On 22 Nov 2010, at 20:47, Brent Meeker wrote:

On 11/22/2010 8:40 AM, Bruno Marchal wrote:

On 21 Nov 2010, at 19:47, Rex Allen wrote:

On Fri, Nov 19, 2010 at 8:32 AM, Bruno Marchal <marc...@ulb.ac.be> wrote:

On 18 Nov 2010, at 07:31, Rex Allen wrote:
As for my definition of free will:

"The ability to make choices that are neither random nor caused."

Obviously there is no such ability, since "random" and "caused"
exhaust the possibilities.

But some people believe in the existence of such an ability anyway.

Why? Well...either there's a reason that they do, or there isn't...

I agree with you. With your definition of free will, it does not exist.

I think that if you question most people who believe in free will
closely, my definition is what their position boils down to.

But your reasoning does not apply to free will in the sense I gave: the ability to choose among alternatives that *I* cannot predict in advance (so that *from my personal perspective* it is not entirely due to reason nor do
to randomness).

So that is a good description of the subjective feeling of free will.

I was not describing the subjective feeling of free will, which is another matter, and which may accompany or not the experience of free will. Free-will is the ability to choose among alternatives that *I* cannot genuinely predict in advance so that reason fails, and yet it is not random. This is independent of the subjective feeling of free-will, where I am aware that I know that I don't know the reason of my act. We can do that even in situation we believe (wrongly) that we are following reason, and so in absence of any subjective feeling of free will. Some self-ignorance plays a role, and we might be ignorant of that self-ignorance.

Suppose you are in a situation in which you make a decision but don't have the feeling of free will, e.g. some points a gun at you and says, "You money or your life." You don't feel that you have free will; you feel coerced. But that has nothing to do with whether the processes in your brain are deterministic or have some stochastic component.

I agree with the last sentence, but in that situation I still have free-will, I have probably less freedom. A prisoner, in jail, has the same amount of free-will than a non prisoner, but it has much less freedom.

But if you question most people closely, this isn't what they mean by
“free will”.

You have interpret too much quickly what I was describing. Free- will as I define it is not the subjective feeling of having free- will. It is really due to the fact that the choice I will make is not based on reason, nor on randomness from my (real) perspective (which exists).

Hmmm? The dichotomy Rex presents is "caused" (determined) vs random; not reasoned vs random.

That is the whole point. Rex uses sometimes "reasoned", sometimes "caused" as it was the same. That is why I agree with him. With his notion of free-will, free-will does not exist.

Certainly decisions can be made which are not reasoned, not consciously weighed, and yet are not random either, e.g when I play tennis almost none of my actions are reasoned. But based on our theories of the brain etc, they are caused.


It is indeed closer to the computational irreducibility. It is related to some particular case of such an irreducibility, and its existence can be justified from the logic of self-reference or from some other use of the second recursion theorem of Kleene. Subjective does not mean inexisting. Free-will is subjective or better subject-related, but it exists and has observable consequences, like purposeful murdering, existence of jails, etc. It is the root of moral consciousness, or conscience.

They mean the ability to make choices that aren't random, but which
also aren't caused.

And this becomes, with the approach I gave: "the ability to make choices that aren't random, but for which they have to ignore the cause". And I insist: they might even ignore that they ignore the cause. They will say "because I want do that" or things like that. I disagree that many people would accept your definition, because it would entail (even for religious rationalist believers) that free-will does not exist, and the debate would be close since a long time.

They have the further belief that since the choices aren't random or
caused, the chooser bears ultimate responsibility for them.

They are right. That is what the materialist eliminativist will deny, and eventually that is why they will deny any meaning to notion like "person", free-will, responsibility or even "consciousness".

This further belief doesn't seem to follow from any particular chain
of reasoning. It's just another belief that this kind of person has.

Because as a person she is conscious and feel a reasonable amount of sense of responsibility, which is genuine and legitimate from her first person perspective (and from the perspective of machine having a similar level of complexity).

