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On the question of free-will vs. determinism

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(2) can a sufficiently good computer simulation of the brain be conscious? And if so, does it posess free will even if it is fully built from deterministic components?

I'm currently reading The Biological Basis for Teleological Concepts by Dr. Harry Binswanger. So far, he's made some interesting arguments for why machines don't engage in goal oriented behavior, but I don't know if he'll adress the issue of "artificial intellegence" in computers. I think his arguments so far are at least applicable to the extent of substantially clarifying the issues involved.

I disagree that Objectivism hasn't addressed this topic directly. It's just that, the common arguments in favor of determinism and against free will (as well as traditional but incorrect arguments in favor of "free will" that Objectivism rejects) are from diverse philosophical premises, so that the specific premise or premises which lead to that specific argument have to be identified and refuted before the argument can be refuted. So refuting specific arguments, and identifying each of the Objectivist principles which are necessary to validate free will in the context of an argument can get pretty complicated.

There are several lecture courses available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore which are devoted to free will, though I haven't heard them. Dr. Peikoff gave some interesting arguments for it (and against several different variations on determinism, and against arguments that volition is or would be causeless) in his History of Western Philosophy courses. And Dr. Binswanger is adressing it in the book I'm reading now. Most of the more advanced Objectivist materials (especially on epistemology and sometimes metaphysics) at least adress the issue, and I almost always get a better understanding of it when they do. (As opposed to trying to discuss it out of context on message boards, which has usually temporarily confused me, until I can separate out the diversity of positions being stated and their significance, which is often more work than its worth, for me on this particular issue).

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It would indeed be interesting to see the advanced objectivist materials on the subject. Hopefully at some point in the future I will have the time to study them.

What disturbs me about the objectivism position as I currently see it is the acceptance of free will as an axiom, and saying that the denial of it as such is a denial of "everything" ie reason, logic, existance, etc. I think it is clear that free will is far from axiomatic, the opinion of the "layman" being largely irrelevant in this context.

it is clear that objectivism makes much use of the concept of "volition" as involving human free will, and built on the axiom that free will exists. Yet I see the rejection of axiomatic free will as in no way mandating the rejection of any other objectivist premises or conclusions. A scientific "deterministic" explanation of human behavior is not incompatible with the idea of objecivism, in fact in many ways I think it is more compatible than an inexplicable and unprovable concept of "free will."

As with anything, it is easy to mandate a conclusion by building a straw-man argument for the alternative, which is largely what I see objectivism as having done by treating free will as an axiom.

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What disturbs me about the objectivism position as I currently see it is the acceptance of free will as an axiom, and saying that the denial of it as such is a denial of "everything" ie reason, logic, existance, etc. I think it is clear that free will is far from axiomatic, the opinion of the "layman" being largely irrelevant in this context.
What would force you either to accept free will non-axiomatically, or force you to reject free will. Why would that force you to choose the particular position that you choose?
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I've been having trouble with this one :dough: How? If the actions of the particles are completely determined, how can they give rise to something volitional? Couldn't one in theory apply all the relevant physical laws to the system and figure out exactly where the determined particles will be at a certain point in the future, thus making any of their actions as a whole completely deterministic?

What is it about volitionality, that makes you think it is "uncaused". Remember Rand keeps volition very focused on the capacity to initiate higher level thought or not. The rest could be highly determined. Now I do not understand the mechanism that imparts this atribute to man, but it is not so far fetched to think that it could be a mechanism. I think that this mechanism must be closely related to the mechanism for conceptual thought. We know consciousness is a mechanism. Do you not find it equally stupifying to say that an unconscious mechanism (a single cell zygote) can boot strap itself into a conscious mechanism? But we clearly know that this is true.

This is the axiomatic part. Can I know I am volitional without knowing the mechanism by which I am? Sure. Just introspect a bit. This is the equivalent of me saying, do I know I'm conscious?Sure do.

The bootstrapping just helps you conceive that there is possible a process by which such a complex mechanism could generate from simpler mechanisms.

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I have a problem with Determinism with regard to conclusions its proponents seem to jump to. First off, they say that free will doesn't exist. What, exactly, does "free will" free itself from? Causality? If they define free will as such, then I agree with them that it doesn't exist. Many of them go further by saying that volition does not exist.

Very often, none of their premeses even remotely support the conclusion that volition doesn't exist.

