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Encyclopedia > Libertarianism (metaphysics)

In philosophical debates about free will and determinism, libertarianism is generally held to be the combination of the following beliefs: Image File history File links Broom_icon. ... The philosopher Socrates about to take poison hemlock as ordered by the court. ... Free-Will is a Japanese independent record label founded in 1986. ... Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. ...

  1. that free will is incompatible with determinism
  2. that human beings do possess free will, and
  3. that determinism is false

All libertarians subscribe to the philosophy of incompatibilism which states that an action cannot be both free and physically predetermined in the commonly understood sense. Free actions are ones which could have been different. Traditionally, this has meant that there is no causal chain that necessitated the action prior to the agent freely choosing it; the agent is an originator of causal chains. Libertarianism is the opposite of Determinism which states all human actions are predetermined, and soft-determinism or 'Compatibilism' which argues determinism is compatible with free will. Compatibilism, also known as soft determinism and most famously championed by Hume, is a theory which holds that free will and determinism are compatible. ... Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. ... Compatibilism, also known as soft determinism and most famously championed by Hume, is a theory which holds that free will and determinism are compatible. ...


The libertarian therefore has to maintain that either:-

  • Humans have a special exemption from the determinism that applies to everything else. — perhaps a soul or dualistically-conceived mind. This is supernatual libertarianism.

or The soul, according to many religious and philosophical traditions, is the self-aware essence unique to a particular living being. ... It has been suggested that Combative dualism be merged into this article or section. ...

  • The world in general is not strictly deterministic, and humans (and perhaps other entities) are able to exploit the "elbow room" to make free decisions. This is naturalistic libertarianism.

Contents

Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting (1984) is a book by the American philosopher Daniel Dennett, which discusses the philosophical issues of free will and determinism. ...

Definitions

"Free will"

Free will can be defined as:

"The power or ability to rationally choose and consciously perform actions, at least some of which are not brought about necessarily and inevitably by external circumstances".

"Elbow Room"

To say that actions are not brought about necessarily and inevitably means they could have been performed differently. One way of thinking about this is to imagine that one can "rewind history". If libertarian free will holds, things will turn out differently. Actions can only occur if they are possible. Libertarian free will requires that there is more than one possible outcome to a given situation (for supernaturalists, this will only be where humans are involved). History, metaphorically, has multiple tracks. These additional options are sometimes called "elbow room". For determinists, there is only one possible outcome to a physical state-of-affairs, which is whatever actually occurs, and is also what must occur of necessity; actuality, possibility and necessity collapse together for the determinist. Subjunctive possibility (also called alethic possibility or metaphysical possibility) is the form of modality most frequently studied in modal logic. ...


The definition given also requires rationality. One of the major problems for libertarians is reconciling rationality (control, planning, purpose, accountability) with elbow-room. To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ...


"Determinism"

A classic definition of causal determinism is Laplace's:- Pierre-Simon Laplace Pierre-Simon Laplace (March 23, 1749 – March 5, 1827) was a French mathematician and astronomer, the discoverer of the Laplace transform and Laplaces equation. ...

"An intellect which at any given moment knew all the forces that animate Nature and the mutual positions of the beings that comprise it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit its data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom: for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain; and the future just like the past would be present before our eyes".

Initial arguments for libertarianism

Introspection

All human beings, claims the libertarian, have experience of being a self-determining being. We are all aware of the free choices we have made.


Appeal to the experience of decision making

We all have experience of deliberating, of weighing factors which could influence our decisions and this often takes a long time.


Free choice necessary for moral responsibility

Libertarians claim that without free-will, our practices of morally praising some and condemning others has no rational basis. We do not hold people morally responsible if they could not have acted otherwise than they did (if they were under external duress, or suffer from an internal compulsion such as kleptomania). However, determinism makes everyone unable to do other than as they did, so it follows that no-one is ever morally responsible, and the prisons should be emptied. Kleptomania (Greek: κλέπτειν, kleptein, to steal, μανία, mania) is an inability or great difficultly in resisting impulses of stealing. ...


Volition necessary for rationality

The libertarian claims that without free will rationality is in a sense self-contradictory. The determinist, if her arguments are applied to herself, cannot claim to have made a rational choice to believe in determinism, because she cannot claim to have made a choice. Without volition, there is no difference between rational discourse and parotting. Her comments carry no more persuasive force than the message on an answering machine.


Originality and innovation

Determinists sometimes claim that we are not determined by our atoms and molecules so much as by the social and cultural forces on us. While these are no doubt an influence, they cannot add up strict determinism in every case, or we would still be in the caves. Every new idea, social or technological, is something of a rebellion against the old order.


Physical indeterminism

Most critiques of free will point out that it is incompatible with determinism. However, the libertarian can point to the widespread acceptance of indeterminism in modern physics. Determinism needs to be proven, it is not a self-evident truth. Indeterminism is the philosophical belief contradictory to determinism: that there are events which do not correspond with determinism (and therefore have no cause). ... Fig. ...


