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A challenge to show me wrong

Discussion in 'General Religious Debates' started by Skwim, Jun 12, 2011.

  1. Skwim

    Skwim Well-Known Member

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    In the last month or so there's been an increased interest in free will.
    "Defining Free Will" by Penumbra

    "God and his free will" by Skwim

    "Do Atheists believe in free-will?" by SPLogan

    "Freewill or Fate" by The Sum of Awe

    "Free Will? Where?" by ejay286
    This interest has usually centered around the affirmation of free will and/or a denunciation of it. Some very interesting thoughts on both sides have come out of these discussions, many well thought out and others not so much. Whatever the case, there's been a frequent problem with some of the terms involved, most often those concerning "free will" and "will." People have either failed to let others know what they had in mind when they use them, or have provided definitions that got mired in misunderstandings and confusion. Even when directly asked to define these terms people have skirted the request, and have proceeded to side topics, leaving the issue of free will no more resolved than before. So what's going on here?

    As I see it, free will is important to many because without it would mean each of is nothing more than Robbie the Robot, which is anathema to the notion personal freedom. If I have no freedom of choice how can I be blamed for what I do? For Christians this has the added consequence of robbing the concept of sin/salvation of any meaning. So most people are loath to even entertain the idea of no free will. Free will is almost always regarded as a given.

    Any exception to free will is seen as temporary constraint. "I am free to to do this or that unless someone/thing comes and prevents it. Of course this isn't at all what the issue of free will is about. Free will is about the idea that, aside from any external constraints, "I could have chosen to do differently if I wished." So I think a decent working definition of "free will" is just that: the ability to do differently if one wished.

    Those who most disagree with this are the hard determinists, people claiming that everything we do has a cause. And because everything we do is caused then we could not have done differently, therefore it's absurd to place blame or praise. A pretty drastic notion, and one rejected by almost everyone. So whatever else is said about the issue of free will ultimately it must come down to this very basic level: Are we free to do other than what we chose or not? I say, No you are not. Free will is an illusion. But before going into why, we first need to get rid of the term "choice" because it assumes to be true the condition under consideration, freedom to do what we want. So no use of "choice," "choosing,"chosen," or any other form of the word.

    Here's how I see it.
    There are only two ways actions take place; completely randomly, or caused. By "completely randomly" I mean absolutely random, not an action which, for some reason, we do not or cannot determine a cause. This excludes things such as the "random" roll of dice. Dice land as they do because of the laws of physics, and although we may not be able to identify and calculate how dice land it doesn't mean that the end result is not caused. This is the most common notion of "random" events: those we are unable to predict and appear to come about by pure chance. The only place where true randomness, an absolutely uncaused event, appears to occur is at the subatomic level, which has no effect on superatomic events, those at which we operate. And I don't think anyone would suggest that's how we operate, completely randomly: what we do is for absolutely no reason whatsoever. So that leaves non-randomness as the operative agent of our actions. We do this or that because. . . . And the "cause" in "because" is telling. It signals a deterministic operation at work. What we do is determined by something. Were it not, what we do would be absolutely random in nature: for absolutely no reason at all. But as all of us claim from time to time, we do have reasons for what we do. And these reasons are the causes that negate any randomness.

    So, because what we do obviously has a cause, could we have done differently? Not unless the causes had been different. If I end up at home after going for a walk it would be impossible to end up at my neighbor's house if I took the exact same route. Of course I could take a different route and still wind up at home, but I would still be in the same position of not ending up at my neighbor's. To do that there would have had to be a different set of circumstances (causes) at work. But there weren't so I had no option but to wind up at home. The previous chain of cause/effects inexorably determined where I ended up. So to is it with our decisions. We do what we do because all the relevant preceding cause/effect events inexorably led up to that very act and no other. We HAD to do what we did. There was no freedom to do any differently.

    What does this all mean then? It means that we cannot do any any differently than what we do. Our actions are caused (determined) by previous events and nothing else. Even our wishing to think we could have done otherwise is a mental event that was determined by all the cause/effect events that led to it. We think as we do because. . . . And that "because" can never be any different than what it was. We have no will to do anything other than what we're caused to do. In effect then, the will does not exist, nor does choice, etc..

    Of course this means that blame and praise come out as pretty hollow concepts. If you cannot do other than what you did why should you be blamed or praised for them? To do so is like blaming or praising a rock for where it lies. It had no "choice" in the matter. Of course we can still claim to have free will if we define the term as being free of external constraints, but that's not really addressing free will, and why free will exists as an issue. The free will issue exists because people claim "I could have done differently if I had wished." Problem is, of course, they didn't wish differently because . . . .



    This, then, is my argument---a bit shortened to keep it brief---against free will as it stands in opposition to determinism.

    Comments?
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2011
    Caligula likes this.
  2. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    First off, your argument was very well laid out. Shockingly enough, I still disagree.

    It doesn't have to be absolute. There IS a middle ground, and that's where I sit.
     
  3. Skwim

    Skwim Well-Known Member

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    Please continue. I'm intrigued.
     
