Monday, December 10, 2012

Freewill is Illusory


Manuel Velasquez introduces various ideas in his book, Philosophy: A Text with Readings, that compels disgust from the reader, however, it is Velasquez's presentation on Metaphysical stances like Determinism, Libertarianism, and Compatibilism that paint a stark reality. Determinism is the belief that events are out of humans control due to "pre-existing conditions," such as health and social class (12; 189); Libertarianism is the approach that combines deterministic aspects with free-will (191); and Compatibilism is the view that redefines freedom---which in the process takes the best aspects from Determinism and Libertarianism (193). Not only does Velasquez introduce the aforementioned philosophies, but he also showcases what leading people were saying in their respective realms. For example, Velasquez points out people such as Paul Henri d'Holbach and Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace advocate Determinism; Viktor Frankl and Jean-Paul Sartre promote Libertarianism; and Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant argue on behalf of Compatibilism. What is amusing about how Velasquez discusses the aforementioned philosophies is the manner in which he describes them because even though he is impartial, the approach Velasquez uses to present criticisms to the mentioned philosophies implies that he does not agree with everything that each philosophy posits.

Indeed, a reader can see how Velasquez disagrees with Determinism by noticing the manner in which he structures his textbook. For instance, after defining what philosophy is Velasquez discussed different disciplines that encompass philosophy (10), but the relevant stance that the good author mentions is Metaphysics because Metaphysics is the term under which Determinism falls. Metaphysics is one of the traditional disciplines in philosophy that analyzes how people interpret reality. However, what is chilling is what philosophers such as d'Holbach say about metaphysical realities like Determinism. In regards to humans, the good philosopher says:
He is born without his own consent; his [physical and mental] organization does in no way depend on himself; his ideas come to him involuntarily; and his habits are in the power of those who cause him to have them. He is unceasingly modified by causes, whether visible or concealed, over which he has no control and which necessarily regulate his existence, color his way of thinking, and determine his manner of acting. . . .In short, the actions of man are never free; they are always the necessary consequence of his temperament, of the ideas he has received, including his true or false notions of happiness, and of those opinions that are strengthened by example, by education, and by daily experience. . . . Man is not a free agent in any instant of his life." (qtd. in Velasquez 12)
What d'Holbach is implying with his words is that an individual does not have control over his or her life. In fact, the good philosopher states that a person is born without giving consent to be born. What that statement also implies is that people do not have an innate decision to be born into a life where a person may suffer from poverty. In addition, d'Holbach states that people have involuntary thoughts and have habits that people cannot control---which by extension, says that people evade responsibility by arguing that people cannot act otherwise given inclinations to behaviors like alcoholism. D'Holbach makes matters more fatalistic by concluding that what humans become is the result of a person's temperament, education, and daily experience. By choosing d'Holbach as an example to Determinism, Velasquez is beginning a pedagogical discussion on whether Determinism is true or if humans have freewill.

Yet, it is until the reader finishes reading how Velasquez introduces Determinism that Velasquez's disagreement with Determinism becomes obvious because he juxtaposes Determinism with Frankl's Libertarian leaning ideas. Ironically, Frankl was in a concentration camp when he posited that humans are free, but what is more important is that Frankl said humans are ultimately free to choose what he or she will do regardless of the social and political context. Although, Frankl does acknowledge the fact that he is in a concentration camp he was still audacious to promote individual responsibility for whatever situation in which a person may find him or herself. Frankl's words on the matter are that "Man is not fully conditioned and determined; he determines himself whether to give in to conditions or stand up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist, but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. . . ." (12). From a rhetorical standpoint Velasquez is putting two opposing views into conversation with each other, however, that is only a guise for what the good author is trying to do because Velasquez used his discretion as a writer to present Determinism before presenting Frankl's view. Order is vital when arguing because what order does is make the preceding stance comes off as weak, especially in this case because Velasquez stops short from using an ad Hitlerum fallacy. The ad Hitlerum fallacy arises when people play the race card or paint the opposing arguer as Hitler. Finally, Frankl's idea of personal responsibility is ridiculous because he insinuates the world could have prevented the Holocaust, but since they let the Holocaust happen the world is just as much to blame as the Nazis; hence, Velasquez uses an unfair tactic when refuting Determinism because he could have opted for a benign counter example.

