Thinking about Free Will vs. Determinism

Happy New Year everyone.

I’ve been thinking about free will and I ran across an interesting line of thought which I’d like to get some input on.

It is often asserted that there is an incompatibility between free will and a mechanistic, deterministic world view. The idea, I think, is that if the human brain is just a machine, then the choices we make are determined by time, space, history, chemicals, neurons, atoms, etc, and so we wouldn’t have free will.

But, I ran across an argument (I think) that points out that the free will we care about is really that “our” will isn’t overridden by some outside force, not that our will is compatible with other forces. In other words, in a mechanistic world view the choices that we make are still “our” choices because they are a product of ourselves – our brain, our, time, our space, our chemicals, our atoms – even if determined.

It seems to me to be an interesting thought. Proponents of free will seem to have this type of free will in mind too, don’t they? Even if our choices come from some place other than chemicals they are compatible with the atoms, chemicals, personal history, what we know and have learned, personality, etc, aren’t they?

The point being that the argument I am running across seems to be that determinism is compatible with free will – as long as it is your machine, your history, that is determining and causing your choices your will is free.

Now – one objection that I have seen raised to the mechanistic world view is that if we had a powerful enough computer (say) and could track every particle of matter and energy we would be able to predict exactly what someone would choose to do 10 years from now. This seems offered to show that this person doesn’t have free will. But, isn’t a response to the argument “God’s knowledge of what we will do 10 years from now shows that we have no free will” that “knowing something will happen and causing it to happen are different things”? Similarly wouldn’t someone argue that the computer that “knows” what someone will do ten years from now isn’t causing that person to do it, but rather the person is causing himself to do it (albeit by determinism) and that is what free will is anyway?

A fairly convoluted and confused post, my apologies. But I’m interested in any insights that you might have.

Thanks,
VC

Yes somewhat convoluted but interesting.

Simply Put, Free will is something that is “point of view” specific so you will never get to a clear answer.

By point of view specific I mean this. Those who speak of determinism, or predestination and such are mainly looking at it from the point of view of God who knows all things. Those who seak of free will are speaking from the the human point of view. We do not know all things nor can we know all things. Therefore, even though someone else has perfect knowledge of the future, that knowledge does not effect our need to make free will choices. That is a basically linear view.

Another view might be to say that God, in His infinite knowledge knows every outcome of every possible decision that we might make - but does not predetermine or unduly influence the decisions that we do make.
Like a parent who offers their child their choice of three boxes. The parent knows what is in each box but the child doesn’t. The parent might even know what the child’s reaction will be to each choice, yet the child does not. The Child selects based on free will even though the parent has “foreknowledge”.

So you see the matter of “Free Will” is largely acedemic, one of perspective, or point of view. Also, beyond the acedemic “interesting discussion/thought” it really has little or nothing to do with one’s faith walk.

Peace
James

James, thanks that is interesting.

My intuitive reaction to those who hold a purely me mechanistic world view – and that our minds are machines, that there is no spiritual intellect or will – is to object that this impairs free will. Are you saying that my intuitive reaction is off-base, or at least not that important?

Much of recent philosophy is on the theory of mind, free will being one aspect of this. No one that I know of would deny the idea of free will, they would just redefine what it means. Many theories of mind are attempting to explain free will and the mind on a purely mechanistic and materialistic basis. They all fail for various reasons but they still try.

The famous Calvinistic/Reformed thinker Jonathen Edwards wrote a treatise on this subject. He redefined the idea of the free will as being the ability to do what we desire. So whatever we desire most is what we will do. This means that a Calvinistic view of things could make sense because all God has to do to irresitably draw us to him is to change our desires, the whole new nature thing. This may be a line of study for you.

No I don’t think you are necessarily off base, but to me the whole issue is pretty unimportant insofar as the journey toward God is concerned.
And as Mr Wright has pointed out there can be a lot of changing of defintions on these things so who knows if you and “they” are even talking about the same thing…
You may both be using the same words but hearing something different.

As to the specifics of the mechanics theory I think there are just too many things to try and control to prove such a thing.
I’m reminded of something, -I think it was called the butterfly effect - on weather. Basically it stated that the tiny effect of a butterfly flapping it’s wings in China could ultimately effect the weather in New York. An intersting concept bu thow does one prove it scientifically?

Overall I’d say we are better saying an extra rosary, or playing a game with the kids, or giving the wife a hug and offering to do the dishes, than worry about who knows what about tomorrow…:smiley:

Peace
James

VC:

Our bodily limitations do not destroy the concept of free will. Free will is essentially that which presents us with at least two or more choices. It is not defined as requiring a potential infinity of choices. The two choices could be as simple as “choosing” versus “not choosing.”

But, I ran across an argument (I think) that points out that the free will we care about is really that “our” will isn’t overridden by some outside force, not that our will is compatible with other forces. In other words, in a mechanistic world view the choices that we make are still “our” choices because they are a product of ourselves – our brain, our, time, our space, our chemicals, our atoms – even if determined.

I agree that the choices we make are a product of ourselves. However, even such a limitation, if there be one, does not infer a limitation as we might find in a maze where the correct path was baited every so often. We are, after all, creatures with limitations. We can only work with what we have. I don’t think that, “…our brain, our, time, our space, our chemicals, our atoms…” can be inferred to be that which determines us to one path over another, although, occasionally it might. Think of the computer game, Solitaire. When one plays that game, one is making choices all the way through it, without there being anything forcefully encouraging or discouraging, from our “brain, our, time, our space, our chemicals, our atoms”, whether beneficially or not, with rare exceptions

It seems to me to be an interesting thought. Proponents of free will seem to have this type of free will in mind too, don’t they? Even if our choices come from some place other than chemicals they are compatible with the atoms, chemicals, personal history, what we know and have learned, personality, etc, aren’t they?

What else do we have knowledge of? Except, perhaps, certain knowledge that is directly infused by God?

The point being that the argument I am running across seems to be that determinism is compatible with free will – as long as it is your machine, your history, that is determining and causing your choices your will is free.

An unfortunate choice (no pun) of words, I think. I think that determinism should not be so loosely defined.

Now – one objection that I have seen raised to the mechanistic world view is that if we had a powerful enough computer (say) and could track every particle of matter and energy we would be able to predict exactly what someone would choose to do 10 years from now. This seems offered to show that this person doesn’t have free will. But, isn’t a response to the argument “God’s knowledge of what we will do 10 years from now shows that we have no free will” that “knowing something will happen and causing it to happen are different things”? Similarly wouldn’t someone argue that the computer that “knows” what someone will do ten years from now isn’t causing that person to do it, but rather the person is causing himself to do it (albeit by determinism) and that is what free will is anyway?

Yes, I think so.

A fairly convoluted and confused post, my apologies. But I’m interested in any insights that you might have.

Thanks,
VC

Perhaps we should try to attain a “better” definition of mechanistic determinism. If we don’t then the mechanist’s are correct - about everything. :wink:

God bless,
jd

I think the problem though is that your view of Free will is not a libertarian one. Usually, the Catholic or Christian view of Free will that is defended is libertarian free will (which is the Scriptural sense).

theopedia.com/Libertarian_free_will

But there are already views like Molinism or the Bohemian solution which do reconcile Libertarian Free Will with Omniscience. Especially Molinism (theopedia.com/Molinism), reconciles things like God’s providence with Libertarian free will as well.

You can also extrapolate from them and come to a view that you are more comfortable with. There is no official pronounce of the Church as to which is right. In short, the important thing is that the two (or three concepts) are not logically contradictory.

God Bless :slight_smile:

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