Paganzer

Volition Vs. Determinism

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As a younger Objectivist, I consider myself pretty well read on the overall philosophy. My question, silly as it may seem to many here is as such: What Objectivist reasoning is there to combat hard determinism, that there is no volition and that cause and effect precludes any possibility of free will?

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I am not positive about the right way to answer this, but this might be a start.

Volition is self-evident.

For materialist determinists, cause is a frozen abstraction, the meaning of which, in their minds, is the same as material cause. They treat the mind as non-causal, denying its identity.

They have a related habit of failing to distinguish between the animate and the inanimate, or between the metaphysical and the man-made, whenever package-dealing instances of these fundamentally different categories helps them to appear to offer "support" for their position.

Their attitude toward man's mind, or the products of man's mind, is to treat them "...as a 'natural resource' like a tree, a rock, or a mud puddle." From the hardcover Dutton 35th anniversary edition of Atlas Shrugged, p. 1043.

[i love this quote - it is relevant to this topic and was easy to copy, because I've used it elsewhere in this forum.]

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As a younger Objectivist, I consider myself pretty well read on the overall philosophy. My question, silly as it may seem to many here is as such: What Objectivist reasoning is there to combat hard determinism, that there is no volition and that cause and effect precludes any possibility of free will?

Why would "reasoning" matter if we were not volitional? If we cannot freely choose between what is logical and what is not, then logic and all consequent knowledge does not matter. The notion of psychological determinism, by it very nature, excludes itself from consideration. If we have no free choice and are determined in thought, then the thought of determinism is itself determined, and therefore it matters no more than another's determined thought of volition. The fact of the matter is that volition is axiomatic; volition is self-evident and cannot be denied or escaped.

Here are a few references of some Objectivist writings that deal directly with this issue.

- "The Contradiction of Determinism," The Objectivist Newsletter, May, 1963.

- "The Objectivist Theory of Volition," The Objectivist, Part I and Part II, January and February, 1966.

- Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, The whole of Chapter 2: "Sense Perception and Volition," especially the section "Volition as Axiomatic."

All of these (and much more) are available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore.

If you still have any specific questions, ask again here.

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Why would "reasoning" matter if we were not volitional? If we cannot freely choose between what is logical and what is not, then logic and all consequent knowledge does not matter. The notion of psychological determinism, by it very nature, excludes itself from consideration. If we have no free choice and are determined in thought, then the thought of determinism is itself determined, and therefore it matters no more than another's determined thought of volition. The fact of the matter is that volition is axiomatic; volition is self-evident and cannot be denied or escaped.

Here are a few references of some Objectivist writings that deal directly with this issue.

- "The Contradiction of Determinism," The Objectivist Newsletter, May, 1963.

- "The Objectivist Theory of Volition," The Objectivist, Part I and Part II, January and February, 1966.

- Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, The whole of Chapter 2: "Sense Perception and Volition," especially the section "Volition as Axiomatic."

All of these (and much more) are available from The Ayn Rand Bookstore.

If you still have any specific questions, ask again here.

That's basically what I read Peikoff say in OPAR and I still don't see it as answering the problem. The fact that the concept of determinsm would have to be pre-determined, does nothing to invalidate the idea and the reply I seem to be getting back is that "we'll never know so it doesn't matter". What is this free will? If everything has a cause, wouldn't that include all the varying mechanisms of the human mind and psyche, and if it didn't, wouldn't that be a curious breach of causality(and if so, what evidence would justify this breach?)?

If it were that we would have no way of knowing I'd have enough trouble taking it to be "axiomatic" but Cause & Effect seem like they'd preclude any truly volitional action. I mean, believe me, I want to be wrong here and to that end I'd genuinely love to see a line of reasoning to combat my own.

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I do not see where you are having a problem with this subject as you used volition to type your response. It could have been different as you could have done nothing or you could have agreed. But, you chose to type what you did which means you applied your own volition. Volition is not controlling things beyond your control or volition, but making choices on that which is in your control.

