Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mind-body interaction: What’s the problem?


Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) philosophers often argue that an advantage of their view of human nature over that of the Cartesian dualist is that they don’t face an interaction problem.  Soul and body are on the A-T view related as formal and material cause of the human being.  Hence they don’t “interact” because they aren’t two substances in the first place, but rather two principles of the same one substance, viz. the human being.  Talk of them “interacting” is a kind of category mistake, like talk about the form of a triangle and the matter that makes up the triangle “interacting.”  So there is no problem of explaining how they interact.
 
The Cartesian dualist, though, chucks out the hylemorphic metaphysics of form and matter and characterizes soul and body, not as the formal and material principles of a single substance, but rather as two distinct substances, each complete and self-contained and in principle capable of existing even if the other never had.  The way they relate, then, is to be understood in terms of efficient causation rather than formal or material causation.  Hence they “interact” the way any other two substances do, and the problem (as it is usually characterized) is that of explaining how this is possible given how different they are in kind.

I’ve elaborated on all that many times and in many places and I’m not interested in rehashing it all here.  What I want to address is an aspect of the situation that might seem problematic for the A-T theorist.  A-T philosophers generally admit the possibility and indeed the reality of completely incorporeal persons, viz. angelic intellects.  They also hold (as Aquinas does) that angels can assume bodies, and that they can cause physical objects to move.  Obviously, then, they don’t think that there is some insurmountable “interaction problem” where the relationship between angelic intellects and the physical world is concerned.  So why should there be such a problem where a Cartesian res cogitans and res extensa are concerned?

The answer is that it is not efficient-causal interaction between the incorporeal and the corporeal as such that is the problem (though in fact Descartes’ account of matter as pure extension makes causal interaction even between corporeal substances themselves problematic, but that is another issue).  What is problematic for Cartesianism is explaining how there could be a relationship of the sort that would result in the kind of intimate union that exists between the human soul and the human body.  And angelic interaction with corporeal things is definitely not a good model for that.

In the second article just linked to, Aquinas compares the way an angel moves a physical object to the way the moon causes tides in the sea.  He also notes that the human-seeming bodies that angels sometimes assume are not really alive, and that it follows (since perception is the act of a living thing) that the angels don’t really perceive anything through these bodies.  The relationship between an angelic intellect and any body it might move, then, is somewhat like the relationship between a puppeteer and the puppet it moves (only without strings, of course).  As something higher up the hierarchy of being, an angel can affect what is lower down in the hierarchy.  But as something of its nature entirely incorporeal, it does so in a way that does not result in the kind of intimate union the human soul has with the human body – where the soul qua form of the body makes the latter alive, where the soul does thereby perceive through the body, and so forth.

In other words, modeling the interaction between soul and body on that between angelic intellects and corporeal things would essentially leave us with what Gilbert Ryle famously called the “ghost in the machine” picture of human nature.  Ryle’s point was that Cartesianism reduces the human mind to a kind of poltergeist that pushes an inanimate object around the way it does in the movies.  Imagine that you die but that your ghost immediately begins controlling your fresh and fully intact corpse and that the latter is somehow prevented ever from rotting, so that no one ever notices any difference.  Your body would essentially be a haunted zombie, and you would be the spirit that haunts it.  That’s more or less what a human being ends up being on Cartesianism.  That is the only kind of interaction that the soul and body would be capable of if the only way they can relate is by efficient causation rather than formal causation.

Phenomenologically, we know that this is not in fact how soul and body are related.  If it were, bodily movements would have the feel of a kind of telekinetic puppet show.  Perception would have the feel of reading off information from the brain like you’d read it off a dial.  The intimacy we have with our bodies – our immersion in flesh, as it were -- is just what you’d expect if soul and body make up a single substance, but not what you’d expect if they were two substances that “interact.”  The interaction problem, you might say, is not the problem of explaining how soul and body interact, but rather the problem of putting yourself in a position (as Descartes does) of having to think of the relation between them as a kind of interaction in the first place.

66 comments:

Robert Byers said...

I do believe in angels and the after life. So it is that the soul, who we really are, is only meshed to the body. its not one thing.
Jesus was not his body. His Godness is way unrelated to a Hebrew body.
I suggest that our soul is meshed to our memory system. So we do read information. Its just so well done its as if we are not reading something.
Optical illusions or dreams show we can't tell the difference between real life and errors.
this because we are simply reading our memory all the time. We only perceive the world through our memory. We never perceive the world any other way.
There is no difference between dreams and real life perception. Its all watching recordings. Just very well done.
Creatures also.

Ludstein said...

Is panpsychism, as espoused by the likes of David Chalmers and Galen Strawson, also able to avoid the ghost in the machine problem? And then where does it fail, where hylemorphism dies not?

Daniel Carriere said...

Thanks for this post.

I have always wondered about what happens when demonic possession occurs. The soul of the possessed seems to lose control of the body, giving the impression that the soul and the body are separable. Of course, this is not an issue in either Cartesian of A-T conceptions and is probably a little off point. Still, the idea of a demonic puppeteer jerking a human body around during a possession is somewhat applicable to the conversation.

Ed - could you speculate on how one could talk about such things in A-T parlance? Can A-T make more sense out of these occurrences than the Cartesian?

Thanks,
Daniel

Mister Jorge said...

But isn't the soul subsistent? At least that's what I learned from reading Francis Selman. I don't want to muck Selman's book "Aquinas 101", but it's confusing at times. Or, for being a 101, it assumes you know more than you probably do with Thomism. Maybe I should have started with Feser's Aquinas first... then read Selman.

Regardless: from Selman's book I took it that the soul was the form of the body as well as it is able to exist independently from the body.

Anonymous said...

Whatever "I" am, it seems obviously true that I'm not in control of my heart. It just does its own thing. Likewise, I'm not in control of my sweat glands. They just do their own things. I'm not in control of any cell in my body.

My brain is made up of cells (neurons and glia). So, unless some sort of mind-to-matter, top-down interactionism is true, I'm not in control of my brain.

Mister Jorge said...

Anonymous... where are you going with that?
Wouldn't a Thomist say that "whether or not you're in control (directly, intentionally, willfully) of your heart's actions... the actions of your heart are directed towards an end."
And, that end directed behavior is exactly what should be expected if A-T were correct on the matter.

JoeDward said...

Hello Dr.Feser

I want to ask you what is your opinion on Monistic Idealism? There seems to be a ''movement'' of Idealist Christians recently who use arguments such as that the mind is not reducible to matter and substance dualism is false due to the interaction problem and that this means there exists only one fundamental substance: Mind

They use evidence from Quantum Mechanics to try to prove that God exists because the universe is, say, a wave function that is being collapsed by a mind outside of the universe.

And that mind is God.(I know that this brings out instant red flags because under classical theism God is not A mind, nor an instance of a genus.He is not also just mind.He is intellect and will itself.Existence itself as well which sheds doubt on the idea he is mind)

Now what is your opinion on all of that?

