The John Templeton Foundation has put a big multimedia ad in Slate similar to the ads it used to put in the New York Times, in which a group of luminaries and scholars (often whose research was already funded by Templeton) discussed one of the Big Questions at the intersection of science and sprituality. This new Big Question is that of “free will”, and you can go to the sections by clicking on the dots to the left of the first page.
The question is actually “are we free?” and, in the main, the interlocutors answer “yes.” After all, Templeton wants science to show that we still have free will, something that Dan Dennett mentioned the other day when reviewing Alfred Mele’s new book that defends free will (Dennett likes the book but suggested that Mele’s objectivity might have been compromised because his views are congenial to the source of his funding). Mele is in charge of two multimillion-dollar Templeton grants (here and here; see his response to Dennett here). One of them is the free will project touted in the ad.
I wouldn’t suggest for a minute that Mele bends his results to conform to Templeton’s agenda. Rather, I suggest that Templeton gives money to people who either have a track record of results that comport with their agenda, or are likely to produce those results. And that certainly shows in this Big Questions feature.
Here’s the first page: a quote from Mele that sums it all up:
The page of essays and opinions is here; there are seven short essays by Mele (a professor of philosophy at Florida State University), Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, a professor of practical ethics and philosophy at Duke, Thomas Nadelhoffer, a professor of philosophy and psychology at the University of Charleston, Derek Pereboom, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University, Robin Collins, a professor of philosophy at Messiah College, Kathleen Vohs, who has the unusual title of “Land O’ Lakes Chair in Marketing at the University of Minnesota”, and Robert Kane, a teaching professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
I won’t summarize all their views, as you can read the short essays yourself. Most are compatibilist although at least one writer, Kane, espouses a weird kind of physicality (not quantum-based) in which you do have the power to decide in multiple ways at any given time.
One thing I noticed is that several of the writers make the point—as has Dennett—that belief in free will is important in keeping society together. I still believe that this is a motivation (perhaps sometimes unconscious) for compatibilists’ claims that although determinism reigns, we must confect some kind of free will to promulgate to the public.
In Free, I explain why the scientific experiments that are most often claimed to prove that there is no free will, in fact, leave the existence of free will wide open. I regard this as good news. There is evidence that lowering people’s confidence in the existence of free will increases bad behavior. In a 2008 study by Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler, people who read passages in which scientists deny that free will exists cheat more often on a subsequent task than others do. In a 2009 study by Roy Baumeister, college students presented with a series of sentences denying the existence of free will proceed to behave more aggressively than a control group: they serve larger amounts of spicy salsa to people who say they dislike spicy food, despite being told these people have to eat everything on their plates.
. . . What primarily drives my work on free will is a desire to get at the truth about a deep and important issue. But I also worry about a society that does not believe in free will. The pervasive flaws in free will research must be exposed.
From Thomas Nadelhoffer:
This ongoing debate is not just a tempest in an academic teapot.There is gathering evidence that challenging people’s beliefs about free will can influence their moral behavior in a variety of ways (see, e.g., here, here, and here). This research suggests that believing in free will may play an important role in our daily lives. If free will provides the foundation for our moral beliefs and practices, and its existence is incompatible with what science is telling us about human cognition, then free will is not just a topic fit for philosophers—it is a scientific, cultural, and public policy issue as well.
And from Kathleen Vohs:
At a conference nearly 10 years ago—surrounded by highly influential scholars who argued that free will did not exist—Schooler and I wondered whether merely hearing claims that free will is an illusion would cause people to loosen their moral standards and behave unethically.
We could understand how demoralizing it might feel to hear that free will does not and cannot exist. As psychological scientists, we believed that this idea had important implications; so much of what makes a society work is people behaving in morally good, self-controlled, judicious ways. Society will not function well if people exploit each other, fail to keep promises, and fail to delay gratification. We were so intrigued by our ideas that we decided to conduct experiments.
We performed two key experiments to test our predictions.
Vohs then describes her experiments, which involved psychological tests given to students after they had just read passages denying free will, and “control passages” which were about other topics and (in experiment #2) a passage affirming free will. In both experiments, students who read the “denying free will” passages were more likely to cheat than were students who read the other stuff.
These results have served to justify much work on compatibilism, But really, should we believe in a concept simply because it promotes good behavior? What if religious belief showed the same results? Should we then promulgate religion, even if we don’t believe it ourselves? That is the “belief in belief” gambit, also known as “The Argument from The Little People.” (I’ll leave aside the question of whether these short-term experiments have anything to say about long-term behavior.)
Vohs, brimming with optimism, concludes:
. . . believing in free will appears to encourage the kinds of morally good, self-controlled, judicious behaviors that make society work.
Are we going to deny that this provides no motivation for the Compatibilist Program? People like to think that compatibilism isn’t driven by any social agenda, but I’m not buying into that. That is, of course, independent of whether it makes any sense.
Besides, what makes this whole argument from consequences bizarre is that research shows that most people’s conception of free will is not compatibilist, but libertarian. Yes, there’s one study showing a compatibilist belief in general, but most studies show the opposite. In my own discussions with scientists, many of them, while not explicit dualists, still believe in a libertarian free will in which there is an “I” who makes decisions at any given time, and could have decided otherwise. (I was surprised to learn that physicist Steve Weinberg, an atheist, believes this.) I do think this is the average person’s concept of free will, and that is buttressed by Thomas Nadelhoffer, who did surveys of how people construed “free will”. From his essay:
Consider, for instance, my recent work on The Free Will Inventory (FWI)—a new scale for measuring people’s beliefs about free will (and related concepts). In developing FWI, we presented more than 1,500 people with a series of 29 statements and asked them to state their level of agreement. For present purposes, I am not going to discuss all of our results. Instead, I am going to focus on participants’ responses to some of the items that are especially germane to our present discussion:
“Free will is the ability to make different choices even if everything leading up to one’s choice (e.g., the past, the situation, and their desires, beliefs, etc.) was exactly the same”: 6% disagree; 15% neither agree nor disagree; 79% agree.
