What Do Philosophers Believe? Survey: Part II

Read Part I.

  1. Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism? 43% went with externalism, about 26% with internalism. It is impossible to write about this without sounding goofy or repetitive. Briefly, internalism means you know why you know something—and you know why you know why you know something. Externalism means something exterior to you causes the things that happen to you exterior to you are actually exterior to you. That straight? Let’s go with externalism because “how” questions are impossible to answer. That is, you can’t answer how something that is necessarily true can be true, but you can know it is true.
  2. External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism? Idealism is the belief that everything that exists is just thought; that there is no external reality, but there are minds that think things, and that thought is existence. If you remember anything about Bishop Berkeley, then you will remember idealism. About 4% of philosophers ignore Dr Johnson’s sore toe and still hold this view.

    Skepticism is what I call an academic belief (we meet another shortly): only academics pretend to believe these. I say “pretend” because nobody really holds these beliefs, and if they say they do they are lying or insane. Skepticism is the belief that nothing exists. 5% of the academic philosophers actually said they agreed with this. But how did these 5% even know they were answering a survey?

    Realism is the belief that an external world, independent of human belief, exists. I am happy to report that about 82% agreed with this.

  3. Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will? “No free will” is another of those academic beliefs (see the survey notes for term definitions). That is, nobody, even those who hold that we have no free will, actually believes we have no free will. I think most of the astonishing 12% who say there is no free will do so because they have not found a way to reconcile determinism (each effect has a cause) with free will. They reason that the universe is marching mechanically along, each effect becoming a cause for another effect, and thus they cannot find room for willed actions. But in doing this, these folks have forgotten an even more fundamental philosophical argument: just because you can’t think of an explanation for a thing, doesn’t mean the explanation doesn’t exist.

    You’ll also notice that those who argue against free will tend to do so to excuse people’s bad behavior. “The criminal must be let go, judge, because he had no free will!” They forget, when they make that asinine argument, that the judge can counter, “I have no choice but to incarcerate your mascot.”

    Compatibilism (79%) is the idea that free will is compatible with determinism; a secular Calvinism, if you like. Libertarianism (14%) in this sense means acting with a free will in the absence of determinism. It’s not clear—nobody knows how—determinism can sometimes shut itself off to allow free will, but libertarians believe that it can. I lean towards a mix of Searle (the mind is not a computer) and Penrose (quantum mechanics does not help you free yourself from determinism), here; that is, towards libetarianism.

    No, I cannot explain how we have free will in the face of determinism. But that does not mean that free will doesn’t exist, because I have knowledge that it does. Think of it this way: a Berkeley High School graduate will take a car ride and know he gets from A to B without having a clue how the engine works. Yet he knows he got from A to B. So traveling by car is true, but how it is true, he doesn’t know.

  4. God: theism or atheism? 73% went with atheism, about 15% with theism. This, of course, is the question. What’s most interesting about it, academically speaking, is that arguments for atheism usually consist of arguments against theism.

    I mean, a philosopher will triumphantly announce a new line of thought which, say, invalidates the ontological argument (a popular attempt at proving God’s existence), and then say, to himself only, “Well, that’s that. Since I can’t accept any of the arguments that prove God’s existence, then God must not exist. Plus, look at my fancy new smart phone, built on the laws of science. Also, I don’t need God to explain life. Of course, most of my colleagues are atheists, and I don’t want to seem a bore.” He thus sides with atheism.

    But, I need hardly add, that an argument showing the invalidity of the ontological argument is not logically equivalent to disproving God’s existence. Philosophers know that, of course, which is why they keep their reasoning to themselves.

    I have no new arguments to offer on this question, but consider this. Since all our knowledge is built on faith (see yesterday’s point #1), it is not inconceivable to suppose that knowledge of the question must necessarily rest on faith. (The Christian religion believes that.) Naturally, I can offer no proof.

In there is still interest, there are more great questions left. Like “Logic: classical or non-classical?” Classical, of course.

Read Part I.

It’s national Pass On The Briggs month here at wmbriggs.com. If your interpretation of this phrase is on the generous side, email a link of this page to a friend who hasn’t been here before. The best kind of friend is one who has need of a statistician and who has a lot of money.

Comments

What Do Philosophers Believe? Survey: Part II — 38 Comments

  1. No, I cannot explain how we have free will in the face of determinism. But that does not mean that free will doesn’t exist, because I have knowledge that it does.