"Your choices come about solely because the physical form of your brain and the movement of particles, and laws of physics, etc." Yes, they come about solely because I exist in actual reality. And?

"But this means that given the exact same circumstances, the exact same physical conditions, positions of everything in the universe, and same universal constants, you would always make the exact same choice." Of course. I exist as myself, which verifies--as does everything--the axiom of identity. My brain would repeat, make the same evaluations/computations/judgements, and make the same choice. This still doesn't negate the fact that I made a choice. Determinists, by defining choice as some action free (in any way, shape, or form) from causality, make it an impossibility in some odd, contrived way. I consider their argument against volition or choice frivolous when they define them as such.

Consciousness, by the way, does not require any "boot-strapping" to make itself somehow above the system around it. It exists in tandem with its physical medium (the brain, in our case) and uses senses in tandem with the sensory organs (subject to the laws of physics), and perceives (via processes also subject to the laws of physics that govern how the brain operates) what it senses. It then processes the data through computation, evaluates the information resulting from the computations, and makes judgements which lead to choices (all subject to causality). Without an absolute, predictable system the way Determinists describe it, consciousness and volition can not exist.

Edited by The Passion of the Koresh
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I recommend reading Daniel Dennet's Freedom Evolves for a detailed description of how free will can evolve out of a deterministic system.

http://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Evolves-Dani...tag2=exoscience

And why you're at it, he's got many other great books as well. Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins put a lot of weight on genes controlling our actions, which I don't believe, but they have very good points about other subjects.

There's a review of the book a little way down on this page:

http://www.geocities.com/sande106/DanielDennett2.htm

Edited by dizm
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I have read Freedom Evolves and found it a very interesting book. Dennet's discussion of game theory and complex outcomes in particular was very interesting to me.

The type of insight Dennet seeks in regards to free will is what I look for in any intelligent discussion. Not "free will is axiomatic, end of story" as many here seem to believe. As with many other things, I have a "gut feeling" that many objectivists believe that abandoning the axiom of free will means the entire objectivist house of cards will crumble. I think Dennet's book shows how this is far from the truth.

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Remember that accepting an idea of scientific predetermination doesn't negate human conciousness. It doesn't mean humans are just mindless drones following the rote orders they are "predetermined" to execute. What predetermination does mean in the context of logic and observation is that for any given human decision there could not have been any other outcome.

This is interesting in the human context because we often think that there could have been other outcomes. For instance, we find questions such as "What if Napoleon hadn't invaded Russia?" interesting because we can posit alternative decisions having been made in the past. Yet it seems odd to think of Napoleon's decision as anything but following inevitably from the preconditions before it. We think of our current and future decisions as being open to free will, but once we look at them in hindsight it is unclear whether they could have been otherwise.

And as strange as the deterministic position is, the free will position seems just as odd. Is the human brain a sort of "quantum computer" as some have alleged such that it can operate in violation of the normal macro laws governing outcomes? This seems even more improbable than a deterministic universe.

It seems to me that it is the determinists who set up the straw man against free will. Objectivism has never claimed that choices exist in a vacuum or are uncaused, or that the brain is a quantum computer(? ..is that a reference to Heisenberg's quantum theory?).

I also think there is a confusion about what an Objectivist would mean when he says a choice "could have been otherwise." He doesn't mean (as I understand it) that under the exact same conditions, in the exact same state of mind, by completely random chance or by some mystical power a particular person might have made a different choice than he made. I've only seen Objectivists make the claim that people might have chosen otherwise in the context of demonstrating that actions follow from choices. In the contexts I've encountered this statement, I believe that the speaker has meant merely--if the person had chosen differently, which would be metaphysically possible *under the proper conditions*, then he would have acted differently.

If someone has an example where an Objectivist has claimed more than that--specifically, has claimed that, under the exact same conditions--with all the person's premises and psychology and everything being equal, the choice to think or not is completely random, arbitrary, or uncaused, which seems to be what the determinists are accusing Oists of saying, then I'd like to see an exact quote and reference for that.

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In the contexts I've encountered this statement, I believe that the speaker has meant merely--if the person had chosen differently, which would be metaphysically possible *under the proper conditions*, then he would have acted differently.

Oh, also, he's meant that the choice was intitiated according to final causation, which is a unique phenomenon of living organisms, as opposed to mere efficient causation, like billiard balls bumping each other around.

Edited by Bold Standard
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I have a copy of OPAR in front of me open to the "Sense Perception and Volition" chapter.

