Customer Discussions > Who's in Charge? forum

Free Will vs. Determinism


Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 8, 2011 10:53:32 AM PST
I was intrigued but decided not to buy Michael Gazzaniga's, Who's in Charge, after reading the book description.

I'm a determinist who believes that all events happen in accordance with the laws of nature, which in turn emerge from the properties of matter and energy. And while we recognize these facts and employ them for our own purposes, we cannot change them; everything we do is a consequence of them.

Advocates of the free will view often misinterpret the meaning of responsibility. They insist that responsibility means that one could have done something other than what he did. This definition is a sneaky argument for free will.

Nothing anybody ever did was prevented after the fact or deleted from the past after it happened. The past cannot be changed. We hold people responsible for their behavior to influence the future, not change the past. One's past behavior is used to evaluate one's character and predilections and the probability that he will continue to do as he has done. We reward good behavior to encourage it and punish bad behavior to prevent or at least inhibit it. An executed murderer will never kill again, and his execution will serve notice to others who might consider committing a similar crime. But nothing we can do will bring back a killer's victim(s), so let's don't use a biased definition of responsibility to argue for free will. The offender generally makes a bad choice based on what he thinks will follow, and those thoughts or emotions are what determines what he chooses to do.

Some proponents of free will will point to apparently random (unpredictable) events in quantum physics as evidence against determinism, but if one commits a random act which he cannot explain even to himself, is this evidence for the kind of free will one would wish for? Of course not. We want out actions to be guided by our choices, and if a choice is guided by our wishes or intentions, then it's not free; it's constrained by those wishes or intentions. Now what's wrong with that? Nothing!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 8, 2011 10:49:08 PM PST
Marcus Lewis says:
I've not read 'Who's in Charge' yet, but I think you are wrong to just assume that determinism necessarily contradicts the idea of free will. It depends what people mean by free will, I'd be surprised if Gazzaniga believes in contra-causal free will, which is what many lay people mean by free will. I've read that most of the philosophers who specialize in this subject are compatibilists, who think something like non-contra-causal free will is compatible with determinism. That is Daniel Dennett's view in the book "Freedom Evolves", and as one of the New Atheist I think you'd have a hard time convincing anyone Dennett isn't a determinist. From reading his other work, I have a feeling that Gazzaniga's views might be closer to yours than you might think.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 9, 2011 7:18:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 10, 2011 9:24:50 AM PST
The only way that determinism cannot contradict the idea of free will is to change the definition of free from uncaused or unconstrained to something else. Compatibalism doesn't do that, so I don't see anything compatible about compatibilism. I read Dennett's "Freedom Evolves" and found it indirect and muddled. Dennett has done better work. The beauty of determinism is that it shows us where to look for valid explanations of how the world works. The unfortunate aspect of the idea of free will is that it is so ill-defined that it lends itself to the political aspects of religious nonsense such as the idea that we'll be held accountable in a hereafter.

Posted on Nov 10, 2011 3:46:26 AM PST
Marcus Lewis says:
I think you might should read Dennett's book again because you seem to have badly misunderstood him. His whole point was that we do have "the only free will worth having" and that is NOT contra-causal free will (which he views as undesirable in the first place) but a different form of free will. Compatibilists absolutely do have a different definition of free will than "uncaused or unconstrained", so I think you might need to read up on the philosophy and neuroscience before claiming that Compatibilists believe in contra-causal free will. Tom Clark at the Center for Naturalism and both the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy have good introductions to the subject available for free online.

Posted on Nov 10, 2011 7:13:07 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 10, 2011 7:34:13 AM PST
I know that Dennett says we have the only free will worth having, but his mistake is calling it free if it's not contra-causal. And I agree that a contra-causal free will would be undisireable because without constraints to guide it, the will would operate randomly, creating nonsensical choices. Far better than Dennett's book is Daniel M. Wegner's "The Illusion of Conscious Will". Decisions and choices are made in the unconscious and milliseconds later projected into the conscious. The unconscious is not free, but an imperfect organic computer that processes input from genes and sense data and informs the will from behind a curtain.

I didn't say that compatibilists have a different definition of free will than uncaused or unconstrained. I said they need to change it to something else. If it's caused or constrained it's not free. But if compatibilists accept that, they would no longer be compatibilists because free is the all-important, definitive word that cannot be changed without changing the subject altogether. Freedom is what we're talking about. Is the will free from causes and constraints or is it not? If it's not, then it's not free. One way to keep free as the adjective is to say that one is free when nobody is pointing a gun at one's head, but that's not what compatabilists are saying.

