Talk:Dilemma of determinism/Archive 1

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I added this page to serve as a main page reference for a new section on the Free will page. I hope also to add new sections and separate main pages for Free Will Models and for the Principle of Alternative Possibilities. Cmsreview (talk) 22:39, 15 September 2009 (UTC)

I have removed the offending introductory material.

All the sections now are third-person discussions with references to verify all content.

The source of much of this material is the open source web page at which is licensed with a CC attribution 3.0.

That page is referenced. Much of the material has also appeared on the Garden of Forking Paths blog. Cmsreview (talk) 16:03, 16 September 2009 (UTC)

You have put information about Determinism in the section about Libertarianism. I think you should have information regarding Libertarianism underneath that heading, also you have stated what Richard Taylor feels about Determinism and not Libertarianism. Re free will he thinks that a free act must be caused by me but that i am somehow outside of the normal naturalistic process of law and causation.. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:36, 19 June 2010 (UTC)

Gentile's Actualism

It would seem Giovanni Gentile's philosophy holds a position which doesn't fit neatly into one of the four parts of this spectrum. His actualist dialectic makes a synthesis of hard indeterminism & hard determinism, a compatibilism of sorts that says the opposite of Schopenhauer: the opposite here being that we can indeed will what we will, but empirically our secondary 'will' within that scheme of willing what we will is thus determined, but compatible with absolutely "libertarian" free will because we create the determinations. Nagelfar (talk) 04:38, 31 August 2011 (UTC)

Free will if the environment is tolerant.

Most psychologists appear to believe that free will is an illusion and after-justification, but metastudies by Kurt Fischer, Christina Hinton and others at "Mind, Brain and Education" have linked the prevalence of extreme recoveries after brain damage (that are unexplainable by established neurological and psychological theories) to unusually tolerant social environments. This can be explained by the model that social pressure to justify one's actions leads to justifications that paralyze an underlying ability of practically unlimited self-correction. This is explained in greater detail on the pages "Moderating the free will debate" and "Brain" on Pure science Wiki, a wiki devoted to the scientific method unaffected by academic prestige. (talk) 09:40, 8 January 2013 (UTC)Martin J Sallberg

Highly misleading mistake

Libertarianism does not say that pshysical deteminism is false nor that "free will" in the sense meant here is possible.
Libertarisniam means that free will in sense of free of coercion can and should exist. That's all!
Please correct that picture and correct the article. (talk) 23:49, 12 July 2013 (UTC)


I've added a disclaimer to the lead explaining the narrowness of the treatment in this article. Brews ohare (talk) 17:24, 7 September 2013 (UTC)

That was just inserting your opinion in another guise. This is not an article about determinism, it is a specific article on a specific aspect of that debate ----Snowded TALK 04:30, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
As references provided clearly show, this is not a statement of my unsupported opinion at all. If you have some specific suggestions beyond your own unsupported opinion, please present them here. Brews ohare (talk) 04:34, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
I am sure the references in part support your commentary Brews. But my objection as stated stands. Please read the sentence starting "This is not an ...." You seem to believe here and elsewhere (on far too many articles) that any statement supported by any reference can be inserted and that editors cannot revert you unless they are prepared to engage in interminable discussions with you about the subject. Its not the way things work. Boundary zone on Physics again by the way----Snowded TALK 04:36, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
The topic is the defined version of 'dilemma of determinism' and that is based, as is pointed out, upon an outdated version of determinism (as sourced in the contribution) and upon an outdated version of the alternatives (also sourced). I am sure that had you read the material instead of simply noticing who contributed it, you would have a clearer picture of how far off the mark your comment is. Brews ohare (talk) 04:42, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
I read the material Brews and I consider my comment above valid as a reason for removing it. Other editors may disagree with me and agree with you. That is what the talkpage is for. After a few days of not breaking WP:AGF and WP:NPA you seem to be falling back into bad habits. Please stop that ----Snowded TALK 04:46, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
Goodbye. Brews ohare (talk) 11:59, 8 September 2013 (UTC)


The beginning sentence defines the matter as follows:

The dilemma of determinism or problem of free will is the claim that if determinism is true, our actions are controlled by preceding events and thus we are not free; and that if indeterminism is true, our actions are random and we are likewise not free; and that as determinism and indeterminism exhaust the logical possibilities.

This is a possible formulation, of course. Unfortunately it introduces the notion of 'true' which is a can of worms. It also refers to determinism, which article states that determinism is the belief " that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen".

Combined these statements are a far too restrictive formulation of the 'dilemma'. A much wider formulation would be:

The dilemma of determinism or problem of free will is the claim that if the laws of science apply to everything including human decisions, our actions are controlled by physical laws and thus we are not free; and that if laws of science do not apply to our decisions, the only alternative is that our actions are random and we are likewise not free.

This formulation has these merits:

  • it doesn't presume to say that the laws of science are causally based, but only that they are governed by scientific theory, in whatever form those may take. That position eliminates the easy out that scientific laws are not a belief "that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen".
  • it focuses upon the point that reductionism is at the bottom of one horn of the dilemma.

Although this formulation is better, a more accurate version of the dilemma in my opinion would be the following:

The dilemma of determinism or problem of free will is the contradiction between a belief that the laws of science apply to everything including human decisions, and the intuitive notion that we control our own decisions.

The real issue is the contradiction between 'objective' reality and 'subjective' intuition.

This position requires sourcing, but I don't think that will be a problem. (I could be wrong, of course). Brews ohare (talk) 12:52, 5 September 2013 (UTC)

The present formulation is pretty much that of William James. It is oblivious to the much more complex view of scientific theory that now exists. It ignores the entire content of the subject-object problem. Brews ohare (talk) 13:39, 5 September 2013 (UTC)

The consequence of a narrow formulation is that the subsequent discussion becomes confined by too few choices. Everything is focused upon compatibilism vs. incompatibilism which are phrased through an archaic notion of determinism that sets the stage, coupled with the false dichotomy between reductionism based upon this narrow form of determinism on one hand, and chaos on the other. Brews ohare (talk) 14:48, 5 September 2013 (UTC)

A general form of compatibilism (part of the world is amenable to science, and part is not) is not the same black and white compatibility of determinism with free will the article sets up. It leaves some room for uncertainty about where the division lies and what form the part outside science may take. It leaves room for considering the hard problem of consciousness, the question of inanimate minds, alternatives to reductionism, and so forth. Brews ohare (talk) 15:09, 5 September 2013 (UTC)

