Jerry Coyne Doesn’t Have Free Will

Be sure to read the caption.

Edge is at it again, asking named persons “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” Many interesting things to discuss, so consider this the launching of a new series. (I was directed there, via this site, which linked to me.)

My eye was caught by the never-disappointing Jerry Coyne, author of Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible. Coyne wrote to tell us that he has no free will. This is terrific news, because we’d hate to think he was responsible for that book. Far better to put it down to the determinism, and poor sense of humor, of genes and the laws of physics.

Coyne is at the bottom of a long line of thinkers who tell us the world would be a better place if we knew we could not make choices, because then we’d make better choices.

Profound, n’est-ce pas?

A concept that everyone should understand and appreciate is the idea of physical determinism: that all matter and energy in the universe, including what’s in our brain, obey the laws of physics. The most important implication is that is we have no “free will”: At a given moment, all living creatures, including ourselves, are constrained by their genes and environment to behave in only one way—and could not have behaved differently. We feel like we make choices, but we don’t. In that sense, “dualistic” free will is an illusion.

This must be true from the first principles of physics. Our brain, after all, is simply a collection of molecules that follow the laws of physics; it’s simply a computer made of meat. That in turn means that given the brain’s constitution and inputs, its output—our thoughts, behaviors and “choices”—must obey those laws. There’s no way we can step outside our mind to tinker with those outputs. And even molecular quantum effects, which probably don’t even affect our acts, can’t possibly give us conscious control over our behavior.

One wonders who this “we” is. It appears, according to Coyne, there is a person above and beyond the body or flesh robot whose actions are determined with full rigor by genes, chemistry, and physics. This ghost-in-the-machine, as it were, notices what’s happening, it has desires and wants, but it is powerless to have its way. This ghost can see the “mind” of the robot, but can’t influence it. Meaning, of course, the ghost is a person with free will but who is ever shackled. So there is free will after all, but only for ghosts.

Why is it important that people grasp determinism? Because realizing that we can’t “choose otherwise” has profound implications for how we punish and reward people, especially criminals. It can also have salubrious effects on our thoughts and actions.

First, if we can’t choose freely, but are puppets manipulated by the laws of physics, then all criminals or transgressors should be treated as products of genes and environments that made them behave badly. The armed robber had no choice about whether to get a gun and pull the trigger. In that sense, every criminal is impaired. All of them, whether or not they know the difference between right and wrong, have the same excuse as those deemed “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

The armed robber had no choice but to pull the trigger, yet somehow—more mysterious ghosts?—the person who punishes the robber does have free will in choosing to punish! Thus the punisher is the real bad guy.

But wait a moment, wait just a moment or two. Let’s read that passage again at a more sedate pace. What’s this about robbers behaving “badly”? Did Coyne say badly? As in not goodly?

No, Jerry, it won’t do. If people are machines responding by fixed rules to external stimuli, in the same was as the photocopier or electric mixer does, then there is no bad, there is no good, there is nothing. There is no possibility of right or wrong. No morality, no ethics. No nothing. Somebody can only act badly when they had the possibility of acting goodly, and vice versa. Under determinism, as Coyne-the-meat-machine envisions, there are no possibilities, only unbreakable rules.

When the mixer fails to break up a chunk of butter and flour we do not say it “sinned.” In the absence of free will, we cannot even say it “malfunctioned”, because that would be to assign purpose to the machine, and purpose implies intellect and will.

I choose to let Coyne have the last (explanatory) word, and will leave it as homework for the reader to analyze.

Beyond crime and punishment, how should the idea of determinism transform us? Well, understanding that we have no choices should create more empathy and less hostility towards others when we grasp that everyone is the victim of circumstances over which they had no control. Welfare recipients couldn’t have gotten jobs, and jerks had no choice about becoming jerks.

46 Comments

  1. So Coyne is a Calvinist then? Seriously though, what does he propose we do with people who “act badly” if their actions are determined solely by physics? Live and let live? Not sure that makes for a better world at all.

  2. I had to do a little research on Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, academicized with degrees from William and Mary and Harvard.

