Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Philosophical Question: What Is One of My Most "Cherished Beliefs", and What Would It Take to Change It?

Justin Vacula asked a question on his Facebookpage today.  He does that a lot, and I like that he does, 

because he asks good questions.    The question today was:

What is one of your most cherished beliefs?  Under which circumstances, if any, will you change it?

I've been doing some reading lately on various points of philosophy, especially Free Will(or the lack thereof), so I decided to share one of my cherished beliefs that has to do with that subject.

I'm pretty comfortable with doubt, so I don't have a lot of cherished beliefs for which I cannot find enough evidence to at least tentatively justify the beliefs.  
However, at the moment I am somewhere close to being a compatibilist on the issue of free will, or at least rejecting the current concept of Hard Determinism as a position on what we can say for certain about various aspects of the question of free will.

I think the current state of determinism suffers flaws similar to those which plague solipsism. They are not necessarily flaws of reasoning, but flaws when trying to apply that reasoning to the reality we experience.  Philosophy or reasoning alone cannot determine the truth or falsity of solipsism. Our minds, a bundle of nerves, or a computer program may be all that exists, but it cannot be proved by reasoning one way or the other. In any practical matters, we must use empiricism and our experience as a guide. Our experience shows us evidence that the world, other people, and history of other people and objects exist. If we do not use our experience and some form of empiricism to navigate the possibly non-existent world, then our minds, the only provable thing according to the solipsist, would cease to exist.  Empiricism, based on my mind's experience, tells me that if I truly act as if my mind is all that exists, I will soon die of starvation, or get hit by a car, or whatever. It may all be "in my mind", but it's still "game over". 

I think arguments for hard determinism, logical determinism, and lack of all free will suffer from similar problems when put in a real-world context. They cannot be proved or disproved by logic or reasoning alone, and they also go against the lived experience of ...well, just about everyone.  Despite what some people may believe about free will, I have never, ever met anyone who actually ACTED as if they have no free will(maybe they're not free to? Maybe I'm not free to perceive it as such?) If, like the world and other people are to the solipsist, free will is an illusion, I don't think it is possible to uncover the illusion with reason alone. We do not have a full inventory or understanding of the universe, all causes, or even our own minds, and I think we would have to have such before we could eliminate all possibility of free will.      

My own experience, and my observed experience of others, shows me some evidence that we have at least freedom of action if not freedom of motivation, and I can't even rule out freedom of motivation completely. I am not a dualist. I accept that I am my body and my mind as one being, both dependent on matter. But that still doesn't rule out all possible sources of some useful form of free will. It makes just as much sense to say that maybe we, through no original free will of our own, have evolved the capacity for free will, the ability to partially control our minds from within, in a similar way we have evolved the capacity to control our bodies, our environments, etc. I don't think that logical determinism(the entire future is determined and therefore no form of free will exists) can be shown to be true without complete knowledge of the universe, including any first cause, and a complete knowledge of the nature of life and existence.   

But the existence of Free Will is not the "cherished belief" I hold.  As with solipsism, I cannot prove or disprove free will, and it is therefore a tentative belief on my part that simply makes sense to me given my experiences.

The "cherished belief" I hold is that people who state with (often disdainful) 100% certainty that the universe and all existence is completely deterministic and that free will can not possibly exist, based only on their philosophical speculations that have no more empirical evidence than anyone else's, are not necessarily honest seekers of truth, but are instead just a bunch of smug cunts trying to look smart. 

THAT is the cherished belief I hold, and I am not yet sure what circumstance or evidence would convince me to change that cherished belief.