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SelfishRandroid

How does Objectivism refute Compatibilism?

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I would love to read a scholarly essay or direct writings from Rand on the subject of Compatibilism. I've seen several posts on this forum that claim that Objectivism is "closer to" or "basically the same as" Compatibilism, but I don't think that's true in a strictly "orthodox" reading of Objectivism's position on free will. Based on my nascent understanding of free will, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, Objectivism acknowledges the Law of Causation, but rejects the Compatibilist view that, although human beings can act freely, the basis of the will to act is determined by antecedent events. Objectivism instead holds that will is entirely volitional. 

Here's a related quote from Rand: "Man exists and his mind exists. Both are part of nature, both possess a specific identity. The attribute of volition does not contradict the fact of identity..."

Anyway, I mostly shared my interpretation to make this post more substantive. What I'd really like is an in-depth informational resource or explanation on how Objectivism refutes Compatibilism. Thanks!

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I don't think compatibilism is a big issue for Objectivism. Compatibilism as a philosophical position usually comes up after determinism is already accepted, with the idea being "okay, we don't have libertarian free will, but can we nevertheless preserve some sense in which moral responsibility exists?" Objectivism's refutation of determinism just renders the whole debate moot.

I would advise against classifying Objectivist positions under academic labels like compatibilism or libertarianism, though. I would certainly advise against any attempt to do so quickly. Academic labels often come with connotations that aren't consistent with the Objectivist position, so care is needed.

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Thanks for responding. Even if compatibilism isn't a big issue within Objectivism, I have a special personal interest in learning more about refuting it. Worded hastily, I'm wondering how free will exists as an absolute in the context of mental illnesses that appear to be biologically caused, and so I'm trying to grapple with how biological determinism, which some use as an argument for compatibilism, fits in with free will in the Objectivist sense. I didn't necessarily want to drag all of that into my post though since I think the argument really distills down to the scope of determinism itself.

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7 minutes ago, SelfishRandroid said:

I would love to read a scholarly essay or direct writings from Rand on the subject of Compatibilism.

Well yeah, we'd all love to read a scholarly essay from Rand on a lot of things, but that is not going to be available to you.

Compatibilism could look something like Rand's position in the following way: what most people mean by "determinism" (in the ordinarily held belief set "determinism is true") is just that "things have causes." They don't happen randomly, or magically. They "obey laws" or act orderly. In that sense, free will is something compatible with "determinism construed as things having causes." Generally, at the level this concern is presented, it is when the person has reached a certain level of reflection about nature and causality and it's relation to choice.

But you're right that compatibilist views have, historically, rested on shifting the meaning of "free" to modal notions about our power or ability to bring things about, and the absence of restraints on those powers. Additionally the classical compatibilists tended to conceptualize "determinism" in a stricter way than I just did above, but in the sense of "necessary due to things that are not up to us."

In that sense, Rand's position has nothing in common with compatibilism. Rand's position seems to entail not merely that we faced no constraints on our power or ability to do otherwise if we desired, but that we have an agent-causal power to direct our consciousness that is ontologically irreducible to event-causation alone (her "focus theory.")

But if you're looking for some in depth informational resource: there isn't any. Rand's philosophy is underdeveloped on this point.

 

 

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1 hour ago, SelfishRandroid said:

in the context of mental illnesses that appear to be biologically caused

A free-will compatible approach would be to think about biologically-caused (for example, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder)  mental illness as something that influences the qualitative content of mental states but does not itself cause specific behavior. As an example, someone going through psychosis may hallucinate, but nothing about psychosis itself causes them to yell at the hallucination.

I don't know if this qualifies as compatibilism though. I'm not aware of Rand discussing mental illness anywhere either.

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12 hours ago, SelfishRandroid said:

Thanks for responding. Even if compatibilism isn't a big issue within Objectivism, I have a special personal interest in learning more about refuting it. Worded hastily, I'm wondering how free will exists as an absolute in the context of mental illnesses that appear to be biologically caused, and so I'm trying to grapple with how biological determinism, which some use as an argument for compatibilism, fits in with free will in the Objectivist sense. I didn't necessarily want to drag all of that into my post though since I think the argument really distills down to the scope of determinism itself.

