Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

On the question of free-will vs. determinism

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

I just attended a meeting of the philosophical society on my campus, and the topic of discussion was free will vs. determinism. While the majority of the people there wanted to believe in free will, we were having quite a bit of trouble defeating the determinist argument that it may seem to us that we have the illusion of free will, but in reality we are completely determined.

Being the vice-president of this society, I selected the readings for this discussion. One reading came from Holbach who argued that all things happen by logical necessity. The other reading was an excerpt from OPAR on how volition is axiomatic.

After this meeting, I feel quite unable to defend the concept of free will. It seems to me that the "validation" of free will comes through the demonstration via reduction that free will follows from certain axioms. I am having trouble however determining what exactly this line of reasoning is. Any suggestions?

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 887
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Posts

I keep on regretting putting my two cents into these threads. I keep thinking that I can make a brief helpful comment, but inevitably I end up getting drawn into a debate. So this will be my last post

Posted Images

If there was no existence of free-will, wouldn't there be no such concept of choice? Mabye you could help them realize that just as in using the concept of existence to deny it, they're using free-will to choose to accept the concept of determinism? Have you read the principles of argumentation? You probably know this already, but I thought I'd get the ball rolling. Plus I'm also trying to crystallize some concepts myself. Well, great luck:)!!! I'll be more help next time! TC!-carrie.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Volition is self-evident and axiomatic. The concept of proof presupposes free will since it presumes that people can be persuaded otherwise. If people were determined to believe a certain thing, why would proof be necessary or possible? If they're asking you to prove that free will exists, they're proving it themselves by expecting proof.

This whole question is akin to people who doubt whether there's actually a reality out there. How are you going to bridge the gap between you and these nuts? Hopefully, you don't expect to. If they don't grok your using choice while denying choice argument, then you would be right in just pointing that out and ending the discussion. There's no bridge possible until they realize that; they're beyond the pale, so to speak.

Link to post
Share on other sites

RE

You say you have read an excerpt from OPAR on how volition is axiomatic (I assume you are specifically referencing the section entitled "Volition is Axiomatic"). You also say you had trouble defeating the deterministic argument, and after the debate you feel unable to defend the concept of free will. Given that you DID read OPAR, with what argument were you presented which is not answered by the explanation given in OPAR?

In other words, what argument do you apparently believe was not refuted in OPAR?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Steve--

You think that the burden of proof lies on you to provide evidence that free will exists, since that is a positive claim. However, it is self-evident: it is directly graspable by anyone by an act of introspection (whether or not they choose to evade that evidence is another issue).

Beyond that, the burden of proof lies on those who claim it is an illusion, which is a further positive claim. You have provided the evidence for your claim; they are now simply trying to dismiss it by asserting a contradictory claim (that the introspective evidence for free will is illusory). That, however, is also a positive claim, and they must provide evidence for it--or it is arbitrary, and can be dismissed.

This would be like saying, "The keyboard I am typing on exists," to which the skeptic replies, "How do you know?" "I can see it, feel it, etc.," I answer, to which they reply, "How do you know it isn't an illusion?"

The proper response is, "Where is your evidence that it IS an illusion?" If we couldn't dismiss any arbitrary skeptical claim such as these, then the skeptics would be right, and we really couldn't know anything.

Of course, just as in the denial of the extrospective senses, the denial of free will relies on several stolen concepts (that of "proof", as Bill pointed out above, is just one).

Does that help?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Guest_mattbateman

(Too lazy to login here.)

There are two parts to your question, I think.

1. How do we know we have free will?

2. How do we know free will isn't an illusion?

I would answer these in slightly different ways. 1. We know we have free will because we can experience making a choice. The fact that all arguments on the issue presuppose free will is not a demonstration of volition, but rather a demonstration that it is an axiom. For evidence of free will, we just have to experience ourselves choosing. I.e., you are choosing to read this forum, and you know that you could have chosen otherwise. You know this not as a deduction from volition, but simply as a matter of a conscious experience of choosing.

2. There's no evidence that free is an illusion, so its an arbitrary argument. Even if someone were to present what seemed to be convincing scientific evidence of determinism, the axiomatic aspect of free makes their argument incoherant. Since no evidence can be presented for volition as an illusion, its arbitrary, and is refuted on those grounds.

