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Peikoff's Arguments for Causality and Free Will

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itsjames
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I've been reading through OPAR for the first time. I think it's great so far, but I have a problem with an argument Peikoff uses for free will.

On the bottom of page 14 and the top of page 15, he gives an example of a balloon filled with either helium or sand and explains why the balloon would rise in the former case and fall in the later and that only one of these two actions is possible to it in each situation. Then he remarks, "If under the same circumstances, several actions were possible--eg. the balloon could rise or fall, everything else remaining the same--such incompatible outcomes would have to derive from incompatible (contradictory) aspects of the entity's nature. But there are no contradictory aspects. A is A." (Italics Peikoff's)

The first time I read this, I thought it was a solid argument. I only questioned it after I read the argument for why free will is non-contradictory in the next chapter. On page 69 he says, "The law of causality by itself, therefore, does not affirm or deny the reality of an irreducible [human] choice. It says only this 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." (Italics Peikoff's)

Now, why can't Peikoff's free will argument above be used in say the balloon example? In other words, what's wrong with this argument:

"The balloon's motion could have gone in either direction; it could have risen or fallen. But the action itself, the fact that it must move in one direction of the other, is unavoidable. Since a balloon is an entity of a certain kind, it must act in a certain way."

I realize this conclusion is absurd. But the structure of this argument and of Peikoff's argument are the same. Does anyone have a better understanding of this?

Edited by itsjames
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Why is it exactly that a balloon's actions are entirely determined by it's nature, but a man's actions are not?

I think you are having problems with the Objectivist understand of causation. An entity is what it is and has the capabilities that it has due to the fact that it is what it is. The idea of determinism contradicts this understanding of causation, and so Objectivism throws it out as not being a broad enough statement of causality (what something does) as an extension of what it is. Man has certain capabilities because he is a man, and not a balloon. The balloon does not have the capability of deciding what to do in a given set of circumstance, it must act according to what it is. Likewise for man, a man has the capability of making decisions and of following through with those decisions because he is a man. Unlike the balloon a man must decide what to do, and this is a first cause argument for free will. A man cannot escape being a man and having to make choices, that is within his nature; but it is not within his nature to just get buffeted around in the wind like a balloon -- not if he wants to live. It is possible for a man to act against his factual nature, because he does have free will. In other words, he can decide not to focus on the facts and not make a decision as to what to do in a given situation, but he cannot escape from the fact that if he acts against his nature, then reality being a primary will take him out as a living being. He will suffer and die if he is not rational. A balloon doesn't decide to go up or down, because it doesn't have free will; but a man must decide what he is going to do because he does not have automatic knowledge. He must think it through of his own free will; and the situation will not force his mind to work or not to work -- he must do that on his own.

So, it is not a contradiction to say that both man and a balloon is acting according to what it is (the law of identity) to do what it does (the law of causality). Both act according to its nature, not according to the circumstances. The law of causality stems from what something is, not the surrounding situation. You have to re-think through what you understand about causality in order to understand where Objectivism is coming from on this issue.

As an example of a man acting against his nature, he can refuse to think in a given situation and just go along with the circumstances -- i.e. he can act more like a balloon than a man. In order to re-affirm his own nature, and man has to think voluntarily about the situation and act according to his best knowledge.

Free will is a fact of nature regarding man. It is axiomatic regarding human consciousness; it is something one verifies via direct introspection, observing oneself making choices. One cannot get beneath this basic fact, which is why it is axiomatic and does not require an argument.

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I don't think you answered my question. Let me first point out that I am not a determinist. I believe in free will. I agree with Peikoff's assertion that free will is axiomatic. However, so far, I disagree with the argument he makes for why free will is non-contradictory, or consistent with the nature of a human being. I gave my argument in two posts made under the topic Free Will and the Law of Causation.

A man cannot escape being a man and having to make choices, that is within his nature; but it is not within his nature to just get buffeted around in the wind like a balloon -- not if he wants to live. It is possible for a man to act against his factual nature, because he does have free will. In other words, he can decide not to focus on the facts and not make a decision as to what to do in a given situation, but he cannot escape from the fact that if he acts against his nature, then reality being a primary will take him out as a living being.

