Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Doctrinal Modesty on Varieties of Free Will

In my preceding thread on a deterministic version of free will, Geoff referred to a post of his containing a sentence I wish to contest: “Needless to say, traditional determinism and compatibilism are at odds with Mormon doctrine.” My rejoinder, in brief: Needless to say, just as the scriptures are not a detailed scientific manual, neither are they a detailed philosophical handbook; which is to say, they are not sufficiently precise and jargon-laden to distinguish between libertarian and compatibilistic varieties of free will.

For this reason I am puzzled by Geoff’s repeated insistence in my previous thread on what “the revelations indicate,” since as far as I know he has given no detailed exegesis with an explicit hermeneutic. I strongly suspect such an attempt would fail, because the gross mismatch between what Jim F. would call the ‘universes of discourse’ of (a) scripture and (b) the traditional philosophical technical debates on free will is sufficiently severe to render preposterous any claims one way or another on what Mormon ‘doctrine’ (whatever that is) says about libertarian vs. compatibilistic free will.

The only thing scripture says is that we are free, and obviously adds no modifiers, either libertarian or compatibilist (that the thought of the scriptures using words like these simply makes us laugh justifies my use of the word “preposterous” in the preceding paragraph); hence I would hope both sides could bactrack from strident claims about what Mormon doctrine is on the specific nature of freedom, and recognize that in these arcane matters we are pretty far out on narrow limbs, with little if any support from the trunk of scripture. It is not accurate, much less helpful, to speak of people who “heretically believe” a version of compatibilistic free will relying on uncreated individual intelligences, or to imply that such people are “trad[ing] the gem of the gospel for a mess of pottage.”

The scriptural lack of relevant theoretical apparatus means that neither libertarian nor compatibilist free will is either heterodox (much less heretical) or orthodox, and normally this would make me relatively uninterested in debating doctrinally unresolvable eternal imponderables; but in this case I am interested in exploring the potential viability of purely materialistic (even atheistic) conceptions of freedom and responsibility. Now, on the basis of this exploration, you are free to call me a heretic. Just don’t do it on the basis of openness to uncreated individual intelligences.

44 Comments:

I will certainly grant that the prophets have not specifically used the term "Libertarian Free Will" when preaching about free will -- in scriptures or in modern discourses. Of course it would be preposterous to assume they might.

But if I were a betting man, I would wager that if any prophet in our scriptures or in modern times were presented with a choice between causal determinism with all of its implications and LFW and all of its implications -- LFW would win either unanimously or at least very close to it. (Of course I can't prove that...)

Here is what I do see in scriptures though. Lehi gives a sermon in 2 Nephi 2 that is very close to specifically endorsing LFW. I see nothing in any scripture that might endorse causal determinism -- even loosely. Certainly there is plenty of evidence in scripture for someone to believe in exhaustive foreknowledge; and yes causal determinism is one way that people try to explain exhaustive foreknowledge; but there are other ways to explain foreknowledge that fit scripture much better (like this timeless God notion.)

When I consider the implications of causal determinism it does look very much like a "mess of pottage" to me compared to the seeming gem and true freedom of choice that LFW offers. I tend to agree with Blake in that assessment. It appears that this opinion offends you though and I'm not sure I get it. Why not just tell me I am wrong and explain why?

By the way, I called you a heretical Calvinist, not a heretical Mormon in that comment. (It was a joke since all Mormons would be heretical Calvinists… hehe… get it?) I don’t think you are a heretic about determinism – I just think you are wrong.
 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 11:38:00 AM  

Just don’t do it on the basis of openness to uncreated individual intelligences.  

Oh yeah, I am still waiting for an answer from Jeffrey for why he is willing to accept the "magic" of uncaused and uncreated individual intelligences that got the "causal network" rolling while at the same time scoffing at the idea that LFW allows for actions that are not caused by previous events. It seems that using this reasoning is a slippery slope that would undermine your on faith in beginningless and uncreated intelligences as well.  

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 11:44:00 AM  

Fair enough, no hard feelings---I didn't really have any in the first place, but I could see how these long debates could end up generating more heat than light, and wanted cries of "doctrine!" to be made more carefully if at all.

The philosophical advantage of uncreated intelligences is that the causal network never "got rolling", to use your phrase; it would have always been rolling. This would be an irreducible single axiom describing a feature of the universe, but a single one is more parsimonious than positing an infinity of spontaneous, random inputs (i.e. at least one for each libertarian free choice).

Lehi gives a sermon in 2 Nephi 2 that is very close to specifically endorsing LFW. 

This is where I want to pin you down; I want to see your exegesis. I think the chance is very high you are reading LFW into it, reading the text through your preferred LFW lens. The text may be sufficiently unconstraining to allow alternate, equally valid readings (e.g a compatibilist one). 

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

Geoff, that's funny, since to me 2 Ne 2 is very much a nearly exact definition of compatibilist views of free will. It defines it as being free to act and not be acted upon but not  the definition in terms of counterfactuals.  

Comment by clark | 12/20/2005 01:40:00 PM  

Man Christian if you aren't careful people are going to think that one of us is the other's false identity! I say this because our responses are almost exactly the same to their arguments. Of course this already happens between Geoff and I. Strangely it was in a thread  in which we breifly discussed our difference regarding free will:

"Jeffrey likes to try to separate the meanings in an effort to defend his idea that we are all actually causally determined (and thus we do not actually have libertarian free will). But as far as I can tell he is the only Mormon on the planet that believes this… (but men are free to choose what to believe after all)."

