March 29, 2004

The Problem of Freedom: The Answer Was in Schopenhauer All Along

So I have been plagued the last couple of days by the sudden realization that a problem I thought I had easily solved had actually not been solved at all. You see there is this inherent problem in the whole idea of free will. Now, personally, I think the "libertarian" (NB: the use of this word in metaphysics is mostly unrelated to its use in politics as in my last couple of posts) sense of free will, which is to say the doctrine that we are free with regard to an action if and only if we can do otherwise, is necessary to any theodicy which admits the existence of evil at all. Since I think the Bible is pretty clear that the present world actually sucks, rather than appearing to suck from a human perspective while actually being great, we need a theodicy that allows for real evil, not just the appearance of evil, to exist simultaneously with an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. Richard Swinburne did an excellent job of this in his paper "Why God Allows Evil" and similar explanations have been given by innumerable other philosophers and theologians, past and present. All of these (or at least all the ones I've ever heard of), however, depend heavily on the libertarian sense of free will. Soft determinism just won't do.

Herein lies the problem. Libertarian free will doesn't make very much sense. It seems that, given any event, it is either random or caused (i.e. determined). If our actions are determined we are not free, at least in this sense. But if our actions are random we are not free either. In the former case we are victims of our nature combined with physical laws; in the latter we are victims of our nature combined with the laws of probability. In the former case we could not possibly have done otherwise; in the latter we might have done otherwise, but certainly not by our own choice. My immediate solution, from metaphysics class at WSU my senior year of high school? There is a third type of event - a willed event - which is neither determined nor random. Why doesn't this work? Well ultimately I think it does (sort of, I've adjusted it), but it is problematic in that we (or at least I) cannot even conceive of the world external to us functioning in that way. We really only think of ourselves this way, although we may say otherwise from time to time. I arrived at this conclusion through a combination of reading Hume, discussing Hume in my modern philosophy class, and debating with an atheist over the weekend, and it has been bugging me for days now, because libertarian free will introduces all these problems, but the denial of libertarian free will seems to make God morally culpable for anything that occurs in the world, hence the necessity of denying the existence of any real evil. I refuse to accept a logical contradiction, I refuse to deny the existence of evil, and, above all of these, I refuse to deny the existence of God. I was grid-locked.

Enter Arthur Schopenhauer, currently my second favorite historical philosopher (after George Berkeley). Another cause of my contemplation of this subject was that I am in the process of constructing (in my mind, in my spare time and while sitting in philosophy classes - yes, this is what I do for fun) a theory I intend to call "absolute volitionism" if I can get it to a point where I think it is coherent (I hope to put it on paper - or in the computer, rather - over the summer), and this theory is to be based on Schopenhauer's metaphysical distinction between will and representation as the two components of reality. Now, given this, it is surprising that my first thought was not to apply Schopenhauer's theories to solve the problem because, as it happens, they do. According to Schopenhauer the physical world is merely "representation," which is real to a point, but the true underlying reality behind it is what he calls "will". The representation is bound by the principle of sufficient reason, which is to say that a reason can be given for everything that occurs. But will is independent of this principle.

Now, inherent in the free will debate is one clear empirical fact: we all seem internally to have free will. We experience deliberation, and we tend to think that when we deliberate we are always capable of deciding otherwise than we do (incidentally, soft determinists think that this experience is all that we need for free will, and so we are free even though we actually could not possibly do otherwise). My mistake in trying to solve the problem was in trying to take an objective point of view and say that from that point of view libertarian free will doesn't make sense - which it doesn't. However, according to Schopenhauer, our subjective experience of our own minds is the only direct experience of will that we have, and this is actually more real than the representation. It follows, therefore, that when examining the fundamental (i.e. metaphysical) nature of things, we should be looking inward at our subjective experience rather than outward at the physical world, and trying to step outside of the self and be objective here is a mistake.

So here comes my solution: In reality, events directly resulting from the will of a free being are once again neither determined nor random, but willed, which is a third possibility, and the way we experience volition internally and our intuitive way of thinking about it are actually the correct way of viewing this problem. We ought then to bring in Descartes' distinction between freedom of inclination and freedom of indifference here and say that in actions with regard to which a being has freedom of inclination the outcome can be modeled as deterministic, and in the case of freedom of indifference it can be modeled as random, and these models will assist us in understanding the external world and functioning in it successfully, but they do not correspond to the underlying reality.

Wow, isn't philosophy great? Quick disclaimer: I haven't actually read most of Schopenhauer's metaphysics yet, as I was reading him for an aesthetics class and not a metahysics class, but I got the foundations. Also, this is not really "mature thought," I just came up with it this evening. Expect something better developed later, probably on my writings page. Note also that there is another problem with libertarian free will which is called "middle knowledge," and I haven't come up with a solution to it that I'm satisfied with as yet, but i've been mulling it over for over a year now, so it's not really disturbing me any more. I'm sure someone will solve it eventually.

Posted by Kenny at March 29, 2004 11:21 PM
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Kenny. Enjoyed reading this blog entry. Do you believe in any sense in the reality of "mystery"? Have you ever spoken with an Eastern Orthodox priest about theology?
More importantly- how are you?
In Christ, Corey Laughary

Posted by: Corey at April 27, 2004 6:46 PM

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