I don't see any reason to add in the laws of science as the problem is a long standing one. You appear to be attempting some form of original research around other areas of interest to you. Third party sources as ever, not speculation and we can look at it ----Snowded TALK 20:14, 5 September 2013 (UTC)
I agree with Snowded here. This proposal seems based in a personal objection to a very widespread and standard sense of "determinism" as being, as you say, "archaic", when the very topic of this article is about the thing named by the word when used in that "archaic" sense. The dilemma proposed by its opponents is that determinism, in that "archaic" sense, is incompatible with free will, as is its logical negation. An objection to that proposed dilemma might be that that "archaic" sense of determinism is irrelevant and that the question of free will hangs on something else entirely, but that would have to be included merely as a criticism of the dilemma (and properly attributed to someone notable who has made that criticism of course), and not used to define the dilemma that is to be discussed.
FWIW, I would make that criticism of this proposed dilemma myself, so I'm not defending the validity of the dilemma here. I'm just saying we have to present it first in the terms in which it is proposed by its proponents, and then only later present objections to framing the problem in that way. --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:27, 6 September 2013 (UTC)
Pforrest: If I understand you, the idea is that "dilemma of determinism" is an archaic dilemma, mainly of historical interest because of the issues I've raised. As that is its topic, the article properly describes this archaic question, mainly as a matter of interest to antiquarian readership. Shouldn't the article begin by making these points, lest some readers think seriously that this is a concern of modern philosophy in this form? And, is it not the case that the dilemma still exists today in different form:
The dilemma of determinism or problem of free will is a rather dated question formulated well by William James [blah blah blah].[1] Today these issues have moved on with the changing perception of scientific theory and human consciousness. There is today an unnamed successor to the 'dilemma of determinism', namely the contradiction between a belief that the laws of science apply (or ultimately will apply) to everything including human decisions, and the intuitive notion that we control our own decisions. One aspect of this modern discussion is the role of emergence in the debate between reductionism and antireductionism.[2][3] The debate is particularity pronounced in the field of neuroscience, with some arguing for the explanation of human consciousness at a neuronal level[4][5] and others suggesting this approach is simplistic.[6]
Sources are only representative; not exhaustive and possibly not the best. Brews ohare (talk) 14:38, 6 September 2013 (UTC)
You keep trying to bring your particular view of the role of scientific theory onto various philosophy articles. As ever you need to source the commentary you make and that does not mean your commentary of primary sources. All of the above is original research and very little to do with the subject of this article which relates to a particular historical formulation of a problem. You are also getting close to your topic ban area here. For the record it is also bad form to change your comments after another editor has responded.----Snowded TALK 14:44, 6 September 2013 (UTC)
The idea is that the dilemma which is the topic of this article is framed in terms of a sense of the term "determinism" which you consider archaic, and which I consider a misguided concern, but which is nevertheless still a concern of some contemporary philosophers and so cannot be dismissed as "this was old junk that people used to care about but not anymore". People still care about it. My personal opinion is that they are incorrect to do so; but then my personal opinion is that the "unnamed successor" you allude to is also an irrelevant concern. My personal opinion here isn't relevant and neither is yours. People are still concerned about determinism in this sense, and more specifically with whether it, or its logical negation, are compatible with free will or not. I'll give again an example of Peter van Inwagen, who practically introduced this dilemma into contemporary philosophy only 30 years ago and is still serving in a prestigious philosophy position today at Notre Dame, and who is still one of the central figures in an ongoing debate between his supporters and opponents like Harry Frankfurt who (like me) deny the relevancy of this issue at all. Just six or seven years ago when I was still in school these issues were still being discussed in university philosophy classes; there was an entire class which was essentially a summary of the van Inwagen - Frankfurt debate about this topic. So it is definitely a live issue and not some old archaic cruft. --Pfhorrest (talk) 18:02, 6 September 2013 (UTC)
OK, Pfhorrest, I accept your point that there remain some philosophers who think this way. I understand that you think this is not interesting, and neither do I. Your recommendation is to leave this article as it is without any alert to readers that it is another example of a certain group of philosophers talking to themselves, basically because they enjoy talking to each other even if they aren't talking about anything. Shouldn't there be some guidance to readers to more fruitful formulations of this problem? Brews ohare (talk) 18:27, 6 September 2013 (UTC)
My recommendation is that the introduction to the article remain phrased in the terms in which the argument which is the article's subject is presented by its proponents; and that any notable criticism of the argument (which can't be our own original criticism of course) should be placed further down in the body of the article, with perhaps a short sentence at the end of the lede noting that such criticism exists.
For an analogous case, an article about qi should introduce the concept as it is formulated by those who believe in the thing (but without asserting that they are correct; merely describing what it is that they claim). If there are notable opinions that the concept of qi is outdated and could be more fruitfully replaced with notions of blood flow or nerve pathways or something like that, then that should be covered later, as something which is related to the concept of qi, but which doesn't define it. --Pfhorrest (talk) 22:14, 6 September 2013 (UTC)
Hi Pforrest: The common principle that should apply to qi and to dilemma of determinism is assistance to the reader to find what WP articles match their interests. Taking those readers drawn to dilemma of determinism to include some like you and I who don't find the narrow antediluvian technical interpretation of this term to describe what we are interested in, there should be an attempt to help this misdirected group to find what they are looking for, assuming it exists on WP. That redirection should not require the reader to go through the entire dilemma of determinism to find this information, as very few of them will continue past the lead.
I take this to be what you refer to as "perhaps a short sentence at the end of the lede noting that such criticism exists". I'd suggest adding a footnote with links to other WP articles. For example, the short sentence and footnote could take this form:

A more broadly stated form of the quandary lying behind this dilemma is the tension between the belief that the laws of science apply to everything including human decisions, and the intuitive notion that we control our own decisions.[1]
[1] One aspect of this modern discussion is the role of emergence in the debate between reductionism and antireductionism.[7][8] The debate is particularity pronounced in the field of neuroscience, with some arguing for the explanation of human consciousness at a neuronal level,[9][10] the basis for the Blue Brain Project and mind uploading, and others suggesting this approach is simplistic,[11] for example, asserting that it is unable to address the hard problem of consciousness.
What do you think? Brews ohare (talk) 15:22, 7 September 2013 (UTC)

A different approach would add a line in the lead and also a later section in the following fashion:
A more broadly stated form of the quandary lying behind this dilemma is the tension between the belief that the laws of science apply to everything including human decisions, and the intuitive notion that we control our own decisions. See other formulations below,

        Other formulations

One modern discussion related to a broader formulation of this dilemma is the role of emergence in the debate between reductionism and antireductionism.[12][13] The debate is particularity pronounced in the field of neuroscience, with some arguing for the explanation of human consciousness at a neuronal level,[14][15] the basis for the Blue Brain Project and mind uploading, and others suggesting this approach is simplistic,[16] for example, asserting that it is unable to address the hard problem of consciousness.
This alternative is closer to your proposal. Brews ohare (talk) 15:47, 7 September 2013 (UTC)
I think this approach might be the best because it allows a fuller treatment of alternative formulations. The pargraph above is just a sketch of what might go into that section, and requires more development. Brews ohare (talk) 16:00, 7 September 2013 (UTC)
It reads like you writing a short commentary based on your thinking about a broad subject having read a specific article. It would be a very very poor treatment of the neuroscience debate even if it was relevant (which it isn't). ----Snowded TALK 04:33, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
Glad you liked it and are willing to help out. Brews ohare (talk) 12:00, 8 September 2013 (UTC)

Snowded's reversion

In this edit Snowded reverted a footnote in the lead paragraph with the comment Objections clearly stated on talk page (not that they need to be). These objections are That was just inserting your opinion in another guise. This is not an article about determinism, it is a specific article on a specific aspect of that debate. The present sentence in the lead with the footnote Snowded deleted is as follows:

"The dilemma of determinism or problem of free will is the claim that if determinism is true, our actions are controlled by preceding events and thus we are not free; and that if indeterminism is true, our actions are random and we are likewise not free; and that as determinism and indeterminism exhaust the logical possibilities, free will is thus logically impossible.[1]


[1] This treatment of the 'dilemma of determinism' has a long history, but it is admittedly a narrow view. It employs a concept of determinism and its alternatives no longer in use in the sciences (see John T Roberts (2006). "Determinism". In Sahotra Sarkar, Jessica Pfeifer, eds. The Philosophy of Science: A-M. Taylor & Francis. pp. 197 ff. ISBN 0415977096. ), and ignores modern discussions of the nature and role of conscious action (see, for example, Geraint Rees and Anil K Seth (2010). "The cognitive neuroscience of consciousness". Cognitive Neuroscience 1 (3): 153–154.  and Clayton E Curtis, Mark D'Esposito (2008). "Chapter 3: The inhibition of unwanted actions". In Ezequiel Morsella, John A. Bargh, Peter M. Gollwitzer. Oxford Handbook of Human Action. Oxford University Press. pp. 72 ff. ISBN 0199718784. ).

