Talk:Dilemma of determinism/Archive 2

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History section

I have rewritten the history section as a much broader conception of the 'dilemma'. I think the introduction should be redone to allow this broader view. Brews ohare (talk) 19:24, 18 September 2013 (UTC)

Most of these changes look fine to me, but this one paragraph struck me as incomplete, and that I think highlights a major concern or curiosity of mine throughout this entire debate. You wrote:
"It will be noted that the dilemma considered here is not the same as the one posited at the beginning of this article. That is, although all agree upon one arm of the conflict as 'fate' or what is determined, Plutarch, James, Pinker and Bok describe the alternative as simply what is not 'fated' or causally determined. In contrast, the formulation at the outset of the article casts the alternative more specifically as 'random' events. The question arises whether the true alternative to determined events is random events. This question is not entirely one of fact, but also of definitions and usage, and the latter preoccupies most modern discussion."
As I mentioned earlier, I've long imagined that metaphysical libertarians must make some kind of argument that there is some kind of indeterminism which is not random, or else be forced to claim the absurd position that quantum randomness gives simple fundamental particles "free will". But I've never actually seen such an argument, or seen proposed some kind of non-determined non-random third possibility.
I was hoping that this paragraph was leading up to examples of someone arguing that there was such a third alternative, but instead it simply states that there is an open question as to whether there is a third alternative. I think that this gets at what befuddles me about your intent to clarify the article, Brews: the widespread use throughout the literature seems to treat "determined" and "random" as opposites, and you seem to want to make room for the possibility that they are not, but I have not seen anyone in the literature put forth an argument that they are not, or a proposal for what a third alternative would be. So it seems like you are merely saying "this all hinges on the premise that determinism and randomness are opposites, but maybe they're not!" and not explaining any further. Is there any reason to doubt that premise? What is the supposed alternative? At this point I'm just curious to hear even what you personally think about the matter, and leave finding notable sources with the same opinion for later. --Pfhorrest (talk) 21:10, 18 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: As I understand the matter, the various cited sources from Plutarch on down refuse to give up the idea of moral responsibility, and also refuse to give up the idea of causality. So they propose separate domains, thereby lmiting the reach of causality. They do this in various ways, and I think the quotes indicate how they approach this. More detail is found in the sources, of course. For myself, I am inclined to the view that it is hutzpah to suggest that scientific methods apply universally, for at least two reasons: (i) that it is pure extrapolation, and (ii) it makes no more sense to think the limited human mind can operate on a universal level any more than to think a whale can do that, even though whales cannot build hadron colliders. On this last note, the finite capacity of human understanding may mean only that within that capacity we should try to be as clear as possible, and that means admitting the possibility that (e.g.) the 'hard problem of consciousness' never will be resolved. Brews ohare (talk) 00:11, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
The question of whether determinism is the opposite of random is a question of definitions. Inwagen seems to think indeterminism is not the same as random. Bok seems to think determinism does not necessarily imply causality unless one adopts 'theoretical' explanation as the only kind. James thinks that causality is useful for some purposes, but doesn't apply everywhere and contradicts an undeniable intuition about free will. Smart definitely argues that random and determinism are opposites, but not everybody thinks Smart has got it right. Maybe we should discuss the possible meanings of determined, determinism, indeterminism, randomness and causality? Brews ohare (talk) 00:54, 19 September 2013 (UTC)
The various sources all want to hang on to both moral responsibility and causality, yes, but doing so does not necessarily require some kind of "third option" as you seem to suggest. The usual compatibilist answer is to say that there is nothing contradictory about a person's decisions being (1) completely and totally necessitated or determined by some causal chain or another, and (2) made freely in the sense necessary for the agent to be morally responsible for that action. The discussion of addiction and the hypothetical mind-control scenario are in the vein of compatibilists like Frankfurt who take that kind of view.
The usual libertarian answer is to say that some things, like human decisions, are not totally necessitated or determined by any causal chain. You seem to be suggesting that that is the position put forth by some of the sources: that not everything is totally necessitated or determined in that way (which is to say, determinism simpliciter is strictly false). But the dilemma of determinism is in large part a response to that kind of position, arguing that to the extent that things are not thus necessitated or determined -- to the extent that they do not issue forth from some ongoing chain of causes and effects -- they are random -- they issue forth from no cause, for no reason -- and that a decision thusly issued hardly seems any freer than one that could not have been issued otherwise because of prior states of the universe and rigid causal laws.
You have been suggesting that there is a third possibility, that there is some kind of sense of the word "undetermined" which is not synonymous with "random", and that some sources take that option. I'm not seeing it in any of the material you've added to the article though; I'm not familiar with it from anywhere else; I can't think of any on my own; and your description of your own position above sounds simply like libertarianism: that determinism is false, or at least, can't be known to be true, so there's room for undetermined actions, and thus free will. Which ignores the dilemma rather than addressing it: the dilemma is saying that if there are undetermined actions, then that is to say there are random actions, and that that doesn't seem to help the case for free will at all.
As to the sources you name here offering a third option: Van Inwagen is a poster child for the determined-or-random dichotomy, so I'd like to see a quote from him if you think he's saying otherwise somewhere. Bok is saying only that "determinism" in the context of theoretical explanations of the operation of the world fleshes out to "causal determinism", and doesn't seem to suggest a third alternative at all (his later comments you've added sound like more compatibilism: the important question about free will is not the theoretical, scientific explanation of how decisions are in fact caused or not, but an entirely different question about moral reasoning, which is unaffected by the caused-ness or lack thereof that may underlie the mechanism of that reasoning). James sounds in that quote to be taking the libertarian out, saying "well if determinism contradicts free will so so much the worse for determinism, it might not be true after all!" -- which is weird to me because James is a well-known compatibilist, so I feel like that quote must be out of context but I haven't the time to investigate it now -- but either way he isn't proposing a third alternative to determinism and randomness, he's just proposing that we might discard determinism if we decide it is no longer a useful postulate.
So there's plenty of sources saying "maybe determinism isn't true!", but that was never in doubt -- that's just what libertarians do. The dilemma poses a challenge to them though, saying "sure maybe it's not, but if not then we just have another problem instead -- randomness". I'm still looking for someone saying "here's how something could be neither determined nor random". And from your response to the question above, it still sounds like you don't properly understand the question -- saying "maybe some things are determined, and others aren't" doesn't answer anything, because the dilemma of determinism will rejoin "then the ones that aren't determined are thus random, and how is free will possible in either case?" --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:47, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: You've made a very clear statement of how you see the lay of the land. Let me suggest that we look at the sources more closely. Although this dilemma has been with us for millennia, it has been wrapped in different language.
Let us look at William James. The quote in the WP article is very clear that James thinks that causality does not apply to every event in the universe. There is no way to get around his wording on this matter. "The principle of causality, for example, — what is it but a postulate, an empty name covering a demand that the sequence of events manifest a deeper kind of belonging of one thing with another than the mere arbitrary juxtaposition" "The world has shown itself, to a great extent, plastic to this demand of ours for rationality. How much further it will show itself plastic no one can say." To my mind James very clearly is suggesting that there is the causally determined, but there are other things as well, and he is not suggesting that they are random events, just other events.
Let us look at Bok. The quote is very clear that Bok wishes to separate the problem of 'freedom of the will' from what she calls 'causal explanation'. She clearly separates "difference in kind between the causes of our choices and actions and those of the behavior of other objects". There is no mention here that this separation requires they be random.
Let's look at Pinker: "Either we dispense with all morality as an unscientific superstition, or we find a way to reconcile causation...with responsibility and free will." "Science and morality are separate spheres of reasoning. Only by recognizing them as separate can we have them both." Again there is no indication that this separation involves randomness.
On the basis of these sources, I'd suggest that the old formulation of Plutarch is alive and well: some things are 'fated' to occur, but not everything, and particularly not every human action.
Now, I would agree that there are those who take a different tack and fit the presentation you have made. I am prepared to say that these voices may not have adequate presentation in the history section, although they are 'way overweighted in the introduction.
Apparently you feel that the position I have just outlined is libertarian, in that it says determinism must have a limited reach, so free will can be possible. It isn't the 'black-or-white' libertarian position of the introduction, and does not require randomness. It may be that if you accept a reductionist standpoint the either-or of causal or non-causal reduces to determinism or randomism. But there is nothing to suggest that the reductionist standpoint is valid for all phenomena. The assumption of universal applicability of science is tantamount to an adoption of some form of The Mind/Brain Identity Theory.
For example, my reading of Dennett is that he thinks the idea of 'causality' is an evolving notion with a cultural context, and what is 'caused' in the future may well appear 'uncaused' at the moment. This approach appears to allow that science has a limited, although ever-expanding, reach. That may be a different version of my casting of the situation - there is a regime where science does not apply today, and in fact, may never apply. The example of addiction discussed in the WP article is an example of an evolving sense of what is within an agent's grasp, and under what circumstances.
On Inwagen, the Oxford University Press summarizes his An Essay on Free Will as concluding "Finding no good reason for accepting determinism, but believing moral responsibility to be indubitable, he concludes that determinism should be rejected." I'm left unsure whether determinism is to be rejected in all domains, or just in some. If the latter, he agrees with James, when James says: "If a certain formula for expressing the nature of the world violates my moral demand, I shall feel as free to to throw it overboard, or at least to doubt it, as if it disappointed my demand of uniformity of sequence." In the quote from Inwagen in the WP article, he says (An Essay on Free Will, p. 16) "The Mind Argument proceeds by identifying indeterminism with chance and by arguing that ..." To me this suggests there is an alternative to "identifying indeterminism with chance". On p. 128 he suggests that the view that indeterminism is chance is the incompatibilist view, which is not, I'd take it, the only view of the matter. He goes on to say: "The doubtful premise in this argument is the assertion that if our acts are undetermined they are mere 'random' or 'chance' events." "It is not clear what 'random; and 'chance' mean when they are applied to single events." He proceeds to suggest that these terms are not synonymous with 'uncaused'.
