Determinism -further comments

I posted a synopsis of my views concerning determinism on 20 Aug. This is a further expression of my views and those of several others on this topic.

Unlike physics, chemistry or biology, there is no such thing as a science of determinism. Whatever determinists would like to impute to determinism they would not admit that it is nothing more than a philosophical idea/proposition/position. While they are not shy in admitting that determinism is not about predicting something in advance, they are adamant in positing, after the fact, that what had happened could not have happened otherwise. But of course, what had happened had happened; how could it be otherwise?

A determinist would naturally insist that his/her birth was not an accident but something determined, in terms of some deterministic process, while ignoring the fact that if another spermatozoon, out of the millions fighting to reach the egg, had outpaced the one that resulted in their birth, they would not have been born. Such counterfactual reasoning is alien to determinists and does not fit in with their take on determinism. I would, however, ask them whether they have read articles such as these, before insisting that determinism is true and living as though it is the principal guiding force in their thoughts and decisions:

Causal determinism is, … there is no agreement over whether determinism is true (or even whether it can be known true or false), and what the import for human agency would be in either case.

Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event there exist conditions that could cause no other event.

Determinism is the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.

philosophy : the belief that all events are caused by things that happened before them and that people have no real ability to make choices or control what happens

Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, decision and action is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences.

Extract of article by Adina Roskies [Prof of Philosophy and Ph D in Neuroscience, Dartmouth College]:

Recent developments in neuroscience raise the worry that understanding how brains cause behavior will undermine our views about free will and, consequently, about moral responsibility. The potential ethical consequences of such a result are sweeping. I provide three reasons to think that these worries seemingly inspired by neuroscience are misplaced. First, problems for common-sense notions of freedom exist independently of neuroscientific advances. Second, neuroscience is not in a position to undermine our intuitive notions. Third, recent empirical studies suggest that even if people do misconstrue neuroscientific results as relevant to our notion of freedom, our judgments of moral responsibility will remain largely unaffected. These considerations suggest that neuroethical concerns about challenges to our conception of freedom are misguided.

Article on neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will. Scientists think they can prove that free will is an illusion. Philosophers are urging them to think again.

Article by Gardar Árnason of Leibniz Universität Hannover  NEUROSCIENCE, FREE WILL AND MORAL RESPONSIBILITY


What I wanted to do in this discussion of neuroscientific challenges to free will was not to ‘prove’ the existence of free will in the face of contrary evidence from neuroscience. My main point is that the issues are a lot more difficult than (at least some) interpretations of the neuroscientific case against free will might suggest. Still, I think the philosophical considerations of the neuroscientific challenges to free will quite strongly suggest that a universal challenge to free will based on neuroscientific evidence is unlikely to be successful. In other words, I think that neuroscience has not revealed free will to be an illusion and that it is not likely ever to do so. Neuroscience may, however, affect our views of moral responsibility, not by showing that we do not have free will at all, but by showing that in many specific cases where we now consider people responsible, they were actually not responsible, because of lack of rationality or lack of relevant control over their decisions and actions.

Extract of article by Roy F Baumeister [Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University]:

To believe in determinism is thus to go far beyond the observed and known facts. It could be true, I suppose. But it requires a huge leap of faith, as well as a tortuous effort to deny that what we constantly observe and experience is real. Instead, I think psychological science is better suited to a belief in indeterminacy. As far as I can tell, there is no proof of any deterministic causality anywhere. That is, there is no proof that any result is 100% inevitable, though in practice some things seem to be very highly reliable. When I turn on the light switch, the light pretty much always comes on, unless some other causal factor (e.g., burned-out lightbulb, power failure) prevents it. Still, there is no way of saying whether this is 100% inevitable or simply a very high probability. Indeterminacy lurks at the subatomic level, and once in a very long time this could show up at the macro level. In human behavior, of course, things are not nearly so reliable or predictable. Hence accepting the reality of choice amid genuinely multiple possibilities seems a more prudent and useful basis for psychological theorizing than deterministic inevitability.

According to David Deutsch [a physicist], in an interview with Sam Harris: “Knowledge is a kind of information. That’s the simple thing. It’s something which could have been otherwise…”

And according to Sean Carroll [a physicist], in his book [page 37], The Big Picture: “Unlike our best theory of planets or pendulums, our best theories of human behavior are not deterministic”

Some determinists may have no hesitation in saying that they don’t agree with all the opposing viewpoints expressed by these writers, regardless of their educational background or academic position. But that’s OK; as these writings show, some people are clearly not in agreement with the views of the determinists concerning determinism. The stance of determinists concerning determinism appears to be no different from the stance of a theist concerning God. And to be sure, determinists can’t wiggle out by arguing that determinism is not a theory about human actions being deterministic when they are hell-bent in claiming all human actions including their thoughts are deterministic.

Of course it is open to determinists to claim: deterministically, about 2.3 billion people have become Christians and about 1.6 billion have become Muslims; and deterministically, Patricia Churchland [a philosopher], has made a comment that is not agreeable to some people. But realistically, determinists know for a fact, even though they may not wish to admit it, that their best deterministic process is unable to determine as to what I am going to eat or drink for my dinner one minute or one hour from now.

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