This footnote appears to me to fit with the suggestion on this Talk page by Pfhorrest that some note be placed in the lead about the limitations of the espoused formulation of the article. Of course, the exact form for such a note is a matter for discussion.

Snowded, however, has labeled this note as (i) my opinion, that is, as original research, despite its sourcing, and (ii) as a departure from the subject of the 'dilemma of determinism'. He has not indicated what is 'original' about this note, nor in what manner it departs from the subject of the 'dilemma of determinism'. To me it appears to be directed exactly at the subject of the 'dilemma of determinism', as its topic sentence indicates.

Of course, the fruitful approach to this note is to critique this attempt in a specific manner, or propose an alternative way to indicate the limitations of the present formulation. Brews ohare (talk) 12:32, 8 September 2013 (UTC)

Brews, if you can find a source which criticises the dilemma then that would have utility per Pfhorrest's suggestion. The problem was you just used a few sources to make your own commentary - and one that anyone who is engaged in the whole neuroscience and philosophy discussions would immediately see as inadequate to scholarship in the field. This is a minor article, one that points readers to some material that has utility. It is not the place for general speculation on the role of science. ----Snowded TALK 13:48, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
In the present example, it is perfectly obvious that a footnote is not an attempt to fully present "the whole neuroscience and philosophy" behind the reservations about the presented version of the 'dilemma of determinism'. As with 98% of footnotes in scholarly discussions, it is simply a 'heads up' that there is more to this than might be inferred if the footnote were not present. The fruitful approach to this note is to critique this attempt in a specific manner, or propose an alternative way to indicate the limitations of the present formulation. Brews ohare (talk) 15:05, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
An alternative approach allowing a greater discussion of the issues is presented here. Your contribution to this attempt is to say " It would be a very very poor treatment of the neuroscience debate even if it was relevant (which it isn't)" It is typical of your commentaries in being (i) vague, (ii) hostile, and (iii) completely unhelpful, both in content and tone. Brews ohare (talk) 15:10, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
Your comment is typical of your approach in another way: it reflects a misreading and failure to understand the content you object to, or the issues at stake. Brews ohare (talk) 15:22, 8 September 2013 (UTC)
To make these issues clearer to you, the term 'dilemma of determinism' has been indicated by Pfhorrest to be a technical designation of a particular historical argument. That historical argument is phrased in outmoded terms that make it only academic. Discussion of determinism in a causal sense with strong connections to Laplace is about as relevant today as talking about phlogiston. In addition, adopting a view of the only alternative to this determinism being uniquely a belief in random events is a false dichotomy. But discrediting this particular archaic formulation of the problem doesn't mean the problem has disappeared. The malaise continues to this day over how one's personal decisions can be held to be autonomous in the face of scientific laws. So what is needed is a more modern statement of this continuing tension that cannot be contained within the narrow confines of this outmoded formulation that has usurped the name dilemma of determinism. The article dilemma of determinism can remain focused on the past, but readers of this article need some guidance to the more pertinent modern predicament. Brews ohare (talk) 14:28, 9 September 2013 (UTC)

A modern view

What is the more modern view? The following is an unrequested essay, intended to provide some insight, not to establish a rigorous position.

First, the modern view employs a different concept of scientific law as a theoretical construction that involves theory and observations, the theory serving to connect the observations. Often the theory involves time, and connects events at different times. Some theories can run time backwards as readily as forwards, and in some theories time and space are mixed together so which spatially separated events are simultaneous is uncertain. Anyway, it is not necessary to consider earlier events as causing later events, and the notion of what constitutes an event is much more flexible than something directly observable. The question then arises as to whether mental 'events' can be subsumed in such an approach.

Of course, right now there is no such theory connecting 'mind' with 'matter', and no set of observations that fits the bill. So there is a variety of opinion on the future capacity of science. In particular, it is clear that a scientific theory is a human construction, and one can query whether a limited human brain can really come up with a 'theory of everything', or merely with a 'theory of everything a human brain can understand'. Perhaps human decision making lies in the inaccessible realm?

There also is a very time-honored view that there are contradictions between understanding someone else's brain and your own, an exterior observation (science) compared to an introspection. Are introspections simply correlates of neuronal activity, or are they artifacts of a brain reprogramming itself?

And there are those that take a different tack - that science may apply to everything, but not in the simple way one might imagine. There are always 'higher order' concepts that are not inferrable from the fundamentals (emergence), somewhat in the manner that there are true theorems in a closed system that cannot be proven from the axioms. What are the implications?

And, maybe finally, there is the issue that human thoughts are not entirely autonomous (even under the most extreme interpretation) but are coupled to culture and environment (which continuously change), so the individual contribution to a decision is but part of a decision, and maybe not always the most important part. How much is under our control?

All this is definitely an unsourced essay on my part that can be taken as OR if that pleases you. It's intended function is to provide some insight as to the complexities of this topic, and what might underlie a 'tip of the iceberg' discussion in dilemma of determinism. These connections between science and our intuitions about decision-making are not encompassed within the old formulation of the dilemma of determinism. Brews ohare (talk) 16:18, 9 September 2013 (UTC)

What is the dilemma?

Although this article is titled Dilemma of determinism, it actually doesn't state the dilemma in the lead, but only the posit of there being only an 'either-or' choice between a particular conception of determined action and completely random action. This assertion is posited as a matter of fact, not as a dilemma. So I suppose the dilemma is whether one accepts or rejects this statement as a statement of fact. So I described the actual dilemma associated with this 'either-or' claim in that fashion.

As it is now, no analysis of the validity of this claim is presented in the article, and the entire discussion is directed toward the question of its implications for moral responsibility. Accordingly, I have introduced this subject in the lead and sourced William James. Later in the article there are numerous quotations saying the same thing from dozens of authors. However, the lead is supposed to introduce the article, so there is a need to mention the topic in the lead. Brews ohare (talk) 16:52, 10 September 2013 (UTC)