"The point is that, whether [the choice]is right or wrong, the direction taken is a matter of choice, not of necessity." p 64

Here it is explicitly clear that Peikoff sees volition and choice as not necessitated by the starting conditions.

"The principle of causality does not apply to consciousness, however, in the same way that it applies to matter." p 64
Again, it is clear that Peikoff sees a disconnect between material causality and human volition.

"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." p 65

Here is where I think the big logical gap is. How is deciding governing reasons not governed by the starting conditions? Peikoff is stating, from what I can tell, that nothing in the makeup of the universe before a human choice will predict of necessitate the governing reasons a man uses to make a choice. This seems, on its face, entirely unfounded. Although Peikoff denies a hole in the law of causality, that is exactly what this is. To him, the human weighing of governing reasons is caused only by the human rather than any other preconditions. Thus it follows that to Peikoff, given the same initial starting conditions before a human choice, you could "run the experiment" multiple times and end up with different choices each time. This seems absurd to me. It turns human conciousness into a sort of quantum "switch" in the law of causality where normal rules don't apply.

As to the straw-man argument, here it is:

"If a man's consciousness were automatic, if it did react deterministically to outer or inner forces acting upon it, then by definition a man would have no choice in regard to his mental content; he would accept whatever he had to accept, whatever ideas the determining forces engendered in him." p 69

This is a straw-man argument because it assumes that the determinist position holds that man's consciousness is automatic, and that man can have "awareness" of some sort of the deterministic forces shaping his thoughts and actions. IE, it would be as if man was simply a passenger along for the ride who could see what was coming up ahead but not react to or change anything. The problem is that this is not a valid determinist position at all. A deterministic view of human choice does not mean that such choices are automatic or that humans have any knowledge whatsover about what "he had to accept." Whether or not the universe and human consciousness is deterministic, humans would still act as if they had free will because of their unique perspective of reality. As such morality, epistemology, and all other disciplines still have their essential function. The only thing that changes is that past decisions are said to be necessitated by their preconditions. IE, a decision could not have been otherwise.

I won't go into Peikoff's absurd narrative characterization of a determinist on page 71 as it is just an even more absurd straw-man position based on the one I already quoted above.

Edited by Vladimir Berkov
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Well, you seem to have skipped over the section that specifically deals with your concern, on p. 68. Beginning "There is one further question to consider .... does it follow that ... there is a conflict between freedom and causality?"

I wonder, as Peikoff does, if there are two particles of matter in space who attract each other with the force of gravity, what does causality say about the existence of gravity per se. It certainly would say that given mass and given gravity as a property of mass, that particles will behave according to their identity, but what about causality says that gravity should be in the first place? Nothing.

You choose to define volition as anti-causality. This is sort of saying that life can't exist because we're just a bunch of inanimate chemicals. When in reality life is the nature and capacity of group of chemicals in this configuration. So too is volition the nature of a group of chemicals that make up a conceptual being such as man.

This is why it is axiomatic, and an extension of consciousness. I don't need to understand it's mechanism to say it exists, just as I don't need to understand all of existence to know that existence exists. You cannot deny consciousness without being conscious. And as corrolary, you cannot deny volition, without choosing to deny it.

We're almost close to the same thing you and I. You say that man is complex rube goldberg machine whose nature follows causality, and as such needs epistemology, etc...

I say the same thing, but only that that is exactly what it means to be volitional. His volitionality is not an "appearance" in the midst of determinism. It is just that, volitional, and man is not "acting". Causality does not preclude volition, it only says that given volition as a property of this configuration of chemicals, it must act according to its nature.

Edited by KendallJ
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Well, you seem to have skipped over the section that specifically deals with your concern, on p. 68. Beginning "There is one further question to consider .... does it follow that ... there is a conflict between freedom and causality?"

The reason I skipped over that section is because it does not answer the question. Peikoff's answer does (and should) strike us as odd. He essentially says that there is no reason to say that "mechanistic" causation is the only type of causation and that (apparently) there can be another kind, the kind where volition is causally irreducable yet doesn't violate the law of causality. This is, at best, skirting the issue.

I wonder, as Peikoff does, if there are two particles of matter in space who attract each other with the force of gravity, what does causality say about the existence of gravity per se. It certainly would say that given mass and given gravity as a property of mass, that particles will behave according to their identity, but what about causality says that gravity should be in the first place? Nothing.