Apparently also you suggest that the compatibilist approach is viable, which as I understand your casting of this position is support for the view that there is some logical out that allows one to assume the reductionist view applies to everything, but there is some crack in the wording that allows it not to apply to free will. That is sophistry, in my view.
I think there is no doubt about the positions of Plutarch, Bok, Pinker and James - there is 'another realm' and it is not randomness.
I think that you should draft a well-sourced presentation of what I have called the sophistry of incompatibilism and present its history. The two should both appear in the history section. Brews ohare (talk) 13:52, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
You are still entirely missing the question that is being asked of you.
Many many sources for all of history have been of the opinion that not all things are entirely determined. That is not in question. You don't need to show anyone saying that.
Against that background history, the dilemma of determinism (echoing the Mind Argument) asks "Well if they're not determined then what are they but random (and how would randomness help free will)?"
I'm asking you to show someone saying "here is a third alternative to determination and randomness". Or even to propose your own thoughts on the matter so we can look for someone notable that shares them.
Sources which merely don't explicitly identify randomness with indetermination aren't offering a third alternative. They might think they have one, but so far they're not saying it in anything you've added or referenced here.
I have more point-by-point responses about particular sources you quote above in mind, but I want to leave them for now to underline this point. The discussion thus far sounds like this:
Incompatibilism: If everything is entirely determined then free will is impossible!
Libertarianism: Then human decisions must not be entirely determined!
Mind Argument: But aren't undetermined things just random? How is that better?
Dillema of Determinism: Yeah, so how could free will be possible either way then?
Brews ohare: What if there's a third option between determination and randomness?
Dilemma of Determinism: What would that be?
Brews ohare: Maybe human decisions are not entirely determined!
Dilemma of Determinism: Er... but aren't undetermined things just random? What is the third option?
Brews ohare: Something not determined and not random!
Dilemma of Determinism: And what would that be?
--Pfhorrest (talk) 22:53, 20 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: You say it is obvious that not all things are determined. But apparently, for you, it also is obvious that those things that are not determined are then random. In my mind, it isn't necessary to show that what isn't determined and is not random is an empty set. And more generally than 'determined', determinism itself is more complex than not-random. It seems simply defining 'determinism' as 'not random' is a convention that one may or may not adopt as one wishes. What is your argument that this set-up is the only possibility? Smart has made that argument for you, and he has been found unconvincing by many. I have already quoted Inwagen to the effect that this is not the case, in his opinion. Why do you buy Smart's argument? Brews ohare (talk) 01:43, 21 September 2013 (UTC)
I did not say is is obvious that not all things are determined; I say it is obvious that people make that argument, and that the argument about whether or not that is so is not an argument about the dilemma of determinism, but part of the background argument about free will and determinism in general, part of the dialectical setting in which the dilemma of determinism is posed, and not a response to the dilemma. Most to the point, it is obvious that people make that kind of argument, in precisely the way that it is not obvious that anyone argues for a third option besides determination and randomness, which is the position you want added to the article and the position I'm asking for a notable example of.
You still don't seem to understand the concept of word sense, and that the word "determinism" can mean many different things in many different contexts, but that it has a very clearly defined meaning in any given context, like this one. It would be deliberately misunderstanding the argument that the dilemma's proponents make to say "ah but that's only true if by 'determinism' you mean ____". They would say "well, yes, that is what we mean by determinism. So now that we understand each other, what say you about this argument?" It's in line with someone saying "Venice is in Los Angeles County", and you replying "Ah, but that's only true if you mean Venice, CA! It's very false if you mean Venice, Italy!" Well, yeah, but they clearly meant Venice, CA in this context.
Your quotes by Van Inwagen do not propose an alternative to determination and randomness. Van Inwagen just rejects determinism. He argues that a "non-necessitarian" variety of causation, e.g. an indeterministic, probablistic sense of causation, like that used by the modern sciences, defeats the "Mind Argument" horn of the dilemma. He is effectively arguing that randomness isn't all that bad so long as it isn't "too random", so to speak; meanwhile he completely buys the Consequence Argument, and adopts libertarian incompatibilism. He still frames the dilemma as "either determination or randomness, and both of these are posed to be bad for free will" -- he's virtually the go-to guy for finding that kind of framing of the problem in recent literature -- but then he argues that the "randomness" horn of the dilemma isn't so bad. That's little different than the compatibilist response that the "determination" horn of the dilemma isn't so bad. Neither is proposing a third alternative, they're just picking which of the two alternatives they think works best.
Material about Van Inwagen's response is definitely appropriate for this article, but it does not address the "other ways of framing the problem" topic we are mainly discussing, and we will have to make sure that any material about Van Inwagen's response is accurate and not misinterpreted or misstated. --Pfhorrest (talk) 04:17, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Possibly the way forward here is to discuss things in a different framework. There is an entire scientific apparatus involving invention and testing of theories. It has been successful in certain domains. It has not just explained some immediately evident occurrences, but pointed out some non-obvious ones. However, I am sure you will agree that it has not explained everything, and there are some outstanding issues where it has so far failed. Now, are all events presently outside scientific explanation going to fall within its methods one day? That is conjecture. Will the laws invented to describe events outside its present purview be of the same character as those in use today? History would suggest not. So where is the space open to the description of random? Does in mean the so far unexplained? I don't think so. Does it mean the form of theories not yet propounded? I don't think so. Does it mean the inexplicable? I don't think so. In fact, I don't think random is a helpful descriptor in any way. If we look at picking cards from a deck, is that random? If we look at human evolution, is that random? I'd say within some model one can say the model assigns certain probabilities to certain events; picking a heart from the deck has a different likelihood than picking an ace of spades. Are they both 'random'? Are they 'unequally random'? Your being born of your parents was more likely than some other events, say twins, and maybe only equally likely to your turning out to be of the opposite sex. Was the outcome of your being born random? Could it be that one day such events will be predictable, and if so, how far in advance? If we can 'predict' formation of a tornado only 10 minutes ahead of time, is it a 'random' event? Does it become 'determined' when we can predict it an hour in advance? How much detail is needed to classify its appearance as determined? Is it necessary to predict how a tornado's standing on the Fujita scale evolves in time? Do we have to predict its trajectory within a city block, or is within a county sufficient? Is the use of statistics in these things a substitute for a yet-to-be-found theory that would further limit the range of the possible outcomes or assign their probabilities differently? A matter of conjecture. Is the failure to find a statistically useful theory a reflection on our ingenuity, or our computational abilities, or serendipity, or the intractability of some questions? Are all questions divisible neatly into those that one day will be tractable, and those that aren't, or is there a blurry gradation from precise to vague, and are the intractable ones usefully described as 'random', while statistically useful theories are 'determined'? Isn't that a redefinition of 'random' to mean 'never tractable', or 'insufficiently tractable', or 'possibly never tractable'?
All of these questions are far off track from the kind of determination and randomness at question in the dilemma of determinism, or in incompatibilist discussion of free will in general. Take any model of reality, never mind for now if it's the correct model or not. Can you completely deduce the state of the model at one time from the state of the model at another time (and the rules of the model)? If so, then the model models reality deterministically. If not, the model has an element of randomness to it. Figuring out which kind of model is accurate, and correctly models reality, and all the associated issues of how to tell if a model is accurate and whether or not we can ever tell if a model is accurate or whether reality can even be accurately modeled at all, are all side issues. If it turns out that reality is best modeled in a way that you can completely deduce its state at one time from its state at another time (and the rules of the model), then it turns out that reality operates "deterministically" in the sense used in this context. To the extent that that is not so, something about reality is "random" in the sense used in this context.
The dilemma of determinism takes that picture and asks "how can free will be possible in either case?" Some people say "free will can operate just fine in a determined reality, so long as _____, because ____." Other people say "free will can operate just fine a reality with randomness, so long as ____, because ____." But so far as I've seen, and so far as you've shown, nobody says "there's a third case you haven't considered!" That seems to be what you most want to add to the article. If you can find someone saying that, that would be perfectly fitting material. But I haven't even heard a personal proposal from you as to what that third case might be, much less a notable source putting one forth. --Pfhorrest (talk) 04:17, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
So I think the 'not-determined=random' framework is a Procrustean bed. You can define these terms narrowly only at the expense of excluding the interesting issues. Brews ohare (talk) 12:33, 21 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest, you may argue that all that is well and good, but the 'dilemma of determinism' doesn't really address these issues. The 'dilemma of determinism' is about the 'Procrustean bed', and it is not about whether it has any reality or not. I read the authors quoted in the history section as objecting that the dilemma has to be interpreted on a wider basis. In any event, an article on the 'dilemma of determinism' should put it in context by discussing its reality. Brews ohare (talk) 13:49, 21 September 2013 (UTC)
A perplexing aspect of this topic is the random behavior of some systems that are governed by completely non-random equations. An example are the digits of π which occur in a random sequence according to every statistical test, but are determined simply by the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. A number of mechanical systems show random behavior despite no random disturbance being present, one being the Tilt-A-Whirl amusement ride. Brews ohare (talk) 00:03, 22 September 2013 (UTC)

