Friday, March 30, 2012

A Brief Argument for Libertarian Free Will

1.       One cannot force someone else to do something freely.
2.       If (1) is true, then compatibilism is false.
3.       If compatibilism is false, then we have libertarian free will.
4.       Therefore, we have libertarian free will (from 1-2, 3).
(1)    Should be accepted as a matter of course. It seems undeniable that if some agent has performed some act because he was forced to do so, then he did not do it of his own free will; he was not the originator of his action.
(2)    States that upon (1)’s acceptance, compatibilism is false. I do not expect compatibilists to agree with this premise. They may very well believe that (1) can be true and yet compatibilism also be true, and hence (2) would be false. It could be claimed compatibilism only teaches that determinism and free will both are true and work together in some way. Aside from the verbiage “in some way,”[1] one can also press a further objection. Especially with respect to theological determinism, it’s difficult to see how any cause of some act in a primary sense can avoid just doing the act for the agent himself! Whatever the cause in causal determinism, it is that cause, and not the agent, that is determining (in a causal, not epistemological, sense) that such an action should be performed. In essence, he is forcing an action that is purported to be free. But then per (1) this is false.
(3)    Might be objected to by so-called hard determinists. They could claim that while compatibilism is false, determinism is nonetheless true, so that libertarian free will is not possessed by anyone. To this we might wish to consider that determinism of this sort can never be rationally affirmed. For in order to affirm it as true, she must realize that everything, even this affirmation of determinism’s truth, is determined! In that case, it is not that she has performed an act of free will or free thinking, but rather that whatever was the cause of her action ensured she would do the action. Much like a GI Joe or child’s action figure, this action figure did nothing of any sort—it merely acted as the conduit or puppet of the one playing the game. In the same way, hard determinism surely cannot be rationally affirmed, for one did not reason to arrive at his conclusion, but was merely determined to repeat it. But then it follows that we have at least some libertarianly free actions, and hence (3) is true.
(4)    Follows as a logical entailment, and so cannot be denied. We live in a libertarianly free universe, and hence we are held under an incredible sense of responsibility, morally, to God. What will you do with this choice? Choose to honor God, to be holy? Or choose to live in a state of rebellion against God?

[1] The difficulty with compatibilism is this reference to “in some way,” thus referencing mystery. While this may work as a defense, it does not work as an account of free will.
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  1. You say that if (1) is true, then compatibilism is false, but you seem to be saying that to be "forced" and to be "determined" are the same thing. A compatibilist would certainly accept that we're determined in some way, but not forced. Force sounds like coercion. Coercion is certainly one type of determination, but not all.

  2. Hi Kyle thanks for commenting! I do think "forced" and "causally determined" seem to be about equal in the case of determinism of agents. It seems that to force someone to do something relative to action and the sense of (1) is to make it so that they cannot do otherwise; indeed, they cannot refrain from doing at all. Moreover, even if we allow for the full "force" of Frankfurtian counterexamples, it is yet not the case that an agent is the originator of his own choices (especially on theological determinism). So if an agent cannot choose otherwise, cannot refrain from choosing, and is not the originator of his choice, and the originator of his choice makes it the case that he cannot choose otherwise, cannot refrain from choosing, and is not the originator of his choice, it seems that "force" is analytically identical to causal determinant." But in that case (2) is true.

    I suppose someone could deny (1), but it would have to be on some other analysis of "force" than presented here. I appreciate the thoughts! :)

  3. Hey Randy. I don't subscribe to your view, though I want to better understand it. Are you saying, or would you say, that our actions are completely uncaused? Free from any other influences?


  4. Hi Les! I believe in agent causation, where the agent is the cause of his own actions. Now I do not believe that he causes himself to choose, for that just presumes that the faculty of choice (ie, the will) is not the to determine what is done. An exercise of the will is just what it means to choose.

    Now I wouldn't say we are "free from influences," but that these influences are non-causally determining. That is to say, no matter how strong an influence is, we ultimately could refuse to do some act, even if it's true we won't do so. Another quick note: in order for libertarianism to be coherent, all we need is to have at least one act by one agent to be performed in the libertarian sense: where some agent could have refrained from choosing what he is fact chose and was the originator of his own choice. It seems that God possesses this kind of free will, and hence libertarianism must be coherent. So then it's all a matter of what seems to be the case as a matter of contingent fact, and it seems there are at least some actions we could have refrained from doing! :)

  5. Let's assume libertarian free-will is true here. If all external (location, circumstances, etc) and internal influences (desires, inclinations, motivations, etc.) are inclining me towards doing A, but I use my libertarian free-will to choose B instead, what explains that choice? There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I choose A if I'm heavily inclined towards it, but how do I explain going towards B? This "agent" who can go against his own inclinations and desires seems mysterious to me.

  6. Compatibalists hold that "free will" is defined as the freedom to do as the will wills. Iff you perform X because you will to do X, then X was a "free will" action. Thus, the acceptance of [1] does not lead to [2]. They don't just say "in some way".