The titular dilemma is that between determination and randomness. It may be contested that that is a false dilemma and there are further options, but that is what the titular dilemma is proposed to be: to the extent that something is undetermined, it is random, so determination and randomness are the only options, and both of them are incompatible with free will. That's not my own opinion there, that's just my explanation of what is named by the phrase "dilemma of determinism".
One type of criticism of that proposed dilemma is that there are options besides "determined" and "random", so there is not a dilemma at all. (This seems to be the approach you want to take).
Another type of criticism is that at least one of those options is in fact compatible with free will, so though the dilemma may strictly stand, it is nevertheless unproblematic. (This is the compatibilist approach, and the one I prefer to take).
Some of the other material you introduced seems to misunderstand something that I'm having trouble describing. It's the part about how if determinism means strict causal determinism, then there are other options besides the two listed, namely other kinds of determinism. I'm not sure how to address what you wrote specifically so I'm just going to write something from the ground up and hope it's somehow clarifying: If by "determinism" is meant a strict and universal rule whereby nothing ever happens in a way that is not necessitated to happen that way by prior events and the (true, final) laws of nature, that is, nothing is ever up to any kind of chance, which is to say nothing is ever in any way random, then the two options given by the dilemma are the only two options, because it is saying something of the form "P or not" (either nothing is ever left up to chance, or some things sometimes are). If by "determinism" is meant something else, then yes, there may be other options besides "determined" and "random", if that other sense of "determined" doesn't simply mean "non-random".
This may be more suited for a discussion outside a Wikipedia talk page, but I still think you're having trouble with the different senses of "determinism" and what is meant by "determinism" without qualifiers. A short explanation would be:
  • "Determinism" without qualifiers means the thesis that everything is necessitated somehow by something.
  • "Determinism" with various qualifiers mean theses about specific kinds of things being necessitated, or things being necessitated in specific ways, or by specific other kinds of things. For example:
    • Logical determinsim says that everything is necessitated via logical entailment from facts about the past and the laws of nature.
    • Causal determinism says that everything is necessitated via causation by prior events.
    • Theological determinism says that everything is necessitated somehow by the will of God.
    • Biological determinism says that human behavior is determined somehow by human biology.
    • Cultural determinism says that human behavior is determined somehow by human culture.
And so on. In the more and more specific kinds of determinism, it's possible that that kind of thing is not necessitated in that way by that thing, and yet is not random because it's still necessitated by something else in some other way, or by a combination of different factors. In the broadest unqualified sense of "determinism" simpliciter, however, the options are that any given thing is necessitated by something (or some combination of things) somehow, or it that that outcome is not necessary and may or may not in fact turn out that way, i.e. at random.
But if you want to discuss that further we should probably take it to email or something instead of inflating the Wikipedia talk page here.
I do like the addition of the James material about how the titular dilemma is relevant to moral responsibility, BTW. --Pfhorrest (talk) 22:30, 10 September 2013 (UTC)
Hi Pfhorrest: Of course the posited 'either-or' suggests a decision has to be made, which you take to be the origin of the 'dilemma' because one doesn't know which choice to make. My thesis, explained further later, is that for the stated definition of determinism, an 'either-or' formulation like this is absurd, and the only real dilemma is: what is a better statement of the situation? Or, if you like, how does one obviate this particular 'either-or' posing of the issue?
You have listed several ways to look at determinism. I cited Roberts. I also cited Wilson on causality. There are several facets to this issue, as you noted. One is what definitions are in use, in various fields of study. Another is whether any of these definitions actually apply to our Universe, and if so where: Everywhere? Somewhere? Nowhere?
These two types of question: the one of usage and other of empirical fact, seem to me to require discussion. In particular, does the determinism stated in the lead as defining the 'either-or' proposition endorse any particular choice? I think it does, namely "for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen". If that is so, that makes the discussion of the 'either-or' dichotomy a straw-man, that is, too easy a target, because we know this statement is empirically false. If that is not the definition, then the door is wide open for a much more interesting discussion of just what is the definition, something that doesn't come up in dilemma of determinism.
If you like the formulation of William James, you will see that his is not about the dilemma of which of the 'either-or' choices is true. His dilemma is that if one accepts the 'either-or' (his point 1), then you are faced with the 'dilemma' that there is no moral responsibility.
The dilemma with moral responsibility may motivate a search to disprove the 'either-or': but the way to do it is simply to point out that the 'either-or' has flaws based simply upon the philosophy of science, the meanings of words, and what we now know about how nature works. Brews ohare (talk) 23:54, 10 September 2013 (UTC)
The way you speak of how "definitions [...] apply to our universe" still seems to belie some sort of confusion of concepts here.
You are correct that (to the best that current scientific evidence can support) we know that determinism in the sense that, as you quote, "for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given those conditions, nothing else could happen", is false. That means that one horn of the titular dilemma (the "either-or" as you call it) is known to be false: determinism in that sense is evidently not the case. But the dilemma is highlighting that the negation of that thesis is that some things sometimes happen at random. To the extent that the universe is non-determinimistic in that sense, it is, by the definition of determinism in that sense, random. The falseness of one horn of the dilemma does not falsify the entire dilemma.
The dilemma is saying "P equals not-Q, therefore either P or Q, and either of those is a problem". You are objecting "but modern science shows not-P, so why are we talking about P?" But the topic of this article is about the supposed problems that either P or Q pose, and the supposed mutual exhaustiveness of those options. Saying "not P" doesn't get around anything; someone supporting the dilemma will simply say "well in that case Q, which is just as much a problem as P would be".
But back on the topic of where the dilemma is: are you familiar with the literal meaning of the word dilemma? A dilemma is when you are faced with two and only two choices both of which are undesirable. The dilemma of determinism is a supposed dilemma whereby determinism (in the strict, broad sense) and randomness are the only two choices and both of them have the undesirable consequence of making free will impossible. There is no dilemma between accepting that argument and rejecting it. There is a problem to be solved, or a challenge to be overcome, or something like that; but the dilemma is the thing to be solved or overcome, not the task of solving or overcoming it. If you can show that those options are not mutually exhaustive, or that at least one of them is not a problem, then you have shown that there is no dilemma; those options do not form one fork of some kind of meta-dilemma.
If you come to a fork in the road and apparently have to turn either left or right, you cannot turn back or take any other route, and both left and right forks lead places you don't want to go, that is a dilemma. Trying to figure out a way to turn back or another route to take is not a dilemma; that is the task of attempting to avoid the dilemma. Likewise, the task of accepting or rejecting the "either-or" as you call it is not a dilemma; the "either-or" itself is a dilemma. --Pfhorrest (talk) 04:29, 11 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: Well you are now focusing on the point that P being invalid doesn't bear upon saying the only other choice than P is Q. I'd say that the validity of P has nothing to do with the validity of Q, but Q is only one of many possibilities, so forcing a choice of Q is silly too. I expect you agree that the real dilemma is not one of silly forced alternatives. As James points out (and half a dozen other quotes in the article), the real dilemma is the moral dilemma - how do we support responsibility for our actions? The factors militating against responsibility can be formulated many ways, and this particular P or Q formulation is the lamest of the bunch. Better to choose Chrysippus[17], eh? The moral dilemma is the real dilemma, and is not tied to this straw-man, but to the basic issue that decisions are not completely autonomous, and the question is just where does philosophy (and science) stand on how autonomous they are. A lot of this discussion belongs in Free will, but a brief indication of how the 'dilemma' fits into this context is appropriate, I think. For the article, I think the way I arranged the intro allows for an intelligent discussion of the matter: maybe some variation on this entry point for a reference to different approaches to determinism and causation would be acceptable? Other alternatives? Brews ohare (talk) 16:38, 11 September 2013 (UTC)
Chrysippus got the whole thing as clear as the present article on the dilemma: A slave claims punishment is not in order saying "I was fated to steal". He is met with the response "And to be flogged." We can do a bit better than that, I think, but possibly not better than Chrysippus' notion of 'some' things over which humans have control, the things 'that depend on us'.[18] [19] Brews ohare (talk)
You still seem to be misusing the word "dilemma" here. A moral dilemma is when you are faced with two and only two choices of action which are both morally wrong. There is no such dilemma present here; we are not being forced to choose between options both of which would put us morally in the wrong. There is a proposed factual dilemma ("factual" here meaning "pertaining to reality [rather than morality]"; not "true"): it is put forth that there are only two possibilities, and that either one of them is bad news for us.
One avenue of criticism against that proposed dilemma is to try to show that there are more than those two possibilities. But that belongs first and foremost in some sort of criticism or response section in the body, which can then be summarized in the lede. It does not belong in the attempt to define the issue in the first place.
Of course, the second part of any dilemma is the "either one is bad news" part, and the proposed reason why either of the proposed possibilities is bad news is that they would undermine free will and thus moral responsibility. So this is a dilemma with implications on moral issues, but that doesn't make it a moral dilemma. It just means that the other avenue of criticism is to try to show that they're not both bad news by showing free will and moral responsibility to be compatible with at least one of the options, as compatibilists like Chrysippus do.
This article is not about moral responsibility in general -- there's another article for that. This article is about the specific proposition that "determination and randomness are two mutually exhaustive possibilities, and either one is incompatible with free will and thus moral responsibility". The article is full of counterarguments that free will and thus moral responsibility can survive even if those are the only two options. I haven't noted anybody attacking the other part of the proposition, that those really are the only two options. If you can find a notable source saying something to the effect of "randomness isn't the only alternative to determination", then that would be suited for the body here.
And once we have something like that in the body, we can say in the lede something to the effect of "responses to the dilemma fall into two categories: criticisms of the exhaustiveness of the two choices of determination and randomness, and criticism of the incompatibility of those choices with free will and moral responsibility". But the definition of the dilemma remains of the form "there are only these two options, and they both suck". Criticism of the dilemma has to be kept separate from defining what it is proposed to be in the first place. --Pfhorrest (talk) 17:06, 11 September 2013 (UTC)
I'd point out that in his The dilemma of determinism John Martin Fischer doesn't draw such a fine line between the moral dilemma of determinism and 'moral responsibility'. From the 'two-choice' standpoint the dilemma is between a reductionism of some kind and more openness. Or, you can view it not as a dilemma but as a choice between multiple alternatives. However, none of this is about that. It's about placing the topic into context. Brews ohare (talk) 17:34, 11 September 2013 (UTC)
As for your point: " I haven't noted anybody attacking the other part of the proposition, that those really are the only two options.", I'm a bit taken aback that your stance is that the only two options are between an erroneous statement of determinism as limiting action, and an overly narrow view that the only alternative is randomness. If the first is erroneous, that leaves the door open to alternatives to this idea of 'determinism', and surely a more open 'determinism' makes 'randomness' too narrow an alternative. In its place we have a variety of possible ideas of determinism. Brews ohare (talk) 17:57, 11 September 2013 (UTC)
I'll be off for a few days. I'll have more time to review the many good points you raise when I return. This is an interesting discussion. Brews ohare (talk) 18:00, 11 September 2013 (UTC)
I'm a bit confused as to what you mean about Fischer and how he "doesn't draw such a fine line between the moral dilemma of determinism and 'moral responsibility'." I was critiquing your attempt to frame the topic of this article as about some kind of broader "dilemma" (which is not really a dilemma, just a problem or a challenge) of how to save moral responsibility from the argument posed by the titular dilemma of determinism. Fischer just seems to be talking about the actual dilemma of determinism and not about the other thing; or I should say, he's not calling the other thing a dilemma, which was my point to you before. The dilemma is an argument of the form "if not determinism then randomness, and if determinism or randomness then not free will or moral responsibility, therefore not free will or moral responsibility". An attempt to counter that argument is not itself a dilemma. That's all I'm saying, and Fischer's usage of the term concurs.
Regarding "I haven't noted anybody...", I was not stating my stance there. I was observing that the article doesn't seem to contain anybody arguing against the first part of dilemma, the "the only two possibilities are" part. Any dilemma takes the form of a conjunction of two statements of the form "the only two possibilities are A and B" and "both A and B are bad", and any critique of such a proposed dilemma must attack at least one of those clauses. I was just observing that all the critiques I see in the article now attack the second clause, not the first, and inviting you to find someone attacking the first clause.
It is my stance, however, that the first clause is correct. "Determinism" in the sense used here just means "non-randomness", and clearly the only alternative to non-randomness is randomness, as they're just logical negations of each other; each one literally means anything not the other. The place I address the dilemma, and apparently most others who reject it as well, is to say that non-randomness isn't a problem for free will or moral responsibility. I say yes, those two options may be mutually exhaustive, but that doesn't matter, because free will and moral responsibility aren't principally concerned with that issue, but rather with other issues entirely. --Pfhorrest (talk) 21:03, 11 September 2013 (UTC)

