Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Choose

The arguments for determinism are fairly straightforward, and unlike a lot of philosophical speculation can be formulated in relatively easy to understand terms. Sam Harris has a series of posts in which he outlines, in pretty accessible terms, the basic structure of the argument for determinism. In what follows here I'll discuss some of the interesting features that Harris brings out of the arguments for determinism, and take a careful look at some of his claims about the relation of the free will problem to moral philosophy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Descartes on Freedom of the Will

In his Principles of Philosophy Descartes claims that the freedom of the will is one of the “common notions that are innate within us” and therefore does not need to be defended with argument. But as obvious as the notion of freedom of the will is the notion that God has pre-ordained all things, including our own actions. Descartes offers only our imperfect epistemic state as an attempt to reconcile these two incompatible truths. We are not in a position to understand how the two are compatible, but instead must simply assent to both propositions as known (CSM I 205-6). In his response to Hobbes' objections to the Meditations Descartes claims that the freedom of the will is “very evident by the natural light” (CSM II 133-4).

So Descartes will likely not be a place to find a full answer to the modern problem of free will and determinism, since he simply asserts compatibilism without arguing for it. But this idea that God causes everything is a form of determinism and it fits uncomfortably with the idea that we are responsible for our errors in judgment. So his versionof free will is in fact a version of compatibilism. Descartes also, despite his dualism, sought to provide an account of the relationship between the free mind and the deterministic world, of which the body is a part.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Or Not Do In Some Relevantly Similar Possible World

As I discussed in the first post on the free will topic, the idea that we are free seems obviously true. This is the intuitive position on the free will debate, or what we can refer to as the received view or the common sense view: we have free will. It is essentially the default position, one for which mountains of introspective evidence can be assembled.

But what is exactly meant when we say that we are free? According to just about any doctrine of free will, when I make a decision a few different things have to obtain in order for us to call the decision free. First, it must be possible for me to have done otherwise. At the moment of decision, it must be the case that given a list of possible choices, it is in a real sense undetermined which action I will select. Second, I (as an independent agent) am the cause of the action that I undertake. The decision I make is the result of my deliberation and my desires. Third, I am responsible for my decision. This follows from the conjunction of the two other, but is important enough to emphasize separately. In what follows I'll briefly sketch what is entailed by each of these components of free decisions, why we think it's important, and touch on some of the reasons for the belief that each of components really does obtain when we make decisions.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Kitcher's "Living With Darwin"

Philosopher Philip Kitcher's excellent little book Living With Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith seeks to answer two clusters of questions surrounding the opposition to Darwinism found in the Intelligent Design (ID) and Creationist movements. First, how is it possible to argue against Darwin, given scientific consensus? What are the strategies employed by critics of Darwin and how do those strategies fare? Second, why does Darwinism provoke such antipathy and recoil in the first place?