  4. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    Hmmm, where to start.... This may be a touch incherent!

    We can't control our circumstances. Accidents of birth, quality of upbringing, DNA, etc.. We can control what we do with them. For example, you're born to loving, wealthy parents? You can follow in their footsteps and make something of yourself, or be the next Paris Hilton. That's on you. We determine how we react to the choices presented to us.
     
  5. PolyHedral

    PolyHedral Superabacus Mystic

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    But we surely don't determine our personality?
     
  6. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    Again, it's not absolute. For instance, I've struggled with Major Depression my whole life. It's a chemical imbalance in my brain andentirely beyond my control. Obviously, this affects my personality.

    However, I have chosen to work on and manage my illness. I choose to take my pills every day. I choose to be honest with the doctor who provides them. I choose to tell a professional my innermost thoughts and darkest secrets. Just for starters. The result of these choices is that I'm healthier and happier.
     
  7. Skwim

    Skwim Well-Known Member

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    On the level I'm talking about I then have to ask you why? Why did you react or do as you did? Was it a completely random occurrence with out any reason whatsoever, it just sprung from nowhere? If not then it happened because . . . . and whatever that cause was it came into existence because . . . . This chain of events of cause/effect leading up to your act is along one, incredibly long, but it nonetheless resulted in you doing what you did and not something else. You could say that "We determine how we react to the choices presented to us" in the sense that no one else or no other thing did it, but that would be bringing the probability of external constraints into the equation, which I showed was not the issue. What's at issue are personal actions and how they arise.
     
  8. Storm

    Storm ThrUU the Looking Glass

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    There are certainly influences, I'm not denying that. But I firmly believe that the choice is ultimately ours.
     
  9. Copernicus

    Copernicus Godless Hierophant

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    I find that definition reasonable. It is fully compatible with determinism. What we do not get to choose is what we wish, and the real problem in the end is that we often have conflicting wishes. So the point is that we didn't wish to do other than we chose, because our wishes were predetermined by our circumstances.
     
  10. Skwim

    Skwim Well-Known Member

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    Not on a conscious level, but our personality is what is because . . . . Whatever those factors are that determine it act as the cause of it. Of course there are many factors (causes), but nonetheless they are the determinants of it. You are self assured and out going because ___________________________ __________________ . Whatever fills out the blank, even if you don't know what it is, is the cause of these two particular aspects of your personality.
     
  11. Kathryn

    Kathryn Most Spoiled Woman Ever

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    Personality and character are not the same thing - and yet both have a profound impact on our decisions. Also - character convinces us sometimes to do what we do not WISH to do. Personality is, in my opinion, largely biological -BUT our character over time can create some changes in that personality, as can life experiences.

    All this talk about "I could have chosen otherwise," makes me think of one of my favorite quotes. "There is no 'what might have been.' There is only 'what is.' "

    This topic makes my head hurt by the way.
     
  12. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification Staff Member Premium Member

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    I feel like we should analyze the concept of choice more deeply. It is still not clear to me if there is truly such a thing as a choice in the sense it is used in these arguments.

    Sure, what we do creates consequences that often enough emphasize or hinder our own natural tendencies. I believe that is what Storm is calling "choice". But it is not at allclear to me that it follows that there is such a thing as free will - or even that we actually have any kind of choice, really. For all I know determinism is indeed correct, and it just turns out that the ups and downs of our paths are very entertaining and surprising.

    So do we have true moral choices? It certainly feels that way, but it may well be an illusion. We are "hard-wired" and socially trained to be judgmental and to believe in our own capability of choice, often in direct challenge to actual facts and even to our own judgements about other people. As someone said in another topic, we judge ourselves by our intents and other people by their actions.

    I guess I don't believe in free will and I only barely believe that we even have choice or will (at least, moraly significant choice or will).

    The way I see it, morality is unavoidably too interdependent. Our actions only have some moral significance due to the effects upon other people; even when they come back to affect us it is by way of others who could not accept, understand, deal wisely or be at peace with them.

    So do I believe that we have choices? Yes, we do. But they are dilluted by our social and family environments, or else shaped by our defiance of same. They are most definitely not free, unless we choose to define free as "not utterly chosen by others". In fact, our choices are only religiously or moraly significant when they are not at all free, when they are instead carefully shaped by considerations about their consequences on the world at large.

    If this model is correct, then blame and praise are still significant, but as tools as opposed to earned consequences. They direct behavior and affect motivation, and that has obvious practical value as a way of calibrating one's behavior and feelings with those of the society at large.

    So I guess what I am proposing is that we should forget both free will (which is a fiction) and determinism (which may or may not be true, but is of little pratical use) and focus instead on the interactions between people and their effects on behavior, well-being and motivation. We should consider the important roles of inspiration (both artistic and religious), of affective relationships and of psychological and sociological health instead of treating values and behavior as if they were self-existing and independent of their environments.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2011
  13. Thief

    Thief Rogue Theologian

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    I have yet to see it....anyone using the word 'compulsion'.
    Did I miss it?