Just because a man "wants to live" does not mean he won't be buffeted around in the wind. Whether or not he is buffeted around will be determined by this particular man's nature. If he has a focused mind, eager to understand reality and control his own life, then he will not be buffeted around in the wind. But if his mind is unfocused and he chooses to be a couch potato his whole life, then that is his nature. I agree that it is an inescapable part of his nature that if he refuses to think, then he will perish. But this is different from saying that it is in his nature to think. It is only in his nature if he does it, if he is a thinker.

He must think it through of his own free will; and the situation will not force his mind to work or not to work -- he must do that on his own.

I completely agree with this. By the nature of a human mind, by the fact that it is separate from it's environment and operates independently from it's environment, a man's surroundings will not think for him. He must do that himself.

So, it is not a contradiction to say that both man and a balloon is acting according to what it is (the law of identity) to do what it does (the law of causality). Both act according to its nature, not according to the circumstances. The law of causality stems from what something is, not the surrounding situation. You have to re-think through what you understand about causality in order to understand where Objectivism is coming from on this issue.

I agree that everything must act according to it's nature, ie. consistently with their nature. A thing cannot act in contradiction to it's nature. But my real question is, why is it being claimed that, for inanimate objects, their nature entirely determines their action in a given situation, whereas for man, his actions are not entirely determined by his nature? Now, just because I'm claiming man's actions are determined by his nature doesn't mean I'm opposed to free will. A man's free will follows from what I said above, that his mind is separate from it's environment and must operate independently of it's environment. A man's actions are determined by what he is, that is, by his mind. In other words they are determined by the choices is mind makes. But his mind is a part of his nature. So why is it being claimed that, in the same situation, a particular mind may act in two different ways, whereas a balloon must always act in the same way?

As an example of a man acting against his nature, he can refuse to think in a given situation and just go along with the circumstances -- i.e. he can act more like a balloon than a man. In order to re-affirm his own nature, and man has to think voluntarily about the situation and act according to his best knowledge.

For the reasons I gave above, I disagree that by "refusing to think" a man is not acting according to his nature.

Free will is a fact of nature regarding man. It is axiomatic regarding human consciousness; it is something one verifies via direct introspection, observing oneself making choices. One cannot get beneath this basic fact, which is why it is axiomatic and does not require an argument.

I agree with this. My problem isn't with volition being axiomatic. It's with Peikoff's argument for why it's consistent with the nature of man.

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I think my question can be reduced to the following.

Why is it exactly that a balloon's actions are entirely determined by it's nature, but a man's actions are not?

Man's actions are determined by his nature.

Man's consciousness has a certain nature, which gives rise to his capacity of free-will.

Man's consciousness possesses a specific identity, which provides him with the capacity of volition.

When a man makes a choice his consciousness is acting according to its nature.

Man is completely determined by his nature to have to make choices. He has no choice about his necessity to choose.

Edited by phibetakappa
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I agree with this. My problem isn't with volition being axiomatic. It's with Peikoff's argument for why it's consistent with the nature of man.

Because it is a fundamental fact about the type of consciousness man has. There is no other answer to this, it is a fact, that's it. The fact of man being man is why he has volition. It is consistent with his nature because it is a fact about man. Just as it is a fact of nature that apples are red, so it is a fact that man has volition. And because it is a fact, it is the nature of man. I think you are looking for something else, and therefore do not fully understand what it means to be axiomatic. Volition is a fundamental fact about man. That's it, there is no other deeper answer.

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Because it is a fundamental fact about the type of consciousness man has. There is no other answer to this, it is a fact, that's it. The fact of man being man is why he has volition. It is consistent with his nature because it is a fact about man. Just as it is a fact of nature that apples are red, so it is a fact that man has volition. And because it is a fact, it is the nature of man. I think you are looking for something else, and therefore do not fully understand what it means to be axiomatic. Volition is a fundamental fact about man. That's it, there is no other deeper answer.

I agree that volition is axiomatic. And I think I know what axiomatic means also. But in OPAR, before Peikoff explains why volition is axiomatic, he first uses the argument I quoted above to explain why it is not a contradictory quality for man to have. I was trying to point out what I thought were some errors in that argument. I believe a correct argument for this exists, and I've presented my argument in the posts above. But so far no one has convinced me that Peikoff's argument is correct. I realize that the fact that volition is axiomatic is all we need in order to know that volition is in the nature of man, since men can only act according to their nature. But I was hoping to also have in my arsenal an argument for why volition is not contradictory without using the fact that it is axiomatic. I trust I'm not the only one who feels this would be illuminating.

