22 April 2012

The Significance of Free Will: Wrapping It Up

Let us go through Kane's book one more time, with appropriate links:

I bought the book because I had heard that Kane brought up to date the incompatibilist tradition of James and Isaiah Berlin.

Kane structures his own work in two parts: an ascent (showing why we have and value these strong intuitions about moral philosophy that are incompatible with determinism) and a descent (showing that indeterminism of the necessary sort may well be part of the natural physical world.)
Martin Luther was free even when, as he said, he could “do nothing else” than what he was doing. But this just means that his inability to do anything else at a given mature moment is the consequence of a long life of diverging paths at many points of which he could have done otherwise.

The issue of whether freedom and moral responsibility in strong sense of the terms are compatible with determinism necessarily brings us through some discussion of ordinary language, seeking help from that quarter. This has some interest, but is not dispositive.

The problem is brought to something of a head by B.F. Skinner’s portrayal of Walden Two, and its covert non-constraining controls on its happy campers.
We get to the top of our ascent, we understand the incompatibility of certain deep intuitions with determinism, when we come to understand our own development as individuals, from infancy onward, as ever-more-sophisticated attempts to accommodate a primordial desire.

But now, how do we get back down the mountain and find a place for this primordial desire in the real world? Consider certain critical willings as the subjective manifestation of genuine neurological uncertainties all the way down to the electron level. These are our self-forming willings (SFWs). I have presented my reasons for believing that Kane is overly elaborate  in his descriptions of the different types of SFW: that, following a cue from William James, we might better reduce them all to a single form, the sustaining of attention.

In his conclusion, Kane comes back to the writings of B.F. Skinner as a negative example, and argues that a belief in free will as a metaphysical and psychological matter may help contribute to a society that is free in the political sense.

No comments:

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.