically that the brain is overseeing the brain, like a Super Id, and I have no idea where I'm going with this yet --- so will somebody put me out of my misery?

To use Aristotle's terminology: We have certain biological powers or abilities that arise due to the fact that we are human.

He used the example of sight, that is we have the power of sight because we have eyes. He didn't know about bats and sonar, but they have the biological power of sonar because they are bats. Sharks have the biological power to detect small electric fields surrounding a fish. And similarly, humans have the biological power to direct their consciousness and to direct their bodies; your ability to reply to this post is a biological power.

Biology was at a very primitive state at his time, but he was able to formulate a rational reply: We are so composed as to have those powers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's where your reasoning goes haywire. You had no statement that justifies the use of "therefore" in this sentence.

That was in what I had already stated. I think that in this case the move from parts being entirely determined by laws and their specific energy states to whole bodies made thereof being similarly determined holds. I don't see why the human brain should be exempted from it when other complex systems aren't. As I said, I take a dim view of the throwing of "fallacy of composition" against it.

Suppose there were some new force of nature discovered: it is still going to be deterministic or non-deterministic

Says who? As has been repeatedly noted by Objectivists in this topic, Dr Peikoff has long pointed out that there is no law that says all causes have to be billiard-ball-like. The only requirement is that it be causal, whatever it may be.

If you think that volition can exist within a deterministic or non-deterministic system, you have no evidence that existing laws of nature would be insufficient to facilitate such a volitional system.

Volition in a world run exclusively by billiard-ball causation is a contradiction.

JJM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given that we're facing energised opponents both on the anti-volition side (the mystics of muscle) and the pro-volition side (the mystics of spirit), I can understand the motivation for not wanting to appear weak, but that is still no excuse. So, I nevertheless say this: STOP IT - have the courage to say the three words "I. Don't. Know." Admit your ignorance, and stand your ground on the simple fact THAT it exists, and that direct observation is the only thing any honest man needs to validate its existence. Tell your interlocutor of the separation of those two issues, ie demonstrate that ignorance of the HOW does not interfere with the certainty in the THAT, then make your judgement of your him if he persists in conflating the two. After that, it's best just to leave the details of the how to the physicists and neurologists et al because you've got buckley's chance of figuring it out.

Perhaps the wisest words I've read in a long, long time. So many times I allow myself to be dragged into questions of the special sciences during philosophical debates. I need to learn when the topic changes and have the courage to both claim ignorance while simultaneously affirming the certainty of what I do know and the fact that my ignorance doesn't detract from it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What distinction do you make between these two ideas? I treat them as synonyms. Example: Conceptual consciousness has the attribute of volition, or free will.

This is a good question, and central to understanding the issue.

Consciousness: Awareness and self-awareness.

Volition: The ability to make choices.

Volitional consciousness: An aware and self-aware entity that can make choices.

Free will: A rationalistic concept created by assuming that the directly observed volitional consciousness of the human mind must result in there being an infinite set of possible future events resulting from the range of "possible choices" that the human mind can consider.

Choice is not the ability to create an infinite set of possible futures (something which is non-existent by its very definition, much like "god".) Choice is the fact that your actions correspond to your mind. The first is a rationalistic concept with no evidence to support it, whereas the latter is axiomatic through direct observation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will be taking philosophy this coming fall and would like to be able to defend free will (presumably) from the professor in front of the class.

FYI, this is not necessarily true. I was surprised to find the professors and philosophy majors at my college generally pro-free-will. Also, the introductory philosophy of mind textbook I had made scant mention of hard determinism in the chapter on free will. It seems, based on those data points, that hard determinism is less popular than compatibilism, and perhaps libertarianism.

Edited by ctrl y
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What exactly do you mean by non-deterministic?

Non-deterministic in the sense that quantum mechanics is supposedly non-deterministic.

Says who?

The concept of a law of nature that is neither deterministic nor non-deterministic is an absolute conceptional non-existent. That is like saying that there might be some state of matter which is neither existent nor non-existent. You're implying an absolute contradiction. The point is that there is no possible natural force that would satisfy your definition of what makes volition possible. Only a supernatural, magical mind-force would make it possible in your view.

Volition in a world run exclusively by billiard-ball causation is a contradiction.

This is the fundamental incorrect assumption in your logic, and it shows a lack of understanding of emergent behavior of complex systems.

Link to comment
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...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...