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Helen Steward
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Gosh - this stuff is hard. Great comments, everyone; and as usual, there’s too much to respond to. But here are some remarks about Joe’s very fascinating post. Joe - having reread 'Are we Free to Break the Laws?', I think I'm inclined (newly inclined!) to agree with you that Lewis doesn't really seem to rely on his Humeanism about laws in his reply to Van Inwagen – though I have to confess that it’s a bit of a mystery to me why he doesn’t. It seems to me like the quickest and simplest route to a response to the Consequence Argument that really draws its sting (hence my original concern about ED). The focus is all very much on the distinction between ‘I am able to do something such that, if I did it, a law would be broken’ and ‘I am able to break a law’. And I also agree, I think, that the ambiguity he points to is an ambiguity, effectively, in ‘render false’. But surely an analysis of ability must be at least implied in order for that ambiguity to exist in the first place? Lewis seems to be trading on the idea that I can render things false either by exercising some causal power of mine directly (e.g. I can render it false that a particular leaf will remain on the mulberry bush outside my window at 12 noon today, by going and picking it off); or alternatively, I can render something false if it is within my power to do something (else) which, were I to do it, would imply (by Lewis’s theory of counterfactuals) that the first thing was false too. Only in this latter sense can I render a law of nature false. But isn’t it the case that one’s only going to think it *is* in my power to do things which (were I to do them) would render some actual law false if one has already implicitly accepted some compatibilist-type analysis of ability? If I already think that e.g. to be able to A I only need to have the *general* power to A; or that if I were to choose to A, I’d A; or that I just need the ability and the opportunity to A (or something similar … I don’t mean to suggest that these are exhaustive of the compatibilist options) then it becomes obvious why one might think that Lewis’s weak and strong theses differ. But doesn’t the claim that there is such a difference depend on some such view? – so that even though there’s no explicit analysis of ability given by Lewis, a compatibilist account of some sort is required in order to make the whole thing work? The other thing I wanted to ask about was your argument that one can’t believe in the fixity of the past without also believing in the fixity of the laws. The argument seems to be that “the past includes the laws”. But presumably the particular facts about W@ up until t1 might be best regimented by way of laws L (which achieve the best combination of simplicity and strength for that portion of universe) while the particular facts about W@ until t2 (t1< t2) require laws L* instead. So in at least one good sense, the past *doesn’t* include the laws – for if we look only at the past, L* (the correct account of the laws for the whole of W@) is not delivered up as the correct set. But I may have misunderstood the argument here. On the face of it, though, I feel inclined to think that one *can* deny the fixity of laws while not denying the fixity of the past.
Toggle Commented 2 days ago on What Is Determinism? at Flickers of Freedom
OK – so I’ve been prompted by John’s remarks to go back and read some parts of ‘The Metaphysics of Free Will’ again. It certainly is a goodie. I feel a bit alarmed by how little of the detail I’d retained from the first time I read it (but then again, that was probably about 20 years ago now!). The principle John calls ‘The Fixity of the Past’ goes as follows: (FP) For any action Y, agent S and time t, if it is true that if S were to do Y at t, some fact about the past relative to t would not have been a fact, then S cannot at t do Y at t. The time index here in John’s formulation is the same for the power ascription as it is for the action (“S cannot at t do Y at t”). This does seem, on the face of it, to raise Mark’s question – viz., if one isn’t already doing Y at t, then shouldn’t we say that one can’t do Y at t, because it’s too late? But there are some exceedingly tricky complications here, I think. I don’t see any reason to suppose that in general, the time index for the power ascription and for the relevant action can’t be the same. I can at 6pm precisely tonight shout (or perhaps more exactly, initiate the shouting of) ‘Hallelujah!’ at 6pm precisely tonight, for example (6pm is in the future, by the way!). What’s crucial to Mark’s point is that he specifies that ‘one isn’t already doing Y at t’. And this is relevant only in cases where we’re considering what we can do at t in a context in which it’s already t, as it were. ‘What can I do now?’ is a silly question in a way because I can’t do anything now that I’m not already doing! But one isn’t always considering the question whether S can at t do Y at t from t itself. And it has started to seem to me as though this might really be quite crucial – and so that there are not just two time indices that matter, but three – time that power is possessed, time of action and time of assertion. To see why it might matter, return to (FP). John’s phrase “If S were to do Y at t …” is the kind of phrase we use, I suggest, when t is assumed still to be in the future relative to the time of assertion. But in that case, ‘the past relative to t’ will include some times which are also in the future, relative to the time of assertion. There is then a question about the sense in which there are ‘facts’ about this period (which has not yet taken place). Suppose we allow that there are facts about what will happen between the time of assertion and t – and that some of these would not have been facts if S were to do Y at t. Say, for example, that if S were to mow the lawn at t, he would have to acquire a desire to mow the lawn between the time of assertion and t – and that in fact he will not acquire any such desire. According to FP, in this situation, S cannot at t mow the lawn at t. But surely if I said at the time of assertion (now, say) ‘S can at t mow the lawn at t’ (and assuming no special obstacles) I’d be right. Even if S will in fact not acquire the necessary desire between now and the time of mowing, it doesn’t follow that she couldn’t acquire it. And so even though, if S were to mow the lawn at t, she’d have had to have a desire at t-1 that she doesn’t in fact acquire, I still think that S can at t mow the lawn at t, because we haven’t yet said that she *can’t* acquire this desire, only that she doesn’t. So I would want to deny (FP) as formulated here, I think. (This point is actually inspired by one made by John himself against Van Inwagen’s restrictivism!). I might well be confused about this – it’s all exceedingly tricky. But at the moment, I think we’d need to formulate (FP) slightly differently to turn it into something I’d want to sign up to.
