What Is Your Philosophical Perspective On The Issue of Free Will Versus Determinism
Aebischer (C.S.U. Los Angeles): I am an "emergent evolutionist" in that I hold the universe as capable of producing novelty, including new levels of creativity which are not strictly determined by earlier causes. I am a "tychist" in that I hold that there is real "chance" operating in experience, and that laws of nature are no more than statistical regularities. I am an "indeterminist" in that I hold that human consciousness is underdetermined by external influences so that it can and sometimes does exhibit uncoerced agency. I believe that the directing of our agency to ends that transcend selfish desires is the ultimate experience of freedom and the beginning of morality. Adams (U.C. Los Angeles): Complex. I suppose the first question is "Do I think that free will is compatible with determinism?" I think my answer to that is that there is different concepts of freedom and freedom in some sense is just as compatible with determinism and in others is not. I am strongly inclined to believe that determinism is false. I think that is greatly important from a theological point of view. If determinism were true, we would be something like puppets. But in relation to each other, I am inclined to be a compatibilist. That is to say, I don't think that I ought to stop praising and blaming people and holding people responsible and so forth if I became convinced that determinism is true. Beckman (Harvey Mudd): Determinism as such is merely theoretical and theories are merely advisory. Thus, if a theory suggests that my actions are all determined by factors other than my own perceptions, conceptions, impulses, etc., I am free to consider its potential usefulness to me as well as to discard it as useless. In the phenomenal realm, which is the only realm of stable importance, freedom of will is obvious. Churchland, Paul (U.C. San Diego): I think the age old question is based on a number of mistakes. I am quite prepared to take part of the determinist's side of the argument. I think that human thought, human agency, human moral perception is all based in the activities of the physical brain. I believe that these things are thoroughly described by the laws of nature, of physics, and of chemistry, physiology, electricity and so forth. So I accept the physicalist view of nature that determines us typically. I accept this because I believe that's where the evidence points. On the other hand, I think that notions like moral responsibility are perfectly genuine and legitimate notions and I think that we can still draw perfectly hearty distinctions between people who are morally good and people who are morally bad; between people who deserved to be punished and people who do not deserve to be punished; between the wicked people and between good people and I think we can still find perfectly good reasons for punis ing people who are cruel to their fellow men and for rewarding those who are kind. I'm quite prepared to hold people responsible for what they do, but I think that understanding how the brain works, understanding how character develops and understanding how brain chemistry will go wrong will allow us to have a more humane view of when we should punish people, whether we should punish people and how we should punish people. I think the present system of prisons for example is appallingly cruel and we use it only because we don't know anything better to do. If we understand better how our brains work in the social and the emotional dimension we might be able to have a much more humane legal system than the one we got now. But, I am not about to give up moral reasoning. I think those things will be with us forever. Cohon (Stanford University): At the moment I don't have a view about this issue, because there is a class of arguments I know nothing about. I used to think that nature, as understood by science, is deterministic, and that metaphysical freedom in the traditional sense (not being caused to act by any causes outside oneself) was therefore incompatible with the fact that human beings are part of nature. Since I thought that we are a part of nature, I concluded that we are not metaphysically free. However, there are now philosophers of science who deny that a scientific understanding of nature must be deterministic, and who, in fact, reject determinism in physics and the other sciences. Perhaps this leaves room for metaphysical freedom in human actions. I agree with Kant that when we make choices and act, we necessarily think of ourselves as being free. But Kant notes, this doesn't show that we really are free. Copp (U.C. Davis): I do not have a fully developed position but I would aim to defend a version of compatibilism. Dreyfus (U.C. Berkeley): That is too hard for me to answer. I think that somehow or another we have to do justice to both of them, but I don't think that anybody understands how to do justice to both of them. I don't even know if there is much I can say. The Kantian view that Donald Davidson defends is pretty attractive, namely that we are free under the description as agents and determined under another description as objects. But that is not very satisfactory since that way it looks like we are not free. I give up! I don't know. Dumont (Mt. Saint Mary's College): I think that question is posed in the wrong way. Humans are limited in their freedom, but freer than we usually think we are. The whole project of life is to become freer by wrestling with our pasts and with the temptations to give up, submit or conform to outside forces. Intentions, desires, wants, reasons for acting, motives are not internal causes--they are not events in the ordinary sense. I am not a dualist and I am not sure how to explain the metaphysics of free acts but phenomenologically freedom is a reality. I also think that the concept of freedom in Western philosophy is too individualistic. Griesemer (U.C. Davis): Free will versus determinism is too hard a problem for me. I guess I'm inclined to say we have free will even if the world were determined, but I can't even begin