kenstauffer

Why is Free will an axiom?

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I wanted to distinguish "choosing to use reason" from "choosing to move your finger". A monkey can move his finger; an octopus can move its tentacle. But they are not using volition to make such movement. Self-control of one's mind is different than self-control of one's body. For humans, the latter comes first and then the second can be explained as an element of volition. Without the volitional aspect of reason, the volitional aspect of finger movement would not be there.

Did you mean here, "For humans, the former comes first"?

Oops. Yes, you're correct.

I confess I'm confused about this distinction also. You said that your definition of volition distinguishes between "choosing to use reason" and "choosing to move your finger", but then mention "the volitional aspect of finger movement". What aspect is that?

The fact that an organism controls its movements does not show volition, as with a monkey purposefully moving its finger, say for grooming another monkey. If I am just staring at my finger and moving it back and forth, or scratching an itch on my head, that is not related to volition, in my view. If I am thinking about what to type now and my fingers move over the typewriter in accordance with my thought, then my finger movements are related to my volition. But the volition is related to my focus, and not to the movement of my fingers outside of that context. My fingers are deterministically following my focus. All purposeful action is not volitional action, as any living organism demonstrates. The fact that man possess volition does not mean that every purposeful action of his is volitional.

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Correction here.

I guess I'm showing my age referring to a typewriter. Make that a "keyboard." :)

-------

If I am thinking about what to type now and my fingers move over the typewriter in accordance with my thought, then my finger movements are related to my volition. ---------

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And the point of this, is that I see a distinction between any self-initiated action taken by man and any self-initiated action take by a non-human organism.

Concerning your use of "any" in the above, or your definition of "self-initiated:" Breathing, blood circulation, and digestion are all self-initiated. Are they volitional in humans and non-volitional in non-humans?

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If volition is the choice to focus or not, the choice to use reason or not, then how does choosing to move one's finger fit under the concept of volition?

These are volitional, not volition, which is not defined, so I am describing it. These are examples of volition. They are not its definition.

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I wonder if there's a problem with using the word "choice," as in "volition is the choice to focus the mind." Most choices are of the once and done variety: one makes a decision, and the process of doing so is over with (regardless of what further decisions and/or actions go into carrying out that decision). However, focus must be maintained. Could it be that the "choice" to focus is not throwing a switch but more pressing and holding a button, making it fundamentally different than other choices because it has a duration? (Could that mean that volition is something other than a choice? Or that "choice" needs a different definition? Or that I'm unintentionally equivocating on two concepts which share the label "choice?" Or that the concept labeled "choice" in my mind is erroneous?)

It has been argued in this thread (if I've understood correctly) and elsewhere that what follows the choice to focus is determined rather than volitional, because volition lies solely in the choice to focus. However, if it is the case that the "volition-choice" has a duration (and please don't miss the importance of that little word if), then what is the implication for the actions that occur during focus?

I've been struggling with the concept of volition for a long time. Unfortunately nothing I've seen in this thread has yet made anything clearer in my mind. I don't like the idea that volition "stops" after the choice to focus, but I'm unable to do a good job articulating why.

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I don't like the idea that volition "stops" after the choice to focus, but I'm unable to do a good job articulating why.

Because it's a false view of volition?

Stating that X is the *essence* of A does not mean that A is *only* X.

Arguably, *any* human choice involves volition, and I mean in the context of an initially generated and fully sustained focus. The notion that all parts of thinking are literally determined once an initial choice to focus has been expressed, is nutty, nor do I think that such a view was held by Ayn Rand.

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And the point of this, is that I see a distinction between any self-initiated action taken by man and any self-initiated action take by a non-human organism.

Concerning your use of "any" in the above, or your definition of "self-initiated:" Breathing, blood circulation, and digestion are all self-initiated. Are they volitional in humans and non-volitional in non-humans?

We disagree then, on what is included in self-initiated action, which I think is straightforward, i.e. it means an action that we initiate. We do not initiate these processes. They are maintained by our self-initiated actions, but are not themselves self-initiated.

When we're babies (or sometimes with certain health conditions) we are fed. If it's intravenously, that is not self-initiated. But when we take food into our mouths and swallow it, that is self-initiated action. If you're saying that digestion is self-initiated because it's initiated by eating, I would answer that eating is one step removed from (and prior to) digestion.

I think these kinds of functions are classed by H.B. as vegetative actions, and I'll be reading up on this in the next few days I expect, because I've gone and done it -- it's too late to turn back -- I've picked up THE BOOK again. There are various parts to goal-directed action, some purely mechanical, some vegetative, and all kinds of goal-directed action appear in man, from that which we share with inanimate objects (mechanical) to that which only man engages in, i.e. the acquisition of conceptual knowledge. But I plan to read over some of this by someone who's done all the thinking work already. My job will be to understand it.