Here was his original reaction in the Blake/Geoff/Jeff thread, the thread which made friends out of us:

"Jeffrey: Wow a real Mormon determinist! That is quite a stretch with our doctrines."

Blake and Geoff use 2 Ne 2 as a weapon against determinism because it mentions being free to act rather than merely being acted upon. What seems clear to me, however, is that this phrase is obviously being iterated from the intentional stance and refers to not physical causes, but to compulsion from another agent. The chapter clearly says that because of Jesus we are free, not in the sense that we acquire some otherwise unheld agency, but in that we now have the opportunity to choose death or life. It's like saying the with the invention of the airplane I am now free to fly to Taiwan in less than 1 day. Clearly the invention didn't give me any more free will, but it did give my another element of freedom due to its offering me another possiblility which I could take should I choose to. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 01:51:00 PM  

Perhaps a ground rule for appeals to the scriptures for a definition of free will. It has to at least discuss something that is unique  about your definition. As I said, the traditional compatibilist definition of free will is "act but not be acted upon." This is the compatibilist definition since it leaves open what is going on inside the person and further says nothing about the future being a different way if events were replayed.

The compatibilist could point to 2 Ne 2 as evidence for compatibilism since it explicitly leaves out the elements the libertarian deems as essential.

Now I do think Blake has some stronger arguments with respect to responsibility. Were I you Geoff, I'd turn my focus there.  

Comment by clark | 12/20/2005 02:25:00 PM  

From what Jeffrey and Clark are saying it sounds like I was a little too pessimisstic about scipture supporting compatibilism. ;-> 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/20/2005 02:58:00 PM  

I do think that Geoff is right in suggesting that most prophets would have gone in for some form of indeterminism unless they had been really careful in evaluating what it really entails. If one simply describes determinism as saying "you are forced to do everything and you can do no different" then of course people aren't going to be very inclined toward such. If they just get past this knee jerk reaction, however I do think that some of the prophets would have believed in it. I personally think that Joseph Smith would have been quite enclined to determinism personally.

The problem which needs to be avoided, and which simply can't be grasped without taking a little time to rest the emotions and think about the matter is that we can't confuse our level's of discourse. Saying that everything is fully caused is speaking at a totally non-intentional, fully physical level. But at such a level "we" don't even exist. Only molecules and the like. While this is all we are, almost nothing we attribute to humans makes sense at such a level. Only when we consider them to be intentional agents do "we" exist along with our thoughts, desires, beliefs, morals and so on. Of course this doesn't mean that counter causal free will gets to exist at this level either, only that its not as simple as "we are forced to do what we do and decisions, love and repentance can't exist." This is a childish caricature hardly worth any attention at all. 

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

It would indeed be fruitless to try to use even 2 Nephi 2 as a proof text for LFW because the compatibilist and LFW camps use the same terms to describe different things. So while I would take Lehi literally when he says "men are free to choose" a compatibilist would say that he means "hypothetically free to choose" or that men choose what they "want" but that wants and thoughts and desires are also causally determined. I would then say then they are not really free and we would be into the tried and true debate.

I do challenge Jeff and Christian to find any evidence against LFW in the scriptures though.

As Clark mentioned, the strongest argument for LFW and against determinism is responsibility. I cannot conceive of any scenario where a solely causally determined being could be responsible for any of her thoughts, words, or deeds. Yet the scriptures make it clear that those are what we will all be judged by. If a person cannot "choose otherwise" then how can any for of judgment be just and how are we at all responsible? How is this even a probationary state if we cannot "choose otherwise"? 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 03:13:00 PM  

Geoff,

Are you looking for proof or for evidence? I did provide evidence from Brigham Young, which you rightly remarked that it is not proof. But I never claimed it was proof. Of course the scriptures, as Clark and Christain have noted, say nothing about the philosphical or scientific nature of free will. It to philosophy and science that we should look for such evidence and proof, not the scriptures. Thus, while the scriptures offer little if any proof either way, philosophy and especially science point toward determinism. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 03:40:00 PM  

I'll be satisfied if you can explain how a causally determined being can be held responsible for any thoughts, words, and deeds. 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 04:00:00 PM  

Responsibility is a social construction between fully determined cognitive agents. There is no such ontological thing as "responsibility." We "hold" eachother responsible for their actions. This social construction emerges from the interaction of these cognitive agents and cannot be described in terms of the physical underpinnings. I'm sure this won't be enough to fully convince you because you think that question (B) and not (A) is the one which can be answered. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 04:40:00 PM  

Geoff, there is no evidence for or against any particular view of free will that goes beyond  issue of force. The scriptures simply don't get into such philosophical issues but remain on the level of politics. (IMO)

The argument for libertarianism is indirect via responsiblity. The argument against libertarianism is indirect via claims of foreknowledge. I don't think one trumps the other.

As to how a causally determined person (which I don't accept, mind you) can be responsible. They are responsible because they are the one doing it. Responsibility in this view is tied to what is "inside" the person. The counter-argument to this is mental illness. The counter-argument to that is that we can add in a "functioning properly" clause. The counter-argument to that is that "functioning properly seems hopelessly vague." The counter-argument to that is, "so what? We're talking about what our words mean, after all."

The problem is that most of the 20th century philosophical approach to free will rides on the coat tails of the linguistic turn in philosophy that took place around the 1940's. That is that the answer to philosophical problems arises from looking at how we use the words. The obvious rejoinder to this is that we shouldn't push language so far. Look at D&C 19. 

