Tim and Matt on Free Will

It is not clear to me that this is in fact “entirely coherent.”

You have simply asserted that “this “brute fact” is within the agent’s control”, not demonstrated it.

How does your agent choose between acting upon reasons R or S?

The most obvious answer would appear to be that they have another set of reasons T for deciding. The other would of course be that “it is inexplicable random chance outside the agent’s control.” There does not appear to be a third option that does not lead to the same dilemma at a regress.

Let us take the trivial example of an agent deciding to get a chocolate ice cream or a strawberry frozen yogurt. The agent may decide to get the chocolate ice cream ( R) because they like ice cream or the strawberry frozen yogurt because the like strawberry (S). They make their decision because their preference for ice cream is stronger than their preference for strawberry (T).

How is this decision any less deterministic?

This regress does not appear to confer any more “control” to the agent than the original decision, it simply renders the deterministic decision slightly more complex.

1 Like

First, I don’t have to demonstrate the truth of something to demonstrate its coherence. You seem to understand my statement perfectly fine, as shown by your follow up questions about it. I’m not seeing any problems with coherence here.

Second, as for demonstrating it: did you choose to post what you did just now? Was that choice not in your control? To put it very briefly, I know that free will exists through first-person experience of it. Feel free to believe that it is an illusion, but I see no reason to do so.

Nope. There’s simply R, S, and the agent who weighs R and S and makes a choice. Not sure why you think there’s something difficult about that. You’ve had to choose between different options before, I assume. The “how” is simply in the agent’s nature (having the capacity to act on reasons) and in the intentionality of the reasons themselves.

You seem to be assuming that the agent’s choice has to be reducible to or entirely explicable by psychological or neurophysiological facts - that the “how” can be further broken down in those terms - but that is not an assumption I would grant. Again, feel free to disagree; my point is that it appears entirely coherent.

1 Like

No @structureoftruth. Your claim of the coherence of libertarian free will (LFW) relies on the truth of your claim that “this “brute fact” is within the agent’s control”.

If you want to demonstrate otherwise, then please give us an argument that shows the coherence of LFW, even given the assumption that the claim that “this “brute fact” is within the agent’s control” is false.

(But if your argument works either way, then the issue of agent control would appear to be a non sequitor.)

And I can give a (probably incomplete) list of causal factors that explain my choice. “Choice” is not evidence of LFW. To provide evidence of it you need to find evidence that I ‘could have chosen otherwise’ for reasons that are neither (i) deterministic, nor (ii) random.

That is a lousy argument. If you have experienced LFW then you have not experienced Determinism (or vice versa), so you have nothing to compare it to. So you have no basis for asserting that the 1st-hand experience of LFW differs from the experience of Determinism.

And HOW do they weigh the two and make the choice? Either they do so for a reason (i.e. T), or they do so arbitrarily/randomly. You have not articulated a third option, merely assumed that it must exist.

And you are simply assuming that there is some sort of magical “control” that is neither psychological nor neurophysiological nor deterministic nor random that lets the agent make a decision that is somehow outside of those factors.

Until you can actually articulate what this ‘magic’ entails, let alone convince anybody that there is a reasonable probability that it exists, your whole claim remains utterly incoherent.

This is simply false. What the coherence of LFW relies on is the coherence of that claim. (The truth of LFW, of course, relies on the truth of that claim.)

Emphasis added. Such causal factors (among them the reasons being considered themselves, and influences which affect the agent’s power of will) aren’t the whole story.

What exactly would constitute evidence for you? I suspect that nothing would - given that we have only one actual world, genuinely alternative possibilities are not empirically accessible. If I tell you that I choose to have cereal for breakfast one morning and toast for breakfast another morning, you’ll just say that there were different causal factors at play, thereby assuming that those causal factors are the whole story, and begging the question.

In the same vein, a philosophical idealist will tell us that our experience of the external world is a lousy argument that anything exists outside our minds. That doesn’t make belief in the external world unreasonable.

In fact, it isn’t an argument at all: what I am saying is that our experience serves as the ground for properly basic belief in both cases (belief in the external world, and belief in LFW).

Already articulated it:

The reasons R and S are not mere physical pingings in the agent’s brain - they are irreducibly intentional mental states with intrinsic semantic content. The agent’s consideration of them is not some balance of causal forces such that the strongest cause always wins - it is a mental apprehension of those reasons on the basis of which the agent acts. If the agent chooses option A, it is for the reasons R themselves - not for some further reason or cause T that made R win over S.

