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4th September, 2012:  Tony Muscio  Free Will  

The concept of free will underlies much of what we think about ourselves and what we attribute to others and their motivations. Free will is fundamental to our system of justice. Although common sense often tells us we have free will but analysis quickly brings this assertion into doubt.  

Tony presents a set of ideas and tools to use when considering these and related questions, with reference to the major schools of thought on free will. 

Summary

Thanks for giving me this opportunity to speak, I hope this talk will inspire debate or perhaps even shed light on this vexed issue.

Why have I chosen to speak on the Subject of free will?, Many of you will know Free Will causes much debate, but I would say this also proves to be sufficiently ill defined to allow useful discussion.

In this talk I will

Explain why this is an important philosophical issue

Summarise the major positions taken by different schools of thought

Propose a more effective model to discuss Free Will, and show how it may shed light on this vexed subject.

Present my own position on free will

Open the discussion to elicit your own position or permit you to challenge my own view

The model I wish to propose for the discussion of free will, aims to determine some pre-requisites for free will to be possible in the first place. This includes defining an agent of free will, some of its qualities and some active requirements which I believe throws more light on the subject than the impact of determinism often cited in this problem.

Please note: I would like to have presented more references and quotes, however time does not permit. If you take some of the keywords I present this evening, yopu should have no difficulty locating more information.

An important philosophical issue?

The concept of free will underlies much of what we think about ourselves and what we attribute to others and their motivations. Free will is fundamental to our system of justice. Yet many circumstances arise when it is hard to be sure we really are free to choose. Cases such as "Not guilty by reason of insanity", or the defence "I was ordered to do it" bring this concept into question.

I would suggest that controversial judgements in the courts, debates about moral issues such as abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment all rely to a high degree on the concept of “Free Will” and similar forms of it. Further cultural and religious world views further complicate it. 

Free will is about motivation, ability, choice and responsibility.

Would it not be nice , if we could find a little clarity on this ?

Different schools of thought

Is the universe Deterministic or indetermanistic ?

And is Free will compatible with either of the above ?

Determinism is a philosophy stating that for everything that happens, there are conditions that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen. That the Universe is dominated by Causes and Effects.

Some would argue this has a problem with its first cause, what causes the first thing?

Indeterminism is the concept that events or events of certain types, are not caused, or not caused deterministically by prior events. 

Indeterminism faces the problem of deciding which causes and effects are necessary and which are not. Could it be possible that nothing in the universe is necessary.


On one hand:

If reality is Deterministic and this prohibits free, will we call this Hard Determinism 

yet if Determinism still permits free will, we call this Compatibilism

On the other hand:

If reality is Indetermined and this prohibits free will we call the Hard Indeterminism yet if this still permits free will we call this Libertarianism.

Compatabilisium vs incompatabalisium

Hard Determinism and Hard Indeterminism suggest free will is incompatible with their position on Determinism and are thus called Incompatiblist. 

Compatibilism and Libertarianism suggest free will is compatible with their position on Determinism and are thus called Compatibilist. 

Now lets address all four positions

We will do this according to whether they consider free will is compatible or incompatible, with their position on determinism.

Incompatibilism is the position that free will and determinism are logically incompatible

"Hard determinists", accept determinism and reject free will.

"Metaphysical libertarians", accept free will and deny determinism.


Incompatibalists insist, that free will means that man (I would say agent of free will) must be the "ultimate" or "originating" cause of his/her actions. To be responsible for one's choices is to be the first cause of those choices, where first cause means, that there is no antecedent cause. 

The argument, then is, that if man has free will, then man is the ultimate cause of his actions. 

A Hard Determinist would say “If determinism is true, then all of man's choices are caused by events and facts outside his control. So, if everything man does is caused by events and facts outside his control, then he cannot be the ultimate cause of his actions. Therefore, he cannot have free will. This is the position of a Hard Determinist.

The other incompatabalist position is Metaphysical libertarians", who accept free will and deny determinism. Holding the view that some form of indeterminism is true. This Requires acceptance of mental activity outside the realm of determinism, which I may add is difficult to identify empirically.

Now lets return to Compatibilism (or soft determinism) it is the belief that free will and determinism are compatible ideas, and that it is possible to believe both without being logically inconsistent.

To be a compatibilist, one need not endorse any particular conception of free will, but to only deny that determinism is at odds with free will. How could these be compatible with free will, we will address later.

