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Things I've taken for granted in the O'ist Ethics.

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How can you deny free will? I thought that was impossible.

System.out.println("Free will does not exist");

But more seriously, my act of saying the sentence 'free will does not exist' presumably corresponds to some configuration of neurons in my brain, unless consicousness is taken to be magical. And assuming that these neurons are made up of particles obeying the same deterministic* laws as particles everywhere else in the universe, it would seem that this configuration (and hence my speech) would have been deterimined by previous configurations regardless of any non-deterministic mental act. Free-will would literally mean that particles in the human brain obey completely different laws from particles everywhere else in the universe. And this is an enormous claim to make, and one which has scientific consequences (ie experiments can theoretically be designed to check if its true, and it is potentially falsifiable).

* quantum effects being irrelevant.

Ditto with volition. Reason, which is the process of integrating and processing the evidence of your senses by means of forming abstractions, that is to say concepts and propositions, does not operate automatically. It is a volitional process. The proof is dramatically obvious: people can be wrong. If determinism was correct the same inputs would always unerringly produce the same outputs, like a computer.
Yes, this is true. But where is the proof that they dont? Computers can also be wrong, but we do not need to invoke non-determinism to explain this.

It would not matter whether a neuroscientist could "explain" how he "deterministically" arrived at his conclusions: the fact would be that he had exercised his volition in the process of reasoning and that his conclusions were false. Period end of story.
What would be the evidence for this supposed fact. If his theory explained all the data without invoking freewill, then why would we have to assume that free-will existed? Edited by Hal
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But more seriously, my act of saying the sentence 'free will does not exist' presumably corresponds to some configuration of neurons in my brain, unless consicousness is taken to be magical.
I presumed that you made a choice to say that, and that you didn't have to say it. Now I don't doubt for a moment that there is a bunch of physical stuff that happens when you say (or write) sentences, like some neurons fire so that your finger moves. How does that negate the fact that you chose to write your words? You've got this basic fact facing you -- you did make the choice to write those words. Even though neither of us understand the physics of that fact any more than we understand the physics of eating a fish, it doesn't mean we can't eat a fish. (I could have said "turkey" but I thought that would be too predictable)
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What would be the evidence for this supposed fact. If his theory explained all the data without invoking freewill, then why would we have to assume that free-will existed?
One either has control of one's mind or one does not. If you do not, then you have no way of knowing whether or not you employed a process of reason governed by logic to reach your conclusions -- or whether deterministic forces caused you to come to the conclusion that determinism is true. Thus, the claim to know that determinism is true is contradictory. To put it another way: Knowledge presupposes a volitional consciousness free to use reason and logic to validate its knowledge; to claim the knowledge that the prerequisites of knowledge do not exist is as contradictory as it gets.
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... the fact [of free will] is directly perceivable though introspection, i.e. you can observe your consciousness in the process of making choices, ...

Please describe in detail an instance when you made a choice.

What about it leads you to believe that it is "free"? And in what sense is it "free"? What would the "unfree" alternative be like?

For instance, psychoanalysts for years have been claiming to "explain" that your actions were the result of some sort of conflict between the mystic entities known as your id, ego, and superego and that you had no control whatsoever.

According to psychoanalysis:

Your Ego is the part of your mind which you feel is yourself, i.e. your Ego is YOU. ("Ego" means "I".) Your Id is the part of your mind which is the repository of childish impulses which you have repressed. You become aware of your Id as unwanted urges to act out: to hit someone at whom you are angry; to steal something you like; to grab someone who sexually arouses you; to ram your car into someone who cut you off; etc.. ("Id" means "me".) Your Superego (or Ego-ideal) is the part of your mind which objects when you do something which you feel is morally wrong or against your parent's (or society's) standards. It is your feelings of guilt and shame; or your conscience.

So "you have no control" is wrong. You are your Ego. So you are in control.

One either has control of one's mind or one does not.

Your mind is part of yourself. So you are in control of it by definition.

If you do not, then you have no way of knowing whether or not you employed a process of reason governed by logic to reach your conclusions -- or whether deterministic forces caused you to come to the conclusion that determinism is true.