I hope that helps.

Edited by JMeganSnow
Link to post
Share on other sites

RadCap,

You say you have read an excerpt from OPAR on how volition is axiomatic (I assume you are specifically referencing the section entitled "Volition is Axiomatic").  You also say you had trouble defeating the deterministic argument, and after the debate you feel unable to defend the concept of free will.  Given that you DID read OPAR, with what argument were you presented which is not answered by the explanation given in OPAR? 

In other words, what argument do you apparently believe was not refuted in OPAR?

I agree with Peikoff's argument that any attempt to prove determinism to be true must be self-refuting. However, the argument presented to me by others was that this merely proves that human beings can not know whether or not we are determined. It does not demonstrate whether or not we are actually determined. At the time that this argument was presented to me, I believed that Peikoff did not adequately demonstrate that we can know that we have free will, but rather, only demonstrated that we can not prove determinism to be true.

I believe my confusion was best answered by AshRyan when he said:

the burden of proof lies on those who claim it is an illusion, which is a further positive claim. You have provided the evidence for your claim; they are now simply trying to dismiss it by asserting a contradictory claim (that the introspective evidence for free will is illusory). That, however, is also a positive claim, and they must provide evidence for it--or it is arbitrary, and can be dismissed.

What I am still having some trouble grasping however is the axiomatic nature of free will. It seems that the argument presented in OPAR is that free will is the foundation for the concept of 'validation' and 'proof' and therefore is presupposed by any attempt to demonstrate its existence. However, couldn't a skeptic come along and claim that this is begging the question? We need to presuppose the existence of free will in order to have knowledge, so let's presuppose the existence of free will.

Perhaps my problem here is not necessarily with the arguments for the existence of free will but rather resolving the problem of skepticism.

Any ideas?

Link to post
Share on other sites
What I am still having some trouble grasping however is the axiomatic nature of free will.  It seems that the argument presented in OPAR is that free will is the foundation for the concept of 'validation' and 'proof' and therefore is presupposed by any attempt to demonstrate its existence.  However, couldn't a skeptic come along and claim that this is begging the question?  We need to presuppose the existence of free will in order to have knowledge, so let's presuppose the existence of free will.

Sure, but a skeptic could (and have) also come along and claim that "presupposing" objective reality or existence or even consciousness is "begging the question". But if there's no objective existence, no consciousness capable of awareness of existence, and no free will, then there's certainly no such thing as logical proof and the idea of "begging the question" is therefore meaningless. This is a huge stolen concept.

Also, I wouldn't describe axiomatic concepts as "presuppositions," at least not in the sense that we assume them for the sake of argument or only hold that they're true because our later conclusions depend on them or anything like that. They're not just assumptions. Since free will is self-evident, directly available to introspection, the arbitrary claim that it is somehow illusory or otherwise invalid is certainly much more of a question-begging presupposition.

For further clarification of this point, I can't recommend Harry Binswanger's taped lecture "Consciousness as Identification" highly enough. (At least, I think it's that lecture in which Dr. Binswanger specifically addresses this point. But it may be "The Metaphysics of Consciousness".)

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sure, but a skeptic could (and have) also come along and claim that "presupposing" objective reality or existence or even consciousness is "begging the question". But if there's no objective existence, no consciousness capable of awareness of existence, and no free will, then there's certainly no such thing as logical proof and the idea of "begging the question" is therefore meaningless. This is a huge stolen concept.

I agree. My problem here seems to concern defeating skepticism as opposed to the actual question of free will. I feel pretty confident about the rejection of skepticism, but I'm not completely sure. I will be doing a lot of thinking on it.

Thanks for the responses to my original query, I believe my question has been answered.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...

