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Does the particular nature of a particular volition determine that vol

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Mandos
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The subject got cut off: the full question should read 'Does the particular nature of a particular volition determine that volition's particular choice?'

I am going to begin this post with a series of relevant quotes from Rand.

"All the countless forms, motions, combinations and dissolutions of elements within the universe--from a floating speck of dust to the formation of a galaxy to the emergence of life--are caused and determined by the identities of the elements involved." - The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made

"The metaphysically given is, was, will be, and had to be. Nothing made by man had to be: it was made by choice." - The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made

"A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, and reason by means of a single concept is a feat hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code.

"Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a ‘tendency’ to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free." - This Is John Galt Speaking

"But man’s responsibility goes still further: a process of thought is not automatic nor “instinctive” nor involuntary—nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results. He has to discover how to tell what is true or false and how to correct his own errors; he has to discover how to validate his concepts, his conclusions, his knowledge; he has to discover the rules of thought, the laws of logic, to direct his thinking. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of the efficacy of his mental effort." - The Objectivist Ethics

I acknowledge Rand's distinction between the metaphysically given and the man-made in the sense that some aspects of reality arise through the actions of volition and some do not--and I acknowledge that this distinction is important. However, I am not sure I understand what Rand means when she says that nothing made by man had to be. If she means 'had to be' in the same sense that she applies to the metaphysically given, I don't understand her. Each person has a particular nature, just as everything that exists does, and each person's actions must proceed from that person's particular nature if they are to have been within that person's control. The only choice consistent with that nature will be the choice that was actually made, just as the only action consistent with the nature of a heavy object will be to fall when unsupported. If the choice is not determined by the person's nature, then what connection does the particular choice have to the person choosing? More to the point, how can a person be held responsible for a choice if that choice is not determined by the person's nature? Rand seems to hold in the last few quotes above that responsibility depends upon the freedom of the will, and I think this is true in a particular sense. It would be absurd to hold a paraplegic responsible for his failure to walk across a room--that is not a matter open to his choice. But it would also be absurd to say that simply because he did not choose the nature of his particular volitional faculty, he is not responsible for the choices output by this volitional faculty--in holding him responsible, one is effectively holding the nature of his volitional faculty responsible, as far as I can make sense of the concept 'responsibility.' In the case of the paraplegic, the choices output could not meaningfully concern walking or not walking, but they could concern, for example, talking or not talking. (I recognize that I am not talking here about a primary choice in Rand's sense. If you prefer that I reframe this discussion in terms of that, I am willing to do so.)

It should be clear that 'could' and its derivatives would be used in different senses were I to say 'A heavy object could fall or not fall' versus 'A paraplegic could talk or not talk.' If 'could' refers strictly to what is possible to the exact natures of the entities acting, only one thing is possible in both cases. But if 'could' refers to what is possible to the exact nature of entities once any volitional faculty that may be present is abstracted, then different things are possible to an entity with a volitional faculty.

So my question comes down to this: what would Rand have said to the above?

Edited by Mandos
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However, I am not sure I understand what Rand means when she says that nothing made by man had to be.

"Had to be" does mean metaphysically given in this context.

First, about if a choice is determined by a person's nature:

You say each person has a particular nature, but it sounds like you are incorporating personality traits. If a person is shy by nature, they won't talk to a lot of people. The only action consistent with that nature is not to talk to people, thus shy people don't talk to a lot of people, and there's no other way they could have acted. Whatever causes shyness is what determines if the person is shy. If all this were true, yes, a person acting shy is no different than a heavy object falling. The whole issue with all that is presuming that personality is the nature of a person, that such a person *has* to act shy in all circumstances that shyness applies; there isn't even an option to NOT be shy. We can reject all this here as begging the question: you are already supposing that volition is invalid. It's self-contradictory to say a choice is determined even.

Now about if a choice is not determined by a person's nature:

Not much to say, except that it doesn't follow that "if volition has a nature, then the result of volition happens by nature." Is that a fair assessment of what you are saying?

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I think, with regard to the shyness example Eiuol gives, the OP has the relationship of one's personality to one's choices backwards. It is not that a man does not talk in public because he is shy; rather, we call him shy because he repeatedly chooses (for whatever reason) not to talk in public.

No choice is ever determined by a man's nature. A determined choice (i.e. determined by something other than the consciousness of the chooser) is a contradiction in terms. Choice is simply a fundamental feature of consciousness, a phenomenon whose physical requirements we do not fully understand. The fact that a man must choose is determined by his nature as a rational animal. The content of his choice is solely up to him. It is only on this basis that we can regard the choice as his responsibility. If a man's choice to murder were determined by his nature as a murderer, no one could blame him. A man is a murderer because he chooses to murder, not the other way around.

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Eiuol and Vox Rationis, thank you for your replies. It seems I've failed to communicate my central point, so I'll offer a little clarification on my position then try to bring out the key issue at the end.