Before you can even begin the attempt at coming to a conclusion regarding free will, i.e. to even ask if “free will” exists you need to clearly define what you mean.  Otherwise you cannot assess evidence, as there would be nothing to assess the evidence against.

So yes, you do have to get into just what you mean exactly by “determinism” and “entirely volitional”.

If a thing acted outside the range of possibilities according to its nature it would violate causation.

The question is what are the possibilities? and how is the eventual act deemed “free” rather than random on the one hand and determined on the other i.e. so that it is both a free choice and also accords with the identity of the actor.

If you can’t come up with a workable definition of what exactly you mean by free will you can’t make any meaningful statement about whether humans possess it or not.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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22 hours ago, SelfishRandroid said:

... Worded hastily, I'm wondering how free will exists as an absolute in the context of mental illnesses that appear to be biologically caused,...

Free will may very well absolutely not exist at all in the context of a serious biologically caused impairment of the mental faculties.  Biological damage to the head caused by iron bars or bullets are also well known to impair free will.   I don't think your position is fundamentally defensible.    I wonder what your understanding of the term "absolute" is and what your intention is in conjoining it with volition.  Life itself is not absolute, so how could volition be absolute?

Edited by Grames

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2 hours ago, Grames said:

Free will may very well absolutely not exist at all in the context of a serious biologically caused impairment of the mental faculties.  Biological damage to the head caused by iron bars or bullets are also well known to impair free will.   I don't think your position is fundamentally defensible.    I wonder what your understanding of the term "absolute" is and what your intention is in conjoining it with volition.  Life itself is not absolute, so how could volition be absolute?

His reliance on the term “absolute” when speaking of something’s existence (anything’s existence) is in fact redundant.  

The metaphysical existence of anything which exists IS absolute.  The implication that some things can exist in some non-absolute manner contradicts what “exists” means.

At any particular time something either exhibits volition or it does not... if it is present it exists in the something ... if it is not present it does not exist in the something... damaged brains run the entire spectrum as a function of the damage... it might even function volitionally at times and non volitionally at other times.

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On 2/12/2020 at 6:49 PM, SelfishRandroid said:

I'm trying to grapple with how biological determinism, which some use as an argument for compatibilism, fits in with free will in the Objectivist sense.

Biological determinism only applies to living things that lack a mind and are entirely subject to laws of physical causality. Organisms that possess a mind are also subject to laws of mental causality.

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8 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Biological determinism only applies to living things that lack a mind and are entirely subject to laws of physical causality.

To the extent that laws of biological determinism are real, anything biological follows them.

To the extent that laws of biological determinism are false, nothing at all follows them.

But I don't think biological determinism is defensible anyway. It's the idea that genes have causal power in a direct way. I don't think anyone seriously believes that genes literally carry behavioral content. That's true of insects, that's true of humans. 

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3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

To the extent that laws of biological determinism are real, anything biological follows them.

No, anything genetic follows them.

3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

But I don't think biological determinism is defensible anyway. It's the idea that genes have causal power in a direct way.

This is a problem with the idea of "biological determinism." It conflates the biological with the genetic.

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Free will by some perspectives seems redundant in that having a "will", implies a freedom to will things, i.e. to choose.

So the implication is that a "will" can also be unfree. Again by some perspectives, an unfree will, is in fact no will at all.

Free to choose, implies a free will. But free from "what"? The possible oppression or obstacle is what clarifies the nature of the "freedom". So when there is free will, one is free from what?

Rand may not have mentioned mental illness and its relationship to free will but I believe Branden did. As far as I can remember he did say that some childhood trauma, in fact can remove free will from a person.

