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11/02/2014

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Charles,

This is an interesting and bold plan. I look forward at least to following your blogging, even if I can't participate as much as I'd like (I'm busy these days).

A couple of quick points, though. First, it is interesting and important to chart the relationship(s) between the truth-making and dependence literatures in metaphysics and the free will literature. Patrick Todd (and others) have begun to do this with respect to classical debates about fatalism and also the relationship between God's foreknowledge and human freedom; it is good that you are looking at these issues in light of the threats to human freedom coming from causal determinism.

A note: when I characterize causal determinism, usually I try to be careful to say that I'm not *defining* it in terms of the entailment claim you mention. Rather, I think I typically write that whatever else determinism involves, it has this implication. It is not supposed to be a definition. Now, this might still get one into trouble...

Second: you write, " The reason that so much of the free will debate is carried out in its current manner is that much of the contemporary free will debate took its current shape when the linguistic turn was still quite popular." Hmm. Is this correct? Yes, some classic contemporary papers were published in the 60's and 70's--I think of Harry Frankfurt's work, Peter Strawson's, and other work. But a lot of the contemporary discussions are based on work published in the 1980's (PvI's An Essay on Free Will), the 1990's, and into the 21st Century. Is it really true that much of this is influenced by "the linguistic turn"? I don't think this is a plausible explanation for the phenomenon to which you point. But I agree that the phenomenon needs careful consideration. Whether the plausibility of incompatibilism *depends* on it is an interesting quesiton; I'm skeptical, because I think there are straightforward *translations* from a more "linguistic" or "propositonal" language to language of concrete events, actions, and so forth. But I look forward to your discussion.

Hi Charles,

Thanks for the interesting post! I have a question about a couple of your claims. You write: "Yet, nobody has ever been constrained by a proposition. Propositions do not cause anything to occur."

I'm not sure either claim is true. It depends on how we understand propositions, and on at least one type of proposition--so-called "singular propositions"--may both constrain us and have causal powers.

Singular propositions, if I remember correctly from my undergraduate training, simply consist of their referents. So, for example, the singular proposition expressed by "Hesperus is Phosphorus" is simply the *object* Venus and the law of identity. Similarly, the singular proposition, "Charles Hermes is tall" is simply you and the property of tallness.

If this is how we understand propositions, don't propositions constrain us and have causal powers? Charles Hermes constrains certain things I do, and he has causal powers, no? Similarly, if singular propositions involve laws of nature and initial conditions, they too are (1) propositions, that also (2) constrain and cause things.

Am I missing something? I expect I probably have, as I haven't thought about these things since graduate school--but I thought it might be bringing up!

"and how the standard account explaining the apparent directionality of time ought to change the free will debate."

Wow, definitely looking forward to this! My own thoughts on the subject -
http://torekp.weebly.com/thermodynamics-time-and-choice.html
- need more work.

John, thanks for the post. It seems like the biggest disagreement between us lies in how problematic semantic ascent is. Certainly, there is a relation between propositions and the states of affairs that make them true. Yet, sliding between them as if there are straightforward translations between the two is problematic. So far, all I have said to hopefully start generating the worry that something is wrong with the view that these translations are straightforward is that there is a consensus in the truthmakers literature that they do not even share the same logic. In my next two posts, I will explore why this causes problems for both the Direct Argument and the Consequence Argument. Hopefully, at that point, I will have given you greater reasons to worry about how smooth these translations are.

Hi Charles! Glad to see you contributing.

Folks who work in philosophy of physics, or some subcategory like time travel, often define determinism in terms of propositions. And then there's the comment (by van Inwagen, I think) that trying to define determinism in terms of causation is to define something mysterious in terms of something inexplicable -- to paraphrase. Thus, what is so bad about defining determinism in terms of propositions and what is a better way to define it or think about it?

Marcus, I may have been better served here using the phrase "truth bearer". The distinction that I want to draw here is between those entities that have truth values and the entities that provide the truthmakers for those truth bearers. "The rock shattered the window" is true because of what transpired between the rock and the window. If propositions are truth bearers then it certainly seems to make sense to think of the proposition that "Charles is tall" as an abstraction from me and the property of tallness. Yet, it seems to be a category mistake to think that the property of tallness conjoined with me has the property of being true. Whatever has the property of being true seems like it needs to be much more semantic in nature.