THE BOOK is, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. I remember reading its first pages in a hotel room in Palo Alto. I was sitting on the bed, but I couldn't stay still. I kept getting up and pacing around, trying to maintain normal breathing -- I was so excited. Definitely a favorite, and like Ayn Rand's work, it contained ideas I had never heard before.

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The fact that an organism controls its movements does not show volition, as with a monkey purposefully moving its finger, say for grooming another monkey. If I am just staring at my finger and moving it back and forth, or scratching an itch on my head, that is not related to volition, in my view. If I am thinking about what to type now and my fingers move over the typewriter in accordance with my thought, then my finger movements are related to my volition. But the volition is related to my focus, and not to the movement of my fingers outside of that context. My fingers are deterministically following my focus. All purposeful action is not volitional action, as any living organism demonstrates. The fact that man possess volition does not mean that every purposeful action of his is volitional.

I think you're mixing up "volitional" and "focus" in this last sentence. From Volition as Cognitive Self-Regulation, by Harry Binswanger:

On volition

It is the distinctively human level of awareness, the conceptual level, that is volitional. Free will is the choice to utilize or not to utilize one's conceptual faculty...

There is a basic distinction, then, between the sensory-perceptual level of consciousness and the conceptual level. The processing that underlies perception is neurophysiological and nonintrospectible. When a child sees a table, he is unaware of the neurophysiological processes, from the retina up, that make the percept possible, and he had no choice in or control over the development of those processes; the percept is for him a direct "given" rather than the product of inference or interpretation...

But when we come to the conceptual level of awareness, the process of cognition is conscious, deliberate, and introspectible...

Conceptual processes are conscious, introspectible processes open to evaluation and modification. Rather than being "givens," conceptual-level processes can be performed correctly or incorrectly, logically or illogically. Indeed the very existence of such a science as "logic" testifies to the fact that man has to choose among alternative ways of organizing, integrating, interpreting his sensory material.

On focus

To describe the way man confronts this choice introspectively, Ayn Rand borrows the term "focus" from the optical realm. To raise one's level of awareness is, in effect, to "focus" one's mind.

So "volition" means the choice to utilize one's conceptual faculty or not, and to be "in focus" in effect means to make this choice by raising the level of one's awareness.

I would propose that any human action subject to conceptual awareness is volitional. Whether you utilize that option or not, whether you "focus", is irrelevant because the essential characteristic is your choice to do so.

What does this mean? Well, you used for example the fact that a monkey can move his finger. Can he play the piano? Can he write a novel? What makes these physical actions volitional is the uniquely human state of awareness producing them and the focus required to achieve that state. What makes a man moving his finger volitional and a monkey doing the same nonvolitional is the fact that man has this higher state of awareness and a choice to use it, while the monkey does not.

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The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama. Or suppose that one is taking a multiple-choice test in which a question has four possible answers, only one of which is correct. Since one knows the correct answer, one chooses it in preference to the alternatives, but one's choice is determined by one's knowledge of the correct answer and one's desire to pass the test.

Similarly, a person chooses to focus his mind, because he wants to know something, to understand it more clearly. In this respect as well, his choice is determined by his values, by his desire to grasp some aspect of reality. He has control over his thoughts, but it is determined by his cognitive goals and values. Volitional control is always exercised for the sake of some end or purpose, which the person is seeking to achieve. It is that purpose that determines its direction and outcome.

One's values and purpose(s) had to be chosen, so I'm not sure I see the point here. And if you don't think that values and purposes are chosen, but determined by genes or God or something, then you're unlikely to see the truth and value of Objectivism, if or until you change your mind on this point.

Choices are not made arbitrarily; they are made for the sake of an end or goal -- to satisfy a value. Of course, there are many values which themselves result from the choices we make, but those choices are in turn based on previous values. As Ayn Rand observes, "an infant or young child learns to focus his mind in the form of wanting to know something -- to understand clearly." [Emphasis added] What determines the child's desire for knowledge and understanding? It is part of his natural curiosity about the world. That natural curiosity is not something he "chooses." It is part of his nature as a human being.

When I was a young man, someone recommended Ayn Rand's novels. Since I was curious to see what she had written, I read <i>The Fountainhead</i> and <i>Atlas Shrugged</i>, and became interested in her philosophy, because I could see its value. My initial curiosity determined my choice to read her novels, which in turn lead to my understanding and appreciation of her philosophy. You could say that I "chose" to accept her view of individual rights, but my acceptance of her view of rights was not strictly speaking a "free choice," because once I understood the basis for it, I could not simply have chosen to reject it, any more than as an atheist, I could have chosen to believe in God. One cannot "choose" to believe in something one doesn't believe in.

