05 April 2012

The Significance of Free Will: Exegesis I

Prof. Kane was kind enough to email and tell me that I was wrong in one detail of my earlier post about his book. I gave its date of publication as 1998. I should have said 1996. The paperback edition, which is the one I own, appeared in '98.

At any rate, for today I'll simply single out one sentence from the work. Kane uses the following striking figure of speech in his introduction: "The air is cold and thin up there on Incompatibilist Mountain, and if one stays up there for any length of time without going down the other side, one's mind becomes clouded in mist and is visited by visions of noumenal selves, nonoccurent causes, transempirical egos, and other fantasies."

He is making a couple of points here. First, he is saying that a free-will incompatbilist has to make a two-part case. First, that we have deep moral intuitions with which determinism is incompatible (that is the way up the mountain). Second, that we can -- in a secular scientific manner -- construct a vision of ourselves that does justice to facts and that accomodates those moral intuitions better. That second step gets up back down the mountain to the thicker air.

The reference to "noumenal selves" of course is an allusion to Immanuel Kant. The other two references are less obviously identifiable, at least to a philosophy amateur such as myself. A little web surfing yields the secret. Non-occurent causation is an idea within the stockpile of Roderick Chisholm . The idea is this: we normally think of one event as causing another event -- the striped ball moves along the pool table until it hits the solid ball. Then the striped ball stops and the solid ball starts to move. The movement of the first caused the movement of the second. Both movements were events, i.e. they occurred.

But with human volition: do we have to say this? Can't a free-willist simply say that my action is caused by who I am? not by anything that has occurred?  And, if so, isn't this non-occurent causation, causation by a who rather than a what-happened-earlier, the essence of free will?  So Chisholm would argue. Kane is obviously signalling here that he is not making this point, that non-occurent causation ranks up there with the noumenal self as one of those ideas by which we will be afflicted if we get up the mountain but never make our way back down again.

Trans-empirical ego? That is, as you might by now have cottoned, sort of the bastard offspring of noumenal self and non-occurent cause. It is a phrase associated with John Eccles, an Australian physiologist-turned philosopher, author of How the Self Controls Its Brain (1994).  We needn't go into detail about how Eccles thinks the trans-empirical self controls the empirical brain. The point is simply that this is part of what Kane rejects. He wants to get up the mountain to an incompatibilist conception of freedom, then down the mountain again, into naturalistic explanations of psychology and choice.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.