Updated October 2004 and 2007
In revisiting the issue of
free will and indeterminism
vs determinism, I am including much material from a lecture on "Karl
Popper's Indeterminism," I presented for the Long Island Philosophical
Society, (under the title, Commentary on Ellen Katz's "'Of Clouds and
Clocks' Revisited"), Saturday, April 7, 1984 at the State University of New
York Agricultural and Technical College at Farmingdale. I realize that I am attempting a task already addressed by a
multitude of philosophers. It is through the study of some of their works that I
hope to show that much disagreement is caused by our abuse of language, a
subject that I did not address at that time, particularly lending ontological status to abstract terms, (recognized in
discursive logic as "the fallacy of hypostatization"). In attempting
to clarify our uses of the term 'free will,' I hope to crystallize the pros and
cons of the argument and to further the understanding that the concept that the
universe is partly indeterminate is without merit.
Albert Einstein offers us a clear and succinct description of the issue:
The universe of ideas is just as little independent of the nature of our experiences as clothes are of the form of the human body.
And John Staurt Mill:
The question whether the law of causality applies in the same strict sense to human actions as to other phenomena, is the celebrated controversy concerning the freedom of the will; which, from at least as far back as the time of Pelagius, has divided both the philosophical and the religious world. The affirmative opinion is commonly called the doctrine of necessity, as asserting human volitions and actions to be necessary and inevitable. The negative maintains that the will is not determined, like other phenomena, by antecedents, but determines itself; that our volitions are not, properly speaking, the effects of cause, or at least have no causes which they uniformly and implicitly obey. (1)
Experience, if we are
not to doubt it, shows that an organism behaves in a manner quite dependent upon
its environment, heredity, and in the case of human beings, his physical
constitution and upbringing.
There is no doubt that human beings possess free will. It is necessary if a code of ethics and responsibility is to be maintained. However, what the indeterminist means by the term differs from that of the determinist. As well as that, the indeterministic free will is not compatible with our reasoning processes. Because of these dualistic interpretations not only of the term 'free will' but also of such terms as 'chance,' 'cause,' 'will,' 'self,' 'responsibility,' 'ability,' and others much unnecessary confusion arises.
It seems likely, as Hume and Mill, and many others have stated, that if common definitions were agreed upon, there would be much less confusion. There is, however, more to the issue than agreement of definition. With the advent of quantum theory and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, other questions arose threatening to undermine the doctrine of determinism unless predictions could be shown to be possible within the former.
A further word of caution: In a subject such as this, how we use and abuse language is a serious concern. Too often, little consideration is given to our shifts of levels of language. It is an unfortunate characteristic of language, also, that we so often resort to colloquial, conventional, stipulated, metaphysical, academic, and obscure use of terminology. It is the responsibility of the reader to discern those uses if he is to weed out the nonsense so often foisted upon us.
On the one hand, the indeterminist believes, erroneously, that if determinism were true, man would lose his dignity and significance. The determinist, on the other hand, claims that if indeterminism were true, there would be no sense to man's ambitions and planned living inasmuch as free action could upset and destroy everything at any moment. He claims too as Mill points out
The metaphysical theory of free will, as held by philosophers was invented because the supposed alternative of admitting human actions to be necessary was deemed inconsistent with anyone's instinctive consciousness, as well as humiliating to the pride and degrading to the moral nature of man. (2)
My suspicion is,
rather, that the concept of free will evolved in the minds of theists to take
their omni-beneficent, omnipotent, and omniscient gods off the hook for the ills,
misery, harm, pain, immorality, suffering, and the like that are rampant in the
The solutions to these problems lie in the fact that the sciences are predicated upon the concept of determinism. Moreover, the rise of modern civilization owes its progress to it.
Those sciences which deal with human activity, such as psychology, ethics, economics, and history, are all compelled to assume, as the condition of their existence and progress, that the actions of men, highly complex and varied as they are, lie within the series of necessary relations. Walter Everett (3)
The interests of science and morals demand that responsibility and freedom of will be compatible with the doctrine of determinism. It is necessary for man to conform to moral law and to retain a sense of responsibility and duty if we are to maintain a civilized and progressive society, however imperfect it may be. And, as Everett points out,
The principle of necessary connection has been the guiding thread by which man has slowly escaped from many a fearsome labyrinth of error and superstition. (4)
If this compatibility
cannot be shown, the indeterminist will certainly have more than sufficient
reason to dissent to the opposite view. By the very nature of the doctrine of
determinism, it, in effect, declares that all acts of man, whether good or evil,
once committed, in actuality, were inevitable. Such a statement can and has led
to extreme misinterpretation. The indeterminist either can't or won't understand
that this inevitability involves understanding the whole of the doctrine of
determinism and not merely the idea, "it had to be."
The indeterminist readily admits that for the most part, our universe does adhere to causal laws. But, his doctrine of free will declares that there are some instances of human behavior which cannot be construed as falling within the causal category.
Strange as it may seem, it is possible for the determinist to agree to "freedom of will," without undermining his position. To do so, however, requires us to recognize that a person is a complex of internal and external streams of causes wherein they are in a constant state of changes such that superficially, we're tempted to say such things as, "He is not the kind of person to do the thing he did." Apparently, at "that moment" he was.
It is apparent that the indeterminist neglects to distinguish between a person and an inanimate object. He either ignores, or is blind to the fact, that a person is capable of making decisions and choices, all non-ontological functions, which constitute part of the causal system. Man observes a situation, weighs the alternatives, and arrives at a decision which ultimately is determined by his nature and life's experiences. It is an error to think of determinism in Hobbsian, i.e., merely in billiard-ball, terms.
Since everyone is born as an uncivilized "person," moral laws were conceived and linguistically codified as tools for the purpose of enabling us to evolve amicable relationships among ourselves. Such laws undoubtedly were founded upon the natural love, care, and empathy expressed by parenting, development of friendships, and interdependency, all of which must be recognized as causes leading to effects.
But to interpret the issue of "free will and determinism" strictly in causal terms without consideration of the fact the no linguistic symbol has an inherent meaning is to miss the point entirely. "Cause" or any of its possible synonyms, such as "force" or "compulsion" and the like must be forsaken.
No one is privy to the existence of physical causality. We are privy to our perceptions and our linguistic expression of our experiences of those perceptions and consequently conceptions. Hence, any attribution of meaning to the term, 'cause,' must be examined within the bounds of usage and levels of usage of language, not to some conceived ontology of cause.
