Nature of Free Will

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Contents
A Proof of Free Will Too Good to be True
  • Too Good Proof:
    • Free will is the ability to choose among alternatives.
      • plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/
        • “Free Will” is a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives. 
    • People in fact choose among alternatives. 
    • So people are able to choose among alternatives.  
    • Therefore people have free will.
    • QED
Does Deep Blue have Free Will too?
Deep Blue
Garry Kasparov
  • britannica.com/topic/Deep-Blue
    • “Deep Blue is a computer chess-playing system designed by IBM that in 1997 beat Russian grandmaster and world champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match under tournament conditions”
  • The computer’s moves are the result of a sophisticated algorithm that analyzes possible moves, given the positions of the pieces on the board, and assigns a score to each. 
    • An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure which, after a finite number of steps, computes a result, e.g. the common algorithm for multiplying two numbers.
  • Kasparov has moved his rook, leaving Deep Blue only two possible moves: Knight-to-E6, Knight-to-C6.  DB applies its evaluation function, yielding scores of 32 for Knight-to-E6 and 25 for Knight-to-C6.
  • Accordingly DB moves its Knight to E6.
  • Deep Blue chose Knight-to-E6 among alternatives and was thus able to choose among alternatives. Therefore, DB has free will in the sense of the ability to choose among alternatives.
  • But that can’t be right.  DB’s choice of Knight-to-E6 was determined by the positions of the pieces and the algorithm, so that DB could not have chosen Knight-to-C6.
  • Moreover,
    • Faced with the same position of the pieces, DB always moves its Knight to E6.
    • Anyone who knows the algorithm and the positions of the pieces can predict how DB will move.
The Nature of Free Will
  • Free will is thus not the ability to choose among alternatives
  • The accepted philosophic view is that free will is expressed by “could have done otherwise.”
  • britannica.com/topic/problem-of-moral-responsibility#ref1048964
    • “One way to formalize the intuitive idea of free action is to say that a person acts freely if it is true that he could have acted otherwise.”
Categorical and Hypothetical Free Will
  • DB could not have moved its Knight to C6. It thus appears DB lacks free will.
  • But DB could have moved its Knight to C6 had it used a different algorithm or the position of the pieces had been different.
  • There is thus a distinction between:
    • Hypothetical Free Will
      • A person acted of his own free will if they could have done otherwise had conditions been different, e.g. had they wanted, chosen, or tried to.
    • Categorical Free Will
      • A person acted of his own free will if they could have done otherwise under the same conditions.

  • Categorical Free Will branches:
    • Having chosen option A under the conditions at time t, the agent could have chosen B under those same conditions.
  • Hypothetical Free Will doesn’t branch:
    • Having chosen option A under the conditions at time t, the agent could have chosen B only if those conditions had been different.
Deep Blue does not have Categorical Free Will
  • Timeline
    • DB learns the positions of the pieces
    • DB evaluates its possible movies, yielding scores:
      • 32 for Knight to E6
      • 25 for Knight to C6.
    • DB makes the move with the highest score.
  • As it was about to move its Knight to E6, DB could not have changed its mind and moved its Knight to C6.
The Problem of Free Will and Determinism
  • Deep Blue does not have categorical free will because its chess moves are determined by
    • the positions of the pieces, and
    • its chess-playing algorithm.
  • Determinism is the thesis that events are analogously determined by
    • antecedent conditions, and
    • laws of nature.
  • If Determinism is true, people do not have categorical free will.
  • This is the classic problem of Free Will and Determinism
Does Categorical Free Will Matter?
  • People have hypothetical free will.  Among philosophers it’s an open question whether they have categorical free will as well.
  • Perhaps, though, hypothetical free will is good enough. And it doesn’t matter whether or not humans are categorically free.
  • Categorical free will matters to people if either:
    • People believe they have categorical free will
    • Moral responsibility requires categorical free will
Do people believe they are categorically free?
  • John Stuart Mill claimed that people believe only in hypothetical free will:
    • “When we think of ourselves hypothetically as having acted otherwise than we did, we always suppose a difference in the antecedents: we picture ourselves as having known something that we did not know, or not known something that we did know; which is a difference in the external inducements; or as having desired something, or disliked something, more or less than we did; which is a difference in the internal inducements.” (An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy)
  • An example. As you handled a loaded firearm could you have intentionally shot yourself dead? Mill would say you could not have, assuming you had no reason to. Were you to imagine you had killed yourself, Mill argues, you would suppose that antecedent conditions had been different, e.g. that you were terminally ill. So, you don’t believe you could have killed yourself under the conditions at the time.
  • The problem with Mill’s view is that there seem to be occasions when people believe they are categorically free, for example, as C. A. Campbell pointed out, where there is a “conflict between strongest desire and duty.” A whistleblower looking back on his decision might well believe he could have easily remained silent.
Does moral responsibility require categorical free will?

It appears so.

View Principle of Alternative Possibilities

Addenda
Dictionary Definitions of Free Will
Definitions of Determinism

View Formulations of Determinism