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# Does having a reason for an action disprove free will?

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I am participating in a debate about free will.  I explained that free will refers to an ability to choose between more than one option.  I explained that if you select A instead of B, it does not mean that I could not have selected B instead of A.  My opponent asked if people have a reason for a choice.  I replied "yes".  He tried to assert that this reason is what compelled that course of action and that you can't choose the alternative due to that reason. He is saying "if you had a reason to select A, it prevents the ability to choose B. Otherwise all actions are simply random and have no reason at all".   According him, only a random selection without a reason can actually be considered free.  Is this correct?

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He assumes that having a good reason to do something means that a person has to do it. Ought does not mean does.

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Oh, I hate these arguments. Like a choice is only free if it's stupid. People DO make stupid choices all the time anyway though. Ones they KNOW they really shouldn't be doing, but they do it anyway. Although, then you get people arguing the opposite - if people make stupid choices, they could only have done so if they were incapable of doing otherwise or else they would not have done it. Got a good reason to do something? REASON COMPELS YOUR BODY TO OBEY! Don't have a good reason to do something? SOMETHING ELSE COMPELS YOUR BODY TO OBEY! Heads they win, tails you lose.

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Your interlocutor's argument implies an infinite regress of reasons.  Why A?  Because B.  Why B?  C.  Why C?  D.  Why D?  E.

I think Rand escapes that regress with her premoral and prerational choice to live.  At the end of every one of those chains is the answer:  Because I choose to live.  And the follow-up why is invalid, because it asks for a rational argument to support a prerational choice.

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Well, to Rand all free will implies is that your consciousness causes your actions, it doesn't mean that you don't have any sort of external stimuli or that the mind doesn't make use of information that it has, i.e. you have reasons for choosing certain actions over others. Rand does not assert that in order for something to count as free will it has to mean freedom from interacting and processing anything external to you in reality. In life we face an ongoing series of choices and actions that shape our character and help to shape what kind of choices you will likely make in the future. There's nothing that challenges a realistic version of free will in that.

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I am participating in a debate about free will.  I explained that free will refers to an ability to choose between more than one option.  I explained that if you select A instead of B, it does not mean that I could not have selected B instead of A.  My opponent asked if people have a reason for a choice.  I replied "yes".  He tried to assert that this reason is what compelled that course of action and that you can't choose the alternative due to that reason. He is saying "if you had a reason to select A, it prevents the ability to choose B. Otherwise all actions are simply random and have no reason at all".   According him, only a random selection without a reason can actually be considered free.  Is this correct?

A clearer way to phrase that would be to use "motive" instead of "reason". Reason can be misunderstood to mean "rational motive", which is indeed determined by the facts of reality. However, motive isn't. It can be argued that it can be determined by our nature, but I'd wait for someone to make that argument in a clear, intelligent manner before bothering to address it.

I also suspect that at least some of the uses of "reason" in this paragraph are actually wrong: they show up instead of the more appropriate "cause" (which is the word a determinist should always use instead of "reason"). Then there's the use of the word "random". Random can mean any number of things, and the only thing we know for sure is that they're all unrelated to the concept of freedom.

There's not much point in trying to debate a statement this confusing.

Your interlocutor's argument implies an infinite regress of reasons.  Why A?  Because B.  Why B?  C.  Why C?  D.  Why D?  E.

I think Rand escapes that regress with her premoral and prerational choice to live.  At the end of every one of those chains is the answer:  Because I choose to live.  And the follow-up why is invalid, because it asks for a rational argument to support a prerational choice.

Rand escapes that regress by pointing out that we have a choice to think or not to think. Our choice to focus or not is what determines what causes our actions: a well thought out motive, or a poorly thought out/mindless one

(note: I used the awkward "what determines what causes" to make it abundantly clear where choice occurs and where it doesn't occur; it occurs when we either focus or not, it doesn't occur at any other point: we cannot choose our actions independently of our motives or of our fundamental choice to focus or not).

Edited by Nicky
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Another tactic to arguing against Determinism and for free will is to state that you observe yourself in the process of free will decision-making -- and that this is proof enough.  Your opponent will most likely counter that what you are observing is merely an "illusion" of decision making.  But the term illusion implies that there exists "non-illusion" decision making. If everything is an illusion, then nothing is.