Toggle Commented 6 days ago on What Is Determinism? at Flickers of Freedom
OK – so to respond to some of this. Firstly, and to raise an issue I’ve not mentioned before in this thread, I agree with the spirit, if not the letter, of James’s remark that there’s something more than the fundamental forces of physics controlling what’s happening in reality. The reason I can’t agree with the letter is that I don’t think it makes sense to think of the fundamental forces of physics as things which control anything at all! Fundamental forces *constrain* what happens, but that’s not the same thing as control. (Literal) controlling (as I see it) has to be done by things of which it makes sense to say that they might be controllers – and that means: persons, animals, certain sorts of machines, perhaps certain sorts of computer programmes that are hooked up in the right way to other systems. I suppose that one might allow that the values of a variable on which the values of certain other variables depend might be in an extended sense a ‘controller’ of those variables – and insofar as the magnitude of a force can be represented by such a variable, then perhaps forces could be thought of as controllers in this sense? But in view of the fact that we’re already much too eager to think of forces as quasi-agents, I think it’s a rather dangerous usage, probably better avoided. But James’s idea that free will requires that we recognise some sort of top-down, or emergent causation seems right to me. The whole animal needs powers over its parts, as I’d put it – if everything that happens at the psychological level is just a consequence of things happening in or to the small parts of the body, as a result of an entirely bottom-up form of determination, then I don’t see how we (and our psychology) could fail to amount to mere epiphenomena. The final chapter of A Metaphysics for Freedom tries to explain how a place might be found for top-down causation within a basically naturalistic (though not physicalistic) picture. The other thing I’d like to comment on is John’s suggestion that as long as we believe in the fixity of the past, we won’t find Lewis’s response to the Consequence Argument plausible, even if it isn’t completely watertight. But I’m not sure about this. I’ve always been convinced by what Helen Beebee says about this in her ‘Reply to Huemer on the Consequence Argument’ (Phil Review 2002). Beebee notes that Huemer focuses on defending the claim that no matter what S does, she will be unable to falsify any statement about the distant past, as though *that* were the premise of the Consequence Argument that Lewis means to deny. But it isn’t the premise that Lewis means to deny; as he makes clear in ‘Are we Free to Break the Laws?’, the premise he means to deny (on one of its salient interpretations, anyway) is the premise that no matter what S does, she’ll be unable to falsify any law of nature. For Lewis claims that there are some acts that S is able to perform such that, were she to perform any of them, L would be false. It’s the law S can falsify, not the past. How does this square, though, one might ask (and perhaps John implicitly asks) with Lewis’s insistence that for S to perform such a law-falsifying act, a ‘local miracle’ would have to occur prior to that act? Well, it’s true that Lewis does indeed claim that I am (now) able to perform some act A such that if I were to perform A (when in fact I don’t do so), the past *relative to the time of the act* would be different – a miracle will have to occur prior to the time at which A occurs. But that doesn’t entail that I’m now able to perform any act A such that if I were to perform A the past relative to *now* would be different. Here’s what Helen says, and I think she’s right: “To see the distinction clearly, we need to get our time-indexing straight. We can distinguish two theses, each of which entails (WT) [ = I am able to do something such that, were I to do it, a law of nature would be broken] – the thesis to which Lewis explicitly subscribes: (WT1) For some times t1 and t2, where t2 ≥ t1, and for some non-actual act A: I am able, at t1, to do A at t2, and, were I to do A at t2, a law would have been broken prior to t2 (and hence the past-relative to-t2 would have been different). (WT2) For some times, t1 and t2, where t2 ≥ t1, and for some non-actual act A: I am able, at t1, to do A at t2, and, were I to do A at t2, a law would have been broken prior to t1 (and hence the past relative-to-t1 would have been different). Lewis holds (WT1) … But nothing he says suggests that he holds (WT2)”. So in my view, even if one is totally convinced of the fixity of the past (and I am!), this can’t be a reason to reject Lewis’s move. There might, of course, be other reasons, but I don't think the fixity of the past is one of them. This is why (in my view) it all ends up turning on questions about laws. More to say on this, but this post is already long enough!
