Will PowerTOFs Faithful Reader, who already experiences free will, will consent to follow along. Those who deny free will cannot help but follow along, as they are driven by external forces as the wind doth blow the fallen leaves of a darkling wood.
Aside: a puckish notion occurs to TOF. What if the will-denialists are right and they really do lack the intellective appetite? That is, while we-uns are metaphysical humans, they-uns are philosophical zombies? Much would be thereby explained; especially behaviors like the frequent repetition of identically-worded cant phrases, as we would expect to hear from creatures that possess imagination but not intellect. But this supposition requires much reflection, as it is contrary to dogma. Also, it is really mean.Today's meditation is motivated by a comment by a frequenter of this site who goes by the monofrydian name of OneBrow, who has written:
If the choices of a free will are not random, but preferred, reasoned, and predictable, in what demonstrable way are these different from the choices a computer can make? Computers can weigh differing inputs (something similar to reason), evaluate consequences to see what is best/least bad (have a preference), and will follow a set course (be predictable). ... I don't see why that is a matter of kind, as opposed to degree.There are two ways in which this plaint can be read. One is that if one's choices are "preferred, reasoned, and predictable" then they cannot be deliberate and are no more an exercise of will than is the output of a computer. The other is that a computer deliberates its choices; that is, exercises free will. That is: either humans have no more free will than a computer or computers have free will. Both possibilities are wrong.
|Rise of the Machines!|
Even if these acts simulate reason, it is no more significant than that another machine simulates piloting a 787. It's not actually flying, after all.
But this is not the interesting point. The flip side is the implication that if one's choices are not random, but "preferred, reasoned, and predictable," they are somehow not deliberate, not "free will." Yet it is precisely such choices that are the proper object of the will rather than of the sensitive appetites.
|Tik-tok of Oz|
*TOF supposes that in this era of naive literalism he must add that "19th century" is to be here taken metonymically.
|Born that way or worked at it?|
|People is no different from me!|
The complementary error is to ascribe to animal behaviors a human-like intellect when they can be adequately explained by imagination. TOF calls this the "Disney Effect."
Objectors to free will (liberum arbitrium) sometimes present human acts that they claim are not freely chosen! (Gasp!) But this is not exactly a new observation...
Man does many things without deliberation, sometimes not even thinking of what he is doing; for instance when one moves one's foot or hand, or scratches one's beard, while intent on something else.
-- Thomas Aquinas, S. theologica, II-Pt.1, Q1, Art.1, Obj.3
|Early Internet comm box|
Now, About Those MachinesAristotle once noted that anger can be explained in two ways: a) as a desire for revenge or b) as a boiling of blood around the heart. The first may be more pertinent as regards ethics or the law, while the second may be more pertinent as regards medical treatment. But it would be a mistake for the mechanist to say that anger is only a matter of enzymes or hormones or whatever has replaced that boiling blood*. A full understanding of anger requires that it be grasped in both ways. Tolstoy once wrote that to discover what makes a locomotive move one must study "the laws that regulate steam, bells, and the wind" until discovering "the ultimate cause of the motion of the locomotive in the steam compressed in the boiler." The historian John Lukacs remarked dryly, "It did not occur to Tolstoy that the main 'cause' of the motion of the locomotive might be its driver."
(*) boiling blood. Neither "blood" nor "heart" mean quite the same thing today as they meant back then.
"One overlooked element in the scientific revolution," writes James Chastek, "is that it begins with motion already as given, and is only interested in the structures or rules that govern motion’s transference -- i.e. things like machines. Newton’s first law, for example, doesn’t explain motion as such but says that if there is motion it will continue indefinitely; and his second law describes changes of motions, i.e. exactly what machines do. The question of the origin or character of the motion simply cannot arise, and so the relevant difference between the living and the mechanical cannot arise." [emph. added]
That is, as Chastek adds, modern physics is no more a tool for distinguishing life from machine than a scale is for distinguishing ten pounds of potatoes from ten pounds of steel.