    Oh boy mr Briggs you crack me up!! Ahah!

    And where does this “knowledge” you have come from? From the close study of Petunias?

    I mean, sorry for the sarcasm, but you are asking for it. It’s like saying that you know that the moon is made of cheese, and that just because the astronauts were there and falsified it, it doesn’t mean that the whole core of the moon isn’t made of cheese! :D

    I just think you didn’t thought this through, mr Briggs. What do you mean, “Free Will”? We HAVE Will, but how can we be “free” from our “Will”? We cannot. We have wills and that’s that. Our wills, on the other hand, are determined by our brain states, which are determined physically. We are what our brain determines. Does that mean we are slaves? Yes, in a way. But every small boy that stops himself from flying in a bridge knows this: we are and always were slaves to the laws of physics.

    I mean, the gall to say that you “Know” that you “have” Free Will, when most likely you haven’t even defined what it means! Ahaha! Oh boy.

  2. What’s most interesting about it, academically speaking, is that arguments for atheism usually consist of arguments against theism.

    This should be blatantly obvious.

    Any argument for Amorality will usually consist of arguments against Morality.

    Any argument for Atheism will necessarily consist of arguments against Theism.

    It comes with the “definition” of atheism.

  3. Luis!

    Haven’t heard from you in a while.

    I have knowledge of my own free will, just as you do of yours. That’s what compelled you to write a response, and me to respond to your comments in return. The knowledge that I exist and that I (usually) cause what I want to happen tells me that I have free will. The evidence for our own free will is everywhere.

    I agree about the “brain states”, but I just don’t know—nobody does yet—how those brain states are responsible for our free wills. Like I said, I agree with Searle that we are not meat computers: we are something more.

    And I see you also agree that an argument against theism is not logically equivalent to an argument for atheism.

    Once more, we are not far apart.

  4. Sorry, but Luis is just a deterministic bio-machine and cannot be held responsible for his comments. Fate, chemistry, and physics made him do it. A puppet without a puppet master. The driver-less automaton defense.

  5. Haven’t heard from you in a while.

    Hi, I’m always in the dark, lurking from the dungeons ;).

    I have knowledge of my own free will, just as you do of yours. That’s what compelled you to write a response, and me to respond to your comments in return.

    You just described “Will”. I never said that “wills” and “desires” do not exist.

    The knowledge that I exist and that I (usually) cause what I want to happen tells me that I have free will

    Ditto. Same thing. I never said that we are “unphysical” objects, that we don’t influence the world around us. Clearly, we do. What has this got to do with the “FREE” part? I never get this part. Free from what? You’re basically saying that we are “Free” from our brains, or, put it more bluntly and clearly (for all to see the absurdity), from ourselves. We are free from ourselves?!? That’s ridiculous.

    Like I said, I agree with Searle that we are not meat computers: we are something more.

    Searle is someone who ponders about Non-Locality as a way to solve consciousness, which is something preposterously absurd. It’s Deepak Chopra-like material. I really don’t like much of what Searle has to say about anything, and his chinese room is unconvincing. I also do not think that the brain is a “computer” in the Intel Inside sense, but I don’t rely on faith to say this, it’s what neuroscience is telling us with data.

    And I see you also agree that an argument against theism is not logically equivalent to an argument for atheism.

    Not only “logically equivalent”, it’s a synonym! How’s that for an agreement! :P

    Sorry, but Luis is just a deterministic bio-machine and cannot be held responsible for his comments. Fate, chemistry, and physics made him do it. A puppet without a puppet master. The driver-less automaton defense.

    Hey Mike, if I tell you a sick joke or a cursing comment about some relative of yours, is the feeling of slight anger that such a thing provokes on you something you “chose” to feel too? I am amazed at that.

    But I get your point. You think that a person who is “only being” a chemical process cannot be held responsible unless they are “Free from themselves”. It’s a somewhat strange thing for one to hold as a thought. Specially since “responsibility” has nothing to do with “Free Will”, and all to do with having someone being committed to a particular “X” (be it a law, or be it a relative, etc.). Hilariously, one sees that “responsibility” is actually just another tool of control, not of “free will” (and I’m not using the word “control” as a demeanor).