I also wanted to make a correction to something I said in my last post. I said something like "if man chooses not to think, then thinking isn't in his nature". I realize now that that is incorrect. What I meant is only that the act of "refusing to think" is not against the nature of any particular man. Afterall, if "refusing to think" was against a man's nature, he wouldn't be capable of doing it, because it would contradict his identity. But we are all capable of refusing to think, so it's not against our nature.

Edited by itsjames
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I agree that volition is axiomatic. And I think I know what axiomatic means also. But in OPAR, before Peikoff explains why volition is axiomatic, he first uses the argument I quoted above to explain why it is not a contradictory quality for man to have. I was trying to point out what I thought were some errors in that argument. I believe a correct argument for this exists, and I've presented my argument in the posts above. But so far no one has convinced me that Peikoff's argument is correct. I realize that the fact that volition is axiomatic is all we need in order to know that volition is in the nature of man, since men can only act according to their nature. But I was hoping to also have in my arsenal an argument for why volition is not contradictory without using the fact that it is axiomatic. I trust I'm not the only one who feels this would be illuminating.

I also wanted to make a correction to something I said in my last post. I said something like "if man chooses not to think, then thinking isn't in his nature". I realize now that that is incorrect. What I meant is only that the act of "refusing to think" is not against the nature of any particular man. Afterall, if "refusing to think" was against a man's nature, he wouldn't be capable of doing it, because it would contradict his identity. But we are all capable of refusing to think, so it's not against our nature.

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Now, why can't Peikoff's free will argument above be used in say the balloon example? In other words, what's wrong with this argument:

"The balloon's motion could have gone in either direction; it could have risen or fallen. But the action itself, the fact that it must move in one direction of the other, is unavoidable. Since a balloon is an entity of a certain kind, it must act in a certain way."

There is nothing wrong with the form of your balloon argument, the physics and the fact that balloons don't have volition is what determines the motion is always in the same direction.

The difference between Peikoff's two arguments is the difference between a balloon and a man.

A man's actions are determined by what he is, that is, by his mind. In other words they are determined by the choices is mind makes. But his mind is a part of his nature. So why is it being claimed that, in the same situation, a particular mind may act in two different ways, whereas a balloon must always act in the same way?

Because there would be no contradiction to point out if a man makes one choice or another. We know that people make choices, we do not know that any particular person must make a particular choice in a particular way.

Edited by Grames
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I think my question can be reduced to the following.

Why is it exactly that a balloon's actions are entirely determined by it's nature, but a man's actions are not?

Your question is mistaken: A ballon's actions are entirely determined by its nature and so is a man's. In other words, a man's actions are determined by his nature.

Like a balloon filled with sand, if you drop a man off of a building he will fall - he is like a balloon in that regard. He also has free will, but free will does not give him the choice of whether or not to fall if he is dropped off of a building.

Conversely, free will is about using one's mind to direct one's body. A balloon does not have a mind, so it cannot have free will.

Peikoff has to choose how much detail to go into in OPAR or the book would be thousands of pages long, so he leaves many things out and eventually you find it quite easy to figure them out for yourself. But this type of question is common.

The lectures by Peikoff called "Understanding Objectivism" deal with dozens of such questions.

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I think my question can be reduced to the following.

Why is it exactly that a balloon's actions are entirely determined by it's nature, but a man's actions are not?

As TomerS points out, man's actions are determined but in a different way from the balloon's. The only sense in which volition applies is in his thinking processes and the choices that result from that thought. The balloon's actions are determined because it doesn't have the power of choice. But a man's actions are determined by his choices. So there is no conflict in analysis. The actions possible to an entity are determined by the type, nature, of the entity. Unlike the balloon, man's actions (those that pertain to philosophic issues) only result after he has made a choice.

Free-will, being an attribute of man, cannot be contradictory to that nature since no object can have contradictory attributes or properties.

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itsjames,

Maybe looking at your question from this perspective will help.

A man MUST think -- in a sense, he has no choice whatsoever. If he "chooses" not to think then his continued survival will only be made possible through the actions of other thinking people.

