Sunday, December 18, 2005

Deterministic Freedom Explained

In a comment and in an email Blake Ostler suggested I might benefit from reading his Mormonism and Determinism (Dialogue, Winter 1999, p. 43), in which he responds to Determinist Mansions in the Mormon House? by L. Rex Sears (Dialogue, Winter 1998, p. 115). (These articles can be found at the Dialogue website by searching on the author name and article title.) I made an immediate response to Ostler, but now I respond (with only a modest attempt to make my response self-contained) after a first reading of both Sears’ and Ostler’s articles, and provide my own inkling as to why our deterministic behavior nevertheless feels ‘free.’

I do not believe in absolute foreknowledge. This makes some of Sears’ arguments for determinism, and I think even more of Ostler’s arguments against determinism, irrelevant for me. (Though I note with regret that what strike me as two of the most interesting Mormon scriptures relating to the question of God’s foreknowledge—the prophecies of Joseph Jr. and Sr.’s names, and the complex of Book of Mormon and D&C scriptures associated with the loss of the 116 Book of Mormon manuscript pages—were not mentioned by either Ostler or Sears.)

Pervading the arguments of Ostler and to some extent Sears is the false assumption that determinism necessarily entails predictability of human behavior. Unfortunately, this commonly-held but false notion appears to lead Ostler (and perhaps certain authorities he cites) to the dubious conclusion that the unpredictability associated with the sensitive dependence on initial conditions exhibited by some nonlinear systems (i.e. chaos) negates determinism on scales relevant to human cognition. In fact, the practical limitations on our knowledge of initial conditions that result in our inability to predict in practice in no way imply that a chaotic system is doing anything other than following precisely the nonlinear equations governing it—that is, that the system is behaving deterministically—starting from particular (albeit unknown to us) initial conditions. It is perfectly consistent to believe or assume that determinism reigns even if neither God nor mortals are capable of predicting individuals’ behavior.

It seems to me that this severing of the connection between determinism and predictability/foreknowledge disables most of Ostler’s arguments against determinism (as well as one of Sears’ major arguments for determinism). All Ostler has left are arguments based on what he considers palatable notions of responsibility and on the apparent immediate experiences of “rational thought” and “free will.” I confess I find descriptions and definitions of these phenomena along the lines of Sears’ self-determination, mutual responsibility, etc. more satisfying than Ostler’s arguments from common sense. In Sears’ formulation,
to be a free agent with respect to a particular individual is to be possessed of a deterministically operative power of self-determination; to have been instructed by that individual to do or not do certain things; and to have the ability to determine, by choosing to obey or disobey the admonitions received by that individual, the nature of one’s future relationship with her. Having the relevant expectations held of us by her, in turn, makes us responsible to her, and to be a free agent with regard to a particular individual is just to be responsible to her.
To explain the key point further in my own words, the uniquely human capacity to imagine the future allows for the uniquely human experience of free will and capacity for responsibility, in a context that is nevertheless deterministic: our imagination and expectation of future consequences is an important causal feed entering (along with other causes) into our decision-making, and this is what makes us responsible—literally, ‘able to respond’—‘freely.’

How, then, to account for our immediate experience of ‘freedom’? I strongly suspect that our (often subconscious) assessments involve the probabilistic weighing of multiple imagined, as-yet unrealized future scenarios—which our brain may know, handle, and experience differently than knowledge of past events and associations stored in memory—and that this perceived difference between the accomplished past and the imperfectly ascertainable future accounts, particularly when the assessment is subconscious, for the powerful psychological perception of libertarian-style free will in the process of decision-making. (Note that this proposed existence of a qualitative difference between reflections on the future and the past could be tested with real-time functional brain imaging of conscious subjects.)

Aside from the manifest elegance of my utterly compelling explanation ;->, another reason I find deterministic formulations of agency and responsibility more satisfying is that I think Ostler has failed, as he claims, to have a third option breaking a dichotomy between causal determinism and random indeterminacy. According to Ostler,
A libertarian could adopt a process view of freedom where a free act is a creative synthesis of the prior states of the world. Thus, there are causal relations or nexus from which a free act flows; however, there are several different outcomes for which the causal conditions are adequate but not sufficient…

Human freedom consists of a synthetic unity of experience not present in the stimuli or causes from which consciousness arises. Human creativity is the additional element which must be added to the totality of past causes necessary to explain human choices.
But this appeal to a synthetic human creative input begs the question: in a given instance, how does a particular creative input emerge? If it necessarily follows from the nature of one’s eternal, uncreated individual intelligence—or, in my naturalistic formulation above, ‘under the hood’ it is simply a (conscious, subconscious, or both) mechanical best estimate by the brain of which is the most likely among imagined future scenarios—then we have in the end necessary determinism (though partially of an internal or self-determined variety). Otherwise, the appearance of a particular creative input arises with some component of randomness.

