Saturday, January 10, 2009

Deliberation and Freedom

Hi everyone,

I'm not sure if everyone is on this any more. If someone who is and knows that others, new grad students for example, are not, maybe we could invite them.

I've been meaning to post for a while on a question I have about deliberation and free will. I don't have a well-developed view at all, but I have a strong intuition that seems to be at odds with at least a few claims made by people I don't immediately discount as crazy.

My question is: Why should we think that deliberation requires free will? That is, why should we think that, if determinism is true, and incompatibilism is also true, we could not truly deliberate? As I've said, my view is not well-developed. As of now, I just respond to those who think determinism + incompatibilism precludes deliberation with a confused look and a challenge to explain why my unfree actions cannot stem from deliberation. So, any thoughts on why?

From what I gather, the view that being unfree or determined precludes deliberation tends to stem from a conceptual argument. People like Peter van Inwagen argue that an unfree agent who recognizes her lack of freedom would be paralyzed and unable to deliberate because of her knowledge that only one road was truly open. Presumably this type of conceptual argument is backed up by intuitive cases. For example, if I know that there is no milk in the fridge, I do not deliberate about whether to get up and get myself a glass of milk. I recognize my desire for milk, but recognize also that deliberating about getting milk is precluded by facts about the contents of my apartment. Presumably lots of other everyday cases like these can be found.

However, it seems like the crucial detail in the milk case and others we might think about is our knowledge of the state of the world (i.e. whether milk is in the fridge). If we know there is no milk, we do not deliberate. If we did know there was milk, then we would dliberate about whether it was worth getting up for. Most importantly, if we did not know whether there was milk or not, we might still deliberate about whether to get up and get some.

I think that the last situation most closely resembles our hypothetical situation as determined or unfree agents. While we know that only one future state is possible, we do not know what that future state is and do not know which of our actions are determined and which precluded by determinism. Of course, we MAY have souch knowledge in some cases and in those I have no problem sayin that we would not (and probably could not) deliberate. Oedipus, for example, was fated and knew about his fate, even if he didn't believe it to be his fate, but was still able to deliberate about how to go about avoiding it. To say that he was not really deliberating about how to avoid his fate only on the grounds that he was fated and knew this fact seems silly.

Does someone knows this literature, of which I hear there is lots, including some work by Dana, and want to explain how I'm missing the point here? Lots of smart people seem to hold this view. Epicurus and his followers for example fall in the "no deliberation without free will" camp. Peter van Inwagen holds this position also.