    Because I couldn’t believe, without evidence, that an actual man could be his own straw man.

    When people who get paid are dumber than I am, that’s where I draw the line.

  3. This is astonishing. I suppose Coyne is the poster-boy for the crises in scientific disciplines today. So now the Catholic Church has to save civilization AND science. Again! Ora et labora.

    It is determined that I will pray for Jerry Coyne. That must be disturbing for him, but alas, nothing I can do.

  4. I’d be concerned about the people who buy his book. Seems to me the concept of no free will could be a license for mayhem.

  5. This appears to be an attempt to create a more explicit scientific basis (as if Darwin wasn’t enough) for the totalitarian state, in which only the ruling elite has will, while the peons are in a state of will-less, valueless anarchy, their fates solely at the “mercy” of the willed class.

    Coyne brings egalitarianism to a new low (to Coyne a phrase).

  6. Even if we accept his argument I don’t think we are compelled to accept his conclusion that “understanding that we have no choices should create more empathy and less hostility towards others when we grasp that everyone is the victim of circumstances over which they had no control”.

    Why not conclude that, since we are trying to modify the behaviour of a meat computer we can best do that with the harshest corporal punishments that it can survive? After all, it’s not as though there’s any real suffering occurring, just delusions.

    He’s fortunate nobody feels compelled to implement such a conclusion.

  7. We “should” have more “empathy”? Assuming our behavior is determinisic, we can’t. Silly statement.

    Anyway, why would anyone want to read a book written by a sock puppet???…

    Oh, I get it now!

  8. Coyne is stating his entiere theory in free-will terms. But he says that free will doesn’t work. The consequence is therefore that his theory is stated in a language that is meaningless. Which means that we cannot understand what he’s talking about.

    When people are ghosts-in-a-machine, we can understand the theory, even if we are not governed by it. But then this is a normal scientific theory. Which means that the theory can be tested and falsified. And which also means that it has to be better at predicting than competing scientific theories, i.e. Theories that can be tested and falsified.

    The theory that humans have free will is a scientific theory, as it can be tested, and therefore be falsified. Stating that Determinism falsifies Free-Will is of course rubbish, competing theories cannot falsify each other.

    So, Coyne has to think of experiments that will show that Determinism is true, and that Free-Will is false.

  9. +JMJ

    Everyone — I believe I have a real argument against Coyne’s reductionist determinism. Thanks to the great talents of some people I know, we prepared a video to present it, “The Reductionist Delusion,” on YouTube and on gloria.tv. It’s about 21 min. long. I have since had further thoughts to strengthen the argument. If you’d like to get into contact with me, you could write me at my church address, pastor@latinmassomaha.org. Thank you for your consideration.

  10. When twenty enraged fathers of twenty deflowered (by Coyne) co-eds come after him with shotguns, does he a) mollify them with the insight that neither he nor their daughters really had any choice in the matter, or b) console himself with the knowledge that the fathers had no choice but to respond as they do?

  11. Pure liberal claptrap…sorry I wasted my time reading it
    shame on you Briggs. An illustration of just how vacuous
    the left is, the next step is of course to let them do the thinking
    for you, as you are too idiosyncratic an honest victim of chance.
    Better to let cooler heads prevail nest pas.

  12. JohnK,

    “Because I couldn’t believe, without evidence, that an actual man could be his own straw man.”

    Reminds me of the saying (not sure who said it, maybe the great Thomas Sowell):

    That’s so stupid that only an academic could believe it.

  13. I think you all give him far too much credit.

    I don’t think he actually believes any of this.

    His ideology requires him to write/say certain things like this. His ideology trumps his actual knowledge and honesty. He cannot actually write what his own common sense knows very well to be true. In short, he is lying. He has signed on to an ideology that requires him to lie. In my opinion he’s too invested to be open to truth at this point.

    The best description I’ve heard about people who do this came from the otherwise forgettable movie “Sin City”:

    “Power comes from lying, lying big and getting the whole world to go along with you. Once you’ve got people saying what in their heart they know isn’t true you’ve got ’em by the [nether regions].”

