Philosophy: January 2007 Archives

Arguments for Free Will

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This is the the thirty-ninth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at some of the reasons people might have for thinking determinism is true, and they turned out to be not very conclusive if taken as arguments, but they are some of the motivation people have had for thinking in that direction. In this post, I'd like to look at reasons people have offered for thinking we have free will.

1. It just seems that we have free will. When we’re confronted with a choice, it seems as if what we choose is up to us. Our options seem open, and we choose one.

Is this a good argument? We can’t deny that it seems this way, but couldn't someone still deny that it is that way? Is it like knowing you're in pain? My feeling pain is the sort of thing that guarantees that I am in pain. Is seeming to be free like that? Or is it more like seeming to be on a flat earth that turns out to be spherical? Perhaps it's not that bad, but is it as obvious as knowing you're in pain? Given no other arguments, one might say this argument is inconclusive, since it shouldn't easily convince those who aren't sure if they are free.

2. Believing we’re free allows us to be consistent with our other beliefs. We deliberate, weigh options, and make choices. We wouldn’t do that if we didn’t believe our actions are under our control. You can’t decide not to be subject to the law of gravity. So what would be the point of weighing options if we’re not really free?

Arguments for Determinism

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This is the the thirty-eighth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I defined 'determinism' and distinguished it from a view that is sometimes called fatalism. In this post I'll look at some positive arguments for thinking determinism is true and some positive arguments for thinking we are free.

Keep in mind the definition of determinism: "given the laws of nature and the state of the universe at any one time, there is only one possible state of the universe at any later time." Why might someone think this is true? I can think of two sorts of reasons why someone might think something like this. One is theological, and the other is scientific.

Philosophical Powers

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From Ian Vandewalker, the greatest minds of all time now have great bodies to match. For the ad-free version, see the mirror site. The action figures used in the pictures looked awfully familiar to me. We used to take our figures apart sometimes and exchange their heads and arms, so this isn't all that different from that. It was a lot easier with G.I. Joe than the Masters of the Universe and similar ones used here (I believe I detect some Lost World of the Warlord bodies as well, and there are some that don't look familiar to me at all). As the John Locke entry says, "a barrel-chested action figure with an enormous wig is objectively funny."

Descartes has an excellent accessory, an immaterial mind that you can't see or touch. Wait, the toy is actually conscious?

I have to love Augustine's weakness: "inability to do anything that will earn the divine grace necessary to make up for original sin". In other words, he doesn't have any weakness that his opponents don't also have. I guess that's just one more reason to consider him my favorite philosopher in the history of western thought.

I was slightly disappointed with the entry for the greatest modern philosopher, G.W. Leibniz. It focuses on his original views rather than what he spent much of his time on, which was defending traditional views. He does have an interesting pseudonym, however: G. Dubya. That way he can line up with the greatest president of the 21st century.

Determinism and Fatalism

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This is the the thirty-seventh post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I finished a series within the series on philosophical theology, looking at what sort of revelation we might expect if anything like the traditional view of God is correct. This post begins a new section of the series on freedom and determinism.

Before we get to any substantive philosophical arguments, I want to get clear on some
definitions. Some of the terms used in this discussion have been used in a number of different ways. To start off, I want to distinguish between determinism and fatalism. Philosophers generally define the term 'determinism' in something like the following way.

Determinism: given the laws of nature and the state of the universe at any one time, there is only one possible state of the universe at any later time.

Sometimes people confuse this notion with another one, and since both have been treated under the category of fate, destiny, or predetermination, it's worth getting clear on the difference. The term 'fatalism' has been used a few different ways in philosophy, but I'm going to use it in the following way to distinguish it from determinism and to make it clear that the issue here does not involve this commonsense notion of fate.

Fatalism: certain events are unavoidable, no matter what anyone does.

The 41st Philosophers' Carnival is at Westminster Wisdom.

Laurence Thomas has an excellent post Are There Gay Animals? On Justifying Gay Behavior in Humans. [If you have trouble accessing the post, see the comments below for how to get it to load properly.] Laurence doesn't think there's anything at all wrong with being gay, but he points out some severe flaws with one argument for the opposite conclusion. Some people, in order to support the view that Laurence holds, point out same-sex sexual interaction in non-human animals. I've observed such behavior myself, so I know it's out there. Several things are wrong with this argument, but I'll summarize two of his points here, and you can read his post for a fuller treatment.

One is that lots of things animals do could be wrong for humans to do. Laurence gives the example of promiscuity. Just because animals don't settle down with long-term partners doesn't mean we shouldn't. There are in fact good reasons for thinking that we should have long-term partners, and these have nothing to do with religion but arise simply from thinking about the nature of human sexuality and psychology.

Another problem with the argument is that it would be thoroughly inaccurate to describe animals as being gay. Being gay is not engaging in certain behavior. It's all wrapped up in having a sexual identity defined in terms of sexual or romantic relations with someone of the same sex. Animals don't do that. They have nothing like the kind of developed sexual identity that humans have (and Laurence gives several examples having nothing to do with gay to show the level of difference between animals and humans in terms of sexual identity).

See also his previous post Gay Marriage and the Argument from Consenting Adults for a criticism of another bad argument on a related issue. Laurence's position on record on gay marriage is the same as mine, i.e. that the government shouldn't be endorsing any marriage but leaving it to religion, while allowing same-sex couples to have inheritance, hospital visitation, health insurance, and other couple benefits. But the mere fact that couples consent to gay sex doesn't at all justify it.

This is the the thirty-sixth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I continued a series within the series on philosophical theology, looking at the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. This post moves on to questions about divine goodness and revelation.

The final discussion from Ganssle’s book (see the first of the philosophical theology posts in this series) has to do with God’s goodness, but it is less a puzzle and more an argument for a thesis. Ganssle’s claim is that if God exists in anything like the traditional monotheistic view, i.e. the view that most of the philosophical arguments for and against God assume, then we might expect such a being to have communicated with us in a particular kind of way.

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