Friday, January 06, 2006

Free Will

Richard from Philosophy Etc makes the following argument

a) We can either choose what to believe (about free will), or we can't.
b) If we can't choose, then we can't make the wrong choice (since we can't make any choice).
c) If we can choose, then we make the wrong choice if we choose not to believe in free will.
d) So we can make the wrong choice by not believing in free will, but we can't make the wrong choice by believing in it.
e) Therefore, anyone faced with the choice ought to choose to believe in free will.

Or, a simpler version yet:

A) If we can choose at all, then we must have free will.

B) We should choose, if we can, to believe in free will.

There are a number of flaws in this logic so I will first point out the assumptions

1) clearly you cannot detect if you are exposed to a choice - if that was the case this debate would not take the form of a Transcendental Argument (one that requires/has no proof). So there is no reason to think that there being free will or not would have any effect at all on the degree to which people believe it or the act of believing or not believing would result in any more correctness (since all the decisions would be based on no information).

2) If one doesn’t have free will one doesn’t have to consider negative consequences this is similar to a strong form of Pascal’s wager which argues with no god there is no significant reason for anything so anything that happens with no god is not worth considering. Richard rejects this argument.

Now getting into the specifics Richard enters the word "ought" into the debate something that requires quite a bit of justification in philosophy.

e) anyone faced with the choice ought to choose to believe in free will.

This is normative but it implies some sort of truth seeking behavior but in that case the opposite should also be true "If I don’t have free will, then I ought not believe it." (Unless he uses that Pascal’s wager style argument as described earlier)

b) If we can't choose, then we can't make the wrong choice (since we can't make any choice).

This section uses an interesting argument saying basically if you don’t make a choice you can't be wrong. That is frankly ridiculous. A computer can be wrong and it has no "free will" and it implies that if you chose not to make a choice you would not be wrong. Imagine driving a car towards a T junction and choosing not to make a choice about going left or right and plowing into the telephone poll at the end.

It doesn’t consider that you could value being correct in a deterministic world.
I for example would argue "whether my dad being a good or bad dad makes me do bad things have no effect in whether I ought to do them." And I will (in the only sense that makes sense to me) "try" not to hurt you even if doing that might be my father's (for example) "fault".

This means in as far as there is value to believe in free will if it is correct (I am not sure what that might be) there is value in not believing in it if it is not correct (I can actually think of examples here but I take no stand at the moment regarding if these are greater in magnitude than the others)

Possibly what happens here is one confuses the strong sense of the word "choose" with the weak sense.
The weak sense of the word is that your current beliefs are replaced casually to your future beliefs. This is Un-contentious. But also is the case with everything in the universe for example so too are a computers. I.e. if the computer has an image of an apple stored in it and it makes an adjustment to that that will be reflected in the image a few seconds later surely that is not what is meant by "free will".

The strong sense involves talking about some sort of choice that is not entirely a result of the environment (and is in a sense beyond the power of god or anything to control) and is in a sense special in the universe. In this sense choice is equivilent to free will but this means you force the conclusion into the question.

I'll demonstrate this with religon. (folowing the pascal's wager theme)

"If your god given soul exists - god made you, therefore if you exist you should believe in god if you god given soul doesnt exist there is no soul making the decision so it doesnt matter."

the challenge is of course that this is just one hypothesis another is that you matter whether you have a god given soul or not and the same is true regarding "free will".

as wikipedia notes
Free will is the philosophical doctrine that holds that our choices are ultimately up to ourselves. The phrase "up to ourselves" is vague, and, just like free will itself, admits of a variety of interpretations. Because of this ambiguity, the utility of the concept of free will is questioned by some. Several logically independent questions can be asked about free will.

Choice consists of that mental process of thinking involved with the process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one for action. Simple examples can involve deciding whether to get up in the morning or go back to sleep, or selecting a given route to make a journey across a country.

Most people generally regard having choices as a good thing. But a severely limited or artificially restricted choice can lead to discomfort with choosing or even to unsatisfactory outcomes. On the contrary, unlimited choice may lead to confusion, regret of the alternatives not taken, and indifference in an unstructured existence; and the illusion that choosing an object or a course leads necessarily to control of that object or course can cause psychological problems.

One needs to be clear about exactly what definition one is using for this debate.


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