Those in thrall to scientism oft confuse that which is visible to its methodology with that which is. But that a given method cannot detect X does not mean that X does not exist.
- Some systems involve changes only in the direction and magnitude of force: E.g., levers like the jaw; chemical reactions in the cell; evolution by natural selection; etc.
- Other systems involve changes that are not this sort: E.g., motion from premises to conclusion; from a function to its values; from a goal or a value to a choice.
Now, About that Free Will Thingie......that had OneBrow so concerned. Part of the problem is that Descartes and the rest muddied the waters sufficiently that the original concept of Volition has been lost under the detritus of Modern Thought. Naturally, the more complicated Modern notion has more failure points than the original.
First of all: sumbunall! To say that Man has liberum arbitrium does not mean that every act of a Man is going to be a free choice; only that properly human acts will. Thomas Aquinas made the distinction:
Of actions done by man those alone are properly called "human" which are proper to man as man. Now man differs from irrational animals in this, that he is master of his actions. Wherefore those actions alone are properly called human, of which man is master. Now man is master of his actions through his reason and will; whence, too, the free-will is defined as "the faculty and will of reason." Therefore those actions are properly called human which proceed from a deliberate will. And if any other actions are found in man, they can be called actions "of a man," but not properly "human" actions, since they are not proper to man as man.An illustration: when an animal is hungry it will seek out food. If it perceives a substance and esteems it as food it will eat it. That is, its acts are governed by its sensitive appetites responding to its perceptions. But a human may be hungry and perceive food, yet refrain from eating because he is fasting for sacred reasons or keeping a diet for secular ones -- or even because he does not care for Brussels sprouts. Thus the sensitive appetites are governed by the intellective appetites.
-- Summa theologica, II Pt.1, Q1, Art.1 respondeo.
TOF supposes he had better add that "human" means "metaphysical human" and would include any rational animals, whether biologically H. sap., or not (e.g., Krenken, Pierson's Puppeteers, Hraani, Romulans, Klingons, and sundry other SF aliens; see also City of God, Book XVI, ch. 8). Logically, this might not even include all biological humans (see "puckish notion," above).
|"We'll always have Paris," Achilles told Helen.|
A B C Dand you are told to "choose one." The assumption of free choice is embedded in the word "one." To which letter does this pronoun refer? None in particular. It is indeterminate. By definition, that which is indeterminate is not determined to one choice or another. It matters not a hill of beans (in this crazy world) whether we can predict that Adam will choose A or that statistically, half of choosers will opt for C. Or that Betsy will decides to opt out and choose none. A free choice is simply indeterminate.
- It does not mean a random choice. [A, B, C, and D need not be plucked with equal probability.]
- It does not mean an unpredictable choice. [Half of respondents will choose C.]
- It does not mean a surprising choice.
- It does not mean an unreasoned choice.
- It does not mean an unmotivated choice.
- It does not mean an indifferent choice.
- It need not even mean a conscious choice.*
*conscious choice. TOF supposes he must add that the Aristotelian man is not a spook sitting inside the head and operating the body, as the Scientific Revolutionaries thought. Rather the human being is a union of matter and form (body and soul). We are essentially embodied, not contingently embodied, a notion that really bugged the Gnostics and other soul-worshipers. As Thomas Aquinas wrote: My soul is not "I".** In particular, decisions are not made by the spook, but by the whole human as a single substance. Subconscious choices are every bit as much human choices as conscious ones.
**Specifically: "For it is clear that the soul is naturally united to the body and is departed from it contrary to its nature and per accidens. Hence the soul devoid of its body is imperfect as long as it is without the body. ... the soul, since it is part of man’s body, is not an entire man, and my soul is not I,..." -- Thomas Aquinas. "Commentary on I Corinthians 15-2," §924.
Being, informedBut this necessitates a brief digression regarding soul, which many Moderns feel really is a sort of Cartesian spook that lives inside the head and directs the body much as the driver directs the automobile. Consequently, folks spend a lot of time denouncing various scientific and heterodox distortions of a fairly simple concept.
