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Determinism vs Free Will

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I would like to debate the question: "Is the following argument valid?"

(I say: "No, it is not valid.")

The argument:

"A brain is a collection of particles. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should. Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it. Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event."

Source: from the thread "Belief In Volition..."

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.p...indpost&p=95502

Note #1: I merely claim that one particular argument is invalid. I'm not being very ambitious. However, my goal is not to merely raise doubts. My goal is to ensure that, at the end of the debate, my opponent or opponents will be firmly convinced that the argument is definitely invalid.

Note #2: My opponent has the option of rewriting the argument to fix any perceived defects while preserving the essential idea. For example, if you choose to become my opponent, then you aren't stuck trying to defend the exact wording of the argument quoted above.

Note #3: I expect to make the first statement. The reason is that there is probably no way for my opponent to defend against the accusation of invalidity until after a specific objection to the argument is articulated. However, if my opponent wishes to make the first statement, then I will give my opponent the opportunity to do so. For example, my opponent might wish to rewrite the argument (see Note #2).

Rule #1: No deliberate use of a fallacy. Theoretically, that could be difficult to enforce. However, the honor system will probably be all we need.

Rule #2: I will be alone on my side of the debate. My opponent will have the option of allowing up to three people to simultaneously participate on his/her side of the debate. If my opponent wishes to admit defeat, but there are people who want to replace my opponent, then the debate will continue with a new opponent.

Rule #3: After someone agrees to be my initial opponent, I will make an initial statement within 48 hours. However, my opponent will have up to seven days to respond to my initial statement. I will then have up to seven days to respond to my opponent's response, and so on. The debate ends when one side fails to respond within seven days or when both sides agree to end the debate.

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(I say: "No, it is not valid.")

Just to clarify, within the steps of the argument, do you agree with the first few propositions, but not with the conclusions. Are you saying, for instance that #1 below is valid, but the rest aren't, or that #1 and #2 are valid, but the rest aren't, etc.?

  1. A brain is a collection of particles.
  2. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should.
  3. Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it.
  4. Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event.

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Joynewyeary,

Congratulations on having the courage to step up to a debate. It can be very intense, even unpleasant, but it is a great learning experience, as Ayn Rand noted (pp. 178-179 of Ayn Rand Answers).

I have one suggestion, based on painful past experience through the years. If at all possible, try to reduce the issue to one sentence. Examples are: Slavery is good for the economy. Or, reality is negotiable. Or, capitalism crushes the working poor.

If the issue under debate is more complex than that, you may never finish.

If you pick an appropriate issue statement, your original purpose will probably still be met. If someone presents such an argument as you have postulated, you will then have an opportunity to debate it.

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Just to clarify, within the steps of the argument, do you agree with the first few propositions, but not with the conclusions[?]

Are you saying, for instance that #1 below is valid, but the rest aren't, or that #1 and #2 are valid, but the rest aren't, etc.?

I used the term "invalid" in accordance with what I took (and take) to be its generally accepted meaning. Had I said that the argument is "unsound", I would have been claiming that at least one premise of the argument is false and/or that there is a flaw in the reasoning. I did not say that the argument is unsound, so you may (for example) legitimately conclude that I do not intend to prove that #1 is false.

If there is a flaw in my understanding of the word "invalid" or in my understanding of the word "unsound", then I am ready and willing to be corrected.

Note: I don't claim that I am ready, willing, and able. Other people are, however, free to make claims about my ability or inability, should they wish to do so.

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Do you also not intend to prove #2 is false? How about #3?

You will see how I proceed after someone steps forwards and offers to become my opponent.

You quoted my position statement: "No, it is not valid."

Then you said: "Just to clarify ..."

However, it would have been sufficient for me to have said: "I say No."

The word "No" doesn't need any clarification.

Perhaps the question "Is the following argument valid?" was not sufficiently clear.

Perhaps I should ask a somewhat different question that might be clearer.