Joe, to the extent that determinism is a threat to freedom it is because `1

Charles,

Thanks for the post. Here is a pass at a cleaned up version of determinism that doesn't seem (at least to me) to generate the worry you mention:

D is the thesis that (a) given the actual arrangement/configuration of all of the physical particles in the universe, and (b) given the physical forces that govern how these particles interact, at any moment (or time slice), one and only one thing can happen at the next moment (or time slice).

Here, (a) is the truth maker for the complete description of the universe you mention, and (b) is the truth maker for the description of the physical laws. Why can't I just dispense with the descriptions and talk instead about the actual arrangement and the actual forces? The determinist is simply making a claim to the effect that the physical states plus the physical forces that govern them don't leave any room for multiple possibilities.

So, for instance, given the physical nature/structure of the actual balloon filled with helium and given the nature of the atmosphere, gravity, etc., the recently filled balloon rises up into the air when you let it go. Going down wasn't "in the cards" for the recently filled helium balloon--even though we can imagine different circumstances which may have led it to fall instead.

Isn't the determinist saying something similar about humans and human action: Given the physical nature/structure/configuration of human cognition and behavior and given the physical forces that govern how our physical nature interacts with the rest of the physical universe, at any one moment, there is one and only one thing we can actually do given the specific set of circumstances. If you want a person to do something other than she did, either something would have needed to be different about her actual physical constitution at the time of decision/action or something would have needed to be different about the forces that govern how physical structures in the universe interact. Otherwise, given the same exact physical/structural inputs, one will get the same exact physical/structural outputs.

I am not trying to defend the truth of determinism here. I am simply having a hard time understanding why you think the semantic version is the only (or even the best) way of describing the potential threat. If you find the semantic approach puzzling, why not just make the move from the truth bearing approach to the truth making approach I have tried to briefly develop here? Am I somehow still sliding back and forth in your eyes?

Joe, sorry I think my last post failed. Lewis was keenly aware of the problems that occur when we try to replace ontological concerns with semantic concerns. It is for that reason that he adopted an ontological account of determinism. According to him, "a deterministic system of laws if one such that, whenever two possible worlds both obey the laws perfectly, then either they are exactly alike throughout all of time, or else they are not exactly alike through any stretch of time." Notice, on Lewis's account determinism is about the way a world is, not about a description of the world.

As far as work on time travel, it seems to me that Lewis's definition tends to be much more common than the semantic definition, yet I would not be surprised that both exist in the literature. Also, I see absolutely nothing wrong with someone who thinks of laws of nature as a subspecies of universally quantified sentences adopting a semantic definition of determinism. After all, on such accounts, laws are semantic entities. Yet, this seems to place us squarely in the Humean camp.

The comment you attribute to van Inwagen perfectly sums up my worry. The impetus behind the linguistic turn was a belief that ontology and metaphysics is too obscure so it needs to be replaced with discussions about semantics. The problem with doing so, is that it frequently blurs the issues. When we think of laws of nature as sentences, we allow ourselves to avoid seriously considering what laws of nature are and later I shall argue that this semantic consideration of laws of nature causes problems in the free will literature. Taking the ontology of laws more seriously seems to force us to think about free will along the lines of Kadri Vihvelin's account. Further, as I will address in the next two posts, the manner in which a semantic definition of determinism causes us to think heavily in terms of entailment relations causes us to miss how rich ontological relations are. This has made both the Direct Argument and the Consequence Argument seem much more powerful than they in fact are.

Thomas, I do think that moving to an ontological account of determinism is relatively easy to do. Further, I think that on such accounts many incompatibilists will retain their intuitions that free will is not compatible with determinism. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the arguments for incompatibilism become much weaker when we move from semantics to ontology. So far, I have said little to defend that claim (except for noting that the appropriate logic for truthmaking is not the appropriate logic for truth bearing.) So, to put at least a little meat on my what my concerns are, it seems that I ought to begin what was intended to be my first substantive post.

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