"Soul" (anima) simply means "alive." So soul is whatever a thing has while living that it no longer has when dead. If this is "brain states" then "brain states" comprise the soul. Souls -- whether vegetative, sensitive, or rational -- are particular instances of the more general concept of (essential) form, or "nature." Moderns tend to deny essential forms, too; but as the Codgitator points out, this pulls the rug out from under natural science:
Form just means “the way a thing predictably acts by nature.” If there is no such thing as form––and form which orders a thing's parts to its proper function––then science has literally nothing to say about the world.
-- Codgitator. "My soul is not I…"
|The "souls" of sodium and chlorine, shown schematically.|
While inanimate forms are patterns or arrangements of the matter, they are not themselves material. This bothers those who insist that everything is material and so they frequently cry that the pattern is too material. But anything material possesses mass, and if we arrange a number of parts into a pattern of some sort, they do not suddenly weigh more. A physical triangle ABC may possess weight, but triangularity does not weight anything.
Metaphysical Humans, informedA schematic analogous to the Bohr atom schema is shown below for the sensitive and rational portions of the human form. (The whole includes inanimate and vegetative powers as well.)
According to this model, sensation results in the formation of percepts, whose unified images (visual and otherwise) are stored in memory and manipulated in imagination. (These inner senses are sometimes collectively called the imagination.) This applies to all animals. For rational animals, the "light" of the intellect reflects on these percepts and from them abstracts (lit. "pulls out") concepts. This is called active intellect, a/k/a "agent" intellect. That which receives and understands the abstractions is the passive intellect
The Codgitator tells of a blogger with a private blog (invitation only) who stated with the air of someone rebutting Aristo-Thomism:
“An external phenomenon interacts with our sense organs which in turn causes our brain to produce a model of that phenomenon.” -- unbeguiledwhich is a fair restatement of the Aristo-Thomist position, were it not for the problematical term "phenomenon." An intelligible form is not a "phenomenon". "By replacing an object’s intelligible structure (i.e., form) with phenomenon," says the Codgitator, "[the blogger] has changed the whole nature of the game." And his "invocation of perceptual 'modeling' sets the ship right into a Cartesian vortex of skepticism."
Which brings us to the willThe second half of the model above shows the "response" side of the stimulus-response cycle. Just as the emotions are the sensitive appetites for things perceived, the will (volition) is an intellective appetite for things conceived. The will is thus not directly involved in questions of pressing buttons or flipping switches, much of which may be performed on auto-pilot by a test subject trying to "let his mind go blank," the very opposite of a deliberate choice! Thomas Aquinas tells us:
Man has free-will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain. In order to make this evident, we must observe that some things act without judgment; as a stone moves downwards; and in like manner all things which lack knowledge. And some act from judgment, but not a free judgment; as brute animals. For the sheep, seeing the wolf, judges it a thing to be shunned, from a natural and not a free judgment, because it judges not from reason, but from natural instinct. And the same thing is to be said of any judgment of brute animals. But man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought. But because this judgment, in the case of some particular act, is not from a natural instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore he acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined to various things. For reason in contingent matters may follow opposite courses, as we see in dialectic syllogisms and rhetorical arguments. Now particular operations are contingent, and therefore in such matters the judgment of reason may follow opposite courses, and is not determinate to one. And forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will.
Tommy rolling his eyes over folks
denying the bleeding obvious
-- Thomas Aquinas, S. theologica I.83.1
- The will is an appetite or desire for the products of the intellect, and
- It is impossible to want what you do not know.
- Therefore, to the extent that knowledge is incomplete, the will is not determined to this or that particular choice.