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If it were that we would have no way of knowing I'd have enough trouble taking it to be "axiomatic" but Cause & Effect seem like they'd preclude any truly volitional action. I mean, believe me, I want to be wrong here and to that end I'd genuinely love to see a line of reasoning to combat my own.

What is cause and effect and how do you know about it? Through observation of the external world, through observation (introspection) of your own mind, or through both?

Or do you feel that it is something that you "just know?"

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That's basically what I read Peikoff say in OPAR and I still don't see it as answering the problem. The fact that the concept of determinsm would have to be pre-determined, does nothing to invalidate the idea and the reply I seem to be getting back is that "we'll never know so it doesn't matter".

You really need to read more carefully, or, at least, with better understanding. Putting such words into Peikoff's mouth, or mine, is inexcusable. Speaking as moderator, in the future please do not here summarize an argument in your own words. Rather, quote the actual words (with proper attribution) and then feel free to express your judgment.

What is this free will? If everything has a cause, wouldn't that include all the varying mechanisms of the human mind and psyche, and if it didn't, wouldn't that be a curious breach of causality(and if so, what evidence would justify this breach?)?

You seem to have missed the entire section in OPAR where Peikoff directly addresses the issue of what causality means in relation to free will. I would suggest that you read, or re-read, at least the section titled "Human Actions, Mental and Physical, as Both Caused and Free." If after doing so you have any questions, bring them up here, but not in the form of barefaced assertions. Instead, provide a direct quote (with proper attribution) and address your concerns as related to the quote.

I want to be wrong here and to that end I'd genuinely love to see a line of reasoning to combat my own.

The relevant arguments as presented in OPAR are a "line of reasoning," but your skeptical assertions are not.

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As a younger Objectivist, I consider myself pretty well read on the overall philosophy. My question, silly as it may seem to many here is as such: What Objectivist reasoning is there to combat hard determinism, that there is no volition and that cause and effect precludes any possibility of free will?

Primarily, Objectivism says that volition is self-evident since one can always catch himself making a decision. You (or even anybody) can, at one point, catch youself making and deciding. This, Objectivism says, is one reason to debunk the hard determinist theory of the absence of volition.

As for the line "cause and effect precludes any possibility of free will", one must remember that the cause and effect that Objectivism talks about is not event-event relationship but an entity-event relationship. In my opinion, the apparent contradiction between causality and volition is founded on the wrong understanding of Objectivism's laws of identity and causality.

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Primarily, Objectivism says that volition is self-evident since one can always catch himself making a decision. You (or even anybody) can, at one point, catch youself making and deciding. This, Objectivism says, is one reason to debunk the hard determinism theory of the absence of volition.
Yes, and to claim that, that is just an illusion, is about as equivalent claiming that there are leprechauns on mars.

"What if Free Will is an illusion". "What if there is a God".

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I agree that volition is self-evident and that it would be self-contradictory to assert otherwise, but I would like to know how exactly to attack the argument from Joseph's An Introduction to Logic.

It goes something like this: What meaning could causality possibly have if one cause could have more than one effect? If I chose to do one thing instead of another then, if I am to maintain free will, I must assert that identical causes produce different results, for if it was otherwise each "choice" would have a separate cause, and that effect would thus be determined by that cause; it being an unavoidable consequent of it. So if a single cause can have more than one effect, the whole meaning of causality breaks down and the universe becomes unintelligible.

While I am certain there is some error in this reasoning, I would very much like to know what it is.

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I agree that volition is self-evident and that it would be self-contradictory to assert otherwise, but I would like to know how exactly to attack the argument from Joseph's An Introduction to Logic.

It goes something like this: What meaning could causality possibly have if one cause could have more than one effect? If I chose to do one thing instead of another then, if I am to maintain free will, I must assert that identical causes produce different results, for if it was otherwise each "choice" would have a separate cause, and that effect would thus be determined by that cause; it being an unavoidable consequent of it. So if a single cause can have more than one effect, the whole meaning of causality breaks down and the universe becomes unintelligible.