  14. So, Coyne has to think of experiments that will show that Determinism is true, and that Free-Will is false.

    It would help to have a definition of “free will”. There seem to be multiple definitions. Hard to discuss vague terms. If it means “can’t be completely determined or predicted by an external observer” that’s fine but has nothing to do determinism. The weather can’t be completely predicted either. Does that mean weather doesn’t have a deterministic nature? Seems to me its unpredictability stems from a lack of sufficient information.

    If “free will” means something other than “can’t be predicted because of a lack of complete information” then what DOES it mean?

    When the mixer fails to break up a chunk of butter and flour we do not say it “sinned.” In the absence of free will, we cannot even say it “malfunctioned”, because that would be to assign purpose to the machine, and purpose implies intellect and will.

    “malfunctioned” can mean “outside of expected action”. All living things act with a purpose. No intellect or will required. Honey bees collect honey. Living things procreate.

    As for “fault”, if a tree falls, crushing your car, is it at “fault”? Does it have to be at fault to do something about the event, say chopping it into pieces? Or do you merely say, “Oh the poor thing!” then wring one’s hands in sadness? Does a serial killer need to be at “fault” before being removed from society? If so, why? Was Typhoid Mary at fault for being a typhoid carrier? If not, why was she quarantined?

    Why does blame have to be assigned at all? Seems to me some definitions of “free will” exist only for the purpose of assigning blame.

  15. Mike in KC —

    Your post reminds me of another memorable statement I came across: “There is less to this than meets the eye.”

    (I don’t think it’s by Oscar Wilde, but it could be.)

  16. Okay, if I don’t have free will, I am programmed to listen to the my brain go though the gyrations it does when I make a decision / follow my programming. I can’t tell the difference.

    Regarding criminal law, and should I be on a jury, I would make the decision that my chemical / biological processes tell me to do. So, how can I decide any differently whether to convict or acquit?

    But the real sticker in this theory, is that if the criminals have processes that are prone to lead them to the antisocial, they have a dysfunctional process. They are biologically inclined to a life of crime. The logical (if logic still exists) thing to do, would be to lock them away indefinitely. Why would my bio-chemical processes lead me to the conclusion that I should be generous with these folk.

    As I can’t tell the difference between free will and the illusion of free-will, my thinky-thinky meat-part holds onto the illusion.

  17. If we have no free will, then indifference would be the appropriate response to all and every event, not empathy, except of course when my biology makes me empathetic. But that’s of no concern to me, which is another instance of indifference.

  18. @DAV

    A proper definition is indeed in order. The classic one is that to have free will means that you are able to evaluate different choices and choose one of them.

    In the same vein there must be a proper definition of Determinism. Apparently that one is that given the complete current state of the world and all the laws that govern the universe, one is capable to compute every future state of that universe.

    I will now show that you do need to know about the entiere universe, as follows. Imagine a serial killer who decides on his next victim, the next time, the next place and so on by examining the brightness of certain quasars. Instead of throwing dices, he’s is counting photons. This is far fetched, but certainly possible. You do not even need to have access to professional telescopes in observatories, as reasonably priced photographic amateur equipment can reach a couple of billion light years into the universe.

    Photons are produced by deterministic physical processes, even in quasars half the universe away, so it is possible (but not easy) to predict the exact number arriving here at any one time. The cops count the same photons as the serial killer, are therefore capable of predicting who he will kill where and when. This gives them the opportunity to apprehend the killer in the nick of time, Minority Report style.

  19. @DAV

    Now, one might say that the cops do not know the mapping between photon counts and choosing murder victim, time and place.

    This is in fact not a good objection, as choosing the victim and so on is also a Deterministic process.

    For the sake of argument, let us assume that the killer has made this mapping public knowledge in some physically possible way, like posting it on his Facebook page. You would agree that if the problem cannot be solved while knowing the mapping, it can certainly not be solved when not knowing the mapping.

  20. Sander van der Wal,

    The classic one is that to have free will means that you are able to evaluate different choices and choose one of them.