Rephrasing the 'dilemma'

This is a continuation of the above thread.

Pfhorrest: So, I think you would be happy if the lead sentence was rephrased to identify the 'dilemma' as follows:

The dilemma of determinism or problem of free will is the dilemma of choosing between two opposites: that either our decisions are entirely random, and we have no control over them at all, or the opposite is true, that our decisions are not random but determined, by which is meant that they follow a rigid and invariable sequence, and again we have no control over them at all. It is claimed that there is no other alternative imaginable, both from a logical and an empirical point of view, and therefore free will is not possible.

This statement is clearer to me than the present one as it (i) identifies the dilemma explicitly, and (ii) avoids the term 'determinism' which has a lot of baggage. We have to be careful about what we mean by logical opposites. I'd suggest that 'determined = not random' is a technical definition of a term that is not to be conflated with 'determinism' which is a broad philosophical position with many aspects, and is more complicated than the bare assertion that things aren't random. For one thing, it discusses in what ways things may be determined (various types of natural law, karma, etc) and exactly what kind of 'things' are determined: for example, 'states' (only indirectly observable entities) or 'events' (directly observable entities), what constitutes an 'observation', and in particular, discusses whether 'decisions' are among those things subject to those laws and are 'observable'.

How does this sound? Brews ohare (talk) 15:21, 12 September 2013 (UTC)

Much better than your other proposals, but a few things about it still seem lacking.
The first and most minor issue is the phrasing of it in terms of "choosing", as though we get to pick which fork is true. We don't have to be in charge of which outcome comes out in order for it to be a dilemma if both outcomes suck. The dilemma is that one of two things is already true, and we might even know already which one it is, but whichever one it turns out to be, that seems to pose a problem. If we already know which one it is, the dilemma is just saying "well it couldn't get any better; if it weren't like this, we would just have this other problem instead".
Another and still very minor issue is that the way it is usually presented, the "determinism" horn is stated first, because there are already large swaths of people who wholeheartedly agree that determinism is a problem for free will; the dilemma is then adding to that background discourse "but if you throw some indeterminism into the mix, you're just adding randomness, which is just as bad". Putting it the other way -- "randomness is bad for free will, but so is determinism" -- may be logically equivalent, but rhetorically strikes a very different note.
The last and most substantial issue is the way you have it phrased, it seems like the dilemma is between either "everything in the causal chain leading up to our decisions is entirely random", and "everything in the causal chain leading up to our decisions is entirely determined"; when the dilemma actually discussed in the literature is between "everything in the causal chain leading up to our decisions is entirely determined", and "some things in the causal chain leading up to our decisions are random". It's the difference between saying "to the extent that things are not dark, they are light" (what the literature is saying) and "everything is either black or white" (how you've phrased it).
I think that may be part of why you have objections to the dilemma as being a false one. A black-or-white dichotomy is obviously false because there are possible shades of grey. But that's not the dichotomy being posed: what is posed is that if something is not pure black, then it's just somewhat lighter, and both darkness and lightness are detrimental to... something, that analogy doesn't stretch very far. The idea is that if you had a strictly deterministic universe to start with, and then some element of indeterminism was introduced to it, what would be introduced would be a random element; and since adding a random element to the causal chain that leads to our decisions seems to hurt more than it helps, having our decisions be not entirely determined but, instead, slightly random, doesn't seem to offer any hope for free will. You don't have to go "full random" to get the problem: just take whatever deterministic causal chain may be supposed to underlie a decision, and add some randomness to one of the events along the way, and now you've got a "shade of grey" which is just as problematic as "pure black" or "pure white" would be. --Pfhorrest (talk) 18:29, 12 September 2013 (UTC)

I am still worried by what seems to be the notion that a logically impeccable 'either-or' must actually apply to the world, simply because there isn't any alternative. The validity of an 'either-or' is an empirical matter, surely, and if it is found not to apply it simply means the terms used do not describe the 'things' that actually are observed in nature. The logic governs only the 'usage' of the terms within a particular language, and does not bring any certainty to the application of that language to reality. 'Parallel lines' never meet in planar geometry and intersect in spherical geometry, and we have to look at our situation to see which geometry works in our situation. Brews ohare (talk) 15:21, 12 September 2013 (UTC)

Pfhorrest: You have suggested that " those two options may be mutually exhaustive, but that doesn't matter, because free will and moral responsibility aren't principally concerned with that issue, but rather with other issues entirely." I think I agree with the first remark, but possibly not the second, or not exactly. I'd also say the issue as framed in the dilemma misses the point, but not because the real issue is different but because it frames the matter as some kind of logical issue, when it isn't. It involves two realms: (i) the empirical realm: does this dichotomy describe reality? and (ii) the philosophical realm: can the matter of decisions be framed as an empirical matter in the sense of science, or is that a debatable framework because (perhaps) it assumes reductionism, or (perhaps) because it must consider emergence? Brews ohare (talk) 16:06, 12 September 2013 (UTC)

Assuming my proposal above for the lead, the article could discuss the various assumptions behind the dilemma, and in particular its hutzpah in presuming it has some empirical validity. Brews ohare (talk) 16:28, 12 September 2013 (UTC)

Something seems confused about this notion of the "empirical validity" of a purely logical construct. We're not talking about conceptual objects and wondering if objects matching such conceptions are found in reality. We're talking about propositions, in which case any proposition P is either true of the world or it is not. So you could have a dichotomy "either parallel lines never meet, or they sometimes do", and that is necessarily true because it is of the form P or not-P. As it turns out, the second fork of the dichotomy is the true one: parallel lines sometimes do meet, because our universe is non-Euclidiean. But since the dichotomy is logically exhaustive, one of the forks of it was guaranteed to be true of the universe, because otherwise you would have a universe where neither P nor its negation was true.
(There can be a kind of problem that might be posed for some propositions, e.g. "The King of France is bald" might be neither true nor false because there is no King of France, but that's a whole philosophical problem unto itself, and doesn't really apply here, because the analogous objection would have to be something like "there is no time" or "there are no events", because we're dealing with propositions like "all events are necessitated by prior events" and its negation, "some events are not necessitated by prior events"). --Pfhorrest (talk) 18:29, 12 September 2013 (UTC)
The idea that a proposition is 'true of the world or it is not' is a bit simplistic, don't you think? You can say 'all squares are rectangles' and that can be true by tautology, but saying 'that mirror is a square' requires some criteria about how closely the mirror satisfies the various theorems about squares and if the fit is close enough. So you can say 'all events are determined by prior events' and in some language that may be tautological but in the world we have to decide whether what you are referring to fits the definition of an 'event' closely enough, and whether it suits our conception of 'determined' closely enough and so forth. There is no certainty in these determinations, and there also is no universal agreement about what is an 'event' and what is meant by 'determined' except within one or another technical vocabulary, like a geometry where all words have exact meanings, but where the application to the world is not a consideration. I imagine you agree with this? Brews ohare (talk) 20:03, 12 September 2013 (UTC)
There is certainly room for interpretation of almost any proposition, be it "that mirror is a square" or "all events are determined by prior events". But whichever interpretation you give it, it is either true or not. So whatever interpretation we give "all events are determined by prior events", either that is true or not. The interpretation clearly understood by writers in this field is that that means "no events are random at all", putting randomness and determination as mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive options. You can talk about things being "determined" in some other sense which is not synonymous with "non-random", but that's not the sense used in the titular dilemma.
To explore your mirror analogy a bit more, you might have a dilemma which says that to the extent that a mirror is not perfectly square, it must have [non-right angles, or curved lines, or more or fewer than four lines or angles, or unequal-length sides] as "square" just means "composed of four straight lines of equal length joined at four right angles"; and that there is some kind of problem with a mirror being perfectly square, but also a problem with it having [non-right angles, or curves, or more or fewer than four lines or angles, or unequal-length sides], so that whether the mirror is perfectly square or not, there is some kind of problem. In that case it doesn't matter how exact you care to be about whether the mirror is perfectly square, because any allowable deviance from squareness is just a step in an equally problematic direction.
The titular dilemma of determinism is like that. Saying that "determined" can be interpreted more loosely than strict, universal determination of everything, doesn't really affect the argument proponents of the dilemma are making, because their argument is that anywhere on the spectrum from such strict universal determination to complete and total randomness is equally problematic; stepping away from one end just puts you close to the other.
There might be some kind of argument to be made that there is more than that one dimensional spectrum to consider, but I'm not familiar with any such arguments. I'd welcome any links to some notable source making one. --Pfhorrest (talk) 22:26, 12 September 2013 (UTC)
The statement that given any proposition and a particular interpretation of it, then it is either true (that is true of the world) or not, strikes me as perplexing. For example, if we say that rod is a metre long, is that statement necessarily true or false? If we say it is true because it is the 'same' length as the standard metre, what does 'same' mean? If we say it means when made an arm of an interferometer it corresponds to the same number of fringes of a certain radiation as when that arm is made with the standard metre, then I guess you'd say that was applying a certain interpretation. Along with that spec would go that the measurement was made at a certain temperature and in a vacuum and so forth. Of course, we could not guarantee that temperature was 'exactly' the same or the vacuum was indeed 'exactly' the same, or that the radiation had 'exactly' the same wavelength in both steps of the comparison. So we'd have to say they are the same 'to the best of our ability'. Perhaps you wish to say that the present matter of saying some 'event' is 'determined' by another is somehow different from this example of a proposition? Brews ohare (talk) 01:32, 13 September 2013 (UTC)
Answering all those questions is just interpreting the proposition.
Once you have answered all those questions and reached an understanding of what the proposition means, then that proposition, with that meaning, is either a correct proposition, or it is not and there is some other proposition to the effect of "that [the first] proposition is incorrect" which is consequently true.
Strictly speaking, disambiguating this kind of problem is what the word "proposition" is for. A sentence is some string of symbols. A proposition is what a sentence means. The classic example is that "snow is white" and "schnee ist weiß" are two different sentences that convey the same proposition, and it is the proposition which carries a truth value, not the sentence per se.
So whatever proposition a sentence conveys, which is to say, whatever you flesh a sentence out to mean in the end, after satisfying yourself with the answer to as many followup interpretive questions as you feel necessary, that thing is either true or false, barring some esoteric arguments which are as irrelevant as the rest of this long tangent, because they're not being considered by those who put forth the dilemma of determinism, unless you can find someone using such arguments to refute it. --Pfhorrest (talk) 02:07, 13 September 2013 (UTC)
Hi Pfhorrest: I find your view here alien to me. My standpoint is pretty much like Carnap. So you have some theory which consists of (i) an abstract construction like a geometry that has to be self-consistent and has propositions that are true because they are consistent with the rules and definitions of the geometry, and (ii) some observations that are actual measurements of entities and (iii) a set of rules that connect things involved in the observations with the abstract concepts in the geometry. Then if your abstract construction is useful, it connects your observations together in the observed fashion, and may suggest other connections that you can check to see if they hold too. The combined 'abstract formulation + correspondence rules' is 'true' if it is congruent with the observations to a sufficient degree that it has practical value. So for instance, thermodynamics is 'true' for a certain area of experience, but it has limitations, and cannot be relied upon, for example, for systems with small numbers of particles.
I am sure you are familiar with this way of looking at matters. There may be some weaknesses in my description, but they probably don't matter here. It seems to me that you are presenting a very different idea than this about 'truth'. It is not a tautological truth, and it is not a truth dependent upon experimental checks. Am I right about that? It seems to depend upon some (to me) mystical power of logic to discover the 'truth' sort of à la Plato. Am I right about that? Brews ohare (talk) 05:17, 13 September 2013 (UTC)
No, that's not at all what I'm getting at, and I'm a little confused as to how it could look like I am.
Most recently I am talking about the technical concept of a proposition separate from a mere sentence, which gets around the problem of "but what does x mean" you pose; a proposition is what you get when you fully comprehend what a sentence means, however many clarification questions you may need to ask to reach that comprehension.
Leading up to that I was talking about the principle of bivalence: the principle that every proposition is true xor false. If a proposition is only true with certain qualifications, then it is an appropriately qualified version of that proposition which is true, and the unqualified version of it is strictly false. The principle of bivalence is a standard feature of classical logics and usually taken completely for granted unless explicitly stated otherwise.
The function of the negation operation, just for completeness sake, is to return 'true' when the proposition it is applied to is false, and vice versa, so if "P" is false, "not-P" is true, and if "P" is true, then "not-P" is false. Combined with the principle of bivalence this means that either "P" or "not-P" is always true (and the other one false) for any proposition P, tautologically; you have to employ strange nonclassical logics to ever get any other result than that.
Those who put forth the dilemma of determinism are employing the conventional sense of the word "determination" by which it is equivalent to "non-randomness"; equivalently, by that sense, "randomness" is taken to be equivalent to "non-determination".
They are then employing the principle of bivalence and that word sense to say that that either something was determined or it was not, and in the case that it was not determined, it was random; or for more complex causal chains, that to the extent that the end result was not completely determined, it was partly random. In other words, that everything which is not determined is random, and everything that is not random is determined; that no matter how you cut it, everything comes down to determination or randomness, either one or the other in whole or some mix of the two in various parts.
Then they restate the traditional incompatibilist argument that determination undermines free will.
Then they point out more recently raised arguments that randomness undermines free will.
Then they conclude that, as everything is down to either determination or randomness, no matter which happens to be the case, there is always something there undermining free will.
Most objections to this seem to take the form of attacking one of those last two points. My tack as a compatibilist is to attack the second to last one.
I can see "targets" here at other points, but I'm not aware of any attacks on them: one could attack the sense of the word "determinism" and argue that "non-determination" is not equivalent to "randomness". I suppose one might also attack the principle of bivalence itself and argue that it's possible for something to be neither-determined-nor-not-determined, both-determined-and-not-determined, neither-random-nor-not-random, or both-random-and-not-random. But I'm unfamiliar with any arguments to that extent and I can't readily come up with any, even any bad ones, myself. It has always seemed to me that metaphysical libertarians must make some kind of argument like this or else be forced to concede that electrons, to the extent that they exhibit random (thus non-determined) behavior on the quantum scale, therefore have "free will", which I think most of them would find absurd. But I haven't actually seen such an argument made. If you can find someone making one, I'd like to see it, and it would be suitable for this article too. --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:11, 13 September 2013 (UTC)