“The fact that we have souls that are distinct from our material bodies is what makes humans unique”: 11% disagree; 16% neither agree nor disagree; 73% agree.
“Each person has a non-physical essence that makes that person unique”: 6% disagree; 13% neither agree nor disagree; 81% agree.
“The human mind is more than just a complicated biological machine”: 6% disagree; 9% neither agree nor disagree; 85% agree.
In short, the majority of participants endorsed precisely the kinds of views about free will and dualism attributed to the folk by the scientific skeptics.
(The pejorative term “scientific skeptics” is used in several of the essays to refer to incompatibilists, who see determinism as incompatible with free will. I can’t help but think that that term comes from either Mele or Templeton.)
But if this is really the average person’s conception of free will—as libertarian or sometimes dualistic—then it provides NO support for the assertion of compatibilists that belief in free will is good because it promotes more harmonious societies. For most of those compatibilists explicitly deny the types of libertarian free will evinced above. We have no idea at all whether the average person’s belief in compatibilist free will, along with acceptance of pure determinism of decisions, would still promote the same kind of honesty and morality.
Curiously, Nadelhoffer finds one result he sees as conflicting with the results above, but something that doesn’t surprise me at all:
However, upon closer inspection, things are even more complicated still. Consider, for instance, participants’ responses to the following statement:
“If it turned out that people lacked non-physical (or immaterial) souls, then they would lack free will”: 36% disagree; 32% neither agree nor disagree; 30% agree.
Here the results are mixed, with a roughly even split between those who disagree, those who agree, and those who neither agree nor disagree. While the responses to the earlier items suggest that most people endorse dualism and the unconditional ability to do otherwise, the responses to this latter item suggest that there is broad disagreement when it comes to the relationship between free will and the immaterial soul.
But really, is that a surprise? After all, not everyone believes in an immaterial soul, but everyone feels that they have free will, and I suppose you can impute a kind of libertarian dualism to an “I” that excludes the religious conception of a soul. Not all homunculi in the brain have haloes. I am sure, for instance, that Steve Weinberg doesn’t believe in a soul.
What Nadelhoffer’s results do show is that the average person believes in free will, and of the libertarian and not the compatibilist sort. But he hedges his conclusions:
There are at least two important take-home lessons: First, the scientific skeptics have rushed to judgment when it comes to how people ordinarily think about the relationship between free will, dualism, and the soul. Second, the critics of the skeptics have more work to do before they can rest their own case.
Really? “Scientific skeptics” have rushed to judgment just because most people’s libertarianism doesn’t include a soul? I don’t care what the basis is for a false view of libertarian free will, or whether or not it involves a soul (except when I’m criticizing religion); I’m more concerned with showing that determinism falsifies any kind of libertarianism. Nadelhoffer sounds like he’s scolding the “scientific skeptics” even though his results don’t give any evidence for a “rush to judgement.”
I’ll bring this to an end except to recommend that, if you want to see an exercise in muddled thinking, you should read Robert Kane’s essay, “Free will: an achievement over indeterminacy.” The essay contains this gem that purports to explain why our wills are free:
I believe the “self-forming” choices or actions that are required for free will occur at those difficult times in life when we are torn between competing visions of what we should do or become. And they are more frequent in everyday life than we may think. We might be torn between doing the moral thing or acting from ambition; or between powerful present desires and long-term goals; or faced with difficult tasks for which we have aversions. The uncertainty and inner tension we feel at such soul-searching moments of self-formation, I argue, would be reflected in some indeterminacy in our neural processes themselves (in the form of chaotically amplified background neural noise), “stirred up,” one might say, by the conflicts in our wills. What is experienced personally as uncertainty at such moments of self-formation would thus correspond physically to the opening of a window of opportunity that temporarily screens off complete determination by influences of the past.
Another common mistake: chaos theory = pure indeterminism. Chaos theory means that physical systems may be unpredictable based on tiny differences in starting conditions, but they are still deterministic.
I’ll end by saying four things. First, I believe that much compatibilist philosophy, whether it’s stated explicitly or not, rests on the Little People Argument: believing in some kind of free will—even if it’s cooked-up and also bestows free will on computers and amoebas—makes our society more moral and harmonious.
Second, there are many ways to define “compatibilist” free will. Are they all right? Shouldn’t we decide what we mean by free will in advance and then see if we have it? If there are many ways to achieve compatibilism, shouldn’t only one be the right answer?
That leads us to my third conclusion: compatibilists don’t define free will at the outset and then see if we have it. Rather, they start with an assumption: we do have some sort of free will, and then they make an argument to support their view. This exercise involves justifying an a priori conclusion, and is more akin to theology than to science—or even to good, rational philosophy.
Finally, Templeton got what it wanted: a group of people who espouse the existence of free will, even if some admit to determinism. And a lot of those people think that some kind of belief in free will is necessary for morality and social harmony. Now remember that each essayist got paid, probably a handsome sum, for his or her opinion. That doesn’t mean that they wrote what they think Templeton wanted to hear. Rather, I think it works the other way around: I think that Templeton chooses people whose track records suggest that they will write what Templeton wants to hear. After all, many of these essayists are already getting money from Templeton.
Granted, sometimes there are dissenters from the Templeton viewpoint in these Big Essay questions. But somehow the gist of opinions always favors the Foundation’s view of a rapprochement between science and spirituality. And every essayist, whether or not they agree with Templeton, gets their own person stall in Templeton’s Stable of Thoroughbred Intellectuals.
