Thursday, December 29, 2005

Taking Stock on Determinism and Freedom

As several posts have gone by on issues related to free will, and the questions of whether and how to proceed with the discussion have arisen, it might be a good idea to explain more precisely what I am interested in arguing about. I will also use this post as a place to collect links to my posts on this subject.

I am not trying to prove causal determinism as a conclusion. It is true that I have expressed skepticism that a future that is open in the sense required by libertarian free will can avoid luck or randomness. From my skimming of the links Blake provided, my initial sense is that this is deemed, by at least some serious and competent people, an open problem in the technical philosophical literature. I confess that at this point I don’t have much interest in following these technical arguments closely. Until the project I describe below is a demonstrated to my satisfaction to be a failure, for reasons of time and interest it is not a discussion I intend to engage closely here.

Because of my distaste for the notion that randomness would play a material role in individuals’ eternal outcomes, and because of my skepticism that libertarian-style programs will prove successful in avoiding randomness, I am more interested in asking the following: Given causal determinism as a premise, can notions of freedom and responsibility be constructed that are meaningful, reasonable, consistent with our experience, and—on the Mormon track of my thought—consistent with a viable form of Mormonism? In this series of posts I have essayed to argue in the affirmative.


This post may impact whether Blake is interested in continuing the discussion. Blake does not accept causal determinism as a premise, so rigid adherence to his point (1) here  would prevent him from continuing. On the other hand, for the sake of argument he may be willing to grant the premise of causal determinism, and then attempt to persuade me why the views of freedom and responsibility I articulate either do not follow from my premise, or are somehow inadequate even if they follow.

As a starting point I would be willing to return, as he suggests, to his example of scientists implanting electrodes to force behavior. Hopefully this will be later today or perhaps tomorrow, depending on how my response develops. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/29/2005 01:13:00 PM  

I can understand Blake's frustration. While I consider his treatment of determinism quite the strawman of sorts and his version of free will, love, rationality, morality and atonement to be far too magical and unnatural, he surely considers me to be missing the entire point in the whole discussion.

Again I will say that these discussions seem to boil down to one choice which must be made, which question can be answered?

1) How responsibility, love, ethics, etc. exist in a fully deterministic world?

2) How can any form of indeterminism help in answering (1)?

While I don't have the full answer (Blake would probably say that I don't even have a partial answer yet) to the first, I do believe it to be the option that is actually solvable in principle. I believe that answer to number (2) is "It can't." Blake and Geoff, I assume, while aren't able to give a full account of (2) think that the answer to (1) is "They can't."

I must say, however, that I am actually quite excited to see others who share my view of things. While in the previous freewill discussion Clark was also against Blake and Geoff's position, it was always abundantly clear that the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

One day I do hope to be able to answer (1) to everybodies satisfaction, but as Blake rightly noted, I've got a lot of reading to do before then. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/29/2005 02:10:00 PM  

I don't have time to say much this week. I'd just say that I don't think Blake rejects determinism as a premise . Rather I think he offers fairly compelling arguments based upon the meaning of words in the scriptures - especially the word responsibility. I think those arguing against Blake really have to engage with that.  

Comment by clark | 12/29/2005 02:12:00 PM  

Jeffrey has articulated, perhaps more clearly than I could with my characteristically bloated language, exactly what I intended to convey in this post. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/29/2005 03:02:00 PM  

I look forward to hearing your responses to my proposed counterexample to deterministic accountability. However, let me lay our what I propose to do -- if anyone is interested. I have several reasons why a deterministic world-view is not acceptable within the context of LDS thought. I would like to break down the discussion to make it manageable for a blog-discussion. So I will present my objections seriatum and we can discuss each concern separately rather than all at once (because it muddles the discussion hopelessly).

Here is the overall plan. I first want to get clear on what Jeff and Christian mean when they use the term "determinism" because it can mean several different views that are quite distinct. I will argue that the primary benefit that Christian thinks that he buys with determinism, some non-random control over actions and choices, is in fact not available through causal determinism. I will argue that "causal determinism" of the type Christian seems to require is inconsistent because the most viable theories of causality are in fact inconsistent with determinism. Thus, the notion of "causal determinism" of the type required to get the non-random control Christian thinks he procures is contradictory. I intend to argue that in a universe where there are uncreated realities such as intelligences, the very notion of causal determinism is especially suspect because its assumptions about everything being caused or fully explained or inimical to the notion of an eternal intelligence. I will present a modified form of the consequence argument that applies in the context of eternal intelligences which I believe shows that we don't have the kind of cognitive and active control over our decisions necessary for accountability on the view adopted by Jeff and to some extent, at least verbally, by Christian.