Views section

I am tempted to simply delete this. Few of the entries are anything to do with the dilemma, they are just different takes on determinism and free will so belong in other articles if anything. ----Snowded TALK 21:34, 23 September 2013 (UTC)

I wouldn't say delete the entire section outright, but I wouldn't object to you going through and deleting anything which about determinism and free will generally and not about this specific dilemma. --Pfhorrest (talk) 03:25, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
So maybe a quick summary of the main schools with the odd quote rather than a long list as at present? ----Snowded TALK 05:17, 24 September 2013 (UTC)

Relevance of Pinker

In the article dilemma of determinism, Pinker is quoted as saying (How the Mind Works, p. 55) "Either we dispense with all morality as an unscientific superstition, or we find a way to reconcile causation...with responsibility and free will." "Science and morality are separate spheres of reasoning. Only by recognizing them as separate can we have them both."

Are these (or other remarks by Pinker) pertinent to the article dilemma of determinism?

There are two aspects to answering this question. First, does Pinker address the dilemma directly, and second, does he address the issue of moral responsibility attached to the dilemma. The above quotes are pertinent to the connection of the dilemma with moral responsibility. Pinker also says in this same book (p. 54)

"Science is guaranteed to appear to eat eat away at the will, regardless of what it finds, because the scientific mode of explanation cannot accommodate the mysterious notion of uncaused causation that undermines the will. If scientists wanted to show people had free will, what would they look for? Some random neural event that the rest of the brain amplifies into a signal triggering behavior? But a random event does not fit the concept of free will any more than a lawful one does, and could not serve as the long-sought locus of moral responsibility."

It appears to me that Pinker formulates the 'dilemma' as 'either causal determination, or a random neural event'. He also raises the attached issue of moral responsibility.

Of course, one can argue over how Pinker's wording compares to the wording of the 'dilemma' in the article dilemma of determinism, and of course that would be a legitimate undertaking. One can legitimately argue whether Pinker correctly states science's views, or what is the meaning of 'uncaused causation'. But it seems clear that Pinker can be counted among those who recognize the dilemma and have undertaken to pose their own solution to the attached moral responsibility problem. His solution is to detach the 'dilemma' from the moral responsibility issue: to divide science from morality as belonging to different spheres, analogous he says to "different games played with the same 52-card deck". Brews ohare (talk) 15:44, 23 September 2013 (UTC)

