Free Will and Determinism Fifteen Mark Questions...

Some of the knowledge which may be required to answer a fifteen mark question on 'Free Will and Determinism'.

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  • Created on: 03-05-14 17:33

Actions vs Bodily Movements

Directed towards a goal/no goal

Actions: Aim towards some future goal: eg. pushing a man you intensely dislike under a bus because you anticipated him getting run over! 

Bodily movements:Are not directed towards anything: eg. falling into a man, resulting in him getting hit by a bus, is not an action because it did not look to the future; it had no intention behind it.

Different meanings in different contexts/no meaning

Actions: require knowledge of context. eg. raising your arm - depending on context could mean waving for help, bidding in an auction, waving to someone, issuing a yellow card, etc

Bodily movements: devoid of meaning, contextual variation- eg. a knee-jerk reaction doesn't mean anything, it's just an empty movement


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Reasons vs Causes

Aware of them/Unaware of them Reasons: we are consciously aware of our reasons, eg. a person knows that they are choosing the vegetarian option on a menu

Causes: we aren't actually conscious of these, eg. a kleptomaniac is not necessarily aware of what compels them to steal; the vegetarian above is not aware of various external influences such as genetics which may have caused their reasoning

Future/Past Reasons: Look towards a future goal, eg. My reason for entering a shop looks to the future - a future in which I have purchased chocolate.

Causes: Are concerned only with preceding events - eg. Stepping into the shop was caused by muscles in my leg moving, which was caused by a neuron firing, which was caused by brain activity...

Immediate/non-immediate effects Reasons: Don't always have immediate effects... For instance my reason for stealing a wedding cake (wanting cake) could have led to other situations; reasons are delayed because we deliberate over them

Causes: have immediate effects... For example the impact of a cricket ball against a window immediately causes the window to break.

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Determinism and Predictability

  • Predictability is concerned with the degree of chance something happening. For example, it is predictable that I will fail my exam, but it is not necessarily inevitable.
  • Determinism, on the other hand, is concerned with absolutey certainty, or inevitability. Given the fixed laws of nature, a set of conditions can only ever produce one outcome - so if we know these conditions, we could know for certain whether or not I will fail my exam.
  • We can predict many events relatively accurately, but generally speaking we are unable to predict the majority of events. This would initially seem to suggest that everything ultimately comes down to chance, and therefore determinism is false.
  • However, chaos theory shows that the problem with predictability is an epistemic deficit... Even the tiniest imaginable factors will influence the 'starting conditions' of an event, and we can't always take these factors into account.
  • However, if we did have absolute knowledge of all causal relations at one point in time, we could, as Laplace suggested, be able to predict with accuracy the future.
  • Therefore determinism and predictability are compatible.
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Determinism and Chance

  • Determinism seems incompatible with the idea of chance.
  • Chaos theory shows that even the tiniest factor, like the flap of a butterfly's wing, can influence the effect of a cause. 
  • Given this, we can conclude that having absolute knowledge of the starting position of an event would enable us to predict its outcome.
  • For example if we could have precise knowledge of the act of rolling a dice - if we could work out the angle at which the dice was thrown, the weight of the dice, and various other imperceptible factors - we could know which number it would land on, removing the idea of probability. This seems to eradicate the concept of chance.
  • Quantum mechanics suggests that chance (and probability) are incompatible with determinism. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle shows that it is not possible to measure the velocity and position of a sub-atomic particle at the same time.
  • The Copenhagen Interpretation suggests that this because we can only produce probabilites about the movements of sub-atomic particles, because they are indeterminate. In other words, the fact that sub-atomic particles move at random, and gain values by chance, means that we cannot determine outcomes from the  preceding set of conditions
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Determinism vs Fatalism

Fatalism is based on Aristotle's law of non-contradiction, which states:

X cannot be both X and not-X at the same time.

Therefore fatalists (or 'logical determinists') believe that statements about the future are true or false now

For example: 'I will be in Australia next year. If it is true that I will be in Australia next year, then I cannot alter this fact. If it is false, then I cannot alter this fact.'  

In other words, fatalism does not recognise the role of universal causation  - an event will supposedly take place regardless of future causal relations.

Determinism on the other hand, recognises that events are not true or false now, but that with knowledge of state of the universe + the relevant laws of nature, we could know which events will be true or false in the future - but this doesn't mean they are true or false now, because the conditions which will bring about their truth haven't yet occurred. For example, my own actions will factor into whether or not I will be in Australia next year, so although my actions are pre-determined, they can still act as causes. (I have to actually get on a plane to Australia to cause my presence in Australia!)

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Determinism vs Religious Predestination

  • Determinism refers to causal necessity, based on the laws of nature - events are caused by preceding events, and the same causes will lead to the same effects, and so effectively we could see into the future with absolute knowledge of the causal relations of the universe. Religious predestination derives necessity not from cause and effect, but from God's will... He knows what will happen in advance, and so a set of conditions can have one possible outcome because he has already dictated what the outcome will be.
  • Determinism is incompatible with free will because it does not allow for a gap in causation - that is, it does not allow for us to make choices, because if a determinate set of conditions can only lead to one outcome, our choice will always be the same in the same situation. Religious predestination is incompatible because of God's will - he has already dictated which choices we will make, and so we don't have free will.
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Determinism vs Rationality

  • Libertarians argue that there is a distinction between reasons and causes. We say that someone is rational, if they do things for good reasons. For example, if I have a reason to go to school, but then don't go, I could be described as irrational. However, determinism implies that my choice was pre-determined; the only possible outcome was that I did not go to school. Therefore we cannot describe people as 'rational' or 'irrational', because to do so requires that people can choose otherwise.
  • We can reduce everything to the mechanical stance. If we provide an intentional account of someone's actions, we describe their reasons and intentions (eg. He put the kettle on because he wanted to make a cup of tea; his desire for tea was the reason for putting the kettle on). However, we could also explain the actions via a mechanical account (eg. Brain activity triggered a neuron to fire which triggered a muscle movement in his arm which resulted in the kettle being turned on). Given that all human actions can be causally explained from the mechanical stance, we can reduce everything we do to bodily movements, rather than intentional actions. So, our reasons no longer seem to play a role in our actions - we might have reasons, but as the epiphenomenologist points out, they are merely the by-product of brain activity.
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