Thursday, March 29, 2018

Introduction (Chapter 2.1)

Kane writes that we will first consider the doctrine of free will known as compatibilism. Compatibilists insist that our choices and actions are determined yet also free, and this makes the doctrine popular with modern scientists and philosophers alike. Compatibilism dates back to the Stoics if not before and gained a lot of ground beginning in the seventeenth century as it was championed by major philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Mill.

But many find it intuitively untenable, especially at first, that determinism and freedom can be reconciled, and Kant and William James were very critical of the notion. So, how do compatibilists explain and defend it?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Determinist Question and Modern Science (Chapter 1.6)

Kane writes that the universal physical determinism of the “Laplacian or Newtonian vision” has been called into question by apparent indeterminism at the quantum level, even though a minority of physicists believe determinism prevails even at the quantum level.

Yet, even if quantum phenomena are undetermined, this doesn’t have to mean that more complex, higher level phenomena such as human will and behavior are undetermined too. What’s more, an undetermined or random choice would be no more freely or responsibly ours than a sudden muscle spasm that causes our arm to twitch. Finally, even if physical scientists are moving away from completely deterministic theories of physical phenomena, biological, psychological, and social scientists are moving toward more persuasive deterministic models of human choices and behavior.

But even if our behavior is determined, might we still have free will? Kane calls this the “Compatibility Question” that many modern thinkers answer in the affirmative. Chapter 2 addresses their compatibilist position.

Free Choices and Open Futures (Chapter 1.5)

Kane contrasts the conditional necessity of determinism with the “Open alternatives” of free will in which we can deliberate on those alternatives and choose between them in a manner that is “up to us,” in which we can choose other than how we end up choosing, and where our choice isn’t caused by anything outside our control.

Kane illustrates this with a hypothetical example of a young law school graduate deliberating between taking a position in a large law firm in Dallas or a small one in Austin. Her belief that she has a free choice in the matter means that she believes both options are “open” to her and that she has more than one possible path into the future. In fact, her future will consist of a “garden of forking paths.”

Determinism implies that there’s “only one possible path into the future.” Yet, some philosophers maintain that even when our choices are determined by factors beyond our control, we can still have free will “worth wanting” when we make those choices.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Determinism and Necessity (Chapter 1.4)

Robert Kane asserts that the "free will problem" arose when human beings evolved enough to begin reflecting on the world and on themselves and their own behavior and came to realize that many factors influenced if not caused that behavior. This led to doctrines of physical, logical, theological, biological, psychological, social, and other kinds of determinism. But, says Kane, the "core idea" of all deterministic doctrines is:

An event (such as a choice or action) is determined when there are conditions obtaining earlier (such as the decrees of fate or the foreordaining acts of God or antecedent causes plus laws of nature) whose occurrence is a sufficient condition for the occurrence of the event. In other words, it must be the case that if these earlier determining conditions obtain, then the determined event will occur.

Kane points out that while determinism is "a kind of necessity," it is a "conditional necessity" in that a determined event is inevitable only if the proper conditions arise to determine it. For example, John did NOT have to go to Samarra no matter what the preceding conditions were. Had those conditions been different, he might have been determined by THEM to go to Damascus instead. But they were such that he was determined to go to Samarra.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Responsibility (Chapter 1.3)

In my previous entry we considered Robert Kane's preliminary analysis of freedom as it pertains to the free will vs. determinism issue or what we'll henceforth call the "free will problem." Today, let's see what Kane has to say about the notion of responsibility.

Kane writes that when we consider the free will problem, not only are we concerned with whether and to what degree people are free to do what they will and will what they do, but we also want to know whether and to what degree we can credit or praise them for the good things they do and blame them or hold them "accountable" or "responsible" for the bad things they do.

Kane invites us to imagine that we're attending the trial of a young man charged with robbing and beating someone to death. As the facts of the crime emerge, we feel very angry toward the defendant, but as we hear about the terrible physical and sexual abuse and parental neglect he suffered as a child, some of our anger shifts from him to his parents and others who neglected and abused him. We think that they too bear responsibility for this young man's awful crime.

But how much responsibility do they bear? How accountable should we hold them? We all realize that people are influenced in their choices not only by what happens to them in life but also by such factors as their genetic predispositions, physical and neurological functioning, and psychological condition, but do they also bear some residual "ultimate responsibility" for their actions that is the result of their own "free will"?

As Kane puts it in his hypothetical scenario of the young man on trial:

To what extent is he responsible for becoming the sort of person he now is? Was his behavior all a question of bad parenting, social neglect, social conditioning and, the like, or did he have any role in choosing it?

