Monday, October 28, 2013

 

The Language of Will


Okay, since I already broke my pledge to myself not to comment anymore on Jerry Coyne's philosophical deficiencies, I might as well dip my toe in again, but I am going try to try to restrict myself to the occasional delectation.

As we all know, Jerry's defines free will "as the way most of us conceive of it: a situation in which one could have made more than one choice."

Now, he gives us some examples:
Clearly, if you're a compatibilist, then you might admit that a computer programmed to respond (deterministically) to many complicated contingencies has free will. So do robots. And perhaps a thermostat has free will. If it doesn't, then there's somewhere on the continuum of "response devices" where one must say, "I'll arbitrarily decide that free will begins at this point." And, of course, compatibilists must agree that some (but perhaps not all) animals have free will, and even some plants (after all, plants can respond to diverse environmental challenges in complicated ways).

But you needn't do any of this if, as Ben implies, you just deep-six the whole idea of free will and use other language to express what you mean.
But we also know that, especially when it comes to issues involving religion, Coyne likes to talk about rationality, reason and science. As a non-compatibilist, does Jerry admit that a computer, robot or thermometer programmed to respond (deterministically) to many complicated contingencies is being rational, is applying reason and is doing science?

Maybe Jerry should just deep-six the whole idea of rationality, reason and science and use other language to express what he means.

Comments:
I've pretty much given up on Jerry ever making sense on this. But I reserve the right to still comment from time to time.

It seems to me that if Jerry's argument is correct that we cannot make choices, then the same reasoning implies that natural selection cannot actually select. So it must all be a gigantic creationist "front loading" scheme.

Of course Jerry denies that he is a creationist. But he has not thought this one through.
 
But he has not thought this one through.

One, I'm sad to say, of many.
 
Another thought:

you just deep-six the whole idea of free will

But ... cough ... I thought we didn't have a choice ...

Philosophical confusion ... thy name is 'Jerry' ...
 
I don't know the back story so a couple of questions John...

Are you blocked at WEIT?

Does JAC get copied with your posts so that he can reply if he wishes?

The reason I ask is that I don't recall your name in the comments at WEIT [my recall is crap though] & I wondered if you've given JAC the opportunity to reply to your observations here

Thanks
Michael
 
Are you blocked at WEIT?

I really don't know. Jerry took offense at my less than worshipful retort to his post on Henry Gee's recent article and when I went to respond, I was in moderation. I never went back to find out if it ever got through.

Does JAC get copied with your posts so that he can reply if he wishes?

No. I don't spam people either. It's here if he wants to look.

I don't recall your name in the comments at WEIT

I commented there only occasionally and it was like PZ's comment pages in smaller scale. I long ago gave up spitting into hurricanes. Life's too short and I have too much to do.

I don't suppose Jerry spends much time at other people's blogs ... er ... websites ... arguing with them and the commenters.
 
What I like in a vile way about JAC is that he uses an argument to dismiss free will very similar to an argument Dutch philosopher Emmanuel Rutten uses to back the argument of First Cause: "I only see causality".
 
Sorry, the comment above is mine.

MNb
 
"So it must all be a gigantic creationist "front loading" scheme."

Nope. To have 'front loading' you need to have had a specific end result set out in advance and then front load the system to achieve that particular result. If our universe is deterministic, then our present world was inevitable, but unless the universe was set up specifically to produce our present world as it is, then the universe was not 'front loaded'.

I'm neither a materialist nor a determinist and I believe we have an element of free will, but nature's 'selection' in evolution by natural selection is not an exercise of free will and that does not imply any sort of front loading because I don't assume the world as we know it was fore-ordained but is a contingent product of history.

BTW, while Jerry Coyne is a cack-handed philosopher, his book WEIT is actually excellent.


 
Yup - WEIT made me visit his site in the first place.
 
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