The Metaphysics of Free Will
The existence of free will depends on the existence of genuine possibility (some absence of necessity), in the sense of counterfactual situations in the past that were alternative possibilities for action. They allow us to say that we could have done otherwise. Information philosophy has shown that ontological possibilities exist because new information has been entering the universe since its origin. Information theory shows that new information is not possible without multiple possibilities. If information were a conserved quantity, like matter and energy, the universe would be Laplacian and deterministic. The evidence from cosmological, biological, and human information growth grounds the fundamental basis for information philosophy. Philosophical talk about possibilities today is largely found in discussions about "possible worlds." Unfortunately, the possible worlds in David Lewis's "modal realism" are all eliminative materialist and deterministic. Lewis views our "actual world" as completely deterministic. All other possible worlds, visualized by him as separate spatio-temporal domains, are equally "actual" for their inhabitants. His counterfactuals are all necessary. There are no genuine possibilities in Lewis's "possible worlds"! Nevertheless, we can explain genuine free will in metaphysical terms using the possible world semantics of Saul Kripke, who maintained that his semantics could be used to describe various ways our actual world might have been. Unlike many other "possible world" interpretations, Kripke accepts that empirical facts in the physical world are contingent, that many things might have been otherwise. Kripke's counterfactuals are genuinely different ways the world might have been.Philosophers of logic and language are further muddled in their argument that if determinism is false, indeterminism is true. This is of course logically correct. Strict causal determinism with a causal chain of necessary events back to an Aristotelian first cause is indeed false, and modern philosophers know it, though most hold out hope that the quantum mechanical basis of such indeterminism will be disproved someday. Many analytic simply declare themselves agnostic on the truth or falsity of determinism, missing the empirical point. These agnostic philosophers go on to argue that the principle of bivalence requires that since determinism and indeterminism are logical contradictories, only one of them can be true. The law of the excluded middle allows no third possibility. Now since neither determinism nor indeterminism allow the kind of free will that supports moral responsibility, they claim that free will is unintelligible or an illusion. This is the standard argument against free will. The practical empirical situation is much more complex than such simple black and white logical linguistic thinking can comprehend. Despite quantum uncertainty, there is clearly adequate determinism in the world, enough to permit the near-perfect predictions of celestial motions, and good enough to send men to the moon and back. But this "near" (Honderich) or "almost" (Fischer) determinism is neither absolute nor required in any way by logical necessity, as Aristotle himself first argued against the determinist atomists, Democritus and Leucippus. When we unpack the complex concept of "free will," we find the freedom is in our thoughts, the determination is in our willed acts. Self-determination is not determinism. In our two-stage model, "Free Will" combines two distinct concepts. Free is the chance and randomness of the first stage. Will is the adequately determined choice in the second stage.
I will say something briefly about 'possible worlds'. (I hope to elaborate elsewhere.) In the present monograph I argued against those misuses of the concept that regard possible worlds as something like distant planets, like our own surroundings but somehow existing in a different dimension, or that lead to spurious problems of 'transworld identification'. Further, if one wishes to avoid the Weltangst and philosophical confusions that many philosophers have associated with the 'worlds' terminology, I recommended that 'possible state (or history) of the world', or 'counterfactual situation' might be better. One should even remind oneself that the 'worlds' terminology can often be replaced by modal talk—'It is possible that . . .' 'Possible worlds' are total 'ways the world might have been', or states or histories of the entire world.Following Kripke, we build a model structure M as an ordered triple <G, K, R>. K is the set of all "possible worlds," G is the "actual world," R is a reflexive relation on K, and G ∈ K. If H1, H2, and H3 are three possible worlds in K, H1RH2 says that H2 is "possible relative to" or "accessible from" H1, that every proposition true in H2 is possible in H1. Indeed, the H worlds and the actual world G are all mutually accessible and each of these is possible relative to itself, since R is reflexive. Now the model system M assigns to each atomic formula (propositional variable) P a truth-value of T or F in each world H ∈ K. Let us define the worlds H1, H2, and H3 as identical to the real world G in all respects except the following statements describing actions of a graduating college student Alice deciding on her next step. In H1, the proposition "Alice accepts admission to Harvard Medical School" is true. In H2, the proposition "Alice accepts admission to MIT" is true. In H3, the proposition "Alice postpones her decision and takes a 'gap year'" is true. At about the same time, in the actual world G, the statement "Alice considers graduate school" is true. Note that the abstract information that corresponds to the three possible worlds H is embodied physically in the matter (the neurons of Alice's brain) in the actual world and in the three possible worlds. There is no issue with the "transworld identity" of Alice as there would be with Lewis's modal realism," because all these possible worlds are in the same spatio-temporal domain. The four statements are true in all possible worlds. The metaphysical question is which of the three possible worlds becomes the new actual world, say at time t. What is the fundamental structure of reality that supports the simultaneous existence of alternative possibilities? Just before time t, we can interpret the semantics of the model structure M as saying that the above statements were "merely possible" thoughts about future action in Alice's mind. Note also that just after the decision at time t, the three possible applications remain in Alice's Experience Recorder and Reproducer as memories.
