Friday, December 23, 2005

Scenario Formulation and Selection, and the Evolvability of Character

Along with others, Blake has made detailed comments on three previous threads (here, here, and here) relating to agency and free will. After saying something about where I’m coming from in approaching this subject, I will state what I see as areas of broad agreement and spell out some specifics of potential continuing disagreement on scenario formulation and selection. In an immediate follow-up post I will comment on notions upon which Blake lays much emphasis: ‘rational thought’ and ‘moral responsibility.’

Aside from lacking intimate familiarity with the standard philosophical history and terminology of this subject (an accurate assessment on Blake’s part), and aside from the inherent difficulty of the problem (as evidenced by the fact that it’s still around after thousands of years of study), and even aside from my limited intelligence and writing ability, one reason Blake may have reason to call my thinking and presentation “muddled” is that my thought is proceeding on two parallel tracks that I have not always been careful to distinguish in my presentation: a Mormon account involving uncreated individual intelligences, and a naturalistic account where the human brain is all there is. From this point on I may need, where relevant, to be more clear and careful about distinguishing these two tracks (even though I have thought both may be deterministic in some sense).

Blake has suggested I may in fact be a libertarian of some kind, and it may be that we are in fact somewhat close. We agree there is in humans a capacity for conscious imagination of future scenarios. We agree there is ultimately a choice, a selection among these scenarios. It seems we agree there is something inside an individual, in some meaningful sense independent of its environment, that contributes to or constrains or determines the particular selection.

But we may continue to disagree on the nature of these processess of imagination of future scenarios and the selection among them.

On the process of imagination: Does the individual in some sense create previously non-existing scenarios, as Blake seems to suggest? Or is the imagination of the future more in the character of recognizing the various logical possibilities consistent with the individual’s degree of knowledge of current states—a recognition (as opposed to outright creation) by deterministic means that, to give a non-conscious example more primitive than human capacity, might be akin to computations done by an expert chess computer program?

On the process of selection: Does a particular selection arise with, perhaps not ‘mere indeterminacy,’ but any material degree of indeterminate spontaneity, as I understand libertarian free will to require? Or does the particular selection necessarily and uniquely follow from specific rules already present inside the individual at the moment of decision, by which the imagined future scenarios are assessed against specific ‘values’ already held by that individual—values that might be anything from protecting the king for a chess program, to physical homeostasis for an animal, to the establishment and preservation of social relationships for a human?

Please note well: this latter position of ‘selections necessarily and uniquely follow from an individual’s current state’—a position I am calling ‘determinist’—does not imply that either the rules or values the individual uses to conduct assessments—which we might call ‘character’—cannot change, or that anyone (including probably even God) can predict what changes may arise in an individual’s rules and values.

Brain wiring—and rules and values, assuming these are encoded in brain wiring—often do in fact change, on the basis of experience: memories of past outcomes can change the nature of future assessments. Profoundly, ‘intelligence,’ in both secular and Mormon theological senses, may correspond to just such a diagnostic and adaptive capacity—one that may nevertheless unfold deterministically.

In a Mormon context, we may add to naturalistic learning in the brain the reprogramming of an individual’s rules and values by the divine power of the atonement—his law engraven on the heart, as it were, with repentance and acceptance of grace involving the granting of the necessary permission to the Savior to do the engraving. The appearance of different outcomes even in a powerful and benevolent plan of God—the ultimate necessity of degrees of glory—would ultimately (and only) derive from two key uncreated and unchangeable capacities that eternal intelligences possess, beyond God’s control, in different degrees: the ability to accurately diagnose one’s need for reprogramming, and willingness to allow it to be done. God’s plan, unfolding deterministically, will grow each intelligence to the full potential allowed by the degree these key uncreated characteristics are possessed. In this perspective, anything other than determinism would result in outcomes that would be, to my taste, unjust.

7 Comments:

Christian: I think that we may have more in common than I at first thought. If we agree that ther is some inherent power internal to agents to select among genuinely open options (agent causation), then I believe that we are in substantial agreement. I still have a few worries. Here is an important question that you leave unaddressed: is it within our power to choose to to be open to the atonement or does the atonement just act upon us and, given our natures, we either accept it or not (the latter BTW is fairly straightforward Calvinism)?

Another question: am I destined to reach my full potential given the atonement (as what you say seems to imply) or is it somehow also up to me to choose to exercise my potential in your view? It seems to me that if God's plan unfolds deterministically, then it is fated and I will merely develop as circumstances dictate and it is not really my choice -- especially since everything that I will ever be is already dictated by what has been long before I thought about it and long before I made or even knew I had decisions to make.

I also notice that you still duck the argument that LFW is essential to rationaol thought. I emphasize this not because we always act rationally, but because we must have the capacity to act rationally for any of our discussions to have any point at all. So rationality is essential to even participating in an ongoing discussion -- I don't assert that we always act or choose rationally (quite the contrary, we are free to choose to act irratinally as well and in that sense we are free to be stupid).

I must say that you view of atonement sounds an awful lot like irresistible grace in the Calvinist system to me -- and quite unlike the Gospel of Chrrist that leaves it up to us whether we will accept God or not. Remember, it was Satan who wanted guarantees of salvation in the Mormon view -- but your view seems to cast a vote in favor of that plan again if we must accept the atonement's grace when it is given (or we are utterly incapable because we lack the causal pedigree to do so).  