Why is control necessary in order to have knowledge? If I merely observe an experiment rather than conducting it myself, does that make it an invalid source of knowledge for me?

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Why is control necessary in order to have knowledge? If I merely observe an experiment rather than conducting it myself, does that make it an invalid source of knowledge for me?

Doesn't knowledge require focus? If you don't control and focus your mind, sensory perceptions will go in one ear and out the other, so to speak. One doesn't need to control every part of reality that one observes in order to integrate observations into knowledge. However, you do need to control (and focus) your mind.

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Why is control necessary in order to have knowledge? If I merely observe an experiment rather than conducting it myself, does that make it an invalid source of knowledge for me?
If you are in control of your mind, then you can know that what you saw was real; if you are not in control of your mind, i.e. if determinism is true, then you cannot know whether you actually saw it or whether determinism is simply fooling you into thinking you saw it. Any claim to knowledge presupposes that you were free to reach that knowledge by a process of reason governed by logic. Or, to put it yet another way: a being that is NOT free to use a process of reason governed by logic has no way to distinguish truth from falsehood; thus, it cannot claim to know one from the other.
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If you are in control of your mind, then you can know that what you saw was real; if you are not in control of your mind, i.e. if determinism is true, then you cannot know whether you actually saw it or whether determinism is simply fooling you into thinking you saw it. Any claim to knowledge presupposes that you were free to reach that knowledge by a process of reason governed by logic. Or, to put it yet another way: a being that is NOT free to use a process of reason governed by logic has no way to distinguish truth from falsehood; thus, it cannot claim to know one from the other.

Hm. You're right. Giving up free will means giving up the concept of knowledge. This is getting worse than I thought. If there is no free will, then there is no objective knowlege available to man. Then any claim of knowledge is futile. But since, that, too, is a claim of knowledge it contradicts itself.

That's the argument, right?

But what do we do with the laws of physics, then? :D

If that's correct, then they have to be wrong at some place.

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Rand often speaks of ethics in terms of us acting within our nature. Then she goes on to describe our nature. And when I was confronted with an unusual attack on Objectivist ethics, I found myself defenseless. How does Rand make the claim that she knows human nature definitively, enough so that she can make moral judgments about things such as sex, love, work, crime, etc.

She claims we are rational, but rational is somewhat of a relative concept as it must be rational with respect to a given goal. For instance if the goal of a game is to lose, then trying to win is irrational, and vice versa.

Second, I am not sure it can be proved that men are by nature rational, rather than men are by nature irrational and they have to try to be rational.

Third, I realize that Rand claims that the goal of humans is life. My friend brought up a Nozickian critique that says to claim your own life as the goal is subjective. Basically, what objective reason do you have to value your life? To expound further, valuing life simply because it is life, seems arbitrary. Since value presupposes life, it seems like a circular argument to claim that life is to be valued, since life is a category that subsumes value.

Lastly, I was wondering why Objectivists put any emphasis on the determinist/Free will debate. I was defending free will against my friend, and he pointed out that it is a false dichotomy. That there is no way to measure or prove free-will and conversely the same applies to determinism. And he claims that this debate is just some trash left over from the dualist period of philosophy, which needs to be thrown out.

Help me with first what the Objectivist stance is, and better yet, why the stance is.

The goal has to be rational to have value. Irrational goals have no true value. Humans seeking self preservation, prosperity, health, and happiness will seek true values, a clear statement of their rationality.

Each human's life is a value unto itself. Everything outside of its own existence, but which impacts on its existence can be either beneficial to or detrimental to its life. All relationships that life experiences are analyzed by that life and evaluated as good or bad. It is well documented in nature that life simply choses living, growing, and reproducing - automatically. Nature imposes value to existence. Life simply is value. I believe Rand's concern is that humans not forget their lives - their value - as some popular philosophies would have people believe.

There's no real debate. Free will is self evident. Enlightened free will - that might be questioned.

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Perhaps I missed it in one of your earlier posts, but what is the problem with the laws of physics and volition?