Silly, I know.

It is not silly at all. That is why mechanism is not a reductionism, and eventually "saves" the notion of person. That is why consciousness, even if matter exists in some fundamental way, is not an epiphenomenon.

When you say "random or not random", you are applying the third excluded middle which, although arguably true ontically, is provably wrong for most personal points of view. We have p v ~p, but this does not entail Bp v B~p,
for B used for almost any hypostasis (points of view).

I'd think that ontically is what matters in this particular case?

I don't see why. A murderer remains a murderer independently of the ontic level, be it particles, waves, fields, or number relations. We just don't live at the ontic level, we cannot even experience it, only make third person theories, testable experimentally, not testable exclusively from a first person perspective. That is why science per se has no direct practical bearing on moral issues, even the (theoretical) science of ethics. That is why, also, no one, nor any group of people, can decide for *you* what is good or bad for *you*. If they do, it means they have a personal agenda in which you are considered as an object, not as a subject. Run away, if you can.

I'm reading Sam Harris' new book "The Moral Landscape" the thesis of which is that morals and ethics (I like to distinguish them as private and public values) can be objective in the way that health is objective and that we should study them scientifically. One of the objections to this idea is that it implies that someone else might be able to decide what is "objectively" good and bad for you. Sort of like Smullyan's fictional machine that could decide what you believed for you. That sounds wrong on the surface, but on the other hand most of us have lived long enough to know that we can be mistaken about what is good or bad for us. So when you say "no one, nor any group of people, can decide for *you* what is good or bad for *you*" I take it you are just denying that someone can take your decision away and yet leave you with the responsibility - not that some smart person who knows you well couldn't sometimes make a better decision for you than you would.

Exactly. Parents can still suggest their children to not put the fingers in the electric plug hole, but you can't make this illegal. "Ideally good" parents will not forbid to do such a thing, they will either put a system of protection, or they will convince the children that it is not in their interest. Prohibition is an ethical error, I think, but no one can force a country to make prohibition illegal. Well, actually this would also be self-contradictory. The electors should be able to make it unconstitutional though.

Why would I care about whether or why I or anyone else *seem* to have
free will from their personal points of view?

They do *have* free-will. They genuinely makes decisions which cannot be attributed to reason or randomness, from their point of view and from the points of view of any machines having a similar complexity. If you believe that the fact that the action was determinable in principles by some very powerful computer prevent real free-will, then you might say that consciousness is also an illusion and you will be led to eliminativism. A machine will seem to have consciousness, but will not have genuine consciousness, with such confusion. There is genuine free-will, because the ignorance of the machine is real and genuine, independently of the fact that the machine believes in free-will or not, or seems to have free-will or not. Such an ignorance cannot be eliminated by adding knowledge to the machine, without transforming it into a new and different machine which will still be ignorant about herself at another level. If you want an analogy, free-will is like the decimal expansion of PI. It is not random, yet the cause can be deeply hidden, and it looks like it is random. When you take into account the distinction between the points of view, it just become false to say that something is either caused or random. An infinity of intermediate arise, a bit like there is an infinity of different notion of randomness in computer science. All the many different universal machines have a different notion of randomness.

I was aware there a many different notions of randomness, but not that the number was infinite. Can you briefly explain or point to a reference. Is the number countable?

Well, I was thinking to the fact that the algorithmic randomness definition is relative to the choice of a universal machine, as you surely know. This introduces a different constant for each choice of such machine. Usually we fix one machine, or we just reason up to that constant. But concerning universal machine which are different but similar, and which are interested in their relative ability to make choice, this can play some role. That makes already a countable infinite number of randomness. Then you have the relativization of randomness with respect to the use of an oracle, and this might lead to the uncountable. This is of course a bit contrived theoretical examples, to be sure. It is akin to the degree of unsolvability or uncomputability. My point was that randomness, like infinity, is a tricky notion. By Chaitin's theorem, assuming mechanism, we cannot distinguish randomness from much more complex than "us".



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