How Does Libertarian Free Will reject Causal Determinism?

June 28, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 10:29 pm   Category: Determinism vs. free will

Ok, If you’ve been around a while, you know that I’ve never had a philosophy lesson in my life, and that I am pretty ignorant on these sorts of things. But I’m trying to get better and I’ve recently discovered the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and am learning, but have some questions.

So, Libertarian means we are “are, at least initially, full self-owners” [1] Free will is “capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives’ [2] Thus when we speak of libertarian free will we mean that as people who have ownership of themselves, we make choices for oursleves among the various alternatives open to us.

Now let’s add in the concept of Determinism, which is “the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature” [3] Another way of saying this is that “Determinism requires a world that (a) has a well-defined state or description, at any given time, and (b) laws of nature that are true at all places and times. If we have all these, then if (a) and (b) together logically entail the state of the world at all other times (or, at least, all times later than that given in (b)), the world is deterministic.” [4]

Compatabalism says these two things don’t have a problem coexisting. [5] Personally, I am not sure I see the problem either. I know there are many who blog here who will set me strait, but let me lay out my tentative thoughts on this, then rip me apart.

1. As Joseph Said “The mind of man is as immortal as God himself… their spirits existed co-equal with God” [6] In that we are self existent, and have always, at some level, had “mind” or “spirit”, then we can say at some level we had self-ownership.

2. Joseph also taught “God had materials to organize the world out of chaos; chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existence from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles that can never be destroyed. They may be organized and re-organized; but not destroyed.” [7] Thus we see that not only are we always existent, but so is the universe, and thus the laws of the universe in which we exist are true at all places and times. These laws, it would seem, are constant.

3. So assuming the universe is this infinite space full of infinite always-existing matter and spirits, this still sets up a finite group of alternatives which can be chosen from by an agent at any given time, in that only a finite sub group of this infinite amount of matter can interact with the agent at any given single point in time, and the laws of the universe are set. We can thus say a man who is limited to three choices is determined but free because he is free to choose for himself between those three choices based on his awareness of having choices.

So that’s what I think I understand at this point. Anyone care to tell me where I took a left at Albuquerque?

[1] here

[2] here

[3] here

[4] here

[5] here

[6] here

[7] ibid.


  1. Matt W.,

    As a matter of definition, “libertarian free will” is the kind of free will that is incompatible with strict causal determinism. You can argue that LFW is a misnomer, but you cannot say that LFW is compatible with Laplacian determinism without abusing contemporary usage. LFW is an incompatibilist view.

    The main problem with causal determinism is that it makes the concept of moral responsibility questionable. Determinism means that every past (and future) action has been eternally unavoidable. How can a bank robber be held accountable for his crime if its occurence has always been set in stone? If determinism is true, there is no possibility that the robber could have taken any action or made any reformation at any time in the past that would have led him to do something other than rob the bank.

    A secondary objection is that determinism (plus conservation of energy) makes time an illusion and makes history repeat itself, verbatim, an infinite number of times, like clockwork (Poincaire recurrence theorem). The general theme of the scriptures is the eventual and ultimate triumph of good over evil. If determinism is true, everything we do is in vain, because the world is destined to return to the way it was yesterday, indeed to the way it was billions of years ago.

    Everything you learned, every talent you acquired, every weakness you overcame, every memory you made, and every relationship you built will be overthrown and undone, and you will have to do it all over again. Eternal Groundhog Day.

    “This is my work and my glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” If determinism is true, there is no such thing as immortality, nor eternal life, nor “bringing to pass”.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 28, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

  2. Matt,

    If I understand the angle you are shooting for in yoru 1,2,3 at the end of the post, you are very close to what Adam Greenwood was arguing for on this wonderful thread from the past (seriously, I went to grab the link and got caught up reading a 100 or so comments just because it was such an interesting conversation (to further this tangent, Greenwood and JNS should come by more often, we are often lacking such articulate purveyors of the opposing point of view).

    Again, if I read you right, you are suggesting that we have always existed, so we can be said to govern ourselves, but we behave deterministically because we are made of matter which follows set laws. Have I got you right?

    Comment by Jacob J — June 29, 2008 @ 1:18 am

  3. Anyone care to tell me where I took a left at Albuquerque?

    Yep. In a fully deterministic universe there are never real (open, non-predetermined) choices to be made so the free and open choices you are describing in your hypothetical world are not compatible with a fully deterministic universe at all.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 29, 2008 @ 7:41 am

  4. Geoff:
    In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, it notes that determinism need not necassarily mean fatalism or predictability.
    Is the answer simply that the SEP defines determinism in a way different than we do? I mean, Do you agree that there is an eternal law throughout all time and space which and has a well defined state or description? (Of course, can anything that if infintiely large and full of infinite things be considered well defined?)I mean it is somewhat obvious that our choices are limited by law and situation to a certain group of choices based on the situation we are in right? According to my reading of SEP, this is determinism, from my reading. In my thinking, it connects more with your concept of limited free will, to my thinking.

    I can’t promise to be as erudite or impassioned as either JNS or Adam, but what I lack in ability, I make up for in stupidity. I am saying that while we are self-owned beings which have always existed, we live within the universe and surrounded by other entities, and are thus purpetually acting upon and being acted upon other things within the confines of the natural laws. Thus due to these limits, we can say our options are determined.

    Mark D: Dude you are so much smarter than me, but I’ll have a go. As I said to Geoff, the SEP doesn’t seem to equate all causal determinsm necassarily with laplace’s demon leaving us absolutely without options. Thus we have limited accountability based on what options actually are available to us. Thus a tibetan bank robber will not be held accoutable for not being an american surfer, because that option was never available to him.

    As for the time issue, since there are still a finite set of choices available in the form of determinism I am (possibly incorrectly) putting forth, doesn’t this point more to what Widtsoe termed a universe that is perpetually expanding in complexity.

    Could it be said I am putting forth a “soft” determinism?

    Comment by Matt W. — June 29, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  5. Matt,

    I worry that you aren’t really disagreeing with Geoff. Geoff would agree that casual laws greatly “constrain” the options which we have to choose from, just so long as there are, when it comes down to it, more than one option from which to choose. What Geoff sees as the problem with determinism is not that our options are constrained, but that it leaves no genuine options at all. From what you have said, it is hard to tell whether you are actually embracing determinism or not.

    This is not to say, however, that I agree with Geoff’s view. I am completely on the side of determinism and a bit of revisionist when it comes to things such as “choice”, “freedom” and the like.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 29, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

  6. Jeff G: It my simply that I am not in fact disagreeing, but am in reality seeking greater understanding. If anything, I am saying I think determinism can exist without leaving us no genuine options at all.

    Our envorionment, our upbringing, our genetics, our personal experiences, eternal natural law: these determinants do constrain the choices we have to make. So determinism is real. I think they just don’t constrain our choices enough so that only one option is available in every circumstance. In other words, if there is something about our mind that is eternal, this thing is also a determinant, in connection with all the other factors.

    I think determinism gets a bad rap. If the options are that I make choices based on what is going on around me and my experiences, or I make choices absolutely at random, I’ll take the first.

    It just seems to me that I can obviously think things and do things randomly if I so choose to do so. see? But it also reasonable to see that I am constrained in my choices by deterministic factors as well. Thus compatabilism.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 29, 2008 @ 7:12 pm

  7. “am saying I think determinism can exist without leaving us no genuine options at all.”

    Well, this is what a lot of the debate over LFW has boiled down to: what, exactly, is a genuine option? I say that options which are genuine enough exist. Blake and Geoff say that the options which I speak of are not genuine enough. While I think your intuitions regarding the nature of law and matter in Mormonism are similar to mine, I’m not sure what your feelings are about the consequences which follow from such doctrines.

    “hese determinants do constrain the choices we have to make. So determinism is real. I think they just don’t constrain our choices enough so that only one option is available in every circumstance.”

    Right here is where you go wrong. Determinism is not the idea that things outside of our control cause us to behave the way we do. Everybody in the debate grants this. What determinism means is, somewhat crudely, that when you get down to it, there is nothing more than these outside forces. Of course the difficulty which immediately arises is how to clearly define what we mean by “outside” us.

    What the determinist is committed to is the idea that the state of affairs which existed 10 years before I was created were sufficient to determine what I do today. (Of course the idea that there never was any “before” I was created in Mormon doctrine throws quite the wrench in this. It is debatable how big this wrench actually is, but you get the idea.)

