Home » 'Junk DNA', Intelligent Design » Failure to Educate? Failure to Persuade.

Failure to Educate? Failure to Persuade.

Larry Moran replied to my latest post with an admission of failure. He thinks he has failed to educate, but I think rather he is confusing the word ‘persuade’ with the word ‘educate’.

He thinks I am rationalising junk DNA with a pile of ‘what-ifs’. But the fact is that most of my ‘what-ifs’ are already known to have some basis in reality. I am not denying any obvious reality. Indeed, the basic machinery of life looks like design, far more than when Paley was around. Yes, there could also be a great deal of junk. That’s why I have said a number of times that ID is not committed to the idea that there is no junk.

Yet, from my point of view, I see a whole pile of Darwinian/post-Darwinian materialists who have only partly explored the genome, working from an assumption that the genome was not designed, and thus are jumping the gun on the evidence. For example, Larry still seems to think that pseudogenes are of themselves ‘solid evidence’ of broken genes despite the fact that we know that at least some pseudogenes influence the rate of translation of real genes by competing with them; a simple design reason why there should be ‘false genes’ = pseudogenes. Who has explored the rest of them?

From his emotive response to my perfectly valid, albeit speculative suggestions (though they were not plucked out of the air either), I don’t trust this guy to think clearly and calmly about the possibility of design. That’s the real problem.

—-
Edit 12 May 2013:

Larry’s insistence that pseudogene = ‘broken gene’ comes from a particular way of thinking about biology: thinking of it in terms of a historical narrative rather than simply reporting the facts of what we see now. This affects much of what he talks about, but here I am choosing to focus on pseudogenes. The best way to talk science is to first state facts and provide an explanation, and then let the observer make up his mind, having been educated, and then let the observer attempt his own explanation of the facts. Being clear about what are facts, and what are interpretations, aids this, but Larry does not practice this when dealing with ID.

The facts are that we have many false genes (pseudogenes) that look like strikingly like particular real genes, and that some of them are known to be functional, and some of those are known to operate by regulating their corresponding real genes by generating competing transcripts. One possible history that would arrive at these observations is if a real gene was duplicated and then one copy was broken to make the pseudogene, and that some subsequently ‘discovered’ a function by chance. Larry believes this is the only possible explanation. He asserts ‘pseudogenes are broken genes’, as if true by definition. However, it is not the only explanation if one considers design. A designer might well make a false gene to regulate a real gene in this way. Why not? But Larry doesn’t consider design. He doesn’t even look at the possibility. That’s why he doesn’t understand that pseudogenes are not necessarily broken genes, and thus are not evidence for junk.

Larry was rather snide about computer scientists, as if they don’t understand the fundamentals of biology. Hmmm. I am more of a mathematical physicist than a computer scientist, and it seems to me that Larry doesn’t understand that stories/narratives about genes breaking and then discovering new function, are not enough for those looking for a natural (physical) explanation. I want to see hard probabilities. It seems that biologists are too happy with narrative and don’t realise the importance of probabilities. If you don’t know how to estimate probabilities, I am sure people like Doug Axe and the Biologic Institute could help you.

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751 Responses to Failure to Educate? Failure to Persuade.

  1. Andy,

    DNA Function is not the only metric of design. There are many designs which are difficult to argue as having function but are still clearly designed. For example, consider Mt. Rushmore.

    To that end, Larry mentioned Alu Sines. Evolutionary biologist Rick Sternberg argues there is a non-random arcitecture (independent of whether there is funciton or not) in the Alu sequences:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....32961.html

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....32941.html

    And Sternberg really nails it. DNA isn’t all about transcription but physics and optics can be included. You’ll like this one by Sternberg:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....20011.html

    And the repeats that look like junk may have significance in terms of physics to allow certin 3D topologies:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....20401.html

    Larry is framing the design argument in terms of demonstratable function (a mistake) and transcription (a mistake). The articles by Sternberg will really bear this out. The Darwinists are arguing a hammer is useless because it doesn’t funciton like a pair of pliers. They’ve unfortunately done a good job of that.

  2. Hi guys. Sal, last time you advertised my blog here on UD you asked me about polymorphic mimicry. I wrote a new post. Not exactly about polymorphic mimicry but still a strong critique of natural selection as the source of butterfly mimicry.
    See:Butterfly mimicry rings – a case of natural selection?

    http://cadra.wordpress.com/

    Let me know if you find it interesting. Or write me. I have an email on my site. Thank you.

    Martin

  3. If Dr. Moran truly wants to educate should not he base his education on a philosophy that does not dissolve into epistemological failure?

    “If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not assume the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.”
    - William J Murray

    Do the New Atheists Own the Market on Reason? – On the terms of the New Atheists, the very concept of rationality becomes nonsensical – By R. Scott Smith, May 03, 2012
    Excerpt: If atheistic evolution by NS were true, we’d be in a beginningless series of interpretations, without any knowledge. Yet, we do know many things. So, naturalism & atheistic evolution by NS are false — non-physical essences exist. But, what’s their best explanation? Being non-physical, it can’t be evolution by NS. Plus, we use our experiences, form concepts and beliefs, and even modify or reject them. Yet, if we’re just physical beings, how could we interact with and use these non-physical things? Perhaps we have non-physical souls too. In all, it seems likely the best explanation for these non-physical things is that there exists a Creator after all.
    http://www.patheos.com/Evangel.....#038;max=1

    “One absolutely central inconsistency ruins [the popular scientific philosophy]. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears… unless Reason is an absolute, all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based.”
    —C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry (aka the Argument from Reason)

    Alvin Plantinga – Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r34AIo-xBh8

    Why No One (Can) Believe Atheism/Naturalism to be True – video
    Excerpt: “Since we are creatures of natural selection, we cannot totally trust our senses. Evolution only passes on traits that help a species survive, and not concerned with preserving traits that tell a species what is actually true about life.”
    Richard Dawkins – quoted from “The God Delusion”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4QFsKevTXs

    Epistemology – Why Should The Human Mind Even Be Able To Comprehend Reality? – Stephen Meyer – video – (Notes in description)
    http://vimeo.com/32145998

  4. 4
    Chance Ratcliff

    WJM via Ba77,

    “If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not assume the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.”

    That’s a keeper. William J. has a habit of making succinct, illuminating statements like that one.

  5. Martin,

    Nice to hear from you. I’ve put your latest in the queue of things I should post on. Thanks for alerting me.

    Sal

  6. Great, because Andy said:

    Indeed, the basic machinery of life looks like design, far more than when Paley was around.

    It has been taken by ID haters to mean that we are saying it looks designed means it is designed.

    If something looks designed we have every right to check into that possibility. And if blind and undirected processes cannot account for it, we then infer it was designed.

    ID haters are such clueless dolts…

  7. scordova, that’s a great point (comment 1).

    Joe, that’s another great point. These guys are too pumped up and furious to see their own hypocrisy here. Larry is arguing ‘looks like a broken gene’ means ‘is a broken gene’ and he continues to insist on doing so *despite* the fact that we now have a design-based explanation for why there should be ‘false genes’ whose sequences correspond very closely to real genes: to regulate the real genes. He totally ignored this. Meanwhile, no one has ever demonstrated natural selection doing anything that could really be mistaken for design.

  8. Now om wants to know:

    But your claim would have more weight if you could explain specifically how you determined that “blind and undirected processess” cannot account for the cell.

    The total lack of evidence for it in peer-reviewed literature. Ya see om, science requires positive evidence and your position doesn’t have any.

    Can you think of a test that would determine if evolution was guided or unguided Joe?

    Can you? ya see you say it has already been determined that evolution is unguided but yet cannot say why. keiths choked on that and apparently he likes it so much he wants more. Strange, that.

    My apologies Andy…

  9. Isn’t how things look crucial to our daily existence, never mind EMPIRICAL science – which is utterly pedantic about it, the ‘looking’ being via our eye-sight, measurement and testing. Why have you all given Dawkins a free pass on this?

    Dawkins seems to have be taken a leaf out of Grouch Marx’s book, and asking, ‘Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes?’

    If I’m wrong, would somebody be kind enough to explain to me how, because it strikes me that, if I’m right, letting these characters get away with such fundamental boo-boos (remember him trying to describe nothing?), is offering yourselves as target practice? If it looks in a million ways as if it’s been designed, scientists look upon that as a boon.

    I was going to say a ‘godsend’, but that would disqualify the empirical observation from any kind of connection with, yes…. empirical…. science, wouldn’t it? NOT!!!!!!!

  10. Testing is studying a 4-dimensional object, isn’t it? which means my #9 has no relevance to your #7, andy; in case you thought I was addressing it.

  11. By ‘Testing is studying a 4-dimensional object’, I mean, ‘looking at how something APPEARS’. Isn’t everything that isn’t a representation, a 4-dimensional object, for that matter?

  12. Phil, that Eben Alexander whose NDE you linked to, is interviewed at length on the link below, and towards the end of it, is very withering in his criticism of the utter primitiveness, indeed total vacuity, of the mechanistic paradigm of the last century – still of course dearly cherished by the Consensus – as regards our understanding of the mind, obviously limited though it is today, and will surely largely continue to be.

  13. OT: Biomimicry: Researchers develop metamaterials able to control spread of light – May 10, 2013
    Excerpt: The new metamaterials developed by the team are based on spin optics where photon helicity degeneracy is prevented due to the geometric gradient that exists on their surface. They are also anisotropic—they don’t behave the same way when measured from different directions. Also, unlike current technology, they are polarization-dependent. Together these features cause light waves to propagate in ways not typically seen in current communications equipment. In addition, because of their polarization dependence, design engineers can create new devices that allow for a novel way to control communication devices—by the selection of the polarization of light at the outset. The researchers also report the new materials don’t show inversion symmetry on their surface.,,,
    The new materials were inspired by metallic nanoantennae found in nature, the team reports.
    http://phys.org/news/2013-05-metamaterials.html

  14. “If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not assume the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.”

    It seems to me this is one of those quotes that sounds pithy but doesn’t really hold up well at all.

    1) law of non-contradiction
    2) principles of sound reason
    3) libertarian free will
    4) objective morality

    #1 is obviously subsumed by #2.

    As for #2, aside from the remaining rules of formal logic, and perhaps a list of informal fallacies to avoid, it isn’t clear what other principles #2 refers to. There really is no comprehensive guide to “the principles of sound reason” (if there was, we could make a computer that could reason soundly).

    As for #3, depending on the flavor of libertarianism you might wish to defend, there are plenty of difficult issues with that position (just like with every position in metaphysics). But saying that without libertarianism there is no such thing as a person to argue with is just sort of specious and silly.

    And as for #4, it’s just patently false. Even for a complete moral relativist (I’m not one by the way) there is obviously plenty of reason to argue about morality and everything else besides!

    Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct. They’re not.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  15. 16
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    I believe #2 is covered by the Classic Rules of Thought. It isn’t possible to reason without them.

    Law of Identity: A = A
    - A thing is the same as itself and not the same as something else.

    Law of noncontradiction: ¬(A∧¬A)
    - Two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time.

    Law of excluded middle: (A∨¬A)
    - Either a proposition is true or its negation is true.

    What is your position on these axioms?

    As a succinct expression of a particular world view, WJM’s aphorisms are entirely appropriate. Of course they’re not nuanced, and they don’t address every possible objection. I don’t understand the nitpicking.

  16. “If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about. If you do not assume the principles of sound reason, you have nothing to argue with. If you do not assume libertarian free will, you have no one to argue against. If you do not assume morality to be an objective commodity, you have no reason to argue in the first place.”—William J. Murray

    RDFish

    1) law of non-contradiction
    2) principles of sound reason
    3) libertarian free will
    4) objective morality

    #1 is obviously subsumed by #2.

    No it isn’t. The application of the set (reason’s rules) is different from the application of the subset (Law of Non-Contradiction).

    In the first instance, the emphasis is on the subject. (If you reject the Law of Non-Contradiction, there is no topic to argue about since no proposition, however illogical, can be characterized as being objectively true or false).

    In the second instance, the emphasis is on reason as a tool. A tool cannot be a subset of a subject, because the latter is of a different category. So #1 is not subsumed into into #2. In principle, the Law of Non-Contradiction is a subset of reason’s rules, but we discussing the applications of those principles, not the principles themselves.

    As for #2, aside from the remaining rules of formal logic, and perhaps a list of informal fallacies to avoid, it isn’t clear what other principles #2 refers to. There really is no comprehensive guide to “the principles of sound reason” (if there was, we could make a computer that could reason soundly).

    By refusing to acknowledge reason’s rules, you are also acknowledging that you have no standard by which you can determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable, including your own.

    As for #3, depending on the flavor of libertarianism you might wish to defend, there are plenty of difficult issues with that position (just like with every position in metaphysics). But saying that without libertarianism there is no such thing as a person to argue with is just sort of specious and silly.

    You seem to have missed the point. If libertarian free will doesn’t exist, then no one is free to abandon the fate for which he is determined. If one is not free to choose an alternate course of action, then he is also not free to be duly persuaded. Thus, he is not really available for any argument of consequence.

    On the problem of different flavors, most libertarians at this site embrace agent-causal libertarianism and accept it as the definition of free will. Do you accept or reject agent-causal libertarianism? Why?

    And as for #4, it’s just patently false. Even for a complete moral relativist (I’m not one by the way) there is obviously plenty of reason to argue about morality and everything else besides!

    #4 is obviously true. If there is no such thing as justice, it is pointless to argue about how things “ought to be.” If there is no such thing as truth, then it is pointless to argue about what “is,” which means it is pointless to argue about anything.

    You say that you are not a “complete” moral relativist. Does that mean that you are an incomplete or partial moral relativist. How exactly does that work?

    Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct. They’re not.

    Whose take is correct?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  17. Obviously, the last paragraph @17 is a copy error on my part and was authored by RDFish. My comments end with the words, “How exactly does that work?”

  18. Hi Chance,

    I believe #2 is covered by the Classic Rules of Thought. It isn’t possible to reason without them….

    Yes that is correct, and there are some other rules of formal logic too. Historically there have been those who imagined such rules could account for much or all of human reasoning, and this accounted for early optimism regarding Artificial Intelligence. It turns out that while rational thought does of course entail these, most of how we reason proceeds in ways we cannot codify.

    I don’t understand the nitpicking.

    I tried to make that clear when I said “I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct.”

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  19. Hi StephenB,

    RDF: #1 is obviously subsumed by #2.
    SB: No it isn’t.

    Well, Chance here, and the Wikipedia article he copied from, disagree with you, and I do too. The law of non-contradiction is certainly a fundamental principle of sound reason.

    In principle, the Law of Non-Contradiction is a subset of reason’s rules, but we discussing the applications of those principles, not the principles themselves.

    Ok, sorry, I must have missed the part of the quote that established that ;-)

    By refusing to acknowledge reason’s rules, you are also acknowledging that you have no standard by which you can determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable, including your own.

    Sorry, but I don’t recall having refused to acknowledge “reason’s rules”. What I pointed out was that human reasoning was not largely rule-based.

    If libertarian free will doesn’t exist, then no one is free to abandon the fate for which he is determined.

    We will not make progress trying to solve the problem of free will. It was not my intent to engage the topic per se, but rather to point out that saying libertarianism is necessary for there to exist “someone to argue with” is silly. Even aside from all of the ways freedom doesn’t require libertarianism, you can argue with a robot or a zombie after all.

    Argument between Human with Free Will and Zombie:
    H: I have free will.
    Z: Brains!
    H: You can’t eat my brain.
    Z: Mmm, yes. I eat your Brain!
    and so on

    If one is not free to choose an alternate course of action, then he is also not free to be duly persuaded. Thus, he is not really available for any argument of consequence.

    These sorts of arguments are good reasons to avoid philosophy by slogan. Even staunch libertarians (there aren’t many in contemporary philosophy, but there are a few) wouldn’t consider this an argument, Stephen. I’m not saying libertarianism is wrong, I’m saying it is absurd to say that without it one can’t meaningfully talk about having an argument with somebody, or that there is no such thing as persuading somebody of something. Non-libertarians may be wrong, but they are not ridiculous, and these sorts of statements try and paint them as being simply stupid.

    #4 is obviously true. If there is no such thing as justice, it is pointless to argue about how things “ought to be.” If there is no such thing as truth, then it is pointless to argue about what “is,” which means it is pointless to argue about anything.

    The exact same point applies here. Relativists, naturalists, intuitionists, emotivists, and others do not deny justice; you are denying it for them. It is certainly not pointless to argue with other people who have different ideas about morality and justice! That would be a terribly cynical view! I think it is imperative that we argue and communicate to the best of our abilities, and try and persuade each other that our view is correct!

    You say that you are not a “complete” moral relativist. Does that mean that you are an incomplete or partial moral relativist. How exactly does that work?

    That is not what it means – to assume so would be a bad inference (I assume you can see why). Again, I’m not making about point about moral theory, I’m making a point about the dangers of over-simplifying moral positions and speciously trying to make opposing views seem ridiculous rather than engaging them intelligently.

    RDF: Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct. They’re not.
    SB: Whose take is correct?

    What I said was that people ought not to think that any particular position on these ancient and difficult issues is obvious and correct. If they were obvious then people would not argue them for millenia. Even theists – even Christians – argue amongst themselves on these issues, after all.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  20. 21
    Chance Ratcliff

    “Well, Chance here, and the Wikipedia article he copied from, disagree with you, and I do too.”

    Well here you just compound insults. Well done. Which Wikipedia article did I copy from?

  21. Hi Chance,

    I certainly meant no offense! I’m the dummy for (1) assuming you cut and pasted to begin with (you might have entered the ‘¬’ symbol with your number pad, yes?) and (2) assuming that if you did copy it, you would have copied from Wikipedia. Many apologies.

    (Obviously Wikipedia lists the same ‘rules of thought’, though, so it wasn’t a completely harebrained assumption).

    Now I’m curious, though: Which insult is it that you think I compounded? Did I manage to insult you previously too?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  22. 23
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @22, thanks for that, it’s appreciated. I input the HTML codes for those expressions manually. And I do consult Wikipedia, but usually it’s for the purpose of validation, and not generally for formulation; and I rarely if ever copy and paste directly without citation. Wikipedia is just one source among many. While it’s useful, I like to reference multiple sources before composing such responses, as I did in this case.

    To answer your question, “Which insult is it that you think I compounded? Did I manage to insult you previously too?”

    I perceived your comment, “I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct,” as a supposition that we use such remarks as a source of reasoning. I perceived an insult in that.

    I think you’ll find that, while folks here are certainly opinionated, such opinions are not generally reducible to fortune-cookie philosophy. Thanks again for your comment at #22.

    Best,
    Chance

  23. RDFish

    Well, Chance here, and the Wikipedia article he copied from, disagree with you, and I do too. The law of non-contradiction is certainly a fundamental principle of sound reason.

    I went out of my way to explain that it was the APPLICATION of the principle that didn’t meet the standard of being a subset, not the PRINCIPLE ITSELF. I made that point explictly. I would appreciate a modicum of intellectual honesty on your part. It is not intellectually honest to suggest that I argued that the Law of Non_Contradiction is not a subset of reason’s rules, which it obviously is. It is not intellectually honest to ignore the argument that I did make and argue against an argument that I did not make.

    Sorry, but I don’t recall having refused to acknowledge “reason’s rules”. What I pointed out was that human reasoning was not largely rule-based.

    On what is it based? Please specify. I pointed out that you have no objective standards for identifying a reasonable statement. So far, you have done nothing to counter the point.

    We will not make progress trying to solve the problem of free will.

    If you don’t want to comment on someone else’s ideas of free will, then you are free to not comment on them. You chose to do otherwise.

    I’m not saying libertarianism is wrong, I’m saying it is absurd to say that without it one can’t meaningfully talk about having an argument with somebody, or that there is no such thing as persuading somebody of something. Non-libertarians may be wrong, but they are not ridiculous, and these sorts of statements try and paint them as being simply stupid.

    I once asked you outright if you subscribe to libertarian free will, and you refused to answer on the grounds that the subject is too complicated owing to the many “variations.” Now, all of a sudden, you know what libertarian free will means? This is very strange.

    Having taken note of your previous equivocation, I asked you on this thread if you subscribe to “agent-causal” libertarianism, yet you still refuse to answer. Again, I would appreciate a little intellectual honesty on your part.

    The exact same point applies here. Relativists, naturalists, intuitionists, emotivists, and others do not deny justice;

    Of course they do. To deny the existence of absolute morality and to deny the existence of objective morality is to deny the existence of justice.

    It is certainly not pointless to argue with other people who have different ideas about morality and justice!

    What is the point of trying to persuade someone to do the right thing if there is no such thing as the right thing?

    That would be a terribly cynical view!

    The cynicism is coming from those who deny objective morality, not from me. Do you deny objective morality? Again, I would appreciate an honest and straightforward answer.

    I think it is imperative that we argue and communicate to the best of our abilities, and try and persuade each other that our view is correct!

    If there is no correct view, which is what relativists hold, then why argue as if one exists?

    That is not what it means – to assume so would be a bad inference (I assume you can see why). Again, I’m not making about point about moral theory, I’m making a point about the dangers of over-simplifying moral positions and speciously trying to make opposing views seem ridiculous rather than engaging them intelligently.

    We can hardly have an intelligent conversation if you are afraid to tell us if you believe in objective morality and free will. You say that you are not a “complete” moral relativist, but you will not tell us what that means. How can one be a partial moral relativist? What are your standards for rational discourse? Do you have any?

    What I said was that people ought not to think that any particular position on these ancient and difficult issues is obvious and correct. If they were obvious then people would not argue them for millenia.

    You have just contradicted yourself by taking a particular view after saying that no one should take a particular view.

    Even theists – even Christians – argue amongst themselves on these issues, after all.

    Since you have no standard for evaluating a reasonable argument, you would have no way of knowing which arguments are best.

  24. The second half of our discussion above is embedded in white background, so I will reproduce it here.

    RDFish

    The exact same point applies here. Relativists, naturalists, intuitionists, emotivists, and others do not deny justice;

    Of course they do. To deny the existence of absolute morality and to deny the existence of objective morality is to deny the existence of justice.

    It is certainly not pointless to argue with other people who have different ideas about morality and justice!

    What is the point of trying to persuade someone to do the right thing if there is no such thing as the right thing?

    That would be a terribly cynical view!

    The cynicism is coming from those who deny objective morality, not from me. Do you deny objective morality? Again, I would appreciate an honest and straightforward answer.

    I think it is imperative that we argue and communicate to the best of our abilities, and try and persuade each other that our view is correct!

    If there is no correct view, which is what relativists hold, then why argue as if one exists?

    That is not what it means – to assume so would be a bad inference (I assume you can see why). Again, I’m not making about point about moral theory, I’m making a point about the dangers of over-simplifying moral positions and speciously trying to make opposing views seem ridiculous rather than engaging them intelligently.

    We can hardly have an intelligent conversation if you are afraid to tell us if you believe in objective morality and free will. You say that you are not a “complete” moral relativist, but you will not tell us what that means. How can one be a partial moral relativist? What are your standards for rational discourse? Do you have any?

    What I said was that people ought not to think that any particular position on these ancient and difficult issues is obvious and correct. If they were obvious then people would not argue them for millenia.

    You have just contradicted yourself by taking a particular view after saying that no one should take a particular view.

  25. Semi OT: Group Session on “Self and Free Will: Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Perspectives” – video
    https://vimeo.com/11046953

    Group Session on “Self and Free Will: Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Perspectives”

    Hosted by Dr. William Grassie, Founder, Metanexus Institute

    Presentations include:
    Dr. Steward Goetz, Ursinus College: “The Soul, Libertarian Freedom, and Causal Closure”
    Dr. Nancey Murphy, Fuller Theological Seminary: “Is ‘Nonreductive Physicalism’ an Oxymoron?”

    Presiding Scholar:
    Dr. Eric Weislogel, Vice President, Academic Affairs, Metanexus Institute

  26. Hi Chance,

    RDFish @22, thanks for that, it’s appreciated. I input the HTML codes for those expressions manually. And I do consult Wikipedia, but usually it’s for the purpose of validation, and not generally for formulation; and I rarely if ever copy and paste directly without citation. Wikipedia is just one source among many. While it’s useful, I like to reference multiple sources before composing such responses, as I did in this case.

    Sounds like a good policy. Again, no offense intended; I only referenced your post since StephenB seemed to contradict it.

    I perceived your comment, “I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct,” as a supposition that we use such remarks as a source of reasoning. I perceived an insult in that.
    I think you’ll find that, while folks here are certainly opinionated, such opinions are not generally reducible to fortune-cookie philosophy.

    Right. I was talking about the quote from William J Murray. I know you seemed to like it, and I understand that it was just shorthand for much deeper opinions. Still, these sorts of quotes get passed around without additional context – here he was quoted by BA77 – and my point was that just reading that quote gives the impression that these questions are cut-and-dried, and definitively answered by these simple responses. As I mentioned to StephenB, not even all Christians agree on issues surrounding things like free will – various denominations and theologians argue quite different positions – so my view is that there are no simple arguments that make one or another viewpoint obviously correct. I see Murray’s quote as being way too simple and “too clever by half” to do justice to these old philosophical conundrums, and I was objecting to that.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  27. Hi StephenB,

    I went out of my way to explain that it was the APPLICATION of the principle that didn’t meet the standard of being a subset, not the PRINCIPLE ITSELF.

    Yes, and I responded thus: “Ok, sorry, I must have missed the part of the quote that established that”. It seems to me that Murray’s quote can be reasonably interpreted as listing the law of contradiction and the “sound principles of reason” as being a single principle and a set of principles, respectively, hence my point that the latter subsumes the former seems quite valid. If you wish to go on to make a category distinction that’s fine, but it was not really entailed by the quote I was commenting on, wouldn’t you agree?

    I would appreciate a modicum of intellectual honesty on your part.

    Not only do I believe my intellectual honesty is quite up to par, but that it greatly exceeds the “modicum” that you imply I lack :-) Seriously, please read my response again: Not only did I acknowledge that you made this distinction, but I was quite polite about it (Again, said “Ok, sorry…”) and went on to explain why I disagreed (because the category distinction was made by you and not by Murray in his quote).

    RDF: What I pointed out was that human reasoning was not largely rule-based.
    SB: On what is it based? Please specify.

    On what is human reason based? Well, if reasoning was based on codifiable rules that we could articulate, then reasoning could be formalized, and mechanized. I’m certainly not familiar with all of your opinions, but from what I gather so far I’m guessing that suggesting human reason is formal (algorithmic) would run counter to various other philosophical commitments you have. Am I wrong? To answer your question, I’m certain that I do not understand how human reason proceeds, and I’m certain that nobody else does either.

    I pointed out that you have no objective standards for identifying a reasonable statement. So far, you have done nothing to counter the point.

    And I will not counter the point, because I believe we have no objective standards for that of course. If we did, we could program computers to argue for us and they would do a much better job of it!

    If you don’t want to comment on someone else’s ideas of free will, then you are free to not comment on them. You chose to do otherwise.

    Absolutely correct – I couldn’t agree more.

    I once asked you outright if you subscribe to libertarian free will, and you refused to answer…

    I beg to disagree. If you look back at my response you’ll see I went to some effort to clarify my views on the issue. I’m sorry if you didn’t read or understand them, but those are honestly my views. They are not simple, because the question is not simple, but I certainly did not refuse to answer.

    … on the grounds that the subject is too complicated owing to the many “variations.”

    Forgive me, but the idea that the problem of free will is complicated, and the idea that there are many different and mutually incompatible versions of libertarianism, is hardly controversial.

    Now, all of a sudden, you know what libertarian free will means? This is very strange.

    Well, I’m no expert but I do know a bit about the subject, and there is nothing “sudden” about it, as I think made clear in the previous thread.

    Having taken note of your previous equivocation,

    Huh? Now I’m equivocating? Wow, it seems I just can’t do anything right :-)

    I really don’t think I’ve equivocated on anything. If you don’t believe me that metaphysical libertarianism means different things to different people, read a little bit about it. Note in particular the view of people like Robert Kane and Peter van Inwagen, two prominent libertarian thinkers with whom I think you would disagree!

    I asked you on this thread if you subscribe to “agent-causal” libertarianism, yet you still refuse to answer. Again, I would appreciate a little intellectual honesty on your part.

    I would actually appreciate a lot less accusatory rhetoric on your part, Stephen. I came here to have some interesting discussions about ID and philosophy and so on, not to be accused of being dishonest! It just seems you are being quite over-reactive to what I’ve said here.

    If you read my previous explanation of my views, you would already know that I do not subscribe to agent-causality for the simple reason that I do not “subscribe to” any particular solution that you can name. I already said the sort of approach I’m sympathetic to, but I expressed my opinion that there is current no satisfactory solution to the problem. That is not being evasive in the least. As for agent-causality in particular, perhaps you realize (and perhaps you don’t) that there are compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causality that you would likely reject!

    RDF: The exact same point applies here. Relativists, naturalists, intuitionists, emotivists, and others do not deny justice;
    SB: Of course they do.

    I wasn’t aware of this. Can you please tell me which philosophers deny the existence of justice?

    To deny the existence of absolute morality and to deny the existence of objective morality is to deny the existence of justice.

    I think most people (including me) would say that rather than denying the existence of justice, various moral theories entail different theories of justice. You seem to think that only your theory of justice can be called “justice”, and decide for everybody else that they cannot use the word. I think this sort of rhetoric serves only to confuse the issue, producing heat but no light as it were. It is much more productive, in my view, to allow people to define what they mean rather than defining what other people mean for them.

    RDF: It is certainly not pointless to argue with other people who have different ideas about morality and justice!
    SB: What is the point of trying to persuade someone to do the right thing if there is no such thing as the right thing?

    And so I reiterate: Rather than claiming that moral theories other than the one you subscribe you simply deny that there is anything that should be called “right” or “wrong”, you ought to engage the various ways others describe and ground the concept.

    Here is the way I see you arguing:

    Rousseau: I believe that justice can be understood as a social contract.
    StephenB: You deny the very concept of justice!
    Kant: I believe right action adheres to the categorical imperative.
    StephenB: You deny that any action is right!
    Bentham: I believe that right action is that which best serves the most people.
    StephenB: You don’t believe that any action is right!

    And so on. It’s like you try to defeat other people’s arguments by definition instead of engaging their ideas.

    The cynicism is coming from those who deny objective morality, not from me. Do you deny objective morality? Again, I would appreciate an honest and straightforward answer.

    I think we disagree about the notion of objectivity. You implied above that there are “objective” standards that can be used to objectively determine if a statement is reasonable. But I can’t think of a definition of “objectivity” that could possibly make your position true.

    In fact, I don’t understand how objectivity can be discrete rather than continuous. In other words, for me the question is not “Is morality objective?” but rather it must be “How can we conceive of morality such that it is maximally objective?”.

    If there is no correct view, which is what relativists hold, then why argue as if one exists?

    Was somebody arguing for epistemological relativism?

    We can hardly have an intelligent conversation if you are afraid to tell us if you believe in objective morality and free will.

    We certainly can’t have an intelligent conversation if you insist on reducing these issues to zingers and gotchas. Philosophers much more adept than me (or you I dare say) continue to mount book-length arguments about these questions, as they have been for the past few millenia, yet you think you can lay the issues to rest by lumping a dozen different positions under a single rubric and then dismissing them in a phrase? And then top it off by accusing those (me) who require a bit more context and subtlety in order to make sense of these questions of being “dishonest”, “evasive”, and now “afraid”? Honestly it feels like you’re trying to bully people rather than engage them in an intelligent conversation.

    RDF: What I said was that people ought not to think that any particular position on these ancient and difficult issues is obvious and correct. If they were obvious then people would not argue them for millenia.
    SB: You have just contradicted yourself by taking a particular view after saying that no one should take a particular view.

    No, you have put words in my mouth, because I never said no one should take a particular view! Again, you seem desperately anxious to catch me in some sort of inconsistency, but I really haven’t been inconsistent (or evasive or dishonest or afraid) in any of my comments. If you read my comments with a little more care and a little less anger you’d see that I’m saying no particular view on these issues is OBVIOUSLY correct, which I would say is obvious in itself.

    Now, why can’t we talk about the various ways to approach the related problems of mind/body ontology, free will, morality, and origins by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the various positions? For example, instead of battling about which “ism” we will defend, you could respond to my questions about objectivity in both epistemology and moral theory above.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  28. Hi RD

    Yes, and I responded thus: “Ok, sorry, I must have missed the part of the quote that established that”

    My exact words were as follows: “In principle, the Law of Non-Contradiction is a subset of reason’s rules, but we discussing the applications of those principles, not the principles themselves.” I don’t know how you could have missed the first clause in that sentence.

    Not only do I believe my intellectual honesty is quite up to par, but that it greatly exceeds the “modicum” that you imply I lack Seriously, please read my response again: Not only did I acknowledge that you made this distinction, but I was quite polite about it (Again, said “Ok, sorry…”) and went on to explain why I disagreed (because the category distinction was made by you and not by Murray in his quote).

    Your statement was that Chance and Wikipedia disagreed with me on the grounds that they both hold that Law of Non-Contradiction was a subset of reason’s rules, as if I had argued to the contrary. I didn’t.

    On what is human reason based? Well, if reasoning was based on codifiable rules that we could articulate, then reasoning could be formalized, and mechanized. I’m certainly not familiar with all of your opinions, but from what I gather so far I’m guessing that suggesting human reason is formal (algorithmic) would run counter to various other philosophical commitments you have. Am I wrong?

    You are trying to answer a question with a question. If reason has no rules, then what is it based on? If you think it is based on nothing at all, then just say so. If you think it is based on something, tell me what that something is.

    To answer your question, I’m certain that I do not understand how human reason proceeds, and I’m certain that nobody else does either.

    You are “certain” that no one understands the foundational rules for right reason? That is a very bold statement. How can you possibly defend it? By the way, why did you inject the words “how reason proceeds,” as if we were discussing processes rather than foundations?

    And I will not counter the point, because I believe we have no objective standards for that [reason] of course. If we did, we could program computers to argue for us and they would do a much better job of it!

    I can’t imagine why you think that the second sentence provides any support for the first sentence.

    I would actually appreciate a lot less accusatory rhetoric on your part, Stephen. I came here to have some interesting discussions about ID and philosophy and so on, not to be accused of being dishonest! It just seems you are being quite over-reactive to what I’ve said here.

    In order to have an interesting discussion, it is necessary for both sides to provide straight answers to straight questions.

    I already said the sort of approach I’m sympathetic to, but I expressed my opinion that there is current no satisfactory solution to the problem. That is not being evasive in the least.

    I recall only that you referred to the fact that many approaches exist, while taking no position at all. Your position is a total mystery to me.

    As for agent-causality in particular, perhaps you realize (and perhaps you don’t) that there are compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causality that you would likely reject!

    There may be compatibilist, materialist versions of agent causality, but I don’t know of any compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism. What compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism did you have in mind?

    I really don’t think I’ve equivocated on anything. If you don’t believe me that metaphysical libertarianism means different things to different people, read a little bit about it. Note in particular the view of people like Robert Kane and Peter van Inwagen, two prominent libertarian thinkers with whom I think you would disagree!

    I know that metaphysical libertarianism means different things to different people. What I am discussing is called agent-causal libertarianism, which is a definitive position that can be articulated with precision. Earlier, you said that you don’t agree with that view, indicating that you know what “it” is, but now you seem to be claiming that there are too many versions of it to comment on–or else you are equivocating between metaphysical libertarianism an agent-causal libertarianism. Can you clear this up? Also, I think that Robert Kane is an event-causal libertarian, not an agent-causal libertarian. Why did you bring him up?

    I think most people (including me) would say that rather than denying the existence of justice, various moral theories entail different theories of justice. You seem to think that only your theory of justice can be called “justice”, and decide for everybody else that they cannot use the word. I think this sort of rhetoric serves only to confuse the issue, producing heat but no light as it were. It is much more productive, in my view, to allow people to define what they mean rather than defining what other people mean for them.

    Well, yes, I would say that any notion of arbitrary justice conceived by a philosopher, as opposed to objective justice coming from the natural moral law, is not really justice. I can argue that point all day long. Still, your comment doesn’t really address my point. Moral rightness and justice are inextricably tied together; to deny the existence of the former is to deny the existence of the latter.

    Here is the way I see you arguing:
    Rousseau: I believe that justice can be understood as a social contract.
    StephenB: You deny the very concept of justice!
    Kant: I believe right action adheres to the categorical imperative.
    StephenB: You deny that any action is right!
    Bentham: I believe that right action is that which best serves the most people.
    StephenB: You don’t believe that any action is right!
    And so on. It’s like you try to defeat other people’s arguments by definition instead of engaging their ideas.

    An idea that isn’t defined isn’t really an idea, which is the problem with many of the things that you write. In any case, each author’s idea of justice as listed above, though arbitrary conceived, is tied to his idea of moral rightness, which was my point. The concept of moral rightness cannot be separated from the concept of justice–even justice arbitrarily conceived.

    I think we disagree about the notion of objectivity.

    Objective means not subjective, not coming from the individual or the “subject.” What do you think it means? Or am I supposed to guess?

    You implied above that there are “objective” standards that can be used to objectively determine if a statement is reasonable. But I can’t think of a definition of “objectivity” that could possibly make your position true.

    The rules of right reason do not come from the individual. They are discovered by the individual. They are, in that sense, objective. The subject discovers the object. Get it?

    In fact, I don’t understand how objectivity can be discrete rather than continuous. In other words, for me the question is not “Is morality objective?” but rather it must be “How can we conceive of morality such that it is maximally objective?”

    I can’t comment on that until you tell me what you mean by “maximally objective.” In order to do that, of course, you must first define objective.

    Philosophers much more adept than me (or you I dare say) continue to mount book-length arguments about these questions, as they have been for the past few millenia, yet you think you can lay the issues to rest by lumping a dozen different positions under a single rubric and then dismissing them in a phrase?

    Philosophers who deny reason’s rules are not really philosophers—they are sophists. They are running away from reason because they don’t want to go where it might lead. What truth are you running away from?

    And then top it off by accusing those (me) who require a bit more context and subtlety in order to make sense of these questions of being “dishonest”, “evasive”, and now “afraid”? Honestly it feels like you’re trying to bully people rather than engage them in an intelligent conversation.

    At the most primitive level, the simpleton does not appreciate the complexity of the issues involved. At the intermediate level, the sophist recognizes the complexities, but he doesn’t understand them well enough to work his way through them and separate truth from error—so he just wallows in them. The wise man understands the subtleties, works his way through them, and finds truth and simplicity on the other side of complexity. You seem to be stuck at the middle level. To take the next step, read something—anything–by G.K. Chesterton.

    Now, why can’t we talk about the various ways to approach the related problems of mind/body ontology, free will, morality, and origins by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the various positions? For example, instead of battling about which “ism” we will defend, you could respond to my questions about objectivity in both epistemology and moral theory above.

    Ask a substantive question and I will try to answer it.
    RDF: What I said was that people ought not to think that any particular position on these ancient and difficult issues is obvious and correct. If they were obvious then people would not argue them for millenia.
    SB: You have just contradicted yourself by taking a particular view after saying that no one should take a particular view.

    No, you have put words in my mouth, because I never said no one should take a particular view!

    You are twisting yourself into a pretzel. To say that people ought not to think that any particular view is obvious or correct is to take a particular view, namely that people should not take that position. Yes, you did contradict yourself. Why, though, should it matter to you? If, as you believe, there are no rules for reason, then contradictions are just as reasonable as anything else.

    Also, you are assuming that objective truth doesn’t exist simply because people disagree about it. This is illogical. People come on this site every day and disagree with the Law of Non_Contradiction and they can always find some nitwit philosopher that will agree with them. That doesn’t make the principle any less true, any less objective, or any less self-evident.

    Again, you seem desperately anxious to catch me in some sort of inconsistency, but I really haven’t been inconsistent (or evasive or dishonest or afraid) in any of my comments. If you read my comments with a little more care and a little less anger you’d see that I’m saying no particular view on these issues is OBVIOUSLY correct, which I would say is obvious in itself.

    The Law of Non-Contradiction is obviously correct. You assume it and appeal to it every time you say that I didn’t say what I say you said, indicating that we cannot both be right at the same time.

  29. Hi StephenB,

    My exact words were as follows: “In principle, the Law of Non-Contradiction is a subset of reason’s rules, but we discussing the applications of those principles, not the principles themselves.” I don’t know how you could have missed the first clause in that sentence.

    Ok, I’ll clarify one last time. I commented on Murray’s quote, remarking that he listed the LNC and the “principles of sound reason” as two different things. I said that the former was subsumed by the latter, which it is. You responded thus:

    RDF: #1 is obviously subsumed by #2.
    SB: No it isn’t.

    You went on to make a point about application; I remarked that your distinction came subsequently, so my initial remark was quite well justified.

    Now, this is a very minor point, and I think we’re just bumping chests here instead of arguing something interesting. If you really need to be right about this, I shall graciously concede arguendo.

    RDF: On what is human reason based? Well, if reasoning was based on codifiable rules that we could articulate, then reasoning could be formalized, and mechanized. I’m certainly not familiar with all of your opinions, but from what I gather so far I’m guessing that suggesting human reason is formal (algorithmic) would run counter to various other philosophical commitments you have. Am I wrong?
    SB: You are trying to answer a question with a question. If reason has no rules, then what is it based on? If you think it is based on nothing at all, then just say so. If you think it is based on something, tell me what that something is.

    Hahaha! Apparently my question was “Am I wrong?”, so yes, I guess I answered a question with a question! (I hope you meant to be funny). Please read what I wrote regarding codifiable formal rules being the basis for thought, as you seem to have missed the point. It really is a pretty interesting issue.

    RDF: To answer your question, I’m certain that I do not understand how human reason proceeds, and I’m certain that nobody else does either.
    SB: You are “certain” that no one understands the foundational rules for right reason? That is a very bold statement. How can you possibly defend it?

    I am utterly certain that nobody understands how human beings reason (i.e. how we think), and I will say that is one of the least controversial statements I can imagine. I can defend it thus: If you (or anyone else) claims to understand how human beings reason, simply explain it! How do I add two numbers in my head? How do I produce a grammatical sentence? How do I solve a crossword puzzle, or write a melody, or prove a theorem, or get a joke? How do our brains work?

    I anxiously await your explanation, because I have wondered about these things for a very long time. Also, you would surely earn a Nobel Prize on the spot, and I will be able to say that “I heard it first on Uncommon Descent!”

    By the way, why did you inject the words “how reason proceeds,” as if we were discussing processes rather than foundations?

    First, the word “proceed” can simply mean to go forward or carry on, which is how I used the word. But yes, I am discussing the process of thought. What I said was, as you recall, was this:

    RDF: “[H]uman reasoning was not largely rule-based”

    I went on to explain that if our reasoning abilities really did arise from a set of codifiable rules, we could look at any statement and objectively determine if it was reasonable or not. But of course we can do no such thing. We could also automate human reasoning, i.e. we could build an artificially intelligent machine that could think like a person does. But we obviously can’t do that either.

    RDF: And I will not counter the point, because I believe we have no objective standards for that [reason] of course. If we did, we could program computers to argue for us and they would do a much better job of it!
    SB: I can’t imagine why you think that the second sentence provides any support for the first sentence.

    You really can’t? I’ll try to explain it then.

    You seem to believe that there is a set of objective rules that serve as the basis for human reason, and that these rules enable us to look at some statement in human language and determine if it is “reasonable” or not. But that is simply not true. Let’s try it and see. Here is a statement: “Obama should cut taxes to stimulate the economy.” Can you show us how to objectively determine if that is a reasonable statement or not by referring to some set of rules?

    In order to have an interesting discussion, it is necessary for both sides to provide straight answers to straight questions.

    I think we are both giving the “straightest” answers we can – I know I am. But hopefully you can see that not every question has a simple answer! (Classic example: “Please answer yes or no: Have you stopped beating your wife?”).

    I recall only that you referred to the fact that many approaches exist, while taking no position at all. Your position is a total mystery to me.

    That could only be because you have not paid attention to what I’ve said, I’m afraid. With regard to free will, I said this: I already said the sort of approach I’m sympathetic to, but I expressed my opinion that there is current no satisfactory solution to the problem (and that goes for mind/body ontology too). That is my position, and there is nothing hard to understand about it. There are plenty of professional philosophers who take this stand, and while of course people disagree (because everybody in philosophy disagrees about these things!) nobody accuses them of being evasive, dishonest, or afraid to state their views!

    There may be compatibilist, materialist versions of agent causality, but I don’t know of any compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism. What compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism did you have in mind?

    I said there were compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causality, and you acknowledge that possibility. Now you ask if there are compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism, but I think you already know that libertarianism is construed by some as compatible with materialism by invoking physical indeterminism. I find that account incoherent myself (or at least it is not a variety of free will worth wanting, as that infamous materialist is fond of saying), but it is not a logical contradiction.

    I know that metaphysical libertarianism means different things to different people. What I am discussing is called agent-causal libertarianism, which is a definitive position that can be articulated with precision.

    Well in that case, you might have articulated this (your) view with precision already and saved some back-and-forth, no? Some questions you’d need to clarify would include, How does it work? Does it require dualism? Interactionism? Is each mind an uncaused cause? Do you view agent causality as a tertium quid, and if so, how is it constrained (if at all)?

    For about the tenth time, I am always reluctant to debate metaphysics, since I don’t think any position can be satisfactorily defended. My point here, again for the tenth time, is that these questions are complex and difficult and very smart people have debated them for thousands of years without managing to build anything of a consensus. (But you’re probably aware that if there was something approaching a consensus in contemporary Western philosophy, dualistic agency would certainly not be the winner!)

    Earlier, you said that you don’t agree with that view,…

    I said I didn’t subscribe to any particular solution to the problem, yes, because none seem satisfatory.

    …indicating that you know what “it” is, but now you seem to be claiming that there are too many versions of it to comment on–or else you are equivocating between metaphysical libertarianism an agent-causal libertarianism. Can you clear this up?

    Ok. We have already agreed there are many conflicting meanings for libertarianism. I have never equivocated on anything here. “Metaphysical libertarianism” refers to all of these views regarding free will; the “metaphysical” part simply distinguishes the term “libertarianism” from the political philosophy of the same name, and so “agent-causal libertarianism” is one type of metaphysical libertarianism, not something that is diffrent from it.

    Also, I think that Robert Kane is an event-causal libertarian, not an agent-causal libertarian. Why did you bring him up?

    I brought up Kane and van Inwagen as people who have argued for libertarianism in ways that you would not agree with.

    Well, yes, I would say that any notion of arbitrary justice conceived by a philosopher, as opposed to objective justice coming from the natural moral law, is not really justice. I can argue that point all day long.

    Anybody can argue all day long, but that really isn’t the goal. I do not believe I’ve read any moral theorist who argues for “arbitrary justice”. You’re statements are a bit like the “no true Scotsman” fallacy!

    SB: I think justice derives objectively from natural moral law
    Rawls: I think justice derives from fairness
    SB: Ha! That’s not justice, because justice derives from natural moral law! See, I’m right!

    The concept of moral rightness cannot be separated from the concept of justice–even justice arbitrarily conceived.

    I’d agree that justice cannot be separated from rightness. I am not aware of any moral philosophers arguing for “arbitrary” justice; in other words, I do not believe that the opposite of natural moral law is arbitrary morality.

    By the way, the moral theory I subscribe to is very much like “natural moral law”, if I understand how you’re using that. I do not consider that to be essentially “objective”, however, because it derives from thoughts and feelings internal to human minds.

    Objective means not subjective, not coming from the individual or the “subject.” What do you think it means?

    What I think it means is “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased” (dictionary.com).

    RDF: You implied above that there are “objective” standards that can be used to objectively determine if a statement is reasonable. But I can’t think of a definition of “objectivity” that could possibly make your position true.
    SB: The rules of right reason do not come from the individual. They are discovered by the individual. They are, in that sense, objective. The subject discovers the object. Get it?

    We’re talking past each other. I won’t argue if logic or mathematics is discovered or invented. I will argue that “the rules of right reason” account for precious little of our reasoning.

    Philosophers who deny reason’s rules are not really philosophers—they are sophists.

    I repeat: I wasn’t aware of anyone denying “reason’s rules”. And I repeat: “Reason’s rules” do not account for human reasoning.

    At the most primitive level, the simpleton does not appreciate the complexity of the issues involved. At the intermediate level, the sophist recognizes the complexities, but he doesn’t understand them well enough to work his way through them and separate truth from error—so he just wallows in them. The wise man understands the subtleties, works his way through them, and finds truth and simplicity on the other side of complexity. You seem to be stuck at the middle level.

    Well I’m fortunate to have happened upon this site, so I can finally break free of wallowing in my mediocrity and sophism ;-)

    Not all truths are simple, I’m afraid. If only it were so.

    To take the next step, read something—anything–by G.K. Chesterton.

    I read a little Chesterton a long time ago. As I recall, it was full of little proverbs and aphorisms and sayings that over-simplified everything… much like the quote of WJ Murray that started this whole discussion. Like fortune cookies, these things sound profound, but you can interpret them however you want. Here’s a few Chesterton quotes I just picked at random:

    Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.
    Does that mean Chesterton believes morality is arbitrary? Or that art is objective?

    I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.
    Does that mean Chesterton believes getting into trouble is a good thing?

    There nearly always is a method in madness. It’s what drives men mad, being methodical.
    Does he really think that being methodical is a primary cause of insanity?

    I’m sure it’s a matter of taste, but I find this sort of writing very irritating.

    RDF: What I said was that people ought not to think that any particular position on these ancient and difficult issues is obvious and correct. If they were obvious then people would not argue them for millenia.
    SB: You have just contradicted yourself by taking a particular view after saying that no one should take a particular view.
    RDF: No, you have put words in my mouth, because I never said no one should take a particular view!
    SB: You are twisting yourself into a pretzel. To say that people ought not to think that any particular view is obvious or correct is to take a particular view, namely that people should not take that position. Yes, you did contradict yourself.

    Please read more carefully, and if you choose to quote me, please don’t change my words!!!!

    Here is what I said: people ought not to think that any particular position on these ancient and difficult issues is obvious and correct.
    Here is what you pretended that I said: people ought not to think that any particular view is obvious or correct

    By changing my conjunction into a disjunction, you are able to pretend that I was saying there are no correct positions, and nobody should take any particular view. But I have corrected you on this TWICE now! I have made the point painfully clearly, using CAPITAL LETTERS AND BOLD FONTS AND ITALICS, that what I was denying was the OBVIOUSNESS of any potentially correct answer!!!!!!!

    Look here @20:

    RDF: What I said was that people ought not to think that any particular position on these ancient and difficult issues is obvious and correct. If they were obvious then people would not argue them for millenia. Even theists – even Christians – argue amongst themselves on these issues, after all. [emphasis in the original!!]

    And Look here @28:

    If you read my comments with a little more care and a little less anger you’d see that I’m saying no particular view on these issues is OBVIOUSLY correct, which I would say is obvious in itself.[EMPHASIS in the original!!]

    I am at a loss as to how to make myself more clear here. I suppose if you are determined to put words in my mouth, I am powerless to stop you.

    Why, though, should it matter to you? If, as you believe, there are no rules for reason, then contradictions are just as reasonable as anything else.

    All right, Stephen. I believe at this point the fair reader will realize you are not really arguing in good faith. I never said “there are no rules for reason” – you are again pretending that I am saying stupid things just so you can feel like you are beating me in some debate game here. If you’d like to pretend that I believe “contradictions are just as reasonable as anything else” then there is really no chance of moving forward here. If you were more confident of your own views you could comment on mine without misrepresenting them. Anybody can build stupid strawmen and knock them down.

    Also, you are assuming that objective truth doesn’t exist simply because people disagree about it. This is illogical. People come on this site every day and disagree with the Law of Non_Contradiction and they can always find some nitwit philosopher that will agree with them. That doesn’t make the principle any less true, any less objective, or any less self-evident.

    You are not arguing with me, because I have never said any of these things. Maybe you are arguing against stupid people who have come on this site previously. Or perhaps you put words into their mouths just like you do with me – I don’t know.

    But I do know that I never said anything that anyone could reasonably construe to mean that there are no objective truths, or that I disagree with the LNC, or that there are no rules of reason. Now, you seem to be an intelligent and well-read person, and I’m sure we disagree about lots of things, and if you open your eyes and read what I say and respond accordingly we might have an interesting exchange. If instead you make up stupid stuff and pretend I said it, it will not be interesting at all.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  30. Hi RD

    Please read what I wrote regarding codifiable formal rules being the basis for thought, as you seem to have missed the point. It really is a pretty interesting issue

    What codifiable formal rules of thought? Please be specific.

    I am utterly certain that nobody understands how human beings reason (i.e. how we think), and I will say that is one of the least controversial statements I can imagine. I can defend it thus: If you (or anyone else) claims to understand how human beings reason, simply explain it! How do I add two numbers in my head? How do I produce a grammatical sentence? How do I solve a crossword puzzle, or write a melody, or prove a theorem, or get a joke? How do our brains work?

    Since you do not yet grasp the difference between foundational principles and processes even after I articulated the difference, I will abandon any hope of communicating that difference.

    That could only be because you have not paid attention to what I’ve said, I’m afraid.

    I paid close attention. You have disclosed no position on free will, except to say that you have no position.

    With regard to free will, I said this: I already said the sort of approach I’m sympathetic to, but I expressed my opinion that there is current no satisfactory solution to the problem (and that goes for mind/body ontology too). That is my position, and there is nothing hard to understand about it. There are plenty of professional philosophers who take this stand, and while of course people disagree (because everybody in philosophy disagrees about these things!) nobody accuses them of being evasive, dishonest, or afraid to state their views!

    As I said, you have no position except to say that you have no position. Why do you try to skate past these kinds of things?

    Now you ask if there are compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism, but I think you already know that libertarianism is construed by some as compatible with materialism by invoking physical indeterminism.

    There you go again, equivocating between undefined libertarianism and well-defined agent-causal libertarianism, in an attempt to have it both ways. Yet you are offended when I question your intellectual honesty.

    I’d agree that justice cannot be separated from rightness.

    Good. We have found common ground on at least one topic.

    By the way, the moral theory I subscribe to is very much like “natural moral law”, if I understand how you’re using that. I do not consider that to be essentially “objective”, however, because it derives from thoughts and feelings internal to human minds.

    If your moral theory is not objective, then it has little resemblance to the natural moral law. The natural moral law is, by definition, objective. It is the moral counterpart to the laws of nature. When Thomas Jefferson speaks of the “Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God,” he is referring to objective laws about human nature that transcend human thoughts and feelings, which are changeable and vary from person to person.

    What I think it (objective) means is “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased”

    I can work with that definition.

    We’re talking past each other. I won’t argue if logic or mathematics is discovered or invented.

    Why not? This is a critical element of the discussion, and yet, once again, you refuse to take a stand. Remarkable.

    I will argue that “the rules of right reason” account for precious little of our reasoning.

    What part of our reasoning is exempt from reason’s rules?

    Not all truths are simple, I’m afraid. If only it were so.

    Granted, not all truths are simple, but they can all be reduced to their simplest essence. Anyone who cannot explain even the most abstruse point in philosophy or science such that a twelve-year-old could grasp its main points does not understand the subject and is bluffing.

    I read a little Chesterton a long time ago. As I recall, it was full of little proverbs and aphorisms and sayings that over-simplified everything… much like the quote of WJ Murray that started this whole discussion. Like fortune cookies, these things sound profound, but you can interpret them however you want. Here’s a few Chesterton quotes I just picked at random:

    Obviously, you missed the point about simplicity on the other side of complexity. No random quotes out of context, please. Which book did your read?

  31. Hi StepenB,

    What codifiable formal rules of thought? Please be specific.

    Ok, here’s how this topic got started:

    You first said this:

    By refusing to acknowledge reason’s rules, you are also acknowledging that you have no standard by which you can determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable, including your own.

    I responded by saying that “human reasoning was not largely rule-based.” I think this is a clear statement which means that for the most part, our reasoning does not adhere to a set of rules. You didn’t understand what I meant, so I clarified repeatedly. I’ll try once again, making this as simple as I can: There is no set of rules by which anyone can determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable. There are rules of propositional logic, including the LNC and rules of inference such as modus ponens and modus tollens, and there are more complex formal logics too, but contrary to what you think, we cannot use these rules to determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable.

    I don’t think I can make this point any clearer than I this.

    Since you do not yet grasp the difference between foundational principles and processes even after I articulated the difference, I will abandon any hope of communicating that difference.

    What??? Stephen, you were the one who suggested that we could use these rules of logic to test any given argument to see if it was reasonable. That is simply false; you’re just wrong about that. I said it was interesting because at one time in history, people (including George Boole, who famously authored The Laws of Thought) did believe that much of human thought could be codified in formal logic, but it turned out that it isn’t the case.

    There you go again, equivocating between undefined libertarianism and well-defined agent-causal libertarianism, in an attempt to have it both ways.

    What??? I just got through explaining to you that both agent-causality and libertarianism can be and has been construed to be compatible with materialism. Then I asked you to “articulate your definitive position with precision” as you boasted you could, but you have failed to do so.

    If your moral theory is not objective, then it has little resemblance to the natural moral law. The natural moral law is, by definition, objective.

    There you go again, attempting to win debates by definition rather than by argument. Some philosophers think natural moral law is objective, and some don’t. Why don’t you actually try arguing your belief instead of claiming victory by definition?

    Given that you accept that “objective” means “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased”, I argue that no morality is completely objective. As I’ve alluded to, it is difficult to establish that any knowledge is completely objective: Even our sense perceptions are interpreted and biased, and our more abstract beliefs are even more influenced by interpretation of course. This applies to our understanding of morality as well.

    It is the moral counterpart to the laws of nature.

    Lest we descend too deeply into skeptical epistemology, let us agree arguendo that we can discern laws of nature with complete objectivity (contra what modern philosophy of science might teach). The only way we’ve managed to even approach this state of affairs is by means of scientific investigation, grounding knowledge by confirming it against our uniform and repeated experience. This method is unavailable for moral reasoning, and so it we cannot claim to have moral knowledge that is objective in the way scientific knowledge is.

    When Thomas Jefferson speaks of the “Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God,” he is referring to objective laws about human nature that transcend human thoughts and feelings, which are changeable and vary from person to person.

    I think most fundamental precepts of moral reasoning is very constant across time, across individuals, and even across cultures. That does not mean it is objective, however, according to our agreed-upon definition.

    RDF: I won’t argue if logic or mathematics is discovered or invented.
    SB: Why not? This is a critical element of the discussion, and yet, once again, you refuse to take a stand. Remarkable.

    You seem very reluctant to ever admit that perhaps some question really doesn’t have a good answer. You always have to have a strong opinion on everything! That is what I find remarkable. Very well, oh certain one, do tell us if mathematics is discovered or invented, and how you can be so sure!

    RDF: I will argue that “the rules of right reason” account for precious little of our reasoning.
    SB: What part of our reasoning is exempt from reason’s rules?

    I said the rules account for little of our reasoning, not that any part of our reasoning is exempt from those rules.

    If you still can’t understand this, here’s an analogy. There are Rules of English Grammar, and no well-written document is exempt from these rules. But one can hardly say that these rules account for what is written in the document; one can’t use these rules to see if any particular sentence makes sense. Get it?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  32. RDF:

    Pardon an intervention.

    I think you need to recognise that in speaking of first principles of right reason or the like, we are not talking about theorems of Boolean Algebra or systems thereafter. We are talking about something these may well recognise, but do not necessarily exhaust.

    I suggest a look here on for a look at the matter, and here at UD in the WACs, for how this speaks to a major, commonly encountered problem with reasoning by materialist objectors to design theory and their fellow travellers.

    There was a recent discussion at UD, here.

    KF

  33. PS: Notice the onward connexion to sufficient reason and causality here.

  34. RDF,
    You are erroneously conflating “thought” with “reasoning”.

    You say:

    I said the rules account for little of our reasoning, not that any part of our reasoning is exempt from those rules.

    …There is no set of rules by which anyone can determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable

    … I am utterly certain that nobody understands how human beings reason (i.e. how we think), and I will say that is one of the least controversial statements I can imagine. I can defend it thus: If you (or anyone else) claims to understand how human beings reason, simply explain it!

    While there may be a lot of thought going on in order to make determinations, whether or not that thought can be called “reasoning” depends on if one is employing the rules of right reason to construct a metric by which to reach a sound conclusion.

    Otherwise, the thought used to reach a conclusion is not called “reasoning”. Even faulty reasoning is an attempt to apply the rules of right reason, inference, necessary principles and assumptions, etc. in a correct (by the rules) way. Just because one calls their thought process “reasoning” doesn’t mean that is what they are doing.

    There is no such thing as reasoning, much less correct reasoning or faulty reasoning, unless there are rules of reasoning that must be assumed to govern (not compel, but govern) all attempts at reasoning. Otherwise, you’re just “thnking” and “coming to conclusions” without any universal formal system.

    Without an assumed universal, binding formal system of proper reasoning, what are we left with? Whatever any individual happens to think is “reasonable”, by whatever means they happen to think is appropriate? What are our arguments based on, without any assumed valid, objective means of vetting arugments? Emotional appeal? Coercion? Rhetoric? Stuff that happens to sound reasonable to the other party by chance?

    If that is your position, all you are doing is flinging feces around hoping it will stick somewhere. Unless, of course, you are saying that people come to all sorts of conclusions via thought, but very little of it based on reasoning.

    Here’s an interesting claim, considering your argument in this thread:

    That is simply false; you’re just wrong about that.

    AS IF the LNC is assumed universally applicable in debates employing reasoned arguments. AS IF there is universally binding standard by which one can claim that some other statement is “wrong”.

    Then we have this little gem:

    I just got through explaining to you that both agent-causality and libertarianism can be and has been construed to be compatible with materialism.

    Only if one stretches the meaning of “materialism” to the point of meaninglessness and conflates an “indeterminate outcome” with “agent-causality” and “libertarian free will”.

    But one can hardly say that these rules account for what is written in the document; one can’t use these rules to see if any particular sentence makes sense. Get it?

    Nobody is claiming the rules of right reason “account” for what humans think, but rather must be employed to arbit the soundness of any thought-ful argument towards a conclusion. Without an accepted standard of grammar, there is no hope of “making sense” out of what anyone says. That’s what grammer is for – generating a language one can make sense out of because it conforms to various standardized rules.

    StephenB: Thanks so much for your stellar defense of my “fortune-cookie aphorisms”!

  35. William J. Murray,

    thank you for providing a sound and pithy thought stimulator.

    RDFish,

    thank you for engaging me in an interesting, if not rational, discussion.

  36. Hi William J Murray,

    First, a brief synopsis of the discussion thus far:

    StephenB said that “reason’s rules” (such as the LNC) enables one to objectively assess if any given argument is reasonable. I pointed out that this wasn’t even close to being true, and (after accusing me of various rhetorical malfeasance) has given up on the discussion without defending his assertion. He also pressed me to take a stand on some issue regarding free will or morality, and so I explained why he was wrong to imagine that “natural moral law” could be thought of as “the moral counterpart to the laws of nature” in that they both were comprised of discoverable objective facts. He again chose not to defend his position.

    Subsequently, kairosfocus provided a link to a lengthy off-site screed on building a theistic worldview for me to read. I am grateful for the link, but before I invest the considerable time it would take to read it (and the others), I would ask for some indication that there is something there that would respond to the points I have made here in this thread.

    Now I will respond to your post, William.

    While there may be a lot of thought going on in order to make determinations, whether or not that thought can be called “reasoning” depends on if one is employing the rules of right reason to construct a metric by which to reach a sound conclusion. Otherwise, the thought used to reach a conclusion is not called “reasoning”.

    The words “thought” and “reason” have common usage that do not align specifically with what you’ve said here. However, you are of course free to provide technical definitions for the purpose of clarity in our discussion, and in fact I’m all for that, as I believe many of these sorts of discussions suffer greatly on account of insufficiently clear terminology.

    So for the purpose of our discussion, let’s agree to say that “reasoning” refers to what others might call “formal reasoning” – a system of propositions that can be represented in a well-defined symbolic system and manipulated according to explicit rules, while “thought” refers to making judgements and inferences that can be articulated in natural language but not objectively assessed against a set of rules. The latter can still be critiqued against guidelines such as the informal fallacies that I’m sure we’re all familiar with, but not against a system of formal rules.

    Is that what you have in mind?

    There is no such thing as reasoning, much less correct reasoning or faulty reasoning, unless there are rules of reasoning that must be assumed to govern (not compel, but govern) all attempts at reasoning. Otherwise, you’re just “thnking” and “coming to conclusions” without any universal formal system.

    Yes, this seems consistent with my understanding. We are using the word “reasoning” here to refer to formal systems, got it.

    Without an assumed universal, binding formal system of proper reasoning, what are we left with? Whatever any individual happens to think is “reasonable”, by whatever means they happen to think is appropriate? What are our arguments based on, without any assumed valid, objective means of vetting arugments? Emotional appeal? Coercion? Rhetoric? Stuff that happens to sound reasonable to the other party by chance?

