Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Will and the World

Given the conception of the world as one fact, what can we say about the will? The will does indeed still exist as a part of the world, as a part of the one fact, not divorced from it. This is not typically what we conceive of when we talk about free will, for the will in this conception cannot be separated from our situation and our backgrounds.

Our will is free - depending on what you mean it to be free from. Suppose a man asks for a will that is free from the world but not free from himself. In this case he has provided us with the context needed to consider the possibility: it is still his will but he wants it to be free from the world. This, I think, is what most people are really after when they begin speaking in absolutes with regard to free will.

At once we must ask a question: does the man exist on any level apart from the world? If he does not, then it is logically impossible for a will to be free from the world for him. This is not a question that can be investigated; the answer is found in the basic lenses one uses to see the world. If you believe in spirits, then he does indeed. If you are a materialist, then he does not.

What can be investigated is the question of what gaps might a transcendent will fill? We can examine the will that is not free from the world: we can investigate that behavior that is tied to the arrangement of matter in the brain, we can investigate the way different chemicals cause men to pursue different things, we can investigate the way that conditioning can cause a man to perform to some extent on command. Is there room for pursuits and behavior that have mysterious causes where a transcendent will might be responsible?

To some degree, this is a matter of investigation. To a greater degree, this is a matter of lenses.

We have not fully investigated the world of neuroscience, brain chemistry, drug interaction, or behaviorism. If we say that these things can explain all human behavior we are not stating a fact that emerged from following an epistemological method, we are instead stating an assumption or a faith that allows us to use an epistemological method. Even if we do advance to the state where we can say that there is no more progress to be made in these fields, how could we ever know with certainty that there were no background processes working that made the more prominent factors work? Maybe there are all kinds of souls and spirits swirling around every brain, without which no neurological process or drug interaction would ever produce a result? Simply because we are committed to Occam's Razor does not mean that the world shares our enthusiasm. In this way, the question is a question of lenses: are you willing to accept transcendent factors or do you restrict the world to the One Fact?

Let us end on a note of speculation. If there are transcendent wills, what does our experience of life tell us about them? They are not very powerful. Whatever they can do is very simple. Whenever we face a decision we tend to experience that decision as something that came from within us - perhaps the transcendent will is nothing more than a spirit that can choose to say or not say "yes" to an opportunity in the world. Forgive me - this is in large part philosophical fiction. Most significant in this concept, however, is the fact that the One Fact is being shaped by a multitude of transcendent factors. The form that the world takes can not merely be the form of the One Fact, it is the One Fact as tempered by billions of tiny wills making tiny changes.

At this moment I find this idea lovely and completely unpersuasive.

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