    Comment by Jeff G — June 29, 2008 @ 8:11 pm

  8. Matt,

    Jeff is absolutely correct here. If you think there are choices one can make that are independent of what we have often referred to as “the great causal chain” then you are likely adhering to some variation of libertarianism (like most Mormons do whether they know it or not).

    The question is not whether some things are entirely causally determined in the universe, the question is if some things (like us) are not entirely causally determined.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2008 @ 12:14 am

  9. Matt W.,

    The quote from SEP is accurate:

    “Determinism requires a world that (a) has a well-defined state or description, at any given time, and (b) laws of nature that are true at all places and times. If we have all these, then if (a) and (b) together logically entail the state of the world at all other times (or, at least, all times later than that given in (b)), the world is deterministic.”

    What that means is that given the state of affairs at the present time, there is only one possible future and only one possible past. That is what “logically entails the state of the world at all other times” means.

    Of course there are other “possible” worlds where the state of affairs is completely different, but none of those worlds are (or have ever been) accessible to us. With determinism the future is as fixed right now as if it were already captured on film.

    Furthermore, to the degree that other “possible” worlds can be said to exist, determinism means that nothing about them is a proper consequence of the action or preferences of any (temporal) being, but rather is a consequence of some sort of cosmic accident. Nothing has any more significance than a role of the dice.

    In such a world, is hard to tell what the word “action” even means. Determinism is literally a world where no one takes any actions. Clockwork from start to finish.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 30, 2008 @ 12:14 am

  10. Jeff G, Geoff, and Mark: So basically you are saying determinism isn’t determinism unless it is absolutely fatalistic, from your point of view, right? I don’t pretend to be absolutely that smart on this topic(or any topic), but it seems to me that perhaps a major issue is defining “self” in this. Like you say, what is outside of us? Am I the sum of my past, experiences, and physiology, or am I something that is within and acted upon by these things?

    One thing to think about is that if you follow Brigham Young’s model, then determinism is absolutely correct, in that we are basically the aggregate derivative of the components from which we are made (spirit matter). Of course, this entails that we have not always existed, or atleast the part of us that has always existed bears no connection really to the us that exists now, except that it was deterministically inevitable that we would go from that state to this state.

    However, in Joseph’s Model, we have always existed in some higher state, it would seem. Thus there was always some sense of self, and we can say we were always self-owned in that there was always some sense of self. I think it is fair to say though that this self-owned entity, atleast in this life time, is ever expanding, in that it is acquiring more information via various channels. Also, this being has acquired a body and is either limited or increased by this body (depending on your point of view) My question is are these things external determining factors upon the eternal-self owned entity, or are they part of the being? I think, Jeff, you are saying these are external to the self, correct?

    This being the case, let me try and give an example where with all factors being external, the Josephian Self can exist in a compatabilist way.
    I hypothesize that there are an extremely large number of external determinants acting upon the self, but in a way akin to the scientific method, the self can combined these factors at random, thus creating new unpredictable results in a synergistic fashion. It’s unpredictable because while the laws of the universe are constant, if there are an infinite quantity of components which react in an infinite variety of ways, then the results, though determinitive are unpredictable because. It is non-fatalistic because of the self-owned entities ability to randomly combine determinants. But of course, you could argue that these determinants, though randomly combined, need to have some form of subjective methodology intrinsic to the self-owned being to decide which combinations are “good” and which are “bad” so you could externalize this self-owned being component from the self as being then just another deterministic factor upon the self, and thus negating the existance of the self, and moving back to the Brigham Young Model, in a sense.

    Ok, so as I am trying to go through this, a natural reaction is to say “Is it reasonable to take a look at the actions I am doing right now, and wonder what has brought me to this instant”.

    Doing this, I can say I wouldn’t be able to think the things I am thinking now without the experiences and information that has been made available to me.

    Sadly, I am out of time for the moment, but will continue this backwards (literally) reasoning later. In short, if we go back far enough, there is some dormant self with some intrinsic sense of good, randomly bouncing around among an infinite variety of other bits of information, for an infinite period of time, with an infinitely high and inifinitely low probability of bumping into the bit it needs to connect with to deterministically create everything. (?)

    Yeah, I need to get back to work…

    Comment by Matt W. — June 30, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  11. Matt,

    Fatalism (according to the SEP) means that “we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do”. Since determinism means the future is fixed, it is hard to imagine how anyone can argue that in such a world one has power to do something different.

    “Power” (with reference to individuals) is another of those terms that is essentially meaningless in a deterministic world. In determinism an individual has no more power to avoid a course of action than a clock has to keep from striking twelve.

    Comment by Mark D. — June 30, 2008 @ 9:10 am

  12. Mark:

    determinism means the future is fixed

    This is the very thing I am challenging. I would say determinism means the future is partially fixed. I think this truism is common sense.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 30, 2008 @ 9:23 am

  13. I would say determinism means the future is partially fixed

    Matt, this is an internally incoherent claim. “Partially fixed” is basically saying “not really fixed”. We have to look at the future as a whole and either it is fully determined right now or it isn’t. If you think that there are undetermined aspects of the future then you are not a determinist. Rather, you adhere to indeterminism.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2008 @ 9:39 am

  14. There are two senses of fatalism. One is the idea of powerlessness to do other than we do. The other is that no matter what we do the same future results.

    Comment by Clark — June 30, 2008 @ 9:57 am

  15. Just to expand, the way fatalism is typically used in literature is the claim that nothing I do matters since the future is fixed. Yet a determinist would argue that our acts matter a lot since they are a necessary part of what brings about a particular future. So there’s just some equivocation in all this.

    With regards to predictability the future could well be fixed without there being a set of simple laws that would could make predictions from. Consider chaos theory which is a mathematically determinate system. Yet slight errors in knowledge compound and make knowledge of future states of the system nearly impossible without perfect present knowledge and the ability to do perfect calculations. Thus you have determinism without predictability.

    One should also urge caution with regards to responsibility and determinism. While I think there are few, if any, who argue our linguistic sense of freedom is compatible with determinism there are a fair number who think responsibility is. That is they’d argue that free will (in our linguistic sense) is not necessary for responsibility. They have quite a few thought experiments for this. The reasons libertarians disagree get complex. I think they end up hinging on needing a thinking substance (either as a separate substance ala Descartes or as something emergent with downward causal ability). Thus there is something “unknowable” such that choice can’t be known and modified while remaining a choice. Not everyone agrees in the least with those metaphysical requirements. Many, while willing to retire the metaphysics perhaps entailed by our language don’t think we need jettison our notion of responsibility.

    My guess is that our linguistic uses of both responsibility and freedom need revised although it’s not clear entirely how to do it. I think we err when we move too much from intuition or language to metaphysical necessity.

    Comment by Clark — June 30, 2008 @ 11:05 am

  16. The phrase “able to do otherwise” is a very slippery term.

    Dennett asks us to consider a missed golf putt. Under determinism it would seem that our golfer could not have made that putt. This is partially true, for if we put our golfer in the EXACT same scenario over, he will miss that putt over and over again. If, however, the golfer changes something very small (account for a gentle slope to the left, doesn’t pay attention to the sirens in the distance, isn’t quite so rushed by other people trying to play through, did have that drink earlier this afternoon, etc.) then of course he could have made the putt. This, I suggest is what we actually mean when we say that the golfer could have made that putt, or could have done otherwise.

    The LFWer, however, will still protest that we don’t care about those slightly altered putts. We want to know if the golfer could have made THAT VERY putt, and the answer under determinism is ‘no.’

    Fair enough, says the determinist, but why should we care? In other words, why is the golfer’s ability to make those ever so slightly modified putts not good enough?

    A couple of other points:

    Determinists all believe that “actions” exist. Perhaps some argument can be put forward to why these determinists are wrong, but we should avoid caricatures of other people’s positions.

    Inasmuch as determinism equals fatalism, it is difficult to see why fatalism is so bad. People try to make it sound like determinism means that there is some end point which you will end up at no matter how much you try to fight it. This is only partially true, for even though there is some end point which cannot be changed, nobody knows what it is. Therefore it is impossible to “fight against it” since we don’t know we are for or against in this fight. Furthermore, all that fighting is exactly what leads us to that predetermined end point, be it good or bad.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 30, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

  17. Jeff: I’d say that since the future doesn’t exist, then that pre-determined end point also doesn’t exist along with it.

    I find the putt example a little to loose, so may I change it around a bit. Maybe instead of successfully making the put, which goes outside the self existant agent, with factors such as wind change etc, let’s look at something like the decision to attempt the putt. This could be connected to a large number of determined factors. We could name all the big obvious ones liek “Am I on a golf course?”, “Do I have a golf club?” but there are more subtle deterministic factors. How about: “Am I confident I can make this putt?” Is confidence 100% externally determined, or are there some things intrinsic to the agent which allow them to cultivate confidence. Are these things able to be seperated out from the agent or are they agent themselves?