Hence it seems to me there is in fact no third option; and in the absence of a viable alternative, and assuming the existence of eternal uncreated intelligences, I prefer to think that the input from my intelligence would be causal rather than random—especially since this is the component upon which I ultimately would be judged!


I prefer to think that the input from my intelligence would be causal rather than random 

You lost me here... The problem with determinsm is that it is a doctrine that claims we are always and exclusively reacting to stimuli. In it there is no independent self-caused thought or action. Are you arguing for self-caused action and thought here? If so then how is that different than LFW? 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/18/2005 11:22:00 PM  

The problem with determinsm is that it is a doctrine that claims we are always and exclusively reacting to stimuli. 

No, no, no. Sorry to break it to you Geoff, but if this is the conception under which you've been laboring, you've been missing the point of all the huge debates. ;->

Determinism is not a claim that there is no independent input from a 'self' (an uncreated eternal intelligence, for example). Rather, determinism amounts to a claim that things could not have actually unfolded in a way other than what actually happened.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/19/2005 09:15:00 AM  

So the difference with LFW is that LFW says there are effects (specifically, human choices) that do not completely follow from antecedent causes. According to LFW, not even the nature of an uncreated intelligence (in combination with all evironmental influences) completely constrains human choice. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/19/2005 09:31:00 AM  

Christian: Rather, determinism amounts to a claim that things could not have actually unfolded in a way other than what actually happened. 

Right, this is the problem. This is the doctrine of predestination. It says the future is fixed (and whether God is smart enough to figure out the fixed future or not is actually moot on this specific point.) This means that Lehi was wrong and men are in fact not free to choose because they could not choose anything other than what they do choose. It means that the stimulus always determines our reactions (as I said before.) Now you can say "self" has "input" but that is not really the case -- this is really a form of "hypothetical free will" you are pushing where someone could only have chosen differently if events had unfolded differently. But events could not have unfolded differently in your scheme so that is moot.

Jeffrey rested his similar argument on the shaky notion of "an uncreated eternal intelligence" just as you appear to be doing. By so doing he hoped to push the "first cause" into infinity so that there was none. But none of this provides any form of responsibility -- either for us or for God. In your scheme we are all simply automata that are acting out a fixed future with zero real input and no real responsibility for any of our choices because we could not ever have chosen to follow any course than our predestined fate.

Believing that would make a person a mediocre Calvinist (I say mediocre because you and Jeffrey also heretically believe that God is predestined and determined too -- along with not being bright enough to discern the fixed future) but it is completely at odds with Mormonism.

PS - I address and questioned what part of us is beginningless in my post last night . I think that it is most likely that our parts are beginningless but "we" have a beginning.

Comment by Geoff J | 12/19/2005 11:41:00 AM  

Okay, I haven't even read the post yet, but I want to first say that I thought that Blake's article was alright. He did address many of Sears' argument fairly well, but some of his comments were a little flippant I thought. The real problem with the paper, I thought, is that it was attacking some rather weak arguments in favor of determinism. This was not Blake's fault, but was Rex's.

Now I'll read your post. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/19/2005 12:36:00 PM  

All done. So you saw the same things I did. Personally, I think that the strongest arguments in favor of determinism in a Mormon context come from our quasi-materialism and our negation of ontological miracles. Here's Brigham:

The providences of God are all a miracle to the human family until they understand them. There are no miracles only to those who are ignorant. A miracle is supposed to he a result without a cause, but there is no such thing. There is a cause for every result we see; and if we see a result without understanding the cause we call it a miracle. JD 14:79

Yet I wilt say with regard to miracles, there is no such thing save to the ignorant—that is, there never was a result wrought out by God or by any of His creatures without there being a cause for it. There may be results, the causes of which we do not see or understand, and what we call miracles are no more than this—they are the results or effects of causes hidden from our understandings. JD 13:140

(The Lord) has the material on hand, and He knows every process, and He could give life to a lifeless being, with ease, by the elements lie would operate upon and with. This is a great miracle in our estimation; but it would be no miracle at all to the Lord, because He knows precisely how to do it. There is no miracle to any being in the heavens or on the earth, only to the ignorant. To a man who understands the philosophy of all the phenomena that transpire, there is no such thing as a miracle. A great many think there are results without causes; there is no such thing in existence; there is a cause for every result that ever was or ever will be, and they are all in the providences and in the work of the Lord. JD 13:34

You are the oracle of the Spirit, the repository of the intelligence that comes from another state of existence invisible to the natural eye; of the influence that produces an effect without revealing the cause, and is therefore called a miracle. You are already acquainted with my views upon the doctrine of miracles. In reality there can be no miracle, only to the ignorant. There are spiritual agents, invisible to the natural eye, not only in us, but in the elements, in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, who are continually producing effects, the cause of which we cannot comprehend. 1:91

Christian, given your position I highly recommend that you read Dennett's "Freedom Evolves" which is basically a defense of your position thrown in the context of evolution. It makes for a great read.

