# Am I free? Free will vs. determinism

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1 Am I free? Free will vs. determinism

2 Our topic today is, for the second day in a row, freedom of the will. More precisely, our topic is the relationship between freedom of the will and determinism, and a cluster of arguments which seem to show that free will is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism, and hence impossible. What is determinism? The example of rolling back history as an illustration of what determinism implies. It is common to use determinism as name for the thesis that we have no free will. This is the source of much confusion. Determinism is the name of a thesis about the laws of nature, and that is all. It is not a thesis about free will, or about what we can predict, or anything else.

3 It is common to use determinism as name for the thesis that we have no free will. This is the source of much confusion. Determinism is the name of a thesis about the laws of nature, and that is all. It is not a thesis about free will, or about what we can predict, or anything else. The question of the compatibility of free will and determinism is then: can it ever be the case that choices A and B are open to you, despite the fact that the laws of nature (and the prior state of the universe) are consistent only with you doing one of those things? The incompatibilist says No. The compatibilist says Yes.

4 This gives us three possible views about freedom of the will. freedom of the will is real, and compatible with determinism freedom of the will is real, and incompatible with determinism freedom of the will is an illusion van Inwagen provides an argument for incompatibilism, and hence against the first of these options: the consequence argument.

5 van Inwagen provides an argument for incompatibilism, and hence against the first of these options: the consequence argument. This argument relies on a principle that van Inwagen calls the no choice principle : As van Inwagen says, this principle seems intuitively very plausible: how could I have a choice about something that is an inevitable consequence of something I have no choice about? But if this principle is true, we can show with the assumption of two other plausible principles that free will is inconsistent with determinism.

6 Determinism Only one future is consistent with the state of the world at a time + the laws of nature. The no choice principle If no one has about choice about whether P, and no one has any choice about whether, if P, then Q, then no one has any choice about whether Q Each of the additional principles in van Inwagen s argument says that we have no choice about something. No one has any choice about events which happened in the distant past. No one has any choice about what the laws of nature are. Putting these principles together, we can construct an argument for the incompatibility of free will and determinism. To state the consequence argument, let DINOSAUR stand for the entire state of the universe during some time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and let DECISION stand for my decision to eat a cheeseburger tonight.

7 No one has any choice about events which happened in the distant past. No one has any choice about what the laws of nature are. Determinism Only one future is consistent with the state of the world at a time + the laws of nature. No one has any choice about DINOSAUR. No one has any choice about the fact that if DINOSAUR then DECISION. The laws of nature say that if DINOSAUR happens, then DECISION happens. No one has any choice about DECISION. The no choice principle If no one has about choice about whether P, and no one has any choice about whether, if P, then Q, then no one has any choice about whether Q

9 1. No one has any choice about events which happened in the distant past. 2. No one has any choice about DINOSAUR. (1) 3. Only one future is consistent with the state of the world at a time + the laws of nature. (Determinism) 4. The laws of nature say that if DINOSAUR happens, then DECISION happens. (3) 5. No one has any choice about what the laws of nature are. 6. No one has any choice about the fact that if DINOSAUR then DECISION. (4,5) 7. If no one has about choice about whether P, and no one has any choice about whether, if P, then Q, then no one has any choice about whether Q. C. No one has any choice about DECISION. (2,6,7) This is a style of argument called conditional proof. To prove the truth of a statement if p, then q we assume p as a premise, and argue from this premise, using only other true premises, to q as our conclusion. If we can construct a valid argument with p + some true statements as premises for q, it follows that the conditional statement if p, then q must be true. Here p = the truth of determinism, and q = the denial of the existence of free will.

10 1. No one has any choice about events which happened in the distant past. 2. No one has any choice about DINOSAUR. (1) 3. Only one future is consistent with the state of the world at a time + the laws of nature. (Determinism) 4. The laws of nature say that if DINOSAUR happens, then DECISION happens. (3) 5. No one has any choice about what the laws of nature are. 6. No one has any choice about the fact that if DINOSAUR then DECISION. (4,5) 7. If no one has about choice about whether P, and no one has any choice about whether, if P, then Q, then no one has any choice about whether Q. C. No one has any choice about DECISION. (2,6,7) This is similar, though not the same as, a reductio argument. Like a reductio argument, it is an argument which is not intended to show the truth of the conclusion. (Van Inwagen believes in free will, after all.) But unlike a reductio argument, it is not intended mainly to show that one of the premises is false. Instead it is intended to display a connection between one of the premises and the conclusion - to show that if the premise is true, the conclusion must be too.

11 Before I suggested that there were three possible views about freedom of the will. freedom of the will is real, and compatible with determinism freedom of the will is real, and incompatible with determinism freedom of the will is an illusion van Inwagen s argument seems to rule out the first option. The last appears to be a position of last resort so let s look at the possibility that free will is real, but incompatible with determinism.

