In June, Neil Levy posted to the Garden a draft chapter of Mark Balaguer's new book "Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem," MIT Press (December 2009).
I bought a copy of Mark's book and read it closely. It has a new introductory chapter, but chapters 2 through 4 are expanded, and in many places altered, versions of papers that Mark previously published in the Southern Journal of Philosophy, Noûs, and Synthese.
Gardeners had a chance to read and comment on chapter 2 - "Why the Compatibilism Issue and the Conceptual Analysis Issue Are Metaphysically Irrelevant." Balaguer maintained that the question whether free will exists - or of what kinds of free will exixt - was independent of the question of what free will is, i.e., whether it's Humean freedom, Frankfurtian freedom, or Libertarian freedom, for example.
In his Response to Balaguer, Levy criticized that view. He agreed that it has been a common mistake to think that we could do metaphysics just by doing conceptual analysis. But it is more than mere semantics to insist on a working definition of free will, which seems to Levy necessary to make progress on whether that free will exists or not.
Levy argued that conceptual analysis without an investigation of the real causal structure of the world is just a kind of folk psychology. But metaphysics without conceptual analysis is blind to the world it would investigate.
Balaguer urged us to wait for his chapter 3 to understand his new reformulation of the problem of free will, and his own libertarian view, which combines indeterminism and non-randomness.
He promised to explain how indeterminacy could actually generate the non-randomness, or procure it, or enhance it, or increase it, or something along those lines.
In the arguments about whether indeterminism diminishes or increases agent control, Balaguer, like Robert Kane, is an optimist.
In his Noûs article (A Coherent, Naturalistic, and Plausible Formulation of Libertarian Free Will (Noûs 38:3 (2004) 379–406), Balaguer began with a variation of the standard argument against free will when he says:
Thus, if our decisions are appropriately non-random, then they couldn’t possibly be undetermined. Therefore, libertarianism is simply incoherent: it is not possible for a decision to be undetermined and appropriately non-random at the same time. (p.379)
He then develops and extends Robert Kane's idea of "torn decisions."
These are decisions that require significant "effort" (C.A.Campbell) or what Kane called "self-forming actions" (SFAs).
Balaguer's model and Kane's model are "restrictive," a term coined by John Martin Fischer to describe Peter van Inwagen's claim that only a tiny fraction of our decisions and actions could be free actions.
For van Inwagen, free will is restricted to those which have closely balanced alternatives (the ancient problem of the liberty of indifference).
For Kane, it is those important decisions that provide us with what Kane calls ultimate responsibility or UR. They are those moments in which are character is formed. Later decisions made consistent with our character and values can then be traced back to these "self-forming actions."
Balaguer claims we that we may make many torn decisions a day than Kane admits.
But Kane argues
Balaguer's decisions are still restricted to cases where reasons for the alternatives are closely balanced. The ancients called freedom in such cases liberum arbitrium indifferentiae. To prove that only humans had such a freedom, they denied it to animals in the classic example of Buridan's Ass.
A torn decision is a decision in which the person in question (a) has reasons for two or more options and feels torn as to which set of reasons is strongest, i.e., has no conscious belief as to which option is best, given her reasons; and (b) decides without resolving this conflict —i.e., the person has the experience of "just choosing". (p.382)
He defines L-freedom, in the case of these torn decisions, in terms of "appropriate non-randomness" and authorship and control as follows:
L-freedom is defined as the ability to make decisions that are simultaneously (a) undetermined and (b) appropriately non-random. Much needs to be said about what appropriate non-randomness amounts to, but for now, let me just say that the central requirement that a decision needs to satisfy in order to count as appropriately non-random is that of having been authored and controlled by the person in question; i.e., it has to have been her decision, and she has to have controlled which option was chosen. (p.382)
"It would be insane to hope that after ... deliberation had terminated with an assessment of the best available course of action, indeterminism would then intervene to flip a coin before action (1978, p.51)"
Balaguer's basic and original claim is that a decision that is in not causally influenced at the moment of choice by any prior or external events must have been made by the agent alone because "nothing made him do it." When we combine this lack of external causation with conscious intentional purposefulness, we seem to get authorship and control, he says.
He confronts two objections.
Objection 1) If a decision is undetermined, then it isn't determined by the agent's reasons or character, which seems like less control and authorship.
Objection 2) The "luck" objection.
So what is new in the book, and especially in chapter 3, "Libertarianism Reduces to a Kind of Indeterminacy?"
Mark promised to Gardeners he would explain his “appropriate non-randomness.”
On page 10 of his new introductions he adds a new clause b)
that it generates the nonrandomness, or procures it, or enhances it, or increases it, or something along these lines.
In the Noûs paper, Balaguer argued that undetermined decisions simply are appropriately non-random. In the book, he argues that the indeterminacy actually generates the non-randomness. This relevancy is difficult to understand (for me at least) and I missed it on first reading.
In chapter 3, Balaguer expands his idea of an appropriately nonrandom decision, defining it as a decision that is authored and controlled by the agent.
Balaguer notes that from many alternative possibilities an agent might narrow down the choices for prior determining reasons, but that might leave some of the possibilities “tied-for-best.” It is choosing among these “tied-for-best” options that is “wholly undetermined at the moment of choice.”
He gives a specific example as choosing to have dessert after dinner for a prior reason, but leaving the particular dessert undetermined.