One's beliefs and conclusions are determined by one's thinking and understanding and can only be changed by new thinking and understanding, not by an act of free choice. One does not "choose" one's beliefs or conclusions; one chooses to think and to evaluate issues and ideas, which in turn leads one to form new conclusions and new ideas. But the choice to think is itself motivated by an interest in furthering one's knowledge and understanding.

When I said that one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values and that given those values, one could not have voted for Obama, I wasn't denying that one's vote for McCain was a choice. It constituted a "choice" insofar as one could have voted for Obama, if one had valued doing so. No one would have prevented one from making that choice, if one were an Obama supporter. The multiple-choice test was intended to convey the same idea. Given one's desire to pass the test, one could not have chosen an answer one recognized as wrong, yet selecting the answer one recognized as right still qualifies as a "choice." It's a choice, because one could have chosen a different answer if one's knowledge and/or motivation had been different.

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And the point of this, is that I see a distinction between any self-initiated action taken by man and any self-initiated action take by a non-human organism.

Concerning your use of "any" in the above, or your definition of "self-initiated:" Breathing, blood circulation, and digestion are all self-initiated. Are they volitional in humans and non-volitional in non-humans?

We disagree then, on what is included in self-initiated action, which I think is straightforward, i.e. it means an action that we initiate. We do not initiate these processes. They are maintained by our self-initiated actions, but are not themselves self-initiated.

That seems to be at odds with the definition of life as "a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action." I take the "and" in there to mean not that there are two types of actions (note that "action" in the definition is singular), but that 'self-sustaining" and "self-generated" are two perspectives on one and the same thing, like "existence" and "identity" in "Existence is identity." I'm assuming, of course, that "self-generated" in the definition of life is the same as what we're calling "self-initiated" in this discussion.

When we're babies (or sometimes with certain health conditions) we are fed. If it's intravenously, that is not self-initiated. But when we take food into our mouths and swallow it, that is self-initiated action. If you're saying that digestion is self-initiated because it's initiated by eating, I would answer that eating is one step removed from (and prior to) digestion.

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that nothing outside of the body initiates digestion - the body initiates digestion by itself, therefore it's self-initiated. You seem to be including only volitional actions in "self-initiated." Nothing necessarily wrong with that, it would just mean that our disagreement is along the lines of "Pie is the best!" "No, purple is the best!"

I think these kinds of functions are classed by H.B. as vegetative actions, and I'll be reading up on this in the next few days I expect, because I've gone and done it -- it's too late to turn back -- I've picked up THE BOOK again. There are various parts to goal-directed action, some purely mechanical, some vegetative, and all kinds of goal-directed action appear in man, from that which we share with inanimate objects (mechanical) to that which only man engages in, i.e. the acquisition of conceptual knowledge. But I plan to read over some of this by someone who's done all the thinking work already. My job will be to understand it.

THE BOOK is, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. I remember reading its first pages in a hotel room in Palo Alto. I was sitting on the bed, but I couldn't stay still. I kept getting up and pacing around, trying to maintain normal breathing -- I was so excited. Definitely a favorite, and like Ayn Rand's work, it contained ideas I had never heard before.

Yes, I've have a copy, though it's been some time since I read it. I remember the excitement, too. :) I also remember thinking what a geek I was for getting so excited over a topic that I assume most would consider dry and boring.

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One cannot "choose" to believe in something one doesn't believe in.

Sure one can. It's called evasion. I've done it, I'm sorry to admit. (I got better.)

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The choice can be determined by one's values. For example, suppose that one were a diehard Republican who loves McCain and hates Obama. One has a choice to vote for either candidate, but one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values. Given those values, one could not have voted for Obama. Or suppose that one is taking a multiple-choice test in which a question has four possible answers, only one of which is correct. Since one knows the correct answer, one chooses it in preference to the alternatives, but one's choice is determined by one's knowledge of the correct answer and one's desire to pass the test.

Similarly, a person chooses to focus his mind, because he wants to know something, to understand it more clearly. In this respect as well, his choice is determined by his values, by his desire to grasp some aspect of reality. He has control over his thoughts, but it is determined by his cognitive goals and values. Volitional control is always exercised for the sake of some end or purpose, which the person is seeking to achieve. It is that purpose that determines its direction and outcome.

One's values and purpose(s) had to be chosen, so I'm not sure I see the point here. And if you don't think that values and purposes are chosen, but determined by genes or God or something, then you're unlikely to see the truth and value of Objectivism, if or until you change your mind on this point.