    Anyway, to jump back to the every so slightly modifed putts. If the agent is not self-aware of his determined state and of the determinative factors acting upon him, how can he possibly make slight modifications? Is his awareness a determined effect or is it some component of himself?

    Geoff and Jeff: I just don’t think determinism needs to equal fatalism. AND I don’t see how LFW equalling random decision making some how protects responsibility in any way better than total determinism.

    An example.

    A man shoots and kills another

    Man A is Determined Man and does this because when he was a baby, he never had a firetruck. The fault is not his, but is the fault of the non-existent firetruck.

    Man B is LFW man. He makes his decisions based on “nothing”? In our society, a man who makes decisions like this would probably be considered mentally unstable at best, and would have a high chance of pleading for insanity.

    Man C is self owned partially determined man. He has built himself and has been built by his selection of factors around him. He has selected these factors based on his understanding of the situation at hand and his awareness of these factors. He chooses to shoot and kill another because of his experiences. He is responsible.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 30, 2008 @ 2:57 pm

  18. Matt, as long as Man C has a real choice to kill or not to kill, we’re talking LFW.

    Comment by Eric Russell — June 30, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

  19. Matt,

    I too have accused Geoff and Blake of endorsing uncaused randomness over determinism, but this doesn’t do their view justice. They do not see a great causal chain which is broken only by the occasion flash of chaotic, unpredictable “self-caused-ness”. Instead they hold to something which Blake refers to as “radical emergence.

    In it, the mind just is more than the some of it parts, although it is able to effect “downward causation” upon its parts. (If don’t understand this part, you are not alone.) What their view amounts to, as near as I can tell, is a view which attempts to save all the good parts of Cartesian dualism without falling victim to the shortcomings of Cartesian dualism. (Of course I think the shortcomings are there, but they don’t see it this way.)

    So basically you are left with this, I perform action A. What caused me to perform action A? I did, and that’s all there is to it. Indeed, it’s precisely because that’s all there is to it that I am responsible for action A.

    “Anyway, to jump back to the every so slightly modifed putts. If the agent is not self-aware of his determined state and of the determinative factors acting upon him, how can he possibly make slight modifications? Is his awareness a determined effect or is it some component of himself?”

    In the example, the agent is not modifying the scenarios. We are simply considering different cases. To answer your questions, his awareness is a component of himself (in a manner of speaking) and as such is determined, just like everything else in the universe is. Under determinism, EVERYTHING is determined, environment, thinking, deciding, blaming, etc. Thus, any attempt to draw a line which clearly separated “me” from “my environment, my upbringing, etc. has very little relevance with whether something is determined or not.

    Comment by Jeff G — June 30, 2008 @ 3:47 pm

  20. Matt,

    Eric Russell is correct. Man C is a fine example of LFW in action.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

  21. Jeff G, nicely said in #19.

    Eric Russel is correct in what he means to say, but the principal argument between compatiblists and LFWers is over the meaning of the words “real choice,” so there is some precision missing.

    The distinction between fatalism and determinism is fairly annoying to me because although people bring it up all the time, the distinction never turns out to be very interesting to anyone. (They typically learn they were using the word fatalism incorrectly, but that what they *meant* by fatalism is, after all, implied by determinism.) You can read about this tangent one million places, but the wikipedia entry is not bad (Fatalism).

    Matt (#17), if determinism is correct, then there is no such thing, metaphysically speaking, as “the agent.” What do you mean when you say Man C “chooses to shoot”? Was there a possibility (given the previous history of the universe being what it was) that he could have chosen differently? If so, then you are rejecting determinism. To accept determinism, you must say that he “choose” to kill even though it was impossible for him to have done otherwise given history of the universe being what it was.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 30, 2008 @ 5:33 pm

  22. I agree Jacob. Jeff is en fuego in this thread. Lots of excellent comments and explanations.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

  23. Eric Russell: Man C is determined and LFW. Otherwise he would act at random or not act at all. Having a finite set of choices, in the paradigm I am setting forth entails a determined state, because if you only have 2 choices (shoot, don’t shoot), your options are fixed.

    Jeff G: I will do my best and do my homework of radical emergence, which as far as I can tell, was postulated by Jean Burns, correct?

    In any case, I did this because I did this is somewhat disappointing and short sited. I am proposing rather that the eternal self has certain characteristics unique to that self which are deterministic and allow that self a level of self determination.

    A long time ago you and I had a discussion about what these “epigenetic” characteristics would be, and while I was pretty dumb them, I haven’t gotten much smarter since.

    Finally, I believe in the concept of opposition in things, and that this brings a state of opposing deterministic forces in the which the external forces of good and bad are actng upon the agent, and the agent is thus free to choose for itself.

    Yes, my premise relies heavily on the existence of a always self-owned agent. I have not made up my mind if external information (awareness) which the agent decides to connect with and internalize would be considered external to the agent determined by others, or internal to the agent (self determined) as once it is internalized, it may become part of the self-determined agent.

    I’ll try to read the paper by jean over the long weekend, hopefully that gives people time to tell me if it isn’t the correct source.

    Geoff: Man C is definitely determined, however, as he is determined by his understanding (external information gathered) and his awareness (natural ability to gather external information)

    Jacob: In Soft Determinsim, There is an Agent. (note that I am not exactly agree with the soucre, just siting it). I’ll drop the fatalism point, since trying to make the distnction has added no value, fair enough?

    Clark, You say libertarianism requires a thinking substance. Do you think that our pre-mortal, progressing spirits always thought, or if we go back far enough, we get to some sub-level pre-thought state?

    Comment by Matt W. — June 30, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

  24. Matt I’ve not idea if we were always thinking. I’m partial to being aware in an infinite past but I don’t have a good reason to think that.

    Comment by Clark — June 30, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

  25. Matt,

    I’m afraid that despite all the enlightening comments by Jeff G and others here you seem to be still completely misunderstanding what the terms determinism and LFW entail. Let me make this part clear: Determinism and libertarian free will are, by definition, incompatible with each other. The compatibilists are just determinists who believe that the variety of “free will” one gets in a deterministic universe is good enough — but they also reject libertarian free will.

    So when you say things like “Man C is determined and LFW” it is simply nonsense. It is as meaningless as saying “Man C is a married bachelor”.

    Perhaps what you are angling for is “agent casual libertarianism”, which is the approach most of us LFWers around here prefer. As Jeff indicated, that approach assumes that agents themselves can deliberate and choose in ways that are not entirely determined by the great casual chain.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2008 @ 9:04 pm

  26. I actually think what Matt is after is a limited kind of determinism where structures are determined but within that structure is a kind of freedom. Sort of like how in quantum mechanics you define the wave equation which is determined based upon the constraints of your system. But within what is possible there are different freedoms.

    So you’re always is a space where multiple choices are possible but that some aspects of the universe are determined and thereby knowable.

    The problem, relative to human agents, is what kind of structures could still be persistent yet leave enough freedom open to avoid the kinds of determinism people don’t like. Not much. At best you’d have such limited freedom it wouldn’t be much different from determinism at all.

    Further simply having an undetermined opening doesn’t guarantee there’s LFW at all. Just that it’s possible LFW could work.

    Actually Geoff I’d think you’d be somewhat sympathetic since as I recall you think we have precious little freedom anyway – even if what we have is LFW. (A position Nibley shared as I recall)

    Comment by Clark — June 30, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

  27. Geoff,

    I don’t think Matt is angling for agent casual libertarianism. I think he is angling a very standard compatibilist position wherein we count an action as “free” so long as it was determined by the behavior of matter inside the “agent.” Hence all the talk of self-determination. So if your brain deterministically chose A instead of B, then you freely chose A instead of B, according to this paradigm. Of course, computers and cars and clocks and thunder storms and rocks all seem to me to be free based on this definition, but that seems more like what he is saying than agent casual libertarianism.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 30, 2008 @ 10:51 pm

  28. Clark,

    As Jacob points out, it is entirely unclear what Matt is angling for. I am all for him agreeing with my perspective (dubbed veto free will in the past — though I should have said that we mostly live “as if” we were causally determined in that post). But it seems to me that Matt is still struggling to grasp the basics of this general LFW debate.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 30, 2008 @ 11:27 pm

  29. I am curious to hear the interpretation of Abr 2:8 that all the “non-determinists” take.
    My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.

