Practical Metaphysics: The Case of Freewill and Fatalism

Do humans act of their own free will, or is everything that people do merely the result of universal causation? Are free will and determinism compatible or incompatible? Does fate rule whether or not free will exists? These questions are metaphysical because neither science nor the techniques of formal logic can answer them once and for all. This is the first principle of practical metaphysics. The second is that it is necessary in life to adopt some metaphysical beliefs. The third is that some of these beliefs have practical consequences for one’s life. Free will conforms to the second principle, because everyone takes a stand on the question. However, not all metaphysical beliefs have practical consequences, so we must examine each case as it comes up.

Believing in the existence of free will clearly does have practical consequences. Believers are willing to accept responsibility for their actions. They think that their choices matter. The future is not a foregone conclusion. Praise and blame lose their grip if a person “cannot help” acting in a certain way. Another consequence is that such people will be less likely to blame others or circumstances for their own mistakes. Still another is that belief in free will supports an optimistic attitude. It makes sense of trying to do better, believing the future is open, and that it is actually possible to improve.

Does the belief in determinism have practical consequences? Perhaps. If it turns out that the truth of universal causation determines human actions, and if actions can be reduced to physical actions and chemical processes, then it is indeed true that all my actions will be determined in advance by antecedent causes. What difference would the truth of this assertion make to how I live my life? We are unable to know the entire antecedent universe. Whether or not it is true that the future is determined in advance, the future is opaque to us. We learn from experience what happens regularly in different circumstances, all things being equal. However, we cannot know if all things are equal in any particular case. Hence, we might be excused for thinking that a belief in metaphysical determinism makes no difference to the life of an agent.

Is this the whole story? Might it be possible to use a belief in determinism as a universal excuse for one’s actions? If my body and body chemistry move along with the universal causal nexus regardless of what I think, plan, feel or do, then what do my choices and reasons mean? Can I, therefore, abdicate my responsibility along with my free will by adopting a thorough-going metaphysical determinism? Or, does my ignorance of determining conditions make it impossible for me to give up my sense that I am responsible for my choices and actions?

If believing in determinism is a way to deny personal responsibility, then accepting it has practical consequences. It is an approach to life. Perhaps it would be better here to speak of the attitude of fatalism rather than universal determinism. With fatalism we can accept that we have to make choices, but believe that no matter what choices we make, our fate is sealed. Think of Somerset Maugham’s old story about the man who met the person of Death in Cairo, ran for his life to Samara, only to find Death waiting for him there, saying “When I saw you in Cairo, I thought you might be late for our our date in Samara, but here you are.” It was fate.

Fatalism is the view that what will be, will be, and nothing can change that. Might not taking on this view turn a person into a quietest who lives a still and passive life? Perhaps, if one believes in fate, one will not struggle against it. A clear literary example of this is described in Richard Adam’s epic rabbit adventure, Watership Down. At one point, Hazel and the other rabbits who are striking out to find a new home, run into a tribe of rabbits who live a well fed and pleasant life. However, they are taken for the pot one by one. All these rabbits know that one day they will be taken, but they do no know what that day will be. So they spend their time writing poetry and putting on tragic dramas, waiting quiescently for their individual ends. Hazel discovers what is going on and offers them a chance to escape. The ‘artistic’ rabbits turn down the offer by saying that their lives are their fate and they are resigned to it.

Perhaps there is another way, too, that belief in fate might affect one’s approach to life. There is a scene in Johnson’s “Rasselas” in which the hero meets a scientist who is weighed down by his conviction that he controls much of the weather and brings up the sun each morning from the top of his observatory. He is cured when he realizes that it is all a fantasy in his head. Finding out that something is not within one’s own power can be a relief. Responsibility is a heavy burden that can be laid down when one finds that the issue is out of one’s control. If we combine that with the idea of God’s providence, we have a source of consolation as well. I conclude that believing in free will or fatalism has practical consequences for the life of the believer, and thus falls within the subject matter of practical metaphysics.

Leave a comment ?


  1. s. wallerstein (aka amos)

    My sense that people do not choose to be who or what they are, that they are the product of their genes, their upbringing, their environment, their social class, the zeitgeist, etc., makes it easier for me to accept them, although by the same logic, my accepting them is also the product of my genes, my upbringing, etc.

  2. Jeff,
    This is so nicely written there’s not much wiggle room for comment. Hope you don’t mind if I deviate from the “practical” angle.
    I get a feeling of arrogance when I think about determinism much like the kind I get thinking about the physicist (Lord Kelvin, I think – sounds like him)saying at the end of the 19th century that pretty much all of physics was already known. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was determinism’s hay day. Determinists seem pretty much to believe the same thing. To me it’s the same thing as saying everything has to happen according to the physical laws as we know them now. How long have they been saying that, since at least Laplace’s time, 18th – 19th century. A lot of new stuff has happened in physics since then.

  3. I offered an original approach to the question: trust me, you will not regret looking it up:

  4. Like many philosophical discussions, this one is more easily resolved in terms of quantitative analysis and hierarchical structures, than a simple flat field of binary decisions.

    In the final analysis a totally free will is as meaningless as absolute truth: we may accept the proposition that it exists, but in terms of pragmatic choices we make, we are always preconditioned by something beyond us that is not under our control.

    Free will becomes not something we simply deny with a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders, absolving all responsibility for ourselves and our actions.

    It is an aspiration. We work for more freedom in our choices: we seek to be less constrained – or some of us do.

    Others seem to make the choice to absolve themselves of choice…

    One of the reasons why a fully deterministic material world model falls at the last hurdle, is because of all these issues that impinge on the Self… the impartial observer, that cannot be impartial as part OF the world, the free chooser than cannot make true choices because it exists within the context of the choices it makes.

    So consciousness and free will can only exist outside of the realm of gross material causality. Consciousness and free will become the instruments of causal initiation in that world, and that principle is of course encapsulated in the God myth, and the myth that we have a god-part that produces the same effect in that sphere.

    I don’t want to advance that as a true proposition: merely to note that to be truly aware of and have choice with respect to a material world implicitly means there has to be a realm beyond the material. That is, one needs a hierarchy of realms to make consistent and complete sense of the one we operate on. Without that we have infinite recursion.

    That is how we mundanely operate: we may deny there is anything beyond the material, but we behave implicitly in everything we do as if that were not the case.

    And if that hypothetical realm is orthogonal to the material world, it gives us free choice with respect to it. WE can indeed choose whether to walk the dogs, or settle down with a book on Schopenhauer. And take responsibility towards the material world.

    That, of course, if we extend causality into the realm doesn’t answer the question of how we make those choices in that realm. BUT one of the conclusions I am finding more and more is that perhaps we should not extend causality beyond the realms of the material world.

    I.e. in a nutshell, free will and causality itself are mutually incompatible. The great idealism v realism debate depends on selecting the winner. My solution is to separate them, posit an immaterial realm, and leave each to work best where it holds sway.

  5. Re:-Jeff Mason Oct 3rd

    “These questions are metaphysical because neither science nor the techniques of formal logic can answer them once and for all.”

    There is scientific evidence which supports the suggestion that some at least, of our decisions, especially those leading to bodily action are made unconsciously and the onset of consciousness follows so closely after the decision that the subject assumes the decision was made consciously and freely. The question arises, is this the thin end of the wedge? Will it in the course of time, be shown that every decision we make is not under conscious control? We are as it were merely observers of the results of decisions made unconsciously. If this be the case one might ask what purpose does consciousness serve then?
    The current edition of TPM includes an interesting article by Raymond Tallis in respect of the above, some of which I personally find questionable.
    It is difficult to say something about Free Will which has not already been uttered, the same goes for the previous subject for consideration i.e. Art and Graffiti. It does seem to me that the only likely path of enlightenment, will be that trod by neuroscience, but no doubt many will disagree with this.
    What has always puzzled me with those who support free will is the statement that one could have decided otherwise. How could this be known? It is not possible to conduct, so far as I know, an experiment to test this hypothesis. Say we could return to the point of decision assuming there was an actual point; the world and all it embraces would be once again as it was, every particle in the same place, all orientated in the same direction in which case the same decision would be made again.
    I am not sure all decisions, be they conscious or unconscious, are made on the spot, so to speak. The above mentioned scientific work by Benjamin Libet and others however DOES rely on that condition. It seems that over a period of time we drift into situations. For instance I may find it attractive to go to A on holiday but during the course of the journey I find I am attracted to go by way of B, Finding B more pleasant than I anticipated, I remain there for the holiday. It is difficult to pinpoint actual decisions in such a scenario.
    This leads me to wonder if the concept of causation is a satisfactory method of analysing what man will do. Life is a continuous process and to speak of cause and effect is to single out two events from what is in fact a continuous series. It can be argued that there is no such thing as the cause for when we speak of of something as The Cause we are arbitrarily,selecting a prominent event which happens to have caught our attention from among a number of other events, any of which might with equal justice have given this description.
    So Does man have Free will ? If everything is cut and dried at an unconscious level before we become conscious of it then the answer seems to be in the negative. Additionally we know that much mental processing takes place at an unconscious level and and the degree to which this affects our choices is currently not clear. It seems to me that the only evidence we have for the existence of free will is the profound feeling that we have it. The question then follows why did human evolution decree that, and in what way does it confer survival value?

