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Are reasons causes, as relates to free will? I.e. does having reasons for

Are reasons causes, as relates to free will? I.e. does having reasons for acting not, in a sense, constrain me? Why would I act in one way when I know I have better reasons for acting in another? The only way I can see that this might happen is if I am weak of will - I know it's best I go jogging, but I'm too lazy. But that doesn't exactly sound like freedom, certainly not an admirable kind. So in what sense can our actions be governed by reasons and still be free?

You raise multiple questions, all very important and interesting, which intersect in various ways, but which, I think, can be distinguished. (1) Are reasons causes? (2) Is an agent constrained if s/he acts for reasons? (3) Can one freely act against one's own better judgment? (4) Even if one could freely act against one's own better judgment, would the ability to do so be valuable in the way that freedom is valuable? (Now (4) gives rise to a further question: In what respect is freedom valuable?)

Now it seems to me that the question that's driving you here is whether agents can be determined--"governed"--by reasons and nevertheless free, and so I'll treat it. (Note that I've subtly shifted the question from whether agents can act for reasons and still be free to whether agents determined by reasons can still be free. I do so in order to focus the question on choice, which I take to be the locus of freedom, and away from action, which requires a different sort of analysis.)

In order to answer this question, however, it would first need to be determined to what sort of determination a free agent can be subject and remain free. (Certain philosophers would accept that reasons can be deterministic causes of actions or choices, whereas other philosophers would not.) It seems to me that the vise tightens if one assumes, for the sake of argument, that reasons determine an agent just as physical causes determine effects, so I proceed from that assumption.

Now, suppose that reasons determine an agent. The worry is that then the agent is not free, because s/he is determined. But as both philosophers--such as Locke and Leibniz, to take two very different kinds of philosophers--and novelists (Dostoyevsky, in Notes from Underground) have argued or suggested that the freedom to be irrational isn't even worth the name of freedom. Indeed, Leibniz even claims that freedom varies directly with rationality. (He's got theological reasons for making this claim, but let's leave those aside.) Now Leibniz--and I'm inclined to agree with Leibniz on this--thinks that determination by reasons isn't any sort of constraint or compulsion, but a perfection, and so determination by reasons shouldn't be seen as a limitation or constraint--that's the wrong way to conceive of one's relation to reasons. Indeed, it seems to me that in order even to be capable of being an agent, one must be capable of acting for reasons; consequently, it would therefore seem to me to follow that determination by reasons does not--indeed, cannot--compromise freedom.

Now if one has a different conception of agency than the one just sketched, one might want to resist the idea that agency and determination by reasons are compatible. But what underwrites such a conception of agency? Why should one want a conception of agency that sees rational determination as a threat? This takes us back to question (5) above: What's valuable about agency? That is a question to which I wish I had an answer.

I have heard that the only argument we have at the moment for the existence of

I have heard that the only argument we have at the moment for the existence of free will rests on quantum mechanics, however I'm not entirely sure how this works. Could you please help me with an example of how quantum mechanics expresses our free will?

QM may give us reason for believing that determinism is false. (Actually, even this claim is problematic, but it at least has some plausibility. If we think the world behaves as QM says it does, and think that QM implies that some events are irredeemably chancy, then it seems to follow that that the state of the world at one time doesn't deterministically fix how things must be at later times.)

But even if QM gives us reason for believing that determinism is false, that doesn't establish that we do have free will. For the claim that there are irredeemably chancy events plainly doesn't show anything about whether we are in control of our destiny in any interesting sense. It could still be that "free will" is an illusion, that everything that happens to us is as the result of happenings quite out of our control, and our supposedly free decisions are like the froth on the wave, doing no serious causal work. It's just that that underlying causality is chancy.

Of course, compatabilists will also argue the other way about: even if determinism is true, that doesn't establish that we don't have free will either. But that's another story.

Some people have argued that because people's choices are often influenced by

Some people have argued that because people's choices are often influenced by factors that are not relevant to rational decision making, people do not have free will. For instance, people are much more willing to register as an organ donor on their driver's liscenses if this is presented as the default option ("check this box to be an organ donor" vs "check this box to opt out of being an organ donor"). Does a person need to be rational in order to have free will?

I'd like to suggest that it's not an all-or-none affair, but yes: rationality is part of free will. One way to think about it is to ask what kind of "free will" would be worth caring about. A will that's not able to respond to reasons is one I wouldn't want to have, and any sense in which it would be "free" seems to me to be pretty Pickwickian.

This point doesn't settle the question of how free will and determinism are related. Robert Kane's version of libertarianism, for instance, doesn't call up any obvious conflict between free will and reason. That's partly because reason doesn't always dictate a single course of action. It would be reasonable of me to work on my administrative duties for the rest of the afternoon, and also reasonable to spend the time on research. But it wouldn't be reasonable to tear off my britches and run naked into the street, and I don't think the fact that this would be beyond me (absent a very good reason) to mean I don't have free will.

