History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Necessary assumptions of free agency

August 15th, 2011 · No Comments

The previous post has a repost on a short discussion of Sam Harris’ new video, more specifically the free will question.

In general be wary of those who try to use science to answer metaphysical questions (ditto, of course, for philosophers): science, in the sense of causal physics, has no absolute status for answering such questions. Thus the dogmatism of someone like Harris merely indicates his educational conditioning.

It is important to study the educational credentials of scientists, and remain wary of those who fast-tracked to a specialized degree with little or no outside study. The results of specialized education are ‘idiot experts’, who exhude a kind of cocky pseudo-omniscience. Unfortunately it is just such people who wish to create a new public philosophy, one destined to be even worse than the watered down religion foisted on the multitude.
Here is a reasonably good link/discussion of Kant and free will:
Kant’s Argument for Free Will
Be wary of academic discourses here: they tend to be pro forma, Kant fans in Kant classes, and Kant critics in other classes, and morality Nietzscheans in Nietzsche and other classes (even Kant classes). So be wary of the blase indifference to the many colors mixed into grey.
Also, Kant’s Groundwork has been so overworked as an ethics primer that it is not surprising it has critics. Kant’s views can be taken as clarion call, and a warning, that’s all.
When people like Harris simply erase the issue of free will by refusing to discuss it we should be suspicious they can’t handle the complexity and wouldn’t want to indulge in real discussion in public. It is easier to declare free will to not exist and to adopt a cop-out like utilitarian ethics to be able to avoid the difficulties of real discussion.

Let me restate a ‘Kantian’ basic argument in terms of my own work on history: history makes no sense without some kind of free will assumption. Otherwise you are stuck looking for the ‘laws of history’, to make history seem like physics. This is an implied task of physics, then. But it never succeeds. It suddenly becomes obvious there is a problem: note the similarity to the question of drama. Ask someone to stop thinking in terms of free agents and dramas, instead in terms of physics experiments. Nonsense.
Some kind of ‘free agency’ is needed for the discussion. All sorts of limits can be put on the degree to which people have free will, given the complex limiting factors there. But the irony lies in the way that reality is built to allow free will, even as it seems at times to turn around and disallow it. The potential is always there.
The Kantian approach stumbles into a realm of such complexity that we realize that we must be still evolving toward understanding all this. As we are, we can barely understand the issues. You can visit Schopenhauer to get a critic of Kant on free will, if you like. But Schopenhauer is still stuck with ‘will’, free or not!

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