I have several different encyclopedias of philosophy on my bookshelf, but I'll do as you suggest; I'll go to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and your other sources, check out compatibilism a bit more, and get back to you later.

Posted on Nov 10, 2011 9:23:36 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 10, 2011 9:32:02 AM PST
Marcus, The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy says that compatibilism attempts to make determinism compatible with moral responsibility, but as I said in my first post, that doesn't work because 'responsible' doesn't mean one could have done otherwise; it means future behavior requires sanctions to guide it: preventive measures for bad behavior or encouragement for good behavior. These sanctions can be justified without defining responsible as capable of having done otherwise.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that compatibilism says an agent can be determined in all choices and actions and still make some choices freely. That statement clearly contradicts itself and presents no argument to justify its claim about compatibility.

Posted on Nov 10, 2011 7:13:30 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 10, 2011 7:14:04 PM PST
Marcus Lewis says:
Like I said, you are using the term free will in a way that just about no philosopher or neuroscientist uses it. Just because your private definition of free will is incompatible with determinism doesn't mean that the definition of free will that most philosophers use is incompatible. I've read several places that the majority of philosophers and neuroscientists who write on this subject are compatibilists, do you really think that the majority of philosophers who are experts in this subject believe a statement that "clearly contradicts itself?"

You certainly did claim that compatibilists believed in conta-causal free-will. You wrote "The only way that determinism cannot contradict the idea of free will is to change the definition of free from uncaused or unconstrained to something else. Compatibalism doesn't do that...." Maybe that's not what you meant to say.

You wrote "The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that compatibilism says an agent can be determined in all choices and actions and still make some choices freely. That statement clearly contradicts itself and presents no argument to justify its claim about compatibility." Of course that one sentence doesn't present an argument to justify itself. For that you have to keep reading. Saying that a one sentence definition doesn't justify itself is a major straw man.

Posted on Nov 11, 2011 3:48:05 PM PST
When I took Introduction to Philosophy years ago, the professor told us that appeal to authority is the weakest form of argument. You can always find an authority to back up your position or belief, sometimes even a lot of authorities, and every one of them can be wrong, and history is full of examples. The best way to defend your position is with a sound argument constructed from hard evidence and rigorous logic. Your first paragraph is an appeal to authority, not an argument in itself.

In your second paragraph, you quoted me correctly, and I stand by what I said. Compatibilism doesn't deny that choices are caused or constrained. It simply ignores the meaning of that statement and says some choices are free. Please explain to me how they are free if they're caused or constrained.

And that brings us to your third paragraph in which you still claim that it's not self-contradictory to say "an agent can be determined in all choices and actions and still make some choices freely." Please explain to me how "some" is not part of "all." All means all; it doesn't mean all but some. I am not going to keep reading a piece in which the writer has so soon sabotaged his own system of logic and and destroyed his own credibility.

Posted on Sep 5, 2012 9:57:04 AM PDT
R. Bushey says:
I don't think this book is making an outright argument for free will. I don't think the book description ever makes an outright statement for it, and the small amount of the book that I've read thus far doesn't seem to make one, either. In fact he admits in the second page of the introduction that we live in a determined universe. The fourth chapter (of seven) in the book is actually titled "Abandoning the Concept of Free Will". (I think I bought the book thinking that it would make a clear argument for free will, but now I realize it isn't quite like that.)

Changing the subject, it's funny that you mention free will in relation to religious beliefs, in that free will is hardly necessary doctrine for religious beliefs that include forms of predestination.

Changing the subject again, what about suicide? Do you mean that every person who ever committed suicide could not have done something other than what they did? Is the same true for everyone who commits suicide in the future? What responsibility do we have regarding suicide- allowing it, preventing it, committing it?
‹ Previous 1 Next ›
[Add comment]
Add your own message to the discussion
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Prompts for sign-in
 


 

This discussion

Discussion in:  Who's in Charge? forum
Participants:  3
Total posts:  9
Initial post:  Nov 8, 2011
Latest post:  Sep 5, 2012

New! Receive e-mail when new posts are made.
Tracked by 1 customer

Search Customer Discussions
This discussion is about
Who's in Charge?
Who's in Charge? by Michael S. Gazzaniga (Paperback - November 15, 2011)
4.1 out of 5 stars   (81)