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Hays on the potentially “false dilemma” of “free will and determinism”

Steve Hays recently posted a provocative post whose title asks the question, “Is the freedom/determinism dilemma a false dilemma?” I’d like to make some comments, mostly in the form of questions, though some will be in the form of statements. These are mainly meant for the purpose of inquiry and clarification, not pointed refutation—for I am not even sure I understand either the many-worlds hypothesis or the particular applications Hays is trying to expand on or draw from the notion.

Here’s the quote Steve takes as his jumping off point:

And what’s more, many worlds may even take care of freewill. Page doesn’t actually believe we have freewill, because he feels we live in a reality in which God determines everything, so it is impossible for humans to act independently. But in the many-worlds interpretation every possible action is actually taken. “It doesn’t mean that it’s fixed that I do one particular course of action. In the multiverse, I’m doing all of them,” says Page.

1. Steve says, this “position dissolves the perennial dilemma between determinism and freedom of choice” because on this view “all our choices are determined (indeed, divinely determined), yet we have radical freedom of opportunity inasmuch as we do in fact act on all these alternate possibilities.”

i) This doesn’t seem right to me. The first problem is that, as Steve puts things, it places too much weight on alternative possibilities (APs) as securing freedom. A whole lot more will need to be said to secure free will (or free choice). For starters, there’s sourcehood questions. There’s epistemic and control questions. The bottom line is that, assuming that APs are needed for free choice, they’re only necessary for free choice, not sufficient. So even if determinism and APs could be shown to be, as Steve says, “a false dilemma,” that says nothing about determinism’s threat to those things listed above.

ii) The point is ambiguous. Is it that determinism could be true at two worlds, W1 and W2, and I do otherwise in W1 than I do in W2? Or is it that determinism is true at W1 and W2, and W1 and W2 share the same determining conditions, and I do otherwise in W1 than I do in W2?

iia) If the former, I’m not sure who, besides those who hold to absolute determinism (i.e., the view that my doing X is broadly logically necessary), denies that this is inconsistent with doing otherwise. Suppose for the moment that our set of reasons at a given time determines our actions. In W1 I have reason set R and in W2 I have reason set R* (where R ≠ R*). Possibly, in W1 R determines that I do A and R* determines that I do ¬A in W2. But, “determinism” is true in both worlds. In fact, I have previously argued that this is possible in a way that doesn’t need to make recourse to the ontologically costly many-worlds hypothesis. Search this blog for my “Not Another Argument” series. So if this is what Steve means, I agree that there’s no problem with doing otherwise in worlds where determinism is true of both.

iib) If the latter, I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. (What follows touches on Steve’s point ‘v’ in the linked to post at Triablogue.) Since there are many ways to determine something (see James Anderson here, for example), let me just use C for whatever set of “prior” (logical, temporal, timeless decrees of God, doesn’t matter for now) conditions are the determining conditions. Now, to see if we can do otherwise in W1 and W2, we hold C fixed for each of W1 and W2. Perhaps C should be understood according to the thesis of causal determinism. By definition, then, given the laws L and a proposition p specifying the way things are at time t, where t is a time in the “remote past,” all future events e (such that e > t) are entailed by L & p. On this view, if W and W1 share the same laws and proposition about the remote past, they share all events. So how do I do otherwise on this view?

Or, perhaps one might think that theological determinism is true. How might we understand that notion? Again, we might cite James Anderson. Theological determinism = for every event E, God determines that E will take place and the decree of God is the ultimate sufficient cause of E. So, God’s decree will equal C here. To do otherwise in the (iib) sense, Steve would need to say that W1 and W1 both share C. That is, both W1 and W2 have the same decree. I cannot understand how any thoroughgoing theological determinist (which Steve is!) could say that I could do otherwise given the same decree (and I don’t think that Steve thinks this either). But then, these different worlds would need to have different decrees for each. But then, there’s no problem with doing otherwise that arises such that we need many-worlds to account for it.

I could continue to run iterations of Cs, but I think the point has been made. If you maintain that W1 and W2 can, say, share all the same causally relevant facts (up to the moment of choice), yet I do otherwise in W1 than I do in W2, you just don’t have determinism.