I am not saying that 'personality traits' determine a person's choices. I am not saying that a person's choices are determined by something other than the consciousness of the chooser. I am not saying that a person's choices are materially determined (ie by laws governing inanimate matter). I am saying that a person's particular choices are determined by the nature of that person's particular volitional faculty and I am making no stipulations whatsoever as to what determines the nature of the volitional faculty in question.

I concede the logical possibility that choices are irreducible primaries, meaning that they cannot be explained in terms of the nature of anything else, including the person choosing. But to say that a person is responsible for the choices that person makes is to assert some connection between the person and the choice. I have only been able to conceive of this connection as causal--and if conceived as causal, I see no reason not to subsume the form of the causation under the general notion that causation acts in accordance with the nature of the entities participating in the causation.

So my central question if Rand would have answered 'no' to the subject question might be restated: what connection did Rand hold existed between the chooser and the choice that gave the chooser responsibility for the choice?

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So my central question if Rand would have answered 'no' to the subject question might be restated: what connection did Rand hold existed between the chooser and the choice that gave the chooser responsibility for the choice?

Causation isn't any different when volition is involved. The nature of people is to have volition and make choices in order to survive and exist. That's it. When a person decides to write a book, that's still acting within the nature of humans to choose, and it would be impossible to do something other than choose. By nature, people make choices, unless a brain is literally absent or not working, like a person in a vegetative state. So, the one notable connection between choice and chooser is that a chooser must initiate a choice. Causality in any action can be traced back to one specific person because of that relationship. That's where responsibility comes in: in order for many actions to be taken, a choice *had* to be made. (Some actions are non-volitional, like actions taken while sleep walking). At the same time, a *particular* choice didn't have to be made; that's where man-made bit in the Rand quotes come in.

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I should rephrase again for clarity: what connection did Rand hold existed between the particular chooser and the particular choice that gives the particular chooser responsibility for that particular choice?

Eiuol, you seem to be saying that responsibility comes about because a person is required by nature to choose, but they are not required by nature to make the particular choice they do. But then what connection does the person have to the particular choice they make? If they have no connection to that particular choice, then in what sense are they responsible for their particular choice?

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I should rephrase again for clarity: what connection did Rand hold existed between the particular chooser and the particular choice that gives the particular chooser responsibility for that particular choice?

Eiuol, you seem to be saying that responsibility comes about because a person is required by nature to choose, but they are not required by nature to make the particular choice they do. But then what connection does the person have to the particular choice they make? If they have no connection to that particular choice, then in what sense are they responsible for their particular choice?

I think I understand your question now. First of all, we need to be clear about the nature of the person, the "you" which is responsible for making choices, i.e. the "self". According to Ayn Rand, "A man’s self is his mind—the faculty that perceives reality, forms judgments, chooses values." One's concept of self is formed by abstraction from all mental experiences, by the recognition that they share a common subject. Philosophically, there is no way to answer your question without denying free will (i.e. implicitly denying the axiom of consciousness) but to state, unequivocally and irreducibly, that the self/mind chooses between available alternatives. The self chooses: that's it.

However, the other part of your question is really scientific, not philosophical. How does a choice made by the mind in the spiritual realm cause actions of the body in the material realm? ("Spiritual" should not be understood in a mystic sense; however, Objectivism emphatically rejects materialism. It also rejects dualism because it leaves open the metaphysical possibility of more than two types of fundamental reality.) What material structure is necessary to allow a mind to exist? What rules do minds use to make choices and to what fallacies are they prone? These questions require the specialized knowledge of biology, physics, and psychology, not the general knowledge which is the province of philosophy. Philosophy of science can only rule out invalid interpretations of sensory data, such as the countless nonsensical claims by scientists that they have "disproved free will".

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But then what connection does the person have to the particular choice they make? If they have no connection to that particular choice, then in what sense are they responsible for their particular choice?

The simple fact that it could have been otherwise is what makes a person responsible for the particular choice that he does make.

Inherent in the concept "choice" is an alternative choice. Where no alternative exists, no choice is possible.

The reason a person is held responsible for murder is because he didn't have to commit the murder, he could have chosen not to murder. It wasn't predetermined that he would murder, he has freewill and he could have chosen not to commit murder. The fact that the murder wasn't predetermined, that it didn't have to be, that he could have chosen not to murder makes the murderer responsible for choosing to murder.

The fact is that we face choices all day every day, usually we are just choosing between good alternatives (and we are responsible for the consequences of those choices too) but ultimately we are choosing between good and bad alternatives. If we choose the good we will be rewarded for it. If we choose the bad we must suffer the consequences. In either case we are responsible for our good or bad choices. We have freewill and we are each responsible to make our lives the best lives they can be via our choices.

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Vox, I definitely think we're getting closer to understanding each other, and your responses remain greatly appreciated.

