My last post generated some very interesting points, questions, and observations from the comment section. The purpose of that post was not to prove or give a detailed argument for the free-will or libertarian perspective. Rather, it was to point out the cognitive dissonance that seems to flow (along with other negative results) from the determinist position. In response, rather than address that point, most wanted to counter or respond with, “But what about the problems with the libertarian perspective?” Well, I never said there wasn’t any. It might do people well to at least focus on what their own views entail, whether positive or negative, before they are too quick to worry about the “other” guy’s views. The rush to “But, what about ‘your’ views…” becomes an easy way out—a way to always avoid any reflection or introspection regarding one’s own views and it does nothing to address the problems raised in the first place with one’s own views—it is diversionary.
Putting that aside, I have done some more thinking about the matter of “free-will”. One thing I realized is that there is a theological conversation about free-will and a secular philosophical discussion, and at times they intersect and other times not. And of course, this conversation goes back centuries. It is not going to be settled here, that is for sure.
As to the philosophical conversation, I will note shortly several sources that attempt to address the issues raised by Bernard and JP as to the “randomness” or “luck” problem. I doubt these papers will change any minds here, but along with the many other resources and people I noted previously, these sources also tell us the suggestion that libertarians ignore or do not address this “problem” is just false. And if none of these attempts to address these issues can suffice in any fashion or fail to satisfy the determinist’s questions or points, there is not much I can do about that. Anyway, a simple Google search will remove any imagined idea these issues are ignored or left unaddressed by libertarians.
The randomness problem is stated by JP thus:
“The question is rather: why would P choose differently in worlds A and B?
The worlds are absolutely identical and, in particular, P is exactly the same in both worlds, in beliefs, desires, mindset, anything you can imagine. Please note that I’m not assuming anything about physics and determinism.
Therefore the difference in choice cannot be explained by anything in the world or anything that is part of P’s nature. Because, obviously, any explanation valid in world A would also, by necessity, be valid in world B.
One possibility is that some random event occurs – an event occurring without a cause and for which there is no reason. What else is there?
You say “P just chooses differently”. But what does that mean? It’s a choice that is based on nothing at all, a choice without any reason or cause. How is that different from a random choice?”
The assumption seems to be that if the prior criteria are identical leading up to a choice or act for two people, then these two must choose or act the same. Otherwise, why the difference? Why doesn’t identical prior sequence equal same outcome? Why doesn’t cause and effect lead to the same choice or action (omission) each time? Well, my first thought is because we are not machines. Prior identical beliefs (or name any identical category) for two humans does not mean they will both make the same choice or decision every single time. Why would it unless we already assumed determinism? It begs the very question of whether or not we can do otherwise regardless what any prior category/chain of events is present or not. Notice that JP tells us he is assuming nothing about determinism or physics but then proceeds to set up his identical worlds based entirely upon the premise that everything “before” “leading up to” “prior” “in the past” is identical. Well, why would that even be important unless one already thought that everything prior must determine that which follows? Isn’t that determinism?
O’Connor addresses the issue here:
“The ‘luck’ objection invites us to contemplate, not intra-world identical undetermined choice situations obtained via rollback (a metaphysically dubious notion, it should be said), but inter-world cases. We imagine Alice and a counterpart Alicia in an identical world up to the moment of choice, such that Alice tells the truth and Alicia lies, and again we tell the story in a manner consistent with the agent causal story. If the bravely truth-telling Alice is commended, and the deceiving Alicia goes on to be exposed and suffers a negative consequence, isn’t Alice just lucky? After all, there was nothing whatsoever about her right up to the moment of the choice that distinguished here from Alicia, and so nothing about her that made the difference. Each had the same propensity to lie and to tell the truth. The conclusion drawn is that neither agent controlled the way their respective cases unfolded in such a way that it was up to her that she told the truth (lied). (For a statement of this argument, see Haji 2004.)
The agent causationist contends that both these objections fail to take seriously the concept of agent causation [which is to beg the question–to assume determinism]. It is conceived as a primitive form of control over just such undetermined, single-case outcomes. The agent’s control is exercised not through the efficacy of prior states of the agent (as on causal theories of action), but in the action itself. Alice’s causing her intention to tell the truth is itself an exercise of control. And since, ex hypothesi, it is quite literally the agent herself generating the outcome, it is hard to see how the posited form of control could possibly be improved upon. So wherein lies the luck? (For such a response, see Pereboom 2005, Clarke 2005, and O’Connor 2007)”
And we also see the supposed problem addressed here:
“(1) Suppose that at time t, an agent S makes a (directly) free decision to A.
