A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

There's a Way

The series of posts on the hazards of model-building has proven to be goat barbecue. The more TOF chews it, the more it swells in size. The next episode, covering various uncertainties regarding the choice of Xs and the model structure will be along Real Soon Now. But today in a paroxysm of sheer will-power we will discuss....

Will Power

TOFs 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!
A computer does none of the things mentioned. It is the person using the computer who evaluates the consequences and makes the decisions. (And who in fact regards the pile of silicon, wire, plastic, etc. as a "computer" in the first place.)  It is the programmer who has set the weights. The program may run a Model™ for example that predicts the outcome of a football contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Little Sisters of the Poor. (by which, based on past performance, the Eagles lose.) But the computer does not know from Eagles or football. (Although it has been said that the Eagles don't know from football, either...) It simply puts the inputs it has been given into a set of equations it has been given and computes a number. What that number means is not accessible to its syntax.

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
The 19th century* was enamored of machines and hence imagined all things in terms of machines. In particular living beings, like petunias and poodles, were imagined as moist robots, and by some whimsy this metaphor was taken as meaning that they actually are. What folks forgot to do is apply a liberal dose of Sumbunall™.
*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?
Just as incremental gradualists must be reminded periodically that not everything is continuous, binary thinkers must be reminded that not everything is discrete.  This is the doctrine known as "Some, But Not All...", which is abbreviated as "sumbunall." For example, a CBS Sunday Morning episode ("The Natural") recently discussed whether athletic excellence is a matter of genes or a matter of practice. The answer is... sumbunall! All the training in the world will not make a world class sprinter out of someone with short, stubby legs. Neither will "good genes" help someone who doesn't practice the craft. TOF was once in dormitory with two equally tall lads. One was an All-American basketball player, centering for one of the best college teams of the last century. The other was hopelessly inept under the boards. He did, however, make a crackerjack physicist. Physiology is not destiny.

People is no different from me!
When the realist notes that human beings are demonstrably different from other animals, the Idea-logue cites human traits that are shared with animals, as if this has rebutted the original observation. But a human being is after all a "rational animal." That some traits are uniquely human does not preclude others traits common to all animals. 

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
No one for the next seven hundred years thought this was a fatal objection to free will because no one thought free will meant that all acts of a human were deliberate. Then came the invention of the Internet Comm Box and the apotheosis of the dormitory bull session, in which the half-educated come up with tired, centuries-old arguments that they think are not only stunningly original but dispositive.

Now, About Those Machines

Aristotle 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.

Brooklyn Diplodocus
IOW, there are machine aspects and non-machine aspects even to machines! And to focus exclusively on the mechanical may overlook some very important aspects of a phenomenon. The skeleton of diplodocus is arranged much as a suspension bridge and largely for the same reasons; but TOF would not wish to drive over a diplodocus on his way to Brooklyn, as there are important differences as well.

"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.
The latter motions are not often detectable to the same instruments as the former. We also begin to see why the typical "experiment" used to "detect" free will generally involves physical reflexes, like pressing a button and flipping a switch -- usually under conditions in which the subject is inclined to suppress his own will, let his mind go blank, and just "go with the flow." More on this in a moment.

    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.
    -- Summa theologica, II Pt.1, Q1, Art.1 respondeo.
    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.
    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.
    Suppose we have a list of four items:
    A  B  C  D
    and 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.*
    It only means that the choice is not determined to a particular item.
    *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, informed

    But 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.
    A thing receives its powers from its form. This can be seen most simply in the case of inanimate things. These essential forms are not souls, since the inanimate is by definition not alive, but they are analogous to souls. Thus, to use a favorite example of TOF's, both chlorine atoms and sodium atoms are made of the same matter: protons, neutrons, and electrons. But what makes one a gas the other a flammable metal is the number and arrangement of those parts; that is, their forms. 