I am not sure what this has to do with volition. Gravity is different from volition because gravity is a natural law existing at all times simultaniously with whatever can be caused or acted upon. IE, at the time immediately following the Big Bang, gravity and all other natural laws governing matter, energy, etc were in existance as they are now. Similarly, you can trace the root of scientific causation to the Big Bang. In short you can say that gravity and the law of causation are "necessary" in the scientific sense. Neither the concept "volition" nor its referent has always existed, nor is it necessary, anymore than the concept "automobile" is.

You choose to define volition as anti-causality. This is sort of saying that life can't exist because we're just a bunch of inanimate chemicals. When in reality life is the nature and capacity of group of chemicals in this configuration. So too is volition the nature of a group of chemicals that make up a conceptual being such as man.

Objectivistism sees volition as more than a descriptive concept of scientific reality, however, it sees it as a exception to normal mechanistic, scientific processes.

This is why it is axiomatic, and an extension of consciousness. I don't need to understand it's mechanism to say it exists, just as I don't need to understand all of existence to know that existence exists. You cannot deny consciousness without being conscious. And as corrolary, you cannot deny volition, without choosing to deny it.

This is essentially the "layman" argument brought up earlier combined with the straw-man argument Peikoff uses. Nothing in the idea of a deterministic universe precludes rational, thinking beings discussing the idea of volition and accepting or denying it as the case may be. You are essentially assuming a determinist position which does not exist and then arguing why it is impossible.

We're almost close to the same thing you and I. You say that man is complex rube goldberg machine whose nature follows causality, and as such needs epistemology, etc...

I say the same thing, but only that that is exactly what it means to be volitional. His volitionality is not an "appearance" in the midst of determinism. It is just that, volitional, and man is not "acting". Causality does not preclude volition, it only says that given volition as a property of this configuration of chemicals, it must act according to its nature.

The difference between your position and mine is more than that. I would say that given the same set of preconditions, a man's choice will always be the same regardless of how many "trials" are run. You would say that given the same set of preconditions, a man's choice may (and likely will) be different each time.

This I see as a flat-out contradiction of the nature of reality (quantum mechanics excepted).

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As to the straw-man argument, here it is:

This is a straw-man argument because it assumes that the determinist position holds that man's consciousness is automatic, and that man can have "awareness" of some sort of the deterministic forces shaping his thoughts and actions. IE, it would be as if man was simply a passenger along for the ride who could see what was coming up ahead but not react to or change anything. The problem is that this is not a valid determinist position at all.

I agree that it's not a valid position, but what makes you say that it's not the (at least, traditional) determinist position? I'll need to read that section of OPAR more thoroughly, but I don't see from the parts you quoted where he ascribes awareness of deterministic forces to the determinist position, or why that would be essential to his argument.

A deterministic view of human choice does not mean that such choices are automatic or that humans have any knowledge whatsover about what "he had to accept." Whether or not the universe and human consciousness is deterministic, humans would still act as if they had free will because of their unique perspective of reality. As such morality, epistemology, and all other disciplines still have their essential function. The only thing that changes is that past decisions are said to be necessitated by their preconditions. IE, a decision could not have been otherwise.
That you describe determinism as almost indistinguishable from volition makes me skeptical about whether what you are describing is really the determinist position. There are many variations on determinism, but most of the versions I've studied end up saying that choice is completely illusory, and then draw special conclusions from that, such as that people should not be held responsible for their actions, or that attempting to control one's own destiny is futile. Many of them also claim that thought and consciousness do not exist either, at least in the form of autonomous individual minds.

What you describe seems to be more of a psuedo-determinism, with elements of free will, but with the components that lead to volition arising from "necessary" efficiently caused events. Essentially, if I'm reading you right, you're saying that we do make choices, but that we couldn't have made different choices than we did, assuming that all the conditions were the same.

"The point is that, whether [the choice]is right or wrong, the direction taken is a matter of choice, not of necessity." p 64
I'll need to find the part where he defines "necessity" to understand this. (OPAR is so broad in scope, I've found some of the definitions to be somewhat skimpy and breif, which is one reason I haven't spent as much time on OPAR as other works by Dr. Peikoff. I've found that the definitions are usually in there, but it's hard for me to keep track of what he's talking about sometimes).