I agree with your descriptions of the self and the conceptual process behind its identification. I am not sure I follow why to make a statement such as 'it is the nature of this particular self (specifically this particular volitional faculty) to make this particular choice in this particular context' is to deny either consciousness or freedom of the will. If I say 'it is the nature of this particular rock to fall in this particular direction because it is unsupported and located within a particular gravitational field' I am merely saying that the nature of the rock and the rock's context causes it to fall. Similarly, in terms of the self, I am saying that the nature of the self and the self's context caused the particular choice. The self's context determines the alternatives between which the self is choosing--the choice of alternative is entirely up to the self. But if we assume that the self's choice is somehow not dependent on the nature of the self, the question is what causal connection exists, if any, between the self and the particular choice. If there is not a causal connection, then the self does not determine the choice. If there is, I don't see why it is objectionable to say that the particular choice is determined by the particular sort of thing the self is. I choose according to my nature--this does not restrict my freedom, it simply means I have a particular identity, just as everything must.

Your admonition to distinguish between questions that philosophy can answer and that particular sciences can answer is welcome and appropriate. Philosophy guides science but it does not address particulars such as you listed and I am not seeking answers to such particular questions here. (As an aside, I think one of the major errors of neuroscience at the moment is its assumption, in spite of the existence of qualia, that the mind can be fully described physically. I've drafted an argument inspired by Mary's room that I believe makes it clear physical descriptors are insufficient for complete description. I plan to post it at some point on these boards for input.)

Marc, I am not arguing that the volitional faculty does not choose between alternatives. I don't believe the physical context completely determines what will occur when a volitional faculty is acting--the physical context determines only the alternatives between which the volitional faculty chooses. I also agree that the fact that the volitional faculty determines through its choice which of these alternatives occur makes it responsible for which alternative occurs.

My sticking point comes in part from the fact that only one choice occurs and if we maintain that the choice that occurs is not determined by the nature of the person choosing, then are we maintaining the choice that actually occurs is determined by nothing? If so, then how can we simultaneously maintain the person is responsible for which choice actually happens?

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I am not sure I follow why to make a statement such as 'it is the nature of this particular self (specifically this particular volitional faculty) to make this particular choice in this particular context' is to deny either consciousness or freedom of the will.

I'm not sure what what you mean by the nature of a volitional consciousness. Some examples would be good. What sort of things do you mean by nature here? You can say nature in the sense of "there is no choice in the matter" and also "a type of action that tends to be taken".

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Vox, I definitely think we're getting closer to understanding each other, and your responses remain greatly appreciated.

I agree with your descriptions of the self and the conceptual process behind its identification. I am not sure I follow why to make a statement such as 'it is the nature of this particular self (specifically this particular volitional faculty) to make this particular choice in this particular context' is to deny either consciousness or freedom of the will.

[...]

My sticking point comes in part from the fact that only one choice occurs and if we maintain that the choice that occurs is not determined by the nature of the person choosing, then are we maintaining the choice that actually occurs is determined by nothing? If so, then how can we simultaneously maintain the person is responsible for which choice actually happens?

The reason your first statement is a denial of consciousness and free will is that if you say, "This person with this particular nature will make this particular choice at this particular time in this particular context," there's no choice about it: it's only a choice if he can do both, i.e. his nature is such that he can do both, but he chooses to do one. The man-made is not metaphysical. For example, if I (to use a racist argument) say, "Blacks steal. It's just in their nature," I am implying that blacks do not possess consciousness or free will, that they are a lesser form of life than myself (which, needless to say, is false). For a man to have a choice whether or not to steal, his nature must be such that he can either steal or not, depending on the choice of his consciousness. Now, you can speak of a tendency to choose one type of thing over another, but this is simply an empirical observation based on prior actions. For example, it is true that blacks commit more crime in the U.S. on average than other races/ethnicities, and there are many non-racist reasons to explain why they would choose to do so. However, it is invalid to speak of such "tendencies" having on active role over human choice. If man has free will, he has free will (see here).

The choice that occurs is not determined by nothing; it is determined by man's conscious faculty. The trap I believe you are falling into is the idea (in fact, supported by Aristotle) that consciousness, if it is to be objective and to perceive "reality as it really is", it must have no nature in itself. So if you believe man is conscious and has free will, according to this theory (widely accepted on all sides), you must deny that consciousness is anything in particular, that it works in any particular way, that it is dependent on any enabling factors (and such people usually hold that it is a divine miracle; in fact, this is a key component of the Catholic acceptance of evolution: lower animals can evolve, but consciousness is a "divine spark"). Thus, when scientists attempt to explain consciousness, it is viewed as a threat to free will because to explain something is to show that it has a nature and to define that nature. The assumed premise of this argument is false, as demonstrated by Objectivism, which is one of its greatest contributions to epistemology.

Man's mind, his conscious faculty, is a real thing which, according to its nature, has the ability to choose among alternatives. Its nature does not determine what choice it will make. The act of choosing determines which choice it will make, not its nature, not "nothing". What sub-processes and rules does a man use to decide? That is precisely what psychology is supposed to discover.

