Citation for this page in APA citation style.           Close


Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Anaximander
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Richard J. Bernstein
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Heraclitus
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
Parmenides
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Protagoras
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
Isabelle Stengers
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
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.

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 GK.

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 HK.

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.

Consequences
In 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 Will
In 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.

Collapsing the decision to a single moment between the closed fixed past and the open ambiguous future makes it difficult to see the free thoughts of the mind followed by the willed and adequately determined action of the agent in the second stage.

Thoughts are freely generated. Actions are adequately determined by the agent. Thoughts are free. Actions are willed.

Notice that the two-stage model is not limited to a single step of generating alternative possibilities followed by a single step of self-determination by the will. It is better understood as a continuous process of possibilities generation, perhaps by the subconscious (parts of the brain that leave themselves open to noise) at the same time as adequately determined choices are being considered by the same brain parts, perhaps, but now averaging over any quantum events, filtering out the microscopic noisiness that might otherwise make the determination random.

In particular, note that a special kind of decision might occur when the agent finds that none of the current options are good enough for the agent's character and values to approve. The agent then might figuratively say, "Think again!"

Many philosophers have puzzled how an agent could do otherwise in exactly the same circumstances. Since humans are intelligent organisms, and given our model system of "possible worlds," it is impossible that an agent is ever in exactly the same circumstances. The agent's memory (information stored in the ERR) of earlier similar experiences guarantees that.

This two-stage modell makes a somewhat artificial separation between first-stage creative randomness and second-stage deliberative evaluation. These two capabilities of the mind can be going on at the same time. That can be visualized by the occasional decision to go back and think again, when the available alternatives are not good enough to satisfy the demands of the agent's character and values, or by noticing that the subconscious might be still generating possibilities while the agent is in the middle of evaluations.

The two-stage model lies between the work of libertarians and compatibilists, in the sense that the free elements in the first stage are what the Libertarian needs and the adequately determined evaluations and decisions are what the compatibilist needs for the moral responsibility of the agent. Robert Kane calls the outcomes of such torn decisions "self-forming actions," because the accumulation of such actions builds the agent's character.

Now Kane has argued that on some occasions the agent may not be able to find grounds for choosing between a prudential, self-interested choice and a moral, other-interested decision. In case of such a "torn decision" the agent may simply allow indeterminism to enter into the decision but be prepared to take responsibility for either choice.

Compatibilists have argued that any randomness in the final decision would make the agent not responsible for the decision. But Kane has nicely solved this dilemma.

Let’s diagram Kane’s "self-forming action" (SFA) to place it in the temporal sequence of events between the “fixed past” at the start of a decision process, and the decision itself, which marks the beginning of the future.

In the end, Kane's model, resolving "torn decisions" by an indeterministic choice between alternatives that are all motivated by good reasons, is an important supplement to the two-stage model. He calls this “plural rational control.” We call them "undetermined liberties." They nicely complement decisions that are arrived at in an adequately determined way, which we call self-determination.

Self-determination means that the agent and only the agent "causes" the decision, so we now embrace the idea of agent causation, as opposed to the idea that free will can be understood by analyzing "events."

"Free Will" - in scare quotes - refers to the common but mistaken notion that the adjective "free" modifies the concept "will." In particular, it indicates that the element of chance, one of the two requirements for free will is present in the determination of the will itself.

Critics of "libertarian free will" usually adopt this meaning in order to attack the idea of randomness in our decision-making process, which clearly would not help to make us morally responsible.

Unfortunately, even defenders of libertarian free will (Robert Kane, for example) continue to add indeterminism into the decision itself, making such free will "unintelligible" by their own account.

Despite their claim that they are better equipped than scientists to make conceptual distinctions and evaluate the cogency of arguments, professional philosophers have mistakenly conflated the concepts of "free" and "will." They (con)fuse them with the muddled term "free will," despite clear warnings from John Locke that this would lead to confusion.

Locke said very clearly, as had some ancients like Lucretius, it is not the will that is free (in the sense of undetermined), it is the mind.

Locke liked the idea of Freedom and Liberty. He thought it was inappropriate to describe the Will itself as Free. The Will is a Determination. It is the Man who is Free.

In his great Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke calls the question of Freedom of the Will unintelligible. But for Locke, it is only because the adjective "free" applies to the agent, not to the will, which is determined by the mind, and determines the action.

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
but not permit it to produce random actions
as Determinists mistakenly fear.

We must also limit determinism
but not eliminate it as Libertarians mistakenly think necessary.

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.

Our Thoughts are Free,
they come to us.

Our Actions are Willed,
they come from us.

Compatibilists and Determinists were right about the Will,
but wrong about Freedom.

Libertarians were right about Freedom, but wrong about the Will,
which is determined enough to insure moral responsibility.

Normal | Teacher | Scholar