Now, take a man out of the safety net of society and place him alone on an island. If he still chooses not to think (ie secure his means of survival) he will die. Once dead, he will cease to exist.

A man cannot refuse to think and continue to exist. The fact that others may choose to support him in his non-decision making "decision" is philosophically irrelevant to the discussion of freewill vs. determinism.

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Thanks for all your replies. I understand the points you all are making, but I'm going to have to spend some time thinking about this for myself before I decide it's been resolved.

I'm not sure this hasn't been said already, but there are two ways of looking at causality: as actions which cause other actions, and as entities, acting in accordance with their nature. The former is the incorrect way, and since it is the wide-spread way, it causes people to have trouble understanding this aspect of Objectivism. (That faulty model of causality makes it impossible to reconcile free will and causality. The reason is as basic as it gets: men are the only entities with free will. If your model of causality is a string of actions, then there is no place in your model for men, since men aren't actions, they are entities, therefor there is no free will in your model)

The correct way is the latter, in which the Law of Causality is simply the Law of Identity (which says that a thing has a nature, and it cannot contain contradictory attributes, it can't be all green and all red at the same time) applied to action. A baloon, which by its nature cannot make choices, acts in a "pre-determined" way. A man's nature is different, his actions are not pre-determined, since he has the ability to make choices.

The key is this: 'acts in accordance with its nature, not against it' is not the equivalent of 'its actions are determined by its nature'. The philosopher who looks at the World and draws the conclusion "every thing's actions are pre-determined" is wrong. Only the philosopher who sticks to the axiomatic truth that things act in accordance with their nature, but refrains from claiming that "there is nothing with a nature that allows it to choose" is right (because, obviously, he himself is able to choose).

The word "necessitated" in the Peikoff quote, which may be the one that stomped you, means that men not only "can" choose, but they must choose. (Even if someone chooses to stop thinking, and lay down and wait to be fed or die, that is a choice he must make, and keep making, until he dies. The idea that "there's a man who did not choose", is a contradiction: such an entity would not qualify as a man--for instance someone born without a brain would not qualify as a man)

While it is true that a baloon has a nature that does not allow it to choose, and therefor its nature does indeed pre-determine its actions in all imaginable contexts, the same is not true for a man, his actions are not only not determined, they are always, in every single context, the result of a choice. Even if the choice is to stop thinking, in the next second he once again can choose to start or keep on not thinking, and so on, until the second he dies, and the necessity of choice is no longer in his nature.

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Thanks, Jake. I agree that that is the crucial statement that is leading to my confusion, that the law of identity implies only that things must act in accordance with their natures and doesn't say anything about a things actions being entirely determined by its nature.

I apologize if I'm dragging this on and no one is interested anymore, but nevertheless there's still something that bothers me about this. Maybe this a question better left to science, but what precisely about a balloon is it that makes its actions entirely determined by the laws of physics? I suspect that the proposed answer will be that the balloon "doesn't make choices." I agree that balloon's don't make choices. But when we point to a man and say "he will choose what he wants to do next," we are pointing, not to a spirit, but to a physical man. What precisely about a physical man is it that allows him to make choices as compared to a balloon which cannot? Again, I suspect the answer will be "Because man possesses a volitional consciousness. Man is a union of a physical body and a volitional consciousness, whereas a balloon is just the physical body. So calling him a 'physical man' is misleading." But man is still a product of physical things. Man is made via chemical reactions that happen in the womb. There is no point at which a volitional consciousness is "injected" into the womb. So what precisely about the physical components which make up man is it that permits him to make actions which aren't entirely determined by physical laws?

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Maybe this a question better left to science, but what precisely about a balloon is it that makes its actions entirely determined by the laws of physics?

No, no, that's a question for philosophy, and I'm responding because I'm interested (I'm in the process of leafing through OPAR again, and this helps me figure things out), not because I'm feeling charitable, so thank you for asking.

It isn't the laws of physics causing (or determining) the balloon to act in a certain way, it is its nature.

The balloon came first. People looked at it, and at many other entities. They studied them, they hypothesized, and finally they realized that the way all the objects they looked at are behaving can be described by a single statement about their nature. A law. Then they did the same and found another law. (there's more to science than that, of course, but that's irrelevant to this) So, in fact, the nature of the balloon necessitates the law to be what it is.