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I'm going to try approaching this from another angle. The notion of causation arises from the observation of patterns. Certain classes of states follow other classes of states in particular contexts. If no such patterns existed, causation would be irrelevant. One could assert a connection between every state and its preceding states, but it would not be a useful connection without a consistent pattern allowing it to be applied to other cases. However, if we observe that in general, patterns exist, it is useful to assume an undiscovered pattern exists so that, if there turns out to be a pattern, you'll discover it. One does not generally find what one isn't looking for. I say all of this to briefly present the rationale behind my general approach, which is to regard every action of an entity as being caused by the nature of the entity. This may turn out to be a stance void of meaningful content since it is logically possible that certain types of action do not follow any underlying pattern at all, that is, 'metaphysical randomness' is not logically impossible--each moment may have a particular identity without there being a pattern in the succession of moments. The epistemological nature of such a metaphysically random event would be that it is inherently unpredictable. Regardless of the data gathered or how much this data is analyzed, it will never be possible to know beforehand what will happen. As I conceive of such randomness, it would not even be possible to assess likelihoods, but one might also discuss events in which things can be predicted on the level of a population but not an individual, such as radioactive decay.

So, in maintaining that the nature of a particular consciousness does not determine what choice that consciousness will make, are we maintaining that the choice is metaphysically random in the sense I have explained above? If this is what is being maintained, then this would make the actions of beings of volitional consciousness strictly unpredictable in the above sense. This has strange consequences for the concept of moral responsibility. If I hold that a person was responsible for murder, what have I accomplished in identifying their responsibility? Normally, I would think identifying responsibility identifies that this is the sort of person who commits murder, and this person should be treated accordingly. But if a person's actions are strictly unpredictable, a past act of murder tells us absolutely nothing about how a person will act. It would make no difference to me if I dealt with murderers or successful businessmen--I could not predict with any level of certainty or probability how either person would behave. Either of them might uphold an agreement or break it, either might kill me or not, either might perform any action at all. I have no reason to hold any expectations of the person. If I actually were to view people this way, then I don't understand how I could decide how to behave when dealing with another human being. Moreover, I don't see any evidence from Rand's fiction that she saw people this way. But then how did she see people? Why would she have objected to the account I have given of volition?

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I am not sure I understand what Rand means when she says that nothing made by man had to be.

The choice to think, to focus, to weigh the choice in the context of all his other knowledge is more difficult than to evade such effort. If he knows that his choices belong to him, he will not treat his wrong choices as though they were out of his control. Only by recognizing his ownership of his wrong choices can he proceed to right them.

The same is true of all mankind's history. A man does not have to accept tradition only because one's ancestors did, without question. It is a premise Rand had to make in order to challenge the world with her new philosophy. Rand requires the same scrutiny by students of Objectivism to be applied to her philosophy as well.

If the choice is not determined by the person's nature, then what connection does the particular choice have to the person choosing?”

I am a person of self made soul, each decision I make becomes a part of who I am. Even if I make a certain choice consistently, I still understand the consequences of making a different choice. Being aware that the wrong choice is still possible helps to keep me alert, and gives the right choice more value.

Even if it is in one's nature to act in a way that is perceived as shy, it is in the nature of human volition for that person to choose to learn how to overcome his shyness. A person is not determined before his choices. If he consistently chooses to be shy, you might say he was determined to be shy, but if he overcomes his shyness you might say he was determined to overcome his shyness. “Determined” can only be speculated after the fact. Believing in determinism is a handicap to the development of a volitional consciousness.

The way to gauge the value of a man is through his reputation. If you know him well and he is consistent you have a higher probability of being able to trust him. But man is not omniscient, nor infallible. A man making a mistake is not as big a problem as a man consistently evading the effort of recognizing his volition in the matter.

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If I say 'it is the nature of this particular rock to fall in this particular direction because it is unsupported and located within a particular gravitational field' I am merely saying that the nature of the rock and the rock's context causes it to fall. Similarly, in terms of the self, I am saying that the nature of the self and the self's context caused the particular choice. The self's context determines the alternatives between which the self is choosing--the choice of alternative is entirely up to the self.

As far as I understand you here, this seems correct. The kind of choices a person makes will condition their character and personality as they go through life, and in this way prior acts of the choice have "downstream consequences" for future acts of choice. This is essentially the Thomistic view. So like, we could say "I am incapable of committing murder" and not mean that it is somehow metaphysically impossible for me to murder someone, but that given my prior choices and values conditioning who I am, it would be impossible for me right now to choose to murder someone without having first to make some other choices leading to dramatic changes in my character and values.

But I think this kind of answer requires some data about psychology, such as is present in St. Thomas and some of Rand. But as far as Rand's philosophical validation and view of free will goes, it's very basic in that free will is an irreducible primary, directly perceivable through introspection. And that's pretty much it as far as philosophy goes (although of course we can get further conclusions from that, but it basically all stems from that view of volition as axiomatic.) For the specific workings of the will and its relationship to the intellect and thought processes (like the idea above about personality affecting future choices), that would be something for psychology.

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Causality, in the Objectivist viewpoint, is a fact independent of consciousness, whether God's or man's. Order, lawfulness, regularity do not derive from cosmic consciousness (as is claimed by the religious “argument from design”). Nor is causality merely the subjective form of thought that happens to govern the human mind (as in the Kantian approach). On the contrary, causality – for objectivism as for Aristotelianism – is a law inherent in being qua being. To be is to be something – and to be something is to act accordingly. Pg 17 Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff, Causality as a Corollary of Identity.

