Historical Introduction to Philosophy/Compatibilism

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Welcome to the world of compatibilism! A world in which philosophers try to reconcile the notion of determinism and free-will. Throughout the philosophical ages, and especially in our age, materialistic philosophy is presupposed by many contemporary philosophers, and determinism naturally follows from this presupposition. If our entire being is nothing more than a conglomeration of atoms crashing into another, as the materialistic philosopher assumes, then our will, motives, desires, and behaviors are nothing more than the product of those atoms randomly colliding producing consciousness, thoughts, motives, desires, and eventually actions. How, exactly, do atoms do this? This assumption is impossible to prove, however, we can provide scientific and logical evidence for our philosophical theories and make an inductive inference, which, unfortunately, will only get us to some sort of probability, not the hard core palatable certainty that causes your minds to salivate.

It seems to me that this question of how atoms just so happened to come together throughout time, producing conscious living matter that has the ability to do philosophy, needs to be answered affirmatively before we can even begin to truly speculate about what is ultimately causing our behaviors, especially moral behaviors. Granted, atoms, chemicals, and neurons may very well correlate with consciousness, thoughts, etc., but most educated people realize that correlation does not prove nor imply causation. Please keep in mind, that it is not necessary to have a complete historical account of how our being came into existence, but it would provide some very good clues that may help us answer this question. Whether or not God created us, we evolved from the primordial soup, or some combination of the two is another debate, but, as we will see, theories of origins do have implications. Therefore, I am afraid that we cannot currently call upon science or the historians to answer our metaphysical questions, but we must open the door to the philosophers of the past and present. (Wait, maybe science does have an answer. Please see 'Contemporary Problems' in Determinism and the Problem of Free-will article, but watch out for tricky philosophical words, e.g., believe, probably, and suggests. For more information on tricky philosophical words, study logic and a philosophical dictionary!)

I believe this understanding of metaphyscial positions, e.g., materialism or dualism, and their relation to determinism and free will is essential to comprehending the complexity and inter-relatedness of philosophical problems, i.e., how they hinge upon various assumptions and interact with other philosophical problems,e.g., the mind/body problem and theories of origins. It appears to be a logical necessity to have a complete and coherent belief system. It is also important to understand that most compatibilists that we will mention assume determinism is true, and in a sense, they try to demonstrate that free will has no problem, because free will is an illusion, or misperceived. They then attempt to solve the problem of free will by playing word games, i.e., they create definitions of words in an attempt to dissolve the problem. Keep in mind that the compatibilists that we are going to study accept a type of determinism that is essentially saying that all human thoughts and actions are determined or caused by the human will. This may be very different from what the "hard" determinist means by determinism. Are the compatibilists successful in solving this dilemma by manipulating words? They may be able to convince or deceive themselves, but can they convince or deceive you?

Before we begin I will assume and expect that you have taken the course on Determinism and the Problem of Free-will and Libertarianism in the Historical Introduction to Philosophy course. Therefore, I will not define, nor explain concepts within those domains, assuming that you are well aware of those concepts and the major issues.

  • We will first begin our study with the Stoic philosophers. Epictetus (55-135 A.D.), in his work Encheiridion, said, "Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control." (1) Some things are determined, while others are not. This concept presented by Epictetus sets the stage for much of Stoic philosophy, which is to achieve inner peace by not grieving what you cannot control and controlling what you can to serve your happiness. Epictetus also said, "Remember that you are an actor in a play, the character of which is determined by the Playwright... For this is your business, to play admirably the role assigned you; but the selection of that role is Another's." (1) How can you argue with that? Did you choose your body, the way you look, your upbringing, your parents, your heart beat? So many things in life we did not choose, but were dealt a hand of cards that we must play. How should we play the role we've been given? According to Epictetus, we should play admirably, controlling our "conceptions, choice, desire, aversion, and in a word, everything that is our own doing." (1) In other words, compatibilism. Somethings were determined, and others are not. Many other Stoics, such as Chrysippus and Posidonius, and the "Megarians," such as Diodorus Cronus, held the idea of logical determinism, which is that logic alone suggests that humans have no free will. (2) However, their philosophy is not consistent, because the Stoics consistently argue that we should strive for happiness. Why should we strive for something that we cannot alter? If we have no free will, then our happiness or lack thereof isn't up for grabs. We cannot choose to seek happiness, because our state of happiness was fated. Please keep in mind that these philosophers are not arguing for compatibilism, but they cannot seem to live according to the determinism that they preach. We begin to see the seeds of this debate very early in our philosophical past, although the philosophers of that time may have not even been aware of this inconsistency. Many people that we will study will argue for determinism, but they cannot seem to escape free will in one form or another. Sometimes in philosophy I find people will argue for one postion, but live according to another. Their faith is manifested in their actions. If a philosopher truly believes something to be true, it will be manifested in their actions; if not, then maybe they really don't believe in what they preach.
  • Does Divine Omniscience and predestination preclude free will? Augustine would say, "No." If God knows everything in advance, then how can people act otherwise? St. Augustine argues that God knows all that is going to happen in advance, but those events don't happen because God foresees them. Hence, by our free will, we may will something to happen, but that does not mean that God caused or determined that event would occur beforehand. I may very well know that my 2 year old son is going to throw his toy in the toliet, but my knowing is not the cause of his throwing. Many problems with the idea of divine omniscience, according to Augustine, seemed to disappear once one understands that God's existence is independent of time. God views the whole of history in the same manner that we do the present, which implies that God's knowledge does not cause things to happen. (2) With Augustine and other Christian philosophers, e.g., Thomas Aquinas, we see a re-interpretation or re-definition of determinism opposed to re-defining free will. If we properly understand divine omniscience, then it will allow for free will to exist without any apparent problems. This is not the case with Jonathan Edwards, a eighteenth-century American theologian, who argues that predestination, divine omniscience, or foreknowledge precludes any form of free will. Augustine couldn't maintain human free will in light of God's power and the concept of predetermination. He maintained that men are only capable of sinning, and only by God's good grace and power does He assist us in doing good. Therefore, our good behavior is caused or determined by God. So, according to Augustine we don't choose good, but God works within us, causing us to do what we are inable to do. (2) Again, we see the manipulation of words and concepts to justify philosophical positions and the inconstistency in one's position.
  • Now, we will begin to study modern philosophers, beginning with Thomas Hobbes's work, The Leviathan, which was published shortly after his return to London in 1651 (1). Hobbes's determinism is considered by some to be best example of determinism in modern philosophy in which he explains human nature according to the basic presuppositions of science, particulary in the areas of physics (2). Although he was a materialistic philosopher and an advocate of determinism, he was the first person, as far as I can tell, to insist that determinism is compatible with human liberty (2). He defined liberty as the absence of external restraint or impediment, saying that liberty is the "absence of all the impediments to action that are not contained in the nature and intrinisical quality of the agent," concluding that any unimpeded moving thing can be free (2). Hobbes considers it ridiculous to speak of an agent's act of will as 'free', which would be the same as saying that an agent is able to perform an action if he wills due to something uncaused, implying that an agent's unimpeded will caused an action. Hobbes maintained that acts of the will are caused by some type of desire, which are caused by psychological processes of brain matter (2). Hobbes said that nothing "taketh a beginning from itself." (2). He's simply saying that whatever happens within human thoughts or behaviors is caused or determined by material particles. Although Hobbes believed that acts of the will are caused by desires, he still insisted that people are responsible for their actions (2).
  • Next we will turn to John Locke's work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which he published shortly after an inconclusive discussion he had with friends concerning morality and religion in 1671 (1). Locke believed that the mind and body were distinct from another and described both as substances. He believed that volutary actions were caused or determined by the operations of the mind. Therefore, he thought it was misleading to label "freedom of the will" (2). He defined liberty or freedom as "a power in any agent to do or forbear any particular action, according to this determination or that of the mind, whereby either of them is preferred to the other" and as "being able to act or not to act, according as we shall choose or will." (2). So, he's saying that one is actingly freely as long as one is acting in accordance with the preferences of their mind, will, or choice, which he believed is causally determined. According to Locke, an act is causally determined by the mind, and the mind, in the determination of its volitions is causally determined by the satisfaction or unsatisfaction of doing a certain action. He thought that by trying to show how concepts such as "voluntary," "free," etc. are properly defined and understood the problem of free will would disappear, reconciling determinism and free will (2).
  • Now we will turn to David Hume (1711-1776) on freedom and necessity. Hume thought that all men believed that men are free and that all their actions are causally determined, and that the whole debate was due to confusion in the meaning of words (2). Hume defined freedom as being able to act according to the determination's of one's own will/motives, suggesting that one's actions are caused. Therefore, one's actions are not free if they are caused by something other than the determination of one's own will (2). According to Hume's view, people are still responsible for their actions, because responsibility depends on the causation of actions by motives. John Stuart Mill defended a theory that was nearly identical to Hume's. Immanuel Kant also had an interesting perspective on this issue, but it is difficult to verify if he was a compatibilist, because he did try to make freedom consistent with determinism, but he seems to be thinking more along the lines of an incompatibilist.
  • William James (1842-1910) distinguished between "hard" and "soft" determinism. By "soft" determinism he meant all the theories like Hobbes, Hume, and Mill, who affirm determinism is true, and then by contorted definitions, preserve notions of liberty, and responsibililty. "Hard" determinism is the belief that no man can help being what he is and doing what he does and that moral distinctions are therefore irrational and should never be applied to men (2). More will be said about James when we read and discuss his essay, The Dilemma of Determinism.

Works Cited[edit | edit source]

(1) Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Philosophy. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006.
(2) "Determinism." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2nd. ed. vol. 3. 2006.

== Assignments ==

1. Please read Compatibilism from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://www.rep.routledge.com/article/V014SECT1 and answer the following.
a) According to the compatibilist, do we even have free will or is it an illusion?
b) What "trick" do the compatibilists use to reconcile free will and determinism?
c) How do the compatibilists interpret or define "free" or "freedom"?
d) According to the compatibilists, what are things that limit our options? Please provide 3 examples and a brief explanation for each to support your examples.
e) Please explain how self-conscious thought is related to being morally responsible, or how it's not.
f) If we were not self-conscious, would we even be aware of such things as right or wrong? Why then are we aware of such things as right/wrong, good/evil?

2. Read David Hume: Our Freedom Reconciled with Determinism at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwCompatHume.htm
and answer the following questions.
a) Why is there such a focus on the particulars of definitions?
b) Why does Hume make the assumption that all men have agreed that the dispute between the doctrine of liberty and necessity is merely verbal?
c) How does Hume define "liberty"?
d) What would cause Hume to give up on this whole controversy?
e) Define "cause".
f) Why does Hume say that the doctrines of necessity and liberty are essential for morality?
g) Is a person morally responsible for their actions if their actions did not proceed from a cause? If their actions did proceed from a cause? What causes a person's motives, desires, and thoughts? Please keep in mind that correlation does not imply nor prove causation.

3. Please read The Dilemma of Determinism by William James found at http://csunx2.bsc.edu/bmyers/WJ1.htm and answer the following questions.
a) What is James setting out to prove?
b) What are James's two suppositions on which he is basing his arguments? Do you agree or disagree with them?
c) Why does James wish to keep the word "chance" and get rid of the word "freedom"?
d) Differentiate between determinism and indeterminism, according to James in this article.
e) Can we call on science to provide an answer to this dilemma, why or why not?
f) Are your choices real or an illusion?
g) What are the two horns of the dilemma of determinism and how does James escape these horns? Does he succeed in your opinion?

4. Please read Compatibilism from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy found at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism and answer the following questions.
a) Please write a 3-5 page paper concerning Classical Compatibilism. Demonstrate a clear understanding of Compatibilist's understanding of freedom and the conditional analysis, including a brief summary of the lasting influence of each. Double space, title, 12 pt. font, 1 in. margins.
b) Please write a 3-5 page paper concerning the major influences of Contemporary Compatibilism and whether or not you think the comtemporary compatibilists are truly solving the problems of Classical Compatibilism or just creating new ones? Double space, title, 12 pt. font, 1 in. margins.

*Please post all completed assignments on this page's "discussion" tab located at the top of this page. Please place all assignments in a folder that you created titled "Compatibilism". This course is designed so that you can work at your own pace. All I ask is that you send all assignments in at once after they are completed. Please use the discussion room to contact me for any questions, concerns, or comments you may have with this course.

== Resources ==
The Stanford Enclyclopedia of Philosophy

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Episteme Links

Meta-Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This page was created by Shannon Piersall Fall 2006.

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