  6. Don: a hypothesis that equally saves the data is that decisions are made elsewhere and are only SUBSEQUENTLY recorded in physical brain activity…

  7. Leo:-
    Just a quick thought on this before I retire. You say “decisions are made elsewhere” Maybe I am missing something, but where would this ‘elsewhere’ be?

  8. Hmm. I thought I had bored everyone to death with my propositions already..

    What I meant was that IF you consider the ‘real world’ is something utterly different, and the ‘material world’ is – how does shopenhauer put it mere ‘representation’ then the decision and the reason for it is taken in the ‘real world and it is ‘represented’ as cause and effect phenomena in the material one.

    This is broadly the way I understand quantum entanglement: Two events are correlated at a distance, faster than information can be transferred between them.

    If we detect a particle with a particular spin here, another one with a particular spin will simultaneously be detected there…NO MATTER what spin we force it to be detected it at.

    But we cant say either event CAUSES the other.

  9. The Stone Philosophy Links - - pingback on October 4, 2011 at 5:34 pm
  10. I can’t even make sense of the idea of free will, much like the idea of God. It seems to be a phrase that’s used so much and for so long that people just roll with it, but it really doesn’t refer to anything that could possibly make sense.

    Free from what? And if you can define what it’s free from, then what is the mechanism that keeps it free, or allows it to interact with whatever it’s free from?

    Like most people, I think, I do most often go to authors who seem to back up what I already believe, but I thought Daniel Dennett’s thoughts on this subject were pretty good.

  11. One of the things we’ve heard before, and which Jeff seems to acknowledge, is that determinism and fatalism are not the same. A causal situation (not just a chain, which suggest a predestined effect) need not end at a particular point since within that situation unforeseen or unlikely events may occur leading to any of many possible ends, sort of like Lucretius’s swerve. Fatalism stipulates a particular end.

    In the realm of decisions and free will this is analogous to Don Bird’s example of ending up at B rather than A for a holiday.

    What if we, humans, “invented” both concepts, free will and determinism, precisely for the purpose assigning blame and producing guilt on the one hand, and escaping them on the other? Look at the law, the whole theater of its practice is based on them. Or did we start right off, if not with the concepts, at least with the telltale behavior?

  12. Dear Michael F.

    I think that really if you examine the matter deeply enough, you will find that both ideas are implicit in the principle of Causality, itself.

    Once you have the idea that events are real, and that they cause one another in a huge interconnected series of chains, the question is implicit as to where those chains begin. And whether or not we as ‘free agents’ can start chains of our own. Or as Joaquin describes, we or some other agency can interfere with those chains.

    I.e. are there really any truly random events?

    The idea of God as the Prime cause, and of a Prime Cause with purpose, is not far fetched to the cultures out of which it sprang.

    Neither is the idea that man himself embodies a sort of watered down bit of the same, to enable him to act – if not independently – at least with a free choice.

    Along with this general notion comes the idea that a man can stand back from events, and act outside of chains to formulate opinions and models and use them to analyse the world, and act accordingly.

    So when we talk if free will we have to ask ‘free of what?’ and ‘will to achieve what?’ and in the context that becomes free to analyse the world independently of its phenomena’ and ‘will to achieve changes in the material world’.

    When I say analyse independently of the phenomena I mean that the act of analysis itself must not change the world it analyses.

    Now of course that analysis is the scientific process the process of ‘natural philosophy’ and if it comes to the conclusion that it itself is based on deterministic principles you have the usual paradox of recursion: free will in the sense of arriving at a truth that is independent of the phenomenal world, is used to ‘prove’ that no such thing can exist…Ho hum.

    Or if you consider that models are all inaccurate representations, because you deny freedom to think independently, then the paradox still exists: You cannot help but think that way, whether or not it’s true!

    I cannot resolve this dilemma: I merely note that these issues are intrinsic to the process of modelling the world AS IF it were a real and independent thing from the model making entity.

    I.e. we act in every way AS IF these things were real and had meaning, whether or not we believe that to be truly the case.

    As I constantly say, ultimately we cant say that we have absolute free will or we would all be God with Magical Powers. That’s really solipsism or Monism I suppose. But we can have the freedom to interpret the material world IF we accept that the material world is not the be all and end all of all there is. That way we are relatively free to analyse it and do science on it.

  13. Thanks for an interesting post on an important and much-misunderstood topic, Jeff. I am somewhat sympathetic with Leo’s response.
    Here is my own reply:

  14. Thanks for the help, Leo. I think I understand what you’re trying to tell me, because I’ve read much the same in other books. I can understand how thoughts of free will and Prime Causers sprang up in other cultures. But I’m still hung up on the notion that “free will” and “God” are ideas that don’t make sense by their definitions alone. They are just confusions that came about because people wanted answers to tough questions and they did the best with the info they had. It seems like we’re free, so they said we’re free.

    But, again, what could we possibly be free from? At least, in the sense that they want. You can say that a car without it’s brake on is free to roll down a hill, but this isn’t the type of freedom “free will” supporters want. We are part of the world and no more free from it’s effects that a car is.

  15. Leo,
    First, an aside, are you Robert, the person writing about jazz?
    You wrote above:
    “. . . a totally free will is as meaningless as absolute truth. . .”
    Whenever possible I like to nail down definitions and so got the following from one of the internet philosophical encyclopedias: Let us then understand free will as the capacity unique to persons that allows them to control their actions, i.e. act freely.
    I take it from your above quoted sentence you’re saying all understanding of free will is meaningless.
    That is, if I am offered a selection of things and choose one of them, say X, then the person I am at that instant did not use free will in doing so, because my history foreordained X would be picked by me. What you’re saying then is that the I who picked out X is in some way divorced from my history for, if you really credit me at the instant in question as being married to that history then it is a part of me, in fact, that part of me that forced me to choose X. But, in effect, that reduces to my forcing myself to choose a certain way, which is clearly a manifestation of controlling my action. But, no one is going to deny that a person’s history, genes and whatnot aren’t a part of the person.

  16. `I am not a religious person. How ever my understanding of free will is that has its origin in those multitude of hugely influential religious people, who down the ages have declared that a God was responsible for creating everything including human beings. Putting it crudely it was explained that God did not want everything to work like clockwork once he had wound the spring of creation. He accordingly arranged things such that human beings could actually intervene in his creation and make changes therein. The game was then afoot, human beings were free to will what they wanted and if they tried hard enough they could often get it, because God had given them free will. God is supposed to sit back and either approve of disapprove of what humans will. Generally the God connection is forgotten when we discuss Free Will and personally I find no problem in understanding what it means. It is surely that Humans can intervene in reality and make changes in accordance with their own desires. For my own part I doubt that this is the case, but I either lack the ability, and/or the knowledge, to assemble an irrefutable argument in respect thereof and so far as I know, other humans are in a similar position.

  17. s. wallerstein (ex amos)


    I think that the concept of free will has to do with the idea of moral responsibility, that people freely choose to be good or bad or to do good or bad things.

    I don’t believe that myself.

    However, contrary to what you say, I do believe that human beings can intervene in reality and make changes according to their desires. What I deny is that human beings can choose their desires. Rather, our desires are the product of our genes, our upbringing, our cultural milieu, our social class, etc., etc.

  18. GRA:
    (I am not Robert, I am Leo, and I try NEVER to talk about Jazz).

    I can’t say when it happened, although I know when the idea occurred first, but my thinking now understands the limitations of thinking, about thinking!

    Many have said it, most accept it intellectually, few understand the staggering implications.

    There may be a world – a real world – out there, of which we are part. I assume (for want of a better idea) that this is a reasonable way to approach experience and discuss it.

    But the tools and concepts we use to describe it to ourselves, and to each other are *necessarily* imperfect and limited. They are not the ‘real world’: they are a MODEL of the real world.

    The business of philosophy, as I understand it, is to sharpen up those models and draw boundaries of their applicability. And get a glimpse of how and why we make the models at all.

    I personally feel that this is why most people misunderstand metaphysics. They are looking for some assurance that some concept exists in the real world. Or not,.