Comment by clark | 12/20/2005 04:56:00 PM  

Jeffrey,

I personally find this notion you are pushing that God is a fully determined being (without free will) to be the most distasteful part of your position. Clearly there is no "responsibility" if everyone and everything in existence is causally determined. There are no real choices. There can be no possibility of "choosing otherwise" for God or humans. So in the end we are all -- man and God alike -- puppets being controlled by the the alleged all-powerful, all-encompassing, beginningless causal chain. In the final analysis, the enigmatic and omnipresent "causal chain" you are touting is the real God in your proposed scheme of things.

Needless to say, I think such a notion false. And I think it is at odds with the revelations we have from God.

BTW - You lost me on the question A and B comment... 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 05:24:00 PM  

I'm not the one who said that God is a fully material being. You incredulity sounds a lot like other Christian Theologians who hate out version of God for similar reasons.

I was afraid you wouldn't remember my comment from yesterday on the A and B thing. Look here .

Before you just start asserting things without any reason, proof or evidence lets back up a bit. What do you mean by "responsiblity"? What do you mean by "real choices"? "Choosing otherwise"? "Controlled"? It's only when one conflates the two different levels of discourse that one can deny these things exist in a deterministic universe.

Your assertions seem to only address the most shallow version of determinism imaginable. I highly recommend that you read those Dennett books which we listed above. I don't think that you will be persuaded to change your mind by them, nor do I think that Dennett offers that compelling of an account of responsiblity. He does however address the issues of "choice" "choosing otherwise" and "control" quite well. Reading these will at least serve to better understand what determinists claim and don't claim. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 05:34:00 PM  

Clark: The argument for libertarianism is indirect via responsiblity. The argument against libertarianism is indirect via claims of foreknowledge. I don't think one trumps the other.  

I don't think they exactly cancel out. Foreknowledge can be explained in ways that do not rely on determinism (like God being atemporal). Responsibility can only be possible if LFW is real. It is not an either or situation. Plenty of people that believe in foreknowledge would reject determinism.

They are responsible because they are the one doing it. Responsibility in this view is tied to what is "inside" the person.

No, they (causally determined people without LFW capacities) are not responsible for doing it because they could not have chosen otherwise. Without the option to choose otherwise or even to want to choose otherwise there is no responsibility.

Now having said that, I think that LFW is not equally available to every person in the world. Obviously mentally ill people sometimes have severely limited abilities to choose otherwise. Thankfully we leave the final judgements on who is responsible for what in this life to God. 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 05:36:00 PM  

Jeffrey, I appreciated your comments here  about caricatures of determinism. Trying to expand my and others' minds beyond such caricatures is something of ongoing interest to me.

As you touch on in that comment (and also in another comment in which you put "I" in quotes), defining the self is a nontrivial thing, but one that is necessary to sorting this stuff out. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/20/2005 05:51:00 PM  

Geoff:  I do challenge Jeff and Christian to find any evidence against LFW in the scriptures though. 

The point of this post is that the scriptures do not resolve this question.

Having said that, I would guess that taking God outside of time is not easy in Mormonism---I don't know if embodiment allows it.

And as long as God is inside time, foreknowledge of the specificity of naming Joseph Jr.'s and Sr.'s names, and the whole 116 pages episode, seem to be difficulties for LFW. I don't think the escapes in Blake's article work for these particular examples. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/20/2005 05:59:00 PM  

Jeffrey: I'm not the one who said that God is a fully material being. 

But you are the one that claims God does not have free will.

Your assertions seem to only address the most shallow version of determinism imaginable.

Oh good, then it should be easy for you to explain to me how a causally determined person could ever be truly responsible for their thoughts, words and deeds.

Before you just start asserting things without any reason, proof or evidence lets back up a bit.

Alright, and can you also provide a little "reason, proof or evidence" that "Responsibility is a social construction between fully determined cognitive agents. There is no such ontological thing as "responsibility.""? I think there might be an universal nature to "responsibility" that is tied to another probably universal -- "justice". (Several Book of Mormon prophets speak of these things as if they are universals/absolutes at least... I'll post on this question later.)

As for the A/B you brought up earlier -- I think all choices are determined so no need to worry about indeterminacy. I just happen to suspect that LFW is inherent to one degree or in all intelligence so some choices are determined by the individual will. Those LFW-generated choices become "first causes" of their own in your great causal chain. (Yes, I'm mostly playing with the words like you are...) 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 06:00:00 PM  

Christian: foreknowledge of the specificity of naming Joseph Jr.'s and Sr.'s names, and the whole 116 pages episode, seem to be difficulties for LFW. 

Actually, those are pretty easy examples to deal with I think.

The names thing is explained either by Blake's expansion theory or by the idea that God simply prompted the parents to name specific sons "Joseph" and the parents were righteous souls who were inclined to obey God. No coercion in that.

The 116 pages is easy enough since Joseph wasn't even looking at the plates to translate to begin with. God gave him the info he needed through revelation.

Also, you would be surprised at how many Mormons do go for the atemporal God thing. It is far more common than determinism if the objections at my many foreknowledge posts is any indicator. (They believe they have proof-texts to support an atemporal God usually). 

Comment by Geoff J | 12/20/2005 06:08:00 PM  

Geoff,

You should elaborate on what you mean by "choose otherwise." What do you mean? What is required?

