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Free will and determinism can coexist...

 
 
Reply Fri 4 Apr, 2003 10:05 am
...if they are both defined correctly.

In my submission, the concept of "free will" is usually given a meaning that is so meaninglessly broad that it is impossible to be true. My definition of "free will", which I suggest be considered the most correct, is that any given mind is able to make decisions to promulgate its will, free of interference by the wills of other minds. That essentially makes "free will" a usable, social concept, rather than a definitionally meaningless construct.

Determinism, meanwhile, says simply that, because all that is in the present is necessarily influenced by nothing other than the past, and that because all of the future is influenced by nothing other than the present then, because the past cannot be changed, the future is inherently determinate (but at the same time inescapably indiscoverable).

As you will note, the concepts as thus stated do not conflict, nor ought they.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 14 • Views: 9,818 • Replies: 76
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Fri 4 Apr, 2003 10:32 am
james, First of all, WELCOME to A2K. Now that you've received my welcome, may I disagree? "Free will" is not possible, because we are influenced by our environment; our parents, siblings, teachers, peers, and the religion of our parents. After all these influences has had it's impact on us, we may have the "free will" to engage ourselves in other pursuits. Determinism is also environment directed. A poor child in Africa has very few choices to determine their future. A poor child in the US has many choices to determine their future. The concepts do not conflict; they are almost one and the same. c.i.
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jamespetts
 
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Reply Fri 4 Apr, 2003 10:47 am
Thank you very much for your warm welcome :-) I am very pleased to have found a place like this. I so enjoy debating philosophy.

As to your response, may I disagree with your disagreement? ;-)

As I stated in my initial post, free will is an inherently relative concept. One does not either have or not have it; one can have different degrees of it, depending on the extent to which the wills of others take precident over the manifestation of the will of the individual in question.

The factors that you outline are mostly things which are capable of taking precident over a person's will (although in many, but not all cases, the individual still has the capacity to choose whose will takes precident, as with religion, in democratic soceities at least). This does not, however, mean that the individuals have "no" free will. An organism with no free will is by definition not sentient.

Even the most impoverished and oppressed individuals can make decisions about what object that they look at, what they think about, how to stand, how fast to walk, and many other ostensibly insignificant things that make humans sentient. It is therefore not correct to suggest that any sentient being can exist but have "no" free will.
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Fri 4 Apr, 2003 11:18 am
james, Your quote: "One does not either have or not have it; one can have different degrees of it, depending on the extent to which the wills of others take precident over the manifestation of the will of the individual in question." I think we basically agree: It's a matter of degree. c.i.
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jamespetts
 
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Reply Fri 4 Apr, 2003 11:23 am
Interesting. What do other people here think?
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Craven de Kere
 
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Reply Fri 4 Apr, 2003 11:44 am
Anyone can have free will, IMO, but they don't always get what they want.
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jamespetts
 
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Reply Fri 4 Apr, 2003 12:05 pm
Indeed. Free will is a concept relative to other wills. It is about the process of decision-making, not the outcomes.
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perception
 
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Reply Fri 4 Apr, 2003 10:41 pm
Jamespetts

Allow me also to welcome you to A2K and I'd like to add that I find your comments regarding free will and determinism extremely interesting. I am seeking evidence of free will because I believe one must believe we have it otherwise why get up in the morning.

Can you provide your argument for the statements you've made?

BTW---I'm the cranky old fart that roosts on the Un, Irag thread on the Politics forum but I'm here to learn so please "learn me".

PS---I'm mostly interested in Free Will because of the decision making aspects.
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jamespetts
 
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Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 03:56 am
Thank you very much for your warm welcome, and I am very glad that you are interested in what I post :-)

As I wrote above, free will is a relative concept - that of a sentient being taking decisions to forward its will free from the influence of other wills. Thus, I define "free will" as a social rather than a purely philosophical construct, as when it is used in the latter sense, I find it to be meaningless.