Focus is the readiness to think and as such the precondition of thinking.... Focus never turns into a mental “reflex”; it must be willed continuously. This is inherent in calling it a matter of Choice pg 59, The Primary Choice as the Choice to Focus or Not, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff

“To the extent that man is in focus, however, the world with all its possibilities opens up to him.... To begin with you must choose the problem. Reality does not force a decision on you in this matter. You may know that a certain question is essential to your life and values, but you can still decide not to wrestle with it now – or ever. Pg 63

In regard to the (higher-level) actions of a volitional consciousness, however, “to be caused” does not mean “to be necessitated.” pg 64

Therefore either man is insane or he is determined.

Objectivism regards this dilemma as a false alternative. Man's actions do have causes; he does choose a course of behavior for a reason – but this does not make the course determined or the choice unreal. It does not, because man himself decides what are to be the governing reasons. Man chooses the causes that shape his actions. Pg 65, Human Actions, Mental and Physical, as Both Caused and Free. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff

The sum I get is the focus of what a man "IS". Man is an entity with a volitional consciousness, his choices depend on the effort he has invested into understanding his world.

Edited by Tenderlysharp
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If I hold that a person was responsible for murder, what have I accomplished in identifying their responsibility?

I think I understand what you're getting at in that second paragraph. You're asking what is the point of the concept responsibility if we have no guarantees as to what a person will do tomorrow or the next day. Why hold a judgment against a person and give blame if tomorrow they may change? That's where the concept of character comes in and what makes responsibility a useful concept. Character develops from what actions a person prefers to choose over another action, habitually. Telling one lie doesn't make a person a liar, nor does giving a compliment mean someone is a nice person. Telling a lot of lies in many contexts makes someone a liar, and blame is given to the extent they've shown a preference towards lying. Without a reason to expect a change out of the person, it is reasonable to assume that they will continue to lie. By identifying responsibility, you accomplish figuring out who did something wrong, and since you've traced the causality back, you'll be able to see if what happened is a result of a harmful character trait, or a mistake. Or for some strange reason on this occasion the result of something unlike what their preferences indicate. This helps in fixing mistakes to prevent problems in the future, or to decide if a person is harmful enough that they must be cut off from your life. Absent responsibility, it would be near impossible to fix problems if you don't know where they are coming from.

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Tenderlysharp, thank you for your contributions. I agree with you that it is important for a person to recognize what choices can and cannot control in order to make effective choices. However, in saying that something is within my control, I imagine an entity, which is my self, my particular volition, which is determining that something. And my particular volition acts as its particular nature demands--this does not contradict the claim that some things are within the control of my consciousness. It merely fixes my fundamental identity. I can imagine alternatives, as I hint at in my previous post, but all alternatives I imagine that do not demand that my choices be determined by my nature seem to eliminate the need for a concept such as the self. Further, as I suggest in my previous post and elaborate briefly upon below, it does not appear that the concept of moral responsibility retains its usefulness if my nature does not determine my choices.

You are right that all determinations about a person's nature must be made 'after the fact.' I would not dispute this. However, the same could be said of all information acquired through experience. I do not know that heavy objects fall when unsupported until after I see a heavy object fall when unsupported.

Your brief outline of how to evaluate the moral value of human beings seems in line, as far as I can tell, with what Rand and others have said about judging a man according to his character. But, if a man is free such that his actions are undetermined by his nature, there is no reason to expect consistency from a previously consistent man, nor to expect inconsistency from an inconsistent man. No expectations are valid, which undercuts moral evaluation based on past actions.

The Peikoff quote you posted is interesting. I confess I haven't read any of his books, though I've read his articles in The Objectivist etc. My question for Peikoff would be, when he says 'Man chooses the causes that shape his actions,' what does he mean by 'man'?

2046, thank you for posting. I am familiar with the claim that the metaphysical freedom of the will is self-evident through introspection. However, I remain unconvinced. I am, of course, aware of alternatives between which I choose. The problem I see is that these choices are not equivalent. When I am cooking at a stove, I am aware that I could, if I chose to, place my hand on the stove. But that option is experienced along with a sort of experiential evaluation which amounts to: I could, but I don't want to, so I won't. It is in this sense that I would hold my nature, coupled with my context, determines my particular choice. It is not in my nature to select burning my hand on a hot stove (unless there is some motivating reason that outweighs the negative experience of burning my hand). I do not think this makes my will unfree. I am free to do whatever I 'want' and therefore choose. Not being able to choose what I fundamentally want amounts to an inability to determine my own fundamental nature, but what sort of thing could determine its fundamental nature, and how would it do so?

Eiuol, I think we understand each other. The person you describe as subject to judgment, if I understand you, is subject to judgment because of character traits that manifest as a tendency to perform certain actions. This seems consistent with what Rand says about judging men in The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made. But Rand also seems to suggest in John Galt's speech that a man bound by a tendency cannot be considered morally responsible, because the tendency is not of his choice. Which brings us back to the question: what is he? What are we claiming when we pass moral judgment, and what difference does it make? I would say that we are judging both the person's character and, if the person is guilty of many moral errors rather than errors of knowledge, the particular volition that produced the character.