In other words, there is intrinsic teleology or (in Aristotelian terms) final causality at work here. As I’ve already said in the other thread, the agent’s choice has no prior efficient cause (or maybe more precisely, it is not wholly the product of prior efficient causes), but it is not thereby inexplicable or incoherent because of the final and formal causes in the agent.

It isn’t consistent with an underlying philosophy that rejects final or formal causality, but that’s a whole different story.

1 Like

Let us be clear. This is NOT an articulation of the “third option” I was asking for.

‘It’s in its nature’ is simply a vacuous non-answer.

Why did the rock fall after I dropped it? It’s in its nature. No structureoftruth, it dropped because of gravity.

Particularly, you have provided no substantive articulation of why this agent’s asserted “nature” might not fully defined by some combination of determinism and randomness, let alone any reason to believe that this is the case.

This answer is therefore not even wrong, it is quite simply non-responsive.

“The coherence of LFW relies on” there being a third option to determinism and randomness, beyond vague and empty hand-weaving about the agent’s “nature” or “control”.

That qualifier was added because I probably am unaware of at least some of my subconscious motivations, not because I am agreeing to your invisible magic pixie dust.

Some evidence that there is something out there beyond the laws of physics and of chance. A good first step would be your ability to articulate what you think it might be, beyond empty hand-waving talking about something’s “nature”.

No. My point is that if you can only have experienced one of LFW & Determinism, you have no way of knowing if “first hand experience” of the two would feel any different.

But do tell me structureoftruth, how would first hand experience of Determinism feel?

The problem with this whole line of argumentation is that there is no evidence that all consciouness is not simply an emergent property of neurons firing in somebody’s brain.

But you’ve presented no reason to believe that either of those concepts are anything beyond wishful thinking.

You baldly saying it does not make it true, and in particular it is no reason for me to believe it.

Then perhaps you should have led with that caveat. What you are therefore stating appears to be something along the lines of “if you first assume final or formal causality, LFW is not incoherent.”

I might argue the assumption, I don’t see, at first glance, any reason to argue the conclusion based upon that assumption.

How many Determinists actually accept final or formal causality?

Fair enough.

And why did it drop because of gravity? Because, Tim, it’s in the nature of physical bodies to respond to the gravitational field. Unless you invoke natures, the laws of physics are merely descriptive rather than explanatory.

And I highlighted it to point out you are assuming that said causal factors are the whole story.

Again, what would constitute such evidence for you? I think there is abundantly good reason to believe that there is more to reality than that, but I suspect that you would just dismiss most of it because of differing background philosophical assumptions. (And we could argue about those for days on end, but I don’t feel like doing that right now. But as usual, feel free to look up my blog…)

And if you have only experienced one of philosophical idealism vs. philosophical realism about the external world, you have no way of knowing if the first-person experience of them would feel any different… still doesn’t make it unreasonable to believe in the reality of the external world on the basis of experience; and neither is it unreasonable to believe in LFW on that basis.

On the contrary, as I see it there’s zero evidence that consicousness is simply an emergent property of neurons firing, and good reason to believe that it is not. (E.g. that there’s no ground for anything like qualia or intentionality in physics.)

And you’ve presented no reason to believe that your rejection of those concepts is anything beyond the same. Again, that’s a whole other discussion. Yes, my view utilizes different philosophical assumptions than yours. So what?

What I’ve said is more like “free will is the (indeterministic) causal power of a being to act in accordance with reasons”. Causal powers, their activity, and reasons aren’t defined in terms of free will themselves. Make of that what you will.

Something like that, I suppose. I don’t claim to have this fully worked out. Though I would say that in my view the brain doesn’t have information in the absence of the soul.

It activates its causal power initiating the decided course of action (e.g. if I choose to raise my hand, I activate by causal power of trying to raise my hand; though it was possible for me to decide not to do so). You are correct to say that in my view nothing else causes this to happen (or perhaps more strictly speaking, it is not wholly the product of prior efficient causes). But it isn’t random, because the agent acts for reasons (i.e. with reference to the intrinsic teleology / final causality that motivated the decision).

That would be an instance of the more general correlation between mental states in the soul and physical states in the brain. It does not appear to me to be a metaphysical necessity that mental states are correlated with physical states (for reasons I can point you to elsewhere), but in our case they are via some level of dependence of the soul on the brain.

  • Because, structureoftruth, it’s in the nature of physical bodies to respond to the gravitational field.

  • Because, structureoftruth, physical bodies to respond to the gravitational field.

