Monday, November 24, 2008

On freedom and determination (2)

In my last blog, I distinguished two types of freedom: freedom as opposed to being limited and freedom as opposed to being determined. I want to call them external freedom and fundamental freedom. But is this all that we can say about it on the conceptual level? If we are fundamentally determined, I would say that we are externally determined as well (but is that really so?). But if we are fundamentally free, is our freedom then only limited by our external restrictions? From the point of view of action theory, this seems very unlikely. Action theory asks for the factors that makes that we act the way we do: for what reasons we make our choices or quasi-choices (I speak of quasi-choices, because I want to keep it open here, whether our choices are really our choices or whether we are fundamentally determined). Following the Finnish philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright, we can call these factors external, and then we are thinking of institutionalised practices, an order to do something (in an army, by a policeman), external circumstances that happen to take place (rain, a falling tree, and so on), and the like. But there are also factors that we can call internal, and then we can think of our motives, desires and intentions to do something. Actually, these internal factors are often not the consequences of our independent deliberations, but are in many cases steered by our psychological constitution, education, casual experiences and other inner determinants, which usually limit our free choice of them in some degree. In other words, our being free or being restricted is not only outside us (external freedom) but also within us (internal freedom). However, as von Wright remarked with right, the external and internal factors need not always to be separable in the individual case. It is quite well possible that some external factors have become internalised and that they influence our internal degree of freedom, just as our individual desires and intentions do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On freedom and determination

I received several reactions on my blog “Freedom to act”, not only here, but also on another website where I publish my blogs. Some people said that freedom is not something absolute but that it is the feeling of the limitations of the possibility to choose. If we realize this, then we can be free within our limits. Such limits may be our financial means, our physical restrictions, the need to be considerate of other people and their freedom, and so on. I must admit that I started to write this blog about freedom as a kind of brainstorming for myself, not with the idea to write something original. In view of the reactions it was a good choice. Moreover, it helped me to distinguish between two kinds of freedom: freedom to act the way I would like as far it is possible in view of existing external limits, and freedom in the sense of: Are my choices really my own choices (given their limits) or are my choices determined in some way? When we think of the latter meaning of freedom, we come back to a question that I discussed some time ago: to what extent am I responsible for my actions? If we give freedom the first meaning, then, for instance, someone has the freedom to come to my house, if he likes, and to shoot me down (a reader gave me this example). That is his freedom, indeed, if he prefers to do that (I would certainly advice him not to do it, but it is his freedom to ignore my advice). But is the potential shooter also free to shoot me down in view of the second meaning of freedom? In other words, is he responsible for this action because it was his own choice or was he already in some way determined to do it and he couldn’t help? Suppose that the whole future development of the world and everything in it, in all its details, was already fixed when the big bang took place. Is this person then still free to shoot me down or is it a consequence of the laws of nature that he does? Happily, the person concerned told me also that he has no intention to execute the plan because of his moral objections, but does that make any difference when it has been determined by or during the big bang what will go on in the world from then on and for all eternity?
Here is yet a quote from the same reaction: “How many words does it take to make a difference to the way things are?” Maybe it has no sense to talk about it, for if we the world is determined, we simply do, because we have to, including doing this discussion about freedom.But is the world determined? I have no idea. As it was said in another reaction: “The free will problem might be the toughest philosophical problem”. I wonder whether until now any discussion has brought us much nearer to an answer. Our freedom is limited, that’s clear, but is our freedom determined? And to what extent? Wholly or partially? It is important to know this if we want to know whether we are responsible for our actions.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Who chooses?

What makes that I choose this and not that? Is it I who makes the choices or is there something in me that makes the choices for me? For example, a Cartesian homunculus? If it is I who makes the choices, who or what is this I? Alternatively, if there is a kind of homunculus in me that makes the choices for me, can I say then that I do not like the choice and refuse to execute it? Or am I forced in some way to execute it? In the first case there can be no homunculus that chooses for me, for in the end it is I who makes the choices. In the second case, I seem to be determined to follow the choices laid upon me, but what is then the difference between me and the homunculus? It is weird that there would be something in me that decides in my place, but sometimes I have the feeling that I do things that I do not want to do but that I am forced to do for an unclear reason like a puppet on a string.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Freedom to act

When am I free? I mean, when am I free to act, not only here and now but fundamentally? Let us say that I want to take the train to Utrecht but I do not have the money for it and I know that I’ll be stopped if I want to go into the train without a ticket. Does this mean that I am fundamentally not free to act? For everybody has wishes that he or she cannot realise. Must we say then that nobody is fundamentally free to act?On the other hand, let us suppose that I can do everything I want to do. Does that mean that I am fundamentally free to act? Isn’t it so that I am steered then by my wants? I mean, I want to do something and I can do it. Nobody will stop me. But what determines what I want to do and what determines the choice between wants that cannot be realised at the same time? Isn’t it so that having to choose involves limits of freedom? So, either I am limited because I have no choice but I simply follow the want that pop ups in me for some reason, or I am limited because I have to choose and can follow only some wants. Or is the freedom in the choice, even if this choice is limited? However, can a person be fundamentally free?