    Well, I’m not quite as cynical as you are about our ability to think. I would say that the vast degree of scientific consensus, on innumerable facts, even across cultural and ideological divides, attests to our ability to make judgements and inferences reliably. But I will agree with you that there is a qualitative difference between thought and reason, as we’ve defined them here. Importantly, I think we should agree that the concept of “proof” applies only to the latter, and not the former (informal and legal usage of the word notwithstanding).

    If that is your position, all you are doing is flinging feces around hoping it will stick somewhere. Unless, of course, you are saying that people come to all sorts of conclusions via thought, but very little of it based on reasoning.

    Uh, ok. I think you are really taking an extreme position here. The vast majority of what human beings do in their lives is the result of our thinking rather than our reasoning (again, using these terms as we’ve defined them here). And certainly most of what is written on the pages of this forum is strictly the result of thinking rather than reason; I have not observed anyone trying to represent their arguments in a formal logic system here, and I’m obviously not doing that.

    RDF: That is simply false; you’re just wrong about that.
    WJM: AS IF the LNC is assumed universally applicable in debates employing reasoned arguments. AS IF there is universally binding standard by which one can claim that some other statement is “wrong”.

    I don’t understand what you are saying here. Are you saying that unless we limit ourselves to formal logic, we cannot make any judgments about the truth of propositions? If that is your position, obviously there is no use engaging in arguments with you unless we do so using formal logic. But even the decision to do so would need to based on considerations outside of any logical system, so I’m afraid if you deny the validity of thought, as you seem to be doing, we simply have nothing to talk about!

    Only if one stretches the meaning of “materialism” to the point of meaninglessness and conflates an “indeterminate outcome” with “agent-causality” and “libertarian free will”.

    You seem to have quickly changed subjects here – we were talking about thought and reason a second ago. Anyway, my statement was 100% accurate: There are most certaintly compatibilist philosophers who provide technical definitions such as this. If you had read my posts carefully, you would see that I am not among them.

    Nobody is claiming the rules of right reason “account” for what humans think, but rather must be employed to arbit the soundness of any thought-ful argument towards a conclusion. Without an accepted standard of grammar, there is no hope of “making sense” out of what anyone says. That’s what grammer is for – generating a language one can make sense out of because it conforms to various standardized rules.

    There is no formal grammar for natural language, which is what distinguishes a natural language from a formal language. There is no “universally accepted standard of grammar” for English, or French, or any other naturally evolved language that any culture speaks. There are only formal grammars for formal languages.

    I’m sorry to break the news to you, William, but we human beings are stuck with our messy, informal, non-rule-based thinking, and we have to muddle through our lives and our debates using arguments that cannot be assessed against formal rules. There’s just no way around it. Perhaps that explains your penchant for fortune-cookie philosophy: It all seems so clear and cut-and-dried when you turn difficult conceptual discussions into slogans and sound bites. Unfortunately, there isn’t any truth in them, as I pointed out with your quote that started this discussion.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  37. In case there is still any confusion regarding the difference between “thought” and “reason”, as WJM has defined them here, let me respond to one more point WJM has made in his last post:

    Without an accepted standard of grammar, there is no hope of “making sense” out of what anyone says.

    It was of course Noam Chomsky who most memorably drove home the point that grammar does not enable us to “make sense” out of what anyone else. Famously, he pointed out that sentences can simultaneously be grammatical and nonsensical, with the following example: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  38. It was of course Noam Chomsky who most memorably drove home the point that grammar does not enable us to “make sense” out of what anyone else. Famously, he pointed out that sentences can simultaneously be grammatical and nonsensical, with the following example: Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

    That grammar allows us to make sense out of a collective string of words used in a language doesn’t mean every string of grammatically correct words can be understood.

  39. I’m sorry to break the news to you, William, but we human beings are stuck with our messy, informal, non-rule-based thinking, and we have to muddle through our lives and our debates using arguments that cannot be assessed against formal rules. There’s just no way around it.

    Fortunately, since there are no formal rules of right reason I need (or even can) adhere to, I can simply deny the validty (if any) of what you wrote above, and assert the opposite with equal authority.

  40. . . . sentences can simultaneously be grammatical and nonsensical . . .

    This highlights the fact that there is a level of information beyond pure grammar. Semantics and pragmatics go beyond pure syntax and morphology (and, to some extent, also beyond the more closely-related individualized word vocabulary).

    This does not mean that grammar (including vocabulary, which has often been regarded as part of grammar) cannot be used to make sense of what others say. It is of course an important part of regular communication and discourse.

  41. WJM,

    That grammar allows us to make sense out of a collective string of words used in a language doesn’t mean every string of grammatically correct words can be understood.

    So I guess you are conceding that I was correct and you were mistaken about universally accepted standard grammars for language? And that grammatical rules (or any other type of rule) does not allow us to assess whether or not sentences make sense? That’s great – I love progress!

    Fortunately, since there are no formal rules of right reason I need (or even can) adhere to, I can simply deny the validty (if any) of what you wrote above, and assert the opposite with equal authority.

    Haha! Ok, hope that works out for you! The rest of us can carry on without you, using our human powers of reason (that are not, fortunately, limited to mere formal logic) and discuss these interesting issues!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  42. Hi Eric,

    This highlights the fact that there is a level of information beyond pure grammar. Semantics and pragmatics go beyond pure syntax and morphology (and, to some extent, also beyond the more closely-related individualized word vocabulary).

    Yes indeed! (Actually, semantics and pragmatics extend fully beyond word sense disambiguation, if that is what you mean).

    This does not mean that grammar (including vocabulary, which has often been regarded as part of grammar)…

    Yes, it appears you are aware that there are many different linguistic theories, each with their different abstractions and hierarchies.

    …cannot be used to make sense of what others say. It is of course an important part of regular communication and discourse.

    That’s right. I’ll bet you also realize (as opposed to WJM here) that none of these systems has been successfully formalized, despite decades of concerted effort. And that is why computers can’t understand natural language at anything approaching human comprehension.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  43. RDFish

    I said there were compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causality, and you acknowledge that possibility. Now you ask if there are compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism, but I think you already know that libertarianism is construed by some as compatible with materialism by invoking physical indeterminism.

    My question was fairly precise, so I would appreciate an answer that addresses it. Are there any compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism?

    Some philosophers think natural moral law is objective, and some don’t.

    Which philosophers think that the natural moral law is not objective?

  44. Hi StephenB,

    Regarding your “fairly precise” question that you would like answered: I said there were compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causality. I also pointed out that there were materialist versions of libertarianism. If you would like to find a materialist philosopher who describes agenty-causality as libertarian, I’m sure you can search as well I can.

    Regarding philosophers who regard natural moral law as being subjective, you can start with Hobbes.

    Now here are my precise questions for you: Have you recanted your view that “reason’s rules” enable one to objectively assess if any given argument is reasonable? And have you recanted your view that natural moral law is as objective as natural physical law?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  45. RDFish:

    You did not answer the first question, so I will answer it for you. There are no compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism.

    Your second answer was incorrect. Hobbes believed that the natural moral law was “discovered” through the use of reason. That makes it objective.

    With respect to your questions, reason’s rules determine reasonableness. Any statement that violates those rules is unreasonable. A good example would be the Law of Causality. Anyone who denies it is unreasonable. Do you deny the Law of Causality as one of reason’s rules?

    With respect to the natural moral law, there are perverted notions of it, like Hobbes’ conception, but all of them are objective because they refer to “nature.” Anything universal law that a human discovers and does not invent is objective.

  46. That should read [any] universal law that a human discovers and does not invent is objective.

  47. Hi StephenB,

    Regarding Hobbes, I’d say you’re mistaken, as I believe he derived morality from natural self interest, a clearly subjective foundation. A quick search revealed some good explanations:

    http://definitionofphilosophy......obbes.html

    Will to Hobbes is just the last desire you have before you take action on it — hence free will is an absurdity. All motivation is selfish, and ultimately tied to survival. The basic negative emotion is fear, the basic positive emotion is desire for power. Good and bad are purely subjective matters. And so he goes beyond Descartes: Not only are animals just machines, so are we. B. F. Skinner was an admirer of Hobbes.

    http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/empvsrat.html

    And regarding there being no compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism, I think you’re probably wrong about that too (there is probably some philosopher who argues just about anything!). In any event I don’t see your point: If you are simply desperate to prove me wrong about something, you’ll need to contradict an actual claim that I myself made!

    Rather than argue about what other people think, let’s argue the subject ourselves! You (like WJM and some other people here apparently) seem very committed to the idea that we can enjoy great moral certainty by taking our objective morality and reasoning about it using our objective rules of reason. I disagree, but on the latter point, I think you are very confused:

    With respect to your questions, reason’s rules determine reasonableness.

    I’m afraid this is absurd. If you were correct, you could take the following propostion and determine if it was reasonable or not by applying “reason’s rules”.

    In order to find lasting happiness, people ought to spend more time taking recreational drugs, having casual sex, and listening to rock and roll music.

    Can you use “reason’s rules” to determine the reasonableness of this proposition? Of course you can’t! And so we see your hope that we can use objective rules to determine reasonableness is shown to be false.

    Any statement that violates those rules is unreasonable.

    Yes but the problem is this of course: Any statement that does not violate those rules may also be unreasonable!! In fact it is not particularly common in our everyday reasoning that we come across violations of these fundamental rules. Vastly more important is our world knowledge and our beliefs about how human beings and societies function, and whether or not our beliefs are reasonable unfortunately cannot be determined by testing against these objective rules. You’re just wrong about this.

    A good example would be the Law of Causality. Anyone who denies it is unreasonable. Do you deny the Law of Causality as one of reason’s rules?

    Hahaha I love how you asked that question! “Anyone who denies X is a complete moron! Do you deny X?”

    The “Law of Causality” is not a principle of logic, nor it is a demonstrable principle of empirical science; rather, it is the philosophical position that every change in nature is produced by some antecedent cause. I’ll take the position, arguendo, that yes, every change in nature is produced by some antecedent cause. Now I will ask you: In your metaphysical libertarian worldview, what is it that causes each of our thoughts? And if you answer that it is our libertarian will, which itself makes choices that are uncaused, how might that reconcile with the Law of Causality?

  48. Hey RDFish:

    “In order to find lasting happiness, people ought to spend more time taking recreational drugs, having casual sex, and listening to rock and roll music.”

    Can you use “reason’s rules” to determine the reasonableness of this proposition? Of course you can’t!

    Hehe. You really do like to argue, don’t you? Me too. But I try not to argue against points other people are not making. The point isn’t that you can use reason’s rules to determine the reasonableness of any proposition. The point is that if you throw away/ignore/reject/deny reason’s rules, you CANNOT determine the reasonableness of any proposition.

    If this is not obvious, then please go ahead and demonstrate to me the reasonable nature of your proposition from above. Argue the following to the best of your ability!

    “In order to find lasting happiness, people ought to spend more time taking recreational drugs, having casual sex, and listening to rock and roll music.”

    Note that, per WJM’s aphorisms, I’ll be playing the part of someone who denies the law of non-contradiction, reason’s rules, objective morality, and free will. But don’t let that dissuade you!

    Let the argument begin!

  49. RDF: Pardon me but if you had taken time to look instead of tagging and dismissing, you would have in fact seen a discussion of where we get the core principles of right reason from, in a context of grounding worldviews. I believe something like about three minutes would have sufficed, which I suspect is rather shorter than the time you took to write your dismissive post. FYI. KF

  50. Hi Phinehas,

    You really do like to argue, don’t you?

    Well yes I do, Phinehas, but not just for it’s own sake.

    Here is why I think the topic is serious: In my view, truth and goodness are often complex and messy affairs, and we each have to do our best to listen to opposing views and not be overly confident that our answers to difficult questions are right. In other words, the concepts of objective rules of reason and objective morality are dangerous, because it leads people to think that whatever answer they might come up with is obviously correct, and that makes whoever disagrees with them unreasonable and objectively wrong and thus unworthy of respect. We all think we are correct (I certainly do) when we argue, but when it comes to difficult issues like libertarian will, morality, origins, politics, God, and so on, that good and smart people have argued about for millenia, I choose to respect good arguments made on all sides.

    But I try not to argue against points other people are not making. The point isn’t that you can use reason’s rules to determine the reasonableness of any proposition. The point is that if you throw away/ignore/reject/deny reason’s rules, you CANNOT determine the reasonableness of any proposition.

    I understand your distinction, but you’re still wrong I’m afraid. I can determine that the example proposition (regarding sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll being the best path to lasting happiness) is unreasonable without any reference to the Law of Causality, Non-contradiction, etc. Honestly, how often do you hear anyone referencing these things when they argue? Even if the Law of Causality was false and certain things (such as the origin of the universe) occurred without antecendent cause, the proposition would still be unreasonable! The statement is unreasonable because, knowing what we know of human beings, it isn’t reasonable to think that our happiness can be best sustained by these things.

    If this is not obvious, then please go ahead and demonstrate to me the reasonable nature of your proposition from above. Argue the following to the best of your ability!

    Actually, I just argued the opposite! I determined that the proposition was unreasonable without referencing any such rules.

    Note that, per WJM’s aphorisms, I’ll be playing the part of someone who denies the law of non-contradiction, reason’s rules, objective morality, and free will. But don’t let that dissuade you!

    I’m confused: Are you going to argue that this proposition is in fact reasonable?

    Also, you believe that “free will” and “objective morality” are part of “reason’s rules”? Perhaps I need to see of these “reason’s rules” – exactly how many are there? In any event, yes that proposition is still clearly unreasonable even if there is no objective morality and no free will.

    (And in fact, as I tried to point to Stephen, The Law of Causality is arguably in conflict with libertarianism, as the latter is also refered to as contra-causal free will).

    I hope you don’t just try to say that without these rules we can all be as absurd as we want to and then we can’t communicate, because that would be an obvious and boring point. As when WJM tried that upthread, it’s just a way to worm out of arguments with people who try to make you think about things. If someone actually does say something weird like “Obama is the PotUS and Obama is not the PoTUS”, then you can definitely bring up the LNC to good effect. But to point out that all of our reasoning depends on it is for the most part simply moot, because we determine reasonableness based on so many other factors that can not be evaluated according to objective rules.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  51. RDF:

    we each have to do our best to listen to opposing views and not be overly confident that our answers to difficult questions are right.

    In light of your dismissive remarks and refusal to take a few moments to look at what condenses literally years of serious investigation and analysis, that sounds just a tad unconsciously ironic.

    Perhaps, it will help you to learn what is highlighted as warranted credible truth no 1: Error exists, cf. Josiah Royce and Elton Trueblood.

    Turns out to be undeniably true and warranted as so on pain of self-referential absurdity on attempted denial. It means, truth as that which accurately describes reality is a non-empty category. It further means that knwledge as warranted, credibly true belief is also a non-empty category, and in this case warranted to undeniable certainty.

    Systems that deny the possibility of certain or highly confident and well warranted knowledge of truth, are thereby falsified. At he same time the pivotal truth is a humbling one, as it means that we may be wrong.

    This underscores the significance of the first principles of right reason, as means of testing ourselves for error.

    Which shows the hollowness of your projected — and by the way, self referentially incoherent — suspicion:

    the concepts of objective rules of reason and objective morality are dangerous, because it leads people to think that whatever answer they might come up with is obviously correct, and that makes whoever disagrees with them unreasonable and objectively wrong and thus unworthy of respect.

    On objective reason, adequate warrant has been given to show the error. The self referentiality is evident from a question: are you SURE of that, and are you sure you are obviously correct and see those who differ on this matter as obviously unreasonable and incorrect?

    As to objectivity of morality, you are again self-referential appealing to a binding, universal sense of duty to fairness in a context that on the surface would deny such.

    As well, we can ask: do you regard it as not objectively plain that to kidnap and chain up three women for a decade, using them as sexual slaves and battering them is wrong?

    If not, kindly explain your view on the sad recent events.

    KF

  52. RDFish

    Regarding Hobbes, I’d say you’re mistaken, as I believe he derived morality from natural self interest, a clearly subjective foundation. A quick search revealed some good explanations:

    You can certainly make a case that Hobbes’ version is subjective insofar as it is not really derived from nature, that is, you could say that it is objective only in the sense that each person doesn’t make it up for himself individually, which means that, ultimately, it is subjective in the most fundamental sense—it doesn’t really come from nature. In that context, I would agree with you.

    However, we cannot have it both ways. If Hobbes’ morality is person centered, and I agree that it is, then it bears little resemblance to the classical notion THE objective natural law, which is related to man’s ultimate purpose and what is good for him. The person cannot decide the purpose for which he was made or what is good for his nature. If man has no purpose, and there is no such thing as the “good,” as Hobbes believed, then any conception of a moral law must logically be subjective, arbitrary, and artificial–and at variance with the natural moral law.

    The objective natural moral law arbitrates between conflicting subjective notions of arbitrary law. If natural law is thought to be subjective, that is, if each group can write its own social contract, then there is no objective source to arbitrate between the conflicts when they occur, which leads to the tyranny of might makes right.

    And regarding there being no compatibilist, materialist versions of agent-causal libertarianism, I think you’re probably wrong about that too (there is probably some philosopher who argues just about anything!). In any event I don’t see your point: If you are simply desperate to prove me wrong about something, you’ll need to contradict an actual claim that I myself made!

    Agent Causal Libertarianism is the name given to the view that free will is not compatible with materialism or compatibilism. That is why it was given that name–to distinguish it from other forms of agent causalism that some believe can be reconciled with those other views. You will not find anyone who calls himself an agent causal libertarian by name that is sympathetic to compatibilism or materialism. The term itself was designed to rule out compatibilism and determinism, and no one would describe themselves as an ACL if they didn’t agree with that proposition.

    In order to find lasting happiness, people ought to spend more time taking recreational drugs, having casual sex, and listening to rock and roll music.

    Can you use “reason’s rules” to determine the reasonableness of this proposition? Of course you can’t! And so we see your hope that we can use objective rules to determine reasonableness is shown to be false.

    Reason’s rules do not cover all claims or statements. Primarily, they cover the arguments that support those claims. Provide the argument for the above proposition, and I will evaluate it using reason’s rules.

    Any statement that does not violate those rules [reason’s] may also be unreasonable!!

    How would you know if it was unreasonable?

    SB: “A good example would be the Law of Causality. Anyone who denies it is unreasonable. Do you deny the Law of Causality as one of reason’s rules?”

    Hahaha I love how you asked that question! “Anyone who denies X is a complete moron! Do you deny X?”

    I thought that you might have fun with that formulation.

    The “Law of Causality” is not a principle of logic, nor it is a demonstrable principle of empirical science; rather, it is the philosophical position that every change in nature is produced by some antecedent cause.

    The Law of Causality is a rule of reason. It refers to the self-evident truth that nothing can begin to exist without a cause. I would assume that you agree. Self-evident principles cannot be demonstrated. We do not reason our way TO them; we reason our way FROM them. They are the basic starting point, which is why they cannot be demonstrated. To demonstrate a point, you must appeal to something more fundamental than the thing being demonstrated.

    Now I will ask you: In your metaphysical libertarian worldview, what is it that causes each of our thoughts? And if you answer that it is our libertarian will, which itself makes choices that are uncaused, how might that reconcile with the Law of Causality?

    I tip my hat to you. That is a very good question. Some of my thoughts come from me and some can come from outside sources. I (the self) make choices (cause them) through the power of my faculties of intellect and will. Naturally, those powers did not come into existence without a cause. God caused them to come into existence when He created them. God was not caused (and did not come into existence) having always existed. Thus, the Law of Causality remains intact.

  53. Hi KF,

    In light of your dismissive remarks and refusal to take a few moments to look at what condenses literally years of serious investigation and analysis, that sounds just a tad unconsciously ironic.

    What are you talking about? If you’re talking about issues like free will and morality, I dare say there have been more than “literally years of serious investigation and analysis” on these matters… there have been millenia’s worth! And who is being dismissive here? On the contrary, my position is that we ought not to pretend we have objective rules with which we can summarily dismiss opinions we disagree with!

    Perhaps, it will help you to learn what is highlighted as warranted credible truth no 1: Error exists, cf. Josiah Royce and Elton Trueblood.

    I’m not familiar with these people, sorry.

    Turns out to be undeniably true and warranted as so on pain of self-referential absurdity on attempted denial. It means, truth as that which accurately describes reality is a non-empty category. It further means that knwledge as warranted, credibly true belief is also a non-empty category, and in this case warranted to undeniable certainty.

    I’m having a little trouble with your sentences here, but what I think you are saying is that knowledge is possible. If so, we agree.

    Systems that deny the possibility of certain or highly confident and well warranted knowledge of truth, are thereby falsified. At he same time the pivotal truth is a humbling one, as it means that we may be wrong.

    Yes, it appears we are in complete agreement here.

    What I was emphasizing is that certain questions have been debated for millenia by smart people without even approaching consensus, and so we shouldn’t think our answers to those questions are certain. Sometimes it’s best to say “I do not know”, which is a perfectly good and very valuable opinion to hold. I hold that opinion, for example, on questions of metaphysical ontology.

    This underscores the significance of the first principles of right reason, as means of testing ourselves for error.

    Again, what I’ve been trying to explain is that these “principles of right reason” can only test our propositions for certain relatively obvious errors, but the hard part – figuring out if we are actually correct or not! – can’t be accomplished merely by testing with these rules.

    Which shows the hollowness of your projected — and by the way, self referentially incoherent — suspicion:

    Huh?

    On objective reason, adequate warrant has been given to show the error.

    Sorry, what? I’m trying to figure out what you are saying here but I don’t get it. I think we agreed that it is possible to justify our beliefs such that we consider them to be knowledge, although there is always the chance we are wrong. You seem to think we can test our knowledge by using these rules, but I quite disagree on that. Where exactly have you shown me to be “hollow” (wrong?)?

    The self referentiality is evident from a question: are you SURE of that, and are you sure you are obviously correct and see those who differ on this matter as obviously unreasonable and incorrect?

    Now it seems you’re doing that thing, like WJM, where you say if nothing is objectively certain, you can just go and say anything and it doesn’t matter. Sorry, but I think that’s kind of a childish argument. You said yourself our knowledge may be “highly confident” without being objectively certain, right? That doesn’t mean that nobody can have justified beliefs in things!

    As to objectivity of morality, you are again self-referential appealing to a binding, universal sense of duty to fairness in a context that on the surface would deny such.

    StephenB here suggested that moral laws are objective in the same way physical laws are. I think that is evidently false, and that moral laws are nowhere near as objective as physical laws are. Do you agree?

    As well, we can ask: do you regard it as not objectively plain that to kidnap and chain up three women for a decade, using them as sexual slaves and battering them is wrong?

    It really could not be more plain that these acts were wrong, and I have never actually met any human being who would disagree! Have you? It goes against every aspect of our moral nature to even contemplate such a thing, in my opinion.

    If not, kindly explain your view on the sad recent events.

    Good grief, it’s just horrible.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  54. Even if the Law of Causality was false and certain things (such as the origin of the universe) occurred without antecendent cause, the proposition would still be unreasonable! The statement is unreasonable because, knowing what we know of human beings, it isn’t reasonable to think that our happiness can be best sustained by these things.

    OK, feel free to argue whichever side you like, just don’t assume the law of non contradiction in doing so.

    Now, setting aside the law of non contradiction, I find your argument absurd. Arguing that the statement is unreasonable does nothing to demonstrate that the statement isn’t perfectly reasonable. Arguing that our happiness cannot be best sustained by these things doesn’t deny that our happiness can, in fact, be best sustained by these things. Clearly, even if what you’ve said is true, the original statement may be perfectly reasonable and happiness can be best sustained by using drugs, sex, and rock and roll.

    I’m confused: Are you going to argue that this proposition is in fact reasonable?

    I’m going to argue that it is absurd to argue otherwise if we throw out the law of non contradiction.

    Also, you believe that “free will” and “objective morality” are part of “reason’s rules”?

    Clearly not. But I believe they were part of WMJ’s aphorisms which is why I said, “per WJM’s aphorisms,” right there in the part you quoted.

    I hope you don’t just try to say that without these rules we can all be as absurd as we want to and then we can’t communicate…

    Huh? WJM basically said that, without the law of non contradiction, arguing becomes absurd, and now when I try to demonstrate the truth of this by abandoning the law of non contradiction, I must do so without devolving into absurdity? Well, you’ve certainly got an interesting way of ensuring you don’t lose any arguments. :)

    But to point out that all of our reasoning depends on it is for the most part simply moot, because we determine reasonableness based on so many other factors that can not be evaluated according to objective rules.

    No, it is not moot. Just because you can build an infinite number of things on an island doesn’t mean that yanking the island out from beneath the structure won’t cause it to collapse. If you take away the law of non contradiction, arguments become absurd.

    …because that would be an obvious and boring point.

    I don’t know about boring, but since you were the one who set up being obvious as the standard for evaluating the original WJM quote, it hardly seems fair that you would now require its absence.

  55. Hi StephenB,

    If Hobbes’ morality is person centered, and I agree that it is, then it bears little resemblance to the classical notion THE objective natural law, which is related to man’s ultimate purpose and what is good for him. The person cannot decide the purpose for which he was made or what is good for his nature. If man has no purpose, and there is no such thing as the “good,” as Hobbes believed, then any conception of a moral law must logically be subjective, arbitrary, and artificial–and at variance with the natural moral law.

    Yes I agree with you. Hobbes is quite extreme, really, in how he derives moral law from self-interest – (he’s a precursor to Ayn Rand, whose philosophy I despise). But many others feel – as I do – that moral law can’t be verified the way physical law can. The way I put this is that moral law is not objectively true or false, but rather it is intersubjectively true or false. Intersubjectivity doesn’t just mean that everybody makes up their own view; it refers to shared meaning and reasoning among all people that derive from our shared nature. What we call common sense is also intersubjective knowledge that all people share, and accounts for the vast majority of our reasoning.

    The objective natural moral law arbitrates between conflicting subjective notions of arbitrary law. If natural law is thought to be subjective, that is, if each group can write its own social contract, then there is no objective source to arbitrate between the conflicts when they occur, which leads to the tyranny of might makes right.

    Yeah, this happens sometimes. I will go out on a limb here and guess the way you feel morality is made objective is by grounding it one way or another in divine commandments, and I’m also guessing you know the problems there, and that you have responses to those issues, and so on… I’ll just say I’m not convinced that anybody has figured out a way to say their own particular interpretation of their own particular conception of God’s conception of morality is objectively true.

    Agent Causal Libertarianism is the name given to the view that free will is not compatible with materialism or compatibilism. That is why it was given that name–to distinguish it from other forms of agent causalism that some believe can be reconciled with those other views. You will not find anyone who calls himself an agent causal libertarian by name that is sympathetic to compatibilism or materialism. The term itself was designed to rule out compatibilism and determinism, and no one would describe themselves as an ACL if they didn’t agree with that proposition.

    Ok, I’ll take your word for that.

    In any event, I don’t think materialism is well defined, so obviously I’m not a materialist. I don’t think we understand causality very well, since physics indicates that locality and realism (or at the very least their conjunction) are false. And I don’t understand how truly contra-causal volition can differ from mere indeterminism, which nobody wants.

    Reason’s rules do not cover all claims or statements.

    Yes, thank you! My point is that they do not cover any of them except trivial propositions.

    Primarily, they cover the arguments that support those claims. Provide the argument for the above proposition, and I will evaluate it using reason’s rules.

    Come on, that’s not possible! Fine, here’s my “argument” for the above proposition: “Dude! Sex is awesome, and it’s even better when you’re high on drugs and listening to heavy metal! Talk about happiness!”

    Ok, how might you show this is an unreasonable position by using reason’s rules?!

    How would you know if it was unreasonable?

    Well, maybe you don’t have much experience with people who turn to sex and drugs for long term happiness, but once you understand human beings and what makes them happy in the long term, you would know it is not reasonable to think that long-term happiness results from these sorts of activities.

    The Law of Causality is a rule of reason. It refers to the self-evident truth that nothing can begin to exist without a cause. I would assume that you agree.

    Sorry, no, I don’t think it is self-evident. Logical truths are self-evident, but this is not a logical truth.

    Self-evident principles cannot be demonstrated.

    Yes, the Law of Causality cannot be demonstrated, but neither is it self-evident, like logical truths are. We believe in causality on the basis of induction, not logical necessity. And in situations where our intuitions and experience do not apply – such as the beginning of the universe or quantum phenomena – we really don’t know if causality works the way it works within the realm of our experience.

    Some of my thoughts come from me and some can come from outside sources. I (the self) make choices (cause them) through the power of my faculties of intellect and will. Naturally, those powers did not come into existence without a cause. God caused them to come into existence when He created them. God was not caused (and did not come into existence) having always existed. Thus, the Law of Causality remains intact.

    I don’t think that’s a very good analysis. You are sitting in Benjamin Libet’s laboratory, ready to exercise your libertarian free will in his experiment. You decide to press the button at… THIS particular moment, for no reason except that YOU CHOSE that moment. Your contra-causal will acted without any antecedent cause at all, because that is what you mean by “libertarian”. This contradicts your own commitment to the Law of Causality.

    Your defense is to say that God caused us and our will to exist in the first place. But you’re just changing the subject! I’m not asking about how we came to exist, I’m asking about how our contra-causal will (however we ended up with it) can be reconciled with the Law of Causality.

    Are you perhaps saying that it is actually God who is making that decision for you? This would solve the problem (and I do believe some denominations do opt for this solution, right)? If that is what you believe, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that humans lack free will entirely, but God (and only God) has truly libertarian will?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  56. RDF, you were given a link that lays out a summary on the first principles of right reason, in a worldview foundation context. Twice over you found excuses to run off on tangents and dismissals (in so doing wasting far more time than it would have taken you to simply read what you derided as a screed). That tells me all I need to know. Sadly, not to your credit. KF

    PS: If you were serious enough to simply Google, you would learn something worth learning about both Royce and Trueblood, who I cited by way of acknowledging intellectual debts. In this case, huge ones.

  57. Hi KF,

    RDF, you were given a link that lays out a summary on the first principles of right reason, in a worldview foundation context. Twice over you found excuses to run off on tangents and dismissals (in so doing wasting far more time than it would have taken you to simply read what you derided as a screed). That tells me all I need to know. Sadly, not to your credit. PS: If you were serious enough to simply Google, you would learn something worth learning about both Royce and Trueblood, who I cited by way of acknowledging intellectual debts. In this case, huge ones.

    Well, it doesn’t seem to me that you and I are well matched in our… rhetorical styles. You have engaged precisely none of the points I made to you, and instead you demand that I read your blog and your chosen authors, and then you get huffy when I decline. I mean no offense, and if you’d actually care to engage me on some issues, then by all means let’s talk. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy your blogging – it seems everybody’s doing it, right? :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  58. Hi Phinehas,

    OK, feel free to argue whichever side you like, just don’t assume the law of non contradiction in doing so.

    Again, and I’m not sure I can make this any clearer than I already have, we all assume the law of non-contradiction when we make arguments. So what? That doesn’t mean logic can tell us which of our statements are reasonable!

    I’m going to argue that it is absurd to argue otherwise if we throw out the law of non contradiction.

    And again, this is really boring. Next we can try solipsism and ask what’s the use of talking, since there’s nobody there to listen. And then we can take another toke and wonder if the whole universe is like an atom in the button on somebody’s shirt… ;-)

    Read what I said, Phinehas. Nobody is talking about “throwing out” the LNC.

    RDF: Also, you believe that “free will” and “objective morality” are part of “reason’s rules”?
    PHINEHAS: Clearly not. But I believe they were part of WMJ’s aphorisms which is why I said, “per WJM’s aphorisms,” right there in the part you quoted.

    Oh, sorry. I got it.

    Huh? WJM basically said that, without the law of non contradiction, arguing becomes absurd, and now when I try to demonstrate the truth of this by abandoning the law of non contradiction, I must do so without devolving into absurdity? Well, you’ve certainly got an interesting way of ensuring you don’t lose any arguments.

    We’re talking past each other badly. I’ll try really hard this time:

    WJM and StephenB argue that one can look at any particular proposition and decide if whether or not it is reasonable by appying a set of objective rules.

    I pointed out this is ridiculous, and gave examples of unreasonable propositions that did not violate any of these rules. This demonstrates that objective rules are not adequate for testing natural language propositions for reasonableness.

    These rules can merely detect errors in logic, but logic does not even begin to capture the complexity of these issues we discuss.

    No, it is not moot. Just because you can build an infinite number of things on an island doesn’t mean that yanking the island out from beneath the structure won’t cause it to collapse. If you take away the law of non contradiction, arguments become absurd.

    Yes, of course, nobody is arguing otherwise! But read how StephenB and WJM have phrased their statements! They are not saying these rules are necessary for testing assertions – they are saying these rules are sufficient for doing so! But not only are they not sufficient, they aren’t even remotely close. Logic doesn’t begin to capture the meaning of our sentences, and so we cannot possibly test the reasonableness of what we say by applying these rules.

    And one more time: If we could actually test the reasonableness of propositions in natural language by applying objective rules, then we could program computers to do this. We cannot program computers to test the reasonableness of natural language propositions (at least at nothing approaching human competence). Therefore we cannot test propositions for reasonableness by application of objective rules. QED.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  59. Hi RD,

    Come on, that’s not possible! Fine, here’s my “argument” for the above proposition: “Dude! Sex is awesome, and it’s even better when you’re high on drugs and listening to heavy metal! Talk about happiness!”

    That isn’t really an argument. At best it could be described a report from one person who may or may not be typical and may or may not know the difference between temporary pleasure and lasting happiness.

    A rational argument could take several forms:
    It might define human nature (as opposed to animal nature), define happiness (perhaps in terms of overall well being), define the purpose of sex (perhaps to procreate or to create intimacy between husband and wife or orient the society around the family), relate it to the human condition (perhaps indicating why are we here), and show why using sex in the proper context would lead to happiness while abusing it would lead to unhappiness. (The argument would be that happiness is behaving according to our human nature)

    Or, it might begin by assuming the opposite; that there is no such thing as human nature, that happiness can be defined solely as pleasure, that sex has no purpose other than pleasure, and that there is no way to abuse it, at which time, your above statement could be inserted as the conclusion. (The argument would be that happiness is behaving according to our animal nature).

    Or, it might be an empirical argument: Five hundred heavy-metal oriented, pot smoking (the drug would have to be specified) sex-crazed (how often and under what conditions) people were interviewed at the age of twenty and again at the age of fifty. At twenty, they described themselves as [a] very happy, [b] moderately happy, [c] moderately unhappy, or [d] miserable. At fifty, they again submitted to the same interview. The final results were as follows……..

    All those arguments and each of their parts could be evaluated for reasonableness. All the assumptions could be evaluated as well.

    SB: “In the absence of reason’s rules, how would you know if something was unreasonable?”

    Well, maybe you don’t have much experience with people who turn to sex and drugs for long term happiness, but once you understand human beings and what makes them happy in the long term, you would know it is not reasonable to think that long-term happiness results from these sorts of activities.

    Bravo. That’s exactly right. So, which of reason’s rules play into that very reasonable conclusion that you just arrived at? I will give you just three (there are more)

    [a] The Law of Causality—Behavior has consequences. Sew and Act, reap a habit; sew a habit, reap a character; sew a character, reap a destiny.

    [b] The Law of inductive logic– we can draw inferences about the general population given a large enough sample size.

    [c] Law of Identity—a thing cannot be what it is and also be what it is not (A human cannot act like an animal and be happy)

    If your conclusion challenged either [a], [b], or [c], it would be unreasonable.

    SB: “The Law of Causality is a rule of reason. It refers to the self-evident truth that nothing can begin to exist without a cause. I would assume that you agree.”

    Sorry, no, I don’t think it is self-evident. Logical truths are self-evident, but this is not a logical truth.

    I would say that both the principle of sufficient reason and The Law of Causality are both self evident. Keep in mind that the Law of Causality is the reciprocal of the Law of Identity (ontological) and the Law of Non-Contradiction (logical and psychological).

    We believe in causality on the basis of induction, not logical necessity.

    This is a common misconception for which we can thank David Hume. I once asked a Humean if it was possible for a cement brick wall to appear suddenly in front of his moving automobile if nothing or no one put it there.. He said that we have never experienced any such event, but he refused to admit that it is impossible in principle. In other words, he allowed for the possibility that he might be driving down the highway one day at sixty miles an hour and a brick wall will suddenly appear from out of nowhere and for no reason. I say that this is irrational. We need no experience to know that such an event simply cannot happen.

    And in situations where our intuitions and experience do not apply – such as the beginning of the universe or quantum phenomena – we really don’t know if causality works the way it works within the realm of our experience.

    To deny Law of Causality is also to deny the Law of Non-Contradiction; each is inextricably tied to the other. If a thing can come to exist without a cause, then it caused itself to come into existence, which is ridiculous. In order to be its own cause, it would have had to exist before it existed, violating the Laws of Identity and Non-Contradiction.

    Your defense is to say that God caused us and our will to exist in the first place. But you’re just changing the subject! I’m not asking about how we came to exist, I’m asking about how our contra-causal will (however we ended up with it) can be reconciled with the Law of Causality.

    I am not clear on what you mean by a contra-causal will or why it should be a problem for the Law of Causality. Clearly, man can contradict God’s will with his own will and it happens every day. God causes the man’s faculty of free will to exist and man uses this faculty to choose either good or evil. I am not getting the objection.

    Are you perhaps saying that it is actually God who is making that decision for you?

    Oh, no. That would be the end of free will.

  60. RDF: You are willfully ignoring an answer that engages, from ground up the underlying issues of the first principles of right reason [specifically, the identity cluster that pivots on dichotomy that identifies {A | NOT_A} as a function of not only thought but also reality of things, and a form of the principle of sufficient reason that if something is it may be inquired as to why it is so, with causality as a corollary (and the possibility and actuality of necessity of being discussed); which, ostensibly, is what you are speaking of. And the context is not a bit of “rhetoric” it is a plain vanilla, straight up the middle didactic exposition on a pivotal worldview foundations issue. That in response, you are more concerned on rhetorical style than substance is already telling us a lot. And, again, you have wasted far more time in evasions than it would have taken to simply read and then ponder long enough to understand why the summary is sound. In short, on the track record of the past few days, you are continuing to find excuses to avoid engaging serious issues seriously. KF

  61. Hi StephenB,

    That isn’t really an argument. At best it could be described a report from one person who may or may not be typical and may or may not know the difference between temporary pleasure and lasting happiness.

    It’s an argument all right, it’s just a bad argument trying to justify an unreasonable assertion. You and I both know that, but we didn’t know it because of the application of some set of rules.

    A rational argument could take several forms:
    It might define human nature (as opposed to animal nature)…
    Or, it might begin by assuming the opposite…
    Or, it might be an empirical argument…
    All those arguments and each of their parts could be evaluated for reasonableness. All the assumptions could be evaluated as well.

    First you say that you can test any given argument by applying the objective Rules of Reason
    Then you say that the argument can’t be just a report from some ignoramus – it must really be a rational argument
    Then you go on to explain what sorts of arguments would qualify as being rational
    So once I produce an argument that you have deemed rational, you can apply your objective Rules of Reason and… tell me if my argument is rational??? I trust you see the problem with your reasoning here.

    So, which of reason’s rules play into that very reasonable conclusion that you just arrived at? I will give you just three (there are more)

    [a] The Law of Causality

    Huh? This is a rather general rule. According to this rule, your behavior will cause something to happen (and also something caused your behavior). How does that tell you that sex and drugs will have bad consequences? This law doesn’t tell you.

    [b] The Law of inductive logic

    This is a rule of reason? Ok… is there a list somewhere I could look at? In any event, it is not this rule that tells you what is true of the general population! As I’ve said before, it is our knowledge of the world that enables us to assess propositions like this, not a bunch of rules. Now you seem to be equating the entire Scientific Method, including statistical analysis, experimental design, replication and peer review within your so-called “Rules of Reason”! And even if you did that (which is, you must admit, stretching this “Rules of Reason” bit, no?) you’d be faced with the fact that some things cannot actually be decided even by employing the scientific method – notably moral questions.

    [c] Law of Identity—a thing cannot be what it is and also be what it is not (A human cannot act like an animal and be happy)

    Sorry, but this is just wacky. It is simply your own subjective interpretation that doing sex & drugs constitutes “acting like an animal”. Someone like Charlie Sheen would disagree with that and say it actually constitutes “Winning”. Your rule is useless for determining who is right.

    I would say that both the principle of sufficient reason and The Law of Causality are both self evident. Keep in mind that the Law of Causality is the reciprocal of the Law of Identity (ontological) and the Law of Non-Contradiction (logical and psychological).

    Sorry, but I don’t understand how the Law of Causility is the “reciprocal” of Law of Identity and the LNC. But I can easily imagine a causeless effect, which means the Law of Causality really isn’t self-evidently true. I’m sure you’re aware that physicists consider certain quantum events to be without antecedent cause; whether or not that is true is an empirical question, not a question of logical necessity.

    This is a common misconception for which we can thank David Hume. I once asked a Humean if it was possible for a cement brick wall to appear suddenly in front of his moving automobile if nothing or no one put it there.. He said that we have never experienced any such event, but he refused to admit that it is impossible in principle. In other words, he allowed for the possibility that he might be driving down the highway one day at sixty miles an hour and a brick wall will suddenly appear from out of nowhere and for no reason. I say that this is irrational. We need no experience to know that such an event simply cannot happen.

    Really? Even if God decided He wanted a brick wall to appear from out of nowhere? Or perhaps there are exceptions to this rule-based rationality of yours? Is it irrational to believe that an electron and a positron appear from out of nowhere for no reason?

    To deny Law of Causality is also to deny the Law of Non-Contradiction; each is inextricably tied to the other. If a thing can come to exist without a cause, then it caused itself to come into existence, which is ridiculous.

    The way you put it, yes it’s ridiculous, because first you say it comes to exist without a cause, and then you immediately contradict yourself and say it does have a cause, which is itself. That isn’t what “causeless” means. “Causeless” just means for no reason at all. There is no logical contradiction in something happening without a cause.

    In order to be its own cause, it would have had to exist before it existed, violating the Laws of Identity and Non-Contradiction.

    But a causeless event is not its own cause.

    I am not clear on what you mean by a contra-causal will or why it should be a problem for the Law of Causality.

    Contra-causal will is often used synonymously for libertarian free will. If one’s will is free in the libertarian sense, it does not result (fully) from any antecedent cause(s). That is what contra-causal refers to. And it is in direct contradiction with the Law of Causality:
    1) Either my behavior is caused, or it is causeless.
    2) If it is caused, then I have no free will.
    3) If it is causeless, then the Law of Causality is false.

    RDFL: Are you perhaps saying that it is actually God who is making that decision for you?
    SB: Oh, no. That would be the end of free will.

    Don’t Calvinists believe this? I’m not sure.

    Anyway, it seems to me that both Libertarianism and the Law of Causality cannot both be true. More importantly, in my view, is for you to at least concede that these questions are not so obvious!. These ancient metaphysical and epistemological conundrums can’t be solved by a few slogans, or by application of a set of objective rules. They are complicated and difficult, and people shouldn’t pretend that they have all these difficult questions all figured out.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  62. Hi KF,

    You are willfully ignoring an answer that engages, from ground up the underlying issues of the first principles of right reason

    No, I just don’t want to read your blog.

    [specifically, the identity cluster that pivots on dichotomy that identifies {A | NOT_A} as a function of not only thought but also reality of things, and a form of the principle of sufficient reason that if something is it may be inquired as to why it is so, with causality as a corollary (and the possibility and actuality of necessity of being discussed); which, ostensibly, is what you are speaking of.

    Well, yeah, I think we’re all aware of the LNC, principle of sufficient reason, and causality. So?

    And the context is not a bit of “rhetoric” it is a plain vanilla, straight up the middle didactic exposition on a pivotal worldview foundations issue.

    It seems maybe you are trying to say that this blog of yours is really brilliant and answers all these important philosophical problems. I wonder if anybody else has a blog on the internet that claims to solved these problems too? I think maybe so. Not saying yours isn’t the one – maybe you’re the guy who has finally figured it all out. If so, that’s way cool!

    In short, on the track record of the past few days, you are continuing to find excuses to avoid engaging serious issues seriously.

    If you engaged my arguments instead of trying to sell your blog (you get paid for clicks or something? :-)) then you’d see I’m pretty serious about these issues. How about for starters trying to help StephenB reconcile the Law of Causility with Libertarian Free Will?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  63. F/N: RDF, with all due respect, “I just don’t want to read . . . ” is substantially the same as, willful refusal. The “no” above is therefore yet another sadly empty and tellingly revealing rhetorical exercise. Please, do better. In any case, for the serious onlooker, I have added an in-page anchor here, that will take you directly to a discussion of the first principles of right reason in the context of warranted, clear truths and the construction of a well-founded worldview. KF

  64. F/N 2: Onlookers, it seems that RDF needs to learn that a self-moved initiating cause, a living soul/mind, has been seriously on the table since Plato in The Laws Bk X, cf here. (BTW, notice his implicit use of one of the 1st principles he would dismiss, LNC.) In particular, the experienced reality of being self-moved as a basis for being able to choose, decide, reason and act responsibly, all of which are patently real, points beyond a world of matter in motion under blind mechanical forces of chance and necessity. KF

  65. F/N3: the personal accusation of pecuniary interest as snidely suggested motive, made in a context where it is obvious that there are no paid ads etc, and in a further context where there is an obvious educational motive of linking an exposition that makes the matter plain, shows a fundamental lack of discussion in good faith on RDF’s part. Welcome to Alinsky’s world of poisonous rhetorical tactics substituted for sober reasoning in good faith. KF

  66. Hi KF,

    RDF, with all due respect, “I just don’t want to read . . . ” is substantially the same as, willful refusal.

    Hahahaha… nice editing! I said I just don’t want to read your blog. I read all the time, but not so much on anonymous blogs that claim to have solved the age-old problems of philosophy once and for all (or those that promise free energy, cure cancer with chile peppers, or prove that the moon landing was a hoax).

    If you were really the genius you apparently believe yourself to be, you could simply respond to my challenge: How can libertarian free will and the Law of Causality both be true?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  67. Hi RDFish

    It’s an argument all right, it’s just a bad argument trying to justify an unreasonable assertion. You and I both know that, but we didn’t know it because of the application of some set of rules.

    Let’s grant arguendo that it was, as you say, a bad argument. I knew that it didn’t work because it violated several of reason’s rules. How did you know that it was a bad argument? How would you refute someone who said that it was, indeed, a good argument?

    Huh? This is a rather general rule. [Causality} According to this rule, your behavior will cause something to happen (and also something caused your behavior). How does that tell you that sex and drugs will have bad consequences?

    At this point, I don’t think I will defend the individual application of reason’s rules until we can agree that reason’s rules exist..

    This is a rule of reason? Ok… is there a list somewhere I could look at?

    We have covered most of them, except for the rule that a whole can never be less than any one of its constituent parts. Would you agree that the rule is self evidently true?

    Now you seem to be equating the entire Scientific Method, including statistical analysis, experimental design, replication and peer review within your so-called “Rules of Reason”!

    Well, of course. Science depends on the Law of Causality. Otherwise there would be no way to know if evidence is being rationally interpreted.

    Sorry, but I don’t understand how the Law of Causility is the “reciprocal” of Law of Identity and the LNC.

    Okay, then we will let it go.

    But I can easily imagine a causeless effect, which means the Law of Causality really isn’t self-evidently true.

    If you are ready to acknowledge the possibility of a causeless effect, then you are outside the bounds of rationality.

    I’m sure you’re aware that physicists consider certain quantum events to be without antecedent cause; whether or not that is true is an empirical question, not a question of logical necessity.

    I am well aware of the irrational physicists who make that claim. Many of them also think that universes can come into existence don’t need causes.

    Even if God decided He wanted a brick wall to appear from out of nowhere?

    I am trying to be polite, but that is one of the silliest statements I have ever read. An event that God causes is not a causeless event. Since you are resisting me on this point, and since you have already said that you can imagine effects occurring without causes, I am going to assume that you think a cement wall can appear from out of nowhere in front of a moving automobile.

    Contra-causal will is often used synonymously for libertarian free will. If one’s will is free in the libertarian sense, it does not result (fully) from any antecedent cause(s).

    If God caused the will to exist, then the will, which is, itself, an agent of cause, also had a cause. Where is the difficulty? How does that violate the Law of Causality (which you do not accept at any rate)?

    1) Either my behavior is caused, or it is causeless.
    2) If it is caused, then I have no free will.
    3) If it is causeless, then the Law of Causality is false.

    2) is false. You are, through the use of your free will, the cause of your behavior.

  68. F/N: Onlookers who need it, here (in the WACs) is a discussion of why the misreading of quantum physics that tries to make it out that cause is irrelevant, is just that: a misreading. KF

  69. F/N: Those who need a basic model for an embodied, self-moved initiating cause as a frame for understanding the freely willed self, may wish to look here. KF

  70. RDF: Stop willfully poisoning and speaking in disregard of duties of care to truth and fairness. You have been given a link to a summary that gives more details on first principles of right reason than is convenient for a blog comment [which would also not include diagrams]; a 101 that is rooted in the teachings of several major — incl. Aristotle, Locke, Schopenhauer and others, and some significant philosophers and like thinkers [incl. Royce, Boole, Morris, Nash, Lewis, Craig, Moreland, Adler, Plantinga and Trueblood et al], and which BTW has been found useful by more than one philosopher who has taken time to read it. It even includes a telling little admission against interest by Wikipedia, on why the LOI, LNC and LEM are a closely linked cluster. But the point is not either a question of appeal to authority or well-poisoning dismissal as not by authority worth noticing but a 101 summary of a major tradition of thought that stands/falls on its own merits. It would probably take 3 minutes to read. However, instead of doing a simple basic thing, read and respond in an informed and serious way [and BTW, the arguments you have made above suggest to me that you would profit by reading . . . ], you have spent far more time than that making up all sorts of rhetoric accusing, twisting, and poisoning. That is plain evidence of acting in bad faith, closed mindedness and willful obtuseness. i and others looking on take due notice, on the principle that the higher monkey climbs the more he exposes himself to a bow-shot for lunch. End of story. KF

  71. Hi StephenB,

    Let’s grant arguendo that it was, as you say, a bad argument. I knew that it didn’t work because it violated several of reason’s rules. How did you know that it was a bad argument? How would you refute someone who said that it was, indeed, a good argument?

    I think we’ve been down this path before, but let’s try it again. I would refute someone who said it was a good argument by pointing out that people who behave like this generally become more depressed with time. You say that you would use these “rules” to refute the argument, but in fact you use all sorts of world knowledge – just like I do – to show that the argument isn’t reasonable.

    RDF: Huh? This is a rather general rule. [Causality} According to this rule, your behavior will cause something to happen (and also something caused your behavior). How does that tell you that sex and drugs will have bad consequences?
    SB: At this point, I don’t think I will defend the individual application of reason’s rules until we can agree that reason’s rules exist..

    First, I have of course never denied that rules of logic exist and are required for rational discourse. What I have said over and over and over again is that these rules are not sufficient to test whether or not any given argument is rational.

    We have covered most of them, except for the rule that a whole can never be less than any one of its constituent parts. Would you agree that the rule is self evidently true?

    I consider rules of logic to be self-evidently true, including LNC, identity, and excluded middle. I also consider laws of inference (modus ponens, modus tollens) to be self-evidently true.

    RDF: Now you seem to be equating the entire Scientific Method, including statistical analysis, experimental design, replication and peer review within your so-called “Rules of Reason”!
    SB: Well, of course. Science depends on the Law of Causality. Otherwise there would be no way to know if evidence is being rationally interpreted.

    There you go again. Yes, science depends on the Law of Causality, but that doesn’t mean that the “Rules of Reason” captures the entire scientific method in some formal structure!!

    RDF: But I can easily imagine a causeless effect, which means the Law of Causality really isn’t self-evidently true.
    SB: If you are ready to acknowledge the possibility of a causeless effect, then you are outside the bounds of rationality.

    Please stop putting words in my mouth. It slows down the discussion, and I find it irritating. Read what I said carefully, and don’t change my words. I did not acknowledge the possibility of a causeless effect, I pointed out that we are capable of imagining such a thing, which we are. We are not capable of imagining a square circle, or a number which is both larger and smaller than 4, or something which neither exists nor does not exist – these things are self-evident. But we are capable of imagining that something happens spontaneously, for no reason at all – it just goes poof and happens. Neither you nor I have ever encountered such a thing (depending on what you’re going to say below about free will ;-) ), but that doesn’t mean it is self-evidently impossible.

    RDF: Even if God decided He wanted a brick wall to appear from out of nowhere?
    SB: I am trying to be polite, but that is one of the silliest statements I have ever read.

    Hey, no offense taken. You can call my statements silly or whatever – that’s totally fine. Just don’t attack me or my motives (I would never do that to you) and we’ll have a good time here.

    An event that God causes is not a causeless event.

    Even if He wanted to allow some causeless event to happen? Why not? Something like this: “And the Lord said, ‘Let there be a completely causeless event that happens at some point’, and so it was that a brick wall appeared out of nowhere for no reason in the middle of the highway”.

    Since you are resisting me on this point, and since you have already said that you can imagine effects occurring without causes, I am going to assume that you think a cement wall can appear from out of nowhere in front of a moving automobile.

    No, I really don’t, because I’m neither stupid nor crazy, and nothing of the sort has ever happened in the history of the world. But it is not self-evident that it is impossible; it is just a fact about the world.

    RDF: Contra-causal will is often used synonymously for libertarian free will. If one’s will is free in the libertarian sense, it does not result (fully) from any antecedent cause(s).
    SB: If God caused the will to exist, then the will, which is, itself, an agent of cause, also had a cause. Where is the difficulty? How does that violate the Law of Causality (which you do not accept at any rate)?

    Please stop putting words in my mouth. It slows down the discussion, and I find it irritating. Read what I said carefully, and don’t change my words. I never said I did not accept the Law of Causality.

    Now, of course contra-causal will violates the Law of Causality!

    1) Either your actions are caused or they are not caused
    2) If your actions are caused, then libertarianism is false
    3) If your actions are uncaused, then the Law of Causality is false

    It doesn’t matter how humans came to exist, or how we ended up with this power of free will. Libertarian will requires that our actions are without antecdent cause, not just that our ability to act in uncaused ways is due to God.

    2) is false. You are, through the use of your free will, the cause of your behavior.

    You cause your actions with an act of will. What causes your act of will? Nothing at all? In that case you’ve violated causality. Some antecedent cause? In that case you’ve violated libertarianism.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  72. PS: Notice, BTW, a sneering projection of a claim to pretended genius and the suggestion solve a problem, which is actually already addressed for the low price of a click or two? I suggest that Plato on the self moved is a good place to start, including the insight on reflexivity in such. The Smith model is not irrelevant. I also suggest that SB has given some significant thoughts. I want to suggest that much of the experienced difficulty in recognising and respecting the patent reality of the responsible self has to do with implications of the dominance of a self referentially absurd system in our day, evolutionary materialism.

  73. Onlookers:

    Not to belabour a point, but this shows just how unavoidable the first principles of right reason are:

    I would refute someone who said it was a good argument by pointing out that people who behave like this generally become more depressed with time.

    How does RDF recognise: people, behaviour, a depressed state, other than by recognising distinct identities of form { A | NOT-A }? In short, once one makes distinctions in order to think, one is using LOI and its involved fellows, LNC and LEM.

    Similarly, he is recognising that if something B has come to be the case, we can ask why, and answer here — begins, so contingent. Contingent, so caused. Caused, with earlier behaviour a best candidate.

    This also leads to the issue of reflexivity, whereby earlier acts of an agent have consequences across time. Also, he implies that agents may choose to attend to their own experience or that of others and infer up to causal patterns, by choice.

    This aptly shows how freedom to choose responsibly is implicit in how RDF reasons, when he is not immediately trowing up objections.

    His arguments fall apart in a tumble of self referential inconsistencies.

    Pity, he is not willing to attend and learn.

    KF

  74. Hey RDFish:

    Phin: No, it is not moot. Just because you can build an infinite number of things on an island doesn’t mean that yanking the island out from beneath the structure won’t cause it to collapse. If you take away the law of non contradiction, arguments become absurd.

    RDF: Yes, of course, nobody is arguing otherwise!

    Wait. Just to be clear, are you now retracting what you said originally about at least the first of WJM’s “aphorisms?”

    WJM: If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about.

    RDF: Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct. They’re not.

    So, we can now both agree that WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction is not only obvious and correct, but boringly so?

  75. 76

    @kairosfocus

    RDF: Stop willfully poisoning and speaking in disregard of duties of care to truth and fairness.

    Do you think such phrases will bring him to visit your blog? You’re an educator and you’re talking to children, so please think again and do better next time.

  76. 77

    @RDF:

    “And the Lord said, ‘Let there be a completely causeless event that happens at some point’, and so it was that a brick wall appeared out of nowhere for no reason in the middle of the highway”.

    I think this is a logical impossibility, like god creating a stone so heavy he can’t lift it. StephenB already pointed out, that the “causeless” effect DOES have a cause: God!

  77. RDFish:

    We’re talking past each other badly.

    I think you may be talking past everyone rather badly.

    They are not saying these rules are necessary for testing assertions – they are saying these rules are sufficient for doing so!

    I’m pretty sure that most of the points being made are directed at the necessity of rule’s reasons and not their sufficiency. I think the main reason for this is that your original objection to WJM’s “cookie-cutter philosophy” started the entire debate, and everything you read after should be taken in that context. As far as I can tell, there is nothing in WJM’s well-phrased aphorisms that comes even close to claiming sufficiency. Therefore, arguing necessity vs. sufficiency seems like a rabbit trail until you’ve admitted that your original objections to WJM’s quote were not well founded.

    As for that rabbit trail that you seem to greatly favor, I don’t find it particularly interesting or compelling. It seems quite possible to me that if you are not using reason’s rules, you are engaging in something other than reasoning, in which case, the question of necessity vs. sufficiency becomes a matter of semantics.

  78. Hi Phinehas:

    Wait. Just to be clear, are you now retracting what you said originally about at least the first of WJM’s “aphorisms?”

    WJM: If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about.
    RDF: Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct. They’re not.

    Nope, I stand by that.

    So, we can now both agree that WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction is not only obvious and correct, but boringly so?

    Hahaha. Once again (it is the repetition of my points required here that should be most boring!) I have never suggested or implied that the LNC per se is not correct. Not only is it correct, but self-evidently so as I’ve been saying to StephenB. What I objected to in WJM’s fortune cookie witticisms was that they do not deal substantively with the issues, they simply convey a specious certitude which serves to entrench opinions without good justification. The notion that StephenB took from these aphorisms – that these rules of reason like the LNC enable us to test (non-trivial) propositions for reasonableness – is the perfect example of what I mean.

    I think you may be talking past everyone rather badly.

    I’m sorry to hear that. Perhaps I’ve overestimated the level of familiarity that people here have with philosophical argument. I’ll try and put things even more simply.

    RDF: They are not saying these rules are necessary for testing assertions – they are saying these rules are sufficient for doing so!
    PHIN: I’m pretty sure that most of the points being made are directed at the necessity of rule’s reasons and not their sufficiency.

    Here is how the issue started:

    StephenB: By refusing to acknowledge reason’s rules, you are also acknowledging that you have no standard by which you can determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable, including your own.
    RDF: Sorry, but I don’t recall having refused to acknowledge “reason’s rules”. What I pointed out was that human reasoning was not largely rule-based.

    So here Stephen expresses the opinion that the rules provide a standard by which we can determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable. He repeats this later on, clearly arguing that you can use these rules as a standard to test any given argument.

    I have also made my point clearly over and over and over and over again:

    @19 to Chance:
    Chance: I believe #2 is covered by the Classic Rules of Thought. It isn’t possible to reason without them….
    RDF: Yes that is correct, and there are some other rules of formal logic too.
    AND @31 to SB:
    There are rules of propositional logic, including the LNC and rules of inference such as modus ponens and modus tollens, and there are more complex formal logics too, but contrary to what you think, we cannot use these rules to determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable.
    AND @48 to SB:
    Any statement that violates those rules is unreasonable, yes, but the problem is this of course: Any statement that does not violate those rules may also be unreasonable!! In fact it is not particularly common in our everyday reasoning that we come across violations of these fundamental rules. Vastly more important is our world knowledge and our beliefs about how human beings and societies function, and whether or not our beliefs are reasonable unfortunately cannot be determined by testing against these objective rules.
    AND @54 to KF:
    RDF: Again, what I’ve been trying to explain is that these “principles of right reason” can only test our propositions for certain relatively obvious errors, but the hard part – figuring out if we are actually correct or not! – can’t be accomplished merely by testing with these rules.
    AND @59 to YOU!
    Again, and I’m not sure I can make this any clearer than I already have, we all assume the law of non-contradiction when we make arguments. So what? That doesn’t mean logic can tell us which of our statements are reasonable!

    That is a lot of me saying the same thing over and over again, and a lot of people not listening. I’ll try bold font and CAPS this time:
    1) YES I BELIEVE IDENTITY, LNC, AND EXCLUDED MIDDLE, ARE SELF-EVIDENTLY TRUE LOGICAL PRINCIPLES AND NO RATIONAL ARGUMENTS CAN VIOLATE THESE PRINCIPLES
    2) ONE CANNOT TEST ANY GIVEN NON-TRIVIAL NATURAL LANGUAGE PROPOSITION FOR REASONABLENESS OR RATIONALITY BY USING THESE LOGICAL PRINCIPLES, BECAUSE REAL WORLD PROPOSITIONS CANNOT BE REDUCED TO FORMAL LOGIC

    Ok, after that I really think I’m finished with this point, and anyone who still doesn’t understand I’m afraid cannot understand.

    As far as I can tell, there is nothing in WJM’s well-phrased aphorisms that comes even close to claiming sufficiency. Therefore, arguing necessity vs. sufficiency seems like a rabbit trail until you’ve admitted that your original objections to WJM’s quote were not well founded.

    If you read my intitial post @15, you’ll see I didn’t even bring up the topic. WJM didn’t engage long enough to tease out his opinions on the sufficiency of logic to reasoning- he just made a dumb joke about not being able to argue without the LNC and went away. The debate on the issue of sufficiency of logic to reasoning was mostly fueled by StephenB’s insistence on the topic.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  79. Hi JWT

    “And the Lord said, ‘Let there be a completely causeless event that happens at some point’, and so it was that a brick wall appeared out of nowhere for no reason in the middle of the highway”.

    I think this is a logical impossibility, like god creating a stone so heavy he can’t lift it.

    Logical impossibilities cannot be imagined or comprehended. I’ve given a number of examples: We are not capable of imagining or understanding a square circle, or a number which is both larger and smaller than 4, or something which neither exists nor does not exist. I believe we can both understand what it means for a brick wall to appear out of nowhere in the middle of a highway – there is no logical contradiction there at all.

    StephenB already pointed out, that the “causeless” effect DOES have a cause: God!

    Stephen B is clearly mistaken, because if an effect DOES have a cause, it is quite obviously NOT causeless!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  80. JWT: Please, read the context. I am pretty sure RDF is no “child” in these matters, even as has now somewhat emerged. And it is petty clear that the reason he is playing evasion games is that he does not want to have to deal on the merits with what he will find. His choice to do so by trying to poison the well is indicative of a serious problem that — after a couple of rounds of well poisoning — required fairly direct exposure. KF

  81. Hi KF,

    You know, I’ve spent a good deal of time on forums of various sorts, and haven’t yet run into somebody who refuses to engage me in direct conversation, but instead makes nasty remarks to other posters about me! I know you’re miffed that I won’t read your blog, but think about it: I have no idea who you are, and I’ve come here to have interesting discussions with people, not be sent off to read things by anonymous posters.

    To top it off, you accuse me of being evasive, while you won’t even discuss a single issue with me! Come on, don’t be afraid – the worst that can happen is you’ll be wrong! Let’s try it.

    Here, I’ll make an argument, and then you can argue against it, ok?

    1) I understand libertarian free will to require that the acts of a volitional agent occur without being fully determined by antecedent cause.

    2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.

    3) Therefore, I claim that the Law of Causation is in conflict with libertarian free will.

    Now, here’s where you make some counter argument. Perhaps you’d like to challenge #1 and say that our acts are caused by our choices, which are not themselves effects, or perhaps you’d like to try another argument. Give it a try – one of us might learn something!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  82. RDFish:

    Let’s try to take this slowly, shall we.

    Phin: Wait. Just to be clear, are you now retracting what you said originally about at least the first of WJM’s “aphorisms?”

    WJM: If you do not assume the law of non-contradiction, you have nothing to argue about.

    RDF: Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct. They’re not.

    RDF: Nope, I stand by that.

    Phin: So, we can now both agree that WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction is not only obvious and correct, but boringly so?

    RDF: Hahaha. Once again (it is the repetition of my points required here that should be most boring!) I have never suggested or implied that the LNC per se is not correct. Not only is it correct, but self-evidently so as I’ve been saying to StephenB.

    Can you not see how this is terribly confusing?

    How can WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction serve as an example of people thinking that one’s own particular take on such are obvious and correct, but they’re not?

    …while at the same time…

    WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction is obvious and correct?

    Are you now purposefully ignoring the law of non-contradiction in your own argument in order to make some subtle point? I must admit that it is too subtle for me.

  83. F/N: Just for fun:

    2) ONE CANNOT TEST . . .