  6. Regarding the external world: it surprises me to see that skepticism is so uniformly shunned. Perhaps this is because it is often described so monolithically. I consider myself a skeptic, but prefer to self-describe as a instrumentalist when I need a Wikipedia link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instrumentalism) or as a scientific anti-realist when i’m trying to impress the ladies. This is more of an agnostic position. I don’t assert that nothing exists, only that I am unwilling to grant metaphysical significance to the unobserved latent variables of my models. As a proper Bayesian I frequently assert that Data (with a capital D) has some special significance, but only because it is, in a sense, immutable.

  7. Yes, Bayesian, that’s my view as well. “The History of an Error” has some trouble to find its time and place of general acceptance… there are some genius that are born centuries before their time.

  8. Luis:
    I am not about to descend into the bowels of trying to unambiguously define terms like free will. What I do know is that people who cannot stop themselves from doing things are typically regarded as ill or somewhat deranged.
    Alternatively, let me assert that I have what I believe to be free will and you can chose to assert the same or that you don’t have free will. It is your choice!
    Also, it is a funny thing that we are coming to the end of Lent, which for many is an excercise in what could be termed free will.
    It also seems to me that it is very difficult to talk about any of this without implicitly using one’s free will. Thinking too much about it, paradoxically, tends to result in becoming ill or somewhat deranged – a risk for many philosophers. Odd that?

  9. Well Bernie, it’s all fine and well if you dismiss the term “free will” and just operate with it, colloquially, in lay men terms. But the post was about philosopher’s belief about “free will”, and mr Briggs handwaving of the disbelievers. Surely we have to have a proper definition of “free will” if we are to discuss philosopher’s take on it.

    I never dismissed or denied the fact, the observable fact, that I am filled with Will. I also never denied the fact that I can manipulate my wills, according perhaps to other level or other priority “Wills”. It helps to have a purpose in life, for instance.

    If I have the will to work, then I have to have the will to drive to work. I choose to work, because I have the will to buy a good house and a TV, and I can’t do that without working. I have the will not to be bored to death, so I might as well study hard so I can work in a field where I’ll enjoy the work.

    These are all “Wills”. I don’t need or even understand the “FREE” part of it.

  10. Are there ANY arguments FOR atheism? “There cannot be a God because….???”

    Anything that is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. There’s an argument for atheism.

    But I’ll answer positively to you when you can come up with some arguments against a-fairism:

    “There cannot be fairies because….?!?”

    Or, for instance,

    “There cannot be unicorns because…?!?”
    “There cannot be ghosts because…?!?!”

  11. Cavin’s arguement againts free will is still the best. But it depends on an omnicient god.

    If God is all knowing, he knows, what has happend, what is happening, and what will happen. He knows what you will do before you do. You think you are making a decision, but if the outcome is already known, did you really decide anything? At the same time, God gave you a brain, so use it!

    Yah, I don’t buy it either.

    Rene Descartes was a drunken old fart
    I drink therefore I am.

    Socrates, himself, is particularly missed
    A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he’s pissed.

  12. All you people are just figments of my imagination. You can’t prove to me that you really exist, because all evidence is just a figment of my imagination, too. I, on the hand, do exist because somebody has to be doing all this imagining.

  13. Its just this sort of “logic” — starting with a premise one finds personally pleasing — that allows one to deduce & conclude whatever it was they wanted from the outset.

    Conceptually philosophy is no different than the recently earlier blog entries descrbing how creative application of statistics to experimental data can lead to whatever conclusion one wants.

    At least hard facts (data) are obtainable as is some degree of statistical rigor to force an issue in that realm to a truly factual & unassailable conclusion (eventually, at least in most cases). That results from tapping other technical disciplines (engineering, physics, etc.).

    With philosophy, unencumbered by the need to consult any other discipline to gain objective factual information, it is very easy to get so caught up in the terms & concepts at the foundation of the discourse to overlook the fact that its all made up stuff from there on — a conceptual house of cards built on sand but unassailable as long as one plays along with the premise(s) made at the outset. Mental exercise of a fashion, but of little practical use, and even less benefit, as long as it remains sequestered in its own little ivory tower.

  14. Briggs,

    The real problem with using yourself as a “free will” example is showing how you know you aren’t compelled to your choices by external/internal circumstances — an inate wiring that maifests itself in your concious as a free choice?

    Most people engage in sex because, they claim, it’s pleasurable. But the dirve for sex exists in all sexual life forms. It is a powerful urge. Is engaging in sex actually a yeilding to a compulsion to do so regardless of the excuses? You might argue you can choose not engage in sex but how do you know that’s not really a yielding to some more compelling force (like self-preservation or the desire to “prove” “free will”)?