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... seem to eliminate the need for a concept such as the self.

The self is an entity. There are no choices without an entity to choose them. Just as there is no color red floating in a vacuum without the surface it is attached to. Try removing all of the words he, his, you, your, I, my, from your vocabulary.... You have to use self in the attempt to invalidate self.

...it does not appear that the concept of moral responsibility retains its usefulness if my nature does not determine my choices.

Your nature determines that you will make choices. You determine the choices you make. It is your moral responsibility to think about each choice you make. Morality only exists where there is a choice. The rock in your illustration has no choice about its nature, morality does not apply to the rock. Your value of your self-esteem will guide your choices.

But, if a man is free such that his actions are undetermined by his nature, there is no reason to expect consistency from a previously consistent man, nor to expect inconsistency from an inconsistent man. No expectations are valid, which undercuts moral evaluation based on past actions.

How can he be held accountable if his actions are not chosen by him? Consistency is necessary for self esteem. It retains its usefulness when a man has to weigh all of the evidence available to defend himself, and to choose whom he associates with in love and business. We are all under the threat of a car crash every time we enter traffic, but if traffic was chaos we would not be able to drive. Eliminating a concept such as car from the equation does not seem productive.

'Man chooses the causes that shape his actions,' what does he mean by 'man'?

In Objectivism Man is defined as a "Rational Animal." Extrospectively Man means all men who have ever lived and will ever live, and everything that applies to the survival of his mind and body. Introspectively Man means your self and everything that applies to keep your mind and body alive.

I could, but I don't want to, so I won't. .... It is not in my nature to select burning my hand on a hot stove (unless there is some motivating reason that outweighs the negative experience of burning my hand).

Man is constantly facing motivating reasons that outweigh positive experience. Choices that seem to be in conflict, like cooking deliciously unhealthy food on that stove. In these cases the rational and the animal have been pitted against one another. When a man's rational nature is in line through his self esteem to his animal nature based on an understanding of long range happiness he makes better choices. And learns how to cook healthier food that is also tasty.

but what sort of thing could determine its fundamental nature, and how would it do so?

There is a distinction between fundamental nature which is volition which is an axiom that is self evident in every choice we make. A man determines the nature of his character with each choice he makes.

...in John Galt's speech that a man bound by a tendency cannot be considered morally responsible, because the tendency is not of his choice.

If you believed a prophesy foretells of a hero named Jo who saves a girl named Mary, and then Jo saves Mary. Jo had no choice in the matter. You can not say that Jo saved Mary, it was the prophesy that saved Mary, Jo doesn't exist as a volitional entity, he is merely the pawn of the prophesy. If on the other hand there is no prophesy and Jo loves Mary so much that he would do anything to save her, and circumstances come to where he has to choose to save her, he takes the dangerous risk of losing and is worthy of the reward.

Which brings us back to the question: what is he? What are we claiming when we pass moral judgment, and what difference does it make? I would say that we are judging both the person's character and, if the person is guilty of many moral errors rather than errors of knowledge, the particular volition that produced the character.

The difference it makes is: If a man comes to understand his mistakes are not from some innate flaw determined to remain consistent by his nature,(which many men use to evade responsibility) he has the choice to learn from his mistake and make better choices in the future. If his past mistakes were bad enough to place him in prison, he may remain there until he dies, but he still has the choice of how he is going to live with himself in prison. Will he evade and live as a zombie?, or will he face it full on do what ever he can do in the confines of what he has left, to make his world a place worthy of a rational mind to live in.

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Just as there is no color red floating in a vacuum without the surface it is attached to.

I disagree whole-heartedly: this gets us into the realm of universals, which might be one of Rand's weakest points.

I can certainly conceive of the color "red", without its being attached to any entity. Granted, this will have been the result of the cumulative perceiving of what "red" means, that is, as an accident attached to a subject. What is particularly interesting is how the mind will "group" these accidents together, so that a warm red, and a cool red, will still be seen as belonging to the family of "red".

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This seems consistent with what Rand says about judging men in The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made. But Rand also seems to suggest in John Galt's speech that a man bound by a tendency cannot be considered morally responsible, because the tendency is not of his choice.

As I recall, the Galt speech was addressing tendency being conceived of as in the nature of humanity. Something like "if a lot of people tend to act evil, people are by nature evil". What makes that idea worse is when a tendency never involved a choice, like when you throw original sin into the mix.