Of course nobody can do otherwise than what they actually do by very definition, but surely we both recognize that you are not speaking aobut this. What would cause a person to choose otherwise? You will surely want to reply "I" choose so, but what causes me to choose so? There must be some difference for the "otherwise" to have any moral significance. But if there is a difference, then we aren't really talking about the EXACT SAME action are we?  

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 06:08:00 PM  

Geoff,  I think responsibility is meaningful in both the social aspect that Jeffrey mentioned and the internal aspect that Clark mentioned. Both of these aspects were mentioned in my previous post , and it is good enough for me. If you find it simply unpalatable then were are left to agree to disagree.

As I also say at the end of that post I think even after reading Blake's article that LFW unavoidably entails a random component, and for me it is even more unpalatable to hold people responsible for randomness rather than appropriately allowing them to unfold and develop deterministically to their fullest potential, and sorting them accordingly, as I expressed in my other post God's Garden

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/20/2005 06:09:00 PM  

"But you are the one that claims God does not have free will."

You can't just make assertions like this. I makes it appear that you simply refuse to engage the topic at all. Determinism does allow, and uncontroversially so, for agency where anticipatory agents can avoid what was "going" to happen. Humans are simply the most complex things which have ever arisen which can do this far better than anything else has in this planets past.

Thus we are not claiming that God has no free will. We are claiming that God is an anticipatory agents which can make decisions based upon avaiable information and what it predicts will happen if certain actions are not taken. Thus God is an agent with agency (free agency of course being a misnomer).
 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 06:14:00 PM  

A "first cause" is indeterminacy. If it was determined, then it wouldn't be the first cause. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 06:16:00 PM  

Why do I have to explain everything in order for it to be true? I don't ask you how, exactly, responsibility is dealt out and the like. I do ask how in the world indeterminacy can ever be anything but random, but that is the very question at hand. Responsibility is an emergent property which is simply inevitable when cognitive agents which both interact with one another as well as remember these interactions with certain goals in mind. This typically refers to some form of cooperation. Somebody is morally responsible when they break the social norms which have been agreed upon and established in order to further the common interests of these agents.

Responsibility in terms of punishment (and by analogy praise) if it is to be anything but institutional revenge, must be forward looking in that it is designed to promote further cooperation. Thus, how one is punished in determined by the predicted future effects. Whether somebody is punished or not depends upon what they have done in the past. Thus one question points backwards while the other points forward.

I don't see how indeterminate free will can offer anything better by way of responsibility than this. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 06:32:00 PM  

Geoff,  since recognizing truth is not necessarily a popularity contest I don't really care what the unconsidered opinion of most Mormons is (and I doubt you do either!). ;->

Maybe Jeffrey can tell us what Paulsen's thesis says about embodiment requiring God to be within time or not.

I agree that the specific names being an expansion on Joseph's part is an attractive option, for me too, since I'm skeptical of absolute foreknowledge (I think most Mormons would be as uncomfortable with expansion as they are with determinism when they are first presented with them, but again, we don't care about that. ;-> )

I think you're blowing off the 116 pages too easily, because in the text Mormon speaks of including that specific section of plates with his abridgement. There doesn't seem to be any backup scenario if, say, Joseph had given the manuscript all the way through 3 Nephi to Martin and it was lost.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/20/2005 06:34:00 PM  

Here is where I will probably differ with Christian and this is where Geoff really takes a lot of ammo against me. I maintain that God does not have foreknowledge at all, for being a Being which is bound by time's inherent limitations He has instead predictive abilities. He does not know the future, but instead is able to predict the future. These predictions are limited by a number of factors:

1) If information takes any time at all to travel, then some information which has already happened in some places (maybe even here) might still be a prediction whereever He is. This is not just limited to the speed of light, but any speed whatsoever.

2) Quantum mechanics suggests that though fluctuations will tend to cancel eachother out over the long run, this will not be the case in small areas over a small increment of time. Predictions, even those made by God, will involve probabilities. The uncertainty principle applies to God as well. There is a certain amount of morally insignificant indeterminacy.

3) Just because God can know something in the future, this doesn’t mean that he does know it. He simply might not have looked into the matter. I could know what temperature it is right now in DC, but I don’t look into the matter. Mostly because I don’t care enough. Such would not be the case with God and the Plan of Salvation.

4) It is physically impossible for an agent which is within a system to have a complete knowledge of that system of which it is a part. Thus God cannot have a complete knowledge of a system unless He completely isolates Himself from it, which is the last thing we want.

5) The Mormon Universe (not the lower case universe which science speaks of but all Reality which exists anywhere at all) is an open system. There is no "everything" which can be known because there is always more. While for other Christians there are 1,000 things which can be known and God knows all 1,000 of them, for Mormons God can know all 1,000 things, but there are always more things which He does not (yet) know.

Here  is the link to the Paulsen article which I'm sure all three of you have read. I'm also an advocate of the expansion theory.


 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 06:49:00 PM  

All of these sound OK to me except (4), which I haven't heard before and don't immediately see what its basis is. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/20/2005 07:05:00 PM  

(4) rests on the fact that a physical agent cannot have a complete description of itself. In our context, since the agent is part of the system, then it is impossible for a physical agent to have a complete knowledge of the physical system of which He is a part.

For a wonderful account of this see Paul Davies' "God and the New Physics" chapter 10: Free Will and Determinism. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/20/2005 07:12:00 PM  

Geoff:  I don't think they exactly cancel out. Foreknowledge can be explained in ways that do not rely on determinism (like God being atemporal). 