    The way I see it is that whatever is perceived as the best choice (perceived by the ‘chooser’) however it is arrived at will always be taken. Effectively, not a choice at all but a perceived best course of action. I don’t think it is possible for anyone to choose against their own idea of ‘best course’ though many object by using their own evaluation as if their viewpoints are the only sensible ones.

    It also seems to me that the perception depends on all that preceded it. If you know what those are then you are in a position to know what the ‘choice’ would be. Not any different in principle from knowing the positions and velocities of an air molecule.

    That it is not possible to know all that preceded is irrelevant albeit the reason why I can’t solve it. Just because I can’t solve the problem only means it is indeterminate to me. Obviously, the ‘chooser’ makes the determination.

    For the sake of argument, let us assume that the killer has made this mapping public knowledge in some physically possible way, like posting it on his Facebook page. You would agree that if the problem cannot be solved while knowing the mapping,

    Saying the problem cannot be solved if the mapping is known is based upon what exactly?

    1) How do you know the mapping is complete? People aren’t always aware of the specific whys For example, why they might prefer certain colors over others. Why they feel the way they do, etc.
    2) You are also assuming the mapping is static or otherwise immutable.
    3) The reasons for seeing a path as the best path perhaps are things that may not be easily articulated. It could be the person just feels it is so. This doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons why; just that the person may not be aware of them.
    4) Not necessarily the only reasons.

  21. Coyne precludes the possibility of convincing anyone of his thesis, by stating his thesis.
    Solipsism makes more sense! 🙂

  22. In my observation, most “popular” level positions on free will / determinism take the following form:

    “I assert that we do / do not have free will, therefore {poorly thought out and philosophically incoherent application}.”

    Coyne’s argument is no exception, save that he rolls a few more flaws into the mix. Having failed to consider the philosophical implications of theoretical determinism vs observable determinism, he dives straight into morality, conveniently ignoring that “morality” can have no meaning in a purely mechanical and naturalistic system. No God, no End, no Choice => no morality. There’s no Ought, just Is.

    Moreover, actions are just actions; there’s no real observer, no real meaning, just a cascade of actions that trigger more actions. On the one hand he champions fatalism, but on the other he wants our inability to make meaningful decisions to inform our decision making.

    Beyond Coyne’s folly, there are many shortcuts I see in discussions of Determinism. For example, there’s a world of difference between saying that everything is Determined and that everything is Determinable. Call the former theoretical Determinism and the latter observable Determinism. Theoretical Determinism holds that – from outside the system – the entire history of the universe is already ordained in every detail. Observable Determinism attempts to take the implications of theoretical Determinism and apply them within the system.

    Coming the other way, most people think too little about the “free” in “free will”. What does it mean for will to be “free”? Does it mean that your choices are impossible to predict given the inputs? It can’t be simply about the magnitude of the change; a very small change can cascade into a very dramatic one, and these changes may be easy or hard to predict given the sophistication of the model.

    Some duelists suggest that the natural world is deterministic (un-free?) but is operated on by the supernatural, which is free. But there’s no particular reason to expect the supernatural (assuming it exists) to be more or less free than the natural. Our ability to model the supernatural is orders of magnitudes poorer than our ability to model the natural world, but that doesn’t imply that one is determined and the other not.

    There’s also a very practical issue when it comes to determinism and behaviour. Hypothesising that someone could predict how you interact with your environment doesn’t negate the fact that you are interacting with your environment, and that interaction changes the environment; whether the change was theoretically predictable or not doesn’t negate the change. Moreover, it does not negate that your behaviours and “choices” will alter based on the inputs that are applied to them. Most people who receive negative consequences for making certain decisions (call them “bad decisions”) and are given an achievable alternative will bias their behaviour towards not making those decisions! Whether this was predictable in some abstract sense doesn’t negate the actual change. That I can successfully predict that my child will obey or disobey me in a particular situation doesn’t somehow negate that they actually did or contraindicate that my rewards or punishments for their behaviour will shape their future behaviour. “It’s (at some level) deterministic so we shouldn’t reward or punish behaviour” is a ridiculously silly argument, and one that can only be seriously entertained by someone smuggling in an additional agenda.