The reason for the law being what it is is the nature of the balloon. (and entities, in general) However, going up the ladder, and asking for the reason for the balloon and its nature, next, is meaningless. Existence and identity are axioms. What is, is, and what is has a nature. Why? It just does. The axioms are irreducible primaries, they cannot be deduced from something that precedes them. The reason why we know the axioms are true is because we cannot deny them without implicitly accepting them, as Peikoff explains in OPAR Ch1. He then goes into explaining what Causality, the link between the object's nature and its actions, is, by first saying how a child would intuit the Law of Causality, then validating it through the Law of Identity, reaching the conclusion: the same entity under the same circumstance will perform the same action.

However, men are volitional entities, meaning that they can choose to have a focused mind, or an unfocused mind, at any point in time. (Chapter 2/ The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus Or Not) Unlike inanimate objects, men can choose to change the content of their consciousness, whih in turn will cause them to act in a certain way. There are degrees to which a man can choose to focus (a continuous spectrum from nothing to fully focused), and each man has a given context of knowledge, of data which he must analize at a level of "focused" he chooses to be. Depending on the 'level of focused' a man is, his consciousness will cause him to act in a certain way. As I am sitting here, if I choose to and am able to fully focus (this counts as one aspect of the 'circumstance' I'm in), I will perform the same action. If I instead choose to give into the feeling of sleeplessness, and let my mind slide, my circumstances change, and I will perform a potentially different action. Also, if I am carrying out a course of action, with my mind focused on the task, and I come across a task that I dislike for some reason, I have a choice to unfocus my mind, allow my emotions to take over, which will result in abandoning the unpleasant task that I set out to do.

These are all things that can happen, potentialities observed through introspection by everyone, and also validated by this: volition is axiomatic, since every act of thinking (every item of conceptual knowledge) requires the validation that you indeed can direct your mind to focus. Even if you are making up a reason why this is impossible, you have to admit that you have the freedom to do that, to direct your consciousness to the task. If you find a statement in my posts that contradicts this, or in Peikoff's books, or anywhere else, that is my error, or Peikoff's error, or your error in interpreting it. The existence of free will is obvious, and even the act of denying it through argument is an act of proving its existence. In my view, they don't contradict the statement I bolded, which Peikoff makes in OPAR: the same entity under the same circumstance will perform the same action.

So what precisely about the physical components which make up man is it that permits him to make actions which aren't entirely determined by physical laws?

Man's actions and the brain's functioning are determined by physical laws, but we do not fully know how the brain works. That part is indeed up to science to figure out. Nevertheless, we do know that man is volitional ( A ), and we do know that a balloon acts in pre-determined way ( B ), and I don't see the contradiction between the two. I cannot vouch for OPAR being error-free (meaning that there cannot be a sentence in it that contradicts another sentence), but I can vouch for those two facts, A and B, and also for fact C , that there are no contradictions in reality.

P.S. What you may be looking for is to validate volition, from causality. That is not a logical requirement (the logical requirement is simply that they do not contradict), since they are both axiomatic concepts. Science could possibly, one day, do that nonetheless, find a logical link between the two, by explaining exactly how the brain works in a neat model of causal interactions of various cells and particles.

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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itsjames, in regards to your question about the laws of physics, I've come to "reconcile" the apparent contradiction (not an actual one, obviously, since I reconciled it but it seems to be on the face of it) is that a man and the collection of particles making him up are not the same. Physics deals with particles and systems of particles. Philosophy in regards to men is about entities called "men" and their minds. "Mind" is one way of looking at the collection of particles we call a human brain (and perhaps the rest of the nervous system, etc., we don't really know yet, but you get the idea). Another way is "particle system." Physics describes how the system of particles will evolve in time. But that isn't minds. A mind may be (and is, actually) indeterministic, i.e. that the action someone takes cannot be predicted by knowing the contents of their mind (ideas are something like patterns in the physical system, patterns change radically without any deterministic component, the physical system does not). So a "person", i.e. the mind, is indeterministic, the only explanation of their behavior is volition. The physical system does not have volition and behaves deterministically.

