Friday, April 22, 2011

Free Will: The Aftermath

Always one to indulge in a post-mortem, I've been thinking a lot about last night's debate.

Trevor did well. He was under no obligation to put forward an argument for free will, he simply had to undermine my argument. I was hoping he may offer some kind of positive argument but, alas, no other philosopher has managed it and so perhaps it was an unrealistic expectation.

I'm very critical of myself and was annoyed that I didn't challenge a couple of Trevor's statements. So I'm going to do it here and perhaps Trevor could entertain me in the comments or another blog post.

Firstly, Trevor's characterization of my argument as a purely materialistic/reductionist one is slightly off. A causal universe is a prerequisite of the epistemology that I believe we both subscribe to. Whether our universe is purely physical or physical and "something else" then causality is required for inductive reasoning, experience and knowledge. Therefore, even a universe with ghosts and souls must obey the rules of causality if we are to have knowledge of it. Trevor may argue that there may be a universe where knowledge is possible without causality, but I'll leave that burden with him.

Secondly, and more importantly, I think there was a bit of talking past each other which I didn't identify at the time and I failed to articulate a response. Trevor said that we believe in many non physical things such as abstract ideas and concepts and so to dismiss free will seems silly. However, this argument makes a mistake that is common to many transcendental arguments and attempts to compare apples with oranges. It appears that the map is being conflated with the place.
I do not deny that concepts and ideas exist. In fact Trevor even agreed with me when I said they were contingent on the physical. I do not deny that the concept of free will exists too; I even agreed it is something we all perceive. However, we were not arguing about the existence of the concept, but the nature of the physical thing it is contingent upon. Perhaps "does free will exist?" is a bad way of debating this and we should have instead debated whether "the will is free". I was arguing that the thing the concept was based on was determined and not free, not arguing that the concept of free will doesn't exist.

This was the first time I have debated the topic of free will and I can safely say I have taken a lot away from it. Perhaps in the future we may wander back on to the topic and have a more constructive discussion.

866 downloads and counting.

No comments:

Post a Comment