Well, the very idea of free will flies in the face of physics' explaination of nature which is deterministic. (If you take quantum physics, then it's stochastic, which is no better)

If your brain is part of reality (which it is) and the laws of physics say its function is determined (which they do) and it is not (which is also the case if there is free will) then physics is wrong.

This is a problem.

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Felix, was it you who mentioned in an earlier post in this thread that all knowledge is built on the sciences? I don't think there is any conflict between the determinism of nature and free will.

Consider that there is a decreasing order of predictability within the hard sciences (from physics to chemistry to biology, which has the least predictable systems) to the social sciences, which are even less predictable in terms of individual behavior (sociology, psychology). Are you saying that because we can predict with extreme certainty where a ball will fall given that we know everything about its parameters of movement, that we should be able to predict human behavior if we know everything about the brain? The extreme complexity of the system makes this highly unlikely. Furthermore, even if it were possible to predict human behavior, it wouldn't rule out the fact that other choices the person made affected the predicted choice.

Perhaps I can be clearer. I have read and posted elsewhere about studies being done on identical twins raised separately and the fact that they were more alike than expected (i.e. they shared more similarities than siblings raised in a different environment). This gives some weight to genetic determinism. However, I have personally known identical twins raised in the same environment, and they were very different people. They chose different hairstyles and clothing and had different hobbies. One was gregarious, the other quiet.

Both have identical genes and a very similar environment, being raised in the same household and schooled by the same classroom teacher for SIX years. (I went to a small rural gradeschool with only one class per grade with these two girls: Jill and Jeri ended up being on Donahue as prime examples of twins that are very different.)

This is a concrete example that shows that there is a range of choice available to everyone, and that even when genetics and environment are held constant (or, in the case of environment, close to constant) in two different individuals, they will still make different choices. It's true that someone with an IQ of 90 isn't going to be a rocket scientist and that they are somewhat determined by their genes, in exactly the same way that I'm not going to sprout wings and fly simple because I want to. But that doesn't mean that EVERY choice we make is determined by our genes.

Edited by Liriodendron Tulipifera
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That you can't predict the outcome doesn't make the process less determined. The problem is that, if your brain is just a bunch of chemistry, and I think it is, then it obeys the laws of physics. Whether I am able to calculate their outcome or can even define the brain state in some way is secondary here. If it obeys the laws of physics then it is determined. And if my thoughts are the results of my brain functioning then my thoughts are determined whether anyone can calculate the results or not.

But if this is the case then there is no knowledge possible. Because your brain just does what it has to do according to physics, you have all your thoughts just because they have to be there. Then, all philosophy is just a bunch of hogwash. Without choice there is no epistemology, no ethics, nothing. I just write this because I have to and you read it because you have to. You think what you have to think. There is no way to find validity to any thought because one can't apply a method of finding it out. That would require free will. But then this very theory is just the crap I had to write and it, too, has no meaning. There is no meaning because there is no tool for creating it.

The only alternative to this is:

The mind somehow is not physical. And this is scary because it makes the mind supernatural to some degree. But it is the only way to take the functioning of the mind out of the hands of the laws of physics. But what, then, reigns that mystical new dimension of reality? What is that dimension's identity, then?

I also have questions again regarding the validity of that claim:

To have knowledge, you need free will. You take knowledge as a given and deduct free will as its necessary foundation. Then you say: If there is no free will, then you can't claim that there isn't. Thought, then, requires free will to be noncontradictory. Is this a valid way to reason? And what happens to the "supernatural nature"-problem?

Help!

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That you can't predict the outcome doesn't make the process less determined.

There are two possible categories in this case: 1> determinism and 2> non-determinism

In other words, it doesn't rule out non-determinism.

The problem is that, if your brain is just a bunch of chemistry, and I think it is, then it obeys the laws of physics. Whether I am able to calculate their outcome or can even define the brain state in some way is secondary here. If it obeys the laws of physics then it is determined. And if my thoughts are the results of my brain functioning then my thoughts are determined whether anyone can calculate the results or not.
You should realize that there is a great deal we don't understand yet. We can't even cure the common cold yet, for crying out loud. It's earlier than you think.