I should also mention that I have no clue what it would feel like to not be determined by something. For instance, "what caused me to do X?" Was it something or nothing? "what caused me to do X at that particular time?" Was it something or nothing? If one answers "I caused me to do X" then I simply ask "what caused you to cause X at that particular time?" and so on. I simply have no clue what it would feel like to not be determined. Probably pretty helpless I imagine. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/19/2005 12:45:00 PM  


I fail to see how any of those quotes from Brigham could be used as an attack on free will. Brigham believed in free will after all. He was attacking the idea of magical or supernatural miracles, not the idea that we have free will. Within his list of causes seems to be a person’s free will in the libertarian sense. I think he felt that among the uncaused causes in the universe were human choices because of our LFW.


You may be interested to know that I am not against determinism overall. I think it is a very real thing. In fact, I think that most everything in our universe is the result of causal determinism. What I am against is the causal determinism that completely excludes the potential for human and divine free will. I posted my take on this  shortly after the colossal debate Jeff, Blake and I had. The idea is that the "natural man" is essentially the casually determined man. 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/19/2005 01:42:00 PM  

Brigham statement is goes against indeterminacy in general, and thus any VERSION of free will which happens to require such. Mine and Christian's does not. LFW, as you and Blake hold out for is a "magical and supernatural miracle" and therefore not in accordance with what Brigham says here. Of course you can say that Brigham was either wrong or speaking about the rest of the universe other than man's "will" (whatever that is) but this is only accomplished by reading something other than what Brigham said.

It should also be noticed that for the word "determinism" to mean anything it must be applied to everything. There is no such thing as determinism "except" something else. That is merely indeterminism. Not even the biggest idiot in the world believes nothing to be deterministic in some sense. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/19/2005 02:51:00 PM  

Two brief points. First we should distinguish causal  determinism from the fixity of the future. Causal determinism is the claim that any state of affairs plus the laws of physics entails all future states of affairs. The fixity of the future (or four dimensionalism) merely states that there there are true statements about the future. Those facts need not be entailed deterministically.

Thus one could reject causal determinism (as I do), accepting say an ontological interpretation of quantum randomness, yet also say that the future is fixed from the moment of the universe's creation. I'd simply say that there are many (and perhaps infinite) possible future states of affairs compatible with the current state of affairs. So I accept a randomness. I just don't make the claim that the randomness is entails now

Jeffrey and Geoff. Could you perhaps post some of the BY quotes that you feel argue either for or against Libertarian free will? I confess that given his views on philosophy I just can't see him having a nuanced view on this. I'd expect him to be inconsistent on the issue - although I fully admit to not having investigated too much.  

Comment by clark | 12/19/2005 03:06:00 PM  

Geoff,  my post does not imply that Lehi was wrong. In this post I have given a meaningful definition of freedom that is consistent with Lehi's statements.

You are also incorrect to say that my approach reduces us to automata with no responsibility. The term 'automaton' suggests an entity that follows fixed rules and cannot imagine future scenarios. Nothing in my descriptions of agency and responsibility precludes the possibility of an individual's 'rules' being changed or updated---indeed precisely this kind of adaptivity is a prominent feature of human brains (and if there is such a thing as individual "intelligences" I would expect it to be a feature of those as well). Likewise, nothing in my description precludes an individual from responding (note the etymological connection to responsible ) deliberately to alternative consequences laid out before her.

My approach is not Calvinist predestination. In Calvinist predestination individuals' nature originates with their creation by God. In contrast, (apparently like Jeffrey but unlike you) the version of Mormonism I find more persuasive is one in which the individual intelligence is uncreated and eternal. I recognize that the uncreated individual intelligence is not an incontrovertible, clearly revealed doctrinal truth in Mormonism (but neither is your version of intelligence).

Frankly, however, I'm not all that interested in debating unresolvable doctrinal points; what interests me most about what I have said in this post is that it points to meaningful notions of freedom and responsibility even in an atheistic context. That it happens to also dovetail with the version of uncreated intelligence I would find more sensible is almost a side bonus.

Have to do some more work, back to Jeffrey's comments and Geoff's last comment later... 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/19/2005 03:06:00 PM  


You are notorious for making words or definitions for words up... I think you are doing that with the word “indeterminacy" here. ;-)

First, Brigham Young believed in free will in a Libertarian sense. Therefore, you are severely over-applying these few quotes. The point seem simply to be that God understands the laws of our universe far better than we do (and nowadays we understand them far better than they did in Brigham's day). He is preaching that what appear to be miracles to us is actually God applying his knowledge of the laws of the universe rather than creating miracles ex nihilo .