    But this is an impossible quest. Concepts exist in concept-space. The reality that they describe is not in concept-space. It is in phenomena-space. So to speak.If there is but one real world, that real world includes both concept-space and phenomena-space, sure.

    BUT you end up with recursion if you try and make concept-space include phenomena space and conversely try and make phenomena-space generate concept-space.

    Realism as such, in my understanding (necessarily limited) arises from a highly religious concept. The proposition that concept-space is part of a divinity that lies above and beyond the material world, or phenomena-space…without that god like perspective, we cant SEE phenomena space objectively.

    Now we have thrown out the idea of a personal intelligent deity ‘out there’ as being irrelevant, superstitious and unnecessary, and that is I think good.

    BUT we cannot escape the fact that, if we are to construct models about phenomena-space, we need to introduce a realm in which these models are constructed. And we had better be aware that the realms don’t overlap or the models are highly approximate only.

    Ergo when we take a concept like free will, we already know it cannot be universally applicable. It’s a tool, only. A way of talking about an aspect of our experience which is more or less useful.

    Perhaps the only true choice we have is whether or not to use it, and similar ideas.

    My own view is that ideas about religion occurred because as Man developed a complex set of relations with the world, and developed what amounts to a wordless LANGUAGE to describe his own experience and memory in terms of a story – a myth – couched in terms of space and time and energy and matter and so on, he needed a place to contain the dim memory of another state where this language had not always held sway..a place where there are no concepts, no time, no space, just experience…this is the blissful experience of a new born child perhaps..

    And one of the most pervasive images of Western religion, at least from shamanism to Christianity, is the death and rebirth cycle. To be ‘born again’ is to lose the old concept model and have the chance to construct a new one.

    But I digress. I suppose I am really saying that to deny the existence of a Christian God is but the first step to a rational understanding of religion itself as a way of relating to certain aspects of experience that are pre-rational…that is traditional religion is pants, but the ideas and experiences it relates to have not gone away.

    I say all this because it is part of the story of how we come to be where we are intellectually. At least as I personally arrange these matters. Free will is just another element of the myth of reality (as we consider it to be). Its a way of relating to things.

    Not in the same space at all as things that are formed IN our life-stories about who we are and what has happened to us.

    And this confusion arises because we have lost religion. We don’t have a tag any more to put on concept-space. Souls are held not to exist, and mind is just patterns in matter.

    Please don’t get me wrong: Dumping religion has been hugely liberating, but, babies and bathwater. It now leads to the confusion between concept space and phenomena space.

    WE went looking for God in phenomena-space, didn’t find him, and concluded he didn’t exist. But he – or the thing that we used to call Him – never went away in concept-space.

    In short, it is our ability to think at ALL, and to form concepts, that betrays the existence of something outside the objects of its own construction. The hand of a Creator exists in everything we perceive, not because some supernatural being in the sky decreed it to be so, but because we ourselves have made the language of experience and its in US that the so called divinity resides:

    This is not to make us more than we are, it is to make the phenomenal world LESS than ‘all there is’..and that is the final understanding that makes sense of all the religion and metaphysics.

    Once the phenomenal world merely is a MODEL of what is really out there, an imperfect and limited model created by us, step by step, as a useful tool to do whatever it is we want to do, then everything realigns: Kant makes sense, religion makes sense. Mysticism makes sense, ideas about magic make sense. Free will makes sense. They are all issues to do with not the phenomenal reality we have created, as a relation to ‘whatever is the case’, but aspects of the business of creating it in the first place.

    The price to pay for enlightenment, is the loss of certainty that the objects of our creation, the language of the phenomenal world, is a 100% accurate representation of ‘whatever is the case’ and we ourselves are part of that representation, and totally bound by it..

    The reward is freedom of choice in terms of the language we can use to describe reality. We can’t perhaps change ‘whatever is the case’ – that is the price we pay for having a SELF-ish existence. BUT we have the freedom to choose the nature of that self. And by extension, the nature of the phenomenal world it reflects.

    I believe that is the best I can do to re-present the basic religious idea that man has a free choice – if a hard one – to liberate himself from the objects of his own creation and re-arrange them, if he has a mind to (sic!).

    And it explains the need for Faith, perhaps. If you don’t believe its possible, you wont ever make the effort 🙂

    I suppose the greatest tragedy, for me, is that those who peddle these ideas haven’t the faintest idea of what it is they are in fact peddling.

    They gave stumbled on formulae that work but have no idea why..and so each Way, becomes The One True Way.


    To conclude: the basic idea is that the phenomenal world is not the real world. It is merely a useful description. That is easy to accept intellectually, but very hard to accept as a physical proposition, that nothing you experience is actually THERE in quite the same way as you normally treat it, and it could actually change if you stopped thinking about it in the way you do. This is hugely disturbing, and you are skirting insanity if you get too bothered about it.

    But it does offer us better tools to deal with the edges of the world as we know it..with consciousness, the observation problem, with quantum physics..

    Free will exists WITH RESPECT TO THE MATERIAL WORLD simply because the material or phenomenal world is not all there is. It is in fact our own construction and we can, with effort, modify it.

    Now that doesn’t mean that we can do ANYTHING. As we are, and even as we might become, there are still things beyond our scope. We are constrained. I may rearrange my desk, I cannot rearrange the fiords of Norway. (with due deference to Douglas Adams).

    But I can choose to ‘believe’ in free will, or not. For example. I can choose to ‘believe’ in the absolute validity of my own constructions (Realism) the absolute supremacy of my own mind (solipism, idealism) God’s Mind (Monism) or in some combination of the above (Leo’s Third Way?). 🙁

    The trouble with philosophers, is they love to argue. Especially from the lazy perspective of not actually bothering to understand what the other guy is saying first.

    My point, and really its the only point I have in the end, is that if we stop equating phenomena-space with ‘all there is,’ and ‘whatever is the case’ and re-introduce the mystical ideas of ‘concept-space’ the resultant metaphysical structures are simpler and more flexible.

    That religion comes back into the picture is a moot point: It sort of does, but not in a way that any religious person will like. But then as a dedicated Libran, one feels it important that if one’s ideas are to upset things, they should at least upset the religious and the Atheists equally 🙂

    Balance is a fine thing, no?

  19. S A Wallerstein wrote
    “I think that the concept of free will has to do with the idea of moral responsibility, that people freely choose to be good or bad or to do good or bad things.

    I don’t believe that myself.”

    I think that you are close, but have missed the bulls eye.

    Let me rewrite that sentence

    “I think that the concept of free will has to do with the idea of moral responsibility, that people CAN freely choose to be good or bad or to do good or bad things.

    I DO believe that myself.”

    And its the CAN that makes the difference. I will leave out the moral aspect and the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ bit because I have no hope of defining those terms absolutely. Only in terms of either culture, or personal suffering.

    We DO have choices. They are as free as we care to make them. But that freedom is not bought without supreme effort.

    One of the ways we can change ourselves is by rearranging what is important to us..

    If its more important that your child lives, than you do, you will sacrifice your life, for that of your child. Perhaps. Now the question arises as to whether or not you have choice about making that rearrangement of importances. I say its is do-able – because in my life I have done such. The stories of religious conersion is relevant. I ermember reading one of those little tracts that get pushed into your hand by sincere Believers: In it was a little note from everyone’s favourite Christian pop singer, Cliff Richard. ‘My life totally changed when I stopped putting myself at the centre, of it, and put God there instead’

    I thought ‘big deal: You have just rearranged your scale of importance, what else WOULD you expect than a total transformation in your personal experience? And this is news?’

    Now you can’t make that sort of transformation without being convinced that it is possible: If ‘Free will’ is the idea that does it, then use that idea.

    It’s not worth arguing about whether its real or not. I take the firm position that nothing is real. That for me is a more generally liberating idea.

    I then have totally free choice to interpret anything I want using any crazy idea I want and if I want to make the centre of my life the fundamental proposition that only Kellogg’s cornflakes for breakfast will do, and my life will revolve around that, I will transform my experience just as surely, and no less stupidly, than dear old Cliff.

    Only the fact that I will be in a minority of one, will make people regard me as as loopy as I regard Cliff Richard.. 🙂

    If Free will is simply the idea that you can fundamentally change yourself and your experience of life through and effort of personal will, then yes, its a valid idea, because you can.

    If it means that whether or not you do do that, is up to you alone, then probably not.

    That is: The idea is useful in people who have internal conflicts: they do things, and are not satisfied with their deeds. Then the idea of free will may provide a bridge to span the gap between what they think they are capable of, and what they really are capable of.

    Don’t think in absolute terms: Free will is a small truth, useful in small matters.

  20. Re:-s.  wallerstein (ex amos)

    “What I deny is that human beings can choose their desires. Rather, our desires are the product of our genes, our upbringing, our cultural milieu, our social class, etc., etc.”

