Archive for the ‘Determinism’ Category

Spinoza on Perceived Free Will

November 17, 2012 9 comments

So experience itself, no less clearly than reason, teaches that men believe themselves free because they are conscious of their own actions, and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined.

-Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics

Rationality and Thinking in Foreign Languages

April 29, 2012 Leave a comment

According to a recent study, decisions reached while thinking in a “foreign” i.e. non-native language are more likely to be rational.

From the abstract:

Using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases. Four experiments show that the framing effect disappears when choices are presented in a foreign tongue. Whereas people were risk averse for gains and risk seeking for losses when choices were presented in their native tongue, they were not influenced by this framing manipulation in a foreign language. Two additional experiments show that using a foreign language reduces loss aversion, increasing the acceptance of both hypothetical and real bets with positive expected value. We propose that these effects arise because a foreign language provides greater cognitive and emotional distance than a native tongue does.

For those unaware, the framing effect is a cognitive bias in psychology wherein a person’s choice or response to a question changes depending on how the same question is worded. This is often the case when one framing highlights losses and another highlights gains. This article over at Wired describes the above study as well as an experiment in which exemplifies the framing effect.

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The Revised Principle of Alternate Possibilities and Galen Strawson’s Basic Argument

March 24, 2012 Leave a comment

I have a new post up at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog, which can be found here. It concerns the Revised Principle of Alternate Possibilities (RPAP) and using Galen Strawson’s Basic Argument to nullify the issues cause by the RPAP. I will not be re-posting it here at Philosophy & Polity, so head over to the UNFSPB and check it out!

Nonreductive Agent Causation Part II: Four Points of Analysis

February 20, 2012 4 comments
Reduction -  Photo courtesy of

"But if nonreduction is true then we would never have Maple Syrup." Photo courtesy of

In Part I of this two-part post I introduced an extended dialogue between Timothy O’Connor and Derk Pereboom that spans physicalism, reductionism, agency theory, and quantum physics. O’Connor posits a purely physicalist theory of agency based on the formation of macroproperties which instantiate in sets of microproperties which reach a certain threshold level of complexity. Once this level is reached, an emergent macroproperty, constituted as an agent causal power, can then enact downward causal influence over its microproperties without being subject to upward causation or determination from its constituent microproperties. Pereboom takes O’Connor to task for failing to account for the influence of distal causes, which nevertheless determine the behavior of the agent causal power, but to counter the invocation of an emergent property, Pereboom alleges that even in a statistical model rather than a deterministic one, we are still left with distal causes as the ultimate originator of action. In the comment section of a previous post, Aaron Kenna rightly makes mention of this, viz. that statistical, indeterministic, and deterministic worldviews all fail to provide the freedom required by agency theories/moral responsibility. In a future post I shall discuss this point further, using Strawson’s “basic argument” as an example. But for now, let’s turn to four points of analysis on the conversation between O’Connor and Pereboom to see what we can make of it. Read more…

Nonreductive Agent Causation Part I: A Dialogue Between O’Connor and Pereboom

February 19, 2012 6 comments

"To reduce, or not to reduce - that is the question."

I have recently come to believe that the crux of disagreements in contemporary discussions on physicalism and agency is the seemingly impassable divide between reductionist and non-reductionist positions. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of this disconnect can be seen in a dialogue between Derk Pereboom and Timothy O’Connor regarding the plausibility of a certain type of physicalist agency theory. The conversation is multi-faceted and invokes emergent agent causal powers (which I have mentioned here before, though only in passing) as well as quantum indeterminism. In this post I would like to introduce the reduction/non-reduction divide by unfolding the conversation between Pereboom and O’Connor. Part I will be heavily exegetical, but in Part II I offer up four points of analysis on the dialogue at large and the theories therein. Read more…

Augustine and the Nature of Sin

February 11, 2012 4 comments

St. AugustineIn common parlance the phrase “it is in my nature to ______” generally holds the connotation that the action is faultless, since the subject cannot possibly be held responsible for its own nature. The same would seem to hold for inevitable actions that derive from nature. At issue in this post is Augustine’s concept of ‘nature’, which encompasses a vague set of variables that are seemingly in flux. This creates several problems when considering the concepts of original sin, free will, and punishment. Specifically I believe that Augustine fails to define nature adequately and thereby leaves his interpretation open to a certain set of criticisms, which I will enumerate. First I will briefly outline Augustine’s argument surrounding the origin of sin in a free will, and the role that nature plays in his argument. From there I will offer an interpretation of our nature and will contrary to Augustine’s, namely that it is a fault of our nature to be mutable and thus it is unjust to punish the inevitable corruption. Drawing a contrast between these two viewpoints, I will show how neither option is consistent with his writings and thus neither is preferable. Read more…

Atheists and Determinism: A Reply

February 11, 2012 2 comments

Atheist Logo

I have previously written on some common misconceptions regarding determinism and its implications, spurred by a post over at what is now Reasons for God, a Christian apologist blog. While updating a redirected hyperlink, I noticed a post that had previously escaped my attention. Entitled, “Atheism and the Denial of Freedom” which posits that atheists, due to the nature of their beliefs, cannot in good faith (no pun intended) believe in free will.  In this post I would like to once again correct a specious argument that unfairly saddles atheists with a belief in determinism.

I should first like to take to task the manner in which the author stacks his conclusions. I will ignore the particular definition of atheism the author utilizes, as it does not truly matter in this instance, and instead highlight the problematic nature of the assumptions he makes. This argument demonstrates not only the sophomoric approach applied, but also a failure to understand the robust discussion concerning the metaphysics of the universe that continues to this day in professional philosophy.

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