I have always been a believer in free will, but recently, in my philosophy class, I have come up against one of the most formidable determinist arguments I’ve ever heard. The argument, which basically rises from Socrates, is that while we may appear to have choices, we will always choose what is in our best interest as a matter of physiological fact. This is not to say we will always be right about are best interest, or that this will prevent us from doing things that seem to go against are interests, it is just to say that at some level ever choice is dictated by what we see as being best for us. Branden and others right how about we aren’t acting selfishly if we act against are long term interests, but we may still be acting on short term interests, even if they are derived from guilt or non-reason. Further they hold this belief to be self evident, and thus holding no bias of affirmative proof, as they claim that if we examine are actions we are always really acting on are interest no matter what we may think. This argument has proven a very difficult one to refute and I could use some help in discovering the truth here.

Link to post
Share on other sites

You state the argument thusly:

"we will always choose what is in our best interest as a matter of physiological fact."

So the question is, "What is "our best interest"?"

You say "our best interest" is not defined by reality (because we will not always be right, yet even if we are wrong, we will still be supposedly acting in "our best interest").

You say "our best interest" is not defined by reference to what is actually good or bad for us (for we may act against our apparent interests, but essentially by definition, whatever we choose is what we have somehow determined is in our interest).

What does this mean? Simply that "our best interest" is defined as whatever we decide it to be - ie whatever we choose.

So all that their argument says is "we will always choose the choice that we choose." Obviously this is a circular argument and thus invalid.

Link to post
Share on other sites
So all that their argument says is "we will always choose the choice that we choose."  Obviously this is a circular argument and thus invalid.

Not to mention that even if it weren't an invalid, circular argument, it certainly couldn't serve as an argument against free will, i.e., against man's power of choice. It quite clearly assumes that premise.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I believe I hvae not been totally clear the Soctratic argument holds that our actions are formed in the following form:

Goal + Belief = action

The goal is held to be "our best interest", the Belief is what is in our best interests.

The implication of this is important for the idea of moral resoponsibility. If someone is on trial for murder, right now we say he is guilty because he made the wrong choice. If Socrates is right then he had no choice at the moment of action because he believed that it was in his best interests to kill the person. By the Socratic method all he has done is have false beliefs about what is in his best interest. If this is true then we should nto punish the person rather we should simply explain to them why it is notin there best interest to kill some one.

I hope I have made the Socratic position more clear.

Link to post
Share on other sites

My clarrified point counters your point thusly:

You claim that because we at in our best intesest we must determin what is in our best interest therfore frewill exists, pardon me if I have miss paraphrased.

But Socratic Determinism states that since we always act based on our goal of our own interests, not this denies the idea that any real alturism exists, plus are beliefes on how to get best interest, now setting aside temporarily the idea of if we get our beliefes throgh free will and focusing on the fact that all people as a matter of phycilogical fact have the same goal, we see that there is no real room for the criminal justice system by the logic of my last post.

To go more into free will we must examin how we get our beliefs, since all action, physical or otherwise, is a result of our goal, fixed at best inerest, plus our beliefes in how to get the best interest,even an attempt to change beliefes must be done thusly. To ellaborate we only get new beliefes by applying our old ones. Therfore we have no real free will. Plus even if we do justice is still questionable.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I didn't think you understood my statement.

I did NOT say that because an individual must determine what is his 'best interest' that free will exists. I stated that the argument 'we always choose what is in our best interest' is a circular argument, and thus invalid. And I stated the reason it is circular is because your argument defines 'best interest' as 'whatever the individual decides' . In other words, the argument you present is 'we always choose what we decide to choose.'

It is PURELY self-referential - ie circular - ie logically invalid.

None of your statements thus far refute this fact - including those in your last post.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...
Guest Skeptic

Volition does not seem like it is on the same level as existence. How can you say it is an axiom? I'm inclined to accept a scientific study over someone assuming something is an axiom. How do you verify the existence of alternate "choices"?

Edited by GreedyCapitalist
Link to post
Share on other sites

Skeptic, I'm a determinist, in a sense, and yet, at the same time, I'm certain that either I have free will or I've chosen to believe that I do (haha.)

Stop assuming that there must be a dichotomy, and try to find where the dichotomy really comes from. (Really, I think that this is one of the only points where Rand kinda missed the mark, the other being her distaste for rock music.)