Choices are not made arbitrarily; they are made for the sake of an end or goal -- to satisfy a value. Of course, there are many values which themselves result from the choices we make, but those choices are in turn based on previous values. As Ayn Rand observes, "an infant or young child learns to focus his mind in the form of wanting to know something -- to understand clearly." [Emphasis added] What determines the child's desire for knowledge and understanding? It is part of his natural curiosity about the world. That natural curiosity is not something he "chooses." It is part of his nature as a human being.

When I was a young man, someone recommended Ayn Rand's novels. Since I was curious to see what she had written, I read <i>The Fountainhead</i> and <i>Atlas Shrugged</i>, and became interested in her philosophy, because I could see its value. My initial curiosity determined my choice to read her novels, which in turn lead to my understanding and appreciation of her philosophy. You could say that I "chose" to accept her view of individual rights, but my acceptance of her view of rights was not strictly speaking a "free choice," because once I understood the basis for it, I could not simply have chosen to reject it, any more than as an atheist, I could have chosen to believe in God. One cannot "choose" to believe in something one doesn't believe in.

One's beliefs and conclusions are determined by one's thinking and understanding and can only be changed by new thinking and understanding, not by an act of free choice. One does not "choose" one's beliefs or conclusions; one chooses to think and to evaluate issues and ideas, which in turn leads one to form new conclusions and new ideas. But the choice to think is itself motivated by an interest in furthering one's knowledge and understanding.

When I said that one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values and that given those values, one could not have voted for Obama, I wasn't denying that one's vote for McCain was a choice. It constituted a "choice" insofar as one could have voted for Obama, if one had valued doing so. No one would have prevented one from making that choice, if one were an Obama supporter. The multiple-choice test was intended to convey the same idea. Given one's desire to pass the test, one could not have chosen an answer one recognized as wrong, yet selecting the answer one recognized as right still qualifies as a "choice." It's a choice, because one could have chosen a different answer if one's knowledge and/or motivation had been different.

What do you think volition is? This is a serious question. And a description will do, since there is no definition.

To say that "one's beliefs and conclusions are determined by one's thinking and understanding" is the same as saying that man has volition, unless... You could not be saying that man has no choice but to think and understand, could you? You must see that there are countless examples to prove that idea false. So, aside from (perhaps) a wrong idea about what volition is, I'm still failing to see anything in all you've said that fundamentally contradicts the idea that man has volition.

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If volition is the choice to focus or not, the choice to use reason or not, then how does choosing to move one's finger fit under the concept of volition?

These are volitional, not volition, which is not defined, so I am describing it. These are examples of volition. They are not its definition.

I can agree with that.

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And the point of this, is that I see a distinction between any self-initiated action taken by man and any self-initiated action take by a non-human organism.

Concerning your use of "any" in the above, or your definition of "self-initiated:" Breathing, blood circulation, and digestion are all self-initiated. Are they volitional in humans and non-volitional in non-humans?

We disagree then, on what is included in self-initiated action, which I think is straightforward, i.e. it means an action that we initiate. We do not initiate these processes. They are maintained by our self-initiated actions, but are not themselves self-initiated.

That seems to be at odds with the definition of life as "a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action." I take the "and" in there to mean not that there are two types of actions (note that "action" in the definition is singular), but that 'self-sustaining" and "self-generated" are two perspectives on one and the same thing, like "existence" and "identity" in "Existence is identity." I'm assuming, of course, that "self-generated" in the definition of life is the same as what we're calling "self-initiated" in this discussion.

When we're babies (or sometimes with certain health conditions) we are fed. If it's intravenously, that is not self-initiated. But when we take food into our mouths and swallow it, that is self-initiated action. If you're saying that digestion is self-initiated because it's initiated by eating, I would answer that eating is one step removed from (and prior to) digestion.

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that nothing outside of the body initiates digestion - the body initiates digestion by itself, therefore it's self-initiated. You seem to be including only volitional actions in "self-initiated." Nothing necessarily wrong with that, it would just mean that our disagreement is along the lines of "Pie is the best!" "No, purple is the best!"

In Miss Rand's definition of life, the context for her use of 'self-sustaining' and 'self-generating' is much broader, i.e. the life of any organism. In the context of a discussion on volition, my reference to man's self-initiated action is to action initiated by a man's own consciousness, not to any non-conscious self-initiated actions of man as organism.

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THE BOOK is, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. I remember reading its first pages in a hotel room in Palo Alto. I was sitting on the bed, but I couldn't stay still. I kept getting up and pacing around, trying to maintain normal breathing -- I was so excited. Definitely a favorite, and like Ayn Rand's work, it contained ideas I had never heard before.