74 thoughts on “Templeton “dialogue” about free will (hint: they’re for it)”
“What primarily drives my work on free will is a desire to get at the truth about a deep and important issue. But I also worry about a society that does not believe in free will.”
My free intuition tells me this proclamation is in reverse order.
There’s something ironic about someone who feels himself compelled to reach a certain specific conclusion when studying free will, isn’t there.
Ha ha! It makes me want to yell, “J’accuse!”
LOL. But does Mele’s examples not prove that there is no free will? “There is evidence that lowering people’s confidence in the existence of free will increases bad behavior.” So manipulating what people believe makes them behave differently.
I would imagine one control in that experience could be to test if any other evidence challenging a person’s worldview makes them similarly agitated or aggressive – because it sure seems to me like that’s what’s going on in that part of the story.
That cheaters might be more likely to deny free will says something about cheaters and their lack of personal responsibility, but I’d like to know the frequency (are cheaters ten times as likely to be incompatibilist? or a tenth of a percent more likely?) and also the population of incompatibalists among non-cheaters (I’ll bet it’s non-significant. Also, what fields are these cheaters in and what is the nature of the cheating? Blatantly falsifying results? Or being too generous in defining outliers? Cheating is cheating I guess, but it seems to me there is a lot of territory between fraud and fudging, and a lot of character traits and personal circumstances – such as, oh, who pays for your research – that might be more predictive of behavior.
Second, there are many ways to definite “compatibilist” free will.
“definite” => “define” (?)
If one puts a hand over a flame, the reaction is to pull it back when the pain starts. This is not a free action. The body and the mind react; stimulous and response – there is no free will involved. The rest of our behavior is the same – stimulous and response. The response can change due to the environment (influences) or history (memory), even though we think we have a choice, we are just stimulous and response machines.
/off-my-chest (I could not do therwise)
Religious belief or possibly the combination of alcohol and testosterone can cause someone to keep their hand in the flame.
All those are additional stimuli.
The secret is not minding.
Secretes are stimuli too. So is not minding.
Like the Baron says:
“Observe the plans within plans within plans.”
Brings to mind an image. The only decent thing to come out of the 1st movie. Well, besides the use of multitudes of condoms for a certain visual effect.
Back to the only decent thing. The image, appropriately in super-slow-mo, of the then toddler sized St. Alia Of The Knife elegantly, and perhaps ecstatically, flourishing her crysknife above her head, framed by the chaos of battle and The Maker’s own storm, just after administering the Baron’s final stimulus, the sting of Alia’s gom jabbar.
G. Gordon Liddy would say that when he held his hand over a flame long enough to burn it as a way of proving his resolve, he was exercising free will – deliberately overcoming the reflex to withdraw from the flame.
“What primarily drives my work on free will is a desire to get at the truth about a deep and important issue. But I also worry about a society that does not believe in free will. The pervasive flaws in free will research must be exposed.”
Mele apparently is blind to his own bias here. How can one truly be searching for the truth about free will if at the same time you hold a concern that society will fall apart without it. With this mindset in place, one is very likely be misled by your own bias
Do you see that a lot in science papers? Like if someone found a “gene for” homosexuality, would they end the paper with “but I still think gay sex is icky”?
Or does it depend on who funded the research … ?
Being misled by seeing or imagining the social benefit of a scientific hypothesis being proven true (or false, as the case may be) is something we all have to guard against, but “likely misled” goes too far. The literature is full of reports of hypotheses confirmed or denied to the surprise and dismay of the researcher. I paraphrase: “This vaccine against malaria looked like it might save millions of lives each year, but it doesn’t work.” “Global warming threatens our future in all sorts of ways, and I regret to report that AGW is almost certainly real and substantial.” “Cold fusion offers mankind a limitless supply of cheap safe energy except for the fact that it isn’t real”. If you really insist that a researcher be blind to the possible social consequences of his findings, then a vast body of research must be discarded. What one can and must insist upon is that the findings be supported by other than the researcher’s wishes. You can judge for yourself whether that is true in the cases Jerry cited.
It reads like an IDer/creationist wrote it.
I feel the same way. It is a big bias but worse, the thinking that society will fall a part because we figure out there is no free will is frankly insulting. Whether we have free will or not, we will still feel and act as though we do because of illusion/reality. In other words, I am suspetible to all sorts of optical illusions but that doesn’t change my behaviour. Lack of free will not either.
They could have saved a lot of time and just paraphrased Homer Banks: “If believing in free will is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
Is this the essence of compatibilism?
It is the essence of all willful, unsupported positions, is it not? “If believing [insert wished-for outcome here] is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
Can I insert cannibalism? 🙂
If you are a cannibal or cannibal supporter I think it’s a given.
The primary view promoted by these people is to say proof against free will has not or cannot be shown. The same goes for God, but few reasonable persons make such silly arguments.
They make no attempts to find evidence of a non-physical interpretation of actions, i.e., a metaphysical origin to causation for some or all actions. This is partly because they know such an activity is called metaphysics. From this point of view they all have a prejudice, what philosophers might call a preface paradox: I am going to assume something which may not be provable, but I will argue what circumstances arise assuming what I have assumed is true.
Reblogged this on Shashank Patel.
I’ve viewed freewill as part and parcel of the same (hypothetical) emergent process that results in consciousness. So while it’s true all emergent processes are determined in some way by the parts that make them up (parts that are fully determined by previous causes), nevertheless the emergent process is greater than the sum of its (determined) parts: determined and yet with an excess that can’t be reduced in toto to the sum of its determined parts. It’s not a very sophisticated argument I know, but maybe there’s something there?