There is another related position

Hard Incompatibilists, which state that free will is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism. Thus there is no such thing as free will. Period

I will argue, that free will is compatible with both determinism and somewhat indeterminism, and in fact there is room in the universe for both at once.

Other views on Free will

There are numerous other views on this and not all fit the model presented here. Wikipedia is well populated and has substantial references for deeper research.  This structure however is useful in many cases to categorise these different views.

There are three more specific cases I want to raise due to their popularity and relevance.

Quantum Indeterminism

Determinism and emergent behaviour

Probabilistic causation

Quantum Indeterminism. If a person's action is the result of complete quantum randomness, this in itself would mean that such traditional free will does not exist. Because the human brain is composed of particles, and their behaviour is governed by the laws of nature, Stephen Hawking says that free will is "just an illusion”. Free will as an illusion is common in any viewpoint that says it does not exist.

Determinism and emergent behaviour

In some generative philosophies of cognitive sciences and evolutionary psychology, free will is assumed not to exist. However, an illusion of free will is created, from the interaction of a finite set of rules and parameters.

I raise this view because the argument I want to present to you is similar but not the same as Determinism and emergent behaviour. In so far as I hold that the emergent behaviour permits free will.

Probabilistic causation designates a group of philosophical theories that aim to characterize the relationship between cause and effect using the tools of probability theory. The central idea behind these theories is that causes raise the probabilities of their effects, all else being equal. This somewhat disarms the debate between Determinism and indeterminism. 

Other views

Some philosophers follow William of Ockham (of Occams Razor fame) in holding  something that is merely possible from the perspective of one observer may be necessary from the perspective of an omniscient being.

Some philosophers follow Philo of Alexandria in holding that free will is a feature of a human's soul, and thus that non-human animals lack free will.

Also

When preparing this talk and developing my own understanding I took into account a range of sources and ideas including Information Theory, Cosmology, Complexity (Chaos) theory and science. I had intended to address them here, but I think I have found a more concise way to present them.  So as not to disappoint a will give a few quick references.

With information and computation a trendy way of looking at the world, it is possible to consider free will in this light. Looking at cause and effect in this framework allows us to addresses probability. 

Cosmology and science with ideas like Steven Hawking’s “Light cones” demonstrate how the universe can be deterministic yet uncertain. Though this is not his position.

Complexity theory – has a great deal to offer on uncertainty in a deterministic universe. The Butterfly effect is one of its concepts that illustrate emergent behaviours.

I would like to propose a model

On the surface I would call it a compatibilist view. That the world is largely deterministic and free Will is compatible with it. However I would suggest due to complexity and emergence of various qualities, that free will is exercised in a somewhat indetermanistic environment. Thus Free Will is both compatible with determinism and somewhat compatible with in-determinism.

In my view a High degree of compatibility between Free Will and Determinism is required

We do not consider our free will, as “the right to roll a dice, to choose between one action, or another”. 

For an agent of free will to choose to their advantage, the universe needs to be deterministic to a high degree, otherwise our choices and actions would have no predictable outcomes. That is, if we cannot learn reliable information about the relationships between cause and effect, and thus rely on the universe to deliver consistently, then our ability or exercise free fill would be ineffectual, if not futile.

Yet is everything is determined how can we choose ?

I suggest there a degree of indeterminism that can emerge

The universe is a complex place, consisting both of patterns (perhaps laws) and chaos or disorder.  There are many and layered systems each with own internal and emergent properties. To illustrate this I recall post I once gave on a forum. It also introduces the idea of an agent.

To keep it short, even if determinism underlies the universal structure, there is plenty that introduces complexity an potential indeterminacy in the "layer upon layer" of physical effects, before you get to Agency [and agent capable of free will]. Every layer between the fundamental, quantum, chemical, molecular, biological, genetic, brain, mind, education and culture have emergent properties [complex histories, laws and probabilities].

Now add a little uncertainty in initial conditions, let the "the butterfly effect" take effect and the universe in which agency (may) exist "may as well be indeterministic".

It is this need for determinism, the emergent properties, and the introduction of a degree of indeterminism that I have realised we need to look closer at an Agent of free will. 

In this context that agent needs to be part of a complex system with emergent qualities.

We do not expect free will to emerge from very simple systems such as the behaviour of billiard balls on a table do we ?

This has led me to refine the definition of free will;

That for Free will to exist there must be;

The existence of agent capable of free will

The ability of this agent to be free to “choose well”

For the purpose of my argument I will define an agent as a vestal capable of holding the prerequisites, for the exercise of free will. 