to say why I think so. I guess I think the world is not deterministic, but I'm not sure that is even a relevant fact in answering the big question. I think that we're in trouble whether we're Cartesian dualists and say that there are two kinds of substance and free will is a provenance of mind (since we have to explain how mind can interact with determined matter), or whether we're materialists (since then we have to explain all the strange phenomena of qualia, consciousness, etc.). My short answer is I just don't have a perspective on this age-old question. Friedman (U.C. Davis): The best there is only soft determinism. Our freedom is compatible with this. Jubien (U.C. Davis): I have no worked out position. I am really inclined toward belief in free will. Lloyd (U.C. Berkeley): I believe in free will. I believe that we have free will and that the problem as it was set up is misleading because it relies on a picture of science which is not accurate. It's not true I think that our scientific theories [univocally claim] that the world is a deterministic place. I think that our theories don't say that. . . . Matson (U.C. Berkeley): I have some doubts about the truth of determinism, though I don't think this issue is really relevant to the controversy. I also have some doubts about "the will," which is a concept that ancients seems to have gotten along O.K. without; but again, I'm not sure this is crucial. I think Hobbes, Locke, and Hume are right to point out that the opposite of freedom is compulsion, not causation, and that consequently we act freely whenever someone or something else doesn't force us to go "against our will." McGray (University of San Diego): Compatibilism. I see no real conflict between the two. Free human conduct has a certain kind of causal explanation. Pippin (U.C. San Diego): I am what is called a compatibilist. I believe it is possible to assert that both claims are true and I am in sympathy with Hegel's way of explaining how. Ring (C.S.U. Fullerton): In so far as that is a philosophical question about the possibility of free will (for not all us have it all the time or in all actions we perform) I hold to the free will side of the ledger. But the arguments for that are long and involved. Shalinsky (U.C. San Diego): As a thorough going materialist, I think that all facts are physical facts, and a physical theory will explain all and everything that needs to be explained. With respect to human psychology, only a neurophysiological theory can explain human behavior. This is not to say that our current neurophysiological theories adequately explain human behavior; it is only to say, rather, that a sufficiently advanced (or completed) neuroscience could do so. Applying this view to the free will/determinism debate yields somewhat confusing results. On the one hand, commitment to thorough going materialism seems to rule out adherence to such notions as "will"; on the other hand, it seems to entail commitment to some sort of causal determinism. My personal view is that it does not entail the latter, and that some sufficiently advanced chaos theory will adjudicate the debate one way or another. I will say, however, that materialism of the sort I advocate will probably not countenance such terms as free," "reason," "self," "person," and so on--the typically appealed to in free will discussions. It might simply be the case, therefore, that this "age old question" is relegated to the graveyard, alongside such other "age old questions" as whether the seat of thought is the liver, or whether the Earth is flat. Suppes (Stanford University): I am very much on the side of free will. I think that the modern world of physics shows that determinism is in general a transcendental question, that is, a question that transcends experience. . . . Wollheim (U.C. Davis): I am not convinced that there is an incompatibility between the two. It seems to be possible that free action, say, can be explained in terms of a certain kind of causation, that is, where the cause is a certain sort of desire belief. Of course, free will is a narrower notion than freedom, because it introduces the will, which is for me a rather hard to explain notion. Because desirable actions that are free are caused by desired beliefs. Woodruff (U.C. Irvine): I actually think that is a very complicated question. Here's what I tell my students what I think is right. I think we are machines. We may or may not be deterministic machines. That is, quantum effects and absolute probabilities may or may not have some role to play in the way we work. But if they do, that working has nothing to do with our freedom. It's been clear ever since ancient Greece, to people who have thought carefully about the problem, that absence of determinism is not freedom either. What is wanted is self-determination or autonomy. What I think is in that sense we are machines. But we're machines that work in a particular way. In that working, we use a certain model of the way the world is. The model that we use, in fact, is one that has branches in it, that is, one that sees alternate possible futures as real. [It] sees our choice mechanism as making a difference in choosing one or the other of those. So if I try to decide what to do, then I am considering alternate p ssible futures, and the mechanism in me is producing a choice. Now I actually believe that that mechanism is a deterministic mechanism, but it works with a picture of the world that is indeterminate. I don't think that what I just said is contradictory. In fact, I could program a computer to make choices. Of course we know a computer is deterministic, but it's running a program that operates on this indeterministic model (one that has different alternatives) and chooses between them. I think that if that's right, as long as we are acting in the way that we programmed by genetics or heredity, we have to use this indeterministic model. Determinedly free would be a good way to put it. I'm saying we are mechanisms, but our program uses a model of the world that would imply that freedom is real. That implies there are real alternatives.