    I think you make a good point here. We have no control over our genetic background and all that it embraces. This point, so far as my experience goes, is seldom made in enquiries concerning free will. We are not exactly born free.

    You say, whilst not supporting the statement, that people freely choose to do good or bad, or or to do good or bad things. I am wondering if it is worth considering that people never or at least rarely, choose to do bad things. What they choose to do is what they think is good for themselves. It is others who say the things are bad and they often accordingly make fair comment in that connection. Did Hitler choose to do bad things? He probably thought what he did was for the good. It turned out to be for those of us who have survived and have the opportunity to consider the whole episode from beginning to end as hideously bad and evil. Don’t hesitate to shoot me down in flames if you do not agree; it is in any case an off hand psychological reflection, as opposed to philosophical in so far as Free Will is concerned.

  21. A deterministic free will?

    In the rationalist (broadly, the Kantian tradition) it is often held (see, for example, Scanlon) that a causal worldview would be devoid of moral significance, since agential decisions and freedom mark off the moral from the natural world. If I do something by virtue of causes then I am doing nothing; I am but a vessel through which event causality streams.

    In one description, free will is a causa sui, an uncaused cause in the sense that we are the cause and we make judgments independently of any antecedent conditions. This view is supported by first person feelings and seconded by many phenomenological descriptions. Yet, the inexorable march of the natural and social sciences has progressively narrowed the ambit of free will, for we now know that what we thought was an exercise in free will is really sedimented effects of a socialization process, or the dysfunctioning of the frontal lobe and so on. Further, when asked to justify a judgment or action ex post, agents invariably give reasons or cite causes. Even when they say “just because” they are citing an (inchoate) antecedent. It seems reasonable to suppose that all of these prior causes and reasons have a provenance in event streams of some sort.

    Yet there are many decisional messes. When we have decision contexts that are complex and ambiguous, where there are more independent variables—and more importantly a virtual infinite shade of the values or weights of these variables–than our cognitive systems can handle, we often resort to our non-cognitive feelings (Type I thinking, aisthesis) about the matters at hand to aid in decision-making. Similar to Simon’s bounded rationality and the art of muddling through, these non-conscious decisions could be seen to be happenings, the functioning of an autopoetic process within the self. A second function of aisthesis is to stop the infinite regressus of reasons, the regulism, that Brandom discusses. Further, the logical primacy of aisthetics in Kant is what makes the efficacy of the categories possible—that is, without feeling, the entire cognitive enterprise does not get off of the ground. Today, we express this sentiment when we claim (or at least some do) that we are embodied and embedded entities, and it is in this context that all things, judgments included, are wrought.

    Thus, the argument goes, the fact that all of us cite reasons or causes as the bases for our judgments and we muddle through in cases where fully conscious decision making fails, we therefore do not exercise a power called causa sui free will, but we do make decisions. For the practical output from a self that is made up of conscious and unconscious parts, is still the unit of description for the resultant behavior. The phenomenology, the feeling, is not illusory; we, as owners and not agents, are judging, but we are doing so based on a set of known or unknown antecedent conditions. And as the owners of the outputs, in the sense that the independent variables are concatenated within our selves, society can hold us responsible for these outcomes. We are the emergent entities that produce, albeit for reasons or causes, the behaviors.

    None of the above appears to address Scanlon’s concern about the lack of moral significance in deterministic accounts of action. A clue that may address this problem might be found in Kant’s discussion of determinate and indeterminate judgments, where the latter are cases in which a decision maker is seeking his decision rule. An indeterminate judgment results in an aesthetic presentation that proposes the solution to the problem. It is an aesthetic judgment and presentation because it is grounded in large part in an aisthesis. In these difficult cases there are so many variables and such vagueness that we let the autopoetic solution, conjoint with cognitive inputs if any, within the self solve the problem. And it is this upwelling that combines the cognitive with the non-cognitive (it is of mind and body) that we could call “free will”. It is the indeterminate judgment that is driven by determinate antecedents that is issued in an aesthetic presentation and judgment. You could call it the clinamen or the ludic, or the probabilistic outcome of an autopoetic process that is located within the human self.

    So, in this speculative if not fictional account, determinism—but not fatalism– is sustained, as well as a kind of free will that seems to operate as a cognitive and non-cognitive feeling that is manifested through an autopoetic judgmental process. (Or at least this is how my phenomenology of these things has turned out.) It is a power that dwells within us and helps us cope with an unknowable future that is grounded in our indeterminate present. This viewpoint is more than a quietism and less than an activism as it is a self-involved emergentism that converts the determinate antecedents of an indeterminate judgment into a defined output. As such it is not a libertarianism, nor a clean-cut determinism, nor a compatibilism, for an autopoetic mechanism of indeterminacy can mean that an event could be otherwise than it was.

    One way to see this is to consider that in hard decisions the values of the variables in a judgment are so nuanced that values in an event stream are effectively in a superposition with other values. It is the autopoetic judgment that decoheres the determinate antecedents into one value to the exclusion of the other. Unlike quantum mechanics, it is the judgment and not the measurement that precipitates out the indeterminacy from the determinate conditions to produce a finite output. So, in this view, the autopoesis is not unlike Breton’s autowriting—the products can easily be otherwise. And in this dark process we are not the causa sui but the genius loci out of which our “freedom” is born, but it is a proprietary one, for to wish for more is to wish for that which cannot be granted.

  22. s. wallerstein (aka amos)


    You’re misreading what I wrote above. (october 5 6:03)

    I wrote that the concept of free will depends on the idea that people freely choose to do good or bad things.

    My next sentence says: “I don’t believe that myself”.

    I was merely trying to explain that in my opinion the concept of free will has its roots in a theory of moral responsibility, which I do not agree with.

    If there is no free will, bad people do not choose to be bad and we cannot blame them, although we can avoid them or imprison them to prevent them from doing more harm
    or treat them medically, if that is possible.

    If you’ll recall from a previous conversation, we basically share the same position about the nonexistence of free will, that of Mr. Galen Strawson.

  23. Re S Wallerstein
    I did say that I had noticed you did not support the statement you made about Good and Bad; it just occurred to me notwithstanding, and as as an odd thought, perhaps far fewer people that we think actually decide to do Bad. They were only doing what they thought was good for them but others saw it as bad, which it probably was.
    I just had another quick look at Strawson’s argument with which I agree. It does of course directly impact legal responsibility not to break the Law. For me additionally I also have sympathy with the argument that we are not in charge. That is to say the experience of conscious will arises when we infer that our conscious intention has caused our voluntary action, although both intention and action are themselves caused by mental processes that do not feel willed. I don’t know if I have mentioned it before but there is an interesting book by Daniel M Wegner called the “Illusion of Conscious Will” It is psychological rather than Philosophical so it does not purport to solve the Philosophical problem although in my opinion it is quite an eye opener for thought in that direction. You can have look at a preview of the book here

  24. Freedom is not the absense of constraints, on the contrary, freedom always includes constraints, provided these are in harmony with one’s nature.

    As an example: A kid saw a plant, anthropomorphized it and called it Robert-Plant (pun!). Wanting to free Robert-Plant a bit more, he decided to remove some of it’s constraints. So, he unearthed Robert-Plant and brought it to school, so that it could see more of the world (a cute thing to do actually). Alas, Robert-Plant died.

    In this rather obvious example, soil was a necessary constraint for the plant’s freedom.

    Humans enjoy combining things, and so, we constantly harmonize our ideas (or concepts) with the sensed world. We do this through a paradigm of falsification: what was learnt from the past stays true until proven otherwise. Our deterministic past has formed our vision of the world along with our capacities, is not an hinderance, on the contrary, it is the stepping stone from which falsification can happen, to keep our normative reality in sync with the objective reality as our environment changes.

    And so, if determinism is a necessary constraint for human freedom, our will can only be free within determinism.

    Incidentally, if you remove determinism from will, we would callthat whim

  25. Jim: its interesting. (Schopenhauer)

    I feel like writing a resume on him… Interesting ideas..lost of them WRONG but the themes that stand the test of time are valuable I think.

    What interests me are the inevitable consequences of a divide and categorise strategy on the nature of the world…

    more anon..

  26. Schopenhauer’s “The World as Will and Idea” Appears to fall into four sections. So far as I am concerned sections one and two embrace our relation to the world that is the world as idea, where he seems to accept Kant’s division between the world as we experience and interpret it it and how it may be outside of that experience. However once he reaches and begins to develop his main theme concerning The Will he begins to loose me. He ultimately describes the Will as not an intelligence but blind and directionless just a striving which condemns humans to lives of suffering. I cannot say that is so so far as my life goes my experience and I am still not sure what he means by Will. If I remember rightly this, (The definition of ‘Schopenhauer’s Will’), remains an unresolved problem with many of his commentators.
    I am currently reading David Cartwright’s Biography of Schopenhauer and have just reached the commentary on “The World as Will and Idea” perhaps that will enlighten me.

