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Help! How could determinism not also imply fatalism?

Total Posts:  10
Joined  16-09-2012
16 September 2012 23:53
BernardoPinto - 16 September 2012 05:45 PM

Is that your argument ? Free will certainly falls under the “prohibited” phenomena given that it is logically inconsistent. Contra-causal free will, that is.

Allow me to raise one possibility that isn’t.  I’ll begin from the (hopefully) uncontroversial claim that our understanding of the nature of consciousness is really quite limited and certainly the science of consciousness is in its infancy.  There is much yet we may learn.  So let me posit a definition:

Consciousness is self directed perceptual awareness.  It is freedom in essence, in that it emerges from a chain of causal processes but itself breaks that chain by emerging as an ability to focus attention at will.  Consciousness is an ongoing choice to focus attention.

To an extent this is begging the question, since I’m assuming ‘freedom’ as a property of consciousness, as being fundamentally the ‘stuff’ of consciousness.  But bear with me, because I’m merely seeking to show that there are possible explanations which are not ‘logically inconsistent’, certainly not proposing a theory I believe to be true or evidenced scientifically.

In this account of consciousness, concepts like the ‘will’ are bound up and identical to consciousness itself.  A conscious entity, on this account, is one who can direct their awareness, can focus at will, even if we accept that it may be influenced by other factors (a loud noise causing a being to focus attention, etc.) 

I want to now go to the mind as distinct from consciousness.  On this account, remember, consciousness is purely perceptual awareness, self directable but devoid of content itself.  Consciousness is not memory, it is not emotion, it is not ‘thought’, but merely perception.  The conscious will perceives these things, it is not made up of them.  In this sense the ‘mind’ is distinct from consciousness. 

If we’re going to posit a theory of ‘free will’ we need a theory that includes the possibility for an entity to ‘choose’ differently given the exact same set of circumstances.  Here’s where we need indeterminism.  Again this is perhaps begging the question, since you perhaps are a strict determinist, but I think it’s legitimate to suggest indeterminism may be a property of the universe at the base level…certainly many quantum theorists hold this belief.  So perhaps it’s not all that controversial.  Our best science is still divided on this question.

What I want to suggest here is an element of human creativity.  That is that the human mind itself is to some degree indetermined.  While its content may be caused, there may be a process that allows for the generation of ‘randomness’, the creative ‘reorganisation’ of concepts into new and unique arrangements.  Indeed something like this may accord with our idea of the creative process.  To be creative is to tap into randomness, to have solutions/ideas randomly generated, and to ‘vet’ these using judgment.  This is a kind of ‘two stage’ model of free will like something proposed by William James, and the astrophysicist Bob Doyle (although I’m not sure either would agree to my definition of consciousness above.)

So now we have our indeterminism.  If we assume the capacity for conscious awareness as self directable (as a conscious entity I can focus my attention where I like) then I can ‘focus’ my attention on a creative process of random idea generating.  The types of ideas that are thrown up by this process are pure chance (although may also rely on the kind of ‘content’ I’ve been exposed to), BUT also relies both on my determined ‘judgement’ (a product of my upbringing/environment, etc), and HOW LONG I choose to engage in the process (not determined, self directed conscious perception).

So if I have a choice to weigh, I engage in a process of deliberation on the choice, of idea generating, of ‘reason’ generating, an indeterministic creative process which is vetted by my judgment (which is determined).  I decide when to stop focusing my attention on the problem, and so to disengage with the process of ‘deciding’ so the amount of solutions or ‘reasons’ that I have for deciding any given way on any given choice is not wholly determined by my judgment, but could feasibly have been made differently given the same set of circumstances.  My responsibility rests in how I focus my attention and for how long I focus it as to whether I adequately “think” through moral problems, or whether I merely act impulsively without engaging in deliberation at all.

And voila, we have a theory of free will that incorporates determinism/indeterminism and allows an ‘agent’ to reach a different choice based on the same circumstances, and to still be responsible for that choice.

You might find this theory of consciousness/free will a little far out, and I tend to agree with you, but it merely shows how we might begin to put forward possibilities for accounts of free will that AREN’T logically inconsistent, which means basing your own position on the ‘fact that it’s logically inconsistent’ is simply incorrect.  I think we need to be careful we don’t get stuck in supposed certainties and forget about the possibilities.

Total Posts:  2
Joined  25-11-2013
25 November 2013 09:54

The phrase “contra-causal” is troublesome in that a non-causal universe would be incoherent.  This is not to say that the inverse is necessarily deterministic, nor that our universe could not appear non-causal because of supernatural influences.

This dovetails with the two conceptions of free will, indeterminism and apparent contra-causality due to a supernatural cause.  In my opinion the latter is the concept that most people have in mind when they use the phrase “free will”, but as I have just explained, to adopt (apparent) contra-causal free will in this sense requires the assumption of supernaturalism.  The claim that consciousness is somehow contra-causal therefore implies a supernatural component, which is essentially dualism.

For a clear example of a non-fatalistic agent in a deterministic universe, see http://philosophyandideas.wordpress.com/metaphysics/free-will/#FreeWillVsFatalism.

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