April 9, 2007

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

Libertarian Compatibilism?

In metaphysics, libertarianism is the view that human beings (and other free beings) are free because they can do otherwise. Determinism is the view that the conjunction of the laws of nature with all the facts about the configuration of the world at some time t entail all the facts about the configuration of the world at all times. Compatibilism is the view that free will and determinism are logically compatible, and incompatibilism is the view that they are not. Libertarianism is generally taken to entail incompatibilism, and is contrasted with compatibilist theories of free will. However, in her recent paper "The Non-Governing Conception of Laws of Nature" (in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61), Helen Beebee points out that Humean supervenience theories of the laws of nature seem able to be deterministic without contradicting libertarianism: according to Humean supervenience theories, laws are purely descriptive, they don't actually make anything happen. The laws of nature will include future facts, since they are summaries of everything that happens in the world, but they won't make things happen that way. This seems to make it metaphysically possible for me to do otherwise, even if the laws are in fact deterministic. It still won't be physically possible for me to do otherwise, but this isn't because the laws of physics prevent me from acting - the laws of physics don't do anything, other than describe - rather, it's because if I had done otherwise, the laws would have been different.

Note that if God exists and has middle knowledge, he will still be able to ensure, among other things, that the fundamental laws of physics are simple, mathematically formulable, finitely axiomizable, etc. Alternatively, if Lewis's plurality of worlds exists, there will still be some "well-behaved" worlds where the laws have these properties.

Of course, Humean supervenience theorists can't explain why the universe exhibits regularity, but nomic realists can't explain why there are laws and why the laws are as they are, so they aren't doing much better. Besides, theists can explain why the universe exhibits regularity, regardless of their theory of lawhood.

Another interesting point here is that Humean supervenience will require that there be facts (in the present) about what human beings will do in the future (otherwise laws that quantified over all time would lack truth values). This has its own problems for free will. On the whole, however, a very interesting (and, in my view, quite possible correct) idea.

Posted by Kenny at April 9, 2007 9:10 PM
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Calvinism and Arminianism: On Making the Right Objection
Excerpt: I want to make an important point about something that is either a reasoning mistake (if done accidentally) or an underhanded rhetorical trick (if done intentionally). I've seen it a lot (and done it myself, accidentally) in debates between Calvinists ...
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Tracked: April 20, 2007 11:01 AM


I think it's also worth noting that if libertarianism is defined in terms of having the ability to do otherwise, Lewis can say that. He has to say that you have the ability to break the laws, but if the laws are just generalizations then compatibilists can accept that we have the ability to break the laws.

The trick is figuring out how to do this if you accept a non-reductionist view of laws like whatever the correct one happens to be. I think you can, but you have to think of "can do otherwise" in a way that comes to something different from what libertarians want. It's not necessarily the conditional analysis if you do it Lewis' way but rather a relativized notion of possibility. I do think he'd say that his view on a more robust view of laws would say that you can do otherwise.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at April 10, 2007 12:45 PM

The position the Beebee is defending (and discussing in terms of free will) is nearly identical to Lewis's. Lewis has a paper entitled "Are We Free To Break Laws?" (or something like that, but I haven't actually read it.

Posted by: Kenny at April 10, 2007 4:44 PM

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