(2) If an agent S freely decides at time t to A, he could have freely performed some alternative act at t.
(3) Hence, S could have freely performed some alternative act at t. (By 1 and 2)
(4) If S could have freely performed some alternative act at t, then there is a possible world W which shares its laws of nature and its past up until (and not including) t with the real world, in which S freely acts otherwise at t.
(5) There is a possible world W which shares its laws of nature and its past up until (and not including) t with the real world, in which S freely acts otherwise at t. (By 3, 4)
(6) The difference in S’s behavior at t between the two worlds – that in the real world, S decides at t to A, whereas in W, S acts otherwise at t – cannot be explained in terms of what happens in those worlds before t.
Mele calls this difference between the actual world and W, “the cross-world difference between the two worlds with regard to how S acts at t”. (Ibid: 54)
(7) If the cross-world difference between W and the actual world with regard to how S acts at t cannot be explained in terms of what happens in both these worlds before t, then that difference is just a matter of luck.
(8) The cross-world difference between W and the actual world with regard to the decision S makes at t is just a matter of luck. (By 6, 7)
(9) Luck entails lack of control.
(10) S lacks control over the decision he makes at t in W, which means that in W, he does not act freely at t.
(11) S could not have freely performed some alternative act at t. (By 4,10)
(12) But the conjunction of (1) and (11) contradicts (2). Since we obtained a result that contradicts LF’, the conclusion we are expected to draw from it is that LF’ needs to be rejected.12/13”
What is the response?
“However, an L-libertarian would object to this way of completing the argument against his position. He would point out that the joint assumption of (7) and (9) commits one to assuming a conceptual link between lack of explanation and lack of control; and as Mele offers no argument for this assumption, the L-libertarian would argue that he has no good reason to accept it. Furthermore, there seem to be counterexamples to it. Consider a situation in which S is torn between his desire to steal an expensive necklace he sees in a jewelry store, and his desire, for moral reasons, to refrain from stealing it. Ultimately, S decides to steal the necklace, and steals it. Assume further that it was within S’s power, in the L-libertarian sense, to refrain from the decision he made, that is, that there is a possible world W, indistinguishable from the actual world up until t, in which S decides not to steal the necklace at t. In this situation, there is a cross-world difference that lacks an explanation. And yet, intuitively it is not the case that S was lacking control over the decision he made. After all, the decision did not seem to him as something that occurred to him out of the blue. Rather, he experienced the decision as something he made, something he made deliberately, and made in the belief that it was within his power to decide otherwise. Mele, the L-libertarian might claim, has not given him a good reason to think that belief is false.”
What both papers are asserting is that lack of explanation doesn’t equate to lack of control. Additionally, what each tells us is that, as to our decisions, actions, or omissions, prior states can only be one factor and not the “determining” one. Why? Because “The agent’s control is exercised not through the efficacy of prior states of the agent (as on causal theories of action), but in the action itself. Alice’s causing her intention to tell the truth is itself an exercise of control.”
What the identical world’s hypothetical assumes is the efficacy of prior states. Why else note it? Why else would one set the supposed problem up this way? It begs the very question as it only becomes a problem when one assumes the “efficacy of prior states”. If the efficacy is, rather, in the action itself, regardless of prior states (although a factor), then we can see two people with identical prior states making different decisions or acting differently.
Now, I don’t believe for a second that the above responses to the luck/randomness “problem” will suffice for JP, Bernard, or Burk. But, again, let’s get over this idea that this supposed problem is ignored or not addressed in the literature. I’ve only noted two sources here for brevity, but there are many, many more. Further, this supposed problem does not concern me in the least—at all. I think it only exists or becomes a problem if one assumes the sole efficacy of prior states, which, it seems to me, is to just assume determinism. It assumes there is no free agent that can act otherwise than what the prior states determine must happen.
Most importantly, this supposed problem pales in comparison to a view that leaves us without any true or real moral responsibility (only legal), is fatalistic, and clearly could have negative (to be generous!) consequences culturally if actually believed and acted upon. To raise the randomness issue as a concern in comparison would be like a person who has just been arrested for burning a forest down, telling the arresting officer who is lighting a cigarette to be careful with those matches. Seriously? To be completely honest—I can’t even take this supposed “problem” seriously. It is a speck compared to the log of problems associated with materialistic determinism. Anyone might want to focus there first—just saying.
So, moving on—let’s look at this from another angle.
