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02/02/2015

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It's some time since I read Freedom without Responsibility, but seem to recall some discussion of the tendency of nonhuman animals to seek freedom, move to where their opportunities to act are maximized, search out open situations. I suppose that counts as an ability - perhaps A+O+A:O is better.

Thanks David; could you say a bit more about that last suggestion?

So far I'm getting the impression my first post has some good company with Hume's First Treatise, if not in content, then maybe reception!

So let me just say this. My post is motivated by the fact that I've long puzzled if freedom had one conceptual shape or model in its various appearances. Examination of external kinds reveals a lot of commonality among political, social, and physical freedom, and even suggests an asymmetrical metaphysical supervenience among them. The close association of physical ability and opportunity is also suggestive that freedom of this particular type has its relata as more intrinsically bound together than other forms dependent on it. I wonder if FW is more like physical freedom in that regard, preserving distinguishable features of ability and opportunity while very intimately relating them, or whether FW is some sort of entirely different creature than these external forms. I apologize if all this wasn't clear enough in the original post.

Just that freedom may not be that useful as an entree to dissecting human type FW - we see it in the behaviour of lower animals, as per the amusing examples in Brems (2010).
http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/12/14/rspb.2010.2325.short

Several of the branches in the lovely diagram of the genealogy of freedom at
http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com.au/2015/0/a-guide-to-skinners-genealogy-of-liberty.html
seem to me to apply to other animals as well as to humans (and so too some of the reactive attitudes). It also seems to me that freedom is essential to acquisition of reliable knowledge (by persons or organisms), but not free will as such.

The very intimate relation between ability and opportunity (an "extended phenotype") that you alluded to may mean the interactions need to be explicitly included in your metaphysics, but I am not quite sure how one does this (A:O was the interaction term for your linear model!).

"I wonder if FW is more like physical freedom in that regard, preserving distinguishable features of ability and opportunity while very intimately relating them, or whether FW is some sort of entirely different creature than these external forms."

Alan, I hate to be the guy that complicates things further rather than just answering the question, but I'm wondering what kind of question you're asking

Is this a question about how people ordinarily use or think of the term 'free will'?

Is it a question about how people SHOULD use or think of the term 'free will'? In other words, regardless of how people do think of the term, is it a question about what's the most useful way to talk about free will?

Or is it a question about what free will actually is, regardless of how people use the term or how useful it is to use the term that way? (In the sense that I'm looking at a bird right now and I want to know what kind of bird it is?)

I can make sense of the first two questions, but I can't make sense of the last one. I honestly have no idea what that questions means or how we could possibly go about answering it. But sometimes it seems like the free will debate is mostly over that last question.

Alan, Just a quick comment, as many of you can no doubt sympathize, am currently bogged down with departmental paperwork. I like your case, and it opens up a great discussion concerning degrees of freedom and/or free will. The connection between opportunity and freedom is indeed important, which is why it seems to me that Isaiah Berlin's positive liberty is just as basic as the negative liberty he celebrates, and in many instances perhaps even more important. On the importance of freedom of physical movement for freedom, might that depend on the species? For the white-footed mouse it is essential; but it seems to me that Stephen Hawking -- with very limited physical movement -- probably enjoys much greater freedom than I have. And I like the idea of freedom as involving related elements (though we might not agree on which elements). David, thanks for posting the Brembs link: I like his work very much, and had not come across that article. But it seems to me that Brembs is arguing against any radical break between human free will and the free will of other animals (which I like); and the freedom/free will distinction seems designed to facilitate drawing a distinction that might not be beneficial. Tamler, as always, a great question; but is there really a gap between the second and third question? It seems to me that James would say no, and Peirce would say yes. Could Alan say: I think this is the way we should use free/free will given our current best understanding of the world, and thus this IS what free will really is? Could Brembs meaningfully say: this is the way we should use "free will," given our best biological understanding of humans and other animals, because this better reflects our current best understanding of what free will really is? Sorry if this makes no sense, it's been a long day. Thanks for an interesting post, and stimulating comments.

