Give me libertarian free will or give me oblivion

July 4, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 11:33 pm   Category: Determinism vs. free will,Foreknowledge,Theology

I figured freedom would be a good subject for Independence Day here in the U.S.

Here is the question of the day: Does the Plan of Salvation and restored gospel even make sense if humans do not have free will in the libertarian sense?

Here is the answer for the day: No.

For those of you unfamiliar with the old free will debates among philosophers here are a few highlights. Free will can mean lots of different things to different people — especially if those people are philosophers. (See here for a wiki overview of the subject and here for more detailed articles from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) Most people intuitively assume that we have what philosophers call “libertarian free will”. The wiki on metaphysical libertarianism defines it as:

“The power or ability to rationally choose and consciously perform actions, at least some of which are not brought about necessarily and inevitably by external circumstances”.

And further,

“Libertarian free will requires that there is more than one possible outcome to a given situation”.

Now as I said, if you are wondering what else the term free will could possibly mean you are probably like most people. But there is another variety of free will among philosophers that is often called compatibilist free will or compatibilism (or sometimes “hypothetical free will”). The idea of compatibilist free will is that people are actually causally determined and as such all — as in 100% — of our choices are the result of a prior state of events that cause us to make such choices. So the notion is that even though people intuitively believe they could have chosen otherwise in any given situation, the causal forces at work would never have let them actually choose otherwise (thus the “hypothetical free will” title).

Now if after hearing about the hypothetical free will of compatibilism you are saying to yourself “What the??…” then we are on the same page. I think that this compatibilist version of free will is no free will at all, but rather a fancy way to talk about how we are all meat puppets and slaves to a cosmic causal chain (or to some fixed future). It means there is a fixed destiny for us all and we have no legitimate choices to change or affect it in any way. There are only hypothetical open choices with compatibilist notions of free will.

If there is no free will in the libertarian sense then Lehi was just wrong in 2 Nephi 2 when he taught:

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself

21 And the days of the children of amen were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and call things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

These teachings only work if we have libertarian free will. With compatibilist free will there is no probation here because we only have the hypothetical power to choose contrary to the fixed future — no real power to choose. Further, with compatibilist free will we are only really “things to be acted upon” by the great causal chain to carry out the already existing fixed future. We are not “things to act” at all in such a view.

Now I understand that lots of creedal Christians teach doctrines that are completely incompatible with libertarian free will. The Calvinistic predestination views are especially repugnant to me. But the restored gospel has done away with such pernicious doctrines among us.

Or has it? Anyone want to stand up for compatibilist free will (or anything that is not some variety of libertarian free will) in Mormonism? Is exhaustive foreknowledge and its required fixed future worth chucking real and robust free will over? Are there near-Calvinistic views of grace that are worth giving up a belief that we really are free to choose? What say you?

241 Comments »

  1. Geoff, it’s not at all clear to me that “libertarian free will” is equivalent to “real and robust free will.” It seems instead like “insanity.” Libertarian free will, after all, requires that our decisions are not caused either by external states — as you note — or our own personality, character, or cognition. Such decisions are decisions without reason, not just without causation. It may well be the case that humans are free in this mentally ill sense; it would explain a lot. But freedom seems to me to really involve something more grounded than this. Our internal character, motivations, cognition, and so forth may cause our actions and yet our actions are our own.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 3:44 am

  2. “inform our actions” might be a better way to phrase it than “cause our actions”

    Comment by john f. — July 5, 2007 @ 4:12 am

  3. John F., in philosophical terms, there’s an important difference between “inform our actions” and “cause our actions.” If our actions are informed by our knowledge, cognition, character, motives, and so forth, but not caused by them in conjunction with outside states, then our decisions are in part based in random nonsense.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 6:29 am

  4. I don’t agree. (And you’re no more of a philosopher than I am, so no need to be pedantic.) Our backgrounds inform our mental state and thus our actions; they do not cause our actions.

    Comment by john f. — July 5, 2007 @ 6:58 am

  5. John, I’m not trying to be pedantic, but it is the case that you’re using “cause” in a different sense than the debate between compatibilists and libertarians. (Whatever our job titles, we’re talking philosophy here — so that’s what we’re being.) Libertarians want our decisions to be, at root, free from all influences, information, causes, preconditions, etc. That’s why their version of free will isn’t really what Geoff J. wants — it’s more of a kind of insanity in which our actions are at root random and meaningless.

    In any case, the claim about what relation there is among backgrounds, actions, and mental states is an empirical question of causation, not something really resolvable through philosophical speculation.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 7:07 am

  6. By the way, I’d certainly admit that it’s possible that our actions are at root not linked to any precondition or aspect of our character, identity, desires, etc. It’s empirically possible, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly helpful from a theological perspective. Seeing our actions as caused by our character and personality might make sense in Mormon theology, fitting with the idea of probation. Or probation might simply mean seeing what kind of arbitrary decisions we happen to make when we decide without motives, etc. I think Mormon theology has no stake in this debate — and neither should we, since there’s no way we would ever be able to tell the difference.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 7:10 am

  7. Geoff J.,

    JNS’ argument is pretty persuasive. In any particular choice for good I only see three possibilities: either I have to choose good because of outside factors (I am overwhelmed by grace, for instance) or my internal character is such that I have to choose good, or else my choice for good is random and meaningless. None of those are very satisfactory.

    I don’t see how John F.’s distinction between decisions being “informed” by our character and being “caused” by them makes any difference. If external reasons or my internal character don’t determine my choices, then my choices are essentially random, even if my character influences the probabilities of the dice roll.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 7:50 am

  8. Also, as far as I can tell the cited scriptures are perfectly compatible (har har) with the notion that all of our choices are determined by our character, as long as you accept that (1) character isn’t something external to a person but is who they are and (2) our character isn’t caused by some outside force. Now traditional Christians would have trouble getting around #2, but Mormons aren’t traditional Christians. Its compatible with Mormonism to think that my essence, including some essential core of my character, has existed forever.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 7:54 am

  9. “Libertarians want our decisions to be, at root, free from all influences, information, causes, preconditions, etc.”

    Are there different variations of LFW? What’s it called when our actions are influenced by preconditions but ultimately determined only by ourselves?

    Comment by Eric Russell — July 5, 2007 @ 7:54 am

  10. I think that J. Nelson-Seawright’s (can I say JNS?) objection to Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is the standard objection. If there is something about our choices that is not a product of the environment into which we choose OR the person we are, then is it not some random number generator that makes no sense? Beyond this, is not the whole study of the world built upon the principle that effects have causes? We may not be smart enough to determine what those causes are, but few believe that natural phenomena are not caused (quantum mechanics models natural phenomena with a randomness, but I am unconvinced that this would really help the person who desires to maintain that Libertarian Free Will exists).
    I am pretty sure that Clark Goble is a compatibalist LDS. To me the fact that there is something eternal about us makes the compatibalist view more palatable. That which is eternal and essential to our “I” ultimately charts our course within the influences of the world and God’s Grace. Thus, Dessert Entailing Moral Responsibility (DEMR) is preserved even in a deterministic world. I however cannot see how DEMR can have any meaning in a Creation ex Nihilo world. More on this in a bit.

    Now, I personally agree with Geoff that 2 Nephi 2 points us strongly towards LFW (though not without any loopholes). I also find that DEMR is much better aligned with a world with LFW. In the absence of LFW, our “mortal probation” becomes just a computer program that runs so slow it takes near an eternity to produce a solution. In addition to this, our experience of the world strongly suggests IMO that we do have LFW. I ask folks to drop a pencil or continue to hold it when I count to 3. After I say “1,2, 3” everyone maintains that they could have done what they did not in fact do. Are they so wrong?

    I would like to use some of the words I have gleaned from Blake Ostler (hopefully he will show up to correct my mistakes AND answer my criticism). At a decision point in our lives, we creatively weight all the factors that we perceive influence the decision. The result of this creative assigning of weights is a LFW decision based upon our own creativity. It is not solely determined by who we are or the environment, but instead is a new creation. For something like the pencil hold/drop, the creative weighting is very powerful as the environment and my developed character have little impact. For something like killing my best friend in the next 30 minutes, there is essentially no chance I could choose that. However, “my developed character” is built upon the more neutral decisions. As I move from one who is seldom angry, to one who becomes angry, to one who lashes out, to one who is violent, to one who kills his friend; I have created my character through this creative assigning of weights to influences.

    My criticism of the above is that in some ways it pushes the accused “randomness” back one step. Instead of randomly performing actions, I randomly assign weights OR I assign weights built upon my character. Still I am left with either it is random or determined. I would enjoy hearing Blake’s thoughts on this.

    Two more things.
    If God is ultimately an Eternal Intelligence, and we live in a determined world, it would seem that God’s actions are just as determined as ours. Thus all existence is predicated upon the initial condition. Pretty boring!
    AND
    I cannot poke holes in A Paradox of Significant Freedom by Michael Almeida. I have read it and offered it to anyone who seemed willing to read it, but so far nobody has shown he is in error. It seems to me that he has shown that if God created ex nihilo, then we do not have LFW. Dr. Almeida tried to mute this for me a little by saying that in at least some possible worlds where God Created ex Nihilo there is no LFW, but I think the point of his analysis was to show that LFW was not compatible with Creation ex Nihilo.

    That is all. I hope Blake will respond to this thread and to my criticism.

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — July 5, 2007 @ 8:10 am

  11. Eric, I think we would need to work through some kind of agreement about the difference between “influenced” and “determined” before we could answer that question. My sense is that the argument here is really just about the last epsilon of human decision-making. We know from empirical experiments and other research that all kinds of things do affect decision-making, in the counterfactual sense that randomized and therefore approximately identical treatment and control groups make different decisions under different treatments. So all reasonable theories of human decision-making have to accommodate substantial amounts of causation, including internal kinds (different knowledge, goals, etc.) and external kinds (different environments, time pressures, social situations, etc.). The debate seems to be about the last extreme: if we were somehow able to repeat the exact same situation, including the same external events, and the same personality, desires, knowledge, cognitive and biochemical states, etc., would a person make the same decision 10,000,000 out of 10,000,000 times or just, say, 9,999,999 out of 10,000,000 times.

    There certainly are various versions of LFW. Some see liberty as residing in our decisions being uncaused in the sense of ultimately not rooted in our cognition, information set, external situation, emotional state, and everything else; others see liberty as residing in probability, and therefore exactly a dice roll analogue; and other see liberty as involving some mysterious and undefinable thing (even for many advocates of the idea!) called “agent causation,” in which final causation is defined as being produced by the individual as a substance, and any events within the individual which might produce the decision (psychological, biochemical, etc.) in question are defined as not involving causation.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 8:18 am

  12. Tom, I think you’ve pinpointed the standard argument for libertarian free will — people think they have freedom, therefore they have freedom. Yet the argument just doesn’t follow from the premise. There is a good amount of experimental research in psychology that shows that people often don’t understand their own thought processes very well at all. Experiments have shown, for example, that people are usually totally unaware of primacy and recency effects, even though these are powerful influences on decision-making in many contexts. Why, when they don’t always know even the broad details of why they make decisions, would we expect them to understand the ultimate root of their decisions? Furthermore, I think the basic human sense of freedom isn’t contradicted by an idea of our decisions being ultimately caused by our characters; ultimate causation by external events, yes, but I don’t see a problem with ultimate causation by internal states.

    You talk about a “developed character.” That’s a useful idea, but you’ve already identified the problem — either that character has a fundamentally uncaused root that causes the decisions that produce the later developed character, or it doesn’t. If the former, then we’re in a compatibilist world anyway; if the latter, we’ve simply slipped back to arbitrariness as the root of character, which is in turn the root of our decisions.

    This stuff is all messy; the important point, I think, is that it really makes little theological difference. Mormon ideas of freedom require ultimate freedom from external influences, not necessarily freedom from all influences including that of psychology and character. So either kind of freedom is probably enough to move on with.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 8:28 am

  13. JNS,
    I seem to recall Blake using some of his education in neuroscience to support his rejection of determinism. I do however enjoy explaining to the pencil folks that they really cannot know if they could have done otherwise because those conditions will never return, so I agree that our perceptions of LFW do not demand the LFW is a reality.

    Here is a great thread where I think I got most of my thoughts on what Blake’s thoughts are:
    http://gfp.typepad.com/the_garden_of_forking_pat/2006/02/why_should_we_b.html#comments

    Do you believe that God’s actions are deterministic such that He does not have LFW?
    If so does that not make all of reality quite boring (or at least somewhat less interesting)?
    If not, why is God different than we are?

    Charity, TOm

    Comment by TOm — July 5, 2007 @ 8:44 am

  14. Tom, I have no idea whether God or us has libertarian free will. I also can see no reason why a world in which our actions are fully determined by our inner and outer states would be any less interesting than a world in which our actions are partly indeterminate. After all, to an observer without full knowledge of everybody’s inner and outer states, outcomes remain unpredictable.

    I think that appeals to neuroscience may be helpful, and I know neuroscientists who support a position that sees decision-making as fundamentally random due to quantum effects in the brain. But such fine-grained detail isn’t in fact necessary to see the conundrum; since in randomized experiments we can produce causal effects on human decision-making by manipulating external macro factors, it’s necessarily true that a micro mechanism exists, as well.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 8:55 am

  15. JNS,

    Yes, I am an advocate of the agent causal variety of libertarianism you mentioned in #12. Indeed I think Mormon theology insists that be the variety of free will we accept. (Readers can check here and here for more info on the subject of agent causation). The idea is pretty simple and it matches what Adam insisted upon in #8:

    (1) character isn’t something external to a person but is who they are and
    (2) our character isn’t caused by some outside force.

    The massive difference between what Adam is hoping for and what JNS is suggesting is in his (2). With agent-causal accounts of libertarian free will it is true that “our character isn’t caused by some outside force”; with compatibilist accounts our character and all these inner states JNS is touting are all ultimately caused by the outside force of the great causal chain of the universe.

    So Adam is right that Lehi’s teaching is 100% compatible with his two criteria — the issue is that his (2) is contrary to compatibilist claims but rather is right in line with with agent-causal libertarian free will (LFW).

    BTW – Agent causation also happens to be the best fit for the notion that the mind/intelligence/spirit of all people is beginningless and co-eternal with God as taught by Joseph Smith.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 9:16 am

  16. Geoff, I’d dispute your characterization of libertarian free will and of compatibilism. I think that there is nothing in compatibilism that requires our characters to be caused by some outside force. A Mormon theory of character as immortal and uncaused as some sort of consequence of the kind of “intelligence” we are/are made of/whatever would seem to fit. So this is a distortion, and it’s critical — once we accept this possibility as a version of compatibilism, then compatibilism loses all its horrible aspect for Mormonism.

    By the way, #2 is compatible with libertarian free will, but LFW usually goes farther and says that character also has not fixed basis — it’s not caused by outer or inner states, nor even by itself. It’s simply either random or caused by a kind of causation that is not amenable to reasonable explication (“agent” causation).

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 9:34 am

  17. As an elaboration, I think it’s obvious that we want to consider the most attractive version of each possible theory when weighing their relative merits. Certainly there are versions of compatibilism that have the features Geoff and others dislike. But let’s imagine a distinctively Mormom compatibilism.

    I think it’s pretty easy: it might be the case that characteristics of preexistent intelligence deterministically condition character. Then we have the freedom to be who we are and always have been — and obviously the moral responsibility for our actions that flow from that character. That is to say, we’re possibly determined, but ultimately by what kind of being we are, rather than by outside events.

    This argument is possibly somewhat convergent with accounts of “agent causation,” although I think different in an important way. In this view, there is a fundamental aspect of individual identity that can do explanatory work: a person chooses X not just because she as a substance chooses X but might equally well have chosen Y or Z for no special reason, but rather because she was the kind of intelligence that subsequently developed a character such that, when combined with external situations, she responds with choice X.

    I offer this possibility not because I’m in some way invested in its truth; I’m not. It’s simply here to show that Mormon theology is fundamentally not in conflict with compatibilism.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 9:46 am

  18. My criticism of the above is that in some ways it pushes the accused “randomness” back one step. Instead of randomly performing actions, I randomly assign weights OR I assign weights built upon my character.

    Exactly.

    I’m an agnostic on the free-will question, since all alternatives seem horrible to me. But I believe that if God did have libertarian free will at some point (i.e., at some point his essential character and his environment didn’t completely determine his choices, he has it no longer.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 9:48 am

  19. In the above, I am defining libertarian free well as that view which holds that to be free the interaction of one’s environment and one’s character cannot fully determine one’s choices. If Geoff J. has a different idea of libertarian free well, I’m not arguing against that. I’m pretty unclear on “agent causation” so I don’t really know.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 9:53 am

  20. Sorry, this is from skimming only.

    If character isn’t something external to a person but is who they are and our character isn’t caused by some outside force, then I want to ask a question: Can our Character change?

    If our Character can not change, and is fundamentally truly who we really are at our decision making core, then we can not repent and our mortal probation is defintely not needed multiple times, as it would only take at most one probation to discover our character. As this implies, being unable to repent would also mean that our mortal probation would be trivialized to discovering who were the good characters and who were the bad. If we can not repent, the atonement is pointless.

    If our character can change, but not by external forces, then what does that leave us with? Internal forces? Internal to what? our Character? What does that even mean?

    Comment by Matt W. — July 5, 2007 @ 10:23 am

  21. JNS (#16): I think that there is nothing in compatibilism that requires our characters to be caused by some outside force.

    Of course this requirement exists. If our character is not a result of the great causal chain in compatibilism then what is it the result of? Eventually this becomes a binary question. Whence the first cause of our character? Are we as agents our own first cause or are we simply dominoes in the great causal chain? Mormonism, more than any other theological system I know of, allows for and even presses for agents being independent causal agents in themselves. We reject creation ex nihilo and Joseph taught that we a co-eternal with God himself. That makes LFW (especially the agent causal variety) by far the best fit for us in my opinion.

    LFW usually goes farther and says that character also has not fixed basis

    I agree. Character is always fluid or else goodness would no longer be morally commendable even for God (since he would have no choice to be otherwise). Thankfully our scriptures indicate that God does retain his free will (with all the talk of the possibility that God at least could cease to be God through his own free choices).

    it’s not caused by outer or inner states, nor even by itself. It’s simply either random or caused by a kind of causation that is not amenable to reasonable explication (”agent” causation).

    It seems your complaint here reduces to the problem of eternity and beginninglessness. I agree that is a noggin-knocker. However, the headache inducing nature of the eternity question can hardly be seen as useful in defending compatibilism.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:29 am

  22. Matt, I think that everyone in this conversation probably sees repentance as both possible and necessary. An idea lurking behind this discussion is the Doctrine and Covenants concept of sanctification by grace — i.e., that there is a divine-human partnership in the process of changing character. I think that position fits with either perspective on freedom. For a compatibilist, a person’s innate character may lead her to listen to the Spirit and to come to desire a change in character. She may make some changes — because the compatibilist position does not require character to be entirely changeless, just to have some eternal and uncreated nub. And she may ask for and act to receive God’s help through the Spirit to produce the changes that are beyond her sole ability.

    From a position of libertarian free will, the character is not a constraint. So by a process that admits of no discussion, a person makes a choice to repent and reshape her character. The Spirit is necessary here, as well, to provide an image of the necessary changes. The Spirit may perhaps also provide extra strength, conviction, or whatever at the individual’s request to help her follow through on her essentially inexplicable decision to repent.

    So I don’t think the concept of repentance decides between these theories.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 10:34 am

  23. JNS (#17): it might be the case that characteristics of preexistent intelligence deterministically condition character

    I’ve seen this one before. Clark Goble has been known to try to sell a variation on it at times. It basically says “we might have had real freedom in our premortal state but here we are causally determined beings”. The problem is that under such a scheme this life is no probationary state at all. We are simply meat puppets acting out the fixed script of our lives. It is a less objectionable variation on that hideous Calvinistic predestination as far as I can tell. If all of our choices in this life are predestined based on some no-longer-changeable “premortal character” why do our scriptures insist that this life is a probationary state?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:36 am

  24. I am sympathetic to the basic argument put forth by JNS against free will in #1 and #3. I don’t know how to solve that problem. Whitehead’s “creative advance into novelty” seems like it gets at what is needed, but I am not smart enough to say whether or not it succeeds. I think TOm is right that the standard explanations are only able to push the randomness back more stages.

    I think I am able to see the problem fairly clearly. What surprises me is that the compatibilists so frequently seem unable to see the problem they are left with once they reject LFW. These claims in #12 and #14 [update since I posted: and #17] that the issue doesn’t ultimately make much theological difference or that a world in which neither God nor man has LFW is no less interesting just baffle me. It just seems obvious to me that the gospel requires moral responsibility and that such responsibility is nonexistent in a compatibilist universe. And that is the point of the “question of the day” in the post.

    If you are faced with either believing the gospel-emasculating idea that you never have the ability to do other than you do, or believing that there ultimately is some way for Whitehead’s creative advance into novelty to explain the problem of what constitutes the “why” of decisions, I will choose the gospel every time.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:37 am

  25. If our character is not a result of the great causal chain in compatibilism then what is it the result of? Eventually this becomes a binary question. Whence the first cause of our character? Are we as agents our own first cause or are we simply dominoes in the great causal chain?

    See, this is you narrowly and restrictively defining a position you reject, Geoff — which doesn’t move things forward, really. Why must our character have a first cause? One way of reading Joseph Smith is to say that there is no first cause; our characters are eternally preexisting constants and constraints. So theology doesn’t dictate a position.

    Your theory of morality seems in some ways suspect to me. It seems to me that a person can be said to be responsible for acts that flow from who she is, i.e., acts caused by a fixed character. Morality then becomes a way of distinguishing between good and bad characters. If advocates of “agent causation” got around to defining their terms, they’d almost certainly be forced into making quite similar sorts of statements, replacing “an agent’s substance” for “a person’s character.”