Further definition of an agent capable of free will, also proves helpful;

Qualities of an Agent (of free will)

1. Somewhat independent from the environment in which it acts

2. Able to sense the environment in which it acts

3. Able to interpret, identify patterns and build an understanding. This requires

a. Pattern recognition

b. Memory

c. The ability to build and test hypothesis

4. Be able to effect or influence at least some part of the environment. Must be present or connected to the event somehow – no spooky action at a distance.

5. Ideally (but not necessarily) also the ability to move around within its environment

As a result we need to acknowledge that these properties are not only required to exercise free will, but are innate qualities of what we call free will. Without all of these and the ability to Choose well the agent does not have free will. 

If free will can be shown to exist without any of the above conditions (excluding 5) my hypothesis will be falsified;

Defining the Ability to “Choose well”

If a problem exists that limits the ability of the agent to choose well, then we must also ask is the agent really free, and thus express free will. Limitations or failures in the properties that define our free agent will restrict our ability to “Choose well”. This could be a deficit in one or more of the qualities of the agent, of false information fed to the agent or the agent happened to be constrained in chains. We are talking here about the ability to exercise free will here because if we cannot exercise free will – perhaps we have no “Free Will” after all.

Do note: The ability to “Choose Well” and the “Qualities of an Agent” previously mentioned, may vary in time and space.

So we can say, “Free will can be demonstrated to not exist when”; 

There is no agent

That agent can have no physical effect

That agent cannot collect information and analyse and synthesise it to generate a testable hypothesis, thus choice expressed by action.

The Universe is totally Deterministic or is totally indeterministic

If free will can be shown to exist with any of the above conditions my hypothesis will be falsified;

My own position on free will

As presented I believe Free Will Requires

The existence of agent capable of free will – with the attributes as defined

The ability of this agent to be free to “choose well”

I could there for said to be a Compatibilist – that is Free will is compatible with determinism, but that is somewhat compatible with a degree of indeterminism as well. 

That the reason Free will is compatible with determinism, is that it is in a great part dependent upon it, and that once its prerequisites are filled – the existence of an Agent capable of free will (as defined) and that has the ability to choose well, the agent may choose, thus express free will (within the emergent indeterminism).

I believe it is this realisation, of the need for an agent with minimum qualities, that helps define free will and allows us to determine if it is permitted or deigned. 

I think you will find on reflection that this model provides a strong framework on which to determine in any particular case, where we need to determine if free will is present.

Open the discussion

So now I would like to open the discussion to you. I have prepared some questions to ask yourselves, however feel free to follow your own, should I say it ? “Free will”.

Possible controversy

There is some value in the Buddhist view that there is no such thing as an agent which will itself discount the existence of free will. However it is important to note that other aspects of Buddhism deals with this subject and I will not cover them here.

That for Free will to exist there must be;

The existence of agent capable of free will

The ability of this agent to be free to “choose well”

Qualities of an Agent (of free will)

1. Somewhat independent from the environment in which it acts

2. Able to sense the environment in which it acts

3. Able to interpret, identify patterns and build an understanding. This requires

a. Pattern recognition

b. Memory

c. The ability to build and test hypothesis

4. Be able to effect or influence at least some part of the environment. Must be present or connected to the event somehow – no spooky action at a distance.

5. Ideally the ability to move around within its environment (but not necessarily).

Some questions

1. Justice. Does the model I propose, suggest a method for applying the concept of free will in our justice system? Including cases of diminished responsibility ?

2. The Hypothesis. Can you improve on this model? Provide an argument that would damage this model ?

3. Impairment/Wilful impairment. If a person is free to choose well, and they choose to do something which impairs their ability to choose well, such as intoxication, are they responsible for their actions ?, even if their ability to choose well is limited as a result of their own actions?, and what if they were surreptitiously intoxicated ?

4. Artificial minds. Given this proposed model, is it foreseeable that at some time in the future an artificial mind may be capable of Free Will ?

5. Responsibility. Can you identify any examples of where any one or more of these requirements, if it could not be met, we may not hold someone responsible for their action?

6. If a military computer is programmed to act with no one present and it does harm is the computer or the programmer responsible

7. If the programmer in the above example is a committee or another computer then who is responsible

8. Is asking “why” (a question of motivation) of a phenomenon, without an agent of free will present – is it irrational?

9. Is a psychopath an agent of free will (if he/she is subject to that disorder?) what about someone with Alzheimer’s ?

10. Are animals capable of free will?, does this extend to insects, bacteria ?

 

 

 
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