And I guess at least one of the determined parts, say the one manufacturing the experience of “consciousness,” operates under the illusion that it alone is calling the shots? When in reality it’s our gut bacteria manipulating our lizard brains? I think there is something to that!
I am fine with the idea of emergent processes. I find it hard to conceive of an emergent process taking on a life of it’s own and acting back independently on the processes from which it emerged.
Not anymore than a flock of starlings can act independently on its constituent birds.
Anything that looks like downward independent action would be indistinguishable from dysfunction: failing to respond in the manner “expected” by the underlying processes, or returning inaccurate feedback – both of which would be determined effects themselves.
Is this a statement about people’s belief in free will?
Or a statement of disagreement with the validity of the evidence and arguments against free will?
Or is it intentionally vague for marketing purposes?
Hm, looks like I should catch up with what Kane is saying. Looks even weirder – the quantum stuff is bad (undersupported, doesn’t do what he wants even if true) enough, but this development is odder still.
Jerry, do you know how Weinberg justifies his belief? I wonder how he would do that.
One nit to pick. You said “Chaos theory means that physical systems may be unpredictable based on tiny differences in starting conditions, but they are still deterministic.” But in a quantum world, tiny quantum-indeterminate differences in starting conditions are always present (due to the uncertainty principle). So in a quantum world (as opposed to a computer simulation), the outcome of truly chaotic behavior (where trajectories depend strongly on tiny differences in initial conditions) is necessarily indeterminate.
Indeed. We can never really know whether the universe is deterministic or not because we only observe it once, although we can say pretty confidently that it is not predictable.
However, the evidence suggests that the universe is not deterministic, for the reason Lou gives above.
In other words, it wasn’t the Big Bang wot done it.
(This does not necessarily make any difference to which usages of the term “free will” you find acceptable, though).
But as has been discussed in Jerry’s post ad nauseum, indeterminancy /= free will.
A meat robot running on a randum number generator has no more free will (in the normal sense of the term) than a meat robot running on a non-random number generator.
Ah, that doesn’t sound nice. The implication was not that Jerry’s posts are nauseating, it was that both he and we posters have made the point that quantum mechanics does not give a way out for free will proponents over and over and over again. And over again. And again. And will probably make it tomorrow.
Yup. I don’t think anyone implied otherwise. The point I was making was about determinism.
Ditto. If we found very high levels of indeterminacy in brain function then if anything that would offer strong evidence against any definition of free will that is even vaguely sensible.
“Chaos theory means that physical systems may be unpredictable based on tiny differences in starting conditions, but they are still deterministic.”
Complexity expert Scott Aaronson, at his website “Shetl Optimized” has stated the opinion that determinism is a useless concept and should be replaced by the only thing which can judged scientifically, which is predictability.
Speaking of which, and while we are disposing of common mistakes, I believe quantum mechanics can easily provide (what is currently called) indeterminacy to decisions both of brains and computers, without being used in the calculation process, other than as input. That is, I don’t currently accept the fringe notion that brains act as entangled quantum computers, but I see no reason that quantum indeterminancy is not available to our senses as random input (like flipping a coin to see which direction to take at an intersection). Anyone who has heard a Geiger counter click, for example, has received indeterminate quantum-mechanical input.
Isn’t it rather arrogant to say, based on one person’s opinion, that I’ve made some mistakes. In fact, I disagree that determinism is a useless concept, and it can be tested scientifically, as in the tests of Bell’s inequality (it doesn’t hold on the quantum level).
As for quantum mechanics providing indeterminacyu to brains and computers, that’s a speculation for brains (not for computers, which can use beam-splitting input to make truly indeterminate ;decisions”.
“I see no reason” is not a scientific argument. “I see no reason why we couldn’t all be programs in a Matrix.” That proves nothing. And there is no scientific evidence that quantum mechanics plays a role in human behavior on a macro level.
You make a lot of statements about what is true based on what seems reasonable to you, or on one person’s opinion. I’d suggest you stop it, and stop characterizing what I said as “common mistakes” until you know that they really are mistakes.
And be civil–that’s the roolz.
Does predictability cover repeatability and post-hoc measurability? It seems to me if you take apart a system completely, and account for every environmental input, and you’re left with random outputs, you can still analyze the outputs and find that they occur x, y and z percent of the time. Is that not a form of predictability? In any event, if you have to go that far down in the system to understand it, it sounds more like determinism in the overall system than anything we would call free will …
I’m a social determinist; in various forms this position has been around a long time, both East and West. It has always tended toward compatibilism, because any determinism has to address the following issues: Our experience of the world seems to re-assure us we have free will; once we get to the point that we recognize that most of what we do is somehow pre-programmed, how do we account for apparent changes of mind – not ‘coffee or tea’ changes, but, like, how does the mind change from libertarianism to determinism? Also, how do we account for innovations in thought? including individual innovations, like scientific theories, and social innovations, like the Enlightenment. Compatibilist social determinist theories have a number of accounts for these, depending on the differing personal and social events to be accounted for. Incompatibilist physicalist determinism does not yet give such accounts, or frequently falls back on social determinist reasoning (e.g., the effects of social interaction). “If there are many ways to achieve compatibilism, shouldn’t only one be the right answer?” It depends on the specificity and complexity of the phenomenon needing explanation. How Helen Keller learned language requires one explanation, the French Revolution requires not only a different explanation, but a different kind of explanation. However, the root theories and their final theoretical modelings do tend to look pretty much the same, in differing languages.
“Rather, (compatibilists) start with an assumption: we do have some sort of free will” – that’s simply not true. It is the phenomena needing accounting (above) that give us problems, leading to allowance for social or psychological events that permit moments of re-direction.