This is all material on determinism, not the dilemma of determinism. The minute you say "it seems to me that Pinker ..." you are doing original research. If Pinker recognised the dillema can you cite somewhere where he references it? You haven't so far. I'm not engaging on a conversation about whether Pinker is right or not, or if he represents science. THe talk page is not to discuss the subject, but to discuss improvements to the article.----Snowded TALK 21:22, 23 September 2013 (UTC)
Snowded: Pinker clearly identifies the dilemma as he sees it in the quotes above, namely 'either causal determination, or a random neural event'. Perhaps you do not wish to interpret his dilemma as THE dilemma, but that is arguable. I'd say it accords exactly with the formulation of the introduction. Brews ohare (talk) 22:49, 23 September 2013 (UTC)
I'm catching up on the events of the past weekend in reverse order here.
To my ear the Pinker quotes you have found do frame the same problem as the dilemma of determinism -- he is saying any given thing is either determined or else random and that either way seems to pose a problem to some concepts of free will -- but the solution he poses is not the kind you object is missing from the article. He is not concluding "therefore some things must not be determined, or not applicable to the determined-or-random dichotomy". His solution is very similar to the compatibilist answer, in a way along the lines of Gould's non-overlapping magisteria. He is saying that the question of moral responsibility is not tied to scientific questions of determination or randomness; that it is a moral question, not a scientific question, and thus it doesn't matter whether science discovers the activities of the brain to be wholly determined or not, because the question of moral responsibility is not about that at all.
I think some material about Pinker would be appropriate for the article, but that Brews quite probably misunderstands Pinker, and we should get straight what Pinker is really saying. --Pfhorrest (talk) 03:24, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
A reasonable suggestion. I've had my crack at this. In my opinion Pinker says that science does not apply to human decisions, but he does support the statement that events (as science understands 'events') are either determined or random (in some sense of those words). Bok says this much as well. The pertinence of this to the article dilemma of determinism is its implications for the attached issue of moral responsibility that, in my own opinion, is the only reason why there is any interest in the 'dilemma of determinism' itself, which 'dilemma' as posed really is a nonstarter as a summary of the way things are and never would attract any attention were it not for the morality issues. Brews ohare (talk) 04:27, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
The gut issue here is that the 'laws of nature' seem to determine the probability of occurrence of all 'events', and so we have to ask: Are human decisions encompassed among these 'events'? This is the interesting discussion. The 'dilemma' as posed in the Intro is a poor expression of the issue of whether the laws of nature are determined or probabilistic, and that is a question best answered on a theory by theory basis, and not in some overly general blanket manner. Brews ohare (talk) 04:35, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
But that is the point. The article is about the dilemma of determinism as defined in philosophy, and its largely historical. The wider question of determined or probabilistic aspects of science is not always posed as a dichotomy and the view of which applies can change depending on granularity. So some people argue that a chaotic system is deterministic at agent level but random at system level and so on. This is a wider issue in science, and also in Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Mind. It is directly addressed in Juarrero's seminal work on Intentionality (the wink or a blink issue) as well as her more recent work using CAS theory to look directly at the problem of freewill. Freeman, a philiosopher/Neuroscientist also look at this (and is widely misinterpreted, then you get the Churchlands, Clark and others. Then you have the confusion of autonomic response with the free will argument by those I like to call the 'new phrenologists' obsessed with scans. That leads to the whole issue of consciousness as a distributed function of the brain, the body and its interactions with the physical and social environment. It is all fascinating stuff, front edge thinking but poorly covered other than in primary sources. Whatever it does not belong here. ----Snowded TALK 04:57, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
No problem. The article can say something like this:
The dilemma of determinism is the statement that all events are either determined by past events or are random. As a characterization of the laws of nature this statement is misleading and largely incorrect. As a statement of philosophy it has the difficulty that it appears to rule out moral responsibility. That shortcoming has led a number of important modern philosophers [Pinker, Bok, James, Dennett] to propose that this 'dilemma' has no application to human decisions, and any assertion that it does is pure nonsense. Despite these widely held reservations, there is a body of philosophical literature devoted to the careful dissection of the words 'determined' and 'random' aimed at deciding exactly how various definitions of these terms affect the meaning of the claim that "all events are either determined by past events or are random". This article is devoted to a presentation of this work, and will not discuss the reservations about this particular formulation.
Brews ohare (talk) 05:59, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
The dilemma is not about "the issue of whether the laws of nature are determined or probabilistic". That is just the broader question of whether determinism is true or not, which you continue to confuse with the much more specific dilemma this article is about. The dilemma of determinism itself does not take a position on that question. You can say either the laws of nature are deterministic or not and not be disagreeing with the dilemma just in doing so. The dilemma posed is that whatever the answer to that question is, there seems to be something problematic to free will either way.
As for "best answered on a theory by theory basis", that still belies your importation of a host of unrelated philosophical issues to a much narrower problem. The dilemma is completely neutral to what theory turns out to be the right one for whatever purposes. It is simply highlighting the dichotomy that any theory will be deterministic exactly to the extent that it is not random, and random exactly to the extent that it is not deterministic, and that both randomness and determinism are posed as problems to free will.
The dilemma says "if P or not P, then [bad stuff]; therefore in an case, [bad stuff]". Delving into the argument about whether P is the case or not does not address the dilemma at all. Delving into who or what theory says P or not doesn't address the dilemma at all. Delving into in what contexts P is true and in what contexts it's not also does not address the dilemma at all. Since the dilemma is intentionally posed as a conditional with a tautological antecedent, anything addressing it will necessarily address the implications ascribed to that antecedent: the "then [bad stuff]" part. Van Inwagen, like many incompatibilists, says that "if not-P then bad stuff" is a false implication. Compatibilists like the Stoics and Chrysippus generally say that "if P then [bad stuff]" is a false implication. Pinker, like many compatibilists, says that you can't infer much at all about [bad stuff] from P or not-P or the disjunction thereof, that they're unrelated matters. James, and you apparently, are just saying "if (if P then [bad stuff]) then not P, because not [bad stuff]", which doesn't address the dilemma at all; it just addresses the question of whether P or not, answering "not".
Here's a completely made-up dilemma of the same form for illustration: if you eat macaroni you will die within a year; and you will die within a year unless you eat macaroni; so one way or another, you will die within a year. If I pose this dilemma to you, are you going to respond "Well then I won't eat macaroni!"? Cause if you do, look at that second clause: unless you eat macaroni, you will die within a year too, so not eating macaroni doesn't solve your problem. Are you going to look for a third option besides "eat macaroni" and "don't eat macaroni"? What exactly would that be? Eat some but not all macaroni? That still counts as eating maraconi, and to the extent that it didn't count, it would still count as not eating macaroni, which is just as much a problem. Isn't it obvious that the only way out of this dilemma of for at least one of those clauses to be false? Either you are going to die within a year no matter what, or else eating macaroni won't really kill you, or not eating macaroni won't really kill you.
Much of your responses here are (analogously) treating "I won't eat macaroni then!" and "pfft, eating macaroni won't kill me" as "third options", when I hope it's clear in this silly dilemma that they are not; and that while the second response may be a fine way out (if true), the first response doesn't even seem to understand the problem. --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:16, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest, I have got all that perfectly clear. The point is not what you aim at. Your argument is that if one poses an 'either-or' the recipient has either to accept it or propose another alternative. However, you are pushing harder than that. You want to put conditions on the alternative, namely it has to be an alternative explicable within the same context set up by the 'either-or'. It has to state some third alternative mechanism (for example, probabilities are determined, not the events themselves [1]). But this requirement for mechanism is a Procrustean bed. Pinker doesn't do that. He says the whole formulation is incorrect and the objective world and the subjective world of decisions are separate, and he says (literally), it is actually impossible to look inside the 'black box' and propose a mechanism for how human decisions work. That is, he says the 'either-or' of, in his formulation, 'either causal determination, or a random neural event', may apply to the behavior as seen by objective third-person observers, but it does not apply to our personal decision processes. I call that dumping the dilemma as having no bearing upon our decisions. If you take Pinker differently, perhaps you can provide some quotes as I have done extensively above? Brews ohare (talk) 14:35, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
[1] Once instability is included, the meaning of the laws of nature (even of classical mechanics) changes radically, for they now express possibilities or probabilities. I. Prigogine (1997). The end of certainty - time, chaos and the new laws of nature. Free Press. p. 4. ISBN 0684837056. 
Pinker on 'black boxes', p. 4: "In a well-designed system, the components are black boxes that perform their functions as if by magic. That is no less true of the mind. The faculty with which we ponder the world has no ability to peer inside itself or our other faculties to see what makes them tick."
Pinker on separation, p. 55: "Science and morality are separate spheres of reasoning...A human being is simultaneously a machine and a sentient free agent..." Brews ohare (talk) 14:52, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
BTW, you have not responded to the draft introductory paragraph of this thread, which is less extreme than the position you do address. In particular, it makes the statement As a characterization of the laws of nature this statement is misleading and largely incorrect. Do you accept this point? Brews ohare (talk) 14:38, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
I have opened a thread to discuss this matter below. Brews ohare (talk) 15:34, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
This is becoming another example of your original attempt to add your view of a science based perspective that was rejected on the Philosophy pages (and in different forms on other articles. The introduction you propose above and below moves away from the subject matter into a more general discussion of determinism. Too much original research here and opinion ----Snowded TALK 19:58, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Can you explain exactly (and preferably sourced) how this discussion of Pinker's relevance departs from the subject of the 'dilemma of determinism'? It appears to me to be directly on target, using Pinker's formulation of the dilemma as 'either causal determination, or a random neural event' and his discussion of same. Brews ohare (talk) 23:57, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
The phrase 'it appears to me" is the problem here Brews. It is relevant to determinism, it is not relevant to the subject of this article. You need to source that relevance ----Snowded TALK 06:26, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
To use my silly example dilemma for quick illustration: Pinker's view is analogous to saying "my macaroni-eating habits have no bearing on my life expectancy". That is rejecting the dilemma, but it is rejecting the implication from antecedent to consequent, not the antecedent itself as you seem to want someone to do. --Pfhorrest (talk)


OK I had a chance to review the changes this morning. I have considerable concerns that the new history section has become a general and selective essay on the wider subject of determinism. The inclusion of Pinker for example and that on addiction are either not relevant to the subject of this article or constitute original research (the source on addiction for example). We can't let this article become a coat rack for material that should be elsewhere (and elsewhere may not include philosophy articles). The tenor of the comments above is that Brews has a general interest in the questions raised by science and in so far as they are supported by relevant reliable sources and are directly related to the Dilemma as defined in Philosophy they may belong here; but its gone too far. I'm raising it here before I edit the article directly and I really don't want to have to revert to the previous stable version if Brews gets into the revert and protest mode we have seen on other articles. So in the interests of collaboration can we have a brief discussion and/or ideally would Brews review his recent edits. ----Snowded TALK 06:28, 22 September 2013 (UTC)

