What good arguments are there to think that man has libertarian Free Will? A pleasant argument with a peer of mine, a fellow student of Philosophy at Concordia, inspired me to compose this post when he pressured me to provide good arguments to think that determinism wasn’t true. I will here provide what arguments I came up with.
First, let us list them:
- The belief in Free Will is Properly Basic.
- The denial of Free Will collapses modal distinctions.
- The postulate of Free Will allows for ‘real’ moral experience, and moral objectivity along with moral experience is Properly Basic.
- The suggestion of Determinism dissolves rational thought, as does the suggestion of Randomization or any combination of the two.
1. The Belief in Free Will is Properly Basic.
What philosophers like Alvin Plantinga mean by ‘Properly Basic’ is simply anything which people are justified in believing without any good arguments. For instance, we believe in the external world or the existence of other minds, but rarely does anyone have any good arguments for believing in these things. We believe in these things precisely because we experience the world with these categories, and we take ourselves to be correct when we naturally assume that other minds analogous to our own minds exist, or that the external world really does exist. The idea here is that one is justified in maintaining those beliefs in the absence of any good reason to think them untrue, or what philosopher’s call: a defeater. In the absence of a defeater, there are some beliefs that we are epistemically justified in maintaining, which come naturally to us based on our experience of the world, even in the absence of any good positive arguments to think that these things are true.
I propose that one such thing is Free Will. We all naturally come to believe in Free Will based on our experience and this is precisely why we can intelligibly talk about the category of Free Will at all. We are justified in the absence of a defeater, in maintaining the belief that Free Will exists in such a way that we act as causal ‘first-movers’ in some causal chains. We experience ourselves acting upon the world with intentionality in such a way that we ourselves are responsible for our actions, since they were freely chosen.
2. The denial of Free Will collapses modal distinctions.
If one cannot meaningfully express such propositions as “I ate breakfast this morning, but it was possible for me not to have” then modal distinctions begin to collapse. They are ultimately superficial, unreal. The principle alternative to the belief in Libertarian Free Will, determinism, ultimately makes modal distinctions meaningless. There is no logically possible world in which I chose ~x this morning if, in the actual world, I did chose x this morning. I submit that any model of the world which renders our language, which all of us understand to be intelligible, meaningless has got something wrong with it. Perhaps I could even say that modal distinctions are properly basic, but that would just be to rehearse my former point, so I won’t bother.
Also, some might propose that, given a system like Leibniz’ system, one might be able to marry determinism with coherent modal language. However, I submit that Leibniz was not a strict determinist – I believe that what he means by the ‘complete concept’ of a monad, and indeed even the entire ‘pre-established harmony’ is compatible with robust libertarian Free Will. At very least, Leibniz must admit that God has robust libertarian Free Will, or else speaking about alternative logically possible worlds would simply not have made any sense.
3. The postulate of Free Will allows for ‘real’ moral experience, and moral objectivity along with moral experience is Properly Basic.
The argument would go something like this. First, objective moral values and duties do really exist. We apprehend that this is so in our moral experience. There is no more good reason to reject our moral experience of objective moral values and duties (in the absence of a defeater) than there is to reject our sensual experience of a real physical world. Any argument one can make for dismissing objective moral values as real, an analogous argument can be similarly made for dismissing an objective physical world.
All of that comes from Dr. W.L. Craig. However, I can’t help but point out the obvious: that this makes belief in moral values and duties properly basic. This is different from the previous comments, which were both simply saying that Free Will itself was properly basic. Here, I am saying that in our moral experience we apprehend that moral values and duties which are objective exist and our belief in them is properly basic. However, it is not logically possible for us to have moral experience of this kind without Free Will, since without Free Will culpability cannot exist. Our moral actions have no more of a moral dimension than an avalanche or an earthquake.
4. The suggestion of Determinism dissolves rational thought, as does the suggestion of Randomization or any combination of the two.
The alternatives to Free Will not only suggest that all our experiences which involve or imply Free Will are illusory, but also that rational thought is impossible. Consider the following quote:
“If thought is laryngeal motion, how should any one think more truly than the wind blows? All movements of bodies are equally necessary, but they cannot be discriminated as true and false. It seems as nonsensical to call a movement true as a flavour purple or a sound avaricious. But what is obvious when thought is said to be a certain bodily movement seems equally to follow from its being the effect of one. Thought called knowledge and thought called error are both necessary results of states of brain. These states are necessary results of other bodily states. All the bodily states are equally real, and so are the different thoughts; but by what right can I hold that my thought is knowledge of what is real in bodies? For to hold so is but another thought, an effect of real bodily movements like the rest…. These arguments, however, of mine, if the principles of scientific [naturalism] … are to stand unchallenged, are themselves no more than happenings in a mind, results of bodily movements; that you or I think them sound, or think them unsound, is but another such happening; that we think them no more than another such happening is itself but yet another such. And it may be said of any ground on which we may attempt to stand as true, Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis aevum. [It flows and will flow swirling on forever].”
~ Originally from H.W.B. Joseph in “some problems in ethics”, but I quoted it from another source: “Handbook of Catholic Apologetics” By Peter J. Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, p.72
Thus, if all our thinking is the result of either a deterministic process or else a randomized process – so long as we have no control over our thoughts our thoughts cannot be ‘rational’. What I mean here by ‘rational’ is that which assumes the ability, in principle, of the human mind to move itself to realize the truth about the world it inhabits. However, there is no ‘ability’ at all on determinism, such that even while the mind might reflect ‘the right stuff in the right order’ it isn’t doing so by any internal principle or ability, but rather only by accident. This makes it completely foolish for a determinist to argue with somebody who believes in free will, since the determinist seems to forget that their conversation partner is determined to believe in free will. Moreover, they themselves are determined to be determinists. This thought itself, should it occur to them, is also itself determined. There is absolutely no way for a determinist to coherently admit the ‘rational’ faculty of the human mind.
Some determinists, such as A.C. Grayling, have responded by saying that their view is non-rational and not irrational. I find that response to be inadequate. It does nothing to solve the problem presented, and merely just admits it while proposing a pedantic caveat. My philosophy professor told a joke once about how, if a hardcore determinist is woken suddenly from his sleep he finds himself believing in free will until he comes back to his senses. It is pragmatically impossible for us to live our lives while assuming that everything we do and think is completely determined, including our intentions to do or think those things. While one might try to justify adopting determinism even while admitting that it is not psychologically possible to allow that assumption to inform our everyday activity, I propose the the problem is worse than they imagine. It is pragmatically impossible for us to live our lives without the assumption of free will!
What I am proposing is that Free Will is not only properly basic, but that abandoning it implies that rational thought is impossible. Since the cost of giving it up is so great for philosophy, I suggest that no philosopher can, in principle, find any adequate defeater of the belief in Free Will, and therefore nobody is ever at any time epistemically justified in believing in determinism.
As a Final argument, we might conceive of an argument from authority. Not only have many of the greatest and wisest philosophers believed in Free Will, and not only do the preponderant majority of human beings naturally believe in Free Will, but the Catholic Church also firmly teaches that man has Free Will. Now, obviously anyone can call into question any of these three authorities, but it seems to me that such a cumulative argument from authority is not superficial and does in fact act as a persuasive addition.
These five arguments are rather brief, as this post was intended to be a compilation of arguments off the top of my head more than anything.