Free-will; contra-causal power


The libertarian says, "No way," to a great deal of the above, especially the soft-determinist's position. The Libertarian agrees with the hard-determinists that determinism is a fact with respect to events in the universe; events are determined by antecedent causes. But he goes on to say, "MOST events are strictly determined, but not all. There are some events which are not strictly determined; there are some events whose outcome is not "predicted" by antecedent causes. A free-choice is undetermined in the sense that antecedent causes do not strictly determine the outcome. Even if God knew all the antecedent causes of a free-choice, He could not predict what the outcome would be. Free-will exists and is incompatible with determinism."

1. Determinism is incompatible with free-will.

Let's take an example. Suppose determinism is true. Suppose the events of the world unfold as would a movie, say "Gone With the Wind." We know that at the end of the movie, Rhett turns to Scarlett. He can choose to stay with her or leave. As we know, the movie ends by Rhett leaving and saying, "Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn." Now, suppose that the movie characters are made real; that is, each and every time the movie is played, the movie becomes reality. Suppose we put the movie on and run it. The characters actually come to life and the Civil War days return. Rhett and Scarlet are real flesh and blood characters caught up in terrible times. Both think that they are persons. Both think that the decisions they make are free. Rhett thinks that at the end (of the movie) he is making a free-choice, but he is not. We know what the future frames will reveal. He will say his parting sentence and walk out. Again, though Rhett thinks that he is free, we know better; he is not free, for the film has been made and his actions are determined by what is in the script and on the celluloid. No matter how many times the film is run, Rhett will always do the exact same thing. His actions, the whole film, is fixed or determined. There can be no changes. We could run the film millions of times. Each time Rhett and Scarlett would come into being. Each time they would think that they were the authors of their lives. But, that's simply not the case. The film is set in concrete. There can be no changes. Rhett will always walk out the door.

That's what makes the libertarian so chapped with the soft-determinist's position. The soft-determinist says that Rhett makes a "free-choice" every time he says goodbye to Scarlett because he was not internally or externally coerced, the choice was made by him through his own deliberation, and the criteria used to make the choice were his. But, now it's the libertarian's turn to say, "So what." No matter that all those conditions were met, Rhett always was determined to chose to leave; any time the movie becomes reality, he will always make the same choice. In fact, it is impossible for him to stay. Why? Because then, a new scene would have to be made on the spot. Not just a new scene, a new film. The film on the feed-in would be "undeveloped," in fact, unrecorded or filmed. But, a new film would mean that something caused a new scene, new choices and script, something that did not exist in the scenes or film up to that moment. And what that is, the libertarian, says is real free-will --the power to do something else or new in spite of antecedent causes. If Rhett turned around and said, "Frankly Scarlett, I do give a damn," something drastically new and unexpected has happened. Rhett has changed the course of events in spite of what exists in the future frames and what past frames would determine him to say. In fact, those future frames no longer apply or exist. The film becomes made at each instant. There is a creative power at each moment that changes the destinies of the agents when free-will enters in. As those destinies change, so do the events of the world insofar as they are affected by those decisions. So, although the world has many determined events (stones falling down banks, rain falling at certain rate, springs snapping at a specific load), there are events in the processes of the world which are not determined by antecedent causes. There are free-will events.

The soft-determinist tries a sleight of hand (or mind) to obtain some sort of meaning for 'free-will' which would enable him to bring in moral responsibility. The bug-a-boo with that plan, says the libertarian, is the premise that determinism applies to all events of the world. That means that choices made by persons are always determined by antecedent events. And, that in turn means that the persons could not have done otherwise. They would have done something different if the antecedent events were different, but because those events are never different, the outcome is strictly determined. The outcome is always the same. Rhett will always walk out on Scarlett for the movie could never be different. Thus, there cannot be any concept of moral responsibility for the soft-determinist, for unless things could really be different due to one's decision-making procedure, there can be no changes in the world for which a person could be held morally responsible. Ultimately, the soft-determinist's position is the same as the hard-determinist.

Here's the libertarian's argument in outline form.

Most events in the world are determined by antecedent causes.

However, some events are not. These events are not pre-determined by causes antecedent to them.

