Saturday 29 September 2012

Free will is a metaphysical thing


Free will is a necessary assumption (not a matter of observation); a metaphysical thing, coming prior to experience, framing experience.

It is not possible to observe free will nor to measure it; indeed experience has no relevance to the existence, nonexistence, strength or weakness of free will.

Free will is not empirical at all.


Free will is a necessary and inbuilt assumption in (at least!) all creatures capable of recognising the question of free will.

Christianity (and other things) are built-around this metaphysical assumption of free will.


The point, therefore, about free will is not to understand it - free will cannot be understood more than to acknowledge that it cannot coherently be denied - but to use it well.



Anonymous said...

I am not sure, Bruce. I would say that free will is evident and experiencing it is something common and trivial.

It reminds me about time. I watched a TV show about the physics of time and a physicist said that time didn't exist. When I was young and had a blind faith in science, I used to hear this kind of claims with respect. But now I was like: "What a pile of BS. The fact that time exists is EVIDENT." You can argue about the nature of time (maybe it is something different that the way we perceive it) but saying time does not exist in our Universe?. Give me a break!

Another physicist explained that some physicists work all the time with equations and, since equations have no time, they try to assume that time does not exist in reality. Here you go: another example of the left hemisphere trapped in a virtual world and ignoring reality (see "The Master and his Emissary")

The same with free will. Scientism makes us believe that concepts that current science does not know how to handle are not real. So the subjective world is not real, only an illusion. (I beg your pardon? An illusion needs a subjective world so the explanation is circular).

But the fact that free will exists has been evident for the vast majority of people throughout all the history of humanity.


Ariston said...

I agree with anon above; under the current epistemic ‘regime’ (if you will), free will is seen as an unobservable concept. However, the sort of philosophy that preceded the Enlightenment (and even much early Enlightenment philosophy) used that sort of Aristotelean commonsense that Etienne Gilson was later to call ‘methodical realism’. (The linked book is a good, short read.) We observe, both phenomenologically and via the acts of humans around us, free will to be accurate. The bio–determinists have a great burden of explaining the variance of human behavior vs that of other species (with some milder exceptions, but those largely dealing with species bred by humans— especially canines).

Further, free will is logically necessary in a way that (I believe) is non–trivial. If there is no free will, there is no point of reference for the denial of free will, either. So all we have are our own phenomenal experiences of agency— which are empirical in the true sense (even when distorted by illness, they are still sense data), and most evidently so when confirmed in common with other human beings. (This fundamental reality is one of many reasons that I find the bicameral mind hypothesis of Jaynes and its predecessors in Hegel/Nietzsche/Heidegger and its successors in books like this to be absurd.)

Thordaddy said...

And yet the divide between those who conceptualize "free will" as metaphysical and those that conceptualize "free will" as absolutely "physical" is unbridgeable and goes to the heart of the dominant schism in Western Man's mind.

In the Christian order of things, man has the inalienable right to exercise his maximum moral autonomy as a practical method of gaining "free will."

In the radically liberal order of things, man simply asserts something equal to "might makes right." The understanding is as simple as saying, "If I can do it then I have 'free will' and if I can't do it then I don't have 'free will.'"

When one lays bare the radical liberal's conception of "free will" then it becomes necessary to obscure the true meaning of this conception BECAUSE it is an extremely destructive conception as the "soul" of this radical liberal conception is entirely unrestrained.

When contrasted with the Christian's "free will," we can see the stark difference. The Christian's unbounded sense of "free will" is entirely internal and dare I say has almost no effect on the external world. OTOH, the radical liberal's sense of "free will" can do nothing but effect the external because it is an entirely external phenomena. His "free will" is always pitted against the world.