As to the “Little People Argument” – yes, there is some of that in compatibilist theory; but one problem is, how to persuade the ‘little people’ to any kind of determinism, compatibilist or not. Again, social determinism has been in play in the West for the past 3 centuries at least (in the East, some 2000 years), and has made little in-road with ‘the people on the street;’ how will incompatibilist physical determinism fare any better?
Innovation is easy. You cannot make contributions to fuel cell technologies if you have no idea what elements are. Go backwards and you will always find a path that is not mysterious or disruptively disconnected to what you think led to that innovation. Economists frighten me at how stupid they are to think that there are wildly disruptive technologies that appear out of nowhere, when they are empirically traceable to obvious technological advances.
Same is with religion: beliefs are a measure of external stimuli, i.e., what you know and how you were raised.
You will find no citizens of the Vatican who worship the Sioux Ghost Dance God. Likewise no one in my family knows a lick of Japanese, because we never learned any Japanese. The lifeguards at my pool will uncover the grand unified theory as soon as a Galapagos turtle recites all of Portia’s lines in Act IV of the Merchant of Venice.
And, to your point, if your lifeguards and turtles did those things, there is bound to be a naturalistic chain of causation. In the latter case, there is likely someone who taught them the lines, in the former, perhaps the consumption of psychedelics.
TEH WALLS THEY IZ FCUKING BROWN!
What I found irksome in this collection of essays, among other things, was Mele’s closing reassurance that “For all we know, ambitious [libertarian] free will is widespread.”
Given what we know, it seems highly unlikely that human agents have a capacity to have done otherwise in actual situations, given the internal and external conditions that obtained. Libertarians of course are looking for some sort of contra-causal, indeterministic contribution to a choice that breaks the causal chain and gives the agent more control than she would have under straight determinism (making the agent ultimately responsible – the unspoken desideratum here). But there’s no plausible account of this capacity I’ve come across.
In exchanges I’ve had with Mele, he says it hasn’t been disproved that indeterministic causation, should it play a role in human behavior, can add to an agent’s control, and he opines that future theoretical developments might vindicate it. But of course this isn’t a good reason to suppose it might be widespread. So, as you suggest, Mele is telling Templeton exactly what they want to hear: that there’s hope for libertarian free will under science and naturalism. When in fact there isn’t.
Here’s Mele in another Templeton venue defending the possibility of libertarian free will in his replies to readers, with quotes from his books and articles: https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/node/282/comment/summary/all
This much social psychology/”experimental philosophy” makes my skin crawl — necessarily… At least I can treat the itch with some over-spiced cafeteria food. And now I find that I’m primed to dish out my serving and then drop the Tabasco bottle in the soup.
Passive aggression is the determinism worth having.
Compatablists seem to point to randomness a lot, which doesn’t sound much like “free will” or “choice” at all.
If a person thinks there’s something supernatural going on, whether they admit it or not, that’s something, but it’s not science. Incompatibility does not mean people are not affected by externalities – rewards and punishments, information that affects their behavior. It doesn’t even negate faith: what is the guy in the sky but the ultimate environmental influence? A religion could embrace determinism and declare that their god is the only force that can influence them.
I understand why people might feel threatened, but it’s a threat to certain illusions (if not delusions) to which they are clinging. I think they are clinging less to the notion of goodness and more to that of evil, which is much more challenged by determinism. But then, they don’t have any choice but to believe what they believe, so …
I dunno who you have in mind that points to randomness a lot, but their doing so is excellent Bayesian evidence that they are not compatibilists. If anything, compatibilists tend to think that high levels of randomness pose an obstacle to free will.
God certainly is operating is mysterious ways. I can make no sense of Kan’s statement that because we have conflicting self images of ourselves we have the ability to choose our action above our material bodily state. At the very least science does not show that this is the case. This above our body presence making choices for the body would have to be either an independent symbiotic organism controlled by predetermined natural laws or a supernatural non-material presence. I would like to see any real scientific evidence that either of these scenarios has free will or even exists at all.
Many? Some?, well one of us, is often flummoxed by the names of endowed University Chairs and I pay little attention to them. Land O’ Lakes is one I recognize.
Land O’ Lakes is a cooperative–member owned/directed, founded in the 1920s. It provides services and materials to coops as well as business services. They are known to me mainly by having walked the aisles of markets/super markets (and seen adverts) where products such as butter, milk, cottage cheese, etc. are on display.
That they would be the funders of a chair in business management of some kind is a natural.
“…. . . believing in free will appears to encourage the kinds of morally good, self-controlled, judicious behaviors that make society work.” This, to me, is about one of the most absurd statements a person can make: if you asked the ISIS member, wiping the blood off his hands after beheading an “apostate”, if he believed in free will, what do you think he’d say?
To try and hold to the concept of free will is akin to trying to hold to the concept of an omnipotent “God”: it necessarily follows that both would be required, by their very nature, to be intimately connected with all of the good, AND evil things that are done in this world.
Were free will (I’m considering the “libertarian” version, here- I consider “compatibilism” to be little more than a series of word games used to try to justify the former) existent, it would have to be existent in the same manner as say, sight- everyone has it; nothing could “turn it off” (excepting things that directly effect the brain: chemicals, physical damage, etc.), and it would operate repeatedly and reliably at all times and under differing conditions and circumstances (the very definition of “free” is, “not affected by any outside condition or circumstance”),
Therefore, it should be possible to devise tests that show whether libertarian free will is, indeed, in operation: let’s say we select a group of twenty individuals, all of whom express a strong belief in free will, and all of whom have a strong desire to prove that it exists. Require of each one that they, using their “agency” of free will, adopt a new endeavor, hobby, lifestyle change, etc. that is completely out of character with who they currently are (the poor English student may decide to learn German; another who is not musically inclined might choose to learn to play an unfamiliar instrument, etc.), giving each a month to exhibit observable, significant progress.
