Re: Ethics and free will

From: Jef Allbright (
Date: Wed Feb 02 2005 - 10:49:27 MST

Phil Goetz wrote:

>But increasing knowledge of causes always diminishes
>the scope of free will. If we are materialists, we
>may expect that there is no free will, and hence
>no such thing as morality.
It's appropriate and opportune that you bring up the question of free
will. A set of philosophical topics - the nature of self, free will,
and morality - are inextricably intertwined, fraught with contradiction
and ultimately paradox, endlessly debated - and resolvable by
understanding the nested scopes of context within which these issues are
seen. Contradiction and paradox are always the result of insufficient
scope, because in the bigger picture, all the pieces do fit.

You think I'm oversimplifying morality, while I am saying that from a
more encompassing point of view, it is indeed simpler, and in a way that
lends itself to improved practices in very concrete ways. I think we're
moving toward this, not in a directed manner, but as the natural outcome
of repeated selection of what works.

Likewise with free will. Again, the contradictions and paradox arise
due to limitations in the context of awareness from which the issue is
seen, compounded by our evolved preference for the first person
perspective. Most of us can adopt a third person point of view at
times, and reason with an approximation of objectivity about how things
appear to work, but then when it's time for us to evaluate our "true"
belief in these concepts we pop back into subjective first person
viewpoint (because we evolved to "know" this is our only "true"
viewpoint, from the location of the "self") and we find that objective
conceptions of self, consciousness, free-will, intentionality, morality,
and the like, feel clearly and obviously wrong. (All value is subjective.)

More specifically to your comment on free will: In fact, increasing
knowledge of causes enhances, rather than diminishes, free will.
Consider the freedoms we enjoy today in virtually every area of our
lives. We can choose from a much wider range of options, and take
action on these choices, to an extent never experienced by our
ancestors. We can choose and take corresponding action with regard to
the temperature of our surroundings, travel around the globe, communicate
with almost anyone, learn from others, select from a wide range of food
and entertainment, and on and on. These freedoms are essentially due to
our increased understanding of how things work, and if things didn't
work in a fully determined way, then our ability to predict, make
choices, and control would be severely reduced.

The apparent contradictions in the intertwined concepts of self,
consciousness, free will, and morality, are all related to reasoning
within insufficient context.

- Jef

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