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Thranduil Oropherion Redux

Just what it says. This is the thread for educating poor Randy on the works of the various philosophers, from Aristotle to Sartre.

Warning: big words will be used. Nay -- they will be encouraged.

9/28/2009 . Edited 9/28/2009 #1
Virtuella

*Issues gratitude cookie to Randy*

Will post here once I've had some sleep.

9/28/2009 #2
Virtuella

Okay, before I say anything on the subject, I feel I should lay open my "credentials", so as not to create a false impression.

I did philosophy as a side helping when I studied theology in the early nineties. Got on fine with the more traditional philosophers, but critical theory, deconstructivism, poststructuralism and the lot went straight over my head. My hyper-intellectual boyfriend made me read Wittgenstein, Adorno, Heidegger etc, but I never got my head round them. (Bloch was okay, though). In any case, that's a long time ago and my memory of much of the stuff is vague, so if I wanted to say anything there, I'd need to look it up again.

Recently I have taken an interest in moral philosophy in particular. I attened a course at Edinburgh university this spring where we looked at the comparative merits of deontic, aretaic, consequentialist, communitarian and care ethics. This really caught my fancy and I've continued to read in that area.

So, I'm not an expert, just an enthusiastic layperson.

So, where to start now? I think it would be silly to do a run-through of the entire history of philosophy (though anyone who wants to brush up on that might want to read Jostein Gardner's "Sophie's World"). Since Clodia has already expressed an interest in the question of free will and since our attempts the other day to define existentialism threw up the question of freedom, why don't we look at determinism first? Can it be refuted and if so, how?

9/29/2009 #3
R. Zancan

May I join this debate? I studied Philosophy for the last two years; The Theory of Knowledge, Political Philosophy and Moral Philosophy amongst the subjects we covered, and I was rather successful. I would love to talk about it again, now that I no longer study it. If I am allowed? :)

9/29/2009 #4
Thranduil Oropherion Redux

Absolutely! The more the merrier.

9/29/2009 #5
Thranduil Oropherion Redux

Recently I have taken an interest in moral philosophy in particular. I attened a course at Edinburgh university this spring where we looked at the comparative merits of deontic, aretaic, consequentialist, communitarian and care ethics. This really caught my fancy and I've continued to read in that area.

I'm more interested in philosophy as it applies to ethics. However, I did not study philosophy in college, so I'm at a serious disadvantage in a discussion.

Since Clodia has already expressed an interest in the question of free will and since our attempts the other day to define existentialism threw up the question of freedom, why don't we look at determinism first? Can it be refuted and if so, how?

I think of poor Oedipus, who tried to doge his fate and ran headlong into it.

9/29/2009 #6
R. Zancan

Well, as for determinism, I always felt it was one of those irritating circular arguments where it is impossible to really prove and impossible to fully refute! It would be like arguing about whether God exists, an argument that has been done to death XD

As for the idea of determinism, I sort of like it for it's charm, you can't say; 'but I could have change my mind in the last moment!' because you didn't, so determinism wins.

I don't really believe in free will for a million reasons, the human mind, conscious and subconscious is incapable of making a free, ungrounded, original, random thought, decision or action.

Freedom and free will do not really exist.

I'd be interested in any arguments that argue that it does, genuinely interested.

EDIT: I've just realised - yesterday I changed my pename, I was/am Rachaelle - thus why I ask for permission to join, I'm now re-issuing that!

9/29/2009 . Edited 9/29/2009 #7
Thranduil Oropherion Redux

EDIT: I've just realised - yesterday I changed my pename, I was/am Rachaelle - thus why I ask for permission to join, I'm now re-issuing that!

LOL -- I knew that. Why in heaven's name would I forbid you permission to join?

Freedom and free will do not really exist.

You really think so? Don't we all the time make decisions both accidental and deliberate that change the course of our lives?