    I disagree that the problem of “agent causation” involves the problem of uncreatedness. Rather, it involves the problem that every single decision “explained” by agent causation is inexplicable; the agent caused the action in a way prior to motives, desires, conscious thought, etc.? What does that even mean? Every single act, on this account, becomes mysterious and inexplicable — not just the origin of me as an agent, but even the fact that I’ve written this comment.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 10:43 am

  26. JNS (#22),

    What you have described puts the responsibility to “fix” the sinful natures of people squarely on God. On the model you have proposed, people are like clocks which tell time in varying degrees of accuracy. God can fix them, but they cannot fix themselves. They have no responsibility for whether or not they tell time accurately (how would they?). If we fail to make it to the celestial, it is because God failed, not us. Is that compatible with the gospel in your view?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:44 am

  27. It just seems obvious to me that the gospel requires moral responsibility and that such responsibility is nonexistent in a compatibilist universe.

    See, these claims seem to need further defense. There are a wide range of theories of moral accountability written by compatibilists. These generally stem from the idea of character — compatibilist freedom in this sense is the freedom to be who we are. And it seems to me to make perfect sense to say that someone is accountable for actions that stem from who they are. At the same time, there are important challenges involved in finding a basis for morality in libertarian accounts: if choice is fundamentally determined not by reason, emotion, desire, conscious thought, or any inner or outer state, then it can be hard to understand how an individual could be to blame for bad acts — which just sort of happen.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 10:47 am

  28. JNS (#27),

    And it seems to me to make perfect sense to say that someone is accountable for actions that stem from who they are.

    No it doesn’t, unless the were somehow responsible for “who they are,” which, on a compatibilist view, they were not.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:48 am

  29. Jacob #26, that feels like an important misrepresentation of what I actually said. Note that the individual’s desire for and acceptance of God’s efforts play a central role in the compatibilist sketch of sanctification by grace that I offered above. People are responsible for whether or not they are the kind of people who desire to change and become good. So I do think this is as compatible with the gospel as the libertarian theory.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 10:49 am

  30. Jacob, if you precommit yourself to a libertarian theory of responsibility, of course you’ll conclude that a libertarian theory of free will is necessary for the existence of moral responsibility. Yet a great many people find other theories coherent.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 10:51 am

  31. JNS (#29)

    People are responsible for whether or not they are the kind of people who desire to change and become good.

    Except that they have no control now (and have never had control at any time in the past) over what “kind of people” they are. That is basic to the idea of responsibility and can’t be avoided.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:53 am

  32. Geoff #23, it seems possible to me that the difficulty of communication that we’re having here is that you’ve built libertarian free will so thoroughly into your understanding of theological vocabulary that you can’t appreciate other perspectives. “Probation” might mean a lot of different things; the scriptures don’t really specify. But one clear meaning might be something like a quality control check, which would fit with a compatibilist perspective.

    Also, the meat-puppet stuff is just rhetoric. Just because you’re committed to the idea that libertarian free will is the only free will doesn’t imply that people who disagree with you also see it that way. A compatibilist obviously finds room for freedom in a world that allows people to be who they fundamentally are. So there’s just a disagreement about whether freedom exists in such a world, and using colorful language to forcefully reassert your position merely detracts from the conversation.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 10:55 am

  33. JNS (#30),

    If you precommit yourself to a compabitilist theory, of course you’ll conclude that libertarian theory of free will is not necessary for the existence of moral responsibility. Yet a great many people find that responsibility is not coherent without it.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:56 am

  34. Jacob #31, that is basic to the idea of libertarian responsibility. It’s possible to offer accounts of responsibility as requiring control over action but not over character. In such an account, a person’s character is the ultimate cause of her free actions, so her character is responsible for those actions. And what is a person if not her character? It doesn’t follow that we have to be free to choose radically different characters from moment to moment — indeed, if it did, then the idea of the self dissolves, for what is the chooser other than the character?

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 10:57 am

  35. Jacob, I’m not committed to any of these positions. My point is that judging a theory using the terminology of another theory is stacking the deck and disruptive to understanding.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 10:58 am

  36. JNS (#34)

    It’s possible to offer accounts of responsibility as requiring control over action but not over character.

    Yes, but not without redefining “responsibility” from what it means to something else. Some clocks tell time and others do not. We don’t hold the bad clocks “responsible” for their failure to tell time. We might throw them away, but we would never send them to hell.

    Again, I am convinced that all of this is obvious and you can see it just as clearly as I can. I don’t know why compatibilists try so hard to pretend there is no problem in their worldview when it is so apparent to the casual observer. I can see and acknowledge that LFWers can’t explain choice satisfactorily (#24), why can’t compatibilists admit they can’t account for responsibility satisfactorily?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 11:03 am

  37. JNS (#25): One way of reading Joseph Smith is to say that there is no first cause; our characters are eternally preexisting constants and constraints. So theology doesn’t dictate a position.

    I agree there there is no ultimate first cause in a reality full of beginningless “things that act” and “things to be acted upon”. What I meant that we, as children of God are among the “things that act” in such a reality.

    Let me ask you this: Do you believe God is also causally determined? Adam seems to be willing to worship a God who is not free to choose (#18) — are you as well?

    I (obviously) believe God does and must have LFW. And we as children of God and beings who are of the same species/kind as God are equally free to choose despite the influence of the great causal chain.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 11:06 am

  38. Mostly I think belief in LFW is like belief in the global flood. The evidence just isn’t there (at least for this life). So a believer then points to a limited flood, but that isn’t LFW anymore.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 5, 2007 @ 11:08 am

  39. J,

    Mostly, I think belief in compatibilism is like belief in solipsism. It is possible that the worldview is correct, but accepting it requires one to reject the most basic experiencial data available and maintaining a belief in it is impossible as a practical matter.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 11:14 am

  40. JNS (#32): But one clear meaning might be something like a quality control check, which would fit with a compatibilist perspective.

    I have no idea what this means. Who exactly is doing a quality control check in the great earth experiment in such a reality? God? If so, why wouldn’t he already know our fixed future based on our fixed and unchangeable character you are pitching? Us? But why would we need to check anything if we don’t have any freedom to change our nature/character? As I said in the post, I fail to see how making such theological moves as this does anything but obliterate the Plan of Salvation as we are taught in the restored gospel.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 11:19 am

  41. There are a few points worth keeping in mind:

    1) Meaningful actions should not be confused with physical behavior. How the two are related to each other is a very difficult question, but a question which cuts to the heart of the matter. Moral responsibility is something which only exists at the level of meaningful action while determinism is something which applies to the physical behavior. Probably the easiest way to relate the two to each other is to say that meaningful action is simply physical behavior described in a different way, and there is no reason to think that determinism should hold for descriptions as it does for behavior.

    2) Regarding the definition of LFW that Geoff provides:

    “The power or ability to rationally choose and consciously perform actions, at least some of which are not brought about necessarily and inevitably by external circumstances.”

    (Notice first how it describes meaningful action, not physical behavior.) That word “external” seems to be sneaking in an awful lot. The compatibilist is perfectly willing to have different possible response to the same external circumstances by simply positing different internal circumstances.

    3) This leads to my final point which concerns the other definition which Geoff provides:

    “Libertarian free will requires that there is more than one possible outcome to a given situation.”

    The question which the compatibilist asks, as JNS points out, is what causes on outcome to be brought about rather than another? Let’s picture a LFW choice as a time line which splits in two at some point? What causes the agent to choose path A over path B? We can’t attribute it to any difference before the split because there is no difference before the split, by very definition. The split simply happens without any explanation or causation at all, unless one allows for some kind of backward causation (which sounds even more in conflict with gospel principles). The summarize, the LFWist only seems able to avoid the charge that choices are utterly random and beyond control by positing some difference in initial conditions, a move which simply avoids the question at hand, for how did that difference in initial conditions arise?

    4) Finally, I think it would be helpful is Geoff were to put forth the strongest arguments for compatibilism that he can, and then show why those arguments are flawed. Yes, he describes compatibilism somewhat accurately, but I am not at all satisfied with is arguments for it and I am even less satisfied with his response to these arguments which seems to amount to little more than personal incredulity. He appears to be setting up strawmen in order to knock them down or, to put it less critically, he sets up the discussion so as to win the argument, not to forward the argument.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 11:19 am

  42. Wow, this conversation really went downhill. I apologize if my rhetoric contributed to heating this up. For whatever it might be worth, I certainly accept Jacob and Geoff as intelligent believers of good will. So, I’m sorry; I didn’t intend to cause offense.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  43. Doh! One more point. Just to be clear, my view is that LFW contributes absolutely nothing by way of control, meaningful freedom, choice or responsibility. I accordingly see it as being seriously undermotivated.

    Secondly, following the pragmatic tradition, if a difference makes no difference, it is not a meaningful difference at all. I simply do not see how the truth or falsity of LFW would make our lives in any way different. (All of this should be read within a Mormon context.)

    Of course Geoff will say that we are saving “real” responsibility, freedom, etc., but it so easy to say this. What, exactly, is the nature of these things you are saving? What does it mean to these things to be “real”? Does the compatibilist really deny these “real” things in a way which actually motivates LFW? These are questions which I see the LFWist as brushing aside far too quickly.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 11:26 am

  44. No offense caused JNS. But please don’t bail out now. There is a lot of defending of compatibilism in a Mormon context to be done first. My question about where you stand on God’s free will is still outstanding as well as Jacob’s questions on responsibility.

    (I’ll even take Jeff up on his request too)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  45. JNS (#42),

    No offense taken on my side, and I hope none given. It might be that this is what passes for friendly conversation here. (g)

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 11:29 am

  46. What surprises me is that the compatibilists so frequently seem unable to see the problem they are left with once they reject LFW. These claims in #12 and #14 [update since I posted: and #17] that the issue doesn’t ultimately make much theological difference or that a world in which neither God nor man has LFW is no less interesting just baffle me. It just seems obvious to me that the gospel requires moral responsibility and that such responsibility is nonexistent in a compatibilist universe.

    I think compatibilism has big problems, but I don’t see that moral responsibility in particular is one of them. If *I* and some essential nub of my character are the same thing, then *I* am responsible for what I do, because saying that it was my character that caused the choice is just another way of saying that I made the choice.

    Additionally, I think that libertarian free will has just as much a problem with moral responsibility. If I choose good not because I am attracted to good, but just because, I don’t see how my choice can be said to be morally significant.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  47. JNS (#22)- I apologize. This is one conversation I am completely untrained on, and I do not understand what exactly is being positioned as the pro, con, or difference from either approach. I watch these comments fly by, and I have no grounding with which to keep up or even understand what is being said. That said, I have more questions.

    Could the eternal nub of character in compatabilist free will then be nothing more than the ability to make choices at all? Or must it be something more? If so, is not this also a requirement of libertarian free will? And if libertarian free will can exist without this eternal nub grounding it, is it really free will?

    I am so sorry, I must seem somewhat juvenile, but this is a topic I have meant to understand the issue on, but have failed to grasp the difference in the two points of view. (as is apparant)

    Comment by Matt W. — July 5, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  48. Except that they have no control now (and have never had control at any time in the past) over what “kind of people” they are.

    Are you sure that this is coherent? If character isn’t something external, but really is who you are, then aren’t you saying something like “we aren’t responsible for choices we make unless we chose to exist”?

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  49. Adam seems to be willing to worship a God who is not free to choose

    The only meat-puppets I see in this conversation is you putting words in my mouth. I think God is free to choose, I just think those choices are based on his character and aren’t random or unknowable.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 11:39 am

  50. Geoff, I should reiterate that I don’t personally have a position on free will issues. Partly that’s for pragmatic reasons regarding lack of even hypothetical evidence — I love me some Dewey, just like Jeff G. — and partly because neither side convinces me with theological or moral claims.

    Nor is my personal theology of God detailed enough to provide a satisfactory answer to your question about His freedom. I imagine God as a being with freedom of some kind, but I don’t know what kind and I don’t have a strong basis for my imagining. I do have faith in a God who will not fall, although I must admit that I cannot resolve the question of under what kinds of circumstances He might fall.

    Jacob #36, your question arises from an analogy between clocks and character. I don’t understand why character is like a mechanism; it seems to me to be the essence of identity and therefore, for a human, a thing without parallel.

    Regarding the responsibility thing, we need to find definitions that don’t automatically entail one theory or another to make this conversation sensible. So let’s pull an ordinary-language move and look at the OED to provide some guidance about this concept. “Responsible”‘s non-obsolete definitions there include: Answerable, accountable (to another for something), liable to be called to account; capable of rational conduct; Capable of fulfilling an obligation or trust; reliable, trustworthy; or of good credit and repute. The first two are most relevant here. From the first definition, we have something like an implication of judgment: an individual is responsible for an action if someone will subsequently determine whether that action was good and assign reward or punishment. This definition, in a theological context, depends on the existence of a judge and of a judgment day; it does not depend on the traits of persons, including whatever kind of freedom they may have. The second, involving the capacity for rationality, is obviously a characteristic that a person may have or not have regardless of our decisions about freedom. Indeed, economic models of rationality most often produce deterministic accounts of human decision-making — so capacity for rationality probably fits with whatever theory of freedom we have at hand.

    In other words, the baseline ordinary-language meanings of responsibility do not conflict with either libertarian or compatibilist theories of responsibility. So I am unpersuaded by the claim that compatibilist accounts assign an impermissible meaning to the term. And I think this is why compatibilists don’t accede to the claim that they can’t account for responsibility; they think they can.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 11:41 am

  51. Jacob J.,

    I’m not a compatibilist, necessarily, because I see real problems with it. But compatibilism seems pretty compatible with what I understand by responsibility and with my own experience of free will. I don’t see it being even close to solipsism. If you really think that’s the compatibilist viewpoint, then I don’t see why you bother having this conversation. I wouldn’t really have anything to say to a solipsist.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 11:42 am

  52. Mostly I think belief in LFW is like belief in the global flood. The evidence just isn’t there (at least for this life.

    I don’t get the comparison. We don’t just have an absence of evidence of the global flood, we actually have evidence against it. But as far as I can tell, we don’t have evidence that shows that we don’t have libertarian free will at some level, do we? We have evidence that at least some of our decisions are made before we’re consciously aware of it, but unless you can show that conscious awareness is the essence of libertarian free will or that all of our decisions of every kind are made this way, you don’t have evidence agaisnt libertarian free will.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  53. Hey, Adam, as a tangent to the conversation, can I say how much fun it is to agree with every word that comes off of your keyboard? Cheers; we should be of such like minds more often.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 11:49 am

  54. JNS is heading very quickly to some of the issues upon which Blake, Geoff and I have never been able to agree.

    I ask what in the world is responsibility? My answer was that it was basically an interpretation which people have of themselves and others. Blake and Geoff thought that this wasn’t good enough, and instead want to hold out for “real” responsibility. Okay, but what is “real” responsibility, and why does mine not count as “real”? I fully admit that mine may not be objectively, mind-independent, but this doesn’t make it unreal.

    I get very frustrated in these discussions due to the slipperiness of the terms being thrown around. I do think that there is a sense in which the compatibilist does not believe in free choices. But it is up to the LFWist to show us why the compatibilist should believe in free choices in this same sense. The LFWist defines this sense of freedom in terms of choice, responsibility, character, etc. while leaving these terms just as vague. What do these words mean? Are choices, character and responsibility “real” in the sense that the LFWist requires?

    The LFW response at this point, I imagine, is to say “Oh c’mon, we all know what these words mean, and are you really willing to deny that these things exist? You must be really lost!” But this is not an argument. The LFW must not only show that these things “must” be real, but what it means for these things to be real. I see the entire LFW-debate hinging on these very complex issues.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  55. Adam (#46): If *I* and some essential nub of my character are the same thing, then *I* am responsible for what I do

    This is a massive “If”. I don’t see any good reason to assume that our character is the same thing as as our beginningless mind/spirit/intelligence. Mormon theology does hold that some part of us is irreducible and beginningless. There is an argument that the irreducible part of us is independent to act as well:

    All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. (D&C 93: 30)

    But I doubt that irreducible and beginningless part of us includes what we think of as our current “character”.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

  56. If you omit the phrase “I love me some Dewey”–a man whom I know nothing about–I could have probably saved myself a lot of time by writing “JNS, ditto.” Even “megadittoes, JNS” if I wanted to tweak you.

    If we have any differences, its probably that I’m a little bit more certain about the kind of free will that God currently has than you are. For theological reasons–because I don’t see how we can put absolute trust in God unless there is no chance he won’t choose evil–and for personal reasons–the idea of becoming a being who is absolutely certain of doing good matters more to me than the idea of becoming a being who is free in a libertarian sense–I’m inclined to see God as being free only in the sense that he is free to work towards his objectives and accomplish his purposes. If I could be persuaded that God’s libertarian free will is consistent with him being absolutely reliable, I would be in your position.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  57. If *I* and some essential nub of my character are the same thing, then *I* am responsible for what I do

    This is a massive “If”. I don’t see any good reason to assume that our character is the same thing as as our beginningless mind/spirit/intelligence

    The contrary is also a massive “If.” And there’s no good reason that I can see to assume that some essential nub of character isn’t part of our beginningless mind/spirit/intelligence. We just don’t know.

    But I doubt that irreducible and beginningless part of us includes what we think of as our current “character”.

    Once again, you’ve replaced my phrase “essential nub of character” with a caricature: “our current ‘character’.” Is there any particular reason I should bother to keep arguing with you?

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 12:15 pm

  58. Matt W.,

    Let me do my best to provide a VERY simplistic summary of the debate:

    Compatibilism is the belief that all events are determined by prior causes (excluding quantum indeterminacy and the like) and nothing else. We have the ability to make choices, but choices are just more events which are also determined by prior causes be they internal, external, spiritual, etc. To be free is to be unconstrained by other people, similar to how I have the freedom of speech, but not freedom necessary to make any noise imaginable with my vocal chords.

    Libertarian Free Will in our discussions amounts to little more than the rejection of compatibilism. It is the view that prior causes do NOT fully determine all events, especially those events we call choices. While we may not be free to make whatever any noise imaginable with our vocal chords, prior events (including, but probably not limited to, brain states, environment, grasp of context, “spiritual” brain states, etc.) do not fully determine what we will say. Under compatibilism, for any given state of the universe, there is only one possible (not conceivable or imaginable mind you) future which is genuinely open. This is a bleak outlook on life and seems to preclude responsibility since this one genuinely open future cannot be changed. Thus, LFW holds that there are multiple futures which are genuinely open.

    In other words, the compatibilist holds that we construe ourselves as being free, responsible, etc. and that this construal, since it is a real construal, is enough to give us real freedom, responsibility, etc. The LFW says that this construal is not constitute real freedom, responsibility any more than the Nazi construal of Jews as inferior being made them actually inferior. We do not merely construe ourselves as being free, responsible, etc., but we actually ARE free, responsible, etc. A central question, then, is whether any freedom, responsibility, etc. beyond what can be perceived, interpreted or construed by any individual (even God!/?) would ever make any difference at all to any individual?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

  59. Jeff G.,

    That was pretty opaque, at least to me. No offense, I don’t have lots of philosophy smarts.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

  60. Matt (#47): Could the eternal nub of character in compatabilist free will then be nothing more than the ability to make choices at all?

    Yes.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 12:35 pm

  61. Jeff:
    Thanks for the excellent answer. So Compatibilism is just determinism? (Ie- What’s the difference?)

    Also, your definiton of Compatibilism does not agree with JNS’s definition of the same(in #22: For a compatibilist, a person’s innate character may lead her to listen to the Spirit and to come to desire a change in character. She may make some changes — because the compatibilist position does not require character to be entirely changeless, just to have some eternal and uncreated nub)

    Geoff J: If the eternal nub is just the ability to make decisions, isn’t compatibilsm = LFW?

    Comment by Matt W. — July 5, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

  62. Jeff (#41): Finally, I think it would be helpful is Geoff were to put forth the strongest arguments for compatibilism that he can

    First, my preferences for LFW are based both on theology and on the underlying metaphysics that I believe Mormonism insists upon. I feel compelled to reject compatibilism because, as I stated in the post, I believe it is so contrary to basic assumptions of Mormon theology that it would deal a fatal blow to Mormonism if it were true.

    Having said that, the strongest arguments for compatibilism are some of the arguments JNS, Adam and you have presented here. These are the types of hard questions opponents of LFW ask:

    1. How could uncaused choices ever happen? And if they did wouldn’t they have to be random and meaningless in nature?
    2. If true LFW were real wouldn’t that mean that God is not absolutely reliable and that there is a logical possibility he could fail us? Wouldn’t it also mean God cannot have exhaustive foreknowledge?
    3. If we have LFW then doesn’t that eventually lead to a works theology and do irreparable damage to the doctrine of grace?
    4. Lots of smart people believe in compatibilism so it must be a decent choice even for Mormons. (This one is admittedly pretty weak.)

    Re. #1 — Of these I think the reason the debate still rages on even among us Mormons is the problems associated with question #1. (Jacob addressed this in #24 as well). We can’t really explain non-causally-determined choices very well. Even with an agent-causal model we are left to assume that humans, like Gods, simply are eternally free to make choices that are ultimately independent of the great causal chain. That admittedly requires a leap of faith. But being Mormons it doesn’t seem like a big leap of faith to me.

    Re. #2 — Question 2 is important to a lot of people. It can be dealt with by recognizing that the term God means lots of different things in our theology. So God sometimes can refer to a single divine person in the Godhead or to the unity of divine persons as One. The problem with assuming that God does not have freedom to change his own character is that it reduces God to something like a machine rather than a morally commendable person. If his good character is impossible to change then what is good about it? He can’t choose to be otherwise so how could we call it moral? Indeed, I question the personhood of a God who was not free to choose to improve or degrade is own character from moment to moment through his own thoughts words and deeds like I believe we do here. I think he is worthy of our worship largely because of his free choices concerning his own character, not because he has none.

    As for the exhaustive foreknowledge thing: See this whole category of posts on that

    Re. #3 — Libertarian free will probably does do damage to the Augustinian views on grace (which led to Calvinism among other things). However I think it works very well with the actual scriptures where grace is the offer of a relationship with God. God freely chooses to beckon us into a oneness with him no matter what we have done in the past. This is grace. We then freely choose to enter that loving relationship or to reject it. As Lehi says: “they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death”. If we do choose a personal relationship with God he rejoices (as portrayed in the parable of the prodigal son.)