"The principle of causality does not apply to consciousness, however, in the same way that it applies to matter." p 64
But this is certainly true. Inanimate matter is incapable of goal oriented behavior, and therefore doesn't "act" autonomously, but merely reacts to other forces acting on it. A conscious entity, on the other hand, is capable of acting with a future goal "in mind" (a consequence of having a mind), which is an autonomous decision, and a product of its own consciousness, rather than merely physical objects bumping into it and making it move in certain ways etc.

"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." Here is where I think the big logical gap is. How is deciding governing reasons not governed by the starting conditions? Peikoff is stating, from what I can tell, that nothing in the makeup of the universe before a human choice will predict of necessitate the governing reasons a man uses to make a choice. This seems, on its face, entirely unfounded. Although Peikoff denies a hole in the law of causality, that is exactly what this is. To him, the human weighing of governing reasons is caused only by the human rather than any other preconditions. Thus it follows that to Peikoff, given the same initial starting conditions before a human choice, you could "run the experiment" multiple times and end up with different choices each time. This seems absurd to me. It turns human conciousness into a sort of quantum "switch" in the law of causality where normal rules don't apply.

I don't think you're interpreting Peikoff correctly. What do you mean by "starting conditions" here? Why do you think that it is his position that "nothing in the makeup of the universe before a human choice will predict [or] necessitate the governing reasons a man uses to make a choice"? He says, "man himself decides what are to be the governing reasons. Man chooses the causes that shape his actions." Is man not part of the makeup of the universe?

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You are essentially assuming a determinist position which does not exist and then arguing why it is impossible.
It's one thing to accuse someone of assuming a determinist position which is not yours, and another to accuse him of assuming a determinist position which doesn't exist. How many theories of determinism have you studied? How do you know there aren't determinists who profess exactly the type of ideas you are describing? In fact, I know that there are (and can give famous examples if you want).
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I recommend reading Daniel Dennet's Freedom Evolves for a detailed description of how free will can evolve out of a deterministic system.

http://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Evolves-Dani...tag2=exoscience

And why you're at it, he's got many other great books as well. Daniel Dennet and Richard Dawkins put a lot of weight on genes controlling our actions, which I don't believe, but they have very good points about other subjects.

There's a review of the book a little way down on this page:

http://www.geocities.com/sande106/DanielDennett2.htm

Anyone here read this? If it is what it says it is, it may just fill in the final gap in my understanding... I also want to clarify that in my previous post I wasn't denying free will, I was just saying that I didn't see how it could work.

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I agree that it's not a valid position, but what makes you say that it's not the (at least, traditional) determinist position? I'll need to read that section of OPAR more thoroughly, but I don't see from the parts you quoted where he ascribes awareness of deterministic forces to the determinist position, or why that would be essential to his argument.

Peikoff's characterization requires awareness as it characterizes deterministic forces as a "force" automating a person's actions, thought, etc. If a person had no awareness of this force it would essentially not be a force on his actions at all.

That you describe determinism as almost indistinguishable from volition makes me skeptical about whether what you are describing is really the determinist position. There are many variations on determinism, but most of the versions I've studied end up saying that choice is completely illusory, and then draw special conclusions from that, such as that people should not be held responsible for their actions, or that attempting to control one's own destiny is futile. Many of them also claim that thought and consciousness do not exist either, at least in the form of autonomous individual minds.
The deterministic position I am describing is sometimes also terms a mechanistic explaination, or a compatibilist position. It is not a "hard" determinist position which in addition to saying mechanistic forces explain human action also holds that humans are not responsible for their actions.

What you describe seems to be more of a psuedo-determinism, with elements of free will, but with the components that lead to volition arising from "necessary" efficiently caused events. Essentially, if I'm reading you right, you're saying that we do make choices, but that we couldn't have made different choices than we did, assuming that all the conditions were the same.

This is essentially correct. I hold that determinism (mechanism) explains human action, but that this doesn't mean human's aren't guided by reason or can't be held accountable for their actions.

I don't think you're interpreting Peikoff correctly. What do you mean by "starting conditions" here? Why do you think that it is his position that "nothing in the makeup of the universe before a human choice will predict [or]necessitate the governing reasons a man uses to make a choice"? He says, "man himself decides what are to be the governing reasons. Man chooses the causes that shape his actions." Is man not part of the makeup of the universe?

