Free Will Addendum

Back to Free Will

  • Secondary Arguments against Free Will
    • Psychological Determinism
    • Divine Foreknowledge
    • Foretruth
    • Predestination
    • Fatalism
  • Secondary Arguments for Free Will
    • Evolution
    • Evidence for Ability
    • Paradigm Case
  • Traditional Positions
  • Compatibilism
  • Epiphenomenalism
Psychological Determinism
  • Psychological Determinism is the view that human action is determined by the Law of Strongest Motive (LSM):
    • A person always acts according to their strongest motive.
  • The Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid set forth the classic criticism of LSM in the 18th century.
    • To find out whether LSM is true, Reid said, there must be a criterion for determining the comparative strength of motives:
      • “How shall we know whether the strongest motive always prevails, if we know not which is strongest? There must be some test by which their strength is to be tried, some balance in which they may be weighed; otherwise, to say that the strongest motive always prevails, is to speak without any meaning.”
    • The criterion cannot simply be that the motive that prevails is the strongest.
      • “Either we measure the strength of motives merely by their prevalence, or by some other standard distinct from their prevalence. If we measure their strength merely by their prevalence, and by the strongest motive mean only the motive that prevails, it will be true indeed that the strongest motive prevails; but the proposition will be identical, and mean no more than that the strongest motive is the strongest motive. From this surely no conclusion can be drawn.”
    • Reid considered two criteria:
      • That a motive is stronger than another if it feels stronger or is more intense.  
      • That a motive is stronger than another if acting on it is more rational.
    • Both criteria fail because people sometimes choose intense short-term pleasure over long-term good and other times they choose the reverse.
Fundamental Theories of Physics
  • The two fundamental theories of physics:
    • Einstein’s General Relativity, which governs the force of gravity
    • The Standard Model of Particle Physics, which governs the other basic forces: 
      • Electromagnetic Force
      • Strong Nuclear Force
      • Weak Nuclear Force
  • The predictions of General Relativity are categorical, e.g. that the bowling balls collide in 13 days.
  • The predictions of the Standard Model are probabilities, e.g. that the probability a silver atom passing through a Stern-Gerlach is deflected upwards equals ½. 
    • Which raises the question whether the Standard Model makes room for free will, discussed later.
Divine Foreknowledge
Evidence for Ability
Paradigm Case
  • Some philosophers concede that events in the brain are determined by previous events in the brain.  But they also think human beings have free will. To reconcile their views they adopt Compatibilism, the view that free will and determinism are compatible. 
  • Compatibilism takes many forms.  An example:
    • A human being acts of his own free will if he could have done otherwise.  But what “could have done otherwise” means is that a person would have done otherwise if had wanted to.  So a person could have refrained from bending his finger, though determined to do so, because he would have refrained if he had wanted to.  For if he had wanted to, it would not have been the case that neurons A and B fired while C didn’t, that is, the past would have been different.
  • From Hume’s Liberty and Necessity (1748)
    • “But to proceed in this reconciling project with regard to the question of liberty and necessity; the most contentious question of metaphysics, the most contentious science; it will not require many words to prove, that all mankind have ever agreed in the doctrine of liberty as well as in that of necessity, and that the whole dispute, in this respect also, has been hitherto merely verbal. For what is meant by liberty, when applied to voluntary actions? We cannot surely mean that actions have so little connexion with motives, inclinations and circumstances, that one does not follow with a certain degree of uniformity from the other, and that one affords no inference by which we can conclude the existence of the other. For these are plain and acknowledged matters of fact. By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may. Now this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a prisoner and in chains. Here, then, is no subject of dispute.”

For a Compatibilist a person could have done otherwise only if the past had been different.  So for a Compatibilist, free will isn’t branchy.

    • “Epiphenomenalism is the view that mental events are caused by physical events in the brain, but have no effects upon any physical events. Behavior is caused by muscles that contract upon receiving neural impulses, and neural impulses are generated by input from other neurons or from sense organs. On the epiphenomenalist view, mental events play no causal role in this process. Thomas Huxley (1874), who held the view, compared mental events to a steam whistle that contributes nothing to the work of a locomotive. William James (1879), who rejected the view, characterized epiphenomenalists’ mental events as not affecting the brain activity that produces them “any more than a shadow reacts upon the steps of the traveller whom it accompanies”.”