9/29/2009 #8
Gogol

I personally would have to question the assertion that all things are predetermined by everything that happened before them, even supposing omniscience. What about electrons? Doesn't that uncertainty reach all the way up to the macro levels, theoretically, undead cats in boxes and so forth? (Hello, blatant abuse of what was intended as a criticism of quantum physics, how are you doing today?) Isn't there an element of chance in how the countless influences working in, say, a single human mind, combine to form a choice? And if there is a factor of randomness in the universe, well, why shouldn't that element of chance, on a microscopic level, in the connections between neurons, translate up to something that can legitimately be called a choice once converted into language, and thought? We do not understand how brains become minds, and to argue that free will would be proved an illusion if only we knew everything there was to know seems to me to be making the unjustified assumption that matter and energy and souls are remarkably simplistic, governed by fundamental rules, no matter how many.

9/29/2009 #9
hixto

As for the idea of determinism, I sort of like it for it's charm, you can't say; 'but I could have change my mind in the last moment!' because you didn't, so determinism wins.

If that's the case one might as well say that if you change your mind it was predetermined that you would. Determinism will always win in that case.

I don't really believe in free will for a million reasons, the human mind, conscious and subconscious is incapable of making a free, ungrounded, original, random thought, decision or action.

How about just one reason? I don't believe it's true that "the human mind, conscious and subconscious is incapable of making a free, ungrounded, original, random thought, decision or action." If that was true there would be no capacity to change, no capacity for growth.

And if there is a factor of randomness in the universe, well, why shouldn't that element of chance, on a microscopic level, in the connections between neurons, translate up to something that can legitimately be called a choice once converted into language, and thought?

I'm not sure about thoughts beginning at a subatomic level. And is there a factor of randomness in the universe? Or does it just look like randomness because we don't understand it?

9/29/2009 #10
Gogol

But of course thought begins at the subatomic level; electrons being funneled through dendrites and axons and things. And while it is possible there is no chance, why shouldn't there be?

How about just one reason? I don't believe it's true that "the human mind, conscious and subconscious is incapable of making a free, ungrounded, original, random thought, decision or action." If that was true there would be no capacity to change, no capacity for growth.

There is capacity for both growth and change in a situation where the human mind, conscious and subconscious, is incapable of making a free, ungrounded, original, random thought, decision or action; that's like saying because DNA doesn't pop out of nowhere, evolution is impossible. There's always mutations in the genetic code, true, but they have causes; a faulty replicator protein caused by radiation, or whatever else you like. So do mutations in thought: and the rest can be attributed to recombination.

9/29/2009 #11
Virtuella

Well, as for determinism, I always felt it was one of those irritating circular arguments where it is impossible to really prove and impossible to fully refute!

Well put. It's like the psychoanalyst who claims that person X has an unconscious desire to sleep with his cat, and if X says no he hasn't, the psychologist says, ah, you're in denial, which proves that I'm right...

I wonder if one of you can help me out here, because I remember reading this but can't remember where: There is an axiom somewhere (maybe in the sciences...? Or indeed in philosophy...?) that says for any claim you are making you need to be able to define the circumstances under which that claim would be refuted. If you can't, then your claim is void. This would apply very nicely to determinism (and to the psychoanalyst). Does anybody know where that axiom comes from?

I read "Freedom and Discipline" by Richard Smith this summer (a fascinating book for educators!), in which he tries to refute determinism, though not entirely successfully, to my mind. He makes a few interesting points, though. He says the juxtaposition of total freedom and total determinism has no practical value, rather we should ask how much freedom and what sort of freedom do we have. While determinism may be right that at the moment of choice we are bound to choose as we do because of what person we are, we are nevertheless able (and hence responsible!) to change what people we are over a longer period of time. He says people's often highly predictable behaviours are not so much a sign of determinism, but of a settled pattern of personality traits, habits, interests, motives etc.

His two points against determinism are these:

1) If determinism is true, then all opinions are determined, including that of the person who believes in determinism.

2) Any sensible position can be supported by reason. The reasons are derived from the external factors, but that doesn't mean we couldn't reason this way or that. The determinist doesn't take reason seriously enough.

I think neither of these arguments cuts the mustard when it comes to actually refuting determinism, because they don't address the ontological question of whether or not free will exists. The first argument is rather a circular one, and the second includes an unsupported claim which is exactly the one a determinist would be denying, namely that we have a choice to reason this way or that. However, they do show that determinism is certainly not a helpful stance to take in life.