But if this is the case then there is no knowledge possible. Because your brain just does what it has to do according to physics, you have all your thoughts just because they have to be there. Then, all philosophy is just a bunch of hogwash. Without choice there is no epistemology, no ethics, nothing. I just write this because I have to and you read it because you have to. You think what you have to think. There is no way to find validity to any thought because one can't apply a method of finding it out. That would require free will. But then this very theory is just the crap I had to write and it, too, has no meaning. There is no meaning because there is no tool for creating it.

But clearly it has meaning, and clearly you see the meaning. This you observe. You also directly experience your free will.

The point I'd like to make is that your direct experience of you making choices is a reality you can't deny, just as much as are the observations made of reality through microscopes. We may not know why it is this way yet, but I'm certainly not going to deny my direct evidence for the sake of some theory of determinism.

Btw, you might be interested in this thread on THE FORUM.

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Didn't Heinlein have a good quote for this? Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.

Felix, you're going to have to stop pretending that you understand physics perfectly; clearly you don't. In fact, I doubt anyone does, otherwise we'd have a Grand Theory of Everything and colleges could close down their physics departments. If you have a contradiction between something you reasoned out yourself from base principles and some other things that you've read it's pretty obvious which one of them is most likely erroneous.

I looked up stochastic in the dictionary, btw, and it means, essentially, "random" or "having a random variable". So how exactly you get from random behavior to determinsm is beyond me.

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Felix, you're going to have to stop pretending that you understand physics perfectly; clearly you don't. In fact, I doubt anyone does, otherwise we'd have a Grand Theory of Everything and colleges could close down their physics departments. If you have a contradiction between something you reasoned out yourself from base principles and some other things that you've read it's pretty obvious which one of them is most likely erroneous.

Well, I don't understand physics perfectly. I already said so. But even if I don't know all the details, physics' determinism is very clear to me. And I see no way around that.

I think that the problem lies deeper.

1) The primacy of existence. Existence exists apart from what you think. What you think doesn't change existence. The world lives by the rules of physics no matter what you wish, hope or think.

2) You have free will. Now this only works in the real world if there actually is an influence of conciousness on existence. Otherwise it's determined.

These two obviously clash.

I looked up stochastic in the dictionary, btw, and it means, essentially, "random" or "having a random variable". So how exactly you get from random behavior to determinsm is beyond me.

That's simple. Take the air pressure in a football for example. Inside the football there are a bunch of molecules, oxygen, nitrogen etc. They act stochastically. That means all you have is random behaviour. Every now and then a molecule hits the skin of the football from the inside. You don't know exactly when nor do you know exactly where. But you know that within a certain timeframe you can expect X hits at current room temperature.

Now this is quite irrelevant to you if all you want to know is when the football hits the floor when you drop it. Here you only need to know the weight of the ball. What the atoms inside of it do doesn't really change the outcome on that scale. It falls down no matter what the molecules inside of it do.

So if the effects of stochastics are too small, they can be neglected and still the result is sufficient.

Then there are those who say that you can't neglect them but that you now can no longer predict the outcome of the falling football. What if all the molecules (it's random after all) hit the top of the football at once? Then it would fly upwards for a short time, or at fall slower.

But as I said, this is irrelevant to the question of free will. If everything is determined, there is no free will. If everything is stochastic, there is no free will either.

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Well, I don't understand physics perfectly. I already said so. But even if I don't know all the details, physics' determinism is very clear to me. And I see no way around that.

You see no way around it because you are ignoring the evidence of your experience.

I wish you'd read my posting and respond to it instead of repeating the same arguments.

...John

[Fixed end-quote marker - softwareNerd]

Edited by softwareNerd
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First of all, thanks John for your continued effort. :P

Now to your post.

There are two possible categories in this case: 1> determinism and 2> non-determinism

In other words, it doesn't rule out non-determinism.

