Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thomas Pink: A 'Humean' Defense of Libertarian Freedom

David Hume
Looking rather regal . . .
Portrait by Allan Ramsey (1766)
(Image from Wikipedia)

Toward the end of his short introduction to the issue of free will, Dr. Thomas Pink brings in the thought of David Hume in an argument that had already occurred to me as a potential defense of libertarian freedom. Many critics have singled out the putative 'mysteriousness' of "freedom," but "causation" is perhaps just as 'mysterious':
Hume thought causal power was just as hidden from us as the sceptic supposes libertarian freedom to be. He thought that our experience never actually represents causation to us. All we have direct experience or awareness of, Hume argued, is regularities in nature -- one kind of thing, such as a fire being lit, regularly being followed by another kind of thing, water above it boiling. We never have direct awareness of something else, causal force, as a further feature in the world connecting these. (Pink, Free Will: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, page 121)
By analogy, then, if we are going to accept causation, we should be willing to accept libertarian freedom, i.e., free will. About forty pages earlier, on page 82, Dr. Pink has already made a threefold distinction that is relevant here:
Causally Predetermined . . . so . . . Uncontrolled by us (Causation)

Causally Undetermined . . . and . . . Uncontrolled by us (Randomness)

Causally Undetermined . . . and . . . Controlled by us (Freedom)
By "Uncontrolled," Dr. Pink doesn't mean that we can't interact with causal or random events, but rather that they are not subject to our control in the way that our decisions are. The plausibility of this threefold distinction depends partly on what one thinks about "Randomness." I realize that many people believe that quantum mechanics supports the view that some events are purely random (much as macroscopic physics supports the view that most events are entirely causal), but quantum mechanics may be a limited understanding rather than capturing an ontological truth about nature. One might add that the 'random' events of quantum mechanics are not purely random anyway since they have a certain predictability and follow patterns that express lawlike behavior, which perhaps implies some large degree of causality operating at the subatomic level even if one takes the randomness seriously.

If quantum mechanics should turn out to be incomplete and subatomic particles discovered to be entirely causal in their interrelations, the threefold distinction collapses into a twofold distinction unsupported by science and thereby somewhat less plausible, though this twofold distinction would continue to receive the support of our firsthand experience and of a Humean emphasis upon the 'mysteriousness' of causality.

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home