Gogol, I like your particle physics argument. One of the reasons why determinism is so impossible to refute is that it says it could predict everything if only it knew the starting position of everything, but with however many subatomic particles in the universe, that is a condition that can never be practically achieved. So the determinist has chosen to point to a theoretical proof that lies beyond the possibility of examination.

ETA: I think Gogol is right, Mike. There can be growth and change that is already determined.

9/29/2009 . Edited 9/29/2009 #12
Gogol

Yeah, the definition of a scientific theory requires that there are feasible circumstances under which it can be proven wrong. Not sure how that translates to philosophy, but it is a reasonable way of sorting out useful and less than useful things-that-possibly-count-as-theories. Which is of course taking the utilitarian approach, but hey. Why not. It's hard to bring aretaic and deontological and generally ethical ones in, when judging other philosophies. :'D

And yeah, the implausibility of ever knowing everything there is to know about the subatomic particles of the universe, at least according to relatively current theories and Bloody Quantum, is what would sabotage determinism as a theory if we were talking natural philosophy rather than philosophy. And more than the improbability, the impossibility, thanks to the uncertainty principle and so forth.

...possibly.

9/29/2009 . Edited 9/29/2009 #13
hixto

But of course thought begins at the subatomic level; electrons being funneled through dendrites and axons and things.

No, subatomic reactions begin at a subatomic level. Until all the chemical reactions happen on the macro level there is no "thought" as we know it.

And while it is possible there is no chance, why shouldn't there be?

Why should there be? lol Isn't it Chaos Theory that supposes randomness with a purpose? My physics is about on a par with my philosoply.

There is capacity for both growth and change in a situation where the human mind, conscious and subconscious, is incapable of making a free, ungrounded, original, random thought, decision or action

I was speaking of the psychological capacity to change. If everything is determined then any change a person made would be because it was determined and not due to a person's ability to choose. I believe people have the ability to choose.

9/30/2009 #14
Virtuella

I think an important point is that while it is theoretically possible that everything down to the last spin of every electron is determined, we nevertheless have the subjective experience of making choices. Sometimes we change the world or ourselves in the face of considerable resistance. This is different from just letting things go their way. In other words, I think determinism is a lame excuse for not making an effort.

About subparticluar versus marco level, Mike has a point: the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Further thoughts on determinism:

We need to distinguish between at least two different kinds, namely on the one hand a teleological determinism, i.e. the stance that everything is developing towards a predetermined end according to some grand design (as held by some religious groups) and on the other hand causal determinism, i.e. a determinism from the origins based on the idea that everything is determined by the way the parameters were set at the beginning of the universe. These are not mutually exclusive, but they have different focal points. I think the former has no place in a philosophical debate, because it is based on faith rather than on argument. The latter is open to criticism in that one can question the origin. If everything is determined by previous parameters, where do these parameters come from? E.g. if everything derives from the Big Bang, there is nothing that could have caused the Big Bang.

In this context I’d like to pick up the comment made by by R.Zancan (this seems a bit cumbersome, is there something else we can call you?) re the existence of God. I think that the existence of God can be neither proved not disproved by logic or scientific enquiry and hence the same disclaimer would apply that I mentioned earlier with regard to determinism. God could theoretically supply proof by revealing herself for all to see, but this is again beyond our reach in terms of practical examination. So the claim that God exists would be void as an ontological statement.

This is no reason not to believe in God. I cannot prove that my husband loves me, yet I have a practical experience of it being so. Likewise, most religious people will report that they have at some point(s) in their lives been spiritually touched by God. It’s a good enough reason for faith, but it’s not a philosophical argument.

I leave for another time the question of how the term “God” is defined and if and how what philosophers call God in their various speculative discourses is related to God JHWH as presented in the Abrahamitic religions. I’d also like to discuss whether a teleological determinism would imply that God is evil, but that’s maybe a question for the theology thread.

That’s all for now.