So you say the evidence is inconclusive. It certainly is concerning the brain. But it isn't concerning everything the brain is made of. How can a mixture of deterministically working objects suddenly develop volition? I know the idea of emergence, that certain phenomena arise due to complexity that you didn't foresee. But still they are as determined. Now these two ideas clash. I can't just be content with a somehow. I need to know how. Everything else is very unsatisfying. It makes me feel like a mystic.

You should realize that there is a great deal we don't understand yet. We can't even cure the common cold yet, for crying out loud. It's earlier than you think.

Your argument is: "We don't know enough yet." That's not a real argument. It's just plain scepticism: It could be different, but I have no idea how. That's not an argument. That's a baseless asssumption. Tell me where the current view is wrong and I shut up immediately. :D

But clearly it has meaning, and clearly you see the meaning. This you observe. You also directly experience your free will.

That's what puzzles me. It's a contradiction and it's right in the middle of Objectivism. It's a direct clash of the principles of the primacy of existence and the axiom of free will.

I can't just ignore this. I'd really like to understand how you deal with this issue.

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So you say the evidence is inconclusive. It certainly is concerning the brain. But it isn't concerning everything the brain is made of. How can a mixture of deterministically working objects suddenly develop volition? I know the idea of emergence, that certain phenomena arise due to complexity that you didn't foresee. But still they are as determined. Now these two ideas clash. I can't just be content with a somehow. I need to know how. Everything else is very unsatisfying. It makes me feel like a mystic.
I agree that you should be looking for satisfactory explanations.

But, note, I was responding to your statement “That you can't predict the outcome doesn't make the process less determined.” You used evidence indicating that there might be free will to deny it. Iows, the process may in fact not be “determined”. You’re making a categorical statement that can’t be supported.

Your argument is: "We don't know enough yet." That's not a real argument.

Not true. My argument is that we experience free will. That’s a reality. If you ignore this fact, and then claim that you note how atomic processes are deterministic and this over rules the evidence you directly experience I think you are not dealing with the evidence. I’m further pointing out how little we do know about how the body works. Artificial intelligence is at a very primitive state as of yet. That’s pertinent to this discussion, because it shows how little we (mankind) do know about the matter we’re discussing.

Btw, the objectivist theory of causality is that everything has a cause. Everything acts in accordance with its nature, including man’s consciousness. You can’t escape causality.

It's just plain scepticism: It could be different, but I have no idea how.
No, Felix. It’s that I observe freewill, and I don’t know exactly how it works. It’s just like early man realizing the sun is hot and not knowing how it gets that way. It’s still true that it’s hot, even if you don’t know how it gets that way.

That's what puzzles me. It's a contradiction and it's right in the middle of Objectivism. It's a direct clash of the principles of the primacy of existence and the axiom of free will.

Can you state the contradiction, because I’m not sure what you’re referring to? The philosophy affirms that there is freewill, and that it has a causal agent, our conscious minds. We also observe other things in nature also act in accordance with their natures, e.g. a round rock rolls.

I can't just ignore this. I'd really like to understand how you deal with this issue.

There is no way you should ignore any difficulty you have. Don’t get me wrong. I was just trying to make sure you were aware of my point. :P

I deal with the issue by noting that I experience freewill, and by noting that it’s vital to explaining how things work. I also note that it is not all powerful. It works within certain limits in certain ways. It has a nature and acts according to it, just as everything does. Is it a tough issue? Yup. It’s probably the most difficult one in philosophy to deal with. Although. the idea of accepting that existence just exists is tough, too, rather than looking for some cause. That one was tough for me also.

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Not true. My argument is that we experience free will. That’s a reality. If you ignore this fact, and then claim that you note how atomic processes are deterministic and this over rules the evidence you directly experience I think you are not dealing with the evidence. I’m further pointing out how little we do know about how the body works. Artificial intelligence is at a very primitive state as of yet. That’s pertinent to this discussion, because it shows how little we (mankind) do know about the matter we’re discussing.