These two statements appear to be completely equivalent, rendering the phrase “it’s in the nature of” redundant and meaningless.

Let’s try this the other way around. What is it about “the nature of physical bodies” that makes them "respond to the gravitational field?

If you cannot give a substantive answer to this question, then “its nature” may serve the purpose of genuflecting in the direction of First Causes, but it does not appear to provide any meaningful insight.

Cite an article if you wish. Do not expect me to sit through an hour and a half video. I would far rather read than listen.

A reasonable working assumption, lacking even a substantive articulation (i.e. one that goes beyond bald assertion of “it’s in its nature” or “it’s First Cause” or “it’s teleology”), let alone evidence, to the contrary.

Again, something beyond bald assertion of “it’s in its nature” or “it’s First Cause” or “it’s teleology”, and then some evidence to back that (whatever it may be) up.

The bald assertion that “it’s in its nature” is not this “abundantly good reason”, so maybe you should articulate what this good reason is.

Unless the “background philosophical assumptions” you are relying on are so pervassively accepted that nobody actually argues about them (which does not appear to be the case here), then expecting them to be given a free pass, when they appear to be the crux of your argument, would appear to be less than well-judged.

I still reject the analogy.

  1. I would suggest that the “philosophiocal idealist” position should be rejected because, even if true, it provides no additional insight into how to deal with this apparently illusory external world.

  2. It is not clear that ‘it feels like I have LFW’ is clearly distinguishable from ‘I’d like to think that I have LFW’.

There is no objective evidence “for anything like qualia or intentionality” at all. There is certainly no evidence that they, or any other subjective experience, are anything more than philosophers-of-mind overthinking the results of their neurons firing.

Parsimony and Occam’s Razor would appear to be a good reason. You have given zero indication that LBW, “it’s in its nature”, Final Causes or Teleology yield any explanatory power. They appear to be utterly superfluous.

Actually, they are not equivalent. One ways that bodies behave in a particular way. The other provides (at a very, very general level) an explanation for why they behave that way. It isn’t particularly informative, at such a level of generality, but I disagree that it is redundant or meaningless.

Their potentiality to be attracted to other bodies, and the causal powers of those other bodies to so attract them. (Stating things for the sake of simplicity as if Newtonian gravity rather than general relativity were the correct theory of gravity.)

I totally get that; had I a transcript I would have linked that instead. I’m not expecting you to listen to it. It’s simply there if you’re interested. I have books I can recommend to you on the subject, but they’re longer than the presentation.

The basic point is that a law of physics (like Newton’s law of gravity) is just a mathematical equation, at best an abstract description of some regularities in nature. It doesn’t explain why things behave that way. Natures, and the properties such as causal powers and potentialities that they confer, provide that explanation.

What if the crux of my argument is that your rejection of LFW is just as dependent on such contentious philosophical assumptions? For example:

Frankly, that’s absurd. Qualia and intentionality are literally the content of our subjective experience. The only way we have evidence for anything else - including the fact that we have neurons that fire when we have experiences - is by having qualia and intentional mental states. All of our evidence is evidence for qualia and intentionality.

If I’m remembering the exchange correctly, I think Dennett said something like “there is no evidence to justify postulating conciousness alongside mass and charge as fundamental properties of the universe” and Chalmers responded that “consciousness is not a postulate to explain the phenomena, but one of the phenomena to be explained”. (Paraphrasing, and afraid I can’t find the source at the moment.) Occam’s razor is for cutting out unnecessary hypotheses, not for cutting out data that your preferred hypothesis can’t explain.

1 Like

It is in fact so “very, very [a] general level” as to be vacuous. This purported “explanation” give no insight, it merely asserts (an apparently unnecessary and barren) philosophical view. You may call it an “explanation” if you wish, but it is an “explanation” that adds nothing in the way of understanding.

This sounds more like a (particularly woolly) description of what Physics already tells us about gravity, rather than the “nature” giving any additional understanding of the phenomenon.

Except they are not just descriptive, they are also predictive.

Except inventing ideas like “natures” and “causal powers” don’t “explain why things behave that way” either. They are neither descriptive nor predictive. They simply allow you to assume that it’s due to such abstractions. Which assumption leads you where?

Except (i) your original argument pre-exists my involvement (and even my participation on this forum) and (ii) you only raised these philosophical assumptions when challenged on your argument.