I'm explicitly talking about a way of acting that is chosen for whatever reason. If a person lies frequently, and enough so for it to be a character trait, you can figure that such choices are made because that's consistent with their value system or thinking process. Character traits aren't about single choices, but a culmination of choices, so unless a person declares some sort of intention to change or has been confronted with a reason to change, they'll continue to act as a liar. When making character evaluations, you are also evaluating an observable value system over a period of time, because that is absolutely how any person makes decisions - value hierarchy. These judgments of value hierarchy are important because it indicates how someone will affect your values if they continue to pursue their value hierarchy. I'm sure you'll want to point out the "if" there (see, I'm already making a judgment, although it's too soon for me to call this a character trait. You've been choosing a rational approach to questioning, and because that implies some of your value hierarchy, I can expect you to take actions which further your value hierarchy.), but an "if" only comes in when a context changes, similar to how skepticism may be addressed. "If the sun rose today, how do I know it will rise tomorrow?" If you've talked to someone online for months through text only, they may act in a way that is consistent with honesty. Meet them in person and they turn out to be 50 years old when they told you they were 22, there is a huge context change, providing you reason to suspect there are other things lied about. Perhaps even erasing a previously conceived character trait.

"I would say that we are judging both the person's character and, if the person is guilty of many moral errors rather than errors of knowledge, the particular volition that produced the character. " I agree. I would say "individual" instead of "particular volition", though.

I think you understand this, but to clarify, "man" in this context refers to simply the fact that people are volitional. Anything more broad than that ("everybody lies") is to say there is no choice in the matter.

Edited by Eiuol
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I can certainly conceive of the color "red", without its being attached to any entity. Granted, this will have been the result of the cumulative perceiving of what "red" means, that is, as an accident attached to a subject. What is particularly interesting is how the mind will "group" these accidents together, so that a warm red, and a cool red, will still be seen as belonging to the family of "red".

The point is really just that "red" can't exist without there being an actual thing that is red. It's odd word choice to say "accident", though what you seem to be saying is that "redness" is not *in* the object, and a classification of red is a conceptual activity rather than merely automatic and perceptual, all of which I'd agree with. Tangent, anyway... But perhaps relevant.

Edited by Eiuol
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I can certainly conceive of the color "red", without its being attached to any entity.

Epistemologically one can mentally isolate the attribute red in order to define it, but the ability to do so depends on first observing it while it is attached to objects.

Edited by Tenderlysharp
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2046, thank you for posting. I am familiar with the claim that the metaphysical freedom of the will is self-evident through introspection. However, I remain unconvinced. I am, of course, aware of alternatives between which I choose. The problem I see is that these choices are not equivalent. When I am cooking at a stove, I am aware that I could, if I chose to, place my hand on the stove. But that option is experienced along with a sort of experiential evaluation which amounts to: I could, but I don't want to, so I won't. It is in this sense that I would hold my nature, coupled with my context, determines my particular choice. It is not in my nature to select burning my hand on a hot stove (unless there is some motivating reason that outweighs the negative experience of burning my hand). I do not think this makes my will unfree. I am free to do whatever I 'want' and therefore choose. Not being able to choose what I fundamentally want amounts to an inability to determine my own fundamental nature, but what sort of thing could determine its fundamental nature, and how would it do so?

I'm not sure what you're describing is incompatible with the axiomatic view of a volitional consciousness. Again, I don't really see how that "hand on the stove" example differs from my "not in my nature to murder someone" example. Perhaps you are, as oft are most objections to free will, taking as your understanding of volition as something conceived of before-hand, then comparing it to reality and seeing that it doesn't live up to this expectation.

So we observe that we are not free to do literally "whatever we want," which free will is defined as, therefore there must be no free will. Why must every alternative be equivalent? Why is that the standard? But this definition is arbitrary and context-less. We mustn't start with a conception of volition or a standard of what volition should have to be, then observe what we can do. Rather, we just observe what we can do and see that we can make choices, that we can control and direct our focus, that we can select our attention to things, that we can move our body, that we can make evaluations, and choose between alternative courses, and so forth.

The point is that free will isn't some thing that is magical or the limitless ability to "do whatever I want" or to "make any choice." Nothing is limitless, everything is bound by the law of identity, and is thus something very specific with specific limitations and boundaries. Keeping this context, it is improper to conceive of free will as something which is our power to defy our nature or the nature of entities in reality. This includes keeping in mind that previous choices and acts of will that condition our character and values, and thus influence the kind of choices we will make in the future.

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Tenderlysharp, I am not attempting to invalidate the concept 'self'. That way madness lies. I am merely pointing out that, if no patterns existed in the actions of entities, our concepts of entities and causation and action would not help us to predict or to deal with reality--and to this extent they would be useless and perhaps superfluous. I do not subscribe to this position and I don't think Rand did either. What puzzles me is in what sense she meant the will is free to choose. If the choice is made and determined by the will's nature, there is no problem, either for the claim that the action is chosen among alternatives or for the claim that the entity choosing was connected to the choice made--and thus the choice made tells us something about the entity choosing, validating judgment of a person based on that person's past choices. Consider, for instance, the case of Jo and Mary you mention. Imagine Jo saved Mary. Would it be reasonable to expect that, after saving Mary, Jo would kill her? No, because Jo loves Mary, and Jo is not the sort of person who will destroy something he loves--he is the type of person who will risk everything for it. I am contending both that Jo chose to save Mary under the circumstance and that it was in Jo's nature to save Mary, so his actions could have been predicted given sufficient knowledge about his nature. If we are maintaining that Jo is strictly unpredictable, his actions directed neither by the tendencies inherent in his character nor the nature of his particular self, then why expect anything at all from him? One moment he will do one thing. Another moment he will do another. Neither thing is determined by the nature of his volitional faculty or by the nature of his character. He is absolutely free in the sense that any of the available alternative could have happened in the metaphysical sense--which I take to mean they are strictly unpredictable in the sense I described earlier. Nothing we know about Jo can tell us how Jo will act from moment to moment. In a certain sense, the Jo who just saved Mary is not the same Jo Mary is with after having been saved--some memories and character traits happen to attach to him, but his will is absolutely free and not bound to behave according to a particular nature. Each choice thus is entirely free from all the others and no choice tells us anything about what he will do. I don't know about you, but if I were Mary in this situation, I'd run from Jo as fast as I could.