    Re #4 — This one is probably not really a argument I should have even mentioned.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

  63. Adam (#49): The only meat-puppets I see in this conversation is you putting words in my mouth. I think God is free to choose, I just think those choices are based on his character and aren’t random or unknowable.

    Well I suppose I could have clarified that in your view God is not free to choose his character and his character determines his choices.

    So Adam, if we are without beginning and have an “essential nub of character” does that essential nub of character necessarily lead to a certain type of completed character? I mean do you think that that there is something essential and beginningless in all of us that chooses our character trajectory in ways that we cannot change? If the essential nub has all of us on the same footing and we can freely choose our character regardless of the influence of that nub then I’m not sure why it matters that we have it. If that essential nub predestines our final character then we never freely choose anyway right?

    (#51) – I think you misunderstood Jacob’s retort to Stapley. He referred to solipsism by analogy only.

    (#57): Is there any particular reason I should bother to keep arguing with you?

    Were we arguing? I thought we were just having a friendly discussion…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 1:42 pm

  64. Matt (#61): So Compatibilism is just determinism?

    Yup. It gets its name because people hope that we can be entirely causally determined and still have free will.

    your definiton of Compatibilism does not agree with JNS’s definition of the same

    JNS was just being, umm, precise there. He believes the person is causally determined by her “innate character” or in other words by her nature which she did not choose. Therein lies the problem. She is a slave to a character that she didn’t choose for herself.

    If the eternal nub is just the ability to make decisions, isn’t compatibilsm = LFW?

    Well as I mentioned in #63 it is either/or. If such an eternal nub of character existed, either the eternal nub could be be disregarded based on free choices of a the individual (thus LFW obtains) or the “final” character that person is predestined by that eternal nub (thus determinism obtains).

    (Note: If LFW is eternal then there would be no such thing as a final character so I use that term hypothetically here.)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

  65. You have some interesting points I’d like to respond to but since you’ve badly caricatured my views and refuse to do anything about it, I’m done with you in this thread.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  66. Sheesh.

    Well honestly didn’t mean to badly mischaracterize your views Adam. I will gladly retract where I went awry if you show me where I did so and correct me on my mistakes.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  67. See #49 and #57.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

  68. Matt, I’d clarify that I wasn’t trying to offer a general definition of compatibilism, but rather trying to sketch a Mormon view of how compatibilism and repentance might coexist. The line you quoted is one example of a compatibilist perspective, but there are many others.

    She is a slave to a character that she didn’t choose for herself.

    Setting aside the inflammatory slave term, let’s think about the logic of this for a second. She is determined by her character — which is who she is. So she’s determined by herself, right? What’s the problem?

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  69. Adam — I responded to #49 and #57 in my #63. I apparently misread your meaning in those but don’t know exactly where I went wrong yet…

    (I did also read your #56 and gleaned ideas about your position there too… does that help?)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

  70. I think you’re smart, Geoff J., so if you still don’t get it then I have to think that you just have a very hard time putting your own position aside long enough to understand someone else’s position as they understand it.

    So lets give it another try:

    Think about this question for a bit: Why would someone who subscribes to a compatibilist view object to being described as not believing in free will? Answer that and you understand why I would think that your comment in #49 was egregious.

    Now think about this question for a bit: Why would someone who was arguing that the eternal, ageless, beginningless part of us was probably in part an eternal, essential nub of character object to having that view described as believing that “our current ‘character’” was the eternal, ageless, beginningless part of us? Answer that and you understand why I would think that your comment in #57 was egregious.

    If you give it some thought and are still at a loss, I’ll spell it out for you.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  71. JNS (#50),

    The first two are most relevant here. From the first definition, we have something like an implication of judgment: an individual is responsible for an action if someone will subsequently determine whether that action was good and assign reward or punishment.

    The OED is not really adding anything here, because instead of disagreeing about “responsibility” we are now left to disagree about what “accountable” or “answerable” mean. Needless to say, I don’t think your conclusion is doing justice to those words.

    Jeff G’s #54 is correct that this really is at the heart of the whole issue, but he also knows that the LFWers have put forth a far more serious effort to explain their definitions than to say “Oh c’mon, we all know what these words mean.” Blake spends a great deal of time in his first book taking the opposing view seriously and explaining where he thinks their explanation breaks down.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  72. Adam,

    I can see why you would be unhappy about me implying compatibilism isn’t free will (as you mentioned in #49). I apologize for that. (And I thought I clarified that comment in #63 as well). I think your complaint in #57 about my shifting from the “nub of character” to the “finished character” was a good point too. I apologize for that as well.

    Can we back to the discussion at hand now? I had legitimate questions in #63 for you.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 2:45 pm

  73. Jacob and Geoff, I really do think that it would be helpful if you would put more effort into understanding the other point of view — something Blake doesn’t adequately accomplish in his book either, by the way. As it is, we’re wrangling emptily over terminology because neither of you is willing to step back from your own points of view enough to see that alternative theories offer coherent and plausible accounts of a whole interconnected range of concepts. I don’t argue that you need to prefer another position, but if you could step back from libertarian free will for a moment, I think you’d see that the loss is not as great as you think — indeed, since there’s no way for us to distinguish between a LFW universe and a compatibilist one, I don’t think there can be any loss whatsoever.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  74. JNS (#68): She is determined by her character — which is who she is.

    You seem to be trying the same move that Adam was earlier. That is, you are saying “character (or moral character)=eternal spirit/mind/intelligence”.

    On what do you based this equation? The moral character wiki defines it as:

    Moral character or character is an evaluation of an individual’s moral qualities. The concept of character can imply a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of integrity, courage, fortitude, honesty, loyalty, or virtue.

    This article says:

    At the beginning of Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle tells us that there are two different kinds of human excellences, excellences of thought and excellences of character. His phrase for excellences of character — êthikai aretai — we usually translate as “moral virtue(s)” or “moral excellence(s).” The Greek êthikos (ethical) is the adjective cognate with êthos (character). When we speak of a moral virtue or an excellence of character, the emphasis is not on mere distinctiveness or individuality, but on the combination of qualities that make an individual the sort of ethically admirable person he is.

    I certainly won’t argue that moral character is not somehow associated with our eternal spirits/minds but I see no reason to assume they are completely synonymous as you are implying.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  75. JNS (#73),

    With all due respect, I don’t know why you think you can tell that I am not putting enough effort into understanding the other point of view. The first thing I did on this thread was to explain that I understand the most important criticism against LFW as advanced by you and acknowledge that I cannot anwer that criticism satisfactorily. Have you made a comparable statement acknowledging the legitimate problems faced by a compatibilist viewpoint? If not, why are you making this accusation? (making this accusation again, see #30).

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 2:56 pm

  76. Jacob, there are serious problems with compatibilism, just as there are with libertarian free will; I think you’ve misidentified them, though. But that’s another issue. The problem I’m referring to in #73 is your unwillingness to consider alternative definitions of the key concepts in this debate.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  77. You do make some good points in #63.

    So Adam, if we are without beginning and have an “essential nub of character” does that essential nub of character necessarily lead to a certain type of completed character? I mean do you think that that there is something essential and beginningless in all of us that chooses our character trajectory in ways that we cannot change? If the essential nub has all of us on the same footing and we can freely choose our character regardless of the influence of that nub then I’m not sure why it matters that we have it.

    I agree with all this. What’s so unpalatable about an LDS-suitable version of compatibilism in my view is that it either requires universal salvation or else the view that some people are damned from the foundation of the world. Universal salvation is if you believe that through grace Christ can always change our character, even in the essentials–but this makes it hard to understand why mortality would be a “probation” or even why we would bother with mortality at all. Inevitable damnation is if you believe Christ can’t always change the essentials of character without some kind of assent, so there are some people who will refuse his grace because that’s the way they are and nothing they can do will change that because they will never want to change that enough to change it.

    If that essential nub predestines our final character then we never freely choose anyway right?

    We’ve spent 72 comments arguing this very point. If you define freedom as the ability to make choices according to one’s character, then the person who is inevitably damned is freely choosing from start to finish.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 3:28 pm

  78. You seem to be trying the same move that Adam was earlier. That is, you are saying “character (or moral character)=eternal spirit/mind/intelligence”.

    I think we’re arguing that some nub of moral character *could be* *part* of our eternal spirit/mind/intelligence. We just don’t know.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 3:33 pm

  79. JNS,

    What exactly do you want me (us) to do differently in your #73. It sounds like you are saying “try harder”. How is that helping this conversation along? Then you said “if you could step back from libertarian free will for a moment, I think you’d see that the loss is not as great as you think”. What the…? Perhaps you could step back and notice how condescending that might appear coming in the middle of this debate… I don’t see how claiming that the problem with those of us who believe in LFW and think it is essential to Mormonism is that we aren’t stepping back looking at the issue as rationally as you are helps here.

    I’m sure you had the best of intentions with that comment but the more I read it the more baffled I am by it.

    There is a massive metaphysical difference between a LFW universe and a wholly deterministic, compatibilist universe. Indeed I believe the restored gospel fails in the latter. Surely you can see that the truth behind this question matters.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 3:44 pm

  80. Adam,
    If I wasn’t clear, then it was my error, not yours.

    Matt,
    Compatibilism is one subset of determinism. There are, after all, determinists who do NOT believe that free will is compatible with determinism. These people are called, you guessed it, incompatibilists.

    Geoff,
    Again, I think I wasn’t near as clear as I should have been. (Your answer was a perfect response to my request. It’s just that my request wasn’t very good.) Instead of presenting the strongest arguments for compatibilism, rather I want you to present the strongest arguments for the position that the tenets of Mormonism ARE compatible with compatibilism. Then, I want you to show where these arguments go wrong. In other words, show us why a good argument cannot be made for Compatibilist Mormonism. I think your answer to this question will greatly help focus the discussion.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  81. JNS,

    I am moving on from the argument that I am not trying, since that accusation doesn’t really interest me.

    When I consider “responsibility” from a compatibilist viewpoint, this is what I see. Tell me where I am going wrong. The compatibilist worldview accepts that everything which happens is causally determined. Thus, I can be responsible for my actions in the same sense that a piece of granite can be held responsible for rolling down a hill during a landslide and sinking to the bottom of a lake.

    That is, someone can come along and judge whether they think it was a good thing that the rock sank to the bottom of the lake (perhaps they wanted something which would float, so that pumice would be judged to be good while granite would be judged to be bad), and then assign a reward or a punishment to the various rocks. The qualities that make up the two rocks (internal influences, or the character of the rock), together with external causal influences (landslide above a lake), come together to determine what happens. According to your #50, this is all that is needed for the concept of responsibility.

    I don’t understand why character is like a mechanism; it seems to me to be the essence of identity and therefore, for a human, a thing without parallel. (#50)

    If it is not mechanistic, what is it? What about me is different than the rock?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

  82. Jacob,

    “What about me is different than the rock?”

    Easy, you have a mind, complete with beliefs and desires which make meaningful action possible. Rocks don’t.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

  83. Jacob, there are two ordinary-language meanings for responsibility. If we accept the ordinary-language philosophers’ position that such usage can provide a minimal constraint on philosophical discourse, then we can reject accounts of responsibility that don’t meet those two meanings. Your account regarding the rock lacks the idea of capability of rational thought, so it’s really only half-way there.

    In a compatibilist perspective, it’s possible to see actions as causally determined by who we are. I don’t understand why anyone would object to the idea that we are accountable for the good or bad things that our nature produces. The rock, by contrast, doesn’t produce any actions out of its nature; it lacks a nature or character and only produces actions out of external physical laws. So the analogy seems unhelpful.

    Geoff J., I honestly don’t think there’s much real/experiential difference for inhabitants between a compatibilist and a LFW universe — if there were, then we’d be able to tell the difference by observation. There seem to be philosophical differences, although the differences there seem to cut in both directions. By the way, I really didn’t mean to be condescending, but when conversations bog down in quibbling over terminology, I get depressed. Not expressed in the most graceful possible way — sorry about that; same to you, Jacob.

    Adam’s #77 does a very good job of expressing some of my concerns regarding compatibilism. I think compatibilism fits well with the Mormon ideas of preexistent intelligence, judgment, and accountability. Obviously, it also provides a meaningful account of agency as the ability to express one’s essential nature without external coercion. Where it fails most egregiously, I think, is in providing hope regarding particularly recalcitrant sinners. It also entails what I think of as a spectacularly irritating concept of the cause of an outcome as entailing the totality of the interior and exterior situation in the moment before the outcome; total death of parsimony. But that’s not a really powerful objection.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 4:41 pm

  84. The rock, by contrast, doesn’t produce any actions out of its nature; it lacks a nature or character and only produces actions out of external physical laws. So the analogy seems unhelpful.

    Not true. The rock has many internal properties which affect how it behaves in an environment of external causes. This is why granite behaves differently than pumice. When the granite rock bumps into another rock on its way down, that is an action taken by the granite rock, in precisely the same sense (conceptually) that I produce actions (if determinism is correct). When you say that I have a “nature” while the rock does not, what do you mean? We both have things inside us that are governed by the laws of physics. What is different inside of me?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 5:08 pm

  85. Jacob, by “internal” I meant something non-literal like: personality, psychology, and spirituality. That’s what the rock lacks.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 5:12 pm

  86. Jeff G,

    Are beliefs and desires reducible to physics?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  87. JNS, so what is personality or psychology other than words to account for the fact that we have lots of moving parts? The moving parts are numerous enough and situated such that it is hard to predict beforehand what we will do. Different people are put together to have different reponses to outside stimuli. We give this the name personality, correct? Is there anything conceptually different, or is it just that we have more moving parts than a rock?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 5:18 pm

  88. Jacob, do you really not believe in a preexistent, spiritual component of humanity? If so, then maybe people are just like rocks for you. I’m guessing that you do, though, so I’m a bit perplexed by this line of argument.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

  89. JNS, what is so perplexing? Determinism claims that every action is causally determined by physical/spiritual deterministic laws–even for the preexistent spiritual component of humanity. People are not like rocks in my opinion, but I am trying to follow your advice of understanding a viewpoint other than my own. Since I don’t get it, I need you to walk me through it. If everything does what it does for reasons that are causally determined, then this includes our spirits, does it not? If so, then in what way are we conceptually different than rocks?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

  90. Jeff #80: I want you to present the strongest arguments for the position that the tenets of Mormonism ARE compatible with compatibilism. Then, I want you to show where these arguments go wrong. In other words, show us why a good argument cannot be made for Compatibilist Mormonism.

    Alright Jeff. This will be similar in some ways to my #62 but perhaps more useful.

    Pros
    If compatibilism were true it would mean the following things:

    1. The idea of God having exhaustive foreknowledge would not be nonsense. (This is a major issue for a lot of people.) This would also make a lot of prophecies easier to explain.
    2. The notion that we must be saved by grace alone and not by works would be entirely true. The connected idea that God changes our hearts and characters for us as a gift would make sense as well. This is great news to Mormons feeling worn out from trying to be good and righteous all the time.
    3. The teaching that there can be never be progression between kingdoms of glory in all eternity would actually make sense and would not undermine the notion of the love of God. This would be because if people have no LFW they can never change their nature so the wicked (or formerly wicked) in the lower kingdoms would never yearn for more righteousness or seek a closer personal relationship with God no matter how long they were there.
    4. If God also did not have LFW he could be seen as absolutely reliable because even the logical possibility of him failing us would be removed.

    My problem is that I think all those doctrines compatibilism opens the door for are false. (Probably because I am so committed to to LFW). I think that there is progression between kingdoms, that the opportunity for repentance never ends, that God cannot see the future because it is not fixed and does not exist to be seen, and that grace does not consist of God changing us but rather of God offering us a personal relationship with him despite our unworthiness.

    Cons
    If compatibilism were true it would also mean the following things:

    1. This life is not really a probationary state. We were not really sent here to be tested because our future is fixed and unchangeable.
    2. The doctrine of predestination is true. Anyone who will be saved/exalted was destined to that before their birth and anyone going to hell was predestined to that as well. We can try to escape our destiny but even that trying is what we were predestined to do.
    3. Prayer doesn’t actually change anything in the world. Next year already happened as far as God is concerned and if you are destined to become a mass murderer you can’t opt out of that destiny no matter how much you pray for it.
    4. The Plan of Salvation is really nothing like you were taught by modern prophets. If you repent you were destined to do so, if you sin you were destined to do that. The whole “teach me all that I must do” thing is a ruse.
    5. If you go to hell don’t worry — you are evil at the core anyway. It is your nature. Being evil and unworthy of a relationship with God is part of your beginningless character. (And God knew that about you before you even arrived here sucka!)

    Anyway… I’m getting silly now but y’all get the point I suspect

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

  91. Jacob, there are a lot of ways of answering your question, and I’m not converted to any of them. But just for the sake of demonstrating logical possibility, here’s one answer. In a compatibilist Mormon framework, it might be said that we possess innate characteristics that define us and that cause our free actions. Those actions remain free because what they are ultimately caused by is our defining identity, rather than by God’s imposition or any other kind of external coercion. So the possession of eternal, uncreated traits at the core of our character means that our character isn’t an imposition on us — nobody created it, so nobody could possibly have imposed it. Instead, it’s the root of freedom; we are free because our actions are caused by who we are, rather than by physical and chemical interaction with our external environment. Non-sentient being clearly don’t have that root of freedom, and are fully determined by physical and chemical interactions.

    Geoff, I don’t really think that compatibilism necessarily implies all — perhaps any — of the pros and cons you list. The ones I am most likely to agree with are Pro #1 and Cons #2 and #5. I certainly don’t understand why compatibilism means that prayer doesn’t change anything, for example. Just because the nature of our uncreated intelligence perhaps causes us to be the kind of person who prays sincerely doesn’t imply that the universe would have been the same had we not prayed. Several other points you make strike me as a bit unclear, as well. I’m not convinced that the logical linkages between theories of freedom and these other doctrines are entirely airtight; can a theory of salvation by grace without human effort be derived by logical syllogism from the premise of compatibilism? I am a bit skeptical on this point.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 6:18 pm

  92. JNS,

    Instead, it’s the root of freedom; we are free because our actions are caused by who we are, rather than by physical and chemical interaction with our external environment.

    You are skirting the central question by referring to some notion of a “self” and claiming that having an uncreated “self” makes one free, without describing how that could be true in a deterministic paradigm. Obviously the “defining identity” you refer to is not free in a libertarian sense. Rather, it is governed by deterministic laws just like everything else. In your hypothetical answer, how does my uncreated “self” cause my actions if not by physics and chemistry?

    The mere presence of something uncreated doesn’t make something free. Rocks might be composed of uncreated matter such that their properties were never imposed upon them by anyone else. It does not follow from this that they are free.

    If I raise my arm, there must be some reason, and that reason can be traced back to an electrical signal causing muscles in my arm to constrict. That electrical signal can, in turn, be traced back to neurons firing, those can be traced back, and so forth. If I keep tracing back forever, do I find anything in the causal chain which is not physics and chemistry? I think your answer must be “no,” but it is your position, not mine, so I will let you answer.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 6:47 pm

  93. Jacob, I certainly would want to answer that, yes, there must be steps in the chain — whether causal all the way back or not; remember, I’m not committed to either a compatibilist or libertarian position — that are not mere physics or chemistry. That’s because I believe in the preexistent spirit. Which strikes me as an issue orthogonal to the question of freedom.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 5, 2007 @ 7:18 pm

  94. JNS, Once again, if not physics and chemistry, then what?

    This is not orthogonal to the question of freedom, it is central too it. The core difference between compatibilist-free-will and libertarian-free-will is that libertarians hold that there are some things in the causal chain not necessitated by deterministic forces. The most difficult criticism of this position is that we can conceive of nothing appart from determinism and randomness. You seem to be arguing that the presence of a preexistent spirit introduces something that is neither deterministic nor random, which is remarkably like the libertarian viewpoint. What am I missing?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 8:04 pm

  95. Thus, I can be responsible for my actions in the same sense that a piece of granite can be held responsible for rolling down a hill during a landslide and sinking to the bottom of a lake.

    Well, no. The rock didn’t decide to roll down the hill. The rock doesn’t have intentions and purposes.

    What about me is different than the rock?

    In the LDS compatibilist view we’re exploring here, I think the difference would be that you have intentions and purposes and make choices that reflect them.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 8:12 pm

  96. In other words, unlike the rock, you have a moral nature, a soul (of course its possible in the LDS view that rocks also have moral nature and a soul, in which case the difference between you and the rock is that the rock’s moral nature always leads it to do right, as rightness for rocks is judged).

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 8:18 pm

  97. JNS, Once again, if not physics and chemistry, then what?

    This is not orthogonal to the question of freedom, it is central too it. The core difference between compatibilist-free-will and libertarian-free-will is that libertarians hold that there are some things in the causal chain not necessitated by deterministic forces.

    I think I agree with JNS on this one. You seem to be confusing materialism with determinism. Materialist say that consciousness and spirit are illusions, that its all just physics and chemistry. An LDS compatibilist would deny this, holding that there is really such a thing as souls and will and intentions and purposes. But this LDS compatibilist would still be a determinist if they held that if you knew the spiritual nature of all the spirits–their wills, their intents, their purposes–and the sum total of the physical world of chemistry and physics, then you could in principle know exactly how everything was going to happen. A determinist could even argue that the entire physical world is an illusion–chemistry, matter, physics, molecules–and still be a determinist.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 5, 2007 @ 8:38 pm

  98. Adam (#95),

    The rock didn’t decide to roll down the hill.

    Saying that people decide while objects do not begs the question, since the meaning of “decision” is one of the primary things in dispute. In a compatibilist view (as I understand it), a “decision” is when all the causal forces come together in the current moment to determine what will happen in that moment. My feeling that I could have done something else is an illusion (the ability to do otherwise is the hallmark of libertarianism). So, how is this different than what a rock does when all the relevant causal forces interact to determine what it will do? In the determinist world we are exploring, the rock did make a decision in the same sense that people make decisions. It was acted upon by all internal and external forces, which is what constitutes a decision.

    You suggest that I have intentions and purposes while the rock does not. But what is an intention and how does it work its way into the causal chain of the physical world? Is there a ghost in the machine? Surely this deserves some explanation. If the key to free-will is intentionality, I need to know what intentions are.