How about this:

"Is there any flaw in the reasoning that is used in the quoted argument?"

My answer to THAT question is: "Yes."

Wanted: someone whose actual belief is "No, there is no flaw in the reasoning that is used in the quoted argument."

I already indicated that I want to persuade my opponent. If someone already believes that the answer is "yes, there is a flaw in the reasoning", then no persuasion is necessary. In this debate, I don't want to debate a devil's advocate.

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Hello there. In response to your invitation, I just want to clarify your position and mine, so that we can isolate the parts that we actually don't agree on.

Do we agree on:

1) The brain is a bound physical entity which resides inside the skull and nowhere else.

2) Physical entities in a closed system are subject to determinism as dictated by physical laws [The state of a system at time T determines the state of that system at time (T+1)].

3) A brain (as a physical entity) that must act according to causality does not lack the ability to choose, reason, imagine, etc. but simply lacks the ability to violate the premise put forward in 2, and therefore is deterministic in nature.

If so, is your position:

The mind is independent of the physical brain and can not be ascribed physical properties, thus allowing it to function outside of the rules of causality (i.e. determinism does not apply to the mind).

If so, my position is:

The mind is a symptom of the physical nature of the brain, and must be manifested according to the deterministic nature of all physical entities (i.e. the mind is a function of the deterministic brain).

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Hello there. In response to your invitation, I just want to clarify your position and mine, so that we can isolate the parts that we actually don't agree on.

I don't want you to clarify my position. If you wish to revise your argument then do so. When you are satisfied with your argument, post it in this thread. Then my position will be: there is a flaw in your reasoning.

Caveat: If you add a whole mass of things that you haven't even hinted at yet and you produce (for example) a four-page argument, then I will (obviously) request that you pare it down before we can begin.

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Ok, the single premise that I'm going to stick with is:

The mind is a symptom of the physical nature of the brain, and the brain is a physical entity which must behave causally; thus the mind must be tied to the cause/effect nature of reality and can not behave otherwise.

Am I misunderstanding? I'm getting mixed signals.

Here is your first premise --> "The mind is a symptom of the physical nature of the brain."

Here is your second premise --> "The brain is a physical entity which must behave causally."

You used the word "thus", suggesting to me that you are presenting an argument, not "the single premise that [you're] going to stick with."

Here is your conclusion --> "The mind must be tied to the cause/effect nature of reality and can not behave otherwise."

Questions:

1. What principle of reasoning did you apply to get from your premises to your conclusion?

2. Can you formulate that principle in general terms?

3. Can you provide an example of applying your principle to something other than your two premises?

4. Is your principle something that you are inventing ad hoc to support the conclusion that you wish to obtain or is your principle something that we can rely upon?

Note: if my questions seem unreasonably difficult, then you should look at an elementary argument and ask my questions. Then you will see that my questions are fundamental and not unreasonable if you have indeed presented a clear, valid argument.

However, note that my intention during the eventual debate is to ask questions that will help you to clarify your argument. I am not doing that now because there seems to be some confusion about what kind of debate I have proposed or some resistance to the simple idea of debating the validity of an argument.

------------

I will address the following comments to the Speaker of the Forum.

Speaker, the honorable member donnywithana has claimed that human beings do not have free will and has attempted to argue in favor of that claim. We have seen the honorable member's argument.

Did the honorable member formulate his argument in a manner that made his reasoning as clear and polished as possible? Perhaps not, but I certainly don't hold that against the honorable member. I myself could use an editor and also someone to hunt down my typographical errors. Did the honorable member formulate his argument in a manner that made his reasoning as persuasive as possible? I hope that all the honorable members make an effort to distinguish what is actually valid from what merely succeeds in persuading somebody or other.

Now, Speaker, the honorable member almost seems to be suggesting that there never was an argument and that there was merely a thesis statement. "Allow me to clarify my thesis statement and allow me to tell you what your thesis statement is going to be" is what the honorable member seems to be saying.