    First word, { O | NOT-O } + { N | NOT-N } + { E | NOT-E }, i.e. already we see identity in use and so also its corollaries. So, we start from the level of identifiable glyphs on up.

    Yes, we may wish to debate whether our capacity with symbolic logical analyses can exhaust the meaning of complex natural language assertions. Just as, even “See Spot run” has a surprisingly complex Kellogg sentence diagram, to use a familiar tool. But he point in question with the relevant laws starts at a much deeper level, as laws of reality long before reality is symbolised in speech. So long as something is identifiable as distinct the identity triad applies.

    Similarly, causality [and beneath it the deceptively simple principle of sufficient reason] is complex but it is truly foundational. I find that in particular, the issue of necessary, enabling causal factors is a subtle tool in analysis.

    But, we must not forget, those who try to undermine these principles through clever arguments are soon enough found using them, so soon as they refer to things with distinct identities, or use things with distinct identities. And, we soon enough find ourselves working in light of sufficient reason and its side-kicks, too.

    Perhaps worst of all, we find those who wish to play games with and undermine moral perceptions but end up subtly appealing to binding moral principles. For instance, by suggesting that those who believe in objective morality are likely to be oppressive or unreasonable.

    I simply suggest that it is unwise to indulge in self referential incoherence.

    Far wiser to acknowledge the laws and the objectivity, then recognise that a first undeniable truth is that error exists.

    KF

  84. RDF:

    The above thread is sufficient to document that you have as a first resort played well poisoning games up to and including without good reason insinuating pecuniary motivation.

    Just, stop.

    As for the issue of a self-moved, genuinely initiating person, the point is that such a person is a causal source, not merely a causal consequence, and has reflexivity. External and material factors may influence and even be necessary factors but they are not individually or as a whole sufficient factors.

    And one of the surest reasons to accept this, is that if we are not free, we are not free to reason or be responsible. Thence, reductio ad absurdum, including that argument reduces to manipulation.

    Unless you are willing to take a better path than hitherto, it becomes my part to warn others of trollish conduct.

    Which is what you have verged on.

    KF

  85. Phineas: as one ignores LNC etc, one ends up in tangles of contradictions and confusions. The identity triad is also about clarity in thinking. KF

  86. Hi Phinehas,

    Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct. They’re not.

    Yes indeed – trying to solve the problems of free will, epistemology, and how to ground morality by tossing off a few proverbs is definitely misguided. If you took this to mean that I denied that the LNC was a valid rule of logic, that would your boo-boo – especially since I made that clear in subsequent posts over and over and over and over and over again :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  87. Hi KF,

    First word, { O | NOT-O } + { N | NOT-N } + { E | NOT-E }, i.e. already we see identity in use and so also its corollaries. So, we start from the level of identifiable glyphs on up.

    No offense, KF, but this kind of stuff would put me off reading your blog even if I was so inclined ;-)

    The above thread is sufficient to document that you have as a first resort played well poisoning games up to and including without good reason insinuating pecuniary motivation.

    Oh good grief KF, if you’re talking about asking if you got ad clicks from your blog, it was a joke! I’m curious: Is English your first language?

    As for the issue of a self-moved, genuinely initiating person, the point is that such a person is a causal source, not merely a causal consequence, and has reflexivity.

    Ok, I think you’re saying that every human being serves as an uncaused cause of behavior. Is that right? And what do you mean by “reflexivity”?

    External and material factors may influence and even be necessary factors but they are not individually or as a whole sufficient factors.

    Yes, I would say this is the definition of libertarian free will, which is what we are discussing. Good, we agree on this.

    And one of the surest reasons to accept this, is that if we are not free, we are not free to reason or be responsible.

    Now you seem to be arguing that libertarian free will is true. But that is not what we are arguing here. I think I was pretty clear, so I’ll just copy it again:

    1) I understand libertarian free will to require that the acts of a volitional agent occur without being fully determined by antecedent cause.

    2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.

    3) Therefore, I claim that the Law of Causation is in conflict with libertarian free will.

    OK? That is what we’re arguing, the conclusion (#3) that says you can have libertarian free will OR the Law of Causation, but not both.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  88. RDFish:

    If you took this to mean that I denied that the LNC was a valid rule of logic, that would your boo-boo – especially since I made that clear in subsequent posts over and over and over and over and over again.

    I’m sorry, but I’m a bit unclear on this. Exactly how many subsequent posts in which you contradict what you said in your original post (the one that actually started the entire discussion at hand) while at the same time refusing to retract what you said in your original post about at least the first of WJM’s “aphorisms” (the one on the law of non-contradiction) are supposed to be sufficient to absolve you of any blame in the confusing mess of “reasoning” you’ve created and shift the blame fully onto me?

    Can you not see how your post at #15 basically claims (among other things) the following?

    WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction serves as an example of people thinking that one’s own particular take on such are obvious and correct, but they’re not.

    When I asked if you were ready to retract your original statement, about at least the first of WJM’s “aphorisms,” (again, the one on the law of non-contradiction) you replied, “Nope, I stand by that.”

    Can we please NOW agree that, as it pertains WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction, you fully retract any notion that it serves as an example of people thinking that one’s own particular take on such are obvious and correct, but they’re not?

    Can we please ALSO agree that WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction is, in fact, obvious and correct, in direct opposition to your original claim, at least to the degree that that claim pertains to WJM’s own particular take on the law of non-contradiction?

  89. RD

    I would refute someone who said it was a good argument by pointing out that people who behave like this generally become more depressed with time.

    How do you know that the behavior is responsible for the depression or that the two are related at all? How do you know that the depression didn’t occur without a cause? How do you know that others haven’t become depressed under the same conditions? How do you know if it is the kind of behavior or the frequency of the behavior is responsible for the depression?

    What I have said over and over and over again is that these rules are not sufficient to test whether or not any given argument is rational.

    And I have asked you over and over again to tell me how you test for reasonableness if not with reason’s rules. You have yet to provide that standard.

    I did not acknowledge the possibility of a causeless effect, I pointed out that we are capable of imagining such a thing, which we are.

    So, do you agree that effects cannot occur without causes or not? Do you agree that brick walls cannot come from out of nowhere or not? A straight answer would be much appreciated.

    “And the Lord said, ‘Let there be a completely causeless event that happens at some point’, and so it was that a brick wall appeared out of nowhere for no reason in the middle of the highway”.

    That sentence is self contradictory: “And the Lord said, ‘Let there be’ (He brings the brick wall into existence)… a completely causeless event (He doesn’t bring the brick wall into existence)…

    RD, I really wonder. Are you not capable of thinking rationally or do you just prefer not to think rationally.

  90. RDF: Some things are not funny; especially in what you should know is a high hostility environment. Sorry, that does not pass muster. KF

  91. RDF: I just note on one point. I have shown that starting from just the letters in the text you used to make a post, the LOI cluster is inextricably involved; which should also be obvious from the ASCII codes. Your response, some wisecrack about how that would put you off looking at a web site. That does not commend your level of thinking. KF

  92. Hi Phinehas,

    I’m sorry, but I’m a bit unclear on this.

    Seriously? Well, I’m happy to let the careful reader decide at this point, because I’ve already gone to the trouble of collecting all the different ways I’ve said the exact same thing.

    Exactly how many subsequent posts in which you contradict what you said in your original post (the one that actually started the entire discussion at hand)…

    There is no contradiction of course. There are several discussions at hand, including the one regarding the impossibility of reducing real world propositions to formal logic, and the one regarding the incompatibility of the Law of Causation with libertarian free will. The discussion you are talking about ended a while ago, where I pointed out that WJM’s witticisms were insufficient to capture – much less argue for – free will, objective morality, or any other substantive philosophical issue.

    Can you not see how your post at #15 basically claims…

    Fine, let’s actually look at what I said @15, shall we?

    RDF: It seems to me this is one of those quotes that sounds pithy but doesn’t really hold up well at all.
    1) law of non-contradiction
    2) principles of sound reason
    3) libertarian free will
    4) objective morality

    #1 is obviously subsumed by #2.

    Ok, I’m right so far. SB tried to deny this with some post hoc distinction he made between principle and application, but as stated, WJM made two points out of one.

    RDF:As for #2, aside from the remaining rules of formal logic, and perhaps a list of informal fallacies to avoid, it isn’t clear what other principles #2 refers to. There really is no comprehensive guide to “the principles of sound reason” (if there was, we could make a computer that could reason soundly).

    I’m right about there not being any comprehensive list of principles. Then I introduce the point that StephenB will take up. My position is that human reasoning cannot be reduced to formal logic, and StephenB apparently disagrees. I’m right about that too.

    As for #3, depending on the flavor of libertarianism you might wish to defend, there are plenty of difficult issues with that position (just like with every position in metaphysics). But saying that without libertarianism there is no such thing as a person to argue with is just sort of specious and silly.

    I’m absolutely right about this: Compatibilists of course do not deny there is such a thing as person, so this is just a stupid strawman.

    And as for #4, it’s just patently false. Even for a complete moral relativist (I’m not one by the way) there is obviously plenty of reason to argue about morality and everything else besides!

    Yup, you guessed it: I’m right about this too, since even moral relativists have reason to argue (and so they do!)

    I completely stand by everything I said, and have never contradicted myself here.

    RDF: Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this sort of fortune-cookie philosophy serves only to over-simplify these age-old problems and coddle people into thinking that one’s own particular take on them are obvious and correct. They’re not.

    I think here is where you try to pretend I am denying LNC or something, but obviously I am doing no such thing. What I have said is that people ought not to think that age-old philosophy problems are simple, nor that whatever they believe is the correct answer is obvious, because the solutions to these problems are not obvious. Again: WJM’s aphorisms make them seem as though problems like free will and morality are simple and obvious, but they are not. That is what I said, and that is what I meant, and that is what is true.

    I think you are so intent on finding some mistake in my reasoning that you can’t keep yourself from building a ridiculous straw man argument and attributing it to me. You want to pretend that I deny the LNC, that I think black is white and 1=2 and up is down. I’m very sorry to disappoint you, but I think none of those things, and have never suggested otherwise.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  93. Hi StephenB

    RDF: I would refute someone who said it was a good argument by pointing out that people who behave like this generally become more depressed with time.
    SB: How do you know that the behavior is responsible for the depression or that the two are related at all?

    If you don’t know this, I must conclude that you really have very little knowledge of human beings, their emotions, and the effects of drugs and promiscuity. Just about everyone I know understands these things – perhaps you’ve led a very sheltered life?

    How do you know that the depression didn’t occur without a cause? How do you know that others haven’t become depressed under the same conditions? How do you know if it is the kind of behavior or the frequency of the behavior is responsible for the depression?

    I think you’re asking how people have managed to build scientific knowledge, and I think we’ve covered that. Experimental design, statistical analysis, replication and peer review all are part of the scientific enterprise which generates knowledge better than any other system ever devised, going far beyond common sense and, over time, overcoming our individual biases and cognitive illusions.

    Still, science is not simply logical propositions manipulated according to logic. The LNC, identity and excluded middle principles are so fundamental to our reasoning that every discussion takes them for granted and they are never explicity discussed. But all the rest of our scientific reasoning is not formal – it is informal, and people do disagree all time (obviously, right? You’ve heard of the debate over biological evolution I presume?).

    RDF: What I have said over and over and over again is that these rules are not sufficient to test whether or not any given argument is rational.
    SB: And I have asked you over and over again to tell me how you test for reasonableness if not with reason’s rules. You have yet to provide that standard.

    What do you mean by “standard”? If you mean a formal system of rules of reason, then there is no standard by which we can test real world propositions to see if they are reasonable, rational, or true. The reason is because real world propositions cannot be reduced to formal logic.

    So, do you agree that effects cannot occur without causes or not?

    Obviously in the totality of our human experience all effects have causes, and the principles of locality and realism are always respected. In the quantum realm the principles of locality and realism are not respected, and this calls into question what sort of causality may be operating there. And since there is a temporal aspect to causality (causes must precede or be simulataneous with effects), it doesn’t make sense to talk about causality for situations where space and time do not exist (i.e. when there was no universe).

    Do you agree that brick walls cannot come from out of nowhere or not? A straight answer would be much appreciated.

    Really you have to ask this question? Let me explain something to you then: Brick walls never appear from out of nowhere – not once in the entire history of the world. I’m really surprised you’d be uncertain about this!

    RD, I really wonder. Are you not capable of thinking rationally or do you just prefer not to think rationally.

    That’s fine, you can insult me if it helps.

    You have ducked our main issue I see! I have argued that libertarian free will contradicts the Law of Causality, and you have failed to either rebut my argument or concede. What’s up with that? Let’s try it again:

    Here is what I said:

    1) Either your actions are caused or they are not caused
    2) If your actions are caused, then libertarianism is false
    3) If your actions are uncaused, then the Law of Causality is false

    It doesn’t matter how humans came to exist, or how we ended up with this power of free will. Libertarian will requires that our actions are without antecdent cause, not just that our ability to act in uncaused ways is due to God.

    Here was your reply:

    2) is false. You are, through the use of your free will, the cause of your behavior.

    And here was my rebuttal:

    Yes, you cause your actions with an act of will. But what causes your act of will? Nothing at all? In that case you’ve violated causality. Some antecedent cause? In that case you’ve violated libertarianism.

    If you refuse to answer again I think it’s fair for me to assume you’ve conceded this point, which deeply undermines pretty much everything you’ve been saying here.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  94. Hi KF,

    Some things are not funny; especially in what you should know is a high hostility environment. Sorry, that does not pass muster.

    A “high hostility environment”?? Gee, sorry, nobody told me! Perhaps you should put a big sign up on the banner: “DANGER: HIGH HOSTILITY ENVIRONMENT! NO JOKING ALLOWED!!”

    Maybe relax just a tiny bit? Just a thought ;-)

    I just note on one point. I have shown that starting from just the letters in the text you used to make a post, the LOI cluster is inextricably involved; which should also be obvious from the ASCII codes. Your response, some wisecrack about how that would put you off looking at a web site. That does not commend your level of thinking.

    I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, and I must admit that I wonder if you do.

    Listen, I have really tried to engage you in a serious discussion on the contradiction between libertarian will and the Law of Causation, and after making a few comments you seem to have already given up. Come on, let’s try to actually have a discussion about something interesting, OK? Really – I am trying to engage you in a discussion and not fight with you – you should do the same.

    Let’s pick it up where we left off:

    Now you seem to be arguing that libertarian free will is true. But that is not what we are arguing here. I think I was pretty clear, so I’ll just copy it again:

    1) I understand libertarian free will to require that the acts of a volitional agent occur without being fully determined by antecedent cause.

    2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.

    3) Therefore, I claim that the Law of Causation is in conflict with libertarian free will.

    OK? That is what we’re arguing, the conclusion (#3) that says you can have libertarian free will OR the Law of Causation, but not both. You disagree, right? Then tell me why! Challenge the premises, or the conclusion, or something!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  95. RDF:

    With all due respect, I think at this point, you are unfortunately going in circles in the face of adequately warranted and easily accessible evidence to the contrary.

    Above at 84, I showed how, just from the case of using text strings, your arguments are themselves crucially dependent on the Identity cluster, LOI, LNC, LEM. let me remind:

    [RDF:] 2) ONE CANNOT TEST . . .

    [KF:] First word, { O | NOT-O } + { N | NOT-N } + { E | NOT-E }, i.e. already we see identity in use and so also its corollaries. So, we start from the level of identifiable glyphs on up.

    Yes, we may wish to debate whether our capacity with symbolic logical analyses can exhaust the meaning of complex natural language assertions. Just as, even “See Spot run” has a surprisingly complex Kellogg sentence diagram, to use a familiar tool. But [t]he point in question with the relevant laws starts at a much deeper level, as laws of reality long before reality is symbolised in speech. So long as something is identifiable as distinct the identity triad applies.

    As a direct result any verbal expression of objection to the three key laws, whether oral or written, is itself a manifestation of dependence on the laws. So, such an objection, once articulated, is plainly self-referentially incoherent.

    Of course, one may cling to an absurdity if one wills (all too common in a post-mod age), but we can look on and draw our own conclusions.

    Next, it was also shown above, how in objecting to say the way that you imagine that objectivity in morals and in reasoning leads to intolerance and the like, you directly imply an appeal to fairness as an objectively binding general moral principle. Again, self referential incoherence.

    Third, you assume that we can reason, change our minds based on evaluating evidence and argument and our duties of care to truth and right. However, if we do not have sufficient freedom to act to do such, if our thoughts, reasonings, evaluations, decisions, choices and ways are determined by unconscious, programmed forces that leave no room for genuine freedom, such is impossible. In short, again, you appeal to what you would object to.

    More broadly, our general operations in life show a dependence on the experienced reality of significant, though somewhat constrained freedom of responsible choice.

    THAT MEANS THAT ANY PROJECT OF IMAGINING THAT WE ARE NOT FREE IN SIGNIFICANT WAYS, IS SELF REFERENTIALLY INCOHERENT AND PROBABLY SOCIALLY DESTRUCTIVE AS IT TENDS TO PROMOTE MANIPULATION AND TO PUSH IMPULSIVITY AS OPPOSED TO SELF-DISCIPLINED, PRINCIPLED CHOICE AND LIFE.

    In terms of a way we can understand ourselves as being influenced by factors in the wider world but sufficiently free to actually do the sort of thing required, the issue is to understand ourselves as self-moved, initiating causal agents. That is, we are influenced by external factors and constraints, and have a reflexivity based on our inner behaviour, but in the end, are able to cause our behaviour in significant ways by reasoned, responsible decision. Thus the external factors and past influences may constrain choice but in many relevant cases they do not determine it.

    In terms of specifics, the previously linked Smith cybernetic “robot” model — based on information and control systems dynamics — allows us to see a way this can work. Note: A, not THE.

    The model uses a two-tier controller, with a brain nexus as an in- the- loop front end input/output processor, which also interacts with a higher order supervisory controller that can intervene in the loop based on desired goals, intents, decisions and the like. Interaction between the two is informational and perceptual, with consciousness in the mix. This captures things like metacognition and how it allows us to change our minds, as well as the loop of influences. Self-modification by deliberate choice, in short.

    That decoupling of a higher order controller allows both influences and choices, without falling into determinism driven by mechanisms and/or blind chance influences.

    Thus, we see that many factors in our circumstances may have an influence, some may even be necessary constraints, e.g. we cannot will ourselves to flap our hands and fly or move our legs to run at 100 miles per hour or the like.

    So, we see room for influences from physical constraints, effects of ingrained memories and habits, skills etc, as well as room for a higher tier of reflective decision and in effect self modification of programs, adaptation of goals to circumstances, adjustment of behaviour to tack upwind towards a goal, making of real and responsible decisions etc.

    And because the influences between the two controllers are based on shared stored information and encoded perceptions, fears concerning iron control by in effect physical and chemical causal sufficiency are rendered moot.

    I such a mind a much-derided “ghost” floating in the machine?

    Why not?

    Such a folk perception fits the world of real experience well enough that we should at least accord it respect instead of unduly rough handling and strawman tactic dismissal.

    But more sophisticated models can be used, e.g. the hylemorphic dualism long ago advanced by especially Aquinas and currently defended by Oderberg and supported by Feser etc comes to mind. Roughly, we have a blend of embodied form plus substance with mind emerging as a component of the mix. We certainly are ready for such an approach in a world where already, inFORMation is an immaterial commodity that is very much real and embodied in some sense in coded or modulated physical entities.

    Notice, this is not the same as emergentism:

    FESER: Thomistic dualism not only denies that the soul is a distinct substance and that it is merely a set of distinct properties, but also denies that it is an “emergent” feature of sufficienty complex material systems. (To be sure, some have suggested that Thomistic dualism is a kind of emergentist theory, but that is a mistake, and fails to take account of how different a hylomorphic account of matter is from the “mechanistic” one presupposed both by materialism and by post-Cartesian forms of dualism.) . . . .

    the “dualist” part applies only to human beings, since only human beings, and neither other living things nor inorganic substances, have subsistent forms (i.e. forms capable of continuing in existence beyond the destruction of the body the form is a form of). The reason is that, from an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, human beings, unlike other material things, carry out some functions that are immaterial, namely thinking and willing.

    In short, while it is easy to bang away at simplistic folk level ideas of freedom and responsibility, it is not so easy to account for our ability to reason and to decide, thus to argue reasonably, without a framework in which there is indeed significant agent freedom.

    Hence my previously linked citation from Plato in The Laws Bk X, as a point that should give us pause before we so hastily swallow a materialist picture without awareness or appreciating of alternatives, and end up in deep hot waters:

    Ath. . . . when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle? . . . . self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second.

    [[ . . . .]

    Ath. If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we describe it?

    Cle. You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?

    Ath. I do.

    Cle. Certainly we should.

    Ath. And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same-must we not admit that this is life?

    [[ . . . . ]

    Cle. You mean to say that the essence which is defined as the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?

    Ath. Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things?

    Cle. Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.

    Ath. And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?

    Cle. Exactly.

    Ath. Then we are right, and speak the most perfect and absolute truth, when we say that the soul is prior to the body, and that the body is second and comes afterwards, and is born to obey the soul, which is the ruler?

    [[ . . . . ]

    Ath. If, my friend, we say that the whole path and movement of heaven, and of all that is therein, is by nature akin to the movement and revolution and calculation of mind, and proceeds by kindred laws, then, as is plain, we must say that the best soul takes care of the world and guides it along the good path. [[Plato here explicitly sets up an inference to design (by a good soul) from the intelligible order of the cosmos.]

    I think C S Lewis used to emphasise putting first things first and second [etc] things second.

    I further think that today’s materialism dominated world specialises in putting second etc. things first.

    Worth the pondering, at the very least.

    KF

  96. RDFish said:

    1) I understand libertarian free will to require that the acts of a volitional agent occur without being fully determined by antecedent cause.

    2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.

    3) Therefore, I claim that the Law of Causation is in conflict with libertarian free will.

    #2 conflates the agency free will with an act of free will. Free will is the causal agency. Whatever event one’s will causes requires the agency of free will as part of the explanation. Free will is not caused; it causes other things to occur – otherwise known as an uncaused cause.

  97. RDFish

    If you don’t know this, I must conclude that you really have very little knowledge of human beings, their emotions, and the effects of drugs and promiscuity. Just about everyone I know understands these things – perhaps you’ve led a very sheltered life?

    I didn’t say that I didn’t know it. I wouldn’t ask that kind of a question if I didn’t know the answer. For someone who thinks other people put words in your mouth, you are quite a piece of work.

    What do you mean by “standard”? If you mean a formal system of rules of reason, then there is no standard by which we can test real world propositions to see if they are reasonable, rational, or true. The reason is because real world propositions cannot be reduced to formal logic.

    Thank you. You have indicated that you have no standard or standards for distinguishing a reasonable statement from an unreasonable statement.

    Obviously in the totality of our human experience all effects have causes, and the principles of locality and realism are always respected.

    RDFish refuses to answer if effects can occur without causes. We can only assume that he thinks they can since he will not address the issue.

    “Do you agree that brick walls cannot come from out of nowhere or not? A straight answer would be much appreciated.”

    Really you have to ask this question? Let me explain something to you then: Brick walls never appear from out of nowhere – not once in the entire history of the world. I’m really surprised you’d be uncertain about this!

    Notice how RD, dripping with disingenuity, implies, once again, that I didn’t know the answer to my own question. Notice also, how RD, refuses to answer the question about whether it is possible and only tells us that it has never happened–as if he could know this from an empirical perspective. The question is, is it possible? Can it ever happen? Since RD will not answer the question, I will answer his own question for him. RD thinks it may be possible for a brick wall to appear from out of nowhere in front of a moving automobile. Obviously, this is irrational. A brick wall cannot appear from out of nowhere for no reason.

    I have argued that libertarian free will contradicts the Law of Causality, and you have failed to either rebut my argument or concede.

    That is, of course, not true. I refuted all your points, one by one.

    2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.

    You understand incorrectly. The Law of Causation holds that nothing can begin to exist without a cause.

    <blockquoteYes, you cause your actions with an act of will.

    But what causes your act of will? Nothing at all?

    That is not a rebuttal. It is a failure to comprehend. My free will is under my control. I am the cause of my choices and my free will is the means by which I make them. God is the cause of the existence of that faculty or power. A faculty of free will cannot come from out of nowhere any more than a brick wall can come from out of nowhere.

  98. Yes, you cause your actions with an act of will.

    But what causes your act of will? Nothing at all.

    That is not a rebuttal. It is a failure to comprehend. My free will is under my control. I am the cause of my choices and my free will is the means by which I make them. God is the cause of the existence of that faculty or power. A faculty of free will cannot come from out of nowhere any more than a brick wall can come from out of nowhere.

  99. SB: would you consider a full post that explains and argues your summary on first principles of reason? (You know my own, set in the context of worldview foundations, here which I still occasionally adjust.) KF

    PS: I found this summary stimulating.

  100. PPS: This too.

  101. Hi KF,

    With all due respect, I think at this point, you are unfortunately going in circles in the face of adequately warranted and easily accessible evidence to the contrary.

    Above at 84, I showed how, just from the case of using text strings, your arguments are themselves crucially dependent on the Identity cluster, LOI, LNC, LEM.

    As a direct result any verbal expression of objection to the three key laws, whether oral or written, is itself a manifestation of dependence on the laws. So, such an objection, once articulated, is plainly self-referentially incoherent.

    With all due respect, you seem to have misunderstood what topic we are discussing. Nobody to my knowledge has ever questioned any laws of logic, and I know I haven’t. Rather, my point has been that while any proposition that violates these logical rules is obviously irrational, it is incorrect to say that these rules can be used to test any given proposition to see whether or not it is rational. In other words, the logical rules are necessary but not sufficient in order to determine reasonableness or rationality of any given argument (contrary to what StephenB was saying).

    Next, it was also shown above, how in objecting to say the way that you imagine that objectivity in morals and in reasoning leads to intolerance and the like, you directly imply an appeal to fairness as an objectively binding general moral principle. Again, self referential incoherence.

    No, I didn’t make any such argument at all – I don’t know how you got that idea. Perhaps you were reading somebody else’s posts? Why does everyone around here attribute arguments to me that I don’t make???

    Third, you assume that we can reason, change our minds based on evaluating evidence and argument and our duties of care to truth and right.

    Yes, that is correct.

    However, if we do not have sufficient freedom to act to do such, if our thoughts, reasonings, evaluations, decisions, choices and ways are determined by unconscious, programmed forces that leave no room for genuine freedom, such is impossible.

    In other words you are asserting that libertarianism is true. Well, that’s your opinion, but you certainly haven’t mounted much of defense of your position! No matter, though – my point was never that libertarianism is false. Rather, my point was that libertarianism is obviously incompatible with the notion that every effect has a cause.

    More broadly, our general operations in life show a dependence on the experienced reality of significant, though somewhat constrained freedom of responsible choice.

    I believe each person is completely responsible for their own choices.

    THAT MEANS THAT ANY PROJECT OF IMAGINING THAT WE ARE NOT FREE IN SIGNIFICANT WAYS, IS SELF REFERENTIALLY INCOHERENT AND PROBABLY SOCIALLY DESTRUCTIVE AS IT TENDS TO PROMOTE MANIPULATION AND TO PUSH IMPULSIVITY AS OPPOSED TO SELF-DISCIPLINED, PRINCIPLED CHOICE AND LIFE.

    Yes I think you’re correct about the idea that we have no free will is bad for people in the way you say, and I believe there is some research to back that up. That doesn’t have anything to do, however, with whether or not the notion of libertarian free will is true. My take own take on voluntary choice is not metaphysical but empirical: To the extent we base our decisions on our beliefs and desires, our choices are not free (simply because we do not freely choose our beliefs and desires). But we’re still responsible for them, because we need to assign responsibility for choices, and if I’m not responsible for my choices, who is?

    …in the end, are able to cause our behaviour in significant ways by reasoned, responsible decision. Thus the external factors and past influences may constrain choice but in many relevant cases they do not determine it.

    I completely agree with this. But reasoned responsible decisions are not free because they are, by definition, predicated upon reasons! A reasoned and responsible decision is one based on one’s beliefs and desires, which we do not freely choose. If we could freely choose our beliefs, we would not be reasoned and responsible – we’d be capricious. And if we could choose our desires, well, we’d probably all choose different ones!

    Self-modification by deliberate choice, in short.

    Yes we can modify ourselves by deliberate choice in various ways, like meditating, taking drugs, deciding to hang out with a bunch of liberals, and so on. But we can’t deliberately decide to believe anything we don’t already find believable.

    Thus, we see that many factors in our circumstances may have an influence, some may even be necessary constraints, e.g. we cannot will ourselves to flap our hands and fly or move our legs to run at 100 miles per hour or the like.

    Likewise, we cannot will ourselves to believe that there are 29 gods, each with the head of a different animal, and they live in the center of the Earth. Nor could we will ourselves to desire to chop the heads off puppies.

    In short, while it is easy to bang away at simplistic folk level ideas of freedom and responsibility, it is not so easy to account for our ability to reason and to decide, thus to argue reasonably, without a framework in which there is indeed significant agent freedom.

    Yes, I agree. But that sort of freedom doesn’t require or benefit from metaphysical commitments to libertarianism. We all feel like we are free to make our own decisions or act otherwise, and most people aren’t even aware that the philosophically inclined enjoy debating if this freedom entails a dualist ontology or contra-causal volition.

    Well, KF, thank you for engaging me directly. To be honest I find your prose difficult to follow at times – it is sort of stilted- but I can see you’ve given all this a great deal of thought. You consider this a “high-hostility” environment, and that’s too bad, because it makes you wont to take the worst possible interpretation of others’ arguments instead of the best, and to imagine that they are making arguments you dislike (e.g. denial of LNC, or appeal to fairness-based morality, etc) even when they aren’t.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  102. Hi WJM,

    RDF: 1) I understand libertarian free will to require that the acts of a volitional agent occur without being fully determined by antecedent cause.
    2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.
    WJM: #2 conflates the agency free will with an act of free will. Free will is the causal agency. Whatever event one’s will causes requires the agency of free will as part of the explanation. Free will is not caused; it causes other things to occur – otherwise known as an uncaused cause.

    #2 states my understanding of the Law of Causation. I will assume you meant that you have challenged premise #1 rather than #2.

    Anyway, here is why I think that libertarian will violates causality:

    Let’s say that at a time I have freely chosen, I decide to press a button, and then proceed to push it.

    What caused the button to be pushed? The movement of my finger.
    What caused the movement of my finger? My neural impulses.
    What caused the neural impulses to fire? I am assuming you will say your libertarian free will.
    What caused your free will to excite these neural impulses? I am assuming you will say nothing at all, since your free will is not caused.

    And that is why I say that it violates the Law of Causation – the excitement of the neurons by the free will happened without antecedent cause.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  103. StephenB,

    RDF: What do you mean by “standard”? If you mean a formal system of rules of reason, then there is no standard by which we can test real world propositions to see if they are reasonable, rational, or true. The reason is because real world propositions cannot be reduced to formal logic.
    SB: Thank you. You have indicated that you have no standard or standards for distinguishing a reasonable statement from an unreasonable statement.

    You ignored my qualification, which is very poor form: Again you love to change people’s meanings for them so you have an easier time arguing – it really is a big time waster. My qualification was If you mean a formal system of rules, and by removing that you have mischaracterized my response. Come on, cut that out!

    Notice also, how RD, refuses to answer the question about whether it is possible and only tells us that it has never happened–as if he could know this from an empirical perspective.

    First, after addressing this post to me, you switch to speaking about me in the third person? Kinda rude.

    Anyway, I believe our knowledge about things that can happen are justified by our experience and not by pure logic, that is correct. In other words, there is a possible world in which brick walls appear from out of nowhere – just not our world.

    The question is, is it possible? Can it ever happen? Since RD will not answer the question, I will answer his own question for him.

    No thanks, I have answered it. We can be absolutely certain that such a thing can not happen, but our knowledge is empirically rather than logically based. The conservation laws that such an event would violate are arguably the most results of modern science – but they are not logically necessary.

    RDF: 2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.
    SB: You understand incorrectly. The Law of Causation holds that nothing can begin to exist without a cause.

    So you are saying that my version of the Law of Causation is false? You are saying that events happen which are not fully determined by antecedent cause? You mean, like a brick wall could pop into existence out of nowhere?

    My free will is under my control

    .
    I assume you believe the same is true for all human beings, so I could say according to you, my free will is under my control.

    So according to you, my free will is under my control.
    In other words, I control my free will.
    In other words, my free will is controlled by me.
    But how can something that is controlled be free? And what is this “me” – this self – that you believe is in control of this free will? It all sounds terribly confused to me – are you sure you’ve thought this through?

    God is the cause of the existence of that faculty or power.

    Actually I wasn’t talking about how human beings and our various powers or faculties came to exist, so let’s stick to the topic.

    And here is a clearer argument of why I think that libertarianism violates causality that I just posted to WJM in case you missed it:

    Say I freely choose to push a button and I proceed to push it.

    What caused the button to be pushed? The movement of my finger.
    What caused the movement of my finger? My neural impulses.
    What caused the neural impulses to fire? I am assuming you will say my libertarian free will.
    What caused your free will to excite these neural impulses? I am assuming you will say nothing at all, since my free will is uncaused.

    And that is why I say that it violates the Law of Causation – the excitement of the neurons by the free will happened without antecedent cause.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  104. Hi StephenB,

    By the way, we can see you really are mistaken about there being all this clarity regarding the Laws of Thought. For example:

    RDF: 2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.
    SB: You understand incorrectly. The Law of Causation holds that nothing can begin to exist without a cause.

    Well, that sounded very authoritative and certain all right.

    And yet, on the page that kairosfocus himself linked to, http://www3.nd.edu/Departments.....t/cp14.htm
    it says this:

    When the intellect has the idea of cause and effect, it immediately perceives the principle of causality, which is expressed in the formula: There is no effect without a cause.

    Which is what I said, and not what you said.

    Anyway, I would suggest all you who think these Rules of Reason are cast in stone might try and coordinate your definitions a bit better.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

    P.S. sorry about the added indent in the previous post

  105. #2 states my understanding of the Law of Causation. I will assume you meant that you have challenged premise #1 rather than #2.

    You assume wrong. You are conflating the act of a free will agency with the agency itself.

    The free will act is caused by the free will agency.

    ..the excitement of the neurons by the free will…

    You are including both the effect and the cause in this sentence and mistaking it for just an effect. Free will causes the excitement of the neurons. Nothing causes free will. It is a causeless cause, which one must have to avoid infinite regress.

  106. There is no effect without a cause.

    Which is what I said, and not what you said.

    That definition doesn’t say that all causes are also effects. Free will is not an effect of anything else. It causes effects, but is not itself an effect.

  107. RD

    We can be absolutely certain that such a thing [brick wall coming from out of nowhere] can not happen, but our knowledge is empirically rather than logically based. The conservation laws that such an event would violate are arguably the most results of modern science – but they are not logically necessary.

    This is a contradiction. Sentence 1 says you are certain that such a thing cannot happen. Sentence 2 says that it cannot logically be ruled out, meaning that it can happen. These rules are not based on science; science is based on these rules.

    So you are saying that my version of the Law of Causation is false?

    No. I am saying that it was not specifically the one I was arguing for. However, I accept it as a valid corollary and we can go with it. Indeed, some would express the Law exactly as you did, so I retract my comment saying that your statement was false. For purposes of our discussion, your definition was just as good as mine.

    I assume you believe the same is true for all human beings, so I could say according to you, my free will is under my control.

    Freedom of the will can be lost either through misfortune or bad behavior. Also, it is a matter of degree. Some have more than others. Everyone’s will is weak coming out of the gate, tending toward selfishness and self-satisfaction. In that context, people who have trained their will in virtue have far more free will than those who are slaves to bad habits. It requires much effort to be good; it requires very little effort to be bad. It is that uncomfortable fact that prompts people to deny freedom of the will. They don’t want the responsibility of training it.

    So according to you, my free will is under my control.

    Well, let’s say that your will is under your control. It might be a bit redundant, I suppose, to say that your free will is under your control, as I did, originally. So, I appreciate the chance to clarify the point. Thank you.

    And what is this “me” – this self – that you believe is in control of this free will? It all sounds terribly confused to me – are you sure you’ve thought this through?

    Remember that the will, like the intellect, is a faculty–a power–a capacity to do something.

    And here is a clearer argument of why I think that libertarianism violates causality that I just posted to WJM in case you missed it:

    OK, I will give it a fair hearing.

    Say I freely choose to push a button and I proceed to push it.

    What caused the button to be pushed? The movement of my finger.
    What caused the movement of my finger? My neural impulses.
    What caused the neural impulses to fire? I am assuming you will say my libertarian free will.
    What caused your free will to excite these neural impulses? I am assuming you will say nothing at all, since my free will is uncaused.

    You are leaving out the reasons for the action. If you push a button on the ATM machine, it is likely because need money. If you push the buttons on someone else’s ATM machine, it is because you are trying to steal someone else’s money. In those case, the motives are the determining factor.

    Some impulses are under your control and some are not. You cause some of them, others you do not. You cannot choose to like vanilla ice cream, if you happen like chocolate ice cream, but you can decide if you will eat chocolate ice cream and how much. You cannot choose whether or not you like the person next to you, but you can choose to love him by treating him well. In doing so, you might also come to like him. The question is whether or not you could have made choices other than the ones you made and whether you could have embarked on different courses of action. If the answer is yes, then you have libertarian free will.

  108. …buttons that provide access to someone else’s ATM [account]

  109. WJM,

    #2 states my understanding of the Law of Causation. I will assume you meant that you have challenged premise #1 rather than #2.
    You assume wrong.

    Ok, I’m trying to understand your argument here. You challenge my premise #2, which is:
    2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.
    So you do not actually believe in the Law of Causation at all? Or you think that the Law of Causation means something else besides what I’ve said? Again, KF here just linked to explanations of these rules of reason, and here is how that source described the Law of Causation: There is no effect without a cause.
    If you do not accept the Law of Causation, then you are actually in conflict with StephenB here, not me.

    You are conflating the act of a free will agency with the agency itself. The free will act is caused by the free will agency.

    Yes I understand: The agent (a human being) performs some free act, like pushing a button. That act, in your view, is caused by “the free will agency”, but nothing caused the free will agency to cause the act. Isn’t that what you’re saying?

    RDF: ..the excitement of the neurons by the free will…
    WJM: You are including both the effect and the cause in this sentence and mistaking it for just an effect.

    We agree that these neurons have to be excited by something in order to fire and activate the muscle of your finger, right? Ok, the question is, what is it that excites these neurons? The excitement of the neurons is the effect, and what is the cause?

    Free will causes the excitement of the neurons.

    Um, that is exactly what I just said! I’m honestly trying to understand you here, but I’m having a hard time.

    Nothing causes free will. It is a causeless cause, which one must have to avoid infinite regress.

    I understand that part, and I’m not arguing that with you. In your view, each human being is a causeless cause of free acts. I also agree with you that infinite regress follows from applying the Law of Causation without exception. That is why Libertarian Free Will (which is what you are describing) is in conflict with the Law of Causation. QED

    [LOC: There is no effect without a cause.]
    That definition doesn’t say that all causes are also effects. Free will is not an effect of anything else. It causes effects, but is not itself an effect.

    So the free will agency causes the neurons to fire, but nothing causes the free will agency to do that – it just does it without any cause at all. So at least some things (viz human free will) can just have effects out of thin air so to speak – nothing causes them to have effects, they just do it spontaneously. To me, this still violates causality, and just declaring that free will isn’t an effect doesn’t change anything: You still get something happening that isn’t caused by anything.

    Again, please don’t assume I’m saying it doesn’t happen this way – perhaps each of us has this sort of contra-causal free will. You do of course have the interaction problem of how exactly a “free will agency” manages to change neural membrane potentials, and I wonder if you think that when a rat chooses to go left or right in a maze, it works the same was when a person does it (i.e. by means of causeless causes).

    But in any event, I still think it’s clear you can’t have your cake (contra-causal will) and eat it (law of causality) too.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  110. StephenB,

    Thank you for your interesting and earnest response!

    RDF: We can be absolutely certain that such a thing [brick wall coming from out of nowhere] can not happen, but our knowledge is empirically rather than logically based. The conservation laws that such an event would violate are arguably the most results of modern science – but they are not logically necessary.
    SB: This is a contradiction. Sentence 1 says you are certain that such a thing cannot happen. Sentence 2 says that it cannot logically be ruled out, meaning that it can happen. These rules are not based on science; science is based on these rules.

    You’re right I did mispeak: I should not have said “absolutely certain”, but rather I should have said “certain” or “extremely certain”. Unlike logical results, scientific results are always provisional and based on empirical observation. They are never 100% certain and based on logical necessity. I also left out a word there – it should read that conservation laws “are arguably the most certain results of modern science”. But even that doesn’t mean that the conservation laws are 100% certain.

    It is that uncomfortable fact that prompts people to deny freedom of the will. They don’t want the responsibility of training it.

    I take full responsibility for all of my actions, and judge against others who don’t. This isn’t about that for me, really. I’m interested for two reasons: First, I very honestly can’t make coherent sense of libertarianism, but that is just a sort of interesting logic puzzle for me without any overarching importance or moral impact. But I argue about it here because I think people here are too confident that these difficult philosophical problems have been completely and consistently solved, and I think it is bad for people to think that.

    Note, however, I also agreed with KF when he said that it is bad for people to believe that they have no free will! I can’t remember where but I’ve read studies that demonstrate how people are worse at judging risks when they’ve been told free will is an illusion, for example, and it makes them cheat more I think.

    In my mind, the attitude that is both the most truthful and the least psychologically harmful is to say “These are difficult philosophical problems that are interesting to contemplate, but nobody really knows how it all works. But the bottom line is that we are all responsible for our own actions, because nobody else can be responsible for what you choose to do!”

    Remember that the will, like the intellect, is a faculty–a power–a capacity to do something.

    So does this reflect the way you think people are (think of a block drawing):
    PERSON
    – BODY (brain, kidneys…)
    – MIND (will that chooses, intellect that reasons, memory that remembers and stores beliefs, desires, creativity…)
    – SOUL (??)

    I’m just guessing how you see it – I’m honestly trying to understand. For example, is the will part of the mind the way I show this, or not? Is the soul distinct like this – what does it do/contain? This isn’t really directly related to our topics, I’m just interested to see what you think.

    RDF: [causal chain to push button]
    SB: You are leaving out the reasons for the action…In those case, the motives are the determining factor.

    Ok, so the causal chain should be like this instead:
    MOTIVES -> WILL -> NEURAL FIRING -> FINGER MOVEMENT -> BUTTON PUSH

    So, contra what WJM is saying here, for you the will is not (always) a causeless cause; at least sometimes what the will does is determined by motives (like the desire to steal money). Right? Again, I’m not disagreeing – my point as always is this stuff is complicated and nobody really understands it all.

    Some impulses are under your control and some are not. You cause some of them, others you do not. You cannot choose to like vanilla ice cream, if you happen like chocolate ice cream, but you can decide if you will eat chocolate ice cream and how much.

    You will not be surprised to hear that I don’t think it is that simple. If it was, people should be able to predict what they will do – but we often can’t. I used to smoke cigarettes a long time ago and it was really hard to quit, even though I wanted to. I would make up my mind to quit, I had the intention of quitting, and I even predicted that I would quit… but then it would turn out I was mistaken, because I’d light up again.

    You might interpret this in terms of the different components inside of me being in conflict: my will struggling against my desires or something. You think sometimes your will wins, and somtimes your desires win, right? People generally do talk that way, but it’s just another regress like the homunculus you appealed to in a previous conversation: When your will wins over your desires, or vice-versa, why is that? Do you have another meta-will that can force your will to be stronger?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  111. RDF:

    When you set out above to imply that the first principles of reason do not apply to natural statement assertions, you are trying to take away with the left hand what you concede formally with the right one.

    In short, you are in a case of self-contradiction; which is typical for those who in the end reject the rules.

    That is the further context in which I have pointed out — onlookers, kindly read here on, it will only take a few moments — that so soon as you use words or indeed letters, you are marking the sort of distinction that swings the relevant principles into application. That is of course explained in the linked that you studiously and conveniently refuse to read.In effect once we have { A | NOT_A } we have a basis for the relevant first principles.

    For instance on seeing item A [say, a bright red ball on a table], we are doing this: { A | NOT_A }

    Identity holds as we identify A in distinction from NOT_A, non contradiction as we accept that there is not a case of both holding, and excluded middle as we see the dichotomy giving just two alternatives. And, if A were instead say the planet Jupiter in the sky, we would see that the principle also applies to reality not just assertions about it. Jupiter really is distinct from not_Jupiter, and Jupiter is not both there and not there in the same sense and circumstances etc. Similarly, once we see what we do believe we cannot believe both sides of the contradiction.

    Now, you of course found time to snip on a link where the principle of cause is presented as no effects without causes [true enough but omitted is the context that not all things are caused], but studiously and conveniently refused to examine the issue of sufficient reason and in that context contingency of being as manifesting dependence on external enabling factors, necessary causal factors.

    In so doing you duck the implication that here are serious candidate beings that are not dependent on on/off enabling factors, and so are necessary if possible. Such things have a sufficient reason for their existence: necessity of being, but have no cause. This point, WJM hinted at.

    How convenient has it been, then, that you have been ducking and dodging an exposition that connects the first principles together and brings out how they apply, and why they are truly foundational start-points for all reasoning, including those in science.

    Let me just mention, that the distinction between a necessary causal factor and a sufficient cluster of factors for an event that must include at least all necessary factors, is sufficient to dispose of the notion that there are quantum events etc that are without cause. We may not and indeed may not be able to know the sufficient cluster, but we do know necessary factors. Which means that such cases are NOT uncaused.

    In short, with all due respect, too much of the above is a grand case of strawman reasoning driven by the use of convenient rhetorical dodges that you have used to evade rather than squarely address the matter.

    Please do better next time.

    KF

  112. Hi KF,

    When you set out above to imply that the first principles of reason do not apply to natural statement assertions, you are trying to take away with the left hand what you concede formally with the right one.

    Seriously, KF, you are not responding to what I say or think; you are misunderstanding what I say and responding to arguments I have never made or believed.

    I have never said that these principles of reason don’t apply to natural statement assertions – of course they do, which is why I explictly stated that “any proposition that violates these logical rules is obviously irrational.”

    So once yet again:
    1) I believe these principles of logic (the LNC etc.) are valid
    2) I believe these principles apply to natural language assertions
    3) I believe that by applying these principles to assertions, you might find some that violate these fundamental rules of reason. Those assertions could then be discarded as irrational.
    4) HOWEVER, for all the rest of our assertions (the vast majority of them!), you cannot rely on these rules of reason to tell you if the assertion is valid or not. Because we can’t reduce our knowledge and reasoning to logic, logic is simply insufficient to tell us which of our propositions are reasonable and which are not.

    In short, you are in a case of self-contradiction; which is typical for those who in the end reject the rules.

    I’ve never rejected the rules, and I’ve told you that about 100 times now.

    In short, with all due respect, too much of the above is a grand case of strawman reasoning driven by the use of convenient rhetorical dodges that you have used to evade rather than squarely address the matter.
    Please do better next time.

    Well, I think I am doing better, actually, because the points you are arguing against are not the ones I’m making.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  113. RD

    Ok, so the causal chain should be like this instead:
    MOTIVES -> WILL -> NEURAL FIRING -> FINGER MOVEMENT -> BUTTON PUSH

    So, contra what WJM is saying here, for you the will is not (always) a causeless cause; at least sometimes what the will does is determined by motives (like the desire to steal money). Right? Again, I’m not disagreeing – my point as always is this stuff is complicated and nobody really understands it all.

    WJM and I agree that the moral action begins with, and is caused by, the will. Remember that not everything that precedes A causes A. The competing motives to steal or not steal, for example, are already present, just as you indicate, but the will chooses which of those motives to act on. Yes, the temptation (motive) to steal precedes the act of the will in time, but the will is not the cause of the decision to acquiesce to that temptation, nor is it, in any way, the cause of the temptation. The whole point of morality, after all, is to resist bad impulses and submit to good impulses. At times, it can be very strenuous. A man (a God-man, I believe) once literally sweat blood to do the right thing. If it was easy to be good, everyone would be good. If it was easy to overcome temptation, there would be no glory in it.

    It is a kind of moral drama or an answer to the question: Shall I give in or resist? Will I do this or something else? The impulse or desire, over which we may not have immediate control must, nevertheless, be ratified or accepted by the will, over which we do have immediate control. I may, for example, feel an impulse of violent rage against someone, but the impulse itself does not define me. What matters is what I do with that impulse. Earlier, for example, I felt an impulse to question your intellectual honesty and I submitted to that impulse. I should have resisted the temptation, which means that I don’t think I made a good moral decision. When you rebuked me, you were, in your own way, confirming libertarian free will, indicating that I could have taken another way. Indeed, I could have and I should have. I do, after all, have a free will.

    There are a number of conditions necessary for eliciting an act of the will, yes, that is very true, and it is also true, I further acknowledge, that those conditions can make a moral act very easy or very hard: It is easy to be good with good people, and it is easy to be bad with bad people, but it is hard to be good with bad people. Still, the conditions do not cause the act. We have the power to say yes or no to these conditions and motives and choose another way. We can be good even if everyone else around us is bad.

    You will not be surprised to hear that I don’t think it is that simple. If it was, people should be able to predict what they will do – but we often can’t. I used to smoke cigarettes a long time ago and it was really hard to quit, even though I wanted to. I would make up my mind to quit, I had the intention of quitting, and I even predicted that I would quit… but then it would turn out I was mistaken, because I’d light up again.

    Remember that a bad habit can compromise the power of the will, making it more difficult to make the right choices. Your ability to abstain with relative ease was far more powerful after one day of smoking than after ten years of smoking. Habits form chains around the will, which is why it is important to know, objectively, the difference between a good habit and a bad habit. This is just as true from a moral perspective as from a medical perspective, in fact, more so.

    Also, recall our discussion about the variable of time and how something is possible over the long run that may not be possible in the short run, except in the case of heroic virtue, which most of us do not possess. As it turned out, you decided to keep at it until you won the victory, which was both medical and moral. Falling down and getting back up is all part of the process. In the end, your sustained exercise in free will won the day. Congratulations!

  114. I made a very serious mistake in editing:

    It should read, “Yes, the temptation (motive) to steal precedes the act of the will in time, but the will IS [I erroneously wrote "is not"] the cause of the decision to acquiesce to that temptation.”

  115. To me, this still violates causality, and just declaring that free will isn’t an effect doesn’t change anything: You still get something happening that isn’t caused by anything.

    No, you just have a cause that is not also an effect. No causal violations whatsoever. You’re just unwilling to admit your error, IMO, and then you compound your error and expose your distaste for “free will” being the causeless cause simply by moving the first cause in the chain back one step (in your mind) and leaving a begged question for everyone to see:

    MOTIVES -> WILL -> NEURAL FIRING -> FINGER MOVEMENT -> BUTTON PUSH

    How is “Motives” causing “something to happen” any different than “will” causing “something to happen”? Why are you not similarly unhappy with “motives” as you are with “will” as the causal origin? What caused motives to do what they do? What caused them to be what they are? And so we have infinite regress with no good reason to stop the chain at “motives” other than your desire to bump the causal chain back.

    “Motives” are influences, and are not sufficient causes in and of themselves, for the will to act in any particular direction, which is why the causal chain stops at free will – at least, in the case of those that have free will.

  116. RDF:

    Here’s a typical sampler from you at 32, with my highlights:

    . . . for the most part, our reasoning does not adhere to a set of rules. You didn’t understand what I meant, so I clarified repeatedly. I’ll try once again, making this as simple as I can: There is no set of rules by which anyone can determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable. There are rules of propositional logic, including the LNC and rules of inference such as modus ponens and modus tollens, and there are more complex formal logics too, but contrary to what you think, we cannot use these rules to determine whether or not any given argument is reasonable.

    More, at 59:

    WJM and StephenB argue that one can look at any particular proposition and decide if whether or not it is reasonable by appying a set of objective rules.

    I pointed out this is ridiculous, and gave examples of unreasonable propositions that did not violate any of these rules. This demonstrates that objective rules are not adequate for testing natural language propositions for reasonableness.

    These rules can merely detect errors in logic, but logic does not even begin to capture the complexity of these issues we discuss.

    Here’s the deal: the above directly states and/or implies that formal adherence to evidently arbitrary rules of a game called logic is irrelevant to questions of reasonableness in real world contexts where we discuss issues in normal language.

    Sorry, fail.

    Failed by contradiction of taking back with one hand what seemed to have been given with the other, failed by being factually challenged, failed by evidently misunderstanding the point of the principles (and BTW there is a reason I us this broader term not “rules”).

    The point starts with some distinct thing, say A [consider a bright red ball on a table] in the world. Thus, the world has a natural distinction: { A | NOT_A }. Identity is a property of an entity that allows us to understand distinction from the rest of the world. The object A has an identity, it is not there and not there in the same sense, and per the act of distinction, we do not have some mushy intermediate. That may become vital if, say the reason the ball is red and bright is that it is a red hot ball.

    In short, the principles of identity, non-contradiction and excluded middle are manifest in reality before we try to symbolise in words or more abstracted algebraic expressions.

    Next, and this is crucial, while thoughts, beliefs and words can be in error and are not equal to reality, they may often accurately describe reality. A red hot iron ball on the table can be stated accurately in words, and we had better respect the reality being described.

    This of course harks back to a recent clash where someone said, how dare you challenge Kant in a one liner [on positing ugly gulches between our inner world and things in themselves: the denial of being able to bridge the two ends up implying knowledge of the external world on the other side of the gulch], and later that you are a nobody, I don’t need to pay mind to what YOU say — ad hominems as diversions from addressing on the merits. Let’s just say some of the above echoes that far too closely, coming from you RDF. I note, that once I cited Bradley in extenso (my underlying source) the objector made an excuse and walked away.

    I am pointing out here, the issue of the realities of truth and error. True statements accurately refer to red hot balls on tables (often, in a chalk circle, marked with HOT! that a wise person in a metal workshop will heed . . . ) and other states of affairs.

    The dichotomy between red hot ball and rest of world can be verbally expressed, and the identity cluster will apply.

    Finally, the significance of that act/reality of dichotomy/distinction and the prevalence of such in even natural language assertions, shows that reasonableness will reflect the principles. They do not capture all of reasonableness but they capture a crucial slice of it that is truly fundamental.

    It is, furthermore, true that in a great many instances that are relevant that attempted violation of or escape from such lie at the heart of too many current absurdities.

    You will doubtless recall your sharp and inappropriate, personality-laced reaction to my pointing out how the use of such principles emerges even in writing text or making oral statements. Perhaps, you may be more amenable to a classical allusion I had in mind:

    I Cor 14:7 Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8 Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9 So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10 Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11 If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and the speaker is a foreigner to me. 12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

    In short, intelligibility in accordance with a code or language depends critically on distinction. And at first level of reasonableness we need to respect that.

    Second level, we need to attend to the identity cluster in argument and should especially beware self-referential incoherence. As I believe is happening in your remarks above.

    Third, I take very seriously the problem of undermining the reliability of implications once a contradiction is built into a set of start-points for reasoning. Ex falso quodlibet, as prof Niederreiter was so fond of saying to us.

    And, while logical errors are only a part of the story, they are a highly material part.

    KF

  117. Hi StephenB,

    WJM and I agree that the moral action begins with, and is caused by, the will.

    I misunderstood you, then. You did say that the motives were “the reasons for the action”, and that they were “the determining factor”, so I hope you can see how I might have interpreted your remarks to mean that these motives really did ultimately determine (i.e. cause) the action.

    The whole point of morality, after all, is to resist bad impulses and submit to good impulses… If it was easy to be good, everyone would be good. If it was easy to overcome temptation, there would be no glory in it.

    I understand. But let’s get back to my question: When our will is struggling with our desires, sometimes our will wins and sometimes our bad desires (bad impulses) do. I believe it is fair to ask, what determines which one will prevail?

    If we say that nothing determines which one prevails, then we are merely capricious. If we say that something determines which one prevails, then we have no freedom. If we say it is our will that determines if our will prevails or not, then we must ask, what determines whether or not our will will determine if our will will prevail… and so on.

    You may then say that our will is simply the end of the line, and ask me to please stop asking that annoying question! But you can see that you have not really gotten rid of the casual regress – you have simply decided to stop asking the question.

    The impulse or desire, over which we may not have immediate control must, nevertheless, be ratified or accepted by the will, over which we do have immediate control.

    If we have immediate control over our will, why is it that we all do not immediately control our will to our desires? I really did desire to stop smoking, and if I could immediately control my will I would have… but I couldn’t and didn’t. And obviously my experience is far from unique.

    Earlier, for example, I felt an impulse to question your intellectual honesty and I submitted to that impulse. I should have resisted the temptation, which means that I don’t think I made a good moral decision.

    I very much appreciate your change in tone, by the way, and find it quite edifying to discuss this with you when we debate in good faith like this.

    When you rebuked me, you were, in your own way, confirming libertarian free will, indicating that I could have taken another way. Indeed, I could have and I should have. I do, after all, have a free will.

    Sorry, but I find this sort of reasoning muddled: Let’s say I believed that your mind arose soley from brain function and your behavior was determined by physical cause. I would still have the same hopes and expectations that you might change your mind about something as a result of persuasion! I can even change the output of a deterministic computer system by altering the input; why would I think a person could not change his position as the result of new input even if I didn’t believe in free will?

    (Onlookers: I AM NOT SAYING THAT I AM A DETERMINIST OR A MATERIALIST – THIS WAS JUST AN EXAMPLE!)

    We can be good even if everyone else around us is bad…Falling down and getting back up is all part of the process….

    Please know that I experience all the same feelings regarding will and morality, even though I question the coherence of libertarianism and fail to see objectivity in morality in the same way we confirm objectivity in empirical domains. I try very hard to be moral; it is very important to me and I give it a lot of thought. It sometimes feels like struggle; I sometimes regret failing to resist bad impulses, and so on. If we listed hundreds of scenarios and had to identify right action in each, I’m quite sure you and I would emphatically choose the same action in the vast majority of them.

    The difference is that I wouldn’t say that my choices were based on objective rules, and I wouldn’t say that I know for a fact that if the entire universe was rewound perfectly to before my choice, that it was possible that I would have done differently. That isn’t a moral difference; it is an esoteric and academic difference.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  118. Hi WJM,

    You’re just unwilling to admit your error, IMO, and then you compound your error and expose your distaste for “free will” being the causeless cause simply by moving the first cause in the chain back one step (in your mind) and leaving a begged question for everyone to see:
    MOTIVES -> WILL -> NEURAL FIRING -> FINGER MOVEMENT -> BUTTON PUSH

    Oh, my! This is rather priceless! You are telling me I’m compounding my error and exposing my distaste for free will and leaving a begged question for everyone to see! What you failed to notice was this was StephenB’s point, not mine!!!

    Here was the original chain of causality that you agreed with:
    WILL->NEURAL FIRING->FINGER MOVEMENT->BUTTON

    And here is what StephenB said @108 in response to that:

    STEPHENB: You are leaving out the reasons for the action. If you push a button on the ATM machine, it is likely because need money. If you push the buttons on someone else’s ATM machine, it is because you are trying to steal someone else’s money. In those case, the motives are the determining factor.

    And so I added “Motives” because StephenB said I had left it out, and that motives are the determining factor – the reason for the action.

    He has since clarified his remarks, but it is pretty comical for you to have missed this and mistaken this modified causal chain for my own position!

    “Motives” are influences, and are not sufficient causes in and of themselves, for the will to act in any particular direction, which is why the causal chain stops at free will – at least, in the case of those that have free will.

    I repeat: It was StephenB, not me, who said that motives were the determining factor and the reasons for the action.

    Now, let’s return to my point instead of Stephen’s, shall we?

    Either everything that happens has a cause or it doesn’t. If a person pushes a button and this action is initiated without a cause, then there is (at least) one exception to the principle of causality.

    Imagine a gust of wind blows through my room and blows papers off my desk. Causality demands that there must be a cause for the paper to fall off my desk; I explain that the cause was the wind. Causality also demands that there must be a cause for the wind; I explain that the wind had no cause. You complain that my explanation violates causality, and I say, “Oh, no – you see, the wind is simply a causeless cause! It is not an effect!”

    Do you buy this? Of course not. But you are trying to sell me the same story, replacing “wind” with “will”. No matter where you try to end the causal chain with an uncaused cause, you are still generating an exception to the law of causality.

    In order to preserve the Law of Causality, you would have to change it to read something like this:

    There is no effect without a cause, except that there is a special case where human beings can do one thing or another without any cause at all.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  119. Hi KF,

    Here’s the deal: the above directly states and/or implies that formal adherence to evidently arbitrary rules of a game called logic is irrelevant to questions of reasonableness in real world contexts where we discuss issues in normal language.
    Sorry, fail.

    I clearly said the opposite of these things. I think we are having a problem with language here, KF. I’ve made this as clear as I can to you and yet you don’t understand me. I will leave it to the fair reader to decide if what I’ve said is clear and you have somehow failed to understand it:

    1) I believe these principles of logic (the LNC etc.) are valid
    2) I believe these principles apply to natural language assertions
    3) I believe that by applying these principles to assertions, you might find some that violate these fundamental rules of reason. Those assertions could then be discarded as irrational.
    4) HOWEVER, for all the rest of our assertions (the vast majority of them!), you cannot rely on these rules of reason to tell you if the assertion is valid or not. Because we can’t reduce our knowledge and reasoning to logic, logic is simply insufficient to tell us which of our propositions are reasonable and which are not.

    Thanks for the discussion.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  120. RDF: With all due respect, the problem is that — as I substantiated above with specific cites — you have spoken on both sides of the question, which reflects a typical confusion created by today’s undermining of the pivotal identity cluster of principles of right reason. Saying that you have affirmed the laws has no effect when — as I cited — you then proceeded to dismiss their relevance to real world cases of reasoning. Denial that you did so, as I cited, which is what I see now just above, and pointing to one side of what you said as though there is not another side to what you said, which is the side under question, may cloud the issue but it does not remove it. These principles are fundamental because we cannot reason at all unless we respect them, period. So, no the issue is not that I fail to understand what you have said, but that what you have said is on two sides of the issue creating a case of self contradiction and incoherence. Exactly what the laws of right reason are intended to help us avoid. KF

  121. Hi KF -

    Saying that you have affirmed the laws has no effect when — as I cited — you then proceeded to dismiss their relevance to real world cases of reasoning.

    As everyone can see, I never dismissed their relevance. I said they could not be used to evaluate whether any given proposition is reasonable, which (although you can’t seem to understand why) is quite different. Again (for the 100th time) the laws are relevant because every proposition requires that none of the laws is violated. Again (for the 100th time), if a statement violates logic it is invalid, but otherwise logic is useless to assess the reasonableness of the (natural language) statement. Yet another way of saying this is that logic is necessary but not sufficient to evaluate these statements. Yet another way of saying this is that we cannot reduce or translate the full meaning of natural language into logic, and therefore logic cannot be used to evaluate the truth of natural language propositions.

    Perhaps it is difficult for you to accept that real world arguments are messy things that do not admit to formal, objective evaluation. Alas, that is the situation, like it or not.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  122. RDF:

    Re:

    I said they could not be used to evaluate whether any given proposition is reasonable

    The principles in question are the foundation of reason, and that which violates them is at once UN-reasonable.

    Next, logic through first principles continues to be decisive in evaluating reasonableness, say, including the next cluster of principles you seem to have a problem with: sufficient reason and its corollaries regarding cause.

    Beyond, the very point that we must be significantly free to choose in order to reason, is also something you have tried to dispute. Note, I am pointing our that rejection of that freedom of mind, leads straight to manifest self referential absurdity. And yes, in so saying I am indicting the dominant evolutionary materialist school of thought int eh academy today, as absurd. Nor am I the only one who sees this by any means.

    I think as well there is an issue in your writing on the differences between logical coherence, validity, soundness and warrant. That something is logically valid does not imply that it is non-question-begging, an informal fallacy. Subtly question-begging things can be coherent and valid but lack adequate grounds of warrant. Proof is relative to the axioms in use and warrant in many cases is less than certain but reliable enough that we would be irresponsible to ignore it. Being reasonable does not imply being true and certain beyond all dispute or possibility of correction.

    At no point has anyone claimed that first principles of right reason guarantee access to or having in hand truth. That is a strawman on your part.

    I see as well that very quickly you bring back that other hand, creating the usual self-contradiction in your claims:

    Perhaps it is difficult for you to accept that real world arguments are messy things that do not admit to formal, objective evaluation. Alas, that is the situation, like it or not.

    It is that denial of the utility of underlying first principles or right reason in real world contexts, on the excuse that real world arguments are messy, that is the pivotal issue.

    Not so.

    A great many real world arguments are indeed subject to logical analysis, the issue of implication in particular is important. The first principles outlined in the linked that you still seem not to have bothered with, are able to do a lot IN THE REAL WORLD.

    Let me take up, Royce’s Error exists, and symbolise it E.

    Attempt a conjunction: { E AND NOT_E }

    We have here mutually exclusive and exhaustive claims that address the real world. Logic tells us that this conjunction must be false, and that its falsity being relevant to one of the claims, we may identify that the false one is NOT_E.