  23. It would help to have a definition of “free will”.

    The will is a desire for (or a repugnance to) the products of the intellect. That is, it stands to conceptions as the emotions stand to perceptions. That is why it is also called the “intellective appetite” and the emotions are called the sensitive appetites. This is why “experiments” involving button-pressing or finger-twitching, which are merely somatic notions and come under the sensitive appetites, miss the point entirely.

    Now, the will can be determined in four ways:
    1. materially: Structural steel is necessary for this particular application.
    2. formally: 2+2 necessarily equals 4
    3. by end: Food is necessary to life
    4. by agent: If you want to keep your job, it is necessary to agree to global warming.

    All these determinations are compatible with voluntary acts except determination by external agent, which is called “determination by coersion.” These would also apply to things like strong drink, magnetic fields, or baseball bats applied to the head.

    Therefore, as a thing is called “natural” because it is according to the inclination of nature, so a thing is called “voluntary” because it is according to the inclination of the will.
    Et ideo sicut dicitur aliquid naturale quia est secundum inclinationem naturae, ita dicitur aliquid voluntarium quia est secundum inclinationem voluntatis.
    — Thomas Aquinas, ST I.82.1, respondeo

    Just as the inclination of the intellect is toward the True, the natural inclination of the will is toward the Good, as Aristotle says in the Nichomachean Ehtics: “The good is what all desire.” Aquinas called this “the determination by natural inclination,” and as just mentioned it is not an impediment but a natural prerequisite.

    Indeed, DAV paraphrased Aristotle and Aquinas by saying: “The way I see it is that whatever is perceived as the best choice (perceived by the ‘chooser’) however it is arrived at will always be taken.”

    However, we note that the natural inclination toward the Good in general, that is, toward “beatitude,” is a generic inclination, whereas choices must be made in particular. A generic inclination does not determine specific means. This is why the traditional philosophers did not use the phrase “free will,” but rather the phrase “free judgement” (liberum arbitrium). In fact, formally, there were two phases distinguished.

    The will is free, i.e., not coerced, to pursue its natural inclination to the Good if there were no impediments in the form of external coersions. Material, formal, or teleological determinations do not count. This is not the sort of “free” that Nietzsche had in mind, and therefore not the sort of arbitrary, “anything goes” kind of randomness that Late Moderns get hung up on. It is more akin to free fall than it is to free-for-all. In free fall, nothing hinders the motion of a heavy body in its natural inclination toward the center of gravity. Similarly, in free will, nothing hinders the movement of the will toward the Good as it understands the Good.

    Since the will is the appetite/desire for the concepts of the intellect, and it is impossible to desire what you do not know, the will cannot be completely determined toward anything that is not completely understood. Hence, there are degrees of freedom in nearly all judgments and choices that we are faced with in practice.

  24. …First, if we can’t choose freely, but are puppets manipulated by the laws of physics, then all criminals or transgressors should be treated as products of genes and environments that made them behave badly. …

    Er…fine. So a thief is driven to steal something by a habit in his brain that encourages him to take what he wants. He will also be driven NOT to steal something in front of a policeman, because his brain will tell him that he will be caught and punished if he does this. And similarly, he will be less likely to steal something if the penalty is having his hand cut off, than if the penalty is a suspended sentence.

    Predestination would therefore seem to argue that we should put more policemen on the streets, and raise the penalties for criminal activity, thus rebalancing the conflicting predestined urges in a transgressor’s mechanical mind. Which seems to match conservative values quite well…

  25. Here’s an observation. There is no free-will in the sense that a free-will is not free of cost. It has a cost in terms of personal discipline. One can, in a certain sense, lose free-will, in whole or part, by giving in one’s appetites or desires.

  26. @DAV

    As an example of why Determinism doesn’t work, consider a computer. Completely governed by physical laws. Two reasons why it is impossible to predict what a computer will do given a big enough program and some specific memory content.

    1) If the program is complicated enough enough, there is no known algorithm that can decide whether that program terminates, let alone compute what its answer will be.