    If the view you are advancing is that all things unfold in a deterministic way, then the spiritual must be governed by determinism as much as the physical. In that case, what does it buy you to make a distinction between materialism and determinism. If all is deterministic, then there is a physics of spirital matter as well as physical matter (all spirit is matter after all). And then, we are back where we started with me asking what alternative you envision that is not physics and not randomness.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  99. JNS (#91): I don’t really think that compatibilism necessarily implies all — perhaps any — of the pros and cons you list.

    I think you are mistaken then. Each of the pros and cons I listed are made possible by compatibilist positions (and impossible in a universe with LFW). I should have noted that the variety of compatibilism I assumed is the most common variety I have encountered among Mormons. That is, a view that maintains there is a fixed future and that God has exhaustive foreknowledge. With that common view Pros 1-3 are possible and Cons 1-5 are inevitable.

    I certainly don’t understand why compatibilism means that prayer doesn’t change anything, for example.

    The concept is simple. Prayer cannot change the fixed future in such a scheme. For instance if your loved one is scheduled to be murdered you can’t change that scheduled event no matter how much you pray for it. The best you can hope for is that the future doesn’t suck for you and your family in such a universe because praying to change a fixed future is useless.

    Just because the nature of our uncreated intelligence perhaps causes us to be the kind of person who prays sincerely doesn’t imply that the universe would have been the same had we not prayed.

    Of course it does. Our “not praying” was never a real possibility in that scheme to begin with. In such a fixed future the fact that we would pray when we did was as unchangeable as the any past event. Only an open future would allow your sentence to even be coherent but an open future requires LFW.

    can a theory of salvation by grace without human effort be derived by logical syllogism from the premise of compatibilism?

    Maybe. Seems a lot easier to defend in a deterministic universe than if we have LFW at least. But if not then that is just one less potential pro for compatibilism…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:19 pm

  100. Jacob (#94): You [JNS] seem to be arguing that the presence of a preexistent spirit introduces something that is neither deterministic nor random, which is remarkably like the libertarian viewpoint.

    Amen. Perhaps we have an LFW convert on our hands? He did say he was sitting on the fence on the issue…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:24 pm

  101. Jacob,
    “Are beliefs and desires reducible to physics?”
    I see this question as being central to the question at hand. The question is whether something must be reducible to physics in order for it to be real? I certainly beliefs and desires as being something akin to functional states or some other kind of pattern within physical matter. Thus, I strongly endorse the “physics” part (One can include “spirit matter” if one wants) but I’m not terribly comfortable with the word “reducible.”

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 10:35 pm

  102. I must object to the caricature of LFW as requiring actions to be unrelated to and dissociated from internal mental states, like flipping a coin. That is ridiculous. LFW requires rather that actions be not completely determined by prior mental states and other prior factors.

    I think the biggest problem with the compatilist world view is that it makes moral responsibility a questionable concept. Take the case of a man shooting his wife.

    In a compatibilist-determinist world view it is not now, nor was it ever possible for the man not to have shot his wife. There is literally nothing that he or anyone else could have done to prevent that occurance. So why send him to jail? Why even pretend jurors have the discretion to decide whether to send him to jail? Why pretend that legislators ever had any ability to decide whether shooting should be against the law?

    The basic problem with determinism is that it makes the term “cause” virtually meaningless. There are no causes – literally no reason for anything to be the way it is. No discretion of any kind. Just one big cosmic accident.

    Likewise, determinism reduces time to an illusion. The future becomes a simple mathematical transformation of the past. Nothing is really happening right now. We don’t even need to be here for our lives to turn out, to write the next poem, or comfort the next child. A big calculator can do it all for us.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 5, 2007 @ 10:48 pm

  103. Well said all around Mark. Especially this point: “LFW requires rather that actions be not completely determined by prior mental states and other prior factors.”

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2007 @ 10:52 pm

  104. Jeff G,

    I [view] beliefs and desires as being something akin to functional states or some other kind of pattern within physical matter.

    Okay, good. So then, back to #82, you said the difference between me and a rock is that I have beliefs and desires whereas the rock does not. “Belief” and “desire” turn out to be words describing physcial matter arranged in some sort of interesting pattern. But, rocks have physical matter arranged in interesting patterns which define they way they behave too. My profession requires me to know a bit about solid state physics, so I can also point out that these states need not be boring.

    So again, I am trying to figure out what is categorically different. I have already conceded that humans have more moving parts than rocks, but it seems from your description that rocks and humans are essentially the same in that they have internal structure which causes them to behave in certain deterministic ways when exposed to certain external forces. Rocks and humans are the same in that way, not different.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 11:03 pm

  105. I am on the road all of tomorrow, so when I don’t respond to anyone, that is why.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 5, 2007 @ 11:07 pm

  106. Mark,

    “I think the biggest problem with the compatilist world view is that it makes moral responsibility a questionable concept.”

    I have a lot of respect for this point, but I think that it is a bit misplaced. Your point can be used to argue that we should or ought to believe that determinism is false. Nevertheless, I don’t see how it provides any reason to think that determinism is false. The former is a moral, “ought” claim while the latter is a factual “is” claim.

    (This is not to say that I think the moral claim actually follows. I’m still convinced that a robust form of responsibility is compatible with compatibilism.)

    Now as for your more serious claim:

    “I must object to the caricature of LFW as requiring actions to be unrelated to and dissociated from internal mental states, like flipping a coin. That is ridiculous. LFW requires rather that actions be not completely determined by prior mental states and other prior factors.”

    This is wrong, wrong, wrong. LFW requires that behavior is not fully determined by anything, otherwise we are back in some form of determinism. The coin-flipping talk was to point out that there seems to be absolutely nothing other than deterministic factors which could cause an agent to choose one possible fork in the causal road rather than another. Either the agent follows where the causal chain was leading (a la determinism) or they where not caused to follow either option at all (a la coin-flipping).

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 11:10 pm

  107. Jacob,

    By physical patterns, I primarily had in mind counter-factually robust compuational states which can be described in a Turing-machine table. Rocks certainly do not have such things.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 5, 2007 @ 11:13 pm

  108. Saying that people decide while objects do not begs the question, since the meaning of “decision” is one of the primary things in dispute. In a compatibilist view (as I understand it), a “decision” is when all the causal forces come together in the current moment to determine what will happen in that moment. My feeling that I could have done something else is an illusion (the ability to do otherwise is the hallmark of libertarianism).

    A decision is when I will an outcome and choose to act based on what I know and what I desire.

    So, how is this different than what a rock does when all the relevant causal forces interact to determine what it will do? In the determinist world we are exploring, the rock did make a decision in the same sense that people make decisions.

    Well, no. Not even close. As far as we know, rocks aren’t people and don’t have will, knowledge of good and evil, desires, and so on. As far as we know, rocks don’t exist as beings.

    It was acted upon by all internal and external forces, which is what constitutes a decision.

    No. Not even close. In any case, in the compatibilist view, its silly to talk about “being acted on by internal forces.” You aren’t different from the internal forces. You *are* the internal forces. Saying you were acted upon by internal forces makes as much sense as saying that a choice wasn’t free because you made yourself choose otherwise.

    You suggest that I have intentions and purposes while the rock does not.

    I do suggest this.

    But what is an intention and how does it work its way into the causal chain of the physical world? Is there a ghost in the machine? Surely this deserves some explanation. If the key to free-will is intentionality, I need to know what intentions are.

    I agree that if there are no such things as spirits, and if the concept of will, purpose, desire, and so on are incoherent, then LDS-compatibilism cannot be true. Neither can LDS-free will libertarianism. You’re cutting off the limb every Mormon is standing on, including yourself.

    If the view you are advancing is that all things unfold in a deterministic way, then the spiritual must be governed by determinism as much as the physical.

    I’m not sure what you mean “governed by determinism.” Determinism isn’t an outside ruling force that dictates actions. Compatibilistic determinism is simply the belief that people are a certain way and they predictably make choices based on the way they are.

    In that case, what does it buy you to make a distinction between materialism and determinism. If all is deterministic, then there is a physics of spirital matter as well as physical matter (all spirit is matter after all). And then, we are back where we started with me asking what alternative you envision that is not physics and not randomness.

    If you define physics to include everything that is predictable in principle then I suppose that it makes sense to speak of a spiritual physics and I currently see no LDS alternative to “physics” (compatibilism) or “randomness” (LibertarianFWism).

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 5:13 am

  109. Geoff, I don’t really think that compatibilism necessarily implies all — perhaps any — of the pros and cons you list. The ones I am most likely to agree with are Pro #1 and Cons #2 and #5.

    Geoff J.,
    Pro #1 and Cons #2 and #5 make sense. The rest? Well, I’m only sorta kidding that they make sense only if one of your major premises is “LFW=good, compatiblism=bad”

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 5:17 am

  110. It might be helpful at this point to distinguish between a predestinationist perspective, which is clearly not an option for Mormons, and a Mormon compatibilist perspective. Predestination says that people will do exactly what they were made to do, and will end up exactly where they were made to end up, because God compels them to. That compulsion may be a moment-to-moment miracle (and indeed is for some versions of predestination) or it may involve a watchmaker God who compels us by His initial act of creation and then steps back to passively observe the unfolding of His sovereign intentions. But, in either case, people do what they do because they are compelled to do so by an outside force, God. Hence, people never have a real choice, concerns about responsibility, justice, the efficacy of prayer, and so forth arise, and we’re in the realm that Geoff and Jacob denounce.

    For a Mormon compatibilist, the situation is probably substantially different. People do what they do not because they are compelled to do so by an outside force, but rather because they are the kind of person who would choose to do what they do. Because no outside force compels, the person indeed has genuine choices throughout her life. It is logically possible to describe a situation in which she does the opposite of what she did. The fact that she didn’t do that opposite thing is not because of compulsion but rather because she is by nature not the kind of person who would do such a thing.

    This second viewpoint, for example, seems perfectly in line with the idea of efficacious prayer. Our individual is free not to pray, and we can describe a universe in which she does pray and a second universe in which she does not. Neither universe is a logical contradiction, and if there is any difference between the two in outcomes then prayer is efficacious. The compatibilist part comes in when we try to explain why she decides to pray rather than to not pray. For a libertarian, no explanation is possible — if there is a reason then there isn’t freedom. A compatibilist can disagree with this and say that she decides to pray because she is the kind of person who, under the current set of circumstances and with her life experience to date, would pray. Human action isn’t made inefficacious by compatibilism. It’s made fully predictable given infinitely detailed knowledge of the material universe and all other persons, true, but it remains efficacious.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 6:11 am

  111. I’m starting to think that this thread is a good argument for compatibilism–everyone has a reason for their belief and no one really seems “free” to change their mind.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 7:41 am

  112. Nicely done, Adam.

    An underlying difficulty with this field of debate is that — since we lack the ability to distinguish between a deterministic and a non-deterministic world — we can’t really argue about whether libertarianism is likely to be true or not. We can only argue whether libertarianism is good or not. Yet, unfortunately, any number of good things are not true, and any number of true things are not good, or at least not optimally good. So, even if we could reach some kind of resolution on the question of whether libertarian free will is better than free will in a deterministic world (a question that I find myself personally unable to resolve), we still wouldn’t have any good reason to think we know what the real world is.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 7:56 am

  113. Actually, I see this thread as evidence for LFW. Underdeterminism we could have expected the arguments from one side or the other to have caused a change in somebody’s opinion. But under LFW we can simply say that the coin has simply not flipped the right way yet. ;-)

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 8:07 am

  114. :)

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  115. Adam,

    In a fully deterministic universe, the existence of things like “will, knowledge of good and evil, desires, and so on” are fully determined by the great causal chain. So Jacob’s point is correct. If everything you do think and say is ultimately caused by the great causal causal chain then you are ultimately equally responsible for you thoughts, words, and deeds as the rock that slides into a lake is for its fate. Both are results are 100% the result of the great causal chain and neither you nor the rock had any real freedom to choose otherwise in such a universe.

    This fact seems very clear yet your response in #108 makes me think you are not seeing it still.

    (#109) Pro #1 and Cons #2 and #5 make sense. The rest?

    I’m sorry the rest of those don’t make sense to you. They seem quite straightforward to me. I’ll explain them in greater detail if you let me know what is confusing you about them.

    (#111)I’m starting to think that this thread is a good argument for compatibilism–everyone has a reason for their belief and no one really seems “free” to change their mind.

    Seems like a good argument for LFW to me. As I see it, in the face of overwhelming evidence for LFW based on modern revelation y’all are exercising your real free will to dig your heels in and resist the idea… (grin)

    (Oh I see Jeff agreed in a less snarky way…)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 8:50 am

  116. In a fully deterministic universe, the existence of things like “will, knowledge of good and evil, desires, and so on” are fully determined by the great causal chain.

    Not really, not if you’re Mormon. Then things like will, knowledge of good and evil, desires, and so on, can have been around since forever, un-caused causes, self-existent.

    If everything you do think and say is ultimately caused by the great causal causal chain then you are ultimately equally responsible for you thoughts, words, and deeds as the rock that slides into a lake is for its fate. Both are results are 100% the result of the great causal chain and neither you nor the rock had any real freedom to choose otherwise in such a universe.

    In LDS free will compatiblism, what I say and do isn’t caused by some great causal chain external to myself. Its caused by me. Outside circumstances shape and constrain what I am able to do, but this is true of libertarian free willism also. I am responsible for my thoughts and deeds because they are mine. They originated from me and nowhere else. No one made me think them other than myself. No one made me do them other than myself.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 9:10 am

  117. Geoff J., Jacob J.,

    Let me know if you have any questions or arguments to advance that you haven’t already. And let me know if there’s any points I’ve made that you don’t understand (as opposed to understanding and rejecting). If not, I don’t see much point in continuing this conversation (unless, of course, I roll a 6).

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 9:12 am

  118. JNS,

    I don’t mind you seeking a more narrow definition of the word predestination than I was using. Both the broader version I used (one that mean fatalism generally) and the narrower creedal version you mentioned (one that assumes God is literally controlling us) are seen as acceptable variations of the word, but it does help to point out that I meant the former and not the latter.

    However, there is no question that a form of fatalism is the necessary result of the deterministic system a Mormon compatibilist would be stuck with. So that makes some of your claims in #110 highly suspect if not plain false.

    Because no outside force compels, the person indeed has genuine choices throughout her life.

    No, it doesn’t. Unless the person could genuinely choose other than what she did choose then at best these could be called hypothetical choices to go along with the hypothetical free will compatibilism gives us.

    The compatibilist part comes in when we try to explain why she decides to pray rather than to not pray. For a libertarian, no explanation is possible

    The problem here is that the explanation is that she is a puppet to the great casual chain and she has a nature and character that she can never change. In other words her life is like a train on a track and has a destined, fated destination and there is nothing she can ever do to change her fate in a compatibilist universe.

    But a libertarian will say she is not actually on a train stuck on one track, but rather she is in a Hummer on a road. She can freely choose to stay on the road or she can choose to go off road and seek a different destination. The reason simply that she is a god in embryo and gods in embryo have the power to reject the great causal chain and choose otherwise.

    Admittedly LFW requires some faith — either faith in our intuition or faith in theological principles or both. It is too much faith for some people. But the fact that we can’t yet explain it fully is no reason to reject it for me. As a practicing Mormon I can’t yet explain the resurrection of Jesus Christ either but I accept that just like I accept LFW.

    Human action isn’t made inefficacious by compatibilism.

    What you call efficacious and what I call efficacious are clearly not the same thing. If there is fixed future (as compatibilism entails) then praying for things to happen in the future that are not already part of that fixed future would be no more useful than praying for different things to have happened in the past. I consider the fatalism entailed by compatiblism to be pernicious and totally at odds with the restored gospel.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 9:13 am

  119. (#117) Sure Adam — I’ll give you a call if the nature of the universe changes.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 9:14 am

  120. (#111)I’m starting to think that this thread is a good argument for compatibilism–everyone has a reason for their belief and no one really seems “free” to change their mind.

    (#115)Seems like a good argument for LFW to me.

    Good point. Since your beliefs are inexplicable, and in my view libertarian free will allows for and even requires inexplicable belief, this thread is a good argument for libertarian free will. ;)

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 9:14 am

  121. Sure Adam — I’ll give you a call if the nature of the universe changes.

    All right. If you don’t have my number, just deduce it from the great and inevitable chain of cause and effect.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 9:17 am

  122. Adam (#116): Not really, not if you’re Mormon. Then things like will, knowledge of good and evil, desires, and so on, can have been around since forever, un-caused causes, self-existent.

    So now you are back to the fated by an unchangeable nature problem you mentioned in #77. In any case it all leads to a fatalistic view of the universe and that doesn’t work for Mormons.

    I am responsible for my thoughts and deeds because they are mine. They originated from me and nowhere else. No one made me think them other than myself. No one made me do them other than myself.

    All of this works perfectly within an agent-causal variety of LFW. If you don’t want to be a fatalist (who believes that we can never choose to change our character) then I recommend you shift from the full determinism of the compatibilists and to the agent causal camp which acknowledged deterministic forces but allows for some choices for the children of God that are not determined by the great causal chain — they are determined exclusively by you. Among those free choices would be the choice of who you will be at your core (aka repentance).

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  123. Sorry, Geoff J. In the absence of new arguments or new evidence I’m still at where I’ve been throughout this thread, that “agent causation” is an incoherent concept. Its all either fatalistic determinism or meaningless, random “free will.”

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 9:28 am

  124. Well you are free to choose or reject the agent causal model Adam… (Or are you?)

    But considering that just yesterday you said “I’m pretty unclear on “agent causation” so I don’t really know” (#19) it appears that you are being a little rash in your judgment of the idea. Have you read enough on the subject to be sure it is an “incoherent concept”?

    (And is your decision to reject it a free choice among open options or is rejecting such an idea simply an inevitable result of your unchangeable nature/character?)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 9:37 am

  125. Jeff G,

    It appears to me you have made assertion re “coin flipping” and LFW without making a visible argument. For LFW outcomes to make any sense they must be partially, but not completely determined by prior antecedents.

    Now you say that partial determination is impossible, and that the only alternatives are coin-flipping (total randomness) and complete determination. What is your argument?

    Although the character of the inputs is different (random vs. agent caused) the standard model of Quantum mechanics is a common place example of partial causation. Given that we are talking about the most successful physical theory in history, it seems hard to argue that partial causation is bogus.

    And who is to say that the partial causation of QM is completely unrelated to partial causation that LFW requires?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 6, 2007 @ 9:38 am

  126. Oh c’mon! This whole rock comparison was ridiculous from the very beginning. We have minds. Rocks do not. We have beliefs and desires. Rocks do not. We can believe some things to be morally good or morally bad and desire something things which are also good or bad. Rocks cannot. While it might be argued that more than this is needed for us to be morally responsible, we have certainly disqualified rocks from moral consideration. So please, let’s drop this absurd comparison. Come up with a better comparison which illustrates whatever else it is that is needed for us to be morally responsible beyond beliefs and desires.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 9:58 am

  127. Geoff,

    Perhaps you could detail the difference between merely being responsible and being “ultimately” responsible when you say that we are no more “ultimately responsible” than a rock.

    I imagine you have something akin to the following contrast between what I will call causing vs. ultimately causing:

    What caused Z? Y did.
    What caused Y? X did.
    What caused X? W did.
    And so on with no beginning.

    Your reasoning seems to be as follows: What ULTIMATELY caused Z, then? It couldn’t have been Y because Y was caused by X. It couldn’t have been X either, since X was caused by W. There is no ultimate causation and therefore no “real” causation.

    To bring things back to the topic at hand, even if person Y isn’t “ultimately” responsible for events Z which they caused, why can’t they be responsible anyways? Y believed Z to be a morally bad event, desired to bring about Z, and accordingly caused Z to happen. Why in the world should Y not be held responsible, regardless of whatever set of events, X, might have influenced their past? Sure, Y didn’t “ultimately” cause Z, for nothing ultimately caused it, but Y did cause Z.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 10:07 am

  128. Jeff (#126) — What are you talking about? The rock comparison is perfectly legitimate when we are talking about real choices between legitimate options. In a determistic universe humans have the same number of real choices between legitimately open possibilities as rocks do: None.

    No one is denying that humans are more complex in some ways than rocks or that humans have more moving parts. But those things are moot when we are discussing determinism and choices and moral responsibility.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 10:11 am

  129. “However, there is no question that a form of fatalism is the necessary result of the deterministic system a Mormon compatibilist would be stuck with.”

    Again, you have to demonstrate what is so bad about this watered down version of fatalism that the determinist is admittedly committed to? So there is only one future that has ever been open, so what? Only one future was ever going to happen anyways, and so long as nobody knows anything about that future, what difference will it ever make to anybody? Merely dropping scary words like “fatalism” and “predestination” is not enough to provide a compelling argument.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 10:11 am

  130. Mark,

    “Now you say that partial determination is impossible, and that the only alternatives are coin-flipping (total randomness) and complete determination. What is your argument?”

    I have never said any such thing. Partial determination means that the available options or possibilities are (severly) constrained to a limited few, and the LFWist hopes to hold out for free will in our being able to choose between these few options which are available. But how is the choice between these few choices made? Either something causes the choice, in which case we have determinism, or it is a utterly random something which chooses between them. Either something is caused or it is not, there is no grey area. Sure, you can appeal to QM is you want, but this means, by LFW reasoning, that random quantum fluctuations are what are really responsible for our choices rather than us.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 10:16 am

  131. Geoff,

    You did not even address the meat of my comment. Rocks do not have minds, beliefs or desires. People do. End of comparison.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 10:17 am

  132. Let me expand a bit. I said that minds are counter-factually robust, computational systems which lend themselves to descriptions in the form of a Turing Machine table.