Theoretically, if free will exists, at the end of the month one should see definite changes in ALL the subjects (the reason for the large group and the variance of tasks is so we don’t, by chance, run into that one person who just happens to be at the confluence of a series of deterministic influences in their life where they can; indeed, MUST perform the task). If not all are “able” to do what they claimed they intended to do, it raises serious questions as to the existence of free will, as well as serious implications for the existence of the conventional idea of the “self”: if one says, “I thought I WANTED to do it, but I guess that I really didn’t”, who was the someone “else” that didn’t? How many people are in there?
“Free” will, just like the concept of “God”, creates one paradox after another when examined closely: can we use our free will to shut our free will off (like the question, “Can God create a rock too heavy for Him to lift?)? The bottom line appears to me to be that the defense of free will is ultimately a defense of the conventional concept of the “soul”, an entity independent of the material world.
THAT’S your best defense? That science has yet to deliver a confirmed and definitive death blow?
Mony Python’s black knight sketch springs to mind. “In my book, I explain why ’tis only a flesh wound.”
I will ignore the Templeton stuff because they are just silly, but not every compatibilist is in it for the motivated reasoning. Some people are compatibilists because they consider incompatibilism to be wrong and/or quite simply disagree on whether the terms in question have (only) supernatural or libertarian meanings. A few points here:
The most controversial term is Free Will itself. Again, in my mother language? Simply means voluntary, no supernatural connotation. Even in English, it seems to depend on how the questions are phrased, and what that mostly demonstrates is that people don’t think clearly about the subject.
The ‘could have done otherwise’ test is, however, a particularly problematic one because that phrase can really mean anything and nothing. Under determinism, it could simply be shorthand for “if I had been a different person with different brain structure, then I would have decided differently”. Conversely, in a stricter sense nobody could have done otherwise even under libertarianism because every event can only happen once, and we cannot replay the tape of life.
Even if FW is discarded (and I have no idea how that would be achieved), one would still want a term to describe the fact that we are decision-makers with more deliberative faculties than a cow, and that the cow is one with more faculties than a rock. Which is also why it is so odd that even terms like decision are sometimes considered bad in this context. Don’t incompatibilists need to talk about things like that? Anyway, fast forward two hundred years and people will complain that the new term has become contaminated by a folk view of libertarian “new term”.
Furthermore, if FW is considered supernatural by some people, it is clearly not alone in that regard. I am fairly sure that even today you could ask a random sampling of people on this world and find that an astonishing number of them will have a ‘spark of life’ understanding of what life, or living, means. (Seriously, how many people who haven’t studied biology will come up with a good definition?) What is more is that that was the original meaning of the term! But does that mean that we should discard the term life? No, because we find it useful to describe an important aspect of certain systems.
“and/or quite simply disagree on whether the terms in question have (only) supernatural or libertarian meanings.”
I’ve seen people claim it’s just a semantic issue, since in practice they agree that humans aren’t endowed with some special ingredient that makes such decision-making possible. The same people then complain about incompatibilists trying to make clear the distance between the religious conception and the secular alternative via such methods as a call to use a different term, in some cases by citing a problem of how to “sell” the idea. If both sides agree that human decision-making is no different from anything else physically in terms of cause and effect, isn’t this like agreeing life isn’t powered by vitalism and then complaining about making biology too materialistic for most people to handle? I’ve seen people confuse incompatibilism, determinism, and fatalism at least twice in the last thread, producing such howlers as incompatibilists being inconsistent when they try to persuade creationists of evolution… because it’s “predetermined” that a creationist will not listen to reason.
“Even if FW is discarded (and I have no idea how that would be achieved), one would still want a term to describe the fact that we are decision-makers with more deliberative faculties than a cow, and that the cow is one with more faculties than a rock.”
Autonomy? Independent agency? Processor power? Nervous system complexity? Problem-solving faculties? Just plain decision-making systems? There’s no shortage of candidates, most of which have the virtue of neither sounding like a religious term nor smuggling unexamined and unconscious intuitive notions of how selves and consciousness work. It’s like redefining “God” as “the universe”, “goodness”, or some secular alternative: sooner or later, that back door will be exploited, so why use the same house?
“Which is also why it is so odd that even terms like decision are sometimes considered bad in this context. Don’t incompatibilists need to talk about things like that?”
Says which incompatibilists? There are hardly any spiritual or religious connotations to decision-making systems. A jellyfish would technically be a decision-making system, even if the only decision it had to make was “pulse?/not-pulse?”.
“Furthermore, if FW is considered supernatural by some people, it is clearly not alone in that regard. I am fairly sure that even today you could ask a random sampling of people on this world and find that an astonishing number of them will have a ‘spark of life’ understanding of what life, or living, means.”
Well yes, but the most overt manifestation of that view, the notion of elan vital, was dismantled by paying attention to chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, and then emphasizing that life doesn’t work by a secret ingredient, not by redefining the term to a secular alternative.
I’ve seen people confuse incompatibilism, determinism, and fatalism at least twice in the last thread
Well, I don’t. But I also see constant conflation and strawmanning of compatibilism.
There’s no shortage of candidates
Most of what you gave are either too clunky or not quite the same thing. But the point is really that even if autonomy or volition are used, at some point in the future they will have become infected with the same libertarian connotations as free will supposedly has now. And of course quite a few incompatibilists would even now reject things like “decision” or “autonomy”; if you doubt that, just reread the last ten iterations of this discussion even on this site.
Well yes, but the most overt manifestation of that view, the notion of elan vital, was dismantled by paying attention to chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, and then emphasizing that life doesn’t work by a secret ingredient, not by redefining the term to a secular alternative.