Free will denotes where a decision is made, not what the outcome will be. For a sentient being to have free will, decisions that affect it must be taken within the parameters of its own mind. This does not mean that how the sentient being chooses to exercise its free will is not as much determinate as how a die will land; it just means that it is the sentient being rather than any other sentient being that decides what that sentient being does.

And the part of all this that keeps you sane is that, although everything that happens has been determinate for eternity, no-one is or ever will be capable of knowing what will happen in the future (although that does not mean that educated and approximate guesses cannot be made)
perception
 
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Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 08:25 am
Jamespetts wrote:

<And the part of all this that keeps you sane is that, although everything that happens has been determinate for eternity, no-one is or ever will be capable of knowing what will happen in the future>

Seems to me that what you are actually saying is that the concept of free will is an illusion e.g., when we come to a fork in the road we make a decision but since we cannot foretell the future we think we made the correct decision but we will never know for certain.

I'm sorry but I cannot live with your statement because it is a postulation with no evidence.

I much prefer the time tested argument that says: if we do not have free we cannot really be held accountable for our actions because it has already been predetermined.

Or if you are a religious person (which I am not) not having free will would make God the originator of Sin and he actually wears two hats---One being the Devil and the other as God almighty.

Sorry I must continue to stumble along in my silly way thinking that every decision I make is truly my choice. Further more I see this as one of those black and white issues---we either have it or we don't----how can there be varying degrees?
jamespetts
 
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Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 09:47 am
"Seems to me that what you are actually saying is that the concept of free will is an illusion e.g., when we come to a fork in the road we make a decision but since we cannot foretell the future we think we made the correct decision but we will never know for certain."

I fail to follow what you mean here. You seem to be confusing two issues - the correctness of a decision and the mechanism by which it is taken. In any event, I still do not understand what you mean by this.

No-one can be certain of anything, but that is not really the point here. What exactly are you trying to say?

Which statement that I made can you not live with? I made several.

In relation to the question of free will and accountability, your statement is made completely without reference to what I have said in definition of free will. Please explain why you disagree with my definition of free will, which has nothing to do with whether or not outcomes and actions are predetermined.

Simply because outcomes are unknowably predetermined, does not alter the concept of accountability; why should it? The ability to hold people to account for their actions still is capable of causing such people to act more rightly, even if the fact that people are to be held accountable and their reaction to it are predetermined.

And again, by suggesting that reality is predetermined, I am not suggesting that the decisions that you take are not actually taken by you: they are. It just happens that the way in which you take decisions is predetermined. Free will is about where, not what.

Upon what do you base your contention that free will is an absolute? Freedom is conceptually a relative concept - a person in prison is free to move where he or she likes within her or his cell, but not outside it: a human on planet Earth can readliy move around many parts of it, but has great difficulty in getting away from it. Why should this relative understanding of freedom be userped by an arbitrarily absolute mechanism where will is involved?
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 11:03 am
But to have been convicted of a crime that resulted in that person being in a prison cell........
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jamespetts
 
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Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 11:26 am
Cicerone - that wasn't the point that I was making :-) A person may be imprisoned whether or not by her or his own will.
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cicerone imposter
 
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Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 11:43 am
Oh, I see now. Wink c.i.
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jamespetts
 
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Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 12:05 pm
:-)
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perception
 
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Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 12:53 pm
Jamespetts wrote:

<Simply because outcomes are unknowably predetermined.>

This seems to me an absolutism and you have not provided any proof that this is true nor can you ----nor anyone for that matter.

I believe I told you that I was wrestling with not being able to establish the truth of whether free will really exists or not. The problem of thinking that every outcome has been predetermined somehow can create a very unhealthy defeatist attitude in the mind. If the mind forms the concept that the outcome of every decision it makes is already determined, the concept or originality is denied. Of course that really is not the case but unless the mind has the capability to go beyond that point, that particular individual has just created intellectual suicide.

As you say when an individual is incarcerated it has nothing to do with free will---that individual is only constrained by his environment.