    So, E is true and is undeniably true on pain of patent self contradiction.

    It is self evident.

    It is warranted to demonstrative certainty.

    It refers to the real world of things as such.

    It is a case of absolute, objective, certainly known truth. It is also a matter of fact confirming the accuracy of a consensus of experience.

    Truth exists as that which accurately refers to reality.

    Knowledge exists as warranted, credibly true beliefs, in this case to certainty.

    Our ability to access truth and knowledge by experience and observation is confirmed in at least one pivotal case.

    Contemporary worldviews — their name is Legion — that would deny, deride or dismiss such [including the point that there are such things as self evident truths that relate to the real world], are thence shown to be factually inadequate and incoherent. They are unable to explain reality. They are, as a bloc, falsified by this one key point. They are unreasonable. And, we have a critical logical test of reasonableness at worldview level.

    Of course the truth in question is particularly humbling and a warning on the limits of knowledge and the gap between belief and truth or even ability to formulate a logical assertion and truth. So, we need to be humble, and — contrary to assertions about arrogance –the principles of right reason allow us to so test our views that we can identify when we have gone off the rails.

    That, too undermines your subjectivism, and your attempt to put a red warning line around objectivity in reasoning.

    On the moral side, I assert that there are objectively true propositions that are knowable and not subject to serious dispute: it is objectively wrong — not merely my opinion vs yours etc — to murder an innocent 8 year old watching a road race by putting a pressure cooker bomb next to him, comes to mind.

    So, yes, while we struggle with error and must be humble, the principles of right reason are guide-stars that help us navigate and find our way tot he safe harbour of the truth and the right.

    KF

  123. 124
    William J Murray

    Do you buy this? Of course not. But you are trying to sell me the same story, replacing “wind” with “will”. No matter where you try to end the causal chain with an uncaused cause, you are still generating an exception to the law of causality.

    An exception that one must posit exists in order to (1) avoid infinite regress (which goes back as a philosophical concept at least as far as Plato & Aristotle), and (2) provide for meaningful, personal moral responsibility.

    If what humans do is entirely caused by what comes before, then every thought, belief and idea is caused, at some point in regress, by material interactions, leaving humans no more morally responsible for a choice than a rock is morally responsible for rolling down a hill and crushing someone.

    For efficiency, I consider the prime mover/first cause/unmoved mover and free will to be the same resource.

  124. RDFish

    I misunderstood you, then. You did say that the motives were “the reasons for the action”, and that they were “the determining factor”, so I hope you can see how I might have interpreted your remarks to mean that these motives really did ultimately determine (i.e. cause) the action.

    I can understand how my use of the word “reason” could cause confusion.

    When our will is struggling with our desires, sometimes our will wins and sometimes our bad desires (bad impulses) do. I believe it is fair to ask, what determines which one will prevail?

    We determine which choice will prevail. Remember, we are a cause. We are moral agents capable of choosing good over evil, or vice versa. Life is a drama. It isn’t just a bunch of molecules bouncing around.

    If we say that nothing determines which one prevails, then we are merely capricious. If we say that something determines which one prevails, then we have no freedom. If we say it is our will that determines if our will prevails or not, then we must ask, what determines whether or not our will will determine if our will will prevail… and so on.

    But we are not saying that “nothing” determines our choices. We determine our choices; we are the cause. We are not nothing.

    You may then say that our will is simply the end of the line, and ask me to please stop asking that annoying question! But you can see that you have not really gotten rid of the casual regress – you have simply decided to stop asking the question.

    I addressed that question earlier, but you said that you didn’t want to discuss it. We determine our choices through the power of our faculty of will. So we are responsible for our choices. On the other hand, God is responsible for creating our will. He causes the existence of our will; we cause the choices that come from our will.

    If we have immediate control over our will, why is it that we all do not immediately control our will to our desires?

    We do have immediate control, but not as much as if we had not formed the bad habit that compromised the control. With free will, the question is not yes or no (it it yes); the question is always, how much or how little. Our will has been shaped, in large part, by past choices. If we chose to love the wrong things, then, by shaping our will in that fashion, it became harder to love the right things. It requires time and effort to reshape it in a more favorable direction. Because we are naturally weak, it can, at times, require heavenly help.

    I really did desire to stop smoking, and if I could immediately control my will I would have… but I couldn’t and didn’t. And obviously my experience is far from unique.

    It isn’t that simple. On the one hand, you desired to stop, on the other hand, you desired to have another cigarette. You were conflicted with two incompatible desires. Your will, having been trained to prefer cigarettes, had been weakened and needed to be retrained to not prefer cigarettes. You continue to ignore the variable of time, While you cannot always seize total control of your will immediately, you can immediately begin to take partial control of your will and gain more control with the passage of time. This is the point that you keep missing.

    Sorry, but I find this sort of reasoning muddled: Let’s say I believed that your mind arose soley from brain function and your behavior was determined by physical cause. I would still have the same hopes and expectations that you might change your mind about something as a result of persuasion!

    Again, this is a contradiction. If behavior A is determined by a physical cause, then it cannot also be open to being changed to behavior B by influences from another source, since that would mean that behavior A had been determined after all. That should be clear. You are still trying to reconcile determinism with free will. It cannot be done. Compatibilism is really nothing more than rationalized determinism

    If I can even change the output of a deterministic computer system by altering the input; why would I think a person could not change his position as the result of new input even if I didn’t believe in free will?

    You are comparing apples with oranges. A computer is determined to follow its program. If it is re-programmed, it will still follow its program. It has no other choice. It is not free to challenge its own program. We are.

    I try very hard to be moral; it is very important to me and I give it a lot of thought. It sometimes feels like struggle; I sometimes regret failing to resist bad impulses, and so on.

    Which morality do you struggle to attain? Where did it come from? What are its tenets? Is it something that you invented?

    The difference is that I wouldn’t say that my choices were based on objective rules, and I wouldn’t say that I know for a fact that if the entire universe was rewound perfectly to before my choice, that it was possible that I would have done differently. That isn’t a moral difference; it is an esoteric and academic difference.

    We are discussing the morality of human nature. There is no such thing as a morality for pigs, plants, or rocks. That is because only a human nature that has been endowed with free will can practice morality. Further, only a human nature endowed with a purpose can even have a morality.

    Put simply, a good human act is one that is consistent with the end for which humans are made. If an act brings us closer to our purpose, it is a good act; if it takes us away from that purpose, it is a bad act. If humans had no purpose at all, then there could be no such thing as a good act or a bad act. That is what morality is–a measure of how well we are doing in the pursuit of the purpose for which we were made. Purpose is inextricably linked to Morality, just as Truth is inextricably linked to Goodness.

  125. WJM: “For efficiency, I consider the prime mover/first cause/unmoved mover and free will to be the same resource.”

    In the spirit of full disclosure, and to help RD keep score, I should probably point out that WJM and myself, while almost always in agreement on matters of moral philosophy, do seem to have differing opinions on this finely-tuned point.

    For my part, human free will, while being a cause, cannot, strictly speaking, be a causeless cause, since its existence must be accounted for. I hold, therefore, that the existence of human free will, that is, the power and faculty by which we choose, is caused by God.

  126. RDfish,

    we cannot reduce or translate the full meaning of natural language into logic,

    Yup, and that’s why the truthfulness of philosophical and theological statements remains often vague, to the point of making some assertions of little utility.

    Practically speaking you just have to assume somethings as true, let others disagree with your assumptions, but as long as its not contradictory, go with it on faith.

    You can’t arrive at ultimate truth by reason and logic alone, you will need some providence that your faith axioms are indeed in line with what is ultimately true.

    If logic were alone sufficient to discern truth, we wouldn’t have Godel’s incompletess in math, and if we have Godel’s incompleteness in math, how much more will we have incompleteness in evaluating the truth statements in natural language propositions.

    What happened in math was essentially, “it’s true or false depending on what you mean”. Russell tried to prove you could execute logic on symbols and thereby avoid the problem of meaning. The problem was that when you got to non-trivial statements, this process crashed. Natural language suffers from the fact statements (although terse) are ultimately non-trivial because every word is subject to being asked “what does that word really mean”. A certain bit of circularity emerges when you realize every word in your vocaublary is cicularly defined by all the other words in your vocabulary, hence formally speaking, you’re stuck if you are unwilling to leave some things unproven and undefined.

    Me, I’m a pragmatist. I believe stuff as long as it works for me…..what is ultimately true? Only God knows. Mortals can only access ultimate truth through faith and providence that their faith assumptions are indeed well-placed. Logic is necessary, but not sufficient. Providence is sufficient.

  127. F/N: I decided to take a look around via google.

    It was saddening but unsurprising to see the party-spirited objections to first principles of reason coming from the circle of objector sites. Inadvertently, they show the very reason why there is a serious problem of want of basic rationality in our civilisation in general, but in particular among those strongly influenced by avant garde, ideologically popular secularist, evolutionary materialist progressivism and that species of ultra-modernity that likes to call itself post modernism.

    A few points:

    1 –> The first steps in reasoning do start with our common sense status as potentially reasonable creatures in our world. And in that context, the first step of reasoning is to recognise distinctions.

    2 –> Those distinctions exist as realities before we recognise them and make accurate statements — i.e. true ones — about them.

    3 –> The bright red ball on the table, NR, is there whether or not you accept that reality. Long before Boole et al came along, or for that matter Aristotle et al.

    4 –> And if our ball is bright cherry-red because it just came out of a furnace, if you have any common good sense you had better adapt to the reality instead of expecting that reality to reflect your whims and fancies, talking points or whatever.

    5 –> Once that reality of distinction is there, NR, the rest follows is IMMEDIATELY, instantly present. That is the ball is distinct, it is diverse from what is not the ball (including the tongs and leather gloves, safety goggles etc) and there is no conflation or confusion of the two.

    6 –> Perceptions, descriptions, symbols, reasonings etc reflect and recognise that reality, such as the symbol: { A | NOT-A }. This act of distinction is the first step of thought and indeed of language and communication. And yes, that reality is prior to taking sides in design debates. Thank God for the small mercy that many recognise these things whatever side of issues they fall on. But, for many years now it has been a pattern to see design objectors following down the usual ideological lines and almost predictably swallowing ultimately absurd objections to first foundational principles of reasoning.

    7 –> Notwithstanding, all reasoned thought, all symbolic expression thereof, all speech, all writing immediately and implicitly, inescapably uses it. Such is truly foundational. We cannot but build on it, and to try is to immediately land in patent self referential absurdity. As has so often happened in and around UD.

    8 –> To be direct, again . . . it is so hard to break through avant garde programming and fashionable views: once an object is distinct, the identity cluster obtains as reality. And our symbolic representation will inevitably use such and states such.

    9 –> Similarly, the matter is prior to the theory or frame of classic propositional logic. And yes one may play all sorts of games with symbol systems, even try to reject such principles. But lo, the very symbols in use are distinct things that depend on our recognition: { A | NOT-A } etc. In short, there is a little matter of having a more foundational use of the identity cluster, even when one pretends to have a system that upends it.

    10 –> This is the context of my remarks in and linked onward from the UD WACs on how Quantum physics reflects these principles, it does not violate them. Contrary to a set of popular talking points.

    11 –> Likewise, EL, you should recognise that we are dealing with realities we can accurately and commonly recognise. Verbal games about objects being prior to axioms cut no ice when you make mistakes with red hot iron balls on tables. And debates over whether or no we are objects cut no ice when that pain from your burnt hand hits your consciousness of pain, intense pain occasioned by folly.

    12 –> I therefore suggest a modest proposal. Lay aside the polarisation, the avant garde programming and party line, the dismissive sense of superiority over those IDiots etc, the snide talking points and reflect a bit on the matters pointed out here on.

    KF

  128. Hi KF,

    RDF: I said they could not be used to evaluate whether any given proposition is reasonable
    KF: The principles in question are the foundation of reason, and that which violates them is at once UN-reasonable.

    Yes we have been in agreement about this from the start (but you knew that, right?) And so, if I were to say “Obama is the president of the U.S., and Obama is not the President of the U.S.”, you could quickly show that I am in error by applying the LNC.

    But we cannot use these principles to evaluate the meaning and validity of any given proposition. For example, you cannot use these principles to tell me whether or not the proposition “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is true, or false, or even if it is meaningful, simply by applying these principles. Nor can you evaluate “Abortion is murder” or “Man-made global warming threatens the Earth” or any of an infinite number of propositions we might want to discuss by applying these principles. We agree on that too, right?

    Next, logic through first principles continues to be decisive in evaluating reasonableness, say, including the next cluster of principles you seem to have a problem with: sufficient reason and its corollaries regarding cause.

    We disagree on this; it is not a logical necessity that all events have causes and sufficient reason. I actually have been arguing that libertarianism is inconsistent with these principles.

    Beyond, the very point that we must be significantly free to choose in order to reason, is also something you have tried to dispute.

    That depends on what you mean by “significantly free”. If you mean contra-causal will, then yes that is my position. But I believe we freely choose our actions and we are each responsible for all of our actions.

    Note, I am pointing our that rejection of that freedom of mind, leads straight to manifest self referential absurdity.

    I disagree with this. I find no contradiction in talking about minds that freely choose actions but do not have an ontologically distinct form of causality.

    And yes, in so saying I am indicting the dominant evolutionary materialist school of thought int eh academy today, as absurd. Nor am I the only one who sees this by any means.

    I’m not discussing these issues; I’m not a “materialist” nor an “evolutionist”.

    I think as well there is an issue in your writing on the differences between logical coherence, validity, soundness and warrant….Being reasonable does not imply being true and certain beyond all dispute or possibility of correction.

    You are correct about this. We (including me, StephenB, etc) have been conflating reasonableness, rationality, and truth here in our discussions and they are distinct concepts. I didn’t want to complicate the discussion by bringing this up, since we were having so much trouble communicating about the other issues.

    At no point has anyone claimed that first principles of right reason guarantee access to or having in hand truth. That is a strawman on your part.

    No, I wasn’t building any strawmen. That is your province I’m afraid ;-)

    A great many real world arguments are indeed subject to logical analysis

    I don’t really think this is true; perhaps we’re talking about different sorts of arguments. I meant things like “The 2nd ammendment applies to individual gun owners” or “States ought to sanction gay marriage” or “Goverment should subsidize green energy” and so on.

    On the moral side, I assert that there are objectively true propositions that are knowable and not subject to serious dispute: it is objectively wrong — not merely my opinion vs yours etc — to murder an innocent 8 year old watching a road race by putting a pressure cooker bomb next to him, comes to mind.

    I agree that such acts are wrong and not subject to dispute. I do not believe they are objectively verifiable in the way scientific results are verifiable, but neither are they subjective in the sense that they are merely individual opinion. They are intersubjectively true, in that we can assume every human must agree with them if they are to be considered whole and normal, and we must judge against anyone who disagrees.

    So, yes, while we struggle with error and must be humble,…

    Yes!!!

    …the principles of right reason are guide-stars that help us navigate and find our way tot he safe harbour of the truth and the right.

    Sadly, logic is only a laser beam: It shines very brightly on specific areas of reason, but lights up very little of what we need to navigate in life.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  129. Hi WJM,

    RDF: No matter where you try to end the causal chain with an uncaused cause, you are still generating an exception to the law of causality.
    WJM: An exception that one must posit exists in order to (1) avoid infinite regress (which goes back as a philosophical concept at least as far as Plato & Aristotle), and (2) provide for meaningful, personal moral responsibility.

    I was not arguing those points! My argument has been that libertarianism conflicts with the Law of Causality, and I believe you have just conceded that point – thank you.

    Again: Libertarianism stands in contradiction to the Law of Causality. Think about the implications!

    Now we can move on to your next point, which is that libertarianism is required to avoid infinite regress, and it is also required for moral responsibility. I take issue with both of these points.

    First, libertarianism avoids infinite regress simply by truncating the inquiry into causal history. But that causal chain needn’t end in the human mind; we (like Calvinists) could instead decide that humans are utterly determined, and the causal chain ends in the mind of God. That solves the regress without libertarianism, and there are other (non-theistic) ways as well.

    Second, I argue that moral responsibility is more straightforward once you abandon libertarianism! In my view, every human being is fully responsible for their actions, even if that human is a victim of abuse, diseased, or suffering from hyperglycemia brought about by eating too many Twinkies. Libertarians have much more trouble with these sorts of cases.

    If what humans do is entirely caused by what comes before, then every thought, belief and idea is caused, at some point in regress, by material interactions,…

    I was with you up to “material interactions”. I don’t believe that “materialism” is a well-defined concept, and it just shouldn’t figure into moral theory at all.

    … leaving humans no more morally responsible for a choice than a rock is morally responsible for rolling down a hill and crushing someone.

    Rocks do not make choices based on beliefs and desires, and human beings do, and that is true whether or not we believe in libertarian will.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  130. Hi StephenB,

    RDF: When our will is struggling with our desires, sometimes our will wins and sometimes our bad desires (bad impulses) do. I believe it is fair to ask, what determines which one will prevail?
    SB: We determine which choice will prevail. Remember, we are a cause.

    Again I find your ontology very confusing.

    1) I desire to stop smoking
    2) My will struggles to stop, and my desires/impluses compete with my will to make me continue
    3) What decides which one wins? According to you, it is “ME” who decides that.

    So it seems like you’re saying that there is a self that exists independently of the will, and this self can override the will and the desires and make the choice of which one wins. Is that what you think?

    It isn’t just a bunch of molecules bouncing around.

    (As an aside, nobody has believed this for a hundred years. Materialism has changed greatly under modern physics, right?)

    RDF: If we say that nothing determines which one prevails, then we are merely capricious. If we say that something determines which one prevails, then we have no freedom. If we say it is our will that determines if our will prevails or not, then we must ask, what determines whether or not our will will determine if our will will prevail… and so on.
    SB: But we are not saying that “nothing” determines our choices. We determine our choices; we are the cause. We are not nothing.

    Yes, you seem to be saying that we exist as (at least) three different components:
    1) WILL
    2) DESIRES (or “impulses”)
    3) SELF
    And you seem to be saying that the will and the desires are in conflict, and that the conflict is settled by the self. But don’t you see you’ve just moved the whole question back one more step, and the question then becomes “What is it that determines if the self chooses to override the will or the desires?”

    On the one hand, you desired to stop, on the other hand, you desired to have another cigarette. You were conflicted with two incompatible desires. Your will, having been trained to prefer cigarettes, had been weakened and needed to be retrained to not prefer cigarettes. You continue to ignore the variable of time, While you cannot always seize total control of your will immediately, you can immediately begin to take partial control of your will and gain more control with the passage of time. This is the point that you keep missing.

    There is truth in what you say – it describes our experience accurately. But until you clarify your ontology (you, your will, and your desires and how they actually determine your actions) it’s hard for me to understand how you think this works. I’m most confused about the relationship between the self and the will.

    RDF: If I can even change the output of a deterministic computer system by altering the input; why would I think a person could not change his position as the result of new input even if I didn’t believe in free will?
    SB: You are comparing apples with oranges. A computer is determined to follow its program. If it is re-programmed, it will still follow its program. It has no other choice. It is not free to challenge its own program. We are.

    This is the crux of our different regarding freedom. Computers can make choices that transcend their programming in two ways: First, they can react to and learn from input from an unpredictable world, and second they may (or may not) incorporate indeterminism. So even if libertarianism was false, humans could still be affected by their history of experiences (or indeterminism, but let’s set that aside). I could write a program that could be convinced by certain arguments to act one way or another; even making it theoretically impossible to predict which choice the program would make in any particular environment.

    Which morality do you struggle to attain? Where did it come from? What are its tenets? Is it something that you invented?

    I’m sure it is very similar to the one you struggle to attain. There are obviously not enough tenets to determine our morality, because life is too complicated. We don’t make our moral judgements by evaluating them against rules – we make them because we each experience undeniable moral truths. We do not recoil from torturing puppies because we adopted some rules against it, nor could we happily do it if the rule was changed.

    We are discussing the morality of human nature. There is no such thing as a morality for pigs, plants, or rocks.

    I agree.

    That is because only a human nature that has been endowed with free will can practice morality.

    I disagree. It is because human beings can reflect on their beliefs and their desires and choose their actions. When a human being chooses, for example, to torture a puppy, I make an absolute moral judgement against them. That has nothing to do with mind/body ontology, the nature of causality, or any other metaphysical issues. Moral judgments preceded metaphysical reflection, and are unrelated to them, and if I found out tomorrow that idealism was true, or physicalism, or dualism, or whatever… it wouldn’t change my morality one iota.

    If humans had no purpose at all, then there could be no such thing as a good act or a bad act. That is what morality is–a measure of how well we are doing in the pursuit of the purpose for which we were made. Purpose is inextricably linked to Morality, just as Truth is inextricably linked to Goodness.

    I think we will always disagree on this point. But what I think might be interesting is to investigate two things:
    1) How are our moral judgements similar and different? Are you and I more different morally than you and other Christians for example?
    2) If our moral judgements are largely the same (and I’m betting they are), what could account for that given that our moral foundations are so different?

    For my part, human free will, while being a cause, cannot, strictly speaking, be a causeless cause, since its existence must be accounted for. I hold, therefore, that the existence of human free will, that is, the power and faculty by which we choose, is caused by God.

    I’d like to keep the question of origins (of human beings, and of free will) separate from the rest of our discussion of will, just to try and keep things slightly less complicated.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  131. Hi scordova,

    RDF: we cannot reduce or translate the full meaning of natural language into logic,
    SCORDOVA: Yup, and that’s why the truthfulness of philosophical and theological statements remains often vague, to the point of making some assertions of little utility.

    Yay!!! Somebody here agrees with me!

    Practically speaking you just have to assume somethings as true, let others disagree with your assumptions, but as long as its not contradictory, go with it on faith.

    Well, not really faith I’d say. We can still argue matters grounded in our shared experience and intersubjective judgements, no?

    If logic were alone sufficient to discern truth, we wouldn’t have Godel’s incompletess in math, and if we have Godel’s incompleteness in math, how much more will we have incompleteness in evaluating the truth statements in natural language propositions.

    All very true, yes.

    What happened in math was essentially, “it’s true or false depending on what you mean”. Russell tried to prove you could execute logic on symbols and thereby avoid the problem of meaning. The problem was that when you got to non-trivial statements, this process crashed. Natural language suffers from the fact statements (although terse) are ultimately non-trivial because every word is subject to being asked “what does that word really mean”. A certain bit of circularity emerges when you realize every word in your vocaublary is cicularly defined by all the other words in your vocabulary, hence formally speaking, you’re stuck if you are unwilling to leave some things unproven and undefined.

    Well said! (It’s even worse than this, really, since sentence structure is ambiguous even beyond word senses).

    Logic is necessary, but not sufficient.

    Exactly so. Thank you for your validating input here!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  132. 134
    William J Murray

    StephenB said:

    For my part, human free will, while being a cause, cannot, strictly speaking, be a causeless cause, since its existence must be accounted for. I hold, therefore, that the existence of human free will, that is, the power and faculty by which we choose, is caused by God.

    This might be an interesting conversation. What would God create human free will out of? How can a thing that is caused to exist be “free”?

    It seems to me that free will is such a primordial, essential commodity that even god cannot create it, nor change it, nor cause it – like good. God doesn’t create good; god is good. God expresses and creates good because that is what god is, not because god decides that it is good.

    Same with free will; creating a separate free will is like creating a separate good – it can’t be, IMO. Thus, just as our “good purpose” is individuated by covering god’s good purpose with a particular mind/body personality, which then (hopefully) individually interprets god’s purpose (the good) as an individuated manifestation, so too is our free will an enshrouded node of the only free will source that exists – god’s.

    Not a challenge, just a friendly discussion. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter, and anyone else that would like to contribute.

  133. 135
    William J Murray

    My argument has been that libertarianism conflicts with the Law of Causality, and I believe you have just conceded that point – thank you.

    Do you do this just to incite those you are debating? Surely you realize I am not agreeing with you here. Shall I start thanking your for conceding points you have not actually conceded?

    Rocks do not make choices based on beliefs and desires, and human beings do, and that is true whether or not we believe in libertarian will.

    You’re playing fast and loose with semantics. Just because you label a physical event “making a choice” doesn’t magically imbue that physical event with the capacity for moral responsibility.

    If the will that makes a choice is caused by that which precedes it, then given that which precedes it, the will cannot do anything other than what it did, which makes it a category of sequence equal to that of a rock rolling down a hill. Given what precedes, then what follows. There cannot be any moral obligation to an act of will if the act of will cannot do anything other than follow what has preceded it.

    I disagree. It is because human beings can reflect on their beliefs and their desires and choose their actions.

    Here you are stealing concepts. If such “reflection” is caused, then again, what precedes determines what follows. Under your paradigm, “reflecting” and “choosing” are effects generated by what preceded, and what one chooses upon such reflection is – again – simply what follows from what preceded.

    You might as well call bits that fly off a rock rolling down a mountainside the “reflections” of the rock as it “modifies” its choice of path down the slope.

    Stripped of their fundamental, necessary meaning – that will can do something other than what precedes a “choice” demands (as its cause) – your semantics only serve as deception to hide the amorality of any act of non-libertarian “will”.

  134. Sal @127

    Self-evident truths transcend symbols and speak both about logic and the real world. Symbols are merely the tools we use to express those truths. Symbols that do not signify truths are not important for this discussion.
    It is not simply that case that A is not A in logical or symbolic terms, it is also the case that Jupiter cannot both exist and not exist at the same time as an ontological reality. I need no faith to make that assertion. I simply know it. By that standard I can reliably attain to other truths.

    It is not just true in an abstract sense that nothing can begin to exist without a cause, it is also true in the concrete sense—-a brick wall cannot appear in front of my moving automobile from out of nowhere without a reason. That is a metaphysical truth that needs no faith or empirical verification.

    It is not simply the case that a whole can never be more than any one of its constituent parts, it is also true, according to that same principle, that the city of Detroit can never have more people than the entire state of Michigan. Once again, faith is not needed in order to arrive at the truth of these matters. It is the principle that rules and the example that follows, not the other way around.

    Accordingly, faith is for things that we cannot know without Divine aid, such as the Trinity or the plan of salvation, not for things that are self-evident. That is the whole point of Romans 1:20. We can know that God exists by observing his handiwork. That is why those who reject God’s existence are “without excuse.”

    Indeed, if logic and reason did not consistently apply to the real world, there would be no difference between a valid argument, which represents only the consistency of symbols, and a sound argument, which speaks to reliable truths about the real world arrived at through deductive reasoning.

    Clearly, we cannot be absolutely certain of the empirically-based prediction that the sun will rise again tomorrow, since it may not, in fact, do that; but I can make that analysis only if I accept reason’s rules, which show the difference between what I can know for sure and what I cannot know for sure. Put another way, I can only know the difference between a probable truth and a certain truth if I acknowledge and begin with a non –negotiable, self-evident truth. What an irony it is that every challenge to reason’s rules invariably appeals to reason’s rules in an attempt to make the argument.

    We ought never to take seriously anything Bertrand Russell says about logic and such things as the ultimate truth about God’s existence. He is, after all, the same person who, after being told that nothing can come into existence without a cause once asked, “Who made God?” Obviously, he missed the point that God did not come into existence, making one of the most egregious errors in the history of thought.

    Although I love and respect every aspect of the scientific enterprise, I must also point out that it is only by reason’s rules that we can interpret scientific evidence in a rational way. Evidence doesn’t speak for itself. That is why a Darwinist and an ID proponent can examine the same piece of evidence and come to radically different conclusions. The Darwinist, ignoring reason’s rules, will interpret the evidence irrationally, as if effects could occur without causes, the ID proponent, respecting reason’s rules, will likely interpret the evidence in a reasonable way, looking for the true causes behind the effects.

    Evidence does not inform the rules of right reason; the rules of right reason inform evidence. That is why I can know that quantum events are not acausal. How do I know this? It follows from the fact that, given the Law of Causality, NO event can be acausal, either at the micro level or the macro level. Reason’s rules inform quantum mechanics just as surely as they inform all others areas of science. It was, after all, that same law of causality that lead to the discovery of the quantum phenomenon in the first place. It makes no sense for the scientist to cut off the same metaphysical branch he is sitting on.

  135. Hi WJM,

    RDF: …you are still generating an exception to the law of causality.
    WJM: An exception that one must posit exists…
    RDF: My argument has been that libertarianism conflicts with the Law of Causality, and I believe you have just conceded that point – thank you.
    WJM: Surely you realize I am not agreeing with you here.

    Sorry, but I actually did think you had just acknowledged that you must posit an exception to the Law of Causality in order accomodate libertarian free will. In fact, looking at what you said, it seems quite clear that this is exactly what you did acknowledge! And so yes, in my view the fact that you must posit an exception to the LoC means that the LoC is not a law – if libertarianism is true, then the LoC holds in some contexts and not others.

    RDF: Rocks do not make choices based on beliefs and desires, and human beings do, and that is true whether or not we believe in libertarian will.
    WJM: Just because you label a physical event “making a choice” doesn’t magically imbue that physical event with the capacity for moral responsibility.

    Sorry but I don’t understand you. We agree that rocks have no capacity for moral responsibility, and human beings do. We also agree that rocks do not make choices, and human beings do. Where we apparently disagree is that you think humans are imbued (magically?) with the capacity for moral responsibility by virtue of their libertarian free will, whereas I believe that humans are imbued with the capacity for moral responsibility by virtue of their ability to make choices.

    You have a great deal of certainty regarding libertarianism, and for me it is an open question, but I shall take the position here that it is false arguendo, in order to counter your claim to certainty on the matter.

    If the will that makes a choice is caused by that which precedes it, then given that which precedes it, the will cannot do anything other than what it did, which makes it a category of sequence equal to that of a rock rolling down a hill.

    We disagree entirely. That is like saying that if an ant gives its life for the sake of the ant colony, it is a category of sequence equal to that of a human soldier giving his life for the sake of his country. I think these acts are quite categorically distinct, don’t you? And your example is even more absurd, because rocks are completely inert and can’t do anything! Human beings make choices, good and bad, and this is true no matter what is true of metaphysics.

    Given what precedes, then what follows. There cannot be any moral obligation to an act of will if the act of will cannot do anything other than follow what has preceded it.

    An act of will does NOT depend soley on what directly precedes it of course! I am the result of countless decisions and experiences that I’ve made and had over my entire life, combined with all of my innate characteristics, and it is the totality of my being that determines what choice I will make in any given context. It is me – the result of all of my choices and experiences – who is reponsible for everything that I do.

    If such “reflection” is caused, then again, what precedes determines what follows. Under your paradigm, “reflecting” and “choosing” are effects generated by what preceded, and what one chooses upon such reflection is – again – simply what follows from what preceded.

    We all reflect on our beliefs, desires, and choices of course. And as I just explained, it is no simple matter when the totality of everything I am, my unfathomable complexity of form and function and my infinite wealth of experiences, comes to a decision. In fact, it is as far from simple as it is possible to imagine. And we don’t need to add a drop of magical contra-causal will to make it any more meaningful or morally responsible.

    You might as well call bits that fly off a rock rolling down a mountainside the “reflections” of the rock as it “modifies” its choice of path down the slope.

    I think that comparing human beings to rocks is perhaps the worst analogy I have ever read in my entire life. Humans perceive, think, remember, forget, love, regret, worship… rocks do nothing.

    Stripped of their fundamental, necessary meaning – that will can do something other than what precedes a “choice” demands (as its cause) – your semantics only serve as deception to hide the amorality of any act of non-libertarian “will”.

    I’m arguing that Libertarianism is false, but I assure you I would still hold you 100% morally accountable for wrong actions on your part. You have no reason to claim that humans require some special sort of causality in order to be held accountable for their actions.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  136. Jupiter cannot both exist and not exist at the same time as an ontological reality.

    Schrodinger’s cat paradox cast’s some doubt on such notions. Truth seem to have some dependence on observers, at least in the quantum world.

    Curiously, most theists think inherent reality is friendly to theism, but not all theists have believed that!

    “The ultimate cause of atheism, Newton asserted, is ‘this notion of bodies having, as it were, a complete, absolute and independent reality in themselves.’”

    Isaac Newton as quoted in
    Quantum Enigma of Consciousness and the Identity of the Designer

    One might argue that the law of non-contradiction was thrown out with quantum computing where a bit can be simultaneously false and true.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qubit

    In a classical system, a bit would have to be in one state or the other, but quantum mechanics allows the qubit to be in a superposition of both states at the same time, a property which is fundamental to quantum computing.

    and

    Recurrent neurons, or “simulated” qubits, can store simultaneous true and false with probabilistic behaviors usually reserved for the qubits of quantum physics. Although possible to construct artificially, simulated qubits are intended to explain biological mysteries

    Even the way you choose to observe nothingness can cause it to become something. See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandi's_series

    and

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O.....9;s_series

    The Grandi seiries seems to violate non-contradiction at many levels even though all the steps in construction seemed logically correct, the conclusions appeared absurd.

    So yeah, I use the law of non-contradiction in math and logic, but in some realms what that law means isn’t exactly so clear. Even in trinitarian theology, God is One and He is Three persons. That sort of violates the law of non contradiction in real numbers. Outside of pure logic and math, the law of non-contradiction doesn’t quite have the same force.

    Sometimes to accept reality with our finite minds, we have to accept apparently contradictory ideas like predestination and free will. Jerry Coyne isn’t the only one facing the problem of determinism and free will, it’s steeped in Christian theology. I accept it, I don’t try to solve the apparent contradiction, even though the law of non-contradiction would seem to over turn the compatibility of the doctrine of predestination and free will.

    All this to say, the “law of non contradiction” can be thrown at Christians as well. If you live by the sword of non-contradiction, you can die by the sword of non-contradiction.

    So yes, by all means use the law of non-contradiction against Darwinists by demonstrating Darwinist contradicitons (like their implcit claim: “natural selection creates diversity by removing diversity”), but it’s shocking to me that so much debate goes on about the domain of applicability of the law of non-contradiction. As a pragmatist, I don’t really care how universal or non-universal the law is, I’ll use it when it helps me discern the truth. At least thankfully for theologians, unlike Darwinists, a theologian can invoke special indulgences and loopholes to resolve apparent violations of non-contradiction.

    No doubt this screed of mine shows I tend to be an empiricist, not a rationalist, and find some of rationalist methods of arriving at truth quite revolting.

    This may be shocking coming from me, but well, Alfred North Whitehead pointed out the scientific enterprise in some sense was an anti-rationalist movement that favored brute empiricism over human preconceptions of what ought to be true.

    It is not just true in an abstract sense that nothing can begin to exist without a cause, it is also true in the concrete sense—-a brick wall cannot appear in front of my moving automobile from out of nowhere without a reason. That is a metaphysical truth that needs no faith or empirical verification.

    So was Truth was caused by something? If the most ultimate realities are truth and logic are they caused by something or does truth transcend that law of causation? The problem again is you can redefine the law of causation anyway you want to the point its useless in trying to make it some universal principle.

    I believe in God, but I don’t think such modes of reasoning are persuasive. Sorry to be so harsh, but brute physical measurements are more persuasive to me than philosophical pronouncements that can be redifined at the whim of the user whenever inconvenient counter examples appear.

    The thing about brute facts, they are hard to reason away.

    One may wonder then, if I like brute facts, why I’m an ID proponent? Sometimes I wonder myself, but suffice to say, the brute facts don’t support Darwinism or mindless evolution. ID is simply more consistent as an explanation, and I’m willing to accept it even if it could be ultimately unprovable because it seems a reasonable alternative to all the others that seem inconsistent with brute facts.

  137. RDF:

    Let me take in steps on points, as this is the evident pivot of your troubles:

    >>But we cannot use these principles to evaluate the meaning and validity of any given proposition.>>

    1 –> Not so, this is again the we agree except that we disagree game. And don’t you dare say we disagree.

    2 –> To understand and live by reason, we must first recognise that the identity cluster is a reflection of reality, and that it is effective at helping us to understand whether our ideas do or can conform to that reality.

    3 –> Moreover, you seem to labour under a serious misunderstanding of what a proposition is: the meaning of an assertion or implication that is either true or false. Here is a nice definition from a course at FSU:

    1.1. Propositions.
    Definition
    1.1.1.
    A proposition is a declarative sentence that is either
    true (denoted either T or 1) or false (denoted either F or 0).

    4 –> If a combination of words or similar symbols is meaningless or cannot refer to reality either accurately or inaccurately, it cannot be a proposition.

    5 –> This immediately comes up in:

    >> For example, you cannot use these principles to tell me whether or not the proposition “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is true, or false, or even if it is meaningful, simply by applying these principles.>>

    6 –> You have asserted that the italicised combination of letters is a proposition. But in fact, it is unable to refer and as such it is patently not a proposition.

    7 –> You then proceeded to a further error, the strawman caricature of trying to restrict the foundation of rational thought to the first principles. This BTW, is part of why the relevant section in the online note you have yet to give an indication of having taken time to read, begins by looking at worldviews and their foundations, going on to observe that taken as a whole a worldview is an explanatory construct that is held to per inference to best accepted explanation; ideally in light of comparative difficulties rather than by imagining one may traverse an infinite regress of warrant [as opposed to "proof"]or question-begging circularities.

    8 –> The first principles then discussed — the identity cluster pivoting on the reality of recognisable distinct things that allow a world partition: W = { A | NOT-A }, what truth is best understood to be, the principle of sufficient reason and its corollaries cause and the issue of necessary enabling causal factors, thence contingent and necessary being, possibility and impossibility of being — serve as in effect a plumbline, level and builder’s try-square to test whether things are built in proper alignment.

    9 –> These principles then apply even to the above nonsense statement, as the very letters in the words used are examples of distinct things subject tot he partitioning. Let me indicate — again, despite your dismissal previously — by starting with the first word:

    { F | NOT-F } + {o | NOT-o } + { r | NOT-r }

    10 –> In short, to make a statement at all, you were forced to rely on the intelligible, recognisable distinctness of symbolic glyphs, thence the identity cluster as a reflection of reality.

    11 –> That issue is pivotal: do or do you not see why something so fundamental to thought and to the nature of reality: distinctness and its direct immediate implications, can properly be understood to be foundational without being forced to play in the strawman caricature role of being the wide basis of worldviews, arguments etc.

    >> Nor can you evaluate “Abortion is murder” or “Man-made global warming threatens the Earth” or any of an infinite number of propositions we might want to discuss by applying these principles. We agree on that too, right?>>

    11 –> Multiple fallacies of irrelevance. At no point has anyone here asserted that the identity cluster and cause-effect alone are capable of evaluating the actual truth or falsity of propositions. Similarly, this serves to draw attention away from what has been said, to allow changing the subject and pretending or implying that he strawman caricatures erected are the real deal, to be duly pummelled. AND THIS HAS BEEN POINTED OUT TO YOU ALREADY, JUST OBVIOUSLY IGNORED.

    ________

    So, kindly stop the distraction games and focus. Look again at the word “For” and how I have highlighted how the very attempt to communicate by making a blog comment involves implicit recognition of distinction as a key feature of reality. Thence, the foundational nature of the corollaries that are immediately present once there is distinction.

    Where, these three key principles also tell us that if we do not respect them, we at once end in patent absurdities and confusion. In this case, we see how you repeatedly seek to say yes these you agree to then try to take away reference to reality, which is their pivot.

    The sad thing about our day, is that ever so many will cling to absurdities and elaborate constructions built on such, evidently for fear of where the alternative, plain common sense rooted clarity, will point.

    Let me close by clipping a suprising source, Wiki speaking against its known general ideological trend regarding the Laws of Thought c. Feb 2012 (I don’t know if some busybody has neatly excised this bit of fresh air since then):

    The law of non-contradiction and the law of excluded middle are not separate laws per se, but correlates of the law of identity. That is to say, they are two interdependent and complementary principles that inhere naturally (implicitly) within the law of identity, as its essential nature . . . whenever we ‘identify’ a thing as belonging to a certain class or instance of a class, we intellectually set that thing apart from all the other things in existence which are ‘not’ of that same class or instance of a class. In other words, the proposition, “A is A and A is not ~A” (law of identity) intellectually partitions a universe of discourse (the domain of all things) into exactly two subsets, A and ~A, and thus gives rise to a dichotomy. As with all dichotomies, A and ~A must then be ‘mutually exclusive’ and ‘jointly exhaustive’ with respect to that universe of discourse. In other words, ‘no one thing can simultaneously be a member of both A and ~A’ (law of non-contradiction), whilst ‘every single thing must be a member of either A or ~A’ (law of excluded middle).

    What’s more . . . thinking entails the manipulation and amalgamation of simpler concepts in order to form more complex ones, and therefore, we must have a means of distinguishing these different concepts. It follows then that the first principle of language (law of identity) is also rightfully called the first principle of thought, and by extension, the first principle reason (rational thought) . . .

    What I am pointing out to Wiki and to you, is that that distinction between the red hot ball on the table pictured and discussed here overnight, and its surroundings, is not only an act of thought but a reality to which the thoughts and words we have or use, properly expressed, may accurately refer.

    Indeed, beneath much of this, I think I detect the confusion that sees an impassable ugly gulch between the world of perceptions and the world of realities; int he end locking us up into a subjectivism that does not realise the first little error in the beginning.

    Namely, echoing F H Bradley, to imagine that we know that we cannot know — on good warrant accurately refer to — the external reality at least in part [even, Error exists is an excellent example of such knowledge and its warrant, here to undeniable certainty . . . NB I have expanded my discussion of this and its implications in the already linked] IS ALREADY TO MAKE A KNOWLEDGE CLAIM ABOUT THE EXTERNAL WORLD. That is, to fatally, irretrievably contradict oneself.

    So, first principles of right reason are indeed just that, clearly true on insightful reflection in light of the experience as minded creatures living in a world that we bring to the table as a pre-theoretical fund of common sense, and to try to deny them ends in an obvious nest of incoherence and absurdities. They are self evident.

    So, please, think again.

    KF

  138. Hi KF,

    RDF: But we cannot use these principles to evaluate the meaning and validity of any given proposition.
    KF: Not so

    It occurs to me what your misunderstanding might be here. Do you think by any given in this sentence, I mean “even one”? I in fact mean “whichever”. In other words, I mean that we cannot choose whichever proposition we want to and then test it using logic. Did you think I was saying that there is not even one proposition we can test using logic?

    If you did, I’m glad we cleared that up. And of course the misunderstanding simply underscores my point, because both interpretations of my sentence are valid. It illustrates that natural language is ambiguous, and can’t be represented in logic!

    Yes you are correct of course regarding the word “proposition” in the example of a meaningless but grammatical sentence. But you failed to respond to my point: You cannot use rules of logic to determine that the sentence is meaningless!

    RDF: Nor can you evaluate “Abortion is murder” or “Man-made global warming threatens the Earth” or any of an infinite number of propositions we might want to discuss by applying these principles. We agree on that too, right?
    KF: At no point has anyone here asserted that the identity cluster and cause-effect alone are capable of evaluating the actual truth or falsity of propositions.

    Well, that has been a part of my point all along, as anyone who has read my posts would have seen over and over and over and over again. But it’s not just truth value of propositions that logic can’t tell us – it is the correctness of statements and arguments in natural language. In particular logic obviously can’t be used to test normative statements.

    Scordova here has some good points in support of my view – you should read his post.

    WIKI: What’s more . . . thinking entails the manipulation and amalgamation of simpler concepts in order to form more complex ones, and therefore, we must have a means of distinguishing these different concepts. It follows then that the first principle of language (law of identity) is also rightfully called the first principle of thought, and by extension, the first principle reason (rational thought) . . .

    I think this is nonsense. There is no theory of human thought – we don’t know how we think. We have no reason to say that thinking “entails the manipulation and almalgamation of simpler concepts in order to form more complex ones…” That sounds like reductionism to me, and reductionism doesn’t really get at the heart of many of our concepts obviously. You already agreed that logic can’t assess the truth or falsity of propositions, and we agree that logic can’t tell us if a sentence is meaningless. You just need to accept that logic can’t be used to evaluate very much of what we care about, and we’ll be in complete agreement!

    Spock is cool, but he was just wrong about logic!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  139. RDF:

    My problem is deeper than that, and it is not a misunderstanding. Kindly drop the implied dismissive suggestions.

    First, “whichever” in this context does entail any as in all.

    Secondly, observe again what you gave as your first example of a claimed proposition. Something that is a nonsense expression and cannot refer.

    If you seriously think that is a proposition, there is a deep problem there.

    You also keep on erecting and knocking over a strawman, as though we have been saying that the identity cluster and the sufficient reason cluster as examples of first principles of right reason, are all that is needed to evaluate meaning and truth. No one, anywhere above or in relevant contexts has asserted or implied anything so nonsensical.

    What we have said is in summary:

    1: distinct identity is real and natural, also recognisable and verbalisable: W = { A | NOT-A }.

    2: So soon as that is present, the identity cluster swings into action. A is A not NOT_A, A cannot be itself and not itself in thew same sense, we do not have some weird third state in breach of the dichotomy.

    3: Similarly, once we have A, we may ask, why A and seek an explanation as to why. Most relevantly, one that in particular focusses on contingency of being.

    4: If something has a beginning, or there is a possible world in which it is not [and others in which it would be], it is a contingent being.

    5: Such beings depend on enabling, on/off external factors, and are thus caused; e.g. as discussed in the note you have refused to read and have thereby induced me into an unnecessary and distractive elaboration here. (Notice, I focus here on necessary causal factors as the pivotal ones. Something contingent will be if it is sustained by a sufficient cluster of factors, which must at the least include all necessary enabling on/off ones.)

    6: It is also reasonable to consider beings that do not have such dependency. They are candidates to be necessary beings. Such candidates will either be impossible — essentially as proposed necessary factors stand in irreconcilable conflict such as squareness and circularity for a suggested “square circle” — or if possible, they will be actual.

    7: They will be in all possible worlds, and will be in the actual one. For simple instance, the truth in 2 + 3 = 5 is such a necessary being. It had no beginning, it cannot cease to be, it is eternally so. Much stems from such and related issues and points; e.g. consider the classic thought that such propositions are eternally resident in the mind of the necessary being behind the observed cosmos and the root of being. As is discussed.

    8: In that context, we have our being as minded, responsible creatures. We are contingent, but personal. In order to be able to reason and be responsible, we must be sufficiently free that we may decide and act as self-moved, initiating causes. So, either — never mind the fancy foot work that distracts from the fact — you deny our rationality or responsibility, or you acknowledge the reality of agent freedom, however constrained by circumstances.

    9: Above, also repeatedly ignored and/or distracted from, was a two tier controller cybernetic model that allows us to see how such a free minded, free willed responsible agent can be embodied.

    I request that in future you cease from strawmannish caricatures and distractions in further discussions.

    KF

  140. F/N: In re:

    There is no theory of human thought – we don’t know how we think. We have no reason to say that thinking “entails the manipulation and almalgamation of simpler concepts in order to form more complex ones…”

    This is what is in error, patent error.

    Yes, there is no elaborate scientific theory generally accepted that gives an account of how reasoned thought happens. So what, that was never suggested, this is yet another strawman.

    What is on the table is that there is a natural occurrence of distinction in reality, as say a red hot ball on a table differs drastically from its surroundings in ways such that you would be utterly foolish to try to pick it up with your fingers.

    That natural and recognisable distinction {A | NOT-A} is immediately associated with the identity cluster, and of course raises the issue of why A, thence the issues on sufficiency of reason.

    This comes well before any essay into scientific theorising and testing. Science cannot show these things, as science depends for its existence as a project of reason in the world on them. They are truly foundational.

    Next, there is every good reason to understand that in thinking we do bring together simpler ideas and join them together as an utterly routine matter. That is what AND, OR and XOR as well as NAND and NOR do. Please.

    Anytime you see a narrative account, or observe how a summary of observations joins different points together and implied claims, that is an application of this point.

    Do I need to point out that, for instance, 20.13 means:

    2 * 10 + 0 * 1 + 1 * 1/10 + 3 * 1/100

    Do you see the multiple ways in which joining and fusing component ideas plays a part in something as commonplace as a place value notation decimal number?

    What I am seeing, more and more, is, with all due respect, a case where popular avant garde notions presented in colleges and in many linked venues as the state of the art for the intellectually fashionable “educated,” have pulled ever so many away from basic grounding on common sense, evident facts and self-evident first principles. As a result, there is more and more of augustly intoned error, self- referential incoherence and confusion. Too often — I here particularly speak with specific reference to some of the objector sites surrounding UD and their denizens — presented in a haughty tone that implies that those who beg to differ are ignorant, stupid, insane or wicked.

    Let us just say, when I saw the suggestion above that objectivity, which starts with the humbling acknowledgement of the possibility of error thus the need for warrant — is a mark of dangerous arrogance and likely oppression, that sort of manipulative and destructive polarisation and nonsense got my attention bigtime.

    Please, objectors, think again.

    KF

  141. Ok I got it!

    Jupiter the planet can exist while Jupiter the god does not!

    Or has someone already covered that?

  142. 144
    William J Murray

    Sorry, but I actually did think you had just acknowledged that you must posit an exception to the Law of Causality in order accomodate libertarian free will. In fact, looking at what you said, it seems quite clear that this is exactly what you did acknowledge! And so yes, in my view the fact that you must posit an exception to the LoC means that the LoC is not a law – if libertarianism is true, then the LoC holds in some contexts and not others.

    I can see that you might have thought that to be the case. My meaning was that, even in the context of the uncaused cause being an exception arguendo, it is an exception one must make for the reasons I give. Given (arguendo) the exception status, it would not be an arbitrary one, but rather a necessary one. Stopping the causal chain buck at “the wind” is arbitary, not necessary.

    Sorry but I don’t understand you. We agree that rocks have no capacity for moral responsibility, and human beings do. We also agree that rocks do not make choices, and human beings do. Where we apparently disagree is that you think humans are imbued (magically?) with the capacity for moral responsibility by virtue of their libertarian free will, whereas I believe that humans are imbued with the capacity for moral responsibility by virtue of their ability to make choices.

    No, where we disagree – appparently – is that moral responsibility is assigned by consensual agreement that it is, or is not, assigned to a thing. If we all agree that a rock rolling down a hill bears the moral responsibility for where it lands, does that make it so?

    You have a great deal of certainty regarding libertarianism, and for me it is an open question, but I shall take the position here that it is false arguendo, in order to counter your claim to certainty on the matter.

    Where did I say I was certain about anything? Libertarian free will may or may not exist, but I must act and think as if it is true, so to argue otherwise is sophistry.

    We disagree entirely. That is like saying that if an ant gives its life for the sake of the ant colony, it is a category of sequence equal to that of a human soldier giving his life for the sake of his country. I think these acts are quite categorically distinct, don’t you? And your example is even more absurd, because rocks are completely inert and can’t do anything! Human beings make choices, good and bad, and this is true no matter what is true of metaphysics.

    Asserting the words that you consider the two cases categorically distinct is just semantics, and reifying that “human beings make choices and rocks do not” is, without explaining what the fundamental categorical distinction is, nothing but deceptive semantics trying to distinguish one case of “what precedes generates what follows” from another with nothing more than a label.

    The rest of your post is nothing but reifying the validity of your labels as consensual agreements with no fundamental distinction between human will and what an ant or a rock does. You deceptively mix in the idea of complexity and “indirect” causation, obfuscating the fact that you have no categorical distinction other than labels.

    IF we assume that in the case of a rock and an ant, “what precedes, then what follows”, the rock and the ant at any particular point in time cannot supervene and change the outcome of the process, because the rock and the ant (arguendo) are the process, and nothing more. They have no/are not a supervening agency to/that can change what follows, no matter how complex or indirect “what precedes” is.

    Since it doesn’t appear to me that you have denied that humans are cases of “what precedes, then what follows”, I assume you agree to that principle – that at any given moment of time, what we choose (an effect) is governed (caused) by what precedes (in the sense of sequences and all current contextual factors, no matter how complex or indirect). That we think we are making a choice; that we think we can choose all sorts of different options; that we call what we are doing “making a choice” are labels that are irrelevant to understanding our categorical distinctions.

    Those thoughts and feelings are as caused as the action itself, under your paradigm. That we are caused to feel like we are “making a choice”, and feel that we can choose X and not Y, those sensations cannot change that given what precedes, we will choose X, with no supervening agency that can step in and choose otherwise.

    This is categorically the same as a rock hitting an outcropping and changing path (an effect) being governed (caused) by what precedes (in the sense of sequences and all current contextual factors, no matter how complex or indirect). If by some bizarre chance effect a rock hits the ground and feels like it made a choice to do so, does that mean it made a choice to do so?

    Without the capacity to supervene and change our direction from what what precedes (no matter how complex, indirect or as part of our context), applying different terminology to different parts of the sequences from human to rock doesn’t put one in a different category than the other. All such labels and reification and appeal to consensus does is hide the fact that you have no basis for moral responsibility; all you have are words that steal concepts you have no right to under your paradigm.

    So, unless what precedes can be supervened by willful agency that can change what follows, there is no categorical distinction between the cause and effect systems of a human, ant or rock. There are only labels that steal concepts and attempt to deceive (consciously or unconsciously).

  143. 145
    William J Murray

    Schrodinger’s cat paradox cast’s some doubt on such notions. Truth seem to have some dependence on observers, at least in the quantum world.

    IMO, all that Schrodinger’s cat and other such quantum challenges do is reveal that a well-defined and appropriate “A” is necessary in the first place. Is an “unknown until observed group of 2 potential states” identifiable as such in comparison to all other things it is not? Is a quantum bit that exists both in a state of on and off an identifiable as that, and not, say, a tree?

    Because some things might be indeterminate until observed doesn’t violate the law of non-contradiction, it only changes the nature of how you can describe what it is you are identifying a thing as. It either is “undetermined as particle or wave until observed”, or it is not. Surely the photon will not be a tiger when observed, or an brick?

  144. William J Murry,

    Thank you for your response. My point is not that the law of non-contradiction is false, I just don’t see the point of giving it so much debate — where it is useful, use it.

    Even supposing non-contradiction is true, the problem in applying it to some real world situation becomes strained, and it really becomes strained in philosophical and theological questions. I gave two serious theological difficulties that superficially seem to violate the law of non-contradiction (the trinitiy, and free will and God’s sovereignty/predestination).

    There is an experiment called “quantum erasure” where the history of a quantum system is re-written. Re-writing the past seems to violate the law of non-contradiction since you can then say something was true and false at the same time. That was taking the double-slit-delayed choice experiment a step further. In double-slit-delayed choice it was demonstrated that the way we chose to perceive something affected the apparent truthfulness of a statement (i.e. the light is a wave). Quantum erasure goes even farther and says, “it was a wave, and it also wasn’t a wave”. It may not be that non-contradiction was violated but that our minds and methods offer inappropriate descriptions of reality.

    We may be using the wrong descriptions all the time, and non-contradiction may not demonstrate so much that a phenomenon is false but that our ability to describe it is inadequate. That is particularly true when debating philosophical and theological ideas. It the challenge of having adequate descriptions is difficult in math and physics, how much more in philosophy and theology!

    Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead attempted to circumvent the problem by describing math in terms of pure symbols without reference to meaning in an attempt to exorcise the problem of having adequate descriptions.

    The quest failed for non-trivial claims because non-trivial claims allowed for the possiblity asserting unprovable statements of the form: “the statement you are reading is false”. Philosophical and theological propositions that are non-trivial invite the synthesis of such ill-formed propositions as “the statement you are reading is false”. If mathematics allows the formation of ill-formed propositions, how much more philosophical propositions!

  145. F/N:

    1] Qubits, per Wiki:

    >> A qubit is a two-state quantum-mechanical system such as the polarization of a single photon: here the two states are vertical polarization and horizontal polarization. In a classical system, a bit would have to be in one state or the other, but quantum mechanics allows the qubit to be in a superposition of both states at the same time, a property which is fundamental to quantum computing. >>

    –> A superposition is not a contradiction, and should not be presented as if it were, cf. standing waves on a taut string.

    2] God as triune, per Wiki:

    >> The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons or hypostases:[1] the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit; “one God in three persons”. The three persons are distinct, yet are one “substance, essence or nature”.[2] A nature is what one is, while a person is who one is.[3][4][5]

    The Trinity is considered to be a mystery of Christian faith.[6] According to this doctrine, there is only one God in three persons. Each person is God, whole and entire. They are distinct from one another in their relations of origin: as the Fourth Lateran Council declared, “it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds”. While distinct in their relations with one another, they are one in all else. The whole work of creation and grace is a single operation common to all three divine persons, who at the same time operate according to their unique properties, so that all things are from the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.[6] The three persons are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial. >>

    –> Schema Yisroel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echod. Echod is complex unity, and the sense of oneness and the sense of diversity are distinct in application.

    3] Free will, per wiki:

    >> Free will is the ability of agents to make choices unconstrained by certain factors. Factors of historical concern have included metaphysical constraints (for example, logical, nomological, or theological determinism), physical constraints (for example, chains or imprisonment), social constraints (for example, threat of punishment or censure, or structural constraints), and mental constraints (for example, compulsions or phobias, neurological disorders, or genetic predispositions). The principle of free will has religious, legal, ethical, and scientific implications.[1] For example, in the religious realm, free will implies that individual will and choices can coexist with an omnipotent divinity. In the law, it affects considerations of punishment and rehabilitation. In ethics, it may hold implications for whether individuals can be held morally accountable for their actions. In science, neuroscientific findings regarding free will may suggest different ways of predicting human behavior. >>

    –> If we cannot make responsible choices, netting out influences, then we cannot be either responsible or rational. We are both (as the very participation in a reasoned argument implies we accept), so in the end we must be free in some significant sense.

    4] Schroedinger’s cat:

    >> SCH, to Einstein: One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter, there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of the hour, one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges, and through a relay releases a hammer that shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat mixed or smeared out in equal parts. It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a “blurred model” for representing reality. In itself, it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.
    —Erwin Schrödinger, Die gegenwärtige Situation in der Quantenmechanik (The present situation in quantum mechanics), Naturwissenschaften
    (translated by John D. Trimmer in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society) >>

    –> This again is a superposition to be resolved, not a contradiction that affirms and denies one and the same thing in the same sense and circumstances.

    5] Ill formed verbal or symbolic expressions:

    Definition of a proposition, per wiki: >> In philosophy and logic, the term proposition refers to either (a) the “content” or “meaning” of a meaningful declarative sentence or (b) the pattern of symbols, marks, or sounds that make up a meaningful declarative sentence. The meaning of a proposition includes having the quality or property of being either true or false, and as such propositions are claimed to be truthbearers. >>

    –> If something cannot be seen as a truthbearer, it is simply not a proposition.

    Ari, Met 1011b: >> . . . if it is impossible at the same time to affirm and deny a thing truly, it is also impossible for contraries to apply to a thing at the same time; either both must apply in a modified sense, or one in a modified sense and the other absolutely.

    Nor indeed can there be any intermediate between contrary statements, but of one thing we must either assert or deny one thing, whatever it may be. This will be plain if we first define truth and falsehood. To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false. >>

    –> the identity cluster applies to circumstances where realities obtain, or potentially accurate assertions about reality obtain. Ari was speaking of what we have come to term propositions, and by extension the states of affairs such refer to.

    ======

    KF

  146. PS: I think I should say something about incomplete statements. “I am now typing this,” is true just now, and after I post will be true in the sense that the circumstances are properly addressed, about 1:04 pm local time here. To imagine that the same form of words is speaking to the same circumstances after my post was sent is silly. In short, flesh out enough to eliminate ambiguity. It will always be true that at about 1:04 pm local time Tue May 21 2013, I was typing this post and the above remark is a high context summary which carries all sorts of implications.

  147. WJM @,

    William J. Murray @134.

    I understand what you are saying and would welcome what I am sure would be a mutually edifying conversation about first causes at some later date. I raised the issue only because RD has slipped into the habit of saying “WJM and SB says” or “KF and SB says,” as if he should be permitted to hold you accountable for every element of my argument, even though the substance of your discussion with him does, at times, go down an equally interesting but somewhat different path. If I continue on this thread, it will be to join you in addressing the problems inherent in dismissing reason’s rules.

  148. RDF:

    An act of will does NOT depend soley on what directly precedes it of course!

    By your lights, is the word “directly” necessary for the above formulation to be true? I’m curious as to why it was included.

    I am the result of countless decisions and experiences that I’ve made and had over my entire life, combined with all of my innate characteristics, and it is the totality of my being that determines what choice I will make in any given context. It is me – the result of all of my choices and experiences – who is reponsible for everything that I do.

    If those decisions are the result of beliefs and desires you did not choose, and your experiences are the results of your decisions (based on beliefs and desires you did not choose) or the decisions of others (which you did not choose), and your innate characteristics are not of your choosing (even if they’ve been affected by decisions, since those were based on beliefs and desires you did not choose), then what part of the totality of your being is not previously determined by things you did not choose? And if it is merely what has previously been determined that determines what “choice” (based on beliefs and desires you did not choose) you will make in any given context, how is choice not reduced to a meaningless concept? Why wouldn’t “reaction” or “response” or “reflex” do better as labels for what you are describing?

  149. Sal @146,

    Pre-destination and freedom are actually two sides of the same coin. If there are any apparent contradictions, it is only because of the ways that each term gets defined. If, for example, pre-destination is defined as causal determinism, as Calvin would have it, then obviously it is incompatible with both human free will and God’s justice. To make things even more complicated, some quasi-determinists try to rationalize their position by defining free will in a deterministic way so as to make both ideas appear compatible, which of course they are not. All this can add to the circle of confusion when we are trying to analyze free will in the context of Divine predestination. That is why we must be very careful in the way we use words.

    If predestination was not true in some sense, God could never have planned for and executed the salvation process. If free will was not true in some sense, God’s appeals for repentance would make no sense. From the classical Christian perspective, God gets what He wants done (predestination) the way he wants it done (through free human beings). That is the Christian doctrine properly understood. We are free because God predestined us to be free. According to the Law of Non-Contradiction a thing cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same respect. Do not discount that last prepositional phrase. When both terms are properly defined (predestination and free will) there is no indication of something being true at false at the same time and in the same way, or of something being what it is and also what it is not.

    With respect to the Trinity, I will allude to the same principle in an abbreviated way. The doctrine contains no contradictions because it does not teach that three equals one. According to tradition and sound Biblical hermeneutics, God is one in one respect (his nature) and three in a different respect (three persons). It is, therefore, not the case that God is one and three in the same respect. The Law of Non-Contradiction is, therefore, not violated. Indeed, without the Law of Non-Contradiction, I could not have performed this analysis.

    The Law of Causality and Non Contradiction are inextricably tied together. That is why those who question one element will invariably start questioning the other. If a thing can be what it is and also something else, it can also exist without a cause—and vice versa. Why though, you ask, do we fuss so much about this?

    If we analyze the arguments from anti-ID partisans, we will find that, for the most part, they have violated one of reason’s rules when they interpret the evidence. They cannot make their case any other way. At that point, it ceases to be a scientific problem and becomes a reasoning problem. The only way to address the latter is to call it by its right name and deal with it on those terms. Otherwise we are without a defense. It does no good to point to the evidence because the issue is how the evidence is being interpreted.

    Suppose, for example, a materialist says this: “Granted, neither Random Variation or Natural Selection or any other physical/chemical explanation can account for the existence of functionally complex specified information. Nevertheless, intelligent design is not the only other explanation. We have concluded that FSCI simply appeared from out of nowhere–without any cause at all. The latest evidence indicates that this is another acausal phenomenon, reminiscient of acausal quantum events that come from nothing (Victor Stenger) and acausal universes that come from nothing (Lawrence Krauss).”
    If you don’t promote, support, and defend reason’s rules as non-negotiable, self-evident truths, how do you respond? You cannot say, “You are being unreasonable,” because you have already conceded that reason has no standards. You cannot say, “This is impossible,” because a causeless universe, which requires more design than a DNA molecule, has already been accepted in principle. You cannot say, “no one will believe this is plausible” because the academic establishment already believes it is plausible and will happily argue in that direction if neo-Darwinism goes south.

  150. Hi Phinehas,

    RDF: An act of will does NOT depend soley on what directly precedes it of course!
    PHINEHAS: By your lights, is the word “directly” necessary for the above formulation to be true? I’m curious as to why it was included.

    Yes it is necessary. Let’s say determinism is true (my position arguendo with WJM). That would mean that my acts are determined by what precedes it. But one can understand this in different ways. The motion of billiard ball is determined by the preceding impact of the cue ball, and people seem to think that if determinism is true, then human behavior is categorically similar to this. My point was that it is qualitatively different, given that humans have virtually infinitely complex inner states and memories.

    If those decisions are the result of beliefs and desires you did not choose, and your experiences are the results of your decisions (based on beliefs and desires you did not choose) or the decisions of others (which you did not choose), and your innate characteristics are not of your choosing (even if they’ve been affected by decisions, since those were based on beliefs and desires you did not choose), then what part of the totality of your being is not previously determined by things you did not choose?

    We choose our actions. I can choose to do one thing or another, and by virtue of that I am responsible for my choices. I do not believe that it makes any difference in this respect whether or not we posit some sort of special, ontologically distinct sort of causality. We are already moral agents, with or without any magical contra-causal power.

    And if it is merely what has previously been determined that determines what “choice” (based on beliefs and desires you did not choose) you will make in any given context, how is choice not reduced to a meaningless concept?