There can be no dichotomy between metaphysical and epistemological truths. Volition is axiomatic because it is a root-level function of epistemology, of saying "I am conscious." In grasping that "existence exists," one also must admit two correllary axioms: "There is a something that exists, and I am choosing to grasp the fact." Ie, identity and consciousness.

The break between pre-determination or so-called determinism and volition is an example of the mind-body dichotomy. If we exist (and I believe that I do,) then we exist in reality, as a part of Nature, obeying Her laws in every way.

Concepts like "possible," "choose," "predict," and "probable" all stem heirarchically from the fact that human knowledge is limited to "less than the sum total of the facts of reality." (As far as Nature is concerned, there is no "possible." For Nature, there is only what is and what isn't - and Nature doesn't care about what isn't.) Even some actions that you might someday take, though they are determined solely by your nature (read: by you,) are not always known to you. A "choice" is the act of determining your future action.

Unpack that a bit. The act of determining your future action.

That means that agent A is faced with two (or more) possible things to do - call them X and Y. (The "possible" is that which is not contradicted by any knowledge one posesses, and is supported by at least some knowledge that one posesses.)That is, as far as A knows at this point in time, he might do X or he might do Y. As we know from the law of causality, the actions of entities are determined by their nature. Therefore, the action of A will be determined by A's nature. If you properly adopt an Aristotelian metaphysics "all the way down," then you'll realize that an entity is the sum of its attributes. In other words, A = A's nature. Therefore, "determined by the nature of A" and "determined by A" are two ways to say exactly the same thing. (They're really not even a little tiny bit different, except in style and focus. Semantally, they're 100% identical statements.)

So, A doesn't know what he is going to do, because he doesn't know what the nature of all the relevant entities involved in X and Y will be. He doesn't know if he'll learn some more information about X or Y, or find out that Y is no longer possible, or maybe he'll simply introspect until he solves the problem - but he hasn't solved it yet. When he "makes up his mind," he determines, "I will do X" or "I will do Y." There is no longer any ambiguity.

Did A make the choice? Or did his nature somehow make the choice for him?

Translate the philosophobabble out of that, and you get:

Did A make the choice? Or did A make the choice for him?

Determinists and indeterminists both posit a false dichotomy. The nature of the world today was set in stone (well, not stone, but set in something) at the moment of the big bang. That's not to say we don't have any choice in the matter. In fact, if not for the law of causality, our actions wouldn't be determined by us, and there would be no way to choose anything at all!

Volition is "axiomatic" because there is no way to argue against it without stealing a concept. (Even the concept of "proof" or "disproof" relies on the concept of volition.) Likewise, there is no way to argue for it without begging the question. That makes it an axiom.

Link to post
Share on other sites

isaac, your position may be summed up as "deterministic free will," and is in fact a denial of the Objectivist notion of volition. You posit a single input that determines all occurrences in the entire Universe at all time; this would mean that we have a predetermined destiny and can do nothing to change it. This diametrically contradicts the idea of free will, as the latter means that we can add our own inputs to the story of the Universe--that we do not have a predetermined destiny but take part in determining it as we live our lives.

I suppose the reason many people have a difficulty grasping this idea is that all things non-human behave deterministically, i.e. their actions are a function on the actions performed on them, i.e. they are powerless agents that only react but do not act on their own initiative. Humans are different from this, and humans are the only things in the known universe that are different from this. This fact--the fact that humans are something very special--is what I think many people find hard to accept.

But the fact that we are conscious already sets apart from the rest of the world, and it is difficult to deny that we are conscious. Once we have accepted our exceptional nature, we might as well accept another obvious fact: namely, that we have a will.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Isaac's interesting post ignores Rand's position on free will entirely. Like all soft-determinists, he posits and then debunks a false alternative between determinism and indeterminism. But what about the alternative of agent-causation, which Objectivism endorses? It's a bit disingenuous to say that this is one of the only points where Rand gets something wrong, and then to make an argument on the subject that doesn't even address her own position. Presumably Isaac thinks that it is ultimately a form of indeterminism, but he needs to argue for that, because it's not obvious (and indeed it's not true).

Link to post
Share on other sites

GCS and Capitalism Forever,

I have 4 yes/no questions that I would like you to answer:

1) Does Man have identity?