The more I thought about this issue of free-will the more I realized I needed to address the issue from the theological discussion or perspective. The secular philosophical conversation seems to leave us with dead ends or the attempt to show how the supposed dead ends actually lead somewhere. As a Christian, while I can evaluate and understand the issue from many different perspectives, at the end of the day, I have to try and unpack this from my own narrative/perspective—the one I think makes the most sense of us as humans and of this world.
To do so I will use perhaps an unlikely source and one not even meant to really address free-will per se other than in a derivative manner. The paper I will use as a way to discuss my own perspective is here. Many are probably not familiar with David B. Hart but he is an American Eastern Orthodox theologian/philosopher. Whether one agrees or disagrees with anything Dr. Hart writes or says, he is a very formidable voice and quite brilliant. I don’t think anyone disputes that description, regardless any other views they may hold of him.
So, are we “free” and what does it mean to be “free”? Hart I think gives us a sketch of an answer here:
“In the end of all things is their beginning, and only from the perspective of the end can one know what they are, why they have been made, and who the God is who has called them forth from nothingness.”
To articulate any sort of understanding of free will, we must do so with a view toward our end (not the beginning), which is the creation completed or realized. My view of free-will is shaped by the fact I view humans as created beings and not simply purely material accidents of existence. Further, as created, they have a teleology—a purpose. There is an end to which they were created, to which they are bent.
“For, as the transcendent Good beyond all beings, he is the transcendental end of any action of any rational nature; and then, obviously, the end toward which God acts must be his own goodness: he who is the beginning and end of all things. And this eternal teleology, viewed from the vantage of history, is a cosmic eschatology. As an eternal act, creation’s term is the divine nature; within the orientation of time, its term is a “final judgment.” No matter how great the autonomy one grants the realm of secondary causes, two things are certain. First, as God’s act of creation is free, constrained by neither necessity nor ignorance, all contingent ends are intentionally enfolded within his decision. And, second, precisely because God in himself is absolute, “absolved” of every pathos of the contingent, his moral “venture” in creating is infinite. For all causes are logically reducible to their first cause; this is no more than a logical truism, and it does not matter whether one construes the relation between primary and secondary causality as one of total determinism or utter indeterminacy, for in either case all “consequents” are—either as actualities or merely as possibilities—contingent upon their primordial “antecedent,” apart from which [they] could not exist. Moreover, the rationale—the definition—of a first cause is the final cause that prompts it; and so if that first cause is an infinitely free act emerging from an infinite wisdom, all those consequents are intentionally entailed—again, either as actualities or as possibilities—within that first act; and so the final end to which that act tends is its whole moral truth.”
Now, the above does seem to me to be a sort of determinism, but it is one completely different than that of a purely material, law-like, mathematical, cause-and-effect determinism. It is the idea that all creation tends toward its end and how could it tend otherwise, given its created nature?
Now, here is another aspect to free-will Hart brings up and it seems to go to JP’s point about randomness:
“It might not do, if one could construct a metaphysics or phenomenology of the will’s liberty that was purely voluntarist, purely spontaneous; though, even then, one would have to explain how an absolutely libertarian act, obedient to no ultimate prior rationale whatsoever, would be distinguishable from sheer chance, or a mindless organic or mechanical impulse, and so any more “free” than an earthquake or embolism.”
So here he addresses the objection of “sheer chance” and notes that a Christian view of free-will is not one of a “purely voluntarist” or “spontaneous” sort of freedom. Rather, we should see free-will as:
“…a power inherently purposive, teleological, primordially oriented toward the good, and shaped by that transcendental appetite to the degree that a soul can recognize the good for what it is. No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good, but that does not alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it. It makes no more sense to say that God allows creatures to damn themselves out of his love for them or of his respect for their freedom than to say a father might reasonably allow his deranged child to thrust her face into a fire out of a tender respect for her moral autonomy.”
One aspect we need to clarify is one of the gravity of choice or action. Whether one is a determinist or libertarian, we are normally not concerned with trivial choices or actions. Why did I turn right on this road, when I normally turn left? Why did I decide to eat melon for breakfast instead of my usual oatmeal? As to our trivial decisions, actions, and choices, both the determinist and libertarian, regardless their abstract beliefs about such matters, would probably respond: “I don’t know why I did that. I just did.” As noted in the second paper, lacking a reason doesn’t equal a lack of control. Because I cannot give a reason for my actions doesn’t mean I can’t control my actions or choices. My first person experience is such that I know I could have done otherwise, even if I can’t articulate a reason for my trivial choice or action. Its very triviality, non-importance, lends itself to forgetting, to not even trying to formulate a reason. In fact, to do so, would be odd. Our minds and lives move too quickly for a reason to even present itself in such cases. Again, does this mean I have no control? Of course not. One (no articulable reason) does not lead of necessity to the other (lack of control). That simply does not logically follow.