ConsequencesIn the future of world H1, Alice's research discovers the genetic signals used in messaging by cancer cells and cancer is eliminated. Several hundred million lives are saved (extended) in Alice's lifetime. In the future of world H2, Alice engineers the miniaturization of nuclear weapons so they are small enough to be delivered by tiny drones. One is stolen from AFB by a terrorist and flown to X where millions of lives are lost. Alice kills herself the next day. In the future of world H3, a mature Alice returns to school, completes her Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton and writes a book on Free Will and Moral Responsibility.
The Two-Stage Model of Free WillIn our possible worlds analysis of free will, two things are still not clear. First is understanding the causal processes that are involved when our agent chooses between worlds H1, H2, and H3, making one of them the new "actual world." Was the decision process causally determined? Secondly, what are the processes of thought that led to the three options "coming to mind" of the agent. Were these also determined, or was there an element of indeterminism? The laws of nature are the same in all of our possible worlds, since they are all contained within the same spatio-temporal volume as our actual world. They include the critically important theory of quantum physics, which includes the occurrence of indeterministic events that are only statistically caused. The two-stage model of free will is very simple. In the creative first stage the agent calls to mind familiar alternative possibilities or generates brand new possibilities, perhaps by creating new ones that depend in part on random noise events in the agent's brain (not mind). The ontological chance in the first stage ensures that actions are not determined or even pre-determined from the beginning of the universe by causal chains, as some compatibilist philosophers believe. These events bring new information into the universe. In the deliberative second stage, the possibilities generated in the first stage are evaluated. Given enough time, each possibility is compared with the agent's reasons, motives, feelings, desires, etc. (in short, with the agent's character) and one is normally chosen. In the event that there is no obvious best decision, the agent can "think again," perhaps generating a new and better alternative. Finally, with time running out or faced with no obvious best option, the agent may just select one of the alternatives in what is called a "torn decision" by Robert Kane Given the "laws of nature" and the "fixed past" just before a decision, philosophers wonder how a free agent can have any possible alternatives. This is partly because they imagine a timeline for the decision that shrinks the decision process to a single moment.
I think the question is not proper, whether the will be free, but whether a man be free... This way of talking, nevertheless, has prevailed, and, as I guess, produced great confusion.Freedom of human action requires the randomness of absolute chance to break the causal chain of determinism, yet the conscious knowledge that we are adequately determined to be responsible for our choices and our actions. Freedom requires some events that are not causally determined by immediately preceding events, events that are unpredictable by any agency, events involving quantum uncertainty. These random events create alternative possibilities for action.
Randomness is the "free" in free will.In short, there must be a randomness requirement, unpredictable chance events that break the causal chain of determinism. Without this chance, our actions are simply the consequences of events in the remote past. This randomness must be located in a place and time that enhances free will, one that does not reduce it to pure chance. Randomness, in the form of creative new ideas among the alternative possibilities, is what breaks the causal chain.
(Determinists do not like this requirement.) Freedom also requires an adequately determined will that chooses or selects from those alternative possibilities. There is effectively nothing uncertain about this choice.
Adequate determinism is the "will" in free will.So there is also a determinism requirement - that our actions be adequately determined by our character and values. This requires that any randomness not be the direct cause of our actions. (Libertarians do not like this requirement.) Adequate determinism means that randomness in our thoughts about alternative possibilities does not directly cause our actions. A random thought can lead to a determined action, for which we can take full responsibility.
We must admit indeterminism
Our Thoughts are Free,
Compatibilists and Determinists were right about the Will,Normal | Teacher | Scholar