Free-will is the power by which new or undetermined events enter into the world and change its progress.

Free-will is a power that belongs to persons.

Because persons can do otherwise in making a free-will choice, they can be held responsible for the outcomes of their choices. Free-will entails that the options of choice are all possible. With determinism, only one option or result is possible.

Only free-will can be compatible with moral responsibility, for if someone does something wrong when he/she could have chosen the right option, he/she is the morally responsible agent.

Sounds good but there's a catch.

2. Can free-will really be indeterminate?

The libertarians insist that free-will is the uncoerced power to choose. Back to the film example, no matter how many times the film is run, no one can predict what Rhett will do at the end if he really has free-will. Rhett can choose what he wills to choose. But, there's the rub. How does Rhett decide what to do? What criteria does he use to make his decision? If he just goes away angry, then it looks as though his choice has been swayed by anger. In that case, we would not want to say that he made a free-choice, but was controlled by his anger. His anger made him do it. Suppose he mulls over whether it would be good for him to stay with Scarlett or let her get on with her own life and gain some integrity of self. He thinks, "If I stay with Scarlett, she will never learn to be a woman unto herself. It is best for her that I leave." But, what causes him to think such thoughts? Are not his beliefs about women the very ones that arise to govern his decision? In which case, his beliefs (upbringing and past life experiences) determine his choice. But, wait. If the criteria in terms of which we make a free-choice are determined by our histories, that's what soft-determinism says. Unless, there is no criteria at all to determine an action, then the action cannot be truly free. But, what kind of action is one that is executed for no reason at all? Random events are not compatible with moral responsibility. So, the libertarian has big trouble.

The libertarian has to explain just what this mysterious free-will power is and how it can alter the events of the world. Secondly, he has to explain how, when free-will is used, that event is not really a special kind of determined event. Deliberations must use some criteria to figure out what is the right option. But, that criteria then determine the option chosen. Any way you look at it, there's trouble for the libertarian.


1. The determinists look to be right about determinism.

Science works. And it works well. Civilization has advanced because the world operates on deterministic principles. Those principles or laws can be discovered through experiment and the results capitalized upon to better our lives. Science produces a better world. Science presumes that the world is deterministic; the results of science corroborate that presumption. Only at certain sub-atomic levels do we find elements of indeterminacy, but those are not deliberative indetermanicies. They are events caused by random factors. Determinism is a well supported hypothesis about the events of the world. As rational beings, the thesis that the world is determined by its quantitative constituents (of which we are a part) looks to be almost a given.

2. The soft-determinists and libertarians are right about moral responsibility.

The soft-determinists and libertarians may differ about the nature of free-will, but they agree that moral responsibility is an important concept for our society. Without moral responsibility, the concept of justified punishment does not exist. The hard-determinist's concept of causal responsibility borders on behavior control going boinkers; we can imagine what "fix-it" programs could be instituted to insure a "better world." Talk about Big Brother watching you! So, moral responsibility and the associated concepts of blameworthiness are crucial to our notion of a civilized world.

3. Determinism and moral responsibility are not compatible.

Unfortunately, we cannot have it both ways. If we are determined by atomic events, then we are not free. If we are not free, then there can be no sense of moral responsibility.

4. Let us say for pragmatic purposes that there is free-will.

It may be easy to go the route of the soft-determinist and claim that through a "rigging" of the meaning of 'free-will,' determinism and moral responsibility can be made compatible (which we have found doesn't seem to work). The criterion of consistency just will not let us do that. Simply put, if all the events in the world are strictly determined, then there is no room for moral responsibility based on free choice.

Somehow, then, we have got to work in a libertarian's concept of free-will causality. And, that will be hard to do. But, in the last chapter, I'll take a quick shot of doing just that. In the meantime, it may be well to suspend judgment and use a pragmatic criterion. That is to say, we need the concept of moral responsibility so much for the well functioning of our society that we must assume that there exists in the world the type of free-will the libertarians call for. This pragmatic justification is OK, for it's all we have right now. It's weak, but it's the best we can do so far. Unfortunately, it may be all we are left with; my answer to the problem in the last chapter is "half-baked" at best and does not hold well against critical scrutiny. I'll have to rely on you to come up with better answers.

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