Determinism is riddled with these types of contradictions.

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No.  But (as far as I'm concerned) the following disproves determinism:

Consider someone being told in advance what trivial choice they are about to make.  Consider the fact that they would be told in advance was also known.

Now try to imagine a human being unable to go against what was "predetermined."

(If one defines determinism without the "pre" aspect, then they are really only saying that things cause other things.)

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No.  But (as far as I'm concerned) the following disproves determinism:

Consider someone being told in advance what trivial choice they are about to make.  Consider the fact that they would be told in advance was also known.

Now try to imagine a human being unable to go against what was "predetermined."

(If one defines determinism without the "pre" aspect, then they are really only saying that things cause other things.)

That doesn't disprove determinism.

(edit: Grammar)

Edited by thenelli01
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That doesn't disprove determinism.

(edit: Grammar)

It does if determinism defines choice as an illusion.

It clearly shows the infinite regress of that thinking.  If something is "determined" to happen, then it must happen.  If something is (supposedly) "determined" and a human choice can alter that, then it proves free will.   If determinism stands on the principle that no matter what choice you make it will always (retroactivley) have been determined AND there is no way to prove it by allowing for an experiment in human choice that can be validated, then the concept is meaningless.

Edited by freestyle
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Nope,

The reason for ones' action presupposes a previous initiation of mental focus, in the primary sense, to arrive at ideological content (reality based if paying full attention). Next, one also has the power to choose freely, whether they will base their actions on this content or not. The choice to focus exists at every step.

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Rand escapes that regress by pointing out that we have a choice to think or not to think. Our choice to focus or not is what determines what causes our actions: a well thought out motive, or a poorly thought out/mindless one

(note: I used the awkward "what determines what causes" to make it abundantly clear where choice occurs and where it doesn't occur; it occurs when we either focus or not, it doesn't occur at any other point: we cannot choose our actions independently of our motives or of our fundamental choice to focus or not).

I thought the choice to live, the choice to focus, and the choice to think were synonyms in Objectivist lingo.

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I thought the choice to live, the choice to focus, and the choice to think were synonyms in Objectivist lingo.

The choice to think presupposes the choice to focus. In OPAR (I think), Peikoff (or Rand) likens it starting the engine of a car.

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/focus.html

"“Focus” designates a quality of one’s mental state, a quality of active alertness. “Focus” means the state of a goal-directed mind committed to attaining full awareness of reality. It’s the state of a mind committed to seeing, to grasping, to understanding, to knowing.

“Full awareness” does not mean omniscience. It means: commitment to grasp all the facts relevant to one’s concern and activity at any given time . . . as against a splintered grasp, a grasp of some facts while others which you know to be relevant are left in fog. By “full” I include also the commitment to grasp the relevant facts clearly, with the fullest clarity and precision one is capable of.

“Focus” is not synonymous with “thinking,” in the sense of step-by-step problem-solving or the drawing of new conclusions. You may be walking down the street, merely contemplating the sights, but you can do it in focus or out of focus. “In focus” would mean you have some purpose directing your mental activity—in this case, a simple one: to observe the sights. But this is still a purpose, and it implies that you know what you are doing mentally, that you have set yourself a goal and are carrying it out, that you have assumed the responsibility of taking control of your consciousness and directing it . . . .

The process of focus is not the same as the process of thought; it is the precondition of thought . . . . Just as you must first focus your eyes, and then, if you choose, you can turn your gaze systematically to the objects on the table in front of you and inventory them, so first you must focus your mind, and then, when you choose, you can direct that focus to the step-by-step resolution of a specific problem—which latter is thinking."

Edited by thenelli01
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I am participating in a debate about free will.  I explained that free will refers to an ability to choose between more than one option.  I explained that if you select A instead of B, it does not mean that I could not have selected B instead of A.  My opponent asked if people have a reason for a choice.  I replied "yes".  He tried to assert that this reason is what compelled that course of action and that you can't choose the alternative due to that reason. He is saying "if you had a reason to select A, it prevents the ability to choose B. Otherwise all actions are simply random and have no reason at all".   According him, only a random selection without a reason can actually be considered free.  Is this correct?