    We all know what it means to “choose” – to select one option or another in some context. It isn’t meaningless at all, whether or not one posits a special sort of power that only humans have (or perhaps other animals?)

    Why wouldn’t “reaction” or “response” or “reflex” do better as labels for what you are describing

    A reflex refers to actions that are triggered by stimuli without mental processing – exactly the sort of thing I wanted to distinguish as a “directly preceding cause”. When we choose, it is not a reflex – it is something that we think about, affected by our innate characteristics, personality, memories, experiences, mood, biases, beliefs, etc etc.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  151. SB:

    Spot on.

    I think we need to elaborate a bit on connexions between the identity cluster and the sufficiency of reason one.

    Here is a first thought.

    When a distinct thing is, it has an identity, that which it is. We may also ask: why is this thing?

    This brings together its reality, its nature [what sort of thing is this], its basis, its identity.

    That something may or may not depend for its existence on external, enabling factors, is an aspect of what the thing is, that it is, and why it is. Such a contingent being is caused, is possible and may cease to be.

    By contrast a serious candidate necessary being — something patently composite like a pink unicorn or a flying spaghetti monster is not going to be a serious candidate — will be such that it has no dependence on such on/off enabling factors. It will either be impossible (having clashing required ATTRIBUTES — note the term –such as obtains with a proposed square circle] or it will be possible and actual. Not being contingent, it will have no beginning and no end, like the truth in 2 + 3 = 5.

    From this view, we see why objectors who have run afoul of first principles are so prone to deny both causality and the identity cluster. It is not just the fashion of the day, wanting to erect yet another epicycle and stubbornly refusing to attend to fatal structural cracks in the foundations.

    Nope.

    If you want to lock out unwelcome candidate necessary beings at the root of being [as we see with Lewontin, the US NAS, the US NSTA, and ever so many more], and erect in its place your favoured radically relativist system that depends on the prestige and cultural power of a secularist establishment, you in the end have to undermine the credit of the foundations of reasoning. As well as those of morality.

    And that looks a lot like the context in which there is the projection of “intolerance” and domination: sneaking in theocracy by the back door etc, Creationism in a cheap tuxedo etc.

    (As in, please look in the mirror: would it be any better to be smuggling in a priori materialism and its fellow traveller radical relativism and inevitable want of a foundational IS capable of bearing OUGHT at the foundations? And redefining science as operating in a question-begging circle that would naturally fetter it from disinterestedly pursuing the truth about our world in light of observed evidence and genuinely free reasoned analysis, censoring the evidence before it can speak? As to the idea that our reasoning, viewings, and conclusions are shaped and determined by genetic and socio-cultural and psychological factors that have no relevance to truth, validity, cogency or soundness, is that not a patent reduction to absurdity? Does not this invite cynicism and the attitude that might and manipulation make ‘right’ and truth’?)

    With those things on the table, we are left to address foundational issues, first principles of right reason [BTW, I have done some updating in light of the ongoing debates, which have helped me see the relevance in new ways], for if the game is being rigged at that level, it cannot get any further than that.

    So, I fully endorse your comment:

    Suppose, for example, a materialist says this: “Granted, neither Random Variation or Natural Selection or any other physical/chemical explanation can account for the existence of functionally complex specified information. Nevertheless, intelligent design is not the only other explanation. We have concluded that FSCI simply appeared from out of nowhere–without any cause at all. The latest evidence indicates that this is another acausal phenomenon, reminiscient of acausal quantum events that come from nothing (Victor Stenger) and acausal universes that come from nothing (Lawrence Krauss).”

    If you don’t promote, support, and defend reason’s rules as non-negotiable, self-evident truths, how do you respond? You cannot say, “You are being unreasonable,” because you have already conceded that reason has no standards. You cannot say, “This is impossible,” because a causeless universe, which requires more design than a DNA molecule, has already been accepted in principle. You cannot say, “no one will believe this is plausible” because the academic establishment already believes it is plausible and will happily argue in that direction if neo-Darwinism goes south.

    My own thoughts have gone a step further overnight: we are having a discussion on worldview foundational elements, in a context where that is not a particularly welcome radicalism for those who really want to be discussing the latest epicycles on the secularist evolutionary materialist system. So the radicalism — back to the radix, roots — of worldviews foundations analysis is emerging:

    Now, let us not lose sight of what we are doing: something truly radical, that cuts across what the avant garde and their wanna-be hangers on really want: to discuss the newest ideas and issues within their comfortable world- system. As a rule, they are NOT really interested in an upending foundational critique that is going to start from exposing the rottenness of roots or the fatal cracks in foundations, or worse, looming icebergs in the path of the Titanic. However, when a system (even one that imagines itself to be the radical, progressive replacement of old fashioned outdated “religious” thought — notice how “God,” “religion,” “Christianity,” “The Scriptures” and “faith” are practically dirty words in many quarters today . . . ) is fatally flawed, that is necessary. And in this case, we are going after an assessment of foundations of worldviews from the roots up. Just as Jesus did and just as Paul did. The aim being, to create a sounder — saner — system to build thought, hopes and lives on.

    Two key components of this process of foundation level comparative difficulties in pursuit of a worldview that is a reasonable faith, are: (i) first principles of right reason, and (ii) warranted, credible (self-evident) truths . . .

    I think that is the real challenge that is on the table: there is a rotten tap root . . . in the case of the world of life, the OOL conundrum is highlighting that there is no sound root to the Darwinist scheme of origin and diversification of the body plans of life and associated FSCO/I. In the case of worldviews, we have a fatal crack running right through the cornerstone that is supposed to properly locate and align the building: the basis of reason itself.

    Indeed, so entrenched is the problem that many do not see that any species of determinism is inescapably self-referentially incoherent and self-refuting. For, if we are not in the end free to choose, we have no context in which we can choose to hear out, evaluate and decide to accept the logic and evidence, all reduces to some species of manipulation and programming.

    That is why, Crick’s absurd “Astonishing Hypothesis” of 1994 is so utterly though inadvertently revealing:

    . . . that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.” This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people today that it can truly be called astonishing.

    No wonder, Philip Johnson has replied that Sir Francis should have therefore been willing to preface his works thusly: “I, Francis Crick, my opinions and my science, and even the thoughts expressed in this book, consist of nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” Johnson then acidly commented: “[t]he plausibility of materialistic determinism requires that an implicit exception be made for the theorist.” [Reason in the Balance, 1995.]

    Much earlier, at the turn of the 1930′s Haldane had commented:

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” ["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209.]

    The very existence of science and mathematics are direct evidence that — when we are humble enough to follow the candle of the Lord of the light of conscience-guided reason — we can and do in fact think reasonably and logically. Likewise, he who would reject or evade the principle that it is morally self evident that say the kidnapping, chaining and systematic repeated raping of three women for a decade is not just a horrific acting out of porn-fed fantasies, but it is a violation of the moral worth of the captured enslaved women does not show himself sophisticated in his reasoning but instead merely monstrous. So, any scheme, any worldview that would radically undermine such is fatally self-referentially incoherent.

    Which is what we are looking at.

    Of course, there are limitations to the first principles of right reason [they do not deliver all of a worldview, just the cornerstone and lines to test its alignment], and in a world in which we must operate on inductive reasoning, we inevitably look at warrant not proof, at inference to best current explanation and open-endedness to correction, and more.

    In short, error exists so we must be humble.

    But at the same time, following up from Royce and Trueblood et al, we can see that this is in fact a gem: an undeniably true, self-evident proposition. A case of full warrant to the standard justified true belief, i.e. strong form knowledge.

    So, worldviews that are incompatible with truth existing and being that which refers accurately to reality, or imagine there is an unbridgeable gulch between our inner world of appearances and imaginations and arguments and the external one of things as they are, or reduces knowledge to opinion and reason to rhetoric, are all fatally, irretrievably cracked in its foundations. Where, in a radically subjectivist, relativist, ultra-modern [likes to call itself post modern] era their name, notoriously, is legion.

    All of which brings us back to the point you have focussed: reason guided by conscience bound to the truth and the right is what gives evidence its true and uncensored voice.

    So, the self-evident first principles of right reason are utterly pivotal.

    And, sadly, such seem to be under attack, from the evolutionary materialist side.

    So, we cannot allow that to pass unremarked.

    KF

  152. RDF:

    I ask:

    are we genuinely free, or are we locked into the deterministic forces of our genetic, socio-cultural and psychological conditioning compounded by personal history? If so, then there is no one to reason, no one to judge fairly, no one to seek and know the truth.

    In short, reductio ad absurdum, however disguised.

    But in fact reason does not reduce to rhetorical manipulation as one of the many means of manipulating us.

    Reason is a gift, and a duty, guided by another gift, the candle of the Lord, conscience guided by the right and the fair.

    And I have already outlined and linked that once we see that we can have a self-moved initiating agent, yes, a creature endowed with that sacred fire the very soul, we are simply not locked up to determinism. Indeed, I again invite consideration of the Smith model, as a way to see how agency can supervene in a brain-body cybernetic loop. And, the dismissals of that fire within, expose their hollowness by their very pretense to that which on their premises cannot be attained: reason.

    Notice, the fatal admission in Provine:

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent . . . .

    The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will . . . [Evolution: Free Will and Punishment and Meaning in Life, Second Annual Darwin Day Celebration Keynote Address, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, February 12, 1998 (abstract).]

    In short,t eh clung-to ideology cannot ground the most basic things that make us human, and the proposal is to discard the first deliverances of conscious experience of ourselves in our world, rather than question the proud materialist system that has — predictably [Plato warned us 2350 years ago] — ended in fatal self referential incoherence.

    That is simply not sensible.

    I, for good reason, therefore choose to stand with reason and reject the system that would undermine it. BECAUSE, on examination, it is found absurdly self-refuting.

    KF

  153. 155
    William J Murray

    We all know what it means to “choose” – to select one option or another in some context. It isn’t meaningless at all, whether or not one posits a special sort of power that only humans have (or perhaps other animals?)

    The problem is that “we” have fundamentally different conceptual frameworks by which we understand the concept of choosing. Your concept of choosing is a case of physical computation (no matter how complex those physical computations are) to an outcome; our concept of “choosing” is that of an independent agency that supervenes over all physical computation and can insert information, redirect processes, and overrule at any time.

    So, no, “we” do not “all know what it means”, if by that you are saying that “we” all agree to the same meaning. In the lexicon of libertarian free will, your concept of “choosing” is meaningless in that it offers no distinction other than labeling semantics in comparison to the computations of cause and effect sequences in any other case – such as an ant, or such as a rock rolling down a mountainside.

  154. 156
    William J Murray

    My point was that it is qualitatively different, given that humans have virtually infinitely complex inner states and memories.

    AS IF what RDFish terms “virtually infinite complex inner states and memories” are themselves something other than caused events and caused states that are also computed from all contributing physical input towards the effects.

    RDFish doesn’t realize that regardless of how complex or nuanced the physical computation from what precedes to what follows, and no matter what we label any particular point in the computation, it is still categorically the same thing – a computation, not a choice.

  155. F/N: In another thread I have had to note on where this all ends up, in so-called bioethics . . . in reality anti-ethics:

    ========
    Let’s clip a bit more of that editorial, which is saying to objectors, how dare you get angry at the “Academic freedom” expressed in our journal:

    As Editor of the Journal, I would like to defend its publication. The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.

    The novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favour of infanticide – the paper repeats the arguments made famous by Tooley and Singer – but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands. [--> In short, we see here the collapse of he next domino beginning]

    Many people will and have disagreed with these arguments. However, the goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises. The authors provocatively argue that there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn. Their capacities are relevantly similar. If abortion is permissible, infanticide should be permissible. The authors proceed logically from premises which many people accept to a conclusion that many of those people would reject.

    Of course, many people will argue that on this basis abortion should be recriminalised. Those arguments can be well made and the Journal would publish a paper than made such a case coherently, originally and with application to issues of public or medical concern.

    [--> Really? Where were you when Schaeffer and Koop made exactly this point, to object to setting off the first domino in the cascade, warning that it then leads from abortion to infanticide to euthanasia to the utter devaluation of life and establishment of a culture of death for the convenience of the powerful thence the death camp or the like? Where are you, now that he prediction is coming true again? On what rational grounds do you found reason and morality? In a worldview that infers as Provine put it in his 1998 U Tenn Darwin Day address: >> Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent . . . . The first 4 implications are so obvious to modern naturalistic evolutionists that I will spend little time defending them. Human free will, however, is another matter. Even evolutionists have trouble swallowing that implication. I will argue that humans are locally determined systems that make choices. They have, however, no free will . . . >>? Let's just say that this cascade of assertions would undermine both morality and reason, indeed without power of responsible choice, neither can exist, all reduces to might and manipulation by the powerful make 'truth,' 'reason' and 'right'.]

    If there were threats, that is to be regretted, but surely there should be strong condemnation and a call to return to a sanctity of life ethic rather than a ‘life unworthy of being lived” ethic that if translated into German will have a suitably sinister tone, given its history.] More than ever, proper academic discussion and freedom are under threat from fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.

    Methinks I find here a turnabout moral equivalency accusation, meant to poison the well.

    And, it seems that — true to the manipulation game — the editorial misrepresents. Let us hear the abstract of the paper, which is so short that failure to cite it in extenso is telling:

    J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2011-100411

    Law, ethics and medicine

    Paper

    After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?

    Alberto Giubilini1,2,
    Francesca Minerva3

    Published Online First 23 February 2012

    Abstract

    Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

    In short,t he powerful get to decide who is convenient to live, even with no excuse of disability.

    MONSTROUS!

    Introduction:

    Severe abnormalities of the fetus and risks for the physical and/or psychological health of the woman are often cited as valid reasons for abortion. Sometimes the two reasons are connected, such as when a woman claims that a disabled child would represent a risk to her mental health. However, having a child can itself be an unbearable burden for the psychological health of the woman or for her already existing children,1 regardless of the condition of the fetus. This could happen in the case of a woman who loses her partner after she finds out that she is pregnant and therefore feels she will not be able to take care of the possible child by herself.

    A serious philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would have justified abortion become known after birth. In such cases, we need to assess facts in order to decide whether the same arguments that apply to killing a human fetus can also be consistently applied to killing a newborn human . . .

    Then, the newspeak, doubletalk manipulation of language game and where it goes:

    In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. [--> the intent of this doublespeak is obviously to benumb to what is being done, and to give talking points to be drummed in to spread the benumbing far and wide] Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk. Accordingly, a second terminological specification is that we call such a practice ‘after-birth abortion’ rather than ‘euthanasia’ because the best interest of the one who dies is not necessarily the primary criterion for the choice, contrary to what happens in the case of euthanasia.

    Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. [--> dehumanising the intended victim, always the first step to excusing mass, politically backed murder] The reason is that, unlike the case of death of an existing person, failing to bring a new person into existence does not prevent anyone from accomplishing any of her future aims. However, this consideration entails a much stronger idea than the one according to which severely handicapped children should be euthanised. If the death of a newborn is not wrongful to her on the grounds that she cannot have formed any aim that she is prevented from accomplishing, then it should also be permissible to practise an after-birth abortion on a healthy newborn too, given that she has not formed any aim yet . . .

    Utterly monstrous, machiavellian, narcissistic [how dare you object, we are the academic elites exercising our minds in free speech] and sociopathic.

    The dark triad in action.
    ========

    Chilling.

    This is outright nihilism, as Plato warned against so long ago.

    RDF, I hope you understand the sort of matches you are playing with and the fires that can be set. No, ARE BEING SET as we speak.

    KF

    PS: Newsbusters’ critique here is well worth reading.

  156. My point was that it is qualitatively different, given that humans have virtually infinitely complex inner states and memories.

    I can see how virtually infinitely complex inner states and memories might make it quantitatively different, but not qualitatively.

    This discussion is starting to remind me of the emergent claim that is so often used to try to pass off hand-waving as a real explanation for how you can get something out of nothing. “It’s all determined, but then all the determined things get really, really complex, until BLAMO! The ability to ‘choose’ emerges.”

    But I suppose if you’ve bought into life emerging from atoms randomly bouncing into each other with increasingly complex interactions, it should be no great surprise that you believe choice might do the same.

  157. Hi WJM,

    The problem is that “we” have fundamentally different conceptual frameworks by which we understand the concept of choosing. Your concept of choosing is a case of physical computation (no matter how complex those physical computations are) to an outcome; our concept of “choosing” is that of an independent agency that supervenes over all physical computation and can insert information, redirect processes, and overrule at any time.

    First, even a physicalist doesn’t necessarily believe that thought is computation. Roger Penrose, for example, is a physicalist who believes thought transcends computation. He (like me) believes that physics is not at all like atoms bouncing around in the void according to algorithms and rules of mechanics.

    Second, a physicalist can also believe that humans are independent agents who can insert information and redirect processes – in fact that is clearly the case no matter what metaphysics one adopts. You just insist, for some reason, that in order for that to count as agency it must violate the laws of physics – even though it’s certain that we really do not understand all of physics yet.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  158. Hi Phinehas,

    I can see how virtually infinitely complex inner states and memories might make it quantitatively different, but not qualitatively.

    A rock has no internal states – at least none that affect its behavior. It cannot initiate movement, cannot sense its environment, cannot learn, cannot find food and avoid danger, cannot solve problems, and so on and so on. A human does all of these things. I can’t understand how anyone would not see that as a qualitative difference! Do you think there is a qualitative difference between a human being and an insect? I do… even though unlike a rock insects can at least do all of the things I just listed!

    This discussion is starting to remind me of the emergent claim that is so often used to try to pass off hand-waving as a real explanation for how you can get something out of nothing. “It’s all determined, but then all the determined things get really, really complex, until BLAMO! The ability to ‘choose’ emerges.”

    Obviously we need to settle on a definition for the word “choose”. In my view, to choose means to select amongst different possibilities. Living things can make choices, and that goes for amoebas and humans alike. For you and WJM here, apparently the word choice already assumes what we are discussing, which is a special metaphysical claim of causality that transcends physicalism.

    Can you give me a good definition of this verb? Do you believe that amoebas can choose? How about dogs?

    But I suppose if you’ve bought into life emerging from atoms randomly bouncing into each other with increasingly complex interactions, it should be no great surprise that you believe choice might do the same.

    First, nobody (except you apparently?) believes that the universe and life consists of atoms that randomly bounce into each other. Second, we’ve never spoken about origins, so you have no idea what I believe about that.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  159. Obviously we need to settle on a definition for the word “choose”. In my view, to choose means to select amongst different possibilities. Living things can make choices, and that goes for amoebas and humans alike.

    Does that go for computers and amoebas and humans alike?

  160. Hi Phinehas,

    I asked you for your definition of “choose” so we could talk without going in circles. In my view, “making a choice” means “selecting one among various possibilities”. But from what you (and WJM) have said, you don’t consider this an adequate definition, so I’ve asked you to clarify what it is that you mean by the verb “choose”.

    My definition would need some clarification too, I think. A river, it might be said, “chooses” a path to the sea as it runs downhill long the lowest points, but to me this does not qualify as a choice because the river is not the thing doing the choosing – it is external factors (gravity plus the topology of the mountain) that determines the path.

    So for my definition to be more clear, I will saying that choosing means “selecting among possibilities based on factors internal to the entity making the choice”. (Note that this definition is not concerned with how these factors originally came to exist in the entity in question).

    Now my definition excludes rocks and rivers, but includes computers, amoebas, dogs, and humans.

    What is your definition of the word, and what are the implications of that word for these things (rocks, rivers, computers, amoebas, dogs, and humans)?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  161. Second, a physicalist can also believe that humans are independent agents who can insert information and redirect processes – in fact that is clearly the case no matter what metaphysics one adopts. You just insist, for some reason, that in order for that to count as agency it must violate the laws of physics – even though it’s certain that we really do not understand all of physics yet.

    In what way can humans be said to be “independent agents” if we are wholly slaved to the cause and effect laws of physics? Are you assuming there are mysterious non-caused physical effects out there that we simply have yet to discover? What is it exactly that we are independent of?

    I confess that I find myself completely incapable of thinking of agency in terms of purely physical chains of cause and effect. It’s like trying to comprehend a square-shaped circle.

  162. P: hence the logic problems above. KF

  163. Hi Phinehas,

    In what way can humans be said to be “independent agents” if we are wholly slaved to the cause and effect laws of physics? Are you assuming there are mysterious non-caused physical effects out there that we simply have yet to discover?

    I’m making no assumptions about physics; I’m saying that since we don’t understand all of physics we can’t point to the limits of our understanding and declare those limits mean that how human beings actually do think (and experience consciousness in particular) must transcend physics.

    With regard to causality: One of the things we don’t understand about physics is what time is (Lee Smolin just wrote an interesting book about this actually, discarding the notion of modern physics that time is a type an illusion, and insisting it is real and that space is a type of illusion). In any event, the concept of causality requires the notion of time, and without a good understanding of what time is, causality is mysterious as well.

    What is it exactly that we are independent of?

    External factors: When can decisions without being forced by external factors, our choices are free (in my sense of the word).

    I confess that I find myself completely incapable of thinking of agency in terms of purely physical chains of cause and effect. It’s like trying to comprehend a square-shaped circle.

    Nobody can think of a square circle, but lots of people (like me) have no trouble envisioning agency without libertarianism. I would suggest you provide your definition of “choose” , and tell me what you think it means for rocks, rivers, amoebas, dogs, and humans, and then we can see if and where there may any logical inconsistencies.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  164. typo:
    When can decisions without being forced by external factors, our choices are free (in my sense of the word).
    =>
    When we make decisions without being forced by external factors, our choices are free (in my sense of the word).

  165. Kairosfocus @153. Thank you. Good points all.

    I should add that I don’t think Godel’s propositions threaten the Law of Non-Contradiction in any way. It seems to me rather that they confirm it. Indeed, if we examine the construction of his Anselm-like proofs for the existence of God (I personally do not subscribe to such ontological, rational proofs [they should be empirical in my judgment]), we find that his use of logical symbols and If/Then formulations confirm the point that he accepts LNC as a self-evident truth.

  166. For me, neither rocks, nor rivers, nor computers can choose. In my mind, a determined choice is not really a choice at all. I tend to not hold folks under duress responsible for their actions precisely because a choice has been forced upon them. They were not the origin of the action. It originated in a choice made by an external source. Nor do I hold computers responsible for their actions. They are not really choosing. They are only doing what they are programmed to do. A computer can process, but it cannot choose. It can receive input and produce output, but it cannot choose.

    I don’t know whether amoeba’s or dogs can make real choices. I tend to think they cannot, but I am not sure. I don’t hold a dog accountable for its actions because I tend to believe it is only acting on instinct or according to reinforced behaviors. As a result, nothing of its choices originates inside the dog itself. It is completely dependent upon environment and stimuli outside the dog’s control. From this perspective, it would be no more accountable for its actions than would a computer, receiving input and producing output.

    In contrast, I believe that something of a person’s choice originates completely inside that person. Though the choice itself is not completely independent of outside influences, there is a part of the person that can assert itself in a way that is completely independent in order to either overrule those influences or not. Thus, a person’s choices can be influenced, but they are not strictly caused by effects that are ultimately external to the person or ultimately outside the person’s control. If they were, then I could not bring myself to hold a person any more accountable for its input -> process -> output cycle than I would a computer.

  167. RDFish

    When we make decisions without being forced by external factors, our choices are free (in my sense of the word).

    Does your notion of freedom allow for the possibility of choosing any one of a large number of possible courses of action? [A through E etc], or does it allow for only one course of action?

    In other words, if A through E is range of possible choices and courses of action, are we free to choose either A or B or C or D or E?–and negate all others?

    Or, if the range of options is simply A or B, am I free to choose A as a course of action and negate B or vice versa?

  168. RDF: With all due respect, all you are doing is redefining manipulation multiplied by genetic and psycho-social/cultural conditioning as “choice.” Do you not see how that ends up in might and manipulation make ‘truth’ and ‘right,’ opening the door to the worst forms of nihilism and cynical veiled totalitarianism? Responsibility and rationality pivot on genuine freedom and are simply not to be confused or conflated with the sort of propaganda games that 1984 speaks about all too tellingly. In effect, you have given a disguised concession of the point. KF

  169. SB: A further wrinkle is that random stochastic variation is also being conflated with choice. Randomness is simply not equal to rational responsible choice. KF

  170. Hi Phinehas,

    For me, neither rocks, nor rivers, nor computers can choose. In my mind, a determined choice is not really a choice at all.

    I’m still waiting for your definition of “choose”, but this is a start :-)

    We agree on rocks and rivers. You exclude computers because you think their choices are determined, but that isn’t actually accurate in a couple of ways. First, computers can incorporate indeterminacy (either via pseudo-random data or even random input from physical processes such as radioactive decay). But more importantly, computers’ choices can be the result of a history of complex interactions with environments that themselves are unpredictable, even theoretically.

    I tend to not hold folks under duress responsible for their actions precisely because a choice has been forced upon them. They were not the origin of the action. It originated in a choice made by an external source.

    I agree (I’ve said this upthread somewhere) – if they are coerced then their choice is not free.

    Nor do I hold computers responsible for their actions.

    I agree. Computers lack the intersubjective moral sense that I believe is required for an agent to be morally responsible.

    They [computers] are not really choosing. They are only doing what they are programmed to do. A computer can process, but it cannot choose. It can receive input and produce output, but it cannot choose.

    I disagree. First, we are ignoring (as I noted) how the computer came to exist in its present state – that is a separate question. But since you haven’t yet provided a definition of “choose” we will just talk past each other on these questions.

    What is your definition of the word?

    I don’t know whether amoeba’s or dogs can make real choices. I tend to think they cannot, but I am not sure.

    Thank you for your candor! Again we need to define the word before we can proceed, but when you do provide a definition, I can almost assure you that I will agree that the answers to these questions are not certain!

    I don’t hold a dog accountable for its actions because I tend to believe it is only acting on instinct or according to reinforced behaviors.

    We have very different senses of dogs I see. I will say that I could not imagine a definition of “choose” that means people choose and dogs don’t!

    As a result, nothing of its choices originates inside the dog itself. It is completely dependent upon environment and stimuli outside the dog’s control. From this perspective, it would be no more accountable for its actions than would a computer, receiving input and producing output.

    I don’t hold non-humans morally responsible for their choices, because they do not have the intersubjective understanding of morality that humans do. But it is impossible to understand dogs as Pavlovian or Skinnerian stimulus-response systems. Literally – it is as impossible to understand dogs’ behavior in terms of behaviorist theories as it is to understand humans that way. Dogs have complex mental states, beliefs and desires, and if you don’t acknowledge that you will find their behavior inexplicable.

    Anyway, I think you are saying (although you are not sure) that amboebas and dogs can’t choose, but people can. In other words, the ability to choose somehow emerges somewhere between dogs and humans. How about apes or dolphins? How about mentally deficient human beings – say people with IQs of less than 60 – can they choose? And so on – I trust you see where I’m going here.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  171. Hi StephenB,

    Does your notion of freedom allow for the possibility of choosing any one of a large number of possible courses of action? [A through E etc], or does it allow for only one course of action? In other words, if A through E is range of possible choices and courses of action, are we free to choose either A or B or C or D or E?–and negate all others?

    Any number.

    Or, if the range of options is simply A or B, am I free to choose A as a course of action and negate B or vice versa?

    Unless one is coerced, I see all of these choices as free.

    How about you actually try and tell us where you’re going with these questions? :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  172. Hi KF,

    Do you not see how that ends up in might and manipulation make ‘truth’ and ‘right,’ opening the door to the worst forms of nihilism and cynical veiled totalitarianism? Responsibility and rationality pivot on genuine freedom and are simply not to be confused or conflated with the sort of propaganda games that 1984 speaks about all too tellingly. In effect, you have given a disguised concession of the point.

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand anything of what you say, KF. I assure you I am against totalitarianism, if that is what you are worried about. And I’ve already made very clear that I hold each individual responsible for all of their actions. You assert that this means I must accept libertarianism (at least I think that is what you’re saying), but you do not argue for that.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  173. RDF: I didn;t say that you INTENDED the outcome. That is very rare. But the ideology you are espousing or enabling points in that direction. As has been pointed out with too many historical examples, from Plato’s warning in The Laws Bk X on. KF

  174. Hi KF,

    Ah, so you believe that my views on causality and volition may lead to totalitarianism, the way others might think people who have religious views might lead to theocracy and inquisitions. Sorry, I just don’t go in for that sort of reasoning. If you have some data that shows where metaphysical compatibilists (or people like me, who admit we really don’t know) makes one prone to support fascism or something I’d take a look, but I’m pretty sure you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  175. 177
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    Unless one is coerced…

    Coerced choices are still free; they’re just constrained. Coercion reduces choices, but does not eliminate them in most cases, if not all. A ruthless criminal might kidnap a man’s family and then threaten to kill them unless the man robs a bank and delivers the money to a predetermined location. This man’s choices might be constrained by his perception of the possible outcomes, but he still has choices. He can refuse; he can do exactly as he was told; he can go to the police; he can call the kidnapper’s bluff; or he can enact some alternate plan in an attempt to rescue his family. There may be other alternative actions he could take.

    The point being, the phrase, “I had no choice,” can better be understood as, “I highly preferred the outcome favored by the alternative.”

    “…I see all of these choices as free.”

    What you think is determining the choices?

  176. Hi Chance,

    Coerced choices are still free; they’re just constrained. Coercion reduces choices, but does not eliminate them in most cases, if not all. A ruthless criminal might kidnap a man’s family and then threaten to kill them unless the man robs a bank and delivers the money to a predetermined location. This man’s choices might be constrained by his perception of the possible outcomes, but he still has choices. He can refuse; he can do exactly as he was told; he can go to the police; he can call the kidnapper’s bluff; or he can enact some alternate plan in an attempt to rescue his family. There may be other alternative actions he could take.

    In your scenario, the man who robs the bank would, in my view, be just as responsible for robbing the bank as the ruthless criminal would be responsible for kidnapping the family. Those are the people responsible for those acts, period.

    However (as I’ve said previously) a just society must consider the context of crimes when deciding what to do to the perpetrators. If we believe the kidnapper is indeed ruthless, we should incarcerate him to prevent him from committing more crimes and to disuade others. If we believe the bank robber would never act badly if he wasn’t coerced, or we could not think of a more moral choice he could have made under the circumstance, we should let him go.

    RDF: “…I see all of these choices as free.”
    CHANCE: What you think is determining the choices?

    The person making the choice determines the choice.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  177. 179
    William J Murray

    RDFish said:

    You just insist, for some reason, that in order for that to count as agency it must violate the laws of physics – even though it’s certain that we really do not understand all of physics yet.

    I insist no such thing. You are the one that insists that physics disallows the existence of a causeless cause; you are the one that insists that every event which “happens”, including will, is caused. I’ve already pointed out your conflation of an agency (free will) with what that agency does (actions, causing effects).

    Now I’m pointing out the categorical ramifications of your view which you have so far failed to rebut with anything other than semantics, subterfuge (“inner states”) and convenient labeling.

    It is my position that physics does not preclude the existence of a causeless cause – in fact, it is my position that physics, in order to have sufficient cause, requires that a causeless cause exist (to avoid infinite regress).

    All you are doing now is hand-waving to distract from the necessary consequences of your view. You do not like the fact that your “free will” cannot be anything more than a physical computation (cause & effect), and so you wave your hands about, throwing out terms like “really complex causes” and “inner states” as if terminology can save your argument.

  178. We agree on rocks and rivers. You exclude computers because you think their choices are determined, but that isn’t actually accurate in a couple of ways. First, computers can incorporate indeterminacy (either via pseudo-random data or even random input from physical processes such as radioactive decay). But more importantly, computers’ choices can be the result of a history of complex interactions with environments that themselves are unpredictable, even theoretically.

    You seem to be conflating unpredictable with undetermined. I believe that all effects are determined by their causes whether they are predictable or not. For me, predictability would be orthogonal to the determined nature of an event. I cannot predict what fair dice will roll, but from the time I choose to release them, assuming no other agent intervenes, every part of their motion will be perfectly determined by physical laws such that the result is inevitable.

    We use the word “random” to cover for our limitations in predicting outcomes, but that doesn’t imply that those outcomes are not part of a determined causal chain.

  179. F/N: Above, we see a challenge to define choice (and by implication, freedom in choice).

    That is of course as familiar as the actions underlying the typing of a post above: intelligently directed contingency towards a preference, a goal a duty — and, remember, duty often cuts clean across even the strongest impulses, passions, desires, appetites etc and insists: do the right thing — or the like, as opposed to blindly mechanical or programmed determinism essentially produced or computed on initial conditions, even if there is an additional stochastic factor.

    I have repeatedly underscored that Plato long ago captured the essential thing, when he spoke of the self-moved, initiating soul, the first step in the cascade of events that then follows.

    Let me again clip from The Laws Bk X, as it was obviously overlooked:

    Ath. . . . when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle? . . . . self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second.

    [[ . . . .]

    Ath. If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we describe it?

    Cle. You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?

    Ath. I do.

    Cle. Certainly we should.

    Ath. And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same-must we not admit that this is life?

    [[ . . . . ]

    Cle. You mean to say that the essence which is defined as the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?

    Ath. Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things?

    Cle. Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.

    Ath. And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?

    Cle. Exactly.

    Ath. Then we are right, and speak the most perfect and absolute truth, when we say that the soul is prior to the body, and that the body is second and comes afterwards, and is born to obey the soul, which is the ruler?

    If you want something that is more prosaic, perhaps this clip from the information philosopher will help at least the onlooker:

    Agent-Causality is the idea that agents can start new causal chains that are not pre-determined by the events of the immediate or distant past and the physical laws of nature.

    The first agent-causal libertarian was Aristotle, followed by Epicurus, and then Carneades.

    In more recent times, prominent agent-causalists have been Thomas Reid in the 18th century, followed by Roderick Chisholm, Richard Taylor, Keith Lehrer, Timothy O’Connor, and Randolph Clarke in the 20th century.

    Aristotle was in many ways the architect of causality as well as agent-causality . . . .

    Beyond causal sequences that are the result of chance or necessity, Aristotle felt that some breaks in the causal chain allow us to feel our actions “depend on us” (??’ ????). These are the causal chains that originate within us (?v ????).

    Greek philosophy had no precise term for “free will” as did Latin (liberum arbitrium or libera voluntas). The discussion was in terms of responsibility for actions that are caused by an agent, what Aristotle says “depends on us.”

    Aristotle’s ??’ ???? is thus a third thing (a tertium quid), beyond necessity and chance, that causes things to happen. This is agent causation . . . .

    Most of the ancient thinkers recognized the obvious difficulty with chance (or an uncaused cause) as a source of human freedom. Even Aristotle described chance as a “cause obscure to human reason” (?????? ?????? ????????? ???????).
    Actions caused by chance are simply random and we cannot feel responsible for them. But we do feel responsible. Despite more than twenty-three centuries of philosophizing, most modern thinkers have not moved significantly beyond this core problem of randomness and free will for libertarians – the confused idea that free actions are caused directly by a random event.

    Caught between the horns of a dilemma, with determinism on one side and randomness on the other, the standard argument against free will continues to render agent-causality and human freedom unintelligible (??????).

    That is, a prominent or even dominant school of thought has locked out the self-moved, initiating, living soul made in God’s image and having delegated power to select from alternatives instead of being short-chain or long-chain predetermined and/or modified by chance circumstances.

    But instead, a free choice may be influenced, constrained, but is not determined apart from the free act of the self-moved initiating soul.

    It is not a-causal, it is a manifestation of a precious gift that points to its Giver.

    And, therein lieth the real rub, methinks.

    The thought of that shadow on our doorstep leads many to cling to the most counter-intuitive and even patently absurd notions.

    For instance, if we are not genuinely free, we cannot reason, we merely play out the balance of acting forces and chance circumstances. That is, we here stare raw irrationality in the face.

    This can be seen in my fundamental objection to the key assertion of the erroneous school of thought, evolutionary materialism:

    a: Evolutionary materialism argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature; from hydrogen to humans by undirected chance and necessity.

    b: Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws of chance and/or mechanical necessity acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of happenstance initial circumstances.

    (This is physicalism. This view covers both the forms where (a) the mind and the brain are seen as one and the same thing, and those where (b) somehow mind emerges from and/or “supervenes” on brain, perhaps as a result of sophisticated and complex software looping. The key point, though is as already noted: physical causal closure — the phenomena that play out across time, without residue, are in principle deducible or at least explainable up to various random statistical distributions and/or mechanical laws, from prior physical states. Such physical causal closure, clearly, implicitly discounts or even dismisses the causal effect of concept formation and reasoning then responsibly deciding, in favour of specifically physical interactions in the brain-body control loop; indeed, some mock the idea of — in their view — an “obviously” imaginary “ghost” in the meat-machine. [[There is also some evidence from simulation exercises, that accuracy of even sensory perceptions may lose out to utilitarian but inaccurate ones in an evolutionary competition. "It works" does not warrant the inference to "it is true."] )

    c: But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this meat-machine picture. So, we rapidly arrive at Crick’s claim in his The Astonishing Hypothesis (1994): what we subjectively experience as “thoughts,” “reasoning” and “conclusions” can only be understood materialistically as the unintended by-products of the blind natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains that (as the Smith Model illustrates) serve as cybernetic controllers for our bodies.

    d: These underlying driving forces are viewed as being ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance shaped by forces of selection [["nature"] and psycho-social conditioning [["nurture"], within the framework of human culture [[i.e. socio-cultural conditioning and resulting/associated relativism]. And, remember, the focal issue to such minds — notice, this is a conceptual analysis made and believed by the materialists! — is the physical causal chains in a control loop, not the internalised “mouth-noises” that may somehow sit on them and come along for the ride.

    (Save, insofar as such “mouth noises” somehow associate with or become embedded as physically instantiated signals or maybe codes in such a loop. [[How signals, languages and codes originate and function in systems in our observation of such origin -- i.e by design -- tends to be pushed to the back-burner and conveniently forgotten. So does the point that a signal or code takes its significance precisely from being an intelligently focused on, observed or chosen and significant alternative from a range of possibilities that then can guide decisive action.])

    e: For instance, Marxists commonly derided opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismissed qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? Should we not ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is little more than yet another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze? And — as we saw above — would the writings of a Crick be any more than the firing of neurons in networks in his own brain?

    f: For further instance, we may take the favourite whipping-boy of materialists: religion. Notoriously, they often hold that belief in God is not merely cognitive, conceptual error, but delusion. Borderline lunacy, in short. But, if such a patent “delusion” is so utterly widespread, even among the highly educated, then it “must” — by the principles of evolution — somehow be adaptive to survival, whether in nature or in society. And so, this would be a major illustration of the unreliability of our conceptual reasoning ability, on the assumption of evolutionary materialism.

    g: Turning the materialist dismissal of theism around, evolutionary materialism itself would be in the same leaky boat. For, the sauce for the goose is notoriously just as good a sauce for the gander, too.

    h: That is, on its own premises [[and following Dawkins in A Devil's Chaplain, 2004, p. 46], the cause of the belief system of evolutionary materialism, “must” also be reducible to forces of blind chance and mechanical necessity that are sufficiently adaptive to spread this “meme” in populations of jumped- up apes from the savannahs of East Africa scrambling for survival in a Malthusian world of struggle for existence. Reppert brings the underlying point sharply home, in commenting on the “internalised mouth-noise signals riding on the physical cause-effect chain in a cybernetic loop” view:

    . . . let us suppose that brain state A, which is token identical to the thought that all men are mortal, and brain state B, which is token identical to the thought that Socrates is a man, together cause the belief that Socrates is mortal. It isn’t enough for rational inference that these events be those beliefs, it is also necessary that the causal transaction be in virtue of the content of those thoughts . . . [[But] if naturalism is true, then the propositional content is irrelevant to the causal transaction that produces the conclusion, and [[so] we do not have a case of rational inference. In rational inference, as Lewis puts it, one thought causes another thought not by being, but by being seen to be, the ground for it. But causal transactions in the brain occur in virtue of the brain’s being in a particular type of state that is relevant to physical causal transactions. [[Emphases added. Also cf. Reppert's summary of Barefoot's argument here.]

    i: The famous geneticist and evolutionary biologist (as well as Socialist) J. B. S. Haldane made much the same point in a famous 1932 remark:

    “It seems to me immensely unlikely that mind is a mere by-product of matter. For if my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true. They may be sound chemically, but that does not make them sound logically. And hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms. In order to escape from this necessity of sawing away the branch on which I am sitting, so to speak, I am compelled to believe that mind is not wholly conditioned by matter.” [["When I am dead," in Possible Worlds: And Other Essays [1927], Chatto and Windus: London, 1932, reprint, p.209. (Highlight and emphases added.)]

    j: Therefore, though materialists will often try to pointedly ignore or angrily brush aside the issue, we may freely argue: if such evolutionary materialism is true, then (i) our consciousness, (ii) the “thoughts” we have, (iii) the conceptualised beliefs we hold, (iv) the reasonings we attempt based on such and (v) the “conclusions” and “choices” (a.k.a. “decisions”) we reach — without residue — must be produced and controlled by blind forces of chance happenstance and mechanical necessity that are irrelevant to “mere” ill-defined abstractions such as: purpose or truth, or even logical validity.

    (NB: The conclusions of such “arguments” may still happen to be true, by astonishingly lucky coincidence — but we have no rational grounds for relying on the “reasoning” that has led us to feel that we have “proved” or “warranted” them. It seems that rationality itself has thus been undermined fatally on evolutionary materialistic premises. Including that of Crick et al. Through, self-reference leading to incoherence and utter inability to provide a cogent explanation of our commonplace, first-person experience of reasoning and rational warrant for beliefs, conclusions and chosen paths of action. Reduction to absurdity and explanatory failure in short.)

    k: And, if materialists then object: “But, we can always apply scientific tests, through observation, experiment and measurement,” then we must immediately note that — as the fate of Newtonian Dynamics between 1880 and 1930 shows — empirical support is not equivalent to establishing the truth of a scientific theory. For, at any time, one newly discovered countering fact can in principle overturn the hitherto most reliable of theories. (And as well, we must not lose sight of this: in science, one is relying on the legitimacy of the reasoning process to make the case that scientific evidence provides reasonable albeit provisional warrant for one’s beliefs etc. Scientific reasoning is not independent of reasoning.)

    In short, the issue goes back to the roots of our worldviews and ends up exposing the absurdities embedded in evolutionary materialism.

    KF

  180. 182
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    “The person making the choice determines the choice.”

    Sure, but what is a person under your definition of personhood? Is the person ultimately an indivisible self, or rather a collection of material brain states? Or something else entirely?

  181. 183
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    “In your scenario, the man who robs the bank would, in my view, be just as responsible for robbing the bank as the ruthless criminal would be responsible for kidnapping the family. Those are the people responsible for those acts, period.”

    But the man was coerced, significantly. So was his choice to rob the bank free or not? If it was not free, how did coercion remove his ability to choose; and why would he be responsible for a non-free choice?

    Thanks in advance for your answers. I know you’re having discussions on multiple fronts.

  182. RDF:

    Where have you been over the past 150 – 250 years, from the French revolution forward? Have you never heard of the way that marxists, freudians, neitzscheans, skinnerians, eugenicists and ever so many others ended up reducing mentality to manipulation and conditioning riding on genetic deposits shaped by non-rational forces and factors?

    Did you not see how such leads to radical relativism, amorality and nihilism as well as undermining of objective knowledge and duty, thence the nihilistic radical faction seizing power and using the apparatus of the state to impose its will and brainwash multitudes, leading to mass murder and the horrific wars of C20?

    Have you so often skimmed past Plato’s explicit prophetic prediction and warning, rooted in the events of Athens across the years of the Peloponnesian war and its aftermath? Do I again need to call exhibit no 1 to witness, Alcibiades?

    Let me cite Plato’s warning then, remember this is c 360 BC, in The Laws Bk X, 2350 years ago. Close resemblance to the horrors of the past 250 years of our civilisation is NOT coincidental, as Heine also highlighted in his own prophetic warnings 80 years before the Rape of Belgium and 100 years before Hitler:

    Ath. . . . [[The avant garde philosophers and poets, c. 360 BC] say that fire and water, and earth and air [[i.e the classical "material" elements of the cosmos], all exist by nature and chance, and none of them by art, and that as to the bodies which come next in order-earth, and sun, and moon, and stars-they have been created by means of these absolutely inanimate existences. The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them-of hot with cold, or of dry with moist, or of soft with hard, and according to all the other accidental admixtures of opposites which have been formed by necessity. After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only. [[In short, evolutionary materialism premised on chance plus necessity acting without intelligent guidance on primordial matter is hardly a new or a primarily "scientific" view! Notice also, the trichotomy of causal factors: (a) chance/accident, (b) mechanical necessity of nature, (c) art or intelligent design and direction.] . . . .

    [[Thus, they hold that t]he Gods exist not by nature, but by art, and by the laws of states, which are different in different places, according to the agreement of those who make them; and that the honourable is one thing by nature and another thing by law, and that the principles of justice have no existence at all in nature, but that mankind are always disputing about them and altering them; and that the alterations which are made by art and by law have no basis in nature, but are of authority for the moment and at the time at which they are made.- [[Relativism, too, is not new; complete with its radical amorality rooted in a worldview that has no foundational IS that can ground OUGHT. (Cf. here for Locke's views and sources on a very different base for grounding liberty as opposed to license and resulting anarchistic "every man does what is right in his own eyes" chaos leading to tyranny. )] These, my friends, are the sayings of wise men, poets and prose writers, which find a way into the minds of youth. They are told by them that the highest right is might [[ Evolutionary materialism leads to the promotion of amorality], and in this way the young fall into impieties, under the idea that the Gods are not such as the law bids them imagine; and hence arise factions [[Evolutionary materialism-motivated amorality "naturally" leads to continual contentions and power struggles; cf. dramatisation here], these philosophers inviting them to lead a true life according to nature, that is, to live in real dominion over others [[such amoral factions, if they gain power, "naturally" tend towards ruthless tyranny], and not in legal subjection to them.

    Flash, zundap, boom!

    I see what is going on: we have been made artificially ignorant of history, and so we do not know the lessons of the past that would save us from those who would now manipulate us.

    Let us wake up before it is too late.

    KF

  183. Hi WJM,

    RDF: You just insist, for some reason, that in order for that to count as agency it must violate the laws of physics…
    WJM: I insist no such thing.

    Ok, so you do not believe that agency entails libertarianism? Really?

    You are the one that insists that physics disallows the existence of a causeless cause;

    Uh, nope – I certainly don’t think that! Where’d you get that idea? All I said was that the Law of Causality is inconsistent with libertarianism!

    …you are the one that insists that every event which “happens”, including will, is caused.

    Well yes, I said I was going to argue against libertarianism arguendo, although in fact I am agnostic on the issue myself.

    I’ve already pointed out your conflation of an agency (free will) with what that agency does (actions, causing effects).

    Yes, those things are distinct. The agent is the entity who acts. The acts are the behaviors the entity exhibits. Correct. I believe you are arguing that agents act without cause, or that agents are somehow self-caused, when they act. Right?

    Now I’m pointing out the categorical ramifications of your view which you have so far failed to rebut with anything other than semantics, subterfuge (“inner states”) and convenient labeling.

    I don’t think you’ve been reading my arguments very carefully.

    It is my position that physics does not preclude the existence of a causeless cause – in fact, it is my position that physics, in order to have sufficient cause, requires that a causeless cause exist (to avoid infinite regress).

    Again, I have never argued that physics precludes a causeless cause. I have argued that the Law of Causilty precludes it. I think you’ve tried to use hand-waving and semantics to say that since free will is a cause but not an effect, the fact that an agent can act without prior cause does not violate the Law of Causality. I disagree, and argue that libertarianism does in fact require that when an agent causes something to happen without antecedent cause, it is a violation of the Law of Causality. You really did admit to this, when you argued that this exception to the LoC was required in order to preserve moral responsibility and avoid infinite regress.

    You do not like…

    Don’t tell me what I like and don’t like, because you have no idea whatsoever. Don’t you think it’s prudent to keep quiet about things you don’t know anything about? I think you are quite rude to do say things like that, actually.

    …the fact that your “free will” cannot be anything more than a physical computation (cause & effect),

    Cause and effect is not the same as computation – they are entirely different concepts, and conflating them confuses this already complex issue.

    …as if terminology can save your argument.

    I politely ask people to define their terms so we may clarify our views instead of taking past each other. I think it is quite important. If you choose to avoid definining your terms, you might want to refrain from discussing these things with me in the future.

    What is your definition of the verb “to choose”?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  184. Hi Phinehas,

    You seem to be conflating unpredictable with undetermined.

    Nope, I didn’t – I think those terms are distinct and I used them correctly. I simply did not commit to saying if the “environment” that a computer might potentially interact with is determined or not (I don’t know the answer to that, and neither does anyone else!). But the point remains that the computer is in theory no more determined than the universe.

    I believe that all effects are determined by their causes whether they are predictable or not. For me, predictability would be orthogonal to the determined nature of an event. I cannot predict what fair dice will roll, but from the time I choose to release them, assuming no other agent intervenes, every part of their motion will be perfectly determined by physical laws such that the result is inevitable.

    Ok, you are a physical determinist. I’d say modern physics is generally interpreted to mean you’re wrong about this, but the issue is orthogonal to our debate regarding choice.

    We use the word “random” to cover for our limitations in predicting outcomes, but that doesn’t imply that those outcomes are not part of a determined causal chain.

    Again, most (but not all) physicists believe quantum randomness is a special type that is inherently undetermined, but I don’t want to argue about that because it isn’t relevant to any of my arguments.

    How about my other questions???

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  185. Hi KF,

    Did you not see how such [my questioning the coherence and truth of contra-causality in human thought] leads to radical relativism, amorality and nihilism as well as undermining of objective knowledge and duty, thence the nihilistic radical faction seizing power and using the apparatus of the state to impose its will and brainwash multitudes, leading to mass murder and the horrific wars of C20?

    Nope, sorry, but I think this is weird nonsense. I’m not a moral relativist, much less a radical one, so you got that wrong right off the bat.

    Again, KF, I don’t think we communicate well. I’m sorry if you think that my beliefs are dangerous, but all I can say is that I would put my behavior up against yours any time with regard to morality, and I’d come out just fine indeed.

    Again, thanks for the discussion.
    Cheers,
    RDFish

  186. 188
    William J Murray

    CR @182:

    Exactly. RDFish’s argument hinges upon using terms (inner states, memories, person, complexity, choice) in ways that seem to elevate a physically computed, caused event from mere physical computation, but under his/her paradigm cannot. Without libertarian free will, every “person” is an ongoing physical computation. Memories are computed states. “Inner states” and “choices” are physical computations – they cannot be anything else, because there is no supervening agency that is not wholly constructed by and subservient to the causal chain in question.

    However, it has been my experience that many people simply cannot see that this is what they are doing; they are focused on the terminology, and are often unable to see the conceptual foundation that supports (or does not support) the terms being used.

    RDFish’s argument appears to be that, well, we all know people make choices, and that those choices are categorically different from the “choice” a rock makes rolling down a hill.

    Apparently unseen by RDFish, the reason we “know” (or assume) this is because of the fundamental principle that an act of will is functionally, categorically different in nature than a rock hitting another rock and changing course.

    That functional difference is available to theists; it is not available to the argument that there are no uncaused causes and that everything is physically caused to be. But RDFish and that ilk seem impervious to understanding that they are stealing concepts when they employ such terminology (person, self, choice, memory, inner states, emergence, complexity) in a way that hides the physical, computational aspect of the sequence in question.

  187. 189
    William J Murray

    You really did admit to this, when you argued that this exception to the LoC was required in order to preserve moral responsibility and avoid infinite regress.

    Now you’re lying, because I already corrected you on this matter.

  188. 190
    William J Murray

    Cause and effect is not the same as computation..

    Then tell me how they qualitatively differ.

  189. Hi Chance,

    RDF: “The person making the choice determines the choice.”
    CR: Sure, but what is a person under your definition of personhood? Is the person ultimately an indivisible self, or rather a collection of material brain states? Or something else entirely?

    When I talk about a person, I mean it in the most ordinary and common-sense way, meaning an individual human being. The term makes no presuppositions about metaphysics; if we can’t agree on what an individual human being is, we certainly won’t make any further progress here :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  190. 192
    William J Murray

    RDFish: an uncaused cause doesn’t violate the law of causality. All effects are caused. No version of the law of causality insists there are no uncaused causes.

  191. Hi WJM,
    Computation is the processing of information according to a formal logic; in other words, it is algorithmic. Physical causality may or may not be algorithmic – that is an open question. Again, Roger Penrose (a physicist) believes that physical cause and effect is non-algorithmic.
    Cheers,
    RDFish

  192. PS: One of the many bits of manipulation has been the constant one-sided drumbeat that THE threat to liberty — notice, this is being itself manipulated from its proper meaning — is “religion” held to be the mother-milk of tyrannical oppression. This is dangerously, toxically one-sided and the exaggerated, shrill, hysterically denunciatory, rage-warped, over-done scapegoating tone that so commonly comes with it should long since have alerted us to the blatant spin game here. Or, is part of the problem, that too many of us WANT our ears tickled with the addictive poison of anti-Christian rhetoric, baiting and Bigotry? Indeed, this is as blatant and as bad as the sort of racism my Father’s generation faced. For shame! In fact, arising from the characteristic principles of the Christian faith, if we are but willing to let go of reams of deceptive, one sided, poisonously manipulative indoctrination, we can easily see that a major root of modern liberty and self-government by a free, moral people, has been the Christian faith and scriptures shaping the Christian worldview and challenging civilisation to reformation especially after the Bible was put in the hands of the ordinary man once printing was invented and literacy began to be widespread. This same dynamic had a lot to do with the liberation of slaves in the Caribbean. Similarly, the same Faith had a lot to do positively with the rise of modern science. But obviously, a great part of the problem is that we are now confronting a Gordian knot that has tangled up our thinking in so many interacting, mutually tangling ways. We need to come to a deep-seated flash of insight that we have become captivated to a false conventional wisdom, and cut clean through the knot. That is why we need to go to the roots, starting with worldview foundations in light of common sense reasoning — which can then lead to warranted, credible, self-evident truths and recognition among these of first principles of right reason. That, too, is why I start from Royce’s pivot: error exists, which is knowable, true and undeniable, devastating a wide swath of schemes of thought that subjectivise and relativise truth, knowledge etc.

  193. 195
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @191,

    Ha! I thought so. Agreed, no progress can be made. I was just checking. ;)

    If we can’t decide whether a person is an indivisible self or merely a collection of brain states, then there’s nothing to be said about moral responsibility or free will.

    Care to answer my #183 anyway? :)

  194. Hi WJM,

    RDFish: an uncaused cause doesn’t violate the law of causality. All effects are caused. No version of the law of causality insists there are no uncaused causes.

    Let’s look at this another way.

    As I quoted from several sources, the LoC says that no events can be uncaused, or that everything that happens must be caused.

    Now, when a human being pushes a button, that is an event – it is something that happens.

    We ask, what caused that the human being to press the button, and your answer is that there is something unobservable (that you call “the will”) inside this human being that caused them to press the button, and that nothing at all caused this unobservable thing in turn to make that happen. So you are truncating the causal chain simply by positing something inside a human being that can cause things to happen without any antecedent cause, which clearly violates the LoC.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  195. WJM: Notice, that in the face of repeated invitation to simply take a few minutes to read a 101 summary on first principles of right reason that would inter alia clarify the distinction between contingent and necessary being, RDF has found every excuse and diversion to duck. At one point, I was falsely accused of pecuniary interest. When I called him on it, he then tried to make light of it as a mere joke. Something is deeply wrong, and RDF refuses to see what he is enabling as a fellow traveller. (RDF, you do not have to be an evo mat nihilist to become a fellow traveller and part of the problem.) KF

  196. Hi Chance,

    Agreed, no progress can be made. I was just checking.

    Wow, really? You can’t identify a human being when you see one? That is just plain weird, sorry. Can you identify a dog? A bird? A chair? How do you function in the world? :-)

    If we can’t decide whether a person is an indivisible self or merely a collection of brain states, then there’s nothing to be said about moral responsibility or free will.

    Well you are restating the topic under discussion, but this isn’t an argument I’m afraid.

    But the man was coerced, significantly. So was his choice to rob the bank free or not? If it was not free, how did coercion remove his ability to choose; and why would he be responsible for a non-free choice?

    I was agreeing that in your scenario the bank robber was still able to choose among different options, and he chose to rob the bank. It appears that one can be fully or partially coerced, and as you point out, even in this situation the robber was not fully coerced, so he was still capable of freely making a choice. Thus he was responsible, although he should not be punished the same as if the situation were different.

    Thanks in advance for your answers. I know you’re having discussions on multiple fronts.

    Yes, it’s a bit of a challenge! I’ll have to take a break soon :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  197. 199
    William J Murray

    RDFish said:

    Hi WJM,
    Computation is the processing of information according to a formal logic; in other words, it is algorithmic. Physical causality may or may not be algorithmic – that is an open question. Again, Roger Penrose (a physicist) believes that physical cause and effect is non-algorithmic.
    Cheers,
    RDFish

    Please direct me to where you got your definition of “computation”.

  198. RDF:

    You seem to have things back-ways around:

    As I quoted from several sources, the LoC says that no events can be uncaused, or that everything that happens must be caused.

    I have repeatedly pointed to what would help but you WILL not even spend a few minutes.

    I will observe that it starts with sufficient reason. If something A exists we may ask and seek an answer to: why.

    If we consider a struck match it will help. The flame begins. It depends on a cluster of enabling factors that must be present — fuel, heat, oxidiser, chain reaction. A sufficient cluster including all necessary enabling factors, must be present for the flame to begin, or continue. Thus the fire is contingent and caused.

    We generalise: that which begins — implicit in “happens” — is contingent and caused. Same, if they cease, same if something depends on arrangement and presence of parts, etc.

    The crucial form of causes is the necessary, enabling one.

    We can then reflect a different possibility: something without such factors. Such is a candidate necessary being. Such, may be like a square circle — the required attributes are mutually inconsistent and such is impossible. But, some things, like the truth in 2 + 3 = 5, are possible. Not being dependent on anything to enable them, they have no beginning, no end. such are the actual, necessary beings.

    Of course, the most interesting such candidate is God.

    There is no reason to infer that everything is contingent.

    There is no good reason to infer that God cannot create, is not a possible cause.

    But, that is for another time and place.

    KF

  199. 201
    William J Murray

    KF@197: At this point (actually, much earlier) it’s fairly obvious that RDFish is not debating in good faith. Or, RDFish is actually a computed phenomena incapable of meaningfully addressing divergent concepts is and only capable of responding to terminology with terminology computed as matching and responsive.

    Which is how one spots a Turing machine.

  200. Hi KF,

    Good grief!

    I’m not ducking your blog – I don’t like the way you write and I’m just not going to waste my time wading through it, especially since you can’t clearly state your arguments to me here. Frankly, I find your writing incredibly bad – it’s like you look up every word in a thesaurus and pick the one with the most syllables – and your level of drama and histrionics is just a little too much for me to bear.

    I certainly disagree with lots of folks here, but most of them can put together coherent responses and refrain from accusing me of lying (for goodness sake you are still upset about the comment regarding clicks on your blog? Get over it!!!) and of being a pawn in the advancement of totalitarianism!

    I will gladly give you the last word, where you can accuse me of all sorts of nefarious motives and deeds, but I do not intend to respond to you any more.

    Sincerely,
    RDFish

  201. Onlookers, more excuses, to avoid reading in effect notes on first principles of right reason. KF

  202. 204
    William J Murray

    I see we’ve moved full-tilt to the Alinsky school of debate.

  203. 205
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFIsh @198,

    “I was agreeing that in your scenario the bank robber was still able to choose among different options, and he chose to rob the bank. It appears that one can be fully or partially coerced, and as you point out, even in this situation the robber was not fully coerced, so he was still capable of freely making a choice. Thus he was responsible, although he should not be punished the same as if the situation were different.”

    Fair enough! :) But the question still remains. In what circumstance would coercion actually remove free choice between alternatives? The demand, “Do X or die” still leaves one with a choice. Coercion quite obviously changes my evaluation of choices with regard to their outcomes. It does not prevent my ability to decide freely. Which circumstances would inform such a choice are irrelevant if in fact no choice exists. So there’s no disagreement between us that various factors would influence to what degree we should hold our bank robber responsible. What is still unknown is what sort of coercion you have in mind that could leave one without any choice.

    If we can’t decide whether a person is an indivisible self or merely a collection of brain states, then there’s nothing to be said about moral responsibility or free will.

    Well you are restating the topic under discussion, but this isn’t an argument I’m afraid.

    Yes, I’m restating why trying to define “human” without addressing the fundamental ontology of personhood is rather pointless when determining issues of moral responsibility and free will. I think this is evident, and you apparently do not. Hence, I agree that no progress can be made about free will and moral culpability if we cannot first decide whether or not a person is ultimately reducible to physical states of matter.

    Agreed, no progress can be made. I was just checking.

    Wow, really? You can’t identify a human being when you see one? That is just plain weird, sorry. Can you identify a dog? A bird? A chair? How do you function in the world?

    It has nothing to do with identification, it has to do with definition. You’re playing semantic games; and I think it’s pretty obvious that determining whether a person has free will and moral responsibility for their actions hinges entirely on the definition of personhood, which you are either agnostic about, or just evasive about. Whether I can recognize a dog, bird, or human has no bearing upon this.

    Best,
    Chance

  204. WJM: Yup, all the angels on his side, nothing but devils, fools, ignoramuses and incompetents on ours. Poison, polarise, duck, dodge, never address the merits always attack the man on whatever excuse. Sad, and sadly revealing. Similar to the outrageous pretence at TSZ that nothing was wrong, no one made an invidious comparison as though only Nazis and KF could imagine something could be wrong with the radical agenda du jour; so the real prob must be that I am an enemy of rights etc. That one is laced with so many levels of slander, snide insinuations and suggestions and deceit that I cannot count the ways. Someone needs to take apart that toxic divisiveness and where such ruthless, nihilistic factionism will — again [note Plato's warning] — lead our civilisation if unchecked. Sad, and sadly revealing. KF

  205. RD

    How about you actually try and tell us where you’re going with these questions? :-)

    It isn’t a trap. I am just trying to understand your position. I now understand that you don’t think we are limited to just one choice or one course of action. That is clear. Thank you. Libertarian free will (defined as agent-causal libertarianism) agrees with that position. My purpose for asking is to find out precisely what it is about libertarian free will that you disagree with. Is it the part which says that we can, if we have a good reason, choose a course of action that goes against our impulses?

  206. Hi Chance,

    But the question still remains. In what circumstance would coercion actually remove free choice between alternatives?

    Right – I’d say there are only very weird, sci-fi-movie type circumstances where there is absolutely no choice at all, involving the overtaking of neural or muscular control of someone so that even if they attempt to perform X they end up performing Y instead. To a practical approximation, then, all of our choices are free in this sense.

    Here’s a summary of my view on freedom:

    “free” in terms of being able to select among choices: yes we are, along with computers and amoebas and dogs, but not rocks or rivers
    “free” meaning not being forced: yes, our choices are virtually always free in this sense
    “free” in the sense that whatever causes our actions violates physical causality: I don’t know, but I don’t see a reason to think so, and I don’t think we need to posit this to make sense of our behavior, or our meaning, or our moral responsibilities

    Yes, I’m restating why trying to define “human” without addressing the fundamental ontology of personhood is rather pointless when determining issues of moral responsibility and free will.

    More summarizing of my position:
    “choice”: a selection from amongst possibilities that is due to factors internal to the choosing entity
    “free will”: the ability to make choices that are free (see above)
    “person” or “human”: a human being in the most ordinary usage of that term, no more problematic than a term like “apple” or “chair” or “dog”
    “moral responsibility”: being obliged to follow moral duties. Only human beings can be held morally responsible for their actions, and they are always responsible for their actions (save for the unlikely scenarios discussed above).

    These are my definitions, and none refer to metaphysical ontology.

    I think this is evident, and you apparently do not. Hence, I agree that no progress can be made about free will and moral culpability if we cannot first decide whether or not a person is ultimately reducible to physical states of matter.

    1) I do not think we understand “physical states of matter”. There are deep mysteries in physics that I believe have everything to do with what we consider to be metaphysics. The principles of locality and realism have been empirically falsified – or at the very least called into serious question – by quantum physics. The nature of time and causality is mysterious, and so on.
    2) Even though I think that, I do not believe we need to solve these problems of physics nor decide if physical reductionism is true in order to have a consistent, meaningful understanding of volition and moral responsibility. Non-human things can also make choices (amoebas, dogs, computers) but lacking moral sense they cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  207. Phin: Nor do I hold computers responsible for their actions.

    RDF: I agree. Computers lack the intersubjective moral sense that I believe is required for an agent to be morally responsible.

    So, as soon as someone writes that particular piece of software for computers, they will be morally responsible? Even though they are still only taking input, processing it, and producing output, in complete accordance with programming for which they are not responsible?

    How can you be morally responsible for anything that ultimately originates outside of you?

    (I’m not sure to what questions you are referring, so please feel free to list any you feel are outstanding.)

  208. 210
    William J Murray

    RDFish said:

    As I quoted from several sources, the LoC says that no events can be uncaused, or that everything that happens must be caused.

