Gold Supporting Member
- Sep 25, 2011
- Reaction score
- Fredericksburg, VA
The ability to focus our minds on anything we want to, I think, is a convincing display of Free Will, but others go further, lol
You may be a big bunch of atoms governed by the mechanical laws, but you are not just any bunch of atoms. You are an intricately structured bunch of atoms, and your behavior depends not just on the laws that govern the individual atoms but on the way those atoms are assembled. At a higher level of description, your decisions can be truly open. When you walk into a store and choose between Android and Apple, the outcome is not preordained. It really is on you. ...
The neuroscientific skeptic is absolutely right that, at the fundamental physical level, there is no such thing as intentional goal-directed agency. The mistake is to claim that there is no such thing at all. Intentional agency is an emergent higher-level property, but it is no less real for that. Whenever our best scientific explanations of a particular phenomenon commit us to postulating certain entities or properties, then it is very good scientific practice to treat those postulated entities or properties as genuinely real. We observe patterns and regularities in our social and human environment, and the best way to make sense of those patterns and regularities is by assigning intentional agency to the people involved.
What about the second argument, the challenge from determinism—that, before I walk into a café, it is preordained what I will order?
The jury is out on whether the world is fundamentally deterministic—it depends on how we interpret quantum mechanics—but suppose it is. This does not necessitate that the world is also deterministic at some higher level of description. Indeterminism at the level of psychology is required for free will and alternative possibilities. That is entirely compatible with determinism at the fundamental physical level.
Think about weather forecasting. Meteorologists are interested in higher-level patterns and regularities. In fact, the very notion of weather is a higher-level notion. At the level of individual air molecules, there is no such thing as weather. Perhaps the system at that very fine-grained level of description would indeed behave deterministically according to classical physical laws, but as you move to a more macroscopic description, you abstract away from this microphysical detail....
Likewise, to describe the complete state of a human agent, we do not describe the full microphysical state of every elementary particle in the brain and body. That would be the wrong level of description. If our best theories of human agency compel us to postulate forks in the road between which agents can choose, then we’ve got very good scientific reasons to take alternative possibilities at face value. If you ask psychologists, cognitive scientists, and economists, they will give you different theories of how human choice-making works. But they all treat human beings as agents who are faced with choices between different options, so all these theories assume alternative possibilities. ...
My intentional mental state—namely, my intention to drink—is very systematically associated with my actions. If my mental state changes, my resulting actions change as well. By contrast, not every change or variation in the underlying physical states would give rise to a change in the resulting act.
A leading philosopher whose work I hugely admire, Jaegwon Kim, raised an important challenge against mental causation, the so-called causal exclusion argument. If you consider a particular effect and you’ve found a cause that fully accounts for that effect, you should not simultaneously postulate yet another distinct cause for the same effect. That would be an act of causal overattribution. Let’s suppose, once again, I lift my arm to drink some water. You can fully account for the action by reference to the physical state of my brain, so there is no reason to postulate yet another cause—namely, a distinct mental cause.
My response, which Peter Menzies and I developed, is that if we accept the interventionist theory of causation, the causal exclusion argument does not generally hold. For any given system, the most systematic causal relations may not involve the lowest-level variables, but could involve higher-level variables, or there might be systematic causal relations at both levels.