Consider how constantly we refer to our freedom of will on that level of language when we are not being concerned with philosophical implications. That we make linguistic shifts to alternative levels of usage of the term does not absolve us from the fact that such shifts are still attributions of meanings that bring us no closer to an ontological existence of "causes." David Hume had it right!
Consequently, to speak of certain causes, such as making a choice predicated upon the weighing of evidence and otherwise unrestrained, is a perfectly legitimate attribution of the exercise of free will.
The indeterminist seems not to be able to distinguish between unrestrained and restrained behavior. For instance, a person limits the use of alcoholic consumption because he wishes to remain in control of his faculties. Even in an environment of social persuasion, he is exercising his "free will" which is determined by his physical and mental attributes. No one is forcing him to abstain, though at one party, he may abstain and at another, he may imbibe. If he is unable to abstain, he is "restrained" from doing so, i.e., determined by his addiction over which he has no control.
The main point to be emphasized is that man makes choices. Man is a complex of forces that underlie the complex of causes and effects which, in turn, underlie his actions. Obviously there could be no choices made absent his brain and its functions.
Free will is the ability to make choices. They are made because of antecedent events, many of which are not physically ontological, not because of the absence of them. Such choices, in the making, are brought into play by one or more of the following: genes, instinct, habit, training, education, physical constituents, and all the other qualities and character traits developed by the past experiences of the individual. He feels free to choose as he wishes and does choose as he wishes, all the competing "forces," i.e., causes, many of which are manifested by some physically ontological entity, considered. He, as that complex of "forces" is the "decider."
The indeterminist is fooled into believing that some events have no antecedent causes because he ignores or is ignorant of the fact that every effect is caused not by a single cause but by a stream of causes and because the proximate cause may be undetectable by his sense faculties giving the impression that none exists.
William James's "Dilemma Of Determinism" is a classic example of how far astray the indeterminist can wander in an attempt to disprove determinism. At the very outset of his essay, James declares:
I thus disclaim openly on the threshold all pretension to prove [verify?] to you that the freedom of the will is true. The most I hope is to induce some [?] of you to follow my own example in assuming it true and acting as if it were true. (5) [bold italics, mine]
One may believe that
freedom of will is true but how can one possibly act on the assumption of free
As for an indeterminist acting as if there is free will, he doesn't. His choices and actions are conducted according to his history of experiences. If he honestly believes that there are cases of behavior without antecedent events, he must surely experience a thousand fears that his well-laid plans may at any moment be completely and utterly destroyed by some uncaused act, on which all his training, heredity, education, desires, and environment would have had no restraining effect.
However, it is apparent that the indeterminists do not show the least fear that such might be the case. And they might well have fear if they so believed, not only for their lives, but for their sanity. There could be no reason not to fear that their "next" acts might be abominable.
James attempts to clarify his adherence to the concept of free will
What is meant by saying that my choice, of which way to walk home after the lecture, is ambiguous and matter of chance as far as the present moment is concerned? It means that both, Divinity Avenue and Oxford Street are called; but that only one, and that one, either one, shall be chosen. Now, I ask you seriously to suppose that this ambiguity of my choice is real; and then to make the impossible hypothesis that the choice is made twice over, and each time falls on a different street. . . . You as passive spectators, look on and see the alternative universes. . . . Now, if you are determinists you believe one of these universes to have been from eternity impossible. . . . Looking outwardly at these universes, can you say which is the impossible and accidental one, and which the rational and necessary? (6)
James is setting up an
impossible and irrational self-admittedly "impossible hypothesis" and
expects a rational answer. For one, he neglects to indicate whether the
antecedents, i.e., the states of the alternative universes, before his decision,
are identical for each possible choice. However, if one were omniscient,
about the states of each of the alternative universes, one could show the connections
among all the events occurring, by "chance" or not, before the
decision, and could certainly predict the choice each would make.
He has given a case neither for indeterminism nor against determinism.
He has shown us nothing but a man walking down one street in one universe, and the same man down another street in "another universe" at the same moment of time. From this we are to infer that whichever one actually happened was not inevitable. He has given us two isolated and unrelated events and asks us to pass a single judgment about them.
It is impossible to make inferences about any event unless there is a history of recurrence or knowledge of its antecedents upon which we might make predictions. He has shown us in his illustration his actions after the choice was made in his mind; but he has given us no trace of his life's experiences or the workings of his brain before the choice was formed. Knowledge of them would have enabled us to give him an intelligible answer.
He admits, that he has made choices. Admitting that much, can anyone sensibly deny that all the qualities of his personality and past experience affected the making of those choices? Would he have us believe that for an instant of time all his past lost its power to effect his decisions, then after a choice was made (I know not how), regained its power? Does he not ever allow the necessity of the existence of his body, i.e., brain, without which a choice could not be made? To quote James again, he claims,
The negative fact that no part of the world, however big, can claim to control absolutely the destines of the world. (7)
disagrees with Poincare, who considers chance to be an "aggregate of
complex causes," William James declares non-inevitableness, i.e.,
"indeterminism is rightly described as chance." (8)
He also implies that the universe could be what it is today even if "parts" of the universe had never existed. "Parts," being complexes of causes and effects, of the universe come into and out of existence constantly, thereby altering the state of the universe from one nanosecond to another. It is never the same from one nanosecond to another.
Considering James' "will to believe," and if he truly believed such a possibility, I can only ask is there some evidence that there has been at least one instance of indeterminism in the history of the universe? Moreover, as Bertrand Russell once asked, with tongue in cheek, I'm sure, in paraphrase, "What if God created the universe as it exists today, two seconds ago?" Or, to paraphrase, Bishop George Berkley asserted: All events are but perceptions of God; i.e., "to be is to be perceived. What of history then?
The indeterminist's contention that there are cases of human behavior without behavioral events being antecedently determined is a conviction derived from the belief that the question of morals depends upon it. However, in his attempts to defend his belief, he becomes enmeshed in ambiguity.
James declares that determinists argue that if free will is true, anything that occurs, morally, could just as probably occur immorally, for instance a person who commits a saintly act could just as probably at that moment have committed a criminal act.