    At face value it seems to point to some form of determinism.

    Comment by Jimmy T — July 1, 2008 @ 7:02 am

  30. Jimmy T,

    It sounds like you are really talking about foreknowledge rather than determinism. See this entire category of posts on the subject of God’s Foreknowledge or lack thereof (look especially at some of the older posts).

    Comment by Geoff J — July 1, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  31. Geoff: In a sense, Clark is correct that I am hoping to find some agreeable ground between what you called ‘veto free will’ and I called ‘limited free will’ earlier in this thread. However, I am trying to take it to the next step, which is upon what criteria we decide to veto or not veto in these instances. Thus the rub. If it is unclear what I am angling for, it is because I am experimenting with my argument as I construct it, rather than coming in with a pre-formed opinion.

    Jeff has basically put up that the LFW defenders position is that people do what they do because they do what they do, or in other words “don’t look at the stuff behind the curtain”. So either people do things for reasons, and these reasons determine what they do, or they don’t do things for reasons, and this is uttelrly random. Neither sounds like libertarian free will to me (Choices that are owned by the agent). I am suggesting a soft determined alternative, which you have poo pooed as incoherent. My response is that if you define LFW in the way Jeff G said (ie-“I perform action A. What caused me to perform action A? I did, and that’s all there is to it. Indeed, it’s precisely because that’s all there is to it that I am responsible for action A.”) Then you are already agreeing with me anyway, in that the determining factor that caused the action is intrinsic to the self, rather than something external. Otherwise, you are arguing for randomness, which is not volition and thus not LFW.

    Clark is right, in that what I am proposing isn’t much different from determinism at all, except that it clearly delineates responsiblity to the eternal source thereof.

    Jacob is right, in that I don’t even know what agent causal libertarianism means, sadly. He is incorrect in saying this makes inanimate, objects free, but this is my gut reaction, and not a logical response. This is an interesting line of argment, to which I can only say that rocks do not have the rudimentary requirements to read the level of functionality to cause action based on a value which is intrinsic to them, but rather that all the values which are intrinsic to the point to them being acted upon, rather than something which causes them to outwardly act.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 1, 2008 @ 9:29 am

  32. Matt,

    “So either people do things for reasons, and these reasons determine what they do, or they don’t do things for reasons, and this is uttelrly random.”

    Well, it depends on what you means by “reasons.” What in the world is a reason? LFWers says that I perform action A for a reason, but that these reasons are not sufficient to determine action A.

    I also worry about your usage of the term “agent”. What is an agent? Determinism pretty much holds it that an agent is a material machine in action, just as subject to the laws of cause and effect as anything can be. Of course we determinists believe that this machine is very special, but a machine all the same. (Dennett says “of course we have a soul, but it’s made up of lots of tiny robots”) It’s not clear that you accept this.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 1, 2008 @ 9:42 am

  33. Jimmy T,

    My take on that scripture is that God knows how things are going to turn out in a general sense, not a specific sense. For example, from the very beginning, God had a plan which he was going to execute. He knows at the end that Jesus will come in glory and restore the Earth to its paradisiacal glory as the final abode of the righteous. He knows how things will turn out, in other words. He can be sure that these things will happen because he has power to bring them about. However, none of this requires that he knows every single thing that will ever happen in the history of the earth. We have lots of scriptural evidence that his plans are based on contingencies so that he can bring about his final purposes with or without specific individuals (e.g. Joseph Smith).

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 10:36 am

  34. Matt,

    We can leave aside rocks for the moment, but what about “computers and cars and clocks and thunder storms” or typewriters for that matter. They have outside influences (like someone pressing on one of their keys), but what they do about that outside influence depends on their particular internal makeup. The gears, levers, and mechanisms inside cause them to react in a certain way to that stimulus. Of course, they could have reacted differently if their internal makeup had been different, so they freely choose to print an “a” on the page when someone pushes the “a” key, right? Their action was self-determined.

    If not, what is different about a human IN PRINCIPLE than the typewriter I have described?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 10:41 am

  35. Jacob: Typewriters are not initially typewriters, first, so the ability to make an A in a typewriter is a caused outward effect and not intrinsic to the typewriter, the default setting of the components of a typewriter are dormancy. I would say what makes people agents is that their default setting is not dormancy, but some sort of action. This is thin ice, but hey, I am trying to have my cake and eat it too, after all (and why not, can one even eat cake if they do not have it?)

    Jeff: By reasons, I mean causes. I think it depends on what you mean they are insufficent to determine action A, by this do you mean they are insufficent to predict action A? Or do you mean they are insufficient to be the cause for action A? To this I say, If the causes for action A are insufficient to cause action A, what is sufficient? See the problem here?

    I am going to avoid defining Agent for the moment beyond what I just said to Jacob, thin ice and all that…

    Comment by Matt W. — July 1, 2008 @ 11:21 am

  36. Ok as side question, if we do not call being limited to three choices determinism, what do we call it?

    Comment by Matt W. — July 1, 2008 @ 11:24 am

  37. I am reminded of a particular class period I had in college. We were talking about how the US justice system was built around the concept of deterence. (i.e. don’t do something bad or you will be punished). The professor said that this was based on the concept that people are rational, that they will follow their best judgement. A fellow class member said that it was ridiculous, people are irrational. (I promise this is going to tie in)
    I thought long and hard about what my classmate said and eventually realized he was dead wrong. People are rational. There is nothing you can do that is irrational, make a poor judgement yes, but not act irrational. Case in point, try to do something, anything irrational. If you think you can, do so right now… Okay why did you do whatever you just did? Here is what really happened, you decided to do something random, something that a normal person would not do. Why? Ultimately, you wanted to prove me wrong. Hence, you did your seemingly random action for a reason.
    This is extendable to any circumstance or choice. You will not plant a seed that you really believe will not grow without some overriding goal. Ultimately, everything we do we do because we judge it to be the best/ most favorable course of action. In other words, there is always a reason.
    Hence we come back to the point at hand, for LFW to exist as has been explained to me, either the choice or the judgement/rationale that leads to the choice must be completely open and equally available to the person.
    As explained above the actual choice or action is predicated upon the judgement previously made to it is not open. That leaves the judgement. But alas that is not open either because our judgement is based on our experiences and observations. For example, the golfer when he lines up his putt he does so based on the lie of the green, the way his other putts worked earlier, etc. Nothing that is random or open or plays a part in it. As a result, truly in the hypothetical put in the exact same situation he would have done the exact same, since A the basis of his judgements would have been the same and B his action is based on the best judgement at the moment.

    Comment by Jimmy T — July 1, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  38. Clearly Jimmy T is single.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  39. if we do not call being limited to three choices determinism, what do we call it?

    If those “choices” are not casually determined by the great causal chain we could call it libertarian free will.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 1, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

  40. Clearly Jimmy T is single.

    I did not say that all judgements or rationals seemed good for everyone all the time. :)
    Yelling at Jimmy T because he said hi honey-bad judgment. Not yelling at Jimmy T because he has nothing to do with the internals of my body-good judgment.
    No matter how many times I tell her to change her line of thinking I still get the bad (from my point of view) judgment…

    Comment by Jimmy T — July 1, 2008 @ 1:38 pm

  41. hehe

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

  42. Matt,

    Typewriters are not initially typewriters

    Nor was your brain initially a brain, but that’s beside the point. Are you saying that if we find a typewriter that has been a typewriter from all eternity you would then be happy to call say it was freely choosing its behavior? You would then hold it morally responsible when it typed a romance novel?

    I would say what makes people agents is that their default setting is not dormancy, but some sort of action.

    So, I suppose the car engine is more along the lines of what you mean by free. It’s default behavior is one of action, unless it runs out of gas, which is sort of like when a person starves to death. But while the engine is humming, it is free, right?

    The point of these mechanical examples is to point out what Jeff G was saying earlier. A true determinist must embrace the fact that a body is nothing but a complicated machine. LFWers note that we don’t hold machines morally responsible for their actions and point out that if determinists are correct, then it doesn’t make sense to hold humans morally responsible either. At this point (as with all points, really), determinisms split ranks into various schools of thought. Some embrace this point and say that moral responsibility is an incorrect notion. Some say that although moral responsibility is not real (in the philosophical sense of that word) it is still a useful fiction which we should continue to employ. Some try to say that moral responsibility never meant what I am suggesting it means. And on and on. Anyway, I hope thinking about typewriters and cars helps clarify the problem for you.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

  43. Jimmy,

    Your observation about the impossibility of irrational action is very much in harmony with Dennett’s philosophy. Meaningful action by some system, says Dennett, depends upon the prior assumption of the rationality, imperfect though it may be, of the system in question.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 1, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

  44. Jacob J:

    The brain is not the eternal mind of man Joseph Smith was speaking of. The Typewriter is not self-acting as the eternal mind of man would be. the eternal mind of man does not starve to death and is not dormant but active by default, unlike the raw materials from which the human body, or a car engine, or a typewriter, or in a box with a fox.