Now we still don't know much about free will. But just because we don't yet understand the laws of the universe that govern and allow for libertarian free will to exist does not mean that it must come from "a magical and supernatural miracle". Our communication at this blog would look like a miracle to people in Brigham's time but we know that it is based on principles that we now understand. So it is with free will -- we don't yet know what rules, laws and principles allow for it but the revelations say it exists.

I tend to lean toward Blake's speculations that it is somehow an emergent property, but we know very little about the building blocks of spirits/intelligences so we will just have to wait to learn more.

Anyway, back to your use of "indeterminacy". Yes our choices can be determined by our (probably emergent) free will. But free will allows for self caused choices. That is what allows for responsibility. It allows us to act (without any external causes) rather than always react to external causes. Therefore, as Lehi said, we as humans can both act and be acted upon.

Comment by Geoff J | 12/19/2005 03:39:00 PM  

Christian: my post does not imply that Lehi was wrong. In this post I have given a meaningful definition of freedom that is consistent with Lehi's statements. 

Maybe I missed something. As I read your take, it sounded like fairly standard compatibilist fair to me. That we feel like we have choices when in fact we could not possibly choose otherwise. That our choices and even imagination are caused by external forces in the universe. Is that not what you meant? If we really can choose between open open options then how is that not a form of LFW? If not LFW, then how are we actually free to choose? What am I missing? 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/19/2005 05:04:00 PM  

"Brigham Young believed in free will in a Libertarian sense."

At least I provided SOME quotes to back up my assertions. LFW requires ontological miracles. Brigham rejected ontological miracles. Therefore Brigham rejected LFW. QED.

If LFW doesn't requires some form of uncaused miracle, I'd love to hear an account of it. But I have yet to hear one. In neither "emergence" or "chaos" is indeterminism of any kind given anything which could be remotely considered "control" or "responsibility." Appeals to emergence and chaos are, in my opinion, attempts to show that in all that noise real magic actually happens. Just as in the magicians trick, while it might APPEAR to happen, it really doesn't.

I do, however, want to modify my definition of indeterminacy. A person can believe in indeterminacy (quantum mechanics) while being a determinist in this context. This is because determinists believe that while some things might be indeterminate, they contribute nothing by way or responsiblity or control. In fact, determinists believe that these thing actually prevent responsiblity and control. Now if somebody believes that indeterminacy does anything which constitutes some form of "free will" then they are not a determinist at all.

I'm sure this was obvious to you already. I just didn't want you thinking I was making up too much in my definitions. ;-) 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/19/2005 05:20:00 PM  

There real issue which I can see between the two sides is this, which problem is more difficult to solve and/or more difficult to live with?

A) How can we be responsible for something which "I" am fully caused to do?

B) How can indeterminacy of any kind help in resolving (A)?

I personally find (A) much easier to deal with than (B). | 12/19/2005 05:22:00 PM  

Jeffrey: At least I provided SOME quotes to back up my assertions. 

Oh good grief. Ok, try Chapter V in The Discourses of Brigham Young. It is titled "Free Agency". Here are a few samples:

All rational beings have an agency of their own; and according to their own choice they will be saved or damned. 6:97

The volition of the creature is free; this is a law of their existence and the Lord cannot violate his own law; were he to do that, he would cease to be God. He has placed life and death before his children, and it is for them to choose. If they choose life, they receive the blessing of life; if they choose death, they must abide the penalty. This is a law which has always existed from all eternity, and will continue to exist throughout all the eternities to come. Every intelligent being must have the power of choice, and God brings forth the results of the acts of his creatures to promote his Kingdom and subserve his purposes in the salvation and exaltation of his children. 11:272.

The eternal laws by which he and all others exist in the eternities of the Gods decree that the consent of the creature must be obtained before the Creator can rule perfectly. 15:134.

To answer such design, we are given our agency—the control of our belief, and must know the darkness from the light and the light from the darkness, and must taste the bitter as well as the sweet. 7:237-238.

There is not an individual upon the earth but what has within himself ability to save or to destroy himself; and such is the case with nations. 5:53.

There are lots more where these came from, but I think you get the gist. Brigham taught that we are fully free to choose in our lives and that our choices are our own responsibility. 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/19/2005 06:09:00 PM  

Jeffrey: LFW requires ontological miracles. 

I disagree with you here. I think there is a perfectly good explanation for it -- just like there is a perfectly good explanation for the nature of spirits and for all sorts of other spiritual mysteries. Not knowing the explanation for something does not make it an ontological miracle. It just means it remains unexplained currently. For what it is worth, I too am looking forward to explanations of this and many other mysteries.