Surely, it makes no sense to speak of probability in the absence of possibility. Nothing is probable unless it is first possible. It follows, then that if it is possible it can be so only through deterministic events. It makes no sense to speak of possibilities emerging out of nothing, absent antecedent causes. It makes no sense, for instance, to speak of the possibility of someone being killed without some antecedent cause doing the killing. If that cause is a human being, his act of killing and the victim being possible to be killed, had to be causes for the killing to occur for whatever intentional or unintentional reason he may have done so.
It would be convenient indeed if a choice about history, or not, could be restricted to a moral category. He declares of those (unpredictable) restricted alternatives that there is a "chance" that any one of them is possible and that, on his definition of chance, the one which was finally made need not have been antecedently determined. Does he expect us to believe that after the will has been tempted, it severs itself from these alternatives being a "free will," and still having done that, commits only a moral or immoral act?
He wishes to have freedom of choice, restrict it to moral alternatives and not have any one of them inevitable after the will has been "tempted" by alternatives. Is it not obvious that moral conduct, hence principles, evolved in the minds and "hearts" (i.e., out of empathy), of human beings to enhance their ability to live in peace with each other? James admits, indirectly, that the final choice will have been motivated by one of the alternatives all of which will have tempted our will. Surely a temptation which motivates an act is an antecedent event. Consider the following quotation before we leave James.
Most persons (feel that) what is called their free will . . . is a principle, a positive faculty or virtue added to man, which his dignity is enigmatically augmented. He ought to believe in it for this reason. Determinists, who deny it, who say that individual men originate nothing, but merely transmit to the future the whole push of the past cosmos of which they are so small an expression, diminish man. (9)
James makes no
distinction between linguistically diminishing man and factually doing so.
declares that one ought to believe in free will because it "augments one's
dignity." Let reason and logic fly to the winds.
He would have us believe it is not a necessary part of transmitting the past to become part of the future. However, in the Dilemma of Determinism, he declares moral alternatives tempt the will suggesting that the will acts according to those temptations. James also takes the pragmatic view that since man's dignity is augmented by some principle which is called "free will," man should believe in it. Giving him the benefit of the doubt as to his meaning of "free will," it does not follow that such "dignity" cannot be explained on the basis of reason rather than being accepted blindly merely because dignity is a good quality to possess. Nor is it the case that believing in a principle makes it worth believing.
The indeterminist feels that "new" events which he confines to human behavior can pop up out of nowhere without any connection whatsoever with any previous events which have occurred in the universe. To such a "feeling" there is little argument I give besides showing the consequences (some of which I have already presented) of the doctrine he "feels."
There is one thought, however, the indeterminist might profit by to consider. There are well over six billion inhabitants on this earth, many of whom are lacking not only in education but also in a "high" order of intelligence. Each one of these inhabitants has some degree of "feelings with concomitant ideas." There's little doubt that many of these ideas would appear utterly ridiculous even to an indeterminist. But if the indeterminist wishes his "feelings" for his ideas to be accepted as proof of them, must he not accept also the "feelings" of over six billion inhabitants of Earth as proof of the veracity of their ideas no matter if they are contradictory -- Hitler's, for instance?
The progress of mankind did not begin until feelings were tempered by reason and experience.
Walter G. Everett, in his Moral Values, offers his concept of what constitutes the self.
When it first comes to consciousness it is a bundle of activities already moving swiftly along a definite track. It has, as far as we can judge, its beginning at a fixed point of time; it is endowed with a definite physical and psychical nature; it enters into a particular environment; it receives the stamp of a special training and education; and even the sources of those ideas and ideals, by which it afterwards modifies or transcends early conditions, are found in the social historical life into which it enters. . . . The self is the organic unity of all its activities. (10)
Is there a potential
self? Are there degrees of self? Fundamentally, Everett is saying the self
exists before it acquires consciousness and upon acquiring consciousness becomes
a "bundle of activities." He then segues into its origin and its
John Locke gives a rather brief and to the point definition of the self:
Self is that conscious thinking thing . . . which is sensible or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends. (11)
I do not find either of
these concepts particularly clarifying. Such statements are open to various
arguments as to the nature and content of consciousness and whether there is a
self or potential self when one is in a coma or not conscious. Surely there
cannot be consciousness without content.
All the evidence available to us, demonstrates clearly that if we were born and lived in different countries and environments, that we could not possibly be the "selves" that, each of us, is today, i.e, at any given moment. No two selves being the same, the self is very definitely molded by its upbringing, its experience, its behavior and activities, and psychic and emotional reactions to them, and by the effects imposed upon it by its environment. In Platonic terms, it is in an ever-continuing state of development, i.e., change, whether for "good" or for "evil," and no two moments of selves are identical.
The self, i.e., the person is an evolving functioning of a physical brain reacting to stimuli from its environment developing all its acquired and inherited qualities and character in action. He is the history of his life's experience beginning with his existence in his mother's womb. If he is not forced to make a choice by threat of harm and/or makes his choice after due deliberation of his own desires, he is behaving as an individual who possesses a free will.
As for the role consciousness, i.e., awareness, plays in the nature of the self, much depends upon the physical aspect of our being.
First, according to available evidence there must be some physical entity capable of being conscious, and being in the presence of something to be conscious of or something having been conscious of.
Second, no quantum or individual particles of the brain, the complex from which consciousness presumably emerges, is in itself conscious. Moreover, all matter reacts i.e., is sensitive, to other matter. And just as the qualities and quantity of the two gasses hydrogen and oxygen, combined under the right environment, to give emergence to the quality of liquidity, so does rat consciousness, or cat consciousness, or dog consciousness, with mere awareness, and ape consciousness, or human consciousness, with awareness of awareness, emerge from the qualities and quantity of the matter forming their separate brains.
However, since we are interested in the self only insofar as whether it is caused or not or whether "willing" is always caused by the self, I think it not necessary to digress further.
For our purposes we shall consider the self as Everett defines it:
By indeterminism I do not mean that an act is uncaused, but that it is caused by the self, by its own causal energy. . . . (12) The self is active; it constitutes its experience, its ideas, its knowledge. (13)
Such statements amount
to saying that the self either has no cause, or once caused, severs itself from
its past history and creates its own causal energy, whatever he means by that,
whereby future acts may be committed. But how is it possible for the self to
sever itself from the history that precedes its emergence and still act as an
entity trained and educated in man's social world? And if the self were not
caused, from where did it come?