I stick by my conclusion formed regarding the actual consequences of thinking one way or the other. It still seems to me that you only offer people the illusion that they can have some control over their lives.

As of yet I see no proof of your theory. I remain open minded to any proof that you want to present.
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Terry
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 02:55 pm
jamespetts wrote:

And the part of all this that keeps you sane is that, although everything that happens has been determinate for eternity, no-one is or ever will be capable of knowing what will happen in the future (although that does not mean that educated and approximate guesses cannot be made)
James, your basic premise seems to be that the future is determinate. The notion of a clockwork universe was discarded with the advent of quantum mechanics. We can make statistical predictions, but the outcome of individual quantum events cannot be determined no matter how much you know about the initial conditions.

Chaos theory tells us that quantum events in the early universe could have a tremendous effect on its subsequent configuration and therefore all of the events which led you to make a particular choice.

According to Everett's "many worlds" interpretation of QM, the universe splits every time a choice is made and all possible futures exist.

If a mind uses quantum processes to make ANY decision, then the future is not predetermined by the past. For instance, if you are equally inclined to bet your kids' college fund on black or red at a casino, your final decision may depend on a random neutron firing, and whether you win or lose is determined by the total momentum of a collection of atoms which are subject to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

I don't know of anyone (other than those who believe in an omniscient god) who would categorically state that the future is determinate. If it is, you have only the illusion of free will since it is impossible to will yourself to make any choice other than the predetermined one.
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Terry
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 03:12 pm
jamespetts wrote:
As I wrote above, free will is a relative concept - that of a sentient being taking decisions to forward its will free from the influence of other wills. Thus, I define "free will" as a social rather than a purely philosophical construct, as when it is used in the latter sense, I find it to be meaningless.

Free will denotes where a decision is made, not what the outcome will be. For a sentient being to have free will, decisions that affect it must be taken within the parameters of its own mind. This does not mean that how the sentient being chooses to exercise its free will is not as much determinate as how a die will land; it just means that it is the sentient being rather than any other sentient being that decides what that sentient being does.


Absolutely free will by your definition does not exist. Even if there is no god pulling the strings, our brains have been programmed by other sentient beings (parents, teachers, peers, authorities) to make the decisions that they wish us to make. (It doesn't always work.) "Free will" decisions can be almost completely controlled by totalitarian governments, repressive societies, religious cults, abusive spouses, or anyone else who exercises absolute power over others.

Cultural programming can make it impossible for people to choose to eat taboo foods, indulge in unsanctioned behaviors, or think independently. Some people can overcome repression, many can't. But anyone can exercise free will in situations where the choices do not conflict with their conditioning or the will of other sentient beings.
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perception
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 09:10 pm
Free will
Terry

I found your remarks most interesting. I am working on a project that deals with the decision making process from a practical application viewpoint. The basic assumption is that free will does exist.

I don't mean the mechanics of making a specific decision but the developmental process that creates memory, experience and mental concepts that allow an almost automatic stream of routine and complex decisions. It is self evident that we are the result of our decisions---we can blame no one for what we become. Of course as you say cultural and environmental factors inhibit true free will and in some instances completely deny most free will activity.

I am of the opinion that there is a need to create a tutorial mechanism to bring more awareness to the teenage group because these people for the most part just accept what and who they are when in actual fact they should be taking control of their lives at this point and not waste any more time accepting who and what they are.

I am most interested to know if you agree with my assessment.

Thanks
perception
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Sat 5 Apr, 2003 10:08 pm
perception, I know your post was addressed to Terry, but if you'll allow me a little butt in. I also think cultural and environmental factors play a large part in what we consider free will. However, there is also our genetics and biology that must be factored into the equation. Some people's ability to develop mental skills may be limited for any number of reasons. It is also true that early intervension of children to help them develop to their maximum potential is important, but some people are also late bloomers or not skilled at scholastic endeavors, and we must also provide for their needs. What do you think? c.i.
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