Sorry, I should have clarified. I've expanded from pure causal determinism to four dimensionalism. You are right, of course, that foreknowledge doesn't entail causal determinism. Indeed I reject causal determinism but accept some foreknowledge.

It seems to me that there are good reasons from quantum theory to reject determinism, even though there are some interpretations such as Bohmian mechanics, which still accept it.

Geoff: But you are the one that claims God does not have free will.

I find this kind of language problematic. Determinists typically don't reject free will. They just reject the libertarian ontology of free will. That's a significant difference.

Geoff: The names thing is explained either by Blake's expansion theory or by the idea that God simply prompted the parents to name specific sons "Joseph" and the parents were righteous souls who were inclined to obey God. No coercion in that.

But arguably quite an exegesical stretch... The libertarian is really forced to simply discount texts in this fashion.

Not that such discounting is inherently problematic. But for every such explanation it's effect is to weaken the strength of the libertarian position. There really are a lot of claimed examples of explicit foreknowledge that can't really be explained via prediction.

Jeffrey: As I also say at the end of that post I think even after reading Blake's article that LFW unavoidably entails a random component, and for me it is even more unpalatable to hold people responsible for randomness rather than appropriately allowing them to unfold and develop deterministically to their fullest potential...

I certainly agree here. I find that notion of freedom emerging from pure randomness to be pretty unpersuasive. To me it is no better than determinism in terms of the "queasy" factor. However what it does offer that determinism doesn't is an explanation of the intuition or meaning of the word free that tends to require an open future. That's why Blake embraces it. He's not arguing based upon what is problematic to our intuitions, but merely what's compatible with our word use.

I really need to come back to this topic on my blog, since I think there is a fundamental difference in approach from the phenomenological point of view as compared to the particular appeal to language/intuition in the analytic tradition which Blake is largely making use of. While I've brought up the distinction in discussions with Blake, I never really clarified why there is a difference. I ought.

Jeffrey: A "first cause" is indeterminacy. If it was determined, then it wouldn't be the first cause.

True, although those arguing for a first cause typically say it is logically necessary. So there are two aspects to determinism: what is causally determined and what is logically determinism. One problem with the very label determinism is that it is a bit vague and its meaning has actually shifted a great deal the last couple hundred years.

Christian: Maybe Jeffrey can tell us what Paulsen's thesis says about embodiment requiring God to be within time or not.

One should note that being within a time is not necessarily the same as being within our time.

Christian: I think you're blowing off the 116 pages too easily...

There are actually many examples like this. The more difficult one, in my opinion, to explain is Jesus and his death. It seems that the libertarian is largely left with God coercing events to bring about the crucifixion, which seems troubling to me. Here's the discussion  with Blake on this and a few other examples. You can decide if you find his answers particularly satisfying.



 

Comment by clark | 12/21/2005 12:06:00 AM  

Note that (4) can be alleviated by merely limiting God's foreknowledge. Thus God might have total knowledge of our system but not all systems. The other technique is simply to change what we mean by God and make God the system. That is, the knowledge isn't indirect by signs, as ours is, but is direct.   | 12/21/2005 12:22:00 AM  

Clark,  I agree that there is indeterminism in nature because of the fact that quantum measurement outcomes are only probabilistic. But I am skeptical this rises to have consequential effects in human decision-making (Penrose notwithstanding---my guess is that most all physicists, and neuroscientists, would consider his views idiosyncratic).

I read your post and Blake's response that you linked to. In the present context I didn't find his answers convincing because they don't account for the specific prophecies associated with the crucifixion (lack of broken bones etc.). As Geoff has done in the case of the names of Joseph Jr. and Sr. he could blame this on expansion or creative interpretation on the part of the Christian authors or transmitters of the NT. But to the extent one does this the authority of scripture is undermined; and if his views rely heavily (as you suggest) on "obvious" meanings of words used in scripture, undermining the authority of scripture in turn undermines the whole approach.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/21/2005 08:08:00 AM  

Clark,  since you say Blake's position relies on "intuition or meaning of the word free that tends to require an open future" as a strength against determinism, I thought I'd look up free  at www.m-w.com.

The first definition relevant to the present discussion is in fact the compatibilist-style one: "2 a : not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being : choosing or capable of choosing for itself." A more libertarian-style definiton follows: "c : made, done, or given voluntarily or spontaneously."

Since dictionary definitions are typically given in the order of frequency of usage, this is evidence that the libertarian interpretation of "free" is in fact not the more obvious one. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/21/2005 08:26:00 AM  

Christian, dictionaries are notoriously unhelpful on these matters.

Rather the interesting question is to present certain circumstances and ask if the agents involved are free. Unfortunately that kind of analysis has only recently begun. Up until now philosophers have sadly relied on armchair analysis - assuming their intuitions were good enough. 

Comment by clark | 12/22/2005 10:48:00 PM  

Christian: It seems to me that the definition you give as the first dictionary defintion is clearly and obviously a libertarian definition of free will. "Not determined" means that nothing outside of it causes it to be what it is. "choosing or capable of choosing for itself," is a standard self-determination standard that is the mainstay since Aquinas for libertarian free will. It seems to me that you are not familar with the relevant terminology. Further, Clark, this kind of analysis has been going on for at leat 1,500 years and if we include Epictetus, for more than 3,000!