The indeterminist would have us believe it originates its own activity. This infers that the self must spring from nothing into the universe. And, despite an appeal to ignorance, there is no evidence whatsoever from which we might infer that anything, not alone the self, comes into existence from nothing. To separate the self from the very properties and qualities from which it emerges makes no sense.
It is the will which
the indeterminists wish to prove is "free." Just what the will is is
not a clearly defined concept. Philosophers have yet to agree upon what it is,
not alone on what Immanual Kant meant by the use of the term.
However, it has been said to be an "impulse," power, volition, energy which the indeterminist declares to be free of antecedent determination after the self is in existence.
The term, 'will,' as with all the other terms, is a hypostatized abstract term, used as if it has an autonomous ontology separate from one's physical being and life experiences.
How can an "impulse" have been unaffected by the history of the self when that "impulse" acts in accordance with all the qualities of man's past experiences? From where did the will acquire these qualities if it is antecedently unaffected by the history of its self or of humankind. We are, after all, herd animals.
Is not the will a complex of ambition, desire to succeed, the need to satisfy curiosity, the desire to create, and so much more? Is it not dependent upon the physical nature of a human being subject to the nature of one's nutritional intake, physical environment, chemistry of the brain, and many other factors too multitudinous to cite here?
What does it mean, for instance to say "I've lost the will to live other than to mean I do not desire to continue living? Is "will" a noun or a verb. Is will an entity or a function of the brain as is "liking," "hating," or "thinking," etc.? Does the will will or does the person will? The answer is quite obvious. And the "person" is enabled to will only through the physical being it inhabits as a result of his history of experiences.
Consider William Cairns, in his Moral Freedom, quoting Tappan,
The human will is first cause appearing in time, confined to place, and finite in energy; but it is the same in kind, because made in the likeness of the infinite will. As first cause, it is self moved; it wakes its nisus of itself, and of itself it forbears to make it; and within the sphere of its activity, and in relation to its objects, it has the power of selecting by a mere arbitrary act, and particular object. It is a cause, all whose acts, as well as any particular act, considered as phenomena demanding a cause, are accounted for in itself alone. (14)
How can one argue
against such linguistic nonsense? It seems the only possibility is to attack the
use of the term, 'will.' It is quite clear that intended is that the
will can and does spring out of nothing, and is a "thing of its own."
Yet, there is a contradiction in saying the human will was "made in the
likeness of the infinite will." "Made?" But as a first cause
uncaused? Moreover, what is the evidence for an "infinite will"; and
what is the nature of a will that is never ending? If one is willing to accept
"something appearing out of nothing," the will is postulated on
feeling, absent of any possible evidence.
Nothing is shown here, but a parallelism of human will and Infinite Will, whatever that is. It has not been shown that will is part of the infinite will or that there is any connection except for similarity between them. Therefore, we have two first causes; one for the infinite will and one for the human will. But the indeterminist allows for a first cause for every act of willing. Here the human will has been defined to be similar to the infinite will, but neither has been verified to have substantive existence.
What we see is matter in motion, i.e., spatio-temporal change. John Locke called the will "power":
This power which the mind has (thus to order) the consideration of any idea, or the forbearing to consider it, or to prefer the motion of any part of the body to its rest, (and vice versa, in any particular instance) is that which we call "the will." The actual exercise of that power (by directing any particular action or its forbearance) is that which we call "volition" or "willing." (15)
We won't consider
Locke's meaning of "mind" other than to say he considers it a "tabula
rasa," void of impression, as the "mind" of an unborn child prior
to the inception of experiences, in its mother's womb. Would it not be more
accurate to refer to the brain as the blank slate? If one can conceive
"power" not being exercised, we have Locke's will, which, to put in
other words, is merely the quality of "ableness" (the physicist might
call it potential energy).
This "power" is comparable to "motion" in the respect that without physical objects there can be neither. It is a quality discoverable only by making inferences about physical bodies which are experienced (16) to be first in a state of "inaction" and then in a state of interaction. Predictions of ableness can then be made on the basis of such experiences.
"Willing" for Locke is power or ableness being exercised (potential energy being "changed" into kinetic energy for the physicist). This, I'm sure, all will agree, is "energy in action" better said "physical bodies interacting" inasmuch as numericalized "energy" is a mathematical metaphor for quantifying a physical happening. Obviously, if a pure vacuum could exist, one would find no energy inasmuch as, if we accept Einstein's equation: energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, mass is a component of energy.
"Willing in action," an abstract idea, cannot be conceived other than as an interaction of physical bodies. As such, I will combine the two (ability to interact and interaction) into one and call it "will." No harm can be done by this maneuver for "ability to interact" and "interaction" can be interpreted as two states of the same "thing" (i.e., potential interaction and active interaction.)
This then is the same thing which is ascribed to the term, 'impulse.' But it is to be admitted that this same thing is an abstract concept of force possessing no substantive ontology, (i.e., interaction of physical objects). We must have some unambiguous definition for the word we choose to use. Therefore, let us consider the will as a force, and in so doing keep in mind the concept of force as put forth by Henri Poincare and Lindsay and Marganau.
Poincare: "When we say force is the cause of motion, we talk metaphysics, and this definition, if one were content with it, would be absolutely sterile. For a definition to be of any use it must teach us to measure force; moreover that suffices; it is not at all necessary that it teach us what force is in itself, nor whether it is the cause or the effect of motion. (17)
It would be linguistically cumbersome to put all abstract terms in quotation marks to indicate that they name ideas only and not substantive ontology. Yet, they should be so understood.
Lindsey and Morganau: Whenever the term ['force'] is employed in philosophical discussions based on physical ideas and assumptions, the meaning should be restricted to the precise physical definition. (18) [brackets, mine]
I suspect all will be
willing to admit that "force" is as fit a synonym for
"impulse," or "will" as any. At any rate it is certainly
less vague, for "force" has been defined within the sciences and
functions as a mental tool leading to predictable results, whereas the
"will" has been left as an unknowable and controversial concept.
It will be admitted too, of necessity, that any discussion of the "will" entails the inclusion of the physical phenomena from which the will must evolve and/or upon which the will is said to exercise itself. Consequently, it makes no sense whatsoever to speak of the will as a self-existent concept separate from physical phenomena as many indeterminists are so wont to do.