*Taps foot and waits for Clodia to bring in the plates of cookies, um, I mean the Plato, and for Milhist to bring in the fundamentalist guns.*

9/30/2009 . Edited 9/30/2009 #15
Virtuella

Oh, I only just realized, Randy has defined the topic area as "philosophers from Aristotle to Sartre." So I needn't worry about my failure to understand critical theory. :D

9/30/2009 #16
Clodia

philosophers from Aristotle to Sartre

Ahaha, I noticed that. It also removes the pre-Socratics, the sophists and Plato. Hm...

I have been vaguely considering whether to get involved in this game. My interests in this debate are almost entirely concerned with the reconstruction of ancient views; I may have mentioned this already. I'm a historian with philosophical leanings, not an actual philosopher. Still, I can offer you some notes from an article by Bobzien on freedom and free will that may clarify some terms? This may be a little belated at this point, but hey. It may help to know what sort of 'freedom' you're talking about when you say 'But no! I am free to do something!' -- especially if you end up talking about the related ethical issues.

9/30/2009 #17
Thranduil Oropherion Redux

Oh, I only just realized, Randy has defined the topic area as "philosophers from Aristotle to Sartre." So I needn't worry about my failure to understand critical theory. :D

Uh-uh-uh! I was just going for the A to Z thing but didn't know a 'Z' philosopher. This is every single one of them, although now we'll probably get bogged down into the definition of 'philosopher'. I mean, does Mark Twain count?

9/30/2009 . Edited 9/30/2009 #18
Virtuella

Go ahead, Clodia!

Randy, there's Zeno of Elea.

I think there are two simple and fairly clear-cut definitions of "philosopher:"

1) A person who systematically studies the academic field of philosophy and possibly formulates and publishes his/her own views.

2) A person who thinks about philosophical questions - and that could be anybody.

9/30/2009 #19
Clodia

Suzanne Bobzien, 'The inadvertant conception and late birth of the free-will problem' (1998: 133–136).

Indeterminist freedoms

"1) freedom to do otherwise: I am free to do otherwise if, being the same agent, with the same desires and beliefs, and being in the same circumstances, it is possible for me to do or not to do something in the sense that it is not fully causally determined whether or not I do it.

"2) freedom of decision: a subtype of freedom to do otherwise. I am free in my decision, if being the same agent, with the same desires and beliefs, and being in the same circumstances, it is possible for me to decide between alternative courses of action in the sense that it is not fully causally determined which way I decide. 1) differs from 2) in that it leaves it undecided in which way it is possible for the agent to do or not to do something.

"3) freedom of the will: a subtype of freedom of decision. I act from free will, if I am in the possession of a will, i.e. a specific part or faculty of the soul by means of which I can decide between alternative courses of actions independently of my desires and beliefs, in the sense that it is not fully causally determined in which way I decide. 2) differs from 3) in that the latter postulates a specific causally independent faculty or part of the soul which functions as a "decision making faculty".

Un-predeterminist freedom

"4) un-predeterminist freedom: I have un-predeterminist freedom of action/choice if there are no causes prior to my action/choice which determine whether or not I perform/choose a certain course of action, but in the same circumstances, if I have the same desires and beliefs, I would always do/choose the same thing. Un-predeterminist freedom guarantees the agents' autonomy in the sense that nothing except the agents themselves is causally responsible for whether they act, or for which way they decide. Un-predeterminist freedom requires a theory of causation that is not (just) a theory of event-causation (i.e. a theory which considers both causes and effects as events). For instance, un-predeterminist freedom would work with a concept of causality which considers things or objects (material or immaterial) as causes, and events, movements or changes as effects. Such a conception of causation is common in antiquity.

Compatibilist freedoms

"5) freedom from force and compulsion: I am free in my actions/choices in this sense, if I am not externally or internally forced or compelled when I act/choose. This does not preclude that my actions/choices may be fully causally determined by external and internal factors.

"6) freedom from determination by external causal factors: agents are free from external causal factors in their actions/choices if the same external situation or circum-stances will not necessarily always elicit the same (re-)action or choice of different agents, or of the same agent but with different desires or beliefs.