As for the problems with the libertarian free will thesis and prophecy (which my Expansion Theory easily handles), I am just mystified why someone who rejects foreknowledge like you but presumes to accept 4-dimensional determinism would think that your view can explain prophecy any better than a libertarian thesis. However, the explanation is easy: God told Mary the name of Jesus, and Joseph Sr. was told the name of his son by God. These explanations don't stretch scripture at all -- indeed, the scriptures expressly give these explanations! So these are instances of God making sure that what he prophecies comes about. That is a part of the open view explanation of prophecy and easily accounted for.

As for the broken bones -- it is clearly an ex eventu recognition of a fulfilled prophecy since it isn't really a part of a messianic context or prophecy and is not easily seen as a prophecy at all. What do you do with failed prophecies? Like the temple in Independence not being built within one generation and God revoking what had been prophecied? These don't prove libertarian free will, but they certainly leave more than enough hermeneutic room for it. This view doesn't undermine scripture; rather, it puts it into proper context and perspective. How does your own view of God's limited foreknowledge do any better even possibly?

Clark said: "Not that such discounting is inherently problematic. But for every such explanation it's effect is to weaken the strength of the libertarian position. There really are a lot of claimed examples of explicit foreknowledge that can't really be explained via prediction." Blake responds: It seems to me that it is incumbent on you to show these prophecies that supposedly challenge the notion of libertarian free will. I am not aware of any that cannot be quite satisfactorily explained.

You suggest that explaining the death of Jesus is difficult for one who denies foreknowledge. Not really. Jesus died because it was easy to see that fallen people would not stand for him to make the claims he did. However, I would add that none of he prophecies were so specific that they entailed anything about free will of any individual. Indeed, the Jews didn't recognize the Messiah who came to die because their prophecies led them in a different direction. So what specific prophecies do you have in mind that aren't fleshed out and clearly after the fact?

Finally ALL: How may times do I need to say that I don't accept mere indeterminism? I am not an event causal indeterminist. I accept agent causation in the form of source incompatibilism and leeway incompatiblism (because the former entails the latter). The difference is vast. What accounts for why an agent chooses A rather than B is that the agent has a power to agent cause the decision that is inherent if the very fact of having a will that is free. The agent chooses among alternatives that are open for reasons that were created in the moment of free decision interacting with the various possibilities presented by the existing causal nexus. This is not mere indeterminism and if you say one more time that this is mere indeterminism then I suggest that you don't get what the difference is between event libertarianism and agent causal libertarianism. The difference between mere indeterminsim and the sort of agency causation or self-determination that I adopt is vast. Read these: http://blog.johndepoe.com/2005/06/chisholm-on-agent-causation.html
http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~bergmann/flint.htm
http://www.uvm.edu/~phildept/pereboom/AC10.pdf#search='agent%20causation'
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-thttp://www.nd.edu/~acasad/papers/PHIL_130c.pdf#search='Randolph%20Clarke%20agent%20causation'heories/

and especially this one: http://home.sandiego.edu/~ktimpe/Source%20Incompatibilism.pdf#search='Randolph%20Clarke%20agent%20causation'

So don't ever let Jeff or Clark or Christian call me an indeterminist again!
 

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 01:06:00 AM  

After reading the various statements made by Clark, Christian and Jeff, I am becoming more convinced that all of us in this discussion (with the possible exception of Jeff) are in fact agent causal libertarians. The reason I say this is a bit involved -- but it has to do with tne notion adopted by both Jeff and Christian that the fact that we are eternal changes the determinist stance since: (a) there is no first cause that causes us to do as we do but in infinite regress fo causes; (b) when we choose the input for the choice comes from this backwardly eternal intelligence that is not ultimately caused by anything outside of it but acts out of a character formed over aeons and therefore does not act randomly; and (c) the real cause of our actions is not an ideterminist event but this backwardly eternal intelligence.

Here is the real issue as I see it: was there ever a time when we were free to act in what Kane would call free self forming actions? If every choice I make is already dictated by more former states before I could think or reason about it, then there is never an act for which I am responsible or which isn't just an outcome beyond my choice or control. On the other hand, I can be respnonsible for past choices that now result in me making choices that are more or less dictated by these past choices, e.g., the choice to take a habit forming drug.

I want to address what each of you says separately. Let me begin with Clark. What tips me off that what is really underlying Clark's acceptance of the possibility of compatibilism is this comment: "As to how a causally determined person (which I don't accept, mind you) can be responsible. They are responsible because they are the one doing it. Responsibility in this view is tied to what is "inside" the person. The counter-argument to this is mental illness. The counter-argument to that is that we can add in a "functioning properly" clause. The counter-argument to that is that "functioning properly seems hopelessly vague." The counter-argument to that is, "so what? We're talking about what our words mean, after all."

Now look -- if responsibility arises from what is "inside a person" rather than from just the prior states of the universe (which would just include that person), then we have a form of agent causal libertarianism because it assumes that what is internal to the person is a basic power to assess and choose among alternatives within the context of an already formed character. As a libertarian I don't believe that the past character dictates our choices, but the self is both active in the choice and also partially re-formed in the choiced. We are free to act out of character (as we sometimes do). But when Clark says that "they are responsible because they are the one doing it," he posits a basic power to do something, i.e, to make a choice as a self-determining being. But this is really a form of agent causal libertarianism. A determinist would have to say -- the result of both what occurred in the world at large that resulted in the internal states that lead to my choices -- but Clark never says that. He focuses on the internal states of the agent which is a form of agent causal libertarianism.