Yes, I've have a copy, though it's been some time since I read it. I remember the excitement, too. ;) I also remember thinking what a geek I was for getting so excited over a topic that I assume most would consider dry and boring.

LOL, I resigned myself eons ago to the fact that I'm a secret nerd. It IS a secret, right?! :)

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When I said that one's choice to vote for McCain is determined by one's political values and that given those values, one could not have voted for Obama, I wasn't denying that one's vote for McCain was a choice. It constituted a "choice" insofar as one could have voted for Obama, if one had valued doing so. No one would have prevented one from making that choice, if one were an Obama supporter. The multiple-choice test was intended to convey the same idea. Given one's desire to pass the test, one could not have chosen an answer one recognized as wrong, yet selecting the answer one recognized as right still qualifies as a "choice." It's a choice, because one could have chosen a different answer if one's knowledge and/or motivation had been different.

What do you think volition is? This is a serious question. And a description will do, since there is no definition.

To say that "one's beliefs and conclusions are determined by one's thinking and understanding" is the same as saying that man has volition, unless... You could not be saying that man has no choice but to think and understand, could you? You must see that there are countless examples to prove that idea false. So, aside from (perhaps) a wrong idea about what volition is, I'm still failing to see anything in all you've said that fundamentally contradicts the idea that man has volition.

Volition is the capacity for choice. I have the choice to vote for John McCain, but whether or not I exercise that choice depends on how much I value his candidacy. Similarly, I have the choice to think, but whether or not I exercise that choice depends on how much I value the knowledge to be gained from it.

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Volition is the capacity for choice. I have the choice to vote for John McCain, but whether or not I exercise that choice depends on how much I value his candidacy. Similarly, I have the choice to think, but whether or not I exercise that choice depends on how much I value the knowledge to be gained from it.

Maybe it's that you're judging all men's approach as being like our own, which is a significant error. I think you've agreed that values have to be arrived at somehow (that they are not intrinsic), and you've said (I think) that you've arrived at yours by thinking and understanding the facts of reality. However, not everyone arrives at every value he has in this manner, and many values are accepted based on some form of non-thinking, i.e. faith and/or emotion.

So, when any such value (necessarily) contradicts reality, and the individual is faced with the contradiction, he can choose to think and understand reality, after which his values would change so that they were consistent with reality. Or, he can choose not to see the contradiction, cling to his emotion or faith-based value(s), and dispense with reality.

I think it's clear that not everyone's values were determined by thinking and understanding reality. If they were, there would only be some remote corners of the earth (if that) where anyone was still religious or subjective, because Objectivism would already have been accepted by anyone who ever encountered it, and it would have spread like wildfire.

In short, no one would be irrational, and Atlantis would be guaranteed. But as we can see, that is not the case, which is due to the fact that men can choose to be rational or not.

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Correction:

Maybe it's that you're judging all men's approach as being like your own, which is a significant error. [... etc.]

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Volition is the capacity for choice. I have the choice to vote for John McCain, but whether or not I exercise that choice depends on how much I value his candidacy. Similarly, I have the choice to think, but whether or not I exercise that choice depends on how much I value the knowledge to be gained from it.

Maybe it's that you're judging all men's approach as being like our own, which is a significant error. I think you've agreed that values have to be arrived at somehow (that they are not intrinsic), and you've said (I think) that you've arrived at yours by thinking and understanding the facts of reality. However, not everyone arrives at every value he has in this manner, and many values are accepted based on some form of non-thinking, i.e. faith and/or emotion.

So, when any such value (necessarily) contradicts reality, and the individual is faced with the contradiction, he can choose to think and understand reality, after which his values would change so that they were consistent with reality. Or, he can choose not to see the contradiction, cling to his emotion or faith-based value(s), and dispense with reality.

I think it's clear that not everyone's values were determined by thinking and understanding reality. If they were, there would only be some remote corners of the earth (if that) where anyone was still religious or subjective, because Objectivism would already have been accepted by anyone who ever encountered it, and it would have spread like wildfire.

In short, no one would be irrational, and Atlantis would be guaranteed. But as we can see, that is not the case, which is due to the fact that men can choose to be rational or not.

I agree that not everyone's values are determined by thinking and understanding reality, and didn't mean to suggest otherwise. My point was that whether or not someone exercises the choice to think depends on how much he values the knowledge to be gained from it. If the person doesn't value the knowledge to be gained from it, then he won't exercise that choice, and his values will be determined by an uncritical acceptance of the conventional wisdom or of whatever ideas he was taught to believe in.