By starting conditions I mean the complete state of the universe prior to the human choice/action. Man is indeed a part of the makeup of the universe, but man is not his own cause. Man is a product of the universe, and obviously did not exist from the beginning of time. Peikoff believes that there is something about human consciousness that "breaks" causal chains that existed prior to his action or intervention and that man's conscious, volitional actions are essentially an "uncaused cause" (as God was often held to be.)

Essentially, Piekoff sees a disconnect between the mechanistic factors which influence man's consciousness (the universe) and man's intellect which chooses outcomes not necessary based on those factors as presented to him.

For example, for lunch today I had soup although having a sandwich was also an option. Peikoff's position would mean that if we could somehow "turn back the clock" to 11:30 today before I made the choice to get soup, and let the clock start ticking again, I might very well end up getting a sandwich. Nothing in the makeup of the universe would have changed, none of the factors that influenced my lunch choice would have changed, yet somehow my choice would have changed.

It's one thing to accuse someone of assuming a determinist position which is not yours, and another to accuse him of assuming a determinist position which doesn't exist. How many theories of determinism have you studied? How do you know there aren't determinists who profess exactly the type of ideas you are describing? In fact, I know that there are (and can give famous examples if you want).

There may very well still be scholars or philosophers who entertain the idea of "hard" determinism. But these people have essentially been sidelined in the current academic debate for the obvious reason that their position is untenable not to mention impractical.

In terms of my personal background on the subject, while getting my BA in philosophy I specialized for a time in the philosophy of science of which these issues play a large part. Now that I am in law school I am currently studying the issue of causation in the law in-depth, both in a seminar as well as an independant research project in which I am writing a law review note on three causally problematic areas of the law.

Edited by Vladimir Berkov
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[i typed this up as evidence that the position attributed in this discussion to determinists does exist, but while I typed it up I see Vladimir has responded, so I'll go ahead and post this and then respond to his new post (since I've already transcribed it).]

Nothing in the idea of a deterministic universe precludes rational, thinking beings discussing the idea of volition and accepting or denying it as the case may be. You are essentially assuming a determinist position which does not exist and then arguing why it is impossible.

Here is B F Skiner, arch-determinist, arguing that the idea of the mind is unnecessary and unscientific:

The function of the inner man is to provide an explanation which will not be explained in turn. Explanation stops with him. He is not a mediator between past history and current behavior, he is a center from which behavior emanates. He initiates, originates, and creates, and in doing so he remains, as he was for the Greeks, divine. We say that he is autonomous-and, so far as a science of behavior is concerned, that means miraculous.

The position is, of course, vulnerable. Autonomous man serves to explain only the things we are not yet able to explain in other ways. His existence depends upon our ignorance, and he naturally loses status as we come to know more about behavior. The task of a scientific analysis is to explain how the behavior of a person as a physical system is related to the conditions under which the human species evolved and the conditions under which the individual lives. Unless there is indeed some capricious or creative intervention, these events must be related, and no intervention is in fact needed. The contingencies of survival responsible for man's genetic endownment would produce tendencies to act aggressively, not feelings of aggression. The punishment of sexual behavior changes sexual behavior, and any feelings which may arise are at best by-products. Our age is not suffering from anxiety but from the accidents, crimes, wars, and other dangerous and painful things to which people are so often exposed. Young people drop out of school, refuse to get jobs, and associate only with others of their own age not because they feel alienated but because of defective social environments in homes, schools, factories, and elsewhere.

We can follow the path taken by physics and biology by turning directly to the relation between behavior and the environment and neglecting supposed mediating states of mind. Physics did not advance by looking more closely at the jubilance of a falling body, or biology by looking at the nature of vital spirits, and we do not need to try to discover what personalities, states of mind, feelings, traits of character, plans, purposes, intentions, or the other perquisites of autonomous man really are in order to get on with a scientific analysis of behavior.

I do not think Skinner would entertain the terms, "rational, thinking beings" as anything more than the lowest kind of misleading euphemism for determined, reacting objects.

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I am not an expert on B.F. Skinner, so I can't really comment on his position. I can only really comment on the current determinist position which I have studied quite a bit. The "modern" position is that mechanistic causation can explain (and theoretically predict) human behavior, but that man's rational thoughts and actions are still of importance for various reasons.

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To Peikoff, given the same initial starting conditions before a human choice, you could "run the experiment" multiple times and end up with different choices each time. This seems absurd to me.
Emphasis mine.