Can there be "motion," can there be "change" of appearance without objects; or memory without a brain? Of course not, we declare impatiently. We should as impatiently declare the same of the will. If the will is an action, is an "impulse," is a "force," a question, as intimated above, arises. Does the will exist when there is no physical interaction? Of course, a free willist will respond, "There is a potential will waiting to spring into action." This, however, inspires more questions. Is the will lying dormant somewhere in the brain or throughout the brain waiting to be awakened? And, what causes the springing into action?"
I am compelled to answer that this is a question of little value. One might as well ask what causes sodium and water to react when they are in contact with each other. I do not give the atomic theory as an answer because I assume that this is not the answer the indeterminist would be seeking. Therefore, it is senseless to speak of will as anything but an interaction or mutual attraction of the physical constituents of our "selves."
Let us consider three hypothetical human beings who are born each with the following physical handicaps: the first is born deaf; the second deaf and blind; and the third is born blind, deaf, and devoid of the sense of touch as not to be able to make distinguishable contacts with the physical world. Would anyone affirm that the power of their "wills" could be comparable to the "norm"?
The first could not perceive or conceive sound. The second would have a "will" which would not concern itself with appearance of objects except for bare geometrical forms which would be discoverable only through his sense of touch and a form of direction which could not be similar to ours. His "idea" of direction, so far as the forms of physical objects are concerned, would be conceived in terms of his sensations and memory of actual contact with each part of the objects he experienced. His "will" would never have to (and could not) consider values of color, visible or audible beauty, etc. He just would not have had such "sensations" because of his physical handicaps. It is hardly necessary to go to the third individual.
Our "wills" are only a state of interaction of our physical structure which has achieved a particular state of development. When we speak of the will being caused, we mean the interaction of our physical parts has been antecedently determined by interaction; (1) with environment (by environment I include all social order, convention, moral motives, etc.) and (2) within and by the physical particles which constitute us as human beings. Surely human will (or self), if there is no human body, offers no qualities or character traits being "causes" inasmuch as these are but results of the state of development of our physical parts.
Such a concept as this will bring fast on our heels the argument of moral consequences.
The indeterminist achieving little success in disproving the doctrine of determinism through the use of logic turns to the argument of consequences. He cannot reconcile himself with the fact of determinism despite experience and logic. His favorite arguments equate determinism with fatalism. It deprives us, he declares, of the desire to progress, robs us of responsibility, paralyzes our moral efforts, makes us no more than cogs in a huge machine making our systems of punishment for evil and praises for good all wrong. Since our actions are inevitable, we cannot but feel like hopeless puppets knowing our acts are products of heredity and circumstances.
As Everett explains, Fatalism regards human destiny as fixed independently of human action; determinism regards it as fixed only in and through individual choice. (19)
Fatalism is the
doctrine which ignores the will of the self completely and declares that no
matter what our choices may be in the future, the ultimate end will be the same.
In simple terms, we will have supper without choosing to prepare for it.
On the face of it alone, this is a disingenuous argument and flies in the face of facts. When we make a choice, the effect of that choice has always been a result of the choice. Had we made a different choice, the effect would have been different. It is the choice that "caused" the effect (bearing in mind, of course, that "choice," stemming from physicality, has no physically ontological status itself.
The indeterminist does not recognize that his unrestrained choices of action are part of the inevitability which goes into the making of future events. The ultimate end is inevitable only on condition of the behavior of the self and will. The ultimate end will be one of the many ends. Which one it will be depends upon the individual's behavior as well as circumstances. What the individual's actions will be depends upon his past history.
No effect is caused by only the proximate cause. Every effect brought into existence is caused by a stream of causes wherein each effect, in turn, becomes a cause.
Life, which is an effect caused also by many streams of causes, is like a maze of passages with many outlets with different "rewards" to be received at the end of each outlet. Which reward is received depends upon choice of passages. The determinist recognizes, as the fatalist does not, that the ultimate end can be decided only by the choice of action for the future. The self and the will enter into the causal stream.
The determinist believes that the self as action of its physical counterparts is a great and active factor in developing human life, and for those individuals who are inherently ambitious and striving, even a belief in fatalism would not and could not swerve them from their making unrestrained choices.
The indeterminist holds that if determinism is true, we can have no hope of ever ridding ourselves of the evils of the world order. But, such order is the case in any existing doctrine of human behavior. The theist argues that God gave us free will so that we can choose good over evil and accuses the determinist of stripping man of responsibility for his own acts.
Assuming such an accusation to be true, can it not be shown as readily that a supernatural being (i.e., the Biblical god) who is responsible for the creation of the universe has, by example, put the ability to be evil in man and created even the laws by which the brain functions?
According to the Bible, God, displeased with His human subjects' behavior, was the Father (or Mother) of all mass murderers when He cast a world-wide flood upon us for 40 days and nights proposing to rid Earth of all human life except that of Noah, his family, and their cargo. Surely there were other good people besides Noah and his family!
Must or can man be responsible for His Acts? Such a Creator bathed the world in evil. Being omnipotent, He could have created it absent of evil without denying us freedom of choice; and if He felt we must know the difference between good and evil, one very small example of evil would have sufficed to teach us that difference. But, let us consider a non-theistic point of view by John Stuart Mill.
In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another are nature's everyday performances. Killing, the most criminal act recognized by human laws, nature does once to every being that lives; and in a large proportion of cases, after protracted tortures such as only the greatest monsters whom we read of ever purposely inflicted on their living fellow creatures. . . . All this, nature does with the most supercilious disregard both of mercy and of justice, emptying her shafts upon the best and noblest indifferently with the meanest and worst. (20)
The indeterminist certainly should be the first to realize that his very own doctrine of free will strips man of responsibility. How could a sane man rightfully be held responsible for an act of evil the willing of which either suddenly popped up from nowhere or was caused by the "causal energy within the self, unantecedently determined outside the self," whatever that may mean. Such an act entailing responsibility would have to be premeditated, and premeditation is possible only under the deterministic view where all the acquired qualities of character developed through a life of experiences would come into play. As Walter Everett explains:
"One result of applying the principle of necessary relation to conduct is to show that each successive act is linked with those that have gone before, in habit. Each successive choice is made with all one's past upon one's head. A deeper significance, therefore, attaches to the present moral act. What I this day think and do is fraught with grave consequences for tomorrow's doing. If it be true that no effect is without its cause, it is also true that no cause is without its effect. By no magic, then, but in a strictly natural and necessary way, this thought may add its weight to the scale in which present choices are decided. (21)
It is because of this
habit-forming trait, and the memory of past acts that man is able to improve and
restrict his actions to the conventional moral laws of society. The explanation
of the method (determinism) by which human life has mentally and physically
developed does not alter one iota its intrinsic worth, beauty or dignity. All of
us are not one wit different -- the base are no less base and the good no less
If and when a base individual learns the value of good moral behavior, he may regret his past evil actions. Such regret will be a causal factor in the developing of his future moral actions.
