Thursday, September 21, 2017

"If Determinism Were True There'd Be No Reason To Try And Convince Anyone Of Anything"

It's one of the most common responses you'll hear from people who believe in free will: If determinism were true there'd be no reason to try and convince anyone of anything.

There's just one little bitty problem with the claim. The exact opposite is true. Over on Strange Notions (a site I've been frequenting recently) they've written a whole series of blog posts attempting to refute Sean Carroll's last book The Big Picture. One of them, entitled Is Free Will Real or Are We All Determined? critiques Carroll's defense of determinism. All of the critiques are bad and misleading but the fourth one makes use of the claim above:

A fourth problem is that if determinism was true, Carroll would not be writing books attempting to persuade people of that fact. If reality is fundamentally determined, why would he spend time trying to convince readers to freely change their minds, to freely adjust their understanding of the world to align with poetic naturalism? Even if I, a theist, read Carroll's book and become convinced that poetic naturalism was true, I couldn't freely reject my theism, no matter what I chose or how hard I tried—I'm simply determined to believe what I believe.

The first part is totally incorrect. If determinism is true, things you do or say have a causal effect on people who hear them. However, it's only if free will is true — where your thoughts are uncaused and thus have no connection to anything that happen before them — that it makes no sense to convince anyone of anything. Don't confuse determinism with fatalism. On fatalism, things happen regardless of whether they're caused. On determinism, things only happen if they're caused. Trying to convince someone determinism is true will increase the likelihood they will accept it because you might be that causal force that changes their mind, and nobody knows the future with certainty. So it makes perfect sense to try and convince someone of something on determinism, but it makes no sense whatsoever to do so on free will. Free will requires your thoughts be uncaused (lest they wouldn't be free) and you cannot by definition have control over anything uncaused. So there is no "freely" coming to conclusions on free will; they'd all be random fluctuations.

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