    To be counter-factually robust is to be able to do differently under different circumstances. For instance, we can say that my behavior, Z, is caused by my beliefs, X, and desires, Y, within a given context, W. I am a counter-factually robust system in that if I had been in a different context, W1, my beliefs would be different, which would likely change my behavior. This is why we jump into pools of water in California during the summer and not in Alaske during the Winter. A rock, on the other hand, does the same thing no matter what. It does not respond to it environment. It has no beliefs or desires which can change in response to the environment. Indeed, this is simply another version of why we do not hold under-aged morally responsible either: they simply do not have the relevant beliefs and desires instilled in them yet.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 10:25 am

  133. Jeff (#127): What ULTIMATELY caused Z, then?

    The problem is that now you are arguing that with an infinite past nobody is ever ultimately responsible for anything. If we have LFW then we are responsible for either acting or for refraining from acting. No causal chain forces us to do either (though it certainly does influence us). If there is LFW the there really are sins of commission and omission as President Kimball taught. If there is no LFW then those are ideas are simply false.

    So I agree with you on one level. In a wholly deterministic universe humans are equally morally responsible for who they are and what they do as the letter z is for what it is and what it does…

    #129 you have to demonstrate what is so bad about this watered down version of fatalism that the determinist is admittedly committed to

    If the list of cons I gave in #90 doesn’t seem so bad to you then I probably can’t convince you a deterministic universe is objectionable. It is however contrary to the teaching of Mormonism.

    #131 Rocks do not have minds, beliefs or desires. People do. End of comparison.

    Having a mind or not is completely moot in this comparison if there is no LFW. Every thought, word, and deed of a fully causally determined person is the result of previous causes — exactly in the same way that every internal state of the rock is 100% the result of previous causes.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 10:31 am

  134. Geoff,

    You haven’t provided a single argument, only a bunch of assertions.

    “The problem is that now you are arguing that with an infinite past nobody is ever ultimately responsible for anything.”
    This was my point. Even though nobody is ever ultimately responsible, people are still responsible in the normal every day sense of the word.

    “If we have LFW then we are responsible for either acting or for refraining from acting.”
    Why? I can simply say the same thing for compatibilism and get you do agree with me just as much as I agree with you, namely not at all.

    “If the list of cons I gave in #90 doesn’t seem so bad to you then I probably can’t convince you a deterministic universe is objectionable. It is however contrary to the teaching of Mormonism.”
    Why is this watered down version of fatalism contrary to Mormonism? This is what I keeping waiting for you to elaborate on.

    “Every thought, word, and deed of a fully causally determined person is the result of previous causes — exactly in the same way that every internal state of the rock is 100% the result of previous causes.”
    So what? This does not make them not count as legitimate beliefs and desires. If somebody believes X is bad and desires to do X and then does X (things which a rock cannot ever do) why should we not hold them responsible?

    I’m sure your response to this will include something about how the person was caused to believe and desire as they did by prior causes such as upbringing, etc. However, it starts to become a rather tall order to defend LFW as it applies to our beliefs and desires rather than our behavior. In other words, this hypothetical response on your part would seem to make your position even more difficult to defend rather than easier.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 10:49 am

  135. Geoff, I have to echo Jeff G. in his claim that it’s not at all obvious that what you call “fatalism,” i.e., the idea that we can’t escape the causal link between who we are and what we do, is incompatible with Mormonism. That may be the case, but the claim needs demonstration. What aspects of Mormon faith are necessarily logically contradicted by this idea?

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 10:54 am

  136. Jeff,

    I am fully aware that I can’t convince you of any of this stuff. But I am also fully aware that you are a self-proclaimed atheist and determinist. So this post was not directed to you. I find your position on determinism to be internally coherent based on your other beliefs.

    This post is directed to believing Mormons. It is pointing out that determinism and Mormonism clash in catastrophic ways. I have been noting the ways in which the restored gospel clashes with the fatalism of determinism throughout this thread. I guess I will need to recap those clashes again in my next response to JNS though…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 11:11 am

  137. Geoff,

    I not asking why atheism and determinism aren’t compatible. I am fully convinced that Mormonism and compatibilism are compatible, a belief which is entirely independent of my beliefs concerning the veracity of Mormonism. I anxiously await this recap, though.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  138. JNS: What aspects of Mormon faith are necessarily logically contradicted by this idea?

    Even though I have been listing these things throughout this thread I will recap them again here for you. Determinism causes problems with these things:

    - Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ — A causally determined person does have the free option to choose between having faith in Christ or not. She chooses based on causal forces that have always existed. This is true even if that causal force is her unchangeable eternal nature/character. Therefore there is nothing morally commendable about exercising faith in Christ because she is not free to choose otherwise. There is nothing morally deplorable about her rejecting Christ or even denying the Holy Ghost because she is not free to choose otherwise.

    - Repentance — Since no one is free to choose anything other than their fate, the entire concept of repentance as taught in Mormonism would be a sham. We would all play out our script and can do nothing to write our own story.

    - Baptism — Those who choose baptism were fated to do so for all eternity in a compatibilist model. Nothing morally praiseworthy about it.

    - Gift of the Holy Ghost — People who are on a life track that makes them seek the Holy Ghost simply do so. There is no track jumping so they can’t help themselves. Likewise, people who don’t pray can’t change their ways. That’s just how they are and in a compatibilist world neither they nor God can change that.

    Those are the major components of what the scriptures call the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in my opinion compatibilism obliterates the “good news”. It replaces the intuitive (and scripturally taught) idea that we can freely “choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death” with the idea that we must hope the great causal lottery has us fated to receive eternal life and happiness rather than captivity and misery.

    Here are the other things I listed in #70:

    If compatibilism were true it would also mean the following things:

    1. This life is not really a probationary state. We were not really sent here to be tested because our future is fixed and unchangeable.
    2. The doctrine of predestination is true. Anyone who will be saved/exalted was destined to that before their birth and anyone going to hell was predestined to that as well. We can try to escape our destiny but even that trying is what we were predestined to do.
    3. Prayer doesn’t actually change anything in the world. Next year already happened as far as God is concerned and if you are destined to become a mass murderer you can’t opt out of that destiny no matter how much you pray for it.
    4. The Plan of Salvation is really nothing like you were taught by modern prophets. If you repent you were destined to do so, if you sin you were destined to do that. The whole “teach me all that I must do” thing is a ruse.
    5. If you go to hell don’t worry — you are evil at the core anyway. It is your nature. Being evil and unworthy of a relationship with God is part of your beginningless character. (And God knew that about you before you even arrived here sucka!)

    Should I go on? There are plenty of other ways I could show that compatibilism delivers fatal blows to the restored gospel…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 11:24 am

  139. Geoff, much of your last comment simply wouldn’t make sense to a Mormon compatibilist. The LDS ompatibilism we’ve explored here insists that people are indeed free to choose other than what they choose — in the sense that they are free to make whatever choice a person of their type would make in a given situation. Since a Mormon compatibilist by necessity sees something like that account of freedom as satisfactory, it follows that the compatibilist disagrees with the large majority of what you just said. Your argument works, of course, but only on the condition that the audience agrees that a libertarian account of freedom and choice is the only credible one. If the audience considers any alternative account of freedom to be acceptable as a definition of freedom, then all that is needed to make your arguments false is to adopt that alternative account. In other words, your arguments about the harm that compatibilism does to the gospel only go through if we assume up front that compatibilism offers no sensible account of freedom. This is an argument that will only play to the choir, and is simply unacceptable to people who don’t already agree with you. It isn’t begging the question, but it’s awfully close.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  140. This is an argument that will only play to the choir

    You are probably right about that. My guess is that 99%+ of the Mormon choir (including our prophets) assumes LFW when they think of agency to begin with so I figured I would play to them in this thread.

    However, I think your response is ignoring the elephant in the room regarding compatibilism: fatalism. There is no escaping a fixed future and thus a fixed fate for all people in a compatibilist universe. As they say, if you pick up one end of the stick you pick up the other. The best a compatibilist can offer is that at least we don’t know our fate until we get it. That is small comfort to those fated to hell from before the foundation of the world. So while the “hypothetical free will” the compatibilists preach regarding free choices might be a way to semantically dodge the charge that we are not really free to choose in a fully deterministic universe, it does not address the bigger and much uglier issue of a necessarily fixed future and fixed and pre-determined fate of every person who ever has or who ever will live here.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 12:27 pm

  141. Geoff, see, your last comment is once again building in the idea of LFW by assuming that compatibilist freedom doesn’t really involve freedom. If our fates are fixed because they flow from who we are, that can be quite different than our fates being fixed because of external factors. If your argument can’t accommodate that distinction, then it will never communicate across the relevant divide.

    Also, I think it’s really kind of crazy to assume that most Mormons have any position whatsoever on this issue. Most believers, probably including the general authorities, pay little or no attention to philosophical theology — so they may well not know about either position.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

  142. JNS: If our fates are fixed because they flow from who we are

    And herein lies the dispute. In your model who we are is also fixed. In your proposed model who we are at our core doesn’t change over time based on our sins or our repentance. Therefore, evil people are always evil and rotten at the core and there can never be redemption for them despite the atonement. They will never ever be worthy of oneness with God because they are simply bad apples and always have been. This applies to the 1/3 who were reportedly cast out before ever coming here too. How can a just God condemn them to eternal torment for just being who the are — especially since they have no power to change their natures? The same question applies to those who end exalted in your model. Why would they be rewarded for simply being who they are at their core? Why is that more commendable than the sons of perdition who are doing exactly the same thing?

    This system you are proposing sounds very much like an eternal caste system to me. As I read you, we simply are who we are and there is no track jumping for any of us in the plan you describe.

    so they may well not know about either position.

    True. But when they learned enough to see that compatibilism entails a real form of fatalism as we have been discussing my contention is that 99%+ of Mormons would run screaming from such an objectionable notion.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 12:48 pm

  143. Therefore, evil people are always evil and rotten at the core and there can never be redemption for them despite the atonement. They will never ever be worthy of oneness with God because they are simply bad apples and always have been.

    Nope, this is a complete misunderstanding of the position. The claim is that some people are such that they will at some point desire change, repentance, and redemption; others are people such that they will not desire this. The people who are such that at some point they desire change might be pretty evil at the start, or not. And those who are mostly pretty good may be such that they never desire the change to make them perfect, or they might at some point. People indeed do change in this account. However, there is an element of fixedness, certainly: the people who are such that at some point they will desire to change won’t not desire such change, etc. In this view, judgment involves a sorting out according to who we are. On the libertarian account, by contrast, judgment involves a sorting out according to acts that don’t flow causally from who we are. This sounds like a problem to me.

    And, really, we have no idea whether Mormons would dread more the idea that you’re calling compatibilism, or the idea that our actions are fundamentally impossible to explain and not organic to our natures. Unfortunately, that’s the rough choice we’re stuck with here.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

  144. For what its worth, the common Mormon explanation for reconciling free will with God’s foreknowledge–that God knows us so well he can predict what we’ll do–is a compatibilist explanation.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

  145. The claim is that some people are such that they will at some point desire change, repentance, and redemption; others are people such that they will not desire this.

    Exactly. In your proposed model some people are so rotten at the core that they never will want to change and “repent”. Others are so good at the core that they inevitably want to “repent” and be one with God. The ultimate trajectory of their spiritual progression or retrogression is not a free choice in your model but a necessary result of their unchangeable nature/core. None of the rewording you offered changes the fundamental underlying problems with the model.

    or the idea that our actions are fundamentally impossible to explain

    I’m sure there is a perfectly good way to explain our free will in the libertarian sense and that God knows it. Maybe we will even figure it out down here at some point. Just because we haven’t figured it out completely yet is no reason to say that it is fundamentally impossible to explain. We haven’t figured out how Jesus was resurrected yet either but we believers don’t claim that resurrection “fundamentally impossible to explain”.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 1:15 pm

  146. True Adam. I have that listed in my “Pros” in #90. I am assuming that the necessary “Cons” associated with compatibilism would still cause 99%+ of Mormons to run screaming from the concept despite those Pros.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

  147. The ultimate trajectory of their spiritual progression or retrogression is not a free choice in your model but a necessary result of their unchangeable nature/core.

    Geoff, as you know, to win a philosophical convert, you have to be able to demonstrate incoherence from within the worldview of the position you’re attacking. But the statement of yours that I quoted is in fact self-contradictory from the point of view of the Mormon compatibilist. From that point of view, actions that are “necessary results of their unchangeable nature/core” are by definition “free choices.” So this just doesn’t go through — again, unless we assume a priori that only the libertarian worldview is acceptable. Which begs the question and doesn’t get us anywhere.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  148. Geoff,

    I think you could really help your argument out if you would consider and overcome the strongest compatibilist objections which can be raised to your points. As has been pointed out, your argument against compatibilism seems to assume presumption (a big no-no in argumentation) is not beg the question altogether by having your conclusion be one of the premises from which you are arguing (an even bigger no-no).

    I think what we are looking for is not an argument which says “pay no attention to those compatibilists”, but rather an argument which says “you compatibilists are wrong for the following reasons.”

    I know that I am demanding an awful lot out of you, but you tacitly accepted the burden of proof when you attempted to refute compatibilism.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

  149. Your point is well taken JNS. I suppose we are back to the question of a changeable nature/core in humans. I think we can change our nature and you think we can not.

    This might get back to the eternality or not of some kind of personal identity. Or in other words a question of what parts of “us” are eternal and irreducible. You are assuming that a core of character is irreducible to who we are and I suspect that such is not the case.

    That is another discussion but an interesting one nonetheless. However I can see how your conclusions would follow from your assumptions about an irreducible nub of “character” which drives all of our decisions throughout eternity and ultimately our fate. I just don’t buy that assumption that there is such an irreducible “character” nub in us so I can’t buy the conclusion. Certainly there is some kind of intelligence part that is eternal and irreducible but I can’t buy a trajectory-locking irreducible piece because it would lead to all the fatalistic things I have been railing against in this thread.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

  150. Jeff,

    My goal was to show that compatibilism is contrary to fundamental aspects of the restored gospel. I have effectively shown that compatibilism entails fatalism and a fixed future and a form of predestination. That fact alone means my general goal of spotlighting the deep tension between compatibilism and the restored gospel has been met I think. However, as I noted in my last comment, I am still learning new things from this conversation and I am still discovering which metaphysical assumptions lead to a compatibilist view in Mormonism so for me there is still value in continuing on.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  151. Geoff, suppose for a moment that the trajectory-locking piece is who we are. Then the objections all boil down to: I am a slave to myself. I am forced by myself to do what I do. Can you see how some aspects of the “fatalism” idea look much less problematic from that perspective? When we add in the fact that coherent Mormon compatibilist accounts can be offered that avoid most — but probably not all — of your cons proposed above, it seems to me that we’re left with insufficient reason to decide which version of freedom is better. Then, of course, there’s the remaining problem that even if we could decide which is better, it doesn’t follow that the better one is the true one.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  152. Right, but you have not shown that the watered down version of fatalism which is entailed by compatibilism is actually in conflict with Mormon principles. That is the objection which you need to overcome. At least you need to slow down and spell the argument out in greater detail.

    As you have already noted, I have relatively little invested, personally, in Mormonism being compatible with determinism, so it’s not like I simply don’t want to believe you. I just don’t think you have shown what you think you have, nor do I think that it can be shown.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 1:50 pm

  153. I have effectively shown that compatibilism entails fatalism and a fixed future and a form of predestination.

    Note that this is true only for very specific formulations of “fatalism” and “predestination.” It’s a fatalism in which we can’t escape the fact that we cause our own actions, and a predestination by the self, rather than any outside force. So specific and odd are these usages that they don’t seem to be in much tension with consensus aspects of the gospel — but rather in tension with specifically libertarian formulations of the gospel. In other words, Geoff’s burden of proof for showing tension between the gospel and compatibilism probably still isn’t met, from the point of view of those not already convinced that there is tension.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 1:53 pm

  154. JNS: Geoff, suppose for a moment that the trajectory-locking piece is who we are.

    This is of course the fundamental problem. The restored gospel has some fundamental teachings. One of those is that we are all children of God and that every human being who ever has lived or who ever will live has the real and legitimate opportunity to become like God and live in oneness with God forever through through faith in Christ, repentance and adherence to the principles of the gospel. Prophets have taught that we are all gods in embryo and that every person has the chance to become as God is (or at least to be exalted and become one with God). We are taught that all of these blessings are contingent on our choices and repentance.

    The revelations also say that most people who live here won’t be exalted as a result of this probationary state but that most will live lives unworthy of Celestial glory (see section 76).

    The massive tension between your model and these teachings is that in a compatibilist model the people who end up in the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms after this life actually had a 0% chance of being exalted even before they were born. So your model makes God and his prophets liars who tell everyone they have a real chance at exaltation while knowing that the majority of the world actually have 0% chance of ever attaining such glory because of, as you say, who we are.

    In the restored gospel we are children of God and 100% of us can legitimately be exalted despite who we are. LFW is a doctrine that allows for any one of us to change who we are at our cores. That kind of freedom is what allows for just judgment and lack of that kind of freedom makes the entire notion of God judging us by our choices incoherent.

    If I am wrong then how do you explain this life being a true probationary state in your model? How is it just to condemn some people for being who they are and reward others for just being who they are? Why would God instruct all of us to repent and come unto him if it is impossible for most of us to do so because of who we are? How is such a God not cruel and taunting?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  155. So your model makes God and his prophets liars who tell everyone they have a real chance at exaltation

    They do have a real chance at exaltation under LDS free-will compatiblism, they just don’t take it. The door opens to everyone who knocks. Some choose not to knock.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 6, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

  156. Well, I’ve already explained the compatibilist idea of probation a few times above. Compatibilism also makes sense of the divine instruction to repent, etc., because that instruction might be a precondition for repentance even among those whose nature it is to repent when given the chance.

    …in a compatibilist model the people who end up in the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms after this life actually had a 0% chance of being exalted even before they were born.

    Actually, I agree with this. In the compatibilist framework, after conditioning on all inner and outer states, the probability of any action is either 0% or 100%. I find this unattractive, as well. I find equally unattractive the libertarian position in which, after conditioning on all inner and outer states, the probability of any action is strictly less than 100%. The reason this is equally unappealing to me is that the resulting uncertainty isn’t based in human reason or rationality or deriving from any organic component of our personality or character — all of which are part of the inner states we’re conditioning on. So we’re forced to choose between either a situation in which actions, conditional on all inner and outer states, happen with probability either 0% or 100% — or a situation in which actions are ultimately due to a chance-analogue that doesn’t arise from human reason, personality, or anything else that we can readily understand or explain. This is a choice I’m unwilling to make.

    So your model makes God and his prophets liars who tell everyone they have a real chance at exaltation while knowing that the majority of the world actually have 0% chance of ever attaining such glory because of, as you say, who we are.

    First of all, hysterical rhetoric much? Second, this objection actually doesn’t hold up. Before we can determine the truth value of a divine statement that all have a real chance at exaltation, we would have to determine what is meant by having a real chance. A Mormon compatibilist might answer that all indeed have a real chance for exaltation because there is no external force preventing them from arriving at such. The only reason some people don’t receive exaltation is that they choose not to. We probably agree on that point, and that’s sufficient to make all divine and scriptural statements on this issue true. Where Mormon compatibilists and libertarians differ is on a more particular point, one on which we seem not to have much revealed evidence. The issue that divides us is: when some people choose not to seek exaltation, why do they do this? The libertarian cannot answer. The compatibilist can say that the choice is made because of eternal, uncreated traits of the individual, e.g., that the individual loves wickedness more than happiness. Clearly, the scriptures, prophetic teachings, etc. have relatively little to teach us about this very narrow and technical point.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 2:59 pm

  157. By the way, there are some scriptural passages that seem to make most sense from an LDS compatibilist point of view. Consider, for example, D&C 137: 7-8.

    Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom…

    How can we make sense of the idea that some subset of people who didn’t receive the gospel in this life would have received it if they had heard it during mortal life? From a libertarian position, this seems very hard to work out. For any individual, upon hearing the gospel, the probability of receiving it is strictly between 0 and 1. So the proportion of spirits who certainly would have received the gospel had they heard it in mortal life is 0. All that can be said is that a particular spirit might have received the gospel, but we’ll never know because the circumstance never arose.

    From a Mormon compatibilist perspective, by contrast, this notion makes perfect sense. Some subset of spirits had the essential traits of character such that, had they heard the gospel under reasonable circumstances while alive, they would indeed have accepted it with probability 1 — while other spirits would indeed have rejected it with probability 1.

    This single textual example obviously doesn’t prove that compatibilism is correct or somehow more Mormon than libertarianism. But it does show that we can’t reasonably claim that the scriptural evidence all goes for libertarianism, at least given the most mainstream hermeneutic for this text.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

  158. Chance only exists from some perspective, and the perspective from which a person had 0% chance of getting into whatever kingdom simply does not exist. This is what I keep saying, if nobody can ever tell the difference then what is really at stake in this watered down version of fatalism?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 3:32 pm

  159. Jeff, the perspective from which all probabilities are either 0% or 100% involves a kind of super-omniscience, doesn’t it? It requires conditioning on all external circumstances, plus on the internal cirumstances/psychologies/natures/etc. of all human and non-human beings. Depending on our theology of God, we might or might not ascribe this level of omniscience to Him, but we certainly wouldn’t ascribe it to anyone else.

    A version that said that, conditional on God’s knowledge, all probabilities are either 0% or 100% would match quite nicely the following folk Mormon theological saying that I’ve heard several times:

    This life is for us to find out whether we really want the Celestial Kingdom or not. God already knows, but we have to live through this life to find out.

    Comment by J. Nelson-Seawright — July 6, 2007 @ 3:43 pm

  160. Well, it depends. The Mormonism which I have in mind asserts the following:

    -God is a material being and that all “stuff” is ultimately material in some form (refined or not).
    -There are no actual miracles, meaning that God works in accordance with law and cannot transcend the ultimate laws which govern the material.

    Now add to this the view that no system can ever fully and accurately predict the future states of a system of which it is a part, it follows that God could never fully and accurately predict the future states of the material universe in the biggest sense of the word.

    Of course, if one holds that that God can, by some transcendence of natural law, accurately and fully predict the entire future of the material universe, then I would grant that Geoff has a point. However, Geoff does not want to grant this point any more than I do, for if God can transcend laws in order to miraculously predict a deterministic system of which He is a part, what is to prevent Him from miraculously predicting the future decisions of “genuinely” free agents? Both moves are the same, namely, invoking ignorance under the guise of miracles.