    2) because of 1) you can predict whether that computer program will terminate by running it on a different computer. Now two things can happen.

    a) the second computer is slower, or equally fast. So you get the prediction of the event after the event itself. That is not a prediction.

    b) the second computer is faster. Which means that you will get the answer you were looking sooner, because nobody in his right mind will interpret this as prediction, but as the real thing.

    So, for a completely Deterministic situation people will not be able to predict anything.

  27. Sander van der Wal,

    Yet every state of the computer can be determined if the previous state is known and the method of processing (i.e., the algorithm — either soft or hard wired) used to effect the state change. It’s not at all impossible to predict the state at any given time,T. All you need to do (as you’ve said) is follow the state transitions that flow from a given initial state. You eventually find out. It’s irrelevant how long it takes.

    This is very much different than saying the next state can’t be determined even if you know all of the inputs.

    And that’s the question at hand: can the next state (choice, whatever) be determined if all inputs are known? If yes, then theoretically a machine can be built to do the sane.

  28. DAV: a lot hinges on the word “can” in your question, which is why I draw a distinction between theoretical and observable determinism.

    There’s “can” given infinite knowledge and infinite ability to calculate, and there’s “what can I predict given the tools I have available?”. Something can be deterministic but not determinable by us.

    YOS:

    “Since the will is the appetite/desire for the concepts of the intellect, and it is impossible to desire what you do not know, the will cannot be completely determined toward anything that is not completely understood. Hence, there are degrees of freedom in nearly all judgments and choices that we are faced with in practice.”

    I think you’ve simply moved from one lack of clarity to another. Your definition seems to be conflating freedom with lack of optimality. But that’s usually not what is under discussion when considering determinism.

    When considering “freedom”, one must always ask “free from what?” and “free to what?”. Determinism implies that the path of history is already set, even if it cannot be known by us. What would it mean to be “free from” this? What are the consequences of such a “freedom”?

  29. When considering “freedom”, one must always ask “free from what?”

    Free from determination-by-coercion impeding the will’s natural inclination toward the good.

    But also freedom in the sense of degrees of freedom allowed in the other sorts of determination by the imperfections of the intellect and the principle that it is impossible to desire [will] that which you do not know.

  30. There’s “can” given infinite knowledge and infinite ability to calculate, and there’s “what can I predict given the tools I have available?”. Something can be deterministic but not determinable by us.

    Yes. But just because I don’t have sufficient information to make the determination doesn’t mean the result is not deterministic — and that’s the point. Floating around seems to be the idea that choices under ‘free will’ somehow are independent of the inputs. IOW: f(all inputs) = unknowable result vs. f(all inputs) = determinable result.

    With the latter, the result is ‘free’ only in the sense that one doesn’t have the values of all the inputs to make the determination. Much like not knowing all of the values affecting any given air molecule in the atmosphere. Yet many seem to object to this idea insisting that ‘free will’ implies the former.

  31. @DAV

    You are missing the point.

    Of course you can run the program and wait for it to finish. But that is exactly the same as waiting for Earth’s climate to change when extra CO2 is being added. Or waiting for the Sun to evolve into a Red Giant. Or waiting for the tectonic plates to crash into each other raising the Alps.

    When you predict you do not want to wait for the process to run its course, you want to be able to say what the outcome will be before the process has finished.

    With a computer you cannot do that. Determinism says you can predict the outcome for all physical systems. So Determinism is not true.

    If Determinism is not about predicting, but about processes running their courses, well, duh. Humans exercising their Free Will will at some point make some choice and act on it.

  32. You are missing the point.

    Am I? This ‘free will’ is either a function where the result is governed by the inputs or the result is effectively independent of the inputs. The first is deterministic the latter is not. Predictability seems irrelevant particularly in light of premises such as people are machines responding by fixed rules to external stimuli, in the same was as the photocopier or electric mixer does with the desired response: of course they don’t. No explanation given for the response other than dismay over the premise and its implication of where blame can be assigned.

  33. @DAV

    As YOS has shown, humans with free will are predictable, as they will choose the Good.