The subject of this article should be, of course, the 'dilemma of determinism'. The dilemma, as posed by Pfrhorrest is to decide between the alternatives that (i) everything that happens is an inevitable result of what has happened earlier, and (ii) everything that happens is random. For convenience, I'll call this formulation of the topic the 'either-or' formulation for the moment. Tacked onto this posing of the dilemma is the point that given only these two choices, moral responsibility is impossible, as either we have no control over events because they are already decided, or because they are beyond any kind of control whatsoever. This question of morality is so critical for some philosophers, like James and Pinker and Bok, that they reject the 'either-or' formulation as a nonsense and thus a completely wrong formulation. Others attempt to separate the dilemma from moral responsibility, denying that responsible agency requires that the actor have genuinely open alternatives.[1] (That is, ought to do something does not imply can do it. One might ask: where is the value in formulating alternative but unavailable actions?)
Several topics immediately arise.
Wording: Formulations of the past, e.g. that of the Stoics, or William James, in many cases, do not use exactly the 'either-or' formulation of the 'dilemma', (referring to 'fate' or 'determinism' for example) so a comparison leads to consideration of other wording. A particular concern is over the introduction of the word 'random', which has a very precise meaning in statistics (perhaps introducing probability, a 'frequency of occurrence' of one outcome among all others in many trials), but apparently has a less precise meaning in philosophy that needs elaboration.[2][3] Another concern is the meaning of 'determinism' and its connection to 'an inevitable result of what has happened earlier'. For example, would an influence over probabilities of occurrence count as a broader view of 'determinism'?
Context: Is the 'either-or' formulation considered pertinent for today's philosophy, or is it a relic? Is the discussion of the 'either-or' formulation among philosophers today largely limited to questions of whether the two prongs of the 'either-or' formulation are logically the only alternatives in some academic formulation of the issue, that is, only a matter of definitions and whether certain words imply other words?[4] Is it generally conceded that there is no question of real-world applicability for this discussion? What is the role of moral responsibility in evaluating validity of the 'either-or' formulation?
Alternatives: As a purely hypothetical formulation, has the 'dilemma' been formulated as one of deciding between the alternatives that science as we know it (a methodology involving invention of theories and testing them by observation) (i) applies to all aspects of the Universe, or (ii) it does not? Both Pinker and Bok suggest there is a division, so the second alternative prevails. In Pinker's case, he says "The faculty with which we ponder the world has no ability to peer inside itself or our other faculties to see what makes them tick." The 'science-does-or-does-not-apply-everywhere' formulation may not be adequate for a modern version of the 'dilemma of determinism', but there is need for discussion of a more general version of the dilemma than the 'either-or' formulation posed as a question of wordplay, a formulation that is instead an active, genuine concern about the real world.
I think it could be argued that the entire article be revised to address these issues directly, and present the various sources clearly. The present history section attempts to fill in this framework. The discussion clearly could be better, but it is on subject and it is sourced. Reservations should be cast in specific terms proposing particular improvements of the presentation, rather than cast as vague descriptors like 'coat-racks' and 'selective essays' that remove discussion from factual to subjective assessment and offer no particular prescriptions for better presentation. Brews ohare (talk) 17:02, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
Brews, your argument for Pinker is that he is addressing the issue of determinism, not the dilemma of determinism. You context section is your speculation on the subject. You can't use this article for a general discussion of the pros and cons of various forms of determinism. In that context coat rack is very clear. Much better if you make the changes but I will happily go through and remove not-relevant material that you have added if you don't want to ----Snowded TALK 22:51, 22 September 2013 (UTC)
Snowded: I've addressed Pinker's relevance below. As for my contribution being "a general discussion of the pros and cons of various forms of determinism", there is a distinction between your incorrect characterization and the correct one of 'a general discussion of various formulations of the dilemma of determinism and how they fit into a wider philosophy.' There is bound to be overlap, but the focus is different. Brews ohare (talk) 16:19, 23 September 2013 (UTC)
Brews: To my eye it looks to me like you are confusing many sources' discussion of free will and determinism in general, and the specific dilemma of determinism this article is about. As I've said before, someone saying "determinism seems like it would be a problem for free will, but maybe human decisions aren't determined so there isn't that problem" (as James et al do) is not addressing the dilemma of determinism at all, and is more specifically not presenting a counterargument against it. It's just treading the same old ground leading up to the arguments amongst incompatibilists: one side arguing everything is determined so free will is impossible, the other side arguing that free will exists so at least some things must not be determined. That is not an argument about the dilemma of determinism. The dilemma of determinism looks at that argument and asks "whether everything is determined or not, how is free will possible either way?" Saying "not everything is determined, so free will is ok!" doesn't address that. Someone needs to explicitly say "here is an alternative to determination and randomness" (or "here is a reason why they're not both a problem for free will") to address the dilemma. Just saying "there is an alternative to determination" isn't enough, because the dilemma has already to responded "wouldn't that just be randomness?" Someone needs to say "no, it wouldn't be just randomness, it would be _____" (or "yes, but here's why determination/randomness isn't a problem for free will"). Many of the sources you're discussing aren't doing anything like that; they're just talking about determinism and the challenges it may pose to free will in general, which is not on topic for this article. --Pfhorrest (talk) 03:38, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Well, Pfhorrest, I agree that what James is doing is saying "determinism seems like it would be a problem for free will, but maybe human decisions aren't determined so there isn't that problem". He puts it a bit more strongly than that, saying if that is really the choice, then dump determinism. Pinker and Bok say the same thing and also suggest that determinism is ruled out so far as human decisions are concerned: it is not a possible choice. Now you say this perspective "is not addressing the dilemma of determinism at all". That is clearly not true - it not only addresses the dilemma, it dismisses it. You want to have them say "there is an alternative to determination and to randomness and it is ____". It seems to me that what Pinker, Bok and Williams all say is the idea these ideas apply to human decisions is bunk. Partly their argument is that the need for morality is so significant that any position that excludes it is bosh, and in their opinion, that is what the 'either-or' formulation does - it excludes morality. Now you can argue that you don't agree with their position, but it is hard to argue that it is not directed at the dilemma as being pure bunk. As I understand it that is also Dennett's position - the dilemma as posed is bunk. Brews ohare (talk) 05:41, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
James as you've quoted him does indeed say that, as you write, "if that is really the choice, then dump determinism", but that, as I have been trying to impress on you, is not a response to the dilemma at all; quite the opposite, the dilemma is a response to claims like that. The dilemma is asking "but how does dumping determinism help at all?" James doesn't give an answer to that; he just says "if determinism is a problem, then dump it"; he doesn't address the question of what to do if indeterminism is also a problem, as the dilemma poses. (A possible response, as Van Inwagen eventually gives, would be "indeterminism is not a problem", but James as you've presented him thus far hasn't said that).
Pinker and Bok aren't saying "dump determinism" at all. They are saying "it doesn't matter whether determinism is true or not, that's not the kind of question you need to ask about free will and moral responsibility". That's a perfectly valid response that does acknowledge the dilemma unlike James, but it's not the one you seem to think it is.
Also note that I am not defending the dilemma. I disagree with it myself, for similar reasons to Pinker and Bok. I just think that you misunderstand what it's even saying and what qualifies as a relevant response to it, and what the various responses to it are saying. The bit from James you've quoted is completely non-sequitur. Pinker and Bok are relevant but aren't saying what you think they're saying. --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:31, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: I wonder how you support your view of Pinker and Bok. For example Bok says:

"The word 'determined' is here deliberately ambiguous...Theoretical reason is concerned to provide causal explanations of events. If we interpret claims about the ways in which something is determined as theoretical claims, we must interpret 'determined' as 'caused', since causation is the type of determination to which theoretical explanations appeal...the claim that persons are free while objects are not must mean that there is some difference in kind between the causes of our choices and actions and those of the behavior of other objects...As long as we regard ourselves as objects of theoretical reasoning...we will be unable to resolve the problem of freedom of the will."

— Hilary Bok, Freedom and Responsibility; pp.199-203
Notice the phrase "there is some difference in kind between the causes of our choices and actions and those of the behavior of other objects" and "As long as we regard ourselves as objects of theoretical reasoning...we will be unable to resolve the problem of freedom of the will."
To my mind these statements make it very clear that our decisions and the behavior of objects are subject to different governing principles. Now if "all events are governed either by prior events or by chance" is not intended to apply both to our decisions and to the behavior of objects, what on Earth is it about? Brews ohare (talk) 14:21, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Bok is saying that the reason why determinism looks (to an incompatibilist) to be a problem for free will is because we (or incompatibilists at least) are asking the wrong question. Bok's a compatibilist, and her entire thesis is that asking "what causes humans to act?", a question of theoretical reasoning as she puts it (which we might also call a "factual" or "descriptive" question, or as Hume would put it, an "is" question), is the wrong question if we want to know about free will; the right question is more like "for what purposes do humans act?", a question of practical reasoning as she puts it (which we might also call a normative or prescriptive question, or as Hume would put it, an "ought" question). So no matter what the answer to "what causes humans to act?", whether that answer involves strict determination or not, that tells us nothing about free will, in Bok's view (which I share).
Here's an excerpt from Amazon's synopsis of her book which neatly makes the same point I just did:

Bok argues that when we engage in practical reasoning--the kind that involves asking "what should I do?" and sifting through alternatives to find the most justifiable course of action--we have reason to hold ourselves responsible for what we do. But when we engage in theoretical reasoning--searching for causal explanations of events--we have no reason to apply concepts like freedom and responsibility. Bok contends that libertarians' arguments against "compatibilist" justifications of moral responsibility fail because they describe human actions only from the standpoint of theoretical reasoning. To establish this claim, she examines which conceptions of freedom of the will and moral responsibility are relevant to practical reasoning and shows that these conceptions are not vulnerable to many objections that libertarians have directed against compatibilists. Bok concludes that the truth or falsity of the claim that we are free and responsible agents in the sense those conceptions spell out is ultimately independent of deterministic accounts of the causes of human actions.