I will then look at four arguments contra general determinism. I will argue that determinism is inconsistent wioth attribution of moral accountability and praise or reward and blame or punishment. I will argue that it leads to injustice if we ever seek to punish someone for what they did (or regardless of what they did).

After we have all weighed in, I will argue that determinism is inconsistent with rational thought or action that is guided by reasons of our own. I will then argue that genuine relationships are not available if determinism is true. Finally, I will argue that the notion of repentance and rebirth that results from free acceptance of the atonement is incompatible with determinism.

Finally, I will discuss whether God is worthy of worship, trust, or ultimate devotion if he is, as Jeff and Christian assert, ignorant of the future and unable to control causal laws because he is a part of the naturalistic universe. I will argue that God is not god on such a view and that he lacks the ability to promise salvation.

I know that all of this sounds ambitious, but if you're all game, I'll go for it. It furthers Christian's stated intention of exploring whether a determinstic universe is either possible or plausible within an LDS view.  

Comment by Blake | 12/29/2005 09:59:00 PM  

Actually, no need for electrodes.   

Comment by MT | 12/29/2005 11:27:00 PM  

Blake, it sounds interesting to me.


Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/30/2005 07:24:00 AM  

I would certainly like to see such an engagement, however I'm not sure that I will have much time in the near future to contribute any thing substantial at all. At most I could simply say "I agree/disagree". Nevertheless, I would like to see what these arguments are that you have in mind. 

Comment by Jeffrey Giliam | 12/30/2005 12:40:00 PM  

My two cents: if this is going to work, the terminology that is used must be consistent and simple. It seems that some disagreements are based on philosophical jargon as much as differing ideas. If the ideas could be explored and expressed with more clarity and least for those of us with IQ under 140. 

Comment by Mike W. | 12/30/2005 01:42:00 PM  

Mike, yes, it's true that words can be used with very different meanings and hidden theoretical baggage, and this can cause difficulty. But this is an area where jargon (specialized, precisely defined terminology) can actually be helpful in clarifying ideas. Of course the benefits don't come free, as it takes time and effort to learn and understand specialized terms.

Obviously everyone strives for clarity and simplicity; but to paraphrase Einstein, as I recall, 'we should make our theories as simple as possible, but no simpler.' Which is to say, to the extent the world is subtle, so must our understanding of it also be subtle. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/30/2005 02:03:00 PM  

You're right, and I'm lazy. I guess I'll have to spend some time on wikipedia in the philosophy section if I am going to understand and contribute to the discussion. Thanks for the wake-up call 

Comment by Mike W. | 12/30/2005 04:44:00 PM  

First Installment: What is "Causal" Determinism? I'm going to get right to the point. Viable theories of causation seem to be incompatible with determinism. I was going to give a fairly lengthy analysis, but I have discovered that my work has already been done for my by Carl Hoefer. He has an entry on causation in the Stanford Encyclopedia here:

Further, he has given the very argument that I had in mind here:

Here is the precis of his argument: In the philosophical tradition, the notions of determinism and causality are strongly linked: it is assumed that in a world of deterministic laws, causality may be said to reign supreme; and in any world where the causality is strong enough, determinism must hold. I will show that these alleged linkages are based on mistakes, and in fact get things almost completely wrong. In a deterministic world that is anything like ours, there is no room for genuine causation. Though there may be stable enough macro-level regularities to serve the purposes of human agents, the sense of “causality” that can be maintained is one that will at best satisfy Humeans and pragmatists, not causal fundamentalists.

The problems pointed to by Hoefer are magnified in LDS thought because we have beginningless intelligences. Thus, the problems of "space invaders" that would require an ad hoc infinite modifier to be added to any statement of deterministic laws is inevitable. The "enemies from within" problem is also made absolute because there are no beginning boundaries and initial conditions from which to begin our determinations of so called deterministic trajectories. Thus, causal determinism is literally impossible in such a system.

