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Free Will Theories

Free Will Theories

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Free Will Theories

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  1. Free Will Theories • Agency Theory: we define ourselves as agents through free choices: this we experience (and is what our theory should explain) • Person Theory: one’s will is free if he/ she has second-order desires to choose to act in certain ways; this distinguishes persons from non-free beings Harry Frankfurt (b. 1929) • Objection to both theories: how can “we” be both cause & effect?

  2. Determinism: All events (including human actions) have specific causes • Baron d’Holbach: the brain is material; its actions (e.g., thought, will) are dictated by physical laws, heredity, and environment (1723-89)

  3. (Hard) Determinism • Behavior is caused by unconscious desires and fears (Freud) or environment and heredity (Skinner). Freedom is an illusion; people are not responsible for their actions—though they can be held responsible for social purposes • Objections: how we can challenge or change our attitudes if we are determined? Why not explain behavior with reasons, not causes?

  4. Freedom - Determinism Theories • Compatibilism (Soft Determinism): freedom is compatible with determinism, if freedom is understood as the ability to do what we want • Actions caused by our choices or character are free; actions caused by external forces (genetics, culture, upbringing, threats) are not free Choice/will (cause) act (cause) Personality External forces Hard determinist reply: choices are caused by external forces.

  5. Hume Compatibilism/Soft Determinism:freedom is compatible with determinism • A “free” act is simply one that is caused (i.e., preceded) by our choice or act of will. We are free when we can do what we want. (free) choice/will/personality cause act external threats/constraints (not free) cause Objection: aren’t choices caused by “external” forces (e.g., genetics, culture, upbringing)?

  6. Freedom - Determinism Theories • Indeterminism: like sub-atomic events, free actions are unpredictable, because nothing causes them • Objection: if free human actions are chance or random events, then we could not control our “free” actions or be responsible for them • Libertarianism: our free choices define our selves: this is what we experience (and is what our theory should explain) • Objection: how can “we” be both cause & effect?

  7. Freedom - Determinism Theories • Freedom as an Assumption: Morality requires that we think of ourselves as free. As objects in the world, we are determined; but as conscious, choosing beings, we are free (Kant) • Existentialism: freedom & self-consciousness consist in our ability to conceive that which is not—and that could not be caused by what is • Objection: Wanting to believe in freedom does not make it true; besides, even that is determined

  8. Time: Reality or Illusion? • Time is the objective, fixed sequence of events in the world: “it” is real and does not change. The subjective experience of time as moving is illusory (McTaggart, Smart) • Time is a mental construct in terms of which all phenomena are experienced as real (Kant) • Objective time is a conceptual abstraction that fails to capture our real experience of duration and the passage from past to future (Bergson)

  9. In Defense of Free Will:Thomas Reid • We are conscious of exerting our wills, deliberating, and thinking of ourselves as free to have done otherwise • If we are not free, regret, guilt, and holding others responsible for actions make no sense (1710-96)

  10. Freedom - Determinism Theories • Indeterminism: like sub-atomic events, free actions are unpredictable, because nothing causes them • Objection: if free human actions are chance or random events, then we could not control our “free” actions or be responsible for them • Agency Theory: our free choices define our selves: this is what we experience (and is what our theory should explain) • Objection: how can “we” be both cause & effect?

  11. Fatalism: What happens could not have occurred otherwise Aristotle (384-322 BCE) • Propositions about future events (including human actions) are either true or false right now; so the future is unchangeable (Aristotle) • God knows what we will do in the future; so we cannot change the future (Augustine) St. Augustine (354-430)

  12. Determinism: All events (including human actions) have specific causes • Baron d’Holbach: the brain is material; so its actions (e.g., thought, will) are controlled by physical laws, heredity, and environment (1723-89) • Pierre-Simon Laplace: with a complete knowledge now of every particle in the universe, we could predict all future events (1749-1827)

  13. Contemporary Explanations of Behavior S. Freud (1856-1939) B.F. Skinner (1904-90) Our behavior is caused by: • unconscious desires or fears and repressed memories (Freud) • environment, social conditioning (Skinner) • heredity, genes Objections: these accounts seem to make freedom an illusion. But (1) how are we able to change? And (2) why not explain behavior with reasons, not causes?

  14. The Determinist Argument:All our actions are caused by forces over which we have no control. And if we have no control over our actions, we are not free. • Responses: • Libertarianism: some actions are free because they are not causally determined • Compatibilism: even if all actions are causally determined, we can still be free

  15. Libertarianism:Some human acts are undetermined • Argument from experience: we are conscious of deliberating and thinking of ourselves as free to have done otherwise • Objection: this could be self-deception • Indeterminism: like sub-atomic events, free actions are only probable, not determined • Objection: if free actions are random or only probable events, then we could not control or be responsible for them

  16. More Libertarian Arguments • The impossibility of self-prediction: any prediction of our own behavior would affect (and thus change) that behavior • Objection: predicting what we will do does not necessarily affect what we do • Moral accountability: if we are not free, then moral responsibility makes no sense • Objection: maybe regret, guilt, and moral responsibility are unjustified