When it comes to choices and actions of some gravity however, most rational persons have reasons. And I would agree with Hart that decisions and actions of any gravity are born out of this dynamic:
“No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good, but that does not alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it.”
Or, as he puts it here:
“…For Maximus, the natural will is free because it tends inexorably towards God, and the gnomic will is free precisely to the degree that it comes into harmony with the natural will. And so on. Since, after all, all employments of the will are teleological–necessarily intentionally directed towards an end, either clearly or obscurely known by the intellect–and since the Good is the final cause of all movements of the will, no choice of evil can be free in a meaningful sense. For evil is not an end, and so can be chosen under the delusion that it is in some sense a good in respect of the soul (even if, in moral terms, one is aware that one is choosing what is conventionally regarded as ‘evil’); and no choice made in ignorance can be a free choice.”
Now, it appears that whether a trivial decision (turning left here when 99% of the time I turn right) or one of gravity (telling the truth or not), he notes that “all employments of the will are teleological–necessarily intentionally directed towards an end…” However, some of those decisions and the reasoning behind them are “clearly” known and some are “obscurely” known and I would add that some are not really known at all, or in any sort of way we can always articulate. Thus, one could argue from this perspective that there is freedom (understood correctly) but no randomness or luck, because all such movements are, ultimately, teleological.
Is this a sort of determinism? It depends upon what we think such entails. Does it mean we are not free? Well, again, we are free only in the sense we can see and understand the good. The truth does indeed set us free. An ignorant person, or a slave, is not truly free, even though their first person experience is such that they are, within the bounds of their ignorance and slavery. We are free within the bounds of creation understood as a good creation brought into existence by a good creator, with a good end in mind. A poor analogy might be a jet airliner. We are free to get up and move around the jet, eat what we like, read, sleep, and choose a host of other actions, entirely as free agents, undetermined, but there are boundaries we cannot change or cross as to its trajectory or its very form or walls. If we were to imagine existence this way, we might say we are indeed free within the bounds of time, but may not realize that freedom in its true form until temporal time is no more and we are in the eternal “now” so to speak (or eternity). This is, of course, saying that all things will be redeemed eventually. Within the Christian tradition, this is disputed, but I agree with Dr. Hart and other universalists in that regard.
And again, if this is a type of determinism, it is not the mindless, impersonal, accidental, without any meaning, purely random type of determinism believed to be the case by materialists/physicalists. Rather, it is a determinism (for lack of a better word) of love; one that has a teleology. How then are we free? The best way I can see this is to give an example from one of the best known stories in the Gospels, the Prodigal Son. In temporal time, in this life, we can reject this love but we always do so (like the prodigal) out of ignorance. If not in this life, then in eternity, once all ignorance is removed, once we “see” and understand that which calls forth and “awakens” all desire, once we feel and understand a love incomprehensible, our will is then truly free and we will use that freedom as noted in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15:
17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
The Judeo-Christian narrative is that creation is broken, but good. All of creation is in the process of coming to its “senses”. All of creation will one day get up and return to its father. This can be the only result of a true freedom, wherein we know as we are known and we are no longer slaves to ourselves and any remaining brokenness. Is this an “efficacy of prior states”? I don’t think so. Rather, it is an efficacy of the end of all things; it is efficacious only in the sense of eternity and only in the sense of coming to that which is our end. That which is prior is only efficacious because of its end. Before that end happens or we come to it, we are free in the same sense as the prodigal or even the son who remains at home who was also “free” to leave. The son, who remained home, remained in ignorance and in the narrative did not “come to his senses”—but was resentful and bitter. So who was free in the narrative? We all are on a spectrum of being “free” in this sense, in the same sense as the two sons.
Now, I doubt my unpacking here will suffice for JP, Bernard, or Burk. Perhaps even Ron may find areas of disagreement. My thoughts here are tentative and not concrete. If we take both the secular conversation and the religious, it would appear I am a weird sort of compatibilist; however, it is entirely unlike the secular version which assumes a meaningless determinism (by faith) but can’t live with its consequences and simply has to try and make room for the 1st person experience. I believe we are free agents, with real/true moral responsibility. I also believe there is a trajectory to creation in which all things will be redeemed in eternity. Perhaps these two beliefs contradict. I don’t believe they do, but I could certainly be wrong. I am thinking out loud here, but there you have it.