    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, informed

    A 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.” -- unbeguiled
    which 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 will

    The 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:
    Tommy rolling his eyes over folks
    denying the bleeding obvious
    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
    -- Thomas Aquinas, S. theologica I.83.1
     Basically, since
    • 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. 
    It has "play" in the engineering sense, or "degrees of freedom" in the mathematical sense. This is all that was meant by free will in the classical sense. The will is free in the sense that it is not bound and determined to a particular outcome.  Note that when knowledge is complete -- e.g., when the meaning of 2+2=4 is understood -- the will cannot withhold consent. 
    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?
    • 1+1=2
    • 1+1=0
    • 1+1=10
    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 freedom (looseness, wobble, play) in man's will can be impaired in a variety of ways, most notably by knowledge. This seems paradoxical, since we are acculturated to regard both "knowledge" and "freedom" as Yay! words rather than as simple descriptions. But think of "free" in the case of "free fall from the top of the PPL building in Allentown PA." Suddenly, "free" is more of a Boo! word. The more you know, the more your will is directed toward the best choice. A child may refuse to take an ill-tasting medicine, but an adult knowing the reasons why the medicine is required may grimly swallow the noxious concoction.

    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.

    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!
    A list of powers possessed generically by humans, modified from Aristotle and de-Greekified, include in addition to the inanimate powers of gravity, electromagnetism, radiation,* and nuclear about which human habit has nothing to say, actions relative to digestible objects, sensible objects, and intelligible objects. These are the vegetative, sensitive, and rational powers, resp.**
    (*) 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.

    Human Powers


    Augmentative (Growth)
    Outer Senses
    Inner Senses

    Intellect (Active)
    Intellect (Passive)

    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 People

    The 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.
    So, what is the end of human beings? The final causes of living beings tend to be identical with their formal causes because perfecting their nature is what is good for them. A gray squirrel must know how to find mates, avoid predators, store food for the winter, build a nest, and so on. Gray squirreling is not a job for amateurs. A good gray squirrel is one that is quicker to avoid predators, better at building nests, etc., etc. Gray squirrels that try to mate with balls of twine, store up marbles for the winter, or try to give raptors a high five in a fit of Disney-like, circle-of-life brotherhood are bad squirrels. Organisms that are good in this Nichomachean sense are then preserved by the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection.

    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:
    1. Understanding: the habit of principles
    2. Knowledge: the habit of proximate causes
    3. Wisdom: the habit of ultimate ends
    Strengths of the will:
    1. Justice:  the habit which regulates our acts independently of our dispositions as regards what is due or not due to another
    2. Temperance: the habit we call on when appetites draw us toward an act contrary to reason
    3. Courage: the habit we call on when fear or sloth impede us from an act counseled by reason
    Strength connecting the counsel of intellect and the act of will
    1. 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.

    Good Intentions

    In tents ones
    Our monofrydian friend further commented in what we will take as a footnote:
    "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?
    (**) 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.


    1. Aristotle. The Nichomachean Ethics, Book I.
    2. Aristotle. On the Soul, Book I, Part 1.
    3. Augustine of Hippo. City of God, Book XVI, ch. 8
    4. Brennan, Robert E. Thomistic Psychology. (Macmillan, 1941)
    5. CBS Sunday Morning. Are elite athletes born or made? (6 Apr 2014)
    6. Chastek, James. "Intellect, imagination and sense." JustThomism (16 Feb 2007)
    7. Chastek, James.  Mechanism and Life. JustThomism (11 April, 2014)
    8. Codgitator. "My soul is not I…" Philosophia perennis (7 Apr 2009)
    9. 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)
    10. Feser, Edward. "The pointlessness of Jerry Coyne" (23 Jan 2014)
    11. Feser, Edward. "Zombies: A Shopper’s Guide" (19 Dec 2013)
    12. Feser, Edward. "A world of pure imagination." (9 Feb 2011)
    13. Freeman, Walter J. "Nonlinear Brain Dynamics and Intention According to Aquinas," Mind & Matter Vol. 6(2), pp. 207-234
    14. Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. (Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1994)
    15. Kemp, Kenneth W. "Science, Theology, and Monogenesis," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 2, (2011) pp. 217-236.
    16. Thomas Aquinas. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15-2," §924.
    17. Thomas Aquinas. Summa theologica, "Whether the will of God is changeable?" Pt.I, Q19,Art.7
    18. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, "Whether free-will is an appetitive power?" Pt. I, Q83, Art.3
    19. Thomas Aquinas. Summa theologica, "Whether it belongs to man to act for an end?" II Pt.1, Q1, Art.1
    20. Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature (Catholic University of America Press, 1996)