But should I accept your philosophical assumptions? I can think of two reasons why not. First, as I have already stated, is parsimony. Your assumptions seem to yield nothing more than empty, and thus vacuous, ‘explanations’. The second is that LFW is intuitively incoherent to me. Thus, in order to accept assumptions that would force me to a counterintuitive conclusion, I would first require some good evidence that they are good assumptions. By “good” I mean that they have a high probability of being truthful, useful, etc.

No. “Qualia and intentionality” are words that philosophers of mind made up to describe our subjective experience, imbuing them with apparently-mystical properties. It is possible to accept that subjective experience exists, without accepting all the mumbo jumbo.

And Chalmers is merely assuming that there is something extra special about consciousness that requires some explanation that does not involve “mass and charge as fundamental properties of the universe”.

Yes, we use our subjective experiences to gain the base data that we use to infer what we know about the universe. This is a pragmatic necessity. We then use such things as the Scientific Method to weed out flaws in our analysis due to cognitive biases, measurement error, etc, etc.

None of this requires that we assign a special mystical quality to consciousness or to philosopher-inventions such as intentionality, qualia, causal powers, etc.

Then demonstrate why final causes, “it’s in their nature”, or the assumed special properties consciousness, intentionality and qualia are necessary. You haven’t as yet.

What “data” have I cut out? The only thing I appear to have cut out is some idle and unproductive philisophical speculation.

If these philosophical assumptions were in any way necessary I would have expected them to be universally accepted within philosophy (rather than being contentious) and to be informing related scientific fields, e.g. the neurosciences.

That they haven’t would appear clear evidence that they are not in fact necessary, so can reasonably be put under the blade of Occam’s Razor.


Take a white feather. You can label the statement “it’s in its nature to be a white feather” an “explanation”, but this label does not confer any additional explanatory power on the statement than was contained in the original description. The phrase “it’s in its nature” would appear to be a superfluous redundancy.

I could go to an Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher for an explanation of this nature, and would probably get a lengthy lecture on concepts like final causes, causal powers and the like, which in all likelihood would apply as equally to a black horn as a white feather. I also suspect that this lecture would tell me more about the presuppositions of the lecturer than about reality.

Or I could ask scientists. A paleobiologist might explain with a Feser-description as to how feathers evolved. Another biologist might first suggest that the reason that it’s white is likely a combination of artificial selection (if its a domesticated breed) natural selection and/or genetic drift, before examining the feather more closely in order to determine species and therefore be able to provide a more detailed explanatory Feser-description.

I could therefter, if I chose, sprinkle the magic pixie dust of “it’s in its nature” at appropriate points to these Feser-descriptions, to turn them into a Feser-explanations, but why would I bother?

Labels (such as “description”, “explanation”, “nature”, “qualia”, “intentionality”, etc, etc) have no inherent value, what value they have is purely instrumental. They can serve to elucidate, but they can as easily obfuscate (e.g. “alternative facts”, fake news", etc).

As far as I can tell, your introduction of the label “nature” does not elucidate a genuine alternative to determinism and randomness, it simply serves to obfuscate the the incoherence of LFW.

1 Like

On the contrary, it tells us that the behavior in question is grounded in the properties of things that exist in the world, and is not due to mere happenstance.

I suggest that it sounds this way because physics implicitly and incohately uses these kind of metaphysical concepts already.

And why are they predictive? Ever heard of the problem of induction? The fact that the widespread inductive reasoning we use in science works in the first place is grounded in the natures of things. Why do we expect physical bodies to be affected by gravity, even before any observation? Because they have a common nature with the bodies we have observed.

On the contrary, natures are extremely predictively productive, since they (for example) ground inductive inference. And causal powers explain (for example) how it is that anything can happen at all; they answer Parmenides’ ex nihil nihil fit.

Your assertion that these are pointless concepts itself constitutes a host of philosophical assumptions on your part. It assumes that there is some successful response to the problem of induction, or to arguments against the reality of change, or to any number of philosophical problems, in the absence of this kind of metaphysical framework.

(i) As if it was impossible for me to know beforehand that someone who disagrees with me about LFW would disagree on some deeper philosophical assumption or other as well?

(ii) Instead of doing what? Laying out all my philosophical assumptions and reasoning beforehand, to the best of my ability?

And the rejection of LFW is intuitively incoherent to me. What now? Again, I’m not trying to convince you to accept my philosophical assumptions. I’m simply trying to explain why I don’t see any incoherence in the idea of free will (and in the process, briefly explain why the background philosophical assumptions that I use to understand that idea are reasonable to me).