"7) freedom from determination by (external and) certain internal causal factors: I am in my actions/choices free from certain internal factors (e.g. my desires), if having the same such internal factors will not necessarily always elicit in me the same action/choice."

9/30/2009 #20
Thranduil Oropherion Redux

Oy vey! I'm at a serious disadvantage in this discussion, not because I can't understand abstractions, but because my mind works in such a way that when I see a general statement like those in Clodia's list, above, I immediately want to see a real life example.

For instance:

1) freedom to do otherwise: I am free to do otherwise if, being the same agent, with the same desires and beliefs, and being in the same circumstances, it is possible for me to do or not to do something in the sense that it is not fully causally determined whether or not I do it.

Let's say I find myself seriously attracted to a person who is not my spouse. I really can't help that -- it's human nature. I do, however, have a choice about actually doing following through on it. Either way, it will change the course of my life. I do have that choice.

6) freedom from determination by external causal factors: agents are free from external causal factors in their actions/choices if the same external situation or circum-stances will not necessarily always elicit the same (re-)action or choice of different agents, or of the same agent but with different desires or beliefs.

I'm told by people who lived through the times that not joining the Nazi Party or the Hitler Youth had some fairly serious consequences. Refusing military service in Hitler's army had worse consequences -- they executed you. That sort of duress does not remove the choice entirely, but it certainly affects it.

9/30/2009 #21
Virtuella

Thanks, Clodia! Okay, I'll try for examples, tell me if they're correct.

1) On finishing school, and with an Abitur exam and a scholarship in my pocket, I may chose to go to university - or not.

2) I may chose to study this study this subject or that.

3) Having trouble with this one, because I'm unsure how the "independent faculty" can be independent from desires and beliefs. Maybe: My desire is to eat a great big chocolate cake, and I believe that people ought not to judge me by my weight, but I have the will to get slimmer anyway, and so I refrain from eating it?

4) I stand at the ice-cream van with money in my pocket. They have chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice-cream. Nothing causes me to choose this way or that, but I will always choose chocolate anyway.

5) I am free not to go to work, because no policeman will appear at my door if I don't. But there are external factors, i.e. the need to earn a living, that causally determine my choice.

6) Being in good health, with time and money on my hands, I may choose to travel to France this year, but another year I may decide to prefer Greece.

7) I think that's the "I'm not bothered either way" scenario, i.e. there are no external causes or compulsions, and we don't care too much about the choice either (free from desire). So, whether or not we eat spaghetti or rice tonight is pretty much six and half a dozen to me.

9/30/2009 #22
R. Zancan

How about just one reason? I don't believe it's true that "the human mind, conscious and subconscious is incapable of making a free, ungrounded, original, random thought, decision or action." If that was true there would be no capacity to change, no capacity for growth.

Why does lack of free will inhibit growth? What type of 'growth' are you referring to?

If that's the case one might as well say that if you change your mind it was predetermined that you would. Determinism will always win in that case.

Are you just concuring with me? 0.o

LOL -- I knew that. Why in heaven's name would I forbid you permission to join?

I thought it would be polite to ask :P

Freedom and free will do not really exist.

You really think so? Don't we all the time make decisions both accidental and deliberate that change the course of our lives?

Yeah, sure we do, but they're not 'free', in another vein of argument we aren't free to make any decision we want; fear of death, destitution, and the loss of many other things means we don't make decision that may lead to these things.

Determinism aside, and focusing on just 'free will', I don't believe free will means you can choose what to have for tea, it must be an absolute and you must live entirely with 'free will' or it's just not free enough - and seeing as there are some things you just can't do, I can't speak French, or remember this day two years ago, I don't have free will. Yet I have learnt french, and definitely did something this day two years ago - but no amount of my willing or trying will over rule my own conciousness and allow me access to that information.

I am hoping this makes sense, I just got in from work XD

9/30/2009 . Edited 9/30/2009 #23
Thranduil Oropherion Redux

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Determinism mean that the outcome of things are already 'written' and any choice we make will lead us to it?