    2) I understand the Law of Causation to require that all events by fully determined by antecedent cause.
    So you do not actually believe in the Law of Causation at all? Or you think that the Law of Causation means something else besides what I’ve said? Again, KF here just linked to explanations of these rules of reason, and here is how that source described the Law of Causation: There is no effect without a cause.

    .

    There is absolutely nothing in that definition that prevents a causeless cause. The principle doesn’t say that all causes have a cause; it doesn’t say that all causes are effects; it only says that all effects have a determining cause. The principle of causation is not violated by the existence of a causeless cause.

    So you are truncating the causal chain simply by positing something inside a human being that can cause things to happen without any antecedent cause, which clearly violates the LoC.

    No, it doesn’t. IF humans possess the causeless cause agency of free will, they can cause effects without violating the principle of causation, which says all effects have a cause. Free will is not taken to be an “effect” of anything else.

    And if, as you imply, that “free will” is an arbitrary “truncating” of the causal chain, then if you do not “truncate” it there, where would you “truncate it”, and what, ultimately, is the cause of any choice? How far back must you trace the sequence of causation? Before, you stepped the causal chain back from will to motive, but is that not also “truncating” the causal chain at an arbitrary point?

    This is why we posit that humans have libertarian free will, and posit a first cause, or causeless cause: to escape infinite regress and to provide necessary moral responsibility. Under your argument, there is no more reason to stop at “motive” in our backtracking of cause than there is anywhere else. Under my argument, the individual is necessarily responsible – which is how we must act in every day life anyway.

  209. Hi Phinehas,

    RDF: Computers lack the intersubjective moral sense that I believe is required for an agent to be morally responsible.
    PHIN: So, as soon as someone writes that particular piece of software for computers, they will be morally responsible? Even though they are still only taking input, processing it, and producing output, in complete accordance with programming for which they are not responsible?

    My point was that no computer can be morally responsible for anything, because that which gives us moral accountability is absent from computers. While both humans and computers can make free choices, computers lack the human concept of morality. Here is how I put it to StephenB:

    The way I put this is that moral law is not objectively true or false, but rather it is intersubjectively true or false. Intersubjectivity doesn’t just mean that everybody makes up their own view; it refers to shared meaning and reasoning among all people that derive from our shared nature.

    Obviously people sometimes disagree about morality – even devout Christians can disagree on moral issues! But computers inherently have no intersubjective sense of morality, and thus cannot be considered moral agents.

    Now, let’s say I write a program to make a robot go and kill somebody. Obviously I am responsible for that premeditated murder. But let’s say I build a robot that is sophisticated enough to learn, reason, and make plans, and this robot autonomously decides to kill somebody. In this case I would say I would be guilty of negligent homicide or manslaughter, since while I didn’t choose to kill the person, I shouldn’t have let such a dangerous machine loose.

    How can you be morally responsible for anything that ultimately originates outside of you?

    First, even a determinist doesn’t deny that we are born with inherent characteristics, so it’s not the case that our acts originate outside of us. Our acts result from a combination of everything we are and everything we experience.

    (I’m not sure to what questions you are referring, so please feel free to list any you feel are outstanding.)

    I was thinking of your definition of the word “choose”

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  210. Hi WJM,

    IF humans possess the causeless cause agency of free will, they can cause effects without violating the principle of causation, which says all effects have a cause. Free will is not taken to be an “effect” of anything else.

    To say that the will is not an “effect” is exactly the same as saying there is no cause for what the will does. The will causes the person do X, but nothing causes the will to cause the person to do X – it just happens without any cause at all. In my view this violates causality, but in your view it doesn’t. Let’s agree to disagree about that.

    And if, as you imply, that “free will” is an arbitrary “truncating” of the causal chain, then if you do not “truncate” it there, where would you “truncate it”, and what, ultimately, is the cause of any choice? How far back must you trace the sequence of causation? Before, you stepped the causal chain back from will to motive, but is that not also “truncating” the causal chain at an arbitrary point?

    If you recall, I did NOT introduce “motive” into the conversation – that was StephenB, not me. Now that I’ve cleared up that confusion for the second time with you, let me address your question.

    I do not know if there are causeless causes – or causeless effects – in the universe. I do know that in our uniform and repeated experience nothing happens without an antecedent cause, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. If the universe was deterministic, the causal chains would ultimately lead to the initial conditions and laws of the universe. I don’t think it makes sense to talk about cause before there was time and space, so I don’t think it makes sense to speak about a cause of the universe.

    This is why we posit that humans have libertarian free will, and posit a first cause, or causeless cause: to escape infinite regress…

    I don’t see why causality would lead to infinite regress unless the universe was eternal. But it appears the universe is not eternal, so even under determinism no causal chain would be infinite.

    …and to provide necessary moral responsibility.

    I do not understand why there has to be an ontologically distinct sort of cause in order to identify humans as moral agents. The fact that humans have the ability to make choices (and we agree that we do) and that we are bound by moral duty (and we agree that we are) makes humans morally responsible no matter what else we happen to believe about physics or metaphysics.

    Under your argument, there is no more reason to stop at “motive” in our backtracking of cause than there is anywhere else.

    Once again, my argument never had anything to do with “motive”. And I see no way to truncate causal chains in a way that is not arbitrary.

    Under my argument, the individual is necessarily responsible – which is how we must act in every day life anyway.

    Under my argument, the individual is necessarily responsible, and I agree that is how we must act. But under your argument, it seems it is not really the individual person per se that is responsible, but rather this internal component of people called the “will” that you posit, which is in control of the person.

    If I was arrested, I suppose under your argument I could plead innocent on account of the fact that it wasn’t me who decided to commit the crime… it was my will! :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  211. My point was that no computer can be morally responsible for anything, because that which gives us moral accountability is absent from computers.

    What is “that which gives us moral accountability?” Why must it be absent from computers? Why can it not be added to computers?

    First, even a determinist doesn’t deny that we are born with inherent characteristics, so it’s not the case that our acts originate outside of us. Our acts result from a combination of everything we are and everything we experience.

    Do not our “inherent characteristics” originate outside of us? Do they not have a cause? If they do not have a cause, can we just lump them together and call them our “will?”

    Our acts result from a combination of everything we are and everything we experience.

    But if everything we are and everything we experience is ultimately caused by something outside of us, we still end up with our acts being merely one more link in the causal chain.

    Physics -> Environment -> Me -> Gun -> Bullet -> Death

    Why should “me” in the causal chain be singled out in any particular way for accountability? In fact, why can’t the causal chain be just as easily understood as:

    Physics -> Physics -> More Physics -> Still More Physics ->…

    I didn’t kill that person any more than the bullet did, or the gun did, or the environment did, or physics did.

  212. 214
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @208,

    “Right – I’d say there are only very weird, sci-fi-movie type circumstances where there is absolutely no choice at all, involving the overtaking of neural or muscular control of someone so that even if they attempt to perform X they end up performing Y instead. To a practical approximation, then, all of our choices are free in this sense.”

    I think I agree. :)

    ““person” or “human”: a human being in the most ordinary usage of that term, no more problematic than a term like “apple” or “chair” or “dog”

    “moral responsibility”: being obliged to follow moral duties. Only human beings can be held morally responsible for their actions, and they are always responsible for their actions (save for the unlikely scenarios discussed above).”

    Your definition of person is circular, and your definition of moral responsibility depends on your definition of person.

    WRT the rest, there are three causal phenomena in nature: necessity (natural regularities describable by physical law), chance, and agency. Each of these are generally distinguishable from the others in their characteristics. If instead agency is not its own causal force, then it is illusory, and the result of the interplay between the other two forces. Neither of those separately nor together entails the ability to freely choose between alternatives.

    In my world, personhood can be understood as pure being rooted in an indivisible self, whose will is its primary way of moving, deciding, and interacting with the world. Your definition of personhood remains elusive. You know my position: we cannot make sense of free will or moral responsibility without first recognizing that personhood is not an emergent property of chance and necessity, but something entirely different. As a corollary, we must also acknowledge the objective nature of morality, as being something outside of ourselves, and outside of collective humanity and society.

    You can take the last word. As we already agreed, this won’t really go any further. :)

    Best,
    Chance

  213. As to my definition of choice:

    A choice is the uncaused effect of a causal agent.

    I don’t think it makes sense to talk about cause before there was time and space, so I don’t think it makes sense to speak about a cause of the universe.

    Right. Setting aside the conundrum of how there can be a “before there was time and space,” suppose each of us has as an inherent characteristic that we call the “will” that exists outside of time and space. Obviously, it makes no more sense to speak of a “cause” for our will than it does to speak about a cause for the universe. Hence, free will and we are now all on the same page!

  214. 216
    William J Murray

    RDFish, it appears you have contradicted yourself. You said:

    Once again, my argument never had anything to do with “motive”. And I see no way to truncate causal chains in a way that is not arbitrary.

    Under my argument, the individual is necessarily responsible, and I agree that is how we must act.

    If “truncating” the causal chain at “the individual” or their motives is, as you say, arbitrary, how can an “individual” (as an arbitrary truncation) have necessary responsibility for any effect?

    An arbitrary assignment of causal responsibility is the opposite of a necessary assignment of causal responsibility. You have said that “the individual” is both an arbitrary, and a necessary, placement of causal responsibility for the effect in question.

  215. As to my definition of choice:

    A choice is the uncaused effect of a causal agent.

    Actually, no, that’s not quite right. A choice is something that ultimately originates in a chooser as the outworking of the chooser’s will.

  216. Hi Phinehas,

    What is “that which gives us moral accountability?” Why must it be absent from computers? Why can it not be added to computers?

    I explained this in my last post to you; I’ll repeat it here but more slowly and louder :-)

    While both humans and computers can make free choices, computers lack the human concept of morality. In my view, morality is intersubjectivity true: This does not mean that everybody makes up their own view; it refers to shared meaning and reasoning among all people that derive from our shared nature. Computers do not share our human nature – they do not have common sense or a moral sense or reasoning the way people do – and so they lack morality.

    If you’re asking if we could ever create a computer that did have these things – common sense, human-like reasoning, moral sense, and so on – I do not know the answer to that, but if we did manage to build such a thing, it would be very different from what we know as computers today.

    Do not our “inherent characteristics” originate outside of us? Do they not have a cause?

    I think the issue of what we are and how we got that way are separate. Thus, however it came to pass that I was born with the ability to learn, reason, and make moral judgements, those things are true of me now, and the result is that I am a moral agent. Likewise, however it came to pass that I was born with the personality, proclivities, mental skills and deficencies I have now, that is who I am. The fact that everything I am pre-existed me doesn’t alter that. The fact that the atoms in my body were once in a star doesn’t make them any less part of my body.

    If they [inherent characteristics] do not have a cause, can we just lump them together and call them our “will?”

    I don’t get this. Our inherent characteristics as acted upon by the totality of our experience is what we are – not just one component of us or another. It is not my will, it is me.

    But if everything we are and everything we experience is ultimately caused by something outside of us, we still end up with our acts being merely one more link in the causal chain.

    Again: How you got to be you does not alter the fact that you are you. You have a particular personality, temperment, a set of beliefs and desires, a set of memories, physical traits, and on and on. Tracing the origin of any of those does not alter the fact of who you are. It’s like asking an ID proponent “Who Designed the Designer?” – it isn’t germaine to the claim that there is a Designer.

    Physics -> Environment -> Me -> Gun -> Bullet -> Death

    Why should “me” in the causal chain be singled out in any particular way for accountability? In fact, why can’t the causal chain be just as easily understood as:

    Physics -> Physics -> More Physics -> Still More Physics ->…

    Why would you deny that people existed? Even if reductionism were true (and I don’t believe either of us think that is necessarily true), why would you refuse to acknowledge that the world can be understood (and can only be understood) by parsing the physics at various levels of abstraction? It’s like saying these characters you are reading on your screen aren’t really characters, they’re just collections of dark pixels, so you can’t be reading these words.

    People are people, and we act in the world, and however that came to be, that is the way things are. When I hold you responsible for your actions, I’m talking about you, and I’m not talking about your causes or your will or beliefs or desires or…

    A choice is the uncaused effect of a causal agent.

    Really? Using your definition, what would you say is the meaning of the following sentence:
    “The computer was programmed to choose a number between one and ten”

    Your definition obviously begs the question, assuming that choices are uncaused by simply defining the word that way.

    And BTW, an uncaused effect violates the Law of Causality, right? I actually think you might have meant “The effect of an uncaused causal agency” or something, but if this is what you meant, that’s fine.

    Setting aside the conundrum of how there can be a “before there was time and space,” suppose each of us has as an inherent characteristic that we call the “will” that exists outside of time and space.

    If there was something that existed outside of space/time, then how could it “belong to” or “be a part of” each of us, since we exist in space/time? How would we know if this thing existed?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  217. Hi Chance,

    Your definition of person is circular, and your definition of moral responsibility depends on your definition of person.

    If you claim not to know what a human being is, then I assume you are not discussing this in good faith.

    WRT the rest, there are three causal phenomena in nature: necessity (natural regularities describable by physical law), chance, and agency.

    Here you declare one particular metaphysical view as though it was a proven fact. You have no way to demonstrate that agency operates outside of chance and necessity; you are merely speculating that it does.

    If instead agency is not its own causal force, then it is illusory, and the result of the interplay between the other two forces.

    You use the word “force” inadvisably; neither “chance” or “necessity” are “forces”. Moreover, agency is only “illusory” if you insist on your original conception of it; agency conceived as the ability to make choices is not illusory in the least.

    In my world, personhood can be understood as pure being rooted in an indivisible self, whose will is its primary way of moving, deciding, and interacting with the world. Your definition of personhood remains elusive.

    Hardly! Every normal person knows what a human being is, and knows that humans make their own choices, and that is all you need to know in order to hold human beings morally responsible. Your view is metaphysical and speculative, and mine is rooted in common sense and perception.

    You know my position: we cannot make sense of free will or moral responsibility without first recognizing that personhood is not an emergent property of chance and necessity, but something entirely different.

    I have never spoken of “emergent properties”, and I don’t know what you are talking about, really. You are delving into metaphysics, and I reject that any of that is relevant.

    As a corollary, we must also acknowledge the objective nature of morality, as being something outside of ourselves, and outside of collective humanity and society.

    We disagree entirely. If that were true, I would expect humans to agree about morality uniformally, but that is not the case. People have a general agreement about morality, and form a consensus about the vast majority of moral questions, but there are still many that divide people – even among devout Christians! That is more consistent with the idea that our moral sense is like our common sense. It is not individually invented, nor is it relative, but neither does it exist objectively and outside of humanity and society.

    You can take the last word. As we already agreed, this won’t really go any further.

    Ok, I’m fine with that :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  218. Hi WJM,

    RDFish, it appears you have contradicted yourself. You said:

    Once again, my argument never had anything to do with “motive”. And I see no way to truncate causal chains in a way that is not arbitrary.

    Under my argument, the individual is necessarily responsible, and I agree that is how we must act.

    If “truncating” the causal chain at “the individual” or their motives is, as you say, arbitrary, how can an “individual” (as an arbitrary truncation) have necessary responsibility for any effect?

    My point about arbitrary truncation was with regard to violating the Law of Causality:

    RDF: We ask, what caused that the human being to press the button, and your answer is that there is something unobservable (that you call “the will”) inside this human being that caused them to press the button, and that nothing at all caused this unobservable thing in turn to make that happen. So you are truncating the causal chain simply by positing something inside a human being that can cause things to happen without any antecedent cause, which clearly violates the LoC.

    An arbitrary assignment of causal responsibility is the opposite of a necessary assignment of causal responsibility. You have said that “the individual” is both an arbitrary, and a necessary, placement of causal responsibility for the effect in question.

    No, not at all. Humans are moral agents because they are capable of making choices and share an inherent moral sense. Our cells are not moral agents, and our atoms are not moral agents, and our experiences or memories or any other component or aspect of us are not moral agents. We as human beings are moral agents, necessarily. It simply doesn’t matter whether or not we can be reduced entirely to physics, or whether our minds transcend physical causality (as we currently understand it) – none of that changes our moral duty at all.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  219. WJM & P: RDF has managed to duck an actual in-thread summary on cause, contingency and necessity, here at 200 above (which pivots on the lighted match case I have used, following Copi . . . ) — that he used as his occasion for playing his I don’t like your style card. Similarly, he has ducked a specific discussion of choice, freedom, chance and determinism here at 181 above overnight (which inter alia traces the discussion to its historic roots in Plato and Aristotle, and sets up genuinely free choice and agents as causes in these terms: Agent-Causality is the idea that agents can start new causal chains that are not pre-determined by the events of the immediate or distant past and the physical laws of nature.. Plato, in The Laws, BK X, as cited — I believe a second time in this thread in extenso — speaks about the self-moved initiating cause; which takes in reflexivity, and initiation as opposed to determination solely by blind mechanical necessity, physical or programmed and/or by impacts of chance: we actually have genuine alternatives and may select based on our conscious awareness, ability to reason and decision, not some stochastic distribution and mechanism irrelevant to truth, right, logic, knowledge, values, etc. Systems that try to reduce our freedom to choose end up in self referential incoherence because they undermine our ability to reason and rise above genetic, environmental, psycho-social and cultural programming or chance circumstances. So, even the words of such speculations are subject to the conclusion, is that you or your programing or meds or demon rum or the bit of cheese from last night or whatever. In short, such notions in the end boil down to there is no you. The evidence on balance, sadly, is that RDF is not really interested in anything more than playing out a talking points game, ignoring or dismissing anything too pointed and substantial, snipping and sniping, and then burying any substantial response in onwards tangential commentary. KF

  220. F/N: Notice the dismissal that if morality were objective there would be uniform agreement on it. Actually, there pretty much is on pivotal points, such as “you unfair me!” — as CS Lewis pointed out. That is, the universal fact of quarrelling (trying to show the other party in the wrong and/or to justify or excuse oneself as in the right) shows that we acknowledge a universal standard in the end. With all that this implies. And in a world where “error exists” as demonstrated by arithmetic classes etc, and where we have selfish motivations etc, that we would disagree on particular cases only shows that objectivity and subjectivity are both involved. Hence why ethics starts with the descriptive then goes to the issue of validation of codes per reason and core principles, then concludes with systems. Why the fact of disagreement is often taken as somehow a proof that there is no objectivity in moral thought, when the phenomenon of quarrelling exists, is a sign of just how often we fail to think through what a phenomenon is really pointing to. I this case: global moral accountability, as even the terrorists on the streets of London yesterday (having committed a horrific murder and being literally red handed) were implying. In the end, by the fact of quarrelling, we acknowledge ourselves to be under an underlying global law, and that each of us has duties of care to truth, right, fairness and more. KF

  221. F/N 2: It does matter, greatly, whether we can be reduced to blind mechanism and programming, as has just now again been outlined and linked on, but RDF has been busily ignoring the reason for that. Sad, and sadly revealing. KF

  222. 224
    William J Murray

    RDFish,

    You offer nothing but reiterated terminology that lacks any conceptual basis whatsoever. Without any significant difference, as someone else pointed out, your causal chain boils down to arbitrarily applying labels to:

    physics > physics > more physics > even more physics > effect

    “Person” = physical computation. “Choice” = physical computation. (Your unsupported definition of “computation” earlier notwithstanding). “Necessary”, “moral”, “responsibility” = computed agreements of computed entities drawing arbitrary lines in the sand of causal sequences going back to the origin of the universe.

  223. RDFish, I am still waiting for you to tell exactly on which point you disagree with agent-causal libertarianism. Please be kind enough to provide that information.

  224. Hi WJM,

    Without any significant difference, as someone else pointed out, your causal chain boils down to arbitrarily applying labels to:

    physics > physics > more physics > even more physics > effect

    If you’d read this post you ought to have seen my response to this sort of mistake. This is like looking at the computer in front of you and saying that “computer” is nothing but an arbitrary label for the collection of atoms on your desk!

    No, William, computers really do exist, whether or not they are merely collections of atoms. Likewise, human beings do exist, whether or not we can be reduced to physics. There is nothing arbitrary about calling some collection of atoms a “chair” or an “apple” or a “human being”. To pretend otherwise is awfully silly, really.

    Now I have a question for you: You believe that human beings transcend physical cause (or at least our will does so). Do you believe the same is true for amoebas? How about dogs?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  225. Hi StephenB,

    RDFish, I am still waiting for you to tell exactly on which point you disagree with agent-causal libertarianism. Please be kind enough to provide that information.

    Well, you can search every post I’ve written here and you’ll never see that I’ve said I disagree with agent-causal libertarianism. I do understand how you could think that, however. For one thing, I’ve been arguing against it with WJM, but I’ve repeatedly made clear that I was adopting that position arguendo to counter his certainty on the matter.

    As I’ve told you very many times, I am agnostic regarding mind/body ontology, volition, and other ancient metaphysical conundrums. I think nobody knows the truth of these matters, and it’s almost certain that we are framing the questions in such a way that there are no answers (like asking how far away the edge of the Earth is from London – there is no answer, because there is no edge of the Earth).

    What I do think about libertarianism is that it is not required in order to understand that human beings make choices, and I think that it is perfectly ridiculous to imagine that if libertarianism is false then human beings are merely inert objects driven to act by external forces, and I think that we are all morally responsible for our actions no matter what is true about our fundamental ontology.

    I also think that libertarianism faces very difficult issues (as all metaphysical stances do!!!). First, we’ve blithely spoken here about how our “free will” manages to activate our neural pathways in order to initiate action. I’m sure you’re aware that this dualist/interactionist scheme is hard for most people to swallow: How, exactly, might this immaterial will of ours fire our physical neurons? Why aren’t libertarians doing laboratory experiments to detect these uncaused neural events? (hint: there are none)

    Additionally, I think libertarianism has a problem with coherence, which I’ve tried to convey to you. Why did I stop smoking? My will chose to. Why did my will choose to? Either there was reason that accounts for my will overcoming my desires, or there wasn’t. If there was, then my choice wasn’t free, and if there wasn’t, then it just happened for no reason at all. Neither is the sort of libertarian choice you imagine.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  226. Hey RDF:

    While both humans and computers can make free choices, computers lack the human concept of morality. In my view, morality is intersubjectivity true: This does not mean that everybody makes up their own view; it refers to shared meaning and reasoning among all people that derive from our shared nature. Computers do not share our human nature – they do not have common sense or a moral sense or reasoning the way people do – and so they lack morality.

    This seems very circular and muddled to me. Each person has a human nature that includes morality that is dependent upon all the other human natures that each also include morality, which is dependent upon all the other…???

    Obviously, one person couldn’t pull on their own psychological bootstraps hard enough to become a moral creature, but if we each pull on everyone else’s bootstraps, morality will emerge? That seems problematic to me. I can’t imagine how one would go about supporting such a proposition.

    Psychopaths don’t particularly share our moral sense or impute meaning or value the same way we do. Are they not included in the “all people” with our shared nature? Perhaps they are merely missing the appropriate software, like computers are? You tend to speak about human nature and “the way people [have]” these things as though there are not great, yawning, chasms separating the nature and actions of some from others. Evidently, many people do not have common sense or a moral sense or reasoning the way that other people do. I mean, how could one commit murder unless they lacked the shared meaning, common sense, moral sense, etc. of others who do not? Do these people lack morality? How then can they be accountable?

    If we ever make contact with sentient life elsewhere in the universe, must they also have the shared nature of humans (whatever that is) in order to be held accountable for their actions? If their shared alien nature is contrary to ours, what does this say about their morality? What does it say about ours?

    I think the issue of what we are and how we got that way are separate. Thus, however it came to pass that I was born with the ability to learn, reason, and make moral judgements, those things are true of me now, and the result is that I am a moral agent.

    If physics (an unbroken chain of cause and effect by any other name) is ultimately responsible for your ability to, “learn, reason, and make moral judgements,” then these abilities themselves start to look like merely ad hoc labels for more of the same physics, and the resulting “moral agent” cashes out to something with no more ultimate meaning than atoms interacting within stars, no matter how much more sophisticated or complex the interactions in your mind or how many labels you invent or steal to try to describe them.

    How you got to be you does not alter the fact that you are you. You have a particular personality, temperment, a set of beliefs and desires, a set of memories, physical traits, and on and on. Tracing the origin of any of those does not alter the fact of who you are.

    Of course it does! Whether you were created for a purpose or are merely the product of mindless processes in an endless causal chain changes everything about who you are. It changes your entire perspective on life and your role and responsibility in it. How could it possibly not? If you don’t believe me, then I encourage you to try it! Choose right now to start living life as though you were created by God for a purpose. I guarantee it will alter who you are.

    If there was something that existed outside of space/time, then how could it “belong to” or “be a part of” each of us, since we exist in space/time?

    That’s a great question. Something must exist that has the power to reach out from eternity (outside/before space-time) such that space-time now exists. This something is able to bridge the gap between what is eternal and incorporeal and what is bound within space-time and corporeal. Further, this something has caused to exist in us a similar ability.

    Alternatively, it makes no sense to speak of such things and we should just accept the will’s existence in the same way we except the existence of the universe.

    How would we know if this thing existed?

    Introspection? Revelation? A combination of the two?

    In any case, if we rule out its existence a priori because we don’t want to let a divine foot in the door, that will certainly compromise our ability to know any thing at all about it.

  227. RDF:

    computers can make free choices

    NOPE.

    Computers are programed devices.

    At most, software may have a random element, but that is exactly what is not a free choice.

    And if otherwise they have something random happen, odds are things crash.

    Your conception of free is clearly seriously mistaken.

    KF

  228. 230
    William J Murray

    computers can make free choices

    That’s a keeper, right there.

  229. 231
    Chance Ratcliff

    Pseudo random number generators are deterministic. With the same seed, they’ll replay the same sequence of “random” numbers. True random number generators are nondeterministic, but entirely random; they take their readings from something like radioactive decay or atmospheric noise. The notion that computers make choices is backwards to a regular accounting of reality. It comes from a need to reduce mind to a series of material interactions. It’s believed that, if we can just make these interactions complex enough, it’ll begin to behave like a mind. This is one of materialism’s articles of faith.

  230. as to:

    How, exactly, might this immaterial will of ours fire our physical neurons? Why aren’t libertarians doing laboratory experiments to detect these uncaused neural events? (hint: there are none)

    actually:

    In The Wonder Of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind, Eccles and Robinson discussed the research of three groups of scientists (Robert Porter and Cobie Brinkman, Nils Lassen and Per Roland, and Hans Kornhuber and Luder Deeke), all of whom produced startling and undeniable evidence that a “mental intention” preceded an actual neuronal firing – thereby establishing that the mind is not the same thing as the brain, but is a separate entity altogether.
    http://books.google.com/books?.....8;lpg=PT28

    “We regard promissory materialism as superstition without a rational foundation. The more we discover about the brain, the more clearly do we distinguish between the brain events and the mental phenomena, and the more wonderful do both the brain events and the mental phenomena become. Promissory materialism is simply a religious belief held by dogmatic materialists . . . who often confuse their religion with their science.”
    ? John C. Eccles, The Wonder of Being Human: Our Brain and Our Mind

  231. 233
    Chance Ratcliff

    Correction to my #231:

    The phrase, “The notion that computers make choices…”

    is better stated, “The notion that computers make free choices…”

    The latter is less equivocal.

  232. CR: Even if a genuinely random number source like a zener noise source flattened out or sky noise etc are used, that is not a free choice. Genuinely free choices are not random, as even a common, garden variety decision tree analysis used in management will highlight. KF

  233. 235
    Chance Ratcliff

    KF @234, no disagreement there. That’s what I was getting at with #231. I just needed to clarify a bit, to make sure my statement wasn’t misrepresented.

  234. Hey Phinehas:

    RDF: In my view, morality is intersubjectivity true: This does not mean that everybody makes up their own view; it refers to shared meaning and reasoning among all people that derive from our shared nature.
    PHIN: This seems very circular and muddled to me. Each person has a human nature that includes morality that is dependent upon all the other human natures that each also include morality, which is dependent upon all the other…???

    No, I don’t mean that our sense of morality is dependent upon all other humans. Rather, I believe that our sense of morality comes from our shared nature. We all generally see moral principles the same way because we are all generally similar in so many ways (we all feel pain, love our families, have physical needs, feel allegiance to groups, etc etc). Our thinking is therefore similar regarding a great number of things. We call some of this “common sense”, and that which applies to ethics we call our moral sense. Yes there are differences among people, and likewise there are differences in our moral judgements. And some people are so different that we call them abnormal or pathological, because they lack this shared moral sense. But computers are very, very, very different obviously, and are thus are not bound to our moral standards.

    If we ever make contact with sentient life elsewhere in the universe, must they also have the shared nature of humans (whatever that is) in order to be held accountable for their actions? If their shared alien nature is contrary to ours, what does this say about their morality? What does it say about ours?

    Interesting questions. What do you think? First, I think sentience is a tricky concept – we might disagree, for example, if dogs are sentient (I’m certain they are) or rats or birds, so how might we decide if these aliens are sentient or not? In general, my view on their morality (and their sentience) is that it would all depend on how similar they are to us.

    If physics (an unbroken chain of cause and effect by any other name) is ultimately responsible for your ability to, “learn, reason, and make moral judgements,” then these abilities themselves start to look like merely ad hoc labels for more of the same physics, and the resulting “moral agent” cashes out to something with no more ultimate meaning than atoms interacting within stars, no matter how much more sophisticated or complex the interactions in your mind or how many labels you invent or steal to try to describe them.

    This seems to be a common sentiment here, but it completely baffles me. My computer is definitely a material object, and it can be ultimately reduced to a collection of atoms. But that doesn’t mean that the label “computer” is arbitrary, or illusory! It doesn’t mean that we don’t know what a computer is! It doesn’t mean that a computer is basically the same thing as a rock just because both are nothing but collections of atoms!

    Whether you were created for a purpose or are merely the product of mindless processes in an endless causal chain changes everything about who you are. It changes your entire perspective on life and your role and responsibility in it. How could it possibly not?

    I honestly don’t feel this one iota. I love life, I feel I am an engaged and happy person, I care deeply about humanity and all life, I feel I am moral and productive and content – I really do. I have absolutely no idea why there is something instead of nothing, why the universe exists the way it is, how life began, and so on – they are all exquisite mysteries that I love to think about.

    If you don’t believe me, then I encourage you to try it! Choose right now to start living life as though you were created by God for a purpose. I guarantee it will alter who you are.

    Well, I never judge people who believe that, but altering who I am would be the last thing I’d want to do! I’m certainly not perfect (nobody is, right?) but I don’t feel I need to believe in a god in order to feel like my life is wondrous and meaningful. As far as I can see, I do live my life very much like people who profess to believe in God, except for the God part. And I literally could not choose to actually believe in a god no matter how much I tried.

    I think the take-away point here is this:
    Theists ought not imagine that because somebody does not believe in God they are nihilisitc or amoral or hiding from the truth
    Atheists ought not imagine that because somebody believes in God they are childish or delusional or weak

    Oh, and by the way:

    PHIN: A choice is the uncaused effect of a causal agent.
    RDF: Really? Using your definition, what would you say is the meaning of the following sentence:
    “The computer was programmed to choose a number between one and ten”
    PHIN: (crickets…)

    :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  235. Hi WJM,

    That’s a keeper, right there.

    Hahaha – the irony is killing me. It is this that is the “keeper”! You obviously aren’t very good at making and understanding arguments, but it seems your sarcasm is finely honed!
    Cheers,
    RDFish

  236. Hi Chance,

    Pseudo random number generators are deterministic.

    Uh yes, of course: That is where the “pseudo” comes in, of course ;-)

    True random number generators are nondeterministic, but entirely random; they take their readings from something like radioactive decay or atmospheric noise.

    If radioactive decay is not entirely random, then we needn’t speak of randomness or chance at all. Fine with me! I don’t believe that randomness or indeterminacy plays an interesting role in this discussion, which is why I said “But more importantly…” right after mentioning it!

    The notion that computers make choices is backwards to a regular accounting of reality.

    But of course that is not true! Let’s say I program a computer to choose a number between one and ten in such a way that I have no inkling what number it will choose. If computers cannot make choices, why does everybody know exactly what it means to say the computer is choosing a number between one and ten? How else would you say it?

    It comes from a need to reduce mind to a series of material interactions.

    Actually no, I’m not a materialist, and I don’t believe that mentality can be reduced to physics as we currently understand it.

    It’s believed that, if we can just make these interactions complex enough, it’ll begin to behave like a mind. This is one of materialism’s articles of faith.

    Sorry, I wouldn’t know about that :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  237. Hi Chance,

    The phrase, “The notion that computers make choices…”
    is better stated, “The notion that computers make free choices…”
    The latter is less equivocal.

    If by “free” you mean “violating laws of physics” then you are merely begging the question, because nobody believes that computers violate the laws of physics. If by “free” you mean “not coerced by outside influence”, then of course computers can make free choices.
    Cheers,
    RDFish

  238. 240
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    The notion that computers make choices is backwards to a regular accounting of reality.

    But of course that is not true! Let’s say I program a computer to choose a number between one and ten in such a way that I have no inkling what number it will choose. If computers cannot make choices, why does everybody know exactly what it means to say the computer is choosing a number between one and ten? How else would you say it?

    Computers don’t make choices, programmers and engineers do. It’s really no more complicated than that. The fact that it’s convenient to impute the notion of “choice” to a computer picking a random number between one and ten is no more mystifying than understanding that when we say, “The sun will rise at 5:35 AM,” we’re really talking in terms of the earth’s rotation, not the sun’s revolution about the earth. “Choice” is a term of convenience, as is “sunrise”. It doesn’t mean that a computer actually chooses anything. All apparent “choices” that a computer makes are explicable in terms of the choices that the programmer makes when crafting the behavior of the program, i.e., how it maps inputs to outputs.

    Moreover, in most situations, the computer is using a PRNG, which means that the number it generates is entirely deterministic, and not random at all (iow, the number can be predicted with 100% certainty given knowledge of the starting conditions). It just appears random if a few layers of general ignorance can be inserted between the PRNG and the output of the program. It’s a simulation of randomness, nothing more. If we switch gears and talk about TRNGs, the computer must still be programmed specifically in order for the programmer to restrict the results to integers between one and ten inclusive. All that’s been accomplished in this case is to make sure that the output is “cryptographically secure.” Computers don’t decide how to harness randomly generated numbers, their programmers do.

    So the computer is not choosing anything. It’s behaving deterministically. Introducing a non-deterministic component through a TRNG does not introduce a choice, it introduces a truly random component. And random does not imply free choice. Computers are no more able to make choices than adding machines and calculators are. Where computation is concerned, the same principles apply.

    The fact that we can conveniently classify decision trees which introduce random components as “choices” does not transform program execution into a series of free choices, any more than randomly yanking on a puppet’s strings can produce dancing.

  239. 241
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    “If by “free” you mean “violating laws of physics” then you are merely begging the question, because nobody believes that computers violate the laws of physics[1]. If by “free” you mean “not coerced by outside influence”, then of course computers can make free choices[2].”

    (my annotations)

    [1] Nope, I’m making no such claim.

    [2] I mean “free” as in not determined by outside influence. Computers are not coerced to make choices, they are programmed to produce reliable, determined behavior. And computers need programmers to make their choices for them, specifically because they make no choices themselves. They are not even selves.

    Again, computers do not make choices; programmers and engineers make choices, and the computers comply with machine-like precision.

  240. RDF: Oh, and by the way:

    PHIN: A choice is the uncaused effect of a causal agent.
    RDF: Really? Using your definition, what would you say is the meaning of the following sentence:
    “The computer was programmed to choose a number between one and ten”
    PHIN: (crickets…)

    Why would I defend a definition I’d already admitted wasn’t quite right and then altered @217?

    Here it is again for easy reference.

    PHIN: Actually, no, that’s not quite right. A choice is something that ultimately originates in a chooser as the outworking of the chooser’s will.

  241. No, I don’t mean that our sense of morality is dependent upon all other humans. Rather, I believe that our sense of morality comes from our shared nature. We all generally see moral principles the same way because we are all generally similar in so many ways (we all feel pain, love our families, have physical needs, feel allegiance to groups, etc etc). Our thinking is therefore similar regarding a great number of things. We call some of this “common sense”, and that which applies to ethics we call our moral sense. Yes there are differences among people, and likewise there are differences in our moral judgements. And some people are so different that we call them abnormal or pathological, because they lack this shared moral sense. But computers are very, very, very different obviously, and are thus are not bound to our moral standards.

    So, morality is something that is inherent in all humans, but it is not something we can make up ourselves. Instead, it arises from the fact that it is shared with everyone except with those who don’t share it. Computers also don’t share it, but they are still very, very, …very different, morally speaking, from both the humans that share the morality that is inherent in all humans as well as the humans who don’t share the morality that is inherent in all humans. Obviously, computers should not be bound to the same moral standards as those humans who don’t share the morality that is inherent in all humans, since those humans ought to because…well…morality is inherent in all humans.

    Where am I going wrong here?

    This seems to be a common sentiment here, but it completely baffles me. My computer is definitely a material object, and it can be ultimately reduced to a collection of atoms. But that doesn’t mean that the label “computer” is arbitrary, or illusory! It doesn’t mean that we don’t know what a computer is! It doesn’t mean that a computer is basically the same thing as a rock just because both are nothing but collections of atoms!

    Of course it doesn’t. On the other hand, I try to avoid getting into arguments with both computers and rocks and everything else that is nothing but a collection of atoms. Nor do I hold computers and rocks or anything else that is nothing but a collection of atoms responsible for merely following the laws of physics as they are all bound to do.

    I have absolutely no idea why there is something instead of nothing, why the universe exists the way it is, how life began, and so on – they are all exquisite mysteries that I love to think about.

    Don’t you mean that you have absolutely no idea except that you are pretty sure that God wasn’t involved and could never be the answer to any of these mysteries?

    Theists ought not imagine that because somebody does not believe in God they are nihilisitc or amoral or hiding from the truth.

    I don’t imagine that believing in God makes someone nihilistic or amoral. I only imagine that not believing in God leaves one with no warrant to NOT be nihilistic or amoral. Not does it leave one with a warrant for requiring that others NOT be nihilistic or amoral.

    I also imagine that ruling out a priori the notion that God may be a valid answer to some of life’s mysteries certainly has the potential to end up as hiding from the truth.

  242. RDFish

    Additionally, I think libertarianism has a problem with coherence, which I’ve tried to convey to you.

    Sorry, but your comments on this front make no sense at all.

    Why did I stop smoking? My will chose to.

    You chose to. Your will was the faculty through which you made the choice.

    Why did my will choose to? Either there was reason that accounts for my will overcoming my desires, or there wasn’t.

    This is a contradiction. If the reason accounted for the decision, then you didn’t make the choice, the reasons did. Reasons can’t make choices. Reasons don’t have faculties.

    Equally important, you have not demonstrated that free will violates the Law of Causality, though you continue to make that claim. In fact, it does not.

    Here is the way another agent-causal libertarian puts it (Normal Geisler)

    “There is no violation of the actual principle of causality in the exercise of free actions. The principle does not claim that every thing (being) needs a cause. Finite things need a cause. God is uncaused. The person performing free actions is caused by God. The power of freedom is caused by God, but the exercise of freedom is caused by the person. The self is the first-cause of personal actions. The principle of causality is not violated because every finite thing and every action has a cause.”

    Exactly right. This seems rather straightforward to me and is precisely the same thing I have been saying.

  243. 245
    Chance Ratcliff

    ‘Here is the way another agent-causal libertarian puts it (Normal Geisler)

    “There is no violation of the actual principle of causality in the exercise of free actions. The principle does not claim that every thing (being) needs a cause. Finite things need a cause. God is uncaused. The person performing free actions is caused by God. The power of freedom is caused by God, but the exercise of freedom is caused by the person. The self is the first-cause of personal actions. The principle of causality is not violated because every finite thing and every action has a cause.”’

    That is a great quote, thank you.

  244. Chance, thanks for weighing in. Those who are familiar with the literature will know that my reference @244 was a typo. It should be Norma[n] Geisler.

  245. Hi Chance,

    Computers don’t make choices, programmers and engineers do.

    First, you are begging the question of whether or not human choices are free in the libertarian sense of the world (i.e. whether human choices transcend physical cause). So, rather than making an argument for your position that uncaused choices exist, you are attempting to simply define the word “choice” such that any selection made in a way you consider to be determined or random does not qualify! Instead of assuming your conclusion in this way, you must actually say why you believe that human choices are made without antecedent cause.

    Can you say what other things you think might share this power – other animals perhaps – and how we might determine what things have this sort of free will and what things don’t?

    Next, let’s look at your reasoning regarding computers. You think that the fact human beings design computer systems means that whatever the computer does can be traced back to the intent of the programmer, even if the programmer can’t begin to predict what the system might do in any situation, and even if the program is an AI system running on a deep space probe making all of its own decision regarding what diagnostic tests to run, and planning novel repair sequences, all without any interaction with humans. Whatever choices that AI system makes and whatever plans it generates is, in your view, really attributable to the designers of the system. I find that simply false: The system is acting autonomously, making choices and plans all by itself. There is no other way to describe it.

    Finally, let’s assume arguendo that human beings were designed by God. Using your exact same reasoning, we may conclude that whatever choices and plans people make are really just attributable to God who designed us. You have no other rationale for denying that computer choices aren’t really choices but human choices really are choices, since you think both humans and computers are designed.

    All you can do is assert that humans’ choices are categorically different, period. When a human makes a choice, it somehow just happens without any antecendent cause. Simple as that. No reason to think this, no evidence needed.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  246. Hi Phinehas,

    A choice is something that ultimately originates in a chooser as the outworking of the chooser’s will.

    My response to this is the same thing I said to Chance, copied here for your convenience:

    You are begging the question of whether or not human choices are free in the libertarian sense of the world (i.e. whether human choices transcend physical cause). So, rather than making an argument for your position that uncaused choices exist, you are attempting to simply define the word “choice” such that any selection made in a way you consider to be determined or random does not qualify! Instead of assuming your conclusion in this way, you must actually say why you believe that human choices are made without antecedent cause.

    So, morality is something that is inherent in all humans, but it is not something we can make up ourselves.

    Most humans, yes. Vision is something that is inherent in most humans, and it also is something that we do not make up ourselves. Likewise other modes of perception, language understanding, principles in math and logic, emotions, etc, etc. (It’s not actually that we can’t make up moral rules and values; rather it is that most of us inherently believe similar moral rules and values.

    Instead, it arises from the fact that it is shared with everyone except with those who don’t share it.

    Yes. I’m sure you are aware that some people act in ways that cause us to say they are amoral; they lack a moral sense. Even some Christians fall into this category, right?

    Computers also don’t share it, but they are still very, very, …very different, morally speaking, from both the humans that share the morality that is inherent in all humans as well as the humans who don’t share the morality that is inherent in all humans. Obviously, computers should not be bound to the same moral standards as those humans who don’t share the morality that is inherent in all humans, since those humans ought to because…well…morality is inherent in all humans.

    You are trying very hard to make my position sound ridiculous, but it still doesn’t :-)
    Computers do not share our moral sense; I think that is obvious, no matter how you try and obfuscate that fact.

    Where am I going wrong here?

    Well for one thing, you aren’t making any arguments against my position, and for another, you aren’t arguing for whatever your position is on the matter!

    RDF: It doesn’t mean that a computer is basically the same thing as a rock just because both are nothing but collections of atoms!
    PHIN: Of course it doesn’t.

    Well, here is what you said:

    these abilities themselves start to look like merely ad hoc labels for more of the same physics

    If “computer” is nothing but an ad hoc label for a bunch of atoms, why not call it any ad hoc label – it shouldn’t matter! Why not sell rocks for $1000, or use computers to pave your walkway?

    Don’t you mean that you have absolutely no idea except that you are pretty sure that God wasn’t involved and could never be the answer to any of these mysteries?

    You folks do love to believe that folks like me dogmatically eliminate your chosen answer to the Big Questions. I hate to disappoint you, but that isn’t the case. When I say I have absolutely no idea why there is something instead of nothing, why the universe exists the way it is, how life began, and so on, what I mean is exactly that. Nobody has ever provided any answers to these questions that I find compelling in the least, and so not only do I think that I don’t know the answers, I think nobody else does either.

    I don’t imagine that believing in God makes someone nihilistic or amoral. I only imagine that not believing in God leaves one with no warrant to NOT be nihilistic or amoral.

    I disagree with the latter, but as long as you don’t believe the former then it really doesn’t matter one bit. I don’t care what anyone’s reason is to be good – I just am very concerned that they act that way!

    I also imagine that ruling out a priori the notion that God may be a valid answer to some of life’s mysteries certainly has the potential to end up as hiding from the truth.

    Oops, there you go again. Let’s make a deal: Don’t accuse me of hiding from the truth, and I will return the favor ;-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  247. Hi StephenB,

    RDF: Why did I stop smoking? My will chose to.
    SB: You chose to. Your will was the faculty through which you made the choice.
    RDF: Why did my will choose to? Either there was reason that accounts for my will overcoming my desires, or there wasn’t.
    SB: This is a contradiction. If the reason accounted for the decision, then you didn’t make the choice, the reasons did. Reasons can’t make choices. Reasons don’t have faculties.

    I didn’t say the reasons caused the choices, or that the reasons made the choices, I said they accounted for them. There is a connection between reasons and cause, obviously, but let’s stick with causes here for now.

    As for cause, then: When I voluntarily push a button, you trace the action to the will. When I ask what causes the will to initiate the act, you say there was no cause; it happened without cause. The will just initiated this button push spontaneously – poof! – with no prior cause at all, like a brick wall appearing in the highway.

    Here is the way another agent-causal libertarian puts it (Normal Geisler)
    “There is no violation of the actual principle of causality in the exercise of free actions. The principle does not claim that every thing (being) needs a cause. Finite things need a cause.

    Ok then, finite things need a cause. Got it – everything that isn’t infinite must be caused.

    God is uncaused. The person performing free actions is caused by God. The power of freedom is caused by God,…

    Since we’re discussing human volition and not human origins, these points are irrelvant to our discussion.

    …but the exercise of freedom is caused by the person.

    Ok, here we are – that is the claim at issue. Human beings can do things (like pushing a button) without prior cause, which I say violates the principle of causality.

    The self is the first-cause of personal actions.

    Well, again this is just saying that human beings can do things without prior cause, right? Humans cause things, but their causing things is not itself caused. The causal buck stops at the person, as it were.

    The principle of causality is not violated because every finite thing and every action has a cause.

    If we ask what causes the will to initiate the action, the answer is nothing. You try and preserve causality by declaring that when the will does things you aren’t going to consider that an action, so then you can say all actions still have causes. Well, I think when the will does something, that means the will performs an action, and that action is uncaused.

    I don’t think we’re going to get much clearer than that.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  248. Hi StephenB,

    Reading that last part again I see I missed part of the point of that quote: You argue that the will is infinite, and not finite, and that is why the will can act in ways that is uncaused without violating causality. Right?

    But I’m not at all convinced that there is anything infinite inside of human beings, thus to say that humans act uncaused does violate causality. How do you suggest we decide which one of us is correct?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  249. RDF: Holding, in light of evidence, the universal experience of humanity and a case of reduction to absurdity on rejecting the difference between self-moved initiating choice and blind chance plus mechanical necessity driving all, is not question-begging. Cf 181 above, which you have — as usual — ignored. What you have done in your equating the mechanical action of computers to the intelligent, volitional action of human beings, is to reveal an utter misunderstasnding of computers [I doubt that you will take the time to read here to find a clearer picture of how a computer works but for record . . . ], and to reduce your argument to utter irretrievable absurdity. Please, please, please think again. KF

  250. Ph:

    Excellent, clearly put point — a keeper:

    I don’t imagine that believing in God makes someone nihilistic or amoral. I only imagine that not believing in God leaves one with no warrant to NOT be nihilistic or amoral. Not does it leave one with a warrant for requiring that others NOT be nihilistic or amoral.

    I also imagine that ruling out a priori the notion that God may be a valid answer to some of life’s mysteries certainly has the potential to end up as hiding from the truth.

    Can I quote you on this?

    KF

  251. Steve:

    Great snippet from Norman Geisler:

    “There is no violation of the actual principle of causality in the exercise of free actions. The principle does not claim that every thing (being) needs a cause. Finite things need a cause. God is uncaused. The person performing free actions is caused by God. The power of freedom is caused by God, but the exercise of freedom is caused by the person. The self is the first-cause of personal actions. The principle of causality is not violated because every finite thing and every action has a cause.”

    Sadly, too many out there refuse to study first principles of right reason, which would lead them straight to an understanding of the difference between contingent and necessary beings, as an out-turn of analysing sufficiency of reason for existence and the law of causality. But then, if you are committed to the idea that you will not entertain the possibility that God is a serious candidate to be a necessary being, such a study would be hazardous to your agenda.

    And, while I am at it, I should note on one of the usual silly objections out there in the penumbra of hostile and strawmannising sites, that the design inference is a case of empirically warranted, provisional inference to best explanation of certain features of objects that point to their likely causal history, on broad investigation.

    Something like FSCO/I has proved itself on billions of test cases, to be a reliable sign of design as cause. Unless and until one has come forward with a clear, OBSERVED case of FSCO/I as definitively the result of blind chance and mechanical necessity, we are epistemically entitled to view it as a reliable sign of design as cause. And, to count it as evidence that life is designed in particular.

    Cosmological fine tuning, on dozens of factors, and in light of the significance of LOCAL isolation of the operating point for the physics of our observed cosmos, similarly points to design of our observed cosmos. Even, through a multiverse speculation [which strictly is a philosophical matter, not a scientific one as there is no actual observational warrant for a multiverse].

    I speak for record, as there is abundant evidence of willful distortion to the point of utter disregard for duties of care to truth, accuracy, fairness and civility on the part of that penumbra of hostile sites and denizens thereof.

    Such denizens, methinks the ghost of Pilate has somewhat to say to you on the subject of duties to truth and justice.

    KF

  252. RDFish,

    “But I’m not at all convinced that there is anything infinite inside of human beings”

    Except perhaps the ‘soul’.

    :)

  253. RDF: Why did I stop smoking? My will chose to.
    SB: You chose to. Your will was the faculty through which you made the choice.
    RDF: Why did my will choose to? Either there was reason that accounts for my will overcoming my desires, or there wasn’t.
    SB: This is a contradiction. If the reason accounted for the decision, then you didn’t make the choice, the reasons did. Reasons can’t make choices. Reasons don’t have faculties.

    RDFish

    I didn’t say the reasons caused the choices, or that the reasons made the choices, I said they accounted for them.

    Maybe you had better define what you mean by “account for,” since the context in which you used the word indicated that you were using that term as a substitute for cause. If it didn’t mean cause in that context, I can’t imagine what it would mean. In any case, the same point holds: Reasons don’t “account” for your choices; you do. That is why you, and not your reasons, are held “accountable” for them.

    As for cause, then: When I voluntarily push a button, you trace the action to the will.

    I trace it to you. The will is the faculty that you used.

    When I ask what causes the will to initiate the act, you say there was no cause; it happened without cause. The will just initiated this button push spontaneously – poof! – with no prior cause at all, like a brick wall appearing in the highway.

    I didn’t say there was no cause. I said that YOU are the cause. Does it help to put things in capital letters? The brick wall is a totally different situation. Brick walls are not causal agents. On the other hand, both the brick wall and the human will must be created and brought into existence, since they cannot bring themselves into existence.

    “God is uncaused. The person performing free actions is caused by God. The power of freedom is caused by God,”

    Since we’re discussing human volition and not human origins, these points are irrelvant to our discussion.

    It is relevant if you want falsely claim that free will violates the Law of Causality.

    Ok, here we are – that is the claim at issue. Human beings can do things (like pushing a button) without prior cause, which I say violates the principle of causality.

    You are still confusing the cause of the will’s existence, which is God, with the cause of the will’s operation, which is you.

    Well, again this is just saying that human beings can do things without prior cause, right?

    It means that caused humans are also causal agents. I don’t know what is so hard to grasp about that point.

    Humans cause things, but their causing things is not itself caused. The causal buck stops at the person, as it were.

    In terms of the will’s operation, yes. In terms of the will’s power to operate, no.

    If we ask what causes the will to initiate the action, the answer is nothing.

    No, the cause the operation of your will is you. You are not nothing.

    You try and preserve causality by declaring that when the will does things you aren’t going to consider that an action, so then you can say all actions still have causes. Well, I think when the will does something, that means the will performs an action, and that action is uncaused.

    Feel free to think that it if makes you feel any better.

    Reading that last part again I see I missed part of the point of that quote: You argue that the will is infinite, and not finite, and that is why the will can act in ways that is uncaused without violating causality. Right?

    No, I did not argue that at all. The will is not infinite (at least on the front end). It came into existence. Anything that comes into existence cannot be infinite. One need not be infinite to be the cause of an action.

    But I’m not at all convinced that there is anything infinite inside of human beings, thus to say that humans act uncaused does violate causality. How do you suggest we decide which one of us is correct?

    A resolution seems unlikely so long as you fail to grasp the argument.

  254. So, rather than making an argument for your position that uncaused choices exist, you are attempting to simply define the word “choice” such that any selection made in a way you consider to be determined or random does not qualify!

    You didn’t ask me to argue for my position that uncaused choices exist, you asked me for how I would define it. You can’t then claim that I’m begging the question simply because you don’t agree with my definition. Of course, you are certainly still free to argue why my definition is less appropriate than another.

    Most humans, yes. Vision is something that is inherent in most humans, and it also is something that we do not make up ourselves.

    Yes, of course, but we don’t then go blaming the vision-impaired or holding them accountable for lacking what is “inherently human.” In fact, we go out of our way to do exactly the opposite, while at the same time we frown on and hold accountable any morally-impaired human who might choose to do otherwise. So, the way morality is “inherent” in humans seems very different than the way vision is “inherent” in humans, based on our vastly different ways of approaching situations where each is lacking.

    Yes. I’m sure you are aware that some people act in ways that cause us to say they are amoral; they lack a moral sense.

    Computers do not share our moral sense; I think that is obvious, no matter how you try and obfuscate that fact.

    I’m not trying to obfuscate anything. I’m merely pointing out that the way we treat computers who do not share our moral sense is very, very, very different to the way we treat people who do not share our moral sense. What is it that warrants this great dichotomy?

    You folks do love to believe that folks like me dogmatically eliminate your chosen answer to the Big Questions.

    While I can’t speak for “us folks,” I was merely basing what I wrote on your statement.

    And I literally could not choose to actually believe in a god no matter how much I tried.

    But I can see how I might have misinterpreted what you were saying. Please forgive any offense that resulted.

    I don’t care what anyone’s reason is to be good – I just am very concerned that they act that way!

    Sure. We often try to pass morality off as merely a personal thing, but it usually ends up being mostly about the behavior we expect of others! Since this is the case, I find it curious that you chose to ignore the point about warrant for requiring others to not be nihilistic or amoral. Would it not help allay your concerns if you had convincing reasons for insisting that others modify their behavior to suit some moral sense you have but they lack?

    I highly recommend Johnson’s Nihilism and the End of Law as an insightful exploration of this issue. If you really want to understand where I’m coming from, there’s no more articulate or succinct summation that I’ve found on this subject.

    Phin: I also imagine that ruling out a priori the notion that God may be a valid answer to some of life’s mysteries certainly has the potential to end up as hiding from the truth.

    RDF: Let’s make a deal: Don’t accuse me of hiding from the truth, and I will return the favor.

    Deal. To be fair, I didn’t intend what I wrote as an accusation. I believe it to be uncontroversially true, but am perfectly content leaving it to others to determine whether it is applicable to them or not. Nevertheless, I can totally understand how, given the context of our conversation, it could be taken personally, and for this I apologize.

    Ok, here we are – that is the claim at issue. Human beings can do things (like pushing a button) without prior cause, which I say violates the principle of causality.

    It only violates the Law of Causality if you define that Law other than: every effect has a cause.

    You keep wanting to redefine it as every event has a cause. A willful choice does not have a cause because a willful choice may be an event, but it does not have to be an effect. If willful choices are incorporeal, it makes no sense to talk about them in terms of the corporeal laws of physics. If willful choices are outside space-time, it makes no sense to talk about them having a cause. Therefore, it can only be said that willful choices must violate the Law of Causality if it can be demonstrated that they are not either incorporeal or outside of space-time.

  255. KF @252:

    Thanks! I’m honored that you liked it. Please feel free to use it however you want.

  256. 258
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    Computers don’t make choices, programmers and engineers do.

    First, you are begging the question of whether or not human choices are free in the libertarian sense of the world (i.e. whether human choices transcend physical cause)[1]. So, rather than making an argument for your position that uncaused choices exist, you are attempting to simply define the word “choice” such that any selection made in a way you consider to be determined or random does not qualify! Instead of assuming your conclusion in this way, you must actually say why you believe that human choices are made without antecedent cause.[2]

    (my annotations)

    [1] I made no claim about libertarian free will at #231 on. I simply pointed out that what you’re terming a “choice” in the context of a computer program is no such thing. That’s not question begging. What computer programs do is deterministic. They don’t make choices, they follow their programming exactly. Regardless of whether or not human choices are ultimately free has little to do with the fact that computers do not choose. The execute a series of instructions that are entirely determined. Differential outcomes does not imply choices.

    Do you have a definition of “choice” that includes using a method akin to coin flipping to determine an outcome, and can this definition of choice be compared directly to how humans make choices? (Coin flipping is practically non-deterministic; most computer programs which implement random factors use pseudo-random number generators, which are 100% deterministic and predictable.) Now if I flip a coin, and it comes up heads, so what; same thing if it comes up tails. Unless somebody chooses the alternatives and assigns them to those random outcomes, the random nature of the coin toss makes no difference whatsoever. This is what computers don’t do: they don’t determine which outcomes get paired with probabilistic results. Their programmers do.

    if (frand() >= 0.5) {
      doSomething();
    } else {
      doSomethingElse();
    }

    It’s the programmer that chooses which actions are taken given the outcome of the random number generator. If you want to instead claim that computers can simulate choices, I might find less to disagree with. To claim that they actually choose is beyond the pale.

    [2] Actually I think the burden is on you to explain why the execution of a computer program entails choices comparable with the choices that their engineers and programmers make when building and programming them. It’s not very easy to see a similarity there; on the other hand, the differences are apparent. If personal computers make choices, then so do calculators and adding machines.

    You have attempted to offload the burden of proof upon me, suggesting I must demonstrate that computers don’t choose the way humans do. However the burden of proof falls on you here, to show that there is no significant difference between the mechanism of choice employed by persons, and the mechanism of program execution that occurs within the context of a computer system.

    “Next, let’s look at your reasoning regarding computers. You think that the fact human beings design computer systems means that whatever the computer does can be traced back to the intent of the programmer, even if the programmer can’t begin to predict what the system might do in any situation, and even if the program is an AI system running on a deep space probe making all of its own decision regarding what diagnostic tests to run, and planning novel repair sequences, all without any interaction with humans. Whatever choices that AI system makes and whatever plans it generates is, in your view, really attributable to the designers of the system. I find that simply false: The system is acting autonomously, making choices and plans all by itself. There is no other way to describe it.”

    Here you’re just assuming that a computer can make a decision independent of its programming, just because contingencies can’t be entirely accounted for. But these contingencies trace back to the original program (and the hardware), they don’t arise mystically within the programmed system. Probes don’t make their own decisions. They follow their programming. Program execution is not a decision; choices come into play when determining how to map program inputs to outputs. The probe is not doing anything “by itself.” It has no “self.” It is following instructions traceable to an initial state. However I suppose that if my washing machine can do my laundry without any involvement from me, I should concede the point. ;)

    “All you can do is assert that humans’ choices are categorically different, period. When a human makes a choice, it somehow just happens without any antecendent cause. Simple as that. No reason to think this, no evidence needed.”

    Nope. I can observe that the choices humans make are categorically different from program execution. You need to show that human choices are entirely accountable to a chain of antecedent causes, which are similar in nature (or outcome) to a computer program’s execution. We can do this for a computer program, showing how a program acts as a function which maps inputs to outputs based upon well-defined variables and conditions. Can you demonstrate it for a person? If you wish to claim that human behavior is comparable to program execution, then make your case. I don’t have the burden of proof here. When strong AI realized, we’ll have more to talk about.

    If a computer program can choose to do other than what it was programmed to do, then you have a case. Otherwise, you’re just assuming that computer programs make choices that are comparable with human choices. Our first-hand experience with both humans and computers suggests starkly that this is not so. Make your case. Show how these two phenomena are related. Demonstrate that human choice is really just the result of deterministic factors. Draw the strong parallels between human beings and space probes, showing that there’s anything substantially alike between these two entities.

    As it stands, you demand evidence that obvious differences are actual, while failing to demonstrate any underlying relationship between two very dissimilar categories of being. You have things exactly backwards here.

  257. Well, you can search every post I’ve written here and you’ll never see that I’ve said I disagree with agent-causal libertarianism.

    It’s these kinds of statements that cause me to question your sincerity. You have been disagreeing with libertarian free will since these discussions began. Your latest attack on it is that it violates the Law of Causality, and, of course, you have consistently claimed that it is “incoherent.” Now, you make the empty claim that you have not explicitly said that you disagree with agent-causal libertarianism. I mean, really, I have to wonder about you.

  258. #259 is written to RDFish.

  259. Hi StephenB,

    Maybe you had better define what you mean by “account for,” since the context in which you used the word indicated that you were using that term as a substitute for cause. If it didn’t mean cause in that context, I can’t imagine what it would mean. In any case, the same point holds: Reasons don’t “account” for your choices; you do. That is why you, and not your reasons, are held “accountable” for them.

    You ignored what I said: Reasons and causes are related, but in a way that is not simple. There are princples of both causality and sufficient reason, and they are similar but they are not the same. I suggested we stick to causes, because we’re having enough trouble getting our thoughts communicated on causality, so that is what I am going to do.

    I trace it to you. The will is the faculty that you used.

    Ok, got that cleared up!

    RDF: When I ask what causes the will to initiate the act, you say there was no cause; it happened without cause. The will just initiated this button push spontaneously – poof! – with no prior cause at all, like a brick wall appearing in the highway.
    SB: I didn’t say there was no cause. I said that YOU are the cause.

    Ok, this still isn’t clear at all (your CAPS notwithstanding :-))

    You say the will is just the faculty that YOU use, and that YOU (or ME or ONE, or, I assume we may call it, the SELF) is really what is responsible for our voluntary actions. Right so far?

    Ok, so YOU make the choice to push the button, and YOU initiate the physical sequence of events that results in the button push. Then I ask, “What caused YOU to initiate this physical sequence of events?” and your answer is “YOU”. In other words, the SELF caused itself to do what it did. Is that right?

    Well, self-causality is not the sort of causality that the law of causality is talking about. Would you expect a rock to cause itself to move? No – that would violate causality. So saying that YOU cause YOURSELF to act still represents an exception to the law of causality.

    The brick wall is a totally different situation. Brick walls are not causal agents.

    Rocks and brick walls can’t cause themselves to do things, but in your view there are things called “causal agents” that can cause themselves to do things. Humans, I assume, are causal agents in your view – what other things are causal agents? Dogs? Parrots? And how can we tell if something is a causal agent or not?

    You are still confusing the cause of the will’s existence, which is God, with the cause of the will’s operation, which is you.

    You have not yet explained why you think talking about the origin of human beings and our presumed faculties is relevant to our discussion of human’s abilities to act without prior cause.

    RDF: Humans cause things, but their causing things is not itself caused. The causal buck stops at the person, as it were.
    SB: In terms of the will’s operation, yes. In terms of the will’s power to operate, no.

    This makes no sense at all to me. For some reason it appears relevant that you think God created the faculty of will, but I assume you think God created all of our faculties, no? So what? Either we have this will you speak of or we don’t, and I don’t see why you keep bringing up that not only do we have a will, but God gave it to us! God gave us our eyeballs and toenails too, right?

    RDF: If we ask what causes the will to initiate the action, the answer is nothing.
    SB: No, the cause the operation of your will is you. You are not nothing.

    You clarified this above – it is not the will that initiates voluntary acts, it is the SELF. So I will rephrase: If we ask what causes the SELF to initiate the action, the answer is nothing. Right?

    Or, if for some reason you don’t like the word “SELF” in this context, I shall say it the way you do: If we ask what causes YOU to initiate the action, the answer is nothing. Right?

    That still quite obviously violates the notion that everything that happens requires a cause.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  260. Hey Phinehas,

    You didn’t ask me to argue for my position that uncaused choices exist, you asked me for how I would define it. You can’t then claim that I’m begging the question simply because you don’t agree with my definition. Of course, you are certainly still free to argue why my definition is less appropriate than another.

    A definition is not something one can agree with or not, as it isn’t an opinion or an assertion. I wanted to point out that if we are talking about whether or not people can make choices that are free in the libertarian sense, it isn’t helpful to define the word “choice” such that it precludes further discussion of the question by simply defining the word that way.

    RDF: Most humans, yes. Vision is something that is inherent in most humans, and it also is something that we do not make up ourselves.
    PHIN: Yes, of course, but we don’t then go blaming the vision-impaired or holding them accountable for lacking what is “inherently human.”