Okay. That's what I experience, too. But unlike you, I wonder if this experience is a fake. For example there is the problem with hypnosis. You can tell a person to open his jacket and he opens it unaware that he fulfills a command. It also means that there is a fundamental problem with the way we do physics. This really makes me think that this direct experience, as convincing as it may seem, could fool me. For example, I see that a pencil in water is bent. I can see it. It is obvious due to direct experience. But other experience tells me that it isn't and that this is light changing its course in water. I wonder if this is the same problem. I think that my direct experience may fool me here.

Btw, the objectivist theory of causality is that everything has a cause. Everything acts in accordance with its nature, including man’s consciousness. You can’t escape causality.

Yes, everything has a cause. And everything acts according to its nature. We learned the nature of every element in a human brain and how it acts in repeated experiments. And it always reacts deterministically. How, then, can it be that they act differently only in a human brain. It doesn't make sense. It contradicts the concept of causality. It makes the human brain, and somehow only the human brain and not other brains, special in some case. Without giving a reason except that it seems to be so, because we directly experience it. It's like saying (to stick to my example): It may be true that the pencil remains straight no matter what we do to it, but if we put it in water, this is different. I can directly see it and you can verify it directly via your senses. Why do you doubt your senses? Optics is not completely defined, yet. We have severe problems finding out the nature of a photon, for Christ's sake. Just think about Quantum Mechanics. We know nothing, yet. This does not contradict causality. Everything acts according to its nature and it is in the nature of water to make pencils bend. I don't know why. But you can see it directly. It is very complicated, but trust your senses.

My problem is that everything else I know about the nature of the universe tells me that the human brain, being a part of reality, acts deterministically just like everything else. Like animals. Or stones. Or planets. Or everything else. It's rather strange that a human, who came to be just like every other animal, has such a capability like no other existing thing in the entire universe. And it's him who proclaims it. Oh wonder! What a strange coincidence. Man is special. He has no explaination for it except that he thinks that this is the case even though everything else he has found out tells him otherwise. Strange, indeed.

That's it. It's so damn unlikely that we should in fact be so different from the rest of the entire universe. You must admit that this is a very wild claim and, as far as I can see, it needs real verifyable evidence to be accepted. I know that this is a nice and comforting idea, but is it true? I still have doubt.

My problem is that I also see the logical problems with this. If there is no free will, then there is no knowledge and everything I said is therefore nonsense, too. Like all philosophy, then.

That's what keeps me awake at night. And I find no answer. Thanks again for your help.

Edited by Felix
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I'm sorry for causing this controversy. And I thank those that responded to my original post. (This is for the guy who said I never acknowledged the people who first responded to me).

I am going to take one more shot at showing everyone why I think that free will is a poor concept and why determinism is the same. I truly think there is really no distinction between the two.

Determinism doesn't mean that there is no morality. First, I recently found out from a lecture that Objectivists don't believe in natural law, they believe in a form of positive law, aptly called "Objective Law." Objective law states that men create the laws that dictate our lives, however those laws should adhere to what is best for mankind (what works with his nature).

***THIS IS NOT MY STANCE, BUT I USE IT TO MAKE A POINT***So it could just be the case that everything is caused, which includes man's nature, since man had come to being at some point of time. And it is in his nature to write certain laws and punish those who do not abide by those laws. ***END POINT***

Only if there is some sort of natural law (like God written law, or some Platonist idea of the moral) floating around outside of reality, then it could be possible that the natural causality could contradict or make null, the surreal morality. But because most atheists tie morality to the natural world, no natural things (like CAUSALITY) can destroy morality. Thus determinism doesn't destroy morality.

To make my point about the non-argument that this is, I think there is a Rand quote somewhere about how everything that has already happened in the past has to be taken as a given, and couldn't have been any other way. I think she said this when referring to existence existing the way it does, but I am applying it here. And what is to be said about the future, is that it literally doesn't exist, and anything said about the future is pure nonsense/speculation. This shows that determinists cannot know the world is determined, since they cannot even give one speck of empirical evidence about the future, since it doesn't exist yet. That rules out giving an inductive argument. Also, everyone here knows there is no way to deductively prove anything, let alone the future.