I cited the story of Oedipus above:

As an infant, it is prophesied about Oedipus that he will kill kill his father and marry his mother. As a result, his father attempts to have him killed by exposing him. A kindly shepherd finds the baby and takes him to the king and queen of a neighboring state, where he is raised as their own.

As a young man, Oedipus consults a sybyll and is told the same thing -- he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Because he loves his 'parents' and is a decent man, he leaves home, only to get into an altercation with a rude stranger on the road and kill him. He travels on and eventually marries the widowed queen of another state. Thus, his father's choice ensured that his son would be a stranger to both him and his wife. And Oedipus's moral choice sends him straight into the prophesied fate.

9/30/2009 #24
hixto

In for too short a time to read all this so...

What type of 'growth' are you referring to?

Self-actualization.

9/30/2009 #25
Thranduil Oropherion Redux

Self-actualization.

Translation for the lay-people, Mike. Does that mean learning from your experiences?

9/30/2009 #26
R. Zancan

Self-actualization.

I can't see why that isn't possible without free will.

Can any one here actually say that they could spend the whole day tomorrow doing things that are wholly of their free will?

9/30/2009 #27
R. Zancan

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Determinism mean that the outcome of things are already 'written' and any choice we make will lead us to it?

I cited the story of Oedipus above:

As an infant, it is prophesied about Oedipus that he will kill kill his father and marry his mother. As a result, his father attempts to have him killed by exposing him. A kindly shepherd finds the baby and takes him to the king and queen of a neighboring state, where he is raised as their own.

As a young man, Oedipus consults a sybyll and is told the same thing -- he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Because he loves his 'parents' and is a decent man, he leaves home, only to get into an altercation with a rude stranger on the road and kill him. He travels on and eventually marries the widowed queen of another state. Thus, his father's choice ensured that his son would be a stranger to both him and his wife. And Oedipus's moral choice sends him straight into the prophesied fate.

I would be inclined to say that that is an example of fate, not determinism, and from what I remember there is some complex and confusing difference between the two :P XD

9/30/2009 #28
hixto

I can't see why that isn't possible without free will.

Maybe it is, but they how would you know if you achieved it? lol

Can any one here actually say that they could spend the whole day tomorrow doing things that are wholly of their free will?

I believe every choice I make is of my own free will. Either chosing to do something or avoiding the consequences. Now whether my choices are determined on a subatomic level or are the result of supernatural forces at work all around us all the time, I can't say with any certainty. But it certainly *feels* like I'm making my own choices. Besides, for all I know my choices were/are better in that parallel universe next door. I'm just glad I don't live in the one where they're worse. :-)

9/30/2009 #29
R. Zancan

One of the reasons why determinism is so impossible to refute is that it says it could predict everything if only it knew the starting position of everything, but with however many subatomic particles in the universe, that is a condition that can never be practically achieved. So the determinist has chosen to point to a theoretical proof that lies beyond the possibility of examination.

And that is exactly why I *groaned*when I saw determinism was the starting point of this thread.

In this context I’d like to pick up the comment made by by R.Zancan (this seems a bit cumbersome, is there something else we can call you?)

Rachael or Rach. I prefer the former :)

In this context I’d like to pick up the comment made by by R.Zancan (this seems a bit cumbersome, is there something else we can call you?) re the existence of God. I think that the existence of God can be neither proved not disproved by logic or scientific enquiry and hence the same disclaimer would apply that I mentioned earlier with regard to determinism. God could theoretically supply proof by revealing herself for all to see, but this is again beyond our reach in terms of practical examination. So the claim that God exists would be void as an ontological statement.

This is no reason not to believe in God. I cannot prove that my husband loves me, yet I have a practical experience of it being so. Likewise, most religious people will report that they have at some point(s) in their lives been spiritually touched by God. It’s a good enough reason for faith, but it’s not a philosophical argument.

I've come to the same conclusion. I am aware that there is no real proof for or against, to me it's a catagorical no. However, faith is irrefutable - and that I have come to terms with, people's belief is 100% real. However for me, I can't find one second in the day for 'God', I it's the longest ever, ever, ever running joke.

9/30/2009 #30
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