I've already discussed elsewhere how Pinker, another compatibilist, is saying much the same thing: that if we think free will somehow hinges on the question of how human decisions are caused, it looks to be doomed because of the dilemma of determinism, but that there is a way out by rejecting the incompatibilist conception of free will which makes it a question of causation at all; it's not a scientific question at all, a question of "what caused him to do that"; it's a moral question, a question of "for what purpose did he do that".
Both Pinker and Bok reject the dilemma (as do I) by rejecting its consequent, the "then no free will" part, while accepting the antecedent, the "If determinism or indeterminism" part. They (and I) are all saying, sure, determinism and indeterminism (=randomness) are the only options, but neither of those has anything to do with whether or not free will is possible, because the question of free will (and the question of moral responsibility that hinges on it) is not a scientific question of cause at all; it is a moral question of purpose.
Of course others are free to say otherwise, like Van Inwagen, who also accepts the antecedent of the dilemma but rejects the consequent that indeterminism necessarily hampers free will. And again, if anyone actually makes an argument that randomness and indeterminism are not equivalent (or that the principle of bivalence is wrong or something) that'd be perfectly fitting here, but I still haven't seen you present anyone making such an argument. --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:39, 25 September 2013 (UTC)

Proposed draft introduction

The dilemma of determinism is the statement that all events are either determined by past events or are random. As a characterization of the laws of nature this statement is misleading and largely incorrect.[1] As a statement of philosophy it has the difficulty that it appears to rule out moral responsibility.[2] That shortcoming has led a number of important modern philosophers [James [2], Pinker [3], Bok [4], Dennett [5], Nagel[6]] to propose that this 'dilemma' has no application to human decisions. Despite these widely held reservations, there is a body of philosophical literature devoted to the careful dissection of the words 'determined' and 'random' aimed at deciding exactly how various definitions of these terms affect the meaning of the claim that "all events are either determined by past events or are random".[7] This article is devoted to a presentation of this work, and will not discuss the reservations about this particular formulation.


[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 I. Prigogine (1997). The end of certainty - time, chaos and the new laws of nature. Free Press. p. 4. ISBN 0684837056. ) It also 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. )
[2] William James (1886). "The dilemma of determinism". The Will to Believe: And Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (Reprint ed.). Longmans, Green, and Company. pp. 145 ff.  On-line text here An address to Harvard Divinity School students in Divinity Hall on March 13, 1884.
[3] Steven Pinker (2009). How The Mind Works. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 54 –55. ISBN 0393069737. 
[4] Hilary Bok (1998). Freedom and Responsibility. Princeton University Press. ISBN 069101566X. 
[5] "The challenge for science is to figure out how exactly it works and not to peddle silly arguments that deny the undeniable." D.C. Dennett in Freedom Evolves as discussed by Joshua Greene, Jonathan Cohen (2004). "For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything" (PDF). Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B. 359: 1775–1785. 
[6] Thomas Nagel (1989). The View from Nowhere. Oxford University Press. p. 87. ISBN 0195056442. It may happen that something appears to require subjective and objective conceptions that cover the same territory, and that cannot be combined into a single complex but consistent view. 
[7] See, for example, J. J. C. Smart (July 1961). "Free-Will, Praise and Blame". Mind. 70 (279): 293–4.  On-line version here. This article argues that our moral choices must be either determined or a matter of chance, and there is no third possibility. It is an argument against 'contra-causal freedom' as proposed by Charles Arthur Campbell. Free will is thus held to be logically impossible.


  • This proposal is intended to restrict the article to an admittedly 'tempest in a teapot' view of the dilemma. Brews ohare (talk) 15:36, 24 September 2013 (UTC)
Aside from ongoing issues with misrepresentation of various sources, this proposal has much more serious problems with tone and scope. It comes off effectively as "here is a stupid problem that's stupid for all these reasons, but that's what the article's going to talk about anyway".
Your ongoing quest to assail any discussion of strict determinism on Wikipedia with "but modern science doesn't formulate its laws in a strictly determinist fashion anymore!" is getting tiring. Yes, modern science rejects strict determinism. Whoop de do. Articles on subjects related to that kind of determinism are free to talk about it without a huge disclaimers of "but this has nothing to do with modern science!" everywhere. Articles about abstract mathematical structures don't have disclaimers about whether or not there are real physical objects with structures described by that math. Philosophy articles are about abstract concepts much like mathematics articles.
Never mind that the dilemma, as I'm really tired of repeating, is not in any way advocating that a strict kind of determinism applies to the world; it is part of an argument that whether or not it does, there are problems for free will. It is an argument, first and foremost, about the concept of free will and how it seems to be inherently impossible given the way it is supposed to relate to determinism, regardless of whether such determinism turns out to be true or false.
On which note, this proposal has the even bigger fault that it doesn't even mention free will, which is an integral part of the dilemma. As I've repeated ad nauseum, "P or Q" is not a dilemma: "If P or Q then [bad stuff]" is a dilemma, and in this case the "bad stuff" is supposed problems for free will. Moral responsibility is a major reason that people are concerned about free will in general, but that links to this topic by way of the topic of free will, not directly.
The lede of this article needs to begin, to chop up your own text here a bit, more like "The dilemma of determinism is the statement that all events are either determined by past events or are random, and that either scenario poses problems for the possibility of free will."
The "characterization of the laws of nature" sentence is completely irrelevant because the dilemma is not attempting to characterize laws of nature (it's saying that either way they are characterized -- strictly deterministically or not -- seems to pose a problem).
The sentence about moral responsibility is importing an issue about free will more generally into this much more specific article and so is not fitting.
The rest of it hinges on the discussion we're having above, but suffice to say I don't think it's well suited for the article in any form like it's presented here. --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:10, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
It wrong in respect of modern science as well by the way ----Snowded TALK 06:23, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: I am encouraged that you seem to agree that the present formulation of the 'dilemma' has nothing to do with the real 'dilemma', that the dilemma "is not attempting to characterize laws of nature (it's saying that either way they are characterized -- strictly deterministically or not -- seems to pose a problem)." What exactly is that problem? You say it is "problems for the possibility of free will." Bravo! I agree. Pinker agrees. Bok agrees. Even Smart agrees. In fact so do Plutarch and James. So lets write this thing so it cannot be interpreted as a comment on the character of the laws of nature, even by those so misguided as myself. The real dilemma is that if our decisions are not our own, we are not responsible for them. And although it is counterintutive to think our decisions are not ours, the laws of nature suggest that the future is a child of the past, and suggests that applies to our decisions. There is the dilemma: choose science or common sense. Denying either is impossible. What to do? It has nothing to do with the 'either this or that' formulation of the laws of nature, best left to a theory-by-theory analysis in the philosophy of science. Brews ohare (talk) 14:16, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
I am confused by this response. Yes, Pinker and Bok and Smart all agree with me about what the dilemma of determinism is (and Pinker and Bok at least agree with me how to respond to it), but I think you still don't. You say "The real dilemma is that if our decisions are not our own, we are not responsible for them". That is not a dilemma at all, and that is specifically not the titular dilemma this article is about. That statement is perhaps a problem if there is a concern that our decisions are not our own, but not every problem is a dilemma. If I'm short on rent and have to either find some money or get evicted, that's not a dilemma, I'm not being forced to choose between two equally bad and mutually exhaustive alternatives -- I just need to find some money if I want to keep living here, and I've got a problem if I can't. Likewise, if nobody is responsible for their decisions if they're not their own, that's not a dilemma -- we just need to find some way of counting someone's decisions as their own if we want to hold them responsible for anything, and we've got a problem if we can't do that.
You say also "There is the dilemma: choose science or common sense". If science were taken to entail determinism and if it was taken as common sense that free will existed, you might be able to argue that there was a dilemma between science and common sense, which would be a dilemma because we don't just need a way of rejecting science to save common sense or vice versa, we need a way of saving both. That is in effect the dilemma which incompatibilism posits, and which libertarians and hard determinists argue about. But that is not what this article is about. That is a much broader issue. This issue is much narrower. The topic of this article is more like that claim that, in your terms (but this sounds horribly wrong to say it like this), "whether we accept or reject science [determinism], our common sense [that free will exists] seems to be wrong either way". One can surely reject that claim in various ways (I do, Bok does, Pinker does, James does though not in the passage you quoted, compatibilists in general do, Van Inwagen does, libertarians in general must, hard incompatibilists do not), but just rejecting determinism is not in itself a rejection of that claim.
Let's continue this below in the "clarifying" section with the formal logic and what not.
--Pfhorrest (talk) 03:36, 26 September 2013 (UTC)

Clarifying the logical structure of the dilemma

I want to take a moment to use a bit of symbolic logic to make sure we're all on the same page when talking about the dilemma and its structure.

The dilemma is of this form:

(D ¬D) ¬F

That is an implication from an antecedent, the "(D ∨ ¬D)" part, to the consequent, the "¬F" part.

The antecedent, (D ∨ ¬D), is not a dilemma by itself. It might be called a dichotomy, but a dichotomy only becomes a dilemma if some bad thing is implied by either fork of the dichotomy.