    1. So, here's a question about how all of this good stuff is applied. Is there, then, a system of child-rearing to be derived from this anthropology?

      Some of it sounds pretty traditional--formation of good habits by repetition before the reason is especially noticeable, etc. I ask because years ago, I had a long argument with an Anthroposophist about Waldorf vs. Montessori education. Anthroposophy has an elaborate theory of stages of childhood development which fits in with the rest of Anthroposophy. Montessori was originally secular but widely adopted by Catholic schools, esp. Dominican ones, because it was based on the model TOF has just laid out for us. BUT my conversation partner objected that there was no theory in the Catholic tradition that really discussed how children's instincts, appetites, and reason relate to each other and from that, how an education system can foster their right relationship--that essentially, we were obsessed with reason and didn't understand all the other bits well enough because our basic model was an adult model & didn't deal with emerging reason well. I was educated Dominican Montessori & he was educated Waldorf, so it was an argument from inside applied theory; neither of us had kids but were both teachers.

      So, I'm asking if the current vigor of Thomists includes mundane things like child-rearing/ early childhood education? Since Thomists have kids and presumably have plenty of opportunities to test it out, have any of them bothered to write done their observations on how all this applies to kids?

      1. Dorothy Sayers' famous essay on medieval education, and its applicability to the modern day, appears to answer that question somewhat.

    2. " which the half-educated come up with tired, centuries-old arguments that they think are not only stunningly original but dispositive." I grant they think they're being original, and even that they think they're being dispositive. But I highly doubt many of them have even heard of the word "dispositive". :-) As usual, great post.

    3. Presumably Hubbard named it "Dianetics" because it is concerned with discursive thought, rather than with direct experience (which would be "noetics", a term that shows up in some analysis of mysticism, since it is involved in, e.g., the hesychastic union with the divine sought by Neoplatonists, Carthusians, and many Eastern Orthodox mystics). "Dianoia" is thinking "this is hot", while "nous" is simply knowing "this is hot" (but not in so many words).

    4. "when knowledge is complete the will cannot withhold consent. "

      But mortal sin is deliberately choosing a wrong, if I am not wrong. One knows that a particular act is wrong, and yet one knowingly does that act.

      So, the mortal sin requires complete knowledge, yet the evil is chosen. Isn't that free will in action or something else?

      1. No knowledge of goodness can ever be complete, for any created thing, because goodness is God himself. The primal unity of the divine nature is intrinsically ineffable, not fully comprehensible to any being composed of form, matter, and existence (or even to a pure spirit composed only of form and existence, because God is only existence, and has "form" only analogically). Thus, even Satan, whose intellect is the greatest ever made, is free to prefer a lesser good (himself) to a greater (God), since his knowledge of goodness is intrinsically incomplete.

      2. The murderer has chosen a lesser good: to obtain something the other possesses, to silence a witness, to obtain payment for professional services, to take revenge, etc. He usually recognizes that taking a life is a serious wrong, but has convinced himself that some other good outweighs it.

      3. Knowing perfectly that 2+2=4, I can still write 2+2=5. What does that illustrate?

        What is wrong with the position that "free" in "free will" pertains to the freedom of "will" from intellect. That the will is free to be guided or not by the intellect.

        Otherwise, if how can one talk about disorder in the will?. Can we make sense of distinction between a good will and an ill-will?