Are you planning to reject all other mysteries you cannot currently explain in great detail as well? (Like for instance the existence of God…) 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/19/2005 06:25:00 PM  

That's it!!! Since Brigham teaches that man is an agent which is free in some sense this somehow disqualifies a compatibilistic free-will as well as all other forms of indeterministic free will other than LFW? C'mon, you are going to have to do better than that to justify saying that "Brigham believed in LFW." Determinists accept pretty much all the things which Brigham said there.

Who said anything about explaining stuff? What the determinists say is that there actually IS an explanation complete with a fully causal network which is responsible for this "mystery." What indeterminists say is that SOMEHOW real magic happens. Somehow, an ontological miracle actually happens. Thus, according to them, we can eventually come to know how some nothing can cause something.


Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/19/2005 06:51:00 PM  

I'd second Jeffrey's point. There are many other views of free will than simply libertarian free will. I strongly suspect that Brigham never even considered the free will debate that much. If he was exposed to it, it was probably in a superficial way that twisted one of the sides positions. 

Comment by clark | 12/19/2005 06:57:00 PM  

I think Brigham was simply stating that we are agents (duh) which can make decisions for which we will be held accountable. Now of course there does also seem to be the tendency in him as in all forms of Christianity toward a sort of existentialism where I can choose to do pretty much anything. Such people will not be too excited to be told what the consequences of determinism are and I think that Brigham would not have liked the sound of it either. Nevertheless, the consequences which these people fear so much really don't amount to much of anything at all upon closer inspection. "We couldn't have done differently." Of course not, unless we had done something different. This is true regardless of determinism's truth.

I think that my option (A) can be resolved but it will need to be done with some very careful thinking. (B) however runs up against a brick wall because of the very definitions of the concepts employed. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/19/2005 07:15:00 PM  

My apologies for being unable to keep up with the conversation. (Submitting grades, and family night with a lesson celebrating JS's life and cutting out snowflakes took priority.) I'm going way back to Jeffrey's first comment here  and will begin working my way down...

Jeffrey,  by commenting before reading my post you once again demonstrate how similar we are, as I have been known to do that very thing... And actually this entire post is sort of in that same spirit, as I have written here without going back to read the old battles at your, Geoff's, and Clark's sites. I guess that's okay, since it seems to be alive and well. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/19/2005 08:10:00 PM  

Jeffrey,  thanks for the interesting quotes from Brigham and the book recommendation (I haven't read any Dennett yet, but just checked it out at Amazon and it does look interesting).

I had sorta hoped my linkage of humans' ability to imagine future scenarios with a feeling of freedom might be a novel insight, but I suppose that would be too much for a dilettante to hope for... 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/19/2005 08:24:00 PM  

Ok. I'm back.

First, I agree with Clark (and apparently Jeffrey too) that Brigham probably never gave this free will vs. determinism question much thought. Rather I think he, like nearly other church leader, assumed a version of free will that would look very much like LFW.

Jeffrey: What indeterminists say is that SOMEHOW real magic happens. 

Here is your problem -- you say that the claim that some things can be self caused, independent of all preceding causes is "magic" and therefore must be false. But at the same time you claim to believe that human intelligences/spirits are uncaused and uncreated and now are causally determined. So I guess our uncaused, beginningless nature is "magic" too...? So why do you believe in one kind of "magic" but not the other? Both are taught in the revelations. Why do you draw such an arbitrary line as to which unexplained realities to believe or mock?  

Comment by Geoff J | 12/19/2005 09:06:00 PM  

Geoff, LFW is LFW precisely because it engages with issues most people don't. Brigham Young felt God had foreknowledge as well. I suspect he'd not see a conflict between his views of free will and foreknowledge.

All theories of free will use the same language to describe what is called folk psychology - that is the kind of talk that non-philosophers take. So if someone doesn't move beyond that you can't  say they are embracing LFW.

Now you can argue that the implications of their beliefs entail LFW. But that's quite a different matter. And with Brigham you'll have trouble because he not only spoke of responsibility but he spoke of fairly robust foreknowledge.

BTW - before making too many claims, you might wish to read this sermon of BY on foreknowledge and predestination . I actually don't think he means the words he uses, but I think if we follow your hermeneutic approach we'd be forced to deny free will. 

Comment by clark | 12/19/2005 09:52:00 PM  

I am still way back at this comment  of Geoff's.  It may take me a couple days to catch up with the comments here. ;->

Geoff, I guess it has already been said, but I'll throw my voice in too to say that Brigham was not specific enough for us to know whether he was a libertarian or a compatibilist---indeed not specific enough for us to know if he had even thought about it sufficiently to know the difference and make an informed choice. He may well have said various things that turn out to be inconsistent if followed to their conclusions.

I went back to your post you mentioned, regarding the natural man being causally determined, predictable, 'acted upon,' etc., while in contrast those who put off the natural man are those 'act' (I see in the comments there that Blake falls into the same trap).

