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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Word or Two About "Free Will"




A choice is an action that must be caused. That which causes the will to choose, whether we call it the strongest inclination, motivation, intention or X, is the cause of its effect, the choice. (The will, by the way, is that by which the mind chooses, or if preferred, the faculty of choice.) Up until here we should see with little effort that actions do not cause themselves, for an effect cannot be its own cause. Added to this we should agree that anything caused is necessary and, therefore, not purely contingent. Accordingly, what we need to focus on is X, the cause of any choice. Since the choice is caused by X, we need to determine whether X itself is caused and if so by what. If X is not caused, then obviously X cannot be the product of a choice, for a choice that produces X would indeed by its cause. Accordingly, if X is not caused by a choice and if X necessitates a subsequent choice, then the will is not free because the nexus would begin with an un-chosen cause of a choice. The choice, call it C, would be necessary since it would be caused by X. And C’s antecedent, which is X, not being the product of a choice would make the entire chain necessary and not free. (Nobody should object to my reasoning from the quality of the parts to the quality of the whole in this case. In other words, one should not find a fallacy of composition here.)

Some will say that X is indeed chosen. However this simply pushes the focus back one link in the chain but without avoiding the same predicament. Just the same, let’s deal with a chosen X and see where it gets us. What we would have is a final choice, C, being caused by X, which is chosen. In such a scenario, C would be necessary and not contingent because it would be caused by X. This, therefore, should direct our attention to the cause of the alleged chosen X. Let’s call this choice of X, C-1. Working backwards in the chain then, we may now say that given the final choice, C, which is necessarily produced by X, where X is necessarily produced by C-1, we must now ask whether the action of C-1 is caused or not. If C-1 is not caused, then we’d be left with an uncaused C-1 that causes X, which in turn causes the final choice, C. The chain would begin with an uncaused choice, C-1; the action of C-1 would be unintended in the strictest sense of the word and, therefore, an unintelligible choice. By saying that X was chosen we would have extended the chain back one link, but that wouldn’t relieve the Arminian problem; for given this longer chain, we would still be left with a first choice of C-1 beginning a chain of necessary effects. If the action of C-1 is not caused, then we would be left with an initial choice that is not caused and, therefore, not intended, which is no choice at all. If we assume a cause of C-1, call it X-1, we'd have to ask whether X-1 is chosen; if it is is not chosen, then again the will cannot be free for the final choice would be a result of an unchosen intention, X-1. However, if X-1 is chosen, then either each fnal choice is the product of a series of causes of choices and choices ad infinitum, or else the most primitive choice, C-2, that results in a necessary final choice, C, is uncaused and, therefore, unintended.

In sum, we began by discussing a choice and its cause. It was argued that since the cause of the choice was neither a choice nor the product of a choice, the choice could not be free. Since the choice is necessary and the cause of the choice is not volitional, the choice cannot be a free choice, since the choice itself is not contingent (i.e. free) but rather caused, and its cause though alleged to be free is not chosen. How can such a thesis be labeled "free will" after all? That which has nothing to do with the will (i.e. the mind choosing) -- by Arminian standards -- causes the choice, making the choice necessary, not free.

At best if the Arminian wishes to argue for pure contingency (i.e. libertarian freedom), the freedom must be found at the logical moment of the cause of the movement of the will to act, necessitating an action of choice (i.e. the actual choice), and not at the next logical moment at which point the will necessitates the actual choice itself. (Keep in mind that if a choice is rational and morally relevant it must be necessitated after the intention is formulated.) All this to say, in Arminian thought, the mind choosing cannot cause X, therefore, X must be free and not necessitated, let alone necessitated by the mind choosing. Consequently, through the purely contingent, non-caused X, whatever X is (intention, inclination, motive, etc.), which is the relevant antecedent to the choice, a choice is necessitated. Accordingly, Arminianism, if true, would require choices to be caused by something-X, let's assume intentions, that are not caused, not even by God. {The Edwardsian view, which stands in stark contrast to Arminianism, is simply that man does not choose those relevant states of affairs that are antecedent to any choice; yet the Edwardsian view does not leave such causes of inclination to fate either. The simple Edwardsian thesis is that God, through divine providence, orders circumstances that present themselves to the soul of man, forming those predetermined intentions (X) that are acted in accordance with necessarily.} For the Arminian, however, the two concepts of caused choice preceded by contingent cause obviously don't add up to "free will" since what would be free (i.e. purely contingent) would not be the will at all, but rather that which causes the will to act. The whole thesis should be called "free non-volitional-cause of non-free will."