That’s correct (at least in the same sense that “quarks and leptons” are words that physicists made up to explain the results of particle collider experiments)…

… but that is just a rhetorically-loaded assertion with nothing to back it up (other than your philosophical assumptions!). There’s nothing mystical about qualia and intentionality; they are part of everyday experience. If they appear mystical to you, I suggest it is because you have too narrow a conception of reality.

It is not something he assumes, it is something he argues for.

To spare me the time it would take to do that in depth - and since you’ve already heard about Feser, it seems - I’ll just recommend his works. Scholastic Metaphysics or Aquinas contain some basic arguments to the above effect. (You can even read the whole first chapter of Scholastic Metaphysics in the Amazon preview.)

Seems like a weak argument to me. If you don’t ask metaphysical questions, you can get by without answers to them. Doesn’t mean certain answers aren’t necessary when you do start asking them.

I guess that’s too bad for you.

On the contrary, it merely asserts that it “is not due to mere happenstance”, it offers no additional evidence of this claim.

It should be trivially obvious that all behaviour “is grounded in the properties of things that exist in the world”, even (if you look closely enough) behaviour that might be dismissed as “mere happenstance”.

Also the fact that “the behavior in question is grounded in the properties of things that exist in the world” does not imbue the behaviour of an agent with some magical quality that renders it outside determinism and randomness.

And I would suggest that the informational content comes solely from physics, and it is the wooliness that comes from turning it into a metaphysical statement.

I have to wonder what the point is in turning a “description” into an “explanation” if that serves no benefit (beyond genuflecting to some obscure philosophical principle) but makes the statement less clear.

And I would suggest that this determination was made by physicists studying the properties of matter, not by an Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher declaring that “it’s in its nature”.

Productive? :rofl:

“It is a white feather.” You can predict that it will act like a white object (in terms of what light it reflects), and like a feather (being able to tickle somebody with it or, if it’s the right size, make a quill pen out of it).

“It is in its nature to be a white feather.” What more can we now predict about it? The only difference seems to be that it would keep any passing Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher happy that the statement is in some way “grounded”.

Is it possible for an object “to be a white feather” without “it being in its nature to be a white feather”? And if not, does that not mean that the verb “to be” entails the phrase “in its nature to be”? And does that not render “in its nature” redundant?

Or they could be an indication that you have failed to demonstrate a productive purpose for them.

Yes, but your background philosophical assumptions don’t appear any more coherent to me than LFW.

I would argue that analogy. The physicists’ particle collider experiments demonstrate that there is something there to be labeled and described. It is not clear that there ‘is something there’ in qualia, beyond neurons-firing sensory perception or that intentionality is anything more than some extension of the generalisation and abstraction inherent in even primitive tool use and cooperative hunting.

You are simply asserting that they are more than neurons firing (which would be ‘grounded in physics’). You have not demonstrated this.

LFW is magic pixie dust special because ‘natures’ are magic pixie dust special because consciousness/intentionality/qualia are magic pixie dust special. At each regress you are simply asserting that there is some magic pixie dust that allows things not to be subject to the laws of physics and of chance.

None of it would appear in the least bit credible to somebody who has not already drunk the koolaid.

I believe in the laws of physics and of chance, because I have seen them in action. To demonstrate that there’s something more out there, you need to demonstrate that there is something more that cannot be explained through them.

Sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt. I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, you are, they are.

It is cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, not “I think therefore it is in my nature to be” – which is simply a redundant restatement.

Yet this is a metaphysical statement with non-trivial metaphysical implications - specifically, it implies the reality of what I’ve been calling “natures” (or more generally, forms or formal causes).

And I never said it did. That line of discussion was about natures in general. Other parts of the metaphysical framework involved in my view of LFW are causal powers as aspects of those natures, and the intrinsic intentionality of mental states held as reasons for possible actions.

You’re either misunderstanding or ignoring my point. Why can we predict that the feather will behave in similar ways to other white objects? Or why does studying “the properties of matter” allow us to predict that objects we’ve never studied will still respond to gravity in the same way as the ones we have studied? What feature, exactly, do these things have in common that let us make such inductive inferences?

I guess I can add the problem of universals to the list of philosophical issues to which you are simply assuming you have a coherent answer. Either that, or your disagreement with me on this point is simply linguistic, and your only complaint is that you don’t like the words I’m using?