Great! Let’s all agree on that then: Let us dispel the notion of supernatural souls by paying attention to science, and then emphasising that volition / decision making / free will / whatevs does not work by a secret ingredient, not by trying to discard a useful set of terms that already has secular meanings.
(Again, in contrast to “life”, which originally only had the elan vital meaning because nobody had an inkling of the alternative, whereas discussions about free will have included the option of determinism for at least 2,500 years or so, even among believers, because there have always been those among them who stress their god’s omniscience, in which case their religion had to reject libertarian free will.)
Thank you Alex SL, you have hit the nails on their heads. Other terms that have survived massive changes (pun intended) in world-view are “erotic love” and “mass”. Erotic love survived the death of Eros just fine. And mass survived the discovery that, contrary to an expectation that probably was built-in to many definitions given prior to Einstein, mass is not an independent property of an object.
Hold on, wasn’t Mele the same guy who said that Libet’s studies don’t mean anything because they only tested relatively trivial and simple choices?
Guy’s got some cajones, claiming the Libet work doesn’t count against him while claiming these studies count for him. I have a [cough BIAS cough] possible explanation.
Doh! broken blockquotes.
Speaking of which, I wonder if Mele actually gives an answer as to when the “free willed action” comes in. Kane’s (earlier?) answer was surprising – it actually comes at character formation, not at action time. Not that this works any easier, really.
I don’t dispute your fourth conclusion, but something needs to be said about each of the first three.
Conclusion 1: Explaining others’ beliefs by conjectured motivations rather than attending to their arguments is annoying and counterproductive. I’m a compatibilist who had never given any thought to the social consequences of beliefs about free will–until I started reading you with your obsession about motives. “Learned helplessness” is a well-known psychological problem, but I seriously doubt that philosophers’ conceptual analyses ever contribute to it.
Conclusion 2: There are variants of compatibilism just as there are varieties of cats. That a general view can be refined or specified in various detailed ways is not an objection. Compatibilism is the view that to act freely one does not need to be (indeed, cannot be) free of causation. Rather one must be free of obstacles such as coercion and interference from others. One must be acting as he himself chooses wills).
Conclusion 3: Here may be the basic misunderstanding. Compatiblism is a philosophical view. Philosophers do conceptual analyses. The typical philosophical question is not “Does this exist?” but rather “What does this mean?” The concept of free will, as has been shown vividly at this website, is not one that is immediately clear and obvious. It calls for careful conceptual analysis to avoid various confusions.
You could have made your points without suggesting that the host is annoying and counterproductive (and the motivations are not conjectured; they’re explicit, as you could have seen had you read the essay and seen what Dennett said (which I highlighted the other day). Your own definition of compatibilism is not one that comports with many others, so you have yet another definition. As for your last point, many philosophers do indeed ask about what existence means, and certainly many compatibilists ask “does free will exist?”
Since you find this site annoying and counterproductive to your own obviously correct analysis, I suggest you visit other sites. And read what the compatibilists say about their own motivations.
As Steve Bracker pointed out above, thinkers can have all sorts of motivations for working on a problem without this necessarily leading to a certain conclusion. Someone could choose to research global warming motivated by its potential disastrous impact, and then conclude, say, that the lives saved through increased food production in a warm CO2-rich world will outnumber those lost to flooding. Or that they won’t. If the scientist concludes that the agricultural consequences of a warmer CO2-rich world are net negative, should we dismiss her conclusion as fitting all too conveniently with her initial motivation?
Mele “admits” that his motivation for studying and writing about free will, relates to its social effects. I don’t see why that’s any worse or more suspect than the climate change scientist’s motivation for getting into that field. Your implication that the conclusions Mele reaches are “confected” to serve a pre-determined (heh) outcome is indeed conjectural.
I’d argue similarly about Dennett, but this comment is already too long.
> Rather one must be free of obstacles such as coercion and interference from others.
Do “others” include gut bacteria and cat parasites? Or is it just humans?
It WAS clear and obvious through most of history. You had a soul, that soul had free will. That soul influenced what your body did.
The reason ‘free will’ is seen as a deep and complex concept now is because the philosophers who want to defend the notion have had to do a RCC-after-Galileo or RCC-after-Darwin-like retreat from their original claim(s). And just as in those cases the church ignores the simple and obvious option of “my book was just plain wrong,” philosophers who try and defend free will ignore the simple and obvious option that (the fall of dualism as a credible scientific or philosophical option means) their hypothesis was just plain wrong.
“It WAS clear and obvious through most of history. You had a soul, that soul had free will. That soul influenced what your body did.”
No it wasn’t as clear as that.
As has been pointed out many times on this site, “free will” has involved various different issues throughout time.
First of all the problem of free will was noticed in ancient times simply as a “problem” for two of our strong intuitions:
1. Everything has a cause
2. Some of our actions are “free,” in the sense we feel “I could have done otherwise.”
This apparent paradox was recognized in ancient times; the problem of determinism and freedom was there whether you mention a God or “soul” or not.
And many of those who DID believe in a soul, from the Ancient Greeks through to Christians themselves, recognized that having a soul didn’t solve the problem.
First, there was the “problem of God’s knowledge/God’s plan.” If the Gods, or a God, knew what we were going to do before hand (or planned our destiny) how could WE be “free” and responsible? Greeks worried about this, Christians worried about this. Further, as some Christians tried to figure out how our autonomy would actually work, theologically and philosophically, they still saw problems for free will, which is why among Christian thinkers (and Greek) you had different theories which were essentially incompatibilist – no free will – compatibilist and libertarian.
Given all this worrying came in the context of people who already believed in souls, it highlights that the problem of free will was not necessarily tied to having a magic soul. The fundamental issue has always been “Am I free to choose/do I really have a choice?” in the context of another apparent logical/intuitive requirement of causation – whether by God or nature – and it’s implications for determinism.