And the same is to be said about free will. I'll leave my arguments alone for a second and run with everyone elses'. Everyone here seems to say that free will is axiomatic. This means again that it is not provable, only verifiable. And I don't think there is really any objective evidence either way, since the only evidence is to be found inside of you, and not to be found outside of you. So this leads us to two theories that have been dueling for ages, that neither of them seem to prove anything. And when you look at what is at stake in this debate, there is really nothing to lose, by going either way.

Both ways allow for morality (if you want to debate me on that, Ill take the challenge). Both ways don't change the fact that humans act, and they act rationally. Both ways allow for life to go on, so what is this debate really about?

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Objectivism's definition of causality is NOT that everything is "caused" but that everything that exists acts according to its identity. I will quote from OPAR when I have more time and inclination and no one else beats me to it.

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Objectivism's definition of causality is NOT that everything is "caused" but that everything that exists acts according to its identity. I will quote from OPAR when I have more time and inclination and no one else beats me to it.

With that definition, there becomes no major difference between determinist doctrine and free will doctrine. It is most likely the case that man's nature is determined, and that we act in accordance with our nature, since no man had a say in it, and since Objectivists reject the idea of a God who can change man's nature.

***But I don't want to indulge in this type of free will vs. determinism debate because I don't think there is any significant or practical significance.

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With that definition, there becomes no major difference between determinist doctrine and free will doctrine. It is most likely the case that man's nature is determined, and that we act in accordance with our nature, since no man had a say in it, and since Objectivists reject the idea of a God who can change man's nature.

Nonsense. Part of man's identity is that he possesses a volitional consciousness. And this is a fact that is self-evident. Unless of course, I was just determined to respond with that answer (damn randroid instincts!). :)

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Okay. That's what I experience, too. But unlike you, I wonder if this experience is a fake. For example there is the problem with hypnosis. You can tell a person to open his jacket and he opens it unaware that he fulfills a command. It also means that there is a fundamental problem with the way we do physics. This really makes me think that this direct experience, as convincing as it may seem, could fool me. For example, I see that a pencil in water is bent. I can see it. It is obvious due to direct experience. But other experience tells me that it isn't and that this is light changing its course in water. I wonder if this is the same problem. I think that my direct experience may fool me here.

It's very important to get your ducks in a row. The evidence of the senses is 100% valid. The only place where error is possible to you is on the conceptual level, where you make decisions.

The way you get to know things better is by making lots of observations, integrating and banging out contradictions. To take your example, this is the way you discover that the pencil is not bent, but that the water is refracting the light causing it to look bent. What you do in this case is feel the pencil with your fingers and observe that it feels straight, so you can check one sense against another. You may later discover from experimentation that when light transitions from one medium to another it slows down or speeds up, causing refraction and the light’s path to be altered. This allows you to reach the very logical conclusion that this is why the pencil appears bent to your eyes. All of this can be tested by experiment and confirmed. That's an example of integrating your knowledge to get a clearer understanding of things.

It's also important to note that you can't use the evidence of the senses to deny their validity. If you observe that someone under hypnosis behaves in a different way than when he is not under hypnosis, then the basis of your conclusions is your observations. Clearly you can't use your observations to deny the validity of observations.

As to freewill being somehow fake, that makes no sense, because freewill is required for you to understand things, and you do understand things. The idea of being "faked" into understanding things makes no sense to me from any perspective. Are you faked into understanding that F=ma? No. I understand that f=ma, because I observe that way masses act under force. When a force is applied to a mass, it accelerates at a rate proportional to the force. What does “fake” have to do with that? :)

[...]

That's it. It's so damn unlikely that we should in fact be so different from the rest of the entire universe. You must admit that this is a very wild claim and, as far as I can see, it needs real verifyable evidence to be accepted. I know that this is a nice and comforting idea, but is it true? I still have doubt.

We do exist and we do observe that we have freewill. That's what I'm going by. Likelihoods are a side issue, because I have direct confirmation. I verify it every time I make a decision and every time I draw a conclusion about something. I can't escape this thing called choice unless I stop thinking.

The real problem is to figure out how it is so, not that it is so. :)

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