    How do you know your decisions are actually the result of a choice and not simply an inevitable course you only think you’ve chosen?

  15. Briggs,
    Great series. Loving it.

    One problem…one that is actually shared by many philosophers…’Idealism’ does not claim that the external world does not exist, nor that you cannot stub your toe . In essence, it is the belief that the external material world came second, that mind came first. Berkeley put the position forward as the only answer to external world skepticism, as it would indicate a solid link between thought and the external world that is lacking in other positions.

    His solution also inferred that an eternal, omniscient mind must exist in order for the external world to continually exist when we mere mortals are not looking, a position completely consistent with Christianity, where God sustains the world.

    Cheers
    Alan

  16. Ignoring quantum mechanics…

    That, that is,
    is.

    That, that is not,
    is not.

    And,

    That’s that.

  17. First Man: I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.
    Establishment: Of course you are my bright little star,
    I’ve miles
    And miles
    Of files
    Pretty files of your forefather’s fruit
    and now to suit our
    great computer,
    You’re magnetic ink.
    First Man: I’m more than that, I know I am, at least, I think I must be.
    Inner Man: There you go man, keep as cool as you can.
    Face piles
    And piles
    Of trials
    With smiles.
    It riles them to believe
    that you perceive
    the web they weave
    And keep on thinking free.

    Sorry, I just had to.

  18. Can you explain how you “know” that free will exists? And I suppose could you supply your definition of free will?

    I don’t believe in free will, and I truly don’t believe in free will. I’m not sure that determinism across the entire universe exists (some think that the radiation emitted from black holes is non-deterministic), so for me it’s not fully free will vs. determinism. To me, free will is “controlled non-determinism”. Not only does free will have to violate the laws of physics (causing changes to the atoms in your body or electrical currents without work), but it must do so in a skillful way as to produce the desired result. Or free will has to be a creator of energy to be able to do work on the physical systems of our bodies.

    I think that those who understand determinism and still believe in free will are either religious (a soul would give free will) or simply don’t like the idea that there isn’t free will. And if the universe is deterministic, some people really don’t like the idea of the entire course of the universe being set in stone billions of years ago.

  19. If the LHC keeps running at 7 TeV, creates a micro black hole and it implodes the earth – will I still have free will? (that is, does free will exist in the singularity?)

  20. Usinf two different meanings of the word ‘faith’, confuse them and hey God exists. Very poor!

  21. Lius Dias really gets around the Internet – I see him popping up from his “dark… dungeons” all over the place.

    But his comment below is another head scratcher:

    ‘Anything that is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. There’s an argument for atheism.

    But I’ll answer positively to you when you can come up with some arguments against a-fairism:

    “There cannot be fairies because….?!?”

    Or, for instance,

    “There cannot be unicorns because…?!?”
    “There cannot be ghosts because…?!?!”’

    ?!? Indeed.

  22. mt,

    Understand, that I have no choice but to disagree with you. I am being deterministically led to say this. I have no control. I am being made to say that I have free will. I also don’t want to say—but I have no choice!—nyah, nyah, nyah.

    Andy,

    True. “Faith” has many meanings. Believing in something without evidence is one of them. Amend that: not just “without evidence”, but “without the possibility of evidence.” Faith is strong stuff.

  23. Looks like you’ve physically internalized your cognitive dissonance.

    But my question remains, how do you know that free will exists, and since you know it exists, surely you can offer some definition. Just as the inability to explain something doesn’t make it unexplainable or non-existent, simply stating you have knowledge of something doesn’t make it exist (unless you’re now claiming idealism)

  24. mt: “how do you know that free will exists?”

    The concepts of quantum mechanics may present something that allows free will. The determinism of classical mechanics requires that you absolutely know the initial position, velocity and forces involved to predict or determine the future. Yet quantum mechanics says that if we try to measure these values that we always disturb the system in a random way and it no longer obeys the original determined path. I don’t think the quantum scientists didn’t believe in true determinism, just that one could never truly realize it because it requires leaving the system alone for it to work. Thus, by our actions (will) we disturb the course of history (determinism).

    My previous comment was kind of an inside joke that wasn’t too easy to see. I was trying to say that random events also play a part in free will. Things can come along and nullify free will even when you think you are in control.