Two other honorable members, with the best of intentions, seem to suggest that reasoning cannot be debated and refuted. "Reasoning is too complicated", they seem to be suggesting. (Perhaps I misunderstand them.) "You must identify a simple statement that the reasoning was designed to support. Then you must debate that simple statement," they seem to be saying. (Again, perhaps I misunderstand them.)

If there were no way to distinguish reasoning that we can rely upon from reasoning that might be leading us astray, then what would be the value of reasoning? Would someone here claim that a question of validity can only be investigated by a solitary individual, that the investigation itself must remain forever hidden, and that only the final conclusion of the investigation ("valid" or "invalid") can be open to public inspection?

One does not ordinarily turn away a competent proof-reader who offers to work without payment. Furthermore, we all understand that a proof-reader needs light to see the document. The proof-reader wants light and we don't raise any objection. Obviously light may reveal an error, but there is no risk that light will create an error! Nor will light alone remove an error!

A debate will shine a light on donnywithana's argument. Now I am not talking about any superficial typographical issue. A typographical flaw can be repaired, but a fundamentally unsound argument cannot. I believe that a debate will shine a light on the substance of donnywithana's argument. Does any honorable member wish to raise an objection to that kind of debate?

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It would seem that he's flamboyantly inviting the forum to give his debate its blessing. I'm perfectly willing to debate him, although it won't be now, because I'm under the influence :)

I'm up for debate, how do we go about making it official? By the way, sorry for the "compound" premise, I'll simplify it:

Determinism is a necessary property of all existance, including the mind.

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I'm up for debate, how do we go about making it official?

Have you examined the other debates, for illustrative examples?

I can't speak for the moderators. But here is my suggestion based on experience in the Debate Forums.

1. Open a new topic with a two-level title. In the first level, name your debate topic (determinism vs. free will, or whatever), and in the second level specify "Invitation and Debate Terms," or something like that to show that it is not the debate itself. You and your debate partner must agree to the terms and conditions of debate (for example, each must state his level of study, understanding, and agreement with Objectivism) before you can begin the debate.

If you and your partner cannot agree to the terms and conditions of debate, you have two options:

- Allow someone else, someone you trust, to set it up for you.

- Give up any hope of civilized debate.

2. With the preliminaries settled, you can open a new topic, and this is where the debate occurs. The first-level title should be the same as in the invitational thread. The second-level title should say "Current Debate" (which will be changed to "Completed Debate" when you are done).

Edited by BurgessLau
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Rock on Laughlin.

My track record:

Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, The Virtue of Selfishness, almost done with Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

I've also taken Introduction to Psychology, for whatever that's worth.

Good, we now have your level of familiarity. How about your level of understanding and agreement?

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Well, as you know, Ms. Rand is a very persuasive author. The only things that I fault her for, really, are the things that either I didn't understand, or I haven't heard her address. That's not very fair of me, but here are the basic things I don't agree with:

Free will: I don't think that it exists.

Environmental Protection: We all share some resources like air. If 100 different people pollute, and I get sick, there isn't really a mechanism by which I can get retribution for it if I can't prove exactly who did what to me.

Abortion and Children's Rights: I don't like the idea that abortion is wrong, because someday I might want to use it for my benefit. However, I think that either a) man only has the right to live qua man, and not qua child or qua fetus, or b ) the rights of all of these entities to live in their respective natures must be recognized, so abortion is just as wrong as killing a child.

Aside from that, I think she's pretty spot on. Except she said something about Native Americans once that was ridiculous in a lecture at a university, but I don't have a source on that, so whatever.

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Hello, my name is Danny Shahar and I'm here to finish this once and for all. What's "this," you ask? The debate about free will, silly, read the title.

