1. Carnap suggests that when one is considering causality, static processes are just as important as dynamic ones. The existence of the block and all of its accompanying characteristics are unchanging, but this makes them a static process rather than “no process,” as “nothing is happening” would suggest.

 

2. Even basic questions about causes are very difficult to answer because nothing has just one simple cause. There are always a vast set of conditions that together cause an event to happen. Removing any one of the conditions might prevent the event, but at the same time no one condition can be chosen as “the cause.”

 

3. Foolish oversimplifications: People are obese because they overeat. Good students do well in school because they are smarter than bad students. People commit crimes because they were brought up badly.

 

Since it is impossible to know every one of the hundreds of conditions that together cause an event, some degree of simplification is inevitable. After that, oversimplification is an easy slope down which to slide. Errors of oversimplification are tempting because they make the world seem simple, easily categorized, and easy to understand.1

Oversimplification can also be tempting because it provides a way to evade responsibility. If everything has one cause, then one can (consciously or unconsciously) pick a cause for negative events that is unrelated to oneself. (“It’s not my fault the house burned down. Sure, I left the iron turned on, but if it had been working correctly, it would have turned off automatically before it got overheated enough to catch on fire. The fire was caused by an electrical malfunction.”) In addition, societal problems and other people’s tragedies seem less threatening if one has identified their cause as unrelated to oneself. (“My neighbor’s house didn’t burn down because of an electrical malfunction. It burned down because my foolish neighbor left the iron turned on, so it overheated and burst into flame. The same thing could never happen to me, because I never leave my iron plugged in. I’m so glad the fire wasn’t caused by an electrical malfunction. If that had been the case, I would be worried, because that could happen to anyone.”)

 

4. We can predict what people will do of their own free will, but their preferences do not force them to follow this course of action. Determinism says that if one had infinite knowledge of the conditions existing in the world, it would be possible to predict the future exactly. The necessary knowledge includes information about people’s preferences and all the laws of human psychology that influence choice. It is true that with this knowledge, one could predict everybody’s future actions, but predictability is not equivalent to compulsion.

 

5. Determinism exists because the world operates according to dependable laws, including the laws of physics, biology, psychology, etc. A universe that was not deterministic would necessarily lack these dependable laws. Instead, events would occur randomly, and even infinite knowledge of all existing conditions would be insufficient to make predictions about the future. Prediction would be equally impossible on the small scale of individual people. Ordinarily, prediction is the basis of decision making; we can predict (roughly, because of course no actual person has infinite knowledge) what the results of various possible actions will be, and decide what to do accordingly. If all prediction was impossible, decision making would be meaningless, because we could have no idea what the results of our actions would be.2

 

6. This is the sort of question that I would have to do much more reading and thinking about before I felt much confidence in my conclusion. However, as a start, I actually listened to some very interesting lectures on the existence of souls last summer. The conclusion that they (and I) came to was that there is probably no good argument for the existence of an immaterial soul. The only reason to believe in something immaterial—and therefore unobservable—would be if that immaterial thing explained some otherwise mysterious aspect of the observed world. There are certainly aspects of humanity that are hard to explain if humans are merely very complicated physical objects, for example the existence of qualia, creativity, and free will. However, it isn’t clear that bringing an immaterial soul into the picture actually helps to explain anything. It is not obvious how a physical object could create qualia, but neither is it obvious how an immaterial soul could create qualia. Until I see that the idea of a soul provides an effective explanation for some part of the world, it makes more sense to adopt the simpler idea that humans are physical, material beings.

 

7-8.      While there is no clear cutoff between species or ages that do and do not have free will, there are some general characteristics that are necessary for true decision making.

            To have free will, it is necessary to be conscious that one course of action will lead to one conclusion, and another course of action will lead to a different conclusion. This in turn requires basic self-consciousness. Without a conception of oneself as an individual existing over time, one cannot understand that one’s actions in the present will affect the future. Without this understanding, there can be no meaningful decision making.

            It also seems that some sort of deliberate, consciously-decided-upon value scale is a necessary component of decision making. The value scale need not be that of traditional ethics (if such a thing even exists). Someone who assesses possible goals and then decides to pursue their own personal gain at the cost of all else is making a choice of their own free will, however distasteful. On the other hand, I would not say that a bumble bee has free will, even if it sacrifices itself for the sake of the colony, because the bee acts instinctively. It is not as if it sits down and decides that the colony is the most valuable thing in its existence and ought to be protected at the cost of all else.3

The hard part is determining which living things actually possess these characteristics, and when they possess them. When do children develop the ability to think ethically? Which animals have a sense of self existing over time? And so on. I also think it is possible to have free will in varying degrees. A ten year old has more conception of the repercussions of her actions than a three or five year old, but less than a fifteen year old. An infant has very little, if any, free will. Similarly, bacteria and ants do not have free will, and it is unlikely that mice are intelligent enough to make the requirements either, although I do not know much about mouse intelligence levels. Dogs famously have a sense of fairness, and are probably intelligent enough to have at least some measure of free will, although I would be curious to know how conscious they are of justice as a concept. Many monkeys are self-conscious enough to have free will as well, although probably not as much as humans. In all of these cases, having free will is a matter of degree rather than clear yes or no.

 

 

1. And, for reasons of necessity and efficiency, our brains prefer simplicity to complexity.

 

2. And yet, we do exist in a universe which is largely indeterministic at the fundamental level.

 

3. It’s not unreasonable to link the idea of free will with the self-conscious sense of decision-making, though there is still the possibility that consciousness (and the sense of decision-making to which it may be tied) is really just the result of unconscious processing and plays no real role in the processing itself.