On a similar note, Velasquez uses Sartre as the one to take the Libertarian mantle to refute Determinism because Sartre's stance is one that has no absolutes; wherein individuals have the power to define who he or she is (181). Sartre also emphasizes the amount of freedom humans have in making decisions---even if there are past events that suggest that people will act according to past events, Sartre states that people can break from the past and have freewill. No one can say what Sartre believes but himself, "Human-reality is free because . . . it is perpetually wrenched away from itself and because it has been separated by a nothingness from what it is and from what it will be. . . . Freedom is precisely the nothingness which is made to be at the heart of man and which forces human reality to make itself instead of to simply be" (qtd. in Velasquez 191). Sartre introduces an abstraction wherein he states that individuals have the ability to define what does not exist from nothingness. What the Libertarian is also saying is individuals have the power to create something that does not exist. What that means is that both humans can deviate from past behavior and that humans can innovate ideas different than already exist. Ultimately, Sartre places responsibility so individuals script his or her own life, rather than follow past trends. Oddly enough, Velasquez ends his introduction on Libertarianism by saying the aforementioned stance ignores advances in human psychology---which again makes the reader wonder what Metaphysical interpretation Velasquez accepts as his own (193).

If there is any philosopher who Velasquez uses to bring Sartre to shame, then it is the infamous mathematician Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace who contributes to the conversation between Determinism and freewill because rather than present a qualitative stance on reality Laplace makes a scientifically, inspired argument. Laplace made claims based off Isaac Newton's work in mechanics that showed that if someone knows an object's mass, velocity, and position, then that person can calculate where that object will be in the future (189). Moreover, the reason why Laplace is relevant to Velasquez's textbook is how the Marquis shares the belief that his fellow Determinists have, that is he also is in favor that all actions are determined by past events. Laplace makes his view known by writing:
Present events have a connection with previous ones that is based on the self-evident principle that a thing cannot come into existence without a cause that produces it. This axiom . . . extends even to actions which people regard as [free]. . . .We must regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its preceding state and as the cause of the one which is to follow. An intelligence which in a single instant could know all the forces which animate the natural world, and the respective situations of all the beings that made it up, could, provided it was vast enough to make an analysis of all the data so supplied, be able to produce a single formula which specified all the movements in the universe from those of the largest bodies in the universe to those of the lightest atom. (qtd. in Velasquez 189)
The first statement that Laplace describes is what logicians call cause and effect. Second, what is more is that the good Marquis calls cause and effect an axiom---which he stretches to apply to what people regard as "free." Laplace subtly calls freewill an illusion because he is stretching causality to what people may perceive as free. Lastly, he states that if humans know all variables as to how an object or a person behaves, then humans will be to predict the future. The line that reads that once people analyze all data relevant to how a person or object behaves makes the case that people will be able to deduce a formula that explains the universe. The fact anyone wants to express the world through an equation is a depressing thought because even Velasquez points out that if Determinism is true then punishing criminals for breaking the law is silly. Again, Velasquez comes off as nonpartisan, however, juxtaposition shows otherwise---particularly, in how Velasquez engages his discussion because he presents appealing, scientific aspects of Determinism while showing where ideas like Laplace's fail, like in cases of morality.

Contrary to how Velasquez presents the on going conversation between Determinism and Libertarianism, Compatibilism invests its time defining what freedom is instead of undermining another philosophy's premises as Determinism and Libertarianism do. Another aspect that makes Compatibilism an appealing one is how philosophers within the discipline approach reality. For instance, Hobbes is in the opinion that humans could be understood as a set of complex machinery, yet what he writes is inconsistent with what he believes. Indeed, what Hobbes communicates to his reader is two types types of thinking:
The first is unguided, without design, and inconstant, wherein there is not passionate thought, to govern and direct those that follow to itself, [such] as the end and scope of some desire, or other passion. . . . The second is more constant, as being regulated by some desire and design. . . . The train of regulated thoughts is of two kinds: one, when an effect imagined we seek the causes, or means that produce it. . . . The other is, when imagining anything whatsoever, we seek all the possible effects that can by it be produced. (qtd. in Velasquez 209)
Hobbes is saying that one type of thought is "unguided," yet that contradicts his stance where humans actions can be predicted because unguided thoughts can lead to unexpected outcomes. What Hobbes is also saying is that design, consistency, and passion are means or ends to desires or other passions. The other type of thought that Hobbes posits concedes that causality is a possibility. Although Hobbes' ideas are materialistic, his belief does not surface when analyzed through the "unguided" lens---which suggests a lack of foresight and where, in fact, causality implies hindsight. Hindsight is useless when trying to determine the future within in the context of "unguided thought," thus setting precedents for irresponsible behavior. In addition, the way a reader will interpret Hobbes' writing is as hesitant for failing to follow through his conviction on materialism because he proposes two diametrically opposing ideas. Perhaps, Hobbes was for freewill before he was against it, but his writing bares all the truth. As a writer, Velasquez did not need to put much effort to hide his stance, but rather what Velasquez is doing is hysterical because Hobbes does not seem to be for either Determinism or Libertarianism; so, both Velasquez and Hobbes could have conveyed an impartial message to the reader if both had written nothing at all because both sides seem indecisive as to what stance to promote.