Another argument the indeterminist is quick to present is that since all acts of man are inevitable, it is useless to punish him for his evil actions inasmuch as he was not responsible for those actions. It may be true that man's actions once committed were inevitable but when they are the result of willful choices, he is not absolved from being responsible for them.
What is determined to be good or evil is a matter of judgment not only on the part of individuals and multitudinous religious institutions but particularly the evolution of societal mores. Part of the stream of inevitability is made up of man's education, training and evolution of ideas as well as environment and heredity. Moreover, he is quite aware of the demands of society upon him and the consequences to be felt should he ignore them.
Most human beings prefer to act so as not to bring condemnation or punishment upon them. Man does not lose his judgment or his idea of values no matter under what doctrine his behavior is postulated.
This principle applies to members of criminal organizations as well as in normal society. There must be honor among thieves also. It is for this very reason that the "utility" of punishment is not negated. Though "right" and "wrong" have no ontological status, man still has his feelings of right and wrong despite much disagreement about the nature of them. Such feelings are part of the causal stream. Regret and also punishment are causes for future behavior. Punishment may fail, however, with those persons who are not what we call "normal."
In severe cases of wrong doers undergoing measures, such as a lobotomy or psychiatric treatment, might be more corrective than punishment.
Whether the behavior will be bad or good depends upon not only the punishment inflicted and/or the regret felt but also upon many other causal factors such as those that carry the most weight.
Along with this, punishment is more than just a tool to be used for the purpose of teaching moral values. It is a system of protection for society whereby it attempts to isolate in one fashion or another any and all those who intentionally do, intend to do, or can do harm to other members of society.
Only a will which is antecedently determined can be affected by such punishment or reward as is given for corrective purposes.
With the advent of the
Quantum Theory, it was first thought that a case could be shown against the
doctrine of determinism.
However, as we shall see, further searching into the theory has shown that no such hope for the indeterminist is justified.
In order to predict the future behavior of any particle it would be necessary to know the velocity and position in space of each particle at a given time. But as Lindsey and Morganau show, this is impossible.
To illustrate the destruction of a sharply defined 'state' by observations, many thought experiments have been devised which support coordinates and the momentum of an electron. Because of its smallness, only radiation of very short wave length can be used to measure the electron's position (radiation of wave length larger than the electron's diameter would not be reflected by it and fail to betray its presence.). But if this is done, the electron will, by virtue of the great momentum of its initial state of motion and therefore precludes every possibility of determining it. (22)
As the argument goes:
"Since the knowledge of position at a given time is destroyed in
determining the velocity, and since velocity is altered in determining the
position, it will be forever an impossibility to uphold the doctrine of
determinism." Such a remark is easily refuted with a simple but adequate
When a balloon is inflated with air, there is no difficulty in making a fairly accurate prediction of its behavior. We need not know the velocity or position either, of each molecule of air being inserted or of each molecule of the rubber of which the balloon is made. Experience has shown that the theory of aggregates leads to a satisfactory degree of prediction in dealing with these molecules as classes rather than as individual units. Aside from this, there is much to be said about the above quotation.
Exactly what kind of evidence does one have in mind when inferring that "it will forever be an impossibility to uphold determinism"? To begin with, it must first be stated, to quote Ernest Nagel,
Questions of causality can be significantly discussed only if they are directed to the theories or formulations of a science and to its subject matter. No clear sense can be given to most pronouncements that the world or any segment of it is a causal process. (23)
In other words, all
knowledge being predicated upon some assumption, is expressed in language and is
not absolute, according to available evidence. Knowledge necessarily bares the
characteristic of probability only. Moreover, considering Einstein's
non-simultaneity of time (a questionable concept since it is relevant to
perceptions not to reality) and the fact that nothing is in a state of rest, all
claims to time and position are linguistic and not absolute fact.
Therefore, it is necessary to consider the question in its physical aspects if we are to make a useful analysis of the problem. Consequently, when we consider the "law of causality" (determinism) we are compelled to interpret the concept 'law' in a physical sense. However, again from Lindsey and Morganau,
It is found that physics knows of no law connecting cause and effect; indeed there is no plausible way of defining these concepts . . . there is no law of connection between cause and effect known to science; these concepts are foreign to physical analysis. Nor is it of any avail to inject them externally, for the meaning usually conveyed by the words in question is expressed more adequately and precisely by technical terms like boundary condition, initial and final state. (24)
Consider, also, this from Poincare,
However solidly founded a prediction may seem to us to be, we are never absolutely sure that experiment will not prove it false. But the probability is often so great that practically we may be satisfied with it. (25)
Allowing for Poincare meaning we can never know absolutely, taken literally, we can be absolutely certain, to an extremely high probability, but very wrong. Lindsey and Morganau suggest,
Causality, it appears, deals with the fundamental workings of nature and should not be affected by accidental circumstances such as the extent of scientific knowledge or human ability. (26)
Bare in mind, considering that "scientific knowledge" and human
ability are always expressed in terms of man's language of perceptions
of a presumed physical universe, this casts much doubt about whether
any expressions of the nature of "cause" can be justified in terms
of a physical reality and, therefore, must be interpreted within the bounds of
the "uses" of language.
Let us return to the issue of the impossibility of determining the position and velocity of the particles sufficiently to consider it proof of the validity of the doctrine of causality. Such a concept arises from carrying the definition of "states" in relation to classical mechanics over into the quantum theory. It is certainly permissible to retain this definition but only with the provision that when causality is discussed in relation to this definition that it be understood that the reference is applicable only to the Positivistic formulation, i.e., language, of causality.
Since the "states" in classical mechanics are given in terms of positions and momenta of particles, it is not at all permissible to pass judgment on the causality question by showing that "causality" breaks down when these states are shown not to be discoverable or predictable when applied to quantum mechanics. A hypothesis is not invalidated merely because of the incapacity of man to show proof for it if progress, which otherwise would not be made, can be made by assuming the hypothesis to be true.
