Greg Boyd, ISOHP & Free Will Part 1
For ages now we have been kicking around the notion of "Free Will". I'm not sure where everyone stands on this issue other than Matt and myself. (...well, on second thought, I think I do recall Revvvvvd leaning in the compatibilist direction as well. At any rate...) Matt has decided that he feels the compatibilist stance best coheres with reality as he experiences it. I, on the other hand, have always felt that determinism does violence to the way we experience the world. Still I had never really read much on either side of the debate to have whole lot of confidence in my hunch. Thus, for a time I was left in limbo. I knew that compatibilism seemed untenable, but I had not come across any other concepts that adequately dealt with the free will problem.
I've recently begun reading Greg Boyd's Satan and the Problem of Good and Evil. In usual Boydian fashion Greg picks apart the various positions on this topic in a way that actually made some sense. The following exploration constitutes the beginning of my exploration of this topic. You will see a familiar vein of my own thinking, but I will also be borrowing heavily from Boyd's book. (which is honestly the only serious interaction with the material I have engaged with.)
You will notice that this exploration will be more about deconstructing compatibilism, than it is about describing self-determining freedom. I think this mostly owes to the fact that no one really knows how self-determining freedom works. In much the same way, no one really knows what "matter" is. We only know what it is by what it does. That said, I say we define our terms and dig in!
Self-Determining Freedom states that the reason one action is performed verses another is ultimately determined by the agent. This sentiment is captured in the oft heard statement that in order for us to be free we must genuinely possess the ability to have done other than we did in-fact do.
Agents need not be self-determining to be genuinely free. Agents are free if there is nothing that constrains them from doing what they want. But they need not be—and, most would argue, cannot be—free to determine what they want.
Satan and the Problem of Good and Evil pp.58
According to compatibilism, determinism is considered to be compatible with free will. Hence the name. But can this stance be sustained if we are not the originators of the actions in question? Robert Kane argues that unless the agent possesses the power to be the final cause or explanation for their actions, any attempt at rendering them free becomes unintelligible. He goes on to say:
When we trace the causal or explanatory chains of action back to their sources in the purposes of free agents, these causal chains must come to an end or terminate in the willings (choices, decisions, or efforts) of the agents, which cause or bring about their purpose.
Significance of Free will pp.4
"Simply being able to do what one wants does not render one free or morally responsible if the want itself is outside of one's control"1. Boyd uses an illustration that I will paraphrase to illustrate this point.
Imagine I had developed a chip that I could insert into the head of another person thereby controlling their mind. Imagine I put this chip into some random stranger then willed them to carry out a murder. Now, we both get caught and all this evidence comes to light. What judge in their right mind would convict the random stranger who was acting on an impulse that was ultimately my own? Any person viewing this data must conclude that the individual was not free to commit the murder. It is simply absurd to conclude that we can be held morally responsible when the ultimacy of our actions can be traced beyond us to uncontrollable external factors.
It is because of this, that the determinist must declare that moral responsibility has become an illusion. Rather than explaining our experience as morally accountable agents, the compatibilist has simply rendered the phenomenon illusory. It is for this reason that I see the compatibilist attempt at dealing with free will and moral responsibility to be a failure. It set out to demonstrate the compatible nature of determinism and moral responsibility, but in the end it has merely rendered the terms "moral responsibility" and "free will" either neutered of any desirable meaning or illusory altogether.
Compatibilist objections to Self-determining Freedom
Thus far, I hope I have made it clear that the compatibilist position does not seem to be reasonable. Still, many prefer to go this route then to consider self-determining freedom which they see as being either implausible at best, or incoherent at worst. We will now consider two of the main objections to self-determining freedom.
A scientific objection
Many would argue that recent advances in modern science have rendered the concept of self-determining freedom incoherent. Some feel that studies involving the role of genetics and environment on our personality and behavior indicate that personal actions are exhaustively determined by factors antecedent to the agents themselves. In keeping with this line of thinking, they argue that if we had exhaustive knowledge of what made up any given individual as well as exhaustive knowledge of the environment in which the individual was placed, we would then be able flawlessly predict the future actions of the individual. Here again, freedom of the will is considered pure illusion.
Galen Strawson crystalizes this argument:
(1)It is undeniable that one is the way one is as a result of one's heredity and experience. (2) One cannot somehow accede to true responsibility for oneself by trying to change the way one is as a result of heredity and experience. For (3), both the particular way in which one is moved to try to change oneself, and the degree of one's success in the attempt at change, will be determined by how one already is as a result of heredity and experience.
It seems unavoidable that if premise (1) is accepted the logic flows unavoidably from there. Boyd rejects premise (1) then goes on to offer six arguments against it, five of which we will briefly consider.
"...the evidence supporting genetic or environmental determinism is simply not conclusive ... While empirical evidence proves that genes and environment strongly influence human behavior, this evidence fails to prove that these factors determine our behavior."2.
Determinism and moral responsibility
This argument has already been made above. Essentially, if we are mechanically determined by our genetics and environment then holding people morally accountable for their actions is analogous to punishing someone for the color of their hair or the size of their spleen. It is clear that we do believe people ought to be held responsible for their actions. Thus, this universal belief, ought to constitute one very strong bit of evidence that we do indeed possess self-determining freedom.
Physical determinism is self-refuting
If all known reality is physically determined then the belief "all known reality is physically determined" is also physically determined. The problem here is that it is not at all clear that physically determined conditions are capable of possessing truth values. They simply are. If indeed physical determinism rules the day, all our discussion on this topic is, and always has been, incapable of possessing either truth or falsehood. I think this is what I was trying to get at here, albeit in my typical rather ham fisted way.
Failure to explain the phenomenon of freedom and moral conviction
Also noted above, "if the goal of any philosophical or scientific theory is to render puzzling phenomenon intelligible, then compatibilism must be judged to be a poor theory. Not only does it fail to explain our basic sense of morality, it also fails to explain our phenomenological experience of ourselves as self-determining personal agents. Indeed compatibilism dismisses this as illusory."3. Though it is true that we also experience ourselves as significantly affected by variables outside of our control, (place of birth, biological factors, etc...) it can be equally affirmed that within these externally determined parameters we uniformly experience ourselves as self-determining agents.
Determinism and the pragmatic criterion for truth
This final response the the scientific objection deals with the fact that it is impossible for us to live as though we believe our choices are exhaustively settled prior to our consideration. We can only deliberate about what we genuinely believe to be within our own power. For instance, I cannot genuinely deliberate about whether or not I might spend the afternoon as a chipmunk with x-ray vision. I rightly realize that it's not much of an option for me. On the other hand, I find my day filled with innumerable choices that I genuinely believe to be within my power to deliberate on. It is unclear how a determinist might conduct one's life under the impression that every move they make, every thought they think, has been exhaustively determine for them before they ever entered the scene. This strongly suggests that deterministic views are false, if not meaningless.
For the sake of making this exploration somewhat bearable to write, let alone to read through, I will now bring part one of this post to a close. So far, I have sought to put forth working definitions for self-determining and compatibilist freedom while voicing my objection to the supposed solution compatibilism brings to the problem of moral responsibility and determinism. I have also reviewed several responses to scientific objections to self-determining freedom. My conclusion, thus far, is that self-determining freedom is not jeopardized, at least as it relates to the supposed scientific objections. Stay tuned for part two when we will be tackling the more difficult philosophical objection that self-determining freedom is incoherent.
1. Satan and the Problem of Good and Evil pp.60
2. Satan and the Problem of Good and Evil pp.63
3. Satan and the Problem of Good and Evil pp.65