No.  Individuals choose the reason for selecting an option.  Your fellow debater is lacking a basic understanding of causality.  Causality is a relationship between an entity and its actions.  Your opponent is using the misunderstood meaning that causality is a relationship between action and reaction.  Volition is a type of causality, and the individual is the cause of the choice as well as the reason for the choice.  He implies that causality is a relationship between a reason and an action, as if the reason for doing something is causing the action, independent of the individual doing the acting.

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Craig24:  What your opponent means by "free will" is acting without reason; the same category as knowledge without evidence and emotions without cause (or pregnancy without sex, to resurrect that cliché).

What he means by the words "free will" is an evasion so common it's been institutionalized as its own referent.

Many people believe in the "after-life" and by no means causelessly; it allows them to evade the fact of their own mortality.

I'll give you three guesses what that sort of "free will" is intended to hide.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Specifically, with the popular referent of "free will", there are two aspects.

There are the predeterminists who attempt to scientifically disprove "free will" and their motive is the more innocent of the two; they want an excuse to drop their perverse little morality and live according to their own whims.

The other camp is primarily composed of Christians, whose intellectual ancestry stems from prehistory, and who use "free will" to mean "your capacity to submit to my whims" (though more commonly vice-versa).

The former is attempting to escape the latter by means of its own institutionalized evasion.

And the concept usually denoted by "free will" is an outright evasion because its referent (words and actions) are external.

To use the very final product of a long causal chain (beginning with one's most basic premises), as its exclusive definition, is a conceptual annihilation of its own roots.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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Craig24: What your opponent means by "free will" is acting without reason; the same category as knowledge without evidence and emotions without cause (or pregnancy without sex, to resurrect that cliché).

What he means by the words "free will" is an evasion so common it's been institutionalized as its own referent.

Many people believe in the "after-life" and by no means causelessly; it allows them to evade the fact of their own mortality.

I'll give you three guesses what that sort of "free will" is intended to hide.

What his opponent ultimately means is acting without cause.

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What his opponent ultimately means is acting without cause.

Not really. It's more like if you have a specific reason to act, you'll act according to that reason if the same exact circumstances occurred again. So by your nature, the argument would go, you wouldn't act differently. Basically, it's "since your mind has an identity, it isn't truly free". While it's true you wouldn't act differently, that doesn't say anything about Rand's position on free will. What matters is the process of thinking, not just observable behaviors. The argument is fine against the libertarian (not the political philosophy) view of free will, though.

Edited by Eiuol
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Not really. It's more like if you have a specific reason to act, you'll act according to that reason if the same exact circumstances occurred again. So by your nature, the argument would go, you wouldn't act differently. Basically, it's "since your mind has an identity, it isn't truly free". While it's true you wouldn't act differently, that doesn't say anything about Rand's position on free will. What matters is the process of thinking, not just observable behaviors. The argument is fine against the libertarian (not the political philosophy) view of free will, though.

You can only act according to that reason if you choose to act in a manner consistent with the reason.  Since a determinist rejects such a choice, he is implicitly asserting acting without a cause since the only way to interpret human action is the choice to act in such a manner. For example, I have a reason to go to bed now because it is late.  But I don't act on that reason because I want to address this issue.  A determinist would have to hold that since I have a reason to go to bed now, I will go to bed now.

(Good night.  NOW, I am going to bed.)

Edited by A is A
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• 2 weeks later...

"Does having a reason for an action disprove free will?"

No.  If you are aware of making a choice, a choice you have made.

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I think he is implying having a reason to choose A is causally determinative of your choice.

I think you could respond like this:

AS between A and B, I had reasons for choosing A and other reasons for choosing B. I chose A in part based on the reasons for choosing A but I could have chosen B based on the other reasons for choosing B.  BUT in the end, the reason I actually make any choice is because I can choose either A or B and I decide to do so, not because I have reasons for doing so.

Now, if he started pointing out identity (of you) and causality and asked if that implies only one possible action or choice (determinism), then you would have to come up with something better...

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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