What’s clear or not to you is shaped by your philosophical preconceptions. It’s abundantly clear to me that physics gives no reason (and indeed, can give no reason) why there should be subjective experience associated with neurons firing or anything at all; and that intentionality of mental states is intrinsic and irreducible (and that the derived intentionality of things like words on computer screens or bits in data streams depends on that fact) - and that such intentionality is a condition of any rational thought at all.

Asserting, because simply laying out where I’m coming from - arguing for this whole metaphysical framework would take longer than I have, and it’s been done better elsewhere anyways.

Meanwhile, two can play this game. “Subjective experience is nothing more than neurons firing” is materialist magic pixie dust. And so on.

Nonsense. You have seen nothing of the sort. What you’ve seen is a world populated with things causally interacting with each other. You’ve inferred some abstract laws, and then reified them and presumed they have some kind of causal force (in the process arriving at a conclusion that is actually incompatible with the existence of rationality).

Something we have in common - your statements appear the same way to me.

The trouble is you have not demonstrated that the metaphysical implication of what you’ve been calling “natures” is itself non-trivial.

Hence my questions:

Yes, as an extra philosophical formalism or elaboration you can go beyond “it is” to “it’s in its nature to be”, but for people to bother, you need to demonstrate that it yields some new insight.

Then maybe you should have brought up “causal powers” rather than “natures” in your initial defense of LFW, rather than relegating it to your obscurantist “‘explanation’-that-is-less-comprehensible-than-a-‘description’” of gravity. If “natures” is a red herring to LFW, it is one that you placed across my path.

Because otherwise the adjective “white” would be meaningless, and fall out of use.

I am not suggesting that the statement “it’s in its nature to be” is false, I’m simply stating that you have presented no demonstration that “natures” are in any way special or insightful, such that keeping them consciously in mind benefits clarity of thought.

And I would suggest that going from “it is” to “it’s in its nature to be” does not answer that question.

“It is”. Therefore it is worth our time to attempt to work out how we can interact with it in a systematic and effective manner, unless and until we reach a stage where such endeavors prove fruitless. Infants start this process before they can even talk.

Likewise we will continue to use the word “white” unless and until it no longer serves to describe a meaningful property of objects (I rather suspect the word would have fallen out of use in The Emerald City in Wizard of Oz).

I was aware of “Platonic forms”, which appears to be the root of this purported “problem”.

Should the properties an object has in common with other objects, such as colour and shape, be considered to exist beyond those objects? Should the properties an object has in common with other objects, such as colour and shape, be considered to exist beyond those objects?

The answer to this, to me at least, would appear to be sufficiently obviously “no”, that I am unwilling to spend time coming up with a more detailed “coherent answer” until somebody demonstrates that it is a question that is in any way meaningful to me.

Similarly, I could have taken maths papers in university that would have shown me the details behind why 1+1=2. Instead I was quite happy to take more pragmatic papers like Statistics and Calculus instead.

Physics would happily farm that task out to Evolutionary Biology, which would explain that the energy cost of neurons firing would be selected against if it did not serve some useful purpose, which likely would perforce involve some form of subjective experience in sufficiently complex organisms.

That you are subject to such philosophical mysticism doesn’t surprise me in the least, but leaves me wholly unmoved.

And I am sure that you find support for your mysticism in your byzantine philosophical system. But that is likewise not compelling. If you’re willing to disappear far enough down the right philosophical rabbit-hole, I’d be surprised if there were many viewpoints you couldn’t justify.

Then maybe you should either (i) not have made the assertion in the first place, (ii) distilled your philosophy down into a comprehensible and compelling summary (rather than leading with red herrings like “natures”), or (iii) ask yourself if the fact that you need such a complex philosophy to support your beliefs is not problematical in and of itself.

The “inferred” caveat is nonsensical hair-splitting, and beside the point. My point is that having inferred these laws through a lifetime of folk-experimentation, and a number of years of formal education and lab experimentation, I have confidence in these laws that far exceeds my confidence in any proposed philosophical model.

The physics+chance model allows me to interact effectively with (what I perceive to be) the universe. The Aristotelian-Thomistic model (or whatever else you wish to call it), appears to do nothing more than generate jargon, and argue for the ephemeral (or at least non-empirical) and ineffable.

This philosophical model is itself the product of inference. But they are inferences that are not grounded in my daily life, nor in the rigors of laboratory experiment. They are simply the navel-gazing of one bunch of philosophers, who I have no reason to trust over the navel-gazing and resultant philosophical models of any other bunch of philosophers.