I hope it's obvious that I don't hold this sort of view of human beings. I think each individual determines their own destiny to a great extent, but I think each individual does so according to that individual's particular nature. I am myself--I have a particular nature, and I act only as my nature dictates. This does not make my actions unchosen, it merely makes my actions predictable given sufficient information, which I hope I've demonstrated above is not necessarily an undesirable thing. (By the way, you mentioned in passing that a person can choose their own nature. What does the choosing and why does it make the particular choice it makes, if it does not yet have a nature?)

Avila, your post is interesting but I feel addressing it would sidetrack the discussion. If you feel it is important that it be addressed, please help me to understand how it fits in and I will try to formulate a response.

Eiuol, as I understand you, I think we are in agreement. The substitution of 'individual' is quite legitimate. I only use the more cumbersome 'volitional faculty' in an attempt to be clear about exactly what I mean by an individual that makes choices and should bear responsibility for them. I also wholeheartedly agree that generalizations over all human beings should not be made here. It certainly doesn't follow from the fact that someone is a human being that they will behave rationally, nor does that follow from the particular context in which they find themselves. Rather, I would say that whether or not a person behaves rationally (or in any other fashion) in a particular context is ultimately determined by who the person, that is, the sort of person making the choice.

2046, I certainly do not think what I am describing is the actual state of affairs and I am most definitely not attempting to refute freedom of the will. I am simply trying to clarify what we mean by such freedom. Particularly, I am interested in why Rand seems to have rejected the idea that free will and determinism, properly understood, are compatible. This is essentially my own position, because when I think of 'determinism', I am including choice among the things determining what occurs. I think choices connect to the sort of person choosing, which seems to be a good way to justify hold the person responsible for the choice, rather than just 'the person making that particular choice' which is different than 'the person immediately after making that particular choice' responsible. I hope that was clear--it's easy to get lost in the wording with this sort of thing.

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2046, I certainly do not think what I am describing is the actual state of affairs and I am most definitely not attempting to refute freedom of the will. I am simply trying to clarify what we mean by such freedom. Particularly, I am interested in why Rand seems to have rejected the idea that free will and determinism, properly understood, are compatible. This is essentially my own position, because when I think of 'determinism', I am including choice among the things determining what occurs. I think choices connect to the sort of person choosing, which seems to be a good way to justify hold the person responsible for the choice, rather than just 'the person making that particular choice' which is different than 'the person immediately after making that particular choice' responsible. I hope that was clear--it's easy to get lost in the wording with this sort of thing.

Well, I think there might be a misunderstanding of the Randian position on will here. Far from rejecting determinism in the properly understood sense, Rand views this as the very basis of her search for knowledge, for without a determined universe (including man's consciousness) we could never grasp any systematic facts of reality. The reason we say that things are determined is that every existing thing must have a specific existence. Having a specific existence, it must have certain definite, definable, delimitable attributes. Every entity, then, can act or behave only in accordance with its nature, and any two entities can interact only in accord with their respective natures. Therefore, the actions of every entity are caused by, determined by, its nature. Note this is quite the opposite from saying that any thing is uncaused, including man's choices.

This is the Aristotelian view of causality Rand takes. Determinism, properly understood, means cause and effect. The law of identity and determinism or causality are interlinked. "The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature (AS.)" Rand hasn't at all rejected determinism, only the behaviorist or materialist view of the mind (or if you want to be specific, psychological determinism.)

What Rand means by freedom of will is basically the Thomistic view of free will as the ability to think, to use your conceptual faculty. In other words, reason and free will are one in the same, and both necessary for the other to work.

Since all things are something specific, so too is the mind and consciousness and all of its workings, including the will. So while most things have no consciousness and therefore pursue no goals, it is an essential attribute of man's nature that he has a kind of consciousness unique among other organisms, a consciousness that can perform certain acts of self-regulation, and therefore that his actions are self-determined by the choices his mind makes according to the kinds of self-regulation the mind can do. Psychologically speaking, these things can be discovered and enumerated by the science which studies consciousness. Philosophically speaking, we can know universally that we choose between alternative modes of action, and select our focus and attention by direct introspection, and that the logic of (psychological) determinism leads to contradiction.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell (of course there are numerous points we can make, and conclusions we can draw, based on this outline.)

Edited by 2046
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