Ie, is it or is it not possible for Man to both have and lack the same property at the same time in the same respect?

2) Are the actions of a man determined by His nature?

Ie, does Man obey the law of causlity which states that the actions of entities are solely determined by the nature of the entities engaged in the action?

3) Are the actions of a man determined by the man acting?

Ie, does Man determine his own actions, or are they somehow determined "for" him by some outside source?

4) Is an entity the sum of its attributes?

Note that 1, 3, and 4 are asserted by Objectivism. 2 is denied.

If Man has identity, they you cannot both posess and lack the same property in the same respect. If Man exists, and an entity is its attributes, then 2 and 3 are the same question. If that's the case, and we are going to say that "Man determines his own actions," then that means that the actions of every man are determined by some attribute(s) that they posess. Since Man cannot both have and lack any attribute at the same time in the same respect (Man/consciousness has identity,) then the actions that you will perform are "set" right now - they are determined by your nature, which is what it is and not what it isn't. Any actions you may take to change your nature (such as lifting weights to increase your strength, studying to change your knowledge, etc.) are still determined by your nature. You chose to study, lift weights, eat, etc., and this changed your nature.

Cap Forever, you misconstrue my argument. I am certainly NOT saying that Man is some helpless pawn buffetted around by forces outside his control. No, in fact, that's the opposite of what I'm saying. I'm saying that, with very rare exception, every action a man may take is determined by himself. Which is to say, it is determined by his nature (see #4 above.)

It's not enough to say that "Humans are special." We all know that already. We're moral agents, we have a volitional conceptual consciousness, not to mention that we just all-around kick ass and rock the hardest. But a "special" existent is still an existent, bound by the axioms of existence as everything else. No one can say that the law of identity applies everywhere in the universe except inside a human skull, or that the action of any existent is determined by its nature, except inside a human brain. Unless you can show how Man's specialness makes this argument invalid, then that's just a ghost in the machine argument, and is invalid.

It is important to distinguish between "Man's Nature" and a particular man's nature. For example, as a result of being a normal adult human, you have a choice of whether to think or evade. However, the result of that choice is not determined by the fact that you are human - it is determined by your *particular* nature. I may not know what the "to think or not to think" attributes are. However, I know immediately and introspectively that I have a choice, and that my choice is determined by me. I also know that, as an entity in reality, I am the sum of my attributes, and I cannot both have and lack the same attribute at the same time in the same respect. Therefore, even if I dont' know what my choice will be, I know that it is "determined" - because it is caused by Me, and I am what I am and nothing else.

To say that Man's choice to think is necessitated and caused by his nature, yet the result of the choice is not determined by anything, is to say that the nature of the choice (the attributes of that action - ie, which way it will turn out) is not caused by *anything*. This is not right.

I do believe that this was an area that Rand never really developed fully, or I am sure that she would have come to the same conclusions I have, because those conclusions are true. And, in my opinion, there have been no great metaphysicians or epistemologists since Rand. (In fact, I find it hard to even think of more than 2 philosophers who wrote about the topic and didn't do a horrid job of it: Rand and Aristotle.)

The challenge to all:

First, answer the 4 questions at the top. Then, show what conclusion doesn't follow, what assumption is not correct, and/or what context is dropped, etc. If someone here can show where this argument goes wrong, I will be impressed, flattered, and my view will be changed.

To those who care about this sort of thing:

I have no loyalty to Rand, Peikoff, Kelley, or any other Objectivist. Saying, "Rand said such and such" means very very very little to me. A, if she's said it, I've probably read it, and B, if it's not true, it doesn't matter who said it. My loyalty is to Reality and the Truth. Any argument from Authority will be dismissed immediately. (I'm not trying to say that anyone here would try to make that kind of argument, of course, just being pre-emptive, since I have seen that a lot in the past in various Objectivist forums.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

GCS:

But what about the alternative of agent-causation, which Objectivism endorses?

Agent-causation = free will = predetermination.

That's my argument, reduced to a single statement. (Not to confuse "predetermination" with "determinism." Determinism generally states, "Man's actions are caused by things other than Man," and I'm not saying that.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...