The proper act of free-will is choice: for we say that we have a free-will because we can take one thing while refusing another; and this is to choose. Therefore we must consider the nature of free-will, by considering the nature of choice. Now two things concur in choice: one on the part of the cognitive power, the other on the part of the appetitive power. On the part of the cognitive power, counsel is required, by which we judge one thing to be preferred to another: and on the part of the appetitive power, it is required that the appetite should accept the judgment of counsel. Therefore Aristotle (Ethic. vi, 2) leaves it in doubt whether choice belongs principally to the appetitive or the cognitive power: since he says that choice is either "an appetitive intellect or an intellectual appetite." But (Ethic. iii, 3) he inclines to its being an intellectual appetite when he describes choice as "a desire proceeding from counsel."* And the reason of this is because the proper object of choice is the means to the end: and this, as such, is in the nature of that good which is called useful: wherefore since good, as such, is the object of the appetite, it follows that choice is principally an act of the appetitive power. And thus free-will is an appetitive power.
-- Thomas Aquinas, S. theologica I.83.3
(*) Compare to "the Spirit proceeding from the Father."
Which brings us back to...
η Αβεβαιότητα του μόνο-φρυδιού"If the choices of a free will are not random, but preferred, reasoned, and predictable, in what demonstrable way are these different from the choices a computer can make?" -- OneBrow
But the freedom of OneBrow's will cannot be constrained by the knowledge of a third party. So that his choice to respond as he has done to this issue may be predictable to those who know and love him, yet nonetheless freely chosen. He could, for example, have expressed himself in different words, or at a different time, or not at all. Remember that the will is free to the extent its intellect is incomplete and he did not likely know before he made his response exactly what he would say and how he would say it.
The same can be said of a reasoned choice: the will acts specifically on the conclusions of the intellect. Since the intellect is part of the rational soul, the acts of the will are always reasoned. That's what distinguishes them from instinctive responses to appetites. But to the extent that reason may be incompletely informed, the will may not be determined to any one choice. For example, which of the following statements is true?
The will is not constrained to consent to any one of them until the intellect knows whether the question regards standard arithmetic, computer logic, binary notation, etc. The same is true of the classic mugger who demands, "Your money or your life!" That nearly everyone would opt to surrender his money does not make the choice less free. One cannot be entirely certain that the mugger really would shoot, so the options to fight back or run are still open, even if prudence and reason caution otherwise. The confusion is due, TOF believes, to a conflation of "reasons/motives" with inanimate "causes."
And so on for "preferences." TOF likes broiled haddock and will frequently order it at the diner when he and the Incomparable One meet the Pere for lunch of a Sunday. But a preference is not a cause in the sense that this domino is a cause of that domino toppling. It does not determine TOF's prandial choices. In fact, "the counsel of the intellect" just is the formation of a preference. So voluntary choices are always preferred choices. Seldom does a man select a course of action that he does not prefer.(*)
(*) Married men may demur, but surely the desire to please one's wife is part of what the intellect weighs in order to give counsel. When a man who has been taken to a chick flick when he would rather have sat in a boat drowning worms, drinking beer, and scratching himself in unlikely places states that the movie is not what he would have preferred, we take note of the subjunctive mood. He would have preferred fishing had his wife not wanted to see the movie with him. But she did, and that became a factor in making a decision. So Pref(X)≠Pref(X+W)
The Role of the Strengths
|Free will, as in free fall.|
The will may also be constrained by habit, which is "a disposition according to which a being is well- or ill-disposed" toward its natural end.* Habits may be genetic, cultural, accidental, or personal. The human form provides the human substance with a number of distinct powers, adumbrated** in the schematic above. These powers must be properly exercised, but this exercise isn't easy. Our nature is such that each exercise of a power produces a quality "which makes for ease, grace, and pleasure in future exercise of that power. This quality is habit and tends toward a perfection of the power.
(*) cf. Gilson. p. 256; Brennan, p. 29, 260 et seq.)
(**) adumbrated. TOF has always wanted to use that word in a sentence and now rests content.
(**) adumbrated. TOF has always wanted to use that word in a sentence and now rests content.