But philosophy isn't about collections of particles. It is about people. When I am typing this, yeah, the laws of physics are playing themselves out. But that has nothing to do with the fact that "I" and "talking" with "you". I exist, I am actually real, not a figment of my own imagination (you may one day be able to point to "me" as a pattern in the brain). People live their lives on the level of entities and minds, not the level of particles and fields. To try to live on the level of particles is impossible, as "you" would cease to exist, because you are an abstraction from those particles and fields, a mind. Physics and philosophy talk about different ways of viewing the world. We may be able to one day create minds in computers, using physics, but the "mind" and the computer it exist in aren't the same, the mind will have volition, the computer will not, just like a man has volition but the brain does not.

Perhaps I didn't explain that very well, but I think it gets my idea across anyway.

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No, no, that's a question for philosophy, and I'm responding because I'm interested (I'm in the process of leafing through OPAR again, and this helps me figure things out), not because I'm feeling charitable, so thank you for asking.

It isn't the laws of physics causing (or determining) the balloon to act in a certain way, it is its nature.

The balloon came first. People looked at it, and at many other entities. They studied them, they hypothesized, and finally they realized that the way all the objects they looked at are behaving can be described by a single statement about their nature. A law. Then they did the same and found another law. (there's more to science than that, of course, but that's irrelevant to this) So, in fact, the nature of the balloon necessitates the law to be what it is.

This is fantastic. I was dropping the context of the concept "law". Thanks for clarifying that.

He then goes into explaining what Causality, the link between the object's nature and its actions, is, by first saying how a child would intuit the Law of Causality, then validating it through the Law of Identity, reaching the conclusion: the same entity under the same circumstance will perform the same action.

This conclusion makes intuitive sense to me, but I don't understand the argument Peikoff gives for it in OPAR. The essence of his argument is that if several actions were possible to a particular entity in the same circumstances, "such incompatible outcomes would have to derive from incompatible (contradictory) aspects of the entity's nature." WHY? What does it mean for an action or outcome of an entity to "derive" from an aspect of it's nature? I agree that an action of an entity must be consistent with it's nature. But for it's actions to be derived from it's nature, is saying something entirely different. We don't discover how entities act by "deriving" their actions from their nature. We observe how they act in different situations, and the sum of these actions (along with all the observable attributes of the entity) are what constitute our concept of what the entity is, of it's nature.

However, men are volitional entities, meaning that they can choose to have a focused mind, or an unfocused mind, at any point in time. (Chapter 2/ The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus Or Not) Unlike inanimate objects, men can choose to change the content of their consciousness, whih in turn will cause them to act in a certain way. There are degrees to which a man can choose to focus (a continuous spectrum from nothing to fully focused), and each man has a given context of knowledge, of data which he must analize at a level of "focused" he chooses to be. Depending on the 'level of focused' a man is, his consciousness will cause him to act in a certain way. As I am sitting here, if I choose to and am able to fully focus (this counts as one aspect of the 'circumstance' I'm in), I will perform the same action. If I instead choose to give into the feeling of sleeplessness, and let my mind slide, my circumstances change, and I will perform a potentially different action. Also, if I am carrying out a course of action, with my mind focused on the task, and I come across a task that I dislike for some reason, I have a choice to unfocus my mind, allow my emotions to take over, which will result in abandoning the unpleasant task that I set out to do.

Now this is interesting. I was viewing choice as being a form of action. (Peikoff defines actions as what entites "do".) If one views the choice focus as being a kind of action, your bold statement above (no pun intended) implies that there is only one course a man's life can take from any given moment onward, since in any given moment, whether he chooses to focus will be determined by whether he was previously in focus and on what his mental contents were at that time. Perhaps choice should not be viewed as a type of action. I'm going to have to ponder this.

P.S. What you may be looking for is to validate volition, from causality. That is not a logical requirement (the logical requirement is simply that they do not contradict), since they are both axiomatic concepts. Science could possibly, one day, do that nonetheless, find a logical link between the two, by explaining exactly how the brain works in a neat model of causal interactions of various cells and particles.

I'm not looking for a validation of volition. I agree that it is axiomatic. What I was is a logical link between volition and causality. I want an argument for why volition is consistent with causality.

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I'm not looking for a validation of volition. I agree that it is axiomatic. What I was is a logical link between volition and causality. I want an argument for why volition is consistent with causality.

