Gpuccio and free will

A couple of posts continuing dispute that began on UD with Gpuccio on the long-standing subject of free will.

First Gpuccio’s final comment on UD (in plain text) and my notes (in italics) on his comment.


Mark (#463):

I think KF has already answered your main points.
 

I don’t read KF’s comments – so it is good that you are making them yourself.

Anyway, here is my take:
Free will (the real free will concept, what is now called “agent libertarian”, but which has been for century the universal meaning associated to those words) is not an abstract concept. It arises from a very specific, and universal, aspect of our conscious experience. We can call it, if you allow me, “the intuition of agency”. The concept of free will (a rational concept, elaborated in distinct philosophical terms) originated to accommodate this intuition, and to better analyze its connection with other categories of cognition (the outer reality, the law of causation, the inner self, etc.).

Does that include an intuition that it is not determined?

In a very simple form, the concept of free will includes all of the following concepts:
1) We are conscious beings (intuitive fact, directly experienced by each of us)
Agreed

2) The best way to describe the main property of conscious experience is to say that it consists of changing formal representations perceive by an unifying principle, which we call the self. The existence of conscious representations, and therefore of a self which experiences them, is more a fact than a concept: it is a way of describing what we experience.

No problem with this (although I don’t entirely agree)

3) However, the self, in experiences these constantly changing representations, has a very definite inner intuition of itself as interacting with them: not only experiencing them as objects of perception (cognition), but also experiencing itself (the self) as the initiator of new processes in those representations (actions).

Not sure – but I certainly initiate things – the question is whether my initiation is determined.

4) That intuition, for centuries, has been considered as a sound cognitive clue about a really existing process. That process has been named “free will”, its instances “free action”. Most people and most thinkers of all kinds have accepted this view for centuries.

Yes – but does it include a clue that the process is not determined?

5) Starting from that acceptance, philosophers have explored the consequences of that view for a general map of reality. The main consequence is that it offers a solid basis for other philosophical concepts, above all that of moral responsibility. Implicit in this view is the further concept that free actions are not “neutral”, but can be considered “polarized” in a moral context. They can be good or bad. Various philosophies and religions have dealt with these concepts in different ways, while maintaining the fundamental conceptions mentioned above.

Yes – but I don’t believe being determined does preclude moral responsibility – but that’s another very long story.

6) It is also true that other schools of thought have argued that our intuition about free agency, while certainly a part of our conscious experience, is cognitively wrong, because it corresponds to not true free process. IOW, our intuition of free will is a truly existing conscious representation, but its cognitive content is false: it is a delusion.

All philosophies which believe that way are deterministic, or at least “non libertarian” (as I have argued, including random components in a deterministic model does not change the substance of the problem).

That’s only an illusion if the intuition includes – not determined or random.

While determinism has a local consistency, and is difficult to falsify empirically, its logical consequences are so extreme for our models of human existence that they are usually refused, consciously or subconsciously. by most people. Those consequences include the conception that our personal destiny is pre-determined, or anyway cannot be changed by us.

And it is really difficult to understand how it could be possible to salvage the cognitive value of morality, of personal commitment to higher and transpersonal ideals, of self sacrifice, in a completely deterministic context. (beware, I am not saying that a determinist cannot include all those things in his personal life: for me, indeed, a determinist remains a fee agent, capable of all those behaviours like anyone else: the only problem is that his cognitive convictions are inconsistent and incapable to really describe his human free behaviour).

Something can be pre-determined and changed by a person. It can be determined that the person will change things. If you are driving a long a remote road in the country and see a young girl alone and badly injured – these circumstances will determine that you will stop and help her – for you are a good person. However, it is still the case that you will change her misfortune, that it is a conscious act on your behalf, and it is appropriate to praise you for it.

7) Determinism is usually motivated by one of two opposite world views: strict materialism – reductionism, or some forms of religious views.

Whatever one’s position, free will remains a very living issue, as shown by the great “success” of the discussion on this thread, and all the positions I described above are well represented.

Agreed

9) Finally, compatibilism. I would say that this is a relatively recent position, pretending to be “intermediate” between the two traditional views of determinism and libertarian free will. The point should be that a modified conception of free will is in some way compatible with determinism.

Compatabilism predates Chistianity – it goes back to the Greek Stoics. It is not intermediate between determinism and free will. It is the view that both are compatible.

I have tried to explain ad nauseam why I believe that such a view is simply wrong, that it offers no real novelty to the traditional discussion, and that it deserves no real serious attention. That’s my position, I have argued for it in great detail, and anybody is “free” to agree or disagree.

But you, IMO, stretch the idea to even more extreme consequences: you argue not only “that a modified conception of free will is in some way compatible with determinism”, but that such a conception is exactly the same as the traditional conception of libertarian free will.

Not exactly the same – the libertarian concept includes the idea that free will is not determined – but that is the only difference I can find.

While that would IMO label you as a “super-compatibilist”, it’s probably too much for me. I apologize with you if I have been sometimes harsh in this discussion (you know how much I respect you), but it is really difficult for me to see any sense in this particular position of yours.

