I'm extremely honoured and pleased to be this month's Featured Author - thanks to Thomas for setting this up. I'm in the somewhat embarrassing position, though, of having to conduct my stint as Featured Author at a time at which I am not really thinking a great deal about free will or philosophy of action at all! - I'm currently embarked on an AHRC-funded project entitled 'Persons as Animals' which aims to look at ways in which various aspects of the philosophy of mind might be transformed if we were to take a bit more seriously the fact that we human beings are animals of a certain kind (rather than, say, computers, or brains, or souls). Agency is one of the strands of the project; the other two are cognition and perception. I'm currently working mainly on the perceptual strand and thinking about the sense of touch. But I know this won't be central to the interests of those on this blog - so for present purposes, I'm going to return to the free-will related questions I have been interested in most recently - which is the question how determinism should be defined for the purposes of those interested in the free will debate.
I am interested in the fact that the most frequently offered, currently accepted definitions of determinism are expressed by way of the concept of *entailment*. Here, for example, is a representative definition from John Fischer (I call it 'ED' for 'entailment definition'):
(ED) For any given time, a complete statement of the [nonrelational] facts about that time, together with a complete statement of the laws of nature, entails every truth as to what happens after that time.
My question is: is this the right way to define determinism? I have begun to think that perhaps it is not. Entailment is essentially a relationship between propositions - whereas it seems to me that the expression of determinism might require a more properly metaphysical notion at its heart. AS an alternative to (ED), for example, we might consider:
(MD) The past (causally or physically) necessitates the future.
(ED) does not, I think, entail (MD). The quickest way to see why not is to consider what one would say about each thesis given a Ramsey-Lewis ('non-governing') conception of laws. Consider a world in which (ED) is true, but in which the laws are non-governing (where they are simply the things that figure as theorems or axioms in the deductive system that achieves the best combination of simplicity and strength). MD is not true in such a world. The laws are effectively mere descriptions of what generally happens in the 'just one little thing and then another' series of events that constitutes reality. There is no sense in which the past metaphysically necessitates the future - though (ED) remains true. This point is recognised, in effect, I think, by some prominent compatibilist thinkers - and indeed forms the basis of some of their compatibilist arguments. Beebee and Vihvelin, for instance, have both recognised this point rather clearly and have both suggested that this gives us a ready route to compatibilism about free will and determinism. Vihvelin, indeed, makes it clear at the outset of her recent book that she regards any embrace of a metaphysical style definition of determinism as confusing and misleading, insisting that “determinism should not be confused with the view of laws that has been called “the governing conception of laws”, “the pushy explainer view” and most commonly “the necessitarian view” (Vihvelin, p. 4).” It is easy, she says, to get confused, “because determinism is often formulated in a loose and misleading way, e.g. as the thesis that the facts about the past ‘metaphysically determine’ or ‘necessitate’ or ‘fix’ all future facts”. She recommends that these “loose ways of talking” be avoided. But my question is whether another response to the recognition might be preferable. For having recognised that the entailment definition can be satisfied when the metaphysical definition is not, ought we not to question whether the entailment definition really and truly captures what it was we thought we were worried about when we were worried, originally, about determinism? Does not the coming apart of the two definitions reveal, in fact, that the entailment definition is inadequate to capture the doctrine of determinism? That, in brief, is the line of thought on which I'd welcome your comments.