Possibilist Free Will
The Two-Stage Model of Free Will
The two-stage model
of free will is very simple. In the creative
first stage the agent calls to mind familiar alternative possibilities
or generates brand new possibilities, perhaps by creating new ones that depend in part on random
noise events in the agent's brain (not mind
). The ontological chance in the first stage ensures that actions are not determined
or even pre-determined
from the beginning of the universe by causal chains, as some compatibilist
philosophers believe. These events bring new information
into the universe.
In the deliberative
second stage, the possibilities generated in the first stage are evaluated. Given enough time, each possibility is compared with the agent's reasons, motives, feelings, desires, etc. (in short, with the agent's character) and one is normally chosen. In the event that there is no obvious best decision, the agent can "think again," perhaps generating a new and better alternative. Finally, with time running out or faced with no obvious best option, the agent may just select one of the alternatives in what is called a "torn decision" by Robert Kane
Given the "laws of nature" and the "fixed past" just before a decision, philosophers wonder how a free agent can have any possible alternatives. This is partly because they imagine a timeline for the decision that shrinks the decision process to a single moment.
Collapsing the decision to a single moment between the closed fixed past and the open ambiguous future makes it difficult to see the free thoughts of the mind followed by the willed and adequately determined
action of the agent in the second stage.
Thoughts are freely generated. Actions are adequately determined by the agent. Thoughts are free. Actions are willed.
Notice that the two-stage model is not limited to a single step of generating alternative possibilities
followed by a single step of self-determination
by the will. It is better understood as a continuous process of possibilities generation, perhaps by the subconscious (parts of the brain that leave themselves open to noise) at the same time as adequately determined choices are being considered by the same brain parts, perhaps, but now averaging over any quantum events, filtering out the microscopic noisiness that might otherwise make the determination random.
In particular, note that a special kind of decision might occur when the agent finds that none of the current options are good enough for the agent's character and values to approve. The agent then might figuratively say, "Think again!"
Many philosophers have puzzled how an agent could do otherwise
in exactly the same circumstances
. Since humans are intelligent organisms, and given our model system of "possible worlds," it is impossible that an agent is ever in exactly
the same circumstances. The agent's memory (information stored in the ERR) of earlier similar experiences guarantees that.
This two-stage modell makes a somewhat artificial separation between first-stage creative randomness and second-stage deliberative evaluation. These two capabilities of the mind can be going on at the same time. That can be visualized by the occasional decision to go back and think again, when the available alternatives are not good enough to satisfy the demands of the agent's character and values, or by noticing that the subconscious might be still generating possibilities while the agent is in the middle of evaluations.
The two-stage model
lies between the work of libertarians
, in the sense that the free elements in the first stage are what the Libertarian needs and the adequately determined
evaluations and decisions are what the compatibilist needs for the moral responsibility
of the agent. Robert Kane calls the outcomes of such torn decisions "self-forming actions," because the accumulation of such actions builds the agent's character.
Now Kane has argued that on some occasions the agent may not be able to find grounds for choosing between a prudential, self-interested choice and a moral, other-interested decision. In case of such a "torn decision" the agent may simply allow indeterminism to enter into the decision but be prepared to take responsibility for either choice.
Compatibilists have argued that any randomness in the final decision would make the agent not responsible for the decision. But Kane has nicely solved this dilemma.
Let’s diagram Kane’s "self-forming action" (SFA) to place it in the temporal sequence of events between the “fixed past” at the start of a decision process, and the decision itself, which marks the beginning of the future.
In the end, Kane's model, resolving "torn decisions" by an indeterministic choice between alternatives that are all motivated by good reasons, is an important supplement to the two-stage model. He calls this “plural rational control.” We call them "undetermined liberties." They nicely complement decisions that are arrived at in an adequately determined
way, which we call self-determination
Self-determination means that the agent and only the agent "causes" the decision, so we now embrace the idea of agent causation
, as opposed to the idea that free will can be understood by analyzing "events."