When I was eleven years old, my mother had returned to university to get her masters degree. We were religious, and I was aware that there some very intelligent, well educated people at the university who were not. I asked her if she were concerned about being able to defend her religious beliefs if they were challenged by an intelligent criticism. She replied, "Oh, I don't worry about it; I just believe." I remember thinking, how convenient! I wasn't impressed by her answer. Although I didn't use the word then, I was aware that this was a form of evasion. She recognized the choice to deal rationally with a fair criticism of her beliefs; she simply chose not to exercise it, because she valued the comfort of her religious convictions more than she valued the truth about them.

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WARNING -- THERE ARE SPOILERS about We the Living in this post.

I agree that not everyone's values are determined by thinking and understanding reality, and didn't mean to suggest otherwise. My point was that whether or not someone exercises the choice to think depends on how much he values the knowledge to be gained from it. If the person doesn't value the knowledge to be gained from it, then he won't exercise that choice, and his values will be determined by an uncritical acceptance of the conventional wisdom or of whatever ideas he was taught to believe in.

When I was eleven years old, my mother had returned to university to get her masters degree. We were religious, and I was aware that there some very intelligent, well educated people at the university who were not. I asked her if she were concerned about being able to defend her religious beliefs if they were challenged by an intelligent criticism. She replied, "Oh, I don't worry about it; I just believe." I remember thinking, how convenient! I wasn't impressed by her answer. Although I didn't use the word then, I was aware that this was a form of evasion. She recognized the choice to deal rationally with a fair criticism of her beliefs; she simply chose not to exercise it, because she valued the comfort of her religious convictions more than she valued the truth about them.

All of this only confirms the fact of volition in my mind. If in your mind, these facts prove that man is determined, I can only suggest further thought on the matter. I have no argument to offer for volition. There is none. Each individual must validate axioms and/or axiomatic concepts in his own mind. There is no more needed than such facts as have been stated above. There is only a process of validation, just as for any axiom or axiomatic concept.

I can only repeat what I've said from the beginning, i.e. I don't see how, given the facts you accept, that you can conclude from them that man is determined. For me, the very example you gave is further confirmation that man is not determined by any particular belief. You and your mother held, for a time, the same belief. You chose to correct yours, to adjust to reality in that regard - she did not. That, as far as I am concerned, is as good an example as any to confirm that man's beliefs are not ultimately determined by anything more fundamental than his own choice.

Perhaps this is similar to the distinction between immediate and ultimate causes. I say to you, "The dictatorship killed Kira (but never destroyed her soul) in We the Living." You say to me, "No that stupid man shot her, so the dictatorship didn't kill her." I can't say to you that the man didn't shoot her, because he did. But I can say that the dictatorship is the more fundamental cause of her death than the particular man who shot her.

And Sue says to me, "Irrationality killed Kira" and I say, "No, the dictatorship did." She cannot say to me that the dictatorship did not kill Kira, because it did. But she can say that irrationality is the more fundamental cause of her death than the particular dictatorship that killed her.

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WARNING -- THERE ARE SPOILERS about We the Living in this post.

I agree that not everyone's values are determined by thinking and understanding reality, and didn't mean to suggest otherwise. My point was that whether or not someone exercises the choice to think depends on how much he values the knowledge to be gained from it. If the person doesn't value the knowledge to be gained from it, then he won't exercise that choice, and his values will be determined by an uncritical acceptance of the conventional wisdom or of whatever ideas he was taught to believe in.

When I was eleven years old, my mother had returned to university to get her masters degree. We were religious, and I was aware that there some very intelligent, well educated people at the university who were not. I asked her if she were concerned about being able to defend her religious beliefs if they were challenged by an intelligent criticism. She replied, "Oh, I don't worry about it; I just believe." I remember thinking, how convenient! I wasn't impressed by her answer. Although I didn't use the word then, I was aware that this was a form of evasion. She recognized the choice to deal rationally with a fair criticism of her beliefs; she simply chose not to exercise it, because she valued the comfort of her religious convictions more than she valued the truth about them.

All of this only confirms the fact of volition in my mind. If in your mind, these facts prove that man is determined, I can only suggest further thought on the matter. I have no argument to offer for volition. There is none. Each individual must validate axioms and/or axiomatic concepts in his own mind. There is no more needed than such facts as have been stated above. There is only a process of validation, just as for any axiom or axiomatic concept.

I can only repeat what I've said from the beginning, i.e. I don't see how, given the facts you accept, that you can conclude from them that man is determined. For me, the very example you gave is further confirmation that man is not determined by any particular belief. You and your mother held, for a time, the same belief. You chose to correct yours, to adjust to reality in that regard - she did not. That, as far as I am concerned, is as good an example as any to confirm that man's beliefs are not ultimately determined by anything more fundamental than his own choice.

Perhaps this is similar to the distinction between immediate and ultimate causes. I say to you, "The dictatorship killed Kira (but never destroyed her soul) in We the Living." You say to me, "No that stupid man shot her, so the dictatorship didn't kill her." I can't say to you that the man didn't shoot her, because he did. But I can say that the dictatorship is the more fundamental cause of her death than the particular man who shot her.

And Sue says to me, "Irrationality killed Kira" and I say, "No, the dictatorship did." She cannot say to me that the dictatorship did not kill Kira, because it did. But she can say that irrationality is the more fundamental cause of her death than the particular dictatorship that killed her.

As I mentioned, my mother chose not to question her ideas, because she valued the comfort of her religious beliefs more than she valued the truth about them. Conversely, I chose to examine them, because I valued the truth about them more than I did their blind acceptance. Why our values differed I cannot say. All I know is that they did, and that that difference determined our choices. What is fundamental here is our values, because they led to our choices. I certainly didn't choose arbitrarily to re-examine my beliefs; I did so, because I valued the truth about them. And my mother didn't choose arbitrarily to abstain from questioning her beliefs; she did so, because she valued their comfort and security more than she valued the truth about them. In the most fundamental sense, our respective values determined our choices, not vice versa.

I don't agree that volition is an epistemological axiom, because regardless of whether or not our choices are determined, we don't choose the content of our ideas, which we would have to if a rejection of volition were to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept or the fallacy of self-exclusion. To be sure, I can say that my conclusions are trustworthy, because I drew them myself; nothing or no one else determined them for me; I had control over them in the sense that it was my judgment that was responsible for their acceptance; but that acceptance is not something I chose; it resulted from my understanding of the premises and their implication(s). My only choice was to think and to evaluate the relevant facts, which led me to draw the appropriate conclusions. But the choice to think was itself determined by the degree to which I valued making it. Had I held a different set of values (e.g., my mother's), I would not have made that choice, and accordingly would not have arrived at the conclusions I did.

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I don't agree that volition is an epistemological axiom, because regardless of whether or not our choices are determined, we don't choose the content of our ideas, which we would have to if a rejection of volition were to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept or the fallacy of self-exclusion. To be sure, I can say that my conclusions are trustworthy, because I drew them myself; nothing or no one else determined them for me; I had control over them in the sense that it was my judgment that was responsible for their acceptance; but that acceptance is not something I chose; it resulted from my understanding of the premises and their implication(s). My only choice was to think and to evaluate the relevant facts, which led me to draw the appropriate conclusions. But the choice to think was itself determined by the degree to which I valued making it. Had I held a different set of values (e.g., my mother's), I would not have made that choice, and accordingly would not have arrived at the conclusions I did.

It seems to me that you are giving an example of volition/free will while also trying to destroy it. As you should know this is a contradiction and hence cannot exist. The fact that you chose to write what you have written should indicate to you that man's conclustions are not determined and just because man can choose to value something does not mean he will end up with a pre-determined conclusion. A person's volition is beyond other men's control as no one can force you to think. So, yes man does choose his "content" as there is nothing nor no one else to choose it for him.

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I don't agree that volition is an epistemological axiom, because regardless of whether or not our choices are determined, we don't choose the content of our ideas, which we would have to if a rejection of volition were to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept or the fallacy of self-exclusion. To be sure, I can say that my conclusions are trustworthy, because I drew them myself; nothing or no one else determined them for me; I had control over them in the sense that it was my judgment that was responsible for their acceptance; but that acceptance is not something I chose; it resulted from my understanding of the premises and their implication(s). My only choice was to think and to evaluate the relevant facts, which led me to draw the appropriate conclusions. But the choice to think was itself determined by the degree to which I valued making it. Had I held a different set of values (e.g., my mother's), I would not have made that choice, and accordingly would not have arrived at the conclusions I did.

It seems to me that you are giving an example of volition/free will while also trying to destroy it. As you should know this is a contradiction and hence cannot exist. The fact that you chose to write what you have written should indicate to you that man's conclustions are not determined and just because man can choose to value something does not mean he will end up with a pre-determined conclusion. A person's volition is beyond other men's control as no one can force you to think. So, yes man does choose his "content" as there is nothing nor no one else to choose it for him.

What I am saying is that one's volitional actions -- i.e., one's choices -- are determined by one's values. There is nothing contradictory about this. It is a fact which can be observed in numerous, everyday examples, such as choosing to vote for a candidate, because one values his political views. It makes perfect sense to say that one "chooses" to vote for him even though it is one's political values that determine one's choice. One could have chosen differently, but only if one's values were different.

Secondly, as I've already argued, one doesn't "choose" to value something. A value can certainly result from one's choices, but, strictly speaking, the value itself is not chosen. It is a consequence of one's evaluation. The fact that I chose to write what I have written does not mean that my conclusions are not determined by my thinking. I agree that a person's volitional actions are beyond other men's control and that no one can force you to think, but that does not mean that a person chooses the content of his beliefs. He chooses to think; he does not choose his conclusions; they are determined by his thinking.

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As I mentioned, my mother chose not to question her ideas, because she valued the comfort of her religious beliefs more than she valued the truth about them. Conversely, I chose to examine them, because I valued the truth about them more than I did their blind acceptance. Why our values differed I cannot say. All I know is that they did, and that that difference determined our choices. What is fundamental here is our values, because they led to our choices. I certainly didn't choose arbitrarily to re-examine my beliefs; I did so, because I valued the truth about them. And my mother didn't choose arbitrarily to abstain from questioning her beliefs; she did so, because she valued their comfort and security more than she valued the truth about them. In the most fundamental sense, our respective values determined our choices, not vice versa.
[bold and italics added for emphasis]

Okay. This paragraph, and the emphasized statements in particular (finally) indicate to me the fundamental disagreement with Objectivism. I didn't want to come to that conclusion too soon, even though that disagreement was stated up front. I just didn't quite see it before, though that's clear enough for me now.

I don't agree that volition is an epistemological axiom, because regardless of whether or not our choices are determined, we don't choose the content of our ideas, which we would have to if a rejection of volition were to commit the fallacy of the stolen concept or the fallacy of self-exclusion.

Can't make sense of this.

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------------------------

What I am saying is that one's volitional actions -- i.e., one's choices -- are determined by one's values. There is nothing contradictory about this. It is a fact which can be observed in numerous, everyday examples, such as choosing to vote for a candidate, because one values his political views. It makes perfect sense to say that one "chooses" to vote for him even though it is one's political values that determine one's choice. One could have chosen differently, but only if one's values were different.

Secondly, as I've already argued, one doesn't "choose" to value something. A value can certainly result from one's choices, but, strictly speaking, the value itself is not chosen. It is a consequence of one's evaluation. The fact that I chose to write what I have written does not mean that my conclusions are not determined by my thinking. I agree that a person's volitional actions are beyond other men's control and that no one can force you to think, but that does not mean that a person chooses the content of his beliefs. He chooses to think; he does not choose his conclusions; they are determined by his thinking.

What you are doing is is equivocating on the concept "determine." Determinism, as a philosophic principle, is "the theory that everything that happens in the universe—including every thought, feeling, and action of man—is necessitated by previous factors, so that nothing could ever have happened differently from the way it did, and everything in the future is already pre-set and inevitable. Every aspect of man’s life and character, on this view, is merely a product of factors that are ultimately outside his control." (The AR Lexicon Online, Determinism.) In that context, which is the context that everyone has criticized you, "determine" means to be necessitated by previous factors beyond one's control. You are substituting this concept "determined" with the concept "causal" or "caused" and attempting to use them as synonyms. All elements of the material world are determined, including certain processes of consciousness, such as sensations and perceptions. However, the choice to think or not, to use reason or not, is not determined; it is open to choice not determined by antecedent factors. And all elements (values, character, virtues, knowledge, etc.) that flow from volitional choices, while caused by those choices, are not determined by those choices. If one retains that as one's context, then one may use determined as a synonym for causal, as illustrated here: "That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call “free will” is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character." (The AR Lexicon Online, Free Will) (my bold).

Since you deny that values, character, and choices (including the choice to think or draw conclusions) are not open to individual choice, one can only conclude that you hold to the theory of determinism. And that context determines that you are equivocating. You assert that you "agree that a person's volitional actions are beyond other men's control and that no one can force you to think" yet there is no content to what you hold those volitional actions to be. The "volitional actions are beyone other men's control," but apparently not beyond nature's control. Somehow, one has values that determine what one thinks; somehow one's thinking determines by one's values. "He chooses to think; he does not choose his conclusions" you assert. What content or processes do you hold that thinking consists of? "“Volitional” means selected from two or more alternatives that were possible under the circumstances, the difference being made by the individual’s decision, which could have been otherwise." (The AR Lexicon Online, Volitional) If I can choose to think, but I have no choice as to the truth of falsity of my conclusion, then my decision made no difference and could not have been otherwise. In other words, thinking is not volitional. Thus, your view is a self-contradiction.

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