Thursday, June 09, 2011

the idea of free will

"It is ... the faculty of remembrance which may be said to place us in the class of moral agents. If we were to act only in consequence of some immediate impulse, and receive no direction from internal motives of choice, we should be pushed forward by an invincible fatality, without power or reason for the most part to prefer one thing to another, because we could make no comparison but of objects which might both happen to be present."
Dr. Johnson.

Sam Harris/HuffPo

          "Many readers continue to find my position on free will bewildering. Most of the       criticism I've received consists of some combination of the following claims:
1.Your account assumes that mental events are, at bottom, physical events. But if the mind is distinct from the brain (to any degree), this would allow for freedom of will.

2.You admit that mental events -- like choices, efforts, intentions, reasoning, etc -- cause certain of our actions. But such mental states presuppose free will for their very existence. Your position is self-contradictory: Either we are free to think and behave as we will, or there is no such thing as choice, effort, intention, reasoning, etc.

3.Even if my thoughts and actions are the product of unconscious causes, they are still my thoughts and actions. Anything that my brain does or chooses, whether consciously or not, is something that I have done or chosen. The fact that I cannot always be subjectively aware of the causes of my actions does not negate free will.

All of these objections express confusion about my basic premise. The first is simply false -- my argument against free will does not require philosophical materialism. There is no question that (most) mental events are the product of physical events -- but even if the human mind were part soul-stuff, nothing about my argument would change. The unconscious operations of a soul would grant you no more freedom than the unconscious physiology of your brain does.""

Sammy Skinner in the house...

More on freewill/determinism:

Or read Dr. Johnson's mot juste---a rebuttal of stimulus-response, circa 1750 or so-- a dozen times or so (as Doc Harris obviously hasn't)


Anonymous said...

Harris is an idiot.

J said...

I don't consider him a great philosopher--he does not provide detailed arguments for his views-- but would not call him an idiot. A reductionist perhaps .

He does not seem that acquainted with the relevant writers (say the writings of William James. Or Kant, or the behaviorist hacks). He overlooks the libertarian's claim (libertarian in ...favoring free will/intention, not lib. politics) that people can do differently--ie, that inference seems quite sound. Learning how to play chess, you learn that one opening move is better than another. In brief something like ..conceptual understanding is involved with higher-level thinking such as chess, language, mathematics (not mere stimulus response/reactions ala rats in a maze). There is more material on this issue on the blog.

Perhaps you might offer a detailed critique of Harris's determinism, Anny.

Moriarty said...

Harris may be reductionist--and a bit arrogant-- but that doesn't in itself defeat the determinist claim. Nor does your chess example. That humans play chess, or solve difficult equations does not prove a soul exists--it may show they are, or at least seem smarter--or different than rats and "lower" animals. Chess might be said to be an evolutionary skill in a sense---reinforces tactics, strategy, cleverness, etc.

The real issue thus concerns naturalism vs. mystical/dualist views of Mind. It's fairly obvious that your "mind" is your brain--thinking is a cognitive function. Give you a lobotomy and you could not play chess.

Thus I agree with Harris for the most part --human actions, and what appear to be choices are brought about by physical conditions--i.e. the biological-economic requirements of the human body itself. Hunger, thirst, obvious examples. The religious person or "libertarian" as you say, may react--""what, we are not free?? Of course we are, et etc." But they don't understand the issue concerning naturalism. They are not free not to be hungry, or not to urinate.

Since we are bio-chemical creatures, not ghosts, "free will" in the traditional religious sense does seem quite unsupportable, though perhaps a useful belief or fiction. That doesn't imply Skinner-behaviorism exactly--though something like conditioning does occur.

That said I disagree with Harris that a soul could still exist and yet it too is determined. There he is attempting to play "God". First we have no good reasons to believe a soul or transcendent Mind exists. Now, if a soul did exist, Harris could not really discuss how it operates. It would seem that that a Soul, or Cartesian ego could be free, at least not subject to normal physical processes/neurology. Yet since we have no good reason to believe in immaterial souls, the point's moot, and a mistake on Harris' part.

J said...

So breaking down your argument, Mor.--what we call "free will" would depend on the existence of a immaterial/transcendent mind (e.g. souls), and ...since immaterial/transcendent mind doesn't exist (ie humans are bio-chemical creatures, only, thus subject to ordinary cause-effect), free will doesn't exist either. Interesting.

I will grant your tautology for sake of argument at least-- either Souls exist, or they don't. But I don't think you can conclusively disprove...the existence of souls, really (what the philo-dweebs call substance dualism). It might be more likely than not, at least from an empirical/scientific POV, that humans are just bio-chemical--flatlined and yr dead--and that's that. But I think Mind is far too complex to be reduced to your tautologies and empirical-determinist presumptions, Mor.--or Harris's. Souls could exist, and therefore free will/intention holds--which most humans intuitively believe--perhaps an afterlife as well (thus I agree Harris's point on determined souls was BS, and arrogant as f**k) Weird, but...not logically impossible. We are not rodents, Mor.

Moreover integrals don't grow on trees. IIRC BF & Co could not explain the cognitive leaps it required for Leibniz and Newton
to and describe the calculus. That humans perform calculus may not prove a soul exists, but does show the uniqueness of human thinking.

In effect the determinist generalizes as much as the libertarian--even when looking at cogsci research, brain areas, etc--ie "this area seems to have something to do with language", etc. Cogsci's in no way an established science. I may scrawl more on this later.

Which is to say Harris is not just a reductionist but a piece of zionist sh*t, really . Lets not forget his essay on torture and his support of Bush. I don't care for any of the Dawkins/neo-atheist gang, but he's probably the worst.

Collin said...

What's a zionist?

Collin said...

From further reading, using a simple Google search, I discovered your remark about Sam Harris is more than just an insult -- it's false. Sam Harris is neither an atheist nor a zionist; he's a Buddhist.'s_faith_in_eastern_spirituality_and_muslim_torture

You really need to do more research.

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