So yes: little glitches in our reason do represent limitations on our "free will" (a phrase, by the way, that I think could use a holiday.) But reason needn't be perfect for us to be reasonably free.

In "The Grand Design" Stephen Hawking claims that free will does not exist. He

In "The Grand Design" Stephen Hawking claims that free will does not exist. He uses the evidence of a study in neuroscience which found that the stimulation of certain regions of the brain resulted in the stimulation of certain desires; ex. a desire to move one's right arm. But does the mere fact that we can not decide our desires mean that we don't have free will? Don't we have the ability to control these desires and act in an appropriate way? Isn't that free will?

I hope that you are wrong in your account of what Stephen Hawking writes in The Grand Design, because it is so obviously wrong and uninformed. There is no freewill, Hawking writes, according to you, and the reason is that stimulation of particular regions of the brain results in certain desires, such as a desire to move one's right arm.

Consider an analogy. One might want to argue there is no such thing as a free or random roulette wheel, because magnetic "stimulation" of some number on the wheel will make the ball want to land there. Of course to say that a human action is free is not to say that it is random, but to say that a human action is free has something in common with saying, of a roulette wheel, that it is not rigged or that the ball is somehow forced to land where it does.

From the fact that I want to raise my arm when my torturer's make me want to does not show that when I am not being tortured my desire to reaise it is not free. Even if some human actions are not free, in cases where there is stimulation of the brain, how does this have even the slightest tendency to show that, in cases where there is no stimulation of the brain, there is no freewill?

And finally, it is vary hard to evaluate what Hawking writes if he does not tell us what "free" means or what it means for a "will" to be "free." Hawking is a determinist, so one can infer that he believes that if something has a cause then it is not free. (This proposition is called the "incompatibility thesis", as it asserts the incompatibility of the predicates "free" and "caused".) However, if Johnny is caused to eat his soup by his hunger, that hardly means that his eating is unfree. For that to be the case, a minimum condition is that he is unable not to eat his soup, i.e. that his hunger is so extreme as to force him to eat his soup, or perhaps that a parent is threatening him with a wooden spoon and making him eat up his nice soup, or else.

Of course Hawking may be right in what he asserts, but the argument in the passage you describe does nothing to show that this is the case.

It seems plausible that a person might do something they don't want to do,

It seems plausible that a person might do something they don't want to do, without any external pressure. For example, a person on a diet might cheat and eat a bar of chocolate, even though they don't want to cheat; or a person trying to quit smoking might smoke a cigarette even if they don't want to smoke the cigarette. And yet, these are actions which require conscious activity in order to complete - these aren't accidents, and so it seems fair to say that, on some level, even if the person on a diet doesn't want to eat the chocolate, he or she does, in fact, want to eat the chocolate. This seems absolutely contradictory - yet surely, everybody has, at some point or another in their life, given in to some temptation despite not wanting to, or otherwise done something that they, in strong terms, did not want to do, even though they weren't forced to do so. How, then, are we to make sense of such situations? It seems logically impossible to both want to eat something and to want to refrain from...

Excellent question(s)! To begin, it may be mis-leading to think of the "will" as an entity, whether substantial or framented. It is perhaps more plausable to think of the "will" as an abstract way of referring to a person's intentional powers, so that to say that a person has free will or any kind of will, is to refer to a person having the power to act and, in the case of free will, the power to act in more than one way (to do an act or not do an act). There is a massive literature addressing your important questions going back to Socrates. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were suspicious of claims that people can do that which they know (or strongly believe) are wrong. (There is some controversy over interpreting Aristotle on this, but I suggest he stood with his teacher, Plato, on this.) Two promising approaches to this problem (which is sometimes called the problem of weakness of will or Akrasia, Greek for "lack of self-control") involve distinguishing levels of desires. Harry Frankfurt (Princeton), for example, distinguishes between first and second order levels of desire. On this view, the person wants on the first level to eat the chocolate bar, but on a higher level, he or she does not. Frankfurt goes on to portray moral self-struggle with determining which desire is the one that you most identify with versus the one that you consider alien. This might see odd, but I think it quite common. When I gave us smoking, I had to think of myself as a non-smoker thus siding with the desire not to smoke and saw occasional lapses as truly lapses and not reflecting my ultimate, deepest commitment. Another way of addressing akrasia might involve a bit of fragmentation. Someone might have to consciously will (desire / intend) X in order to do the act, but at the same time (sub-consciously) the person may know that what they are doing is wrong.

As for guilt and responsibility, I suggest that recognizing that we sometimes cave in to first order desires or act against what we know (deep down or implicitly) to be wrong, need not throw us into chaos. A person may have "a factured jumble of dozens of mutually exclusive desires" and yet be fully accountable for why he or she acts on base or immoral desires rather than resolve with greater will power only to act on that which is good or permissible.