    What is interesting is that computers running programs can be completely unpredictable. Nobody knows what the outcome of a computer running a climate model will be, and there is no way to predict that outcome, unless by using a faster computer. And that makes the faster computer the computer running the climate model, instead of making it the computer that predicts the outcome of the slower computer.

  34. As YOS has shown, humans with free will are predictable, as they will choose the Good.

    Appears to me as a “fixed rule”. If they will choose the “Good” then the choice is an illusion, i.e., the perceived best option will always be taken. The others weren’t deliberately downrated (a choice). They just were seen as worse.

  35. What is interesting is that computers running programs can be completely unpredictable. Nobody knows what the outcome of a computer running a climate model will be

    That may be but I don’t see what it has to do with the discussion at hand or why it has to be done fin a particular time frame. Quick, predict the Y in Y=X+Z. You can’t do that until you know X, Z and, even then, not until you’ve performed the calculation either yourself or with a tool. You can’t do it any faster than real-time. Does this mean Y is unpredictable when X and Z are known? Of course not.

    The same with the output of a climate model. You merely do the calculation.

    In any case, predictability and how fast it can be done if at all may be a corollary but is nonetheless a side issue. The problem is about whether the result is tied to the inputs (including current state derived from previous inputs all the way back to the beginning of time) therefore deterministic or not. The claim (or deepest wish) seems to be “not deterministic”.

  36. If they will choose the “Good” then the choice is an illusion.

    Provided the Good is known completely and entirely. But usually, we only know the good imperfectly, and hence the will is only imperfectly determined. Hence, there is “play” (in the engineering sense) in the movement of the will. Life does not consist of strict lattices with unique maxima. There may be more than one “best” choice; or the choices may not even be clearly spelled out. That’s why the traditional philosophers spoke of “free judgment” as distinct from “free choice” and both of these as distinct from “free will.”

    Don’t forget that determination is of four kinds and only determination by external agency is contrary to the natural inclination of the will. No one regards formal determination, such as that the internal angles of a plane triangle sum to 180 degrees, to be an impediment to the freedom of the will simply because they place a formal constraint on one’s “choice.”

    An apt comparison is of “free will” to “free fall.” When a body is in free fall, its movement is determined only by its natural inclination to minimize its gravitational potential function. When a mind is in free will, its movement is determined only by its natural inclination toward the Good. It is not being diverted or impeded by obstacles like threats, bad habits, temptations or the like.

  37. Provided the Good is known completely and entirely. But usually, we only know the good imperfectly,

    It’s what appears to be the Good to the ‘chooser’. How you or anyone else sees it is irrelevant.

    Hence, there is “play” (in the engineering sense) in the movement of the will.

    Not at all. This ‘play’ is only from your perspective. It’s like saying some computation has ‘play’ because the inputs which you aren’t privy to are different.

    So, are choices determined by past experiences and current internal states exclusively or are they independent of them? If determined by past experiences exclusively (which also lead to the current internal states) then they are effectively predetermined.

  38. It’s what appears to be the Good to the ‘chooser’.

    Of course. From whose perspective did you suppose it would be? One supposes it would be good to take Paris, another supposes it would be good to defend Paris. That does not mean one might not be mistaken about the nature of the good, but even the villain pursues what he believes is the good.

    This ‘play’ is only from your perspective.

    No, because the incompleteness in the understanding is objective. You really cannot desire what you do not know. If you know what 2+2 entails, you cannot withhold consent from the answer. Your will is determined to 4. But if you really desire “world peace,” your will is not determined to, say, world conquest because that is merely one possible way to accomplish world peace and there are many other means to that end.

    It’s like saying some computation has ‘play’ because the inputs which you aren’t privy to are different.

    That is formal determination, not agent determination, and so does not impair the natural inclination of the will toward the good. Beside, computation is not the same as judgment of means and more than was machination or hydraulics back when those were the privileged metaphors.

  39. You are dancing with words while saying little to nothing. You avoided an answer to the question: Are choices determined by past experiences and current internal states exclusively or are they independent of them?

  40. Are choices determined by past experiences and current internal states exclusively or are they independent of them?

    Neither.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *