Tag Archives: Philosophy

Freedom of the Will

I was reading this blog last night, and was reminded of one of the issues in philosophy that often bothers me: the implicit presumption that multiple schools of thought cannot be correct simultaneously. 

Often times – like with the previous discussions on this blog about positivism versus interpretive law – the middle road solution can provide valuable insight; and in fact, I pride myself on my ability to sit astride the apex of the bell-curve.


What do I mean by this?

The aforementioned blog entry that I read last night discussed the nature of free will. Among the many schools of thought concerning free will, determinism is one that has gathered perhaps the biggest head of steam over time. Determinism, perhaps somewhat fatalistic in nature, declares that all choices are the result of causation. As such, the decisions one makes (and the actions one takes) are merely the result of all events before. As such, any singular decision can be linked back through an infinite chain of causation. Therefore, free will is a myth. 

Further deterministic arguments, such as those presented by the likes of Sam Harris, argue that in order to truly have free will, we must:

  1. Have control of, and be aware of, our own thoughts and actions;
  2. In looking back at a decision, we must have been able to act differently than we had.

Naturally, it doesn’t take much for the determined determinist to cast aside both of these premises as impossible. 

…and maybe they’re right.

To an extent, that is. As I have discussed in the past, there are many psychological theories that abound, which discuss the human psyche, personality, and social makeup as resulting from the aggregation of life experiences, up bringing, socialization at a young age, and many other things:

  • Wilhelm Reich, for example, discussed the notion that the acceptance of authority stems from the desire to find a father-like figure in the other (so very, very Freudian).
  • Erich Fromm stated that human relationships, attitudes, and ideologies are the result of the human awareness – and fear – of mortality; he termed this the Escape from Freedom.
  • Milton Rokeach claimed (in essence) that your attitudes, developed over time, steer your interests, actions, thoughts, and ideologies. 

However, while it maybe true that we are the product of the aggregation of our lives and experiences, it does not logically follow that our decisions are solely that as well. While we may not have the ability to control the inclinations of our minds, we do have the ability to control the actions of our bodies. Indeterminists would argue in favor of an unfettered free will. While I will not get in to the particulars here, they’re not very convincing. 

That being said, there is a sub-sect of Determinism**, called Compatibilism, that seems to satisfy my thirst for the middle-ground, and seems to demonstrate how two schools of thought can work together in accord. Compatibilism attempts to reconcile the hard-deterministic view of causal chains with the notion that free will is not exclusive of causality. To my reading, Compatibilism accepts causal chains as true, but rejects that the presence of causality necessarily precludes the possibility of free will. The Compatibilist would argue that where one is able to act, free of encumbrance, one acts of their own free will. By encumbrance, the Compatibilist means coercive force. As such, when one is not coerced by an external entity – an “other” – one has willingly chose to act in such a way, these actions being the result of experience aggregation notwithstanding.

(**Note that there are NUMEROUS schools of thought on this issue, these are just the two I happen to be talking about today)

Either that, or these guys were just talking about the whale.



A-Theory and Einstein

Forgive me blogosphere, for I have sinned. It has been roughly four months since my last rambling entry into the interweb æther. 

After having finished up with that awful philosophy of law class that could have been far and away more interesting than it was, I began to neglect this blog entirely. But recently, I have been doing a lot of reading in philosophy in general – as well as some more reading into philosophy of law to make up for what I didn’t learn in that class – and found that I’ve been sort of hankering to get in here and ramble on for a few paragraphs about stuff that no one really wants to read about.

But you want to read it, don’t you? And you’ve come this far, so why stop now? 

Recently, I read up on a facet of philosophical thought known as “A-Theory.” Essentially, this so-called theory pertains to the nature linear time, vis-a-vis “past, present, & future.” There are several differing schools of thought within this area, which range from the existence of events and objects in time to all manner of other time-related hoopla, but they all tend towards assuming that relations in linear time exist as an indicator of the subjects placement within time. Further, A-Theory postulates that nothing can remain in any one state of time forever; therefore an event will be in the future until it happens, in the present as it happens, and in the past once it has happened. And yes, A-Theory postulates that nothing can be in the past forever. I’m not really sure how that makes any sense. But ok.

The truly important part of A-Theory, for the purpose of this discussion at least, is the idea that the chronological phraseology represents, implicitly, the chronological viewpoint of the observer (speaker, thinker, what ever you want to call them).

So, one of the most popular arguments against A-Theory takes the form of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Without wading too far into the weeds on this (and therefore getting myself into a conversation on a topic I am woefully unprepared to talk about), the salient parts of Einstein’s theory with which we are concerned are as follows:

  1. The speed of light is invariant, and is the same for all observers;
  2. The speed of light is the same for all inertial frames;
  3. Time and space must be considered together, and therefore;
  4. A temporal (of or relating to time) observance, such as simultaneity, is dependent upon the spacial relationship of the event and the observer.


You can go here and here for a much more full, in depth, and scientific view on this argument. If you care, it’s worth the time reading it. 


So this use of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as an argument against A-Theory basically boils down to a very simple premise: the observance of a set of events, and the temporal relationship of that set of events to the observer, is wholly dependent upon the spacial relationships between the two. Therefore, any two observers observing the same set of events from different inertial frames will observe the event differently in relation to time. Therefore, since the precepts of A-Theory are relative, they cannot be universal, and therefore A-Theory is false. If I take the above premises and tack on some more, we can express this as a very simple logical argument:

  1. The speed of light is invariant, and is the same for all observers;
  2. The speed of light is the same for all inertial frames;
  3. Time and space must be considered together;
  4. A temporal (of or relating to time) observance, such as simultaneity, is dependent upon the spacial relationship of the event and the observer;
  5. If 4 is true, then temporal relationships must be relative and not universal, therefore;
  6. If temporal relationship cannot be universal, A-Theory cannot be accurate.

This doesn’t sit right with me.

Nope. I’m not about to try and disprove Einstein… I’m not this kid. Nor am I that ignorant to how much I am ignorant of. I just don’t think Einstein has anything to do with this.

If we think about what I said earlier, about chronological relationships representing the observer’s place in time, I think we arrive at what is really important about A-Theory: it is simply a mechanism for further defining the concept of time. While time is, of itself, a beast of our own creation – there is no reason that there cannot be universality in the conceptualization of it. Physics is not needed for a human to express his or her relationship to time. Further, the aforementioned arguments against A-Theory are based on the idea that temporal relationships are relative. But that’s all time is anyway. To paraphrase “Watchmen,” a clock’s only point of reference is another clock. If, therefore, we can agree that time is of itself merely referential (although spoken of in universal terms), then surely the language we use to reference time can, while referential, be spoken of in universal terms.

If I’ve missed any considerations, or have misinterpreted this subject matter in anyway (or if you just downright hate my opinion), let me know!