Now for my suggestion that Christian is really an agent causal libertarian. Christian actually seems to me to posit the ultimate decision making power in eternal intelligence. What tips me off is this comment by Christian: "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!" So what Christian seems to see as doing the work here is not an explanation of our action in prior deterministic laws and states of affairs as determinists do, but in the intelligence causing a choice to occur rather than a random event structure. But that is just what agent causal libertarians claim! It is the self that chooses.

Christian makes another comment that leads in the same dirction: "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.’ "

Now this seems to me to be a clear statement of agent causal libertarianism. Why? Christian posits a unique human capacity or power -- the power of imagination. It is in precisely this power to imagine the outcome of various possible future worlds that Kant found the existence of noumenal libertarian freedom. That is, the ultimate ability to choose is based on our unique ability to organize prior data into various possible ways we can see that the may future be -- and this power of imagination is not merely a deterministic outcome but a creative interaction with an existing set of circumstances that gives rise to a dynamic and creative interaction with various possible futures. If our imagination is "a causal feed entering into our decision-making among other causes," then we have a variety of agent causal free will.

Now the crucial question for Christian is: where does this power to imagine come from? If everything we consider is causally determined before we are even aware, even ever thought about it, then we cannot reason rationally because then the outcome of our reasoning is always dictated by causes that existed before we could think or deliberate or even consider relevant reasons for acting. I put it this way because a Mormon who believes in eternal intelligences cannot claim that the causes existed before we did and therefore we had no control over the outcomes of those causes. Rather, the argument is that the causes that existed dictate an outcome long before we could rationally consider anything and therefore the outcome is not the result of our rational considerations. So it seems to me that what Christian has in mind is actually a form of event causal liberttarianism (despite his insistence that all of this occurs within a deterministic sequence). But to mitigate this latter consideration, let me add something that leads me to believe that Christian would accept an agent causal view.

Note carefully that neither Goeff nor I (nor any libertarian that I have ever read for that matter) disagrees that there are causal constraints within which we act. I can't fly a plane if there isn't one. Moreover, the nexus of events that exists in which we act makes specific possibilities causally viable. For instance, I can't steal a Mars bar from a 7-Eleven unless Mars bars and 7-Elevens exist and I am in a 7-Eleven where I can physically pick one up. Yet there must be something that is up to me, something that is determined by the self alive in the moment of decision, if I am responsible for stealing the Mars bar when I do. If there isn't then the consequence argument against the compatibility of determinism and morally signficant free will cannot be side-stepped by the eternal intelligence argument.

It will take me longer to argue that Jeff may be adopt form of agent causal libertarian -- based on his insistence of a basically uncaused intelligence that chooses within the context of its always eternal past. However, I first want to say that there is something Jeff accepts which gives me great concern as an LDS believer. Jeff has asserted repeatedly that moral obligation is nothing more than social convention. Thus, there was nothing really wrong with slavery in Israel because by their social norms slavery was OK -- and so was child sacrifice in Ugarit. But this is a shallow morality that is in reality no belief in real morality at all. So I am going to postpone my discussion of Jeff's views until I get a response to my suggestion that his stance on moral responsibility is not merely shallow but a stance that fits an atheist like Dennett rather than a Mormon like Jeff.
 

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 11:02:00 AM  

Blake,

I was wondering if you would ever show up, Geoff has been fighting the good fight all alone. I have not yet read your links yet, but I will confess that your agent causation seems to require indeterminacy for it to not be determinism. I get the feeling that there is some hand waving going on, but I'll have to look into the matter before I'm willing to present any argument for/against it.

"Thus, there was nothing really wrong with slavery in Israel because by their social norms slavery was OK -- and so was child sacrifice in Ugarit."

This is incorrect. I do think that morality is a social convention of sorts, but among a very specific society, namely the premortal council. In a Mormon context, Rawls' "veil of ignorance" might actually work VERY well. Therefore slavery, though it was accepted in most ancient societies, has always been against the society of the gods.

I also want to respond to your claims regarding Clark and Christian for it seems that there is a serious conflating of levels of discourse going on. This, however, might take a while to get up for I really should look into your links before I frustrate you even more. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/23/2005 02:39:00 PM  

Jeff: Let me save you the time. There is indeterminism in the sense you use it often -- i.e., not causally determined. There is not in the sense that ou need to make any headway against this view -- it is not a matter of mere luck or merely random. The choice is made by a rational agent having the power to imagine and choose amnog competing alternatives (sometimes). The choice is thus reasons dependent (if we choose to act rationally; we also have the choice to act irrationally, but in that case we will still act for reasons, just irrational ones). However, the basic power to choose, to imagine, to act in a self-determined way is a basic power of free agents. It's a power to that dogs don't have.

So in the pre-mortal existence we just decided what was good and evil? Non-sense, it was as bad then to choose against free will and moving into trusting relationships and confronting the risk presented by free will that we might choose evil as it is now -- we didn't just decide that murder was bad and love was good. It just happens to be bad to hate others; and we don't just vote on it.  

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 03:00:00 PM  

"The choice is made by a rational agent having the power to imagine and choose amnog competing alternatives (sometimes). The choice is thus reasons dependent (if we choose to act rationally; we also have the choice to act irrationally, but in that case we will still act for reasons, just irrational ones). However, the basic power to choose, to imagine, to act in a self-determined way is a basic power of free agents."

I don't see how any of this is at all different from the compatibilists position. That is my problem. It gives me the impression that this version of LFW is simply weak-kneed compatiblism.