Power is innate, basically identical for all men. But habit is acquired, and so is particular to individuals. It derives from experiences in life in the concrete, and so some habits are stronger in one man than in another. As power leads to action and repeated action leads to habit, habit in turn modulates further action by determining power to a certain action. The paradox of free will is that it leads toward determination of the will. But the cultivation of habits is itself freely chosen, so even if a practiced gymnast may perform an evolution without any deliberative thought, purely from the habits induced by repeated exercise, it was still an act of volition that put her on the balance beam in the first place.
Power to the People
|Powers to the people!|
(*) radiation. Yes, human beings are naturally radioactive.
(**) vegetative, sensitive, and rational powers. What the heck. The Greekish terms are: threptic, aesthetic, and dianoetic. The connection of the last term with L. Ron Hubbard is best left to the imagination.
The intellect grasps that eating too much chocolate will cause certain health problems, such as weight gain. OTOH, chocolate is tasty, and therefore we are tempted to indulge in chocolate against the judgment of the intellect. That there is a moral dimension to all this we recognize when we say "too much chocolate is bad for you." This sort of thing is always inexplicable to those for whom the indulgence of the appetites is the supreme good. The "counsel of the intellect" appears to be an arbitrary ukase against having fun.
It is simple to grasp how repeated exercise can perfect bodily powers and build up their strength, less simple to grasp the perfection of moral powers.
Habits to the PeopleThe vegetative powers are shared with plants and animals, and the sensitive powers are shared with animals. The rational powers are proper to humans. (If some day dolphins are discovered to possess the rational powers, then they too will be metaphysical humans, so sit down.) Consequently, the perfection of the rational powers is what is most proper to human beings.
The end of medical practice is health. We say that a doctor is a good practitioner if his patients are healthy. The end of strategy is victory. We say that a general is a good strategist if he achieves victory. And so on. An activity is good to the extent that it achieves its ends. The good is thus defined as "that at which all things aim."(*)
-- (*) Aristotle. The Nichomachean Ethics, Book I.
|Professional gray squirrel. |
Do not try this at home.
Since man's nature is a rational animal, then man's end is to be a rational animal and the good is whatever directs us to those ends; that is, whatever perfects our bodies and our reason. Or, as the ancients were wont to say: Mens sana in corpore sano.
Since the Late Modern Age is insane, things are not looking good.
The strengths to be built up by exercise are*
Strengths of the intellect:
- Understanding: the habit of principles
- Knowledge: the habit of proximate causes
- Wisdom: the habit of ultimate ends
- Justice: the habit which regulates our acts independently of our dispositions as regards what is due or not due to another
- Temperance: the habit we call on when appetites draw us toward an act contrary to reason
- Courage: the habit we call on when fear or sloth impede us from an act counseled by reason
- Prudence: the habit by which reason determines commensurate means to an end.
(*) Gilson, pp. 261-264; Brennan, pp. 271-273.
Modern neuroscience has learned that repetition "vulcanizes" the brain by "burning in" preferred neural patterns. The neural patterns associated with rational thought originate in the neocortex, while those associated with the appetites or passions originate in the more primitive structures of the hindbrain, and if these latter become vulcanized by repetition, they disrupt the neural patterns originating in the forebrain. To put it more classically, to repeatedly indulge the appetites (through lack of prudence, temperance, or courage) interferes with thinking rationally. Or as some have said, "Sin makes you stupid."
Since rational thought is part of what defines human nature, hedonism literally makes us less human and thus is objectively bad. But the impulses of the appetites can only be overridden by an act of will, and these acts can only be inculcated into what is called a second nature by constant practice (exercise).* The upshot is that unless the will exists and performs this task we would not be human in the first place.
(*) Wallace, p.185
Just as the proper object of the intellect is the True, the proper object of the will is the Good. While some goods are subordinate to other goods, as marksmanship is subordinate to victory in the warlike arts, there must be some supreme good in virtue of which other goods take their value and which is good in and of itself. (Otherwise, infinite regress, etc.) Ultimately, then all acts of will amount to choosing the good or not.* This is why pseudo-scientific "experiments" that purport to test for free will miss the point entirely. Pressing a button or flipping a switch is not a question of good or evil.