  27. Don: yes. he does that to me too..BUT there is a kernel of something there that resonates with my experience…

    Having traced causality in my own experience as far as I could, there does remain a blind urge…As I said earlier somewhere,, the problems of ‘why anything? why this thing in particular?’ exist in any metaphysic.

    Up to and including the big bang theory…

    All knowledge consists of categorizing experience into entities and expressing their resultant relationships as a time/causal network. Ergo there will always remain those two issues that possibly knowledge-as-we-know-it can only elucidate but never answer. Why this entity-relation set? And that is somewhat answered by the concept of an urge to make it be that way, and the final question, why the thing in itself at all?

    What I have come to understand dimly is that all metaphysics are transforms of one another..what appears as the dawn of time and broken symmetry in the realist’s model appears as a dawn of consciousness at birth in the idealists model.

    The problem is restated, but not solved..and in fact all problems are restated but not necessarily solved, although one approach beats another in terms of specific contained problems.

    I.e. trying to build a river bridge using idealism is pretty hard work. Whereas it provides a perfectly acceptable algorithmic solution in terms of a physical realism model.

    In other cases the reverse is true.

    Of course there is a deep issue to be considered here: if we condemn causality merely of the world of phenomena, we cant validly talk about anything ‘causing’ that world to come into being as an aspect of Consciousness, Will and the Thing-in-itself.

    One admits one is struggling at the boundaries of what is expressible in language.

    I will plough on through Schopenhauer’s morals and ethics and see if he has some good ways to make the attempt.

  28. s. wallerstein (aka amos)

    “Philosophers who have no great number of wrong ideas also aren’t interesting”.

    That would be a great subject for a blog.

    I’ve never read Schopenhauer, but I have read Spinoza and they have in common that they try to explain everything or almost everything and they make a lot of errors.

    So why read Spinoza?

    I’m sure that the article in Wikipedia on cosmology or ethics or the mind-body problem is much more accurate on those subjects than Spinoza’s Ethics.

    First of all, I would note that if you try to explain a lot, you’re bound to make more mistakes. Someone who repeats 2 + 2 = 4 all day does not err, but isn’t very interesting.

    Spinoza and Schopenhauer make wild gambles (that they can explain everything) and they fail.

    There are some academic philosophers whom I run into who I would love to hire as accountants to do my income tax for me: they are so meticulous, they never err, yet they never err simply because there is no sense of adventure.

    There is a sense of adventure in Spinoza and Schopenhauer.

    Hannah Arendt somewhere says that the errors in Marx are always fruitful for the reader. I’ve looked for the passage (I think that it’s in the Human Condition), but I haven’t found it yet.

  29. It is a human failing to think that because you have discovered a hammer than bangs in nails, all other problems resemble nails.

    What is even more depressing and far more egregious, is for the critical analyst to come along and point out that because one problem wasn’t a nail, the whole philosophy of hammers is disproven.

    Might as well discard Newtons gravity on account of his perplexing search for a logical proof of God…

  30. It is all about explanation and description. This is to say we as humans try to describe the world, and we try to explain it. What is so often forgotten is that such descriptions and explanations are infected with our own genetic, psychological, and and sensory compositions. I may be wrong but at this time I cannot think of any explanation we have access to, which does not have its origin in another human. I ignore here explanations which purport to find their origin in God. The underlying principle which predominates all life is survival of the organism. Accordingly we find it difficult to imagine outside the mathematical expressions, the ramifications of say, The phenomena of Quantum theory and Relativistic theory. So far as explanation goes Humans are in a kind of private language situation. Out of this it seems we are locked in and the key turned on our uncertainty. Things which seem to work for us we call true, a pragmatic approach. John Dewey has suggested that Scientific Theories are instruments or tools for coping with reality; accordingly they provide us with the ability to speak about Nature in terms of which seem to be currently the best explanation.
    The sense of adventure mentioned by Amos is I think important especially where ideas are concerned. I wonder for instance if an organism exists anywhere in the universe which does not base explanations on the principle of cause and effect. An organism which can somehow embrace reality as a whole, and provide explanations.

  31. “I wonder for instance if an organism exists anywhere in the universe which does not base explanations on the principle of cause and effect. An organism which can somehow embrace reality as a whole, and provide explanations.”

    According to the mystics, they can do exactly that.

    But they are singularly inept at describing it. 🙂

    After all, the precondition to observing it, is that one is not there to see it 🙂

  32. Further thoughts:

    I’ve been thinking about this idea of free will from a systems approach. It seems to clarify it – at least for me.

    If you have a closed system such that there are no inputs and outputs, but merely behaviour, then its behaviour, even if not predictable (chaotic) is still fully deterministic. Pre ordained by the rules of it’s construction.

    If it has inputs, then it’s behaviour may be open to respond to those inputs.

    We may say that the entity causing those inputs has free will with respect to the behaviour of that system. For sure the system cannot change itself utterly, but it can have slightly different outcomes with respect to the changes in inputs.

    If we define the universe as a closed single system, then the system as a whole cannot be said to have free will.

    This seems to be Schopenhauer’s point. There is but one universal Will and the universe is its predilection. And we are but fragments of its uncaring blind purpose.

    And yet, in another breath, we have the concept that all concepts are derivative.., mere representation. So we cannot therefore project the concept of Number ..or indeed the lack of it, beyond the phenomenal world.

    We are, so to speak, trying to make a phenomenon out of the phenomenon of a phenomenal world in its entirety…

    So I think he steps beyond the limits here, and that could be his Great Mistake.

    If we are forced to attempt to describe that which lies beyond description, we should be aware that we cannot but make vague efforts.There is no hope of doing more than making the odd incoherent rambling reference …’er.. I saw the face of God’ etc. etc.

    And therein lies my problem here. We, even I , may glimpse the sense of vast implacable Juggernaut of Fate moving us inexorably towards something, powerless to resist, but what on earth, or in heaven,is the point of my having such an awareness?

    The fact that I have such an awareness has to imply I stand somewhat outside the perception.

    I.e. where on earth or in heaven am ‘I’ when ‘I’, have it?

    All the worlds mythologies., most of which regard the material world as temporary, bounded and having immutable laws or rules, assign those rules to either godlike personal beings or in the case of Western rational materialism, to blind mechanical natural forces. Nevertheless there is always the concept that Order, means Law, and that is a power beyond humanity, and behind the phenomenal world.

    Even quantum physics notes that whilst quantum events are seemingly random, spread over time they statistically obey Law.

    Law beyond our individual choices would seem to be in all cases a precondition for having an ordered phenomenal world.

    However, if we then expand on the Kantian/Schopenhauer theme that these aspects are but constructions of Idea used to ensure that the phenomenal world can exist for us, in the way that it does, and that we ourselves – or Will itself – is responsible for its imposition, then we have to concede that beyond the realm of the phenomenal and its Causes, Law does NOT exist.

    In short, we must surely stop dead at a sign that says ‘everything you know, every concept you have ceases to have meaning and relevance here: All you can know is that this is, however, not the end of the matter’. (although it is the end of ALL matter :-))

    I.e. the Great Mistake is to extrapolate a concept from the temporal phenomenal material world, where it has meaning and descriptive power, to the huge ocean of noumenal Isness, where it has none.

    Ergo, we see that Free Will and choice exist as valid concepts in an individuated phenomenal world as expressions of things that stand outside systems, in terms of their interactions with those systems. But that individuated phenomenal world is not ‘all there is’ it is a transform, a representation, of something beyond it or an order different from it. That ‘Free will’ is a transform of some aspect of the beyond is assumed: But as with all Great Philosophical Mistakes, of which I class Materialism as one..the mistake lies in concluding that ‘as below, so above’ – i.e. that the transform In ANY WAY WHATSOVEVER resembles that which has been transformed.

    In the same way that the pixels on the screen in front of you do not in any way resemble either me, or the data packets flowing through the Internet to FORM that representation of my Ideas for your presumed perusal.

    Phenomenal reality, we understand, no WAY resembles even the quantum world… we understand that the phenomenal world is the PATTERN, the INFORMATION content of the quantum world.

    If we place free will and choice as mere categories in that phenomenal world, we can see that to speak of them in universal terms is meaningless. We have gone ultra vires with our logic.

    That takes us to a further curious point: It’s one I have encountered many many times and it always at some deep level brings about – originally a shock of pure terror, but these days a wry chuckle…and that is this.

    We have the free choice, as to whether to consider we have a free choice, or not.