    5. Aquinas wrote
      ". 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"

      What is this "natural instinct"? It presumably differs both from Human Reason and Inanimate Physics. So, do we have a third category besides Reason and Physics?

      Presumably, this non-physical and non-rational instinct exists in man too?.
      Any examples of this instinct in man? Spider or snake aversion?
      Maternal love?

    6. "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?"

      I would replace "predictable" by "non-computable".

      My wife "predicts" my actions though some intuitive process, a process that can never be formalized. Thus, the word "predict" is equivocal. Predictions in physics are made through a formal process. In fact, the domain of modern physics IS formal, computable processes.

      Perhaps, the extent to which a system may be formalized, that is reduced to words or information of finite length, is the distinction between living and non-living things.

      1. If that were the distinction, computers would be alive: cf. the Halting Problem. Finite length being the particular detail in which you will find this particular devil.

      2. Computer programs are, by definition, of finite length and possess complete description. They typify the class 'formal objects'.

      3. Computer programs are indeed of finite length, but their operation cannot, except in trivial cases, be described in definite terms. Hence my reference to the Halting Problem, which is one of a very large class of undecidable problems. In principle, the Halting Problem could be decided (for any given program) by the use of a computer with infinite memory running for an infinite length of time; it is the impossibility of procuring such a computer that makes the problem undecidable. If the Halting Problem is undecidable for a particular program, then there is no complete description of that program which is computable – no way of formally predicting the ultimate behaviour of the program.

    7. A nitpicking,
      Is a chlorine atom a Thing? or a construct in a physiochemical theory?
      Chlorine gas may be a thing, something directly observed without the chains of reasoning.

      Would you say that the thing-ness of a thing depends on the direct-ness of the perception of the thing?. Thus, the thing-ness diminishes as we are obliged to employ inferential chains to get to the thing in question.

      1. I would say that the thing-ness of a thing does not depend on the directness of the perception of it, but the exactitude with which we apprehend it does. Chlorine gas objectively, knowably has parts, the smallest of which are the "smallest possible unit" of "chlorine", which we call "chlorine molecules" or "chlorine atoms" (depending on the definition of "chlorine" you use, the smallest thing that still counts as "chlorine" changes). (Also, the smallest units may have parts yet smaller which are no longer "chlorine", i.e. "subatomic particles".) But one can't really perceive the parts of chlorine, beyond perhaps the difference between a room full of it and the tiny amount one smells; nevertheless one knows, objectively and truly, that the body chlorine has parts.

        Our host is fond of saying that there is no such thing as "the speed of light", only measurements of that speed. But he's being rhetorical; light passes from one point to another, and there is a rate at which it does so. That rate is an objectively existent quality of light. It is not that "there is no such thing as the speed of light", but rather that our measurements of that speed are not the speed itself. The speed of light is "how quickly light travels to a point", not "just under 300 megameters per second". In the same way, if you get shot with a bullet, the kinetic energy of the bullet, as a function of its mass and the velocity it travels, is actually what kills you (well, statistically, it's what makes the hole that you bleed to death from)—but you aren't perforated by "joules", you're perforated by fast-moving lead transferring energy to your tissue and causing it to move and change traumatically.

      2. A chlorine atom is a thing because it has a distinct nature and the whole has properties not predicable of any of its parts considered outside their participation in the whole.

        The Moongyan, which is the mereological sum of the Moon and Gyan, is not a thing because it has no essential unity. It would make no sense to ask for example what is the efficient cause of the Moongyan. See, for example, the Sunalex of Alexander Pruss:

    8. TOF, great article, one question:

      Some people say that if God is Omniscient than the posing of the human will choosing among different alternatives is the illusion of free will, how would Thomas handle such criticism? (perhaps i should pose it as the tension between predestination and free-will)


      1. C. S. Lewis summarily dismisses the objection, in the Screwtape Letters, with something along the lines of "As if watching a man do something were the same as making him do it!" God's knowledge of your actions is not a cause of those actions. It's actually the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" ("after it therefore caused by it") fallacy—we assume that since God knows about it before we do it, he must have set it up in advance (it also has an element of anthropomorphism—"set it up beforehand" is the main way we have foreknowledge). Of course, there's a more fundamental issue: God does not exist in time. He does not know anything "before", nor "after", it happens, because as an eternal being all of reality is simultaneous before his intellect. Hence it's not really "predestiny", however much it looks like it, to animals that exist in time.