(*) An evil is a deficiency in a good. E.g., life is a good and death is an evil. For moral goods, an evil is called a "sin." Evil does not exist independently, but only in relation to some good. Thus, one may conceive of life without death, but death cannot be conceived without life. An evil or sin is thus somewhat like a hole, and to "take away the sin of the world" we would need something - or someone - to fill the hole.
|In tents ones|
"that depends on whether you see an intention as the result of a decision/determination, or as containing some addition meaning."It is not clear what "additional meaning" the will or intellect can supply here, esp. since meaning cannot inhere in the matter itself. But the dread of moral choice has driven many a folk to deny not only the freedom of the will, but the will itself, and even the self itself! So it is no surprise if intention has taken a few shots along the way.
Intention is of course the way cool superpower by which we can actually look at something.
Think of it. The senses are continually bombarded with a cascade of photons, molecules, air waves, etc. But there is nothing in the photons themselves (let's say) that privileges these photons over those photons. Yet TOF can sit here and "look at" his Bobble-head Einstein specifically and not at the Galilean thermometer next to it, the telephone on its other side, the wall plug behind it, etc. etc. All those photons are splattering indifferently on the TOFian retinas and there is nothing in the photons that say "focus on ME!"
Every power tends toward a particular good. Sight tends toward the perception of color, intellect toward the knowledge of truth, etc. The Will tends toward the attainment of good in general, so the will moves all the other powers toward their end or individual proper goods -- as when TOF looked at his Bobble-head Einstein* -- and so the first act of "tending toward" (in aliquid tendere → in-tention) belongs properly to the will.**
(*) Bobble-head Einstein will, upon the pressing of a button, deliver
itself of sundry Einstein quotes -- in a German accent. How cool is that?
itself of sundry Einstein quotes -- in a German accent. How cool is that?
(**) cf. Gilson, p. 253.
However, this is not the place to get too deeply into first and second intentions and all the rest of that stuff. For additional discussion of how Thomistic intention theory resonates today, see: Freeman, Walter J. "Nonlinear Brain Dynamics and Intention According to Aquinas," Mind & Matter Vol. 6(2), pp. 207-234.
- Aristotle. The Nichomachean Ethics, Book I.
- Aristotle. On the Soul, Book I, Part 1.
- Augustine of Hippo. City of God, Book XVI, ch. 8
- Brennan, Robert E. Thomistic Psychology. (Macmillan, 1941)
- CBS Sunday Morning. Are elite athletes born or made? (6 Apr 2014)
- Chastek, James. "Intellect, imagination and sense." JustThomism (16 Feb 2007)
- Chastek, James. Mechanism and Life. JustThomism (11 April, 2014)
- Codgitator. "My soul is not I…" Philosophia perennis (7 Apr 2009)
- Cohen, Jonathan D. "The Vulcanization of the Human Brain: A Neural Perspective on Interactions Between Cognition and Emotion," (Journal of Economic Perspectives, v. 19, No. 4, Fall 2005, pp. 3–24)
- Feser, Edward. "The pointlessness of Jerry Coyne" (23 Jan 2014)
- Feser, Edward. "Zombies: A Shopper’s Guide" (19 Dec 2013)
- Feser, Edward. "A world of pure imagination." (9 Feb 2011)
- Freeman, Walter J. "Nonlinear Brain Dynamics and Intention According to Aquinas," Mind & Matter Vol. 6(2), pp. 207-234
- Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1994)
- Kemp, Kenneth W. "Science, Theology, and Monogenesis," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, (2011) pp. 217-236.
- Thomas Aquinas. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15-2," §924.
- Thomas Aquinas. Summa theologica, "Whether the will of God is changeable?" Pt.I, Q19,Art.7
- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, "Whether free-will is an appetitive power?" Pt. I, Q83, Art.3
- Thomas Aquinas. Summa theologica, "Whether it belongs to man to act for an end?" II Pt.1, Q1, Art.1.
- Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature (Catholic University of America Press, 1996)