    If you are attempting to argue for Libertarian Free Will in opposition to compatibalism, the argument to incompatibalism would be doing all the heavy lifting (and it isn't present here). If you are attempting to argue for Libertarian Free Will in opposition to Determinism, you need to address determinism's premises, rather than compatibalism. What you appear to have done is taking a bit of both and mixed them together.

    On [3], you make two points. The first is a non-sequitor; regardless of whether we can rationally affirm a statement, that statement may still be true, or false. Moreover, as a charge of (I assume) incoherence, you have not actually demonstrated that the view is incoherent. This is more or less pointing to a muddy puddle and claiming that nothing could possibly be at the bottom.

    The second point raised in [3] is that somehow reason cannot be causal, that a sound and valid argument is not a sufficient cause of accepting it's conclusion. This I find very strange, and appears to do more damage to your conception of LFW than to Compatibalism. If you, or I, are presented with a valid argument whose premises we accept as true, are we not compelled to accept the conclusion?

    You pointed out that since "God possesses this kind of free will", then the view must be coherent. I'm afraid this won't do. Notwithstanding all other concerns with the assumptions behind this defense, God's will is in the same boat as the rest; claiming "God" has libertarian free will is the rational equivalent of claiming that you have it (and thus it retains coherence).

  7. I don't know that such a situation, as stipulated, is possible. But the good news is that libertarian free will is not thus imperiled, for two reasons. 1. It is not required of libertarian free will that he does what he has no desire whatsoever to do, and 2. Nothing has to account for the choice in a causal way.

    To explain (1), I think in the above situation while it is always possible to do A over B when there is no desire in any way to do A over B, it nonetheless is not possible to not desire to do A in any way and choose A. Something about A or that the agent believes A entails is desirable. The two situations are not symmetrical. In the first situation, while one may not have any desire to do A over B, he nonetheless does it because he believes A leads to more happiness, even if A is utterly undesirable over B. Take A being "going to the dentist" and B as "drinking a 2 liter of Mt. Dew for lunch." For a Mt. Dew drinker, B is preferable, and I am terrified of A. I have no desire to go to A over B. But I know if I choose A, I won't do B, while B is so much more desirable. While I am choosing A, I desire C (outcome of dental health). I believe A will lead to C and so choose it over B, despite the fact that I do not in fact desire A at all over B.

    Now in the second sense I do desire A, but only inasmuch as I desire C. While I think A leads to C, and possibly even C entails A, I don't really desire to do A at all. A more significant example may be the murderer who holds your loved ones hostage and says if you don't murder a homeless man in one hour he will kill your family. Suppose you are upstanding morally and don't want to do it at all. While your choice would be reprehensible, what you are actually desiring is the safety of your loved one.

    It's also important to remember that in the final analysis, your question amounts to, "Why would I do something if I don't want to do it in any way and there is no reason to do it?" whose answer is obvious: you wouldn't. :)

  8. Hi Lee. As far as I can tell, your first paragraph is just a bare assertion! "The will is free if it's free to will" is just tautological. As to the criticism of the argument, it is in fact valid so that the argument just is an argument for LFW.

    AS to (3), you're right that determinism could be true, but one can never rationally affirm it, and hence we have no reason to believe it's true, by definition. Implicitly, what we have no reason to believe we should not believe. Now I suppose one could argue that premise should be made explicit because he does not accept it, but I take "reason" here to be broad and not some narrow sense of scientism or whatnot.

    As to the next paragraph--of course it's not enough that an argument be valid and sound in order to be affirmed rationally! One must know or be justified in affirming the argument is sound! You said it yourself-something can be true and we do not know it. But in any case, we do in fact think we are acting rationally, and thus it follows there are at least some libertarianly free actions.

    I have no idea what your last criticism is supposed to mean. You think it's possible God possesses libertarian free will but that libertarian free will is incoherent? That simply strikes me as unintelligible.

  9. My first paragraph was clarifying how Compatibalists define "free will". Your quoted phrase is not found in my comment, nor does it constitute a charitable(or accurate) paraphrase.

    The LFW "argument" is a broadside at a view no one holds. It is a mismatch of two diametrically opposing views (compatibalism/incompatibalism), one of which is in agreement with the LFW position (incompatibalism). You use an incompatibalist definition of "free will" in order to argue against a compatibalist notion of said freedom. Who cares if it's valid, it's irrelevant. If compatibalists accepted your definition of free will, they would be incompatibalists.

    If determinism is true, then determinism is true. It's really that simple; all this twisting your head into knots is a complete waste of time, and doesn't establish anything about the truth of determinism.

    "a valid argument whose premises WE ACCEPT as true". That covers the first half of your paragraph(quoted from my previous comment).

    "But in any case, we do in fact think we are acting rationally, and thus it follows there are at least some libertarianly free actions."

    I don't follow. How does rational thought entail libertarian free action? If we are presented with a valid argument whose premises we accept (are justified in believing) are true, are we not compelled to accept it's conclusion?

    My last paragraph was to point out that God's free will is in as much trouble as ours in regards it's "libertarian" status when coherence is on the line. You cannot say God has it, so therefore it is coherent any more than you can say you have it, so therefore it is coherent. If the concept is incoherent, God cannot have it any more than you can, so you cannot simply assume that God does have it to liberate the concept.