At school today I show a student that 0.999... equals 1. He doesn't accept my proof, although accepting it is also an option. If we could somehow "turn back the clock" to before this pupil made the choice to not accept my proof, and let the clock start ticking again, is it absurd to say that this pupil might instead accept my proof?

Similarly, a local idiot murdered his wife over the weekend here. If we could turn back the clock to before this nutter acted, is it absurd to think that this fool might end up making a different choice?

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Peikoff's characterization requires awareness as it characterizes deterministic forces as a "force" automating a person's actions, thought, etc. If a person had no awareness of this force it would essentially not be a force on his actions at all.

I don't understand how this statement follows.. Why would a force not be a force unless a person was aware of it?

By starting conditions I mean the complete state of the universe prior to the human choice/action. Man is indeed a part of the makeup of the universe, but man is not his own cause. Man is a product of the universe, and obviously did not exist from the beginning of time.
Nobody said that man is his own cause, only that he is the cause of his actions. When you say "complete state of the universe prior to the human choice/action," are you including that person's premises, psychology, motives, etc in that state of the universe? If so, I think Dr. Peikoff would probably agree that he would choose the same. But, if you mean merely the state of the physical universe outside of the man and his mind prior to the action, then of course the person could choose differently--it's not the alignment of the planets or even genes that cause actions, but the cognitive process (the choice).

Peikoff believes that there is something about human consciousness that "breaks" causal chains that existed prior to his action or intervention and that man's conscious, volitional actions are essentially an "uncaused cause" (as God was often held to be.)

I really don't think that's his position. He definitely doesn't use that kind of language in the quotes you provided. I'll read that part of OPAR tonight though.

For example, for lunch today I had soup although having a sandwich was also an option. Peikoff's position would mean that if we could somehow "turn back the clock" to 11:30 today before I made the choice to get soup, and let the clock start ticking again, I might very well end up getting a sandwich. Nothing in the makeup of the universe would have changed, none of the factors that influenced my lunch choice would have changed, yet somehow my choice would have changed.
No, I don't think so-- "Man's actions do have causes; he does choose a course of behavior for a reason," (emphasis mine). If you turned back the clock, presumably you would still have the same reason for declining the sandwich that you did the first time. But if you don't mind getting hypothetical--let's say that although you declined the sandwich, you were really hungry for a sandwich but were evading those hunger pains because of anorexia. Then I think Peikoff would say, if you made the decision to think, and face the hunger pains, then you would have chosen the sandwich; you would have chosen differently. In that case, all of the environmental factors would be the same, but there would be a cognitive factor that was different.

There may very well still be scholars or philosophers who entertain the idea of "hard" determinism. But these people have essentially been sidelined in the current academic debate for the obvious reason that their position is untenable not to mention impractical.

Well, Beyond Freedom and Dignity was published in 1971, about the same time Dr. Peikoff was working on OPAR. So when discussing the Objectivist position on issues, it might be a little unfair to assume the issues as they've been modified in their most recent manifestations (Ayn Rand, the only one who definitively stated the Objectitivist position on most issues, died in 1982). But, besides, determinism has existed in various forms for thousands of years, and explicitly since Ancient Greece, so why should the latest psuedo-determinism be considered the definitive determinist position, such that to use the term "determinism" to refer to the traditional argument is attacking a straw man?

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In the two examples you gave, what would be different in each to cause the outcomes to be different? In each case the starting conditions would be the same, yet you seem to think the outcomes would differ? If so, what explains the difference? Certainly not science. Perhaps random chance? Luck?

Would you think it equally likely to say that instead of a man murdering his wife it was a bear mauling the wife? Would you say the bear could have ended up making a different choice?

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The reason I skipped over that section is because it does not answer the question. Peikoff's answer does (and should) strike us as odd. He essentially says that there is no reason to say that "mechanistic" causation is the only type of causation and that (apparently) there can be another kind, the kind where volition is causally irreducable yet doesn't violate the law of causality. This is, at best, skirting the issue.

I am not sure what this has to do with volition. Gravity is different from volition because gravity is a natural law existing at all times simultaniously with whatever can be caused or acted upon. IE, at the time immediately following the Big Bang, gravity and all other natural laws governing matter, energy, etc were in existance as they are now. Similarly, you can trace the root of scientific causation to the Big Bang. In short you can say that gravity and the law of causation are "necessary" in the scientific sense. Neither the concept "volition" nor its referent has always existed, nor is it necessary, anymore than the concept "automobile" is.