This argument fails for a reason that should be fairly obvious: it is just as possible (and probably even more common) to be proactive for evil as it is for good. Conversely, it may well be that the 'righteousness' of many lifelong faithful Mormons results mostly from habits of youth and surrounding culture, and thus is more of the 'acted upon' variety. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/19/2005 10:06:00 PM  


I see no contradiction whatsoever in something being both fully subject to the causal network AND at the same time being uncreated.

I'm just so happy to finally have somebody else in my camp after all the flak I've gotten. ;-) 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/19/2005 10:50:00 PM  

Clark - I have no problem conceding that Brigham neither argued for LFW or determinism specifically. I do have a problem with Jeffrey using a few of his quotes to try to prove his case for causal determinism.

Christian - I think the objection you have to my thoughts in that post are not problematic. You are right about free will being able to be used to choose evil or good. So causal determinism creates a baseline for us all and LFW must be used to choose evil below the "line" or good above the line. That fits my theory just fine.

Jeffrey - So what got the "causal network" started? Magic? If you accept that the “causal network” was uncaused then why reject the concept that individual choices can be uncaused? The revelations indicate that is what happens...

Comment by Geoff J | 12/19/2005 11:30:00 PM  

I second the Dennett recommendation. His "Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting" is in my opinion better and more compelling than "Freedom Evolves," but both are excellent. 

Comment by Wm Jas | 12/20/2005 05:37:00 AM  

This is exactly what happens when people get too much secular education. What does any of this have to do with your eternal salvation?? Elder McConkie stated many times that God knows everything. That settles the issue for me. ;-) 

Comment by Aaron B. Cox | 12/20/2005 12:58:00 PM  

"Elbow Room" is a more compelling argument, but I just find "Freedom Evolves" a more fun read. In the beginnging of FE he says that Freedom Evolves was meant as a sequel of sorts to EB which would include his conclusions reached regarding consciousness and evolution as found in "Consciousness Explained" and "Darwin's Dangerous Idea."


Why do you insist on confusing "uncaused" with "uncreated"? Nothing got the causal network started because, in Mormon Doctrine, there was no start. Everything always had a cause before it just as everything will have an effect after it forever. One is no more contradictory than the other.


Thanks for the input. It's good to see you actually reading somebody else's posts other than your own. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 01:24:00 PM  

Jeffrey: Everything always had a cause 

Except the uncaused causal network? How is that not what you call "magic"? 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 01:34:00 PM  

I have no idea how anybody is supposed to have "caused" a causal network. The term causal network only refers to the relationship between cause and effect which stretches back for all eternity. It is not "caused" because that exactly what it is... causes. Nor was it created because it never had a beginning. It seems like I'm saying the same thing over and over so maybe you could elaborate on what you mean here, because I think that I must be missing something. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 01:54:00 PM  

Nope that's what I need. First you say "everything has a cause" but then you admit that not everything has a cause -- like the "uncaused" causal network.

So I could take your explanation of the uncaused causal network and apply it to the uncaused existence of LFW:

I have no idea how anybody is supposed to have "caused" the existence of libertarian free will. LFW stretches back for all eternity. It is not "caused" because that exactly what it is... causes. Nor was it created because it never had a beginning.  

In the end both of our positions rest on faith in the existence of something uncaused (and contra the Brigham quotes you gave). Therefore if I am guilty of believing in "magic" then so are you. 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 02:13:00 PM  

Thanks, everyone, for the comments, links, and book suggestions given here.

There are a couple strands of this thread I'd like to post further on, and simply don't have the time at the moment. I record them here in the hope I'll remember in coming days, or that someone will remind me...

One is the various sources of unpredictability and indeterminacy that we know of, and whether these have anything meaningful to buttress libertarian free will (my short answer: very unlikely).

A second is that despite my best efforts so far, Geoff  seems to remain committed to the notion that determinism, including a component of self-determination, somehow reduces to (in his words) "our choices and even imagination are caused by external forces in the universe." I hope to take one last shot at clarifying why this is false, or at least incomplete.

Geoff, I commented on the beginningless causal network here  at the new thread, since you brought it up there as well.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/20/2005 02:44:00 PM  


Now you are just being unfair. The causal network in not an event, effect or cause. Decisions are all three. Therein lies the entire difference.

The causal network is simply another name for the self-existent Universe (as opposed to universe), both beginningless and endless and yet totally subject to the eternal and immutable laws of cause and effect. The causal network is not a "thing" for the mere reason that it encompasses everything.

At no point in space or time was the causal network not there. Yet at many places and times we can say that there were no decisions, let alone any particular decision. There was a time before I did "X" and a time after I did "X." All the causes of such will lies before "X" in space time while all the effects will lies after "X". The causal network, however, being both beginningless and endless has no "before" or "after." It's like trying to find the edge of the earth, you will just keep going without ever coming to it.