    However, chaos, even though it looks very random requires determinism. A simple equation, when iterated, can produce highly ordered chaos like the Mandelbrot set while others produce more random looking sets. Even though something looks random, it can be duplicated by using the exact same formula and initial conditions, so is it really random? The problem I think is that we are trying to simulate a very complex real world with language, logic and math when this may not really be possible. In other words, our logic is at fault and the universe just exists.

  25. mt,

    My part of my evidence for free will is that you keep answering my comments.

  26. 1. Consider the sentence “I think there is no free will”.

    2. If this means that the speaker believes that all events are deterministically caused by prior events, then the sentence implies his belief in the fact that his own declaration was also deterministically caused by a prior event.

    3. Hence, if we (hypothetically) changed the prior events that led to his saying “I think there is no free will” — for instance, if there was a change in his childhood — so that he would say “I think there is free will”, this 2nd variation would also be “deterministically caused by a prior event”. And in this case, he’d be unable to discern his error (since his belief is not linked to the actual state of the world, but rather to some deterministic chain beyond his control).

    4. But we attribute “truth” to a descriptive sentence based on whether it agrees with the facts being described, not to whether they were deterministically caused or not. In other words, if there is no free will, we can’t know truth. We are forced to believe in what we believe, regardless of the facts being described by our sentences.

    5. The conclusion is that if someone believes that “I think there is no free will” is true, he must also believe that he is unable to discern truth. That is, he has no business trying to convince other people of anything.

    6. Another way to put it is, “trying to convince people of something implies (1) a belief that argument can be [freely] used to help others see the truth and (2) a belief that the speaker has a better claim of having the truth than the listener”. The negation of free will falsifies both.

  27. Mariner: I fail to follow your logic, specifically statement #4. The truth of any statement doesn’t depend on the source of (derivation of? path taken to find?) the truth. My statement “There is no free will” is true or false based on whether free will exists, it doesn’t matter that a deterministic series of events led to my saying that statement. I think I understand what you’re trying to say, if I’m just a rather complicated f(experience) then there’s no room for critical thought. I would disagree with that. Humans have memory and the ability for higher order thought processes. We’re able to combine our experience with rational thought and intuition to generate beliefs and try to explain the truths that we see. As for #6, I disagree with that as well. I believe that I’m correct (that free will violates the laws of physics and that the laws of physics are correct), so that satisfies part 2. If you take my argument and think about it, you’ll agree with my logic or you won’t. If you accept the argument, that information becomes encoded in the physical structure of your brain, it becomes part of your “truth”.

    James: One of the things on my list is to get a better understanding of quantum mechanics. Simply because we’re incapable of simultaneously measuring position and speed, it doesn’t mean that the information doesn’t exist. And to then say that the system acts randomly upon observation seems to be a claim that can’t be made. It’s random to us, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually random.

    Briggs: This is something I’ve thought about for a while and was hoping to get into a discussion about…. completely predictable response.

  28. mt,

    Then how about this response?

    Go therefore, half this day as friend with friend
    Converse with Adam, in what Bowre or shade
    Thou find’st him from the heat of Noon retir’d,
    To respit his day-labour with repast,
    Or with repose; and such discourse bring on,
    As may advise him of his happie state,
    Happiness in his power left free to will,
    Left to his own free Will, his Will though free,
    Yet mutable; whence warne him to beware
    He swerve not too secure: tell him withall
    His danger, and from whom, what enemie
    Late falln himself from Heav’n, is plotting now
    The fall of others from like state of bliss;
    By violence, no, for that shall be withstood,
    But by deceit and lies; this let him know,
    Lest wilfully transgressing he pretend
    Surprisal, unadmonisht, unforewarnd.

  29. mt: “Simply because we’re incapable of simultaneously measuring position and speed, it doesn’t mean that the information doesn’t exist.”

    That was what Einstein said to Max Born: “God does not play dice with the universe.” (not the exact quote but paraphrased version)

    QM is quite simple. To prove determinism, you must know the initial conditions, but due to QM you disturb them by measurement and can never run the experiment. You might think you could perform the measurement in a deterministic manner such that you modify the initial conditions in a fixed way, but to do that you must also know the exact initial conditions of the object (particle or photon) that you are using to measure the first conditions with which is also impossible.

    It quickly leads to infinite regress. We don’t have the logical tools to break past such things yet.