2. Steve says “we” have radical freedom of choice. That means, I take it, that I can do otherwise. The question is, how is it that I do otherwise? It seems obvious that I am identical to myself. That is, I am one and the same thing as me. Who else could I be? So, there exists an x such that x = me. Now, let y = my counterpart, the one who does other than I do in the actual world, @. (Here I use ‘counterpart’ neutrally, as Steve wants to. It’s more like a name for the “me” who does otherwise than me. I leave it open right now whether I am numerically identical to my counterpart.) Here’s what we want to know, does y = x? I can’t understand Steve’s answer here.

In response to this, Steve says, “Seems to me the ultimate question is whether God can have a univocal concept of alternate courses of action about the same agent.” I don’t think this is the ultimate question. In any case, I agree that God can have this concept. In fact, I’ve argued that God does, and that this is one way to get around the consequent argument (again, see my “Not Another Argument” series). This isn’t the ultimate question since God has a concept of me. Thus, I am not the concept. That is, if c = God’s concept of me, c ≠ x. The question is, does x = y.

Steve says, “I’d say those are two different instances of one and the same exemplary idea. The exemplar is God’s idea of an individual.” As far as I can understand this, God has an exemplary idea of me. Me, the x sitting here on my couch typing this, is “an instantiation” of this exemplary idea. The very thing sitting here on the couch typing this = our x. That is, the very thing sitting on the couch typing this is the very same thing as the thing sitting here on the couch typing this, obviously. Now, Steve says when “I” do otherwise in some other world, w, such that w ≠ @, the “I” there, my counterpart, is another instantiation of God’s exemplary idea of me. Is it? That is, since this counterpart is y, then our question is, does y = x? This is legitimate since both me and the counterpart exist, then I can, by existential generalization, conclude that an x and a y exist. Does x = y? In other words, does the x sitting here on the couch typing this in @ = the y that does otherwise in w?

If x = y, then x does otherwise. If x ≠ y, then x doesn’t do otherwise (in virtue of y’s doing otherwise). If this can’t be answered, then I can’t understand how Steve makes good on the quote I opened with, viz., that it is I who does otherwise, i.e., the x that = me is the x that does otherwise than I do in @. To say that x and y are instantiations of the same exemplary idea doesn’t seem to answer the question. Is God’s exemplary idea of just one x or several ‘counterparts,’ y1…yn, such that y1…yn are grouped together by some suitable similarity criteria, but none of ys are identical to any other y other than the y who bears its same subscript?

So when Steve says that “an exact duplicate of me, sitting next to me, is me?,” is to be cashed out as “two different instances of one and the same exemplary idea,” he hasn’t, to my mind, answered the more ultimate question. Are instantiations of the same exemplary idea identical or not? For Steve to say that on this “many-worlds” view “we” do otherwise, where this means that I do otherwise, where this means that x does A in @ and y does ¬ in w, then for x to do otherwise in virtue of y’s doing otherwise, x must equal y. If it doesn’t, then how is it that I do otherwise? I want to know whether the very thing sitting on the couch typing this does otherwise.

3. My final worry is this. Either we hold everything fixed (sans soft facts, say) up to the moment of choice or we don’t. If we don’t, we don’t need many-worlds to show we can do otherwise given the truth of determinism. If so, then there’s a huge luck objection lurking For in the world where I do otherwise than sitting here on the couch typing this, my upbringing should be the same, my psychology the same, my reasons for sitting here the same, my environment the same, the same economy, all the nature and nurture facts that have helped shape who I am need to be present. But, for all that, I do otherwise in w. Aren’t I irrational in w? If so, how am I free in w? Steve will need to make some relevant changes prior to my choosing to sit here and type this. But this raises other problems. As Steve argued in God and Corn Flakes, small, almost meaningless changes can (and probably do) result in very different worlds. But aside from this, making changes affirms the second disjunct above. And once he does that, there’s just no need for many-worlds to save APs. Any determinism (apart from the strong modal view mentioned above) could secure those APs.

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November 2014


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