Yes, one day the physics+chance model may fail me. But until then, I’m happy to continue to rely on it. If your (or any other) philosophical model could predict when or how it might fail, or what I should do about the fact, it might be of some use. But I do not see how it could do this.

But taking this inferential viewpoint, * I can find no basis whatsoever to infer:

  • the existence of anything beyond the laws of physics and of chance.

  • that subjective experiences are not reducible to these laws, or are in any other way ‘special’.

  • that the properties an object has in common with other objects should be considered to exist beyond those objects.

  • that LFW is in any way coherent.

Except that my “koolaid” would appear to be that created by daily exposure to the physical world, and to science’s attempts to understand it, not by some philosophical rabbit-hole. Now you might claim that refusal to find my own rabbit-hole to go down is itself an implicit rabbit-hole. But at that point I’d just shrug. :smirk:

1 Like

Interesting exchange here between @Tim and @structureoftruth, which we will separate out onto a Curated thread so that people can follow better. For others, please submit your comments on the comments thread (Comments on Tim and Matt on Free Will) or the originating thread (You Don't Have Free Will, but Don't Worry?).


I will admit that I’ve been finding it increasingly more frustrating than interesting, particularly its conclusion – when @structureoftruth ended up stating that “natures”, which is what the majority of this thread has been arguing about, does not in fact underlie his defense of the coherence of LFW – making this whole thread more than a little off-its-stated-topic.

I would also question the benefit of splitting out the ‘Comments on’ section.

This post from @John_Harshman is in many ways a more concise articulation of my issues with LFW than anything I’ve said here:

It was also replied to by this lengthy post that remains part of the ‘main’ ‘currated’ thread (meaning you have to jump back and forwards between thread to follow the conversation):

I would also suggest that this post from @nwrickert raises more questions about my worldview than anything in the ‘main’ ‘currated’ thread did:

Comments on Tim and Matt on Free Will - #4 by nwrickert

1 Like

I admit I thought I had brought up causal powers earlier; perhaps I was confusing this conversation with the earlier one in the other thread. But natures are relevant - they are part of the metaphysical package alongside causal powers, you might say, since the nature of a thing determines the kind of causal powers it has.

The more general point I’ve been trying to make is that we have very different philosophical views underlying the disagreement about LFW. You keep saying that you don’t find my view at all compelling, but that very assessment is itself influenced by your philosophical preconceptions.

Again, nonsense. The reason the adjective “white” is meaningful and doesn’t fall out of use is that it reflects some real feature of white things that lets us make those inductive inferences - not the other way around.

It helps avoid the confusion you just displayed in the last quote (suggesting that our ability to make inductive inferences comes from our usage of the adjective “white”, rather than our usage of the adjective coming from the nature / form shared by white things).

Platonic forms are an attempted response to the problem of universals, not the source of that problem. And your own response to the problem just proves my point that you are making philosophical assumptions:

Again, your assessment about the obviousness of your answer, or the meaningfulness of the question, are influenced by your philosophical preconceptions.

uninformed philosophical preconceptions. You evidently are unaware of how this doesn’t even answer the hard problem of consciousness.

I guess I’m not allowed to point out by way of example that we have different philosophical assumptions unless I have the time and energy to give you the “explain like I’m 5” version.

Regarding the complexity of my view, (i) I don’t believe it really is that complex, though right now it still would take more time that I have to spend explaining it (along with all my reasons for holding it, since just giving the explanation clearly wouldn’t satisfy you); (ii) sometimes complex things are the truth (quantum field theory, along with the reasons for postulating it, is another thing I wouldn’t have time to explain - I think you would agree it doesn’t invalidate it in the least even if it were contested).

Perhaps you should ask yourself if your view is not too simplistic. Do a bit of reading in philosophy and you might find that some of these problems you dismiss are not so easily answered.

No, my claim is that you are already in your own rabbit-hole without realizing it. Or perhaps more along with philosophical tradition - you’re in Plato’s cave. The view you dismiss as nothing more than navel-gazing is in fact just as grounded in the experience of daily life as yours, and you are simply unfamiliar with the inferences that lead to it.

Shorter @structureoftruth:

“Tim has philosophical preconceptions/assumptions/yadda yadda, and that makes me feel superior to him.”

Tim shrugs.

If you take a sufficiently nit-pickingly strict view of such things, everything we learn from the first time we start to vaguely perceive the existence to an external world can be considered to contain philosophical baggage. Whilst sometimes classification of that baggage may be useful, that utility needs to be demonstrated, not simply assumed.

