• A Syllogism for Determinism

    I would like to put together a logical syllogism which really expresses the denial of free will through the denial of the Principle of Alternative Possibilities. The idea is that the ability to choose otherwise is rendered incoherent by lacking fundamental grounding reasoning since all deliberation and causal reasons are taking into account when choosing, say, A, so that what could possibly ground choosing B, rationally, in that identical scenario? As Ted Honderich states in the Oxford Handbook of Free Will:

    An event is something in space and time, just some of it, and so it is rightly said to be something that occurs or happens. For at least these reasons it is not a number or a proposition, or any abstract object. There are finer conceptions of an event, of course, one being a thing’s having a general property for a time, another being exactly an individual property of a thing-say my computer monitor’s weight (19 kg) as against yours ( also 19 kg) . None of these finer conceptions an put in doubt that events are individuals in a stretch of time and space.

    What is required for an event to have an explanation, in the fundamental sense, is for there to be something else of which it is the effect. That is, for there to be an answer to the fundamental question of why an event happened is for there to be something of which it was the effect. A standard effect is an event that had to happen, or could not have failed to happen or been otherwise than

    it was, given the preceding causal circumstance, this being a set of events. In more philosophical talk, the event was made necessary or necessitated by the circumstance.

    Of course there are finer conceptions of what it is for an event’s having been made necessary by a circumstance. Some say that since the circumstance occurred, so did the later event. They give a simple logician’s account-disambiguate that to your taste, reader-of such a conditional statement. This reduces to David Hume’s story of causation, where the particular causal circumstance and the particular event were j ust an instance of a constant conj unction. Others are impressed by the difference between a causal circumstance for an event and an invariable but non-causal signal of that coming event. To exclude the signal from being the causal circumstance they say, maybe in terms of possible worlds, that what a circumstance’s necessitating an event came to is that since the circumstances occurred, whatever else had been happening, so did the event. Evidently there is a little room for this difference of opinion-our conceptual and other experience does not immediately rule out one of these views. Our experience does rule out other contemplated accounts of what is needed for an event to have an explanation in the fundamental sense-of its being necessitated by a causal circumstance. Clearly we do not understand an event’s having had to happen as being only that it was more probable, maybe j ust more probable than not, as a result of the circumstance. That is not what we believe either, you bet, when we say the event could not have failed to happen. It is yet clearer that we do not take an event’s having had to happen as the fact that it might well not have happened despite there having been something on hand that was “enough” for it.

    In my life so far I have never known a single event to lack an explanation in the fundamental sense, and no doubt your life has been the same. No spoon has mysteriously levitated at breakfast. There has been no evidence at all, let alone proof, of there being no explanation to be found of a particular event. On the contrary, despite the fact that we do not seek out or arrive at the full explanations in question, my experience and yours pretty well consists of events that we take to have such explanations. If we put aside choices or decisions and the like-the events in dispute in the present discussion of determinism and freedom-my life and yours consists in nothing but events that we take to have fundamental explanations.

    Thus, to my mind, no general proposition of interest has greater inductive and empirical support than that all events whatever, including the choices or decisions and the like, have explanations.

    and later:

    Let us leave it, and note instead that origination’s absence from the Philosophy of Mind can indeed be taken to suggest that there is no tempting conception of origination in existence. Otherwise it would certainly have been made use of in general explanations of behavior.

    Origination’s absence from the Philosophy of Mind also reinforces the question of whether there is an adequate conception of it. What has been said so far, to recall, is that an act of origination (1) is not an effect, (2) is either a causal predecessor of a choice and action or the choice itself, and ( 3 ) has a special explanation such that it and therefore its effects are within the control of the

    person in question and such as to make her responsible in a certain sense for them. Is this adequate? That it is not has for some time been contemplated by the more-or-Iess determinist party in the philosophy of determinism and freedom.The idea was famously expressed by Peter Strawson when he spoke of panicky metaphysics (P. F. Strawson 1962).