Toggle Commented Jul 17, 2015 on What Is Determinism? at Flickers of Freedom
Back from the Joint Session and I see that an awful lot has been happening on the blog in my absence! Thanks, everyone, for contributing such terrific comments. Once again, I find myself a bit spoilt for choice about what precisely to respond to. Maybe it's time for me to say something about the Consequence Argument. It's true (as John points out) that ED on its own will produce certain versions of the Consequence Argument - PvI's original version, and presumably other close relatives. But the original version seems vulnerable to the well-known Lewisian move, if we're only prepared to be Lewisian about our laws. The laws *aren't* things no one has any choice about (on the Lewisian view), because they are merely descriptive and so what they are will depend on what we choose (and not the other way around). I think this is what Justin said. On that interpretation, then, a crucial premise of the original argument is false. To get a version of the CA that does the trick for the incompatibilist, and establishes that we have no choice about anything if determinism is true, it looks like we need either something stronger than ED, which builds in the governing conception of law somehow (Justin's 'I've got to be missing something' suggestion, above, I think), hence moving to something a bit more like my original MD; or else one's got to hope that there's something about the actual laws that in fact exist that will take us beyond what ED alone is able to establish (this, I take it, is Paul's suggestion). I have to confess that I've not sat down properly to figure out what exactly I think about the Pruss proof. But my inclination is to think that the Pruss interpretation of 'N' effectively shifts us over to a non-Lewisian conception of the laws and past according to which it follows that we are *constrained* by them (something I think does not follow from ED on the Lewisian view). So it's no accident that the Consequence Argument looks to be in business again, once we offer this sort of interpretation of 'N'. But Joe's question about what the source of the constraint might then be is a good one. Before we can say whether the 'oomphiness' of causation might be involved, I guess we need to be a bit clearer about how 'oomphy' causation might relate to necessitating laws - and indeed what on earth oomphy causation and necessitating laws might be! One question is whether it might be legitimate just to suggest that there is a very basic notion at work in our ordinary thought about causation, law, etc. according to which we allow that certain things are just *made to happen* by others(though that way of putting it seems to encode a past to future directionality which perhaps we'd want to eschew - on the other hand, perhaps not, given that we're trying to encode fairly non-technical worries here). My own feeling is that such a notion is indeed part of what gives rise to the ancient worries about the compatibility of liberty and necessity - and that this notion just vanishes from the picture when all we have to encode the thesis of determinism is ED.
Toggle Commented Jul 14, 2015 on What Is Determinism? at Flickers of Freedom
I wanted to let people know that I have a workshop today and tomorrow and then the Joint Session Fri-Sun, so my opportunities for posting on the blog may be a bit thin on the ground. Apologies if I don't put anything much up over the next few days - I'll make up for it next week. I like Eddy's (CD). And I also agree with Eddy that even if (MD)can be accused of reliance on unclear notions, the very same is certainly true of (ED). AS Eddy suggests, the idea that a ‘complete statement’ of the nonrelational facts about a time could ever be given, even in principle, seems deeply problematic. And which, exactly, are the ‘nonrelational’ facts, and do we know how to distinguish them properly from the relational ones? I am very sceptical that these questions can be given acceptable answers. It may be, in fact, that determinism (however formulated) is basically an incoherent doctrine - I have often been tempted by that view. But of course its incoherence mightn't stop it from bothering people! I also agree with Eddy that the 'folk' worry about determinism is a worldly one - a worry about causation, or the settling of the future by the past, not a worry about entailment. And this actually turns out to be very important, I think. Chris has to be right that one might be worried about determinism for different reasons - and that one might be worried about it even in connection with free will for different reasons - and that one's definition should be sensitive to the root source of the worry. But that is in fact precisely where I am coming from. My worry about (ED) is that it just doesn't get at what bothers most people about determinism - as I think is pretty much shown by the consistency of (ED) with Ramsey-Lewis style deterministic laws. When I ask myself whether I am worried about determinism, given a Ramsey-Lewis conception of law, my answer is simply a resounding 'no'. No one should be worried about determinism if *that's* all it amounts to! If the laws are just Ramsey-Lewis laws and something like a Humean regularity theory of causation is true, there's just no need to worry! Call me a compatibilist, then, if you like - I *am* one, I think, if (ED) is the definition! But it seems to me that this result should rather make us take another look at (ED). Surely what we ought to be concluding is that it just doesn't capture precisely enough what worries people about determinism? As John suggests, (MD) probably entails some thesis like (ED) - but the crucial question, in my view, is whether (ED) entails (MD) - and I don't think it does. For (ED) is compatible with views of the Universe (what one might call 'non-necessitarian' ones) that (MD) excludes; but it's precisely those necessitarian views that worry people! Now of course it could be (as I think maybe Joe is suggesting) that necessitarianism is nonsense. Perhaps it depends on notions of causation that cannot be upheld in the face of modern physics, or perhaps cannot be upheld in the face of philosophical arguments (such as Hume's, for instance). But that wouldn't stop it from being the source of the worry about determinism. And so shouldn't our response be at least to *try* to formulate properly what it is that people feel worried about using notions like causal necessity - and then to show how the central notions are to be undermined?