    If we consider we have a free choice, then we have to consider that it is a free choice to choose to believe that we do. By choosing free choice, it enters into our world as a pre-rational category.

    If we consider we do not, then by definition that is a choice we never had, to make. We were always bound to deny the possibility. WE erase the concept from our category set.

    The choice reinforces its conclusions. In both cases.

    The odd and curious thing is we can (I hope) understand the above sentences: It is what we of my generation used to call a classic mind f**k. (apologies if I breach the rules of probity: please moderate to acceptable standards of language). By ‘choosing to believe’ in one way or another (with zero real justification for either choice) the total quality of the individual’s world view is completely altered. Behaviour is altered. Mood is altered. Life is somehow different. Was this my road to Damascus moment? Yes, it was.

    Because I was utterly totally aware at that moment of having made a choice, knowing full well that it was a choice I had to make, knowing that there was no rational basis for making it, no way to ever know if it was true, real or had meaning: Those things were what I PUT INTO that choice. How did I make it? I considered the future implications of the choices. To act as if I were free and had free choice was a glorious freedom, bought at the price of ultimate total uncertainty about any or all of my knowledge of anything: I took responsibility for the organisation of my Kantian categories. They were no longer things that must be, they were things I had chosen. In that moment I took full final and ultimate responsibility for my life, its outcome and its shape. Knowing that I could not really understand in any rational sense why I had made them, BUT I could at least reserve the right to change them again.

    We have, with respect to the system of the construction of the phenomenal world, ultimate free choice in how we arrange its elements. That our choice may be constrained by things of which we wot not, is accepted. That the choices is limited, is accepted. But we exist above and beyond that phenomenal world, or that choice could not be made.

    Those who have made that choice, maintain that free will exists as a universal principle 🙂 Those that have abdicated responsibility maintain that it does not.

    Those who have the acute discernment of the true philosopher, realise that choice itself, is only another construct. They understand that at a certain point and place and time, in phenomenal terms, they encountered possibility, and used it. Without ever knowing what they were really doing or why they were doing it. Or indeed who was doing it.

    The act itself took place outside the phenomenal world. It is ultimately not able to be rendered into the language of that world.

    One is aware of an omega point. It seems like one has made a deep choice. That is the what memory tells one. But memory is just a story one tells oneself, a notebook of experience in coarse concepts and symbols.

    The Truth, whatever is the case.. is always significantly beyond one’s powers of description.

    Which is why we have a thousand Paths To Enlightenment, a Thousand ‘One True Religions’. They are no more than people saying ‘this was my way: I did these things and arrived ..Somewhere Else’ And, truth be told, we are not ourselves when we arrive.

    This is how I understand what religions and mysticisms are: they are ways to take ones self to a point where one true choice – perhaps the only true choice, exists. To see all the forces that impinge on the Self spread out, and, knowing that one knows nothing in absolute terms, make a choice according to the deepest precepts of whatever it is one finds there.

    Its not perhaps a final choice, it may be an illusory choice, it may be a preordained choice..all these things are ways of looking at it. They are all part of the choice you may make.

    But it is as far as I personally have ever gone, and beyond that, I shrug my shoulders. The rest is beyond my concern and my ken.

  33. JIM:

    What I mean is clearer if you step into the metaphysics of Kant and Schopenhauer, and accept that the qualities and quantities of time space and causality and indeed will are nothing more than the axes along which (we?) construct the phenomenal world in order to be able to divide it into entities and establish relations between them.

    They are so to speak, the paper and ink and the language on which and with which we write the story of our personal lives, about our experience of the thing-in-itself which stand like an elephant in the room, unnoticed apart from when it treads on our toes.

    The question of ‘does free will really exist?’ only arises because one takes the realist position. To a realist, naturally, things really exist. To a follower of the above philosophers nothing ‘really’ exists. All is language, all is conjecture. The thing in itself is said to exist, but it is inaccessible and has no quality as we understand it. Indeed the concept that the thing in itself exists is only a hangover from the realist position which maintains that because there is order in the phenomenal world, something beyond either us or it must be *causing* it.

    Even as we confidently state that causality itself is a feature that applies *only* to the phenomenal world.

    And this is the essence of the problem and the essence of my way of explaining it: It is necessarily personal because I have no other position from which to speak.

    My way of understanding the world of our experience, is to say that phenomenal reality is in fact nothing but theories, all the way down. And the most basic of these conjectures is that we in some way exist in some sense more or less independently of that which we perceive and experience. ‘We’ are at the bottom, nothing more or less than a focus of awareness that exists in the thing in itself to become aware of what is ‘not us’.

    That awareness is further focussed into a story of a phenomenal world, by adducing some elements into the processes of awareness and reflecting their complementary qualities into the phenomenal world. I am vague, because we don’t have the language for these deep issues.

    Once we start to divide the phenomenal world up into things (reification) to which we adduce a quasi independence, the fact that they now move in orderly fashion, becomes expressed as phenomena linked in time by causality.

    I,e the introduction of phenonema and order into the OBJECT is reflected in the introduction of causal law in time in the SUBJECT.

    The distinction that Kant made and Schopenhauer seems to express most clearly is that these things – the ‘Aeternae veritas’ are not absolutes: they are a function of the perceiving entity. The language in which we write the storybook of phenomenal reality. Not the thing-in-itself.

    That is, when we introduce causality – as evinced by the operation of (as we might term it today) Natural Law, the question arises of ‘why this law?’ and, since its arising seems to the selves we have constructed in the phenomenal world to be well beyond that world, we say ‘it is the Will of God’ or some such nonsense.

    Two points: to believe in a real phenomenal world implicitly assumes some godliness, either in the shape of the exact natural laws that shape it or even in Schopenhauers conception as some manifest Will of the Thing-in-itself.

    (Schopenhauer still does not break from realism even as he states he does. (It is impossible to describe things beyond the real using the language of the real so I may do him a disservice here.))

    The second point is that the concept of will itself is inextricably linked with the concept of causality, the concept of self, and the concept of order. In order for us not to exist in chaos, that means an overarching Will, Causality and Law must exist beyond our power to affect it. And yet in order that we can affect anything, we must seem to have a free will in dimensions orthogonal to that in which the Great Will operates.

    (Please accept a lot of bulging in the cheek here. I don’t want to appear as some latter day Prophet..I am serious, but the words are rubbish).

    My get out of jail free card is played at this point.

    I simply create another dimension, which I call consciousness, the essence of the Self, and say that it is immaterial and is separate from the phenomenal world which is its creation.

    The phenomenal world then becomes a function of the Great Will of Schopenhauer, but also the little will of ourselves.

    And we are firmly back, of course as one wryly notes, with something that is equally well described in mediaeval language of a ‘little piece of God, called a soul, in every man’.

    None of this of course is real. It’s away of arranging and ordering things so they make a kind of sense to us: The price we pay for being beings that do not have to sit there all day consciously creating a world, is that we abrogate our freedom to do so to some ‘higher power’ expressed as the ‘Aeternas Veritas’ of Natural Law.
    The story of the shaman, the mystics and the religious prophets, and the scientist is that we can indeed take some of this power back, however.

    We can aspire to become more godlike. We can determine the future. We have free will in a limited way.

    Whether this is absolutely true or simply a very good approximation, or a complete delusion is simply a function of the choices you make. There is an inherent reflexivity here as I tried to say in the last post. Castaneda sums up the spirit of that choice well, in his novels: ‘the warrior has to act as if he had the freedom of choice to act, and in doing so he finds that he has’ is a rough re-utterance.

    I see this in the following way: To act as if something is real is to actually modify the nature of consciousness. To actually create a new element in the language of reality. What is at issue here is, if you like, not whether we have free will or not, because we are not constants in ourselves. Some of us have and some of us have not, because we chose to believe we had. Or not.

    The belief of the enlightened man is not because he thinks it corresponds to a real entity:How could it be, as there are none such?

    It is an Act of faith, that by behaving as if something were real, he can bring it into being within consciousness as a functional hypothesis.

    We do this every time we propose a new scientific theory. Is gravity real? No. We MAKE it real by tuning its qualities to adapt to the world we seem to exist in. The Act of faith was to propose that somehow the operation of the physical world was in itself subject to Law. And that the Law was discoverable in some way.

    This brings us to the final conclusion. The Ultimate Act of faith and the expression of the Free will of the consciousness is the bringing into being of the rule bound phenomenal world that denies the existence of the free will of its creator, ourselves! 🙂

    As Schopenhauer wryly notes, all metaphysics is a circular argument, and only by stepping off the circle into another dimension, can this be seen.

    Fortunately we are free to believe in as many dimensions as are necessary ion order to construct any model we want.

    I firmly believe that! 🙂

    None of them are real, they are just models, but its more interesting than watching TV innit?

