Metaphysics: Do we choose our actions?

6 thoughts on “Metaphysics: Do we choose our actions?”

  1. Cool analysis.

    I tend toward there is no sensible reduction of free wiil that does not contradicts itself. If we have free will to argue back into some sort of metaphysical supposition of any case of no free will, regardless of what meaning or sense we may make of it, it contradicts the very idea that I came to that conclusion. That is unless that conclusion was entirely necessary. But if it’s entirely necessary then how is it possible that people could even pretended to have free will in any sort of capacity.

    What this means is that free will itself is a faulty conception. And to argue over such freedom of will get us nowhere better than arguing whether or not God exists: such arguments depend on us being able to completely deny what is occurring for the sake of what we want to argue.

    Likewise we cannot say that free will is an illusion. Because then we have to ask ourselves what is not an illusion. And we inevitably return with the varieties of teligious speculation.


  2. When I make a choice it is more than just one neuron firing. It is many strings of neurons whose connections have been reinforced due to circumstances occurring in my life, and whose links are triggered by thoughts associating my prior choices and experiences with the current issue that I am about to decide.

    The brain is a tool of the living organism that helps it to calculate the best ways to survive, thrive, and reproduce (that is the built-in purpose of every living organism).

    A human being is three things. (1) It is a physical object that behaves passively according to the laws of physics when dropped from a building (the cause is physical). (2) It is a living organism that behaves purposely to survive, thrive, and reproduce, which may drive it to walk uphill, defying gravity, to get to MacDonald’s (the cause is purposeful). (3) It is an intelligent being that can behave deliberately by making a calculated choice based on imagination, evaluation, and choosing (the cause is the choice output by a mental process of deliberation).

    At each level, the classes of causes are expanded. There is no law of physics that can explain why a car stopped at a red light. You need to consult the DMV for these laws.

    Determinism doesn’t actually do anything. It merely asserts that objects and forces within our universe will behave in a reliable, and thus theoretically predictable fashion. Only the actual objects and forces can do anything.

    One of those objects is us. When we decide for ourselves what we WILL do, FREE of coercion or other undue influence, we call it “free will”. When we are forced by someone else to act against our will, then our will is subject to theirs, and is not free.

    The fact that (a) I made the decision for myself and that (b) anyone who knew enough of how I think and feel about that issue could have predicted my decision, are both simultaneously true. There is no conflict between (a) free will and (b) determinism.

    The conflict is an illusion.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. You will have to excuse my over-simplicity when it comes to drawing comparisons to neuroscience.

      May I ask what the DMV is? Well determinism is a theory, so it doesn’t ‘do’ anything no. Even causation is something that we cannot prove is a physical force in the world (if Kant is to be believed then it is a phenomenon that we partly constitute ourselves).

      I agree with your conclusion and I am sympathetic to the compatabilist position.


      1. In the U.S., the DMV is the Department of Motor Vehicles. That’s where we apply for a driver’s license. The point is that not all natural laws are reducible to physics.


  3. I posted this on reddit, but feel you should see it as well because I think your presentation of the subject matter isn’t strictly correct:

    > Is she morally responsible for her actions? Is she deserving of our disapprobation and punishment?

    Moral responsibility does not entail a particular form of justice. These are separate questions that are often conflated, unfortunately.

    > If her stealing the car was the result of a chain of prior events, beginning at her birth, then there is an inevitability to her actions that leads no room for free will. […] But if, in spite of the prior events leading up to the moment when she stole the car, and in spite of the make-up of her brain chemistry at that moment, she could choose to do other than she did, then she has free will.

    No. This is merely a restatement of the incompatibilist position, with which most philosophers disagree. Compatibilists assert that she has free will even if her choice was an inevitable result of prior causes.

    Consider an alternate framing: no matter how she ended up deciding to break into that car, our car thief *feels justified* in doing so, and everyone agrees that some *corrective feedback* is needed to adjust those judgments.

    Now whether that involves punishment or something else is an entirely different question. Hard determinists think this corrective feedback is not moral responsibility, Compatibilists think it is. Studies in experimental philosophy suggest that most people morally reason like Compatibilists, so when laypeople hold someone morally responsible, they generally mean what Compatibilists mean by that phrase, and that’s where I fall, but the differences don’t matter much in the end.


    1. Hello, thank you for taking the time to comment. To your first point, I agree that moral responsibility doesn’t entail disapprobation or punishment. The two questions were meant separately.

      To your second point: my phrasing is probably off here, but what you’ve said is what I meant. If ‘in spite of’, meaning even if her action is the result of a prior chain of events, or a random dice throw, she still chose it – then she has free will. What I mean by this is that both of these preconditions can be true and she can still have free will; i.e. I am stating the compatabilist position.


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