    Thus these mechanical examples utterly fail.The body may be nothing but a complicated machine, but the question is what drives the body. Is it merely external forces or is there some true self, some agent which is in control. You call this libertarian free will, but the only person on this thread who has defined libertarian free will is myself and Jeff, and the definition given is basically assinine. I mean, come on, in order for an effect to occur, something more than the cause must happen?

    I mean, we can get fancy and talk about an eternal self-typing typewriter which has a cause for action and can reason out how to reach that purpose and performs that action perpetually, and then maybe it’s comparable, and I’d say sure the typewriter has freewill…

    Hope that helps.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 1, 2008 @ 2:31 pm

  45. Jimmy T,

    To give a more serious response to your #37, I think you are saying that whatever someone chooses to do makes sense to them at the time, so it is therefore rational (to them). I think there are some good examples of irrational behavior which trip up your proof that all behavior is rational. Since I am Mr. Wikipedia today, here is a page with some examples. We have many things which cause us to act in the ways we do, and many of them have nothing to do with our brains. Irrational fears seem like a good example we have all experienced at one time or another. When I become irrationally afraid of a small space and start freaking out, do you say that behavior is rational because I was afraid? I think it makes more sense to say I was acting irrationally.

    As Jeff G points out, it ends up depending on what we mean by rationality.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  46. See Jacob, Matt does seem to be pushing for agent causal libertarianism.

    Matt — You are clearly preaching libertarianism. You are saying that there is some eternal agent that powers each of our bodies/spirits and that agent can act without being acted upon. That is LFW you are preaching amigo. What is baffling to me is how you keep implying it is anything but run of the mill LFW.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 1, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

  47. Geoff,

    The point is that he does not think there is any conflict between what you described and determinism.


    Determinism requires that everything is ultimately mechanical. You are happy with the body being mechanical, but not the eternal mind. Right? But isn’t the eternal mind just matter being acted upon by physics? If the eternal mind is not mechanical, what is it? If it is not simply behaving as require by the physical forces acting on it, then what else is causing it to act? I predict the mechanical examples will be triumphant in the long run, despite your early prediction of failure.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 3:14 pm

  48. if we do not call being limited to three choices determinism, what do we call it?

    Matt, I call it being limited to three choices. Nothing more. The number of choices that our environment allows us has nothing to do with agency. It’s an exterior issue. A man who is bound, gagged and blindfolded still has as a will that is as free as the next man’s. He just can’t do a whole lot with it at the moment. He is no more determined than anyone else.

    Comment by Eric Russell — July 1, 2008 @ 3:44 pm

  49. Eric, agreed. Good point.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

  50. Determinism requires that everything is ultimately mechanical

    What do you mean by that?

    Causal determinism is but one species of determinism. A Calvinist might well reject the idea of causal determinism yet fully accept that every event is determined.

    You are saying that there is some eternal agent that powers each of our bodies/spirits and that agent can act without being acted upon.

    Technically one could easily create a deterministic view of the soul in which the soul acts but isn’t acted upon. While I know Blake likes to apply that phrase to LFW all it technically says is that a choice is underdetermined by external actions.

    Comment by clark — July 1, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

  51. Clark,

    A Calvinist might well reject the idea of causal determinism yet fully accept that every event is determined.

    You are the master of pointing out that there is a larger possible context in which a statement would no longer hold. But context is everything. The title of the post includes the term “causal determinism” and the post defines it:

    the concept of Determinism, which is “the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature”

    From this, I feel safe using the word determinism to mean causal determinism.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  52. Even relative to causal determinism I’m not sure things are quite so straightfoward. But if we’re just talking about the variety that does, that’s fine.

    Does anyone actually believe in such determinism though? I mean outside of the FW issue.

    Comment by clark — July 1, 2008 @ 4:33 pm

  53. Does anyone actually believe in such determinism though?

    I think lots of people believe in forms of determinism which are philosophically equivalent on the issues at hand. Do you disagree? Of course, I agree that next to no one believes in the sort of determinism we are talking about with respect to physics.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 1, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  54. Yes, but that was my point above. The kind of determinism which was part of 19th century physics is causal determinism.

    Comment by clark — July 1, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

  55. Clark and Jacob: I’m more than willing to admit I may be speaking of some other kind of determinism rather than the 19th century variety, and yes I took physics in High School 14 years ago, and I got a C, so I’, not the leading source on that either.

    Jacob: (47) I am not sure what you mean by mechanical here. The cause of the action is the programming that is intrinsic to the initial state of the mind. (By initial, I mean eternal)

    Eric: Perhaps I am conflating the term determinism with any causal force acting upon the agent, but I don’t see a need for a distinction. If a person is limited to three choices by external forces, the must rely on internal forces. Sometimes, I think we are often limited to only one choice, and other times we have more than one choice. A baby for example does not have a lot of choices.

    Geoff: If what I am saying is LFW, then there is no reason for God to not have absolute foreknowledge if he knows all current information, even though the future doesn’t exist. I think…

    Which brings me to trying to recover my tracks.

    Lets take the example of Bob. Bob is a preexistant spirit. Go back in time to before God covenanted with Bob and became his Father. Go furthr back past the point where Bob interacted with any other entity. We have reached a point where no causation has yet acted upon Bob. But yet Bob is an eternal mind of man, and has active characteristics. I don’t know what those characteristics would be, but they would set Bob apart from other premortal bits around them. They would be what Bob an Agent, and not just another Quark of Matter.

    Now this is where I am uncertain on my LFW ground here. let’s say one of these characteristics of Eternal Bob is to not like Brocoli. Can Bob ever change form this eternal characteristic? When we flash forward to now we can say Bob is chosing of himself and is not being caused by an external force to not eat brcolli, but can we say he is free?

    I duuno.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 1, 2008 @ 7:36 pm

  56. Oy.

    Matt, I’m thinking the time for you to put down the keyboard and slowly back away is approaching quickly. But since I am a glutton for punishment …

    I may be speaking of some other kind of determinism rather than the 19th century variety

    I suspect at this point that you are actually just speaking gibberish but I hope you can prove me wrong.

    If what I am saying is LFW, then there is no reason for God to not have absolute foreknowledge if he knows all current information, even though the future doesn’t exist. I think…

    Why on earth would you say this? If a person has three legitimate choices and the future is open how would God absolutely know which choice that person would make in advance? (Again… gibberish?)

    Go furthr back past the point where Bob interacted with any other entity. We have reached a point where no causation has yet acted upon Bob.

    Ahhh… Here is the point where you completely derail. In a beginningless causally determined universe there is never a time where causal forces are not acting upon your beginningless Bob. Even if Bob is totally alone that aloneness is acting upon him. It is all input or stimulus influencing Bob. If Bob has LFW he can choose how to react to aloneness. If Bob is totally causally determined all of his thoughts, opinions, feelings, desires and choices are the result of the stimulus of the universe acting upon him.

    let’s say one of these characteristics of Eternal Bob is to not like Brocoli.

    I think you are on very shaky ground when you start calling a preference an eternal (unchangeable?) characteristic. You are getting into the “nub of character” problems that Adam and JNS faced in that earlier thread.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 1, 2008 @ 8:08 pm

  57. Would it even be possible to prove that Bob had free will? In order to prove it, he would need to have evidence that he can make different choices in any given situation, but since, at any given time, he can only make one choice, he can never prove it, so there couldn’t be any evidence for free will.

    Comment by bay — July 1, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  58. I think there can be evidence there isn’t free will (say scientific evidence of determinism or some evidence of backwards causality). But I agree there can be no evidence for free will. The more interesting question is how to distinguish in effect libertarian free will from randomness since they have all the same possible worlds.

    Even more interesting is whether God could know if we have free will. I’m not sure he could although he could know we don’t have libertarian accounts of free will.

    This epistemological problem is a pretty severe one in my opinion.

    Comment by Clark — July 1, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

  59. There is only one other common kind of determinism: theological determinism, where God determines everything, with or without regard to laws of his own construction. That is the Calvinist view. No necessary relation to causal determinism.