Here is a prominent supporter of such ideas:

https://www.youtube.com/user/JohananRaatz/videos

He seems to have a broadly platonic essentialism because he talks about sex and other functions having a ''teleos'' and whatnot.

But one of his videos affirmatively answers the question ''Is the universe simulated in a mind?'' which is not compatible with classical theism.

He has a bunch of other videos trying to construct Christian theology with Theistic Panentheism and Monistic Idealism as his basis.He believes that evil is a privation of the good as well.

So what are your thoughts on this Dr.Feser?

scbrownlhrm said...

At the end of the day, all our definitions force the reality of that which exists without any material "stuff". Survivalism outweighs corruptionism by far, and for good reasons. This https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7SKlRTfkUieTVFfdl8xQjBnU2M/edit from David Oderberg agrees with Feser and the vast majority of Christians. The syntax of incarnation of course is extreme, and what the Last Adam *is* dissolves any rational concerns about "interaction". Christianity just is "extreme dualism" as it, and no other, weds the Necessary and Contingent within the Imago Dei in a fashion that is unparalleled by any other such interface/interaction. But then there is only one, and not many, such Decrees from He Who is the wellspring of all proportionate causality. When the body is dust, we yet persist, yet motion, yet see.

scbrownlhrm said...

Speaking of proportionate causality, and Decree, and the Imago Dei, and the irreducible will/I, there is http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/first-without-second.html

Thursday said...

Isn't the ultimate issue here that matter is ultimately derived from mind and so the two are not so radically opposed as the moderns say? That's why they can "interact."

Craig Payne said...

Mister Jorge, you wrote, "from Selman's book I took it that the soul was the form of the body as well as it is able to exist independently from the body."

This is correct. The soul is subsistent in that it does not need the body in order to survive; the body is not subsistent because it does need the soul in order to survive.

However, the separation of the soul and body at death is not the NATURAL state of the soul. Thomists believe that God would not allow something to exist eternally in its unnatural state, and so (along with fellow Christians) believe in the Resurrection of the Dead, in which the soul and body (some sort of body) will be re-united eternally.

And thank you, Prof. Feser, for this post. It answered a question of mine.

Mister Jorge said...

Thanks for explaining that, Craig Payne.

That does make sense to me.

When it comes to the creation of an individual soul would it have been created prior to the physical body?

TomD said...

Professor Feser,

I don't see how this sidesteps the problem. Here is one way to put it:

A choice, considered as a mental event instantiated in the brain, has either a physical cause or a non-physical efficient cause. If it is a non-physical cause, the problem emerges. If it is a physical cause, how do we have free will? This is true even if we say that the physical cause (say some prior neurological event) is informed by the human soul. So it seems that the problem remains.

What do you think?

bulldog91 said...

I also asked this question on the classical theism forum, but given that this post addresses the issue fairly directly, I thought I'd ask it again here out of curiosity:

Is the Thomistic conception of free will libertarian (that is, does it involve the real ability to have done otherwise in a given situation)? If so, how does it not run into an interaction problem? To spell this out: the material substrate of any behavioral act is just the activity of a bunch of neurons and muscle cells; neurons and muscle cells, to the best of our knowledge, follow deterministic causal laws (some think that quantum randomness plays a role in neuronal function, but I think the consensus is that modeling neurons using classical physics works plenty well). In a system like this, there's no meaningful sense of "could have done otherwise": if there's sufficient input to a muscle cell (involved in performing some action, articulating the throat muscles involved in speech, etc.), it'll fire--ditto for every neuron feeding into that muscle cell, ditto for every neuron feeding into those neurons, and so on ad infinitum. We have never observed a neuron behaving otherwise. It seems to me--and correct me if I'm wrong--that the only way such a system could have "done otherwise" via some mental act is if a mental act has some way of perturbing that otherwise deterministic physical process via an efficient-causal interaction of the sort Cartesian Dualism posits.

Now, let's fully grant that there's more to the picture than the material/efficient-causal picture of the human brain and say that you need to consider formal/final causation as well. It doesn't seem to me that this improves the picture. If neurons can't have done otherwise, then YOU can't have done otherwise (since any action you do is materially implemented by muscle cells, which are activated by neurons, which are activated by other neurons), and the only way for neurons to have done otherwise is to modulate their function through some efficient-causal interaction (formal and final causes, as far as I understand--and I might misunderstand--do not involve pushing matter around). So it seems to me that insofar as the AT picture of the mind rejects efficient-causal interaction between mind and matter, it must also reject libertarian free will.

Am I missing something here?

scbrownlhrm said...

Causality proportionate to....

God can interface seamlessly with nature. Move it. And more. Etc. And He not only creates said nature, but other natures too. One of the differences between a tree's nature and the nature of Man is, well, among other things, the immaterial which outreaches the corporeal. God creates that too. He might even grant it authority, capacity, over and above. And so on. If interaction is a problem, then God isn't interacting. Perhaps our tendency toward mechanistic physicalist thinking muddies our premises in that regard.

Hal said...

"A choice, considered as a mental event instantiated in the brain, has either a physical cause or a non-physical efficient cause."


Choices are instantiated by humans in the daily course of living. Even acknowledging that a brain is necessary for making those choices does not entail accepting the assumption that choices are mental events instantiated in the brain.
We attribute choices to humans not to their brains.

George LeSauvage said...

@TomD:

I believe the answer lies in the fact that A-T philosophy understands "cause" differently than mechanistic philosophy. To the latter, if an event in our brains is the efficient cause of our actions, there's an end to it. But to a Thomist, that is only part of the story, as formal and final causation are essential to the picture. (I suppose material, too, but that doesn't figure in the "interaction" problem, so far as I can see.)

Daniel said...

I disagree with the phenomenological objection. If we were operating a telekinetic puppet show where the puppets were receptive i.e. were acted upon to cause sensations, then plausibly they would seem like an extension of one's body. This only sounds odd if we maintain the biologically erroneous view of the British Empiricists and hold that there are only five senses, when in fact there are many others related (if there exist an external world) to bodily self-sensing e.g. feelings of pressure or equilibrium. There is no reason why in the Cartesian Demon scenario these too could not be faked - this already happens in some cases with the experiences in Phantom Limb Syndrome.

Not that I disagree with Hylemorphism being superior to Cartesian Substance Dualism mind - just emphasizing that Ryle and his rubbish about the 'ghost in the machine' is pejorative and nothing more.

An additional request: that is Cartesian Substance Dualism you are discussing, that is substance dualism against an ontological backdrop that denies immanent teleology. Why not discuss a stronger version of substance dualism that accepts that fact?

Anonymous said...

"All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.

1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call'd Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call'd Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True

1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call'd Body is a portion of Soul discern'd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3 Energy is Eternal Delight"

'William Blake'

Craig Payne said...

Mister Jorge, you wrote, "When it comes to the creation of an individual soul would it have been created prior to the physical body?"

Not in the Thomistic view. The soul is created (by God) when the human is procreated (by two people).

bulldog91 said...

I see TomD beat me to the punch on the free will issue, but I don't think the responses to him really addressed his question (or my equivalent one).

Choices are instantiated by humans in the daily course of living. Even acknowledging that a brain is necessary for making those choices does not entail accepting the assumption that choices are mental events instantiated in the brain.
We attribute choices to humans not to their brains.


You can grant all this, but it doesn't affect the argument: to have had the real ability to act otherwise than you actually did (the definitional requirement of libertarian free will) means that your muscles must have been able to contract otherwise than they actually did (since muscle contractions are the material substrates of all our actions). For your muscle cells to have been able to contract otherwise than they actually did, then the neurons activating them must have been able to fire otherwise than they actually did, and likewise for the neurons activating those neurons, and so forth. For libertarian free will to be possible, something must have the ability to break into the deterministic causal chain somewhere and affect the sequence of material events that culminates in an action. I don't see how this is possible without an efficient cause, be it material (other neurons) or immaterial (the Cartesian soul). Even if we attribute choices to humans, rather than their brains, it is still the case that to have acted differently means that some aspect of the material operation of your brain (or the muscle cells) must have been different. Period.

All of this biological talk, btw, is not to imply that formal/final causes aren't real; it simply isn't clear to me that the AT conception of the mind is as free of the interaction problem as is supposed.

I believe the answer lies in the fact that A-T philosophy understands "cause" differently than mechanistic philosophy. To the latter, if an event in our brains is the efficient cause of our actions, there's an end to it. But to a Thomist, that is only part of the story, as formal and final causation are essential to the picture. (I suppose material, too, but that doesn't figure in the "interaction" problem, so far as I can see.)

For free will to be libertarian, something must have the ability to make neurons fire otherwise than they actually did. As far as I understand it, formal and final causes are not the kind of things that push around the matter/energy that constitutes neurons, so appealing to them doesn't help.

I'm a philosophical neophyte, though, so perhaps I'm missing something crucial here.

Vincent Torley said...

I agree with the points made by bulldog91 and TomD regarding libertarian free will. I should add that the intellect need not move the body (or rather, the neurons in the brain) by pushing things around. By itself, quantum randomness does not guarantee free will, because "random" is not free. However, it is possible to impose a non-random macro condition on two strings, while keeping them both random, as I explained in my post at http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/how-is-libertarian-free-will-possible/ a few years ago. Thus randomness at the level of neuronal firings is quite compatible with non-random libertarian free will. What I'm suggesting, in other words, is that the intellect has the (mysterious but natural) power to "rule out" in advance certain ensembles of neuronal firings which would add up to a choice that goes contrary to what I actually want, and to somehow select an ensemble that accords with what I intend to do. My two cents.

Matthew Kirby said...

I agree with Vincent in general terms, without having a firm opinion about the specific mechanism. The suppressed premise of bulldog's query is that physical efficient causality in the brain necessitates determinism unless "interaction" involving extraneous forces occurs to modify brain states.

But physics does not require determinism, and, if there is no "hidden variable" physical cause for picking out QM reduced states, as is generally accepted now, then there is room for the soul to be an agent in state reduction without any of what some call "counterflow" in physical processes.

bulldog91 said...

Very interesting proposals from the previous two posts. It might be worth pointing out, though, that at least one prominent neuroscientist--and incidentally, one who endorses a form of (panpsychist) dualism--doesn't think it's very scientifically plausible that quantum effects to have an influence on higher-level brain function, as would be necessary for such effects to influence how we act:

http://www.theswartzfoundation.org/papers/caltech/koch-hepp-07-final.pdf

I'm not well-versed enough in physics to evaluate his argument, however, and there are of course neuroscientists who would disagree. The late, great neurobiologist John Eccles made a similar proposal to what both of you have suggested, for instance.

(As a tangential meta-point, it would be rather interesting if the timeless question of human freedom really ended up hinging on obscure questions in biophysics...)

Geremia said...

Do Aristotle and/or St. Thomas think that all other types of motion are caused by locomotion?

Can an angel heat melt ice? Boil water?

Unknown said...

TomD, you're implying that a physical cause is an efficient one when you write, "A choice, considered as a mental event instantiated in the brain, has either a physical cause or a non-physical efficient cause. If it is a non-physical cause, the problem emerges. If it is a physical cause, how do we have free will? This is true even if we say that the physical cause (say some prior neurological event) is informed by the human soul. So it seems that the problem remains . . .," aren't you?

While determinists argue for determinism, they seem to forget that if it's true, they're arguing unfreely for it. If it's true, then we argue unfreely when we argue for free will.

Hal said...

Bulldog91,
“You can grant all this, but it doesn't affect the argument: to have had the real ability to act otherwise than you actually did (the definitional requirement of libertarian free will) means that your muscles must have been able to contract otherwise than they actually did (since muscle contractions are the material substrates of all our actions). For your muscle cells to have been able to contract otherwise than they actually did, then the neurons activating them must have been able to fire otherwise than they actually did, and likewise for the neurons activating those neurons, and so forth. For libertarian free will to be possible, something must have the ability to break into the deterministic causal chain somewhere and affect the sequence of material events that culminates in an action.”

It looks to me like you are also making the same questionable conceptual assumptions TomD made in his post: that one can attribute choice or free will to the neural and muscular activities that make up a human body.
But our concept of choice (or free will) was developed to describe and understand human behavior not the physiology of the human body. It is the human being who makes choices. We have good criteria for identifying or recognizing the choices humans make.
That capacity for choice is an attribute of the whole and not of the parts of that whole. Why do you think it makes sense to do so? What criteria are we going to use to determine whether or not a neuron makes a choice?

Ian Wardell said...

bulldog said
"[I]t doesn't affect the argument: to have had the real ability to act otherwise than you actually did (the definitional requirement of libertarian free will) means that your muscles must have been able to contract otherwise than they actually did (since muscle contractions are the material substrates of all our actions)".

My Response:
In my experience this definition that stipulates one has free will if one could have chosen otherwise is a very common one. Unfortunately it is often left unstated as to the precise meaning of this -- as if its meaning were entirely unambiguous. The problem here is how the precise meaning of "could have" is to be construed. Does "could have" mean that I have the capacity to behave in a given way, even though inevitably I will not? This would be my own position. Or does it mean that given the precise same circumstances and the precise same physical configuration of the Universe, I need not inevitably make the same choice every time? That is to say if we keep rerunning the tape of my life a sufficiently large number of times up to the choice in question, then I will eventually make a different choice?

Suppose I were to spot a £20 note while I was walking around outside. I would stoop down, pick it up, and put it into my pocket. What if we were to keep replaying the tape of my life an arbitrary large number of times? Would my behaviour ever differ at this point? I can't imagine it would do. Why would it?


Let's consider another scenario. Imagine you could travel backwards in time to some famous historical event. Imagine also that you don't reveal your presence to anyone and you have no impact whatsoever on the environment. In this case these historical figures will say and behave as the history books tell us. We will know their future lives in their entirety. And however many times we revisit a specific time and place, these historical figures will say and behave precisely as they did on all previous occasions.

I would submit that it would be absurd to conclude that these scenarios demonstrate we do not have free will. In the £20 note scenario I would pick it up because of the obvious reason I can purchase goods and services with it. If we rerun the Universe numerous times why would I ever choose differently? Similar reasoning applies to our time travelling thought experiment. If we travel backwards in time, and we do not even disturb the motions of any molecules, then this scenario differs not at all to the one whereby we stay in the present, but we are able -- via some future technology -- to visually view past events "as they happen".

So it seems to me that the words "could have" certainly ought not to mean that if I reran the Universe I might have acted differently. When I exercise my free will I deliberately choose a particular course of action. Even where my choice is simply arbitrary, for example I really do not care whether I go right or left when I'm out on a walk, that same slight disposition to turn left will still exist if we reran the Universe.

I'm quite happy about my behaviour being predictable, and even in a sense "inevitable" without this fact having any implications for my free will. It seems that people often try to defend an unintelligible conception of "free will".

Anonymous said...

Well, the physical causal chain predates the existence of my will (namely, it existed before I was born). So, to say that "my free will goes hand-in-hand with the physical chain" does not elevate free will to the same ontological status as the chain, but reduces the statement to "everything about my will - what it desires, what it ultimately chooses, etc. - is determined by the physical chain (which is out of my control), by virtue of being temporally subsequent to it."

bulldog91 said...

So it seems to me that the words "could have" certainly ought not to mean that if I reran the Universe I might have acted differently. When I exercise my free will I deliberately choose a particular course of action. Even where my choice is simply arbitrary, for example I really do not care whether I go right or left when I'm out on a walk, that same slight disposition to turn left will still exist if we reran the Universe.

Fair enough, and I 100% agree with you that under this conception of free will (compatibilism rather than libertarianism), there's no interaction problem. My point was simply that insofar as Thomism posits a libertarian view of free will (the sort of free will you appear to reject in your post), it will also run into an interaction problem. So the validity of Feser's account of the interaction problem, it seems to me, depends precisely on how libertarian the AT account of free will happens to be.

It looks to me like you are also making the same questionable conceptual assumptions TomD made in his post: that one can attribute choice or free will to the neural and muscular activities that make up a human body...
That capacity for choice is an attribute of the whole and not of the parts of that whole. Why do you think it makes sense to do so? What criteria are we going to use to determine whether or not a neuron makes a choice?


These are my only assumptions. Which do you agree with?

In order to perform any action (whether moving, speaking, or whatever), muscles must move in a particular way.
In order for muscles to move, muscle cells must contract.
In order for muscle cells to contract, the neurons activating those muscle cells must fire.
In order for those neurons to fire, the neurons activating them must fire, and so on.

Now I am not saying that these facts are SUFFICIENT to understand how an action is performed in the world (I'll grant for now that choices are made by the whole person rather than by bits of the brain), but surely they are NECESSARY. Attribute choice to the whole person if you like; all of these facts will continue to be true. For a person to have acted otherwise, one of these things must have been otherwise. The question at issue at the moment is not whether choice can be attributed to the whole person (I haven't given a lot of thought to that particular issue); rather, it is how such a choice can have the physical consequences that are necessary for someone to have acted otherwise. Say whatever else you like about libertarian free will, but it at least requires that muscles must have been able to contract other than they actually did, and it seems to me like you need an account of how the libertarian choice of the whole person can affect the material, physical execution of the action in order for this to work (the causal chain of neuron-->neuron-->neuron-->muscle must have been able to be different somewhere if the resulting action is to be different). The two quantum-mechanical proposals floated above offer such an account; they might be right, and they might not be, but my present point is that some interactionist account like this must be the case in order for libertarian free will to be possible.

TL;DR: construe choices however you want, but in order for a choice other than you actually made to make a muscle contract other than it actually did there must be some way for the choice to affect physiology at some point, and this just is to posit mind-body efficient causation.

Again, tell me if I'm misunderstanding your argument. I just don't see how you can have libertarian free will without mind-brain efficient causation (or a physical account of how real counterfactual choices might have been possible, drawing on interpretations of quantum mechanics, etc).

Greg said...

@ Geremia

Do Aristotle and/or St. Thomas think that all other types of motion are caused by locomotion?

In the treatise on creation, Aquinas writes:

And above all it is absurd to suppose that a body can create, for no body acts except by touching or moving; and thus it requires in its action some pre-existing thing, which can be touched or moved, which is contrary to the very idea of creation.

By moving, Aquinas seems here to refer to locomotion.

But we can say that he does not think that all other types of motion are caused by locomotion. He seems to think that bodies must be touching to interact, but action by touching is not itself reducible to locomotion. Moreover, this applies just to bodies; God is a cause of motion but does not undergo locomotion.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

@ Edward Feser:

“Hence they don’t “interact” because they aren’t two substances in the first place, but rather two principles of the same one substance, viz. the human being.”

I'd like to point out that the same goes for subjective idealism.

“Hence they “interact” the way any other two substances do, and the problem (as it is usually characterized) is that of explaining how this is possible given how different they are in kind.”

I don't think that this is what the problem is about. For example according to general relativity (or, to be precise, according to the realist interpretation of general relativity) mass bends spacetime around it. Now even though mass and spacetime are very different in kind nobody worries about “how” the one affects the other. Rather people understand that this is simply how things are: An intrinsic property of matter is to bend spacetime around it, and that's that.

I think similarly a substance dualist would answer the “how” question by pointing out that God's general providence is supernatural. The answer about “how” an apple exists, or about “how” an electron behaves in the deeply mathematical manner physicists have discovered – is the same: By God's sovereign and unlimited power of will.

Incidentally I think that at least today the interaction problem is hashed out in mechanical terms: If a non-physical and thus invisible to the physical sciences mind (or soul) would affect physical matter, then this effect would show up as in anomaly in scientific observations. But no such anomaly is detected, nor is there any reason to suspect it might exist.

Which brings me to the question about how A-T ontology deals with human free will. Can the reader point me to any discussion about this?

“Perception would have the feel of reading off information from the brain like you’d read it off a dial.”

I don’t think so. Rather perception would have the feel of reading off information from 3D virtual reality goggles. And that's in fact about how it is. In general I think the interaction problem refers to the mind to matter causality, not the other way around.

Vincent Torley said...

The vital question, to my mind, is not whether soul and body interact, but whether libertarian free will is possible without neuronal firings in the brain having acts of the intellect and/or will as their efficient cause. I would maintain that it is not.

Elizabeth Anscombe famously rejected attempts to reconcile free will with determinism as so much sophistry in her 1971 essay, "Causality and Determination." She argued that most of my actions are bodily movements; and if my bodily movements are determined by circumstances beyond my control then they are not free. I wholeheartedly concur.

Ian Wardell is unperturbed by the idea that if you reran the tape of history, people would make the same choices, given the same circumstances. I ask: if that be the case, then why hold them responsible for their actions?

There must be some way in which my thoughts and decisions can stop incoming signals to the brain from controlling my subsequent behavior, as they do in the beasts - whether by vetoing outcomes that run contrary to my intentions, or by bringing about intended outcomes. Whether it is by blocking or by ensuring outcomes, this would still mean that thoughts and decisions act as efficient causes of my behavior. Thomists need to face up to this fact.

Matthew Kirby said...

Vincent, perhaps I misunderstand, but isn't the A-T approach, even in a QM context, going to categorise intellectual acts as formal causes of the immediately associated physical brain states, not efficient causes?

Of course, subsequent brain states and bodily actions have previous brain states as efficient causes, which means mentation, taken as the act of a composite matter-form substance, is an efficient cause.

As for bulldog's point about the insufficiency of QM effects to allow for freedom or any significant macro-effects, presumably due to thermalisation making classical physics king in this regime, I would make the following points:

1. Any libertarian account of free will, to be plausible, must eschew pure freedom and accept that there are predispositions of varying strength contributing to all acts of will, meaning that such freedom will still conform to probability distributions of prediction based on the circumstances of the choice, as any theory appealing to the physics of QM would require.

2. Choices that are the most difficult due to roughly evenly competing motivations will require the most cogitation. In the former case the associated physical process will have more steps and more complicated steps and thus be more sensitive to very small variations as in Chaos Theory (which is classical physics), clearly allowing QM to play a real part in permitting a range of outcomes.

Matthew Kirby said...

I should note than when I referred to "such freedom" in point 1 above I was referring to many choices in the aggregate, not individual choices. QM allows accurate prediction of distributions within ensembles of events, not deterministic prediction for individual events.

Ian Wardell said...

Vincent Torley
"Ian Wardell is unperturbed by the idea that if you reran the tape of history, people would make the same choices, given the same circumstances. I ask: if that be the case, then why hold them responsible for their actions?"

Because *we* determine our own actions. Let me stress I believe in free will in the *full-blooded sense*. That is to say that, in regards to my voluntary behaviour, it is my self -- which I regard as a substantial non-physical self -- that decides my actions. And I can decide whatever I want to do. Whether this is libertarian or compatibilist free will I'm unsure about since I'm not entirely clear about the difference.

Given a particular physical state of the Universe our behaviour can be "inevitable" in either one of 2 ways where the word "inevitable" has distinct different meanings:

a) It is this particular physical state of the Universe and physical laws that, via chains of physical causes and effects, *make* me behave in a given manner.

b) Given a particular physical state of the Universe, then invariably ("inevitably") I will make the exact same choice e.g. on spotting a £10 note on the ground I will invariably stoop down, pick it up, and stuff it in my pocket. So here it is not physical laws or chains of physical causes and effects which *make* me behave as I do.

For those who are interested I wrote a blog entry trying to express my ideas here a couple of years ago:

http://ian-wardell.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/free-will-and-notion-of-could-have.html

Greg said...

@ Ian

The question of whether you are a libertarian or a compatibilist depends on whether you think free will is compatible with determinism. You say that you believe in free will in "the full-blooded sense." The question, then, is whether you think that is compatible with determinism.

The van Inwagen strategy for framing that question is like this. Determinism is true if, from a description of the world at some time, it is possible to deduce the description of the world at every later time. You are a compatibilist if you think that, even if that were true, we might have free will. (Of course, determinism seems to be false.)

It's true that the term "inevitable" is ambiguous, but it does not quite clarify things to elaborate it by asking whether something else "makes" me act the way I do or not, since modally thick uses of "make" are equally ambiguous.

You appear to be a compatibilist. Compatibilists tend to argue that free will does not require a deep metaphysical ability to do otherwise than one did; it requires that one act on the basis of reasons. If one acts on the basis of reasons, then one, in the relevant sense, has not been made to do something (though, in another sense, causal conditions obtaining before you were ever born predetermined that you would pick up that £10 note, and in that sense you have been made to pick it up by forces outside of your control, about which you could do nothing).

Greg said...

Determinism is true if, from a description of the world at some time, it is possible to deduce the description of the world at every later time.

Sorry: Determinism is true if, from the laws of nature and a description of the world at some time, it is possible to deduce the description of the world at every later time.

Greg said...

I agree with Vincent that, to maintain libertarian free will, Thomists will be committed to saying that, somewhere along the line, neurons fire and were not determined to fire. Probably they must reject the causal closure of the physical, not just in the case of miracles but in the case of ordinary, everyday, human thinking (although perhaps this can be avoided by appeal to QM or something--I do not know). Sometimes one gets the impression that Thomists and hylomorphists want to avoid stepping on naturalist toes by invoking formal causality, but I don't think that works as a general strategy. My impression is that, with some exceptions, Thomists are reticent to write on this topic, because one of its selling points is that it is supposed to be less interactionist than Cartesianism, so it is somewhat under-theorized.

Ian Wardell said...

Greg:
"The question of whether you are a libertarian or a compatibilist depends on whether you think free will is compatible with determinism. You say that you believe in free will in "the full-blooded sense." The question, then, is whether you think that is compatible with determinism".

"Determinism is true if, from the laws of nature and a description of the world at some time, it is possible to deduce the description of the world at every later time."

Ian
Well, of course chaos theory and the intrinsic randomness in quantum mechanics makes this impossible, although it could be argued that raising these objections doesn't really address the interesting point. I think even without chaos theory and QM it has to be impossible. Essentially, we have the capacity to choose *arbitrarily* (note, not randomly). Not sure if you've heard of Newcomb's paradox? Anyway, think this shows our behaviour cannot be *perfectly* predictable at *all* times. But it can be very close to perfect (maybe not if we include chaos theory and QM though!)

Greg:
"Compatibilists tend to argue that free will does not require a deep metaphysical ability to do otherwise than one did".

Ian
We have the ability, but will inevitably choose a certain course of action given a specific physical state of the Universe and our brains.

I think this libertarian/compatibilist distinction is simply confused.

Greg said...

@ Ian

We have the ability, but will inevitably choose a certain course of action given a specific physical state of the Universe and our brains.

Well, what I say there about what compatibilists "tend" to argue is just a matter of what they tend to argue; it is not a characterization of what makes them compatibilists.

Terms like "ability" (like "inevitable" and "makes") are all going to have the ambiguity characteristic of unanalyzed modal terms. Here, "ability" does not just mean "power". One of the compatibilist strategies will be to suggest that there is a sense of "ability" in which someone who is determined by some event prior to his existence is nevertheless "able to do otherwise".

So Dennett, for instance, thinks that genuine indeterminism yielding arbitrary decisions would be no better than really deterministic processes that work like random number generators. People who act freely are "able to do otherwise" in the sense that, in possible worlds in which the circumstances are indistinguishable to normal observers (but not identical), they do otherwise, even though in any possible world with an identical history and set of laws of nature, they act in the same way.

I think this libertarian/compatibilist distinction is simply confused.

I don't see that that is the case. It is straightforward to formulate the thesis of determinism, and it is not very difficult to distinguish the relevant senses of what it means to "be able to do otherwise". You are a compatibilist.

The only hiccup is that determinism probably is not true. But of course, that doesn't render compatibilism false, for free will might be compatible with determinism even if determinism is false. What is in competition are two different conceptions of free will, and the thesis of determinism is mainly useful in elaborating their difference.

Red said...

Hello Readers of this blog.

can anyone point me to where Feser addresses this post by Robert Oerter (if he does in fact addressed it ).

http://somewhatabnormal.blogspot.com/2014/03/facts-brute-and-otherwise.html

Cheers.

Billy said...

Ian,

Your view of choice fails to show anything that distinguishes a choice from anything else. It's just another thing that happens in the universe. Leaves fall, the sun rises, wolves hunt, and people make choices. Your view of choice would make it very difficult to determine why accountability can be applied to it.

What is it about a choice you make that makes you accountable for it under your understanding?

Ian Wardell said...

Ian
I think this libertarian/compatibilist distinction is simply confused.

Greg:
I don't see that that is the case. It is straightforward to formulate the thesis of determinism, and it is not very difficult to distinguish the relevant senses of what it means to "be able to do otherwise". You are a compatibilist.

Ian:
If it's very easy to distinguish the relevant senses of what it means to "be able to do otherwise", then you need to do so.

As I see it, it simply means I can arbitrarily choose any action I like. But clearly if we reran the Universe I would choose that same arbitrary action. If a libertarian maintains that to have free will I would (or at least might) act differently if we reran the Universe, then that is effectively to introduce an element of randomness in our choices.

Ian Wardell said...

Billy:
Your view of choice fails to show anything that distinguishes a choice from anything else. It's just another thing that happens in the universe. Leaves fall, the sun rises, wolves hunt, and people make choices.

Ian
Eh? Our voluntary behaviour is caused by our conscious will. Presumably leaves falling, the Earth orbiting the Sun, and any other physical processes not involving consciousness, are not caused by any conscious will?

What makes us accountable is that we choose to do what we do. Our voluntary behaviour is ultimately decided by the self rather than anything external (even if such external factors might have a heavy influence).

Greg said...

@ Ian

If it's very easy to distinguish the relevant senses of what it means to "be able to do otherwise", then you need to do so.

I did.

As I see it, it simply means I can arbitrarily choose any action I like. But clearly if we reran the Universe I would choose that same arbitrary action.

The libertarian says that, if determinism is true, you can't arbitrarily choose any action you like. Given determinate conditions, there is exactly one action you can perform.

If a libertarian maintains that to have free will I would (or at least might) act differently if we reran the Universe, then that is effectively to introduce an element of randomness in our choices.

Libertarians deny that whatever is not determined is random.

bulldog91 said...

As for bulldog's point about the insufficiency of QM effects to allow for freedom or any significant macro-effects, presumably due to thermalisation making classical physics king in this regime, I would make the following points:

1. Any libertarian account of free will, to be plausible, must eschew pure freedom and accept that there are predispositions of varying strength contributing to all acts of will, meaning that such freedom will still conform to probability distributions of prediction based on the circumstances of the choice, as any theory appealing to the physics of QM would require.

2. Choices that are the most difficult due to roughly evenly competing motivations will require the most cogitation. In the former case the associated physical process will have more steps and more complicated steps and thus be more sensitive to very small variations as in Chaos Theory (which is classical physics), clearly allowing QM to play a real part in permitting a range of outcomes.


Interesting points. It would be interesting to see a take from a neurobiologist on whether the brain is a chaotic system in the way that this account requires. The brain does have unstable equilibria in certain situations, in which case small stochastic influences (perhaps of quantum origin) can push the system one way or the other, so the account you've presented sounds plausible enough. Cheers

George LeSauvage said...

It seems to me there are two problems here:

1. The libertarian position seems to demand the the will act an unmoved mover in choosing, in order for "freedom" to be the case. Obviously, no Aristotelian can hold that, and even less can a Thomist.

2. The notion that our willing is "just" or "merely" a product of our brain events depends (so far as I can see) on believing that efficient causality being a full, perfect, and sufficient explanation for anything which occurs. Again, this is precisely what Aristotelians deny. The way the problem is present effectively demand that final or formal causes work as efficient causes, which of course they won't do. Looking for them in physical motions per se cannot work; those motions of course can embody f&f causes, but not in the form of other physical motions. It would be if someone asked why I said that, I explained how my fingers hit the keyboard. It just misses the point.

Greg said...

@ George

The libertarian position seems to demand the the will act an unmoved mover in choosing, in order for "freedom" to be the case. Obviously, no Aristotelian can hold that, and even less can a Thomist.

Aquinas thinks that God is the remote efficient and final cause of the movement of the will, but the will is an unmoved mover in a sense. That is, God concurs with the act of the will, but he does not determine its proximate object.

The notion that our willing is "just" or "merely" a product of our brain events depends (so far as I can see) on believing that efficient causality being a full, perfect, and sufficient explanation for anything which occurs. Again, this is precisely what Aristotelians deny. The way the problem is present effectively demand that final or formal causes work as efficient causes, which of course they won't do.

See, this is where I think Thomists have to give fuller accounts of what they are committed to.

Suppose one agrees that it is repugnant to the Catholic faith to think that I can be determined by a state of the world before my birth. Then one thinks a Catholic must be a libertarian. He must affirm that, given the state of the world at some time before my action (or at least some of my actions, at some point in my life), it was not necessary that I go on to perform the action.

I don't think that our willing is just or merely a product of brain events. In fact, I think that my neurons, neurotransmitters, etc. only virtually exist. I think my will is not a "thing" but rather the rational appetite of a rational animal, me. Properly, I have efficient, final, formal, and material causes, because I am a natural substance.

But still, there exists a robust logic of explanation among those entities that virtually exist. If I get sick, my doctor can do a blood test and perhaps tell me that something is off, or that my liver is damaged, even though my blood cells and the substances absorbed by my body and my liver are not substances but virtual parts of me.

So if we are saying that libertarianism is true, we are going to say that at the level of these virtually existing entities, there are some neurons that fire that were not determined to fire. That seems to me a commitment of the Thomist view, unless one tries to read Thomas as a compatibilist. That does not commit me to thinking that willing is just brain event or that mental activity is properly thought of in terms of efficient causes. But it is associated with efficient causation in some way. And it happens to be very unpopular today to say things like, "I think some neural events lack physical causes."

And human action implicates final causality in the way it does because it is human action. If my end is eating a hamburger, that is because I am hungry and I'm deliberating about eating a hamburger, which is something that I will be (and, analogously, that my will will be) an efficient cause of.

Ian Wardell said...

Greg:
I did.

Me:
Not so far as I am able to discern.

Greg

The libertarian says that, if determinism is true, you can't arbitrarily choose any action you like. Given determinate conditions, there is exactly one action you can perform.


Me
Then your labelling me as a compatibilist is false.

I'm getting the impression you are not particularly inclined to make your points as clearly as possible and certainly, whether my fault or not, I am unable to discern anything substantive in what you say. Hence, I see no further purpose served in further communication with you. I'll reverse this decision should you say something I judge is worthwhile and worthy of a response.

Matthew Kirby said...

bulldog,

I don't think the brain needs to be a chaotic system simpliciter for my account to work, and indeed such a supposition would be contrary to the manifest existence of rational and basically predictable thinking, but I do think that such a complicatedly interconnected system will possess modes with chaotic mathematical potentialities. I speculate that, for example, difficult decisions and creativity are most likely to involve such modes.

Thanks for the interesting conversation!

Vincent Torley said...

George Le Sauvage writes:

The notion that our willing is "just" or "merely" a product of our brain events depends (so far as I can see) on believing that efficient causality being a full, perfect, and sufficient explanation for anything which occurs. Again, this is precisely what Aristotelians deny.

The real problem is that if you accept (a) Newtonian mechanics and (b) the causal closure of the physical, efficient causes are sufficient conditions for their effects. Now you might say that Newtonian mechanics is out-of-date, but by itself, that won't solve the problem. First, at a macro-level, it's still accurate in the vast majority of cases. Second, quantum randomness by itself doesn't make us freer.

Ian Wardell writes:

If a libertarian maintains that to have free will I would (or at least might) act differently if we reran the Universe, then that is effectively to introduce an element of randomness in our choices.

Why? The fact that I might choose differently in the same circumstances doesn't mean my choice was random; it simply means my reason for making that choice was not a compelling one.

Ian also writes:

... *we* determine our own actions. Let me stress I believe in free will in the *full-blooded sense*. That is to say that, in regards to my voluntary behaviour, it is my self -- which I regard as a substantial non-physical self -- that decides my actions. And I can decide whatever I want to do.

Fine. But if my decisions are proximately determined by me, but ultimately determined by prior physical causes which are beyond my control, then that does indeed make a mockery of freedom. That's why I believe compatibilism is incoherent.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

It is interesting to observe how the discussion has gravitated towards the issue of free will. In this context I would like to make the following two related observations:

First, given the human condition it is prima facie so obvious that free will exists that reason requires a very strong defeater before one embraces the belief that it doesn't. Unless one has such a defeater, reason requires that one reject any metaphysics that entails the non-existence of free will. A metaphysics according to which reality is at bottom of a mechanical nature entails the non-existence of free will (I am speaking of free will proper, not about “compatibilist free will”, a term which makes as much sense as to speak about a particular kind of gray which is colorful). Therefore, unless one has such a defeater, reason leads one to reject any mechanistic metaphysics. Practically all atheists in the West believe in a mechanistic metaphysics. Therefore, unless one has such a defeater, reason leads to recognize that the worldview of practically all atheists in the West is unreasonable.

Thus, secondly, the only question is whether there is such a defeater. Scientifically informed atheists strongly believe there is. Their argument is as follows:

1. All physical phenomena can be understood by the deliverances of the physical sciences, i.e. on purely mechanistic grounds.

2. All phenomena ascribed to human free will are phenomena related to the movement of human bodily parts and thus physical.

3. Therefore all phenomena ascribed to human free will can be understood on purely mechanistic grounds.

4. If free will exists then all phenomena ascribed to human free will cannot be understood on purely mechanistic grounds.

5. Therefore free will does not exist.

This appears to be a very persuasive argument. It would seem that the only questionable premise is #1, but given the success of the physical sciences reason moves us to accept it. The probability that the spirit will make itself visible to the physical sciences as some kind of anomaly in their observations is very small indeed.

The false premise is #4. From the fact that free will itself is intrinsically non-mechanistic it does not follow that its visible or physical effects cannot be understood on purely mechanistic grounds. Indeed modern physics describes precisely how this is possible. Actually it is quite remarkable that modern physics is such that makes space for free will. Even more remarkable is that in the same way modern physics also makes space for God's special providence, say in freely designing and creating humankind through natural evolution, or in interacting with an individual's life or with human history in. All that classical theism claims about God's work in the world turns out to be not only logically compatible with modern physics, but to sit naturally with it. Or virtually all - my argument does not concert itself with miracles.

I describe the argument in the post starting with “I have claimed that in a dualistic reality it is possible for the conscious dimension to cause events in the physical plane, while all events on that plane remain causally closed” here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2009/08/31/more-on-naturalism-and-consciousness/

I think the argument is quite simple. If the reader has any questions or can offer some counterargument I would very much like to know it.

bulldog91 said...

Given that the conversation has moved in this direction, does anybody know if Feser has explicitly addressed the compatibilist versus libertarian issue for the AT conception of free will? He has alluded to it indirectly in a few places (eg in his review of Michael Gazaniga's book) but I'd be curious in seeing him spell out his own views on the topic

Greg said...

@ Ian

Not so far as I am able to discern.

Let me help you then:

One of the compatibilist strategies will be to suggest that there is a sense of "ability" in which someone who is determined by some event prior to his existence is nevertheless "able to do otherwise".

So Dennett, for instance, thinks that genuine indeterminism yielding arbitrary decisions would be no better than really deterministic processes that work like random number generators. People who act freely are "able to do otherwise" in the sense that, in possible worlds in which the circumstances are indistinguishable to normal observers (but not identical), they do otherwise, even though in any possible world with an identical history and set of laws of nature, they act in the same way.


This articulates the sense of "able to do otherwise" that compatibilists care about. The last sentence implies that one is only "able to do otherwise" (in their view) if there are multiple real possibilities for action even in possible worlds with identical histories and sets of laws of nature.

Then your labelling me as a compatibilist is false.

That was a libertarian denial of your claim, so I do not understand this remark.

I'm getting the impression you are not particularly inclined to make your points as clearly as possible and certainly, whether my fault or not, I am unable to discern anything substantive in what you say.

Frankly, I did not think there was any need to repeat myself. You suggested that the libertarian/compatibilist distinction is confused. The standard way to rebut such a charge is to point out that there are positions that clearly fall on one side of the distinction or the other, which is what I did with my example of Dennett and my suggestion that others reject that his understanding of ability is the salient one.

I was puzzled when you said that I did not offer such examples. In fact, you are the one who has suggested that a distinction is "confused" without providing a clear account of what you mean by that or how you would go about classifying standard positions on the issue, such as those of Dennett, van Inwagen, and Chisholm, or, historically, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant. If the distinction is confused, then presumably the differences between authors such as them are apparent; that's a rather bold thesis that would require at least some defense.

On the face of it, determinism (the van Inwagen definition I have given) is coherent and comprehensible: determinism is true if given any description of the world at some time and the laws of nature, one can deduce every subsequent description of the world. Further, on the face of it, compatibilism, libertarianism, and free-will denial are exhaustive possibilities. Denial of either of those theses requires argument. It's incumbent on someone who claims his view does not fall under any of those theses to say something about how that trilemma is false.

Greg said...

(in their view)

(in the view of libertarians), that is.

Greg said...

@ bulldog91

Feser reviewed Alfred Mele's book on why science hasn't disproved free will. Mele is a libertarian.

Ian Wardell said...

I said:
"If a libertarian maintains that to have free will I would (or at least might) act differently if we reran the Universe, then that is effectively to introduce an element of randomness in our choices".

Anonymous Vincent Torley
"Why? The fact that I might choose differently in the same circumstances doesn't mean my choice was random; it simply means my reason for making that choice was not a compelling one".

I say:
This would mean that if we were able to travel backwards in time, and if hypothetically we managed not to disturb the environment in any way, then people in the past might behave and say different things than what our history books say. But why would they do and say things differently given the exact same state of the Universe including their brains? I mean their brains would be in the exact same state, and mental states are correlated to brain states (or so it's claimed), so they would be in exactly the same mental state too. So how could they make a different decision?

Ian also writes:

... *we* determine our own actions. Let me stress I believe in free will in the *full-blooded sense*. That is to say that, in regards to my voluntary behaviour, it is my self -- which I regard as a substantial non-physical self -- that decides my actions. And I can decide whatever I want to do.

Vincent Torley
"Fine. But if my decisions are proximately determined by me, but ultimately determined by prior physical causes which are beyond my control, then that does indeed make a mockery of freedom. That's why I believe compatibilism is incoherent".

I say:
I don't really understand the libertarian/compatiblist distinction. I've never read anything about it. I don't see the notion of free will as being problematic (the interaction issue is a different thing of course). I think so long as consciousness per se is causally efficacious, then we have free will.

Prior physical causes might cause me to be parched. So if I find water I will inevitably drink it. I would never choose not to do so. But that couldn't possibly have any implications for my free will! I mean the "inevitability" here doesn't appear to be of same type of inevitability that an apple will fall when released. Even though we inevitably will drink water, we nevertheless have the *capacity*, the *ability*, to not drink the water, even though that choice would never be exercised.

Gene Callahan said...

"If it were, bodily movements would have the feel of a kind of telekinetic puppet show."

How do you know what telekinetic puppet shows feel like?

What about prostheses? Whether permanently attached (a leg) or temporarily (a forklift, a blind man's cane) they begin to feel like part of the body.

Gyan said...

Aquinas has written that stones move by necessity, the animals move by instinctive judgment and man moves by free judgment.
Thus, per Aquinas, the animals do not move by necessity. That is, the animal motion is not captured by the laws of necessity i..e the laws of physics.
This appears to be something that the modern Thomists again neglect. It would seem that the formal causes have a role to play even in animal motion.

Gyan said...

Ian Wardell,
"consciousness per se is causally efficacious, then we have free will. "

Higher animals are conscious but have no free will.

Ian Wardell said...

I scarcely think it's plausible that if we have free will the animals closest to us in intelligence do not! Same goes for having a soul.

Vincent Torley said...

Aquinas clearly believed that the will was an efficient cause of movement:

"I answer that, A thing is said to move in two ways:

First, as an end; for instance, when we say that the end moves the agent. In this way the intellect moves the will, because the good understood is the object of the will, and moves it as an end.

Secondly, a thing is said to move as an agent, as what alters moves what is altered, and what impels moves what is impelled. In this way the will moves the intellect and all the powers of the soul, as Anselm says (Eadmer, De Similitudinibus). The reason is, because wherever we have order among a number of active powers, that power which regards the universal end moves the powers which regard particular ends. ... Now the object of the will is good and the end in general, and each power is directed to some suitable good proper to it, as sight is directed to the perception of color, and the intellect to the knowledge of truth. Therefore the will as agent moves all the powers of the soul to their respective acts, except the natural powers of the vegetative part, which are not subject to our will." (S.T. I q. 82 art. 4)

Marc Stacey said...

Hello Dr. Feser-,
Any chance you can link me to the posts about you responding to the interaction problem from an A-T perspective? Or how hylemorphism responds to other problems in the Philosophy of mind (other minds, interaction problem, etc)?

Thanks!

Timocrates said...

"...angels can assume bodies, and that they can cause physical objects to move."

"May the Force be with you." ;-)

This kind of thinking also helps us to understand the paranormal in more scientific terms rather than relegating it into the realm of fantasy ("nothing to see here folks - move along!"), magic, lunacy or superstition.

Indeed, only in materialism is there something wholly strange about something immaterial affecting something material. In reality, we are doing it all the time every time we consciously seek to accomplish some goal and proceed to do it. Again in reality, the cause of your house and the cause of its being really or actually one thing rather than a plurality is a single plan but you are beside yourself if you think that the actual design of your house is a seperate substance (or at all separate) from your actual house or, worse, if you actually believe the design of your house is present as material in your house: as if the design was a something you can make things out of like puddy or wax.

This helps us to understand why formal and final causes overlap while remaining distinct. All the material parts of your house were fashioned and placed according to the plan/design. That is the most intellectually fatal error, arguably, of materialism: imagining the material parts either
a) necessitated the whole or
b) that the whole exists for the sake of or on account of any or even all of the material parts.

But is quite obviously the other way around and this is no less true (indeed more true, if anything) of living nature especially: in living nature, the material parts even follow the substance in existence and is developed by an innate principle of operation in that sustance. A cat doesn't come to be that a paw might exist nor are cats built like a house: starting with the foundation (the paws) then the supports (legs, skeleton, organs) and finally the roof (skin).

"though in fact Descartes’ account of matter as pure extension makes causal interaction even between corporeal substances themselves problematic, but that is another issue"

No small matter, either! Lines of course do not interact with each other qua lines (nor do planes or sufaces or even body - there is no "body in general"). They are all abstractions and formal. It is much more absurd to imagine that an immaterial body as such could interact with the physical world than a disembodied soul or spirit might be able to.

Timocrates said...

@ Gene,

I don't know if you've ever operated a forklift but it is bad news if a driver thinks he "feels" the forklift like it were an extension of his body. It's bad news because it radically isn't and it's exactly on account of the fact that it isn't that forklift drivers need to operate with care and always according to certain rules, steps and procedures. You never "feel" the forklift, which is exactly why a good forklift operator doesn't pretend he does. Indeed, new forklift drivers are typically quite panicky when operating those machines exactly because they don't feel like they can feel enough to get a sense of the physics that is going on.

If you study any decent ordinary driver's learning manual, it should tell you that there are two periods of a driver's life when they are most liable to accident: when they are new at it and when they are older and become overly confident.

Indeed, you need to be conscious that the thing isn't a part of extension of your body and that you don't and can't really feel it. Failure to do this leads to assumptions or presumptions and causes injuries, accidents or even death.

Another analogy to illustrate the point might be like the Star War's idea of the Force, as I hinted at in my above post. Obviously Yoda does not "feel" the object he is moving in any meaningful sense whatever - more obviously here because the object itself doesn't even have senses. But he is mentally conscious of the object - he knows what it is and he knows what he intends or desires it to do. However, there is still in Saint Thomas's opinion a sense in which a spirit is or can be present in a body in a way a telekinetic puppeteer or a Force user is not present in the object he is manipulating or moving telekinetically.