12 Let s examine this position by way of van Inwagen s example of Jane s decision. We now imagine the current pulse traveling through Jane s brain.

13 The pulse could go one of two ways. Which way it goes will determine whether or not Jane speaks. Let s suppose, with the incompatibilist, that which way it will go is not determined by the the laws of nature + the state of Jane s brain (or the state of anything else). The key question, now is: is Jane free to decide which way the pulse will go? John, I lied to you about Alice.

14 van Inwagen gives an argument that she is not. For her to be able to decide which way the pulse goes, she must do something prior to the pulse going one way rather than another which determines that the pulse goes that way. But we know that she did no such thing, since the direction of the pulse was undetermined. So she cannot decide which way the pulse goes and the action is not free. John, I lied to you about Alice.

15 More generally, the idea is this: if we think about the causal chain leading up to some putatively free action A of Jane s, then, if A is really free and incompatibilism is true, there must be some event, E, in this causal chain which is not determined by prior events plus the laws of nature. Further, it seems that for A to be free, Jane must have had a choice about whether E happened. But it is hard to see how Jane could have had a choice about whether E happened, since the entire state of the universe prior to E, including everything Jane does and thinks, is consistent both with E happening and with E not happening. But then it was not up to Jane whether E happened at all.

16 This argument seems to lead to some principle like the following: If nothing determines whether someone chooses A or B, the choice of A or B is random, and hence not a free choice. If any principle of this sort is true, this is serious trouble for the incompatibilist who wants to believe in free will. After all, this sort of principle seems to show that free will requires determinism or at least requires that human actions be determined.

17 This is, however, hard to swallow, for at least two reasons. First, it seems that moral responsibility requires free will and it does seem that we are at least sometimes responsible for our actions. Second, it is just hard to believe that it is not up to me whether I am going to scratch my nose in a few seconds. Let s consider a style of argument which is sometimes used to defend the idea that, contra the consequence argument, free will is compatible with determinism.

18 These are due to the contemporary philosopher Harry Frankfurt. Suppose someone Black, let us say wants Jones to perform a certain action. Black is prepared to go to considerable lengths to get his way, but he prefers to avoid showing his hand unnecessarily. So he waits until Jones is about to make up his mind what to do, and does nothing unless it is clear to him (Black is an excellent judge of such things) that Jones is going to decide to do something other than what he wants him to do. If it does become clear that Jones is going to decide to do something else, Black takes effective steps to ensure that Jones decides to do, and that he does do, what he wants him to do. Now suppose that Black never has to show his hand because Jones, for reasons of his own, decides to perform and does perform the very action Black wants him to perform. In that case, it seems clear, Jones will bear precisely the same moral responsibility for what he does as he would have borne is Black had not been ready to take steps to ensure that he do it. It would be quite unreasonable to excuse Jones for his action... on the basis of the fact that he could not have done otherwise. This fact played no role at all in leading him to act as he did... Indeed, everything happened just as it would have happened without Black's presence in the situation and without his readiness to intrude into it.

19 Suppose, at time T, that Black decides that he wants Jones on a bus out of South Bend by some later time, T+3. He hopes that Jones will get on the bus of his own accord, but, if he doesn t, plans to force him onto the bus. Now suppose that, at time T+1, Jones is deliberating about whether or not to take a bus out of South Bend. He goes back and forth, but eventually decides to board the bus. At time T+2, Jones boards a bus leaving South Bend. This seems (certainly, at least, to Jones himself) to be a free action. Since it never got to time T+3, Black never had to execute his nefarious plan. But now think about Jones decision making at time T+1. At that time, it was already determined that Jones would be boarding a bus out of South Bend. After all, Jones must either decide to board the bus, or not. In the former case he gets on the bus, and in the latter case, Black forces him on the bus, so again he gets on the bus. So facts fixed prior to his decision making process determined that he would get on the bus. Nonetheless, his action of getting on the bus seems to be a free action. Does this show that, if free will is possible, it is compatible with determinism?

20 freedom of the will is real, and compatible with determinism Explain how it can be that I have no choice about p, and no choice about the fact that if p, then q, and yet have a choice about q. Explain how an action can be undetermined without being random, and hence not free. freedom of the will is real, and incompatible with determinism Make sense of Frankfurt s example; either explain why Jones is really not free, or why Jones s being free is not a genuine example of a free action determined by factors outside of the agent s control. freedom of the will is an illusion Make sense of the fact that it seems so clear that what we will do in the near future is something that we have a choice about. Either deny that anyone is ever morally responsible for anything, or explain how moral responsibility is possible without free will

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