David, thanks for that link on Skinner on liberty. It wasn't hard, to find but here is a corrected link:

http://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/a-guide-to-skinners-genealogy-of-liberty.html

Thank you Paul, Bruce, Tamler, and David. My semester is in the second week, and so classes, meetings, and the despair of dealing with a Governor who just yesterday tried singlehandedly (and thankfully unsuccessfully) to rewrite the 100-year old mission statement of the University of Wisconsin to exclude "search for truth" and "public service" in favor of "human resources" and the Wisconsin "workforce" has left me a bit discombobulated and bereft of time to comment. So please bear with me until I have a bit more time this weekend to decompress and breathe deeply.

Let me make some broad claims about freedom and free will in relation to my apparently more-puzzling-than-I-thought-it-would-be post--including some puzzlement I meant to convey.

I meant to show that whatever state of affairs in the world that might answer to being instances of freedom, some like political, social, and physical freedom seem to be ones that receive firm empirical grounding for such identification par excellence. Of course the more anthropocentric ones like political freedom seem more artificial than social and physical freedom, which are grounded in kinds of animal life that we share with some other species. My central idea is that freedom, if anything, is a function of how animate beings interact and are sorted into categories of behavior and ontological status that warrant being called "free" in a certain way. This is an inherently value-laden use of the term that is not present in other uses such as "free variables", "degrees of freedom of particles", "free-fall", etc. Being free politically, socially, even physically free *matters* in some value-infused way that many other uses of the term do not. My little thought-experiment attempts to identify some more external types of freedom that matter to us, but which also have identifiable relata that are rooted in reality in producing a relationship between them that grounds that "mattering". In that way identifying freedom of this ilk is like identifying what constitutes death--there are facts of the matter that constitutes what "death" refers to, but what matters for identifying death cannot be read off those facts. The state of affairs of there being more than one person constitutes the metaphysical opportunities for social freedom, but what constitutes the abilities of effective communication between those entities is necessarily a function of the values attached to any possible relationship-interaction between them. If one person expresses negative-value interaction with another by clubbing them to death, well, I guess that's a kind of freedom to communicate that, but doesn't instantiate anything like optimal values of free bilateral communication. But then it seems that the nature of the relationships between relata that are called more or less "free" is in part a function of what the relata can do (ability to club someone, ability to request something), but also how that plays into value judgments about how such possibilities are deemed "free(er)", along with associated more final value judgments (clubbing someone is a bad way to criticize; requests to shut up my dear Governor Walker are more civilized).

My original crude thoughts about this started in 1990. In 2002 I picked up Phillip Pettit's simply brilliant A Theory of Freedom and in the first few pages thought--well I've been undercut and beaten to the punch. But after reading it I realized that Pettit's thesis is basically a metaphysically underdetermined one that relies on large-scale assertions about values of freedom that can be attached to any number of particular metaphysical accounts. It is a wonderful book. In a way what I wish to recommend here is a serious metaphysical underpinning of it, in terms of ability and opportunity(-ies), that metaphysically extends the nature of free will coherently into the realms of the physical and social and political freedom.

Well, if and only if free will can be thus understood. But if free will cannot be coherently analyzed by a relationship of ability and opportunity, then "freedom" is only a value-related appellation as applied to all its thus-included references, and pretensions to a unified metaphysical account of freedom and free will ought to be abandoned.

Particulars:

David: thanks for the link to that page. I am much in sympathy obviously to such a connectiveness of different kinds of freedom. My own position is that the appositeness of reference is primarily a function of values, and that facts (abilities/opportunities) play into that in some further assessed way (maybe pragmatic?).

Tamler: I apologize for any lack of clarity. My OP tried to emphasize the large-scale empirical facts that seem to undergird external forms of freedom and question whether any forms of internal accounts answer to that. Nothing more.

Bruce: My deep appreciation for your remarks. Your point about Hawking is well-taken, but actually helps make my point. Hawking requires some minimum (as you suggest) physical ability to communicate (eye movement) that can be amplified by the extra-abilities due to social freedom (computers, 24/7 physical care) to restore his full freedom to communicate. There are even brain-implants as you know that can be read to restore communication for people who might not have even the minimal physical ability that Hawking has. But those are physical implants that work on purely physical brain mechanisms. Some minimal degree of physical freedom--assisted in some cases by the extra abilities of others--is necessary for anyone to have social freedom. And what degree of social freedom, and how it is assessed as further valuable--Hawking was on Big Bang Theory tonight; I am hardly relevant on this blog--is another matter.

Paul: took me a while as well to tap into David's nice link ala Google. Thanks for that!

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