You attempt to show that such a belief in a causal network without a beginning is an appeal to magic just as much as an undetermined decision is really a very desperate move. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 03:05:00 PM  

Oooh, more fodder to prove my point:

Libertarian free will is not an event, effect or cause. Decisions are all three. Therefore there is no difference in its existence and the existence of an uncreated causal network...

Libertarian free will is simply a fact in the self-existent Universe, both beginningless and endless. Libertarian free will is not a "thing" for the mere reason that it is inherent in all intelligence.

At no point in space or time was libertarian free will not there. Yet at many places and times we can say that there were no decisions, let alone any particular decision. There was a time before I did "X" and a time after I did "X." Perhaps the causes of such will lie before "X" and perhaps it will be caused by the LFW inherent in "me", while all the effects will lies after "X". Libertarian free will, however, being both beginningless and endless has no "before" or "after." It's like trying to find the edge of the earth, you will just keep going without ever coming to it.

I think you get my point. You claim, on faith, that the causal network is beginningless. I buy that. I claim that in addition to that, LFW is beginningless and in inherent in all intelligence. My claim is also on faith.

There is nothing desparate about this argument. Rather, I think you have been trying to pull a cheap trick by using atheistic tactics and ridiculing LFW as "magic" but then suddenly shifting gears when it comes to the point where you have your own "magic" that you take on faith.

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 03:53:00 PM  

Again you are seemingly deliberately manipulating what to me seems like a clear cut difference to put your belief on par with mine. It isn't.

It's true that both "causal network" and "LFW" are not actual events, but are instead names given to processes and sets of events. This, however, works against you not for you. For by very definition all the events under the label "causal network" are deterministically caused. What caused any particular causes? Easy, the causes before it and so on. Causes are events, causes and effects and as such are deterministic. The term "causal network" in only a name for all such events.

What about the events which LFW descibes, namely decisions? Decisions are also events with causes and effects and as such are fully deterministic. Of course "LFW" does not have a cause because its not even an event. However, "LFW" is a label for all the events which fall under that label and these are the thinigs which are under scrutiny, not the vague label that we give to the collection as a whole.

There is no "causal network" just as there is no "LFW" which we can point to and analyse, only instantiations of such. Therefore your merely substituting LFW accomplishes nothing whatsoever.

The beginninglessness of the causal network in intrinsically entailed. The causes are themselves the effects of prior causes ad infinitum. This simply cannot be applied to instantiations of LFW, unless of course you want to say that each decision is fully "decided" by prior decisions, which is exactly what you do not want.

LFW does entail magic in that some form or matter or energy (which is required for a decision in material beings such as ourselves) are somehow created ex nihilo in order to make certain things less than fully caused. Things just magically happen which magically contribute to responsiblity in some vague way. I see no analogue of this in the deterministic account of this whatsoever.

Where exactly is this magic which you think I claim? You say it's in the "beginning" of something but 1) we both agree that there was none and 2) there is nothing magical about it anyways.

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 04:52:00 PM  

Jeffrey: First, LFW doesn't require magic but a basic power that agents have to choose or to will this or that. We all feel and know that we have it because we exercise it. It is not created ex nihilo but in the context of an existing nexus. However, you are right that it requires an ability to organize pre-existing data in novel ways (but all of evolution and the emergence of life and genetic recombination is proof enough of that).

Christian: you apparently missed my arguments for moral responsibility and that determinism is incompatible with rational deliberation. These are the strongest arguments and you and Jeffrey have so far completely avoided them. I found your explanation here to be both muddled and utterly unconvincing (and uninformed to boot). But I'm sure that that is no surprise to you.

As for predictability of human behavior -- it is true that we cannot do it; but in principle a being that had all konwledge could exactly predict human behavior knowing the prior causes and laws of causation. So my argument was (rather obviously) not based on our human knowledge of prediction but the knowledge that an all-knowing being would have given causal determinism. That makes your comment in that regard beside the point.

Further, the notion that LFW must be mere indeterminism is false (see my response on the other post). The fact that human LFW isn't predictable given prior causes doesn't count against it since that is just what the believer in LFW claims. You appear to find it unpalatable because it isn't explainable by reference to existing condition (causes), but that is precisely what cannot be assumed as the basis of explanation. Indeed, you seem to think that given chaos theory there cannot be any such prediction (and I agree, but that makes in non-deterministic chaos).

You assert: "Determinism is not a claim that there is no independent input from a 'self' (an uncreated eternal intelligence, for example). Rather, determinism amounts to a claim that things could not have actually unfolded in a way other than what actually happened." Certianly this view is not the way it is discussed in philosophical literature -- what you call determinism is actually fatalism (and it is even worse than causal determinism and even more obviously false). Determinism is the view that given prior causal conditions (the laws of the universe and the causal conditions at a time t) the event e that results is fully explainable and brought about by these prior causes. However, I don't believe that there is even a decent or acceptable view of determinism so no wonder you have such difficulty with it.