The purpose of this thread is to settle on the rules under which this debate will be held. Taking from previous discussion on the Welcome to the Debate Forum thread, here are the rules, as put forth by Joynewyeary in post 35:

"Rule #1: No deliberate use of a fallacy. Theoretically, that could be difficult to enforce. However, the honor system will probably be all we need.

Rule #2: I will be alone on my side of the debate. My opponent will have the option of allowing up to three people to simultaneously participate on his/her side of the debate. If my opponent wishes to admit defeat, but there are people who want to replace my opponent, then the debate will continue with a new opponent.

[i will relinquish my right to have help on my side for now, because I don't really know if anyone is interested. If someone is, and I'm doing a bad job, PM me and we'll try to set something up I guess.]

Rule #3: After someone agrees to be my initial opponent, I will make an initial statement within 48 hours. However, my opponent will have up to seven days to respond to my initial statement. I will then have up to seven days to respond to my opponent's response, and so on. The debate ends when one side fails to respond within seven days or when both sides agree to end the debate."

I think those are good rules, but I'd like to put forth another:

Rule #4: "Self evidence" will not be permissible as a valid argument. Any phenomenon that can not be measured is an anti-concept, and will not be tolerated as proof of anything.

If that's acceptable, then I think we can start the debate. Joynewyeary, what do you think?

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Oh yea, my position will be, as said by Joynewyeary in post 35 of the Welcome to the Debate Forum thread,

"A brain is a collection of particles. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should. Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it. Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event."

Because Joynewyeary undoubtedly worded this in a way that he can disprove, I reserve the right to alter the wording of "my" position to more accurately reflect my argument.

Also, I just want to make sure that we're both operating from the premise that we live in a finite universe. I don't know how that would help him, but having an infinite amount of influences would make it impossible to determine the exact course of physical events. This doesn't really relate to free will, but determinism only works in a closed system. If Joynewyeary doesn't accept this widely accepted astronomical concept (I'm taking Astronomy right now :P ), and is planning to use it as part of his argument, we might have problems.

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[...] sorry for the "compound" premise[...]

I accept your apology.

I'll simplify it:

Determinism is a necessary property of all existence, including the mind.

Could you please either clarify what you mean by the phrase "necessary property" or revise your statement to avoid using the phrase "necessary property"?

For example, how would one go about determining whether or not the statement "the density of frozen water is lower than the density of liquid water" identifies a "necessary property" of water?

We started with Argument Version #1:

"A brain is a collection of particles. Thus, the brain must operate as physics would dictate that it should. Any cerebral process that involves free will must necessarily allow the brain to make a choice as to a certain physical event within it. Since this violates that acting particle's obligation to function as dictated by its nature and physical surroundings, it is an impossible event."

Do you claim that Argument Version #1 was a long-winded attempt to simply state the following?

"Determinism is a necessary property of all existence, including the mind."

If that was all that you meant to say, then do you authorize and request a Moderator to go back to your original thread and replace Argument Version #1 with:

"Determinism is a necessary property of all existence, including the mind"?

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Oh yea, my position will be, as said by Joynewyeary in post 35 of the Welcome to the Debate Forum thread [...] Because Joynewyeary undoubtedly worded this in a way that he can disprove, I reserve the right to alter the wording of "my" position to more accurately reflect my argument.

I request that the honorable member either withdraw the above accusation or explain the origin of the following thread:

Belief In Volition...

Is it any better than collectivism or mysticism?

http://forum.ObjectivismOnline.com/index.php?showtopic=4644

Does the honorable member donnywithana wish to accuse me of having access to his password?

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Oh alright, that makes more sense. I assumed that you had written that argument since you didn't quote me. I appologize if my tone was interpreted as accusatory, I only meant that you seemed pretty sure that you could disprove me and you also were providing what my argument was to be. That gets a little suspicious :thumbsup:

Anyway, that argument sounds pretty darn good, considering its author. Let's get to it! That is, if you don't disagree with my additional rule.

I'll leave you to make your opening statement.

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