Free Will and Determinism- notes and quotes

I attempted to keep the last blog succinct, but it was longer than I had hoped. Nevertheless here are some annotations.

  1. Haphazardry is a coinage of Martin Gardner in his excellent paper, The Mystery of Free Will. It captures in a word his understanding that random quantum events in the nervous system could never underpin free will, because there would be no quality or sense of authorship resulting from any subsequent behaviour. Such ‘quantum’ behaviour would more likely have the quality of a nervous tic.
  2. It surprised me to find in Quine’s piece on Free Will the phrase ‘ a sordid boon’ which is from one of Wordsworth’s greatest sonnets which begins ‘The world is too much with us, late and soon.’ His prose style was exceptional, but in my opinion he overrated the analytical power of the intellect in a way that Kant did not. His view that the proper place of philosophy is in partnership with science, tidying up, producing conceptual clarity and economy, reduces it to a dry and technical subject.
  3. Elizabeth Anscombe’s paper from which I quote is called Causality and Determination. The double meaning of determination is worth thinking about. The determination of the behaviour of an inanimate object might be achieved by a reckoning of the physical forces acting on it. The determination of a human being is something else altogether. Anscombe was part of that inner circle of Wittgenstein’s who were so heavily influenced by him.

4. Ilya Prigogine was a physical chemist who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1977 for his work on the thermodynamics of non-equilibrium systems. His remark that ‘The main character of living systems is openness’ should strike a chord with all readers of Rilke. His book Order out of Chaos is an accessible account of his thought.

And some quotations:-
Samuel Johnson – All theory is against the freedom of the will, all experience for it.
Kant – The question whether freedom is possible, is perhaps identical with the question whether man is a true person and whether the self (das Ich) is possible in an externally determined being. ( note in a manuscript, unpublished in Kant’s lifetime). I have slightly rephrased it thus – What possible role could be assigned to consciousness in a wholly determined being?
Kant – Objectivity is built into the very subjectivity of consciousness by virtue of intentionality.
Martin Gardner – Free will in my opinion is another word for self-awareness or consciousness. I cannot conceive of having one without the other.
Wittgenstein – Let yourself to be struck by the existence of such a thing as our language-game: confessing the motive of my action.

And more mysteriously:-
Wittgenstein – We feel that if all possible scientific questions have been answered the problems of life will still not have been touched at all.
Paul Eluard – There is another world and it is this one.
Martin Buber – For sin is just this, what man cannot by his very nature do with his whole being; it is possible to silence the conflict in the soul, but not uproot it.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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