Sun 13 Nov, 2011 08:41 am
Libertarians typically have two conditions for free will. They argue that a choice must not be forced, and that one must be able to choose otherwise.
Libertarians argue that if only one choice exists (choice A), then free will is not present. If all I can choose is A, then it’s not really a choice. If, however, a second choice exists (choice B), free will is preserved, provided the choice is not forced. But this makes little sense to me. If one must be able to do otherwise, how can free will be preserved if only A and B exist as choices? Shouldn’t it follow that free will doesn’t exist unless I have choices A, B, and C? And if we believe that, where does the “otherwise” train stop? It seems that for libertarianism to uphold itself, an infinitude of options must present themselves before us.
Libertarians are stuck explaining why only two options must be present for free will to exist. If I only give you the choice to shoot yourself in the head or stab yourself in the leg, would a libertarian call that free? If I can only choose between red or blue, I’m not free to choose black. So what libertarians really mean is that free will is bound by the options that limit themselves due to intrinsic characteristics, universal properties, or external factors. Essentially, libertarians would agree that our free will is limited by the way our world was designed to work, the other agents in the system, personal characteristics, etc. That seems to be only one step removed from determinism, failing to follow the conclusion to its logical ending. The world so obviously constrains, our options are severely limited, etc.
The libertarian is essentially saying that we are free to choose, but only free to choose from the extremely limited options thrown at us, with the tools (or lack thereof) given to us. The libertarian nightmare is what we would call the “American Dream.” It’s something that is theoretically possible given the right circumstances, but nearly impossible for most. It’s not largely unattainable because the majority of people don’t want to accomplish anything or lack the values and ethic to do so. Rather, people live in a causal world where freedom is not defined by the libertarian mindset.
Not only do libertarians fall short in explaining why they aren’t consistent in enforcing their “otherwise” terms, they fall short in explaining how any action is forced. A libertarian would argue that if someone put a gun to my head and told me to hand over the money or die, my action would then be negated because I was “forced.” But unless someone takes over my mind or my muscular system, how can I be forced to do anything? Don’t I still have free will to choose whether or not to live and have money taken away from me, or die and avoid giving into a criminal? The “otherwise” is not taken away from me, so choice is still present. The only thing that is different is my disdain for the outcome of either path I select. If the libertarians are to be consistent, how can they then say that impoverished individuals have many choices in regards to morals such as stealing, prostitution, crime, etc? When I go to the bank to cash my miniscule check, I don’t really have a choice, because I truly want my check to be for 100 billion dollars. Most of us are faced with daily choices that have despised outcomes regardless of the selected path, some of these choices being quite weighty.
The same thing is true on the spiritual side. As long as two options are available, it’s impossible to be forced unless someone is controlling your body. But then if they were controlling your body, you wouldn’t really have a choice anyway. So that means if man has a nature such that he will always want to choose evil unless God pours out his grace, even though he COULD (but won’t) choose otherwise, he’s free. Libertarians think that if someone has a gun to my head, I no longer have free will. This isn’t because my mind/body has been taken over, but because they know my nature (i.e. constraints) so well, they can predict with 99% certainty how I’ll act. That’s not being forced, that’s understanding determinism accurately. Free will is slapped on things that we can’t predict with a high degree of certainty, assuming that because we don’t know why/how the decision was made, it is arbitrary or free.
What’s even more problematic for the libertarian is their hypocrisy on these points. When defending the otherwise position, they argue away the necessity for infinite possibilities by saying one has to choose from what they’re given. But when given a situation where they dislike the consequences of either limited choice, they quickly abandon their otherwise principle and say that force was involved. In summary, if the libertarians affirm force, they’re affirming causality, admitting that some stimuli are strong enough to cause us to choose a particular option. It’s as if they’re saying, “the options are so clear, you can’t help but do otherwise.” Isn’t that what determinists say? Furthermore, libertarians can’t uphold their idea of force if they modify their concept of otherwise to mean “whatever’s thrown at you.” But if libertarians don’t deny force, they realize that they are failing to explain how the world actually works. Finally, if the libertarian doesn’t modify their otherwise position, they are stuck explaining how we have free will with such limited options in front of us.
EDIT: MODERATOR: LINK REMOVED
I suggest to you that the meaning of the phrase "free will" is a function of the context in which it is used. In particular, we do not
use the phrase to describing a "choice" between two shirts say....that is what Wittgenstein would call "language on holiday". We tend to used it contexts of significantly negative
material or social consequences of actions. So your attempt to argue for premises which only
require "choice" as axiomatic is methodologically flawed.
I feel like your assertions require some explanation as to why this is the case. Also, If you can tell me what free will isn't, I'd be very grateful if you could tell me what it is. That's probably my biggest problem with free will. If you base it on nature, experience, hormones and emotion, etc - it's causal and deterministic. If you base it on quantum particles, it's random, and arbitrary or pointless.
Thanks for your reply and your help as I sort through this issue.
For further explanation refer to the first pages on the earlier "free will" thread to which you responded. There is no definition of "free will" (or anything else for that matter) outside particular usage contexts. Formal logic is based on the abstraction
of fixed set membership independent of such context.
For technical discussion refer to cognitive linguistics/metaphor/category theory etc....e.g.
Departing from the tradition of truth-conditional semantics, cognitive linguists view meaning in terms of conceptualization. Instead of viewing meaning in terms of models of the world, they view it in terms of mental spaces. Cognitive linguistics argues that language is both embodied and situated in a specific environment. This can be considered a moderate offshoot of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, in that language and cognition mutually influence one another, and are both embedded in the experiences and environments of its users.
Wouldn't "formal logic" and "abstraction" then be pointless terms for you to mention, since fixed definitions don't really exist? It seems that context allows us all to know generally what we're talking about, so I'm not sure what the point in muddying the waters is. Maybe I'm just missing your point, but if you adhere to cognitive linguistics (from what I understand), you can't know or talk about much of anything.
The point is that "free will" like all
concepts is a token of social
currency with specific territorial validity. i.e. It has "value" in the territory of culpability and evaluation of decisions. As Wittgenstein pointed out, so called "philosophers" take such tokens out of context (take them on holiday) and attempt to fix them with some sort of "absolute value". Just like ordinary currency, this is a failure to understand the nature of language as non-representational with respect to a mythical "fixed reality". i.e. Reality involves social negotiation within shifting zeitgeists. (Refs. Quine, Kuhn, Rorty, Foucault).
NB Even the concept of "existence" is relative !
...sorry...I should have added that binary logic assumes fixed set membership. But social contexts involve blurred set boundaries. The analogy of confusing "U.S. dollars" with "Australian dollars" by unqualified use of the word "dollar" illustrates the problem.