I will attempt to formulate my take on this. Free will is an illusion and that is why compatibilism exists, as a reaction to a disturbing thought. Religious accommodation exists for the same reason.
Twin studies of mono zygotic twins show we are not a blank slate and this coupled with the environmental influences and depending on the weights given, one acquires belief (or not) in a disembodied mind.
We have choices of biological survival, don’t eat that to selecting a comfortable pair of shoes that look good according to my tastes.. or my wife’s.
The experiments showing students behaviour after reading anti free will statements shows, you can be primed, no free will on display there. Further, morals and values have not been displaced because of it, far from it, have they dissipated with atheism?
Quantum effects if any, show nothing extraordinary on this level, that is, not that I can tell even if it slapped me in the face,
that’s not to say that there is none.
Lastly. a disembodied mind insists on having free will because without it it has just performed hara-kiri on itself and it’s to self absorbed for that.
And the crux of the matter, it really has made no difference, pre free will illusion awareness or post, because there is and was, no choice at being me.
I’m amused to read that people who argue that we have free will point to studies indicating that changing what people think about free will DETERMINES attitudes and behaviors to some extent.
“Free will is the ability to make different choices even if everything leading up to one’s choice (e.g., the past, the situation, and their desires, beliefs, etc.) was exactly the same”
This should mean that a decision-making entity is random, or at least indeterminate. But then we don’t say quarks have free will; we’re more likely to say people have free will, despite the fact that this should rope in a whole host of animals and robots. So how can this be?
Easy: exceptionalism, especially human exceptionalism. “Everything leading up to one’s choice” is physical. The factor that makes the difference in either case is the self, the individual, the soul, the consciousness, the mind, the agent, the part of humanity that transcends and is separate from the mere physical and material. And this is not mere desire and belief: it is the zero-dimensional point through which those desires and beliefs are judged and reasoned and decided for or against.
After all, minds are magic.
It doesn’t even have to be an explicit and conscious viewpoint. Even self-professed opponents of dualism and other forms of exceptionalism can still treat this area as though it worked by completely different, mysterious rules that don’t have to listen to ordinary cause and effect: epiphenomenalism, emergentism, whatever flavour makes it possible to smuggle it in, whether by design or accident.
This I think is why it’s important to stress incompatibilism. Cut out the confusion as ruthlessly as possible. Make our standards in this area fall under the same standards we would apply to studying the anatomy of the heart, or the liver, or a lymphocyte. The informal or legal treatment should follow those developments.
I just read that 2008 study by Vohs and Schooler last night, and I have so many more questions about it now than before I read it. I would find it very interesting if their experiments actually showed what they claim they do, but there is not enough information given in the paper about the experimental designs to determine this. I plan on contacting them to ask about this. There are statistical issues as well, most notably the use of ANCOVA to justify causal claims (regression analyses are not sufficient to make causal statements!). Without knowing more about the experimental design though, everything else is moot.
One thing I want to point out from the “General Discussion” section of their paper: they wisely hedge their anti-deterministic conclusions in one paragraph, saying in part,
“A deterministic viewpoint may have a host of possible consequences, and only some of these may be unfavorable. For example, adopting the view that behavior is a consequence of environmental and genetic factors could encourage compassion for the mentally ill and discourage retribution in legal contexts.”
But then a mere two paragraphs later, to end their paper, they say,
“If exposure to deterministic messages increases the likelihood of unethical actions, then identifying approaches for insulating the public against this danger becomes imperative. Ultimately, in order to oppose the unfavorable consequences of deterministic sentiments, the field must first develop a deeper understanding of why dismissing free will leads to amoral behavior.”
This type of backsliding really bothers me. Even granting them their experimental claim that lack of belief in free will increases incidence of cheating, how do they then determine that the societal “danger” arising from the unethical actions implicit in that claim outweighs the societal good that would come from some of the favorable implications of a deterministic worldview that they highlighted previously? That seems like a completely arbitrary judgment to me: i.e. these unfavorable consequences are *more* unfavorable than the unfavorable consequences of *not* adopting determinism.
Anyway, I’d like to read Baumeister’s work too. Maybe his experimental design is more clearly explained.
Here’s an experiment I’d like to see given your information:
We have FWI…so why not bring in people, compute their FWI and run the same exact tests that they did in their studies “telling” people that free will exists or doesn’t. That would at least HINT at how lifelong acceptance or denial of free will determines behavior. Granted, there would be a number of confounding factors, but it would be interesting nonetheless.
One of the things about the belief in free will being necessary for a society puzzles me.
If we had a society that actively disbelieved in free will and Vohs did the same experiment but read a passage from a book that said we can actually do otherwise, would we get a similar result of increased cheating.
Whilst I am at it so what if a lack of belief induces more cheating?
And finally, this is all too reminiscent of I can’t be “good” without god. Hence people suggesting a belief in free will is akin to a belief in a little god.
I am sorry to be so late to the party – do forgive my tardiness.
The problem, I think, that the determinists face, is that their single chain model of cause and effect does not adequately cope with reality.
It seems to me, and others, that the moment we call “now” is a little understood mechanism which turns a probabilistic future into a determined past.
Now, since the entire past is determined, it is easy to come to the conclusion that the probabilistic appearance of our future is just another illusion. If there is a single chain of cause and effect, any attempt to violate it is probably some sort of breach of one of the laws of thermodynamics themselves. And the determinists seem, to a man, to think that free will breaches the chain of cause and effect.
But this way of thinking arises from a misunderstanding of what the moment we call “now” really is. I think that until this issue is resolved, it is impossible to work out from first principles whether free will exists or not.