Initial objections

Introspection

For the determinist, this claim lends no support at all; he would argue that everyday we labour under the illusion of free will, as we are often unaware of the causes of our actions. The libertarian responds, that although our sense of freedom might be illusory, there is no reason to show it actually is. Thus, the situation is stalemate rather than victory for the determinist.


Appeal to the experience of decision making

For this appeal, there is also a simple determinist response. Benedict Spinoza claimed that this is merely evidence to support the argument that people believe in free will. For Spinoza, “Man believes himself to be free, simply because he is conscious of his actions “. However, this kind of skepticism can be extended to anything. Maybe we only believe we think or remember. Maybe we only believe in determinism, if we are determinists! Skepticism, the libertarian points out, is a universal solvent. If the determinist could prove determinism (scientifically perhaps), we would have to accept that free will is an illusion (bearing in mind that both parties agree on incompatibilism). But we cannot go around dismissing things as illusion without good reason — where does it end? Baruch Spinoza Benedictus de Spinoza (November 24, 1632 _ February 21, 1677), named Baruch Spinoza by his synagogue elders and known as Bento de Spinoza or Bento dEspiñoza in the community in which he grew up. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... Compatibilism, also known as soft determinism and most famously championed by Hume, is a theory which holds that free will and determinism are compatible. ... Solipsism is the philosophical idea that My mind is the only thing that exists. Solipsism (Latin: solus, alone + ipse, self) is an epistemological or metaphysical position that knowledge of anything outside the mind is unjustified. ...


Free choice necessary for moral responsibility

Compatiblists are able to respond to this challenge by coming up with a determinism-friendly re-definition of "free choice" -- typically, a choice that is not made under duress. The determinist thinks no kind of freedom is compatible with determinism, and so has to bite the bullet -- to rethink praise and blame, crime and punishment, in a way such that freedom and moral judgement play no role. A typical counter-argument is that because people are deterministic mechanisms punishments and rewards are not intended as retribution, but are to be used rationally to rehabilitate those with deviant behavior. Some determinists argue that it makes more sense to reject moral condemnation in favor of a more rational, technological approach. However, it is difficult for them to exclude the suspicion that they are assuming we have a choice, and a morally significant one, about how to deal with crime and punishment. Compatibilism, also known as soft determinism and most famously championed by Hume, is a theory which holds that free will and determinism are compatible. ...


Volition necessary for rationality

Here too, the determinist can bite the bullet and simply agree that in arguing for determinism, he is simply doing what he must — as is the libertarian. Determinism, after all does not prevent people from changing their opinions — it just prevents them doing so freely. Alternatively, he can take a more compatibilist approach and re-think the nature of decision-making. He can claim that he can go through an intellectual process of weighing up alternatives, even if the eventual decisions is a foregone conclusion. The process is just a necessary way of getting to the conclusion, just as a computer program needs to go through certain steps to reach the answer. (And can even perform "choices" — if-then statements — of a deterministic kind).


Originality and innovation

The determinist can claim that we are "condemned to freedom", that innovation, creativity and rebelliousness have deterministic machinery behind them. She could, for instance, point to the fact that adolescents can be predicted to behave rebelliously. However, she will have to appeal to determinism at the atoms-and-molecules level at some stage in order to remove the suspicion that the rebellion and innovation tolerated by society is not the metaphysical liberty that the libertarian believes in.


Physical indeterminism

The truth of indeterminism in modern physics is not sufficient to prove libertarianism — it might be incompatible with indeterminism as well! Indeterminism is the philosophical belief contradictory to determinism: that there are events which do not correspond with determinism (and therefore have no cause). ... Fig. ...


Supernatural libertarianism

Proposal

For the supernaturalistic libertarian although causality applies to the inanimate and animal worlds, it cannot extend to human actions and decisions. Although, personality and physical appearance are effected by causality, the moral self is capable of free choice; and overcomes the predispositions of my personality.


For example, a kleptomaniac in a shop would have a natural predisposition, due to his illness to steal from said shop, but his moral self may overcome this desire, and a psychologist cannot say 100% whether he will. A determinist would argue that the psychologist is not aware of all the causes; an awareness of being watched, fear of arrest by the police, that the psychologist is not aware of, could have prevented the action. Kleptomania (word of Greek origin) is an obsession with stealing. ...


The position of the supernatural libertarian can be theologically attractive in systems like Christianity because it offers a solution to the problem of moral evil. If a deity has created beings with libertarian free will, then those beings are not merely automatons. The deity need not foreknow the actual actions of those beings, but may merely foreknow the infinite range of possible actions that each human who could ever possibly exist will take. The deity is not responsible for evil either by direct cause of creating creatures that do evil or by casting a blind eye to foreknowledge that they will do evil. The evil is not predetermined and is only a possibility. The equal possibility is that the creatures may do good. The desirability of such libertarian creatures existing is vastly superior to their nonexistence and so the deity has accepted the risk of a creating a fallible being as preferable to the creation of mere automatons or the non-creation of creatures.