Yes, all coherent experience probably involves a degree of induction. What of it? You have failed to demonstrate how this requires “natures” or why these “natures” are meaningful.

Even more basically, you have likewise failed to give any articulation of any meaning of “natures” beyond their common meaning. Thus the statement “it is X because it is in its nature to be X” cannot be interpreted but in this common meaning, which renders it a fatuous redudancy.

Likewise you failed to give the meaning of “causal powers”, and I was left to attempt to infer it from this reason-why-philsophers-shouldn’t-try-to-explain-physics:

I think it may be that where “natures” are the extra special pixie dust “is-ness” of existence, “causal powers” are the extra special pixie dust “does-ness” (and possible “potentiality” is the extra special pixie dust “will-do-ness”).

Shorter whole thread from @structureoftruth:

“Because natures and causal powers” (without ever bothering to define either).

Tim shrugs.

Followed far enough, any question of “why…?” eventually reaches a stage where the only answer is reflexive (i.e. “a=a” or “because it is”). Possibly because of your failure to adequately define “natures”, you have failed to establish that “because it is in its nature” is less reflexive than “because it is”. It is therefore not clear that basing a response in consensual understanding of terms is more ‘nonsensical’ than this. It is of course a necessary precursor that we agree that a “white feather” exists, before we can ask “why is it a white feather”, and the existence of the former does not entail the meaningfulness of the latter.

When one has never seen “properties an object has in common … exist[ing] beyond those objects”, and it would seem to be difficult to even conceive of such independent existence, it does not need much in the way of “philosophical preconceptions” to be indifferent to the purported “problem” of their (again purported) potential existence.

Does my denial of their reality make me Nominalist or Conceptualist? Probably the latter, but not to the point that I’d feel obliged to argue the point.

Tim shrugs.

The main problem of expecting a solution to the “hard problem of consciousness” from science (and yes @structureoftruth, physics really is farming out the problem to Biology, and more particularly Neurosciences), is that science is inherently objective, so you have to translate the term “subjective experience” into something identifiable by science. To the extent that this has happened, science is working on it. To the extent that it hasn’t, philosophers may as well be expecting science to explain pixies.

I will note that, beyond boiler-plate about “philosophical preconceptions”, you have offered no explanation why subjective experience cannot be simply an evolutionary byproduct of adaptions for the development of creatures’ sensory and cognitive apparatus.

No @structureoftruth. At this stage I am wholly unimpressed by yet further vague and generic invocation of “philosophical assumptions”.

And the problem is not that you are explaining it as though to a 5yo (you’d have to go quite a way to find one that would follow the conversation to date), but that you are explaining like you’re a random philosophical statement generator.


That means that I don’t have to put up with any more of your incoherent and patronising waffle.

But if you were going to refuse to explain, I have to wonder why you spent such an inordinate amount of time not-explaining (and not defining your terms) first.

This does however leave a couple of statements asserted-by-Matt-but-not-substantiated:

  • LFW is not incoherent.

  • “Nope. There’s simply R, S, and the agent who weighs R and S and makes a choice.” (‘Weighing’ presupposes some criteria, i.e. my “T”.)

As far as I can see, nothing you have said since provides support for either of these statements. And as you now don’t want to ‘explain’ (using that term very loosely) things further, this entire thread would seem off-topic to the stated topic of “Matt and Tim on Free Will.”

You may think I’m still in “Plato’s cave”, from my point of view I’m doing my best not to be drawn into ‘Matt’s Looking Glass’. What may have been a coherent (if not necessarilly enticing) philosophical viewpoint has been rendered incomprehensible by your failure to articulate it with any rigor. Such a rigorous explanation would have been more likely to lead me to one of the philosophical viewpoints rejecting Plato and Aristotle’s views, than to those views themselves, but it might have engendered in me some interest in the topic. Your ‘exposition’ of the subject? Not so much.

Tim shrugs and walks away.

A brief scratch around the internet on “causal powers” suggests that philosophy does not in fact imbue them with any special magical properties, they are simply philosophy-speak for the ability of things to do things – e.g. magnets have the causal power to attract ferrous objects.

This means that @structureoftruth appears to be simply assuming that his original “agent” has the causal power of LFW, and that causal powers per se are likewise a red herring for finding out why. They may be an instrumental bit player in forming an explanation, but do not, in and of themselves, appear to be able to serve as its basis.

All the more reason to believe that this conversation has been going nowhere virtually from the start.

@dga471: could you please not leave this as a “curated” conversation. It is at best a wholly-unproductive side-conversation.