Like all implications, this dilemma is not made false just by its antecedent being false. It is only made false by its antecedent being true at the same time its consequent is false.

That is, any negation of this implication, no matter the reason for asserting that negation, has the logical form:

(D ∨ ¬D) F

It does not at all address the dilemma to simply deny the dichotomy in the antecedent, like this:

¬(D ∨ ¬D)

It especially does not address the dilemma to simply deny one disjunct of the dichotomy in the antecedent, like this:


The argument underlying this dilemma is roughly of this form:

D ⇒ ¬F
¬D R
R ⇒ ¬F
∴ ¬D ⇒ ¬F
∴ (D ∨ ¬D) ⇒ ¬F

Hard incompatibilists take this argument one step further, and say:

(D ∨ ¬D) ⇒ ¬F
(D ∨ ¬D)
∴ ¬F

Since this is all very simple formal logic and quite indubitably valid, any counterargument will necessarily come as an attack against one of the argument's premises.

My point in all of this is to note that all sources Brews has put forth, at best, fall into attacks against the first and third premises ("D ⇒ ¬F" and "R ⇒ ¬F"), despite his apparent aim to show a source attacking the second premise (which would be perfectly fit for inclusion here if found), or a possible misguided attempt to show a source attacking the antecedent of the conclusion (which even if found would not address the dilemma at all).

Compatibilists in general dispute the first premise. That is the very definition of compatibilism.

Some compatibilists, like Pinker and Bok, dispute both the first and third premises, or at least, they dismiss the conclusion while affirming the second premise, leaving only the first and third as targets of their counterargument.

Van Inwagen is at least one incompatibilist who has specifically disputed the third premise.

And James has been quoted non-sequitur making a claim of the form:

(D ⇒ ¬F) ⇒ ¬D

Which does not address the dilemma at all, and at most merely denies one disjunct of the dichotomy in its antecedent.

Did I miss anyone? --Pfhorrest (talk) 07:50, 25 September 2013 (UTC)