  34. Jim: I did, immensely.

    I might have saved myself the bother of posting the above if I had simply linked to that.

    One thing that did emerge was the remarkable insight of calling Schopenhauer a ‘system builder’ which is I think on the button.

    And I think that’s where I begin as well, as a system builder in the mundane sense, applying the theories of systems analysis and construction to philosophical issues: More, applying systems analysis to the process of the mind and consciousness to allow me to say “if we have this, then that is a necessary corollary, but we don’t maybe need to have the ‘this’. Its a free choice”.

    Because, to me, everything is a model of something that I cant describe without a model, even to myself, and furthermore can only experience AS a model, very few philosophical arguments that attempt to describe where such and such a concept idea or physical thing resides, or how real it is, make any sense.

    Unicorns and polar bears are on a par, existence wise: the only difference is that experiences corresponding closely to the one are available in the time space matter world of agreed common experience, and the other is not found there..but the ideas of both exist.

    Ergo, we can fully explore the original question of Free will in terms of it existing for sure as a concept, of more or less meaning to us individually, but it only exists in relation to the context of us operating within the limits of a material world. In which we are in some sense immaterial beings.

    Now that is a choice – a free choice of metaphysics, to regard ourselves that way, or not.

    Philosophers want the philosopher’s stone, the one true fact in a world of seemingly infinite relation. The one point of origin of the axis of thought and model making, and they want it to tell them what really is, and what really ought to be.

    I say reason itself shows that reason cannot establish that. We treat the phenomenal world AS IF it were real and important and so, for us, it BECOMES so. WE lay down our axes, but they are personal, not universal.

    In the limit there IS no universal truth or morality.

    But for us as humans, there is a RELATIVE truth and a RELATIVE morality.

    And those RELATIVE truths are what we encapsulate in our conception of the phenomenal world and how we ought to act in it to ensure the survival of our conceptions about it.

    Free will does exist, but of course not IN the phenomenal world, as we have defined that to be deterministic.

    And yet, it doesn’t exist outside it either, if we take the full Schopenhauer model on board. Ergo if we want free will, we need another dimension….:-)

    My conclusion is that we need a three orthogonal element structure to make life make sense. What is inside us is NOT a little part of the ‘thing in itself’ – the Will Of The World.

    We need to simplify things and make a reasonably pragmatic model, to organise a Trinity. We need the thing in itself – some sort of pure isness – that is represented AS the phenomenal world BY the third element. Which I call consciousness itself. Then we can tuck all of the ideas about the world into consciousness which is NOT deterministic, and have all the rational proof of science IN the deterministic phenomenal world, as an operation that consciousness performs upon ‘whatever is the case’ – ‘the thing in itself’ of which whereof we cannot speak. blah blah.

    That, for me, works better.

  35. As I sit reading all this stuff with my hand on the mouse following with the cursor what Leo says, and the going back to look once again at what Jim said I am completely unaware that I am making judgements concerning my bodily actions. These actions are just following on all as a part of a the continuum which is my life. I rose from my bed this morning but no matter how hard I try, I just can never identify the actual point of decision so to do; It just happens.
    It seems to me that a vast amount of our lives is taken up by doing things of which, we have no recollection that such things, were ever the subject of a prior interval of consideration, as to whether or not, we should do them.
    This brings me to the necessity to consider momentous decisions, “a shall I, or shall I not situation”. For instance shall I back horse A in the race or horse B? Shall I lend him the money or not? Such decisions are rarely made in haste they come about with a gradual onset. During this period of time we drift through a process which is governed by our life experience, our psychological make up, all of which seem to conspire to influence what decision we make. Finally, we reach not an actual point of instantaneous decision but an interval out of which our future actions emerge when it can be said, “what could we have done/decided, being what we are?”
    This once again brings us back to Galen Strawson’s argument:- one cannot be ultimately responsible for the way one is in any respect at all. So one cannot be ultimately responsible for what one does.
    Causal determinism, has for me, a problem. Causality itself is bedevilled with the problems of Plurality of causes, All types of false cause, post hoc ergo propter hoc, that is to say what occurs after an event occurs because of that event. Accordingly when we consider the vicissitudinous actions of human beings on a causal basis the situation becomes even more challenging. To enlarge on this will be too time consuming here; suffice it to say all reality is a continuous system there are no breaks Meteorology is an example it is a continuous system of constant activity. The continuum I describe here does seem to be compatible with my above description of decision making as an extended process which is merely a part of of life which in is a continuous process.
    A consideration of decisions made in haste we just do it in accordance with what we are. The cowardly flee, the brave remain. Decisions, mostly simple decisions to move a bodily part, have been made under scientific scrutiny. These have been shown to be made unconsciously, which is In opposition to the concept of free will. How far this can be extended to the complete life of a person I do not know.
    As I said before I suspect the concept of free will is a red herring having it origin in religion. Our daily experience seems to confirm that we are completely free to choose. I doubt it, but currently am unable to assemble an irrefutable argument to support my doubt.
    An interesting and amusing quotation from Kurt Vonnegutg’s “Slaughterhouse 5” “ if I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings, said the Tralfamadorian, I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by “free will.” I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”

  36. As I said, free will is relative; Not absolute.

    If absolute free will existed, why would one have any reason to choose one thing over another?. Free of all preconditions, how could one judge which was ‘better’ ?

    Nevertheless the mystics say one can approach free will.

    It is relatively true to say that I have more choice over what to eat for inner (or would if my wife hadn’t decided already) than I might have facing a man with a gun who wants my wallet.

    The actual art of the mystic is to establish an axis marked ‘more freedom’, and show that you can use what little pieces of freedom you have to acquire more of it. The choice of whether you do….is impossible to predetermine. Some have a taste for it, others seem to refer the predictability of slavery. In the UK such people are referred to as ‘tools’ 😉

  37. Leo; Could you enlarge upon these mystics to which you often refer. I am not sure what you mean by this term. Assuming they are some sort of specialised human being, have you ever actually met any. Are they privy to some sort of information we do not have, or cannot acquire due to the limitations of our sense organs and or our cognitive abilities. Can we actually learn anything from them which we could not otherwise discover? I assume they have no connection with Dan Dennett’s Mysterians.

  38. Well, Don, in my model they are essentially defined as scientists of consciousness. Buddhists, and religious ecstatics etc, and those who regularly deal with what we glibly call ‘altered consciousness’ or ‘spiritual realities’

    In my model they are people who attempt to alter consciousness. And in whatever success they achieve report that the (phenomenal) world is not nearly as immutable and real as we thought it was.

    In the realists model they are of course simply dysfunctional.

  39. Thanks Leo.

    This is interesting, If I have understood your views correctly I think you might agree that we have reached the similar conclusions concerning the qualities of the phenomenal world without, so far as I know, altering what we might term as our normal conscious states.
    I cannot see how altering conscious states be it by drugs, physical deprivation, or auto- suggestion, can give a reliable insight into what may be the case. We might see the world differently, but that does not guarantee its being a better interpretation, than that generated from normal conscious states. I suppose possibly, it could be claimed that some sort of insight can be gained in the abnormal conscious state and this could be applied to the normal conscious state with profit.

  40. An interjection

    The expression “freedom of the will” should be unpacked, as they say. In a sense, you can will whatever you want, so it’s free, leaving aside for another time the deterministic idea that that will itself was causally determined. But the notion of free will must mean something else, namely, freedom to act as one chooses. Usually this would be acceptable with certain caveats. E.g., absent, as, as Hume would say, constraint, restraint and the like. However, here we get into what are those and for whom? If I was told that the only way I could have my favorite dish was to walk on hot coals, I certainly would be restrained. But not a guru or someone like that. This leads to Sartre’s absolute freedom, who maintains that even under torture, when given certain demands for example, you have the freedom to choose not to comply and accept your torture.

    But in either case, whether absolute or relative freedom, choice and action or the withholding thereof, are inextricably connected in what seems to be the intent of the freedom of the will idea. I can choose to jump to the moon, but it’s meaningless without a plausible action adhering to it. On the other hand, action without choice sounds more like a reflex. Now, can there be action without choice but with will? Yes, most of our daily behavior is made up of actions which we don’t consciously choose but which are done out of habit, custom, and the like. But our FW expression, does not address that sort of behavior.

  41. Don:

    The most important conclusion you can glean from a ‘consciousness shift’, is that ‘consciousness’ can ‘shift’. And that when it does the ‘world’ changes…

    It’s important not because of any especial insight into the thing in itself – that remains as unapproachable as ever – but because it finally and completely separates the map from the territory, conceptually.

    That at least means that the terrifying fascination with The One True Map of Realism can be broken, and the understanding that different maps can be used for different purposes.