The broadest statement of causality is that an entity is what it is and does what it does due to the fact that it is what it is. What throws people off is that they are thinking about causality as one entity acting on another, such as an eight ball hitting the one ball and knocking it into the corner pocket. But this efficient cause understanding of causality is not a complete view of causality, precisely because it does not take volition into account. When a man decides to reply to a posting, it is not the posting that caused him to reply and it is not the jiggling of his molecules that cause him to reply. No, he has a volitional consciousness and he qua entity decided to reply -- neither his surroundings nor his inner molecular jiggling caused him to reply. All volitional actions are cause by (made possible by) the fact that the man is what he is and has certain capabilities due to the fact that he is a man. Causality stems from identity, not the circumstance. As a simple example, if we go back to the pool table example, if one substitutes an egg for the one ball, the egg will shatter, whereas the one ball rolled. How does one explain this when the circumstances are identical in both cases? Well, the one ball is what it is and acts a certain way, and the egg is what it is and it acts a certain way. Identity is prior to the circumstances in the philosophical hierarchy regarding causation.

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I've been through a similar discussion before, but because of the clarity of some of the posts here, I think I've gained a better insight than what I had before.

Would it be correct to say that - what affects man's volition is entirely the product of his nature - and therefore man has free will? Even if the physical construction of man's mind possibly operates 'deterministically' (as an assumption)?

Edited by ZSorenson
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I've been through a similar discussion before, but because of the clarity of some of the posts here, I think I've gained a better insight than what I had before.

Would it be correct to say that - what affects man's volition is entirely the product of his nature - and therefore man has free will? Even if the physical construction of man's mind possibly operates 'deterministically' (as an assumption)?

I think that you want to be careful how you use the word "deterministically". I know that you were being careful here, and that you were a little concerned. I don't think that I have heard an Objectivist intellectual use that word. It isn't necessary and it carries some baggage from philosophers who deny the existence of freewill.

I'm not sure what to do with "what affects man's volition". Nothing affects man's volition. It just is. Man either thinks, raises the level of his consciousness, or he doesn't. Nothing affects it. The trouble that some run into is that they try to treat volition as some different type of causal category. It is merely one aspect of man, one which we recognize as essential from the standpoint of our knowledge. Every aspect of an entity interacts with the rest of reality according to what it is. There are different things, i.e., the inantimate and the living. Living things self-start and are goal directed. The activitis of living things are not externally initiated, but start within. Volition is one way in which man self-initiates.

If by "determinstically" you mean that the physical construction of man's mind "operates" according to causality, then I agree. It isn't an assumption. It is reality, i.e., the truth. The same can be said for all aspects of man, including his volition and psychology. The same can be said for all of reality.

Edited by Bob G
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Would it be correct to say that - what affects man's volition is entirely the product of his nature - and therefore man has free will? Even if the physical construction of man's mind possibly operates 'deterministically' (as an assumption)

You're thinking too logically for these forums on this specific topic. It's been discussed to death here, and never productively.

Objectivism has a fundamental lack of understanding of "what" free will is, and the nature of complex systems that give rise to emergent behavior. It does not knowledge that there is any physical cause whatsoever for the brain's capability to make choices-- nor does it seek to understand why or how that capacity exists. (Indeed, some Objectivists are partial to the concept of consciousness being a distinct entity from the physical brain itself-- which is nothing more than repackaged dualism.) This inconsistency is plastered over by using a tautological concept of causality, i.e. "everything does what it does because it is what it is." Objectivism does not care about the relationship between constituent objects and the actions of the entire object, precisely because it cannot account for this relationship in any sensible way when it comes to volitional beings.

The existence of free will is axiomatic because it can be directly observed. No sensible understanding of causality and identity can be formed without determinism. You've already reached these conclusions yourself, most likely. The only acceptable conclusion, therefore, is that free will (and not just an "illusion" thereof) is a product of deterministic mechanisms within the brain. Most people lack the understanding of emergent behavior necessary to grasp the fact that free will and physical determinism are not contradictory. Objectivism incorporates this false dichotomy, and you are scarcely going to find anyone on this forum that acknowledges this fact or even understands it.

Edited by SuperMetroid
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Objectivism does not care about the relationship between constituent objects and the actions of the entire object, precisely because it cannot account for this relationship in any sensible way when it comes to volitional beings.