While I am certain there is some error in this reasoning, I would very much like to know what it is.

The problem is his definition of causality, which seems to be epistemological rather than metaphysical. From Galt’s Speech:

The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature … The law of identity does not permit you to have your cake and eat it, too. The law of causality does not permit you to eat your cake before you have it.

And from Dr. Peikoff’s “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy”:

Choice … is not chance. Volition is not an exception to the Law of Causality; it is a type of causation.

Causality doesn’t mean predictability or some 1 to 1 correspondence of cause to effect. How would you ever demonstrate causality according to such a definition? You would have to observe identical causes an infinite amount of times to verify that the same thing happened every time.

As Ayn Rand wrote, causality means entities acting in accordance with their natures. It so happens that humans, being volitional, can act in ways other organisms can’t. That is not a violation of causality, but a consequence of it.

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I agree that volition is self-evident and that it would be self-contradictory to assert otherwise, but I would like to know how exactly to attack the argument from Joseph's An Introduction to Logic.

It goes something like this: What meaning could causality possibly have if one cause could have more than one effect? If I chose to do one thing instead of another then, if I am to maintain free will, I must assert that identical causes produce different results, for if it was otherwise each "choice" would have a separate cause, and that effect would thus be determined by that cause; it being an unavoidable consequent of it. So if a single cause can have more than one effect, the whole meaning of causality breaks down and the universe becomes unintelligible.

While I am certain there is some error in this reasoning, I would very much like to know what it is.

Actions are not caused by actions -- the Humean view. Actions are caused by the nature of the entities that act -- the Aristotelian/Objectivist view.

The physiological nature of the human conceptual faculty causes and gives rise to the ability (and, I would say, the necessity) of maintaining focus and self-directing conscious focus,

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I agree that volition is self-evident and that it would be self-contradictory to assert otherwise, but I would like to know how exactly to attack the argument from Joseph's An Introduction to Logic.

It goes something like this: What meaning could causality possibly have if one cause could have more than one effect? If I chose to do one thing instead of another then, if I am to maintain free will, I must assert that identical causes produce different results, for if it was otherwise each "choice" would have a separate cause, and that effect would thus be determined by that cause; it being an unavoidable consequent of it. So if a single cause can have more than one effect, the whole meaning of causality breaks down and the universe becomes unintelligible.

While I am certain there is some error in this reasoning, I would very much like to know what it is.

The basic choice is to focus or not. Once you do, what you focus on and think and do depend on the content of your consciousness. In that way, you secondarily choose different options. See OPAR.

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I agree that volition is self-evident and that it would be self-contradictory to assert otherwise, but I would like to know how exactly to attack the argument from Joseph's An Introduction to Logic.

It goes something like this: What meaning could causality possibly have if one cause could have more than one effect? If I chose to do one thing instead of another then, if I am to maintain free will, I must assert that identical causes produce different results, for if it was otherwise each "choice" would have a separate cause, and that effect would thus be determined by that cause; it being an unavoidable consequent of it. So if a single cause can have more than one effect, the whole meaning of causality breaks down and the universe becomes unintelligible.

While I am certain there is some error in this reasoning, I would very much like to know what it is.

As mentioned by others above, it is not the action of an entity that produces the cause, it is the entity that causes the result. Let's look at a few examples. Water can extinguish fire, it can drown people, it can flood lowlands, it enables fish to live. Thus, one entity (the cause) can produce many effects. Some effects can subsequently act as causes in other events: The rainwater that extinguishes a forest fire can run downhill and cause a flood or drown people.

The same is true for man. Man is capable of producing different results. Volition is an effect caused by the entity man: his capacity to exercise reason or not. This effect, the use of reason, acts as a cause for other events: his values, his virtues, his character, etc. Thus, one cause (man) produces many effects.

One cause producing many effects does not produce a breakdown in the meaning of causality. It gives a clue as to what the actual causal agent is. If one only looks at actions and reactions, that is when causality breaks down because the causal agent is not and cannot be identified.