Toggle Commented Jul 8, 2015 on What Is Determinism? at Flickers of Freedom
Thanks, everyone, for very interesting and astute responses. There's a lot here. Let me respond to one particular theme that seem to be emerging, and provide some contextual background. I'll try to pick up some of the other themes in the days ahead. I think it's probably true (as Joe suggests) that many have wanted to eschew a definition of determinism along the lines of (MD) because of general worries about the unclarity or obscurity of the notion of causal necessitation. It is an interesting question when precisely the doctrine of determinism understood by way of the entailment definition began to be substituted for the more metaphysical-sounding thesis that used to be called the ‘doctrine of necessity’, and why. Although Hume’s views on the absence of any proper idea of causal necessity must be a very important part of the story that needs to be told, the full adoption of the entailment definition of determinism does not seem to have occurred until much later, after various developments in logic and mathematics encouraged philosophers to begin to appreciate the usefulness of the concept of a function. I suspect Russell was very likely a very powerful voice in the shift made by philosophers to definitions of determinism resembling (ED). According to his highly influential paper, ‘On the Notion of Cause’, Russell claims that “A system is said to be ‘deterministic’ when, given certain data, e1, e2, …, en, at times t1, t2, …, tn respectively, concerning this system, if Et is the state of the system at any time t, there is a functional relation of the form Et = f(e1, t1, e2, t2, …, en, tn, t).” On this conception of determinism, determinism holds wherever the way things are at a given time is a function of the way they are at another time – a function that will be encoded by some relevant law of nature. But there need be no implication at all that the law constrains anything; for all Russell’s definition of determinism implies, the law which encodes the functional relation may just be a Ramsey-Lewis law. The functional relation is entirely descriptive, and merely expresses the fact that where such a relation exists, one can in principle infer the state of the world at one moment in time from the state of the world at another. Moreover, the relationship between past and future states is completely symmetrical – one can infer past states from future ones, as well as the other way around. Determinism thus ceases to be merely a doctrine about the development of the world through time – and becomes instead a doctrine about the relationship between descriptions of the world at different times, a relationship which has no particular implications pertaining to constraints on the development of reality. What motivated Russell to formulate the concept of determinism in this way? Earlier in the same paper, Russell expresses his suspicion of the idea that causes compel their effects – compulsion, he insists, is “a complex notion involving thwarted desire” – a concept of psychology and not of metaphysics. One can see in this critique the influence of the Humean idea that we have no clear idea at all of necessitation, and that in so far as the idea has a source in our experience, that source is in the mind and not in external objects. Empiricism had no room for the unverifiable existence of necessary connections between states of affairs, and the concept of determinism developed by adherents of empiricism unsurprisingly followed suit. The entailment definition is the product of a long and important period of philosophical history in which realistic ideas about powers and causes were tested against an empiricism that refused to countenance them, and a mathematicization of parts of metaphysics promised new ways of thinking about the concept of law. The doctrine of necessity was thought to be dead owing to a bad case of unintelligibility: long live the doctrine of determinism, understood according to the entailment definition! However, unless I am much mistaken, I think it is fair to say that philosophy has now entered a new phase of development, in which that empiricism itself is on the back foot. Those who believe in the reality of such things as powers and natures and objective laws which constrain reality have been once again admitted into the fold of philosophical respectability. Of course, it cannot yet be said that they have won the day. There are still those who do not think that the idea that laws truly constrain the development of reality can ultimately be made sense of; regularity theories of causation and Ramsey-Lewis theories of law remain quite widely held. But there are now many adherents of more realistic conceptions of physical and causal necessitation. We cannot, then, simply assume as perhaps Russell once did, that determinism as defined by MD, is the mere product of silly confusions of psychological concepts with metaphysical ones. There are plenty of philosophers these days who are absolutely happy to sign up to what Galen Strawson calls ‘Producing Causation Realism’, the doctrine that causation is something that exists in the world, either because there exist constant objective forces, such as the fundamental forces postulated by physics, or because there are intrinsic natures which dictate how objects and substances will behave with respect to one another. But the discussion of determinism in philosophy has simply not caught up with these changes in the Zeitgeist. If it is respectable once again to believe in real, producing causation and objective, metaphysical laws, it should be respectable once again to formulate determinism in ways closer to the ways in which the doctrine of ‘necessity’ used to be formulated – as a firmly metaphysical thesis about the necessitation of the future by the past. (MD), then, should be in contention once again.