The problem is hightened because Jordan Soebel identified at aleast 90 varieties of determinism. I'm just not sure what Jeff and Christian think they mean by use of the term. However, it is clear that Christian has in mind something like the rule of sufficient reason where every individual event has some sufficient causal explanation in the prior events of the world. Thus, we might say that for any event E, E is causally determined iff there is a set of prior events [A, B, C ...] that constitute a jointly sufficient explanation as to how E is produced. The problem with all such approaches to causation is that they fall prey to an open ended "all things in addition considered" clause to exclude the presence of interruptors from an infinite string of space invaders (i.e., events or occurrences outside of those included in the statement of the causal components) that can break the causal chain. In LDS thought, the fact that the number of such interruptors is infinite makes them not only useless but basically also demonstrates that there is no sufficient explanation in this strong causal sense -- contrary to the assumption that there is such an explanation. Thus, the very view of determinism within a system of eternal intelligences is self-defeating because it is incoherent.

For this reason, almost all philosophers of science have abandoned the notion of causation involved with determinism because causation implies probability and not sufficient causality. There are probalistic views of causation, but they are not deterministic. They allow for variables to break the causal chain and any event causal outcome is only a probable event or occurrence given any set of causes. Yet that is precisley what the event causal libertarian claims!

Now I have given a theory of causation that differs from these accounts based on Aristotle's theory of causation. It is set forth in ch. 4 of vol. 1 of my book. However, it is a theory of agent caustion that is based on basic powers of substances (or conglomerates and organisms as in process thought) and thus is congenial to libertarian agent causation and quite incompatible with deterministic outcomes.

Having argued that viable notions of causation are not compatible with determinism, let me admit that I do not believe that we are in an epistemic position (and may never be) to say whether determinism or indeterminism is true based on considerations of naturalistic scientific evidence. Bohmian theories of quantum mechanics (as opposed to the standard view of QM) are deterministic, and chaos theory and relativity theory both come in deterministic and indeterministic forms that appear to me to be very difficult to assess as to which is more viable given their subject matters.

If I am correct, then Christian's desire to procure the necessary certainty of explanation for the actions of humans in prior events is not only illusory, but incoherent. I of course look forward to hearing just what views of determinism Jeff and Christian believe that they adopt and what view of causation giving rise to such necessary and sufficient conditions could look like that evades these devestating problems.  

Comment by Blake | 12/30/2005 06:00:00 PM  

Blake, I deleted the duplicated comment. But I wonder, would you rather this be promoted to a post? If you have a plan, it seems a more natural way to present it than through the comments section.  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/30/2005 06:36:00 PM  

Christian: You're probably right that this is better handled in a post -- however, it is not a self-contained post because the vast majority of argument is by reference to another source.  

Comment by Blake | 12/30/2005 06:59:00 PM  

Finally I am getting back to this. Stick with me on this argument. It may not be philosophically rigorous, but it seems to work for me an a more applied sense.

Determinism is true to the degree that our choices determine precise, natural consequences. It is also true in that our choices determine our future options, but not the options we choose. I know this isn't strict determinism, just my form.

At the point when we have options before us (which have been limited by our prior choices) we have agency to choose and free will to exercise confined within the range available to us.

How are we made free? Only through the Atonement. If the Atonement does not operate in our lives (through faith and repentance) then perhaps we are strictly determined.

I think this discussion we are having is important in the same way as an argument regarding salvation by works or by grace. Most will agree that it is by both that we are saved. Similarly I propose that the future is played out influenced by both determinism (as I describe it above) and free will.

And just as in the discussion regarding salvation by grace and/or works influences actions and attitudes based of the emphasis  one places on either (excessive emphasis on works robs Christ of majesty and us of humility and recognition of where salvation comes, while emphasis on grace removes some sense of personal accountability for salvation), excessive emphasis on free will at the expense of determinism encourages an unwillingness to understand actions and choices that are dramatically influenced (determined in my sense) by previous situations and discourages charitable understanding. Reciprocally, undue emphasis on determinism removes hope that the future is changable and repentance a reality.

Sorry about the length.

Comment by Mike W. | 1/17/2006 12:01:00 PM  

Mike: Your view of "determinism" is one that I in fact adopt -- to the detail.  

Comment by Blake | 1/17/2006 04:10:00 PM  

Mike,  I agree with your comments on the potential progress of careless thinking with regard to either free will or determinism.

At the point when we have options before us (which have been limited by our prior choices) we have agency to choose and free will to exercise confined within the range available to us. 

Parsing the meaning of this statement is where the disagreements lie.

Blake, I haven't forgotten about the issue of causality or the electrode example, but still need to do a second reading of that paper before I respond. I got a little burned out on the subject... 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 1/17/2006 10:24:00 PM  



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