Christian also asserts: "To explain the key point further in my own words, the uniquely human capacity to imagine the future allows for the uniquely human experience of free will and capacity for responsibility, in a context that is nevertheless deterministic: our imagination and expectation of future consequences is an important causal feed entering (along with other causes) into our decision-making, and this is what makes us responsible—literally, ‘able to respond’—‘freely.’

Blake responds: Now look Christian, you really do believe in LFW. Where do the imaginative future and reasons for acting come from? It may surprise you that we are in exact agreement unless you assert that the imagination of the future and the reasons for acting are caused in us by prior states rather than our own self-determining agent causal power. We have the power to reason, the ability to imagine and create novel scenarios from which we can choose. If you say that these scenarios are causally determined and which choice I make is also causally determined, then I can never act in a rational manner because then I don't act for the reasons I think I am choosing to act for, but because of the laws of causation that are not directed by such rational considerations. So it turns out that it appears to me that you are really a believer in LFW because you believe that we have this power of imagination as an input into the rest of the causal nexus -- which is just what I argued! On the other hand, if you believe that our reasons and imagination are not just powers that we have because we are in fact agents, but that they are also caused in us by prior conditions, then you must give up on rationality altogether -- which makes this entire discussion rather futile for you, doesn't it?

Clark: I challenge you to show me where the language of "acting but not being acted upon" is used to describe deterministic compatibilism since these are the very words used by Arminians to describe their version of LFW. I suggest that if we are not acted upon then it follows we are not acted upon by causes -- which is what they meant. So 2 Ne. 2 is acutally a way of expressing rejection of causal determinism once you see how these phrases were used in the 19th century.  

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 01:49:00 AM  

Jeff: You still don't get it. Free will or agency or choosing is a basic power that we have. We have the power to imagine things, the power to assess and reason and the power to choose those things we wnat to do. So it isn't an event and it certainly is not a process of being caused by prior events as you assume.  

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 01:52:00 AM  

Christian: I wanted to test your stance on free will a bit. You assert: "But this appeal to a synthetic human creative input begs the question: in a given instance, how does a particular creative input emerge? If it necessarily follows from the nature of one’s eternal, uncreated individual intelligence—or, in my naturalistic formulation above, ‘under the hood’ it is simply a (conscious, subconscious, or both) mechanical best estimate by the brain of which is the most likely among imagined future scenarios—then we have in the end necessary determinism (though partially of an internal or self-determined variety). Otherwise, the appearance of a particular creative input arises with some component of randomness."

Now I want to suggest that this response appears to want to have it two mutually exclusive ways. You first say that our choices necessarily follow from our mechancial brain states. But these brain states are not really within our control because they occur mechanically" and before we can actually think about it. You seem to suggest that our experience of free will is an illusion created by our lack of knowledge about our brain states which actually causes our decisions. If that is so, then we are not responsible because our brain states are not up to us, they are not within our control and they are beyond our conscious ability to rationally assess our choices. Here is the problem: if brain states that we don't control and don't know about mechanically cause our decisions, then we have no control over our decisions. This fact is clearly shown by the fact that even crazy people act out of prior brain states. How is the brain state of a person who cannot assess the outcome of their acts before they act any different than what you propose? For example, how is the choice of an act arising from the brain state of a mentally ill person who thinks that when they pull the trigger on the gun a flower will be planted different from a person who acts just because of prior brain states? Your view doesn't seem to be able to discriminate among those who are actually morally responsible for their acts and those who are not because all acts are merely the upshot of brain states which are not within our rational decision-making power. For the libertarian, the brain states of a normal functioning person adds that a responsbible person is one who can assess rationally the outcome of his actions before the act is determined and thus cannot be merely the upshot or causal outcome of brain states as you appear to assert. So your proposal seems hoplessly unacceptable to me.

However, there is something that you say that gives me hope: "though partially of an internal or self-determined variety." I want to ask what this partially self-determined input amounts to. If the causes are merely the nexus plus the causal contribution of the agent's power to imagine and assess possible various futures among which we choose, then you are in fact an agent causal libertarian rather than a determinist. If that is what you believe (and it seems to me that you also want this) then what you propose is really a form of agent causal libertarianism because our choices result from a basic power of imagination that we add to the nexus of causes rather than merely the states of prior causes plus the natural laws that dictate the outcome. If there is no input from the self, but merely prior brain states that mechanically dictate the outcome of our choices before we can deliberate or think or assess, then I am at a loss as to how you would ever hold anyone morally responsible -- or believe that anyone ever acts rationally.  

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 11:42:00 AM  



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