Toggle Commented Jul 6, 2015 on What Is Determinism? at Flickers of Freedom
I'm extremely honoured and pleased to be this month's Featured Author - thanks to Thomas for setting this up. I'm in the somewhat embarrassing position, though, of having to conduct my stint as Featured Author at a time at which I am not really thinking a great deal about free... Continue reading
Posted Jul 5, 2015 at Flickers of Freedom
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OK - so let me try to respond as best I can to some of these concerns. (I'd also like to say, incidentally, how very thrilled I am that this blog has kicked off with a discussion of my work - what an honour. Thanks, Neil, for putting it in the spotlight like this!) I agree that it doesn't, on the face of it, seem to matter much whether I have the power e.g. to pick up a drink with my right hand rather than my left, or to scratch my nose before rubbing my ear rather than after, etc., etc. But my thought is that although the powers we really want are much grander powers than these, those grander powers are dependent for their existence on the simpler ones. What I say in my forthcoming book is this: "It would be surprising if anyone thought the freedoms available to a shark or a horse or even to a chimpanzee, in and of themselves, were really terribly desirable from the point of view of a human being, were ‘worth wanting’. But for all that, it is evident that in order to be a human being, one has to be an animal. In order to exercise the forms of agency that we value so highly – moral choice, exercises of taste and skill, communication, self-disciplined attention to duties, personal development, creativity, etc., – we have to be able also to exercise forms that in themselves almost escape our notice – we have to be able to move our bodies in such a way as to make them carry out plans of our own devising, in the service of our ends. My claim will be that these humble abilities which are widely possessed throughout the animal kingdom are themselves already incompatible with universal determinism. I take it that if this can be made out, it will be enough already to show that no freedom worth wanting can be compatible with determinism either, since all significant freedoms depend for their existence on such basic capacities as these". So that's the idea. The second big question, of course, is whether I am right to suppose that these relatively lowly animal powers, as I think of them, really are inconsistent with determinism. Why should they be? Well - here, as Neil notes, the point is about the distinction I believe exists between *causing* and *settling*. My claim is that agents must settle (not merely cause) certain things - that is, they must be able to bring it about *at the moment (or, better, throughout the period) of action* that something occurs at that moment (or during that period) which need not have occurred. I believe that's part and parcel of the concept of agency. Why care if we don't have this power? Well, what 'we' would we be referring to, if we didn't? I guess I think, in a way, that our very existence is connected with these agential powers - that the whole idea that there is a 'we' at all is connected with the fact that 'we' (animals) are special amongst the entities in the world in the nature of the causing we do. Agency is a bit like consciousness for me, in that respect - it's connected with things like the appropriateness of personal pronouns and the distinction we make between ourselves and our bodies. We can say, if we like, that rocks and the sea and moving air, or whatever, cause events. But the causing that such things as these go in for is causing which these entities are made to go in for. They don't generally make interventions into the course of nature that they aren't caused to make. But animals, I want to claim, do do this - and the fact that they do is part of what makes it useful to conceptualise them quite differently from the way in which we conceptualise inanimate entities - as things, roughly speaking, which have minds and the crucial component of mind which we call 'the will'. From my point of view, then, the question 'what difference would it make to us if we didn't have this power?' presupposes something which I reckon it isn't allowed to assume - namely, that there would be any 'us' in the first place, in the absence of the power. Another way to put the point - if a rock (say) were to acquire the power somehow, it would become worth talking about the rock and its body). I don't want to go on too long - so I'll shut up now - but I hope that makes the general picture a bit clearer. (No doubt it's still pretty murky!)
Toggle Commented Mar 16, 2010 on Flickers of Agency at Flickers of Freedom
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Mar 9, 2010