In sum, how may the cause of a choice be contingent yet indexed to the will when it is antecedent to the actual action of the will?! In other words, if the action of choice is caused but not willed and also not free, then the only thing that should be called "free" by the Arminian is the cause of that which is antecdent to the necessitated choice. What is this purely contingent X, which the Arminian doesn't even define for us, that causes the actual action of choice? White mice from dirty rags?

Ron

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15 comments:

thekingpin68 said...

In other words, if the action of choice is caused but not willed and also not free, then the only thing that should be called "free" by the Arminian is the cause of that which is antecdent to the necessitated choice."

Hi Ron,

Your theory demonstrates a problem with Arminian and incompatibilist philosophy. In my view compatibilist philosophy has more promise.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Hi Kingpin68,

All actions are caused and not free, so I'm not sure I follow.

Ron

thekingpin68 said...

Compatibilist theory is a rejection of incompatibilist libertarian free will, but does not accept hard determinism.

I have been examining it with my MPhil and PhD degrees, and have discussed the idea on my blog.

J.S. Feinberg in the "The Many Faces of Evil" describes compatibilism as stating that certain nonconstraining conditions could strongly influence actions, in conjunction with people performing these actions. He holds to soft determinism. His view is similar to Calvin who strongly denied libertarian free will and yet stated:

If freedom is opposed to coercion, I both acknowledge and consistently maintain that choice is free and I hold anyone who thinks otherwise to be a heretic. If, I say, it were called free in this sense of not being coerced nor forcibly moved by an external impulse, but moving of its own accord, I have no objection. CALVIN, J. (1543)(1996) The Bondage and Liberation of the Will, Translated by G.I. Davies, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House. p.68.

Cheers, Ron

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

This all begs the question. Hard determinism simply removes the will from the causal nexus. My point still stands. All volitional actions are caused and, therefore, necessary otherwise there can be no moral accountability.

Ron

thekingpin68 said...

Hi Ron

I am not arguing with the point in your article, which has merit, but I can see that my first comment could have caused misunderstanding. I agree your argument causes a problem for libertarian free will. I was not begging the question since I was presenting Feinberg's definition and an explanation by Calvin, and not presenting a formal argument in response to yours.

Cheers and thanks for hosting the discussion.

Russ:)

danielj said...

Added to this we should agree that anything caused is necessary and, therefore, not purely contingent.

What do you mean that anything caused is necessary? Do you mean that some cause, X, always has some effect, Y, and that this relationship between X and Y is necessary?

Also, what do you mean by purely contingent? Can something be 1/2 contingent?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

Yes to the first question. Purely contingent is my way of underscoring contingent. You are correct that nothing is 1/2 contingent. It's either contingent or not. :)

danielj said...

If X is not caused, then obviously X cannot be the product of a choice, for a choice that produces X would indeed by its cause.

Typo?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

yup, typo. :) "be"

Chris M said...

Hi Ron,

It doesn't seem to me you have refuted free will, but rather just assumed it doesn't exist in the first place.

If you start with the assumption that we always follow our strongest desire, of course it would follow that we are determined to act in such a way. But what if the will is not bound by its strongest desire? What if the will is presented with two equally desireable things? What if more than two? What if the desires of a certain appetite were contrary to the desires of another? I.e. what if the will desired its own good, and also the good of another (say, God) equally? It would therefore fall to choice to order these goods according to the creature itself, and thus its will would actually possess causative agency, and, as a consequence, responsibility.

The problem of responsibility/accountability seems to me hopeless on Edwards's view. Although it certainly is the case that Joe could act in obedience *if he so willed*, the problem is, he is already created willing precisely what he cannot help but will. He is not himself responsible for willing whatever it is he wills. It's as if all sinners are faulted for their sin in the same way in which a man would be morally comdemned for not knowing the answer to a trivia question. Of course, if he knew the answer, he would be safe, but he has never been given the knowledge to know the question, so his situation is hopeless.

Would you, for example, torture your child or baby because it cried when it was hungry? Surely not, and surely this is because it cannot help but do what it is doing. It knows no other way to act.