It would be a scientific breakthough if anyone ever does account for how volition happens. As a philosophical idea, this knowledge is unnecessary because ...

The existence of free will is axiomatic because it can be directly observed.

For the purposes of philosophy, nothing more need be said.

For ZSorenson: Because volition is axiomatic, it is invalid to make any argument with the conclusion "therefore man has free will". Technically it is a circular argument, with the conclusion implicit in the premises.

No sensible understanding of causality and identity can be formed without determinism. You've already reached these conclusions yourself, most likely. The only acceptable conclusion, therefore, is that free will (and not just an "illusion" thereof) is a product of deterministic mechanisms within the brain. Most people lack the understanding of emergent behavior necessary to grasp the fact that free will and physical determinism are not contradictory. Objectivism incorporates this false dichotomy, and you are scarcely going to find anyone on this forum that acknowledges this fact or even understands it.

The doctrine of determinism which Objectivism denies does not acknowledge emergent behavior either, and claims people are as determined as rocks in a landslide, and in the same way. It is this common understanding of determinism which is the cause of the apparent dichotomy, because it is a contradiction to deny an axiom.

Objectivism accepts volition as axiomatic and denies metaphysical dualism, but makes no other claims as to how volition happens. This leaves people free to be mystified as to how to reconcile free will with physics, but it actually is still a mystery. Claiming emergent behavior is responsible is plausible but is still just so much hand-waving at the current level of scientific understanding, and is beyond the scope of philosophy anyway.

Do you have any particular troublesome quotes in mind that support your charge that "Objectivism incorporates this false dichotomy"?

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The doctrine of determinism which Objectivism denies does not acknowledge emergent behavior either and claims people are as determined as rocks in a landslide, and in the same way.

I don't think you really understand what "emergent behavior" is. It is as deterministic as rocks in a landslide, and in the same way. Except it's a "landslide" that's trillions of times more complicated, self-aware, and recursive. However, I will grant that many people who argue in favor of determinism are in fact arguing against free will, and that many determinist don't understand emergent behavior either.

Objectivism accepts volition as axiomatic and denies metaphysical dualism, but makes no other claims as to how volition happens.

Maybe Objectivism itself doesn't make any further claim, but almost every Objectivist in this thread has made further claims. Most are in fact claiming that volition is not and can not be derived from any deterministic physical laws.

This leaves people free to be mystified as to how to reconcile free will with physics, but it actually is still a mystery. Claiming emergent behavior is responsible is plausible but is still just so much hand-waving at the current level of scientific understanding, and is beyond the scope of philosophy anyway.

It is not a mystery. Physical determinism giving rise to volition is both the only possible and only plausible explanation. It's not hand-waving, because it's making a very specific claim as to the nature, scope, and cause of the phenomenon. It is a very important philosophical claim to those who understand the implications.

Do you have any particular troublesome quotes in mind that support your charge that "Objectivism incorporates this false dichotomy"?

Try reading the rest of the thread, or any of the other threads on this topic, or any of the replies that follow. Most Objectivists don't even entertain the notion of a physical, deterministic cause for volition. Most of them will entertain a "physical" explanation, but they require special laws of physics to be in operation for the brain to make sense, i.e. everything in the universe is deterministic except for the human brain (and quantum mechanics if you believe in that nonsense, but that's for another thread).

If you drop "deterministic" from "physical" you are no longer talking about a physical explanation at all, but rather a nonsensical explanation that violates any concept of physical law. If dropping cause-and-effect (i.e. the fundamental concept of physics) is how one chooses to reconcile physics with volition, that's the same as dropping physics altogether.

Tell me, just how do the brain particles move about according to the dictates of consciousness if they were not bidden by the laws of physics to do so? Are you going to say: "The laws of physics make special exceptions for human consciousness." Or perhaps this one: "I don't know how they do it, and it doesn't matter how either, but obviously do." Obvious to whom? Such a statement would only be rendered obvious while under the assumption that volition cannot exist unless particles behave in a non-deterministic manner. Will you now say: "It is obvious that volition cannot arise from deterministic systems"? What are your qualifications for making such a statement? Did not each human brain come into existence from deterministic mechanisms? At what point is the brain granted the mystical power to bend the laws of physics? Or perhaps it is you attempting to bend the laws of physics to replace a gap in understanding?

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