Well, that is a particularly unsatisfying answer for why something should be. "It is necessary" (i.e. we need it to be so). This is a treatment of gravity as formal (in the Platonic sense). Concepts are not floating external existents separate from their entities. Gravity is an attribute of nature, specifically of the material existents in nature. It's status as some sort of "overarching law" is purely conceptual. The potential of matter and energy to form all sort of particulars is inherent in its nature from the beginning. To ask causation to explain why gravity should exist is no different than asking it to explain why a black hole should exist. I might be able to trace causal effects from a black hole backwards, but this does not make it any less fundamental to ask why it should exists as such. Causation cannot answer that.

Objectivistism sees volition as more than a descriptive concept of scientific reality, however, it sees it as a exception to normal mechanistic, scientific processes.

I'm not sure how many more ways I can say this. The nature of gravity is not within a mechanistic process. Given gravity, mechanistic process is defined. The nature of a black hole is not within a mechanistic process. Given the nature of a black hole, that which caused it and the effects of its actions act according to mechanistic processes. And so it is for consciousness. Peikoff treats it as metaphysically given, like existence. Hence axiomatic. It is not arbitrarily given, but validated like all other axioms, with perception.

This is essentially the "layman" argument brought up earlier combined with the straw-man argument Peikoff uses. Nothing in the idea of a deterministic universe precludes rational, thinking beings discussing the idea of volition and accepting or denying it as the case may be. You are essentially assuming a determinist position which does not exist and then arguing why it is impossible.

I'm curious how the concept of proper ethics survives in your world.

Well I agree with Bold S here. The "straw man" was taken from the intro of a section that discussed the validation of volition not from the argument of its compatibility with causation. It is not the basis of Peikoff's argument nor is it relevant. I'm not arguing the point you seem to think I am. How much have you read on the nature of axioms in teh Objectivist system because it seem to me that you are confused on what axioms are or how they are validated within the Objectivist system.

The difference between your position and mine is more than that. I would say that given the same set of preconditions, a man's choice will always be the same regardless of how many "trials" are run. You would say that given the same set of preconditions, a man's choice may (and likely will) be different each time.

I didn't say that. But it's good to see we're discussing wide chasms in hypotheticals that don't exist in reality.

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Well, that is a particularly unsatisfying answer for why something should be. "It is necessary" (i.e. we need it to be so). This is a treatment of gravity as formal (in the Platonic sense). Concepts are not floating external existents separate from their entities. Gravity is an attribute of nature, specifically of the material existents in nature. It's status as some sort of "overarching law" is purely conceptual. The potential of matter and energy to form all sort of particulars is inherent in its nature from the beginning. To ask causation to explain why gravity should exist is no different than asking it to explain why a black hole should exist. I might be able to trace causal effects from a black hole backwards, but this does not make it any less fundamental to ask why it should exists as such. Causation cannot answer that.

I am not sure what your point is. The difference between gravity and volition is that the concept "gravity" refers to a force which has existed since the beginning of time where as the concept "volition" refers explicitly to an element of humanity, which has not. Gravity is necessary in the sense that without it all physical interactions and processes as we know them would not exist. Volition is not necessary in the sense that whether it exists or does not in no way affects the mechanistic operation of the natural world.

Well I agree with Bold S here. The "straw man" was taken from the intro of a section that discussed the validation of volition not from the argument of its compatibility with causation. It is not the basis of Peikoff's argument nor is it relevant. I'm not arguing the point you seem to think I am. How much have you read on the nature of axioms in teh Objectivist system because it seem to me that you are confused on what axioms are or how they are validated within the Objectivist system.

I didn't say that. But it's good to see we're discussing wide chasms in hypotheticals that don't exist in reality.

Actually it is the basis of Peikoff's argument. Peikoff has no ability to explain any scientific or factual basis for why "volition" or free will exists, hence he argues from the negative. By stating a straw-man determinist alternative to volition and showing why it is impossible, he thus "proves" that his concept of volition must be true and is axiomatic.

I am fairly familiar with now objectivism treats axioms in the sense it holds some things axiomatic which other philosophers do not. If you mean that objectivism has some special definition of axiom which is contrary to the accepted dictionary and academic definition I am not particularly interested in hearing about it. Objectivism already has tried to change the meanings of too many words for my liking. It is easier to discuss philosophic matters if we stick to accepted usage rather than propriatary definitions.

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