  10. Hi Lee--I don't think stating that it's tautological was uncharitable--so far you've done nothing to dispel that paraphrase. Next, the fact someone rejects my premises, otherwise they would accept my conclusion does nothing to show the argument is bad. I've already made the argument that being determined means one has not done any rational thought. He's no different than a computer, or animal, or whatnot. A computer is not rationalizing anything when it performs its functions, and it's because it's been determined to do such. Next, you've changed your argument from "we must accept an argument that is valid and sound" to "we must accept an argument that is valid and sound and whose premises we accept," something I have advocated and my view does not entail a denial of.

    As to your last paragraph, of course I can say if God has it, it is coherent, just as I could say if I have it, it is coherent! Why would I not be able to say that? This isn't making any sense. Moreover, you're not responding to the article, but to a comment to Les, who is a Christian. The vast majority of Christians, even the majority of theological determinists, believe God possesses LFW, and whatever is possessed by a being as a property is coherent by definition.

    So to sum up, you have only responded with bare assertions/denials, and haven't dealt with any of the above arguments only to say that you don't agree. But since that isn't a reason for anyone (other than yourself or people who hold identical views) to reject any of the premises, it seems the argument is in good shape.

  11. I did not say that "stating that it's tautological was uncharitable", I said that the quoted phrase was inaccurate and an uncharitable paraphrase of my actual words. I don't need to "dispel that paraphrase"; if you can't be bothered to respond to what I actually write instead of whatever you wish to bracket in quotations, I need only say it once and wait until you reply.

    Your first premise assumes that "free will" is defined as an Incompatibalist defines it (you being one). Your second premise relies upon the implications of the first. What you don't seem to understand is that the Compatibalist can affirm [1] and deny [2], because they are operating under a different definition. The argument fails; premise [2] is false.

    "Next, the fact someone rejects my premises, otherwise they would accept my conclusion does nothing to show the argument is bad."

    They reject your definition of free will, in it's place they have their own. It is their definition of free will that allows them to affirm [1]. Since [2] claims that a Compatibalist cannot affirm [1] and yet they clearly can, [2] is false.

    "I've already made the argument that being determined means one has not done any rational thought."

    You have asserted this, and appealed to metaphors in order to substantiate it. I have objected by pointing out that argumentation is causal, and as such is not absent a place in a deterministic world. Yes, people are determined, but they can be determined by a valid and sound argument along with any other causal factor. That is what you are denying, and I fail to see why.

    I didn't change my argument, I quoted myself exactly and capitalized two preexisting words. Despite the fact that my "argument" now appears twice, you still misquoted it.

    You don't know that God has LFW any more than you know LFW is a coherent concept. You may believe it to be true, claim it is true, but the problem remains. Unless you are certain, or can verify, that God has this LFW, you cannot stack that "fact" against a reasoned charge of incoherence.

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  13. Lee, you're becoming obstinate, and I'm afraid unless something more substantive is said from you I'll have to cut this short. I don't have any time for games, after all! Quickly: you stated my paraphrase was uncharitable, which paraphrase was a tautology and my explicit expression was that it was a tautology, ergo if you don't think that that is uncharitable, there just is no problem. Next, you've offered no non-tautological view, nor have you bothered to refute (1) other than to say people accept it so long as they change the meaning of the terms, and hence the premise. But then they really just reject (1). Next, (1) does not assume, though it ultimately does entail, an incompatibilist notion of free will. As evidence, take you, an incompatibilist, who states that one may accept the first premise but deny the second (which position has subsequently been amended). That one cannot force someone to do something freely seems almost obvious. Next, you do nothing to discuss the obvious examples and proffer just one of your own: that argumentation is "causal." I don't see why--that just assumes that no one acts irrationally when presented with an argument they understand and whose premises they believe are true. People don't function that way, but they do deny arguments they think are true all the time. Moreover, arguments are abstract objects, and don't cause anything.

    Next, you did in fact change your argument: "...that a sound and valid argument is not a sufficient cause of accepting it's conclusion." and then: "...with a valid argument whose premises we accept as true," neither of which are on their own sufficient conditions for a correct argument we should regard as true. In the first case, it may be a correct and valid argument but we have no way of knowing it's true or no good reason for affirming it (see determinism). In the second, we may affirm the premises as true and the argument is valid, but it may nonetheless be false. In fairness to you both were said, but forgive me if I couldn't decipher the mess.

    Finally, you ignore (whether deliberately or because you do not understand) the context of the "God has libertarian free will" bit. I don't have to subscribe to an epistemology of certainty or verificationism. And if I did, I'd have to be certain of the criterion, which I am not. But further, and more importantly, is that it is overwhelmingly probable that Les accepts God has LFW, at least upon reflection, and that he cannot hold both that and its incoherence. But because he holds LFW to be held by God, there's just no problem.

    Besides, you've evidenced no problems, given no critiques of LFW, offered up no non-tautological description of free will that can be viewed as distinct from libertarianism, disputed none of the premises from any reasoned standpoint, and made the mistake of giving causal properties to abstract objects. I think we're done here!


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