    But that is not what we are talking about here, nor are we talking about some other je ne sais quoi determinism. We are talking about causal determinism as given in the SEP definition Matt quoted in the original post.

    Causal determinism, as defined, is identical to the Laplacian determinism of 19th century mechanics. It entails, among other things, that everything in the universe is reducible to a mechanical representation. It also means that the history of the universe could be duplicated verbatim by a simulation on a computer of adequate capacity, given adequate knowledge of the state of the universe at any given time.

    An eternal mind in a deterministic world therefore reduces to some sort of indestructible widget.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 2, 2008 @ 1:08 am

  60. Jacob J,
    All those are examples of questionable judgment not an irrational action based on judgments. In your example, the fear leads you to the action of freaking out. Other examples from Wikipedia, falling victim to a confidence trick, people only fall victim if they think it really will work. Sure some people may have doubts, but if their doubts are greater than the perceived gain, they will not go through with it. Fads and fashion – people still only perform rational actions; whether I should buy Nike shoes because Tiger Woods has a Nike golf ball, well that again is questionable judgment. All the others situations fall to the same line of reasoning.
    And yes, the judgments we make are very complex, and influenced upon many things. Wikipedia gave the example of being intoxicated, well the closest I can come from experience is being really tired and doing/saying silly things. I still did the things that seemed best at the time, even though later thought showed my judgment at the time to be less than complete. And I should point out that tiredness, alcohol in the system, genetic disease, etc are all preexisting conditions to the judgment and action.

    Comment by Jimmy T — July 2, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  61. Geoff: I should WAFK, but then this would be a lot less fun.

    Why on earth would you say this? If a person has three legitimate choices and the future is open how would God absolutely know which choice that person would make in advance?

    Ok,God can not have absolute forknowledge because there is an infinite number of particles in an infinite amount of space, doing an infinite number of things. This precludes absolute forknowledge in the “God does not know the biggest number” way. But if God can know the finite number of determining factors that are working upon an Agent, and can know the intrinsic qualities of the agent, an agent has a finite number of intrinsic qualities.) God can absolutely know what the agent is going to do next, if the agent is in fact acting based on these intrinsic qualites and not at random. So God can know what the person is going to choose despite the person having three choices because God knows the person. Hopefully this moves me from gibberish to just something you disagree with. (cute self-depracating emoticon here)

    Before htting the root of our problem, I agree with you that a preference is probably not a good example of an eternal characteristic, I just picked it so something would be picked that was absurd and not political (like gender essentialism, species essentialism, etc.) But I would love to know what you do consider to be eternal characteristics. I was going to go with “pursuit of happiness” as the “object and design of our existance” but it is so subjective that I thought I’d lose ground there. What do you think?

    In a beginningless causally determined universe there is never a time where causal forces are not acting upon your beginningless Bob. Even if Bob is totally alone that aloneness is acting upon him. It is all input or stimulus influencing Bob. If Bob has LFW he can choose how to react to aloneness. If Bob is totally causally determined all of his thoughts, opinions, feelings, desires and choices are the result of the stimulus of the universe acting upon him.

    I believe you are correct. This is the crux of the matter. And I am more than willing to be incorrect here. You do make an excellent point that the “aloneness” does have a deterministic effect on Bob.

    My question to you is “If Bob has LFW he can choose how to react to aloneness, what criteria does he use to make this choice?” If he has criteria that is internal to himself, then isn’t his actions determined by these criteria? If not, is he acting at random or is he just dormant?

    To sum up:

    My view: with no other stimuli, predictably does what he is internal programmed to do, of his own volition. Thus self-owned Volition exists, but LFW isn’t exactly robust.

    My conception of you view, which I am willing to be corrected on: the LFW being, having no inputs, does something at random.

    MY conception of the total determinist view, which Jeff can totally correct me on: The Causally Determined entity, not having any actions intrinsic to itself, will be dormat and do nothing…

    Comment by Matt W. — July 2, 2008 @ 8:26 am

  62. For Bob, having Libertarian Free Will means freedom from the laws of God, laws of nature, and the past events. If that ever occured, we would completely lose all predictability. Predictability is what makes our existance possible.

    Besides, How is Bob supposed to determine free will when he is saying/thinking “determine”. To determine something, that something must be deterministic.

    Then again, i find it amusing that we can debate whether or not we can think. if free-will failed to exist it would imply that you could not think, you just execute a written program.

    Comment by bay — July 2, 2008 @ 8:33 am

  63. Alright, this thread is getting weirder and weirder now. Bay is asking how we could prove there is free will and Clark says: “Even more interesting is whether God could know if we have free will.”

    So now we are talking about proof? How about proving there is a God first?

    Look, we are mostly Mormons around here. That means we accept as a matter of faith ideas like that God exists, that there is some purpose to our life, that we will be justly judged and held morally accountable for our thoughts words and deeds, etc.

    I have argued and continue to assert that if there is no LFW then the restored gospel is a sham. It is a sham because if there is no LFW then there is no moral responsibility and therefore all of our basic assumptions about the Plan of Salvation and the atonement and redemption implode.

    So Matt — no I can’t explain the minute details of how LFW works. I don’t know of any philosopher who has (though there are some basic theories like the radical emergence of the mind and downward causation idea mentioned earlier). But I can tell that unless LFW does exist this whole Mormonism thing, along with any moral responsibility in the universe, is a farce. That is a non-starter for me.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 2, 2008 @ 10:42 am

  64. Bay,
    I hope I never gave the impression that I believe we cannot think. Thinking is the process by which we form judgments. I may look at a position in a chess game and decide what I think is the best move. Now if I go ahead and move that is a rational choice. But if instead, I take more time to think/ judge, I often will come to the conclusion that a different move is better because (fill in the blank with chess analysis). Now if I make a this different move, it is rational is well. The difference being the intermediate step of thinking.
    What I did claim was that if a person decided that a move was best they will not make a different move, barring some overriding reason, I want my son to have a better chance at winning, I was too sleepy and picked up the wrong piece, etc…

    Comment by Jimmy T — July 2, 2008 @ 10:52 am

  65. Fair enough Geoff, I’ll read the Jean Burns paper I mentioned in #23 over the weekend, and see if I can get a grip on the radical emergence thing. And I’ll try to flesh out a way my conception makes Mormonism not a “sham”. (I atleast have a check in my moral responsibility checkbox, anyway…)

    In the meantime, thanks for the honest response. Much appreciated.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 2, 2008 @ 10:54 am

  66. Matt: I at least have a check in my moral responsibility checkbox, anyway…

    I am not convinced you do. I assert that if there is no LFW then there is no moral responsibility. Period.

    In that other thread JNS and Adam (and perhaps others) were floating that idea that we could be determined by some beginningless nub of character. It sounds like you are hinting at the same thing.

    The problem is that such an approach does absolutely nothing to provide moral responsibility. If we can be reduced to a irreducible nub of character, and that nub of character is unchangeable, then we are now simply playing out our unchangeable fate. Some are predestined to exaltation, some are predestined to perdition, and many are predestined to mediocrity in between in such a scheme. In such a universe how could anyone be morally responsible for simply acting according to their unchangeable nature? In such a scenario the gospel is a sham.

    I think that for the gospel to work we all must be thoroughly and ultimately changeable in terms of character. There can be no character trait that is irreducible or the concept of repentance fails.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 2, 2008 @ 11:10 am

  67. Jimmy T,

    I still did the things that seemed best at the time

    But that isn’t a good standard for whether something was rational, is it? I’m not understanding the distinction you are making between questionable judgment and irrationality. Let me ask this: what kind of behavior would qualify as irrational? Are you simply arguing that behavior cannot be irrational, by definition?

    Comment by Jacob J — July 2, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  68. Geoff,

    When Clark was wondering whether God knows if we have freewill he was building off of a point I made in a previous thread. This point was, that there is no noticeable difference between a world in which there is LFW and a world in which there isn’t. Nobody would ever know the difference, not even God. The corollary, of course, being that a difference which makes no difference to anybody simply doesn’t seem to be all that important.

    I’m not sure I really want to pursue this topic here; I just wanted to make Clark’s comment seem “less weird.”

    Comment by Jeff G — July 2, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  69. Actually I was thinking of some of the musing I made at my blog such as this one.

    There is a difference between a deterministic world and a LFW world since there is but a single possible world in the former case and many in the latter. The more interesting is the case of chance and LFW since then you not only have the identical physical historic states but even the same possible worlds.