Is there a difference between liberty and freedom? From listening to people and

Is there a difference between liberty and freedom? From listening to people and reading about the issue, it seems that they are used synonymously.

This is a very interesting question indeed. It does seem that today, the words are often used interchangeably. However, there are etymological differences between the words which suggest that at least originally, they were used in different senses. Very roughly, liberty seems to have been originally used to characterize an absence of external constraint, what, following Isaiah Berlin's seminal essay, "Two Concepts of Liberty," one might call 'negative', whereas freedom seems to have been originally used to characterize a capacity for self-control or self-government, what, following Berlin again, one might might 'positive'. The latter, then, seems to have an individual, moral sense, whereas the former has more of a political connotation. There is considerable discussion of this topic in the blogosophere: one helpful discussion that I found may be accessed by clicking on the following link. There is also a relatively recent book, Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas, by David Hackett Fischer, that discusses these words and their differences, in the context of American history.

If we take an action as something I voluntarily do, does it ever make sense to

If we take an action as something I voluntarily do, does it ever make sense to say that reason causes me to act? Reason can tell me that smoking is bad for my health, so if I quit was reason the cause of my quitting? Without a desire to quit it seems that all the reasons in the world won't cause me to do anything. So, it really is that simple? Reasons are never causes?

This is a fascinating nest of issues!! It has been claimed that reasons are fundamentally different from causes, but it has also been claimed that reasons are causes--maybe a different kind of cause from the cause that makes it the case that putting a weight on a balance moves its arm downwards, but maybe not. (Even if reason is a indeed a cause of one's choice, it may not be the case that acting for reasons is therefore involuntary.) Regardless of whether reasons are or aren't causes, however, the question of whether reason alone can motivate action (or choice or decision), is a distinct, albeit related, matter.

If reasons were causes, then it would seem that the mere recognition of a reason would be sufficient to move an agent to action. But of course it is often the case that one recognizes reasons and nevertheless does not act on them. Even knowing that smoking is bad for one's health, one may nevertheless continue to smoke. So, one might conclude, reasons aren't causes. However, perhaps the mere recognition or acknowledgment of a consideration does not yet constitute acceptance of that consideration, or constitute taking that reason as a reason for one. So an agent who knows that smoking is bad for one's health may nevertheless not take that as a reason, because s/he has other reasons--such as not wishing to forego the pleasure of smoking--that lead the agent to discount the fact that smoking is bad.

I don't, therefore, think that such examples tells decisively in favor of or against the view that reasons are causes. Rather, it raises some further questions, such as: What is the nature of motivation? Is the mind motivated only by reason, or is desire necessary for motivation? What is the nature of the mind, anyways?

Regarding the availability of options...

Regarding the availability of options... I have not been able to take any formal philosophy classes so far, but I am lucky to have friends with whom I can debate at lunch. One abstract question that I thought was interesting, and I do wonder if it is a common one in philosophy, is whether or not it is necessarily better or necessarily worse to have multiple options as opposed to one option. One can easily see that a student early in life may prefer to be able to study anything that he chooses instead of being forced into one option of subject to study. At the same time, there are instances in which the ethical pressure brought upon by the availability of options may force a person into an unpleasant internal conflict that, had the other options not been available, would otherwise have been avoided. For example, a nation that changes its military policy to one allowing women into the military, during the times of a demanding war, may distress some women who had not previously felt the obligation (for the...

The significance of options, or, as they are sometimes called in contemporary philosophical work on freedom, alternative possibilities, has received considerable attention. However, most of the attention has focused on the question of whether an agent needs to have options in order to be free. The reason for this focus is due to the fact that, intuitively, it seems that an agent must have options in order to be free, yet if determinism--the view that every event, including choices, is caused by some preceding event--is true, then it might seem that agents do not have options available to them. In the context of this debate, philosophers have sought to determine whether alternative possibilities are indeed necessary for freedom, and, if so, whether the commitment to alternative possibilities may be reconciled with determinism. This sort of attention to alternatives derives from their relation to the metaphysical question of free will; the question, however, in which you are interested, is distinct from the metaphysical question of free will, and seems to me to have to do with the value of alternatives, a topic that has received considerably less attention from philosophers. While both questions have to do with the nature of choice, the former question is, roughly, the question of what the conditions for free choice are--whether human beings are free--whereas the second question, the one raised by your very interesting question, assumes that agents do make free choices, and seeks to determine the significance of the scope of choice.