Of course, also not to be ignored, are our webs of belief and dependence upon language, whether mathematical or other, that affect which concepts of causality we have in mind as -- John Staurt Mill delineated and distinguished in his laws of experimental agreement: the methods of 1) agreement, 2) difference, 3) residues, 4) concomitant variations, and 5) agreement and difference.
Moreover, when we discuss quantum mechanics, it is necessary to recognize that "states" within this theory are not at all the same as "states" in the classical sense.
"In quantum mechanics the state of a system is no longer defined by means of a number of variables having an immediate intuitive appeal and recalling exact configurations of constituent parts. In fact it is not defined in terms of observables at all; it is simply a function of configuration space. (27) Lindsey and Morganau
It can be shown that quantum mechanical states are predictable (based on the knowledge of present states) and the causality principle is valid if we agree to recognize these states as probability and transformation functions.
If the function in modern quantum mechanics is taken to specify the state of the system, without seeking to interpret this function statistically, quantum theory may also be regarded as a 'causal' theory, for its laws have the form of equations usually regarded as of the causal type: They establish a unique correspondence between states at different spatio-temporal regions. (28) Nagel
It is the
indeterminist's failure to understand that the principle of determinism is the
linguistic description of nature and is explainable by science in descriptive
laws either verbally or mathematically (the latter more meaningfully) according
to the need.
If they would not wrongfully read into this doctrine an inference of "compulsion," but, rather, read it as undeviating concomitant events, bearing in mind that not all concomitant events have necessary causal connections, witness the fact that night follows day and vice versa, they would understand the role that our "will," (our "selves") plays in this "fact of life."
If they would think as they tacitly act, "deterministically," if they could understand that morality does not exist in a vacuum and is part of this descriptive doctrine, if they would hold themselves responsible for making questionable metaphysical statements and concepts such as non-physical entities and principles activating the physical world, and, lastly, if they would logically and scientifically (since they except science in most other respects) analyze their own doctrine, it would be inevitable that they see where their doctrine of indeterminism fails.
Such a statement, baring a touch of tautology, would seem to beg the question. However, it is meant to convey the idea that the indeterminist talks more than he thinks and once having set up his doctrine, makes weak excuses for its failures rather than admit them.
Most important of all, he fails to see the necessity for a means of explanation or description which entails none of the emotive qualities that so many words carry -- this is possible to the highest degree only within the sciences and mathematics.
settle such a question once and for all, the indeterminist must be brought into
the "laboratories" and to an understanding of the language of Science.
What we must not ignore is the metaphorical character of language inasmuch as all language of knowledge and truth is perceptively oriented and probable at best. Moreover, since every declarative claim to truth and knowledge is preceded by an unspoken “if,” or “according to available evidence,” it is incumbent upon us to take heed of some admonitions worth repeating here.
It is found that physics knows of no law connecting cause and effect; indeed there is no plausible way of
defining these concepts . . . there is no law of connection between cause and effect known to science; these
concepts are foreign to physical analysis. Nor is it of any avail to inject them externally, for the meaning usually
conveyed by the words in question is expressed more adequately and precisely by technical terms like boundary,
condition, initial and final state. Lindsey and Morganau
Questions of causality can be significantly discussed only if they are directed to the theories or formulations of a science and to its subject matter. No clear sense can be given to most pronouncements that the world or any segment of it is a causal process. Ernest Nagel,
'Causality' in the subatomic domain cannot have the same meaning as 'causality' in the molecular domain particularly because the use of probability functions differently in each. Moreover, it is quite impossible for anyone to specify precisely or even imprecisely what is occurring on sub-electronic or atomic structures not alone on infinitesimal levels of quanta of energy. On these levels we are dealing with constructs and mathematical concepts. As Aage Petersen says in his Quantum Physics and the Philosophical Tradition p. 13: Quantum Physics and the Philosophical Tradition
. . . one can arrive at a causal theory in any science or in common-sense knowledge, or even at a probability theory, of the relation between the successive states of any object or system, only by speculative means and axiomatically constructed, deductively formulated scientific and philosophical theory which is tested not directly against the sensed and experimental data but only indirectly by way of its deductive consequences. F. S. C. Northrop
Of course, also not to be ignored, are our webs of belief and dependence upon language, whether mathematical or other, that affect which concepts of causality we have in mind as delineated and distinguished in his laws of experimental agreement: the methods of 1) agreement, 2) difference, 3) residues, 4) concomitant variations, and 5) agreement and difference by John Stuart Mill.
These in turn must take into account our shifts of levels, i.e., contexts, of language including conventional and colloquial usage. Moreover, we must recognize the legitimacy of different attributions of meanings, of the term, ‘cause,’ within those contexts
It would appear, then, that whatever we might deduce about causality on the "infinitesimal level," or any level for that matter, it may or may not have anything to do with the reality of events in the universe.
Since we can only conjecture, postulate, speculate, axiomatize, construct, formulate, deduce, and theorize, and since mathematical precision is only hypothetical precision until such precision is measured against empirical data, it does not matter whether we are able to specify or measure precisely whether events are uncaused on the infinitesimal level in the domain of sub-quark energy levels. The conclusion may or may not fit the facts of the universe. Though there may appear to be a direct correlation between subjective probability and objective probability, if there is in fact such a thing, in the macroscopic world, there is little if any evidence that such a correlation exists on infinitesimal levels of energy.
The probability of events occurring without antecedent causes is a domain of human thought. Nowhere in the experience of man has there been empirical evidence of objective probability. To claim otherwise is a case of unfalsifiability.
In all probability, the concept of indeterminism was born out of and borne by
the forces of theism which were concerned with defending their gods against the
charge of creating and permitting evil. God is presumed to have given man
a free will. With this free will, man is supposed to have escaped being
totally subject to God's laws of morality and consequently is guilty of choosing
freely to commit evil.
Since the introduction of the term 'free will' into man's vocabulary, there has been an unceasing but unsuccessful effort to prove the existence of events without antecedent causes. If such efforts could be shown to be successful then, obviously, to take an example, the catastrophic socio-politico-economic-religious physical event of the destruction of six million Jews is the result of the uncaused free will of Hitler and his minions. Apparently the infinitesimal levels of energy of the neural activity in which the events without antecedent causes occurred are the source of that free will. Are we to assume then that none of the caused events which occurred on the energy levels of neuronal activity going on in the brains of Hitler and his minions causally added up to the macroscopic events of the holocaust?
