RE: Ethics and free will

From: Bantz, Michael S \(UMC-Student\) (
Date: Mon Feb 07 2005 - 11:06:32 MST

On Sun, 6 Feb 2005 "fudley" wrote:
>I'm no determinist, no educated man is, we've known for 80 years that
>some events have no cause, in other words they are random.

I think I'm beggining to understand your point of view better; hopefully you are accomplishing the reverse. I don't know as much about Chaos theory as some people, probably less than you. However, I think it would safe to claim the following. There is a set called " events whose causes are unknown-to-current-minds" within this set there are members which the current minds simply havn't been able to to understand/"figure out", there are other members which might simply have no causes. But, just because we know something is in that superset, we can't which subset it is in. If we continue to look for causes and find one, then we would know that it used to be in the "havn't yet" set. If we look for causes and fail, it doesn't mean we're any closer to being sure that it is actually random or if we havn't extended our limitiations far enough to grasp it.
But back to what I think I understand about your position. It seems to me like you view freedom as a dismissive answer/ pacifier. Sort of like, "because God willed it". Thus, your response to someone saying that they went to a restaurant because they chose to is that the given person is overlooking biochemical complications and extended, but relevant details. The irony is, my view is that you are being overly dismissive of what is going on when someone chooses something. What I think needs to be focused, or "worked" on, is that Cognitive causation is significantly more than the sum of its parts (neurons, mechanically determined processes). I still maintain that there are atleast two significantly different types of causation, whose difference I will try to depict in several ways.
>> This is, in a way, the reverse of physical,
>> historically-based causation.

>I'll be damned if I can find the tiniest particle of difference, in both
>things happened for a reason.
I'd like to get away from "causes"and "reasons" being synomyous. I view reasons as relating to reasoning and minds, aka Cognitive causation, whereas "causes" is the superset of reason and mechanical causes. Black and White are "identical" in the identity set "color" but not so far as they are different members of color whose differences frame the world we percieve.
>> Cognitive causation, usually called reasons,
>> are so different because they are goal-orientated.

>So the reason I acted as I did was because of my goal. Ok fine, I have
>no argument with that but it's no different from saying the compass
>needle moved because of the magnetic field.
I disagree. Goals, reasons, cognitive causes are far more maleable than mechanical causes. There are a few differences besides their relation to time which I attempted to articulate before. When consider what choice needs to be made, an variable amount of time can be spent deciding, usually relating to the importance of the decision and the context, within which other decisions which need to be made. With the needle-magnetic/mechanical causation, it will always be dependent upon mechanical, physical, rather than cognitive, factors and the time in which it takes is fixed. The point is, reason depend upon other reason and mechanics, whereas mechanics depend only on other mechanics. Here's an example to show other differences:
Let's take two situations, one of cognitive causation and one of mechanical causation, but make them analagous in that we have two conflicting causes within each situation. To make it more concrete, for the mechanical situation: let us imagine that two weights are on both sides of a scale. Each weight is cause which seeks to tip the scale towards its side. For the cognitive situation, let us imagine a man who is deciding between going off to fight in a noble war against an insidious enemy or staying home to take care of his sick mother. In the case of mechanical causation, two conflicting causes balance each other out and nothing happens. In cognitive causation, the mind/chooser is required to pretend as if one of the causes never existed and to throw all his lot with one cause. Of course, he could do some sort of combination where he gave all his money to pay for a doctor and then went off to war, but he has to make one decision from a list of possible decisions. Furthmore, he could spend a great deal of time contemplating what to do, exploring his abilities and liely outcomes in each situation, details of progressing each course of action. He could do this, quite feasibly, until either the war was over or his mother died. His decision is guided by other decisions: what is temporally immediate and distant, but mainly the essential ethical one of what is "good".
This is why creativity and logic are equally important to efficient minds: reasons chosen are dependent upon a list of possibly imagined situations and a list of probably likely situations.
In the choice set, " Do I give up this argument or continue it?" Many things are considered: the importance of the argument, the amount time the argument will take, how painful psychologically it would to give up, how much will be gained if a consensus can be arrived at, etc.
>That's not very useful now is it, Elizier usually does better. Put
>simply the above says little except that people are responsible for
>their actions. So what else is new? He then lists several things that
>free will is not but never actually says what it is. I have no idea
>where he was trying to go with the flowers bit but he didn't get there.
First off, it's not a matter of "newness", but complexity. How in the heck does one decided if people are responsible for their actions and what is that decision based on? The assumption that the responsible individual is free. Ok, well what is freedom? If it's gibberish then why do decide that people are responsible. And that's where I think alot of people are at. Secondly Elizier does say, in a somewhat biased, but fairly good answer, that free will is:
"a cognitive element representing the basic game-theoretical unit of moral responsibility"
"Responsiblity" does seem to be incredibly important. Let's analyze the word a bit. How about if we break it into two words: Response-able. Able to respond, learn, but not just in one way, in many different ways. Thus, being responisble means considering the different possible responses and then choosing from those. Freedom is interesting because it involves recreations and creations of reality rather than mechanical causes, which respond only to reality "as is".
The typical human action of eating food seems particulary mechanical. As you presented it before, there is a series of dierectly dependent situtations cluminating in your decision to eat food. However, some people fast, choosing not to eat in spite of the pain and the awareness that doing so will probably make them weaker. People arguing against freedom might appeal to environmental or social causes saying that some cultural/religous influence created the action. I think such a response overlooks the concept that culture exists in individuals before it exists in masses, just in the same way that causation exists mechanically before it exists cognitivly. I think it would be more to say that a fasting individual considered several possbile future realities, and decided that their fasting would create the reality that was, for whatever reasons and mechanical causes, "better" than the other considered realities. This explaination, although vague in ways, fits well with Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and anorexic individuals.
Why are Heaven and Hell such response invoking concepts? Exactly because they fit so well with the decision-making process/cognitive causation. Two future realities, equally possible (to people accepting such concepts, not myself), are presented, one which is preferrable to the other.
I'm not trying to undermine the importance of mechanical causation, (neurology, biochemistry, etc.) but to say that non-mechanical causation is completley random is overly dismissive. Lastly, reasons look like mechanical causes in retrospect, just because of the determined nature of history. The future, on the other hand is purely in the cognitive domain, and relates to reasons/cognitive causes more than physical, mechanical ones, which are merely represented as cognitive elements in the decision-making process. I think freedom-antagonists overlook the importance of future, or more accurately, futures, to minds. There is only one possible past, but the future is limited more so by what we can imagine than anything else.

-Michael Bantz

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