    When taking action...and I am compelled to do so....no freewill.

    When I go about any action and do so by my own motivation...freewill.
    My hand performs because I thought I should do so...or felt like it.

    If you actually believe freewill does not exist....
    then your actions are not your own.
    (Someone dictating your next response?....can't resist the keyboard?)
     
  14. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification Staff Member Premium Member

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    We are of course constantly compelled to do lots of things, yes.

    Not that I agree with this dichotomy that you present, mind you.

    As for my actions not being my own, that is correct. I don't much believe in individual wills. Or in individual beings, even.

    To the best of my knowledge, "what we are" is essentially the same as "what our environment (both internal and external) makes of us". I understand that the belief that we are our own persons is often appealing. I just don't see much realism in the idea.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2011
  15. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification Staff Member Premium Member

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    Elaborating a bit on this: it seems to me that while there is much talk about the pursuit of freedom, people don't rarely like or even use freedom a whole lot.

    It is not lack of freedom proper that is troublesome, but the perspective of being forced to deal with unfamiliar circunstances or with sources of inspiration and motivation that clash with our current mindsets. We don't want to be forced into unconfortable situations, although we often are forced into confortable or at least familiar situations without a second thought.

    In fact, not too many of our actions are actually conscious, and a fair amount of those that are are very tiring in an emotional sense. It seems to me that in a very real and significant sense we are dependent on external support and encouragement (or failing that, remarkably strong feelings that are just as much a reaction of external pressure) to even have something that may fairly be called will or choice.

    Come to think of it, even having an identity in the first place is usually an effort, a tiring activity, an act of courage and daring even - and it can't really be maintained by any ammount of time unless supported by the social environment.

    By any sincere analysis, people usually avoid having to take too many decisions and are very much unhappy when faced with too many non-obvious choices. What we usually call developing an identity is not expressing our free will, but rather far more like learning to deal with pressures as they express themselves in our psychological and biological beings.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2011
  16. Skwim

    Skwim Well-Known Member

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    The only place were choice has meaning is when we are presented with options, as on a test for example: (A) or (B). We are told to choose one or the other. Now, so far neither free will or determinism has entered into the situation, so the notion of choice is valid. Where this abruptly ends is when we put pen to paper and put an X through (B). Why did we do this instead of putting an X through (A)? Because we could do no differently. The only way we would have marked (A) is if the cause/effect events that lead up to our marking were different. But it wasn't, so we marked (B). Freedom of choosing one over the other never arose, and it never will.
     
  17. blackout

    blackout Violet.

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    This really does mean that on the deepest level
    there are no Heroes.
    Of any kind.
     
  18. Skwim

    Skwim Well-Known Member

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    Or bad men.
     
  19. blackout

    blackout Violet.

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    On the deepest level, no.
    No bad men either.

    Only men who do things that some of us 'don't like'.
    (for reasons... purely reactionary/conditioned/pre-set...)


    The 'Hero and the Villian',
    the most epic... and pervasive... myth of mankind.
     
  20. Kathryn

    Kathryn Most Spoiled Woman Ever

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    This is amazing. But so convenient! "We can't help anything that we do." "We are a product of our environment."

    How does this work in "real life?" Haven't you ever been angry at anyone? If so, why? Isn't that hypocritical? If people can't help being rude to you, why be angry at them? Oh wait - is it because you simply can't help being angry?

    A few years ago I lost fifty pounds. I did this by going against every sort of automatic desire I had. It took great self control and small but difficult choices every single day for a year. Was this inevitable? Are you saying I really had no choice in this?

    People aren't evil? Charles Manson isn't evil? The man who abducted Elizabeth Smart isn't evil? Are you saying they didn't make choices? Are you saying they couldn't help themselves?

    I have an employee who is undergoing chemo treatments for a very aggressive form of cancer. She pushes herself every single day. As a bank teller, part of her job is to be on the lookout for customers who may need additional services, and to formally send a referral to one of the bankers in the branch when she sees a need so the banker can follow up with them. Though she is only working four days a week, and though her chemo treatments have slowed her pace down and made concentration more difficult, she is leading our branch in referrals - triple the rate of the other tellers in fact. This attention to detail takes sometimes great effort on her part - and if anyone had an excuse to do the barest minimum, it would be her.

    Meanwhile, I have two other tellers who have no physical challenges at all, and who are young and healthy and intelligent. They however, in spite of coaching and training and every sort of motivational tool possible, simply choose - YES, CHOOSE - not to make the effort. I know this has to be a choice because there's no way they could possibly forget to do this. It's out of their comfort zone, and they choose not to go out of their comfort zone. But it's a choice.

    I choose every night whether or not to take my three mile walk. I promise you, usually I don't want to do it. Sometimes I DON'T do it. But when I do, it's a choice which goes against my natural inclinations and desires.

    I'm sorry - I just don't buy that self control and self discipline are not choices and are automatic. Nor do I believe that people who do awful, hurtful, abusive things to others simply can't help what they're doing. And if they CAN help it - then they have free will.
     
    Norman likes this.
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