    Comment by Clark — July 2, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

  70. Geoff, I’m not at all convinced LFW is required for responsibility. I think some of the thought experiments put forth by figures like Fischer are quite compelling. The LFW proponent can, because of the nature of a quasi-independent thinking/choosing substance, avoid the total trap that the semi-compatibilist lays. However it seems to me that what makes these thought experiments compelling isn’t whether they render the LFW position impossible. Rather it is whether they make the LFW necessary which is a slightly different effect.

    That is if we can come up with a scenario that seems believable where someone is not free but responsible then it seems reasonable to separate the two. That the LFW proponent can point out areas where LFW is still possible seems ultimately beside the point.

    As to the issue of God, the issue isn’t proof or anything like that. Rather it is the fact that God knows in some way. That is he acquires knowledge. Unless of course one accepts creation ex nihilo in which case the situation is quite different. Now I’m not about to say it’s impossible to reconcile ex nihlo with Mormonism. But I’ll take it for granted here that ex nihilo is wrong.

    Given that there are things that co-exist with God then God’s knowledge appears to come via interaction with the universe. That is he learns truths in a mediated way rather than in the way the ex nihilo creator does.

    Given that there must be some theoretical way for God to tell there is LFW rather than no LFW. Yet if LFW produces no differences in the universe then there is logically no way to tell it exists.

    To say that the lack of LFW renders religion a sham seems questionable if even God can’t tell if there is LFW. We don’t want to say that God’s statements are mere wishful thinking. So what are we to do?

    Comment by Clark — July 2, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

  71. Jeff,

    Unless the idea was that it is not logically possible for God to know whether we have free will I think it is a pretty weird thing to bring up. There are innumerable things God knows we would like to understand right?

    Maybe I’m the only on who thinks this thread is pretty odd (despite your excellent additions).

    Comment by Geoff J — July 2, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

  72. Actually this post of mine might be a better example since that prior post I linked to assumed familiarity with the notion of a block universe.

    I need to return and think through the issue of revisionist notions of free will or responsibility. That is the idea that rather than simply say given some X we don’t have responsibility or free will instead say if X then we ought change our language to these definitions.

    I think it’s the case that if physicists prove absolutely there is a block universe that few humans would stop talking about responsibility or freedom. So I find unconvincing the claim that if the scriptures use such language it must mean what our culture takes it to mean.

    Comment by Clark — July 2, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

  73. Clark: if we can come up with a scenario that seems believable where someone is not free but responsible

    That’s a mighty big “if”. Can you do it?

    We don’t want to say that God’s statements are mere wishful thinking. So what are we to do?

    Exactly. Seems to me that what we do is exercise faith in God’s knowledge and reasons for the whole plan of salvation as far as we comprehend it. If we are going to be theists I don’t think that is asking much.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 2, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  74. Geoff, I think Fischer has already done it quite well. Have you read any of his works?

    Regarding God’s knowledge, if God’s knowledge is mediated then yes, there is no logical way he could know whether we have LFW.

    Comment by clark — July 2, 2008 @ 5:43 pm

  75. Nope, I haven’t read anything by Fischer on that. How about a synopsis?

    As for this issue of how God knows we have LFW — I don’t mind asking philosophical questions for the joy of it. I am just in an pragmatic mood today and that question seems like you are swallowing the camel (accepting that there is a God) but choking on a gnat (wondering what he knows about LFW). But don’t let me get in the way of a diverting conversation on that subject if it interests you.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 2, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

  76. I’ll do a synopsis tomorrow (hopefully) at my blog. I have a post up right now summarizing things so far. Tomorrow I’ll present the semi-compatibilist case since I think it’s easy to misunderstand. There’s a subtle but key way one has to take the argument.

    BTW – funny you use the word pragmatic since key to pragmatism is the principle that for a difference to be a difference it must make a difference. The claim about God is simply pointing out that LFW is unable to do that. That is we can talk about what metaphysically is necessary to make LFW possible. But the metaphysical implications are such that it is essentially unknowable.

    Comment by clark — July 2, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

  77. Matt,

    Bob may not be like brocoli, but if the world is deterministic he is destined to repeat his every move every 10 ^ 10 ^ 1100 years or so. Sounds like a widget to me.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 3, 2008 @ 12:24 am

  78. Clark: if we can come up with a scenario that seems believable where someone is not free but responsible

    Geoff: In such a universe how could anyone be morally responsible for simply acting according to their unchangeable nature?

    Why not look at the example of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. The serpent is in an unchangeable nature, right? The serpent was determined to tempt Adam and Eve. Why then was he held morally responsible for “doing-that-which-has-been-done-in-other-worlds…”?

    Comment by bay — July 3, 2008 @ 11:32 am

  79. Bay: The serpent is in an unchangeable nature, right?

    I assume you mean Satan by “the serpent” and if so I say, no, he was not causally determined. If Lucifer is the same type of being as us then he has LFW too. If not it would not have been just for God to condemn him.

    Comment by Geoff J — July 5, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

  80. Ok, I’ve read up a bit and have a question. Doesn’t Radical Emergence sort of deny our eternal natures in the Joseph Smith sense. I mean, if our LFW and consciousness emerges radically when particles or systems are combined to form the new properties, this seems to imply more of a Brigham Young conception of our eternal natures…

    In any case, what I can see the more I try to piece it together, is that no physical laws as currently understood can adequately explain volition. Indeterminancy is just randomness and not volition, and determinancy is static and not volition.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 7, 2008 @ 8:17 pm

  81. Absolutely. Eternal minds are pretty much the opposite of radical emergence. However, LFW and radical emergence seem to be largely independent questions.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 7, 2008 @ 10:57 pm

  82. I disagree that eternal minds are the opposite of radical emergence if, as Joseph Smith said in the King Follett Discourse, “Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it. The first principles of man are self-existent with God. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement and improvement.”

    The key here is that these minds are susceptible of enlargement at every moment of their existence. This suggests that radical emergence (if true, which I think it is) exists along a continuum, but at every stage, it is still an eternal mind. My mind right now may not be very much like it may be eons from now, when new characteristics will (hopefully) radically emerge as I grow and develop more profound inter-relations with God and my fellow beings.

    Comment by Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) — July 8, 2008 @ 4:46 pm

  83. Christopher B.,

    Emergence means that the properties of higher level entities are either unexpected or virtually unexplainable in terms of lower level entities.

    An eternal mind in the Smithian sense is a discrete, identifiable, and indestructible entity that has all the indispensible properties of an individual person. In other words, in the sense we are speaking of, a Smithian mind (intelligence) doesn’t emerge at all. No precursor whatsoever.

    Of course a Brigham Young style spirit is at least weakly emergent from amorphous intelligence. But Brigham Young’s “minds” are not necessarily eternal at all – rather the really intransigent have their identity destroyed by spirit disassembly (in the “second death”). The raw psychic material (amorphous intelligence) is not destroyed of course, but any conception of an eternal mind or soul in the Smithian sense (i.e. one per person) most definitely is.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 8, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

  84. Grasshopper,

    I like this notion, but where I stumble is in going in reverse and trying to see where I progressed from. It is difficult for me to conceive progression over an infinite amount of time getting me to where I am, and yet expect a finite amount of time here to make a difference.

    Infinity breaks my brain.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 8, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

  85. Mark, I know what emergence means, but I don’t think that the term “precursor” is necessary, if “precursor” implies temporal precedence. Joseph Smith believed in spirit matter (D&C 131:7). All that is required for an emergent eternal mind is that certain organizations of spirit matter from which emergent mind arises have always existed and are indestructible. The spirit matter is logically but not temporally prior to the organization resulting in emergent mind. Thus the “discrete, identifiable, and indestructible entity that has all the indispensible properties of an individual person” has always existed, and yet is emergent from the eternal and indestructible organization of consituent spirit matter.

    Comment by Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) — July 9, 2008 @ 9:00 am

  86. Christopher, The primary thing one can conclude from D&C 131:7 is that Joseph Smith thought that immaterial material was an oxymoron. We cannot conclude that Joseph Smith thought that intelligences had divisible components (he clearly did not).

    Other than the generic definition of the term – something that exists and takes up time and space, we really cannot conclude anything about the properties of “spirit matter” from the verse at all.

    All the fools learned and wise men, from the beginning of creation, who say that man had beginning, proves that he must have an end and then the doctrine of annihilation would be true.

    But, if I am right I might with boldness proclaim from the house tops, that God never did have power to create the spirit of man at all.