I also do not think that morality is totally reducible to "votes." Morality, in most instances, was a rather obvious thing in the context of self-existent spirits striving for spiritual progression. What was moral was what promoted a satisfying combination of freedom combined with what would help the most spirits progress most. Rather than morality being ontological real in any Platonic sense, it is more nomological and emergent. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/23/2005 04:03:00 PM  

Jeff: I suppose one reason why I suggeested there is more agreement than may first be thought is because we all adopt the same view -- but it isn't determinism. You don't accept that the state of the world together with covering laws fully explains the single possibility taht will occur (which is what determinism is) without adding the uncreated and uncaused intelligence. Geoff is entirely correct to point out that if you accept uncaused and unexplained intelligences you cannot turn around and demand to know what causes intelligences to decide as they do -- because you have already given up the principal of sufficient reason in its strong form that requires a causal explanation for everything that occurs. So in a way, if we look closer, we may see that the notion of eternal intelligences transforms the landscape -- and I don't believe it leaves any room for causal determinism as you (or Dennett) have promoted it. I reject the view that there is only one possible future consistent with all circumstances that went before -- the final component that explains why an agent chooses is that an agent exercised a basic power to choose among imagined furtures.

Further, if the standard of good and evil, right and wrong is what promotes the growth of intelligences to be as God is (a view that I have argued is in fact the basis of ethics on LDS thought) then ethics is not based on social norms or conventions and it certainly isn't merely a Rawlsian contract theory. That is why I believe that your moral theory must be different than the Rawlsian view you seem to want to endorse. 

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 07:58:00 PM  

Blake, just getting to this thread. So forgive a bunch of answers coming together.

First, while debates about free will have been going on since the early Greeks, the way the discussion has gone of late (say the last 50 years) has been fairly novel, I think you must agree. Perhaps not. I'd also quibble with your view of the dictionary definition as entailing libertarianism. The debate is over the meaning of self. It seems to me that you are reading libertarian presuppositions into it while I read the text as more vague and thus open to compatibilism.

Regarding your answering examples of prophecy, the issue is less whether you have answers than how persuasive those answers are. I don't think everyone finds your answers as persuasive as you do. I don't think it obvious, for instance, that someone making the claims Jesus did in the NT would be crucified. It's not as if they were that  unusual.

Also, I don't think I ever called you an event causal indeterminist. Clearly your accept agent causation with the agent being emergent. However the conditions for the existence of this agent clearly matter. While I clearly find this very unpersuasive, primarily because of the appeal to radical emergence, I don't think that's a question. But certainly the ontological conditions do matter. (Moreso if one rejects radical emergence or thinks it can avoid the underlying implications of what the agent emerges from)

For the record, I don't consider myself an agent causal libertarian in any normal sense of the word.

My main problem with the way the free will debate is conducted is that it avoids what I see as the underlying ontological issues. While I'm not sure I'd call myself an event libertarian, I suspect my views are closer to that than the agent libertarianism.

With regards to your critique of my defense of determinism (which I once again hasten to point out is a position I reject) the issue is fundamentally what is the individual. That is a question that has to be answered before the other questions can be raised. If we leave "self" open then the question of power that you raise seems also open. Once gain we are brought down to the fundamental ontological question of what power is.

This has long been my critique of you on these matters - that these very important questions are left unasked and unexamined.

(More later)




 

Comment by clark | 12/24/2005 02:22:00 AM  

Clark: Your query about the self is precisely why I have focused on the uncaused and uncreated existence of the intelligence(s). We all accept that there is in us an eternal self with certain basic powers (discounting the Pratt idea that the self is posterior to organization -- but even then there are intelligences or atoms with basic powers of minimal intelligent choice to exercise). In the Roberts' view, among these powers are powers of intelligence, some level of rational choice and power to choose. Given that we all accept that there is an eternally uncaused entity we must reject the strong form of the principal of sufficient reason that underwrites the argument that there is no adequate explanation of libertarian actions that Jeff is so fond of trotting out (tho very few accept the principal in this strong form anyway). I acknowledge that the problem of luck or randomness challenges libertarian accounts, but I think that it is fairly clear that it is a challenge for event causal libertarian accounts and much less so for agent causal accounts because of the basic agent-causal powers posited for the self -- powers which seem to be inherent in the notion of an eternal intelligence (certainly B. H. Roberts, Truman Madsen and David Paulsen all see it that way). So we cannot limit causation to event causation.

Further, you and I disagree fundamentally over emergence (I reject your entire category of radical emergence). What is crucial to emergence is that a new entity on a new level of explanation arises that then exercises downward causation on the constituent parts that give rise to the higher level of organism. (I think we see it in the brain giving rise to consciousness and then the conscious brain organizing the brain neural systems in dircted action). In that sense, the biological sciences are replete with instances of emergence. It also seems fairly well universally accepted that the mind can affect the body and thus if the mind is dependent on the parts of the body there must be downward causation.  

Comment by Blake | 12/24/2005 12:18:00 PM  

Blake, the issues you raise about the self are not the issues I raise about the self. Rather what seems important to me is the question of interiority and exteriority. 

Comment by clark | 12/24/2005 02:36:00 PM  

Clark: I thought that I was focusing on the same thing -- the powers that we have to agent cause and thus the source of our choices being internal to us. It seems you must have something else in mind but it is unclear to me what it is. Perhaps you could unpack a bit?  

Comment by Blake | 12/26/2005 04:15:00 PM  

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