      2. "C. S. Lewis summarily dismisses the objection, in the Screwtape Letters, with something along the lines of "As if watching a man do something were the same as making him do it!""

        That was never asserted, what is in question is not agent causality but determination: if reality is determined before God then no indeterminate property may exist in principle that belongs to such a reality. If a will is free it is not determined.

        One might say, perhaps, that God causes the will freely and the will chooses freely but you can see that is not what Lewis said with his example.


      3. I'm sorry, are you somehow trying to say that merely because God knows how you use your will (or "shall" use it, as it appears to us from within time), therefore your will does not exist? I am not sure what you mean by "agent causality" vs. "determination"; I know of a position called "determinism" that is defined as "the position that all events have causes other than the human will", which is to say, the denial of "agent causality" (if that means what I think it means—where are you getting this jargon, if I may ask?), so to say "what is in question is not agent causality but determination" appears, if the words are being used in their usual philosophical senses, to be simply meaningless, like saying "what is in question is not ethics but nihilism" (nihilism being, among other things, the denial of ethics).

        The will is free so far as the knowledge of the willer is not perfect. That some other entity's knowledge is perfect is completely, utterly irrelevant.

    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    10. TheOFloinn,

      Thank you very much for this post. I will take the time to properly study before I respond in any way.

      1. De nada. You have always made thoughtful, non-trolling comments worthy of attention (if not always agreement). I need only caution you against comments that grow like fungi.

    11. Great post. Especially this:

      But the computer does not know from Eagles or football. ... It simply puts the inputs it has been given into a set of equations it has been given and computes a number. What that number means is not accessible to its syntax.

      Looking back at my own comments, my contributions seem vague and imprecise by comparison, which probably didn't help. I will have to give this some more thought.

    12. I cannot say it enough, you rock! Why have I still not sought out your fiction, except I don't read much SF? Your philosophy and stats posts are some of my favorite essays ever!

      Happy Easter, and thanks again for this awesome blog!

    13. I wonder if you are using the word "thing" as an synonym of "substance"?

    14. The theory that only uncaused actions can be free has some odd consequences. First, actions by people who have an real reason for acting, e.g., private-sector employment, are not truly free but the actions of performance artists who live on NEA grants to come up with pointless art are free. Second, having to pay for contraceptives is a violation of Sandra Fluke's rights. Having to pay for contraceptives provided a reason for her not to have sex, which meant she was not free.

      All this nonsense fits together.

    15. Is Form ontological?

    16. It simply puts the inputs it has been given into a set of equations it has been given and computes a number. What that number means is not accessible to its syntax.

      Even that gives the computer more credit than it deserves. It doesn't really even take equations or "compute" numbers. It takes electrical signals as inputs, which are operated on in a certain way as determined by electrical signals previously entered as inputs, which results in more electrical signals as outputs.

      The first set of electrical signals represent input data (to us but not the computer), the second set of electrical signals represent equations (to us but not the computer), and the third set of electrical signals represent equations (to us but not the computer).

      And since the computer isn't literally processing or putting out numbers, it doesn't literally compute anything. We just set it up set things up (by building and then programming the computer) such that the numbers that the output signals represent to us will be the correct result of the numbers that the input signals represent to us when run through the equations that the program signals represent to us.

    17. Check out my defense of your post here:

    18. My question is: when you press the button with Bobble-head Einstein, are you testing whether Bobble-head Einstein has free will?


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