Comment by Blake | 12/23/2005 08:16:00 PM  

Blake, there are similarities, but in your previous comments of the form "you actually are a libertarian because A, unless you think B", I do in fact tend to think B, which means we remain in disagreement. Specifically, I tend to think that both the range of future scenarios formulated, and the specific selection, necessarily follow from the immediately previous state of the individual; and that these are not spontaneous new things not uniquely following from previous states, as you seem to describe it.

However, as I have described in this post, this does not imply character determinism, because of the possibility of reprogamming between successive similar decisions.

In the eternal Mormon context, when it comes to whether individuals recognize the need for the atonement and choose to accept it, I do tend to think there is a predestination or fatalism, but not of the Calvinist variety. In Calvinism the blame is with God for creating an individual a certain way ex nihilo . By contrast, in the Mormon context this openness to truth and enlargement (i.e. "intelligence") is an inherent capacity that uncreated eternal individuals possess in different degrees. Even if predestination/fatalism holds it is still "up to us whether to choose God or not": once the atonement is provided it is not up to anyone or anything other than us---specifically, our uncreated degree of openness to reprogramming. This is how I interpret 2 Ne. 2.

For my take on rationality, see the follow-up post . 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/24/2005 06:10:00 PM  

"Here is an important question that you leave unaddressed: is it within our power to choose to to be open to the atonement or does the atonement just act upon us and, given our natures, we either accept it or not (the latter BTW is fairly straightforward Calvinism)?
 "

I'm not sure I see the distinction here. What's the difference between "given our natures, we either accept it or not" and "we choose whether or not to accept it"? What determines our choices, if not our natures? 

Comment by Wm Jas | 12/26/2005 10:14:00 AM  

Wm: The assertion "out nature chooses" is not sensible to me. Natures don't determine anything except the kind of thing that we are by limit. A dog has a nature and the nature of a dog determines that it will simply urinate when it feels like it. I take it that humans are different than dogs in this respect. We have a basic power to imagine various possible futures and to choose among them. Dogs cannot do that. Saying that humans have a nature doesn't say what choices we willo make.

As for Christian's view, it is entirely unacceptable to the extent it implies that whether we are saved by the saving action of atonement is already determined before we contemplate it, choose it -- but I suspect that isn't what he means when he says "it is up to us." I suspect that Christian means that we make the difference whether the atonement is effective in our lives and it is not simply in the cards or up to God alone. However, I would ask Christian to unpack what he means -- 'it is up to us and not anything else." If my immediate prior stastes always dictate how I will choose, and I never had a choice at any time that led to any of these prior states, then there is never a state of affairs that is up to me -- the explanation and cause for my action is always "one moment before" I can get involved. I will go this far, e.g., if I choose to take drugs and become addicted, then I may not be able to do anything else than take the drug (tho I really don't believe this ever happens since even addicts refrain from taking drugs when cops are around), then I may be responsible for taking the drug initially but I am not responsible in the moment I take the druge because I had not choice about it.  

Comment by Blake | 12/26/2005 02:37:00 PM  

Blake: We absolutely have the power to imagine different possible courses of action and to choose which of them to realize. But, given our numerous options, why do we make the choices we make rather than other choices? Surely because of our desires, preferences, goals, moral principles, etc., etc. -- all the things that make up a person's individual character or "nature" ("nature" is perhaps the wrong word, since it implies something permanent and unchangeable). If we had different desires, different goals, we would make different choices.

Dennett likes to say "If you make yourself small enough, you can externalize anything." You seem to be doing something like this, viewing an individual's personality or nature as some external force that robs them of their freedom by forcing them to act in a particular way. But your nature isn't something external to you; it IS you. Saying "That wasn't a free choice, my nature made me do it," is, in my opinion, nonsense. Your nature includes your desires, and surely "I did it because that's what I wanted to do" describes a freely chosen action. 

Comment by Wm Jas | 12/26/2005 10:52:00 PM  

Wm. You are surely using nature in a non-standard way. A person's nature is commonly thought to be that which characterizes the kind of thing that s/he is in every possible world in which s/he exists. You are thinking of a personal essence, which is the same in every possible world or our essential personal properties of identity -- however, our accidents are neither part of our nature nor part of our essence. For example, it is not essential for me to be me that I write these words. There are plenty of possible worlds where I don't write just these words but I am still me.

Saying, "I did because I wanted to" isn't sufficent to describe a free action because perhaps I want to do something out of an uncontrollable desire (like the desire of a person having Turret's syndrome to swear). I could act from desire, but not freely. I agree that saying "nature made me do it" is nonsense -- but in essence that is what determinists (like Dennett) say (because nature includes whatever is)!  

Comment by Blake | 12/27/2005 01:47:00 AM  

This is response to snippets of this  comment of Blake's above.

Natures don't determine anything except the kind of thing that we are by limit. 

My contention is that individual eternal intelligences may have different uncreated and unchangeable limits to their adaptability, their openness to learning and change---in short, their "intelligence" (Abr. 3).


As for Christian's view, it is entirely unacceptable to the extent it implies that whether we are saved by the saving action of atonement is already determined before we contemplate it, choose it

As your planned exposition unfolds, I will be interested to see what the grounds of unacceptability are. If the grounds are introspective/experiential, with Spinoza and Hume I can argue ignorance of the mind's inner workings. If the grounds are scriptural, along the lines of foreknowledge arguments in your Dialogue article, I can argue that those scriptures can be read as implying unpredictability for God (because of, say, chaos or complexity, which do not negate causal determinism) rather than causal openness. If the grounds are simply a matter of taste, well, then we have different tastes.

Since your exposition has not yet unfolded I may be getting ahead of myself; but on the other hand, I'm simply restating things I meant to express in past posts. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/30/2005 02:25:00 PM  

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