Balaguer then (p.92) confronts two objections. 1) the "luck" or “chance” objection. and 2) if a decision is undetermined, then it isn't determined by the agent's reasons or character, which seems like less control and authorship.
Contrary to most commentators (van Inwagen, Fischer, Mele, Clarke, G. Strawson, et al.), Balaguer maintains that even if the agent's decision were to be randomly distributed (if the world could be rewound and the same circumstances were replayed - following van Inwagen's thought experiment - and the results were random), this would simply show that it is the agent who makes the choices (p.92-94). If there were a pattern in the decisions, it would imply a hidden cause. For Balaguer, randomness is evidence that no prior cause was involved! So we ourselves must provide the cause.
He then denies the familiar idea that “the looser the connection between the agent’s reasons on the one hand and her decision on the other, the less authorship and control she has over the decision” (p.95).
Balaguer's basic idea seems to
be that the agent had good reasons for winnowing down her alternatives
to the "tied-for-best" options, so whichever of these she chooses, it
can be considered a conscious, intentional and purposeful choice.
He then (p.96) offers two theses why "Wholly Undetermined Torn Decisions" (he calls this TDW-Indeterminism) procure, increase, and enhance authorship and control.
Thesis 1) Such decisions, he says “provide as much authority and control over them as we could possibly have.”
Thesis 2) if the decision were in any way causally determined , he says we would “have less authorship and/or control.”
(Does he include reasons, character and values here, as Bob Kane does with his self-forming actions (SFAs)?
These two theses, he claims, entail that TDW-Indeterminism is freedom-enhancing, i.e., procuring or increasing authorship and/or control.
Since any less indeterminism (e.g., prior reasons) would reduce control, he argues that more indeterminism must increase it. He makes this synonymous with generating and procuring freedom. (Does this make sense?)
One interesting new item is that Balaguer says (p.123) that readers might have assumed from arguments in the book thus far that L-free decisions must be wholly undetermined and appropriately non-random (he calls them "type-1" decisions).
But, he says (p.123), "I never said that." He only claimed that if decisions are undetermined and appropriately non-random, then they are L-free.
So a major Balaguer novelty is his argument that even actions that are causally determined by reasons ("type-2" in the article, "type-5" in the book) can now be regarded as "L-free" (libertarian-free). The argument is that if he has established that agents are capable of "type-1" (undetermined and appropriately non-random) decisions, even decisions that are "determined" by reasons could now be regarded as L-free.
(It's not clear to me how the prior reasons that previously reduced authorship and control are now brought out as L-free themselves.)
Balaguer notes that he again differs from Robert Kane, who says that if our reasons and motives even partially cause our decisions, then they are not free, unless the reasons in question were caused by prior undetermined L-free choices (SFAs). On the contrary, Balaguer says that if an agent is L-free, and makes many undetermined L-free decisions every day, then her decisions that are caused by her reasons can also be called L-free.
In his Noûs article, Balaguer made the common mistake among compatibilist philosophers of claiming that R. E. Hobart's classic 1934 article asserted that determinism was required for free will. Like many others including Philippa Foot in 1957, Balaguer misquoted Hobart's title - "Free Will as Involving Determinism."
I think that he also misunderstands Hobart, when he says (p.6), "most compatibilists endorsed determinism. Some of these philosophers (Hobart for sure and arguably Hobbes and Hume as well) also held that freedom requires determinism."
Hobart's correct title is "Free Will as Involving Determination," which he defines only as the idea that reasons, character, values, etc are determining factors in our free decisions. Neither he nor Phillipa Foot argue for determinism in the sense of predeterminism. Both think that chance is real
Balaguer (or his fact-checking editors) corrected Hobart's title in the book's bibliography. And in new material in the book, Balaguer argued, as had Hobart and Foot, against predeterminism, which is of course the real problem that is solved by some indeterminism in the world.
Hobbes and Hume did think they had reconciled free will with determinism, The hard problem is to reconcile free will with indeterminism. Balaguer attempts to do this with his claim that indeterminacy in the torn decision enhances "appropriate non-randomness."
In his Noûs article, Balaguer had distinguished only type 1 and type 2 decisions. Type 1 are "a) undetermined at the moment of choice and b) appropriately non-random." Type 2 are "determined by the agent's reasons for choosing." In his book (p.122-3), Balaguer distinguishes several more types of decision, including "Buridan's-ass decisions" that are wholly undetermined, "Maybe decisions" that are spontaneous and "not teleologically rational," and decisions in which the agent is "leaning toward one or more options."
With ideas that resemble Peter van Inwagen's Consequence Argument and Ted Honderich's view of determinism as a "black thing", Balaguer says
"The idea that determinism might be true can seem disturbing and depressing to us, and the reason, I think, is that it can seem to follow from determinism that we are something like puppets. If it was already determined before any of us were born that our lives would take the exact course that they in fact take, then it can seem that we don't have free will in any interesting or worthwhile sense."
In Balaguer's final chapter, "No Good Arguments for or against Determinism," he argues that there is no good evidence from empirical science in favor of determinism (quantum mechanics clearly denies it). He also notes that logical arguments alone cannot establish an empirical truth and therefore indeterminism is an open question. And since he argued in chapter 3 that the right kind of indeterminism would generate L-freedom, he concludes that free will is indeed the "open scientific question" of his title.
Please see more extensive remarks on Balaguer's work in his web page on Information Philosopher.
I want to thank Mark Balaguer and Robert Kane for critical comments on earlier versions of this review.