However, many schools of theology reject libertarianism out of hand because it does not comply with their traditional views of predestination and divine foreknowledge.


In supernatural libertarianism, the free will is posited as a supernatural component of the pscyhe that acts alongside any natural components. The psyche would not have free will if this supernatural component were not present.


Objections

Advances in brain science make dualistic explanations decreasingly likely. In animals the brain, or encephalon (Greek for in the head), is the control center of the central nervous system, responsible for thought. ... The term dualism is the state of being dual, or having a twofold division. ...


Rebuttal

Regardless, dualism still lives on, chiefly because of the hard problem of consciousness. It has been suggested that Combative dualism be merged into this article or section. ... Unsolved problems in cognitive science: How is it possible to resolve the Hard Problem? The term hard problem of consciousness, coined by David Chalmers[1][2], refers to the hard problem of explaining why we have qualitative phenomenal experiences. ...


The determinist should also be careful to distinguish between the claims that:

  • We know the causes of behaviour, inasmuch as it is caused.

and

  • Behaviour is determined and we know the causes.

While brain science has found increasing determinism, fundamental physics has pulled out the rug by uncovering indeterminism. The possible influence of indeterminism at the quantum on the macroscopic level is hotly disputed. This leads on to naturalistic libertarianism. Fig. ... Macroscopic is commonly used to describe physical objects that are measurable and observable by the naked eye. ... The quantum mind theory is founded on the premise that quantum theory is necessary to understand the mind and brain. ...


Natural libertarianism

Proposal

Naturalistic libertarians believe that the universe contains an indeterminstic element, for instance as demonstrated by quantum mechanics, and that human being exploit this to achieve freedom of choice. There is no separate, dualistic self in this theory: the self is the total activity of the brain as a system. Fig. ...


Objections

An objection to naturalistic libertarianism is that it remains a mystery why an agent makes the choice she does — any explanation of the choice (beyond a probabilistic one) would seem to make it determined. However, according to David Hume, if a choice is not determined then it is simply a random event, which is problematic since such a choice would lack purpose. David Hume (April 26, 1711 – August 25, 1776)[1] was a Scottish philosopher, economist, and historian. ...


Although quantum mechanics provides some reason for thinking that determinism may indeed be false, Roy C. Weatherford (in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy) echoes Hume on randomness: Fig. ...

The random behaviour of atoms certainly does not by itself make for the freedom and moral responsibility asserted by libertarians.

Rebuttal

Human decision-making is not an individual event occurring at the atomic level, it is a very complex process involving billions of neurons. It is often assumed that indeterminism can only come into play as part of a complex process of decision-making when the deterministic element has reached an impasse, and indeterminism has the "casting vote" (like an internalised version of tossing a coin when you cannot make up your mind). This model (which is roughly that advocated by Robert Kane) has the advantage that you have some level of commitment to both courses of action; neither is exactly against your wishes. It is, however, not so good for rationality and self-control. The indetermistic coin-toss can reasonably be seen as the crucial cause of your decision, yet it is not under your control. Template:Robert Kane Robert Kane (1938- ) Robert Kane is University Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. ...


Another solution is to move the indetermistic element back in the decision-making process. One functional unit proposes multiple ideas and courses of action, which are then pruned back by a more-or-less deterministic process, which filters out anything too wild or irrational. Nonetheless, in a "rewinding history" scenario, the individual could have acted differently, as required by libertarian free will, because the random unit. could have come out with different proposals -- and it would still be something they wanted to do, because it would not have been translated into action without the consent of the rest of the neural apparatus.


Agent Causation

Agent-causal accounts of free will appeal to a special kind of causality holding between persons and events rather than between events and other events. It is a matter of some debate whether they are libertarian or compatibilist. Compatibilism, also known as soft determinism and most famously championed by Hume, is a theory which holds that free will and determinism are compatible. ...


Conclusion

Although not held by the majority of contemporary philosophers, libertarianism is still widely discussed and avidly defended by several leading philosophers on the field, such as Peter van Inwagen, Robert Kane, Timothy O'Connor and Laura Ekstrom. It is still popular among non-academics and is endorsed by some religions as a tenet. Peter van Inwagen is John Cardinal OHara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. ... Robert Kane (born 1938) is Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and is currently on phased retirement. ...


See also

Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. ... Compatibilism, also known as soft determinism and most famously championed by Hume, is a theory which holds that free will and determinism are compatible. ... Indeterminism is the philosophical belief contradictory to determinism: that there are events which do not correspond with determinism (and therefore have no cause). ... Free-Will is a Japanese independent record label founded in 1986. ...

External links

Further reading


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