That there may have been a relatively miniscule number of events without antecedent causes in a universe where experience supported by scientific knowledge tells us that the predominance of events does have antecedent causes is of small consequence in determining whether the universe is deterministic. This particularly applies to the concept of indeterminism for which there has never been any empirical evidence. Man is a complex of internal competing forces reacting to the forces of his environment. It would appear, then, that the experiences of man, the events of the world, and the processes and methods of science, probabilistic in every case, all attest to a causal sequence of events, viz., a deterministic universe.
But assuming we could verify the existence of causes, it is not a legitimate argument to say that because the universe is deterministic that we are not free to make choices anymore than it would be fair to say that we are not free to speculate, to analyze, to create, to inquire, to reflect, to observe, etc., qualities of the mind that many people do not choose to exercise of even give any thought to exercising.
More than that, those who deny the attribution of “free will” to the term, ‘free will,’ apparently are ignorant of or are failing to recognize the concept of emergence as related to causality. Such emergence, new or recurrent, is a ubiquitous and permeative outcome of the presumed causal nature of all existence and just as Kant proclaimed existence as a prerequisite for the exercise of qualities, so too is cause, whatever its form, a prerequisite for the continued emergence of those qualities for the simple reason that there cannot be physical existence in the absence of cause or vice versa; that is to say, existence and the specific nature of the existents are causes themselves. And inasmuch as emergence is a permeative process, if a universe is to exist, no emergent comes into existence absent “caused” qualities. For without causes that combination and amount of matter that gave emergence to free will in such a small amount of matter of human brains could not have occurred.
Given the evidence of our experiences despite the variety of our interpretations of them, the idea of existence absent causality makes no sense.
As Einstein so aptly observed, "The universe of ideas is just as little independent of the nature of our experiences as clothes are of the form of the human body."
If language has any positive value, it is the instrument for expressing out interpretations of our experiences.
Who can legitimately deny that experience repeatedly verifies that human beings are capable of making unrestrained choices?
The universe is composed of a diversity of emergent forms of matter.
One of those emergents is the human brain giving way through millions of
evolutionary processes to other emergent qualities such as life, mind, and all
the qualities of mind that constitute what we call human intelligence.
Such emergent qualities include not only awareness of our awareness,
curiosity, the ability to abstract, to symbolize, to refer, to infer, to
speculate and a host of other qualities designated to be human.
Out of the almost infinite various kinds of physicality in the universe, some infinitesimal part of it gives emergence to various mental qualities designated as human emerging from a specific kind and quantity of matter -- a brain.
Among those qualities emerged the ability to make choices.
That emergent ability is free will.
Isn't it clear that the unrestrained choices of human beings are made because of the deterministic processes that gave emergence to that ability?
What is there about "unrestrained choices" one does not understand?
Free will, then defined as the ability to make choices, is a quality emerging from causalities, whatever their nature.
‘Free will’ is a term that clearly distinguishes an attribute, perceptively distinguishable from restrained and compelled choices
The error in denying free will lies in how we define indeterminism and determinism. If instead we used the terms, ‘cause,’ and ‘absence of cause,’ we would notice immediately that there need not be and in fact there is no antipathy between the terms, ‘free will,’ and ‘cause.’
An apparent lack of causality is a metaphor, for there is no such kind of existent. Our problem is conceiving the term, ‘cause,’ as a push or pull, or exertion of energy that David Hume clearly showed there had no possibility of being verified.
The error in arguing that the ”will,” i.e., the person is not free because its choices are “caused,” by an “infinite” stream of causes not clearly defined or possibly even able to be, i.e., determined, lies in the misuse of the term, ‘cause,’ or misinterpretation of the meaning or meanings of “cause” or in a refusal to recognize its justifiable use in a particular linguistic context.
Like a recalcitrant eddy breaking off from the main stream of causes to form its own unique stream of causes giving emergence of an entity capable of making choices, the following stream of causes, i.e., the person, having acquired distinctly different attributes, distinguishes itself markedly by overriding and replacing the antecedent stream of causes.
Hence the fact of free will, as a form of adjunct or cause, by its very nature of being distinct and different from other antecedent causes requires that that difference be clearly codified and identified with the term, ‘free will’ in the science of lexicology.
1) John Stuart Mill, "System of Logic,"
Chap. 11, Of liberty and Necessity.
2) Ibid. Pp, 521-522.
3) Walter Everett, "Moral Values," Ethical Interpretation of Freedom. P. 337.
4) Ibid. P. 342.
5) William James, "The dilemma Of Determinism, Will To Believe. P. 146.
6) Ibid. Pp. 155-156.
7) Ibid. p. 159.
8) Ibid. P. 159.
9) William James, Lowell Lectures, Pragmatism, pp.115- 129-20 cf. 116.
10) Walter G. Everett, Moral values, pp. 349-350.
11) John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. II, XXVII, 17.
12) Everett, Ibid., p. 350.
13) Everett, Moral Issues, p. 349. (Cf. Calderwood, Handbook of Moral Philosophy. P. 186.
14) Tappan, Review by Edwards in Willian Cairn's, Moral Freedom. P. 223.
15) Locke, Ibid., Chap. XXI, p. 131.
16) By experience in general, I mean an interaction of our physical parts with our environment. Our physical parts are then altered and developed and react with environment with the future according to their past interactions.
17) Poincare, Foundations of Science, Chap. VI, p.98.
18) Lindsey & Morganau, Foundations of Physics, p. 96. Physical as an adjective here qualifies ideas, etc., as conceived by the science of Physics. See pages 2 and 3.
19) Everett, Ibid., p. 364.
20) Mill, "Nature," Ibid., pp. 28-29.
21) Everett, Ibid., p. 366.
22) Lindsey & Morganau, Ibid., Chap. IX, p. 420.
23) Ernest Nagel, Principles of The Theory of Probability, Vol., 1, p. 25, No. 6.
24) Lindsey & Morganau, Ibid., Chap. X, p. 517.
25) Poincare, Ibid., p. XI, p. 155.
26) Lindsey & Morganau, Ibid., p.521.
27) Ibid., p. 402.
28) Nagel, Ibid., p. 26.