Freedom and Determinism Transcript

Module/Week 5 Presentation: Freedom and Determinism Transcript


Hi,ImKevin Smith. Welcome to another presentation in philosophy 201. Just nowI’dlike to talk to you for a few minutes about the concepts offreedomanddeterminismin the metaphysical sense of those words.Oftenwe use freedom in a political or social sense, but here in metaphysics we’re asking whether there is actually such a real thing as freedom or if that’s only an illusory feeling or experience that humans have concerning reality.So, if materialism is true for example, some might say that every event which occurs is directly and physically caused, fully, by another previous physical event.If every event, as cause and effect and effect which becomes cause, is totally and fully physically caused itself,then that leaves no room or gap if you will for anything nonphysical like choice,mental assent, reason, moralagency; all those things would be ruled out on a strictly physical account of reality.So,that’swhy the issue of freedom versus determinism is a metaphysical issue.It matters, literally, whether only matter is real or if something else can also be realthat’simmaterial such as mind and its choices.


Soconsider for example cause Aand effect B. If we were rolling dice or just rolling an object across a table like this,we could say that this Liberty Chapstick is moved by my physical hand.In turn, itcomes into contact withanother object, off of which it repels if the object is heavier.Sothere’s this series of causes and effects.Andeven at a very subtle non-visible level this impact had an effect on the table and other things in a laboratory way.Soall this started with my hand right?On a purely physicalist or materialistic account of causation, then we would have to describe themotion of the movement of my hand as not somehow directly caused by my mental choice, but in turn caused by the status of electro-chemical activity in my physical brain.Which was caused by other bodily biologic and ultimately cosmic physical forces thatled to that and so on.Againruling out any real moral agency or freedom of choice in me.


If on the other hand something like metaphysical dualism is true there is room for not only physical reality, but genuine choice or agency, freedom if you will, in the metaphysical sense.Soif you believe that human beings, for example, do have a genuine volition or a power of will, however weak or limited volition and will are.If you believe there is something real about that, that if you have free agency at some level, then you hold to a view of metaphysical freedom.You might be termed alibertarianfreedom agent in that sense.Againlibertarian is not in the political sense but in the metaphysical sense, that there is real liberty or freedom and moral agents.


On the other hand, if you do hold of this strict physicalist account you might call thathard determinism/metaphysical determinism:every event that occurs, even your own what you think to be mental experiences, are really nothing more than biological effects of previous physical causes.So libertarian freedom, a possibility for dualists, or hard determinism, pretty much the only possibility for materialists. I just want you to see the connection between your overall worldview,materialism versus dualism, and the effect that has philosophically. On whether freedom is real or an illusion.

Obviouslymany empirical thinkers will say that freedom is only an illusion, many prominent atheists would say that also. But,in some ways it seems that we betray ourselveswhen we try to make those arguments.For example, even hard determinists make vigorous arguments to try to make you or me to change our minds about what we believe about freedom versus determinism.Butof courseit’s not really possible for my mind to change freely if determinism is true.So, whydo deterministsworksso hard to change minds if that’s not possible?Nowthere’smore to that argument, but another difficulty is that if hard physicalist determinism is true metaphysically, then that means the choices that I make, including the deductions of my reason,aren’t the result of free reasoning but rather the result of their random physical motion of subatomic particles, ultimately. But, if only random physical activity is true, in the sense that that determines my thoughts, then Ican’thave confidence in my thoughts being the result of pure reason.Infactit seemed to rule reason itself out of reality, but if that’s the case why should I also say that it’s a reasonable conclusion to come to a deterministic view?


Sothere are some problems with hard determinism, not necessarily fatal problems.And infactthere’s a third view roughly called compatibilism, in which some metaphysicians argue that there’s a sense of freedom that is compatible with a sense of determinism. Now whether that works out or notwe’llsee in some of the more technical aspects of your reading in this module.But fornowsee the big picture of how your view of what’s real can either rule out or enable the possibility of genuine freedom.

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