Prima facie, it might seem that it is better to have a greater scope of choice, that is, to have more options available to one: a person who, whether through the pressure of external or internal circumstances, has fewer options available to her, seems to be more constrained than one who has more options available to her. (Consider the difference between someone, who, due to the fact that she comes from a poor family, has not completed high school, and then seeks a job, with someone who has completed a higher degree: the latter person, it would seem, has more possibilities available to her than the former.) Yet you rightly highlight the fact that a person with more options may be faced with a more complicated choice than one who lacks options (for ease of exposition, let's suppose that the one person has only one option available to her, whereas the other has two): when faced with competing options, an agent must make a decision as to which is most important to her, and, in certain circumstances--Sartre gives an example of a young man who must choose between joining the resistance and caring for his sick mother--must make a very difficult choice indeed, a choice that may shape her whole life. (Sartre calls this a 'radical choice'.) An agent who lacks such options is spared such difficult deliberation.

The topic of the significance of the scope of choice has received some attention from philosophers--T. M. Scanlon, for one, treats it in What We Owe To Each Other; the topic of ethical dilemmas, too, has received considerable attention--there is a classic article on the topic by Bernard Williams. Your question, however, interestingly brings these two topics together, and I myself don't know of any work that has approached the question in precisely the way that you frame it.

You thus bring out a deep philosophical issue about which I hadn't previously thought and that certainly merits considerable attention, given that the issues it raises are central to our lives as agents....Central to its resolution, I think, would be determining just how valuable it is to have a greater scope for choice, and whether the value of the scope of choice can trump the difficulty of choosing among different options available to an agent. Which one takes to be more valuable will, I suspect, shed light on just what one's deep underlying values are.

If it is assumed that a person is indeed free to have his/her own opinions,

If it is assumed that a person is indeed free to have his/her own opinions, views, perspectives, etc., should this right still be respected even if a person's opinions are demonstrably wrong, misleading, or potentially harmful (to themselves and others)?

Great question! Replying to the question will depend on the kind of "right" you have in mind. Consider three areas: politics, education, and the general issue of integrity.

In a pluralistic democracy that respects basic liberties, you may have to tolerate (though to tolerate is not necessarily to respect) demonstrably false beliefs unless there is serious reason to believe that they will lead to actual (not merely potential) harm. So, it seems there is no obstacle for most world democracies today to insure that overt racism is not cultivated by any public institutions and to make it difficult (if not impossible) for private institutions to cultivate racism, especially when this is harming the innocent. But it will not be easy to directly control what people think or believe using political tools (how might a government insure that no citizen ever believes their horoscope?). The government can and most governments do control certification processes involving medicine and health, and so there are some ways in which the government might control dangerous beliefs, but probably the more effective means will have to involve education.

In educational institutions (and all the certification systems that go with them), there will be means to expose demonstrably false opinions, views, perspectives, and to bring to light the harms involved. There seems no ill involved (and indeed much good is involved) when universities weigh in on what practices are deserving of our respect and what practices are not. Educational institutions can be profoundly flawed, but this seems to be a setting in which one may rightly expose demonstrably false, dangerous views.

Apart from politics and education, philosophers disagree about when a person has a right to any given belief. According to a strong form of evidentialism, it is wrong (or bad) to adopt any belief without sufficient evidence. On this view, you would not have a right to a belief even if it turns out (unknown at the time) to be true and if acting on the belief generated great, demonstrable good, if you did not have sufficient evidence to believe it is true. Other philosophers think this is too stringent and hopeless, as we currently lack clear criteria for identifying sufficient evidence.

Do I have control over my own brain?

Do I have control over my own brain?

Yes! But my answer is based on my metaphysics. I think that your brain is an essential part of you (along with your body) and that the part of you that consciously considers what to do and makes decisions is a part of your brain. So, you have control over your own brain because processes occurring in your brain control other processes in your brain that cause your bodily actions. Conscious self-control is a (very complex) set of brain processes.

If this sounds counter-intuitive, it is partly because we simply have no good theory about how physical brain processes could be the basis of conscious experiences and thoughts (though we do have pretty good theories about how the brain carries out many cognitive tasks, such as perception, language, and initiation of movement). And it is partly because we have a competing metaphysical theory, largely based on religion, that says that our selves (our conscious minds) are non-physical entities separate from the brain and body (notice that this theory does less than the physicalist theory in giving us any information about how the mind works or how consciousness exists).

Now, if you are inclined to accept the dualist theory that says you are a non-physical entity (whatever that might mean), then it is more difficult to explain how you have control over your brain, because it is difficult to explain (1) how a non-physical entity could interact causally with a physical entity like the brain (surely, control requires causal interaction), and (2) when and where such interaction might occur. The latter problem becomes more difficult as we gain more and more information about how the brain works. There's less and less time and space for a non-physical soul to do any causal work.

So, the difficulty is coming up with a theory of how the brain works that captures most of what we wanted from (and thought was "explained" by) a non-physical mind or soul. We don't have such a theory yet. When we do, I suspect we'll find the problem of free will much less problematic.

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