In my next entry, we'll consider what Kane has to say about "determinism and necessity."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Freedom (Chapter 1.2)

Robert Kane says people throughout the world seek greater freedom and that there's a general tendency in many nations for their people to gain more of it. What kind of freedom are we talking about? The ability "to satisfy more of our desires." That is, we are free if we can vote the way we want, travel where we want, read the books we want, and so on without being prevented from doing it. In broader terms, it's "freedom from coercion, punishment, restraint, oppression, and the like" when we pursue our desires.

But Kane says that although this is an important freedom, it's only a "surface freedom" and not what philosophers mean by "free will." (At this point, I'd like to interject that it seems to me that most people think of "free will" as little or nothing more than the "surface freedom" to do what one wishes.) For philosophers like Kane, there is a deeper kind of freedom consisting of "ultimate power" over what it is that we will. We have free will when we are free to do what we will AND to will what we do or something else instead.

But Kane asks to what extent we have this "ultimate power" over our will. After all, aren't our wills manipulated in countless ways by the media, our culture, our peers and families, and by many other influences? We don't want to think so; hence, our reflexive discomfort with the fictional societies depicted in such novels as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and B.F. Skinner's Walden Two. In the former, the working masses are forced to take drugs that manipulate their wills so that they will only what the powers-that-be want them to, and these neurochemically manipulated masses feel content to do as they artificially please. In "Walden Two," there is a rural commune where the inhabitants' wills are conditioned from birth by highly sophisticated and powerful behavioral engineering that makes everybody free to do what they will because they can will only what their society conditions them to.

In "Walden Two," a representative of the commune named Frazier has a discussion with a skeptical visitor named Castle about the quality of freedom enjoyed by the commune's inhabitants. Castle argues that they enjoy a specious and undesirable kind of freedom because although they are happily free to do what they will, they are not free to will what they do because their wills are rigidly controlled by outside influences. Frazier responds that Walden Two is "the freest place on earth" since everybody can do what they want without any coercion, punishment, or harassment, whereas in the world outside, people's wills are just as thoroughly conditioned by their environments, but in such a haphazard way that a lot of people end up willing things that conflict with their own and society's best interests so that they're often not even free to do what they will.

Says Kane:

Thus the gauntlet is thrown down by Frazier--echoing Skinner and many other modern thinkers: the so-called deeper freedom of the will is an illusion dreamt up by philosophers and theologians before we understood more about the hidden causes of behavior. It is an outdated idea that has no place in modern scientific picture of the world or of human beings...Why sacrifice the everyday freedoms that really matter to us...for an illusory freedom of the will that we cannot have anyway?

In my next entry, we'll consider what Kane has to say about another key aspect of the free will issue--the notion of "responsibility."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Kane's Introduction (Chapter 1.1)

Robert Kane is a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Texas. He's published important books and articles about philosophy and is considered to be one of the foremost defenders of the philosophy of free will. One of his latest books is the one I've chosen to use as the beginning point of my systematic study of the free will vs determinism issue. This book is titled A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. It was published by the Oxford University Press in 2005 and has received much acclaim by academics and readers.

The Times Literary Supplement says: "Any educated person willing to make the effort can now read Kane's inclusive, careful and accessible book and know that he or she is familiar with the free-will problem and with the current state of human understanding of it. . . .A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will will replace all other introductions to the subject."

Michael McKenna of Ithaca College writes: "This book, by far, stands alone as the best book to introduce this topic to the introductory philosophy student. It is stellar. . . . Kane is a master at capturing the kernel of even the most challenging and intricate issues in the free will debate, showing their structures and displaying an underlying simplicity."

And an Amazon reader says: "Robert Kane's "Contemporary Introduction to Free Will" is hands down the finest text in its class. Professors who wish to include a component on free will in their introductory courses, or who are looking for a scholarly and accessible text for a class on free will and related issues, will find in Kane's text a thoughtful, subtle, and above all lucid and authoritative presentation of the problem of freedom in its many dimensions, as well as a charitable and well-informed assessment of historical and contemporary stances on the problem of free will."

Kane begins his masterwork by quoting the great Sufi poet Rumi: "There is a disputation that will continue till mankind is raised from the dead, between the necessitarians and the partisans of free will." Kane then proceeds to describe a conundrum presented by John Milton's classic Paradise Lost:

John Milton describes the angels debating how some of them could have sinned of their own free wills given that God made them intelligent and happy. Why would they have done it? And why were they responsible for their sins rather than God, since God had made them the way they were and had complete foreknowledge of what they would do? While puzzling over such questions even the angels, according to Milton, were "in Endless Mazes lost" (not a comforting thought for us humans).

Kane writes that when we study the free will vs determinism issue, we are prompted to learn relevant information in many philosophical, scientific, legal, and other disciplines and to consider pertinent notions and issues within those disciplines.

He begins by examining the notion of "freedom." What is freedom, and what does it have to do with free will? We will consider Kane's analysis of freedom in my next entry.