In the case of severe addiction to something, at some points there is no free will. For an alcoholic, after the first drink, something else takes over (at least that is the experience). This oppressor, or obstacle to sanity, makes certain choices disappear.

In this case, the oppressor is a metaphor, as if there is one. But the experience and the behavior are as if an oppressor exist.

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9 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Free to choose, implies a free will. But free from "what"? The possible oppression or obstacle is what clarifies the nature of the "freedom". So when there is free will, one is free from what?

Tough question. I would call it freedom from impulsion, that irresistible feeling that impels me to focus or move a certain way. Once I achieve self-awareness, I become aware of this feeling and can fight its effect on me. But before self-awareness, it might be what stimulates my will to function involuntarily in a particular way. 

Edited by MisterSwig

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21 minutes ago, dream_weaver said:

It is a different context of free. The freedom to chose to think, or not.

Granted, there are differing context regarding free, but to understand free will, even indicated by "choosing to think or not", one must understand the "obstacle" that some encounter. In other words, some can't choose to think? Well, why and when?

1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

stimulates my will to function involuntarily in a particular way.

Now isn't that explaining will in a deterministic light?

Also, a "a will to function involuntarily" may be the key phrase to analyse. Is functioning involuntarily in fact "willing" something? Is one's heart beat a function of "will"? What is automatic and is that a willed action?

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9 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

Granted, there are differing context regarding free, but to understand free will, even indicated by "choosing to think or not", one must understand the "obstacle" that some encounter. In other words, some can't choose to think? Well, why and when?

On that note, it appears I dropped the context of this part of the thread.

Here is a link to the results on 'broken units' that may be more relevant.

Edited by dream_weaver

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20 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

No, anything genetic follows them.

All (biological) organisms have genes. Genetic determinism and biological determinism are synonymous. Biologic actions (like digestion) are genetically determined. However, behaviors are not genetically determined. They are genetically influenced, but not determined. There are many more factors that determine what a behavior will be in addition to genes.

Strictly speaking, you can say that reflexes are behaviors, but as for anything else, genes do not determine behavior. It's not that the biological is conflated with the genetic, but that some people have a really hard time understanding how people can be biologically determined in some ways, and have free will at the same time. Either they deny that people have free will, or they deny that people operate under the same rules as other animals. Or they just accept the contradiction.

14 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

As far as I can remember he did say that some childhood trauma, in fact can remove free will from a person.

Do you have the source? I'm very curious to read this claim in context.

Edited by Eiuol

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20 hours ago, dream_weaver said:

On that note, it appears I dropped the context of this part of the thread.

Here is a link to the results on 'broken units' that may be more relevant.

The "broken units" problem is an aspect of the "problem of two definitions".  I will make that link in the broken units thread  (sorry for the epic necro).  The problem of two definitions is covered by Peikoff in lecture 3 of "Unity in Ethics and Epistemology".

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21 hours ago, Easy Truth said:
22 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

stimulates my will to function involuntarily in a particular way.

Now isn't that explaining will in a deterministic light?

I hope not. I don't like the term deterministic, because it implies materialism. By involuntarily I don't mean necessarily. It just means not voluntarily.

21 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Also, a "a will to function involuntarily" may be the key phrase to analyse. Is functioning involuntarily in fact "willing" something? Is one's heart beat a function of "will"? What is automatic and is that a willed action?

I've never gained control over my heart beat, not what I would call voluntary control through the nervous system. So I can't say the two are related. However, like everyone else, I have limited control over my breathing. So the will is connected to that function, probably due to the development of speech which requires controlling air flow through the vocal chords. Also, while asleep, I managed to control a dream once during a lucid dreaming episode. This is an ability reported by many others. So I believe the will is involved with dreaming too, perhaps due to the development of reason which requires controlling one's thoughts.

Breathing and dreaming are particularly interesting functions to study, given their unique relationships to the will. I've never sleepwalked or been hypnotized, but there's probably something to glean from those phenomena as well.