I don’t find you harsh – just confused 🙂

So, to sum up, the “after image” analogy has nothing to do with the subject we are discussing. After images are certainly conscious representations which can be explained, but the point is that they are not in any way connected to the intuition of agency, which is the real source and justification of the concept of free will. The concept of libertarian free will is natural, corresponds to a deep need of integrating a fundamental intuition of our self with our general maps of reality, has been for centuries the basis for most human philosophies, has been for centuries or millennia the basis for all the every-day representations human have of their behaviour, for the consept of moral responsibility, and so on. It would be difficult even to start to describe human civilization without the concept of free will.

The question is what aspects of “free will” are required for these things.  I contend that my compatibilist view encompasses freedom of choice, moral responsibility etc.  That’s the whole point.  I am not dismissing free will.  I am just saying it’s compatible with determinism.

The concept of free will can be right or wrong, but it certainly is at the basis of all those aspects of human thoughts and behaviour.
To argue that that concept is a delusion, as determinists do, is legitimate. But to argue that it is irrelevant, or just the same thing as its contrary, is really an unacceptable position.

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1 Response to “Gpuccio and free will”


  1. 1 gpuccio August 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Mark,

    Here I am. Let’s begin:

    “Does that include an intuition that it is not determined?”

    Yes, I believe so. If you just look at the language that has been used for centuries to accommodate that intuition, that should be evident. It’s not a case, after all, that iy has always been called “free will”. What do you think “free” stands for?

    I will leave alone the first three points, on which you do not raise substantial objections. In point 4, I believe, you raise an issue similar, but not equal, to the one discussed above. I had said: That intuition, for centuries, has been considered as a sound cognitive clue about a really existing process. That process has been named “free will”, its instances “free action”. To that you reply:

    “Yes – but does it include a clue that the process is not determined?”

    Well, if the intuition includes the intuition of non determinism, as I have argued above, and if the intuition has been considered by many a clue about a really existing process, then it is a clue to a really existing and really non determined process. I don’t mean all that as a proof, I am just saying that it is perfectly natural to believe that such an universal intuition has a possible correspondence with a really existing process, and that non determinism is part of all that.

    Then at the next point, you say:

    “Yes – but I don’t believe being determined does preclude moral responsibility – but that’s another very long story.”

    I agree that it’s another long story. I just mention that I have recently expressed my views about that on UD, specifically summed up in my response to Green at #520.

    Point six. You say:

    “Something can be pre-determined and changed by a person. It can be determined that the person will change things. If you are driving a long a remote road in the country and see a young girl alone and badly injured – these circumstances will determine that you will stop and help her – for you are a good person. However, it is still the case that you will change her misfortune, that it is a conscious act on your behalf, and it is appropriate to praise you for it.”.

    I don’t understand why this must be so difficult. If all is determined, we are all part of a whole causally related system. So, iut is not really correct to say that persons will change things. In your example, I was determined to drive there, the girl was determined to be there and injured, and I was determined to help her. You say that I change something. That is not true. Things, very simply, could not have happened differently.
    It is true that that remains a conscious act on my part, if you believe in consciousness, but it is not a free conscious act. Mybe it is appropriate to praise me for that, because out of simple courtesy it is sometimes appropriate to say things which are not completely true.

    And moreover, you say that I am determined to act that way, because “I am a good person”. And what if I had been a bad person? I suppose I would have ignored the girl, or kust killed her. And I suppose I would be comèpletely justified in doing that, because no other thing I could have done. And obviously I do that consciously. And I suppose it is appropriate to praise me for that. Or not?

    Later, you say:

    “Compatabilism predates Chistianity – it goes back to the Greek Stoics. It is not intermediate between determinism and free will. It is the view that both are compatible.”

    Well, I accept your correction, also becasue I have not the time now to check on stoicism. And it is fine for me to express compatibilism without being partial to any of the other two conceptions. But then, I would say that free will predates both Christianity and compatibilism. And compatibilism has certainly remained a minority position for centuries (I dare not ask myself if it still is).

    Then you say (rather strangely, IMO):

    “Not exactly the same – the libertarian concept includes the idea that free will is not determined – but that is the only difference I can find.”

    But I am perfectly fine with that difference. That’s the only real difference. All the rest is a consequence of that difference (for instance, the different implications about morality, as I have tried to outline above).

    “I don’t find you harsh – just confused”

    Thank you. I am happy to reciprocate that.

    “The question is what aspects of “free will” are required for these things. I contend that my compatibilist view encompasses freedom of choice, moral responsibility etc. That’s the whole point. I am not dismissing free will. I am just saying it’s compatible with determinism.”

    Let’s come to a compromise:

    You have a conception of free will which is different from mine, in the sense, which you admitted, that my view “includes the idea that free will is not determined”, while your view denies it.

    I believe that your view cannot cognitively justify morality, or if you prefer that it implies a completely different description of morality.

    You believe the opposite.

    So, if I am correct in those statement, our views differ about at least two important points (which I will define here from my point of view):

    a) The idea that free will is not determined

    b) The idea that denying a) has important implications in the definition and evaluation of morality

    So, our conceptions about free will and its implication are rather different. Which was my initial point.


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