"Free Will" - in scare quotes - refers to the common but mistaken notion that the adjective "free" modifies the concept "will." In particular, it indicates that the element of chance
, one of the two requirements
for free will is present in the determination of the will itself.
Critics of "libertarian free will" usually adopt this meaning in order to attack the idea of randomness in our decision-making process, which clearly would not help to make us morally responsible
Unfortunately, even defenders of libertarian free will (Robert Kane
, for example) continue to add indeterminism into the decision itself, making such free will "unintelligible" by their own account.
Despite their claim that they are better equipped than scientists to make conceptual distinctions and evaluate the cogency of arguments, professional philosophers have mistakenly conflated the concepts of "free" and "will." They (con)fuse them with the muddled term "free will," despite clear warnings from John Locke
that this would lead to confusion.
Locke said very clearly, as had some ancients like Lucretius
, it is not the will that is free (in the sense of undetermined), it is the mind.
Locke liked the idea of Freedom and Liberty. He thought it was inappropriate to describe the Will itself as Free. The Will is a Determination. It is the Man who is Free.
In his great Essay Concerning Human Understanding
, Locke calls the question of Freedom of the Will unintelligible
. But for Locke, it is only because the adjective "free" applies to the agent, not to the will, which is determined by the mind, and determines the action.
I think the question is not proper, whether the will be free, but whether a man be free...
This way of talking, nevertheless, has prevailed, and, as I guess, produced great confusion.
Freedom of human action requires the randomness of absolute chance to break the causal chain of determinism, yet the conscious knowledge that we are adequately determined
to be responsible
for our choices and our actions.
Freedom requires some events that are not causally determined by immediately preceding events, events that are unpredictable by any agency, events involving quantum uncertainty. These random events create alternative possibilities
Randomness is the "free" in free will.
In short, there must be a randomness requirement
, unpredictable chance
events that break the causal chain of determinism. Without this chance, our actions are simply the consequences of events in the remote past. This randomness must be located in a place and time
that enhances free will, one that does not reduce it to pure chance. Randomness, in the form of creative new ideas among the alternative possibilities
, is what breaks the causal chain.
(Determinists do not like this requirement.)
Freedom also requires an adequately determined will that chooses or selects from those alternative possibilities. There is effectively nothing uncertain about this choice.
Adequate determinism is the "will" in free will.
So there is also a determinism requirement
- that our actions be adequately determined by our character and values. This requires that any randomness not be the direct cause of our actions
. (Libertarians do not like this requirement.)
Adequate determinism means that randomness in our thoughts about alternative possibilities does not directly cause our actions
A random thought can lead to a determined action, for which we can take full responsibility
We must admit indeterminism
but not permit it to produce random actions
as Determinists mistakenly fear.
We must also limit determinism
but not eliminate it as Libertarians mistakenly think necessary.
Philosophers of logic and language are further muddled in their argument that if
is true. This is of course
correct. Strict causal determinism with a causal chain of necessary events back to an Aristotelian first cause is indeed false, and modern philosophers know it, though most hold out hope that the quantum mechanical basis of such indeterminism will be disproved someday. Many analytic simply declare themselves
on the truth or falsity of determinism, missing the empirical point.
requires that since determinism and indeterminism are logical contradictories, only one of them can be true. The law of the excluded middle allows no third possibility. Now since neither determinism nor indeterminism allow the kind of free will that supports moral responsibility, they claim that free will is unintelligible or an
. This is the
The practical empirical situation is much more complex than such simple black and white logical linguistic thinking can comprehend. Despite quantum uncertainty, there is clearly
in the world, enough to permit the near-perfect predictions of celestial motions, and good enough to send men to the moon and back. But this "near" (
When we unpack the complex concept of "free will," we find the freedom is in our thoughts, the
is in our willed acts.
, "Free Will" combines two distinct concepts. Free is the
and randomness of the first stage. Will is the adequately determined
in the second stage.