    To me, the idea that God not only can, but already has predicted the entire future of the material universe is absurd. Who would ever want to know everything that they would ever do? What a horrible existence. And if God doesn’t know fully what He will do in the future, how could He ever know fully what the creation with which He occasionally intervenes will do in the future?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 6, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  161. JNS (#156): Well, I’ve already explained the compatibilist idea of probation a few times above.

    Well you did say something about a probation making sense as a “quality control check” in #32. I asked in #40 what that even means but you never responded. So no, I don’t think you’ve adequately explained how this life is a probationary state in a compatibilist scheme at all yet. Now would be a good time for you respond to my questions in #40 though.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

  162. (#156) Compatibilism also makes sense of the divine instruction to repent, etc., because that instruction might be a precondition for repentance even among those whose nature it is to repent when given the chance.

    I can see that people who are fated to repent could benefit from God commanding them to repent. (And since you aren’t committed to God having LFW either he might very well be fated to command us to repent in your model I guess.) My question is how is God not cruel and taunting to command people to repent when he foreknows they will not and indeed can not based on their fixed future? Will you go along with Jeff and say that we have a fixed future but God can’t figure it out anyway? If so you lose perhaps the main “Pro” in favor for compatibilism (as Adam noted in 144). If God does have foreknowledge then why does he command those who are fated to not repent to do so anyway knowing they are not even free to obey him?

    Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God (Moses 6:57)

    Followed by…

    And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3:7)

    Scriptures have God telling us that all men are commanded to repent and that God doesn’t give commandments that he won’t prepare a way to accomplish. If your model is accurate these rather straight-forward scriptural principles are simply false doctrines.

    (And this is very different than the revoked commandment to settle in Jackson County because the commandment to repent has never been revoked in the history of our planet so please don’t try to pull that one out here.)

    … more responses to come when I get back later…

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 5:06 pm

  163. It is probably unwise to jump into this thread, but I’m going to do it. My LFW leanings with emphasis on the agent causal view (and emergentism to boot) are well known. Let me begin with the observation that JNS’s view of character or personality reifies it into an established and fixed thing. It is a logical category mistake in my view. Character is merely the way we usually act — and that can and does change. It not a thing, a fixed entity or anything of that nature. Thus, it is not any type of “thing” that causes our acts in any way. “Character” is merely a generalization about behavior. Our “character” reflects the way we haven chosen; not the way we may choose now or in the future. Further, it is not the kind of thing that could be a cause. Indeed, as Geoff has pointed out, that is what repentance is all about.

    So here are the challenges of compatibilism. How can determinism (or fatalism of any sort) be compatible with moral responsibility? When we assess blame to a person S for doing an action A, we imply that S should have done something else — i.e., refrained from doing A. However, it makes little sense to suggest that S should have refrained from doing A if it was literally impossible for S to do so given the circumstances in which S was situated. I haven’t seen any kind of response to this basic argument and I believe that it is decisive.

    There is also the consequence argument which states that if what S does at t1 is the result of the laws and conditions at any given time prior to t1, then what S does is not up to S at t1 in any relevant sense. JNS’s argument from eternal intelligences doesn’t solve this problem. Here is why: if I do something because I choose to do it, for reasons I consider, then what I do must be decided: (a) after I have considered the relevant reasons; and (b) because of of the fact that I considered the relevant reasons. Given determinism, neither (a) nor (b) can be the case. Given determinism, what I do was determined and concluded long before (even eternally before) I ever considered any reasons at all for my action at t1. Further, I don’t do anything because of the reasons I consider, but because of a-rational conditions that occurred before I ever considered relevant reasons for acting at t1. Thus, determinism is inconsistent with rationally guided decisions and actions – and thus it also inconsistent with morally responsible action because moral responsibility requires that we can sometimes act rationally.

    JNS argument that the fact that I was around when the determining causes were concluded to result in A solves this problem is actually unsound since, given the fact that an intelligence is uncreated, there is never a time when I was able to decide or determine anything. The determining conditions are logically and chronologically prior to what I am and do and therefore JNS’s argument is logically invalid and more than a bit of a red herring.

    Finally, the notion that what I do isn’t up to me if libertarianism is true, as JNS argues, is simply false on the agent causal view. The prior causal factors are organized into a new synthesis of novel action by an agent as the final cause necessary to make a decision or to act. As some have noted, I believe that neural dynamics that focuses on non-linear systems and the activity of the brain supports such a view. However, that is an empirical question. The notion that I am the one who makes a decision by causing the decision to be made is precisely what is required for responsible agency.

    Here is how agent causation solves the problem. When we choose, we choose in a situation that includes our entire prior history and genetic make-up and from this nexus of prior causes and conditions, we have a basic power to choose by creatively synthesizing the prior data into a new and creative reality. That is what an agent is — a creative organizer. Thus, each choice includes who and what we are — but it also includes the ability to creatively interact with this nexus in a dynamic of new synthesis of the prior data. Thus, what we have been can be creatively organized into something novel and creative in the moment of decision. Because this act of organizing the prior data is a creative dynamic with feed-back loops that allow the prior data to be given new meaning and put into novel patterns, we are responsible for our creation, but we are also choosing based upon what we bring to the moment of choice: prior history, DNA, values and so forth. JNS says that I haven’t solved this problem in my book — well, I believe that is the solution and I don’t see anything beyond his bare assertion without reason or supporting evidence for his assertion.

    Finally, as Geoff has pointed out, JNS’s view also founders on the view that God lacks LFW but is a puppet to all that has gone before. When God tells us that his goal is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of all humankind, he is literally lying on JNS’s view. When JNS tells us that what is needed for repentance is some new causal input to transcend our established sinful nature, he cannot provide anything that can actually accomplish that result given that God is bound by the prior states of the universe before ever we acted or thought about it.

    Finally, JNS, I suppose that if you’re right, every word you wrote must be forgiven because every letter was fated and determined long before you ever thought about or even read Geoff’s post. There cannot be any rational basis to response because it was determined long before there was any thought about it.

    Finally Jeff G., as a constructivist I simply reject your absolutist view of reified natural laws. We notice and name regularities; but there is nothing to suggest that natural laws are not all ceteris paribus laws that allow for infinite variety. If that is so, then calling something that is new and novel a violation of natural law not only begs the question — it misunderstands the nature of natural law altogether.

    Comment by Blake — July 6, 2007 @ 6:35 pm

  164. Jeff G. said: “Let’s picture a LFW choice as a time line which splits in two at some point? What causes the agent to choose path A over path B? We can’t attribute it to any difference before the split because there is no difference before the split, by very definition. The split simply happens without any explanation or causation at all, unless one allows for some kind of backward causation (which sounds even more in conflict with gospel principles). The summarize, the LFWist only seems able to avoid the charge that choices are utterly random and beyond control by positing some difference in initial conditions, a move which simply avoids the question at hand, for how did that difference in initial conditions arise?”

    I believe this characterization of LFW is simply wrong. There is a cause of the action — the agent as an acting organism and person. The choice was made because that is what the agent chose given the creative synthesis of the prior data by the agent. That is a full explanation. To ask what “sufficiently caused” the free choice is to beg the question and assume something that the libertarian denies — that is, the libertarian denies that there was a sufficient cause in the prior conditions without adding the agent’s basic powers to interact creatively with the prior data of experience in the moment of decision.

    The ability to synthesize the multiplicity of the prior data is simply a basic power that we have as agents. We know that we have this power because we contribute by this power a unity to our experience and consciousness that is not present in the varied data from which our experience is derived. We creatively organize the multiplicity of data of experience into a unified act of consciousness and we all know that we experience this power to unify the data because we have a unified consciousness. The fact that we experience this unified phenomenology proves that we experience it as such since that is all that there is to such experience! It is like my belief that I am in pain — if I experience pain then I am in pain simpliciter even if there is no identifiable C-fiber that we could point to in order to show it.

    Comment by Blake — July 6, 2007 @ 6:57 pm

  165. JNS adopts this theology: “This life is for us to find out whether we really want the Celestial Kingdom or not. God already knows, but we have to live through this life to find out.”

    Of course that isn’t scriptural. The Book of Abraham says: “We will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”

    That is contrary to JNS’s theology because on his view there is no basis for proving them (their fate is already cast in the past) and there is no “seeing if” by God. That kind of sums it up.

    Comment by Blake — July 6, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

  166. Thanks for dropping in Blake. Your views on emergent free will as a result of creatively synthesizing data are quite compelling I think.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 10:00 pm

  167. Continuing where I left off…

    JNS (#156): Actually, I agree with this.

    Thanks for being willing to give a little ground at least.

    a situation in which actions are ultimately due to a chance-analogue that doesn’t arise from human reason

    This is an inaccurate assessment of what LFW gives us. Blake’s explanation in #163 is a fine example of how decision making might function. Again, the argument that since we don’t know with certainty how LFW works so it must not be true is not at all compelling.

    First of all, hysterical rhetoric much?

    Was the word Liar the part you found hysterical? Would you prefer Deceiver? Dishonest Person? Fibber? Huckster? Non-truth-teller?

    (Ok — I’m mostly yanking your chain with those above quips. See my #162 for my response to the rest of that paragraph)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

  168. JNS (#157): Consider, for example, D&C 137: 7-8

    I will concede that this particular passage does jibe pretty well with the compatibilist model you are pushing. However there are easy enough assumptions to make it jibe well with libertarianism too. The simplest is that the “would have” is determined by the free choices of those individuals elsewhere — like, say, the spirit world. That view fits the notion of proxy work for the dead quite nicely.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 6, 2007 @ 10:24 pm

  169. JNS: “Consider, for example, D&C 137: 7-8.”

    I believe that Geoff is correct. JNS’s reading ignores vicarious work for the dead. God doesn’t judge folks based on his supposedly certain knowledge that they would have received the gospel had they been allowed to tarry. (Such a view assumes middle knowledge and not determinism in any event). Rather, God’s knowledge is based on the fact that the actual decision as to whether to receive the gospel is granted by work for the dead and God’s sees what the actual choice is when it is offered through vicarious ordinances. So determinism is actually contrary to work for the dead. If those who don’t receive the gospel during this life wouldn’t have received it given their fixed character, then all of our work for the dead is in vain. Such work presupposes that we are offering a free choice to those whose fate is not already set in stone.

    This is the tragic version of the determinist’s gospel: God says to those spirits who are damned: “Don’t worry about actually becoming mortal since I have already seen what you are determined to do and that you will fail. So just trust me and don’t even try it. Moreover, I cannot do anything about the fact that you are just damned because that is what is in the cards for you and I am just as determined by those cards to fail to save you. So I’m not going to give it a shot either.” No good news here. This parody of the gospel is what is in fact entailed by JNS’s view.

    The good news is that we have been made free to act for ourselves and not merely to be acted upon.

    Comment by Blake — July 6, 2007 @ 11:47 pm

  170. It seems to me one of the problems in this debate is that there are two camps (compatibilist/libertarian), but not everyone in the two camps agrees to what the camp entails.

    I am convinced that Jeff G understands the implications of determinism. As he says in #59, the compatibilist believes that our freedom is only construed by us, but this construal is enough to call us free, consider us responsible, etc.

    However, when I started pressing Adam and JNS on their response to the rock question, I was told that:

    1. What the rock lacks is something “non-literal” like personality/psychology/spirituality (JNS, #85)
    2. What makes us free is the existence of a “moral nature, a soul” (Adam, #96)
    3. That there are steps in the causal chain which have nothing to do with physics/chemistry and these steps are made possible by the preexistent spirit (JNS, #93)
    4. That if what determines our actions is uncreated, we must be free since we are not compelled by external causes, only internal uncreated ones (JNS, #91)

    First off, these statements make it clear to me that JNS and Adam do not agree with Jeff G about what is entailed by determinism. Second off, these responses make me wonder if JNS and Adam have really internalized the meaning of determinism. I am still waiting anxiously to find out from JNS what these non-physics/non-chemistry causes are.

    I am convinced that no one can understand the strength of the arguments in Blake’s #163 if they are still thinking that the existence of a soul gets them out of the determinist bind. If JNS believes in non-physics causes in the causal chain, he believes in a totally different determinism than the one I understand. I don’t know how to make progress without bottoming out on that discussion.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  171. Jeff G,

    Isn’t your response in #126 pretty similar to what you were complaining about in #54 (even beyond the use of “oh c’mon”). Yes, it is true that we have the list of things you mention (beliefs, desires, minds), but since you believe all of these things to be words describing physical states, I don’t see why that is any more relevant than saying that we have arms and legs whereas rocks do not.

    I don’t think your argument in #132 does justice to the complexity of rocks.

    I am a counter-factually robust system in that if I had been in a different context, W1, my beliefs would be different, which would likely change my behavior.

    In the presence of a magnetic field, some rocks become magnetic (i.e. they change their beliefs and desires) and this changes their behavior. You seem to think that labeling some physical state a “belief” (a term loaded with libertarian meaning given its usage in the vernacular which always assumes libertarian free will) makes some kind of catagorical difference. Apart from this linguistic trick, what is there in principle which differentiates one internal physical state (in a human, which does imply freedom) from another (in the rock, which does not)?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 10:50 am

  172. I still don’t see any real explanation for how a choice can avoid being either for a reason or random, the one being deterministic and the other being meaningless. The explanations for agent causation, which is said to square this circle, don’t seem to have any content I can get a hold of. I suppose a free-will compatiblist could argue for something called “agent responsibility,” which we have a hard time explaining but which we are confident solves the difficulties of the viewpoint, and it would be just as persuasive to me.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 7, 2007 @ 11:06 am

  173. This is an inaccurate assessment of what LFW gives us. Blake’s explanation in #163 is a fine example of how decision making might function.

    I’ll take your word for it, because it doesn’t make sense to me. What work is the term “creatively” doing in this description of decision-making? From the discussion in Moroni about how an evil man can’t give a good gift, it seems to me that an act is morally a credit to us only if it is motivated by good desires. If its motivated by something else, or if its just a spontaneous, inscrutable upwelling, it doesn’t mean anything. So how can a person choose to be motivated by good desires? Either they would have to have the desire to motivated by good desires, or its effectively random. And if random, therefore meaningless.

    I see no real difference between saying that a being has always been good and saying that for inscrutable reasons a being has just become good.

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 7, 2007 @ 11:15 am

  174. Jacob J.,
    I don’t know how to say it any plainer than this, that determinism does not entail naturalistic materialism, the view that there’s “nothing but physics and chemistry.” Magnetizing rocks is not a change in the rock’s beliefs and desires. As far as we know, rocks don’t have any.

    Since I believe in spirits and souls, I don’t think that beliefs are mere physical states.

    what is there in principle which differentiates one internal physical state (in a human, which does imply freedom) from another (in the rock, which does not)?

    Humans have more than an “internal physical state,” for one. They have an internal spiritual state and/or internal intelligence. So the answer is: Will. The ability to act. A rock does nothing of its own volition. It is only acted upon.

    Since you are determined that we can’t really mean what we’re saying, that we’re just playing linguistic tricks, and since Geoff J. has called us liars, I’m kind of wondering what the point of these threads are for you? Do debates with liars and decievers like us really illuminate much of anything for you?

    Comment by Adam Greenwood — July 7, 2007 @ 11:25 am

  175. Adam: It is unclear what you find unclear or non-explanatory. The fact is that our basic power to organize experience into a unified whole is a power we know we have. Further, all explanation is accomplished by referring to basic causal powers as such. When we explain why hydrogen and oxygen combine to create water, we refer to basic electro-magnetic properties of atoms and energy levels of electrons. To then say, “well, you haven’t explained anything, you’ve just referred to basic powers of material constituents,” misses the entire point and looks beyond the mark. That just is the explanation and there is nothing more. All explanation stops at these kinds of basic powers.

    In the case of agent causation, these basic powers are possessed and exercised by an organism, a person as a whole. We have powers and abilities that our constituent parts don’t have. No one claims that my neurons choose or are free or morally responsible — but we do claim that our personality and choices are dependent on a properly functioning brain (that is where emergence comes in).

    Finally, if you insist that there must be some explanation outside of the agent, then you merely assume that all causes must be extrinsic to agents and therefore there are no agents because the explanation lies outside the agent and not in the basic causal powers of the agent as a person or functioning organism. You assume that either there is a full explanation by factors outside the agent or everything is random. Your assumption is the problem itself. If all explanation is outside the agent, then there are no free or morally responsible agents — and frankly there are no conscious or aware agents either (as Jacob has pressed). Your assumptions entail a reduction that eliminates the agent altogether.

    I have given a model where what we do is causally a synthesis of our past states and other causal influences explained by our basic powers and abilities to synthesize our experience into a whole as the final explanation. This explanation is all that could logically be given in light of the nature of free will and the ability to choose among alternatives. So there is no logically necessary or sufficient explanation outside the agent that excludes the agent as you assume. Since that is what you appear to be demanding, it is a demand best answered by simply pointing out that it arises from false assumptions about the nature of explanation.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  176. Adam,

    I don’t know how to say it any plainer than this, that determinism does not entail naturalistic materialism, the view that there’s “nothing but physics and chemistry.”

    What would make it plainer to me is if you told me what else besides physics you think exists. “Moral nature” is not specific enough for me to know what you mean.

    Magnetizing rocks is not a change in the rock’s beliefs and desires.

    It is a change in the rock’s internal structure which affects the way the rock behaves in the presence of otherwise identical external forces. This definition of a belief was provided for me and I am merely demonstrating that rocks can conform to that definition of “belief.” JNS complained that I wouldn’t consider other people’s definition. This is an example of me considering someone else’s definition and trying to explore the ramifications of their position.

    So the answer is: Will. The ability to act. A rock does nothing of its own volition. It is only acted upon.

    A rock does nothing of its own volition, and neither does a fully-causally-determined human. Unless, that is, you want to say that something has is acting by its own violition so long as its actions are partially determined by its internal physical structure, in which case the rock does do things of its own volition.

    I never said you didn’t believe what you were saying. Why have you caricatured my statement?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 11:49 am

  177. By the way, Adam, the point of these threads, for me, is discussion. I take it for granted that everyone is arguing in good faith. I expect that we start out with different points of view, but that the pressure applied by other points of views will benefit everyone who participates. I have not called anyone an liar, and neither has Geoff. If you can’t point to a specific statement by Geoff calling you a liar, I think you should apologize.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  178. First, Jacob is correct. I never called anyone here a liar, so Adam was mistaken in that accusation. I did say that a Mormon compatibilist’s position makes God a liar though (and thus such a position ought to be rejected.)

    Second, excellent points all around by Jacob and Blake. I sense that Jeff understands why Jacob’s rock comparison works. It seems pretty clear that Adam does not. It seems that the sticking point is that Adam thinks that the idea of humans having spirits makes all the difference. The problem is that he is failing to note that in a compatibilist model spirits are completely causally determined too. (I won’t even bring up the notion that rocks might have spirits for now). Jacob’s original point was that a rock would be as morally responsible for falling into a lake as a fully causally determined person would be for murdering an innocent person. That is, neither is morally responsible in any way because neither has power to choose otherwise. So pointing out that even causally determined people have spirits and a so-called “will” makes no difference when it comes to moral responsibility. Fully causally determined persons literally have no ability to respond any differently to the external and internal stimulus in their lives so by definition they cannot be considered responsible (response -able).

    Third, Blake is right on when he calls out the category error that JNS and Adam are making regarding “character”. We dealt with the definition of character earlier (#74) but then JNS felt like we were getting bogged down “quibbling over terminology” (#83) so I dropped it. Obviously this notion of a beginningless “nub of character” is crucial to your position though so it really ought to be explored more. I think Blake hit the nail on the head when he said:

    Character is merely the way we usually act — and that can and does change. It not a thing, a fixed entity or anything of that nature. Thus, it is not any type of “thing” that causes our acts in any way. “Character” is merely a generalization about behavior.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 7, 2007 @ 1:42 pm

  179. If I were a determinist and I were responding to the rock argument, I would point to complexity and special kinds of organization as the difference between rocks and people. Computers are complicated rocks (and made primarily of silicon, so it really is mostly a rock). They are organized such that they can do mathematical computations and logical evaluation.

    One could argue that humans are similarly organized (by evolutionary processes) to behave in ways that are sometimes based in logic or mathematics. To the extent that we find meaning in something acting based on logical operators (like not, and, or, xor) one could argue that human actions are meaningful.

    The question would then come back to whether or not computers are “free.” Personally, I have a hard time making this leap from complex and meaningful to free will, but that is the leap that many people will make (e.g. all the genuine believers in artificial intelligence).

    I would be tempted to respond this way rather than by claiming that computers having minds, beliefs, desires, or souls.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 2:04 pm

  180. So adding to Jacob’s #170. Here is my assessment of where Jeff, Adam, and JNS are in this debate.

    Jeff is a full determinist. He understands the implications of determinism and believes it all. In harmony with that belief he is also now an atheist (which seems like an internally coherent position to take to me (I might become a Mormon atheist if I believed such a thing too… (And I still consider you one of us Jeff! So please don’t take that wrong. I just can empathize with your conclusions based on your beliefs))). Since he has no worries about not having free will (nor is he concerned about a judgment after this life these days) he keeps wondering aloud: “What’s so bad about this kind of watered down fatalism?”. In other words, he can’t see why we would care if we are all predestined to do what we do.

    Adam is in deep theological trouble here. As far as I can tell he believes God has foreknowledge, but he also is defending the idea that we are all causally determined by our fixed and unchangeable “nature”, or core/character. He is in trouble because his position is the one that makes God a liar. In a fully deterministic universe, a God with foreknowledge knows that a large percentage of the people here can not repent and become Celestial people ever. Yet our scriptures have God assuring us all of two things: 1) We can accomplish anything he commands us to do, and 2) All men everywhere are commanded to repent and be baptized and endure to the end (thus becoming Celestial people). In the universe Adam is envisioning God would be lying when he says he would never command people to do things they cannot do. That’s a problem.