    God himself could not create himself: intelligence exists upon a self existent principle, it is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it.
    (Joseph Smith. King Follett Discourse, Times and Seasons minutes, emphasis added)

    If D&C 131:7 implies that intelligences are made up of divisible bits, Joseph Smith handily contradicts that interpretation here. He doesn’t say (possibly amorphous) “intelligence” would have an end if it had a beginning, he says that “man” would have an end if he had a beginning. Big difference.

    Brigham Young says that God can take an intelligence and disassemble it into bits until there is no personal identity left at all. Joseph Smith’s view was exactly the opposite.

    Comment by Mark D. — July 9, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

  87. Mark, I agree with most of what you say. I am not suggesting that Brigham Young’s view of the dissolution of personal identity is correct. The only thing I am trying to propose is that Joseph Smith can be completely right that the mind of man had no beginning and can have no end, and yet mind can still be an emergent phenomenon — albeit one that is eternally emergent, both past and future.

    To use the well-worn analogy of water having emergent properties arising from the organization of hydrogen and oxygen, imagine that there are eternally existing water molecules that have always existed in the organization from which the properties of water emerge. Imagine further that these water molecules cannot be destroyed. It would still be the case that there are emergent properties, but the entity in question is eternal and indestructible. It could be the case that mind is both emergent and eternal, and that’s the only point I’m trying to make.

    Comment by Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) — July 9, 2008 @ 7:16 pm

  88. OK, I went back to Ostler book 1, and if I understand correctly, the emergence he is talking of is the emergence of free will from the “creative synthesis of the causal influences that act on agents together with the organizing input from the agent.” So if the eternal attribute I described above is this “organizing input” the doesn’t my theory hold?

    Comment by matt w. — July 13, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  89. What is your theory again?

    Comment by Geoff J — July 13, 2008 @ 5:41 pm

  90. ok, I think I understand, going back over my comments, why you’d ask this. I seem to have strayed a bit from my original conception.

    Anyway, my basic theory is that there are deterministic forces acting all around us, and now I will add, perhaps have been going on around us for an infinite amount of time. However, there are some characteristics which are eternally part of us as well. Ostler calls these the “organizing input of the agent” (Sadly, I had to borrow the book and return it, so I can no more in depth than that. I will order new ones soon. And what’s up with book three, Amazon cancelled my order.) In short, the great causal chain exists, but we have free will in that the synergy caused by our own self-determinism working in conjunction with all the causal forces outside of us. Before I had said this organizing input was like “dislike of broccoli”, that, as you correctly pointed out, was the incorrect sort of eternal characteristic, as it is a preference. However, I wonder if the way I organize input is eternal to me, and is the characteristic that gives rise to my eternal self, and from which springs my speciation and possibly gender, if such a thing is eternal?

    Sorry, I feel like I am somewhat vague on this, but hey, this is kind of beyond my reach and I am really trying to stretch on this.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 13, 2008 @ 6:28 pm

  91. If Intelligence is defined in scripture as “light and truth” then can it be that the “mind” is formed of such and cannot be destroyed, as it is a part and parcel of the light of Christ that fills all of space?
    If a portion of that is then reorganized into a spirit (not created, but formed – as God cannot create matter either, but can reform it) and later reformed into a mortal being when a physical body is added, can we not say that the mind/Intelligence/Light and Truth, can be eternal?
    Since Intelligence (or rather, the light of Christ) fills all of space, can this be the mind that is eternal that also can allow a particle to be considered an Intelligence?
    Can it be when water is formed by two different types of atoms, the new capabilities is a form of intelligence or mind that does not erase the former mind, but enhances the capability of the new structure/being?

    Comment by Gerald Smith — July 16, 2008 @ 6:22 am

  92. That’s very Brigham Young of you, Gerald. Let’s wait a few days and I’ll start a new thread on this.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 16, 2008 @ 6:48 am

  93. Hey all,

    Just came across a somewhat recent video lecture (by Dennett, of course) about free will and determinism. Thought it went over a lot of the points we’ve been over, only a little more clearly than we did, in my opinion.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 28, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  94. Interesting link Jeff.

    I’m watching now. At about the 32 minute mark Dennett defines an agent as something that is finite and designed. He does not take into the account Mormon view that an agent can be finite, simple, and beginningless (therefore undesigned).

    In fact it seems to me that Dennett ignores the questions of firsts in existence. In your readings of him do you know if he assumes there is a first cause?

    Comment by Geoff J — September 28, 2009 @ 6:13 pm

  95. Check out the chick at 37:35. Hilarious. She is passing out as they focus on her.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 28, 2009 @ 6:20 pm

  96. At the end he concludes that moral responsibility is possible in his deterministic universe but nowhere in the presentation did he support that conclusion as far as I could tell.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 28, 2009 @ 7:32 pm

  97. The portion of the lecture I watched looked like a set of “just so” assertions to me. For example, Dennett says cells are little robots that don’t have free will (or anything like it), and that we are made of nothing but these little robotic cells.

    Those are assertions that need to be proved, or at least defended with respect to the alternatives.

    The problem I have listening to folks like Dennett, and half the more outspoken scientists in the world generally, is they sound so much like philosophical philistines. There is no problem here, look the other way.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 28, 2009 @ 10:21 pm

  98. Mark,

    Yeah, Dennett takes the “scientific worldview” of materialism for granted. I always saw this as being roughly analogous to Mormon materialism, but I can see how some might disagree with that. Perhaps you could spell out what more you think there is to a person and how that something makes any difference at all.

    I think by “designed” he simply meant that an agent has functions/teleology as part of its constitution. I don’t think much of what he says hangs on something having a definite beginning or anything like that.

    Regarding first causes and the like, my impression is that he doesn’t find such questions to be very interesting or clear. He has very tentative theories about how the universe might have come into existence, but I think that he would officially call himself agnostic on the matter.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 29, 2009 @ 5:08 pm

  99. Geoff again,

    Regarding his conclusions about moral responsibility, I think he was dealing with a few of the necessary conditions for such rather than any sufficient condition which, you are right, he did leave out.

    I think he was primarily concerned with prying apart determined and inevitable as well as causation and competence as far as these concept get thrown around in the free will debates.

    While I don’t think he gave any knock down arguments for compatibilism, I think he did dispense nicely with some of the more popular arguments against compatibilism.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 29, 2009 @ 6:06 pm

  100. Jeff G, I think any viable version of Mormon materialism requires property dualism of some sort, i.e. at least something out there with what I call “micro-mental” (non-ordinary) properties.

    The main reason for that is nothing constructed out of ordinary matter (as we understand it) can have libertarian free will, and I maintain the latter is necessary not only to ground moral responsibility, but also for anything to happen for a reason.

    The alternative point of view is essentially that rationality, free will, creativity, intent, the first person perspective, etc, are all epiphenomena.

    So sure, if you believe that an ordinary computer is or can be “alive”, and exhibit real intent, responsibility, free will, creativity, and so on, then this doesn’t appear to be much of a mystery.

    The problem for the hard materialist version of Mormon materialism, is that not only does anything ever occur for a reason, but the whole plan of salvation is brought into question.

    For example, “Men are that they might have joy”. That is not exactly a statement of cosmic significance if joy is epiphenomenal. “Wickedness never was happiness?” Same deal.

    That is why I conclude that a hard materialist world is a world stripped of anything of any conceivable value, meaning, or purpose.

    Comment by Mark D. — September 29, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  101. Mark,

    “I think any viable version of Mormon materialism requires property dualism of some sort, i.e. at least something out there with what I call “micro-mental” (non-ordinary) properties.”

    I have always thought that the materialism which Joseph Smith seemed to avocate probably included something more than mere matter/spirit matter in motion. However, I have never thought that any of the Libertarian Free Will mumbo jumbo had anything to do with it. To state it more clearly, I think one can argue from property dualism to LFW within a Mormon context, but I think an argument from LFW to property dualism is a dead end.

    Dennett’s basic strategy, and mine isn’t far off either, is that he takes both moral responsibility and the scientific worldview as basic premises and then shows how the most common arguments against their compatibility don’t work. It’s true, he doesn’t show very well HOW they are compatible together, but I think he shows pretty well that arguments against their compatibility aren’t very good.

    So I guess it kind of comes down to a burden of proof sort of thing. I accept both the existence of free will/responsibility AND materialism/determinism and think the burden of proof lies on anybody who think these two can’t coexist. Geoff and Blake, however, don’t think that REAL free will/responsibility can coexist with determinism (and perhaps materialism) and think the burden of proof lies on those who need to show how they can coexist.

    Thus never convince each other. They have never given me any good reasons to think that they can’t coexist and I’ve never shown them very well how they can coexist.

    Comment by Jeff G — September 30, 2009 @ 1:32 am