I'm deleting my earlier remarks which seem too long and indirect.

There is an article on propositions by McGrath and one on WP. I don't find they clarify the issues here. Your remarks seem to indicate that the statement "human decisions are determined or are random" is to be taken as equivalent to "human decisions are either random or not random". The introduction of the idea of a 'proposition' seems to mean "random" is to be taken in a labyrinthine sense of bringing with it all possible connotations and caveats necessary to make the statement true, both logically and empirically. That approach makes the statement a 'work in progress' as we don't actually know what all this baggage is. I don't think the statement "human decisions are determined or are random" is historically intended this way. I also think the matter is not all that clear, as described below.

If we look at the statement "human decisions are determined or they are random" I take it that this is to be seen as equivalent to "human decisions are either not random or they are random." About this statement, at one point you say that we are not talking about reality here, but logical constructs. If we then raise the question of what is meant by a 'random' decision, we then can refer to some branch of mathematics to define a random event within that context. In that context, events are either random or not. But how does this connect to reality. Is the 'proposition' the key?

If we ask whether in the real world an event is random, for example, the occurrence of an earthquake in San Francisco, or a car accident at the corner of Fifth and Broadway, that is an empirical question about how well the mathematical theory fits the accumulated data on earthquakes or accidents. It may be that in fact given enough information and a capable enough computer we could predict exactly when these events will occur. It may also be in fact that the myriad details entering into these occurrences are so varied that the mathematical theory of a random event fits the accumulated data sufficiently well for insurance purposes, and the insurance company actually could not care less whether you can calculate all these occurrences given enough resources and enough time. And it may be that in fact these events are unpredictable, maybe because at bottom they are not predictable or maybe because we haven't the capacity to figure them out.

So what is the answer? Are all real events either random or not random? Can a single event be called random, or is that a classification of that event as one of a certain collection of somehow 'similar' events? Or depending on context, can the same events can be viewed one way or the other? Brews ohare (talk) 12:15, 14 September 2013 (UTC)

Let's take your earthquake example as a concrete illustration.
Some scientists asks "was there a random earthquake?" and sets out to find out whether there was or not.
In the process of doing so, he has to clarify precisely what would qualify as a random earthquake. That clarification process illuminates what exactly the sentence "there was a random earthquake" would propose; what that sentence means, what its truth-conditions are. This is the only part to do with propositions at all; figuring out what proposition he's trying to prove or disprove in the first place.
Then he does his tests and gathers evidence and concludes either yes, there was a random earthquake, or no, there was not a random earthquake. Those are the only two results he can get. (He can of course get no result and say "I don't know whether there was a random earthquake or not").
Since scientific conclusions are always tentative, he might turn out to be wrong about whichever one he says. But if he is wrong, that means he should have said the other one; if "there was a random earthquake" is the wrong conclusion, "there was not a random earthquake" would have been the right conclusion.
If it were correct to conclude that there was an earthquake at all, it would consequently be correct to conclude that it was a non-random earthquake. It might be possible that there was no earthquake at all, but if there was one, it was either random or not.
If "random" fleshed out to mean "not necessitated by prior events", and "determined" were to be fleshed out as "necessitated by prior events", then he could conclude that, if there was an earthquake and it was not random, it was determined.
If he clarifies all these meanings ahead of time, he will be able to declare, before running any experiments, that any earthquake which may have happened was either a random one or a determined one. That is a trivial declaration though. That's like saying "it will rain tomorrow or not" -- look at me, I'm an infallible weatherman making predictions which are guaranteed to be true, but completely uninformative.
Philosophy is largely about the clarification of our concepts rather than contingent facts about the world however, and most philosophical results proceed by first highlighting a trivial truth and then showing how it logically conflicts with something more substantial. The dilemma of determinism attempts to show that free will is impossible just in concept because free will demands something that is both random and not, both determined and not. The "nothing can be P and not P" part is largely considered completely trivial, outside certain narrow circles of non-classical logicians, and the general sense of "determined" widely and long used in the field is equivalent to "non-random"; of particular importance, those who put forth the dilemma, defining what it means in doing so, take those as background assumptions. So most of the rebuttal to the dilemma addresses the claim that free will demands something so contradictory. But you're welcome to find material from other authors attacking those assumptions instead. The important part is just that the dilemma, as stated and defined by its proponents, has those background assumptions. Arguing that they are wrong assumptions has no impact on how to define the topic in the lede, and unless you know of notable authors arguing against the dilemma by attacking those assumptions, discussing it further here is off-topic for wikipedia.
(I'd be happy to continue this in email if you're interested in just clarifying concepts for your own interest. I'm about to leave for the weekend though, so it'll be a few days). --Pfhorrest (talk) 20:02, 14 September 2013 (UTC)
I understand your point of view. Thanks for the explanation. I do understand that one might propose that the words 'dilemma pf determinism' be taken to mean 'Human decisions are either random or not random.' Accepting this formulation, as part of the project of understanding this formulation we have to "clarify precisely what would qualify as a randomness of decision. That clarification process illuminates what exactly the sentence 'Human decisions are either random or not random.' would propose." (I paraphrase you.) That undertaking I take it is partly a scientific undertaking about the empirical tests that might support the assertion that randomness had occurred. Such matters are eschewed by the philosopher, who constrains attention to comparison of the usage of 'Human decisions are either random or not random.' with the usage of 'Human decisions are made with free will'. I'd be inclined to say that we need formal definitions (with no necessary relation to reality) of 'free will' and and of 'random' before we can proceed. Once that is done, I suppose symbolic logic would settle the matter of whether one statement implies the other (or perhaps its contradiction). If the answer is yes, then either phrase (or its contradiction) can be used one for the other, and if they are different, then they cannot. Most of us don't make that kind of translation to symbolic logic so we have to rely on the less precise formulation in English.
So first, is that your view of the matter? Philosophy consists of using symbolic logic to establish the equivalence of formal usage? Assuming that is so, where do we put the non-philosophical discussion of (i) whether the proposed definitions are the only formal choices, and (ii) which of the proposed definitions have any parallel in the way the real world works?
Do we need a section on the "plethora of possible formal definitions for 'random'" and another about the 'formal relations between 'non-random' and other possible meanings of 'determinism'", and a third on "scientific study of the pertinence of the 'dilemma of determinism' to observations in real life"? Brews ohare (talk) 15:48, 15 September 2013 (UTC)
In your paraphrase of me, if it's meant to be analogous to my discussion of your earthquake example above, the sentence to be clarified would be just "human decisions are random"; the inference that could be made before any test were run would be "human decisions are either random or not random", because that first sentence (the one to be clarified) must be either true or false (barring paraconsistent logic), we just don't know which it is until we run some tests, and we don't know what it being true or false would mean until we clarify that.
Strictly speaking there would have to be any "scientific undertaking" involved if someone wanted to consider the issue from a non-verificationist standpoint, i.e. someone who believes the meaning of a descriptive sentence can be known without knowing anything about what kind of observations it would entail. I gather you are of a verificationist bent, and I lean that way myself, but we would importing our own philosophical assumptions into the issue to make much of this point.
But yes, I think, to the question I think you're going for: philosophy is not concerned with the running of any scientific tests, but more with clarifying what questions such tests are supposed to be answering; examining the definitions of concepts and their logical relations to each other.
So, discussion of what definition of a concept is correct is as much a philosophical issue as using formal logic (it doesn't have to be symbolic to be formal) to draw conclusions from those definitions; compatibilist arguments of against the dilemma are largely to the effect of "that's only true for a bad/useless/wrong/etc definition of 'free will'", and I've been inviting you to find someone saying "that's only true for a bad/useless/wrong/etc definition of 'determinism'" too.
Articles like free will and determinism and randomness are the appropriate places to spell out the "plethora of possible formal definitions" of those concepts, and any scientific research that may be applicable to seeing if those concepts are instantiated in the real world. What this article could probably use is a fuller statement of the argument for the dilemma, including a statement of the definitions of the concepts being used. I could write one up, but that would be original research; better to pull an argument out of some published source, like Van Inwagen, and spell it out more thoroughly than we have so far. Discussion of other possible definitions not being used in the argument should only be included where someone has specifically made a counterargument out of criticizing the definitions used; otherwise we would end up with a full rehash of all those other articles embedded in this one.
I think that should address your concerns in the section below as well. --Pfhorrest (talk)