    I’m afraid you missed the point, which was that there are lots of things that are inherent in most humans that we do not ourselves invent. Common sense, language, visual perception, and moral sense are all examples. Each of these things are different. Our common sense enables us to reason practically in the world, our language understanding supports our communication, our visual perception allows us to makes sense of our surroundings via light, and our moral sense provides the foundation for our moral judgments.

    I’m merely pointing out that the way we treat computers who do not share our moral sense is very, very, very different to the way we treat people who do not share our moral sense. What is it that warrants this great dichotomy?

    What reason would we have to punish computers for acting badly? Would it change their future behavior? Would it motivate other computers to act better? Clearly not – at least until computers are vastly more sophisticated than they are now! Besides, humans who are very mentally deficient often lack moral sense, and we don’t punish them for the same reason, right?

    Since this is the case, I find it curious that you chose to ignore the point about warrant for requiring others to not be nihilistic or amoral. Would it not help allay your concerns if you had convincing reasons for insisting that others modify their behavior to suit some moral sense you have but they lack?

    Sorry, I don’t understand. I thought your point was that without God, people have no reason (warrant) to NOT be nihilistic and amoral – even if for some reason they are not. I’d like to say that I have excellent reasons not to be nihilistic and amoral, and I am indeed neither of things, but even if there was no reason at all for people not to be nihilistic and amoral, as long as they were not these things, I’d be happy.

    You keep wanting to redefine it as every event has a cause.

    Well I’m certainly not the only one! Here is the first line about causality in Wiki
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causality
    Causality (also referred to as causation[1]) is the relation between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first.
    (my emphasis)

    And here from is the very next link in Google for “law of causality”:
    http://www.informationphilosop.....ality.html
    Bertrand Russell said “The law of causation, according to which later events can theoretically be predicted by means of earlier events, has often been held to be a priori, a necessity of thought, a category without which science would not be possible.”
    (my emphasis)

    Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy uses “events”, as do many other references I just searched through. So it really isn’t me who talks about events requiring causes – it’s pretty much what causation means. Nothing can happen in the world without being caused by something else. Libertarianism denies this, and so it violates causality. Hence philosophers call libertarianism contra-causal.

    To say that every “effect” has a cause is purely an analytical truth really, since the notion of “cause” is built in to the notion of “effect”. It simply makes no sense to talk about an “effect” without a cause. The law of causality isn’t supposed to be simply definitional – it is supposed to say something true about the world. And what it is saying is that nothing happens all by itself without any cause, just “poof”.

    If willful choices are incorporeal, it makes no sense to talk about them in terms of the corporeal laws of physics.

    If immaterial causes make things happen in the material world, then the question arises, how can that possibly happen?

    If willful choices are outside space-time, it makes no sense to talk about them having a cause.

    Nor does it make sense to talk about them being antecdent causes for anything else!!!

    Therefore, it can only be said that willful choices must violate the Law of Causality if it can be demonstrated that they are not either incorporeal or outside of space-time.

    I think you’re mistaken for reasons I’ve just given. But beyond that, you have a curious notion of the burden of proof here! If a scientist suggested various theoretical constructs that were outside of space-time, and could not be observed or tested in any way, I’d say you might reject his claims for lack of evidence!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  261. Hi Chance,

    I made no claim about libertarian free will at #231 on. I simply pointed out that what you’re terming a “choice” in the context of a computer program is no such thing. That’s not question begging. What computer programs do is deterministic. They don’t make choices, they follow their programming exactly.

    The problem of free will is this: Are the choices that humans make determined or are they not? By definining the word “choice” to mean “not determined”, you are begging the question by assuming your position in the wording of the question.

    Regardless of whether or not human choices are ultimately free has little to do with the fact that computers do not choose. The execute a series of instructions that are entirely determined. Differential outcomes does not imply choices.

    I think you are wrong in two ways:
    1) Your definition of “choice” is question-begging, as I pointed out.
    2) Computer programs are not entirely determined unless you can show that input from the rest of the world is entirely determined as well. (I’m sure you know that said input can dynamically change the computer’s programming as well as its output).

    Do you have a definition of “choice” that includes using a method akin to coin flipping to determine an outcome, and can this definition of choice be compared directly to how humans make choices?

    My definition of “choice” is: A selection from among options that is determined by factors internal to the choosing entity”

    (Coin flipping is practically non-deterministic; most computer programs which implement random factors use pseudo-random number generators, which are 100% deterministic and predictable.)

    I understand computers. Perhaps I said this to someone else (I’ve been responding to multiple people here so sometimes I lose track!) but I do not believe the notion of randomness is important to this discussion, so I would suggest leaving it out. Nobody thinks that a random decision constitutes a “free choice” in the way libertarians mean, so let’s not talk about random choices.

    When I say that computer’s choices are no more determined than the rest of the universe, I mean that there are no theoretical reasons why anything (or everything) about a computer system’s operation could not be altered by interactions with anything else in the universe. Maybe the entire universe is determined and maybe not, but computer systems can be just as non-determined as anything else we know of.


    if(dark-matter-exists())
    then (rewrite-reasoning-module(“cosmology”, model(dark-matter))

    If personal computers make choices, then so do calculators and adding machines.

    I disagree. One something performs an arithmetic calculation like calculators and adding machines do, there is no selecting from among multiple options. The machine comes up with the one correct answer (if it is functioning correctly!). In contrast, a computer can choose from among multiple options.

    You have attempted to offload the burden of proof upon me, suggesting I must demonstrate that computers don’t choose the way humans do. However the burden of proof falls on you here, to show that there is no significant difference between the mechanism of choice employed by persons, and the mechanism of program execution that occurs within the context of a computer system.

    Of course computers do not operate anything remotely like humans do! Even when computers successfully replicate human’s abilities in some domain – like chess playing – it is easily demonstrable that the methods the computer uses is vastly different from how humans do it (and we really don’t understand how humans play chess, but experiments still reveal the differences).

    This whole burden of proof thing arises from this: We all know that such a thing as deterministic causality happens, and we can demonstrate and observe it (unless you’d like to bring Hume’s critique of causality in at this point here – but I’d rather not). You are claiming that human beings (and perhaps dogs? or dolphins?) have some special form of causality that is ontologically distinct from all other causes we can observe. So it is up to you do support this claim.

    Nope. I can observe that the choices humans make are categorically different from program execution.

    Well, that would settle the matter entirely! Please explain how you might do this!!

    You need to show that human choices are entirely accountable to a chain of antecedent causes, which are similar in nature (or outcome) to a computer program’s execution.

    Again, we have innumerable ways to demonstrate deterministic cause-and-effect. Nobody doubts that this happens. What is controversial is that there are some entities (humans, apes? parrots?) who somehow violate this type of well-known causality. That is what needs to be shown.

    We can do this for a computer program, showing how a program acts as a function which maps inputs to outputs based upon well-defined variables and conditions.

    Actually you ought to know this is quite impossible; I’ll leave it to you to figure out why, but it is NOT relevant to our discussion here.

    If a computer program can choose to do other than what it was programmed to do, then you have a case.

    Computer programs can choose to change their own programming, and do this all the time in all sorts of ways. Machine learning is used in all types of contexts, and depending on the inputs and the inferences drawn from those inputs, machines alter their own programming such that they will reason differently in the future. Their programming at any given time is the result of their initial state, their experiences, and all of the changes and learning they have undergone… just like people :-)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  262. RDFish

    You say the will is just the faculty that YOU use, and that YOU (or ME or ONE, or, I assume we may call it, the SELF) is really what is responsible for our voluntary actions. Right so far?

    Right.

    Well, self-causality is not the sort of causality that the law of causality is talking about.

    The self, like all other causes, is subject to the Law of Causality.

    Or, if for some reason you don’t like the word “SELF” in this context, I shall say it the way you do: If we ask what causes YOU to initiate the action, the answer is nothing. Right?
    That still quite obviously violates the notion that everything that happens requires a cause.

    No it doesn’t. To be sure, nothing caused you to exercise your faculty of free will, that is, nothing caused you to design, plan, choose, love, or hate, but something did cause your power to design, plan, choose, love, and hate. In terms of the Law of Causality, the self plays two roles: Operationally, the self is a causeless cause, but existentially, the self in an effect of a prior cause.

    Put another way, The Law of Causality would be violated if either your choices were uncaused or if you, the chooser, were uncaused. Neither is the case. This is why I bring God up. According to the Law of Causality, both your choices and your ability to choose must have a cause. Neither can be an effect without a cause.

  263. Hi StephenB,

    To be sure, nothing caused you to exercise your faculty of free will, that is, nothing caused you to design, plan, choose, love, or hate, but something did cause your power to design, plan, choose, love, and hate. In terms of the Law of Causality, the self plays two roles: Operationally, the self is a causeless cause, but existentially, the self in an effect of a prior cause.

    Put another way, The Law of Causality would be violated if either your choices were uncaused or if you, the chooser, were uncaused. Neither is the case. This is why I bring God up. According to the Law of Causality, both your choices and your ability to choose must have a cause. Neither can be an effect without a cause.

    First, let’s recall exactly what we’re debating, which is whether or not agent-causal libertarian free will contradicts the Law of Causality. Your argument goes well beyond agent-causal libertarianism however, and attempts to use theological concepts to defend the position that causality is not violated. So, strictly speaking, libertarianism per se, without your additional claims regarding theism, is still in contradiction with causality, right?

    Now we can look at your extended argument regarding how the fact that God created human beings with free will somehow resolves this apparent conflict between libertarianism and causality.

    You argue that God made human beings and gave them the power of free will. People then live their lives, doing all sorts of things without any cause. But you think that since God made them in the first place, this means that when they do things without cause, that doesn’t violate causality.

    I’m trying very hard to see why you think the fact this ability to violate causality came from God makes is somehow consistent with causality… but I really can’t see it. Let’s agree arguendo that God caused people to exist, along with all of the abilities that people have, including this ability to act without prior cause. Fine: God created creatures that have the ability to violate causality. Which means that causality is, still and yet, violated by human beings.

    And one more thing: I’m interested if you believe that human beings are the only things (or the only things on Earth anyway) that have this power. If a human decided to cut short his foraging expedition in order to return to protect his family, I assume you would consider that an uncaused act of free will. When a gorilla makes that same decision, is that also an act of free will?

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  264. Hi StephenB,

    Sorry, I missed this:

    It’s these kinds of statements that cause me to question your sincerity. You have been disagreeing with libertarian free will since these discussions began. Your latest attack on it is that it violates the Law of Causality, and, of course, you have consistently claimed that it is “incoherent.” Now, you make the empty claim that you have not explicitly said that you disagree with agent-causal libertarianism. I mean, really, I have to wonder about you.

    I’ve no doubt you wonder about me :-)

    Still, I’m being quite sincere about my beliefs. Let me assure you, the idea you have about people with materialist/atheist/evolutionist beliefs is not me. I feel quite sure that evolutionary theory is radically incomplete as an explanation for biological complexity – it’s not even close to the truth of the matter. I’m also certain that our conscious minds cannot in principle be explained by “materialist” or functionalist theories. I am even honestly open to ideas that posit some conscious being(s) existing in a way that transcends this reality! So please quit suggesting my arguments are some sort of subterfuge – they are not.

    I’ve been 100% honest about why I’m writing here: It bothers me that people are too dogmatic about their solutions to these Big Questions. People mistake their speculations for facts in these matters, and I wish they’d admit their uncertainty.

    So I’m not arguing for any one position. I’ve told you already several times that I think not only do dualism and libertarianism face difficult problems, but all metaphysical positions do!! I’m just arguing against whatever anybody is overly certain about! If anyone would like to defend Darwinism, or functionalism (i.e. mind=brain=computer), or that abiogenesis is solved, etc – I’ll gladly argue against them too.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  265. RDFish

    First, let’s recall exactly what we’re debating, which is whether or not agent-causal libertarian free will contradicts the Law of Causality. Your argument goes well beyond agent-causal libertarianism however, and attempts to use theological concepts to defend the position that causality is not violated. So, strictly speaking, libertarianism per se, without your additional claims regarding theism, is still in contradiction with causality, right?

    If you don’t like references about God, we can simply refer to the First Cause. The argument is the same.

    You argue that God made human beings and gave them the power of free will. People then live their lives, doing all sorts of things without any cause.

    It would be better to say that they do thing without being caused to do so.

    But you think that since God made them in the first place, this means that when they do things without cause, that doesn’t violate causality.

    Correct. Their ability to do them was caused, which means that operationally, they are a causeless cause and existentially, they are the effect of a prior cause. I believe I have already indicated this several times.

    I’m trying very hard to see why you think the fact this ability to violate causality came from God makes is somehow consistent with causality… but I really can’t see it.

    The ability to be an operational first cause does not violate causality.

    God caused people to exist, along with all of the abilities that people have, including this ability to act without prior cause. Fine: God created creatures that have the ability to violate causality. Which means that causality is, still and yet, violated by human beings.

    Once again, you are throwing around claims with no justification. How do human beings violate causality by being causal agents? How does the First Cause violate causality by being a first cause?

    “You have been disagreeing with libertarian free will since these discussions began. Your latest attack on it is that it violates the Law of Causality, and, of course, you have consistently claimed that it is “incoherent.” Now, you make the empty claim that you have not explicitly said that you disagree with agent-causal libertarianism. I mean, really, I have to wonder about you.”

    I’ve no doubt you wonder about me :-)

    [followed by three paragraphs that do not address my statement]

    I am referring to your word games and the claim that you didn’t explicitly say you disagree with libertarian free will when we both know that you have been arguing against it. There is nothing sincere about that obfuscation.

  266. 268
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    “The problem of free will is this: Are the choices that humans make determined or are they not? By definining the word “choice” to mean “not determined”, you are begging the question by assuming your position in the wording of the question.”

    Aren’t we talking about “free” choices? That was the claim I objected to (not that I’m sure there’s a distinction). In this case, how can a choice be both free and determined? As a matter of fact, how can a choice be determined at all, and still be called a choice? I’d like you to be clear about what you’re claiming. You said computers make free choices. Yet if a choice is determined, it isn’t free.

    Do humans and computers make free choices, and are these free choices determined or not? I suggest that if you are unsure whether a choice is determined, then you are necessarily unsure that a choice is free.

    “Computer programs are not entirely determined unless you can show that input from the rest of the world is entirely determined as well. (I’m sure you know that said input can dynamically change the computer’s programming as well as its output).”

    This is simply not the case. Computers don’t take their input from any-and-every source in the world. Programs typically restrict their inputs to specific devices, and then specific domains, rejecting what falls outside of it, or never considering it in the first place. Programs map inputs to outputs. They do this deterministically. If you’re claiming that programs which execute on computer systems are generally not deterministic, it’s a claim you’ll need to provide evidence for.

    Moreover, a program is deterministic if it will produce identical output on identical input. Barring actual randomness, this is true and demonstrable for computer programs. It is neither true nor demonstrable for humans.

    However I’m unsure if you’re suggesting that computer choices are free because computer programs can be nondeterministic, or if they can be free even if a program is deterministic. I think you need to be more clear on what constitutes “free” in the context of determinism, and whether there is any distinction to be made between choices and free choices.

    “My definition of “choice” is: A selection from among options that is determined by factors internal to the choosing entity””

    If actual choices can be made deterministically, then there are other entities which fit the above definition. For instance, a coin sorter, which takes multiple types of coins as input and sorts them into stacks of like type, makes choices under your definition. Are these free choices or determined outcomes?

    “I understand computers. Perhaps I said this to someone else (I’ve been responding to multiple people here so sometimes I lose track!) but I do not believe the notion of randomness is important to this discussion, so I would suggest leaving it out. Nobody thinks that a random decision constitutes a “free choice” in the way libertarians mean, so let’s not talk about random choices.”

    The problem with abandoning randomness is that it’s the only way to simulate something akin to capriciousness, which is a component of human choices. Humans can also choose to subjugate their choices to random factors such as dice rolls and coin tosses; and the only way to simulate this activity on a computer is to introduce a random factor. So already you’re abandoning a computational component which would be necessary if comparisons to human choices are going to be possible. However I’ve done my best in the context of this comment to avoid implicating randomness directly in the conversation, at least in regard to program execution.

    “This whole burden of proof thing arises from this: We all know that such a thing as deterministic causality happens, and we can demonstrate and observe it (unless you’d like to bring Hume’s critique of causality in at this point here – but I’d rather not). You are claiming that human beings (and perhaps dogs? or dolphins?) have some special form of causality that is ontologically distinct from all other causes we can observe. So it is up to you do support this claim.”

    We should be clear on this point. Humans design and construct things that are categorically distinct from what material cause and effect is known to accomplish. Again, you’re attempting to offload the burden of proof inappropriately. It is you who needs to show that either a) necessity (physical law) and/or chance is just as capable of building things as humans are; or b) that the activity of human beings is reducible to describable physical laws. You can do neither. Your blanket skepticism is not a substitute for the observable evidence.

    These are falsifiable statements:

    1) There exists a category of objects on this planet, namely designed objects, which cannot be accounted for by chance and necessity. Within this category are objects such as telecommunications networks, airplanes, and buildings.

    2) Chance and necessity are unable to account for all observed pheonoma on the planet, because chance and necessity cannot account for designed objects.

    3) Chance, necessity, and agency together are able to account for most if not all observed phenomena on the planet.

    Given the above, there is a unique causal phenomenon present which is not accountable in terms of material cause and effect. Not only so, but this causal phenomenon — agency — can design and construct things which cannot otherwise be produced by material cause and effect, skepticism notwithstanding.

    “Computer programs can choose to change their own programming, and do this all the time in all sorts of ways. Machine learning is used in all types of contexts, and depending on the inputs and the inferences drawn from those inputs, machines alter their own programming such that they will reason differently in the future.

    Machine learning is interesting, but it’s not a case of a computer choosing to change its programming. Programs can rewrite data files (or even their own code) which will modify subsequent program behavior, but this too is deterministic. It is unclear whether these “choices” you claim that computers make occur because of, or in spite of, the putative nondeterministic nature of program execution.

    Their programming at any given time is the result of their initial state, their experiences, and all of the changes and learning they have undergone… just like people :)”

    So much for skepticism ;) You said so yourself, “Of course computers do not operate anything remotely like humans do!” Computer don’t experience, they don’t perceive, and they don’t learn. They can quite roughly simulate some of these qualities, such as choice and vision. What you’re doing here is anthropomorphizing computer programs written by actual human programmers for the express purposes of simulating what humans do so readily, adding a crucial component of raw computational power.

    “Never write software that anthropomorphizes the machine. They hate that.” — Unknown

  267. SB:

    I suspect it is clearer to say that we are secondary agents, and thus self moved, initiating causes in our own right.

    As to how such an agent can be embodied, which is one of the objections out there, I have long pointed to the Smith model with a two-tier cybernetic controller. One in the loop, sharing interface with a second supervisory controller, where the interaction is two-way, perceptual and informational. In the loop, there is proprioception so that there is a current state homunculus of the body as a part of the awareness; mapped to the internal and external aspects of sensation. So the controls are adaptive, purposive and learning.

    In this context, I remind onlookers of the experiment of some decades back, where a researcher had himself fitted with inverting goggles. For some days, he was very disoriented, as the image was inverted, then something kicked in and the perception adapted, he saw himself and the world the right way up again.

    We should not forget how many amputees have a spatially located phantom pain or sensation from the missing limb.

    Also, being self moved underscores plasticity and learning again: we have a reflexive action, immediate and lagged via memory, purpose [which reflects intent and decisions] and learning.

    In this context, one may indeed meaningfully discuss deciding and setting goals without being programmed by blind chance and mechanical necessity, once such an entity is set up. The purposive, foresighted dimension is simply not in the direct brain-body loop.

    We already do crude imitations that at least suggest ideas, with adaptive and learning controllers.

    But the difference is that for instance, a software entity is no deeper than its final level of programming. Where also chance variations are simply not the same as purposeful intelligent decisions.

    This can be directly seen form the gap between a human design of a novel complex entity and the utter failure of chance based stochastic variations to come up with such a config on the scope of atomic and temporal resources available in the cosmos.

    The patent fact of the every day observable, intelligent design beyond the reach of blind chance and mechanical necessity, is something that demands a worldview and a scientific modelling framework that have room for such a reality.

    On pain of failing the test of raw empirical adequacy and thus being directly falsified.

    But it seems that these days ever so many are induced or indoctrinated to cling to the most patent absurdities for ideological reasons. Such as the way so many try to resist the first principles of right reason.

    KF

  268. 270
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @266,

    “I’ve been 100% honest about why I’m writing here: It bothers me that people are too dogmatic about their solutions to these Big Questions. People mistake their speculations for facts in these matters, and I wish they’d admit their uncertainty.”

    So your problem is that people hold beliefs for what they consider to be good reasons, and argue as if those beliefs are true? Do you consider yourself a true skeptic? And if so, are you ever openly skeptical of the proposition that nobody can be sure about anything? I assert that it’s dogmatic of you to claim that we cannot be reasonably certain about what we profess and believe.

    “So I’m not arguing for any one position. I’ve told you already several times that I think not only do dualism and libertarianism face difficult problems, but all metaphysical positions do!! I’m just arguing against whatever anybody is overly certain about! If anyone would like to defend Darwinism, or functionalism (i.e. mind=brain=computer), or that abiogenesis is solved, etc – I’ll gladly argue against them too.”

    It sounds like you’re strongly agnostic, in which case you should be defending strong agnosticism, not just any ol’ proposition which suggests itself to be a true description of some aspect of reality. Skepticism is not a virtue, unless you’re willing to argue against it. It’s easier to poke holes then to plug them; it’s easier to cast doubt than to inspire confidence; and it’s easier to destroy something than to construct it. You should try plugging some holes, and tell us why it’s more reasonable to doubt everything than affirm anything.

  269. 271
    Chance Ratcliff

    Correction to my #270:

    “not just any ol’ proposition which suggests itself to be a true description of some aspect of reality”

    should read,

    “not just rejecting any ol’ proposition which suggests itself to be a true description of some aspect of reality”

  270. RD

    I’m just arguing against whatever anybody is overly certain about!

    That’s the easy part. Anyone can say, “I’m not convinced” even when the arguments put forward are compelling and well-articulated. It requires no intellectual exertion at all. We have witnessed these kinds of tactics many times in the past. Anti-ID partisans tell us what that are “not,” but they conveniently withhold any information about what they “are.” When they have been refuted, they claim not to “understand” the argument that refuted them. They never illuminate anything, but they always challenge illumination when it appears. All the while, the take no position of their own so that they will never have to defend it. In other words, they take your approach. There is nothing original or sophisticated about it.

  271. 273
    Chance Ratcliff

    Stephen @272, I had similar thoughts. We usually hear about everything our interlocutors are not, and scarcely what they are. They generally favor denial over affirmation. And they consider selective skepticism to be a virtue. I don’t find this praiseworthy, and I think it reflects an underlying world view that, all truths are elusive, except that one.

  272. RDF:

    A definition is not something one can agree with or not.

    Of course it is! It is especially something with which you can agree with or not when you’ve asked my what my definition is.

    I wanted to point out that if we are talking about whether or not people can make choices that are free in the libertarian sense, it isn’t helpful to define the word “choice” such that it precludes further discussion of the question by simply defining the word that way.

    Please think about what you are saying, RDF. You asked how I defined choice. I told you. For me, calling something a “choice” when it is merely the determined effect of some amalgamation of causes is meaningless. It doesn’t make any more sense to me than picking a color for a Ford Model T where I have the “choice” between black and black. When you’ve asked me for how I define “choice,” it is not begging the question for me to give an honest answer. If my answer isn’t particularly convenient for whatever point you are trying to make, I’m sorry, but it is still my answer.

    Besides, humans who are very mentally deficient often lack moral sense, and we don’t punish them for the same reason, right?

    Good point! What I’m asking is more pointed toward why we punish humans that are morally deficient, and not computers that are, similarly, morally deficient. But I suppose an equally interesting question would be why we punish humans that are morally deficient but not ones that are mentally deficient.

    I’d like to say that I have excellent reasons not to be nihilistic and amoral, and I am indeed neither of things, but even if there was no reason at all for people not to be nihilistic and amoral, as long as they were not these things, I’d be happy.

    OK. But what if they were these things? Now you are suddenly in need of more than excellent reasons for you not to be nihilistic and amoral. For the sake of your continued happiness, you require convincing reasons for them not to be nihilistic and amoral. Do you have any such reasons to offer them?

    Causality (also referred to as causation[1]) is the relation between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first.

    I do not think this definition says what you think it says. Maybe you should read it again more closely. You’ll find it supports my view and not yours. It may use the word “event,” but it is certainly not saying that every event has a cause. It only says that the second event (the one we call an “effect”) is understood as a consequence of the first (the one we call a “cause”). In other words, every effect has a cause. That you would think it says otherwise makes me question whether you are really understanding the distinction. Nothing in what you’ve presented states that every event requires a previous cause or that every cause must also be an effect. They merely set up the relationship between two events such that every effect has a cause.

    And what it is saying is that nothing happens all by itself without any cause, just “poof”.

    This may be what it says in your head, but it certainly isn’t what is being said in your quotes. Again, I suggest you read them over with greater care instead of merely seizing on the word “event” without giving thought to what is actually being claimed.

    Phin: If willful choices are incorporeal, it makes no sense to talk about them in terms of the corporeal laws of physics.

    RDF: If immaterial causes make things happen in the material world, then the question arises, how can that possibly happen?

    Yes, that is indeed an interesting question. On the other hand, the existence of the universe suggests the very possibility of this sort of thing, doesn’t it? Maybe when we figure out how the material world can emerge from no-material, we’ll better understand how no-material might cause material things to happen.

    Phin: If willful choices are outside space-time, it makes no sense to talk about them having a cause.

    RDF: Nor does it make sense to talk about them being antecdent causes for anything else!

    Of course it does! What makes no sense is ignoring the fact that everything inside space-time does have an antecedent cause and pretending like an infinite regress of antecedent causes isn’t logically problematic! Whence space-time if not from outside space-time? You can’t just drop back and do a logical punt at that point while at the same time insisting that I explain how the immaterial can be and antecedent cause the material. Tackle the problem of where the material came from in the first place and maybe you’ll have your answer!

    I disagree. [When] something performs an arithmetic calculation like calculators and adding machines do, there is no selecting from among multiple options. The machine comes up with the one correct answer (if it is functioning correctly!). In contrast, a computer can choose from among multiple options.

    No it can’t! In a switch{} statement, there is only one correct execution path to the exact same degree as in a calculator. Any supposition otherwise is just plain wrong-headed. Further, solar activity or other types of interference could randomly flip a bit in a calculator just as it can in a computer, but in neither case would either device be “choosing” the incorrect answer.

  273. RDF:

    Out of curiosity, what would you say is the difference between a computer that is malfunctioning and one that is choosing? Put another way, if a computer can choose, how can it be said to be malfunctioning? It just chose to do something unexpected, right?

  274. Hi StephenB,

    If you don’t like references about God, we can simply refer to the First Cause. The argument is the same.

    It isn’t a matter of me not liking these references; it is rather than libertarianism per se is not predicated on a First Cause. Your particular view that God somehow rescues libertarianism from contradicting causality is thus an extension of the debate: Rather than arguing that libertarianism per se does not contradict causality, you are arguing that libertarianism plus God does not contradict it.

    RDF: You argue that God made human beings and gave them the power of free will. People then live their lives, doing all sorts of things without any cause.
    SB: It would be better to say that they do thing without being caused to do so.

    I think it is very important to clarify this distinction. I do not know why you think these statements mean different things.

    The ability to be an operational first cause does not violate causality.

    In my view, things that happen spontaneously without any cause violate causality, period, and you disagree. I suggest we leave it at that.

    [followed by three paragraphs that do not address my statement]

    I did indeed address your accusations of my bad faith, but apparently you are uninterested. That’s fine with me too.

    I am referring to your word games and the claim that you didn’t explicitly say you disagree with libertarian free will when we both know that you have been arguing against it. There is nothing sincere about that obfuscation.

    I could not possibly have been more consistent and clear. I am not attacking you for holding your views, and yet you can’t refrain from attacking me. I find libertarianism to be problematic both conceptually and empirically. But I also find the metaphysical alternatives to be equally problematic. There is nothing confusing or misleading or insincere about that stance, and it quite genuinely reflects my beliefs. You can accuse me of insincerity all you wish, but you are simply wrong, and it just reflects badly on you, as you are incapable of respecting other people who do not share your views.

    Anyone can say, “I’m not convinced” even when the arguments put forward are compelling and well-articulated.

    I can see you are highly impressed by your own arguments, but I think you are deeply confused, just as you think I am. You think your arguments are so compelling and well-articulated that any rational human simply must believe them – and yet agent-causal libertarianism is hardly taking the scholarly world by storm. And so instead of admitting that these issues are far too complex to claim that your own position is obviously complete and correct, you simply attack the motives and rationality of anyone who disagrees. This is dogma at its worst: You are so certain and self-satisfied that you refuse to believe that anyone else might genuinely believe that they don’t know what the answers are!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  275. Hi Chance,

    RDF: The problem of free will is this: Are the choices that humans make determined or are they not? By definining the word “choice” to mean “not determined”, you are begging the question by assuming your position in the wording of the question.
    CR: Aren’t we talking about “free” choices? That was the claim I objected to (not that I’m sure there’s a distinction).

    I am really trying to settle on a set of definitions that will be clear and allow us to discuss the issues without taking past each other because we mean different things by these terms.

    Here is what I propose:

    choice: selecting among multiple possibilities
    free choice: making a choice based on internal states
    libertarian freedom: the ability to act without antecedent cause; being an uncaused cause

    I am not wed to these particular definitions. However, by insisting that the word “choice” already mean “libertarian free choice”, you assume your position (libertarianism) in your definition.

    In this case, how can a choice be both free and determined? As a matter of fact, how can a choice be determined at all, and still be called a choice? I’d like you to be clear about what you’re claiming. You said computers make free choices. Yet if a choice is determined, it isn’t free.

    Just look how confused your definition makes this conversation: You say Yet if a choice is determined, it isn’t free. But by your own definition, if a choice is determined then it can’t even be called a choice, much less a free choice.

    Using my definitions, we would agree that computers make free choices, but not libertarian choices. If you would like to propose a different set of definitions, please do, but make sure we can consistently express things that actually do happen, as when a computer chooses a number based on internal states and incoming data.

    RDF: Computer programs are not entirely determined unless you can show that input from the rest of the world is entirely determined as well. (I’m sure you know that said input can dynamically change the computer’s programming as well as its output).
    CR: This is simply not the case. Computers don’t take their input from any-and-every source in the world. Programs typically…

    Eh? We are talking about foundational issues regarding causality and volition, and you respond by talking about how programs are typically constructed and used? That is utterly irrelevant. What is relevant is what we know to be true in principle, and in principle, computers (like people) may well receive input from anything at all!

    Programs map inputs to outputs. They do this deterministically.

    If the universe is deterministic, then this is true; otherwise it is false.

    If you’re claiming that programs which execute on computer systems are generally not deterministic, it’s a claim you’ll need to provide evidence for.

    It is utterly irrelevant what computer systems are generally. We are discussing what computer systems are fundamentally, theoretically, in principle.

    Moreover, a program is deterministic if it will produce identical output on identical input. Barring actual randomness, this is true and demonstrable for computer programs.

    You are being serious? I disprove your statement thus:

    X = 1
    LOOP FOREVER {
    Y = input()
    Z = Y + X
    PRINT Z
    X = X + 1
    }

    This is deterministic and always produces different output on identical input.

    I think you need to be more clear on what constitutes “free” in the context of determinism, and whether there is any distinction to be made between choices and free choices.

    We need to be clear, yes, which is why I have been attempting to settle on terminology that is clear and non-question-begging.

    RDF: My definition of “choice” is: A selection from among options that is determined by factors internal to the choosing entity
    SB: If actual choices can be made deterministically, then there are other entities which fit the above definition. For instance, a coin sorter, which takes multiple types of coins as input and sorts them into stacks of like type, makes choices under your definition.
    Yes, using my definitions the coin sorter makes choices.

    Are these free choices or determined outcomes?

    Using my definitions the choices are determined by the unchanging structure of the sorter and the coins, since the sorter has no internal states. So the coin sorter does not make free choices.

    The problem with abandoning randomness is that it’s the only way to simulate something akin to capriciousness, which is a component of human choices.

    Not at all. Look at my program above. Instead of a single state variable, X, imagine immense multi-dimensional data structures dynamically interacting with the environment, where the environment is so complex we don’t even know if it is deterministic or not. We don’t need randomness, no.

    RDF: This whole burden of proof thing arises from this: We all know that such a thing as deterministic causality happens, and we can demonstrate and observe it (unless you’d like to bring Hume’s critique of causality in at this point here – but I’d rather not). You are claiming that human beings (and perhaps dogs? or dolphins?) have some special form of causality that is ontologically distinct from all other causes we can observe. So it is up to you do support this claim.”
    CR: We should be clear on this point. Humans design and construct things that are categorically distinct from what material cause and effect is known to accomplish.

    You have begged the question yet again. One of the controversial issues we’re discussing is whether or not human mentality transcends material cause and effect. You believe it does; most neuroscientists actually believe it does not. I believe that the question is open. However, you simply declare categorically that human abilities transcend material cause and effect. You may be right and you may be wrong, but it is certainly not a known fact either way.

    Again, you’re attempting to offload the burden of proof inappropriately. It is you who needs to show that either a) necessity (physical law) and/or chance is just as capable of building things as humans are; or b) that the activity of human beings is reducible to describable physical laws. You can do neither. Your blanket skepticism is not a substitute for the observable evidence.

    1) I do not have “blanket skepticism”
    2) We can demonstrate the operation of physical law
    3) We cannot demonstrate the operation of immaterial, contra-causal mental causation
    4) Thus, The burden of proof is on one who claims that humans transcend physical cause

    This renders incoherent your arguments regarding the insufficiency of chance + necessity to produce complex form and function. We know that humans produce complex machines, and we do not know how we do it. Perhaps our brains work entirely according to physical law, just like most neuroscientists say they do. In that case, complex machines are indeed the result of nothing except chance + necessity. Alternatively, perhaps you are correct, and human minds transcend chance + necessity.

    You, however, simply assume that your view is correct, and proceed to argue from that assumption as though you are arguing from fact.

    Programs can rewrite data files (or even their own code) which will modify subsequent program behavior, but this too is deterministic.

    It is only deterministic if the rest of the universe is deterministic. If the input that affects program rewrites is non-deterministic, then the dynamic programming is also deterministic.

    RDF: Their programming at any given time is the result of their initial state, their experiences, and all of the changes and learning they have undergone… just like people.
    CR: So much for skepticism You said so yourself, “Of course computers do not operate anything remotely like humans do!”

    Yes, that is correct (but you can leave out the comments about skepticism – they are irrelevant). Computers do not operate like humans – obviously on a physical level they are radically disimilar, and it is clear from cognitive psychological data that humans do not reason anything like computers, at least for the tasks that computers currently can do. My point was just as I said: With regard to being the result of initial state + experience + dynamic changes, they are just like people.

    Computer don’t experience, they don’t perceive, and they don’t learn.

    There you go again using question-begging definitions for your words! How can you say computers don’t learn, when graduate degrees are granted in the discipline of machine learning?!?! I guess you are trying to say that if computers are not conscious of what they perceive and learn then it doesn’t count. I agree computers are not conscious. But stop defining these words in such a way that we can’t even ask the interesting questions!!

    Never write software that anthropomorphizes the machine. They hate that. — Unknown

    “Saying Deep Blue doesn’t think about chess is like saying airplanes can’t fly because they can’t flap their wings” – Drew McDermott

    My computer keeps trying to connect to the internet but can’t.
    The word processor keeps forgetting what I set my margins to.
    My car doesn’t want to start this morning.

    :-)

    So your problem is that people hold beliefs for what they consider to be good reasons, and argue as if those beliefs are true?

    No. I think there are a set of Big Question that have been pondered and debated by the most intelligent human beings that have ever lived over thousands of years, without ever producing anything remotely resembling a consensus. I object to people who believe that whatever they happen to think might be the answers to these question are obviously and clearly and objectively correct, and anyone who disagrees must be hiding from the truth or irrational or stupid or lying.

    And if so, are you ever openly skeptical of the proposition that nobody can be sure about anything? I assert that it’s dogmatic of you to claim that we cannot be reasonably certain about what we profess and believe.

    I never claim that we cannot be reasonably certain about all sorts of things of course! We are all very certain about an infinite number of things. We ought not pretend to be certain about these difficult, complex questions (origins, volition, ontology, etc) that have been debated endlessly thoughout history without ever reaching resolution. Even theists dramatically disagree with each other on these issues!

    It sounds like you’re strongly agnostic, in which case you should be defending strong agnosticism, not just any ol’ proposition which suggests itself to be a true description of some aspect of reality.

    Yes, on these Big Questions I am strongly agnostic (or, often more accurately, I believe the questions are not framed in such a way that there is a possible true answer). And so I argue against people who believe they know the answers to these questions. Go ahead and try me – argue that evolutionary biology explains the existence of eyeballs and the immune system, and I’ll show you I am an equal opportunity criticizer of unfounded dogma.

    It’s easier to poke holes then to plug them; it’s easier to cast doubt than to inspire confidence; and it’s easier to destroy something than to construct it.

    I never claimed to be doing anything hard! I just claim to be saying something true: Nobody knows the answers to these Big Questions.

    You should try plugging some holes, and tell us why it’s more reasonable to doubt everything than affirm anything.

    You mischaracterize my position completely. I can list as many things we are certain about as you’d like. But nobody ought to be certain about why there is something rather than nothing, nor how the universe came to exist, nor how life came to exist on Earth, nor how brains are related to conscious minds, nor if mental causality is ontologically distinct, and so on. We just don’t know the answers to those particular questions, and I think it is really important to admit that to ourselves and each other.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  276. 278
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    CR: We should be clear on this point. Humans design and construct things that are categorically distinct from what material cause and effect is known to accomplish.

    You have begged the question yet again. One of the controversial issues we’re discussing is whether or not human mentality transcends material cause and effect. You believe it does; most neuroscientists actually believe it does not. I believe that the question is open. However, you simply declare categorically that human abilities transcend material cause and effect. You may be right and you may be wrong, but it is certainly not a known fact either way.

    I’m not speaking in terms of beliefs. I’m speaking in terms of evidence. I do not declare it categorically, I establish it based on warrant derived from direct observation.

    Demonstrate that either: a) complex and specified systems such as computers and their programs can come about via chance and necessity; or b) the agents which produce them can come about via chance and necessity.

    If the above cannot be demonstrated empirically (or logically for that matter), then it cannot be presumed true. This is straightforward. Warrant exists via uniform and repeated experience to reject both a and b provisionally. Let me be clear. I’m not claiming that either proposition is logically impossible. I’m saying that the truth of propositions a and b can be rejected on evidence.

    Premise:
    For all X, if X is a computer, then X is the product of agency.

    Falsification:
    There exists an X such that X is a computer and X is the verifiable result of chance and necessity.

    Replace “computer” above with airplane, automobile, machine tools, smart phones, or any other form of technology specifically associated with human creative activity and you’ll get the same result. It becomes quite apparent, not on logical impossibility but based on evidentiary warrant that a category of effects exists which are not amenable to material necessity.

    The assumption that physical causal chains can account for all observed phenomena is a supposition which is not warranted by evidence. Please explain why this should take precedence over uniform and repeated experience, i.e., direct observation. Explain why physical necessity should be the default assumption until it is proved impossible.

    If you cannot establish the truth of a and b, then you have no cause to presume that agency is not a unique causal force apart from physical law.

  277. Hi Phinehas,

    RDF: A definition is not something one can agree with or not.
    PHIN: Of course it is! It is especially something with which you can agree with or not when you’ve asked my what my definition is.

    Wow it really is hard to communicate sometimes, huh? My point was that definitions cannot be true or false. We might disagree about what definition is in most common usage perhaps, but it makes no sense to say a definition is right or wrong. You are perfectly free to define “dog” as a scaly worm that lives underwater, and your definition would not be false; it would simply be at odds with how everybody else uses the word “dog” to refer to that lovable species of furry quadrupeds.

    Please think about what you are saying, RDF. You asked how I defined choice. I told you. For me, calling something a “choice” when it is merely the determined effect of some amalgamation of causes is meaningless.

    But when I say the computer chose a number between one and ten, you understand what I mean just fine – so it really is not meaningless at all – it means “select from among options”.

    When you’ve asked me for how I define “choice,” it is not begging the question for me to give an honest answer.

    Again, this has nothing to do with honesty or correctness! It has to do with crafting definitions so that we can discuss these issues without confusion. When you define the word such that your idea of volition is built into the definition, any further discussion of volition becomes hopelessly confused.

    But I suppose an equally interesting question would be why we punish humans that are morally deficient but not ones that are mentally deficient.

    We might incarcerate both to keep them from harming others, but we do so punitively only with the former because we wish to alter both their future behavior and the behavior of others who see the result. Punishing mentally deficient people would not serve those goals.

    But what if they were these things? Now you are suddenly in need of more than excellent reasons for you not to be nihilistic and amoral. For the sake of your continued happiness, you require convincing reasons for them not to be nihilistic and amoral. Do you have any such reasons to offer them?

    No, I don’t. I do not know if religious prostelytizing helps people act better or not – it’s a complicated sociological question that I don’t know has been answered conclusively. It certainly may be true. None of this has anything to do with actually believing in God of course.

    RDF (WIKI): Causality (also referred to as causation[1]) is the relation between an event (the cause) and a second event (the effect), where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first.
    PHIN: I do not think this definition says what you think it says. Maybe you should read it again more closely. You’ll find it supports my view and not yours. It may use the word “event,” but it is certainly not saying that every event has a cause.

    No, Phin – I quoted this to show that causality had to do with events, because you said I kept using the word “events” rather than “effects”. This is merely a definition of causality, not a statement of the Law of Causality, which says that every event must be caused.

    In other words, every effect has a cause.

    Again, this is true by definition: An effect is an event that occurs due to some cause. The Law of Causality simply says every event has a cause; in other words, the Law of Causality says that every event is an effect.

    RDF: If immaterial causes make things happen in the material world, then the question arises, how can that possibly happen?
    PHIN: Yes, that is indeed an interesting question. On the other hand, the existence of the universe suggests the very possibility of this sort of thing, doesn’t it?

    I’m sure people here will call me a liar and a trickster and whatever else, but the honest truth is I have no idea how the universe came to exist, and I’m sure nobody else does either.

    Maybe when we figure out how the material world can emerge from no-material, we’ll better understand how no-material might cause material things to happen.

    Indeed yes. Or maybe our minds can’t actually understand these things – who knows? Mice can’t understand calculus no matter how long they study.

    Phin: If willful choices are outside space-time, it makes no sense to talk about them having a cause.
    RDF: Nor does it make sense to talk about them being antecdent causes for anything else!
    Phin: Of course it does! What makes no sense is ignoring the fact that everything inside space-time does have an antecedent cause and pretending like an infinite regress of antecedent causes isn’t logically problematic!

    My position is that when it comes to these Big Questions, it is ALL logically problematic!!!. Our common sense and intuitions and basic understand of space and time and material and causality just are not up to the task of dealing with the origin of the universe. They aren’t even adequate to understand what happens when a beam of light shines through two slits in a physics lab!

    Whence space-time if not from outside space-time? You can’t just drop back and do a logical punt at that point while at the same time insisting that I explain how the immaterial can be and antecedent cause the material. Tackle the problem of where the material came from in the first place and maybe you’ll have your answer!

    Nobody can do this – we have no answer.

    RDF: I disagree. [When] something performs an arithmetic calculation like calculators and adding machines do, there is no selecting from among multiple options. The machine comes up with the one correct answer (if it is functioning correctly!). In contrast, a computer can choose from among multiple options.
    PHIN: No it can’t! In a switch{} statement, there is only one correct execution path to the exact same degree as in a calculator.

    You are missing the critical difference: A Turing machine (a stored-program computer) has internal states that can affect processing; an adding machine does not).

    Out of curiosity, what would you say is the difference between a computer that is malfunctioning and one that is choosing?

    Using my definitions, a computer makes choices whether or not is is malfunctioning – as long as the selection among options is based on internal state.

    Put another way, if a computer can choose, how can it be said to be malfunctioning? It just chose to do something unexpected, right?

    Interesting question, and at the heart of the discipline of automated software testing. My point though was about calculators/adding machines, which can easily be tested against the rules of arithmetic.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  278. No. I think there are a set of Big Question that have been pondered and debated by the most intelligent human beings that have ever lived over thousands of years, without ever producing anything remotely resembling a consensus. I object to people who believe that whatever they happen to think might be the answers to these question are obviously and clearly and objectively correct, and anyone who disagrees must be hiding from the truth or irrational or stupid or lying.

    But you wouldn’t include the Law of Non-contradiction in those Big Questions, because it is obviously and clearly and objectively correct, correct? And the same would hold true for the basic Laws of Reason, correct? And it would also hold true for the notion that every effect has a cause, correct?

    Maybe you could clarify exactly what Big Questions you are talking about.

    And perhaps more to the point, why does the following not qualify as a Big Question?

    Is it possible for someone to be obviously and clearly and objectively correct about the Big Questions?

  279. 281
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @277,

    Moreover, a program is deterministic if it will produce identical output on identical input. Barring actual randomness, this is true and demonstrable for computer programs.

    You are being serious? I disprove your statement thus:

    X = 1
    LOOP FOREVER {
    Y = input()
    Z = Y + X
    PRINT Z
    X = X + 1
    }

    This is deterministic and always produces different output on identical input.

    Yes I’m being serious. “Loop forever” sounds good, but your program needs a halting condition. And when it halts and restarts, it will produce the same output, given that the input read into Y is constant. Period.

    Deterministic Algorithm:

    “In computer science, a deterministic algorithm is an algorithm which, given a particular input, will always produce the same output, with the underlying machine always passing through the same sequence of states. Deterministic algorithms are by far the most studied and familiar kind of algorithm, as well as one of the most practical, since they can be run on real machines efficiently.

    Formally, a deterministic algorithm computes a mathematical function; a function has a unique value for any given input, and the algorithm is a process that produces this particular value as output.”

    So real-world, non-theoretical, practical programs are deterministic, and by definition, cannot make “free choices” as long as “free” is defined to be nondeterministic. In the set of all nondeterministic phenomena (contingent phenomena, neither necessary nor impossible) we have elements produced by chance and elements produced by agency. It might sound enlightened to say, “Well we really don’t know if agency is nondeterministic,” except that by any definition of deterministic, it’s clear that intelligent agents do not behave that way. If human behavior can be reduced to deterministic factors, either demonstrate the causal chain, the logical necessity, or that human behavior is constant given identical stimulus; otherwise you’re just being contrary.

  280. 282
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @277,

    “But nobody ought to be certain about why there is something rather than nothing, nor how the universe came to exist, nor how life came to exist on Earth, nor how brains are related to conscious minds, nor if mental causality is ontologically distinct, and so on.”

    That sure sounds dogmatic. Have you ever argued against that proposition, I mean, since you take issue with all such dogmatic pronouncements? :)

  281. Hi Chance,

    I’m not speaking in terms of beliefs. I’m speaking in terms of evidence. I do not declare it categorically, I establish it based on warrant derived from direct observation.

    I don’t know what you mean. Please explain how one can demonstrate that human minds transcend physical cause.

    Demonstrate that either: a) complex and specified systems such as computers and their programs can come about via chance and necessity; or b) the agents which produce them can come about via chance and necessity.

    ??? I am not talking about how these “agents” come to exist. (BTW let’s call them “human beings”, OK? If not – what other “agents” are you talking about in our uniform and repeated experience?). I am taking about how we think.

    You believe that when we think, our minds operate in a way that is not bound by physical law, i.e. it transcends chance and necessity. This has nothing to do with how humans came to exist in the first place. The point is, we have no way of demonstrating that intelligence is anything but chance and necessity! The point has been debated for a few thousand years so far, but nobody has found a way to answer it definitively.

    Premise:
    For all X, if X is a computer, then X is the product of agency.

    You are assuming without warrant that “agency” refers to something beyond chance and necessity.

    It may be that our minds operate according to something beyond chance and necessity, or maybe they don’t. Nobody knows. Most neuroscientists believe that our minds operate only according to chance + necessity, but some disagree.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  282. That sure sounds dogmatic. Have you ever argued against that proposition, I mean, since you take issue with all such dogmatic pronouncements?

    READ WHAT I WRITE.

    I did not say ALL pronouncements are uncertain. I said JUST THE OPPOSITE.

    READ WHAT I WRITE.

  283. Good discussion all! Must go out for the remainder of the evening, but looking forward to continuing!
    Cheers,
    RDFish

  284. Hi Chance,

    Ok one more quick point :-)

    Yes I’m being serious. “Loop forever” sounds good, but your program needs a halting condition.

    No, it most certainly does NOT need a halting condition, which is precisely why I said LOOP FOREVER.

    If human behavior can be reduced to deterministic factors, either demonstrate the causal chain, the logical necessity, or that human behavior is constant given identical stimulus; otherwise you’re just being contrary.

    I’m not being contrary, I’m being correct.

    You said a deterministic program will always give the same output for the same input, and you were 100% wrong.

    A human doesn’t reboot either, Chance!! We start with our initial settings, and just keep experiencing and changing until we die! No “halting and restarting” No reset button!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  285. 287
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish,

    “I am really trying to settle on a set of definitions that will be clear and allow us to discuss the issues without taking past each other because we mean different things by these terms.”

    That is appreciated.

    My computer keeps trying to connect to the internet but can’t.
    The word processor keeps forgetting what I set my margins to.
    My car doesn’t want to start this morning.

    :)

    Trying, forgetting, wanting: anthropomorphisms. :D

    “Saying Deep Blue doesn’t think about chess is like saying airplanes can’t fly because they can’t flap their wings” – Drew McDermott

    I have to say that equating thinking with calculating looks a lot like a category error. This type of thinking presumes material reductionism.

    choice: selecting among multiple possibilities
    free choice: making a choice based on internal states
    libertarian freedom: the ability to act without antecedent cause; being an uncaused cause

    Yes, using my definitions the coin sorter makes choices.

    Using my definitions the choices are determined by the unchanging structure of the sorter and the coins, since the sorter has no internal states. So the coin sorter does not make free choices.

    I think that “choices are determined” might be too much like a contradiction, but I won’t nitpick too much. ;)

    However your “free choice” definition necessitates determinism, since the entity’s internal state will determine the output predictably and reliably. You need nondeterministic state switching in order to produce nondeterministic output. In addition, the coin sorter does have an internal state, it’s just constant, and so unarguably deterministic. Another coin sorter with a different internal state will produce different, but constant, output. In other words, it seems that coin sorters can make free choices by your definition.

    In the interest of fair engagement, let me try some variations to your definitions:

    choice: a selection among multiple possibilities
    determined: necessary — neither impossible nor contingent
    free: not determined nor random

    I suspect you might take issue with those, but I thought I’d take a stab at it anyway. The above definitions allow nondeterministic causes that are not random, which is something I found lacking in your definitions. I suspect that your issue would be that it begs the question to call human choices “free”, but that can be resolved by attributing no such qualifier to “choices”. Now the term choice can be qualified as either determined or free.

  286. 288
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @283,

    “You are assuming without warrant that “agency” refers to something beyond chance and necessity.”

    I supplied the warrant. What is your warrant that they do not? On what evidentiary grounds can we infer that chance and necessity beget agency, or that agency is reducible to such?

    By the way, there’s nothing spooky about the term agency. You can take it for a synonym for human if you so choose.

  287. 289
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @284,

    “READ WHAT I WRITE.

    I did not say ALL pronouncements are uncertain. I said JUST THE OPPOSITE.

    READ WHAT I WRITE.”

    Well at least we know that the pronouncement “all pronouncements are uncertain” is uncertain. :P

  288. RDFish

    It isn’t a matter of me not liking these references; it is rather than libertarianism per se is not predicated on a First Cause.

    Once a philosophical discussion about causality is on the table, a First Cause cannot be avoided. It is always relevant to and necessary for the topic. If you have a phobia about the First Cause, then you might be more at peace by avoiding discussions of causality altogether.

    In my view, things that happen spontaneously without any cause violate causality, period, and you disagree. I suggest we leave it at that.

    Who or what, in your judgment, is the cause of your actions? Why should people be held accountable for their actions if they are not the cause of those actions?

    You mischaracterize my position completely.

    How could I mischaracterize your position? You have no position (except the position that you should have no position).

    I can list as many things we are certain about as you’d like.

    If you are not certain that a brick wall cannot appear in front of your moving automobile without any reason (and you aren’t), then you are wasting your certitude on the wrong things.

    But nobody ought to be certain about why there is something rather than nothing, nor how the universe came to exist, nor how life came to exist on Earth, nor how brains are related to conscious minds, nor if mental causality is ontologically distinct, and so on.

    Are you certain about that?

  289. 291
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @286,

    “No, it most certainly does NOT need a halting condition, which is precisely why I said LOOP FOREVER.”

    If you have no halting condition, then you can’t be reading the “same input” unless you’re just iterating over identical values. This is not the same thing.

    Run program X with input Y. Observe output.
    Run program X again with input Y. Observe output.
    If the program is deterministic, the output for both runs will be the same. (Pseudorandom number generator notwithstanding.)

    If we should switch gears and talk about your “running forever” technicality, then it should be made clear that you’re taking a single stream of input continuously, and not a single stream of input multiple times from an initial state. You’re program needs to halt and restart in order to test for determinism. I supplied the definitions, but wiggle out of this if you can.

    “You said a deterministic program will always give the same output for the same input, and you were 100% wrong.”

    Without any theoretical gymnastics about never-ending program execution, I am 100% right.

    A human doesn’t reboot either, Chance!!”

    Bingo. Computers reboot, people do not. How can you test for deterministic output if you never restart the program? Which computer programs never restart? And if they never restart, how can deterministic output be validated or refuted? Now you could say that a human person never reboots, so we could never in principle test for determinism. I agree with that techicality. So where does that leave us? It leaves us here: we cannot equate a computer program with human behavior because they are fundamentally incomparable.

    “Good discussion all! Must go out for the remainder of the evening, but looking forward to continuing!”

    OK, I need to break from this thread also.

    Best,
    Chance

  290. 292
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @283, I need to respond to this now so I don’t forget:

    Demonstrate that either: a) complex and specified systems such as computers and their programs can come about via chance and necessity; or b) the agents which produce them can come about via chance and necessity.

    ??? I am not talking about how these “agents” come to exist. (BTW let’s call them “human beings”, OK? If not – what other “agents” are you talking about in our uniform and repeated experience?). I am taking about how we think.

    I intended that ontological provision to allow another logical way to account for deterministic reduction. If intelligent agents can be begotten by chance and necessity, or if their unique effects can be accounted for by chance and necessity, then we can credit chance and necessity with the whole shebang. It’s a twofer. ;)

  291. 293
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @283, sorry I’m on a roll:

    Premise:
    For all X, if X is a computer, then X is the product of agency.

    You are assuming without warrant that “agency” refers to something beyond chance and necessity.

    No, I’m proposing that “agency” can produce computers, period. This is unassailable fact. Here’s the part you left out:

    Falsification:
    There exists an X such that X is a computer and X is the verifiable result of chance and necessity.

    That’s the part we’re missing. Again, this is not impossible, it’s just not in evidence, nor is any principle which could establish the falsification. This constitutes the warrant: 100% of cases in evidence are verifiable products of intentional design. 0.0% of cases are available to call it into question.

  292. Hey RDF:

    But when I say the computer chose a number between one and ten, you understand what I mean just fine – so it really is not meaningless at all – it means “select from among options”.

    Right. And when I hold up a big blue ball and say, “this is the earth,” and a ping pong ball next to it and say, “this is the moon,” you also understand what I mean just fine. We are all quite adept at both using and interpreting metaphors. Anthropomorphisms and reifications are part of our everyday conversations, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hold up as proper definitions in a real argument.

    When you define the word such that your idea of volition is built into the definition, any further discussion of volition becomes hopelessly confused.

    I get this. However, if the meaning of volition is at issue, it isn’t question begging to explore and discover how one’s definitions differ.

    We might incarcerate both to keep them from harming others, but we do so punitively only with the former because we wish to alter both their future behavior and the behavior of others who see the result. Punishing mentally deficient people would not serve those goals.

    How so? Are you conflating operant conditioning and punishment? Why? Or why not?

    Phin: But what if they were these things? Now you are suddenly in need of more than excellent reasons for you not to be nihilistic and amoral. For the sake of your continued happiness, you require convincing reasons for them not to be nihilistic and amoral. Do you have any such reasons to offer them?

    RDF: No, I don’t. I do not know if religious prostelytizing helps people act better or not – it’s a complicated sociological question that I don’t know has been answered conclusively.

    Religious proselytizing? Where’d that come from? There is nothing in what I wrote that even hints at religious proselytization. It appears you’ve simply decided that where I said, “convincing reason,” I must have meant,”religious proselytization,” instead. Why would you do that? Do you consider it a pejorative? Did you suppose slipping it in would distract others from the fact that, if you’d stuck with the terms I used, your reply would make little sense?

    No, I don’t. I do not know if having a convincing reason to do so helps people act better or not.

    This is merely a definition of causality, not a statement of the Law of Causality, which says that every event must be caused.

    Where? Where does it say this? You keep asserting this while at the same time failing to provide any evidence that this is the case. What I am finding tends to contradict what you are saying.

    [T]he key point where I think this line of reasoning seems to go astray lies in its faulty understanding of the law of causality, which does not state that “everything needs a cause” but only that “every finite (or contingent) thing needs a cause.” Another way of saying it is that everything does not need a cause, but only every effect needs a cause.

    Or this:

    The Law of Cause and Effect states that every material effect must have an adequate antecedent or simultaneous cause.

    Even Merriam-Webster agrees that the Law of Causation only claims:

    [E]very change in nature is produced by some cause (emphasis mine)

    RDF: If immaterial causes make things happen in the material world, then the question arises, how can that possibly happen?

    PHIN: Yes, that is indeed an interesting question. On the other hand, the existence of the universe suggests the very possibility of this sort of thing, doesn’t it?

    RDFI’m sure people here will call me a liar and a trickster and whatever else, but the honest truth is I have no idea how the universe came to exist… (emphasis in the original)

    I believe you! What I find interesting, however, is that you seem perfectly content with your ignorance here while at the same time demanding answers as to how the immaterial could cause things to happen in the material world.

    Maybe you are just very, very, very skeptical.

    …and I’m sure nobody else does either. (emphasis in the original)

    Oops! Or maybe not! What happened to the skepticism? To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, how is it that you know enough about what you don’t know to know that no one else could possibly know it?

    You see, I don’t really have any problem with your skepticism. It is your certainty that I find, well, amusing. Especially given that your main point in this thread seems to be to question certainty, and your main strategy seems to be to rely on it utterly.

    My position is that when it comes to these Big Questions, it is ALL logically problematic!!!.

    Are you certain?

    Our common sense and intuitions and basic understand of space and time and material and causality just are not up to the task of dealing with the origin of the universe.

    Are you certain?

    Phin: Whence space-time if not from outside space-time? You can’t just drop back and do a logical punt at that point while at the same time insisting that I explain how the immaterial can be and antecedent cause the material. Tackle the problem of where the material came from in the first place and maybe you’ll have your answer!

    RDF: Nobody can do this – we have no answer

    Are you certain?

  293. 295
    Chance Ratcliff

    Phinehas, RE your #294:

    RDFish wrote, “But when I say the computer chose a number between one and ten, you understand what I mean just fine – so it really is not meaningless at all – it means “select from among options”.

    Phinehas replied, “Right. And when I hold up a big blue ball and say, “this is the earth,” and a ping pong ball next to it and say, “this is the moon,” you also understand what I mean just fine. We are all quite adept at both using and interpreting metaphors. Anthropomorphisms and reifications are part of our everyday conversations, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hold up as proper definitions in a real argument.”

    Very well said. Thanks.

  294. Thanks, Chance.

  295. Regarding the question of first cause and causality note this entry regarding General Relativity:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C.....hypothesis

    Since the physical behavior of singularities is unknown, if singularities can be observed from the rest of spacetime, causality may break down, and physics may lose its predictive power. The issue cannot be avoided, since according to the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems, singularities are inevitable in physically reasonable situations.

    It’s possible, based on our incomplete understanding of reality, that we can’t make the argument from FIRST CAUSE completely airtight. I think it is a reasonable assumption, but assuming something is true is not a proof.

    Problematic, imho, is that if one invokes “free will” the absolute determinism required to defend the FIRST CAUSE argument starts to break down. It would superfically violate non-contradiction, or at least make the law of non-contradiction hard to apply.

    Finally the assumption that everyting has a cause is only an assumption, like the axioms of mathematics, they are only assumptions and only God knows if that assumption is ultimately true or whether our language can ultimately describe reality in such simplistic terms.

    There is meaning, and we can meaningfully communicate, but just not completely and exhaustively. We can make pronouncements like “Everything has a cause” but that is only a faith statement, it is not formally provable and it can lead to Godelian like incompleteness problems, i.e.:

    everything has a cause, therefore there was an uncaused First Cause

    This seems like an extremly naive assertion given what we know today about various logical paradoxes. This seems like a naive expression at best, and self-contradictory at worst.

    This is like the Russel Paradox

    , the barber paradox supposes a barber who shaves all men who do not shave themselves and only men who do not shave themselves. When one thinks about whether the barber should shave himself or not, the paradox begins to emerge.

    Now with respect to absolute determinism, it was shocking that there were realms in mathematics that could not be decided deterministically. We call these undecidable statements which are the result of incompleteness. Curiously you are free to assert one statement as true or false according to your free will, and it will be so!

    Example from math:

    Based on field axioms, objects within systems that satisfy Field Axioms have square roots that are within the system

    This cannot be proven as true or false from the starting premises. You can assume the statement as true or false and create a truth out of the air. You can make the claim true, or false, or leave it undecided. Free will indeed where deterministic answers are not possible!

    Distressing also was that it was shown, even with an infinitely powerful computational engine, logic alone within a finitistic framework could not resolve certain questions (I gave examples above).

    NOTES:
    rational numbers form a field
    real numbers form a field

    The quesiton of square roots is true if one models a field by the real numbers and false if one models a field by rational numbers. The problem is one cannot begin with the premises of the field axioms and actually say which model is “right” with respect to the question of square roots.
    The problem is that you have to hypothesize (as in assume) something with or without the square-root properties of the real or rational numbers. Those assumptions are not deterministic consequences of the field axioms but are assumptions that are free-will independent of the field axioms.

  296. Ph:

    I see you are carrying on the good work of actually laying out facts and reasoning.

    Above, at 269, in light of a useful model by Derek Smith, I summarised a view on how we can have an embodied, minded agent, but decided not to give any particular model for influences beyond being informational and perceptual/sensory etc.

    The obvious answer is that of quantum level influences that bring up outcomes, joined to shared access to storage. There was a suggestion of microtubules as a viable site some years back, but I am not committed to that.

    You will observe that, after several times of pointing to such a model, predictably RDF has pointedly ignored it.

    Similarly, I see where, in the teeth of empirical evidence — and his own experience of being an agent, and the observation on the difference of performance in creating FSCO/I between agency and what we can show through analysis — per needles in haystacks and monkeys at keyboards — that which blind chance and/or mechanical necessity can reasonably do, he still wants to say that the construct, agency is an “assumption.”

    That speaks volumes.

    I also see how he continues to try to make out that a computer, driven by a deterministic sequence of instructions, executing say a case structure, is making a “choice.”

    Sorry, a computer is just a label for a sophisticated programmable calculator that executes algorithms: blind, step by step sequences of machine actions shaped by a designer towards an end. In fact, that is how most modern serious calculators are built, as small computers. [In the old days, some were hard wired in gate logic etc.]

    The only genuine choices involved in computers, is in the design and programming involved. And that does not come from the computers. Indeed, where computers are self modifying, unless they are set up to crash, that is very carefully controlled by supervisory algorithms indeed.

    And, given GIGO, the quality of decision of computer behaviour is no better than the quality of decisions built in at the design and coding point. None of which is news.

    I must note that if we are simply robots, following programs, we cannot properly reason or responsibly decide we would just be executing algorithms dependent on specification of detailed step by step sequences. That brings up how rich human creativity is yet another sign of how we are not programmed.

    If that were not so, both art and rational discourse would be pointless, utterly predictable up to some blind stochastic distribution, and revealingly so.

    Here is a summary on the topic, again; by somebody who has rolled his own so to speak. (Which summary I predict he will either silently ignore yet again, or will find some excuse to run away from.)

    Of course, you may incorporate a genuinely random component in such a system, but all that does is it runs up against the FSCO/I limit.

    Agency is real as an experienced, observed factor in the world, one that has capabilities that are radically different from those of bland chance and/or mechanical necessity. Indeed the very act of composing a long post in English text is a manifestation of that difference;as such is a cap[ital instance of FSCO/I.

    This gets us back to the point that the design view is of fundamental importance and relevance in a current scientific worldview that is moving beyond scientism.