It seems to me that the will is the power to control oneself, or aspects of oneself. But not every function can be directly affected by that power, and even the functions that can be affected cannot always be affected with total control or consciousness. The stage of development and state of awareness matters.

Beyond that I struggle for answers and hesitate to speculate. Is an automatic action like the heart beat a function of an involuntary will? Perhaps, if you define the will as a kind of reflex. Then the will would be a typical reflex seen in lower animals and humans, and the free will would be a next-level reflex seen primarily in adult humans. Of course there is the problem that we don't seem to have the ability to control the heart beat using free will. But that's not an issue with breathing or dreaming.

Edited by MisterSwig

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23 hours ago, Eiuol said:
On 2/15/2020 at 2:30 AM, Easy Truth said:

As far as I can remember he did say that some childhood trauma, in fact can remove free will from a person.

Do you have the source? I'm very curious to read this claim in context.

Sorry, I looked and could not find it. It caught my eye when I saw it. I will include it if I see it again.

4 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Beyond that I struggle for answers and hesitate to speculate. Is an automatic action like the heart beat a function of an involuntary will? Perhaps, if you define the will as a kind of reflex. Then the will would be a typical reflex seen in lower animals and humans, and the free will would be a next-level reflex seen primarily in adult humans. Of course there is the problem that we don't seem to have the ability to control the heart beat using free will. But that's not an issue with breathing or dreaming.

Yes, there definitely is a difference in the amount of control we have over heartbeat vs. breath. But we have some control, some say about both.

To will is an action. It is an action that cannot be (or should not be) attributed to (caused by) "something other than myself". The problem is that there is "sleep walking" type actions that are automatic, yet "I did it".

The struggle that I have with all this is: When is an automatic action "my automatic action" vs. "an automatic action". The reason for the focus is the attempt to discover the moment one chooses life. (or what is the nature of this choice) Is it when the heart started beating? Was it the first moment one felt pain and wanted to avoid it? Was it when one learnt about death and consciously chose to live. These are different types of choice. Some are volitional and some are automatic and some may be something not articulated like: volitionally automatic (which is a contradiction).

Edited by Easy Truth

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2 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

Some are volitional and some are automatic and some may be something not articulated like: volitionally automatic (which is a contradiction).

This sounds right, or at least, as far as the OP is concerned, this is as far as we can go about figuring out what Rand thought about a causally determinate world (that is, "randomness" is not a characteristic she would attribute to reality) while also accepting free will. 

There is nothing other than yourself that causes behavior for the most part, otherwise what you do is not usually correctly attributed as behavior. Of course you can characterize the will of a single celled organism as less robust than the will of a human, and the less psychological intervention there is, the less we would call its actions "behavior". And if you remove any well from a particular action, you would just call it automatic and therefore biologically determined (i.e. the function does not require consciousness or awareness). 

An unconscious or nonvoluntary will is just a Freudian-like analysis. If we have wills that are distinct from our volitional will. I'm not arguing against that position necessarily, but that way of framing consciousness is not something that Rand does or is in the vicinity of the way she does philosophy.

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On 2/16/2020 at 1:35 PM, Easy Truth said:

Yes, there definitely is a difference in the amount of control we have over heartbeat vs. breath. But we have some control, some say about both.

Do you have a reference for the idea that we can control the heartbeat like we do breathing?

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4 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Do you have a reference for the idea that we can control the heartbeat like we do breathing?

As I mentioned there is a definite difference between the two, but heartbeat biofeedback has been around for a many years.

In the case of breath, you choose to inhale or exhale while the automatic version is also available. In the case of heartbeat, you can learn to slow or increase the speed. This is also true about body temperature. I know this because I have done this. You have to have the proper equipment that lets you know of minute variances.

Keep in mind, in the case of heart beat you have an influence, you can slow and speed it up, but I don't think you can stop it by conscious will.

The most useful manifestation that I have seen is controlling blood pressure ... via breathing techniques. Here is one reference, there should be many since it has been around for at least 50 years.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4104929/

 

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