Meanings of determinism

According to John T Roberts, the "thesis of determinism has been defined in many ways. The basic idea is that one part of the world's history controls another part". Roberts' article is an extended elaboration of the various views, which are by no means all reducible to one formulation.

On the other hand the 'dilemma of determinism' is phrased in this WP article as:

The claim that if determinism is true, our actions are controlled by preceding events and thus we are not free; and that if indeterminism is true, our actions are random and we are likewise not free; and that as determinism and indeterminism exhaust the logical possibilities.

Now on the face of it this statement of the dilemma begins "if determinism is true", which appears to depend upon what one means by "determinism", and also appears to say, whatever "determinism" means (or is selected to mean here), it applies to human actions. It also appears to suggest that whatever meaning one attaches to 'determinism' (or is selected to mean here), the term 'random' is its opposite, so for example, the possibility of degrees of probability is irrelevant.

So, at a minimum, this lead is lacking in several ways: (i) it fails to make clear just which meaning of "determinism" is involved, and why, and whether its choice is a modern or an historical viewpoint, (ii) it fails to make clear just why its chosen form of determinism should be considered to apply to human actions, (iii) it fails to justify the claim that the opposite of its chosen form of determinism is encompassed by the term 'random', or how 'random' is defined, (iv) it fails to be clear about whether the dilemma intends to discuss a matter of fact about real human decisions (what evidence exists as to whether they are or aren't random), or whether the dilemma is viewed simply as a logical dissection of formal definitions and English usage without any intended bearing upon reality at all. Brews ohare (talk) 16:49, 15 September 2013 (UTC)

Of course, the lead cannot go into detail, but it can raise the issues and indicate whether or not they are considered in the article body or ruled to be off topic. Brews ohare (talk) 16:56, 15 September 2013 (UTC)

Body of article not on topic

A major reservation about the body of the article dilemma of determinism is that it consists almost entirely of quotes regarding determinism and free will, and the relation of these to the very specific formulation called the 'dilemma of determinism' is not pointed out. A proper discussion of the 'dilemma of determinism' would discuss the history and progression toward this particular casting of the problem, and not simply be an unfocussed hodge-podge of quotes about free will and determinism in general, and not directed at this particular formulation called the 'dilemma'. In particular, various assumptions behind the formulation of the 'dilemma of determinism' favored here, namely: 'human decisions are either random or not random' should be pointed out and sourced, such as the equating of indeterminism with randomness, the unexplained assertion that determinism applies to human decision-making and so forth, and just what is meant by random. For example, does 'random' refer to uncertainties in atomic behavior in the brain, to unpredictability, to probability assignments, to psychological vagaries, or all of the above? Brews ohare (talk) 15:34, 17 September 2013 (UTC)

Better to remove it I would have thought. There are other articles that deal with determinism and we don't want to make this a coatrack ----Snowded TALK 21:35, 17 September 2013 (UTC)
I agree. If there is excessive material here just talking about free will or determinism, and not about the specific dilemma of determinism, it should be deleted or moved to a more appropriate article, rather than going into length here about all sorts of topics which have their own arguments. Just making it clear (per discussion sections above) what premises (including definitions) are used by the argument for the dilemma should suffice, unless a noted critic of the dilemma has specifically raised one of these details in an argument against it. --Pfhorrest (talk) 00:13, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
I'll take an appropriately coloured pencil to it tomorrow if no one else picks up on the need first ----Snowded TALK 07:12, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
As pointed out by Pfhorrest, some of this material can be transferred to free will or to determinism. And some can be retained, but needs to be related to the topic. A red pencil is not the best remedy. Brews ohare (talk) 15:40, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
I only see agreement above Brews, not sure what point you are making ----Snowded TALK 21:54, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
I think he's referring to my latest response in the Propositions section above, where I suggest that material which is not fit for this article because it's about free will, determinism, randomness, etc, more generally, rather than the very specific topic of this article, might be more suited for the articles on those particular subjects. --Pfhorrest (talk) 22:59, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
I realised that, sorry not to have been clear. It doesn't affect the need to remove material not directly related to the subject. Not clear given he assumes the pencil is red if he agrees with that or not. Either way I'll leave it for a day or so and see what happens but there is some synthesis creeping into the latest edits - the diagram being used as an authority rather than an illustration for example. I'll hold on changes to see how it develops, but consent to the changes should be assumed as yet ----Snowded TALK 17:54, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
The diagram is not the authority: the cited source (Greene) is the authority. We also have Dennett, and undoubtedly many other possible sources. The point here is that you could exercise some effort in trying to relate the material quoted to the topic, rather than using an eraser. Brews ohare (talk) 21:38, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
I'll check it. Brews you do need to realise that removing irrelevant material has the same value to wikipedia as adding stuff ----Snowded TALK 23:07, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
You are oversimplifying. Stuff that can be tied into the article doesn't have to be removed if time is taken to provide the connections. Brews ohare (talk) 04:02, 20 September 2013 (UTC)