    But these, as we understand them elsewhere, are a matter of fundamental explanation, of standard effects. “Give rise to,” ordinarily used, is as much a matter of standard causality as “push.” It is wholly obscure what remains of the verbs of human activity when their backbone of sense is taken out of them. They do not have a backbone put back in, either, when it is said that !\s having caused B was just !\s having been “enough” for B, which was consistent with B ‘s not happening. No sense has ever been given to the “enough.” (Cf. Ginet 1990)

    Quite as plainly, there can be recourse to talk of reasons of a kind in trying to explain choices and actions without the aid of fundamental explanation. There can be recourse, that is, to logical or conceptual relations of an essentially normative kind. But that I had good reason eventually to confess to my lover, in terms of whatever value-system, including my own morality, gives no explanation of why I confessed. There may be the explanation that I was caused to confess by my good reason in a more robust and a standardly causal sense-where my reason clearly was something more than an abstract entailer or other premise but this, of course, is exactly what origination is supposed to replace.

    The idea of being able to choose otherwise is also explained as being problematic by a libertarian himself. As Robert Kane states:

    “(The Indeterminist Condition — Second Form): Given all past circumstances relative to t and all laws of nature, (i) it can be the case that S makes J at t, and (ii) it can be the case that S does other than make J at t.” (Free Will and Values, p.33)

    He actually spells out his own difficulties really well:

    “Some awkward consequences do seem to follow, If the agent might either make a choice or do otherwise, given all the same past circumstances, and the past circumstances include the entire psychological history of the agent, it would seem that no explanation in terms of the agent’s psychological history, including prior character motives and deliberation, could account for the actual occurrence of one outcome rather than the other. (p.53)

    “I can understand how the outcome of my deliberation may have been different, if I had known other facts, considered other consequences, imagined other scenarios, etc. But what I cannot understand is how I could have reasonably chosen to do otherwise, how I could have reasonably chosen B, given exactly the same prior deliberation that led me to choose A, the same information deployed, the same consequences considered, the same assessments made, and so on.” (p.57)

    “This way of stating the argument shows what is at stake in the charges of arbitrariness, irrationality, etc., made against the indeterminist condition. If the choice of A was the reasonable outcome of my deliberation, then the choosing otherwise (the choice of B), which may have occurred given the same past circumstances, would have been “arbitrary,” “capricious,” “irrational,” and “inexplicable,” relative to my prior deliberation. Similarly, if the choice of B had been the reasonable conclusion of my deliberation, then the choice of A, had it occurred, would have been arbitrary relative to the prior deliberation, In general, where the indeterminist condition is satisfied, and the outcome is the result of prior deliberation, at least one of the outcomes (choosing or doing otherwise) must be arbitrary or irrational in relation to the prior deliberation.” (p.57)

    So what I really want to do is encapsulate these ideas into a robust syllogism. Here is one such example:

    (1) Every human choice or action is an event.
    (2) Every event has its explanatory cause.
    (3) Therefore, every human choice or action has its explanatory cause.
    Building upon (3), we have our second syllogism:
    (3) Every human choice or action has its explanatory cause.
    (4) To have explanatory cause is not to be free.
    (5) Therefore, human choice or action is not free.

    (Solomon and Higgins, The Big Questions: A Short Introduction into Philosophy – Free Will and Determinism)

    Hume was one of the first people to apply the principle of universal causation to the free will debate and found it inescapable.

    In fact, as Solomon and Higgins state (p. 231):

    Without the assumption that every event has its sufficient natural explanatory cause(s), human knowledge would seem to be without one of its most vital presuppositions. Not only scientific research but also even our most ordinary everyday beliefs would be forced to an intolerable skeptical standstill. Our every experience would be unintelligible, and our universe would appear to be nothing but a disconnected stream of incoherent happenings, from which nothing could be predicted and nothing understood. So the answer to the question, “Why should we accept the determinist’s first premise?” seems to be, “We cannot give it up; how could we possibly do without it?” For no matter how it is rephrased or philosophically altered, the assumption that every event in the universe, including our own actions, can be explained and understood, if only we know enough about it and its earlier events and conditions, is a presupposition of all human thinking that we cannot imagine doing without.

    Category: FeaturedFree Will and DeterminismPhilosophy


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce