Materialism, Determinism, Freedom

2 questions actually. Only vaguely related, if at all. Feel free to answer either or both:

If i were to presuppose a wholly material universe, would that commit me to a determinist position as well?


What are the implications, if any, of a materialistic, determined universe on ideals of “freedom”? and i don’t mean freedom as in free-will, i mean life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness type freedom . . .

Well, this is something new. :wink:

Seriously, though, I don’t think questions like this can be answered fully. It seems we have no choice [if you’ll pardon the pun] but to act as though we do have some capacity to weigh in what we will do when we become aware there are alternative possibilities.

In my view this is rooted [problematically] in dasein; and for all of the reasons I have broached elsewhere.

As one of my broken records…

matter, material, physical

are words that have no fixed meaning. They are an expanding set and I see no reason to believe other than that whatever scientific consensus decides is real, regardless of its characteristics, will be described using these terms. There are now particles that seem to go backwards in time, particles with no mass, proposed entities with no volume. Whatever is found is called these things.

So who knows whether materialism commits one to determinism.

I think the issue is not so much whether these terms would have different meaning, if determinism were universally accepted, but how we would feel about them. I think the word ‘ideals’ gets challenged in such a scenario.


A determinist universe, however, would commit him to some position. :laughing:

why not?

It would “determine” on how you define “material”. If you use it in the traditional sense, then one may be determined. However, physics is based on probablistic mathematics, so on the micro level things would be probablistic instead.

Nothing would change; we would still use our courts the same way. We, ironically, would still be debating this very issue, as if we had a choice. However, would we be zombies instead, that is-- without consciousness because everything would be merely matter without mind?

This is a tricky debate that one must look at very critically. For if we were merely creatures that went after reward and pleasure, for example, going after sexual gratifications and being a drunkard, there still is the choice between reward and pleasure. There are fine lines between deterministic arguments that ought to be pressed.

I once had to write a two page paper defending determinism. If you like I could post it.

i’m a little behind the times in my philosophical development, i confess.

True, certainly. So would that mean we can still reasonably propose something like political freedom as an ideal?

i must admit, i have not read much of your theories of dasein, not because i doubt that they are worth reading, but rather because your threads are usually very hotly debated by thinkers way out of my league.

ugly - Pretty much Frank’s #1. Causation does appear to obtain on a certain scale - what we’d call the everyday scale, for humans. But we have several examples of how different scales operate differently. Euclidean and Hyperbolic geometry, Newtonian (which works pretty well for everyday use) and quantum mechanics, even margins of error reflect this.

it’s not materialism that we are worried about when we think about determinism, it’s causation.

Now, if we assume some Big Spirit in the Sky, we might have more of a case for determinism than if we assume materialism.

I must be reading some different threads.

i like this answer, but i am still considering it. i wonder if probabilities can’t also be determined in some sense?

i don’t think so - there’s no reason in my mind why mind can’t exist materially.

Sure, i can handle 2 pages.

Cmon Faust, i’m more interested in what Werklempter has to say on the issue . . .

seriously, tho - what’s Frank’s #1?

Here is that small paper I did. Notice the controversial premises i snuck in, for example later on I talk about mental processes. However, one could easily argue, as Dennett and Churchland do, that these processes are brain states. This paper was a debate paper, I really don’t take this position; this was just for fun. :slight_smile:

On freewill and determinism, Voltaire writes: “ It would be very singular that all nature, all the planets, should obey eternal laws, and that there should be a little animal five feet high, who, in contempt of these laws, could act as he pleased, solely according to his caprice.” This captures the commonsense of such a claim – that there is no freewill. In this paper I will argue that our thoughts and actions are determined. First, I will argue that physics is complete; that is to say that there is ultimately one kind of stuff furnishing reality. Secondly, I will argue that the probability of the physical laws and the conservation laws do not complement freewill. Lastly, I will argue for a behavioristic psychology, which leaves no room for praise or blame, thereby excluding freewill, too.

Our most trusted methods, when attempting to understand the cosmos, are the scientific methods. They have earned our trust, and have been the horse that wins all the races. With this trusted method, we have gone to the moon and back. Using this method, we have repeatedly found order and predictability; our understanding of physics is not complete, however it is getting evermore refined as we study atoms, quarks and gluons. In contrast to our incomplete understanding of physics is the question whether physics itself is capable of explaining all of reality. To illustrate the completeness of physics, I will use an apt example given to us by Leplace, dubbed, “Leplace’s Demon”. Imagine a super-numerical machine, which knew the position, movement, and mass of all particles within reality. This machine would then conceive the past, present, and future as if it were a mathematical equation right there in front of it. Within this model, freewill would not exist, mathematically speaking.

Unlike the heavily idealized Newtonian mechanics, contemporary physics is based on probability. Does this probability leave the door open for freewill? No, for probability is about chance – instead of reasons, motives, or desires; we might as well be flipping a coin to see who gets the last piece of pizza, if we take a reductionist approach to its extreme end. We might take another look at freewill through examining the conservation law. For if everything is physical, and all is accounted for, determined by set laws, then how could we account for extra energy where there is none? For example, where is this conscious mental power located, and how do we measure it, except by way of the brain sciences? Furthermore, if we take the brain, expand it to the size of a building, and walk into it, what are we going to see? Therefore, we will never see freewill – only a machine with physical parts working on each other. There is no objective mental life to be found.

Behaviorism, a reliable guide in psychology, states boldly, “no praise, no blame.” This is because all behavior, essentially, is the result of a reinforcement history. We are simply like billiard balls, going down an incline place; we have no free choice in the matter. After the laws of physics, our biology, and our reinforcement history, the culmination of all of this results into what we call “choices”, or rather, our responses and reflexes. Why is Smith going to become a lawyer? This is because Smith’s parents cultivated him in such a manner, which steered him into that direction. However, how did Smith’s brother become a poet? Smith’s brother was exposed to poetry early on, and this had a greater transforming effect on him than his parents. Therefore, the choices of these two gentlemen are determined, not by their own caprice, but by their reinforcement history. Furthermore, praise and blame, and how one experiences the world is merely the result of a complex neural network, whereby the laws of association work on one’s “ideas”, and are determined to act like gravity. By way of the laws of association, “ideas”, or rather physical processes in the brain, get organized depending on their reinforcement history, contiguity, or resemblance. This, therefore, furthers the idea that freewill may very well be an illusion.

To conclude, if we look at the brain, all we will see are physical parts. No where do we empirically see thoughts, ideas, or desires. Furthermore, with the help of the conservation law, we may discover physical energy; however, we will never discover conscious, mental energy, the source of where freewill is supposed. It seems like this search for freewill is like searching for something ghost or wraith-like. Lastly, one’s behavior is also subject to one’s own reinforcement history. Therefore, it is probable that there is no freewill, and that it’s all an illusion.

I wouldn’t have thought size was the issue. I mean not many planets, as far as we know, could have written Candide.

So why are physicists doing so much research, proposing and looking for new types of phenomena, etc.

This is using an imaginary machine’s imagined capability to support a claim.

Which creates problems for the machine.

I don’t think many proponent of free will think it is an energy.

If we walk in and look with our naked eyes than we know what we would see, since we can look at normal size brains better than this via various devices. This does not mean we know all of what is going on in brains.

So an imagined experienced is used to support a claim.

It is one school of psychology with its own axioms and philosophy.

Whatever we see, even via machines, once there is scientific consensus it is there, gets referred to as physical. Even if a new ‘thing’ is not like anything physical encountered before. Bascially this is circular reasoning.

Yes, as long as you are willing to contend with others insisting your proposition is not reasonable at all. It can’t be they will tell you because it does not coincide with their own.

Political idealism [like “freedom”] is always situated out in a particular world and viewed from a particular point of view. And this evolves over time historically and culturally.

Are there political ideals that transcend this? I don’t think there are. But then how in the world would I actually prove it?

In any event, political idealism has to contend with William Barrett’s “conflicting goods” argument. On all sides of all moral and political issues are arguments that can be deemed reasonable given a certain set of assumptions.

For example:

Would the political idealist [and freedom lover] be more inclined to embrace capitalism or socialism?

Well, both sides can espouse “goods” that will be harmed if the other side prevails.

And how you feel about these things will be rooted in dasein rooted in contingency chance and change. In other words, at the complex intersection of the life you live and the manner in which you have come to think about what that means.

It’s always different [either more or less] for each of us. And if someone does think there is a way to transcend this let him or her pick an issue and demonstrate it.

But what difference does any of this really make if all of us have no choice but think and feel and do as we must.

Hello Mr. Moreno,
I’m happy to see my few scribbles came of some interest to someone, even if so only a little. :slight_smile:

I believe Voltaire here was trying to expand the issue to the size the cosmos in order that one may see the issue with more clarity. This is analogous to the individual man writ large-- as a city, in Plato’s Republic. It’s the same type Argument by Leibniz that I used below, too.

Voltaire, being a comedic writer, might turn your phrase against you and say, “Not many humans, as far as we know, could have been suitable for such a man to live, in order to write Candide.” The point is that different objects have different possibilities. However, when it comes to freewill, I do agree with you. Creativity is something that is unique to consciousness. Through this faculty we, as it seems, can play with ideas as if they aren’t “material”. Is Kant right? I think you made a good point here, Sir.

The sense in which “physics is complete” is often misinterpreted here. In this sense, it isn’t saying that we know everything about physics. Rather, to say “physics is complete” is to say that the world is completely physics, whether we know it or not. We might never know everything there is to know about physics; however, many people still take the proposition that the world is completely physical. It’s an ontological(existence) claim, not an epistemological(knowledge) claim.

I believe the argument you’re making against me is that this is relevant, but not relevantly similar enough to make a case. Fair enough, I believe all analogies fall short in some regard. This “what if” scenario was meant to support the ontological claim that “physics is complete”. I believe it had to be imaginary because ultimately, there could be no scenario where we could be certain that physics is complete or not. This is a problem that all philosophers wrestle with! ](*,)

It depends on how they define “energy”; however, I still believe you are right, by and large. Good catch there. :slight_smile:


Correct, but empirically, all we are going to see is, what Kant would call, “phenomena”. We will never see anything intrinsic, such as desires, motives, feelings, or ideas. This is the same problem of other minds, too.

I often use these blown up analogies to try and help the reader get a clearer handle on the issues.

Behaviorism is a school in philosophy, with a strong following. I don’t subscribe to it completely, but it does have merit. However, it negates the “idea” of cognitive processes because they are intrinsic to us, and can’t be empirically seen; what can’t be empirical is thus negated then. So one may view an exposed nerve, however, the behaviorist can’t say the patient “feels” pain. They have to correlate the behavior with what they see. It isn’t te most humanistic way to understanding humanity, is it? :-k

EXACTLY! I’m glad you saw that, because so many people over look that point! It’s the very problem with science, if we limit it to physical “stuff”, and negate what is intrinsic. This is why psychology is such a tricky field and has changed its subject manner three or four times in the past hundred years! This is the very critique that Hegel exposes.

As I said, this paper was a fun debate paper that runs contrary to my own beliefs on freewill. However, it’s good to repeat and rehearse these things, and rub oneself against the contrary claims in order that we know the arguments better ourselves.

Thanks again for responding to my scribbles! Good work, Sir. :slight_smile:

Ah yes, of course - i should have figured that out, duh.

i think Moreno covered most of the problems with the arguments here - he’s pretty good at that sort of thing. i liked your point that probability doesn’t necessarily allow for choice - i tend to think (insofar as i understand these things, which isn’t always very far) that what we view as probabalistic outcomes could just as well be determined outcomes that we don’t yet have enough knowledge or data to predict. i wonder if probability isn’t more about human uncertainty than any actual multiplicity of possibilities regarding what the universe will do next.

i take a tautology as my guide - things have to happen the way they happen, and this is demonstrated by the fact they happen that way.

that’s a view that’s growing in popularity, one that I hold to and that makes a lot of sense.

thanks for the link, some of the math is over my head, but you’re right that the theory makes a lot of sense. i feel validated.

Nor do i.

You can’t, of course.

That’s where compromise becomes important.

Yes, far from being timeless, our ideals are, like the rest of us, a product of the particular world in which we exist, and the particular historical moment we find ourselves in.

Determined or not, our preoccupations are just that - whether or not they matter at all is dependent on point of view.