    Look, even Wiki on choice is illuminating:

    Choice consists of the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one or more of them. While a choice can be made between imagined options ("what would I do if ...?"), often a choice is made between real options and followed by the corresponding action. For example, a route for a journey is chosen based on the preference of arriving at a given destination as soon as possible. The preferred (and therefore chosen) route is then derived from information about how long each of the possible routes take. This can be done by a route planner. If the preference is more complex, such as involving the scenery of the route, cognition and feeling are more intertwined, and the choice is less easy to delegate to a computer program or assistant.

    More complex examples (often decisions that affect what a person thinks or their core beliefs) include choosing a lifestyle, religious affiliation, or political position.

    Most people regard having choices as a good thing, though a severely limited or artificially restricted choice can lead to discomfort with choosing and possibly, an unsatisfactory outcome.

    In short, the basic concept involved in choice implies agency.

    Wiki on that -- testifying against ideological interest and known inclination -- is helpful too:

    In philosophy and sociology, agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world. The capacity to act does not at first imply a specific moral dimension to the ability to make the choice to act, and moral agency is therefore a distinct concept. In sociology, an agent is an individual engaging with the social structure. Notably, though, the primacy of social structure vs. individual capacity with regard to persons' actions is debated within sociology. This debate concerns, at least partly, the level of reflexivity an agent may possess.

    Agency may either be classified as unconscious, involuntary behavior, or purposeful, goal directed activity (intentional action). An agent typically has some sort of immediate awareness of his physical activity and the goals that the activity is aimed at realizing. In ‘goal directed action’ an agent implements a kind of direct control or guidance over their own behavior.

    Wiki on mind, in a surprisingly balanced introduction on such a potentially loaded topic, also helps set a context:

    A mind (pron.: /?ma?nd/) is the set of cognitive faculties that enables consciousness, perception, thinking, judgement, and memory—a characteristic of humans, but which also may apply to other life forms.[3][4]

    A long tradition of inquiries in philosophy, religion, psychology and cognitive science has sought to develop an understanding of what mind is and what are its distinguishing properties. The main questions regarding the nature of mind is its relation to the physical brain and nervous system – a question which is often framed as the Mind-body problem, which considers whether mind is somehow separate from physical existence (dualism and idealism[5]), deriving from and reducible to physical phenomena such as neurological processes (physicalism), or whether the mind is identical with the brain or some activity of the brain.[6] Another question concerns which types of beings are capable of having minds, for example whether mind is exclusive to humans, possessed also by some or all animals, by all living things, or whether mind can also be a property of some types of man-made machines.

    Whatever its relation to the physical body it is generally agreed that mind is that which enables a being to have subjective awareness and intentionality towards their environment, to perceive and respond to stimuli with some kind of agency, and to have consciousness, including thinking and feeling.[3][7]

    So, the pretence that we have been talking in simplistic, unduly certain circles, is manifestly wrong to the point of being a strawmannish caricature.

    Notice, what we have seen above is an attempt to undermine first principles of right reason and now the very existence and reality of what we manifestly are, intelligent, choosing, purposeful designing, effecting agents.

    That speaks volumes on the want of credibility and soundness in the typical patterns of thought among those indoctrinated into the evolutionary materialist scheme of scientism.

    So, let us draw lessons form what we are seeing, and understand how important such is in breaking the bewitchment that has so much of our civilisation locked up in ideologically enforced absurdities.

    KF

  297. SC:

    The issue of first cause does not arise per pulled out of thin air assumption, but per an observation of chains of cause and related contingency.

    This may be multiplied by an observation on the problem of traversing an infinite chain in succession to reach here, but the question on that side is not necessary, as the whole chain itself needs a support. [Think how one of those line of dominoes exercises requires a handy supportive floor, as an instructive analogy.]

    In brief summary, a credibly contingent cosmos requires a cause and a mechanical chain of cause-effect bonds cries out for a beginning cause.

    In that wider context, as is commonly realised, our observed cosmos credibly had a beginning. A multiverse with variable parameters, laws etc is even more radically contingent.

    That is, our experienced universe is credibly contingent.

    For, that which begins is dependent on enabling causal factors [think, how a match flame depends on heat, fuel, chain reaction and oxidiser], and is contingent.

    This brings up the issue highlighted much higher in this thread, that there is a credible class of beings that is not so constrained by enabling factors: necessary beings.

    Serious candidates to be such — flying spaghetti monsters being composite entities are not serious, will be either impossible or possible.

    If impossible, that is because required attributes will stand in mutual contradiction, such as squareness and circularity so that a square circle is impossible.

    If possible, then there is no such block to existence.

    Such a being will exist in at least one possible world and as such beings are without beginning or cause, nor can they end, they will be in the actual world we experience as well. (Cf, S5 in logic.)

    As a simple example consider the truth in 2 + 3 = 5, a proposition. It has no beginning, depends on no physical antecedent to be so, and cannot cease.

    It is inherently mental and classically it is held to be eternally contemplated by an eternal mind.

    much more can be said, but at worldviews level which is where we are now, we are looking at overall explanatory constructs, not deductive proofs from axioms accepted by all. Factual adequacy, coherence and explanatory power in a context of comparative difficulties provides a context in which one takes a responsible, reasonable view, or if you will, faith.

    Cf, discussion here on.

    KF

  298. F/N: here is Plato on the subject, in The Laws, BK X:

    ________

    >> Ath. . . . when one thing changes another, and that another, of such will there be any primary changing element? How can a thing which is moved by another ever be the beginning of change? Impossible. But when the self-moved changes other, and that again other, and thus thousands upon tens of thousands of bodies are set in motion, must not the beginning of all this motion be the change of the self-moving principle? . . . . self-motion being the origin of all motions, and the first which arises among things at rest as well as among things in motion, is the eldest and mightiest principle of change, and that which is changed by another and yet moves other is second.

    [[ . . . .]

    Ath. If we were to see this power existing in any earthy, watery, or fiery substance, simple or compound-how should we describe it?

    Cle. You mean to ask whether we should call such a self-moving power life?

    Ath. I do.

    Cle. Certainly we should.

    Ath. And when we see soul in anything, must we not do the same-must we not admit that this is life?

    [[ . . . . ]

    Cle. You mean to say that the essence which is defined as the self-moved is the same with that which has the name soul?

    Ath. Yes; and if this is true, do we still maintain that there is anything wanting in the proof that the soul is the first origin and moving power of all that is, or has become, or will be, and their contraries, when she has been clearly shown to be the source of change and motion in all things?

    Cle. Certainly not; the soul as being the source of motion, has been most satisfactorily shown to be the oldest of all things.

    Ath. And is not that motion which is produced in another, by reason of another, but never has any self-moving power at all, being in truth the change of an inanimate body, to be reckoned second, or by any lower number which you may prefer?

    Cle. Exactly.

    Ath. Then we are right, and speak the most perfect and absolute truth, when we say that the soul is prior to the body, and that the body is second and comes afterwards, and is born to obey the soul, which is the ruler?

    [[ . . . . ]

    Ath. If, my friend, we say that the whole path and movement of heaven, and of all that is therein, is by nature akin to the movement and revolution and calculation of mind, and proceeds by kindred laws, then, as is plain, we must say that the best soul takes care of the world and guides it along the good path. [[Plato here explicitly sets up an inference to design (by a good soul) from the intelligible order of the cosmos.] >>
    _________

    I t5rust this helps. KF

  299. F/N 2: This is based on an error:

    We can make pronouncements like “Everything has a cause” but that is only a faith statement, it is not formally provable and it can lead to Godelian like incompleteness problems, i.e.:

    everything has a cause, therefore there was an uncaused First Cause

    This seems like an extremly naive assertion given what we know today about various logical paradoxes. This seems like a naive expression at best, and self-contradictory at worst.

    No one seriously argues that everything has a cause, that is self refuting and a misrepresentation. One, often exploited by Dawkins et al.

    What is argued is that: that which BEGINS TO EXIST, MAY CEASE FROM BEING, OR THE LIKE, has a cause. That is, that which depends on enabling factors, plainly is causally linked, it is second or more, not first.

    A first cause in the relevant sense would be a necessary being, which was discussed in outline above. It is discussed in more details in context here on.

    KF

  300. scordova,

    All very well stated and supported – thank you!

  301. Hi Phinehas,

    RDF: No. I think there are a set of Big Question that have been pondered and debated by the most intelligent human beings that have ever lived over thousands of years, without ever producing anything remotely resembling a consensus. I object to people who believe that whatever they happen to think might be the answers to these question are obviously and clearly and objectively correct, and anyone who disagrees must be hiding from the truth or irrational or stupid or lying.
    PHIN: But you wouldn’t include the Law of Non-contradiction in those Big Questions, because it is obviously and clearly and objectively correct, correct?

    That’s right. I’ve never known anyone to doubt it.

    And the same would hold true for the basic Laws of Reason, correct?

    Formal logic and mathematics, right.

    And it would also hold true for the notion that every effect has a cause, correct?

    Let’s be careful with our vocabulary: As far as I’m concerned, an effect has a cause by definition. But I do not think that it is clear that every event – everything that happens – has a cause, because causality in quantum physics seems pretty controversial.

    Maybe you could clarify exactly what Big Questions you are talking about.

    Again, these are questions that have been debated by philsophers for millenia, including
    -Why is there something instead of nothing?
    -What is the relationship between mind and body?
    -How did the universe begin and why does it have the characteristics it does?
    -How did life come to exist in the universe?

    And perhaps more to the point, why does the following not qualify as a Big Question? Is it possible for someone to be obviously and clearly and objectively correct about the Big Questions?

    Nope, sorry. I think it is patently obvious that our beliefs about these questions are nowhere near as well justified as the huge body of well-established knowledge that we have tested and confirmed by consensus that spans cultures and ideologies. No reasonable person doubts the LNC. No reasonable person doubts that the Earth orbits the Sun, or the germ theory of disease, or the Pythagorean theorem, or… But huge numbers of reasonable people doubt that the God of Abraham created the Universe in six days, and huge numbers of reasonable people doubt that the Multiverse successfully explains fine-tuning.

    RDF: When you define the word such that your idea of volition is built into the definition, any further discussion of volition becomes hopelessly confused.
    PHIN: I get this. However, if the meaning of volition is at issue, it isn’t question begging to explore and discover how one’s definitions differ.

    Defining “choice” as something that is not determined by prior cause and then concluding that human choice is free is like defining “movie star” as “popular film actor with blond hair” and then concluding that all movie stars are blond.

    Here are the definitions I propose, as I said to Chance:
    choice: selecting among multiple possibilities
    free choice: making a choice based on internal states
    libertarian freedom: the ability to act without antecedent cause; being an uncaused cause
    I am not wed to these particular definitions, and again there is no such thing as a definition that is right or wrong. However, if you’d like to actually discuss free will, you’ll need definitions that do not assume your answer in the definition.

    [T]he key point where I think this line of reasoning seems to go astray lies in its faulty understanding of the law of causality, which does not state that “everything needs a cause” but only that “every finite (or contingent) thing needs a cause.” Another way of saying it is that everything does not need a cause, but only every effect needs a cause.
    Or this:
    The Law of Cause and Effect states that every material effect must have an adequate antecedent or simultaneous cause.

    Yes, this is how theologians (at least the Christian ones I’ve seen) phrase it, but as I’ve said this is true merely by definition: What the word “effect” means is something that follows from a cause.

    Even Merriam-Webster agrees that the Law of Causation only claims:
    [E]very change in nature is produced by some cause (emphasis mine)

    Yes, this is how I interpret the LoC. What is a “change in nature” if not an event?

    Instead of arguing over definitions, here is what I have been arguing vis-a-vis free will and causality, as clear as I can make it:

    Either everything that happens is caused, or some things happen without any cause at all – they just happen sponaneously. Libertarian free will holds that something can happen (namely, a human being can choose to do something) without any cause at all. That’s all – you can play around with definitions all you’d like, but in the end libertarianism posits that some things can happen without being caused to happen.

    What I find interesting, however, is that you seem perfectly content with your ignorance here while at the same time demanding answers as to how the immaterial could cause things to happen in the material world.

    Huh???? Yes I am perfectly content with my ignorance regarding these Big Questions, because I believe admitting ignorance is the most reasonable position in these matters. If you argue for particular answers to these questions, of course I challenge your reasoning, since I think we have no good reasons to believe in any particular answer. I’m not “demanding” you answer, but obviously I’m going to question why you think you can defend your position, right?

    To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, how is it that you know enough about what you don’t know to know that no one else could possibly know it?

    Precisely how many protons are in Alpha Centauri? Guess what? I’m sure I don’t know, and I’m sure you don’t know either! Poor Mr. Chesterton didn’t think that one through very well, did he?

    It is your certainty that I find, well, amusing. Especially given that your main point in this thread seems to be to question certainty, and your main strategy seems to be to rely on it utterly.

    Glad you’re amused, but I think it arises from your own persistent confusion. I’ve said over and over again that I think we are certain about all sorts of things. I have never said anything that challenges the existence of knowledge (justified true belief). I have been extremely clear in saying that there are some Big Questions (and I’ve listed them repeatedly) that we have no good reason to believe we’ve answered, and yes, I feel very certain about that.

    You really wish there was some logical error there, like that my certainty undermined my own conclusion. It’s just not the case. In fact, I’m certain that you don’t know all sorts of things:
    1) If Julius Caesar was alergic to cillantro
    2) How many quarters I currently have in my pockets
    3) Angelina Jolie’s social security number

    Now, how is it that I can be so sure you don’t know these things? How can I possibly be certain of your uncertainty regarding these matters? Isn’t that a logical contradiction or something? Uh, no. I’m just very, very certain that you don’t know these things. And I’m certain that you don’t know the answers to the Big Questions too.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  302. Hi StephenB,

    Once a philosophical discussion about causality is on the table, a First Cause cannot be avoided. It is always relevant to and necessary for the topic. If you have a phobia about the First Cause, then you might be more at peace by avoiding discussions of causality altogether.

    No phobia here, thanks. You? What are you afraid of?

    Anyway, philosophical discussions of causality are carried out all the time with no reference to a First Cause! There is a sizable scientific literature surrounding experiments in free will, for example, and none of it refers to a First Cause at all.

    So can we agree that you can reconcile libertarianism with causality, but only in a theological framework? I’m happy to agree with that.

    Who or what, in your judgment, is the cause of your actions?

    I am. I choose my actions and initiate them, and I think this is just an obvious fact.

    The critical question is, What causes me to choose my actions? Your answer is nothing, and my answer is the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.

    Why should people be held accountable for their actions if they are not the cause of those actions?

    Everyone is responsible for their own actions. I think I’ve said this about 100 times so far.

    RDF: You mischaracterize my position completely.
    SB: How could I mischaracterize your position? You have no position (except the position that you should have no position).

    I am certain regarding the fact that the Big Questions that I’ve enumerated have no certain answers. That isn’t that hard to understand, but you really want to pretend that I’m saying nobody can be certain about anything or something stupid like that. Please don’t pretend I’m stupid, it’s annoying.

    RDF: But nobody ought to be certain about why there is something rather than nothing, nor how the universe came to exist, nor how life came to exist on Earth, nor how brains are related to conscious minds, nor if mental causality is ontologically distinct, and so on.
    SB: Are you certain about that?

    Yes I am.

    Why is this so hard for you to understand? Please try and concentrate; here is what I am saying:

    1) There are innumerable things about which we can be certain

    2) Certainty is never absolute simply because epistemology is not solved. This is not controversial; it simply means that we can always question anything. That does NOT mean that we can’t be certain of things, it only means that certainty is a continuum rather than absolute. We can say that there are things that are so certain that all reasonable people ought to believe them.

    3) There is nothing contradictory about trying to assess how certain one is about something. We do it all the time. I am very certain about how many moons orbit Mars, and yet I’m positive that I have no idea where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. And there is nothing contradictory about me assessing your certainty, either.

    I am very certain that you don’t know any of these things:

    1) If Julius Caesar was alergic to cillantro
    2) How many quarters I currently have in my pockets
    3) Angelina Jolie’s social security number

    And I am equally convinced that you don’t know why there is something rather than nothing, or if mental causality is ontologically distinct, or any of several other Big Questions.

    Sorry, but your “You can’t be certain that I’m not certain” gimmick is just nonsense. I can be very certain of any number of things, just as you can, and one of the things I’m very certain about is that we have no good reason to think we understand any of these ancient conundrums.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  303. Hi Chance,

    However your “free choice” definition [ making a choice based on internal states] necessitates determinism, since the entity’s internal state will determine the output predictably and reliably.

    The internal states are only set deterministically if the universe is deterministic. Otherwise, the internal states can be changed non-deterministically.

    You need nondeterministic state switching in order to produce nondeterministic output.

    No, you don’t.

    In addition, the coin sorter does have an internal state, it’s just constant, and so unarguably deterministic.

    My definition says “internal states” (plural), but to clear up any confusion, I could add that unchanging structure does not constitute “states”.

    Another coin sorter with a different internal state will produce different, but constant, output. In other words, it seems that coin sorters can make free choices by your definition.

    No, each sorter lacks internal states, so it makes choices but not freely.

    In the interest of fair engagement, let me try some variations to your definitions:

    choice: a selection among multiple possibilities
    determined: necessary — neither impossible nor contingent
    free: not determined nor random

    Ok, those are fine.

    I suspect you might take issue with those, but I thought I’d take a stab at it anyway.

    I think they’re perfectly clear.

    The above definitions allow nondeterministic causes that are not random, which is something I found lacking in your definitions. I suspect that your issue would be that it begs the question to call human choices “free”, but that can be resolved by attributing no such qualifier to “choices”. Now the term choice can be qualified as either determined or free.

    Yes, exactly. You’re not begging any questions. Using your definitions, I would say this:

    1) humans, coin sorters, and computers make choices
    2) coin sorters and computers make determined choices
    3) nobody knows if there is any such a thing as a free choice (it can’t be demonstrated to exist)

    RDF: “You are assuming without warrant that “agency” refers to something beyond chance and necessity.”
    CR: I supplied the warrant.

    You have never done any such thing of course. What are you talking about? I’m saying that we can observe physical cause and effect, but we cannot observe mental cause and effect. How you intend to support your claim that mental causes are neither random nor determined? It’s just not possible.

    What is your warrant that they do not?

    I never claimed to have evidence that mental cause does not exist. I don’t know whether it does or not.

    On what evidentiary grounds can we infer that chance and necessity beget agency, or that agency is reducible to such?

    To be clear, you should use something like “conscious mind” instead of “agency”. Anyway, we do not have evidentiary grounds to infer that conscious minds are reducible to chance and necessity. We don’t know if they are or not.

    By the way, there’s nothing spooky about the term agency. You can take it for a synonym for human if you so choose.

    Actually the word really is pretty loaded with connotation. I suggest using “human” for “agent”, and “conscious mind” for “agency”.

    Well at least we know that the pronouncement “all pronouncements are uncertain” is uncertain.

    I never said anything like that, so this is just dopey.

    If you have no halting condition, then you can’t be reading the “same input” unless you’re just iterating over identical values. This is not the same thing.

    Of course it is exactly the same thing. Keep entering the same value (“4″) and observe that the output will be different each time.

    Run program X with input Y. Observe output.
    Run program X again with input Y. Observe output.
    If the program is deterministic, the output for both runs will be the same. (Pseudorandom number generator notwithstanding.)

    Do you think we reboot humans each time they make a choice???? Hello???? Human beings accumulate experience all through their lives – they don’t reset their internal state to some initial condition! Well, neither does my computer program – it just keeps running, and keeps giving different outputs when given the same input. Oh – and it’s only a few lines of code :-)

    If we should switch gears and talk about your “running forever” technicality, then it should be made clear that you’re taking a single stream of input continuously, and not a single stream of input multiple times from an initial state. You’re program needs to halt and restart in order to test for determinism. I supplied the definitions, but wiggle out of this if you can.

    What????? Do we have to halt human beings and restart them in order to test for determinism?

    You said a deterministic program will always give the same output for the same input. You didn’t say anything about halting the program or restarting it!!!

    we cannot equate a computer program with human behavior because they are fundamentally incomparable.

    They are radically different and incommensurable for sure. Whether there is an ontological distinction, nobody knows.

    If intelligent agents can be begotten by chance and necessity, or if their unique effects can be accounted for by chance and necessity, then we can credit chance and necessity with the whole shebang. It’s a twofer.

    Ah – ok I understand.

    Premise:
    For all X, if X is a computer, then X is the product of agency.
    RDF: You are assuming without warrant that “agency” refers to something beyond chance and necessity.
    No, I’m proposing that “agency” can produce computers, period. This is unassailable fact.

    Ah, ok – you mean (per your comment above) that human beings can produce computers – yes, quite right, we can.

    Here’s the part you left out:
    Falsification:
    There exists an X such that X is a computer and X is the verifiable result of chance and necessity.

    I don’t get it. You are saying that if the computer is caused by chance and necessity, then it can’t be caused by a human being. Again, you are simply assuming that human beings have some special kind of power that is not random and not determined. If X results from chance and necessity, that does not falsify the claim that it is the product of agency unless you are assuming your conclusion.

    Again, this is not impossible, it’s just not in evidence, nor is any principle which could establish the falsification. This constitutes the warrant: 100% of cases in evidence are verifiable products of intentional design. 0.0% of cases are available to call it into question.

    No, you really are missing the point. You are assuming that human beings are “agents” and that when “agents” do things they operate by means that are neither random nor determined. But that is just your assumption – nobody knows if that is true or not. In other words, nobody knows if chance, necessity, and agency are three different things. It could be that agency is nothing but chance and necessity at work.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  304. 306
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @305,

    “The internal states are only set deterministically if the universe is deterministic. Otherwise, the internal states can be changed non-deterministically.”

    Let me try and get to the crux of the issue, as I see it.

    boolean X = getX();

    if (X) {
      print(“True”);
    } else {
      print(“False”);
    }

    The above program is deterministic. That which occurs does so by necessity. This is analogous to other necessity conditions, such as the temperature at which water begins to freeze. If the sufficient temperature condition occurs, then the water will freeze. If X is true, “True” will be output. If X is not true, “False” will be output. This happens by necessity, like water freezing. However if getX() has a nondeterministic source, then the pattern of true and false outputs will be nondeterministic. This doesn’t change the fact that the program itself is deterministic. Inputs are mapped to outputs deterministically. Once the program is written and compiled, it will behave exactly the same way, outputting “True” if X is true and “False” otherwise.

    So I assert that programs which do not incorporate true random number generation are deterministic. I don’t think this is controversial. The question now shifts to whether any nondeterministic inputs exist. For the sake of argument, and to avoid any possible question begging, we should exclude biological phenomena. That being the case, do any nondeterministic events exist from the big bang onward? Is there anything in the laws of physics that is truly nondeterministic? Perhaps. Quantum events may be truly random. So at best we can have nondeterministic input which is not “free” as per my definition. Since no “free” inputs exist, no “choice” that a computer makes can be free. Given all this, the inputs can be no more than the product of chance and necessity; and since the input is filtered through the program, which is itself deterministic, the output can be no more than the product of chance and necessity.

    Here are the definitions again:

    choice: a selection among multiple possibilities
    determined: necessary — neither impossible nor contingent
    free: not determined nor random

    I suspect you might take issue with those, but I thought I’d take a stab at it anyway.

    I think they’re perfectly clear.

    Thank you, that’s appreciated.

    You need nondeterministic state switching in order to produce nondeterministic output.

    No, you don’t.

    I think this was addressed above. The variable X represents state. If it’s input is deterministic, so is the program’s output.

    In addition, the coin sorter does have an internal state, it’s just constant, and so unarguably deterministic.

    My definition says “internal states” (plural), but to clear up any confusion, I could add that unchanging structure does not constitute “states”.

    But why bother? A coin sorter has a single, constant state. This is analogous to the following program:

    constant boolean X = True;
    print(X);

    Constant state is still state.

    “1) humans, coin sorters, and computers make choices
    2) coin sorters and computers make determined choices
    3) nobody knows if there is any such a thing as a free choice (it can’t be demonstrated to exist)”

    OK I think this is progress at least. And it may be that we won’t resolve #3, at least with apodictic certainty. However we may have some warrant to reasonably infer that humans make free choices. I’ll revisit this.

    “To be clear, you should use something like “conscious mind” instead of “agency”.”

    I think the term agency is acceptable, philosophical terminology.

    According to Wikipedia,

    “In philosophy and sociology, agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world.”

    “How you intend to support your claim that mental causes are neither random nor determined? It’s just not possible.”

    I think this is an important point. I agree that it may not be possible to prove that mental causes are free. However I think it can be supported by the evidence. More later.

    Run program X with input Y. Observe output.
    Run program X again with input Y. Observe output.
    If the program is deterministic, the output for both runs will be the same. (Pseudorandom number generator notwithstanding.)

    Do you think we reboot humans each time they make a choice???? Hello???? Human beings accumulate experience all through their lives – they don’t reset their internal state to some initial condition! Well, neither does my computer program – it just keeps running, and keeps giving different outputs when given the same input. Oh – and it’s only a few lines of code :)

    I think you’re failing to connect the dots here. My example was for computer programs. If a computer program runs from state zero on the same input, it will produce the same output. Never mind humans for a moment. Your program is still deterministic on this condition, which is the only criteria available for evaluation. If the input is constant, so will the output be, from the starting state. Each time your program is run on the same input, it will produce the same output.

    If we should switch gears and talk about your “running forever” technicality, then it should be made clear that you’re taking a single stream of input continuously, and not a single stream of input multiple times from an initial state. You’re program needs to halt and restart in order to test for determinism. I supplied the definitions, but wiggle out of this if you can.

    What????? Do we have to halt human beings and restart them in order to test for determinism?

    Again I think you’re missing the point. Never mind humans for a moment. The point has been made that your program is deterministic, since its output will be the same when executed multiple times from state zero on constant input.

    My point about humans was exactly this: they cannot be rebooted to an initial starting state, so we cannot use this same criteria for evaluating whether human behavior is deterministic. For this reason alone we cannot evaluate computer systems on the same basis that we evaluate human behavior.

    “You said a deterministic program will always give the same output for the same input. You didn’t say anything about halting the program or restarting it!!!”

    If you have another way to evaluate whether a program is deterministic, please lay it out plainly. If your program has the same output on identical input, from the initial starting state, then it is deterministic.

    we cannot equate a computer program with human behavior because they are fundamentally incomparable.

    They are radically different and incommensurable for sure. Whether there is an ontological distinction, nobody knows.

    No, we can’t be absolutely certain about it, just as we cannot be absolutely certain that the sun will rise tomorrow as it always has, but I think it’s more reasonable than the alternative.

    Here’s the part you left out:
    Falsification:
    There exists an X such that X is a computer and X is the verifiable result of chance and necessity.

    I don’t get it. You are saying that if the computer is caused by chance and necessity, then it can’t be caused by a human being. Again, you are simply assuming that human beings have some special kind of power that is not random and not determined. If X results from chance and necessity, that does not falsify the claim that it is the product of agency unless you are assuming your conclusion.

    Not exactly, although the confusion is understandable. I had to think through it again carefully, but I don’t think there’s a logical problem. Falsifying the premise falsifies the universal claim, that any instance of a computer implies agency. To find a computer that was not the result of a deliberate intelligent act would just mean that not all computers are produced by agents; it would not mean that no computer was.

    But closer to the point, here’s your objection: “Again, you are simply assuming that human beings have some special kind of power that is not random and not determined.”

    I’m certainly concluding that humans have a special kind of power. I’m not just assuming it. I think that this inference is warranted by observation — by uniform and repeated experience. We have numerous instances of technology being produced by humans, and no instances of technology being produced by chance and necessity. This constitutes a reliable warrant that humans can cause technology, and that material processes cannot. This warrant can be nullified by either a) demonstrating that chance and necessity can produce technology; or b) demonstrating that chance and necessity can produce humans.

    Again, I cannot prove this to be so, but it is supported by direct observation — by evidence taken in the context of uniform and repeated experience.

    That being the case, we have warrant to presume that humans can do things which material processes cannot. All that’s needed to nullify the warrant is evidence to the contrary.

    Again, this is not impossible, it’s just not in evidence, nor is any principle which could establish the falsification. This constitutes the warrant: 100% of cases in evidence are verifiable products of intentional design. 0.0% of cases are available to call it into question.

    No, you really are missing the point. You are assuming that human beings are “agents” and that when “agents” do things they operate by means that are neither random nor determined. But that is just your assumption – nobody knows if that is true or not. In other words, nobody knows if chance, necessity, and agency are three different things. It could be that agency is nothing but chance and necessity at work.

    When “agents” do things that cannot be accounted for by chance and necessity, they are performing a unique causal action. All that is needed to refute this warrant is to produce evidence to the contrary. Recall my definition of free: neither determined nor random. This equates to: neither necessity nor chance. If I have established warrant that humans can do things that neither chance nor necessity can accomplish, then by implication we have warrant to reasonably conclude that humans make free choices. Remember, this isn’t formal proof, it’s evidentiary proof. In other words, I think it constitutes sufficient evidence.

    I’m certain that our disagreement will not end there. But I think I have shown that by my definition of free, computers do not make free choices. I think I’ve also shown that it’s more reasonable to conclude that humans do make free choices, than that they do not.

    My apologies for the length of this post. I wanted to try and be thorough and address most of your major objections.

  305. RDFish

    No phobia here, thanks. You? What are you afraid of?

    If you are not afraid of a First Cause, then you should not bristle when the subject is broached in a relevant context.

    So can we agree that you can reconcile libertarianism with causality, but only in a theological framework? I’m happy to agree with that.

    A first cause is not a theological concept, it is a philosophical concept. However, I am not surprised that you would, once again, try to obfuscate the matter with word manipulation.

    “Who or what, in your judgment, is the cause of your actions?”

    I am. I choose my actions and initiate them, and I think this is just an obvious fact.

    The critical question is, What causes me to choose my actions? Your answer is nothing, and my answer is the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.

    If your experiences are the cause of you exercising you volitional capacities, then you are not the cause, your experiences are. If you are simply the effect of your experiences, then you cannot be the ultimate cause of your actions. Either your experiences are driving the train or you are driving the train. Which is it?

    Everyone is responsible for their own actions. I think I’ve said this about 100 times so far.

    Yes, but you have provided no rational justification given your view that the sum total of your experiences is driving the process. The question is, how can you change the direction of the sum total your experiences if your experiences are the cause of you and your actions?

    Please don’t pretend I’m stupid, it’s annoying.

    Well, being stupid is not exactly the same thing as being irrational. As a general rule, people do not have too much say about their intelligence. They either have the gift or they don’t. Rationality is a choice. You have chosen to be irrational by denying reason’s rules.

    2) Certainty is never absolute simply because epistemology is not solved. This is not controversial;

    Does this mean that, contrary to your earlier claim that you are certain about the Law of Non-Contradiction, you are now going to withhold judgment on the matter until the problem of epistemology is solved?

    it simply means that we can always question anything.> That does NOT mean that we can’t be certain of things, it only means that certainty is a continuum rather than absolute. We can say that there are things that are so certain that all reasonable people ought to believe them.

    That is exactly what I have been telling you for two weeks and a point that you have been resisting mightily. The Law of Non-Contradiction and the Law of Causality are so certain that no reasonable person would refuse to accept them. The findings of science are only relatively certain. They might be refuted tomorrow. All empirical knowledge is like that. Most things are like that. Self-evident truths ARE NOT LIKE THAT.

    3) There is nothing contradictory about trying to assess how certain one is about something. We do it all the time.

    OF course. So do I.

    I am very certain about how many moons orbit Mars, and yet I’m positive that I have no idea where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. And there is nothing contradictory about me assessing your certainty, either.

    The problem is that you do not place the right items at the high end of the continuum. The Rules of right reason belong at the top. The number of moons that orbit a planet ranks high, but not at the very top. That information is provisional, and changeable, the rules of right reason are not.

    I am very certain that you don’t know any of these things:

    1) If Julius Caesar was alergic to cillantro
    2) How many quarters I currently have in my pockets
    3) Angelina Jolie’s social security number

    I am certain that I don’t know them either. Give your strawman a vacation.

    And I am equally convinced that you don’t know why there is something rather than nothing, or if mental causality is ontologically distinct, or any of several other Big Questions.

    Those examples are irrelevant to the Rules of right reason. With respect to the Law of Causality, I am absolutely certain that an effect cannot contain more than its cause. To be more precise, I am absolutely certain that you cannot get a two by four piece of wood from a splinter. With respect to the Law that the whole can never be less than any one of its constituent parts, I am absolutely certain that the city of Detroit can never have more people than the entire state of Michigan. I have absolute 100% ontological certitude on these matters. If you would be honest with yourself and with me, you would admit that you also have that same degree of certainty on these self-evident truths. If you cannot bring yourself to that point, then you are not a rational person.

    I’m very certain about is that we have no good reason to think we understand any of these ancient conundrums.

    And I am very certain that I just refuted you with two self-evident truths that cannot be rationally disavowed.

  306. 308
    Chance Ratcliff

    Stephen @307,

    “With respect to the Law of Causality, I am absolutely certain that an effect cannot contain more than its cause. To be more precise, I am absolutely certain that you cannot get a two by four piece of wood from a splinter. With respect to the Law that the whole can never be less than any one of its constituent parts, I am absolutely certain that the city of Detroit can never have more people than the entire state of Michigan. I have absolute 100% ontological certitude on these matters.”

    Thanks, that was helpful to me with regard to self-evident truths.

  307. RDF:

    2) Certainty is never absolute simply because epistemology is not solved. This is not controversial; it simply means that we can always question anything. That does NOT mean that we can’t be certain of things, it only means that certainty is a continuum rather than absolute.

    Are you ABSOLUTELY sure of that, or only relatively sure?

    (In short, self referential incoherence.)

    I would suggest to you that the same things you keep on refusing to examine on excuses, would help you fix a lot of basic blunders.

    Royce’s error exists is actually undeniably and absolutely true. Not just by universal consensus — starting with the first math class with all those red X’s — but by the implications of attempted denial. To try to deny in the context where we have both E and NOT-E, implies instantiation of E. Self-evident truth, certain, absolutely certain knowledge, and a case where our experience of the world and our perceptions speak truly.

    Schemes of thought that deny such therefore are in error.

    But at the same time, E means we must be aware of our limits. yes, many kinds of knowledge claim are weak form: warranted, credibly true. Not all, some are plain out justified and true beliefs.

    IT would help if you were to drop excuses or accusations and simply read.

    Not that at this stage, on sad track record, I expect you to be willing to climb down off that high horse.

    KF

  308. SB: I would only add as a clarification that finite wholes and parts are implied in the discussion; the usual case. KF

  309. RDF: That makes at least three self evident truths you need to face. KF

  310. Chance @ 308, thank you for commenting. I am pleased to know that my examples resonate with you.

  311. kairosfocus @310. I like your clarification. Thank you.

  312. Certainty is never absolute

    I’m sending that one to snorg tees. http://www.snorgtees.com/

  313. Hi Chance,

    The above program is deterministic….However if getX() has a nondeterministic source, then the pattern of true and false outputs will be nondeterministic. This doesn’t change the fact that the program itself is deterministic. Inputs are mapped to outputs deterministically. Once the program is written and compiled, it will behave exactly the same way, outputting “True” if X is true and “False” otherwise.

    In your example, yes. However we’ve already established that programs can rewrite themselves, and they can do so differently depending on input. Therefore, if the input is nondeterministic, the program itself can change nondeterministically.

    So I assert that programs which do not incorporate true random number generation are deterministic.

    Forget randomness. If input is nondeterministic, the program can change nondeterministically. Really.

    I don’t think this is controversial.

    It’s not controversial. You are mistaken about this, and I’m right.

    The question now shifts to whether any nondeterministic inputs exist. For the sake of argument, and to avoid any possible question begging, we should exclude biological phenomena. That being the case, do any nondeterministic events exist from the big bang onward?…So at best we can have nondeterministic input which is not “free” as per my definition.

    You have just said that aside from biological systems, there is no such thing as a process that is neither random nor determined. OK.

    Since no “free” inputs exist, no “choice” that a computer makes can be free.

    Given your definitions, this is true, yes.

    Given all this, the inputs can be no more than the product of chance and necessity; and since the input is filtered through the program, which is itself deterministic, the output can be no more than the product of chance and necessity.

    Yes.

    RDF: My definition says “internal states” (plural), but to clear up any confusion, I could add that unchanging structure does not constitute “states”.
    CR: But why bother?

    Because my definitions said that systems that make choices based on internal states (plural) are said to make free choices. A system that cannot change state cannot make free choices in my terminology.

    However we may have some warrant to reasonably infer that humans make free choices. I’ll revisit this.

    People have been revisiting this for a few thousand years now, and nobody has come up with a way to resolve it. But good luck with it!

    RDF: To be clear, you should use something like “conscious mind” instead of “agency”.”
    CF: I think the term agency is acceptable, philosophical terminology.

    The question is not whether it is “acceptable” – it is whether it is well-defined. We all know (from subjective experience) what a conscious mind is. “Agency” can mean different things, however.

    According to Wikipedia,
    “In philosophy and sociology, agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world.”

    From the very same Wiki article:

    Agency may either be classified as unconscious, involuntary behavior, or purposeful, goal directed activity (intentional action).

    This is only one of many possible variations on the notion of agency. If you want to use the term that’s fine, but you’ll need to define it in order to enable us to discuss it without talking past each other.

    If a computer program runs from state zero on the same input, it will produce the same output.

    Yes.

    Your program is still deterministic on this condition, which is the only criteria available for evaluation.

    Why? If you just let it run, the program is still deterministic, but it produces different output given the same input.

    RDF: You said a deterministic program will always give the same output for the same input. You didn’t say anything about halting the program or restarting it!!!
    CR: If you have another way to evaluate whether a program is deterministic, please lay it out plainly. If your program has the same output on identical input, from the initial starting state, then it is deterministic.

    I really don’t understand what the point is here. I’ve argued that (1) computer programs can produce different output given the same input, even without randomizers, and that (2) programs can be rewritten dynamically based on different input, and that (3) if the input is non-deterministic, then the program can be non-deterministic, again without random number generation. In any event, here is what is true with regard to human thought vs. computer thought:

    1) Humans are conscious, and computers are certainly not
    2) Computers can outperform humans in some areas of mental ability, but there really is no comparison between machine intelligence and human intelligence
    3) Even though computers operate stricly according to deterministic causality, the output of programs can be indetermistic depending upon what input is received
    3) It might be that human minds operate strictly according to deterministic causality, or it might be that humans have a special sort of causation (viz. mental causation). Nobody knows the answer to this.

    RDF: we cannot equate a computer program with human behavior because they are fundamentally incomparable.They are radically different and incommensurable for sure. Whether there is an ontological distinction, nobody knows.
    CF: No, we can’t be absolutely certain about it, just as we cannot be absolutely certain that the sun will rise tomorrow as it always has, but I think it’s more reasonable than the alternative.

    No, no, no. There is not one single shred of evidence that any process in the universe, including those that occur in the brains of human beings, operates neither deterministically nor randomly. In contrast, there is a gigantic body of evidence that suggests the sun will rise tomorrow.

    Falsifying the premise falsifies the universal claim, that any instance of a computer implies agency.

    What do you mean by “agency”?

    I’m certainly concluding that humans have a special kind of power. I’m not just assuming it. I think that this inference is warranted by observation — by uniform and repeated experience.

    No, you are just assuming it, even though you think you are inferring it.

    We have numerous instances of technology being produced by humans, and no instances of technology being produced by chance and necessity.

    No, you’ve just done it again: You have assumed, and not inferred, that “being produced by a human” is not the same as “being produced by chance and necessity”. Do you understand this point?

    This constitutes a reliable warrant that humans can cause technology, and that material processes cannot.

    And you have once again assumed your conclusion. How do you know that humans are not material?

    This warrant can be nullified by either a) demonstrating that chance and necessity can produce technology; or b) demonstrating that chance and necessity can produce humans.

    All of this is irrelevant, because you first need to demonstrate that humans do not operate according to chance and necessity.

    When “agents” do things that cannot be accounted for by chance and necessity, they are performing a unique causal action.

    Nobody knows if anything can do anything that cannot be accounted for by chance and necessity. When we play chess, or design a car, or write a poem, it might be due to nothing but our neurons firing in our brains according to fixed law.

    Recall my definition of free: neither determined nor random. This equates to: neither necessity nor chance.

    Right. We have no evidence at all that anything in the uninverse is “free” according to your definition.

    Remember, this isn’t formal proof, it’s evidentiary proof. In other words, I think it constitutes sufficient evidence.

    You have no evidence whatsoever that human beings do not operate according to chance and necessity. I hope by now you get the idea :-)

    But I think I have shown that by my definition of free, computers do not make free choices.

    ???? Of course by your definition computers do not make free choices! That is perfectly obvious! Computers act deterministically (even though the output of programs may be indeterministic).

    I think I’ve also shown that it’s more reasonable to conclude that humans do make free choices, than that they do not.

    What you are trying to justify is called libertarian free will. There is no evidence whatsoever that libertarian free will is true. There is no evidence that anything happens anywhere except according to chance and necessity. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t – it just means we do not know.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  314. Hi StephenB,

    If you are not afraid of a First Cause, then you should not bristle when the subject is broached in a relevant context.

    Please show me the part where I bristled, Stephen – you’ll see you are mistaken.

    A first cause is not a theological concept, it is a philosophical concept. However, I am not surprised that you would, once again, try to obfuscate the matter with word manipulation.

    You are such an angry guy! Always accusing me of lying or obfuscating or hiding something or some other bad behavior. Can’t you just debate these things without getting all huffy and aggressive? What are you so angry about?

    A “first cause” is certainly a theological concept, but obviously all theological concepts are also philosophical. In any event, for the third time I’m going to suggest we agree to disagree about the conflict between libertarianism and causality. You think that by introducing God into the topic you can eliminate the contradiction. I disagree.

    RDF: What causes me to choose my actions? Your answer is nothing, and my answer is the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.
    SB: If your experiences are the cause of you exercising you volitional capacities,…

    Ok, here’s a little test.
    Q: What did I say causes my choices?
    A: I said the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics
    Q: What did you pretend that I said?
    A: You pretended that I said my experiences.
    Will you ever stop changing what I say? You’ve done this like ten times now.

    Now, actually look at what I’m saying instead of pretending I’m saying something else:

    My inherent characteristics – what I was born with, my senses, my reasoning faculties, my body… everything that I am… that is me. What causes my actions? The totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.

    If you are simply the effect of your experiences, then you cannot be the ultimate cause of your actions. Either your experiences are driving the train or you are driving the train. Which is it?

    I am driving the train. I am the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.

    Yes, but you have provided no rational justification given your view that the sum total of your experiences is driving the process.

    Ok, let’s try to clear this up and at least clarify exactly what we disagree on.

    First, here is my position:

    1) What causes my actions? I do.
    2) Who is responsible for my actions? I am.
    3) What do I mean by “I”? I mean “the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.”

    Now, what is your position? I’ve filled in the first two for you:
    1) What causes my actions? I do.
    2) Who is responsible for my actions? I am.
    3) What do I mean by “I”? I mean ____________________________________. (please fill this in)

    That is what we disagree about, pure and simple.

    The question is, how can you change the direction of the sum total your experiences if your experiences are the cause of you and your actions?

    Because if you hadn’t changed what I said, you’d know that your experiences are not the cause of you and your actions.

    RDF: 2) Certainty is never absolute simply because epistemology is not solved. This is not controversial;
    SB: Does this mean that, contrary to your earlier claim that you are certain about the Law of Non-Contradiction, you are now going to withhold judgment on the matter until the problem of epistemology is solved?

    And once again, you can’t seem to argue against what I actually say, and so you pretend that I say something else which is stupid, so you can pretend that you have caught me in some error. That is a waste of time, and it is irritating, and it makes you look desperate to score some sort of points here.

    As any fair reader of our posts can tell, I have never said we need to withold any judgements until the problem of epistemology is solved, much less a judgement about a principle of formal logic! In fact, I have said the opposite, over and over and over again. In my very last post I said There are innumerable things about which we can be certain and I also said That does NOT mean that we can’t be certain of things! How much more clear can I make it? This is actually pathetic.

    That is exactly what I have been telling you for two weeks and a point that you have been resisting mightily. The Law of Non-Contradiction and the Law of Causality are so certain that no reasonable person would refuse to accept them. The findings of science are only relatively certain. They might be refuted tomorrow. All empirical knowledge is like that. Most things are like that.

    Breathe… deeply… relax… it’s only an internet debate… no reason to get angry…

    Ok, I’m better now. Steven, I have been telling you that for two weeks. It’s too late and these threads are too long to go look for our quotes, but I have said dozens of times that no reasonable person (and certainly never me) ever doubts laws of logic, and that empirical facts are provisional.

    Self-evident truths ARE NOT LIKE THAT.

    Yes, self-evident truths are exactly like that. No reasonable person would deny them, even though we cannot ground them in empirical evidence.

    The Rules of right reason belong at the top. The number of moons that orbit a planet ranks high, but not at the very top. That information is provisional, and changeable, the rules of right reason are not.

    I’ve never disagreed with that! Not just your “rules of right reason” but all of logico-mathematical reasoning is epistemologically privileged. But that does not mean we can say even these things are absolutely certain for precisely the reason I said: We can always question everything. Maybe we have both been drugged by evil demons and our minds are deluded and we think the LNC is self-evident when it really isn’t! We can always question everything. Too bad, and I know you hate it, but it’s true. Reasonable people like us do not indulge in this sort of hyper-skepticism, but that is why nothing is 100% absolute in epistemology.

    SB: I am certain that I don’t know them either. Give your strawman a vacation.
    RDF: And I am equally convinced that you don’t know why there is something rather than nothing, or if mental causality is ontologically distinct, or any of several other Big Questions.
    SB: Those examples are irrelevant to the Rules of right reason.

    Talk about strawman arguments! Unbelievable! I am very, very clearly arguing that you do not know the answer to the questions I listed, and you turn around and pretend that I’m telling you that you don’t know the Rules of Right Reason! What is wrong with you?

    I am certain that you do not know the answer to these Big Questions:
    1) Why is there something rather than nothing?
    2) How did life come to exist on Earth?
    3) What is the nature of mind and its relationship to the brain?
    4) Is mental causality ontologically distinct?

    Don’t change the subject and start talking about logic rules. I’m talking about the fact that I am certain that neither you nor anyone else knows the answers to the questions I just listed.

    RDF: I’m very certain about is that we have no good reason to think we understand any of these ancient conundrums.
    SB: And I am very certain that I just refuted you with two self-evident truths that cannot be rationally disavowed.

    One last time: I said I was certain you don’t know the answers to the Big Questions. You changed the subject to talk about self-evident truths of logic.

    You can’t win a debate by beating straw men, Stephen. Please respond to what I’m actually saying.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  315. Re RDF:

    you really are missing the point. You are assuming that human beings are “agents” and that when “agents” do things they operate by means that are neither random nor determined. But that is just your assumption – nobody knows if that is true or not. In other words, nobody knows if chance, necessity, and agency are three different things.

    Really, after experiencing yourself as an agent for decades?

    (In short, this is self referentially incoherent.)

    Also, as already pointed out but as usual ignored, mechanical necessity produces natural regularity. So it has a clear defining characteristic similar to F = m*a.

    Second, chance shows itself by stochastically distributed patterns, i.e. the familiar statistical scatter.

    Combining the two, we get a spectrum, from scatter on a strong tend, to trend in a broad scatter.

    Now, introduce what RDF et al are loathe to acknowledge as real: FSCO/I, including especially dFSCI.

    Where, the above clip is a case in point — self referential again. Indeed, in the above, we have 339 ASCII characters, which come from a space of 2.21 * 10^714 possibilities.

    Across the credible lifespan of the observed cosmos and using its atomic resources running at chemical rxn speed, the needle in haystack blind search on chance and/or necessity, would with all but absolute certainty, not be able to find anything but straw with a 1-straw sized sample, with such a haystack superposed on our cosmos. That is because the vastly overwhelming bulk would be straw, not anything else.

    In short, one of the uses of the explanatory filter that RDF et al so despise and dismiss, is to help us understand the difference between what blind natural forces and intelligent design are capable of. But, ideological blindness does just that: it blinds.

    In short, we see here a case of — despite already being corrected and having access to corrective resources — willful clinging to absurdity.

    RDF is inadvertently making himself into a poster child.

    KF

    PS: RDF, if you are in a hole and need to climb out, stop digging in further.

  316. RDF: Stephen is exactly on target. Your twist about attempt to project a strawman fallacy fails. With one hand you put the principles of sound reasoning on the table, then you proceed with the other hand to take them off again, predictably. If such a sleight of hand is not spotted for what it is, incoherence, it will confuse the naive onlooker. SB has spotted it, as have others. KF

  317. F/N: Just to see what happens, consider how RDF handles self evident truths on being confronted with no less than three that are absolutely certain and undeniable on pain of immediate incoherence and absurdity:

    STEP 1, 316 above, but of course I affirm such: >> In my very last post I said There are innumerable things about which we can be certain and I also said That does NOT mean that we can’t be certain of things! How much more clear can I make it? >>

    But the trick is that he has question-beggingly redefined “certainty” in a subjectivist frame, so a little later we see step 2:

    STEP 2, the other show drops: >> self-evident truths are exactly like that. No reasonable person would deny them, even though we cannot ground them in empirical evidence . . . all of logico-mathematical reasoning is epistemologically privileged. But that does not mean we can say even these things are absolutely certain for precisely the reason I said: We can always question everything. Maybe we have both been drugged by evil demons and our minds are deluded and we think the LNC is self-evident when it really isn’t! We can always question everything. Too bad, and I know you hate it, but it’s true. Reasonable people like us do not indulge in this sort of hyper-skepticism, but that is why nothing is 100% absolute in epistemology. >>

    Notice, he has in hands as one of the self evident truth, one that directly responds to the brains in vats, Plato’s cave etc worlds. Royce’s Error exists.

    This is not just true by consent of our experience (which BTW we always bring to the table, so to suggest that self evident truths have no empirical context is itself a game, a suggestion that they are a synonym for things true by definition, which is NOT the case), but the attempt to deny it leads immediately to an instantiation of its truth. Say, call the proposition E, then E can be inverted NOT-E. Put the two together, E AND not-E, that combination MUST be false so it is a case of the truth of E.

    And, what does RDF suggest by way of objection, well we could be deluded. Which would be, a case of E being true.

    See what happens when someone plays around, snipping, ignoring context and sniping, twisting and side-slipping, snidely accusing those who patiently have corrected him. And BTW, RDF, you have yet to apologise for falsely accusing me of greed in suggesting to you that you go to a summary on first principles.

    KF

  318. Certainty is never absolute.

    Isn’t “never” an absolute?

    In other words, nobody knows if chance, necessity, and agency are three different things.

    Isn’t “nobody” an absolute?

    all theological concepts are also philosophicaL

    Isn’t “all” an absolute?

    No reasonable person would deny them

    Isn’t “No resonable person” an absolute?

    Everyone is responsible for their own actions.

    Isn’t “Everyone” an absolute?

    You cannot use rules of logic to determine that the sentence is meaningless!

    Isn’t “cannot” an absolute?

  319. 321
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @315,

    “In your example, yes. However we’ve already established that programs can rewrite themselves, and they can do so differently depending on input. Therefore, if the input is nondeterministic, the program itself can change nondeterministically.”

    What do you mean by nondeterminstically: freely or randomly?

    choice: a selection from among multiple options.
    determined: necessary — neither impossible nor contingent.
    free: neither determined nor random.

  320. 322
    Chance Ratcliff
    I don’t think this is controversial.

    It’s not controversial. You are mistaken about this, and I’m right.

    Please explain how your program is nondeterministic, and how we can test this if it never terminates and runs a second time on the same input.

  321. 323
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @315,

    “Of course by your definition computers do not make free choices! That is perfectly obvious!”

    Great! Contra your assertion at #211 and #218, it’s perfectly obvious that computers do not make free choices.

  322. RDFish

    *—I am [responsible for my actions]. I choose my actions and initiate them, and I think this is just an obvious fact.

    The critical question is, What causes me to choose my actions? Your answer is nothing, and my answer is the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.

    *—What causes my actions? I do

    Who is responsible for my actions? I am

    What do I mean by I. I mean the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics

    Your second formulation seems to contradict the first formulation.

    In the first formulation you indicate that you and your choices ARE CAUSED BY the totality of your experiences acting upon your inherent characteristics.

    IN the second formulation, you say that you ARE the totality of your experiences acting upon your inherent characteristics.

    I am certain that you do not know the answer to these Big Questions:
    1) Why is there something rather than nothing?
    2) How did life come to exist on Earth?
    3) What is the nature of mind and its relationship to the brain?
    4) Is mental causality ontologically distinct?

    Why did you bring these subjects up? I have said nothing about them and they are not relevant to the discussion, so there is no reason to introduce them. As I say, stop looking for strawmen.

    A “first cause” is certainly a theological concept, but obviously all theological concepts are also philosophical. In any event, for the third time I’m going to suggest we agree to disagree about the conflict between libertarianism and causality. You think that by introducing God into the topic you can eliminate the contradiction. I disagree.

    You asked about antecedent causes, I identified them, and now you wonder why I “introduced” the topic. Maybe that works for you, but it doesn’t work for me.

    I’ve never disagreed with that! Not just your “rules of right reason” but all of logico-mathematical reasoning is epistemologically privileged.

    Among other things, you have challenged the Law of Causality and you equivocate on the Law of Non-contradiction.

    But that does not mean we can say even these things are absolutely certain for precisely the reason I said: We can always question everything. Maybe we have both been drugged by evil demons and our minds are deluded and we think the LNC is self-evident when it really isn’t! We can always question everything. Too bad, and I know you hate it, but it’s true. Reasonable people like us do not indulge in this sort of hyper-skepticism, but that is why nothing is 100% absolute in epistemology.

    In a way, I am sympathetic with your feelings even if not your position because I know that you have been steeped in an anti-intellectual culture and possibly a postmodernist academy. Perhaps my directness offends you, but lets’ face it, we have been dancing for two weeks. There comes a time when we have to put diplomacy aside and call things by their right name. The above paragraph is an equivocation, plain and simple.

  323. 325
    Chance Ratcliff

    “What do you mean by “agency”?”

    Agency

    “In philosophy and sociology, agency is the capacity of an agent (a person or other entity, human or any living being in general, or soul-consciousness in religion) to act in a world.”

    “Agency may either be classified as unconscious, involuntary behavior, or purposeful, goal directed activity (intentional action). An agent typically has some sort of immediate awareness of his physical activity and the goals that the activity is aimed at realizing. In ‘goal directed action’ an agent implements a kind of direct control or guidance over their own behavior.”

    I see why you are confused. When I said that computers are the result of intelligent agency, you thought I might be referring to unconscious, involuntary behavior rather than purposeful, goal-directed activity (intentional action). I didn’t mean to be so ambiguous.

  324. 326
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @315,

    So I assert that programs which do not incorporate true random number generation are deterministic.

    Forget randomness. If input is nondeterministic, the program can change nondeterministically. Really.

    What sot of non-random nondeterminism are you advocating?

  325. Hi WJM,

    WJM: Isn’t “never” an absolute?

    Take the most self-evident truth you can imagine – the LoC or modus ponens or the Peano axioms or anything else. Anyone can question any of these in any number of ways, including one way that is currently employed in a popular argument against naturalism: We cannot absolutely prove that our own minds are reliable. (Perhaps you’ve read Plantinga?)

    Well, it is true that nobody can prove that they are not deluded, because if one was sufficiently deluded, they would not be able to recognize their delusions, and this alone is sufficient to argue that nothing is immune to doubt. You might also be the only conscious being in existence, or even hallucinating all of reality, and you have no way of absolutely proving that this is not the case.

    Descartes famously travelled this path to hyper-skepticism, and sought to return by building the rest of his beliefs upon the undeniable fact of his own phenomenology. Philosophers have never managed to ground all of our beliefs merely on cogito, however, so we decide that there is a point where reasonable people simply must stop questioning self-evident truths, lest we become utterly paralyzed in our thoughts. As I’ve emphasized here many times, reasonable people can and do achieve certainty about any number of things – both self-evident truths and empirically-based truths – and so we all consider knowledge to be possible, even though our justifications can never be logically absolute.

    I hope this helps you understand the limits of knowledge and justification. If you’d like to know more, I would recommend reading a general introduction to epistemology.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  326. Hi Chance,

    RDF: Therefore, if the input is nondeterministic, the program itself can change nondeterministically
    CR: What do you mean by nondeterminstically: freely or randomly?

    I mean “not deterministically”. Whatever form of nondeterminism exists in the universe can result in nondeterminism in the program. It might be that everything is determined, and neither pure randomness nor “free agency” is possible – nobody knows.

    Please explain how your program is nondeterministic,…

    Just did!

    …and how we can test this if it never terminates and runs a second time on the same input.

    Where do you get this requirement from?

    RDF: Of course by your definition computers do not make free choices! That is perfectly obvious!
    CR: Great! Contra your assertion at #211 and #218, it’s perfectly obvious that computers do not make free choices.

    Hahahahaha – ooh, you’d just love to catch me contradicting myself! Too bad, you forgot about the part where I say Of course by your definition. Hahahahaha. As you can see, in 211 and 218 I was using my definitions. Better luck next time :-)

    My definition of “free choice” was making a choice based on internal states, and obviously computers make free choices according to that definition.

    Your definition of “free choice” is “neither random nor determined”, and obviously computers do not make free choices according to that definition.

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  327. Hi StephenB,

    RDF:
    *—I am [responsible for my actions]. I choose my actions and initiate them, and I think this is just an obvious fact.
    The critical question is, What causes me to choose my actions? Your answer is nothing, and my answer is the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.

    *—What causes my actions? I do
    Who is responsible for my actions? I am
    What do I mean by I. I mean the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics
    SB: Your second formulation seems to contradict the first formulation.
    In the first formulation you indicate that you and your choices ARE CAUSED BY the totality of your experiences acting upon your inherent characteristics.

    Let T = “the totality of my experience acting upon inherent characteristics”
    Let C = “the cause of my actions”
    Let I = “me, my self”

    In my first formulation, I assert that C = T

    IN the second formulation, you say that you ARE the totality of your experiences acting upon your inherent characteristics.

    In my second formulation, I assert that C = I, and furthermore that I = T

    If C = I and I = T then by transitivity C = T, which is the assertion in my first formulation. So no, there is no contradiction.

    I am certain that you do not know the answer to these Big Questions:
    1) Why is there something rather than nothing?
    2) How did life come to exist on Earth?
    3) What is the nature of mind and its relationship to the brain?
    4) Is mental causality ontologically distinct?

    Why did you bring these subjects up? I have said nothing about them and they are not relevant to the discussion, so there is no reason to introduce them. As I say, stop looking for strawmen.

    Honestly it’s too difficult to start searching this thread for how these long discussions get started, and perhaps it was Phinehas or Chance who challenged the validity (and even the coherence) of my assertion that I was certain these Big Questions had no certain answers. My sincere apologies if this does not reflect your position; I will assume you agree with me that none of these questions currently have certain answers.

    Among other things, you have challenged the Law of Causality and you equivocate on the Law of Non-contradiction.

    No, now you are mistaken again – I’ve said quite the opposite about a hundred times (that no reasonable person can doubt these rules).

    In a way, I am sympathetic with your feelings even if not your position because I know that you have been steeped in an anti-intellectual culture and possibly a postmodernist academy. Perhaps my directness offends you, but lets’ face it, we have been dancing for two weeks. There comes a time when we have to put diplomacy aside and call things by their right name. The above paragraph is an equivocation, plain and simple.

    I am neither anti-intellectual nor remotely postmodern :-)

    Would you say Alvin Plantinga is anti-intellectual or postmodernist? I sure wouldn’t. Yet he writes book-length arguments that acknowledge that (whether or not one believes in naturalism) there is a finite chance that our minds are unreliable, in which case any belief at all may be false.

    Now, I’d like to ask you again to please clarify our central disagreement with regard to, as you say, who is driving the train:

    First, here is my position:

    1) What causes my actions? I do.
    2) Who is responsible for my actions? I am.
    3) What do I mean by “I”? I mean “the totality of my experiences acting upon my inherent characteristics.”

    Now, what is your position? I’ve filled in the first two for you:

    1) What causes my actions? I do.
    2) Who is responsible for my actions? I am.
    3) What do I mean by “I”? I mean ____________________________________. (please fill this in)

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  328. 330
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @328,

    “My definition of “free choice” was making a choice based on internal states, and obviously computers make free choices according to that definition.”

    Can you tell me why your definition is more apt than mine? Does your definition entail chance, necessity, and neither? Since we’re agreed that “nobody knows for certain,” it would seem a definition of “free” that does not distinguish between random and nondeterministic is not very useful.

    determined: neither impossible nor contingent.
    free: neither determined nor random.

    Free as per above entails neither random nor determined, and so it is actually applicable to this discussion. Your definition of “free” isn’t free of ambiguity.

    “I mean “not deterministically”. Whatever form of nondeterminism exists in the universe can result in nondeterminism in the program. It might be that everything is determined, and neither pure randomness nor “free agency” is possible – nobody knows.”

    Yes, it might be, as in the probability is not zero. Therefore, it’s just as likely as not?

    determined: necessary.
    not determined: not necessary but not impossible; that is, contingent.
    contingent: neither impossible nor necessary; that is, random or free.

    Your definitions need to encapsulate the various causal factors under discussion and make distinctions between chance, necessity, and free (neither chance nor necessity), since you agree these are all possible. You’ve already said my definitions were fine, and under those definitions, all three potentials exist. Under my definitions, computers don’t make free choices but humans still might. Under my definitions, we can make the necessary distinctions. If this turns out not to be the case, they can be amended.

  329. Hi Chance,

    Can you tell me why your definition is more apt than mine?

    No, I don’t think mine are more apt – they are just different.

    Does your definition entail chance, necessity, and neither?

    No, my definitions do not entail that anything acts outside of chance and necessity. Your defintions don’t actually entail such things either: You define “free” to mean “not determined or random”, but you don’t actually say that this sort of freedom exists in the world.

    Since we’re agreed that “nobody knows for certain,” it would seem a definition of “free” that does not distinguish between random and nondeterministic is not very useful.

    I guess it depends on how you are using the terminology in your assertions.

    determined: neither impossible nor contingent.
    free: neither determined nor random.

    Free as per above entails neither random nor determined, and so it is actually applicable to this discussion.

    Right, I agree.

    Your definition of “free” isn’t free of ambiguity.

    Why?

    RDF: It might be that everything is determined, and neither pure randomness nor “free agency” is possible – nobody knows.”
    CR: Yes, it might be, as in the probability is not zero. Therefore, it’s just as likely as not?

    We have no way to assign any sort of probability to the various answers. Nobody understands how minds work, and if they adhere to or transcend physical cause.

    Your definitions need to encapsulate the various causal factors under discussion and make distinctions between chance, necessity, and free (neither chance nor necessity), since you agree these are all possible.

    I think we’re pretty clear here, actually. Yes it is possible that there is a different sort of cause that is not a physical cause, or maybe there is no such thing. We don’t know.

    You’ve already said my definitions were fine, and under those definitions, all three potentials exist.

    You can’t make something exist simply by defining it, obviously. I don’t know what you mean by “potentials exist”. I’d say you have a meaningful definition, but we don’t know if what you have defined exists in the world.

    Under my definitions, computers don’t make free choices but humans still might.

    I agree.

    Under my definitions, we can make the necessary distinctions. If this turns out not to be the case, they can be amended.

    Again, I think your definitions are just fine. They imply that based on what we know, computers do not make free choices, but that humans still might – we don’t know.

    I actually am not sure if we disagree on anything at all, once we clear up our terminology!

    Cheers,
    RDFish

  330. 332
    Chance Ratcliff

    RDFish @331,

    Your definition of “free” isn’t free of ambiguity.

    Why?

    Because your definition doesn’t seem to allow for the possibility under debate here: that there is a contingent phenomenon that is non-random.

    Does your definition entail chance, necessity, and neither?

    No, my definitions do not entail that anything acts outside of chance and necessity. Your defintions don’t actually entail such things either: You define “free” to mean “not determined or random”, but you don’t actually say that this sort of freedom exists in the world.

    That’s exactly what’s under discussion, so it seems to me that to exclude non-random contingency, by definition, the way your definition does, will not even allow for the possibility of anything beyond chance and necessity. It assumes C/N is all there is, and then defines “free” under that assumption.

    “Again, I think your definitions are just fine. They imply that based on what we know, computers do not make free choices, but that humans still might – we don’t know.”

    I found it necessary to include the definition to allow for the possibility of true freedom: neither necessary nor random (nor impossible). I don’t see how we can exclude the possibility of a causal phenomenon that is nondeterministic and non-random without defining one and making the requisite comparisons.

    “I actually am not sure if we disagree on anything at all, once we clear up our terminology!”

    Virtually anything is possible. :D Do you see this conversation progressing any further? You seem highly skeptical of any true free choice; and I think it’s highly likely that it exists based on our experiences and observations. Neither of us is likely to be convinced by the other.

  331. SB: “Among other things, you have challenged the Law of Causality and you equivocate on the Law of Non-contradiction.

    RDF: “No, now you are mistaken again – I’ve said quite the opposite about a hundred times (that no reasonable person can doubt these rules).

    Well, your position seems to be morphing. First, you wrote,

    We can be absolutely certain that such a thing [brick wall coming from out of nowhere] can not happen, but our kn