Not only did Velasquez fail to take a stance when citing Hobbes, but he also took as much a partisan approach when he introduced Kant's metaphysical perspective. The way that Kant falls in line with how Velasquez presents Compatibilism is visible in the manner that Kant opined that humans live in both the world of perception and the world of reason (195). Indeed, Kant put some effort in reconciling Determinism with Libertarian ideas, but he concluded that what a person believes may be inconsistent with reality. Kant best represents his own stance when he says, "So a rational being has two points of view from which he can regard himself. . . .First, to the extent that he belongs to the world of sense, he sees himself as subject to the laws of nature. Second, to the extent that he belongs to the world of understanding, he sees himself as subject only to moral rules that are based on reason. . . ." (qtd. in Velasquez 195). The quoted passage, juxtaposes nature and reason as equally valid ideas; hence, demonstrating how Kant is not in favor of either Determinism or Libertarianism. Determinism makes the point that people do not have control about what happens when subject to the laws of nature as Kant says; similarly, Libertarianism emphasizes self-control and reason's power over nature---which Kant states when subjecting moral rules to reason. Like a true Compatibilist, Kant refuses to enter the conversation that Determinism and Libertarianism have. Instead, Kant does as Hobbes, that is both philosophers put forth two views that are polar opposites from each other, respectively. What this does, again, is put a reader in a position wherein he or she questions what views Kant actually advocates. Clearly, Velasquez and Kant both avoid making statements in favor of one argument; however, Velasquez has an excuse for not choosing a side because he is making a pedagogical presentation. Kant on the other hand has no excuse for not choosing a side, though it is understandable if Kant disagrees with any stance it is not forgivable for not choosing a side.

Looking at the three Metaphysical realities, the best view that captures reality is one that makes a statistical argument. For example, Determinism puts forth that if a person knows variables such as position, mass, and velocity people can predict the future, but what is problematic with that stance is how does a person know that an object will behave a certain way. A macroscopic example that illustrates the point is when one particle collides with a particle laying still. What happens after the collision is that both particles move together as a single mass. However, the matter of why is not a question: what is important is gathering enough data showing that the two objects will move together after such a collision. Something along the order of 200 data points where 95% of particles exhibit the mentioned behavior starts to give good results. Under such conditions, the statistical case gives Determinism some traction. Heisenberg, on the other hand, makes a statistical argument for the microscopic case because he discovered probability spreads that say where an electron resides, rather than specifically say where the electron is in space. What is stunning is that the microscopic case defends Libertarian notions of freewill---meaning that statistics validates both Determinism and Libertarianism. Neither Compatibilism nor Velasquez contribute any insights to the statistical argument because both take a hesitant approach to reality.

From Determinism, Libertarianism, to Compatibilism Velasquez was critical to the point where the reader may ask the good author what stance he endorses. Yet, through out the textbook, Velasquez does not suggest a philosophy of his own---which might be the result of pedagogy because, perhaps, Velasquez does not want to influence his readers. However, in pointing out flaws in the philosophies he presents in his textbook he subconsciously rejects philosophies with which he disagrees. What is clear, though, is that rather than say that Determinism or Libertarianism is correct, he makes both look as inadequate. In addition, the good author seems to have the same mindset as Compatibilists who find it too below them to engage in conversation that they think is silly. In conclusion, what Velasquez's work does is bring into question whether professors should reveal their philosophical, political, religious, and social stances because that will help in clearing any biases professors have when presenting material to students.

Works Cited
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

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