    We live in a Realistic world for a reason. As a dabbler in consciousness I can assure you its a lot simpler to get in the car and buy a pizza, than to engage in supernatural pursuits of Cosmic Energy in a world of ..magic and fantasy. Etc Etc. It’s easier to take some antibiotics than slay demons in a battle for survival.

    It’s easier to watch the news that read the entrails of a freshly slain calf..

    Mostly. Sometimes dragons actually work better: Read your Jung…

    I regard the development of a Realistic worldview as really the pinnacle of Western man’s achievement. But we should not be blinded by it to conclude that we have arrived at a Truth, rather than a monumental exercise in creativity.

    Or that other modes of consciousness are aberrations *in principle*. (I do not deny that many who espouse them, are, however).

    I have tried recently to push these ideas, because at my age I no longer have to worry about being considered aberrant, and because I feel there is something useful to be gained from this perspective, especially in terms of quantum physics: We NEED a new complete worldview to make sense of that, and if I can leave any intellectual legacy behind, I would wish it to be that: Namely that Realism, despite its success, is only a single good approximation. We are free (sic!) to construct different models and act as if they were as real as Realism seems to us, now.

    Understanding that for most people, who will always regard the model as the reality, as people today regard gravity and electromagnetism to be as real as people of 1000 years ago regarded supernatural forces (and indeed, all we have done is to take the super out of supernatural. Familiarity breeds contempt) – so we no longer offer sacrifices to the God of Gravity. (although I am certain a medieval person on looking at the complicated rituals surrounding e.g. the design construction and operation of an aircraft, would instantly recognise it in generic terms as a very precise magical ritual that achieves a very precise magical result) – Understanding that, no doubt we will ‘extend’ the Realism model to introduce a new and mysterious ‘entity’ called ‘consciousness’ that ‘solves’ certain ‘problems’ and is ‘Really Really there, (wherever there is!) – everybody knows that!’

    And not go to church to pray in a mediaeval ritual that the God of Consciousness will somehow modify it on our behalf. Yes, it works, but not for the reason you think, and, boy, is it *clumsy*.

    Grand Unifying Theories are really good things to try and construct. But in the end they are only Theories, and if they fail to offer useful explanations, we should discard them temporarily and use different world maps.THEN we can add the detail back onto the modified main map to some advantage.

    You say “I suppose possibly, it could be claimed that some sort of insight can be gained in the abnormal conscious state and this could be applied to the normal conscious state with profit”

    I say yes, that is exactly it, sort of.
    The point being that the normal conscious state is never again what it used to be. It has an experience that it had not before. It has lost forever its conviction that ‘this is all there is’

    The way I think of that, is like someone 500 years ago who brings back tobacco, tomatoes, peppers, maize and potatoes from the New World. He describes his travel and what it’s like. People do not believe it. Sailors’ tales! Sea serpents! Why should they? It’s outside their experience. And has little relevance to it as well. But the potatoes grow. And we now have fries on the menu, and tomato sauce.

    How much of a good thing that is is of course open to debate. One man’s horizons are now much bigger. For most people, theirs is a little enlarged. And fries, they find, are useful and nice to eat.

    Note that many people have never been outside their own countries: They have no direct experience of it themselves. Nor have many people seen the dials flicker on a linear accelerator. But they accept this as explanations for things like cruise missiles coming in and blowing their cities to bits, and the operation of the transistorised computers they use to chat to each other in endless boring detail of their trivial personal lives.

    Reality is what people conceive it to be, largely. It is also constrained by things beyond conception. It is a mistake to consider it’s ALL beyond conception (Realism) or that its ONLY conception (Idealism) however.

    Either ends up as a a limitation. in the end the world is, I aver, best considered as ‘theories, all the way down’ with some extraordinary ‘thing in itself’ somewhere at the bottom. That being the expression of what ever it is we can’t actually alter.

    Whether that is a ‘true’ state of affairs or just an acknowledgement of the bargain we strike with something in order to have a security, I do not presume to offer an opinion on. That is one for the theologians.

    Free will is an expression of that hierarchy of theories. One has free will with respect to theory layers below where one happens to be standing. One is constrained by the layers above. Intentionality, as it were, flows downwards. So more freedom consists in ascending the theory layers.

  42. Leo:
    A shift of consciousness I would say, entails that our reading of the world “changes” rather than “World” changes. Whatever our reading of the world might be accurate, inaccurate, fanciful, or downright preposterous the World in itself, whatever it may be, must remain unchanged.
    The map and territory analogy is always a good one but here I would say that there is not actually a shift between map and territory. Normal consciousness suggests a map of the territory which seems to suffice to get us through life even though there may well be not a one to one correspondence between the map and the supposed territory. Surely a shift of consciousness entails a new map from. which we read a new territory. The two maps are not interchangeable, in the sense that what jacket fits and suits me, will not fit and suit you.
    Yes I suppose as you say different maps can be used for different purposes. I think we have to consider here which map best guides us through life. So far as the four Fs are concerned that is fighting, fleeing, feeding, and reproduction. It seems to me that the conventional map is preferred here. The value of other maps I am not sure unless of course you decide to remain guided by them, such people we usually regard, rightly or wrongly as in some way, mentally aberrant.
    You mention you are a dabbler in consciousness, and speak of cosmic energy, a world of fantasy, and magic and slaying demons in a battle for survival. Am I to understand that you have in fact actually had such experiences which purport to be real at the time? If so I would be interested to learn by what process you achieved these, (what for me, I assume, would be rather frightening) experiences.
    You say “But we should not be blinded by it to conclude that we have arrived at a Truth, rather than a monumental exercise in creativity” Yes I think this is a good insight.
    Your mention of Quantum Physics here is of interest. I was watching Brian Cox on TV discussing the problems of understanding quantum Phenomena. He described an electron as existing not only say “just here” but “just everywhere” simultaneously. Say we have before us a pencil would it not be ridiculous to claim that pencil occupied all possible space simultaneously, other pencils would accordingly also be doing the same too? How ever it is not ridiculous to claim that each elementary particle of the pencil can exist in such a way. I think there is a linguistic problem here we cannot express what we mean by quantum phenomena in English or any other spoken language, if we do, we speak nonsense. This is only understandable in the language of mathematics of which my knowledge for instance does not extend sufficiently to embrace it. My point is here why do not theoretical Physicists stop talking what is on the face of it nonsense and find other linguistic devices to accommodate what they wish to say. Here means here, it does not embrace everywhere.
    In connection with GUT you speak of the application different world maps should a theory fail to offer useful explanations. I think any hypothesis which did not suggest useful explanations would never be granted theory status. In this connection your expression “Only a theory” with respect, I think is, ill advised. Theories normally are taken to be the most cogent and scholarly explanation currently available and are usually the result of some the highest forms of human endeavour. Many fall only just short of the appellation, A Law of Nature. The expression “Only a Theory” is so often found in the output of pseudo-science and organisations like Creationism when they attack the Theory of Evolution or anything else which does not match their ideas. In this connection you mention using different world maps; well I suppose quantum Theory can be considered as one of those, also The Theory of relativity too; but I do not think it was arrived at by experience of different world maps Popperian Bold Conjectures maybe. I think I understand what you mean by a different world map but I am not so convinced as to their efficacy in this world, as you seem to be.
    You say “in the end the world is, I aver, best considered as ‘theories, all the way down’ with some extraordinary ‘thing in itself’ somewhere at the bottom. That being the expression of what ever it is we can’t actually alter”.This currently is also my considered opinion although I think we may have both reached it by somewhat different paths. We certainly cannot get out of our bodies and have a look at what there really is no more than an occupant of Bathysphere can exit and get, first hand the feel and smell of the ocean at depth.
    But of course all this is not really new stuff is it? Other thinkers from antiquity onwards have reached similar opinions often expressed with greater vigour and persuasiveness than my capabilities permit.

  43. There is no such thing as choice. At all. Never ever. It is simply not the reality.

    The want of belief in choice only comes from a delusional addiction to not having to accept all the horrible stuff is not worthy of hate (as there is no evil). We only need ‘choice’ so we can condemn people for their ‘bad’ ‘choices’, instead of facing the most intimidating truth- that loving truth means poverty and suffering.

    It really is plainly evident, one thing leads to another, which just points out the grand ‘mystery’ of God- that there is no beginning.

    Choice requires belief in an impossible magic. The truth is its the divining process, greatly confused. The reality is even more absurd- You are God. The soul of Life stretching into the future seeking peace with whatever means, opportunities and conditionings your ego has been given.

    Its how pride is sin. The only sin, really.

    The impossible is impossible and the now is absolutely perfectly the now.

    Fate and patience are the ‘be alls’ of philosophic endeavour.

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