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As mentioned by others above, it is not the action of an entity that produces the cause, it is the entity that causes the result. Let's look at a few examples. Water can extinguish fire, it can drown people, it can flood lowlands, it enables fish to live. Thus, one entity (the cause) can produce many effects. Some effects can subsequently act as causes in other events: The rainwater that extinguishes a forest fire can run downhill and cause a flood or drown people.

Joseph calls these things "non-reciprocating" causes. Thus, according to him, water "causes" x, y, and z but it is not water per se which causes these things but rather certain properties in the water, call them x', y', and z', which are the actual causes of x, y, and z respectively. Similarly, there are many "causes" of death, but they are only "causes" insofar as they have some shared property which is the actual (or reciprocating) cause of death. So again, according to him, each cause has only one effect, and each effect has only one cause.

Thomas Aquinas described Aristotle's view of causation as a things essence realized in action, or as Ayn Rand put it "The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action." So are we to say that man has free will, therefore his actions are the realization of that essence? I guess the point is that we can not view action as being something independent of the thing acting, that there is no more fundamental "cause" then the nature of the thing itself.

So let's see if I get this...

By asking for a cause of a particular action (i.e. a choice), I have been asking for another action, but it was not another action which caused the choice but rather the entity acting according to its nature, that is to say with volition (in the case of man).

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By asking for a cause of a particular action (i.e. a choice), I have been asking for another action, but it was not another action which caused the choice but rather the entity acting according to its nature, that is to say with volition (in the case of man).

I think he's got it! By George, he's got it!

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Thomas Aquinas described Aristotle's view of causation as a things essence realized in action, or as Ayn Rand put it "The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action." So are we to say that man has free will, therefore his actions are the realization of that essence? I guess the point is that we can not view action as being something independent of the thing acting, that there is no more fundamental "cause" then the nature of the thing itself.

So let's see if I get this...

By asking for a cause of a particular action (i.e. a choice), I have been asking for another action, but it was not another action which caused the choice but rather the entity acting according to its nature, that is to say with volition (in the case of man).

But you can ask for the cause of a choice, if what you are asking for is a final cause. In other words, when you ask why a person chose a particular action, you are asking for the purpose of the action -- i.e., for what end or goal was the action taken?

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As mentioned by others above, it is not the action of an entity that produces the cause, it is the entity that causes the result. Let's look at a few examples. Water can extinguish fire, it can drown people, it can flood lowlands, it enables fish to live. Thus, one entity (the cause) can produce many effects. Some effects can subsequently act as causes in other events: The rainwater that extinguishes a forest fire can run downhill and cause a flood or drown people.

Joseph calls these things "non-reciprocating" causes. Thus, according to him, water "causes" x, y, and z but it is not water per se which causes these things but rather certain properties in the water, call them x', y', and z', which are the actual causes of x, y, and z respectively. Similarly, there are many "causes" of death, but they are only "causes" insofar as they have some shared property which is the actual (or reciprocating) cause of death. So again, according to him, each cause has only one effect, and each effect has only one cause.

Yes, but the discovery of those properties require scientific investigation, not philosophic conjecture. And those properties are not metaphysically separable from the entity. That water has the property of impeding oxygen transfer across the membranes in the lungs does not in any way imply that it is not the water that is doing the drowning.

Thomas Aquinas described Aristotle's view of causation as a things essence realized in action, or as Ayn Rand put it "The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action." So are we to say that man has free will, therefore his actions are the realization of that essence? I guess the point is that we can not view action as being something independent of the thing acting, that there is no more fundamental "cause" then the nature of the thing itself.

So let's see if I get this...

By asking for a cause of a particular action (i.e. a choice), I have been asking for another action, but it was not another action which caused the choice but rather the entity acting according to its nature, that is to say with volition (in the case of man).

Yes, that is the way that I understand it. By asking for an action to be the cause of another action (in this case volition), what you are really asking for is another entity or factor, outside of man, to be the cause of volition. In much the same manner when one asks, "What caused this man to drown?" one looks for external entities or factors outside the nature of the normal operation of the lungs.

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