    JNS might have the same theological problem that Adam has above, but we can’t tell where he stands on several issues yet. For instance he has not committed to the idea that God has foreknowledge. (It may be that he is close to Jeff who used to argue that God is causally determined just like we are and that God is not intelligent enough to figure out the fixed future either. ) While JNS argues for the idea that we are probably causally determined beings here, he has demurred when I asked him if he believed God had LFW (#50). He has hinted toward the idea that this life is no probation at all (citing a folk doctrine about how we are only here to learn our pre-determined fate rather than to actually be tested (#159)). In any case, he is also in a Mormon theological tough spot because we have shown that the very notions of moral responsibility, testing/probation, and judgment rely on libertarian assumptions. Or in other words, if we take away the libertarianism and moral responsibility then the restored Gospel is completely eviscerated so JNS is in as much trouble as Adam regardless of his positions on those other issues in my opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 7, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  181. I have a set of questions that may merit discussion:

    A. Could God have prevented the sinking of the Titanic?
    B. Could God have prevented it if he had wanted to?
    C. Could God have wanted to?

    And LFW adherent can easily answer ‘Yes’ to all three questions. However, determinism (conditioned by the present state of affairs) requires that the answer to (A) be a definite ‘No’.

    The sinking of the Titanic is a historical fact, a fact that in determinism has obtained for all eternity. Determinism requires that God has always lacked the actual ability to change that fact.

    Thus in a deterministic world, if (C) obtains, it follows that (B) is false. If God wanted to prevent the sinking, it is necessary that he lacked the power to prevent it.

    Now, a determinist may answer that conclusion only applies in this world, not in other possible ones, to which I respond in determinism there is only one possible world, now and forever, so what difference does it make?

    But suppose we hypothesize an alternate history in which the Titanic did not sink. Then (in that world) consider first three questions in the negative:

    A. Could God have sunk the Titanic?
    B. Could God have sunk it if he had wanted to?
    C. Could God have wanted to?

    Then the same logic applies. The answer to (A) is a definite ‘No’. In that deterministic world, God forever lacked the actual ability to sink the Titantic. If he wanted to sink the Titanic, it is necessary that he lacked the power to do so.

    And so we see that God lacks either the effective power to sink the Titanic or the effective power to prevent the sinking of the Titanic, in any deterministic world where the Titanic exists. Determinism equals divine impotence.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 7, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  182. I probably have very little more to contribute to the thread, but let me briefly respond to Geoff and Jacob.

    As I said earlier, when I argue that Mormonism and Determinism are compatible, I have a very specific kind of Mormonism in mind. The Mormonism which I have in mind endorses the following claims:

    1) If something exists, it is in some sense material, be it “physical” matter which fully constitutes the materialistic worldview of atheism which I endorse or a more “refined” matter which Mormonism adds to it.

    2) There are no actual miracles, in that everything, even God’s actions, happen in accordance with rather than transcending natural law (again, Mormonism surely allows for a more liberal usage of the term “natural law”). By this I mean that all causation is ultimately spatio-temporally contiguous and backwards causation does not exist. Any other kind of causation can either be said to be reducible or translatable into this “natural causation” or does not exist at all.

    These are the two premises from which I have been arguing in these debates, and there is little, if any change in them from Mormon to Atheist contexts.

    Now more to the point. Jacob, if you don’t believe that beliefs, desires and minds are at base material, fine. This is not the kind of Mormonism which I have in mind, and I worry that the Mormonism you have in mind is not in harmony with one reading of D&C 130.

    Geoff, when you say that determinism is a perfectly coherent position when seen in the context of atheism, I worry that you are granting me too much in our debate. As I said, the premises from which I am arguing do not much change across the Atheist and Mormon worldviews. If determinism is coherent in the Atheist worldview, why not the Mormon worldview? I believe your answer to this question will basically amount to a rejection of the kind of Mormonism which I have been assuming.

    Like I said, I doubt that I have much more to contribute to the discussion, though I may be wrong. I fully agree with Jacob & co. when they say that JNS and Adam are defending different kinds of Mormonism than I am. Unfortunately, I focused my attention more on the criticisms of Determinism than I did of the (from my perspective) untenable variations of Determinism.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 3:12 pm

  183. “Since he has no worries about not having free will (nor is he concerned about a judgment after this life these days) he keeps wondering aloud: “What’s so bad about this kind of watered down fatalism?”.”

    I should add that this statement does not accurately characterize my position. Rather, I hold that not having LFW (because I do believe in a form of free will) is perfectly consistent with a genuine judgment in the afterlife. After all, I believe in genuine judgments in this life, why would one in the afterlife be any different?

    This should not be seen as an argument, only a more accurate characterization of my position.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  184. Geoff: I believe that you are correct that Jeff G.’s position is internally coherent because he has no theological issues. That is, if we consider simply the fit between determinism and physicalism, they are a fit. The problem is that it is not externally coherent. Jeff has beliefs. However, beliefs are not physical or material. Jeff is a full blown physicalist. He adopts a peculiar functionalist version of physicalism. However, all properties of mind and thus things like beliefs merely reduce to mindless and purposeless, deterministic causes of micro-physics. Thus, properties of mind are epiphenomenal on his view — the mind and such things as beliefs are deterministically produced by the underlying micro-physical; but they are absolutely superfluous and have no causal effects on anything physical. That is, there is no mental or downward causation on his view.

    Just why evolution would produce such a biologically expensive apparatus as epiphenomenal consciousness that mistakenly believes and experiences that it chooses (due to illusion) seems impossible to divine. I don’t believe such a view is coherent. Such a view is a very high price to pay and lacks external coherence because it is self-defeating as I see it.

    However, I believe that JNS’s deterministic view ultimately amounts to the same thing s Jeff’s. We’ll see if we can smoke it out — though I remain open to the possibility that perhaps he’ll surprise me.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

  185. Mark: Re: # 181. Good points.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

  186. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a less charitable description of physicalism. Let my list the statements which I see as being flat out wrong:

    “beliefs are not physical or material.”
    “properties of mind are epiphenomenal”
    “they are absolutely superfluous and have no causal effects on anything physical.”
    “there is no mental … causation on his view.”

    I, along with pretty much all functionalists, disagree with all of these statements, as Blake should well know.

    I do agree, however, that JNS’s Mormonism is much closer to mine than is Adam’s.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 3:24 pm

  187. So I guess I lied about not having much more to say.

    Mark,

    Your 181 is radically confused. The determinist answer to the three questions is “Yes, if things had been different.” If God had had different desires, or different beliefs, then of course He could have prevented those things. In fact, isn’t this really the answer that the LFWist would give as well.
    Honestly, let’s have a little bit of charity in interpreting our opponent’s position.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  188. Jeff G. Of course functionalists disagree. However, I believe that it is logically demonstrable that your view is incoherent — and that is my point. First, if beliefs and the mental are physical, then they are micro-physically explained and determined. Do you disagree with that?

    Second, the non-reductive physicalism (functionalism) which you adopt falls to Kim’s reduction argument. The mental properties do no explaining; everything is merely a result of the micro-physical or neural substrate. It follows that they are epiphenomenal.

    So I didn’t expect you to accept my conclusions about your position (no sane person would adopt epiphenomenalism if they could avoid it). However, I claim that your position entails it. You’ll have to show how a physicalist, deterministic position like your avoids Kim’s reduction argument. If it falls to that argument as I contend, then non-reductive physicalism is incoherent and reduces to mere physicalism. So I’ll await your exposition.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  189. Jeff G. One other thing. Your assertion that beliefs are physical things is a strange belief indeed. How do beliefs differ from states of rocks, as Jacob put it? I know you’ll say that beliefs are merely a function of the physical — but that explains nothing. It is the very kind of magic you say you avoid. We have matter, we have form of matter and voila we have mind and beliefs. That’s magic if anything is.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 3:41 pm

  190. I’m sure it is with absolute horror on your part, then, that I confess myself to be an eliminativist with regard to p-consciousness and qualia. However, I am not at all an eliminativist in terms of beliefs, desires and other forms of a-consciousness.

    I must confess that I am not well-acquainted with Kim’s argument. Do you have some link available for me to look at?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

  191. The physical states and patterns of a rock are not computational or counter-factually robust in any meaningful way. It is upon the counter-factual robustness of the computational states within the brain that all of my compatibilism hangs. Yes, we could have done differently if we had had different beliefs/desires, and we could have had different beliefs/desires if our upbringing, environment, neural structure, etc. had been different and so on.

    To say it a different way, I think that the counter-factual robustness of computational states within the brain provide all the “could have done otherwise” necessary to give us a meaningful kinds of choices, responsibility, etc. You don’t think it is enough, and you have your reasons for thinking so, but I sincerely hope that strained comparison between humans and rocks is not among them.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 3:48 pm

  192. Actually, Jeff, if you’re an elimativist then you’ve already accepted half of Kim’s arguments. For others lurking, Jeff rejects qualia or the “what it’s like to experience beauty” quality of experience as something distinct from the merely physical. As I see it, he eliminates a lot of what must be explained about human experience of consciousness with the waive of a hand. It’s like saying, “no, it’s really not like that to experience beauty, there is nothing that it’s like.” That is a hard pill to swallow.

    Just how beliefs could be physical is something you’ll have to explain since there are all kinds of physical things without beliefs.

    Kim’s argument is essentially as follows: Kim claims that one can be either a physicalist, or non-reductive (and adopt emergence), but not both. Kim describes the problem using the following diagram where M is a mental cause, M* is a mental effect; P is a physical cause and P* is a physical effect:

    M causes M*
    P causes P*

    In this diagram, a single mental event M is seen as causing another mental event M*. This mental event is physically realized (for example in a brain state) by a physical event P, which causes P* i.e. the physical realization of M* . Kim’s argument against the existence of mental causation is that the top layer does no real work. P can cause P* all by itself, with no help from M, and there is no coherent way in which M can cause M* without P’s help, or without causing P*. Thus it seems that physical causality is all we’ve got, and mental descriptions are somewhere between being shallow and being outright falsehoods. Kim claims that the only coherent alternatives are:

    1) Dualism, which says that M and M* are independent of P and P*;
    2) Reductionism, which says that physical events are identical with mental events; and
    2a) Eliminativism, which says that mental events do not exist at all.

    Clearly, position 1) is non-reductive, without being materialist and 2) and 2a) are materialist, without being non-reductive. There is one other physicalist alternative: Mental Epiphenomenalism, which says that M exists but has no causal power.

    As I understand your position, you accept eliminativism regarding qualia but not beliefs and desires. However, it follows that beliefs are then not merely physical. What are they?

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

  193. Jeff G.,

    One of the points of my argument in #181 is to demonstrate that the “if things had been different” answer that determinists typically give is logically illegitimate, as in trying to have it both ways.

    The identity of the actual world and the one possible world conditioned by that actuality is a defining feature of determinism. As soon as we enter any world bracketed by a present state of affairs, divine impotence with regard an enormously large set of propositions necessarily follows.

    You cannot escape the hard logic of determinism by reverting to the set of all possible worlds. A real property like power does not exist as an attribute of a set of mutually inconsistent and contradictory states of affairs. It either exists as a property of a given actor in a given state of affairs or it doesn’t exist at all.

    The more general point here is that power, potential, and possibility are all superfluous and meaningless constructs within any actual deterministic world. Not just divine omnipotence, but impotence for every one and every thing.

    The key problem with determinism in my mind is that it requires that everything about the present state of affairs be logically prior to the actuality or even the appearance of any actor ever making a decision about anything. That is what I mean by determinism entailing the proposition that everything about all of reality is a cosmic accident. Without agent causation, there is no semantically meaningful causation of any kind, just accidentalism.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 7, 2007 @ 3:54 pm

  194. Jeff G.: A rock can be computational. It could have been otherwise if its material had been organized differently. In fact, the arguments from multiple realization show that just about anything can be a computational state. So I don’t believe this functional argument has any traction.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  195. Jeff G,

    I asked what is different between a rock and a human to give proponents of determinism an opportunity to explain their position to me. I agree that the physical states and patters of a rock are not computationally robust (this is the direction I would go if I were you as I said in #179). I don’t agree that they are not counter-factually robust. If the internal state were different they would behave differently. I don’t see why this is not conclusive.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  196. Well, I should be a little more careful. It’s not that I reduce all “what it’s like-ness”. Rather, I reject all “what it’s like-nss” which cannot be reduced to a-conscious states. I think that very question “what is it like?” is horribly confused and muddled. What is the “it” and what could it possible be “like”?

    I think that the best answer to this question is not to posit some utterly private, mysterious mind-stuff, but rather to say that computational state-A is most compuationally similar to state-B. Thus, I think that an awful lot of “what it’s like” talk can be done in terms of a-consciousness, and that anything beyond that is causally inert anyways, so why hold out for it?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  197. Blake,

    I think it is the “robust” of computationally robust that Jeff G has a point about when referring to a simple rock rolling down a hill.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 4:01 pm

  198. Blake,

    The primary question is not whether the rock had been organized differently, but rather whether the input to the rock had been different. Since the rock is not a computational system in any robust sense of the word, there is, strictly speaking, no input at all. The behavior of the rock does not lend itself to a Turing Table description.

    Mark,

    You keep trying to describe the Universe from some utterly disembodied perspective which nobody, not even God, occupies. Since this perspective does not exist, what things are like from that perspective makes no difference as far as I can see. Possibility and probability only exist from perspectives which exist. The perspective you keep describing does not exist.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  199. Blake is right. John Searle tries to argue that almost anything can be interpreted as computing almost anything, which is pretty much the move which I see the rock/human comparison making as well. Clearly this claim is absurd. The paint on my wall is obvious NOT performing the computations necessary to play Halo 3 on it unless we look at the wall through a VERY, VERY thick lens of computational interpretation. In such a case, however, the compuational lens is doing of the work and not the wall. Similarly, we can change things about the rock falling to make it seem counter-factually robust, but then our interpretation is the one doing all the computational work rather than the rock.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 4:09 pm

  200. Jeff: As you well know, a set of rocks and a rock that is in different states can be a Turing machine and thus computationally robust. However, that issue aside (since that is what it is), how could the merely physical give rise to mental causation? How could anything like a belief cause anything? Further, saying that an experience of beauty is “more computationally like physical state B” does absolutely nothing to explain the experience; it merely gives a comparison to a physical state that also does no explaining.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 4:10 pm

  201. Jeff: BTW it’s good to have you in the conversation and engaged in Mormon-like issues. Thanks for your continued willingness to dialogue.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

  202. Oh, absolutely, but in such a circumstance we must be talking about something extraordinarily foreign to rocks as we know them. I have no doubt that a rock can be part of a Turing Machine, but to say that the rock could be the entire machine, lending itself to a Turing Table description is rather absurd.

    To move on, since I reject p-consciousness, I don’t see mental causation as being any more or less than physical causation by another name. Kim’s argument would seem to eliminate pretty much any and everything if we want to use as you seem to be.

    For example, a 25 lbs mass of lead striking a 1,000 lbs mass of concrete makes a particular vibration in the air. Put another way, the dumbell with the “25″ on it falling to the weightroom floor made a loud noise. Does it not seem absurd to eliminate dumbell’s floors and noises just because the story can be told using masses of lead, concrete and vibrations? Just as in the case of the mind, they are simply two descriptions of the same phenomena.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 4:31 pm

  203. Similarly, we can change things about the rock falling to make it seem counter-factually robust, but then our interpretation is the one doing all the computational work rather than the rock.

    Being conter-factually robust does not imply anything about computation. Rocks are clearly counter-factually robust. It seems that computational robustness is what you are really interested in. It seems to me that what you need for the kind of computational robustness you are after is both complexity and special organization. Certainly computers seem more like humans than rocks, maybe there is something to that.

    The problem is that neither complexity nor special organization leads to anything like responsibility in which a person can be blamed for having done something when they should have done otherwise. This sort of responsibility is central to the gospel as I understand it.

    In #191 you say that counter-factual robustness is what provides the “could have done otherwise” which justifies holding something morally responsible. So, I guess what you are saying is that because the universe could have been different than it is (the big bang could have been different), it makes sense to hold someone responsible for how they ended up behaving in this universe. Is that right?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 4:57 pm

  204. If I might extend the challenge, following my previous argument, I assert that:

    Determinism requires that for every agent X and every future action A that X might undertake, one of the following propositions is now true:

    (A) X lacks the power to undertake A.
    (B) X lacks the power to refrain from undertaking A.

    For example, determinism requires that it is either the case that you now lack the power to vote in the next election or the case that you now lack the power to refrain from voting in the next election.

    After the fact, how are we supposed to credit you for voting when that reliably indicates you lacked the discretionary ability to stay home? And how can we discredit you for not voting when that is a sure indicator that you lacked the ability to do so?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 7, 2007 @ 5:26 pm

  205. The compatabilists here have argued that there are only two possibilities: deterministically caused events and randomly caused events. The libertarians believe that there is a third kind of event, neither deterministically caused nor random. What it is, exactly, is hard to say, but it is something new, that didn’t exist before the choice was made. I think that’s what Blake means by “creative.”
    These choices have something to do with effort. A robot, a machine, or a deterministically caused person can’t try harder. They can’t resist temptation. They can’t struggle. They can’t be praised for having put forth more effort or condemned for not putting forth enough effort. How much they will do in a given situation is already determined.
    The whole point of having a spirit is that it is somehow different than just a physical system. It gives you something more. One thing is this will, this ability to try harder. Another is qualia, I think, but that’s another discussion.

    Comment by Doug S. — July 7, 2007 @ 6:49 pm

  206. Jeff: It seems that you have now adopted eliminativism — full stop. There is no mental causation. Nothing is caused by beliefs, desires or any mental state. That is tantamount to adopting epiphenomenalism, as I suggested your position entailed. If anything is absurd, such a view is absurd and leaves virtually everything about human experience not only unexplained, but requires us to adopt the view that we are even mistaken about having mistaken beliefs. It is a self-defeating view and ought to be rejected.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 8:50 pm

  207. Blake,

    I have no clue how you came to that conclusion. I believe in minds, beliefs, desires and the rest. I just don’t think that there is anything beyond a-consciousness things of this sort which would constitute an entirely different category, p-consciousness things. Since minds, beliefs and desires are implemented in physical substances (in our case brains), I don’t see where the problem is.

    Mark,

    Doesn’t it bother you in the least that you have to contrive such extravagant models in order to nail down the compatiblist. Take your current example, for instance. There can be two readings:

    1) “X lacks the power to undertake A, even though X desires to A, believes Y to be a way in which X would happen and Y is available to him.”

    2) “X lacks the power to undertake A, but it is not the case that X desires to A, believes Y to be a way in which X would happen or Y is available to him.”

    The determinist would have no problem at all with (2), nor would the LFWist as far as I can tell.

    The determinist, however, sees no reason at all to accept (1), again, just like the LFWist.

    The just say that “X can’t do A” without providing any more details is simply an intuition pump which stacks the deck in your favor.

    Doug,

    As hard as I have tried, I don’t understand Blake’s position at all. As near as I can tell, it seems to be a type of physically constrained dualism, though he would probably not agree with this characterization. It is for this reason that I prefer to defend compatibilism rather than attack LFW or Emergentism as Blake calls it.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 10:25 pm

  208. Jeff: Does it not seem absurd to eliminate dumbell’s floors and noises just because the story can be told using masses of lead, concrete and vibrations? Just as in the case of the mind, they are simply two descriptions of the same phenomena.

    As you know, dumbbells dropping and causing noise can be reduced to a description of underlying microphysics without any loss of meaning and very sraightforwardly as two descriptions of the same thing. However, it is just impossible to understand how neural behavior is somehow a description of or gives rise to phenomenal consciousness. It is just as impossible to explain how neural processes are related to beliefs. The more difficult task — and one that you must reject as even possible — is to understand how beliefs could cause behavior.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 10:28 pm

  209. The only difference that I really see between the two cases is that one involves reducing functional entities while the other does not. I must admit, that talk of functional entities is extremely fishy, if only because its almost impossible for functional entities NOT to exist. Almost any imaginable thing can be defined by way of ramsification. These are admittedly the strongest objections which I have ever seen to functionalism.

    While I see these as problems, I don’t see them as being near strong enough to refute functionalism. What arguments are there that it is impossible, even in principle, to understand how beliefs interact with neurons?

    It is on this note, that Dennett’s Intentional Stance, which is strongly influenced by both Later Wittgenstein and Ryle, seems to get what force it has in his rejection of functionalism. Perhaps beliefs and desires are only behavioral patterns which are controlled by the functional states which we are really have little to no access to.

    In this case, I have to say that I tend to side with Fodor (Georges Rey has influenced me a lot) rather than Dennett. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t see a detailed explanation of neuron/belief relations as being impossible in principle.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 10:40 pm

  210. Jeff: I believe in minds, beliefs, desires and the rest. I just don’t think that there is anything beyond a-consciousness things of this sort which would constitute an entirely different category, p-consciousness things. Since minds, beliefs and desires are implemented in physical substances (in our case brains), I don’t see where the problem is.

    I know that you claim that you believe in minds and beliefs — it’s just that they don’t have any of the properties of minds and beliefs once you deal with them. How could our experience of consciousness be the same thing as physical states? You assert that it is so; but for the world I cannot see how it is so or any reason to accept it. How could a belief be a physical state? Physical states have spatial extension and mass. How much mass does a belief have? How much space does a belief occupy? Saying that they are two descriptions of the same thing is rather absurd since they have properties that are not derivable from one another. Beliefs cannot be reduced to mere physical states by any strategy that works.

    Perhaps I arrived at the conclusion that you adopt eliminativism from this: I don’t see mental causation as being any more or less than physical causation by another name. Kim’s argument would seem to eliminate pretty much any and everything… So there is no mental causation on your view. Beliefs don’t cause anything. They are epiphenomenal if we have beliefs at all. You say that you believe that we have beliefs, they just don’t have any causal value as beliefs. The only thing that does any causal work is the underlying physical state.

    Now this is important. Your view logically entails that we could do just as well without beliefs and merely refer to matter acting. We could just be zombies and have the same complete physical description on your view. Since everything is physical on your view, that is all that there is. Beliefs get eliminated.