Finally, how does Edward's view account for the first sin? How does it avoid the accusation that God commanded the impossible, in commanding Adam to observe a law he could not help but fail to keep? Again, how is this any different from God asking a man the question to an infinitely complex math problem, then faulting him for being unable to answer? To make matters worse, God made the man deficient with regard to observing the law in the first place.

Do you really think then that God made man with no other reason than sending him to hell? For no other reason than saying "you are inherently deficient, because I made you so, and I wish to torture you from all eternity"? How can a being, whose mercy endures forever, even conceivably do this? His entire purpose for creation would be to fulfill some supernatural "I'm infinitely better than you" ego.

What are your thoughts?

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

If you start with the assumption that we always follow our strongest desire, of course it would follow that we are determined to act in such a way.

Not necessarily, if what you mean is that God would be the determiner. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God is the determiner, but notwithstanding it does not logically follow that if one chooses with necessity that, therefore, God determines the necessity. The only thing that can be deduced is that if one must choose according to his strongest inclination, then the choice is necessary.

But what if the will is not bound by its strongest desire?

If that were true, then one could choose what he doesn’t intend to choose at the moment of choice, which in turn would destroy moral accountability, the very thing we must preserve. Think about it.

What if the will is presented with two equally desireable things?

How can two intentions be equal? If you could measure intentions to the infinite decimal point, there would have to be strongest intention.

Would you, for example, torture your child or baby because it cried when it was hungry? Surely not, and surely this is because it cannot help but do what it is doing.

If I didn’t operate according to my strongest inclination, then I might end up torturing someone when it was not my strongest intention! Moreover, you are conflating non-volitional reflexes and volition actions, and if you are not then if the child willfully did something wrong, then my task would be to correct and deter the will in a way appropriate to the child’s mental capacity.

Finally, how does Edward's view account for the first sin?

This is irrelevant but I’ve blogged on the first sin. Certainly the first sin was not an action but rather a disposition. If this were not the case, then the intention to eat the forbidden fruit would not have been sin, but intentions are always moral in nature. Moreover, if the intention was not the first sin, then it would stand to reason that if Eve abstained strictly to keep her figure, then her ill motive for obedience would have kept her from sin, a monstrosity indeed. And if she were tackled before she ate, then she would have been kept from sin though it would have been her utmost desire to disobey.

As I argued on this post, it’s impossible to choose our intentions lest we are left with an infinite regress. Strangely enough (or maybe not so strangely), you didn’t interact with the thrust of the post; you simply avoided it in fact.

BR,

Ron

Anonymous said...

"If that were true, then one could choose what he doesn’t intend to choose at the moment of choice, which in turn would destroy moral accountability, the very thing we must preserve. Think about it. "

Couldn't it be that it is a choice from a subset of desires? So, while it may be the case that it is one of his inclinations that must be chosen , but it may not be the strongest. Couldn't that still be necessary and still be intentional?

“What if the will is presented with two equally desireable things?”
How can two intentions be equal? If you could measure intentions to the infinite decimal point, there would have to be strongest intention. "

I'm confused on this point . I'm in a store and I equally want the chips as I want the soda. I don't know why if i measured it down to the infinite decimal one must be greater.

Reformed Apologist said...

"Couldn't it be that it is a choice from a subset of desires? So, while it may be the case that it is one of his inclinations that must be chosen , but it may not be the strongest. Couldn't that still be necessary and still be intentional?"

The inclination isn't chosen. Maybe you meant in your second sentence "So, while it may be the case that it is one of his inclinations from which a choice follows..."

The intention is the inclination. And of course the strongest inclination can be a synthesis of many. It's what precedes and gives way to the mind choosing.

"I'm confused on this point . I'm in a store and I equally want the chips as I want the soda. I don't know why if i measured it down to the infinite decimal one must be greater."

I would suggest that if you choose one over the other you'll know which you desired more. If you choose both, it's not because they were equal but rather you wanted A plus B more than A or B.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering two questions. Why couldn't we act from lesser intentions (Why does it always need to be the strongest inclination rather than another?) ? The second being why couldn't we at the moment of the choice have two equal intentions? I understand that if I chose both(A and B) that the intention to get both would've been greater. But that's under the assumption we only do our strongest inclination at the moment.

Reformed Apologist said...

A lesser intention is something you intend not to do, otherwise it would be ranked higher. If you intend not to grab for the coke and you do, then it's not a willful action but something else. Maybe a spasm.