History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Free will, choice, and Schopenhauer/Kant

August 19th, 2016 · No Comments

We have a great many posts here on ‘free will’:

Here’s the post at UD just discussed:

Coyne gets impatient, but why?

I swear, it’s harder to convince the average person that their behaviors and “choices” are determined solely by the laws of physics—and not by some kind of dualistic “ghost in the machine”—than it is to convince the average religionist that there’s no evidence for God. That’s because not only do goddies have a special reason to believe in dualistic free will—their attainment of paradise or hell depends on their free ability to choose—but all of us have a strong feeling of agency, as if we really could have chosen otherwise when making a decision. (The classic dilemma is a burger vs a salad at a restaurant.)

I am surprised that scientists always end up arguing with rightwingers from the Bible Belt. That the debate over free will has ancient and classic lineage, such as in the figure of Kant, seems to elude them, and I suspect that Kant is on the list of forbidden books, a rule enforced by the Harris/Dawkins/scientism crowd. It is not a question of fundamentalist religious beliefs in god, etc…
The point is important because figures such as Kant and Schopenhauer show how the question must probably be solved. For Kant the issue has nothing to do with god, as such, since he wishes to divorce the issue of ethics from theism. with Schopenhauer we have an exotic version of transcendental idealism where the ‘Will’ in Nature is in counterpoint to the phenomenal as the ‘thing in ityself’. That might not solve the question, but it shows how the question is probably to be solved.

I fail to see how anyone could think a subject as confused as modern physics up to string theory could possibly be taken as definitive on the issue of free will. It is simply an act of faith to say that physics can show that all behavior is determined by the laws of physics. It is a cultic mindset to start pontificating on reality using science. Multiple sources near to the birth of modern science cautioned against this now dominant delusion. Physics cannot as yet tell us what those laws are. And the reputation of scientists here is not only challenged by confusions at the basic level. Scientists routinely show themselves muddled over darwinism, and take that also nearly on faith despite a clear warning from Fred Hoyle to be wary of the issue.
So I am under no obligation to accept Coyne’s dogma that we should science groupies. Science in the large fills me with awe and respect, but it is failure so far in explicating reality.
The question of free will, having cited Kant, who has a number of deductions here (not proofs), is connected to his classic antinomies of reason: the question of free will is antinomial, which means that if we issue ‘blah blah blah’ in defense of free will we will inevitably end up with ‘blah blah blah’ negating it. It is important to consider this point when a debate goes on endlessly. I have often defended free will here, but have in a sense like everyone else ‘lost the debate’ on one side, while the other side is equally ‘wrong’. We can’t be even sure in fact is the debate really antinomial, because the assertion it is antinomial is itself no doubt antinomial.

There are various way stations here where a degree of clarity is possible: consider the act of choice. Choice is real in man, in history, and it leaves its traces everywhere in the realizations of different potentials proceeding from virtuality to realization.
So what is that virtuality? Whatever the case the issue has to be not that behavior is determined by physics, but that choice is a mechanism determined by such laws, maybe, but not proven.

So we leave it there, for the nonce: choice is real, whether or not that is open to scientific reduction. In a system like Schopenhauer the physics fails because it can’t detect the ‘thing in itself’, and we can easily suppose that choice is a determinate mechanism in time and space that responds to a timeless format unknown to us but inferred by such as Schopenhauer/Kant.

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