Clinging to Deterministic Freedom, Postponing Causal Explanation
by Christian Y. Cardall
Blake has offered the first step of his planned argument, asking for more clarity on my assumptions about determinism and causality. I’ve only read the Stanford Encyclopedia (SEP) link he offered so far, but I don’t think I need to read the other to respond to his comment.
In my first couple of posts related to this topic I was content with the term ‘determinism.’ I think I started—perhaps ill-advisedly, I am not yet sure—using the term ‘causal determinism’ after reading Blake’s Dialogue article. After reading the SEP article I am content to leave ‘causal’ out of it—I don’t know that any of my posts depend on it, though I would be glad to know how, if they do—and revert to naked ‘determinism’ as defined by the SEP to take as my premise:
Determinism: The world is governed by (or is under the sway of) determinism if and only if, given a specified way things are at a time t, the way things go thereafter is fixed as a matter of natural law.I am also content with the statement near the top of the article that “there is no agreement over whether determinism is true (or even whether it can be known true or false), and what the import for human agency would be in either case.” I see this statement as consistent with the idea that taking determinism as a premise and seeking to work out a compatibilist view of freedom is a reasonable project. That is to say, there is no consensus that such a project is necessarily doomed to failure.
I don’t think the existence of eternal intelligences in LDS thought entails any unavoidable ‘space invader’ problems that invalidate this SEP statement. One can always maintain faith that relativity (or something like it), or a non-toroidal topology of space, prevents the action of intelligences as space invaders (objects of unbounded speed affecting a system at say, t=0, whose arrival was not logically entailed by states of the world prior to t=0).
Further, one can posit that the intelligences contemplated by LDS tradition do not have libertarian freedom, in the sense of having genuinely open futures; but instead arguably enjoy what I might call autonomous freedom: they possess a meaningful independence of action from certain other objects in the world—characterized by the capacity for scenario formulation and selection according to their own internal rules and values—while still having specific material aspects of their future (e.g. which kingdom of glory they will inhabit) that necessarily and uniquely follow from the infinite regressions of their own internal prior states and those of God.
I am rather hazy on the whole issue of causation, which is why I am basically punting on that aspect of Blake’s comment. I suppose that as a physical scientist my general sympathies lie with notion that efficient causation—as I understand it, the laws or regularities that describe the mechanics of how things happen—has some sort of primacy I am not presently equipped to describe well. (Nor can I offer a detailed efficient causal account of how what I have called autonomous freedom arises in humans, but think it plausible that such an explanation is possible.) I don’t even remember the specific names of Aristotle’s other forms of causation. I suppose my prejudice is that other forms of causation may give ‘insight’ and ‘meaning’ in human terms, but are not ultimate or fundamental “pushy explainers” that “make things happen in certain ways” (to use phrases from the SEP article).
Finally I suggest that while LDS scripture and doctrine declare humans to be ‘free,’ they are not sufficiently philosophically precise to distinguish between what I have labeled ‘libertarian’ freedom and ‘autonomous’ freedom. It is also not clear to me that they rule out the sufficiency of efficient causation as the ultimate “pushy explainer”—which sufficiency I tend to assume on the basis of parsimony, taste, and (admittedly limited) experience.