It is not about a an 'either D or its negation'. It is about a conflict between the objective and the subjective worlds and how they can be reconciled. Do we follow science, or common sense? More specifically, it is about how we can reconcile our subjective sense of responsibility embodied in our laws and mores with our ideas about how the objective world works. That is how the dilemma is posed by philosophers from Chrysippus to James to Pinker. Brews ohare (talk) 14:20, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
To proceed further, in the event of disagreement over this, sources should be analyzed. So, for example, one can look at JJC Smart's paper Free will, praise and blame, an extreme proponent of the formulation that either chance or the rules of the objective world prevail everywhere, and our decisions are not our own. So he phrases the 'dilemma' as one of how this view should impact our common ideas of praise and blame (based upon free will), and concludes that while we may grade people from A to F on their moral behavior, we cannot judge them, for they have no choice in their actions. James takes the wait-and-see view that there is a moral dilemma if we take the laws of nature as we now understand them and apply them everywhere, but that is an unwarranted extrapolation. Dennett accepts that the laws of nature should apply everywhere, and so they provoke a moral dilemma, and concludes that our concept of the laws of nature is inadequate: to accommodate morality, science has to wake up and smell the coffee - causal determinism is deficient. Fischer suggests that idealizations about the power of the laws of nature and causation are mere supposition and, so far as their pragmatic use goes, leave room for individuals to 'add to the given past'. Pinker and Bok and Nagel suggest that there is nothing wrong with the laws of nature as we understand them today, the dilemma is resolved by noticing that they do not apply to our subjective decisions.
So we have a documentable variety of views, but the dilemma has to be posed correctly. It is not correctly interpreted as a dilemma about whether the laws of nature are deterministic or random, or perhaps, whether governance of the universe is divided between the laws of nature and random events beyond the laws of nature. Nor is it a dry exercise in symbolic logic as to whether a specific 'either-or' formulation exhausts all logical possibilities within its implicit framework. (None of the above is a dilemma by Pfhorrest's definition.) It is about the confrontation between the laws of nature (whatever their form) and our intuitions about free will and morality. Choosing one seems to deny the other, and denying either is unacceptable. That is a dilemma. Is there a reconciliation?Brews ohare (talk) 14:56, 25 September 2013 (UTC)
I'm not going to address all of that in detail, because at the start and the end you belie a continued misunderstanding of that this article is even about.
There is a long-standing dichotomy supposed between free will and determinism. That is, a long time ago, some people said "hey, wouldn't determinism be a problem for free will?" and for thousands of years since people have been arguing about which of the two should prevail (with others, the compatibilists, arguing that there is not a conflict between them at all). The material you have added from Chrysippus and James is about that issue.
That issue is not the dilemma of determinism.
The dilemma of determinism is a very specific subset of that much larger discourse about free will and determinism in general. It is a specific problem within that debate. It is saying "never mind the debate about whether we should reject determinism to save free will or reject free will to save determinism; doesn't this look like we have to reject free will whether we accept determinism or reject it?"
I'll repeat again: the problem of how to reconcile free will with determinism in general is not the dilemma of determinism in particular.
This is why I started this formal logic section, because you don't seem to grasp which statement is the one this article about, and which are just similar or related statements.
The problem of free will and determinism in general is a claim of this form:
D ⇒ ¬F
That says "determinism implies no free will". The logically exhaustive possible responses to that are as follows:
  • "No it doesn't", or ¬(D ⇒ ¬F). (Compatibilism).
  • "Yeah, and determinism is true, so too bad for free will", or D ∴ ¬F. (Hard determinism).
  • "Yeah, and free will exists, so too bad for determinism", or F ∴ ¬D. (Libertarianism).
The dilemma of determinism is a much more specific and complex claim as I already spelled out above, of this form:
(D ∨ ¬D) ⇒ ¬F
That says "Determinism and indeterminism both imply no free will". The logically exhaustive possible responses to that are as follows:
  • "No they don't", or ¬((D ∨ ¬D) ⇒ ¬F). (Pinker, Bok, etc).
  • "No they don't, determinism doesn't imply no free will", or ¬(D ⇒ ¬F). (Compatibilism generally).
  • "No they don't, indeterminism doesn't imply no free will", or ¬(¬D ⇒ ¬F). (Van Inwagen, etc).
  • "Yeah, and either determinism or indeterminism is true, so too bad for free will", or (D ∨ ¬D) ∴ ¬F. (Hard incompatibilism).
I'm concerned that you seem to be confusing the following things:
(D ∨ ¬D) ⇒ ¬F (the dilemma of determinism, which is a problem posed that has been responded to in various ways)
(D ∨ ¬D) ∴ ¬F (hard incompatibilism, which responds to that problem posed by accepting it as a genuine problem)
D ⇒ ¬F (incompatibilism, which is a much older and broader problem than the dilemma of determinism, which has been responded to in various ways)
D ∴ ¬F (hard determinism, which is one possible response to that broader incompatibilist problem).
Many of the sources you're digging up are perfectly on-topic for the latter items, but only the first one is the topic of this article, and arguments against the latter are not necessarily arguments against the first. (Though some are, e.g. compatibilism, in denying incompatibilism, thereby denies hard determinism, hard incompatibilism, and the dilemma of determinism all together, which is why Pinker and Bok are relevant here. But we have to be clear that rejecting hard determinism is not embracing libertarianism, which seems to be how you interpret it with your "determinism doesn't apply to our decisions" reading of them). --Pfhorrest (talk) 03:14, 26 September 2013 (UTC)
OK Pfhorrest. If you want this article to be about what I would call 'nothing at all', that's fine. Let's just make it clear at the outset what the article is not. In particular that the statement: "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 pure chance and we are likewise not free; and that as determinism and indeterminism exhaust the logical possibilities." is just some semantic debate. Let us make clear at the outset that the conditional "if determinism is true, our actions are controlled by preceding events" is a false presentation of anything considered possibly factual today, so the if is categorically impossible, and the whole thing from here on out is about nothing, except possibly word games. And equally the conditional "if indeterminism is true, our actions are pure chance" is not about anything real either, nor entertained as possibly real. And let us be clear at the outset that although within certain understandings (not universally held) of what is meant by determinism and indeterminism they are one the opposite of the other, and moreover do not envision any third alternative, there is no reason to frame the Universe in this closeted manner, and many philosophers do not do so but entertain a much wider understanding, one that includes in particular the possibilities that the laws of nature are perhaps not all-inclusive and quite possibly, however inclusive they may be, they are probabilistic in nature, and not deterministic. If the introduction can clearly separate this article from anything remotely factual, I am happy to leave it on the WP trash heap in whatever form it takes. . Brews ohare (talk) 04:01, 26 September 2013 (UTC)
WP:CIVIL Brews ----Snowded TALK 05:29, 26 September 2013 (UTC)
Yes, please be.
Brews, you seem to want very strongly, in several places across Wikipedia, to insert arguments against hard determinism in articles which are not advocating it, or against positions which are not advocating it; and to make broad and tangentially-related remarks about empirical scientific matters along the way, in articles largely discussing abstract concepts.
This, like most philosophy articles, is about the logical relationships between ideas, which you might like to dismiss as "semantic" or "word games", but that's what philosophy does. That's not a bad thing; it's also what mathematics does. The dilemma might be rephrased in a way that makes that more clear as this, which is logically equivalent to everything I've already said above: "The concept of free will requires that determinism be false for it to exist, but also demands that determinism be true for it to exist; since those can't both be possible, free will thus conceived is also impossible." The logical form of that sentence is F ⇒ ¬(D ∨ ¬D), which can trivially be shown equivalent to the earlier sentence of the form (D ∨ ¬D) ⇒ ¬F by contraposition.
The responses to that boil down to either "yep that's right, free will is nonsense", or "no, because you've got the wrong concept of free will; it doesn't demand those things" (either it doesn't demand one or the other, or it doesn't care about either).
How does this sound for a more lede-worthy writeup of the issue?
The dilemma of determinism or standard argument against free will is an argument that there exists a dilemma between determinism and its negation, indeterminism, in that both are purported to undermine the possibility of free will. The argument for the dilemma combines the traditional incompatibilist argument that determinism, if true, would undermine the possibility of free will, with more recent arguments that indeterminism, identified as randomness, would also undermine the possibility of free will. The dilemma is not itself a stance on the issue of determinism, but rather the argument that no matter which stance on that issue is correct, the possibility of free will faces challenges either way.
Responses to the challenge posed by the dilemma vary. The dilemma is accepted by hard incompatibilists, who conclude that free will is therefore impossible in any case. The dilemma is also compatible with, but does not entail, hard determinism, which holds that determinism is true and incompatible with free will and that free will is therefore impossible. The dilemma is rejected by metaphysical libertarians, who hold that free will exists and is incompatible with determinism, thus seeking refuge for free will in indeterminism. And the dilemma is rejected by compatibilists, who hold that free will is possible even if determinism is true, and some of whom reject that the issue of determinism vs indeterminism is even relevant to the possibility of free will at all.
Does this make it clearer for you what the article is and isn't about? --Pfhorrest (talk) 06:35, 26 September 2013 (UTC)
I rescind my earlier remarks as not productive, although they are perfectly civil. Pfhorrest, the claim that the 'dilemma' 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 pure chance and we are likewise not free; and that as determinism and indeterminism exhaust the logical possibilities." is not documented. The talk by William James of that name is not about these two if 's, but about the dilemma introduced when a belief in casual determinism or chance conflicts with the notion of free will, and hence moral responsibility. Likewise Paul Russell views the dilemma to be conflict between free will and the suppositions that events are either causally determined or pure chance. The wording of the introduction is confused because it mixes together the assertion 'our actions are controlled by preceding events' and the conflict 'thus we are not free' and the assertion 'or our actions are pure chance' and the conflict 'and we are likewise not free'. By failing to separate these matters it becomes unclear whether we should identify the assertions or the claim of conflict as the 'dilemma'.
One might then suppose that an article on the 'dilemma of determinism' ought to inquire whether the assertions that lead to the dilemma are true or false, or more or less accurate. That is the subject of my remarks above that you dismiss as wide of the subject. I think it desirable that we establish where the notion comes from that the 'claim' made by the assertions is the dilemma, and not the 'conflict' they induce. The cited work by JJC Smart does not use the term dilemma, although it goes to great lengths to establish the assertions are valid. It also addresses the conflict between belief in these assertions and the common sense notions about praise and blame for human actions, what is in fact the dilemma, but not so-called by Smart.
I think it makes perfect sense to ask whether the assertions behind the dilemma are true, false or neither. After all, there may be no dilemma if the assertions are abandoned. We need some sources if the present introduction mixing up the assertions with the conflict they pose is to stand, and I do not think any are to be found. Brews ohare (talk) 07:05, 26 September 2013 (UTC)
Look at the material that's already present in the article (that you haven't added) and the subject it is talking about. Here is a quote already in the article from Paul Russell, the same source you cite above:
"...the well-known dilemma of determinism. One horn of this dilemma is the argument that if an action was caused or necessitated, then it could not have been done freely, and hence the agent is not responsible for it. The other horn is the argument that if the action was not caused, then it is inexplicable and random, and thus it cannot be attributed to the agent, and hence, again, the agent cannot be responsible for it. In other words, if our actions are caused, then we cannot be responsible for them; if they are not caused, we cannot be responsible for them. Whether we affirm or deny necessity and determinism, it is impossible to make any coherent sense of moral freedom and responsibility."
That is a very clear and succinct definition of the dilemma, calling it by name, cited to a notable source. (Paul Russell, Freedom and Moral Sentiment, 1995, p.14, according to what's already in the article). I don't know what more you want to show that what is named by the phrase "dilemma of determinism", rather than the many other issues you confuse it with.
Your talk of assertions and conflicts seems to continue an apparent confusion about how conditional sentences work. The dilemma of determinism is not making any assertions about whether our actions determined or not. It is saying that to assert anything about that either way (which the dilemma does not do, but it talks about what would happen if you did), and to also assert at the same time that free will will exists (which the dilemma does not do, but it talks about what would happen if you did), would have you contradicting yourself. Which boils down to "if you assert that free will exists, you're automatically contradicting yourself"; it's supposed to show that free will is an incoherent concept. It might be wrong to say that -- I think it is, Bok, Pinker, all kinds of sources think it is -- but that's what it's saying, and the Paul Russell quote above looks to make a pretty airtight case to that point: "Whether we affirm or deny necessity and determinism, it is impossible to make any coherent sense of moral freedom and responsibility." I think that's a bad argument and so do many others, but it's the argument which is the topic of this article, and material added to the article needs to be kept on track to supporting or criticizing that argument, and not aimlessly exploring the many other tangentially related topics that are out there. --Pfhorrest (talk) 08:42, 26 September 2013 (UTC)
I think it is also looking increasingly like part of a continued effort to impose a particular scientific perspective onto Philosophy articles. That attempt has already learnt a lengthy ban for Brews under arbitration enforcement and I suspect the next one will be longer. ----Snowded TALK 14:33, 26 September 2013 (UTC)
Pfhorrest: Your framework for the 'dilemma', namely "that to assert anything about that [i.e. chance or determinism] either way , and to also assert at the same time that free will will exists, would have you contradicting yourself." suggests a logical issue. That is a way of looking at the matter, I suppose. To establish a contradiction of this type is not a matter of fact, but is simply a matter of accepting certain definitions and using symbolic logic. Now here is a question: is it your view that this linguistic approach exhausts the topic of the 'dilemma of determinism'? There may be some room for debate over definitions of 'free will' or 'determinism' or 'chance' and maybe some discussion of which definitions are 'best', but that is it?
For some authors, probably that is it. Like JJC Smart, they assume (illogically) that this logical truism also tells you something about the actual world (free will does not exist, either theoretically or in fact), and can guide real-world behavior like praise and blame (mistakenly thinking they have solved a real-world dilemma). But I don't think that is everybody's idea. I'd say some take the view that there are two 'horns' to their dilemma: (i) how objects behave and (ii) how people behave. Their 'dilemma' is they cannot choose one way or the other way, but need a reconciliation. They might see some logical aspects to this dilemma, but more commonly see it as a real-world question of fact. For them the issue is how to reconcile these very different approaches so as to inform real-world issues of mores and the law. For them, the particular logical dissections of JJC Smart and some others are not relevant; they have defined themselves out of the problem.
Now, for some, perhaps this last is not the dilemma under discussion. However, that appropriation of the title 'dilemma of determinism' can be viewed as a parochialism I believe. It does not accord with many of the sources quoted above, and is not a restriction of the topic subscribed to by all. In any event, the 'logical' dilemma in its very isolated 'theoretical' vacuum has interest only if it has utility in understanding the real-world dilemma, whatever you want to call it. One cannot understand any interest in the 'theoretical' usage argument apart from the real-world issues that have to be dealt with. That is why 'praise and blame' are in JJC Smart's title. Brews ohare (talk) 04:13, 27 September 2013 (UTC)
Below I outline an approach that ignores the real world and focuses upon the narrower logic-and-usage form of the dilemma as you see it. Let me know how you feel about that. Brews ohare (talk) 04:23, 27 September 2013 (UTC)