    That is also why I asserted that your view entails that evolution somehow blindly produced a very expensive massively parallel processing system for no reason at all. The conscious states and belief states play no causal role and therefore have no value for survival of the fittest by random, mechanistic processes. Again, I suggest that your position reduces to eliminativism or epiphenomenalism and is self-defeating.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 10:42 pm

  211. For anybody who is at all interested in philosophy of mind, I would highly recommend Rey’s “Contemporary Philosophy of Mind”. While I doubt that many here will agree with all his conclusions, I have never read a clearer treatment of the matter.

    Of course philosophy of mind should not be confused with action theory, which is where the freewill debate actually takes place.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 10:44 pm

  212. “How could our experience of consciousness be the same thing as physical states?”

    You rightly accuse me of having provided little reason to accept this. My response, for the present anyways, is to ask why it cannot be? My reply to Kim’s argument, as you presented it, wasn’t very good since it didn’t deal with the elimination of functional categories. The problem is that I simply didn’t see any reason to limit Kim’s argument to functional categories.

    Let me slow down a bit. Kim’s argument, as far as I could tell, was that mental states, if they really are just physical states or functional states implemented within a physical medium, are superfluous and don’t explain anything. My reply was to show that the same reasoning would also eliminate such things as sounds, dumbbells and floors, since such things were superfluous as well. Since such an argument for the elimination of sounds, dumbels and floors is absurd, so too in the argument for the elimination of mental state talk within a physicalist paradigm.

    As for your rather flippant questions regarding beliefs, I think you are making a category mistake. Functional entities do not have mass, size, etc. For instance, what is a heart’s mass, size, constituting material, etc.? These questions have no answers for “heart” is a functional entities which can be instantiated in all sorts of physical mediums. Getting back to Kim’s argument, what prevents us from running the exact same argument for the elimination of hearts?

    “Your view logically entails that we could do just as well without beliefs and merely refer to matter acting.”

    Well, in some ways yes, but other ways no. Yes we could get along just as well in the sense that doctors could, hypothetically and ideally, get by without referring to hearts, but only to biological matter in motion. It is certainly possible in principle. The question is why we would ever want to do such a thing? Moving from the physical stance (which only has matter in motion) to a functional stance of sorts (which allows for functional entities such as hearts, beliefs, etc.) provides us with so many advantages. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how we could ever come to value the abandonment of values which such a move would entail.

    So to answer your question. Yes, it is possible in principle, but why would anybody ever want to do such a thing?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 11:00 pm

  213. Jeff G,

    I know I am not as interesting as Blake (g), but I am genuinely interested to know if I accurately captured your view in the last paragraph of #203 (and I’m worried it will be forgotten if I don’t add this comment).

    Comment by Jacob J — July 7, 2007 @ 11:06 pm

  214. Sorry ’bout that. I see moral choice as being free in the sense that if a person had had different beliefs or desires at the time of some action, they would have acted differently. (That is a little loose, but I think you get the point.) Thus, I do see moral choice, and the responsibility which we assign to such actions as a form of counter-factual robustness. However, this should certainly not be construed as saying that any event which is counter-factual, even in a robust sense (think of computer programs here) is making moral choices and should be held responsible. Moral choice and responsibility is a very specific subset of counter-factual robustness. The latter is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for the former.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 7, 2007 @ 11:11 pm

  215. Jeff: Your response answers nothing at all. I ask how the physical could possibly be equated with thoughts and beliefs and you respond: well until it’s shown to be impossible, it is possible. Well, I suppose so, but the same argument could be made for mermaids. You have asserted that it is possible but fail to provide any reason at all to believe it. All kinds of matter lacks consciousness. You say that matter with a certain function = consciousness. Well, adding a function doesn’t close the gap in any way. It just asserts that matter + form = consciousness. In this case, the = sign means “magically appears without explanation.”

    I argued that thoughts and beliefs are incommensurable with physicalism. They cannot be reduced to the physical because they don’t reduce and they cannot be explained in terms of one another. Thus, it seems that you are making the category mistake here. Further, that is a fairly clear logical reason why function of merely physical substances is not just another way of speaking about consciousness from another perspective.

    Your “response” to Kim is no response. In fact, you accept that mental properties have no causal effect over and above physical properties. Thus, mental properties are in the literal sense epiphenomenal on your view.

    I admit that your example of the heart just escapes me. Hearts can be seen pumping blood or lying inert after death. They have causal effects and there is no issue for elimination or reduction to something else. So just what you think the comparison is supposed to be is just beyond me. What am I missing? It seems completely irrelevant to me. If you’re suggesting that a heart just is the heart’s function, then I would suggest that you’re just missing the point. Thought and beliefs have no function on your view! On the other hand, the function and biological make-up of the heart is obvious. The size, weight and molecular constituents of the heart can all be measured and identified. That isn’t so with beliefs and thoughts.

    As for free will — if computers had different physical states they would have acted differently too. Yet no one in their right mind takes this counterfactual possibility as a reason to attribute free will or moral responsibility to computers.

    Comment by Blake — July 7, 2007 @ 11:33 pm

  216. Jeff: I found your acceptance of Fodor very interesting. The problem with his functionalism is of course that there are no algorithms yet identified for reducing the semantic to the syntactic as his view requires.

    However, I think that you’ll find it very interesting that he gives an argument for emergentism very much like ones I have given here in this review of Galen Strawson: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n10/fodo01_.html

    BTW I also agree with Fodor about the nonsense of evolutionary psychology. It’s worse than question begging without evidence for claims that badly need evidence. It is simple nonsense.

    Comment by Blake — July 8, 2007 @ 12:02 am

  217. Jeff G.,

    I used divine intervention as an example because it is the most obvious case where determinism contradicts fundamental gospel doctrines.

    This is not very complicated. “Lacks the power to” simply means there is no available means by which an agent may undertake X under any circumstances, given the present state of affairs.

    The defining feature of determinism is that the future is fixed. Therefore, either A undertakes X or A does not undertake X is a present fact.

    And by definition, A does not have power to undertake X, when it is a fact that A does not undertake X.

    Likewise, A does not have power to refrain from undertaking X, when it is a fact that X undertakes X.

    To pretend otherwise is to violate the law of non-contradiction. The future is fixed in determinism, thus it is manifestly obvious that A has no power to undertake an action contrary to that fixed future.

    So if you would like a more trivial example, if determinism is true, it is now a fact that you either lack the power to eat Cheerios for breakfast tommorrow, or you lack the power to refrain from eating Cheerios for breakfast tommorrow.

    And that is a trivial consequence of the fact that in determinism, whether you actually eat Cheerios for breakfast tommorrow is a present fact that you have no power to avert, all illusion to the contrary.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 8, 2007 @ 9:10 am

  218. Jeff: The reason that I bring up the notion that a computer has counterfactually robust states is to argue that it is not sufficient for either free will or moral responsibility (as you admit) and to suggest that your physicalism eliminates necessary conditions that are necessary for even compatibilism (not to mention what I regard as anything that really amounts to free will and moral responsibility). For example, at the very least mental causation is necessary to even compatibilism. Physicalism is therefore also eliminative of free will and moral responsibility in addition to phenomenal properties of mind and things like beliefs, desires, thoughts and so forth. I believe that your view reduces the world to insentient substances and therefore cannot account for — and in fact logically excludes — a great deal of what any adequate view must account for in human experience. Needless to say, I find such a view to be vastly inadequate and contrary to what we know about the world.

    Comment by Blake — July 8, 2007 @ 11:19 am

  219. Blake,

    I have no clue why you keep insisting that I’m an epiphenomenalist. Epiphenomenalism is a form of dualism, something I am clearly not. Indeed, since I am an eliminativist as to qualia I don’t see how epiphenomenalism is even an option for me. It is for this same reason that I have no trouble seeing mental events such as beliefs and desires as being physical events since there is nothing metaphysically extravagant about mental states as I see them. They are simply computational states and nothing more. It’s because you mean something very different by “mental states” than I do that you have a difficult time imagining them being physical. If I believed in mental states as you do, I would also have a hard time imagining how they could possibly be physical states.

    I will have to address your other comments a little later.

    Mark,

    “Therefore, either A undertakes X or A does not undertake X is a present fact.”

    What difference would this ever make? Since your sentence is ambiguous between two readings, let’s modify it a bit by saying that A will, at some time in the future, undertake X. This fact is already true, but from what perspective? Again, one which absolutely nobody occupies. It is for this reason that the fact that A will undertake X makes absolutely no difference for anybody.

    With this clarification in place, my previous comment should make more sense. If A will undertake X, as we have posited, it will be, according to determinism, because A desired X, had the necessary beliefs to fulfill this desire and was able to undertake X.

    For the sake of completeness let us suppose that in undertaking X, A refrains from undertaking Y. Accordingly, A will NOT undertake Y because A did not desire Y, did not have the necessary belief to fulfill this desire or was not able to undertake Y.

    Both of these facts were in place from time immemorial, but so what? Would you prefer the opposite of these facts were true? I simply don’t see want could ever be gained by such a move.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 8, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

  220. Jeff: Indeed, since I am an eliminativist as to qualia I don’t see how epiphenomenalism is even an option for me? Since you claim not be an eliminativist regarding beliefs and mental states like desires, you are not an eliminativist regarding all mental properties. I’ll discuss the mental properties below that you claim to believe exist and are not eliminated. But this desperate eliminative move won’t work for mental properties like beliefs that you clearly don’t eliminate.

    You reject qualia. That is a very desperate move to avoid dealing with phenomenal experiences since it is fairly obvious that there is “something that it is like to be aware of experiencing beauty.” Indeed, such experiences sometimes have power to move me to tears. Since you believe that such experiences don’t exist, I argue that you just deny fundamental aspects of human experience. It is very telling when a theory not only fails to explain very basic human experiences but attempts to deceive itself into believing we don’t have anything of the sort.

    Jeff: If I believed in mental states as you do, I would also have a hard time imagining how they could possibly be physical states.

    Jeff, your view is absurd. It isn’t that we have a different view about what beliefs are; it is that you eliminate beliefs altogether and pretend that you can still accommodate them in your ontology. You have to show how having beliefs, like the belief that beliefs are physical states, could be physical states because it is certainly not obvious that any physical states are beliefs. Because there are obviously physical states that don’t include or constitute beliefs, you must show what is different about a belief-qua-physical-state and a physical-states-sans-belief. You point to function — but it is a vacuous pointing. It is like saying, “see, this neuron is experiencing being aware of experiencing beauty!” It is simple non-sense. Do you believe that your neurons, even properly functioning neurons, have beliefs?

    You also ignore Kim’s argument that shows that there is no mental causation given physicalism and thus beliefs play no role in anything. Thus, the compatibilist assertion that we are free if we can do as we desire is vacuous since the desire turns out to be merely what we do. Further, the belief plays no role whatsoever in explaining human behavior. In that sense, beliefs are epiphenomenal (we have beliefs but they are nothing over and above physical causes). You ignore the argument that beliefs are fundamentally different types of things that are not extended and don’t have mass. You have ignored my argument that they cannot be reduced to merely physical states. However, ignoring everything I argue and then claiming that we just have a different view about what beliefs are, doesn’t absolve you of answering the arguments. Nor does it suggest how it is even plausible that beliefs are nothing over and above physical states. So once again I press the point — how could a belief that I am seeing something beautiful be just a physical state? Show me how one can be a description of the other without loss of meaning.

    Comment by Blake — July 8, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  221. Jeff,

    While your suggested statements are true, they are also irrelevant. The problem with determinism here rests on its fixity of the future. The statements you suggest have nothing to do with whether the future is fixed or not.

    You cannot defeat an argument with a red herring. You must attack either the premises or the logic.

    (1) Determinism entails that future states are a strict function of prior states. (Definition of determinism).

    (2) At future time T, agent A either undertakes action X or does not undertake action X. (Law of non-contradiction)

    (3) Whether agent A undertakes X or does not undertake X at future time T is a strict function of the present state of affairs. (Substitution, definition of determinism).

    (4) The present state of affairs is an existing, present fact. (Realism)

    (5) Whether agent A undertakes X or does not undertake X at future time T is an existing, present fact. (Substitution)

    (6) One of (A undertakes X, A does not undertake X) at future time T is a logical necessity, the other is a logical impossibility. (Nature of present facts about future states)

    (7) No one has power to undertake a logical impossibility. (Definition of power, possibility)

    (8) No one has the power to refrain from undertaking a logical necessity. (Definition of power, necessity)

    (9) If A undertakes X at time T is a present fact, A undertakes X at time T is a logical necessity, and A lacks the power to refrain from undertaking X at time T.

    (10) If A does not undertake X at time T is a present fact, A does not undertake X at time T is a logical necessity, and A lacks the power to undertake X at time T.

    (11) One of (9), (10) is true. A either lacks the power to undertake X, or A lacks the power to refrain from undertaking X.

    It makes no difference whether A perceives or believes that he is making a free and unconstrained decision whether or not to undertak X here, determinism requires that the outcome of his decision has been fixed for all eternity.

    If determinism is true, A is not exercising real discretion in his decision making process, he is merely becoming aware of an outcome that could never have been otherwise, acting out his destiny as a cog in a universal calculator.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 8, 2007 @ 2:14 pm

  222. Mark: Premise (6) does not follow from any argument and it isn’t true. The notion of necessity at issue isn’t logical necessity but past necessity. Thus, the argument is invalid. There is a valid argument for the same conclusion that can be given based on the necessity of the past and the fixity of the laws of nature and the fact that no person has power to alter either the laws or the past.

    Comment by Blake — July 8, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  223. Mark,

    Let’s just say that 11 does follow. So what? Nobody, not even God, would ever know the difference whether 11 was true or not. It would never make any difference to anybody at all. This is the point I’ve repeated about a dozen times now.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 8, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  224. I would also ask you whether or not it is just as much a present fact whether A will or will not do X in the future under LFW? Whether A does or does not do X, there is a fact of the matter whether determinism is true or not.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 8, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

  225. Jeff: Whether A does or does not do X, there is a fact of the matter whether determinism is true or not.

    Actually, no there isn’t. The truth value of future contingent propositions is indeterminate on most theories of propositions about future LFW and quantum effects. If determinism is true, then there is already a fact of the matter about all future propositons and none of them are contigent but past-fact-necessary.

    Comment by Blake — July 8, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

  226. Jeff,

    No. Whether A will or will not undertake X at future time T is not a present fact in LFW. In LFW, it does not become a fact until the moment of action. That is the basic difference between an open future and a closed one.

    The consequence of (11) is that in determinism one is not free to choose whether or not to undertake future action X because at every prior time he either lacks the power to undertake X, or the power to refrain from undertaking X. Any perception of the actual freedom to choose is illusory – as if a computer program with known inputs would produce different results when run over again.

    This further applies to God. Provided that he did not create the universe out of nothing, for every complete set of mutually exclusive outcomes X1,X2,….XN, in determinism God lacks the power to accomplish N-1 of them and lacks the power to prevent the remaining one.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 8, 2007 @ 6:01 pm

  227. Blake,

    Allow me to reword:

    (1) Determinism entails that future states are a strict function of prior states. (Definition of determinism, fixity of natural laws).

    (2) At future time T, agent A either undertakes action X or does not undertake action X. (Law of non-contradiction)

    (3) Whether agent A undertakes X or does not undertake X at future time T is a strict function of the present state of affairs. (Substitution, definition of determinism).

    (4) The present state of affairs is an existing, present fact. (Realism)

    (5) Whether agent A undertakes X or does not undertake X at future time T is an existing, present fact. (Substitution)

    (6) One of (A undertakes X, A does not undertake X) at future time T is a factual necessity, the other a factual impossibility, given the present state of affairs and the fixity of the past.

    (7) No one has power to undertake a factual impossibility. (Definition of power, possibility)

    (8) No one has the power to refrain from undertaking a factual necessity. (Definition of power, necessity)

    (9) If A undertakes X at time T is a present fact, A undertakes X at time T is a factual necessity, and A lacks the power to refrain from undertaking X at time T.

    (10) If A does not undertake X at time T is a present fact, A does not undertake X at time T is a factual necessity, and A lacks the power to undertake X at time T.

    (11) One of (9), (10) is true. A either lacks the power to undertake X, or A lacks the power to refrain from undertaking X.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 8, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  228. Jeff G,

    It would never make any difference to anybody at all. This is the point I’ve repeated about a dozen times now.

    You’re right, you have mentioned this several times and no one has taken on this objection explicitely. I think we should.

    The reason it makes a difference to me is that a causally determined future undermines the concept of moral responsibility even if no one (not even God) knew before hand what would happen. None of the arguments showing determinism to be incompatible with moral responsibility rely on whether or not anyone knew before hand what would happen. Thus, I am not entirely sure which problem you think this solves.

    From your #214, I gather that my summary at the end of #203 is correct. The “could have done other” in your view maps directly to “there are other possible universes.” I don’t see this as providing any basis whatsoever for moral responsibility.

    You said in #214 that computers are not morally culpable; moral choices and responsibility require more than counter-factual robustness. What other condition is necessary to make a computer morally responsible?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 8, 2007 @ 8:01 pm

  229. Mark: the sound and valid argument has the following form. Let P be any true proposition; let Po be a proposition expressing the complete state of the world at a time in the distant past; and let L be a proposition expressing the conjunction of the laws of nature. Let the N-operator mean that no agent has “ultimate-causal control” over P. Also let’s adopt a rule of inference that seems iron-clad we can call Beta 2: (p → q) & Np implies Nq. We therefore have the following argument:

    (1) ((Po& L) → P)(definition of determinism)
    (2) N(Po& L)
    (3) N(P)(1, 2, Rule Beta 2)

    Comment by Blake — July 8, 2007 @ 9:47 pm

  230. Thanks, Blake.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 8, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

  231. “The reason it makes a difference to me is that a causally determined future undermines the concept of moral responsibility even if no one (not even God) knew before hand what would happen.”

    Yes, it undermines moral responsibility, but again, only from a perspective which nobody, not even God occupies.

    Again, I think it is important to keep two positions separate:

    1) We ought to believe that the universe is not deterministic.
    2) The universe is not deterministic.

    While I, as a determinist, as committed to rejecting (2), I fully allow for (1) to be true. Indeed, I have a similar set of positions regarding religion in general: they are almost surely false, but it very well might be the case that we ought to believe them any ways. Of course, I’m not personally persuaded that I ought to believe in religion or that the universe is not deterministic, but I do think these positions fairly defensible.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 9, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

  232. I don’t have time to say much. (Hopefully later tonight) I’d just throw out my broken record of a note. There are positions other than determinism and libertarianism. Let’s avoid the false dichotomy.

    Comment by Clark — July 9, 2007 @ 5:03 pm

  233. Jeff: Yes, it undermines moral responsibility, but again, only from a perspective which nobody, not even God occupies.

    Jeff, it is one thing to make such pontifications from a human perspective which denies that we have access to the kind of knowledge necessary to make such assertions; it is beyond the pale to speak about what is the case from God’s perspective (especially since from you perspective there is no such perspective).

    Comment by Blake — July 9, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  234. Clark: Either things are fully determined or they are not. Surely determinism has consequences for free will. so it isn’t a false dichotomy from that perspective. However, there are many positions of LFW and certainly there are many position regarding what determinism is and what it entails. I have yet to be persuaded that your hermeneutic really stakes out a position at all. So I’ll await your response that lays out some third perspective that over-arches and somehow avoids all of these issues. I know you’ve addressed it before, bit I guess I am dumb because I just don’t see what it is yet.

    Comment by Blake — July 9, 2007 @ 5:17 pm

  235. Yeah Clark — I gotta see your attempt at this again. The last I heard you were saying that we made all of our free choices at the moment of the big bang and we are now living out our fated and fixed future here. I can’t see how that solves the vast majority of the theological problems that regular old determinism faces in Mormonism though.

    (I probably need to start a new thread since things got very technical on the th philosophy of mind after about comment 180…)

    Comment by Geoff J — July 9, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  236. Blake,

    I repeat (yet again) I am describing a very specific form of Mormonism. If you have a different form in mind, then I have nothing to say to you.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 9, 2007 @ 5:26 pm

  237. That was supposed to a generic third person “you”, not a pointed attack at “you” in the second person.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 9, 2007 @ 5:27 pm

  238. Traditional Calvinists believe in theological determinism, the idea that God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. That seems strange, except when compared with the logical consequences of LDS determinism, which appears to include the proposition that everything that comes to pass is a matter of sheer luck.

    How else can an LDS determinist explain why some are righteous and some are not? Determinism requires the nature of each individual’s behavior to be logically prior to any decisions they actually make – dependent only on the limit of some sort of initial conditions.

    So instead of God saving and condemning according to his own will and pleasure, as in Calvinism, or a person freely choosing to accept God’s grace, as in Arminianism, we have casino theology – the idea that the salvation and reprobation of all mankind is strictly a matter of random chance. What other alternative is there?

    Comment by Mark D. — July 9, 2007 @ 7:05 pm

  239. Sorry Jeff, I’ll keep in mind that you’re addressing a view and not promoting one. I just don’t see how it changes the fact that no one has the epistemic standing to make such statements.

    Still, it seems that Mark has hit the nail on the head. If the effects of causal determinants are logically and/or chronologically prior to what we are and/or what we choose (even if in accordance with desires over which we have no control), then it seems that who is saved and damned is a matter of sheer luck. Moreover, it seems that even in a secular model of determinism we are merely effects of causes over which we have no control. What we believe, what we do, the cards that are dealt us are a matter of sheer, dumb, random luck. How could there be any rational thought if my thoughts and conclusions are all the result of sheer, random, blind, dumb luck?

    Comment by Blake — July 9, 2007 @ 7:51 pm

  240. Jeff G,

    Yes, it undermines moral responsibility, but again, only from a perspective which nobody, not even God occupies.

    No, I am arguing that it undermines moral responsibility from my perspective (i.e. the one that I personally occupy). Whether or not someone genuinely has moral responsibility is not a function of whether or not their actions were foreknown. Why do you think responsibility is a matter of perspective in the first place? It is entirely a question of whether a person had, at the time of action, the ability to act in more than one way (responsibility) and a belief that they ought to act in some way rather than another (morality). Take either of those away and you have removed moral responsibility.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 9, 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  241. If anybody still has the patience for this never ending debate, I’ve got a new LFW post up.

    Comment by Jeff G — October 4, 2010 @ 11:49 pm

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