Volition is self-evident and axiomatic. The universe works by deterministic laws. And yet choice is not an illusion. How is this possible?
This page is a stub, created on 2020-04-17 (last updated on 2021-05-08). Its contents are notes on the issues and angles I want to address about this topic.
This is a favorite topic of many philosophy students. It's fun to think about. But the most important lesson I've learned about this over the years is that it doesn't matter. While I think there are valuable things to learn from engaging in it, this is mostly just a fun intellectual exercise.
This will likely be a post that evolves over time (for a long time), as I continue to refine my articulation and address more angles.
Here are a few things I want to address (and this is by no means exhaustive):
- why volition is self-evident, and that in a contest between that and "hard determinism", why I would side with volition
- what volition is and isn't (and why typical characterizations like "the power to have done otherwise" are illegitimate)
- why I don't like the phrase "free will" (ie, that it implies "contra-causal freedom")
- what choice is and how it can be both deterministic and meaningful (and relatedly, what the role of epistemic ignorance is)
- how understanding how something works (eg, volition, choice, a volcano) does not cause it to stop existing
- the connection between moral accountability/agency and determinism
- mental incapacity/illness
- how the search for explanatory reasons for people's choices and behaviors is implicitly premised on determinism
- the connection to epistemology, especially induction, concept-formation, and principles
- why you can't use induction and deduction, which presuppose determinism, to establish non-determinism / randomness
- how causality must imply determinism
- the difference between "random" (metaphysical) and "effectively random" (epistemic)
- how "but quantum mechanics!" is an attempt to rationalize volition while still voiding it of the meaning non-determinists want it to have
- perhaps delegated to another post, but why you can't use induction or deduction to establish a lack of pattern/determinism (even if you can prove it's impossible to know something)
- consciousness as an action performed by the brain, not a thing; brain states as reflective of experiential/mind states; connection to "chemical imbalances" versus unpleasant emotions
- what brain states (eg, "limbic system hijack", "sympathetic activation", "dorsal vagal collapse", intoxication) result in compromised volition and why it makes sense to say things like "he couldn't do X", when doing X is typically the result of or is a volitional action
- how the non-determinist position implies mystical dualism / mind-body dichotomy
- the evolutionary perspective: at what point did we evolve the gene(s) to be exempt from deterministic physical causality?
- why I don't use the terms "compatibilist" or "compatibilism" to describe myself or my views
- connection to other terms, such as "hard determinism", "soft determinism", "indeterminism", and "self-causation"
- what sense of "determinism" I think Ayn Rand was actually objecting to (and what I think is misunderstood by many Objectivists)
- maybe some polemics around what prominent cultural figures have to say about it? (meh)